Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” on Stage — Man’s Endless Craving for Sexual Fantasies

January 20, 2019

Salome is based on a play by Oscar Wilde. The plot revolves around the princess Salome, who is initially intrigued and then lusts after Jochanaan (John the Baptist) who summarily rejects her advances. Jochanaan is imprisoned in a dungeon in the palace of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, Salome’s stepfather. Herod himself is infatuated with Salome. She seductively dances the famous Dance of the Seven Veils to excite the lecherous Herod. As a prize, Salome demands and ultimately receives the head of Jochanaan on a silver platter.

Itay Tiran, one of Israel’s preeminent stage and screen actors, directed this new production. The set, brilliantly conceived by Eran Atzmon, was dominated by a large revolving spherical globe illuminated by continuously changing patterns of lights. This originally covered the dungeon housing Jochanaan but slowly rose and hovered high up above the stage. It was a constant presence throughout the opera and reminiscent of the view of Planet Earth photographed by astronauts from outer space. This suggested that the action played out, not on Earth, but on a distant celestial planetary body. This impression was reinforced by the exotic extraterrestrial costumes by designer Orna Smorgonsky and the mesmerizing lighting effects of Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi). Instead of the classical shedding of the seven veils, Renana Raz imaginatively choreographed a scenario dominated not by Salome, but by seven male dancers, each brandishing one of Salome’s veils.

A successful production of Salome depends on the leading character, Salome, one of the most taxing roles in the operatic repertoire. Swedish soprano Elizabet Strid, in her Israeli Opera debut, did not disappoint. She displayed clarion top notes and unleashed her voice with thrilling power and rich colorings.

Image result for Elisabet Strid, pictures

Elizabet Strid

The Australian, Daniel Sumegi, with his burnished bass-baritone voice was an impressive Jochanaan. His vocal power and stamina were ideal for the role. There were solid and gripping performances by the American tenor Chris Merritt in the role of Herod and mezzo-soprano Edna Prochnick as Salome’s mother Herodias.

Conductor Dan Ettinger led an energetic, dramatic, deeply nuanced performance from the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion and successfully drew out the intricate details of Strauss’s complex masterful score.

This outstanding top-notch production of Salome can hold its own with that in any major international opera house and represents a real triumph for the Israel Opera. It should not be missed.  Performances run through January 24.

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/CONCERT-REVIEW-The-Israel-Operas-Salome-578017

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See also:

Miley Cyrus ‘felt sexualised’ while twerking during 2013 MTV VMA performance

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/40618010/miley-cyrus-felt-sexualised-while-twerking-during-2013-mtv-vma-performance

Miley Cyrus in her Wrecking Ball music video

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Salome dances for Herod in the film King of Kings (Actress Brigid Bazlen)

Image result for Salome dances for Herod in the film King of Kings, pictures, Brigit

Brigid Bazlen

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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 12, 2019 — “He must increase; I must decrease.”

January 11, 2019

Here John shows the essence of humility, which has many forms. In what ways do I exemplify humility?

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Detail of “The Charge to Peter” by James Tissot.

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Saturday after Epiphany
Lectionary: 217

Reading 1 1 JN 5:14-21

Beloved:
We have this confidence in him
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 anyone begotten by God does not sin;
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.
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Responsorial Psalm  PS 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6A 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 MT 4:16

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

Gospel  JN 3:22-30

Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea,
where he spent some time with them baptizing.
John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim,
because there was an abundance of water there,
and people came to be baptized,
for John had not yet been imprisoned.
Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew
about ceremonial washings.
So they came to John and said to him,
“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan,
to whom you testified,
here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.”
John answered and said,
“No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ,
but that I was sent before him.
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom;
the best man, who stands and listens for him,
rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.
So this joy of mine has been made complete.
He must increase; I must decrease.”

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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12 JANUARY, 2019, Saturday after the Epiphany

THE JOY OF RECONCILING MAN WITH GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 JOHN 5:14-21PSALM 149:1-69JOHN 3:22-30 ]

Christmas celebrates the gift of God to us in the person of Jesus.  In assuming our humanity, Jesus reveals to us our identity as children of God.  Indeed, God became man so that man could become god.  However, many of us fail to recognize our dignity as children of God and as a consequence do not live as one.   This is because of sin.  Indeed, our sins prevent us from being conscious of our identity as sons and daughters of God.

St John in the first reading warns us of the danger of sin.  “Every kind of wrong-doing is sin, but not all sin is deadly.”  The truth is that a man begins by committing small sins.  If such things spring from his wounded nature and the manifestation of his human weakness, it is a venial sin.  Such sins are normally committed because of temptations and the weakness of the will to resist sin.   Such sins can be forgiven through prayers and the reception of the sacraments.  This is why, St John says, “If anybody 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 – not those who commit a deadly sin; for there is a sin that is death, and I will not say that you must pray about that.”

However, the sins that really destroy us are those deliberate sins which we purposefully seek to commit, knowing full well that it is a sin.  When such sins are planned and a person chooses to go against God’s will and hurt his neighbours, it is a serious sin leading to death.  Hence, we call them mortal sins.  St Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Rom 6:23)  The truth is that one begins with a small sin and then we become more daring and commit bigger sins because our hearts and minds are clouded by our sins and selfishness.  After some time, what is sinful and serious is no longer felt in our conscience.  We become dead to sin and as the consequence of sin, we hurt ourselves more and more by hurting others.

Once we commit a serious sin, unless we repent and turn to God in contrition, it will lead to a repetition of our sins.  This is what the Lord warns us.  That is why a sin of lust will lead to another and more serious sin of lust. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Mt 5:27f)  An act of anger will lead to revenge and eventually killing.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mt 5:21f)

Prayers will help a person to grow in holiness and be attuned to the will of God.  “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 ask of him.”   St John is saying that Christ will hear our prayers if we pray in accordance with His will.  Indeed, all prayers are directed towards finding and doing the will of God.  Many of us think that prayer is to change the mind of God.  Rather, prayer is to align ourselves with His holy will, which is always best for us.  That is why, if our prayers are to be answered, we need to be obedient to His will.  Indeed, we must ask whatever the Lord wants of us.  Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  (Jn 14:13f) To ask in the name of Jesus is to ask everything for His sake and for the glory of His name.  Therefore, there is nothing more effective in growing in holiness than through prayers and intimacy with the Lord.

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Prayers will help us to know Jesus.  Knowledge of Jesus is the key to overcoming our sins because using our will is not sufficient because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  St Paul struggled with sin himself.  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:21-25)  Indeed, through our own strength alone, we cannot be delivered from sin except in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus’ love and mercy helps us to conquer sin, not out of fear of punishment but out of love for the Lord.

This is what St John meant when he wrote that if we are baptized, we will not sin.  “We know 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.”  It does not mean that Christians can no longer sin.  What St John meant is that we do not sin deliberately because of God’s spirit in us.  But we will still sin out of weakness.  However, we do not fall into despair but continue to trust in the mercy of God, knowing that He has won victory over sin.  “We know that we belong to God, but the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One. We know, too, that the Son of God has come, and has given us the power to know the true God. We are in the true God, as we are in his Son, Jesus Christ.”   This is what baptism is all about.  We have Jesus in the gospel baptizing in the river Jordan.  To be baptized is to ask for forgiveness of our sins and most of all, to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so that we can share in His sonship.

Today, like John the Baptist, we are called to direct sinners to the Lord.  Today, it is very difficult to convince people of the truth because of relativism.  We are bombarded with all kinds of philosophy and reasoning.  There is so much information and so many viewpoints on any issue that many of us are more confused than ever after reading all the different views.  We no longer know what is right or wrong anymore.  When reasoning and all arguments fail, the sure way to get people to accept Jesus is to lead them to Him.  If they know Jesus and if they fall in love with Him, then they will be able to see everything from the perspective of our Lord in the scriptures.  So instead of seeking to reason out with those who are disagreeable, although, it still might be necessary at times to defend our faith, yet, the better approach is through the testimony of our lives and our faith. Only through a life of holiness and faith in our Lord, can we convince others to come to Him so that He can be the Lord of their lives.

For this reason, we must pray for sinners even as we seek to reach out to them in compassion and love.  Our Lady, in all her apparitions, constantly urged us to repent and pray for sinners.  If words cannot change them, then prayers will change their hearts through God’s grace.  It is not enough just to pray for physical health and material needs.  If the body is important, how much more important is the soul because that soul is destined for eternal life.  We need to pray for the salvation of souls so that united with the Lord, they are saved for eternity, not just for this world.  If God answers prayers for material and physical needs, more so, He will hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners.

Indeed, like John the Baptist, great is our joy when we bring a sinner to Jesus to be reconciled with God.  “The bride is only for the bridegroom; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This same joy I feel, and now it is complete.”  In bringing sinners back to God, we also save our own souls.  St James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  (Jms 5:19f)  Indeed, like John the Baptist, we must be conscious of our role as mediator to Jesus.  Once that is done, we should move aside and not be an obstacle for others to come to know the Lord.  With John the Baptist, we say, “I myself am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent in front of him. He must grow greater, I must grow smaller.”

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

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Reflection from Lectio Divina

Both John the Baptist and Jesus indicated a new way to the crowds. But Jesus, after having adhered to the movement of John the Baptist, and after having been baptized by him, advanced a step ahead and created His own movement. He baptized  people  in the Jordan River when John the Baptist was also doing it. Both of them attracted the poor and abandoned people of Palestine by announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

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• Jesus, the new preacher, had a certain advantage over John the Baptist. He baptized more people and attracted more disciples. Thus, a tension arose between the disciples of John and those of Jesus, concerning the “purification,” that is, concerning the value of baptism. The disciples of John the Baptist experienced a certain envy and went to John to speak to him and informed him about the movement of Jesus.

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• John’s  response to his disciples is a beautiful response, which reveals his great spirit. John helps his disciples to see things more objectively. He uses three arguments: a) Nobody receives anything which is not given by God. If Jesus does such beautiful things, it is because he receives them from God (Jn 3:27). Instead of having envy, the disciples should feel joy. b) John reaffirms once again that he, John, is not the Messiah but only the precursor (Jn 3:28). c) In the end, he uses a comparison taken from the wedding feast.

At that time, in Palestine, on the day of the wedding, in the house of the bride, the so called “friends of the bridegroom” waited for the arrival of the bridegroom to present him to the bride. In this case, Jesus is the bridegroom, the crowd is the bride, John the friend of the bridegroom. John the Baptist says that, in the voice of Jesus, he recognizes the voice of the bridegroom and can present him to the bride, to the crowds. At this moment, the bridegroom, the people, leave the friend of the bridegroom and follow Jesus, because they recognize in Him the voice of their bridegroom! And for this reason the joy of John is great, “complete joy”. John wants nothing for himself! His mission is to present the bridegroom to the bride! The last sentence summarizes everything: “He must increase, I must decrease!” This statement is also the program for anyone  who follows Jesus.

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• At the end of the first century, in Palestine as well as in Asia Minor, where there were some communities of Jews, there were also people who had been in contact with John the Baptist or who had been baptized by him (Acts 19:3). Seen from outside, the movement of John the Baptist and that of Jesus were very similar to one another. Both of them announced the coming of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 3:1-2; 4:17). There must have been some confusion between the followers of John and those of Jesus. And because of this, the witness of John about Jesus was very important.

The four Gospels are concerned about transmitting the words of John the Baptist saying that he is not the Messiah. For the Christian communities, the Christian response, John’s response, “He must increase but I must decrease” was valid not only for the disciples of John at the time of Jesus, but also for the disciples of the Batiste or Cambric community of the end of the first century.

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-322-30

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Homily By Pastor Mark Driscoll

How odd would it be if you attended a wedding in which the star of the show was one of the groomsmen? Imagine if he demanded to be at the center of the photos, stood in front of the pastor for the ceremony, cut the cake, and had the first dance.

That would be incredibly awkward and wrong. Why? Because that is not his place.

Humility literally means, “to know your place.” Being humble requires knowing and accepting your place. None of us can say we are humble, but we should seek to say that we are pursuing humility by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Before Jesus started His ministry, John the Baptizer’s ministry began and got off to a rocket-ship launch. Before long, some of the people and leaders following John left him and started following Jesus instead. Some of John’s leaders were a bit miffed, so they brought their concerns to John. John’s response is amazing. In humility, he says that Jesus is the groom, the Church is the bride, and he was just the groomsman there to help – he’s not the star of the show.

The phenomenon of people leaving one ministry for another is nothing new. When someone transitions, some people immediately think it’s a bad thing and start to blame others. Sometimes the leader, ministry, or person leaving is tagged as bad.

John reveals that sometimes it is good for a person to transition from one ministry to another. Jesus and John the Baptizer were both good leaders with good ministries, and the people moving to Jesus’ ministry from John’s were seemingly good people. John rightly saw this as a good thing.

At the end of the day, people belong to God, not to the human leaders in a ministry. Sometimes, God moves people from one ministry to another because they are needed. This is precisely what John is saying – that the people were being sent by God to help Jesus, which is a good thing. This is a healthy model for handling transition in a godly way.

Are you more prone to encourage or criticize other ministries? If God calls you to move from one ministry to another, how can you do that in a healthy and godly way?

https://markdriscoll.org/he-must-increase-i-must-decrease/

Related:

More later….

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Bishops Describe Retreat With Father Raniero Cantalamessa

By Carol Zimmermann 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Although the weeklong retreat for U.S. Catholic bishops emphasized quiet reflection, several bishops spoke out on social media during the retreat and after it wrapped up Jan. 8 with positive reaction about it and to give shoutouts to the retreat leader, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for nearly 40 years.

One bishop said listening to Father Cantalamessa was akin to being in the presence of the early Christian theologians. “Clear, intensely filled with the Holy Spirit, and all for the Kingdom of God,” Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio said in a tweet. “Let us continue to pray for one another, our church and our world. A blessing to be here!”

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the papal household, delivers the homily to U.S. bishops during Mass Jan. 3 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary during the bishops’ Jan. 2-8 retreat at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, tweeted that the retreat leader was a “true instrument of the Lord” and that the Holy Spirit was at work during the retreat.

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, described Father Cantalamessa’s talks and homilies as “powerful and engaging.”

He tweeted that he was glad they had time to reflect and pray about their role as shepherds, stressing: “We must start there to be able to offer healing. I am taking this very seriously but feeling positive.”

Boston Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O’Connell said it was a “truly blessed experience” to be on retreat with Father Cantalamessa and fellow U.S. bishops.

“The Holy Spirit was powerfully present, and I was quite moved,” he tweeted. He also thanked the pope for giving the bishops this gift.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980. The time of prayer Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago was planned largely in response to last summer’s revelations of allegations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church.

In a Jan. 8 column for Angelus News, the archdiocesan news outlet of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bishops’ retreat leader focused “our attention on the vocation and responsibility of bishops in this moment in the church.”

“We are praying together as a visible sign of our unity as bishops and our communion with the Holy Father. There is a collegial spirit here and a firm commitment to address the causes of the abuse crisis we face and continue the work of renewing the church,” he added.

The archbishop said Father Cantalamessa asked them to “trust more in the Holy Spirit. We need to have confidence that we are always living in God’s loving presence.”

Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services listens to the homily during Mass Jan. 3 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception during the bishops’ Jan. 2-8 retreat at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, wrote a few blog posts about the retreat with some reflection about the retreat leader’s message.

 

He said they heard about the need to emphasize in their preaching the fundamental belief in Jesus before delving into his message and teachings.

He also said Father Cantalamessa emphasized the need to root out “love of money” and all that it implies, including material possessions, honor or power.

“If this pursuit for ‘money’ needs to be rooted out from our Christian lives, then we need to embrace a true spirit of detachment,” the bishop wrote, adding that he would add more to that topic in the days ahead.

The theme of the U.S. bishops’ retreat was “the mission of the apostles and of their successors” drawing from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus “appointed 12 — whom he also named apostles — that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach.”

Reflections from the retreat do not seem to be about the crisis in particular, maybe for a reason.

In an email to Catholic News Service weeks before the retreat, Father Cantalamessa said he would “not talk about pedophilia and will not give advice about eventual solutions; that is not my task and I would not have the competence to do so.”

“The Holy Father asked for my availability to lead a series of spiritual exercises for the episcopal conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, can receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solutions for the problems that afflict the U.S. church today,” he added.

In a Jan. 9 column for the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the pope’s intention for the retreat went beyond “this particular moment or challenge facing us bishops.”

“We are not leaving this retreat with all the answers to the important questions facing the church in these days,” he wrote, but he said the bishops now have a renewed sense of the importance of taking their cues from “Christ’s spirit rather than our own efforts.”

Another blessing from the week, he said, was being drawn closer to each other and to the pope.

“I have no doubt that just as the early church relied on Peter’s unique ministry to meet the challenges of the day, so we will draw strength and insight from our unity with his successor,” he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

Source:https://cnstopstories.com/2019/01/10/bishops-describe-their-retreat-as-inspiring-spirit-filled/

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, January 2, 2019 — “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert…” — “Lord, to whom can we go?”

January 2, 2019

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’

Image result for Saint John The Baptist sculpture – chainsaw woodcarving (Sveti Jovan Krstitel – skulptura)

Saint John The Baptist sculpture – chainsaw woodcarving (Sveti Jovan Krstitel – skulptura)

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
Lectionary: 205

Reading 1 1 JN 2:22-28

Beloved:
Who is the liar?
Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father,
but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.
I write you these things about those who would deceive you.
As for you,
the anointing that you received from him remains in you,
so that you do not need anyone to teach you.
But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false;
just as it taught you, remain in him.And now, children, remain in him,
so that when he appears we may have confidence
and not be put to shame by him at his coming.

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

R. (3cd)  All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R.  All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Alleluia  HEB 1:1-2

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In times, past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets:
in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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File:El Greco - St. John the Baptist - WGA10548.jpg
El Greco, St John the Baptist, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Gospel  JN 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted,
“I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’

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

For the readings of the Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, please go here.

Related (Includes bio summaries of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen):

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Commentary on John 1:19-28

From Living Space

From today until January 5 inclusive we will be reading from the beginning of John’s gospel after the Prologue and up to the story of the wedding at Cana – corresponding to Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2.  It begins with John the Baptist’s testimony about himself and then Jesus revealing himself to his first disciples.  It finishes with the wedding feast at Cana, described as the first of the ‘signs’ performed by Jesus.  There are seven such ‘signs’ altogether in his gospel.  The whole section covers just one week which reflects the first week of creation in the book of Genesis.  Here there is a new creation under way.

The section is divided as follows:

1, John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself.

2, His positive testimony about Jesus.

3, The revelation of Jesus to Andrew and Peter (in that order)

4, The revelation of Jesus to Philip and Nathanael (also in that order).

5, The wedding feast at Cana.

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St John the Baptist by the artist DONATELLO

John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself

Today we look at the first section.  It is clear that John the Baptist was causing something of a stir with his preaching.  So, officials were sent out from the Temple in Jerusalem to make some enquiries.  Because he said he was not the long-awaited Messiah, they wanted to know who he was.  He said he was not Elijah (whose re-appearance was expected to signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah) come again nor was he a Prophet like Moses.  His questioners persisted.  They had to bring back some information to the authorities in Jerusalem.  John answered them with a modified version of words from Isaiah (40:3):

I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,

‘Make straight the way of the Lord’.

This still does not satisfy and now some Pharisees – distinct from the priests who were all Sadducees – want to know why John is baptising when he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah nor the Prophet.

John says that he is just baptising with water.  “But there is one among you whom you do not recognise, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie”.  By these words he implies that someone who is really a Prophet is on the way bringing with him a much greater baptism.  John is simply preparing the way by a baptism whose emphasis is on purification and repentance.  The new baptism will bring the power of God’s Spirit.

Obviously, there is much in John the Baptist’s role with which we can identify.  John preceded Jesus in time and prepared people for his coming.  We rather are called to precede Jesus in other ways by making it possible for people to come to know him and to follow him.  We are not the Light but we are called to give constant witness to the Light.  Jesus said that he was the Light of the World (John 8:12) but he also said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14).  Do I see myself as reflecting the light of Jesus to others?

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/c0102g/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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02 JANUARY, 2019, Wednesday, Weekday of Christmas Time

CONFESSION OF FAITH IN JESUS AS THE CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 JOHN 2:22-28JOHN 1:19-28 ]

Who is Jesus? This is the question that Christmastide seeks to clarify.  What is so significant in the birth of Jesus?  Was He just an ordinary baby or was He more than just a human being?  The question of the identity of Jesus differentiates Christianity from all other faiths.  This question intrigued the people during the time of Jesus and still is a controversial question today in our times.  In the gospel, during the time of John the Baptist, the people thought that he was the Christ.  “The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ’. ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said.  ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you?”

Today, these similar questions regarding the identity of Jesus persist.  During the time of John, the Christians themselves were divided on the identity of Jesus.   Some claimed that Jesus was just a man.  But they also claimed that they believed in the same God.  Isn’t this what many people including Christians are saying – we all believe in the same God, regardless of which religion you belong to.  Christ is only one of the manifestations of God? And that is what other religions want us to confess, namely, that all religions are the same.  For the sake of peace and harmony with other religions, many Catholics are maintaining this compromised truth with regard to Jesus’ identity.

However, the Church right from the beginning of her foundation has maintained without compromise that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Mother of God.  This feast celebrates the mystery of Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man in one person.   It is important for us Christians to confess that Jesus is neither just God nor just man, but He is truly God and truly man.  Today, the scripture readings want to underscore that Jesus is the Christ.  Confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God is the heart of Christian belief.  Christianity stands or falls with this confession.  Indeed, St John concludes his gospel saying, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  (Jn 20:30f)

Why did St John write so strongly against those half-baked Christians that they were the anti-Christ if they fell short of this confession?  “The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ – he is the liar; he is Antichrist; and he is denying the Father as well as the Son, because no one who has the Father can deny the Son, and to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father as well.”  The truth is if we deny Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, we cannot know God as Father as non-Christians claim.

In saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, it is but the declaration of the Church in what Jesus said of Himself with regard to His relationship with His Father. Indeed, Jesus stated clearly, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  (Mt 11:27)  When Philip asked the Lord, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (Jn 14:8) Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”  (Jn 14:9-11)

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“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?

Hence, to deny Jesus as the Christ is to deny the Father at the same time since Jesus is the way to the Father.  Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  (Jn 14:6f)  We cannot know the Father apart from Christ who is the revealer of the Father since He came from the Father.  This led John to say, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”  (Jn 1:18)  When Nicodemus could not understand about the Spirit giving rebirth to us, the Lord said to Him, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  (Jn 3:12f)

Our faith in Christ as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Son of the Living God will determine whether we can surrender our lives to Him.  Indeed, this was the case of the apostles when they were confronted by the hard teachings of Christ on the Eucharist.  “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’”  (Jn 6:52f)  Then we read, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” (Jn 6:60)  Consequently, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”  (Jn 6:66-69)

Indeed, today, many people including Catholics cannot accept the teaching of the scripture and Church tradition.  They reject the scripture because the values and teachings of Christ do not fit our times.  They try to justify their perspective of life, whether it is with regard to sexuality, marriage, divorce and the dignity of life.  What they seek to do is to make the gospel of Christ fit their preferred lifestyle.  They twist and turn the gospel to suit their selfish desires.   This is the warning of St Paul to the Galatians.  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  (Gal 1:6f)  St John also warns us the same, “This is all that I am writing to you about the people who are trying to lead you astray.”

In the final analysis, we can rationally and logically argue till the end of the world whether same-sex union, abortion, euthanasia, etc are right or wrong. We will have no conclusive answer, not even the question about the existence of God and much less whether Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  This requires ultimate faith in the tradition passed down to us by the Church and faith in Him through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  This is what St John says.  “Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning: as long as what you were taught in the beginning is alive in you, you will live in the Son and in the Father; and what is promised to you by his own promise is eternal life.”  Secondly, we need to rely on the internal forum through the anointing of the Holy Spirit we received at baptism.  “But you have not lost the anointing that he gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you; the anointing he gave teaches you everything; you are anointed with truth, not with a lie, and as it has taught you, so you must stay in him.”

Only through acceptance of the scripture as the Word of God and the tradition passed on to us, can our faith in Christ be firm and true.  St Paul urged the Christians, “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Th 2:13) Again, he reminds us, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”  (2 Th 2:15)  Our faith is founded on scripture and tradition.

Once we have this faith, we can then “take back an answer” to those who ask us about Christ.  Like John the Baptist, we also say, “I am, as Isaiah prophesied: a voice that cries in the wilderness:  Make a straight way for the Lord.”  We are to reveal to others the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.   Only through this revelation, can we be strong in our faith and in our lives as Jesus said to Peter after his confession of faith in Jesus as the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”   Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Mt 16:17-19)  In a similar vein, St John rightly says, “Live in Christ, then, my children, so that if he appears, we may have full confidence, and not turn from him in shame at his coming.”  Knowing Christ, who He is, will give us the confidence to persevere right to the end, knowing that Christ will welcome us to heaven when we finish our pilgrimage on this earth.

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

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, December 27, 2018 — “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”

December 27, 2018

A great prophet is risen up among us; and, God has visited his people. Luke 7:16

Do we run with passion toward the Lord?

Eugène Burnand: Peter and John Running to the Tomb

Simon Peter and John running to the tomb by Eugène Burnand

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Lectionary: 697

Reading 1 1 JN 1:1-4

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

Responsorial Psalm  PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12

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

Alleluia See Te Deum

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 20:1A AND 2-8

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

Art: Christ (as gardener) and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, by Rembrandt.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore 
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27 DECEMBER, 2018, Thursday, St John, Apostle and Evangelist

RESURRECTION FAITH PRECEDES FAITH IN THE INCARNATION

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

We have just celebrated Christmas, the birth of our Lord.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity took flesh when He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation.  Christmas celebrates the reality of this incarnation in the birth of our Lord.   How does one come to believe in the Incarnation, that is, God assuming our humanity?  St John in the beginning of his letter wrote, “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject.”   This claim that God who is the Ultimate Ground of life and existence has taken flesh is an incredible claim.

In the order of knowledge, we proceed historically via the life and history of our Lord.  He was born of Mary, raised up by Mary and Joseph as a carpenter.  His childhood years were practically unknown and we have scanty information about Him.  At the age of 30, He was baptized at the river Jordan by John the Baptist, which marks the beginning of His public ministry.  For the next three years, we see the man Jesus preach the Word of God with authority, reveal the love, mercy and compassion of God in His words and in His deeds.  He reached out to the marginalized, sinners, prostitutes and tax-collectors.  His gospel was directed at the poor and the sick.  He gave hope to them so much so “there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, A great prophet is risen up among us; and, God has visited his people.”  (KJB Lk 7:16)

Jesus in His preaching and teaching alluded to His divine identity when He told Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  (Jn 14:6f)  To Philip, He said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”  (Jn 14:10f)  He added, “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 14:13)

However, even with all His miracles and teachings, we cannot presume Jesus’ divinity because He was a man like us in every way.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”  (Heb 4:15)  That was why He was even rejected by His townsfolk.  They said, “‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”  (Mk 6:2f)

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At most, we can say is that Jesus was a good man.  The people whom He ministered to loved Him.  He cared for the sick, the marginalized and the vulnerable.  He showed them the mercy and face of God.  He was a holy man and a man of God.  But to arrive at the conclusion of St John who said, “That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us”, presupposes faith in the resurrection.  Without faith in Christ’s resurrection, we cannot arrive at the Incarnation because the latter presupposes the full flowering of faith in Jesus’ divinity at the resurrection.  Only because the resurrection reveals the divinity of Jesus, can we then retroject and make the astounding claim that Jesus was God right at the beginning of His life.

How can we arrive at a resurrection faith?  We need to encounter the Lord in person.  There are two ways to make this happen.  The first is through the normal way of getting to know the Jesus of Nazareth.  This was the way of the disciples of Jesus.  They walked with Him.  They saw Him.  They heard Him preach.  They lived with Him.  They knew Jesus in person.  They shared in His wisdom, love and compassion.  The three apostles who belonged to the inner circle had the privilege of previewing His glory at the Transfiguration.  Most of all, they fell in love with Him.  Jesus was their savior, mentor and teacher.  Their previous knowledge of Jesus prepared them for the Easter Faith.  After the initial shock at the scandal of His death, when Jesus appeared to them, they could “see” Him because their faith in Him was based on their historical encounters with the Lord.  However, they all took some time to believe that the Lord was risen.

There is another way to encounter the Risen Lord over and above our historical encounter with the Lord.  It is the way of love.  This was the case of St John.  The gospel addressed him as “the beloved disciple.”  We read that whilst Peter was quiet and stunned by the discovery of the linen cloths left behind by the Lord, he was confused and did not know what to make out of it.  But we read “the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed.”  John believed because he loved the Lord.

Love is the eyes of faith.  When we love, we see more and can intuit an event.  That is why mothers are sensitive to their children’s happiness and wives to their spouses.  When we are in love, we are connected with our loved ones.  Only those who love can truly communicate.  Love is based on trust and openness.  When we love, we accept whatever our beloved says without questioning their sincerity.  We might help them to process but the question of personal integrity is never in doubt.  Only when we do not love, do we question everything the person says because we begin with an attitude of suspicion.

So for us to arrive at the same conviction of St John, we too must come to know the Lord through a study of the historical Jesus in the scriptures.   Unlike the first disciples of Jesus, we do not have the advantage of meeting the Lord in person.  Nevertheless, we can still meet Him in person through bible study and most of all in contemplative prayer on the humanity of our Lord.   It is through knowledge of scripture and intimacy with the Lord in prayer, that the humanity of the Lord becomes real to us.  This explains why spiritual writers and mystics like St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and St Ignatius, including our Holy Fathers, Pope John Paul and Benedict insist that the way to encounter the Lord is through the humanity of our Lord.  We cannot bypass this process and jump straight into a mystical encounter because faith presupposes we already know the historical Jesus to some extent.

However, prayer and bible study is not enough; we need to hear the testimony of Christians who have encountered the Risen Lord in their lives.  Listening to testimonies will help us to be open to the various and varied ways that the Risen Lord shows Himself to us.  When we hear of how lives have been changed because such people encountered the Risen Lord through their illnesses and struggles, we too will know that the Lord is alive.  Many have testified to the power of God at work in their lives, taking away even terminal illnesses, helping them financially, growing their businesses and helping them to evangelize and bring people back to God.  This was how St John gave witness in the first reading when he wrote about what he saw, heard and touched.

Finally, the way to stay in contact with the Lord is to be in fellowship with His body, the Church. Again this is what St John wrote, “What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.”  The reason for the loss of faith is when we live our faith in an individualistic manner.  We have weak contact with the Church, the Body of Christ and so lack the love and support of the community.   Our faith cannot grow without being connected to Christ’s body, the Church.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 16, 2018 — “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord.”

December 15, 2018

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Third Week in Advent

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Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 9

Reading 1  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  IS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6.

R. (6) Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Reading 2  PHIL 4:4-7

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Alleluia IS 61:1(Cited In Lk 4:18)

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

Gospel  LK 3:10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.

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From the Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

The joy of Advent!  And, a hidden fee. The joy that come into our hearts as we think of God becoming a baby in order to save us from ourselves and from all that is evil.  The latter part of that wonderful gift, the saving us from all that is evil, requires us to repent.  Have you ever received in the mail or through social media or the internet an offer whereby you have received a $1000 gift card or 50% savings on future purchases at a department store or online business?  Especially at this time of the year.  Well, this gimmick comes with a hidden fee:  consumers have to purchase a certain amount of goods and services before the “free stuff” is honored.  Jesus Christ is not a gimmick. His gift to us of Himself born of the Virgin Mary is real and mysteriously incomprehensible.  But, He asks of us to repent in order to get the full benefit of the gift.

The first reading today is from the Prophet Zephaniah and expresses how God struggled with the Chosen People, our ancestors in the faith, and occasionally won their return to Him.  God’s gift to the Chosen People was not fully received because they were not willing to do their part by being loyal.  Marketers do the same thing with credit cards and airline travel, “Be loyal to us and we will give you rewards.”  This commercial strategy is remotely similar, but we Christians know that the rewards God urgently wants to offer us, at any moment in time, are unimaginably wonderful and rich.

The second reading from the Letter to the Philippians reminds us that God is always near to us, ready to give us the gift of Himself.  God is with us and seeks us out and forgives us… for this we turn to Him, the small fee.  We can hear these words repeated in our hearts:  the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Christians, let’s get excited!

Saint Luke’s Gospel provides an active portrait of John the Baptist preaching the Good News to the people.  Good news!  God’s good news of salvation for us!  John the Baptist responds to the seekers of God curious to know how to “claim” the free gift of God’s love. Yes, you have it offered to you, but to fully possess the joy of the gift, you must repent.  Turn away from thoughts, words, and deeds that contradict God’s love for us and others.  Live honestly, love one another tenderly, and walk humbly with God.

The challenge of Advent every year is this:  Are we ready to go all the way to claim this wonderful, free gift from God?  He will continue to seek us throughout our lives.  No matter how often we turn from Him, He will be there with us with His love.  Therefore, let us rush, and not tarry, to redeem this wonderful offer from God! His Son:  The Redeemer.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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16 DECEMBER, 2018, Sunday, 3rd Week, Advent

GOD’S NEARNESS TO US IN THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE CAUSE OF OUR JOY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZEPH 3:14-18IS 12PHIL 4:4-7LK 3:10-18 ]

We all desire to be happy and joyful.  Who does not want to be happy in life?  This too is the desire of a Christian.  St Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.”  Being a Christian is a call to happiness.  Happiness presupposes life, peace and joy.   For that is what Jesus said to the apostles, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  (Jn 10:10)  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  (Jn 14:27)  “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”  (Jn 16:24)

So, what is preventing us from being happy?  It is our independence from God.  We want to take charge of our lives without His assistance and His grace.  Our pride wants us to do things our way.  By supplanting the place of God, we have only ourselves to rely on.  This makes us always anxious and worried about the future.  We are afraid we might not have enough to take care of ourselves.  We are afraid of death, which for us is the end of everything.  As a result, we become selfish and defensive.  We seek to grab as much as we can.  We consider all others as our competitors.  Most of all, we use dishonest and evil means to get what we want through lying, cheating, manipulation and intimidation.

Our sins cut us from God and our fellowmen.  We lose our peace of mind.  Our conscience is not at peace.  We are unsettled.  We create enemies all around us.  We have no real friends because people fear us and distrust us.  Our friendships and relationships are superficial. We live in fear of our wrongdoings being uncovered one day.  We might be rich but we are always living in anxiety.  We have a comfortable bed to lie on but cannot sleep at night because of guilt.  This is the punishment that we impose upon ourselves because of our pride and selfishness.  This is what John the Baptist warns us, “His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.”

So if we want happiness and true joy, we must turn away from sin and avoid punishing ourselves.  This was what John the Baptist advised those who came to him.  He asked us to be generous and to practice charity to all.  “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.”  To the tax collectors, he said to him, “Exact no more than your rate.”  In other words, just do your duty well but be honest, fair and have integrity.  Do not be greedy in overcharging those who pay taxes.   To the soldiers, he said, “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!”  In other words, do not use your power to manipulate people for your own benefit and enrichment.   One should be contented with what is given.  In the final analysis, right living, not selfish and irresponsible living is the way to find happiness and joy.

But we know that what we will, we cannot do.  Just knowing what we should do does not mean we can do it.  This is what St Paul experienced as well.  He shared with us his struggles.  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good 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 that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”  (Rom 7:15-20)  That is why, whilst the preaching of John the Baptist was indeed correct, yet, it did not give the people the power to do what they were supposed to do.

This explains the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and that of our Lord.   John’s baptism took away sins through repentance and reformation.  But it did not empower them to live a good life except through their own effort.  Whereas the baptism of the Holy Spirit includes the bestowal of power and love symbolized by fire to empower us to proclaim the Good News and live the life of Christ.  We no longer do it with our own strength but by the power of the Spirit of Jesus.  Indeed, this is how the Lord is near to us, as St Paul says.  

Today, St Paul encourages us to rejoice, even though he himself was in prison suffering!   If we were in his shoes, we would be feeling disheartened and even depressed.  But St Paul was very positive and upbeat even in suffering.  What was the secret of his joy if not for the nearness of God?  His happiness was not determined by external circumstances.  Indeed, this is often the case.  Happiness is not so much what we have but the state of our interior disposition and attitude towards life.  That is why St Paul could later write, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  (Phil 4:12f)

Indeed, because of Christ, we know that God is near because He has forgiven us our sins.  This is what 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.  The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.”  Our real enemies are our sins and the fear of death. Jesus came for all, including the tax-collectors, the most hated people, because they were greedy and dishonest; the Roman soldiers, the most hated army, because they abused their power and authority, and the prostitutes, the most despised people.  God came to forgive us all.  He came to offer us friendship, fellowship and communion with Him.  He came to eat and drink with sinners.

He wants us to know that we are the object of God’s joy and delight.  “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. He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”  We are God’s beloved.  This is concretely experienced when the Holy Spirit, which is the love of God, is poured into our hearts.  (cf Rom 5:5)  With the victory of Christ over sin and death in the power of His resurrection, He, with His Father, bestowed the Holy Spirit upon us all.  “John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

So let us rejoice in His nearness and His presence in our lives.   He comes to us in the Holy Spirit.  He comes to us through our brothers and sisters, if only we will open our arms to welcome them.   He comes to us when we are tolerant and able to accommodate the imperfections of all.  His nearness to us is the cause of peace in our hearts and minds.  Like the psalmist, we only have to remember to give praise and thanksgiving for all that He has done for us.  That is why He comes to us in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  St Paul wrote, “Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.”   Knowing that He is with us gives us joy and strength to endure our sufferings and trials positively, as was the case with St Paul.  Just as He came to the aid of St Paul, the Lord will also come to our help.  With the psalmist, in faith, we also sing, “Truly, God is my salvation, I trust, I shall not fear. For the Lord is my strength, my song, he became my saviour. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” 

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

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

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, December 15, 2018 — “They did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.”

December 15, 2018

Image result for flaming furnace, prophet Elijah, pictures

There appeared the prophet Elijah — whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Three times brought down fire.

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
Lectionary: 186

Reading 1 SIR 48:1-4, 9-11

In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
and who falls asleep in your friendship.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 80:2AC AND 3B, 15-16, 18-19

R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
Take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Alleluia  LK 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
All flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 17:9A, 10-13

As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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15 DECEMBER, 2018, Saturday, 2nd Week, Advent

BE A FORERUNNER OF CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ECCLESIASTICUS 48:1-49-11MATTHEW 17:10-13  ]

In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist expresses our cry to the Lord to come and save us.  “O shepherd of Israel, hear us, shine forth from your cherubim throne. O Lord, rouse up your might, O Lord, come to our help.  God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted.”  Indeed, many are seeking to see the Lord and His mercy.  “Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.”   We recognize our misery and our emptiness in life.   We know that we are seeking the face of God so that we can find real happiness.  The book of Sirach remarks, “Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love.” 

How can this prayer be fulfilled today?  The truth is that Christ has already come but many do not recognize Him.  Christ in His incarnation has shown us the face of God by His life, teaching, miracles and most of all, the greatest miracle of His passion, death and resurrection.  Jesus told Philip who too wanted to see the face of the Father, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”  (Jn 14:9-10)

Of course, this is not surprising because even the Jews did not recognize the prophets when they came, and least of all, the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist.  Instead, they found excuses to reject Him and yet pretended to wait for the return of Elijah as prophesied in Malachi, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5f)  The truth is that he has already come in the person of John the Baptist. This was what Jesus said, “True, Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.”

Like Elijah, John the Baptist preached boldly in his message of repentance.  Indeed, Elijah was one of the greatest prophets, “How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah! Has anyone reason to boast as you have? – taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses; designated in the prophecies of doom to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks, to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.”  John the Baptist was sent to do the same thing, to prepare the Way for the Lord to come by asking the people to repent of their sins.

Why is it that the world could not recognize Jesus when He came and cannot recognize Him even today?  There are three reasons why the world cannot recognize the presence of the Messiah in our midst.  Firstly, many are wounded by life’s tragedies, failures in life, broken relationships, financial difficulties and sicknesses.  When we face so much pain and suffering in life, we wonder whether God is with us and whether He truly loves us because if He did, He would have come to our rescue. There are some too who are deeply wounded by the Church, especially religious leaders and also fellow Catholics.  They cannot accept that in a family of God, they could be treated in that manner without compassion and justice.   Finally, many are misled by the illusions of the world and the worldly lifestyle of pleasure, power, materialism, relativism and egoism that is being promoted.   As a consequence, they are led deeper into sin, darkness, addictions, slavery and hopelessness.

So how can we help them if not by being a forerunner like Elijah and John the Baptist?  We must be fired up by being the torch of Elijah and the light of the world.  “The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch. It was he who brought famine on them, and who decimated them in his zeal.”  Following John the Baptist, we are called to reveal the face of God to the world through our words and actions.  This was what was prophesied of John the Baptist when he was born, which we can also make our own.  “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The season of Advent requires that each one of us acts as a forerunner for Christ to the world.  This explains why the Church advocates all the spiritual, material and social preparations.  We want the world to be reminded of Christ’s coming as Saviour of the World. Indeed, through our good works and encouragement, we can reveal the face of Christ to a broken and wounded people who have lost hope in their future and of life now and hereafter.   It is only when we reach out to the poor, the abandoned, the lonely elderly, the misunderstood colleague, the disheartened parents, the frustrated and dejected young people that they will see the face of God again.

Good works and deeds of charity must be followed by our sharing of Christ at work in our lives.  We must find occasions to talk to them about Jesus, the Saviour of humanity. We do this not by preaching or quoting from the scriptures or expounding our lofty doctrines but simply by sharing with others what Christ has done for us and how by turning to Him in prayer, meditation and especially in the reception of the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation, we find healing, strength and encouragement.  In a nutshell, it is not enough to be the Good News to others, but we must give them the Good News incarnated in Christ as well.  Only when the time is opportune, without sounding too imposing, do we invite them gently to return to Church, make a good confession, celebrate the Eucharist, and for those who are more receptive, to attend a silent or community renewal retreat.  For those who have left the Church, they should be invited for Christian fellowship, Christmas celebration and be encouraged to join groups like Landings, Alpha Program, Charismatic Renewal, etc.  Most importantly, they need to be introduced to good and exemplary Catholics.

For this reason, we cannot be forerunners of Christ our Saviour unless we first imbibe the message of John the Baptist.  We ourselves must first repent, acknowledge and confess our sins and live a life of holiness.  Without which, we will be ineffective messengers of our Lord.  Conversion and repentance must begin with us.  We must accept Christ ourselves.  We must first welcome Christ to our lives by entering into the wilderness in prayer and contemplation of the Word of God, like John the Baptist.   Unless we pray and ask for His grace, we cannot be authentic witnesses.  That is the real problem.  Many Catholics want to be saviours of the world, but they do it without the help of the One and Only Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ.  They do not pray and spend time with the Lord before they serve Him in mission. Indeed, we need to ask for His grace, especially for our leaders.  With the psalmist, we too pray, “May your hand be on the man you have chosen, the man you have given your strength. And we shall never forsake you again; give us life that we may call upon your name.”  In the final analysis, only God can save us and show us His face.  We are like John the Baptist, happy to hear the bridegroom’s voice and happier to know that the Lord is loved and known by so many.   As a forerunner, we remain conscious that our role is to make the Lord increase and we decrease.    He is the Word, we are the voice.  He is the Light, we are the torch.   He is the Saviour, we are simply His messengers.

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

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

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Here’s the pathway to a better life:
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Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly
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The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic
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  • Prayer and Meditation Description: Specifically, Kelly notes that this consists of a daily routine of prayer. “Am I saying the other 93 percent of Catholics don’t pray? No. Their prayer tends to be spontaneous but inconsistent. The 7% have a daily commitment to prayer, a routine” (p. 8).
  • Study Description: “[Dynamic Catholics] see themselves as students of Jesus and his Church, and proactively make an effort to allow his teaching to form them” (p. 14). Kelly also notes that on average they spend 14 minutes each day learning about the faith.
  • Generosity Description: Generosity covers not only time and money, but also generosity in all things. This generosity is a way of life.
  • Evangelization Description: While many Dynamic Catholics don’t consider themselves to be evangelists, they “regularly do and say things to share a Catholic perspective with the people who cross their paths.”

Interestingly, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches the same four characteristics:

— Prayer and Meditation
— Study
— Service to others
— Twelve Step Work (Evangelization)

Related:

Thomas Merton

Image result for thomas merton, pictures

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.

“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.

Lax stopped him in his tracks.

“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton was dumbfounded.

“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…

Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.

Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.

His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.

But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.

 

Thomas Merton said: You should want to be a saint.

You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.

Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.

But many of us are challenged to do more….

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, December 13, 2018 — The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness

December 13, 2018

Whoever has ears ought to hear

Image result for st Lucy, stained glass

St. Lucy stained glass – Holy Trinity Church – Skipton, North Yorkshire, England

“She had a place prepared by God.”

God is not only the Lord of history but He also has a personal interest in the lives of His people.

We all have a greater opportunity than John the Baptist. Bishop Goh says we are GREATER than John the Baptist!

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Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr
Lectionary: 184

Reading 1 IS 41:13-20

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
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Image result for threshing sledge, double edge, pictures

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 145:1 AND 9, 10-11, 12-13AB

R. (8) The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
I will extol you, O my God and King,
and I will bless your name forever and ever.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.
Let them make known to men your might
and the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.
Your Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.

Alleluia  SEE IS 45:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let the clouds rain down the Just One,
and the earth bring forth a Savior.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 11:11-15

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Image result for john the baptist, wood, carving, pictures

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 DECEMBER, 2018, Thursday, 2nd Week, Advent

WE ARE GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST!

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 41:13 – 20MT 11:11-15  ]

“I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.”  This is such an amazing statement, too good to be true!  How could anyone of us claim that we are greater than John the Baptist?  None of us is as holy as he was.  None of us has ever fasted and ate the meager food that he did.  None of us ever lived in the desert, in the extreme cold and heat.  And surely, none of us can claim that we are so passionately in love with the Lord that we are willing to let go of everything and give our lives to Him completely.  So how could we ever dare to hope that we can be greater than John the Baptist?

What is the basis of Jesus’ promise to us?  The truth is that John the Baptist is great not because of what he did and how he lived an austere life in the desert.  Whilst all the great works that he did and the sacrifices he made cannot be denied, yet what made him truly great was simply because the Lord worked in and through Him. Indeed, the greatness of what we do and who we are cannot be based on our own strength but purely on the grace of God.  What made John the Baptist great was that he allowed the grace of God to operate in and through him.

This is what the first reading is saying to us.  When the Israelites were discouraged during their exile in Babylon and wanted to give up hope, God sent the prophet Isaiah to console them.  God is not only the Lord of history but He also has a personal interest in the lives of His people.  With tender words of assurance and consolation, the Lord said, “For I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand; I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, I will help you’. Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm, Israel, puny mite.’ I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks – the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.”

However, it will not be on our own terms but His.  He is our redeemer.  Hence, He told the Israelites that He will transform and restore Israel from that of a desert and wilderness back to a forest of greenery.  Truly, the restoration of Israel was not to be mistaken as the work of men but the work of God.  Only then will people come to know that the Lord is God and there is no other besides Him.

That is why the coming of the Kingdom of God is also a gift.  Jesus who is the Kingdom of God in person is the gift of God at Christmas.  In Jesus we see the Kingdom of God at work, firstly in His life and in His ministry.   Everything that Jesus did was in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Freely, Jesus came from His Father to manifest His love for us.  In Jesus, we see how the power of God was at work, in His miracles and in His work of healing and reconciliation.  He is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none, their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the Lord, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.”   Through Jesus, we see the manifestation of the power of God.  This same power of God is given to us too in the Holy Spirit.  As a consequence, we are now children of God, the adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.  The gift of sonship is not within our power but can only be received as a gift.  For this reason, we are greater than John the Baptist because the Holy Spirit lives in us and makes us His adopted sons and daughters.  This great dignity that is bestowed on us comes purely from His grace alone.  We do not deserve to be God’s children.   But He chose us in Christ just as He chose Israel to be His people out of His goodness and bounty.

But what does it take for His kingdom to work in our lives? What God requires of us is that we make ourselves available.  If we want God to work in and through us, we must be docile and submissive to His grace.  God only works through those who are humble and lowly, like John the Baptist, Mary, the apostles and the saints.  If God permitted the Israelites to suffer exile and humiliation, it was precisely because they needed to be brought low before the Lord could raise them high.  They were depending on their own strength and might to fight their enemies.  They were arrogant and relied on their wealth, army and resources instead of trusting in the Lord.

Secondly, we must be in love with Him.  John the Baptist was deeply in love with the Lord.  He was singular minded in His mission.  His whole life was given to the Lord.  He had no purpose in life other than to fulfill his mission as the messenger to prepare for the Lord’s coming.  That was what Jesus said about him when he confirmed John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to return.  Like Elijah, John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.  (cf Lk 1:17)  Like Elijah, he was to prepare the world to welcome the Lord. (cf Mal 3:23-24)

Accordingly we too are called to learn from John the Baptist in his docility to the grace of God.  Jesus remarked, “Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm.”  What does He mean by this?  It does not mean that the kingdom of God is brought about by violence.  What Jesus is demanding of us is that we seize the opportunity since it is a time of grace.  We must not allow grace to pass us by.  Are we ready to seize the grace that the Lord is giving to us during this time of Advent, a time of hope and a time of renewal in His love?

If so, we must imitate the spirit of St John the Baptist and be receptive to his message of repentance.  The way to repentance begins by hearing the Word of God.  Like John, we need to make time to withdraw into the desert to listen to what the Lord is saying to us.  A sincere response to the Word of God is demonstrated in repentance of heart and a turning to the Lord.  If we have not done so, we must quickly celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with a contrite and repentant heart. Before the Lord can bestow upon us His graces, we must remove the hardness of our heart.

Like John the Baptist, we must show our sincerity in loving Him.  We must also become His messenger in our own way.  We must point people towards Jesus.  They too are looking for signs of the presence of God and His love in their lives.  Yet all the time, we must never forget that God’s love for us is not dependent on whether we do big or small things but that we do everything out of love for Him.  When we cooperate with Him, He will act.  He is looking for those who will accept Him, for those who are receptive to His graces. He will make use of us as He did with John the Baptist to bring glory to Him.

Truly, if, like the Israelites, we are discouraged in life, then know that God wants to restore us all to the fullness of life.  There is no need to be afraid in the face of failure, disappointments and setbacks.  This is because with the Lord we can overcome all things.  We just need to hold on to the promise of the Lord in faith and in hope that He will fulfill His promises in due time for God is the Faithful One.  He is after all our creator and our redeemer.   So let us not lose sight of this gift of the Kingdom that God is offering us in Christ as we open our hearts to receive Him.

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

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

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Homily Notes on Matthew 21:28-32

By Fr. Tommy Lane

It is rather shocking that Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt 21:31) Notice to whom Jesus was speaking, the chief priests and elders of the people (Matt 21:23). That makes it even more shocking. Of course Jesus was talking about tax collectors and prostitutes who had listened to his preaching and had converted. We can think of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) who was a chief tax collector. One of the Twelve Apostles, Matthew (Matt 9:9) also called Levi (Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-28), had been a tax collector. The Scriptures do not explicitly say that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute (Luke 6:36-50 does not mention her) but Luke tells us that Jesus expelled seven demons from her (Luke 8:2) so certainly Luke intends us to understand that she had lived what we might describe as “a very bad life” before she met Jesus.

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On the other hand the chief priests and elders of the people had not converted. So in the parable that Jesus taught, the tax collectors and prostitutes were the first son who at first said no to his father but then thought better and obeyed his father and worked in the vineyard. They had lived a life disobedient to God in the past but when they heard the preaching of Jesus they converted. Like the first son they said no at first but later said yes. The chief priests and elders of the people were like the second son in Jesus’ parable who said “Yes sir” but did not obey his father. They heard the preaching of Jesus and knew the Scriptures but their hearts were closed and they were not responding to God. They were like the second son who said yes but in fact did not obey his father.

Why were tax collectors and sinners able to open their hearts and respond to the preaching of Jesus while the chief priests and elders were not? Perhaps it is because the tax collectors and sinners had reached rock bottom and realized that the lives they were living were empty and meaningless. The tax collectors were well known to be greedy. They paid taxes for the full year in advance to Rome which they would later collect from others but Rome never checked if they were overcharging the tax they collected from others. Everyone suspected they collected much more tax than they paid to Rome. Surely the sinners and tax collectors realized their lives were meaningless and they received respect from Jesus which they did not receive from any of their contemporaries. In Jesus they found life as it was meant to be. Jesus offered hope to the tax collectors and sinners, hope they never before had. When they converted the words of God to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading were fulfilled,

…if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. (Ezek 18:27-28)

If Jesus were talking to us now we can imagine that he might say, “The drug addicts, the alcoholics, the gang members, are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” That would be rather shocking but if they really allowed Jesus to touch their heartsand convert while we only knew about Jesus but did not know him personally in our heart that would make a lot of sense. Those who lived dark lives in the past and have undergone conversion experiences may be living life at a much higher level of meaning than many of us now. Having experienced the depths of misery and the meaningless of their former life they have probed very deeply the meaning of life and found that only in friendship with God does life have value. Having spoken with some of these people and knowing them I am extremely impressed with them. Likewise many of those who convert and enter the Catholic Church know the faith at a much deeper level than “cradle Catholics” because they were searching for answers in their own church denomination and did not find the answers but found the complete answer in the Catholic Church.

Many of those who allowed Jesus to touch their hearts and convert have shared their stories in recent years. (conversion stories) One example is John Pridmore who shared the story of his dark past and his conversion in his book From Gangland to Promised Land. He described the moment of his conversion like this,

…I sat alone and found myself thinking how my life was completely messed up. I felt very depressed and empty…Then I heard what I can only describe as a voice. It was telling me the worst things I had ever done…It was the voice of God, my conscience. The breath was going out of me. It was as if I was dying, and an incredible fear gripped me. I’m going, to hell, I thought. I fell to my knees, and tears began to well up in my eyes. ‘Give me another chance!’ I cried.

Suddenly, I felt as if someone’s hands were on my shoulders and I was being lifted up. An incredible warmth overpowered [p85] me and the fear immediately evaporated. At that moment I knew — really knew, not just believed — that God was real.

…Then I did something I had never done before: I prayed. ‘God, up to now, all I’ve done is take from you in my life and now I want to give.’ What I can only describe as an awesome feeling of love consumed me.…Then I knew for the first time in my life that I was loved by God. Up until then, I had always thought I was worthless and it didn’t matter whether I lived or died.
(From Gangland to Promised Land 84-85)

Looking back on his life later in his book he wrote,

Looking back across my life — a journey, you might say, from gangland to promised land — I’ve come to understand that we just need to ask Jesus to reveal himself in our hearts and let us know that he’s real and that he loves us. I did, and he replied. To anyone who is sceptical about this, I would simply say, just do it. If someone had said this to me when I was involved in all that criminal activity, I would probably have laughed and told them they were living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Now I know that Jesus is real, not through reading books or studying theology, but from personal experience.
(From Gangland to Promised Land 174)

John Pridmore was like the first son in Jesus’ parable; in his early life was said no to work in the vineyard but then underwent a conversion, came to know Jesus, and said yes to work in the vineyard. Do you know Jesus or do you only know about Jesus? Pridmore wrote,

When I was with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the South Bronx, Father Bernard told me about the time he went to work with some poor people in a village in the mountains of northern America. He was deeply impressed by one old man who, despite having no running water, no electricity and little food, was so joyful.

‘How come you’re so happy when you have so little?’ asked Father Bernard.

‘Because I know Jesus,’ replied the old man.

‘But I know Jesus as well.’

‘No. You might know about Jesus in your head, but not in your heart.’
(From Gangland to Promised Land 175)

Do you know Jesus or do you only know about Jesus? If we only know about Jesus while those who were drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, sex addicts, have converted and know Jesus personally then surely Jesus can say they are making their way into the kingdom of God before us. Do you only know about Jesus or do you know Jesus in your heart? Have you met Jesus? If not, tell him you want to meet him.

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Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521. St. Lucy is often pictured holding a dish containing her eyeballs….(Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena)

St. Lucy (Lucy means LIGHT)
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The story of St. Lucy is connected with a period of great political uncertainly and anxiety in the Roman Empire. It was an anxious time as the enemies of the Roman Empire attacked on all sides. After 400 years, the Roman Empire was declining under the constant onslaught of its enemies.  Diocletian (Caius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, 245-313) became the Emperor in 284 and set about trying to regain Rome’s former power and glory.  Diocletian would celebrate Rome’s last great military victory over its ancient enemy, the Persian Empire. Other victories came on the Germanic border but these victories would not bring peace to the Empire.

It was into this time of great anxiety that Lucy was born, in Syracuse, Sicily; into a rich and noble Roman family about the year 283. Her father, a patrician, died when she was five years old. That left her dependent upon her sickly mother Eutychia, who was of Greek descent. This is not surprising considering Syracuse was originally a Greek city and at one time the richest Greek city in the Greek Empire.

Lucy raised a devout Catholic, privately decided in her teenage years to consecrate her virginity to God, and devote her worldly goods to the service of the poor. However, Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and suffering from a bleeding disorder feared for Lucy’s future. She arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

Lucy had to do something.  An opportunity arose for Lucy to try to persuade Eutychia to agree to her desires. Not far away was the shrine of the famous virgin-martyr Agatha, who had been executed in the Decian persecution (5 Feb. 251 A.D.). Her tomb in Catania was attracting numerous visitors and many miracles had been reported through her intercession. Eutychia was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania in the hope of being cured. While there, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured. Agatha also told Lucy that God would do great things through her.

Eutychia was in fact cured, and Lucy, availing herself of the opportunity, persuaded her mother to allow her to continue to distribute part of their riches among the poor. As a result of this miraculous cure, Eutychia realized how saintly her daughter had become.

Also, Lucy could now tell her mother of her vow of virginity to Christ. At first Eutychia was quite dismayed, especially when Lucy, refused to marry. Joyful at her cure, Lucy’s mother agreed to let Lucy help the poor and for now not marry.  As Lucy’s reputation grew in Syracuse, the clouds of persecution gathered over Sicily. .  Lucy was renowned for her beauty and her sparkling eyes.  It was said she had a radiance about her that came from her love for Christ

Meanwhile, at the imperial palace in Rome, Diocletian realized that the empire was now too unwieldy and too exposed to attacks on all sides. To better manage the empire he split the Empire into three parts with himself as Augustus Caesar or head Caesar. General Galerius was appointed Caesar in the East and General Maximian as Caesar in the Western part of the Empire. They would report to Diocletian.  Diocletian at first was very tolerant of the Catholic Faith. Indeed, the Catholic faith grew in great numbers and erected churches in the principle cities. Many Catholics held high positions throughout the Empire.  Catholics even served in the Roman Army.

However, as the Empire reeled under the continued attacks of its many enemies, Galerius and Maximian persuaded Diocletian to attempt to reinstate the ancient pagan religion throughout the empire. It was thought that this would unify and strengthen the empire as in centuries past.

In 303 A.D, Diocletian issued three edicts that began the last and worst of the persecutions against the Catholic Faith. The first ordered the destruction of the churches and the burning of all Catholic writings, especially the Bible. Even more of the precious history of the early Church would be lost.  The second edict was directed against the clergy. Great numbers of bishops, priests and deacons were arrested and martyred. Others were sold off as slaves in the salt and copper mines. The third edict was directed at the laity. Villages and towns would be leveled and their inhabitants slaughtered or sold into slavery for being Catholic.

In 304 A.D. the frightful persecution came to Sicily. The Roman governor, Pascasio, probably to court favor with the emperor, was determined to carry out the three decrees with the full weight of the Roman Army behind him. With the persecution in full swing, Lucy had now to help the poor and her fellow

Catholics who had taken refuge in the extensive catacombs underneath Syracuse.  Lucy had become well known in Syracuse for her faith and charitable works. In these sorrowful days Lucy carried food and drink to Catholics hiding in the dark underground catacombs. It is said she wore a wreath on her head with candles to light her way because her arms were full of food and water. Word of her heroic deeds spread and did not escape the ears of informants.

Upon hearing of this, the pagan youth to which Lucy was betrothed became furious. Perhaps he had presumed that Lucy’s inheritance was already his property. Adding insult to injury, his friends and household servants taunted the young man saying that “Lucy had found a better Bridegroom than he” (meaning Jesus). Whether motivated by pride, greed, jealousy or a combination of all three, in his anger he denounced Lucy to Pascasio, the governor, as a Christian. Lucy was now caught up in the great persecution of Diocletian.  Her patrician status could no longer save her.

Pascasio seized this opportunity to make Lucy an example of Rome’s greatness and displeasure. Thus, the governor wanted to destroy the beautiful “light” that was Lucy. He was not content to just kill Lucy’s body. Lucy had radiance about her, both physically and spiritually. It was his intent to show the Catholics of Syracuse that the Roman Empire was greater than their God. Lucy’s public humiliation was designed to discredit the power of Christ and His Church.

And so Lucy, a beautiful young woman, noted for her eyes that shined with a glow of inner beauty and goodness was hauled before the governor. Lucy seemed to just emanate from her whole being her love of Jesus. It was more than her outer beauty or her joy of life. To all, she radiated her faith in Jesus Christ.

The governor, aware of Lucy’s vow of chastity, was not content to just kill Lucy’s body. He desperately wanted to destroy the beauty of her soul as well. Lucy would be forced to renounce her faith and worship the pagan gods.  If Lucy could be forced to renounce her faith, than other Catholics would follow suit.

Pascasio order a public spectacle in the magnificent amphitheater of Syracuse.  Looking down on the helpless Lucy was the governor sitting in the royal box, surrounded by politician and generals in their splendid Roman armor and vibrant red clocks.  The might of Rome pitted against Lucy.

The governor’s plan was to plunge Lucy into the darkness and degradation of sin. She was first condemned to suffer the shame of prostitution; but when the soldiers came take her to a brothel, in the strength of God, she stood immovable. No matter how they tried, they could not drag her away to that place of shame.

In a desperate effort, a team of oxen was used, but to no avail. Frustrated, the governor demanded of Lucy, “How are you doing this.”  Lucy could only respond that it was not she, but Jesus Christ.  Infuriated, he governor then ordered Lucy to be burned alive if she didn’t deny Jesus and worship the pagan gods. Lucy refused. Bundles of twigs were placed around her. When the soldiers tried to ignite the bundles, they would not burn. The governor ordered the wood to be soaked with oil, but the oil would not ignite. When asked how she was doing all this, Lucy could only answer once again that it was not her but the power of Jesus Christ.  The pagans in the crowd were being won over by this hapless girl.

Sensing that his demonstration of Roman might was becoming undone, in desperation; Pascasio ordered Lucy’s eyes to be gouged out. Still, Lucy stood there refusing to deny Christ.

Sensing that her time of witness and martyrdom was near and moved by the Holy Spirit, Lucy prophesized to the crowd. She told them the persecution would not last much longer and the emperor would loose his throne. In a panic to stop Lucy from continuing, lest he be next, Pascasio ordered a soldier to stab Lucy in the neck with his sword. Strengthened by her Savior, she won her crown of virginity and martyrdom. On December 13, 304 Lucy gained victory and entrance into eternal life.

If the governor thought that it was now over, little did he know?  In death, Lucy became an even greater example of Christian witness.  Miracles started immediately.  Lucy was carried to the cemetery and in Roman tradition her body was prepared for burial in the family mausoleum.  Here, they discovered that her eyes had been miraculously restored. To mark this miracle, Lucy is often pictured with a dish on which is a set of eyes.  She also hold the palm branch, symbol of victory over evil.

Lucy’s predictions came true. The persecution had the opposite effect on the Empire.  As Catholics in the government and army were banished the Empire grew even weaker and more chaotic. The cost of murdering so many citizens drained the treasury.  The persecution had done more damage to the Empire that any foreign enemy.  Plagued with failure, and worn out with wars and the persecution, the aged Diocletian abdicated five months later on May 1, 305.  The persecution ended in the West but continued under Galerius for several more years until a new Augustus Caesar would arise.

Constantine the Great would defeat Maximian and Galerius with the Christian cross emblazoned on his army’s shields and become Augustus Caesar of the Roman Empire in 306. Constantine would sign the Edit of Milan granting religious freedom to the Catholic Church in 313.

We do not know what happened to the young man to whom Lucy was betrothed. He has vanished from history. His name was never recorded. As for the governor, he too vanished into history. Since failure was not tolerated in the Roman Empire, one can only surmise what happened to the governor.  The usual punishment was to “fall on one’s sword.”  In return, the family would retain their social rank and estates.

Once again, the devil lost. He had marked out the saintly Lucy for darkness and defeat but Jesus would give her unprecedented victory. Lucy’s very name means “light.” Her witness to the faith gave hope to the Catholics of Syracuse and all of Sicily. They would emerge victorious from the persecution and begin to rebuild the Church. The pagans, who at first laughed and cried out for Lucy’s death, would be so touched by her willingness to die for her faith that many converted. Within decades Lucy’s name would be added next to Agatha’s name in the Roman Canon or First Eucharist Prayer said in Rome by the pope. In less than three centuries the story of Lucy would be told throughout the universal Church.

The earliest surviving written story of Lucy is found in the Acts, compiled in the fifth century (400’s) showing the great veneration that was already shown to St. Lucy by the early church. Her veneration spread so that by the sixth century the whole Church recognized her courage in defense of the faith. She is one of those few female saints whose names occur in the canon of Pope St. Gregory the Great (died in 604), and there are special prayers and antiphons for her in his “Sacramentary” and “Antiphonary”. She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology. St. Aldhelm (English, died in 709) and later the Venerable Bede (English, died in 735) attest to her popularity that had already spread to England. Her festival was kept in England till the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank, in which no work but tillage or the like was allowed.

Wheat is often carried in the procession of St. Lucy to commemorate a miracle during the famine of 1582 in Syracuse. While gathered in the churches to pray to their patron saint, a flotilla of grain-bearing ships were blown off course and appeared unexpectedly in the harbor. The people were so hungry they didn’t take time to grind the wheat into flour but boiled it into porridge and ate it that way. Today, Sicilians don’t eat anything made with wheat flour on Lucy’s feast day. Instead they eat potatoes or rice in the form of arancine, golden croquettes shaped and fried to the color of oranges and filled with chopped meats. In Palermo, everyone eats cuccia; a dessert of whole-wheat cooked in water; then mixed with sweet ricotta.

The beloved remains of St. Lucy rest in the Basilica of St. Lucy in Syracuse, Sicily

In the Roman Martyrology, Saint Lucy is called both virgin and martyr, and in both titles lies the secret of her sanctity in the Roman Empire of the fourth century. Recent excavations in Syracuse, the ancient capital of Sicily, revealed both her tomb and an inscription dating from the end of the fourth century that mentions her feast day.  She is known to have been honored in Rome in the sixth century and she is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. Lucy, whose name means “light” was invoked by the devout of the Middle Ages as the patroness of those afflicted with any eye disease. In art she is often shown carrying a dish with two eyeballs on it. The poet Dante prayed to Saint Lucy for the relief of an eye ailment, and in his Divine Comedy he gave this saint one of the most honored places in heaven, next to that of Saint John the Baptist. Lucy means “light” and she is the patron of eye troubles and blindness.

St. Lucy by Francesco del Cossa (1473)

As mentioned above, she is often portrayed holding her eyeballs on a dish, although in the painting above by Francesco del Cossa has the eyes held in a more unique way. Her feast originally coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feastday has become a feast of light…of course, not The Light, but pointing to Christ our Light.. There are so many approaches to thinking of light — Christ the Light of the World comes at Christmas; Christ our Light in the Paschal Candle at Easter; we see light through the gift of eyesight; we are enlightened by our Faith and grace; light comes through sunlight, fire, electricity; scientific analysis of the speed of light and the light spectrum, the rainbow colors…and this merely scratches the surface.

All over the world we remember this virgin-martyr saint less than 2 weeks before Christmas. Whether you embrace the Lucia Child of Sweden, the Sicilian customs or particular family traditions, light should play a prominent role in the feast!   

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 9, 2018 — Second Sunday of Advent — “Take off your robe of mourning and misery

December 9, 2018

Put on the splendor of glory from God forever — Display the glory of the eternal name

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Advent glory working through those who believe in Christ

Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 6

Reading 1 BAR 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company..

Responsorial Psalm PS 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6.

R. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Reading 2 PHIL 1:4-6, 8-11

Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.

Alleluia  LK 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  LK 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
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From the Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

How many times in your life have you ever desired to be called? Maybe you waited upon a favorable response after a hopeful job interview? Perhaps you have auditioned for a play or school musical or tried out for an athletic team, and you waited on pins and needles for that affirming call from a director or coach, “You’re in!” What excitement you felt when you received the call from someone who affirmed your worth!

This Sunday, too, is moment of joy and gladness. You are invited to receive a wonderful call. Advent is about the coming of Jesus as our Savior. He calls to us and reaches out to us, down to us, drawing us closer to Himself. Advent invites us to prepare ourselves to hear the glorious call and for the world to receive the Savior.

The Prophet Baruch reminds us that God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company. Probably it is difficult for us to sense this message in our hearts. We are Israel, you and I. God is calling us to follow Him, in joy by the light of His glory. We can only know this by faith in the Lord. We Christians are invited to answer His call through belief in Jesus and to believe that Jesus has come for the salvation of the world through His Advent.

Our faith in the call, Christ’s coming into the world, and that it has changed the world is challenged daily. Through news channels, the internet, and social media we absorb sometimes horrid news about pain, suffering and death and we wonder — where is God? Abject poverty, terrorism, hate crimes, and abuses of all forms shake our faith. We persevere in His Advent, our faith hard-wearing. Despite these terrible setbacks and disappointments and losses, early Christians acknowledged, and modern day Christians reaffirm, His call to the light of His Glory.

Saint Paul in his Letter to the Philippians acknowledges his confidence in the Advent glory working through those who believe in Christ. He who began a good work in us will continue to complete it until the day of His return. We are called to live in that same faith, with complete confidence.

The Gospel today from Saint Luke puts the figure of John the Baptist in front of us. John calls us to repent and await the coming Messiah. Like John, you and I are called to be a “voice crying in the wilderness,” calling out that God is present and that God is here for the salvation of the world. We should be able to proclaim from the depth of our hearts: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

My sisters and brothers, we are called to be witnesses that God has touched our lives and has come expressly for the salvation of our world. The call of salvation is here in our midst. Let us live in faith and confidence: God will complete His work. And, let us live our lives in this Advent season, and beyond, in a way as to more fruitfully receive His call.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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09 DECEMBER, 2018, Sunday, 2nd Week, Advent

RESTORATION OF OUR DIGNITY AS CHILDREN OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Bar 5:1-9Ps 125:1-6Phil 1:4-6.8-11; Luke 3:1-6 ]

We are resistant to change.  Indeed, the call to conversion is often unheeded.  We are creatures of habit and we resist change.  The call of John the Baptist for the repentance of sins was not well taken by the Jewish leaders.  They thought they knew everything and that they did not need someone to remind them of what was the right thing to do.  This is true especially for those who are religious leaders, priests and laity alike, who are very much involved in church work.  We always direct the call to conversion to others, but not to ourselves.

What is actually the call to conversion?  It is not so much to change to something that we are not.  This is often mistaken to mean a call to become better.  In truth, conversion is to return to our original dignity as sons and daughters of God.  We have been created in God’s image and likeness.  Indeed, St John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’  (1 Jn 3:1)

But we have forgotten our dignity because of sin.  The sin of our first parents has wounded our nature, causing us to lose our preternatural gifts.  We have lost our ability to control our will and appetite.  We have lost the gift of infused knowledge to be able to wisely choose the right things and make the right decisions.  We have lost the ability to integrate pain and death into our lives, often seeing pain and death as negative when they are meant to help us to live our lives faithfully and courageously.   If we find it difficult to give up our old way of life, it is because we are ignorant.  We cannot see what is truly good for us as we are blinded by our sins. We think what the world offers can give us life and happiness.

Indeed, St John says, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  (1 Jn 3:1-3)  To find our identity again, we need first and foremost to find God because God is the ultimate self-fulfillment in man.  Without God, man has no meaning and no purpose.  The only reason why we are created is to share in the life, love and the glory of God.  Man’s vocation is a divine vocation, a call to be in union with God who is the source of life.  If the world finds life meaningless or they live without a real purpose, it is because they have forgotten their divine vocation, which is to become God’s image and likeness.  St Paul wrote, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”  (Eph 1:4-60

So conversion is not about sacrificing our good life, or giving up something beautiful and precious.  Conversion is to seek the ultimate truth and ultimate good which is found in God.  Conversion is to return to our original identity before the fall of our first parents.  They were invited to share in God’s life and love, but they rejected that divine call.  They wanted to do things their way, and find their own self-fulfillment without God. They wanted to find life without God.  This is what the world is doing.  This is what humanism seeks to do.  They believe that they can find the fullness of life without the need for God.  Of course, when we use the word, “God”, we mean that every man is seeking the Transcendent because life is more than food and drink.

In order to find this life, all we need to do is to give up those things that prevent the beauty of God from shining through us.  Isaiah cried out, “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head: since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven, since the name God gives you forever will be, Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.”   Indeed, the way for us to share in God’s life is to live a life of integrity and devotion.  By so doing, we restore the peace and honour that has always been ours.  It is the lack of integrity that causes us to be at war within ourselves, and then with others.

It means removing all the obstacles that prevent the Lord from manifesting Himself in us.  This is why Isaiah and John the Baptist urge us to level our pride.  “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth. And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”  The moment we are humble, we will be able to see the greatness and beauty of God.  Indeed, when we straighten our lives, we begin to see things in perspective.  We will no longer be at the service of money and power but money and power will be at our service.   We will no longer be slaves to our passions or to the world, but the world will be a slave to us for the service and the glory of God.  Indeed, as Isaiah prophesied, “For God has decreed the flattening of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills, the filling of the valleys to make the ground level so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God. And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade for Israel at the command of God; for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and integrity for escort.”

To find integrity, we need to find focus in our devotion to God.  This is what the Lord says, “Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east: see your sons reassembled from west and east at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them. Though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you like royal princes carried back in glory.”  God is the One who will restore us to our royal dignity and glory.  Christ is the one who by His death and resurrection restores us our dignity as children of God when we die with Him in baptism and rise to a new life in the Spirit in Him.

Indeed, conversion and restoration is ultimately the work of God.  This is what the psalmist says.  “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream.  Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs.  The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels the Lord worked for them!’  What marvels the Lord worked for us!  Indeed we were glad.”  For Israel, it was unimaginable that they could be delivered from their captivity in Babylon.  To think that King Cyrus of Persia, the pagan king who allowed them to return to Israel and even provided them with the resources to rebuild their temple, was unthinkable.   So too, in the work of restoration, we must rely on the grace of God.  St Paul makes it clear, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”  (Eph 2:8-10)

Of course, conversion takes time.  We are just like an onion.  There are many layers of inauthenticity that we need to peel off.  When we remove one, we find another layer of inauthenticity in us.  That is why restoration takes place.  St Paul prayed, “My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.”   We need to recover our goodness and beauty in Christ.

So let us continue to march forward by remembering who we were and how we can restore ourselves in Christ who is the true man and the true God.  Christ will lead us to restore our identity as God’s children.  So we pray to the Lord even as we apply all our energy to live an authentic life of integrity.  “Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage as streams in dry land. Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap.  They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing; they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”  By striving and by persevering, we will arrive at our divine calling and identity again.  It is the hope of St Paul and ours as well when he wrote, “I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.”

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

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

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, August 29, 2018 — Handing Over Our Lives for The Greater Good

August 28, 2018

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John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist
Lectionary: 427/634

Reading 1  2 THES 3:6-10, 16-18

We instruct you, brothers and sisters,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to shun any brother
who walks in a disorderly way
and not according to the tradition they received from us.
For you know how one must imitate us.
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
nor did we eat food received free from anyone.
On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked,
so as not to burden any of you.
Not that we do not have the right.
Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you,
so that you might imitate us.
In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that
if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.May the Lord of peace himself
give you peace at all times and in every way.
The Lord be with all of you.This greeting is in my own hand, Paul’s.
This is the sign in every letter; this is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

Responsorial Psalm PS 128:1-2, 4-5

R. (1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Alleluia  MT 5:10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Gospel  MK 6:17-29

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
Herodias’ own daughter came in
and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her,
“I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request,
“I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
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Reflection from Living Space
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The story is told in today’s Gospel which comes from Mark. Not altogether coincidentally, it is sandwiched between Jesus sending his disciples out on a mission to do the same work he was doing and their coming back full of enthusiasm for what they had been doing.
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As Jesus would tell them, the day would come when they, too, would be ‘handed over’ (Matt 10:17ff.)After he had sent them out, Mark tells us that King Herod was getting reports of the wonderful things that Jesus was doing – healing the sick, liberating people from evil powers, even bringing people back to life.
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Herod, however, thought it must have been John Baptist come back to life with new powers who was responsible. Other opinions were that Jesus was really Elijah, who was expected to return to earth on the eve of the Messiah’s coming. Others were saying that Jesus was just another prophet. However, Herod was convinced that it was John, whom he had beheaded. “He has been raised up.” It was clear that his killing of John the Baptist was a source of great disquiet to him.
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It is then that Mark relates how this killing took place and it is the reading for us today. John the Baptist had been put in prison by Herod because John had criticised the king for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. This was a clear act of adultery and clearly condemned by the Law of Moses. “It is not lawful for you to take your brother’s wife,” John had said.
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Herodias was deeply resentful of John for this and wanted to get rid of him. Herod, however, respected John as a good and holy man and would do no more than keep him in prison. Although John was critical of Herod’s behaviour, the king could not resist listening to him speak. Then, one day, Herodias saw her chance. On his birthday Herod threw a large party for his courtiers, his military officers and leading citizens of Galilee.
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During the meal, Herodias’ daughter came in and danced. (She is nameless but in tradition she is called Salome.) The king and all his guests were completely won over by her performance. The king, undoubtedly having had a few tankards of wine too much, promised to give the girl anything she wanted, even if it were half of his kingdom.
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Excitedly, the girl went to her mother. “What should I ask for?” She may have been somewhat disappointed and bemused when her mother suggested: “The head of John the Baptist.” However, she went straight back to the king and said: “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Herod was horrified but he had made his oaths and could not lose face in front of his guests.
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An executioner was sent to decapitate John and bring the head back to the assembly. The head was then given by the executioner to the girl, who in turn handed it over to her vindictive mother. Later, John’s disciples took the body and buried it. John is often called the Precursor, literally, the one who runs in front of. John prepared the way for the coming of Jesus.
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Yet he was really a man of the Old Testament, the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus would say that even the least in the Kingdom of God inaugurated by him would be greater than John. In fact, John first appears in Mark’s gospel just at the beginning of Jesus’ public life. As Jesus began his mission to proclaim the Kingdom, John had already been arrested and had left the public scene.
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But John was a precursor not only in the sense of preparing people for the coming of Jesus, he also was a man of complete integrity and was ready to give his life for truth and justice. Hence, he was the first of those who would be ‘handed over’ and who would be ready to die for his God. In this he prepared the way for Jesus and those of his followers who would be handed over and give their lives.
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And of this we are the beneficiaries. Each one of us, too, needs to be ready hand over our lives for the work of the Kingdom.
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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29 AUGUST, 2018, Wednesday, The Passion of John the Baptist
MY LIPS WILL TELL OF YOUR JUSTICE, O LORD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 1:17-19MARK 6:17-29  ]

There are two things that human beings seek most in life other than physical and material needs.  It is the search for truth and authentic love.  Our human intellect will never rest until we find the truth that we are searching for.  Our human heart will remain restless until we find true love in life.  So we seek not only for truth but also for true love.  Without satisfying our mind and heart, a person cannot find rest in life or find true happiness.   We live for meaning and the only real meaning of life is true love.  

In the responsorial psalm, we hear the psalmist crying out for justice.  “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice rescue me, free me: pay heed to me and save me.  Be a rock where I can take refuge, a mighty stronghold to save me; for you are my rock, my stronghold.  Free me from the hand of the wicked.”  Indeed, all of us seek justice in life.  This is in our DNA.   We are proud beings and our ego would not let us be humiliated or our desire for our interests be taken away by others.   That is why we are quick to defend ourselves, especially when we know we are in the right.  Even those who are wrong wish to appear to be right.  Many would use all kinds of devious means and arguments to make themselves look good before others.

Do not be dismayed at their presence, or in their presence I will make you dismayed.”  This is what the Lord said to Jeremiah.  When we are silent in the face of injustice, our conscience would be disturbed.  Not doing anything to right what is wrong pricks our conscience.  We cannot stand evil and injustices done not just to ourselves but to others as well.  When we see people oppressed, cheated or maligned, we feel for them.  We cannot stand evil done to others, much less to ourselves.  We hear stories of corruption, abuses, violence and terrorism.  In the face of such injustices and atrocities, our conscience would not allow us to rest especially when we are in a position to do something.

This is why dramas on justice and revenge are amongst the most common motifs in movies and TV serials.  No drama, if it were to appeal to the audience, should end with evil victorious over good.  We all want to watch dramas that have a happy ending, which is that the good are rewarded and the evil punished. We feel happy when the perpetuators of injustice and those who commit crimes and evil are brought to justice.  We feel justified when people who used their power to corrupt others and manipulate others to do evil are condemned, punished and given their just deserts.  Deep inside us, there is a part that always rejoices in what is right and good; and we are dismayed when evil and injustices are committed.  We rejoice when the good man wins and the evil man is punished.

In truth, even people who do evil and commit misdeeds are bothered by what they do.  Not all sinful people are intrinsically evil.  Rather, they are weak and susceptible to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the Evil One.  Even so, they may apparently look happy and satisfied, but in truth they live in guilt and fear.  This was the case of King Herod.  “Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.”  Although he was doing everything that John the Baptist condemned, yet ironically, he liked to listen to him.  This is true for many of us.  We enjoy hearing a nice and inspiring homily.  We feel guilty after that but at the same time, we feel good.  This means that grace is still present in us.  We know that we are weak and sinful but our hearts are not totally closed to goodness.  We want to change our lives but we are too weak to change.

For such people, grace is still at work in their conscience.  In the case of King Herod, he was a weak ruler.  He could not resist the sin of lust.  He was under the control of Herodias.  He could not say “No” to her.  He was a man who lived in fear of what people thought of him.  That was why when Herodias’ daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate, he did not have the courage to do the right thing; not because he had made the promise to do whatever she asked.  In moral theology, we do not have to fulfill a request for something that is morally evil even if we had promised to fulfill every request.  Hence, his conscience continued to haunt him.  “At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” (Mt 14:1f)

However, for those whose hearts are closed to goodness and truth, like Herodias, they suffer even more without being aware of it consciously.  People like her are so consumed by their desires, their fears, their greed and anger that they are filled with anxiety, distrust, suspicion and anger, leading them to resort to manipulating  people, planning and scheming.  Such people can never find peace in this life or in the next.   What is the use of abusive and authoritarian powers when everyone is afraid of you and you have no real friends?  What is the use of ill-gotten wealth when you know that one day our crimes will catch up with us and we would have to pay the consequences of our greed?  What is the use of fame when a greater disgrace will befall us once we are overthrown?  Those who live evil and dishonest lives have nothing but worries, fears and anxieties.

In truth, whether we are weaklings when it comes to sin or whether we are identified with our sins, our unsettled and disturbed conscience will haunt us to death, if not physically, it would be morally and emotionally.  Herodias knew that she was evil but she could not stop being evil.  One sin leads to another.  This was true of Herod.  From adultery, it led to the wrongful imprisonment of John the Baptist and then to his killing.  So too for Herodias.  From sinful desires, it became anger, revenge and hatred, leading to conniving and killing.  The more we try to suppress the wrongs we do, the more it will surface in other ways.  All dictators, oppressors and molesters were once victims of authoritarian parents and superiors, abusive authority figures and sexual predators.  Hence, they are acting out of their deepest wounds, insecurity and anger.

How many of us are like them, haunted by our past sins and actions?  Instead of coming to terms with our past, repenting and turning over a new leaf, we, like them, try to suppress the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  St Paul urged the Christians, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”  (1 Th 5:19-22) Today, we are called to listen to the voice of John the Baptist.  Otherwise, we will cause further damage to ourselves and those under our care, like the daughter of Herodias.  The seed of evil was planted in her, and one day she too would follow in her mother’s footsteps and suffer the same consequences.

Like John the Baptist, we too must work for justice and truth.  This is the command of the Lord, “Brace yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you.”  It is not easy to bring about justice.  The most difficult ministry is to be a prophet of God, for no prophet is welcomed.  We need perseverance and courage to withstand opposition.  This might take years and often without certainty.  This was the case of the many political and religious martyrs who died for their convictions.  We have much to learn from them, the courage, perseverance and convictions they displayed.  We too must put our faith in God who will bring our work to completion.  He assured us, “I, for my part, today will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to comfort all this land: the kings of Judah its princes, its priests and the country people.  They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, August 4, 2018 — “Watch this man. Mighty powers are at work in him.”

August 3, 2018

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Sins of the flesh contrasted with this wonderful man of the cloth….

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Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest
Lectionary: 406

Reading 1 JER 26:11-16, 24

The priests and prophets said to the princes and to all the people,
“This man deserves death;
he has prophesied against this city,
as you have heard with your own ears.”
Jeremiah gave this answer to the princes and all the people:
“It was the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and city
all that you have heard.
Now, therefore, reform your ways and your deeds;
listen to the voice of the LORD your God,
so that the LORD will repent of the evil with which he threatens you.
As for me, I am in your hands;
do with me what you think good and right.
But mark well: if you put me to death,
it is innocent blood you bring on yourselves,
on this city and its citizens.
For in truth it was the LORD who sent me to you,
to speak all these things for you to hear.”Thereupon the princes and all the people
said to the priests and the prophets,
“This man does not deserve death;
it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.”So Ahikam, son of Shaphan, protected Jeremiah,
so that he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

Responsorial Psalm PS 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34

R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Rescue me out of the mire; may I not sink!
may I be rescued from my foes,
and from the watery depths.
Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me,
nor the abyss swallow me up,
nor the pit close its mouth over me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Alleluia MT 5:10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Image: From the film “King of Kings”

Gospel MT 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus
and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist.
He has been raised from the dead;
that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison
on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip,
for John had said to him,
“It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people,
for they regarded him as a prophet.
But at a birthday celebration for Herod,
the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests
and delighted Herod so much
that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for.
Prompted by her mother, she said,
“Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests who were present,
he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.
His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl,
who took it to her mother.
His disciples came and took away the corpse
and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.
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Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, T.O.S.F. (8 May 1786 – 4 August 1859), commonly known in English as St. John Vianney, was a French parish priest who is venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint and as the patron saintof parish priests. He is often referred to as the Curé d’Ars (i.e., Parish Priest of Ars), internationally known for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish in ArsFrance, because of the radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings. Catholics attribute this to his saintly life, mortification, his persevering ministry in the sacrament of confession, and his ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His feast day is 4 August.
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There are several great books on John Vianney. He heard confessions endlessly — often sleeping for only a few house on a cot and eating a few crackers. people came from all over France to “give the confessions to the Curé d’Ars. He heard so many confessions and knew the trouble of mankind so well that he could often point out to sinners the sins they forgot to confess! He is credited with several miracles, including a kind of “loaves and fishes” multiplication of food to feed his flock…..
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Commentary on Matthew 14:1-12 From Living Space

Our reading is about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. When Herod the Great died his kingdom was divided among four of his sons. One of them, the Herod of today’s Gospel and also known as Herod Antipas is called a “tetrarch”, meaning that he was the ruler of a fourth part or a quarter of a territory.

Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD, that is, all during the life of Jesus and beyond. He is the one who wanted to see Jesus and whom Jesus called “that fox”. He is the one to whom Pilate sent Jesus during his trial. His rather painful and loathsome death is described in the Acts. Although only a tetrarch, Matthew calls him ‘king’ because that was his popular title among the Galileans and also in Rome.

It seems that, by all accounts, Herod was a nasty man and, as revealed by today’s story, a weak and highly superstitious one. It is striking how many powerful people are made insecure by superstition e.g. businessmen worried by the feng shui (lucky orientation) of their company buildings, anxious to have ‘lucky’ numbers on their cars, and the like.

Herod was hearing extraordinary things about Jesus and he came to the conclusion that Jesus was a re-incarnation of John the Baptist whom he had executed for reasons he knew very well to be totally wrong. Now here was John’s spirit come back to taunt him for he had killed God’s servant.

This leads to a re-telling by Matthew of the events which led to John’s death.

John, who was no respecter of persons, had openly criticised Herod for taking his half-brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, as his own partner. This was in clear contravention of the Mosaic Law. Herod’s fault was not so much in marrying a close relative but for taking her as his wife when Philip was still living and, at the same time, putting away the wife he already had.

It was already an extraordinarily incestuous family. Herodias was a granddaughter of Herod the Great and therefore a niece of Herod Antipas. First, she married another uncle, Herod Philip, who lived in Rome. He was a half-brother, from a different mother, of Herod Antipas. It was on a visit to Rome that Herod Antipas persuaded Herodias to leave her husband for him. This, of course, was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic law: “You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother” (Leviticus 18:16).

Herod, doubtless under pressure from Herodias, had wanted to rid himself of the embarrassment John was causing him but was afraid to do anything because, in the eyes of the people, John was a prophet and spoke in the name of God.

Herodias got her chance on the occasion of Herod’s birthday. Knowing her new husband’s weakness, she got her daughter to dance in his presence. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the daughter was known as Salome. She later married her granduncle, another Philip and a son of Herod the Great who ruled over the northern territories. He is mentioned by Luke.

Whether the dance was as lascivious as Cecil B. de Mille and others like to suggest, we do not know but Herod was greatly taken by the performance. In the presence of his courtiers and very likely having drunk a little too much he promised the girl he would give her anything she wanted, even half his kingdom. Under the prompting of her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist delivered on a dish. Herod was clearly appalled and also afraid but he had made his oath in the presence of a large number of people. He could not go back. John was decapitated and the head delivered as requested. His disciples came and buried the body and then went to tell Jesus.

There are echoes in this story of Jesus’ own death. He also died because of the moral weakness of Pilate who gave in to the threats of the Jewish leaders for the sake of his own career. Jesus’ death too was the result of blind hatred. And when he died his disciples arranged to have him buried.

Undoubtedly John was a martyr. He died as a witness to truth and justice in the service of God.

Herod, on the other hand, put expediency and his own convenience before truth and justice. He was in an immoral relationship with another woman and he gave in to what he felt would be the criticism and perhaps the derision of others. He had indeed made an oath but it was one that, in the circumstances, he was obliged not to observe.

With whom do I identify with more? John the Baptist, the fearless champion of truth and justice? Or Herod, the vacillator, the one who compromised truth and justice because of pressure of opinion and his own personal interests? I am sure all of us can think of times when we compromised with what we knew was the good thing, the right thing to do and took the line of less resistance.

John is an example to us of integrity. And, like him, we have each one of us been called in our own way to be prophets, to be spokespersons for God’s way. It may not always be easy.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2177g/

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Image result for Brigid Bazlen portrays Salome, photos
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From the film “King of Kings” Brigid Bazlen portrays Salome, seen here performing a dance of the seven veils in order to incite King Herod with lust into giving her “anything [she] wants” — the head of John the Baptist.
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First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
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This is one of our favorite gospels. Given the choice between sparing a wrongly accused human’s life; a self-important leader chooses to watch a sexy dancer.
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Instead of choosing God’s will or truth or justice, in this reading we see what happens to one who chooses all the sins of the flesh for himself: mounds of food, gallons of wine and provocative sexual behavior.
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Many people today still live by the evil principles of life we see in this Gospel. We here at Peace and Freedom got into an “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude ourselves.
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Humans are constantly seeking. We want what makes us happy and we want lots of it. I’ve lusted after money, sex, power, esteem and awards. I’ve even lusted after pizza and chocolate cake but those drugs can
Salomé – 1953 – Rita Hayworth
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We love this Gospel. We should never forget that our time here on earth is short — we’re on the clock. Our lives, some say, have little real value unless they are dedicated to bringing the lives of our family, our friends, and ourselves toward the one truly eternal goal — salvation and resurrection after death — to reap an eternal reward.
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Time moves on, but human behavior remains the same, doesn’t it?  We want to do what we want to do.  But there is more to life than just satisfying our worldly desires.
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Stay true to doing right and living in the truth of the Lord.  It probably won’t make us very popular in today’s culture, but a reward in Heaven is greater than any fleeting popularity that the world can give.
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What an interesting and timely gospel we read today.  These days our church has been working hard to preserve the true meaning of marriage.  In today’s gospel passage from Matthew, John the Baptist is imprisoned and ultimately murdered for criticizing Herod’s illegitimate marriage to the wife of his brother Philip.

Source: http://deacongarydumer.com/2015/08/01/the-head-of-the-baptist-2/

Image result for Head of Saint John the Baptist by an anonymous Spanish painter

Head of Saint John the Baptist by an anonymous Spanish painter c. 1600-1650, Cleveland Museum of Art

The lesson to men: “Don’t lose your head to a girl.”

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See also:
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For myself, wounded wretch that I am,
by your saving power raise me up!
I will praise God’s name in song,
I will extol him by thanksgiving. (Ps 69, 29-30)
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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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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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4 AUGUST, 2018, Saturday, 17th Week, Ordinary Time
SELF-SERVING LEADERSHIP

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 26:11-16,24MT 14:1-12  ]

It is never easy to be a true prophet of God.  We will always face opposition, even in ministry, because of jealousy and selfishness.  We are sure to be persecuted and hated.  The people who wanted to put Jeremiah to death were not even the rulers and the people whom Jeremiah condemned, but the priests and false prophets who opposed the truth.  This is true for us all.  The people who oppose us often come from our own ranks and organization.   It is not the people that oppose us but those whose interests are compromised.  Even the Holy Father has his critics within the Curia and some Catholics who are not happy with his attempts to change the structure of the Church.

This happens mainly due to four reasons: jealousy and insecurity; pride and selfish interests.   King Herod was afraid of John the Baptist because he had become too popular.  He was afraid that the people might follow John instead.  He could start a revolution and Herod could lose his power and authority.  So he had John arrested and put in prison.  Yet he knew that he was a man of God.  And because of the people, he dared not kill him.  He was a thorn in his flesh.  Indeed, all of us get jealous easily when others are perceived to be better than us.  More so if you are a leader and you know that they are better than you. Your position becomes threatened.

For Herodias, her ego was also affected.  John the Baptist had exposed her sin of adultery thus making her lose face.  She became vindictive.  She wanted that thorn to be removed so that she could continue to live in grace and not in disgrace.   She wanted to live in dignity but in truth she was deceiving herself.   This is a delusion.  This is true for us all.  We do not like people to tell us of our sins.  We do not like to be reminded of our imperfections.  That is why some people do not want to go for confession.  Their pride and fear of shame prevent them.   We do not mind criticizing ourselves but we take offense when others criticize us. Herod too was a slave to his pride when he did not retract the promise he made to Herodias’ daughter.  A promise to do evil is invalid.   Yet, to show his power, he saw through this evil deed.

For the prophets and priests, they too had vested interests.  They would lose their position and privileges if the people start to believe in Jeremiah.  We all want security in life.  We want to live comfortable lives and be freed from those who control us.   Some of us are not willing to step down from office because we are used to the privileges that come with the office.  We are afraid that we cannot live without them.  So we are not willing to give up our power.  Even in the Church, we cling on to power.  I always wonder why some people are not willing to step down from office when there are younger and better people who can do a more effective job.  My constant conviction is that the best man or woman should do the job.  But in truth, we all cling on to power, not for service but for ourselves.  Of course, in the name of service, we do not give up our power.  The day we are no longer in office, we will cease to enjoy special treatment, including the bishop! But service is not about us!

Jealousy and pride, insecurity and self-interests will lead to more evil, including vindictiveness and killing.  That was what happened to the prophets, priests and Herodias and Herod.  They would do anything to get rid of the irritant even when they knew he was speaking the truth.  They would even step so low as to use innocent people to condemn the prophet.  They sought to use the rulers and the people to put Jeremiah to death.  Herodias made use of her innocent daughter to display herself so that she could ask her to request for the head of John the Baptist.  Politicians and weak governments would do everything to eliminate their opponents, regardless how good and talented they may be for the country.

What about us?  Do we want to follow the same path?  Do we use innocent people, especially the young to fulfill our ambitions and selfish needs?  Do we seek death and murder at least in our minds?   If we do, then we will never find peace, like Herod.  He lived in guilt and fear for the rest of his life for he knew that he had done wrong.  He could not reconcile with his sin of adultery and murder.  He had hallucinations of John the Baptist appearing and more so because they were cousins.   Guilt will kill us in the end.  This explains why sins have a punishment of their own.  When there is guilt, there can be no peace.

The truth is that our conscience cannot be silenced.  Don’t pretend or try to suppress the truth.  Even the uneducated common people know what is right and wrong.  That is why the collective conscience of the people rejected the priests and prophets’ demand to execute Jeremiah.  The sensus fidei must be trusted, especially when authorities are corrupt and blind.  As authorities, we must be alert to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and be receptive to the ground as well.

We are called to be like John the Baptist and Jeremiah.  Let our lives be our defense if our words fail us.  We need to be true to ourselves and do the right thing, not the popular thing.  We must have the courage even to speak the truth against the powerful people when they are wrong!

But speak the truth with charity.  Truth must be spoken in love and with love. This is the litmus test of truth.  If we speak out of anger and resentment, most likely there is no truth in it but self-interest and revenge.  We speak only because there is no self-gain but purely out of love and for the love and good of others. Jeremiah defended himself as follows, “The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you.”

However, before you can claim to speak the truth and not do so as an excuse to ventilate your own hang ups, make sure you have prayed and listened clearly to the Word of God.  This was what Jeremiah and John the Baptist did.  If we have not listened to His word, we only have the voice without the content.   So to find the courage to proclaim the truth, we must first listen.   Having heard the word of God for ourselves, we can then proclaim the truth with confidence and without fear. Jeremiah could surrender his fate to God. “For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.”

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