Posts Tagged ‘Mary’

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 31, 2017 — “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…”

December 30, 2017

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Lectionary: 17

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Art: Circumcision of the Lord By Guido Reni

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Reading 1 SIR 3:2-6, 12-14

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

Or GN 15:1-6; 21:1-3

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying:
“Fear not, Abram!
I am your shield;
I will make your reward very great.”
But Abram said,
“O Lord GOD, what good will your gifts be,
if I keep on being childless
and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?”
Abram continued,
“See, you have given me no offspring,
and so one of my servants will be my heir.”
Then the word of the LORD came to him:
“No, that one shall not be your heir;
your own issue shall be your heir.”
The Lord took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

The LORD took note of Sarah as he had said he would;
he did for her as he had promised.
Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age,
at the set time that God had stated.
Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his
whom Sarah bore him.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (cf. 1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks 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 and walk in his ways.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
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 and walk in his ways.

Or  PS 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

R. (7a , 8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
Look to the LORD in his strength;
constantly seek his face.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations
which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

Reading 2  COL 3:12-21

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,
as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives,
and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything,
for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children,
so they may not become discouraged.

Or COL 3:12-17

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

OrHEB 11:8, 11-12, 17-19

Brothers and sisters:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer
his only son,
of whom it was said,
“Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

AlleluiaCOL 3:15A, 16A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts;
let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

OrHEB 1:1-2

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  LK 2:22-40

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
They took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, 
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, 
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Or  LK 2:22, 39-40

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
they took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

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From The Monestary of Christ in the Desert
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Today we have three really short readings to help us focus on this great mystery of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.  Only when we understand, even feebly, Mary’s role as Mother of God, can we come to accept fully the reality that God has taken on our flesh and brought redemption.

This year, this Solemnity of Mary comes the very day after the Feast of the Holy Family.  This can help us understand that, for most of her life, people probably looked at Mary as simply an ordinary mother, caring for her only child, a son.  Only as we reflect on the full life of Mary do we come to understand the depth of her love and the depth of her faith in the Lord.  It is Mary’s faith that allows the incarnation to happen, that allows the Word to become flesh.

The first reading, from the Book of Numbers, speak of the Lord’s blessing to the Israelites.  It is because Mary was able to listen and reflect on Scripture that she was able to receive the invitation of God and say “yes” to God’s request of her.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Galatians and tells us clearly that Jesus is born of a woman and born under the law.  The challenge is for each of us to become like Mary and to always say “yes” to whatever God asks of us.  The challenge is for each of us to allow the Lord to be born in us by our obedience to His word.  We can ask Mary’s intercession so that we can follow her example and always say “yes” to the Lord.

The Gospel is the account of Jesus receiving His name and of His circumcision.  Both of these events are there to make clear to us that Jesus is truly human in every aspect of his life—but still divine.  It is Mary’s role as Mother that allows Jesus to be fully human.

Mary is always present in the mystery of our salvation.  As we begin a New Year, she is present again, reminding us to seek the Lord and to listen to His Word and to say “yes” to God.  May this New Year draw us deeper into the mysteries.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/2017/12/homily-solemnity-mary-mother-god-cycle-b-2018/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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31 DECEMBER, 2017, Sunday, Holy Family

BUILDING A FAMILY OF FAITH

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GEN 15:1-6,21:1-3HEB 11:8,11-12,17-19LK 2:22-40  ]

What is it that makes life meaningful and purposeful? For many of us, we are deceived by the world into thinking that happiness in life is to have wealth, fame and power.  As a result many of us spend our whole life, and direct all our energies to our work, business, making money, being famous and promoted to positions of power and influence.  The truth is that those who have arrived will discover the emptiness of wealth, power and the burden of fame, because it means the loss of security and privacy.   This is the irony of life.

In the final analysis, what makes life worth living is meaningful relationships and love.  Without love, life is empty and totally meaningless.  We are not animals that simply need food and pleasure.  We have an intellect and a will to grow in knowledge, understanding and a heart that needs love and warmth.  All the wealth and power in this world cannot fill the abyss of the human heart.  This was true of Abraham.  He was rich and famous.  That was why God did not promise him wealth and power.  He himself found life so meaningless.

But it is not even enough to be married. Indeed, even though Abram had a wife, he was unfulfilled.  Abram lamented when he told the Lord, “My Lord, what do you intend to give me? I go childless. See, you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir.”  Love does not exist only between persons.  A love that stays within two persons will eventually die.  This is why the Church is against any form of relationship that is closed-in and does not go beyond themselves to be at the service of humanity. This explains why the Church has always said that every marriage must be open to procreation.  Marriage is not defined as a relationship between two persons, as in same sex union, but a man and a woman who are open to bringing forth children into the world.  The truth is that only when the love between the two persons gives birth to new life, that love will not be one of fullness.  True love for each other is never kept between the couple but is poured out into the world.  This is true of God as well.  The love between the Father and the Son is not kept within themselves but their love for each other is poured out into the world through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love.

Does it mean that those who are married and have no children are doomed?  Not necessarily.  Our lives at the end of the day cannot be lived for ourselves but for the service of God and humanity, by giving life to others, whether physically or in moral and material support.  Our lives are given to be consecrated for others.  It is true also for us priests and religious, as well as singles.  This was what Mary and Joseph did when they brought Jesus to the Temple.  It was the law of the Jews that every first-born child must be offered to the Lord and be consecrated to Him.  A sacrifice is offered to God to redeem the child as an acknowledgment that God is the author of life.  The child does not belong to us but to God and is to be groomed for the service of God and humanity.

Simeon said of Jesus.   “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected.”  Mary and Joseph offered Jesus to the Lord and consecrated Him for the service of the people of God and for God Himself.  Jesus, we read, was called not just to be the light of the Jews but for the salvation of everyone.  This was what Simeon said.  “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”  We too must offer our children and ourselves for the service of God and humanity.

Consequently, we are called to build up not just a human family but also a family of faith.  All the three scripture readings of this Sunday speak about the importance of faith in God. We need to build our family according to what God wants of us. The family must be god-fearing and devout.  This was what Mary and Joseph did.  “And when the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord.” We need to pray for the wisdom to raise up our family and children according to the laws of God as Joseph and Mary did.  In this way, the family would be united in love and service.  A Catholic family is not one that is inward-looking but reaching out to others in love by contributing to the larger human family.  Hence, it is important that we must ensure that our family is raised in the faith of the Church.  If we do not, we will lack the direction to guide our family to walk in the way of the Lord so that they can find life.

What is faith? Faith means first and foremost to trust in God.  This was what the Lord said, to Abram.  “Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.”  God was saying to Abram that He would be His protector, His shield and His defence against all enemies.  Indeed, “it was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going.”   He simply trusted in God’s promise.  When he left the land of Ur, he was already 75 years old!

Secondly, faith means to believe in the impossible.   It was this faith that enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a child, in spite of Sarah being past child-bearing age.  The Lord spoke to him, “…your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood. Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants.”

Thirdly, faith means to obey.  When we have faith in God, we obey Him even when we do not understand.  Abraham obeyed God and left his homeland to a place that he had not seen even though he was already well established in life.  He did not need to venture out as he was already rich with flocks.  Most of all, his obedience was seen in the sacrifice of Isaac.   After waiting for 25 years, so much so that by the time Isaac was born Abraham was already 100 years old, yet when the Lord asked for his only son, Abraham did not hesitate but immediately set out early in the morning to sacrifice his only son.  Indeed, Hebrews tells us that “It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He offered to sacrifice his only son even though the promises had been made to him and he had been told: It is through Isaac that your name will be carried on. He was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given back Isaac from the dead”

Finally, faith means to surrender oneself entirely to the Lord.  Indeed, Abraham surrendered his life entirely to the Lord, walking by faith not by sight.  He believed because of the promise of the Lord even though not all the promises were realized in his time.  “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”  (Heb 11:39f)

So today, if we can find the strength to surrender our family to the Lord, especially our children and elderly, then we need to put Jesus as the center of our lives, our family, our work and our activities. We too must offer ourselves and our children to God for His service and humanity.  But for this to take place, we need to acquire the wisdom of God the way Simeon and the prophetess Anna did.  We are told that “he was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God.”  And for Anna, “She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.”

We cannot be faith-filled people living in the wisdom of God unless we are a praying family like Simeon and Anna.  They were people who walked close to God and were enlightened to see the Messiah when He came.  We too must walk in the spirit of faith with our own family and the larger family of faith in the Catholic community, especially worshipping together in faith and sharing our faith with the community and the people beyond our narrow confines.  In this way, together we build the family of God, a family rooted in love, faith and in Christ who shows us the way to grow in maturity and in wisdom as He did in Nazareth. “Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 18, 2017 — “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

December 17, 2017

Monday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 194

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Reading 1  JER 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”–
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19

R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous deeds.
And blessed forever be his glorious name;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Image result for art, joseph pulls the mule, mary is pregnant

Gospel  MT 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

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Jesus — Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd by Joseph Brickey
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Commentary on Matthew 1:18-24 From Living Space

Today’s passage follows immediately on yesterday’s account of Jesus’ genealogy.

There were three stages for Jews getting married in Jesus’ time. There was the engagement, then the betrothal, and finally the wedding. The betrothal was a serious commitment. It was already the first part of the marriage. There would be no sexual relationships as the couple would not yet be living together but it was a binding relationship. Normal married life began some months later when the husband took his betrothed into his home. To violate the betrothal by having sexual relations with another person was equivalent to adultery.

Imagine, then, the horrific dilemma of Joseph. He discovers that the woman to whom he is already betrothed but with whom he has not consummated their relationship in marriage, is already pregnant. There could be only one explanation; she had been unfaithful and was having another man’s child. It was a very serious matter and, if brought out into the open, would have made Mary liable to death by stoning.

But Joseph was a “righteous” man. As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he would want to break the union with someone who had so seriously broken the Law. And yet, because he was such a good man, he did not want to expose her to a terrible punishment. In this, for his time and indeed for our own time, he shows extraordinary forbearance. Few men would accept such a situation with such calmness and self-restraint. Most would find it a terrible blow to their manhood.

It is at this point that there is divine intervention and God communicates the true situation to Joseph who is assured that no other man is involved, that she has conceived through the power of God’s Spirit. Joseph is further instructed to call the newborn child Jesus. Jesus, in Hebrew Joshua, had the meaning at this time of “Yahweh saves”. Jesus is so called because he will save his people from their sin.

And, as Matthew likes to do, he shows that all this is in fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (following the Septuagint text of Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin will bear a son and he will be called “Emmanuel” or “God-is-with-us”. This will be re-echoed when, at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples just before he ascends to his Father: “I will be with you all days to the end of the age”. Jesus remains with us for ever.

Joseph, now at peace, took Mary to his home as his wife. And he had no sexual relations with her until after Jesus was born. Thus there is no mistaking the origins of Jesus. He has a human mother but a divine Father. He will be the perfect Saviour of his people: in a fully human person the power of God himself will be at work.

Jesus is still our Emmanuel, God still lives with his people. And he does that through the Body of the Risen Jesus, the Church, the Christian community and its communities all over the world. Each one of us is called to be Emmanuel. Through us people can meet God and hear the message of love and salvation and forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us renew our commitment to be Emmanuel for the people in our lives.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/a1218g/

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Blessed Art Thou among Women, by Walter Rane

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom:

Has an angel ever come to you in a dream? If your answer is “no,” this may be a good time to start to practice listening, meditating and prayer.

When we talk to God in prayer, we need also pledge that we will listen for his guidance. Our ability to listen can be developed with practice, just like anything else we want to learn. Everyone who sincerely submits and listens to God will find him. Everyone who seeks to develop his or her spiritual nature, with proper guidance will flower and gain. Nobody who seeks will be left empty.

A theme repeated over and over again in the scriptures is, “Do not be afraid.”
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When someone today asks, “What do we get as Christians?” We might answer: “Do not be afraid. Everything is possible with God.”
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In today’s Gospel, Joseph gets some direction in his sleep. After he wakes up, he follows those Holy directions and  he “did the right thing.”
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One of the most respected theologians of the last century, Jesuit Karl Rahner, wrote in “On The Question of Formal Existential Ethics” —
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Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity relies upon observing this law…”
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The “Indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” if we seek — will reward us with a good conscience — an inner feeling or voice that drives us always toward, love, the good and the right. If we work to develop this indwelling we will be rewarded.
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Unfortunately, in today’s secular society, we seem to have fewer who are seeking. So how can they possibly find?
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The Gospels tell us to pray, meditate and consume Christ — make him a part of us and us in him.
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This is intertwined with the mystery of the Eucharist….
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We don’t have to “get it.” But we’ll be a lot happier if we do it!
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Related here on Peace and Freedom:
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God, I offer myself to Thee –
to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank You God, AMEN!
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Related:

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The book Holy Spirit by Edward Leen can help seekers find the Holy Spirit within us….

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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Nazareth Christmas celebrations will be held as normal

December 16, 2017

Reuters

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File photo: Annual re-enactment of the birth of Jesus in Nazareth. REUTERS File photo by Baz Ratner

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Nazareth, the Israeli Arab city where Jesus is thought to have been raised, will celebrate Christmas as usual, its mayor said, denying the festivities would be curtailed in protest at the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Wednesday, a city spokesman said there would be some cuts to the celebrations to protest against President Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem that angered Palestinians as well as U.S. allies in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Mayor Ali Salam told Reuters on Saturday that three singers who had been due to perform would not appear. He gave no reason for their absence, but said that the celebrations would proceed as normal.

“I don’t know why people thought that there would be cuts to the celebrations. Everything, except for three singers who will not be coming, will be held as normal. We have already welcomed 60,000 people to the city today,” Salam said.

Nazareth, the largest Arab town in Israel with a population of 76,000 Muslims and Christians, is one of the Holy Land’s focal points of Christmas festivities which begin officially on Saturday evening.

Nazareth’s imposing Basilica of the Annunciation is built on a site that many Christian faithful believe was the childhood home of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 30, 2017

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 572

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

Art: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Domenico Ghirlandaio

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.

Or  ROM 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

Responsorial Psalm  ISAIAH 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6

R. (6) 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. 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. 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. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Alleluia SEE LK 1:45

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:39-56

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

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

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Homily Ideas for The Visitation
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Today’s feast celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, his only human parent. This alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other person who has ever lived.

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As with the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to look at the meaning of what the feast is about rather than being too literal in our understanding of how it is described in scripture.

Today’s Gospel is the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, when both were expecting their first child. The story contains most of the elements which contribute to the status we give to Mary in our Church.

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First, we see Mary setting out with haste from Nazareth to a small town in the hills of Judea, not far from Jerusalem (where Zechariah served as a priest in the Temple), to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child we know as John the Baptist. Mary herself, of course, is carrying her own child, Jesus. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John. Already in the womb, Jesus is showing that urge to serve rather than be served. Mary, too, shares that urge. And, at the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy.

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Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, excitedly bursts out into praise. She recognises the special position of Mary and her Son: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is indeed unique and blessed in being chosen to be the mother of our saving King and Lord. Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother that come to her and John: “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” And yet that is what is happening to each of us all the time, and especially in every celebration of the Eucharist when the Lord comes to us in the sharing of his Word and in the breaking of the bread and our sharing in the cup.

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And there is a special word of praise for Mary also: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” This brings us to the second characteristic of Mary: her faith and total trust in God. That was expressed in her fiat (‘Let it be done to me…’), when, even though not fully understanding what was being asked of her, she unconditionally accepted to submit to God’s plan.

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It is now Mary’s turn to sing God’s praises in the lovely song we called the Magnificat, which the Church sings at its evening prayer every day. It is full of reflections on what makes Mary great in the eyes of God.

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“He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mary was a simple unmarried girl living in obscurity in a small town in an out of the way Roman province.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Mary’s greatness was not just in being chosen to be Jesus’ mother but in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting blindly all that it might entail. And, indeed, she had no idea the price she would have to pay to be the mother of Jesus. But, again, like her Son she had emptied herself in total service to him and to day we celebrate her reward, her being raised to the highest place among the human race.

In the human race we see today, perhaps we have forgotten how to full appreciate and protect human life.

We need to constantly look to Mary and Joseph who never question God’s plan — but fully accept what they have been chosen to do.

May we do the same with half as much fidelity. That would be a miracle for me!

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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31 MAY, 2017, Wednesday, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
THE LORD IS IN OUR MIDST IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZEPH 3:14-18 or ROM 12:9-16; LUKE 1:39-56 ]

The scripture readings of today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary underscore the presence of God in our midst.  Whenever the Lord is in our midst, there will always be joy and celebration.  In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!”  In the gospel too, we read how the Lord came into the lives of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  Again, the theme of joy is prevalent.  “Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit … For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.’”

Indeed, the cause of sorrow is always the absence of God in our lives.  We become discouraged when God is not present in our midst.  Our hearts are made for God.  When life is lived without God, there is a vacuum in our hearts.  That is why the psalmist cried out, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Ps 42:1)  Whether we admit it or not, our soul seeks union with God.  When a soul lives in sin, it knows that God is absent.  We feel His absence when we know that we are living immoral lives or lack integrity in our lives.  Knowing that we are not living a blameless life, we condemn ourselves being hypocritical.

The other cause of sorrow is when we feel quite alone in our struggles.   This was the case of the Israelites.  They felt that they were alone and helpless against their enemies.  But God was with them!  They did not have to go through all this alone. The prophet assured them, “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.  The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.”  God assured them of His love and presence.  Most of all, the Lord would be their warrior.  He would be the One who would rescue them from their enemies and help them to return from exile.

How, then, can we once again bring back the presence of God into our lives?  We need to welcome the Holy Spirit.  He is the presence of God.  The gospel of Luke, which is the gospel of the Holy Spirit, always associates joy with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Mary was filled with joy because of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her and the baby Jesus.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit when she sang the Magnificat. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out with joy and so did John the Baptist who leapt for joy.  Anyone who is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit is filled with joy.  This explains why those who are prayed over for the awakening of the Holy Spirit often are overwhelmed by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can come in many other ways as well, as illustrated in the scriptures.  Indeed, it is appropriate for us during this 7th Week of Easter, as we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit and welcome Him as Mary did at the Upper Room.

One way of experiencing the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation always releases the burden of years of guilt and pain.   Many of us, because of the fear of confession due to our pride, carry these fears in our hearts, the fear of coming before God because of our sins; and the fear of man because of shame.  In the Magnificat Mary warns us that God will bring down the mighty from their thrones.  Unfortunately, many are not making use of this most beautiful Sacrament given by the Church.  We take note that the peace of Easter given to the apostles was followed by the power to forgive sins through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22f)  Having our sins forgiven is a necessary prerequisite to receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit, as the apostles remind us.

The second way to rediscover the presence of God is forgiveness of our enemies.  Many have no peace in their hearts because they refuse to let go of those people who have hurt them.  They keep the pain caused by betrayals or harsh words buried deep in their hearts.  They cannot let go of their resentment and anger against those who have humiliated them.  Without letting our enemies go, we remain prisoners of the past.  Hence, we cannot find peace.  Indeed, many are not free and have no deep joy in their hearts simply because they did not take heed of the words of St Paul, “Bless those who persecute you: never curse them, bless them.”   We must be ready to let go of our hurts and bless our enemies if we are to overcome the hatred in our hearts.  Forgiveness will liberate us for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The lack of forgiveness hinders us from receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit because He is the Gift of God’s love in person.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit also comes to us through acts of kindness and genuine love.  St Paul says, “Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.”  That was what Mary did after the annunciation.  Immediately, filled with joy, she did not keep the joy within her.  Rather, she brought her joy to Elizabeth who was pregnant in her advanced age.   Her thoughtfulness came from the joy within her.  In sharing that joy, her joy doubled.  St Paul urges us also to identify with those who are in need and give them empathy and support, for by so doing, we share and partake in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  Again, St Paul exhorts us, “if any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.”  Through genuine hospitality and care, we bring the presence of God to others.

Fourthly, from Mary, we learn the importance of fraternal support from the community.  Encountering the love of God is always within and through the community.  That is why St Paul urges us to “Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other.”  Mary could have kept to herself, but upon knowing that her cousin needed help, she went out of the way to see her and stayed with her for three months.  Mary saw the need of community and that was why she was with the apostles in the Upper Room, giving them encouragement and strength when Jesus returned to the Father.  Many Catholics miss out on the presence of God because they do not have fellowship with their fellow Catholics. They are alone in their faith, without any support.  What they must do is to reach out and find a community to which they can belong, not just for social fellowship but one that can offer them spiritual support through prayer and sharing of the Word of God.

Fifthly, from Mary, we learn that the way to welcome the Holy Spirit is through expectant prayer.  That was what Mary did, together with the apostles. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”  (Acts 1:14). In the Magnificat, she urges us to be receptive and docile to God through a spirit of poverty.  St Paul also urges us to pray often, especially in times of trial, for this is where we can experience the power of the Holy Spirit helping us.  Mary did not simply pray, but she prayed with faith.  This was what Elizabeth said of her.  “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   So if we want to receive the Holy Spirit, we need to pray with faith and with fervor.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is seen in and through the mighty deeds of God.  With Mary and the psalmist, we must sing the Magnificat often in our lives.  In praising and glorifying God, we remember His presence in our lives.  The psalmist urges us to “Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples! Declare the greatness of his name.” Mary in the Magnificat spontaneously gave thanks to God. “All generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” In rendering thanks to God and thanksgiving, we recount His goodness and mercy.  By so doing, we will not forget the presence and love of God in our lives.  When our prayers are only petitions, they become weak as they are based only on hope; whereas in thanksgiving, our prayers are more certain as our hope is based on the past actions of God.  It is our hope that through our service to others, we can bring the love of God to them.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Magnificat
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My soul doth magnify: the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced: in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things unto me: and holy is his name.
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And his mercy is from generation to generation: unto them that fear Him. He hath shewed strength with his arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away.
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He hath upholden his servant Israel: being mindful of his mercy. As He spake unto our fathers: to Abraham and his seed for ever. Glory be to the Father, etc.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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14 AUGUST 2016, Sunday, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary*
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ASSUMPTION CELEBRATES THE GRACE OF CERTAIN VICTORY

SCRIPTURE READINGS:

[  REV 11:19; 12:1-6.10; 1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-26; LUKE 1:39-56 ]

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Life on this earth is always a battle between good and evil as we read in the first reading. In the book of Revelation, we read how the Church, represented by the woman, was harassed by the Evil One, represented by the huge red dragon.  This woman of course also represents Mary, the Mother of the Church.  The reality is that all of us are fighting against evil all the time.  Day in and day out, we are being challenged to remain faithful to the gospel values.  At times, we are able to overcome the temptations of the Evil One.  But there are also many times when we succumb to his temptations. The more we try to be faithful to the gospel, the more we fall.  This can be rather trying and disappointing, especially when we have just gone for a good confession.  Indeed, the Devil wants us to give up trying to be good and holy. He wants us to feel discouraged and condemn ourselves as hopeless recalcitrants.

When we feel defeated and want to give up fighting against evil, we can take courage on this solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The promise of final victory over the Evil One is most consoling.  We read in the first reading, “The woman brought a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne.  Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God and all authority for his Christ.”  Jesus Christ truly has won victory for us and He has conquered the Evil One.  So we need not feel that we have lost the battle against the Devil. Rather, our faith remains in Christ who has won that victory for us.

This certain victory has been claimed for Mary, for we read that “the woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready.”  This is what the Assumption is celebrating; that Mary has now shared in the glorification of our Lord.  She was given the special privilege of sharing the fullness of resurrection that has already been anticipated in Christ.  She is now in heaven waiting for the rest of the Church, the Body of Christ to join her.  While she remains there, she is also interceding for the Church so that the full body of Christ can be complete.   The assumption of Mary therefore is meant to be a source of hope for the Church, that where she is, we will be there too; and that we too will share in the glorification of the body when we die.

Our destiny after death is clear.  Unlike many in the world who fear death because it is seen as annihilation, we need not fear death because death has been overcome forever in the resurrection of Christ.  St Paul says that Christ “must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.”  Death, which is the cause of every sin on this earth and gives rise to selfishness and self-preservation, having been conquered once and for all by Christ dying to death and rising again, gives us confidence not to fear death as well.  We now know for certain that death is not the final word, or hatred and selfishness brought upon by death.  Love conquers death because love is stronger even than death.  Even after death, when we love someone, love lives on.  Nothing can overcome the power of love in terms of passion and in terms of time.  It is God’s love for us in Christ that overcomes death forever.

Mary’s assumption is the guarantee of our sharing in the resurrection.  Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and Mary’s assumption of body and soul into heaven, we know where we will also be after death.  St Paul makes it clear that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is “the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.”

So this feast of Mary’s assumption is an important celebration to remind us that we should not subscribe to the materialistic world view that like the rest of the creatures on earth, when we die, we will be reduced to nothing or that we would be left with only an immortal soul.  Rather, Christian faith affirms the value of the body and hence the glorification of the body after death.  As human beings, we are constituted of body and soul; and whilst separated temporally at death, our body and soul will be reunited on the last day.

Accordingly, when we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, we need also to share with her the life she lived in Christ if we are to share in the resurrection as well.  If Mary was granted that privilege of sharing the resurrection of Christ before us, it was because she was sinless and intimately shared in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Mary was associated with Jesus in His redemptive work right from the beginning of her fiat to God’s will and throughout her life until the death of Christ on the cross, where she surrendered her only Son to the Father.  Beyond His death, Mary, given to the Church as the Mother when Christ was glorified at His death, played the role of giving encouragement to the primitive Church at prayer, interceding for her.

Concretely this means being receptive to grace, like Mary, all the time.  Salvation is not the work of man but principally the work of God.  That is why the Assumption of Mary is called a privilege, not a merit that Mary gained for her work.  It is purely a gift from God on account of God’s generosity.  The Church perceived it as fitting for her to be glorified based on tradition and scripture.  This was what Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.”  Her blessedness is purely due to God’s mercy and grace.

Mary is called ‘full of grace’ because God has not only bestowed upon her grace, but she has always been receptive to grace all her life.  In truth, God too has given us His grace but we are not always that responsive.  When we fail to be docile and receptive to His grace, this is where we fail and fall.  If we lack docility to His grace, it is because, unlike Mary, we are proud and arrogant.  This is what Mary again said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”  Humility is the way to obtain the grace of God to live a holy and blessed life.  Pride has been the downfall of the Devil and so is ours.  Many of us rebel against God, thinking we know everything instead of obeying His divine will for us.

So today, let is in faith cling to God’s promise given to Mary, realized in her and also given to us.  We need to be like Mary – carry Jesus in our hearts as she did in both her womb and her heart.  Like Mary, we are called to never doubt in God’s love and forgiveness but ”believe in the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   Indeed, during this year of mercy, “He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

*Traditionally the Assumption of the B.V.M is celebrated on 15 August. By decree of The Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei this solemnity is being celebrated on Sunday, 14 August this year.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, April 10, 2017 — “The coastlands will wait for his teaching.”

April 9, 2017

Image may contain: cloud, sky, ocean, mountain, outdoor, nature and water

Serenity by Natt Mus

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Monday of Holy Week
Lectionary: 257

Reading 1  IS 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Verse Before The Gospel

Hail to you, our King;
you alone are compassionate with our faults.

Gospel JN 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

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Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

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Image result for she washed his feet and dried them with her hair , art

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE COST OF LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 42:1-7; JN 12:1-11]

Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?”  That seems to be a reasonable and logical criticism of what Mary did when she “brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus.”  How many of us would agree with Judas that it was a waste of money?  Furthermore, when you think of the many poor and suffering people in the world, it would seem that Mary had committed a great sin of wastefulness.  If we go by this reasoning, then perhaps, all the Churches’ treasures should be sold and given to the poor.  All the expensive and fine vestments, sacred vessels, including the chalice, should be made of wood or metal.  Then all churches should be built with the basic practical needs, without any frills or concern for aesthetics.  Then again, if the Lord were to dwell in such a temple, so too, all our homes must be stripped of all unnecessary items.  And we should save the money spent on expensive wedding gowns, which are used once only and then set aside, and not hold any grand dinners too because most of the time, much food is thrown away, especially at buffets! Such reasoning can go on and on.  We will have divided opinions and never come to any consensus.

What was the response of Jesus?  “Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.”  Indeed, we are all obliged to help the poor and the suffering.  But we need to see things in perspective.  Some things cannot be measured by money and time. Actions of love cannot be quantified or calculated like a mathematical problem.  True love does not count the cost because it is not logical.  Daily life examples should convince us. There are many mothers who are professionals and busy career women. Yet they would wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for their children rather than let the domestic helper do it.  Why?  Because they love their children and want them to have a proper breakfast and also to pack for them a healthy and sumptuous lunch.  For the same reason, they would rush home from work to pick up their children or chauffeur them to school and for their activities.  Some of them are old enough to take public transport on their own.  Yet they do it because they love their children and cannot bear to see them suffer the inconvenience.  Logically, it is also economical for them to go home on their own than to waste the precious time of their parents.  Furthermore, it is good for discipline and formation as well, lest they become too demanding and take their comforts for granted.

The truth is that when we love, we do not act rationally but we allow the heart to express itself spontaneously.  We do not really think of the trouble and inconvenience when we reach out to someone we love.  The immediate and spontaneous response is to make our beloved feel loved and comfortable.  We do not count the cost because the heart only knows that love is all that matters.  We are always lavish and generous with people we love.  We cannot say ‘No’ to our loved ones even though we know at times that it is not good to pamper them.  But love is such.

Conversely, if we act and think like Judas, it is because we are not sincere in love.  Judas had no real love for Jesus.  He was more concerned about his interest than that of Jesus’, and lesser still for the poor. The evangelist commented, “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions.” Clearly, such objections do not hold water for those who harbor selfish motives.  We must therefore ask ourselves when speaking against such extravagance; whether it is because our pockets are hurt. Of course, not all are motivated by selfishness when they speak out against such apparent extravagance.

When we take a logical and financial stance, it is more likely because we are detached from the person concerned.  In other words, when we have no personal relationship, that person becomes just a case, and we use pure objectivity in assessing our response to the needs of the person.  In public decisions affecting the interests of everyone, as in an organization or society, we need to be transparent, objective and impartial in making decisions, without fear or favor.  This is to ensure that justice and fair play prevail.  We cannot allow our emotional ties or vested interests to influence us in the way we make decisions.  When we are not emotionally related to a person, we can of course think and act logically.

But when we are speaking about love and relationship, it is a different ball game.  Does a judge in the court behave like a judge at home, analyzing the needs of the family according to pure logic alone?  Does not a judge also have compassion for his or her son even if he commits a crime?  Surely, he or she will get the best lawyer to defend him.  This is not to say that he or she will hide the guilt, but he or she will find the best defence so that the son would not be punished too harshly. So often, we have those in authority protecting their loved ones by covering up for their mistakes.

So with our loved ones, we use the heart rather than the head.  This is inevitable!  Isn’t that the way God acts?  Because He loves us, His way of rendering justice to sinners and evil people is to forgive us and to save us; not to punish us!   As our loving Father, He has no heart to punish us because it grieves Him as much to see us suffer.  When God saw the world in sin, during the time of Noah, He grieved.  “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  (Gn 6:5f)

So like God, we love and care for our loved ones in this manner.  Whether your darling is your spouse, friend or even a dog or cat, you act in the same manner.  When your dog is old and sickly, why do you spend so much money bringing it to the vet?  Isn’t it better to let the dog die and get a new one, which is much cheaper?  But you cannot buy emotional ties and happy memories.   You cannot buy love and affection.  There is no price for that!  This explains why animal lovers would do anything for stray animals, cats, dogs, birds, etc.  They would tend to them especially when they are sick or wounded and feed them when they are hungry.  They feel for and with the hurting and hungry animals.  When we see them scavanging for food, we feel sorry for them.

So the reality is that we do not feel for what we do not see.  If we do not see something with our own eyes, we are not emotionally moved.  When we do not see them hungry and without shelter, we think such stray animals are a nuisance.  St Teresa of Calcutta started to reach out to the poorest of the poor only because she came into contact with the suffering in India.  To see them suffering grieved her heart like God who grieves for us.  When you see someone on the road, thin to the bones, won’t you be moved by the sufferings of your fellowman?  Unless you have hardened your heart like Judas, you will stretch out to help.  The priests had no compassion for Lazarus and even wanted to kill him because “it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.” What if Lazarus was one of their children, or their loved one? Would they see Jesus differently?  Of course!  They would be grateful to Jesus.  But because of selfish interests, they saw Jesus and even Lazarus as a threat to their status quo and greed.

Jesus is our exemplar in love.  He is the model of the suffering servant, giving without reservation, as expressed in the first reading. He was endowed with the Spirit of God to bring justice, hope, healing, enlightenment and freedom to the poor, the discouraged, the sick, the prisoners and those who live in darkness.  We too must follow Jesus in the way of love.  Let us use our heart to love and not our head so that we can feel the heart of God.

In the final analysis, to love the way Jesus loved, and how God loves us, we need His Spirit to “bring true justice to the nations.”  The strength and capacity of His love came from His Father.  He was full of compassion even towards His enemies.  His sense of justice and passion for His mission came from the Father’s love in Him.  He lived and died for His Father. Even when persecuted, condemned and crucified, He never failed to cling to His Father; “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink? I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.  Hope in the Lord!”  Both Father and Son, because of their deep love for us, emptied themselves of each other for the sake of us all so that we will never doubt their unconditional and total love for us.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
 
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Bible; Jesus Christ; Revealing Himself; Resurrection; Mary Magdalene Painting - Jesus Revealing Himself To Mary Magdalene by William Brassey Hole
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Commentary on John 12:1-11 from Living Space

Today’s Gospel serves as a lovely prelude to the Passion of Jesus.

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Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did.

.This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.

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While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.

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Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.

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Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

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“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.

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“As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.

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Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.

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Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.

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Source http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1062g/

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we continue to proceed into the Holy Week, and in a few days’ time we shall be commemorating the three days of Easter Triduum, the heart of our faith, when we commemorate the time when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, and giving up His Body and Blood, He suffered and died for us, so that by His resurrection from the dead, He gave us a new life and a new hope that sin and death can be overcome.

Today we heard the hypocrisy of Judas, who criticised Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who had poured a whole jar of very expensive perfume made of pure spikenard on the feet of Jesus and wiped it dry with her hair. In another account, the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume also anointed His head with the same perfume, and she was criticised all the same.

As mentioned, Judas did not do so because he cared for the poor in any way, and he did it because he was a thief and a cheater, who stole the money from the common fund of the Apostles, which was meant for the poor and the needy. Thus, he spoke a lie and brought about calumny and injustice to another. His inability to resist the temptation of money, desire and the impurities in his heart led him to do what he had done, that is to betray his own Lord and Master, for a mere thirty pieces of silver.

Just for your knowledge, that when Joseph, the son of Jacob was sold by his brothers out of jealousy into slavery, he was priced at about the same price. And at that price, they were valued at even lower than animals. A good quality animal would have fetched far higher prices than those which Judas received for betraying his Lord and which the brothers sold Joseph with.

Thus we value so low the Lord who had loved us all completely and sincerely with all of His heart, we looked down on He who was tortured, mocked and rejected for our sake, who died for us on the cross, so that we might be saved. We did not appreciate the things which He had done for us, and all the hard works which He had undertaken for our own good.

We are often tempted and our minds and hearts clouded with worldly things such as greed, pride, pleasures of the flesh and many others. The Pharisees, the elders and the chief priests were all infected with the disease of greed and jealousy, as well as fear and insecurity. They were all concerned only with preserving themselves and their own livelihoods. This is why, even though they were supposed to be the ones with wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures, they refused to believe in Jesus and instead trying to undermine His works by plotting against Lazarus whom Jesus had resurrected from the dead.

They were manipulated by the wickedness and malice that Satan had planted in their hearts, which also exist in all of us. They were afraid of losing their position of honour and the respect which they have been accorded with by the society. They did not want to take a risk with the Romans, whom they were afraid that they would destroy all of their livelihood. And similarly with Judas, Satan manipulated his greed and desire for money, and in the end they destroyed and condemned only themselves.

It is a lesson for all of us that we cannot be hypocrites in our faith. Instead, we truly have to live out our faith, through our own actions. And we cannot be divided in our faith, just as we cannot have two masters. We cannot both serve God and worldly things, and as Jesus mentioned, that we will either despise one and love the other or we will not be sincere in our faith as a whole.

Therefore, let us all reflect on this occasion, and take steps to change our lives for the better. We can make a difference by committing ourselves more and more to the cause of the Lord. Now the choice is in our hands to make that difference. Let us therefore emerge from this Lenten observation, a better, more dedicated and more faithful servant of God. God bless us all. Amen.

Source http://petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang.com/2015/03/30/monday-30-march-2015-monday-of-the-holy-week-homily-and-scripture-reflections/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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• We have entered into Holy Week, the week of the Passover of Jesus, of his passing from this world to the Father (Jn 13, 1). Liturgy today places before us the beginning of chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, which serves as a link between the Book of the Signs (cc 1-11) and the Book of the Glorification (cc 13-21). At the end of the “Book of Signs” there appears, very clearly the tension between Jesus and the religious authority of the time (Jn 10, 19-21.39) and the danger which Jesus was facing. Several times they had tried to kill him (Jn 10, 31; 11, 8. 53; 12, 10).
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So much it was like this that Jesus was obliged to lead a clandestine life, because he could be arrested at any moment (Jn 10, 40; 11, 54).
• John 12, 1-2: Jesus persecuted by the Jews, goes to Bethany. Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany to the house of his friends Martha and Mary and of Lazarus. Bethany means, House of Poverty. The police was looking for him (Jn 11, 57). They wanted to kill him (Jn 11, 50). But even now that the police was looking for Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus received him in their house and offered him something to eat. Because love overcomes fear.
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• John 12, 3: Mary anoints Jesus. During the meal, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a pound of perfume of pure spikenard (cf. Lk 7, 36-50). It was a very costly perfume, so very expensive that it cost three hundred denarii. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The whole house was filled with the scent of the ointment. Mary does not speak during this whole episode. She only acts. The gesture filled with symbolism speaks for itself. In washing the feet, Mary becomes a servant. Jesus will repeat the gesture at the Last Supper (Jn 13, 5).
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• John 12, 4-6: Reaction of Judas. Judas criticizes the gesture of Mary. He thinks that it is a waste. In fact, three hundred denarii were the wages of three hundred days! The wages of almost a whole year spent in one time alone! Judas thinks that the money should have been given to the poor. The Evangelist comments and says that Judas had no concern at all for the poor, but that he was a thief. They had a common fund and he stole the money. A strong judgment which condemns Judas.
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It does not condemn the concern for the poor, but the hypocrisy which uses the poor for self promotion and to enrich oneself. Judas, in his own egoistic interests, thought only about money. This is why he was not aware of what Mary kept in her heart. Jesus reads in the heart and defends Mary.
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• John 12, 7-8: Jesus defends the woman, Judas thinks only of the waste and criticizes the woman. Jesus thinks of the gesture and defends the woman: “Leave her alone; so that she can keep it for the day of my burial!” And immediately Jesus says: “You have the poor with you always; you will not always have me!” Which of the two lived closer to Jesus: Judas or Mary? Judas, the disciple, lived together with Jesus for almost three years, twenty-four hours a day. He was part of the group.
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Mary saw him once or twice a year, on the occasion of some feast, when Jesus went to Jerusalem and visited her in her house. But to live together with, not having any love does not help us to know others. Rather it blinds people. Judas was blind. Many people live together with Jesus and praise him even with many hymns, but do not truly know him and do not reveal him (cf. Mt 7, 21). Two affirmations of Jesus merit a more detailed comment: (a) “You have the poor with you always” and (b) let her keep it for the day of my burial”.
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(a) “You have the poor with you always “. Is it perhaps that Jesus wants to say that we should not be concerned about the poor, given the fact that there will always be poor? Or does he want to say that poverty is the destiny imposed by God? How is this phrase to be understood? At that time, persons knew the Old Testament by heart. It sufficed for Jesus to begin quoting a phrase of the Old Testament and persons already knew the rest.
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The beginning of the phrase said: “There will never cease to be poor people in the country” (Dt 15, 11ª). The rest of the phrase which people already knew and which Jesus wants to remind is the following: “And this is why I am giving you this command: always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and is poor!” (Dt 15, 11b).
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According to this Law, the community should accept the poor and share its goods with them. But, Judas instead of “opening his hand to help the poor” and to share his goods with them, wanted to do charity with the money of others! He wanted to sell the perfume of Mary for three hundred denarii and use it to help the poor. Jesus quotes the Law of God which taught the contrary. Anyone who, like Judas, carries out a campaign with the money of the sale of the goods of other does not disturb or trouble. But, the one who, like Jesus, insists on the obligation to accept the poor and to share with them one’s own goods, this one disturbs, troubles and runs the risk of being condemned.
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(b) John 12, 9-11: The crowds and the authority. To be the friend of Jesus could be dangerous. Lazarus is in danger of death because of the new life received from Jesus. The Jews had decided to kill him. Lazarus alive was a living proof that Jesus was the Messiah. This is why the crowd was looking for him, because people wanted to experience closely the living proof of the power of Jesus. A living community runs the risk of its life because it is the living proof of the Good News of God!
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Personal questions
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• Mary was misinterpreted by Judas. Have you been misinterpreted sometimes?
• What does this text of Mary teach us? What does the reaction of Judas say to us?
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Concluding Prayer
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Yahweh is my light and my salvation,
whom should I fear?
Yahweh is the fortress of my life,
whom should I dread? (Ps 27,1)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 MARCH 2016, Monday of Holy Week
ENTERING INTO THE PASSION OF OUR LORD THROUGH UNDERSTANDING AND LOVE IN ACTION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 42:1-7; JN 12:1-11 ]

As we enter into Holy Week, the Church invites us to contemplate more deeply on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For this reason, Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to face His death.  At the same time, the reading of the passion prepares us for what is ahead for Christ.  It therefore calls for a deeper reflection of His passion for us.   How can this be done?

Firstly, we must deepen our understanding of His passion through knowledge.  In the first reading, we are told that Jesus, who is the suffering servant, brings justice to the nations by gently inviting us to reflect on our own lives.  As the light of the nations, “he does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets. He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.”

But more importantly, the understanding of His passion cannot stop at mere intellectual appreciation.   We must feel with Jesus in our hearts, for that is what common passion is all about.  Instead of words alone, Jesus acted decisively through deeds of love and works of wonders, for as God said, “I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.”  Indeed, Jesus was able to show that God is our light and our salvation not only through His words, but also by His actions and miracles.  And as the psalmist wonderfully declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamps against me, my heart will not fear; though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust.”

This is what Mary in the gospel teaches us as well.  She loved Jesus so passionately that she even anointed His feet with expensive ointment and wiped them with her hair shamelessly.  Mary understood the true meaning of hospitality and making space for God in prayer.  In the earlier episode when Jesus visited her, she gave full attention to Jesus by listening to Him instead of being distracted by doing things for Him.  On this occasion she knew, unlike her elder sister, that faith and love in action was also necessary.  She anointed the body of Jesus for burial, and most of all, worshipped Him as the Christ by washing His feet and wiping them with her hair.  Not only did she love Jesus, but she also recognized Him and worshipped Him.

Of course, Judas could not understand because his love for Jesus was not from the heart but from the head.  Indeed, without love, we tend to think and reason only from the head.  Logically, what Judas said about saving the money for the poor was not wrong.  Yet, love goes beyond mere logic alone.   Jesus understood this truth when He said, “’Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’”   So too the Jewish leaders as well!  They were too full of hatred and jealousy to see the good works that Jesus did.  Ironically, the evangelist says that “the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.”

When we love someone we do not think in terms of logic, and definitely not in terms of money.  Love does not count the cost.  That is why parents would do anything for their children, even if they have to sell their assets or borrow money for their sake.   When we love, we will do anything and everything within our capacity for our loved ones.  When love is lacking, then we tend to act on the rational level and become calculative.  True love is never calculative.

Today, let us follow  Mary and Martha in preparing for the passion of Christ.  Let us wait on Jesus as Martha did, in serving Him through good works and sacrifices.  But more importantly, let us follow the path of Mary who shared the passion of Jesus by being one with Him in His moment of anxiety and aloneness in His sufferings.  Through our common passion with Jesus in prayer and in love, we will be able to appreciate His love for us even more.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, March 20, 2017 — Saint Joseph Shows Us How To Be Father, Husband, Worker

March 19, 2017

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 543

On The Road to Bethlehem by Joseph Brickey

Reading 1  2 SM 7:4-5A, 12-14A, 16

The LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.'”

Responsorial Psalm PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29

R. (37) The son of David will live for ever.
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness,
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R. The son of David will live for ever.

Reading 2 ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22

Brothers and sisters:
It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift,
and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not to those who only adhere to the law
but to those who follow the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of all of us, as it is written,
I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead
and calls into being what does not exist.
He believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become the father of many nations,
according to what was said, Thus shall your descendants be.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.

Verse Before The Gospel PS 84:5

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord;
they never cease to praise you.

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Joseph, Mary and Jesus — “Flight into Egypt”

Gospel MT 1:16, 18-21, 24A

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Or LK 2:41-51A

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.

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We must remember that Jesus knew in detail the whole course his earthly life would take from his conception onwards (cf. note on Lk 2:52). This is shown by what he says in reply to his parents. Mary and Joseph realized that his reply contained a deeper meaning which they did not grasp. They grew to understand it as the life of their Child unfolded. Mary’s and Joseph’s faith and their reverencetowards the Child led them not to ask any further questions but to reflect on Jesus’ words and behavior in this instance, as they had done so on other occasions.

The Gospel sums up Jesus’ life in Nazareth in just three words: “erat subditus illis”, he was obedient to them. “Jesus obeys, and he obeys Joseph and Mary. God has come to the world to obey, and to obey creatures. Admittedly they were very perfect creatures — Holy Mary, our mother, greater than whom God alone; and that most chaste man Joseph. But they are only creatures, and yet Jesus, who is God, obeyed them. We have to love God so as to love his will and desire to respond to his calls. They come to us through the duties of our ordinary life — duties of state, profession, work, family, social life, our own and other people’s difficulties, friendship, eagerness to do what is right and just” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 17).

Jesus lived like any other inhabitant of Nazareth, working at the same trade as St Joseph and earning his living by the sweat of his brow. “His hidden years are not without significance, nor were they simply a preparation for the years which were to come after–those of his public life. Since 1928 I have understood clearly that God wants our Lord’s whole life to be an example for Christians. I saw this with special reference to his hidden life, the years he spent working side by side with ordinary men. Our Lord wants many people to ratify their vocation during years of quiet, unspectacular living. Obeying God’s will always means leaving our selfishness behind, but there is no reason why it should entail cutting ourselves off from the normal life of ordinary people who share the same status, work and social position with us.

“I dream–and the dream has come true–of multitudes of God’s children, sanctifying themselves as ordinary citizens, sharing the ambitions and endeavors of their colleagues and friends. I want to shout to them about this divine truth: If you are there in the middle of ordinary life, it doesn’t mean Christ has forgotten about you or hasn’t called you. He has invited you to stay among the activities and concerns of the world. He wants you to know that your human vocation, your professsion, your talents, are not omitted from his divine plans. He has sanctified them and made them a most acceptable offering to his Father” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 20).

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Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”.  Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.

See also:

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Author Devin Schadt wrote “Joseph’s Way — The Calling To Fatherly Greatness” to help all men with relationships, parenting and living as a Christian husband.

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Devin Schadt talks to us about how we can translate The Word — and the lessons of Jesus and the saints —  into the best kind of a Christian life; especially for fathers.
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Today’s scripture readings reminded me of this passage in Schadt’s book, “Joseph’s Way” — “Both Adam and the New Adam establish the pace for the dynamism of love, or absence thereof. The former established the paradigm of neglect, selfishness and lust while the latter set the paradigm of responsibility, of self giving, of complete self-donation.”
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How do we, each of us, become the rock? How do we keep the keys to heaven? (Matthew 16:18-19). How do we become “the cornerstone” even if we were once sinful and felt rejected? (Psalm 118:22). How do we “pour ourselves out” (Isaiah 58:10) and become people of self-donation?
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Over and over again, Christ urges us to “go the extra mile,” (Matthew 5:41) and He tells us that through faith and prayer, He will always meet our needs — giving us what we need when we need it to complete our mission for Him.
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

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Related:

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From 2016:

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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FAITH IN THE UNFOLDING OF gOD’S PLAN IN OUR LIVES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 SM 7:4-5;12-14,16; ROM 4:13;16-18,22; MT 1:16,18-21,24 OR LK 2:41-51]

Many of us live in anxiety and fear of tomorrow.  We worry about our job, our health and our loved ones.  We worry about the education of our children, whether they will do well in their studies.  We are always worried that we do not have enough money to sustain us and our loved ones.  Such fears and concerns are normal and understandable.  But when we look at our life many years down the road, we would come to realize that most of these fears are quite unnecessary. In fact, our health would have been better, our lives more joyful and happier had we not been so anxious. Anxiety causes us to have high blood pressure and hypertension, and sometimes insomnia.  Worse still, it leads us to vices, like gambling, cheating and drinking.

This is because we trust only in ourselves.  Weaklings as we are, our lives are always fragile.  We cannot guarantee or predict what will happen tomorrow.  We are not in full control of our lives.  But we want to be in charge.  We do not want to live in faith.  Because we take things into our own hands instead of relying on God’s grace, we often end up messing the plans of God as Abraham did when he was impatient waiting for the promised son.  He did not live by faith and took Hagar a slave to conceive a son for him.  This lack of trust in God’s plan caused more problems for humanity later.  This is also true for ourselves.

What we need is to have faith in God’s fidelity to us. All the three readings unveil to us the marvellous and irrevocable plan of God. No matter what we human beings do to contradict the plan of God, His plan would unfold all the same.  God is faithful to His promises.  This is the centrality of today’s scripture readings so beautifully expressed by the psalmist.  “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord; through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.  Of this I am sure, that your love lasts forever, that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I will establish your dynasty forever and set up your throne through all ages.”

We see first and foremost God’s fidelity to Abraham when He called him to move out of his comfort zone of Ur, the land of the Chaldeans, and to journey to an unknown land that God would show Him. There was no guarantee but it was just a promise that he would be “the father of many nations” and “his descendants will be as many as the stars.”  Based on that promise, he set out to a foreign land fraught with dangers from weather and enemies. Certainly, Abraham would have wondered many times when the promise of God would be fulfilled.  In truth, he did not see it in his life time completely, except for the birth of Isaac. “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing what he did became the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised.”  On hindsight, we see that God fulfilled His promises beyond our imagination.  He is the Father of faith and hence of many generations.  Through him, the great religions were born, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  We are all his children in faith.

In the first reading, we see the promise of a nation fulfilled. Then the Davidic dynasty was established.  Under the reign of King David, the nation flourished. All the Twelve tribes were united under one Israel.  But God went further in promising King David that his kingdom would last forever.  Through the prophet Nathan, God said, “I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established forever.”

When David heard these words, we can be sure that he did not fully grasp the meaning.  At most, he would have thought that his son and descendants would continue to perpetuate the dynasty he had started.  Even that is not realistic.  Did he really believe that his kingdom will last forever when history has shown that kingdoms rise and fall regardless how powerful and great they are?  Even great powers like Assyria, Babylon and Persia; Greece and Rome in the ancient days had fallen.  In our times, countries like Spain, Portugal and Britain were once powerful countries, but their influence is much less today.  All earthly kingdoms have come and gone.

Yet, we see once again the fidelity of God to His plan for humanity. God is faithful to His promises. What we cannot conceive, God could do. God had planned that His Son would come from the line of David and establish forever the sovereignty of God.  From hindsight, the prophecy of Nathan now makes sense, when God said to David, “It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure forever. I will be a father to him and he a son to me.”  Although it was true that the king in the Old Testament was considered a son of God, yet the full understanding of the Fatherhood of God is realized only with the birth of Christ, His son. When Christ was on earth, His message was simply the kingdom of God.  Christ, by His death and resurrection, established the kingdom of the Father forever and ever.

What does it mean for us when we celebrate the feast of St Joseph? We must imitate him in his receptivity to the plan of God. The idea of him being a foster father was never in the mind of Joseph. All he wanted was a normal family.  He was certainly like the rest of us.  But God had other plans for him.  God said to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”  When God revealed His plan to Joseph, he could have revolted or insisted on going his own way.  He could have said, “No, I want to have a normal married life.” But he was receptive and obedient to God’s will.

How many of us are receptive to the unexpected changes in our life and adapt accordingly?  Many of us are afraid of change.  We want the comfortable and secure life we are used to having.  Whether at work, at home or in church, we resist change. We want to do things the same old ways but at the same time, we give lip service to progress. When called upon the Lord to undertake certain tasks and responsibilities, we shy away because it means changing the routine and status quo.  How many of us would be like Joseph, who upon hearing the voice of God,  woke up and took the risk of accepting Mary to be his wife?   Many of us do not live a fruitful and meaningful life because we are like a frog that will not come out of our well.  We must learn to adapt and take risks in responding to the call of God and the unimaginable will happen.

Secondly, we are called to imitate the faith of Joseph in cooperating with God’s plan.  “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.”. We can be sure that he could not understand how Mary could conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It seemed too farfetched.  He would also have wondered what all these would entail.  But he trusted in the Lord. He believed that God would be faithful to His promise.  This is the same faith of Abraham.  We might never know exactly how the plan of God would evolve.  What is important is that like Joseph, our task is to cooperate with the plan of God.  We need to walk by faith, not by sight. God in His own time will bring about the maturity of His plan for us.  This was the case of Abraham as St Paul wrote, “I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.”   We must do all we can whilst leaving God to determine how events will unfold.  Faith does not mean doing nothing; it requires us to cooperate with Him.

Thirdly, having faith in God means to live in hope. “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing what he did became the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him’.”   Without hope, we will give up.  But hope must be sustained by faith.  If we continue to live on in spite of the trials and difficulties facing us, it is because we have hope that we will be able to overcome them.

Conversely, only faith can help us to persevere in hope. This is what St Paul tells us. “The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith.” Truly, “what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the Father of all of us.” In this way, the promise of God to unfold His plans in our lives will also be realized in any one of us who has faith like our forefathers. Let us therefore walk by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

So today, as we celebrate the feast of St Joseph, let us in faith walk confidently in the ways of the Lord.  Let us not be too worried about the future.  We too pray with the psalmist, “You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.”  And God assures us, “I will keep my love for him always; with him my covenant shall last.”  He is reliable and although things may not work out the way we think, we can be sure that it will work out in ways beyond our imagination.  With St Paul we say, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  (Rom 11:33)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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From 2016:

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 MARCH 2016, Saturday, St Joseph, Spouse of the B.V.M.
ST JOSEPH PATRON OF HOLY WORKS OF MERCY AND SPOUSE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2SAM 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; PS 88:2-5, 27,29; ROM 4:13, 16-18, 22; MATT 1:16, 18-21, 24 ]Today, we celebrate the solemnity of St Joseph, the spouse of our Blessed Mother Mary and the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must not have been easy for Joseph to assume this role.  St Joseph was a common man who desired what everyone hopes for in life.   He was an ordinary carpenter and he hoped to settle down and raise a family.  Everything seemed to be going well with St Joseph as Mary was betrothed to him in marriage. He must have thought that his life and future were all cut out for him.   Mary certainly must have been known to him and his relatives as a decent God-fearing girl. He would have looked forward to the day of his marriage. Yet, the truth is that man proposes, God disposes.  Our plans are not always His plans.  God had chosen Mary to be the mother of the Saviour and she would conceive Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was told to Mary by the angel Gabriel.If we were Joseph and were told that our future wife is pregnant in the power of the Holy Spirit, how would we react and what would we do?  Would we believe her?  Would we think that she was either lying, gone berserk or even been unfaithful to us?  We would be totally lost and devastated at such news.   So we can imagine what St Joseph must have gone through when Mary broke the news to him.  It was too good to be true on one hand and too sad to be true on the other; but on both counts it went against logic.  No one would believe them, even if St Joseph were to give Mary the benefit of the doubt.   We can be sure that St Joseph went through days of torment and sleepless nights.  Utmost in the mind of St Joseph was how to explain this situation and secondarily how to protect Mary.

This predicament that St Joseph had to go through was not made easier because he was known to be a just man.  This is to say, he was God-fearing and law abiding.  He would not do anything against the Law of Moses.   He was obedient to the commandments.  He was a man of justice and of integrity.  He was known to be a diligent, hardworking and responsible worker.  So how could he be just and yet merciful to Mary?   This is the crux of today’s celebration when we contemplate on St Joseph as the patron of works of mercy and as spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How can one be just and yet merciful?  Very often, justice and mercy seem to be in conflict.  Being merciful implies that we bend the laws whereas justice is based on rights and fairness, reward and punishment.   So there is always this tension within us of wanting to be just to all and yet at times compassion implies that we let an offender go free without being punished for the sufferings and wrongs he has caused to others. Truly, very often we are caught in such dilemma, more so when that person who commits an offence or sin is someone we know personally and love dearly.  On one hand, we are able to feel with that person and empathize with him or her.  On the other hand, justice must be done, especially in a case of a criminal offence.   Either way, we are paralyzed in our decision.  Either way, our heart will be broken.

How did St Joseph resolve this conundrum? The apparent conflict between justice and mercy can only be resolved by faith in God’s mercy and grace.  It is faith in the mercy and grace of God that saves us.  God saves us not because of our good works but because of His mercy.  Indeed, this is what the Church wants the world to know, that God is merciful and compassionate.  The jubilee year of mercy is to underscore the mercy of God and His forgiving love.  Whilst we must seek to be just, yet mercy is greater than justice, forgiveness better than revenge.  St Joseph in this sense was made to realize that we are justified by faith, not good works.  It is not good works or the law that saves us but the mercy of God.  Recognizing that God’s justice is His mercy, he was careful not to allow his fidelity to the laws to make him harsh.   Even though He initially thought that Mary could have been unfaithful, Joseph wanted to do what was just and yet merciful.  He did not take revenge, nor was he presumptuous in condemning Mary of a sin she did not commit and of which her pregnancy could not be explained.

This requires us to have faith in the transforming power of God’s grace.   Just as Mary accepted in faith the angel’s message, Joseph was asked to trust in God’s plan.  Although it was difficult to accept or to believe, he submitted to God’s plan in faith.  St Joseph was a man of deep faith.  He knew that God was faithful. Joseph knew from scripture that God is always with the just man.  He just knew that somehow God would come to his aid and see him through all his trials.  He also knew that God’s grace can transform sinners as well.  Hence, we must not give up on sinners.  There are no incorrigible sinners or hopeless people.   So when we have faith in His grace, we know He works both in just and unjust people.

This faith comes about through understanding in deep prayer and intimacy with God.  We know from scriptures that Joseph was a quiet man, but a man of deep faith and contemplation.  He was always attentive to the voice of God.  So God spoke to him in a dream and revealed to him His plan for our salvation.  Although his mind was made up, he was not wilful or too proud to listen.  So it was his contemplative spirit that enabled him to hear the Word of God so clearly that the gospel says, “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.

The ability to accept the will of God is aided by a better understanding of the fulfillment of God’s plan.  When St Joseph was informed by the angel in a dream of how the plan of God was being fulfilled, he understood and gave his full cooperation to the plan of God.   Understanding the beauty of God’s plan and His divine providence enabled him to surrender even when things were not clear to him.  God has a plan for sinners too.  He makes all things good if they cooperate with His grace.  In other words, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight.  This does not mean that we be rash in believing what people say.  Walking by faith means to walk in trust, but it also requires us to be responsible in clarifying and verifying whether the voice we hear is truly the Word of God and His will.  This was what Mary did when asked to be the mother of the Lord.  Unlike Zechariah, she was not lacking faith but she needed the angel to help her confirm the message she had heard.  So too, if we were to take the leap of faith, it would come through prayer and study in the process of discernment.

Today as we celebrate the Solemnity of St Joseph we are asked to imitate His example of justice in mercy. Being just itself is an act of mercy.  As Christians we need to observe the very basic foundation of mercy which is justice. We need to be fair to our workers and those under us.  We must ensure that they are reasonably paid and we must be compassionate to them in times of sickness and family problems. Justice and impartiality in our actions and treatment of our workers or family members is the most basic justice.  We must be careful not to pass judgement on people based on hearsay without verification or investigation.  This is where we as Church must avoid gossiping, slandering, and false accusations.

But we must also go beyond justice to compassion and forgiveness.  In the Church we are all sinners.  We must be ready to forgive and let go.  At times we do not understand, but like St Joseph, we must hand over judgment to God and not take it upon ourselves.  St Joseph could not explain the situation, but not for once did he judge Mary or make any accusation against her.  He just noted the fact that she was indeed pregnant, but as to who caused the pregnancy, he made no judgment.  All he wanted to do was to see how to resolve this matter without scandal and without causing hurt to anyone.  That is why when we speak of compassion, this does not mean that we are exempted from doing the right thing.  We do what is permitted within the laws and yet, at the same time, we must be careful not to judge the intentions of the heart.  We must leave judgment and vengeance to the Lord.   With Jesus, we say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they were doing.”

This presupposes we have contemplated on God’s mercy.  Unless we are first and foremost recipients of God’s mercy, we cannot show mercy to others.  His mercy is only given to those in need of His mercy.  Proud and self-righteous people do not need mercy because they trust only in themselves and their good works.   To be like St Joseph who is just and merciful, we must be aware of our sins and failures.   If there is a lack of contrition and self-awareness on our part, we will not be able to receive or be moved by His mercy.  Reflection on one’s misery and wretchedness should make us realize that we are not in a position to judge others because there is a plank in our eyes.  We should instead see our sins in our fellowmen so that their sins would evoke our gratitude for God’s mercy and sorrow for them instead of anger and condemnation.

But being sorry for our sins is not yet redemption as we will fall into despair like St Peter or, worse still, into scrupulosity.  Such fear of God will not make us holy but only robs the joy of the gospel from our lives.  If there is no joy in us we have nothing to share with others.  A further consideration of God’s patience and mercy for us is critical to transform us to be like St Joseph – just and yet not judgmental; kind and merciful towards others.  Only faith in His unconditional love and mercy can heal our wounds and assuage our fears.  Without experiencing mercy from God either for our sins or remembering those times when He came to our aid in hopeless and difficult situations, we will never be able to appreciate the power and mercy of God; and as a result lack power to proclaim and share His mercy with others.

Beyond forgiveness and compassion for the sins and weaknesses of our brothers and sisters, we mustalso reach out to those in need, in distress and in pain.  This is what we are invited to do today if we love St Joseph who is the protector of our Blessed Mother, defender of widows and orphans and the dying.  Like St Joseph, we must be ready to assist and to help the universal Church.  We are called to help the People of God and the world.  We must come to the aid of widows, orphans and those in trouble.  St Joseph could be all these to us only because he had gone through all these pains in his life and identified with those who were and had been in such situations.  We too can be like St Joseph, a man of mercy and compassion, provided we are also able to identify with the sufferings and pains of our fellowmen and most of all, with the heart of God.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 18, 2016 — The Dysfunctional Family Tree of Jesus — “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

December 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 10

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Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream byAnton Raphael Mengs. c. 1773-1774 2

Reading 1 IS 7:10-14

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (7c and 10b) Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.

Reading 2 ROM 1:1-7

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus,
called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God,
which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh,
but established as Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness
through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia MT 1:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel
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which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
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From The Abbot in the Desert
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Benedictine monastic community, near Abiquiu, New Mexico
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

The Prophet Isaiah tells us:  “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”  Lots of scholars disagree about the translation of the Hebrew into the Greek of the word which we translate “virgin.”  Really that is a misleading argument because it distracts us from the promise of salvation in the son who is proclaimed.  Yes, of course, we can also devalue that virgin birth if we do not accept the translation of the early Greek translators, but the first focus is on the son, who will be born and who will be named “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

In every age there are challenges to faith.  In many parts of the world today, there is an acceptance of Jesus, but often not as God or as God with us.  Instead our Lord and Master is seen as a good man, a strong spiritual teacher, but not as God.

Our readings today proclaim to us over and over:  the son who is to be born is “God with us.”  These are proclamations of salvation, God taking on our humanity so that we can be drawn into His divinity.

The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, gives us this prophecy, which is first proclaimed to Ahaz, but which was accepted by many in the Jewish tradition as a foretelling of the Messiah to come, who will save His people.  We Christians need to understand that many Jews, even today, believe that a Savior will come, a Messiah, but they also believe that Jesus was not the Savior or Messiah.  What is important for us is that the Jewish tradition, in great part, accepts the prophecy of a Messiah, a Savior.  We Christians believe that the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

The second reading is from the letter to the Romans.  This passage today is surely chosen because of this:  “the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  This reading states clearly the humanity of Jesus, because He is descended from David according to the flesh.  Yet is also proclaims Jesus as Son of God, as true God, because of His resurrection from the dead.  The resurrection is always the point where the followers of Jesus finally believe completely that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God, Jesus is Messiah and Savior.

Matthew’s Gospel today brings us back to the birth of the Savior.  Matthew states without any conditions that Jesus is born of Mary and that Mary became with child by of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph becomes convinced by a dream that what is happening is what is supposed to happen and so he does not divorce Mary quietly and put her away.  Instead, Joseph takes on the role of foster father of the Savior.

We can only imagine the feelings and thoughts of Mary and Joseph as they begin this journey with the child born of the Holy Spirit!  We can only imagine the challenges to the early followers of Jesus to accept something so out of the ordinary and almost unbelievable.

As we come to the final week of Advent, we are invited to meditate again on the mysteries and to deepen our faith that Jesus is Lord, God, Savior, Redeemer, Messiah and calls us all deep into the mysteries of God’s plans.  Let us follow the Lord in our lives and live as He invites us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 DECEMBER, 2016, 4th Sunday of Advent
PREACHING THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISAIAH 7:10-14; ROMANS 1:1-7; MATTHEW 1:18-24   ]

As the feast of Christmas is just a few days away, the Church wants to prepare us for the real significance of this celebration.  The truth is that many, perhaps even Christians, do not even know what they are really celebrating.  Christmas for many is a nice, sentimental season where we can celebrate with our loved ones.   It is a time of festivity and a time to wind down, take a break from our work and business, as we wait for the New Year.

Whilst all these are not excluded in our Christmas celebration, we need to ask the cause of our joy and celebration.  What are we celebrating?  We are celebrating Jesus, truly God and truly man.  We are celebrating the Emmanuel, God with us, as the scripture readings proclaim today. God is not just with us in creation, in history, but He has become one with us in the flesh.

This is the Good News, St Paul said, “that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.” This is unimaginable and, for many, unbelievable!   Indeed, it even took time for Mary and Joseph to digest this fact.  St Joseph needed time for discernment and assurance from God.  That God chose to be one of us and with us in the flesh is beyond comprehension.  St Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  (1 Cor 1:22-25)

So we should not be surprised how the world views the celebration of Christmas.  For most, they are just joining in the merry making, the cozy and romantic spirit and atmosphere, the fun and the merry making.  Others see it as an occasion to celebrate love and giving, especially to those who are poor and marginalized.  So they are happy to celebrate with Christians.  But this does not mean that they are celebrating the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in Jesus.  At most, Jesus was a great prophet, leader and a good man.  Surely not the Son of God, and neither God!

What about us?  Can we say that we have also arrived at this real wonder of our celebration that we can proclaim that God is with us in a very real, personal and existential manner in Jesus, in His life, death and resurrection; in all His words and deeds?  How do we know that we have come to this faith?  The answer is obedience of faith.  This is what St Paul wrote, “Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name.”

What does obedience of faith entail?  Faith is first and foremost an assent to the truth revealed to us by God.  This was the case of St Joseph.  Whilst making his own plans to divorce Mary informally, and being a man of honour, he changed his mind when the angel of the Lord revealed to him the plan of salvation.  Most of all, when he came to know that the son of Mary was indeed the work of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus would be the one to save the people from their sins, he obeyed without assurance, accepting the word of the Angel in faith simply because it was the Word of the Lord.  We read, “he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.”

This is the first level of faith.  It is to put our trust not in the words of man but in the Word of God. St Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, “I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  (1 Cor 2:3-5)  The obedience of faith therefore is what Mary also said to the Lord, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  (Lk 1:38) This is the same kind of obedience that Abraham demonstrated.  

Faith however is more than just an intellectual assent to a doctrine or truth.  It has implications on how we live after knowing the truth.  To proclaim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life means that we are going to follow Jesus in all that we do and how we live.  So faith is more than just accepting the Word of God as true and the teachings of the Church as an explanation of the revealed Word of God.

The irony is that many Catholics profess the doctrines of the Church but these doctrines are empty doctrines because they have no effect on their lives.  As Jesus, quoting from the prophet Isaiah said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”  (Mt 15:8 cf Isa 29:13)  Faith in what we believe must be demonstrated in how we live.  Otherwise, there is a dichotomy.  Such intellectual faith cannot save us and cannot give us fullness of life.  This explains why many Catholics do not find life in their faith.  For many, their faith is a mere ritual, a chore, a duty and a routine that they do week after week.  But it is not a living faith.  What they believe is one thing, but how they live the rest of their lives at home, in the office, in business or with their friends is entirely unrelated to what the Word of God tells them.

This was the case of Ahaz in today’s first reading.  Assyria was becoming a strong military power and the army was known to be ruthless and fierce.  Threatened by Assyria, the kings of Syria and Israel wanted King Ahaz of Judah to join them in fighting Assyria. To protect himself, Ahaz sought alliance with Assyria.  Instead of listening to the Word of God spoken through Isaiah, that God would protect him; he was stubborn and followed his own plans.  He trusted in himself and sought the help of man instead of the help of God.  He relied on military might rather than in the power of God.  And he continued to reject God’s Word, even when he was given a sign.  Regardless of his faith in God or lack of it, God demonstrated His power and faithfulness when He fulfilled the prophecy by allowing Assyria to defeat Syria in 732 B.C. and Israel in 722 B.C.

What about us?  What is the level of our practical faith in God?  Are we open to His Word and ready to obey Him?  Are we ready to welcome the Lord into our lives?  Are we ready to allow Him to take flesh in us?  The psalmist says, “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things.  He shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves him. Such are the men who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.”  Faith in the Lord presumes that we live the truths taught to us.

Today we are called to be like St Joseph who is known to be a just man.  He not only accepted in faith the word of the Lord, but he carried it out immediately upon waking up from his sleep.  St Paul is another shining example of how encountering the Lord at Damascus resulted in him giving his entire life to the proclamation of the Good News, in and out of season.  Whether it was Mary, Joseph or St Paul, all considered themselves to be servants of the Good News, proclaiming the marvelous truth that Christ is the Son of God, the Emmanuel, and the God who is with us in the flesh. In Him is our salvation and our reconciliation with God.

If we truly believe this truth, then we must let the Word of God take flesh in us today as well.  Many do not believe in Him because they have not yet encountered the Lord.  Like St Paul, “through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations.”   We do this through the proclamation of what God has done for us in our lives and how we experience Christ, His presence, guidance and strength in our daily life.  We show His love to other through our lives of gentleness, compassion, meekness, kindness, humility and generosity. Reaching out to others, showing our compassion and love, others will come to encounter the living God, the Lord Jesus through us in the flesh, which is, but a stepping-stone to faith in Him.

Accordingly, as we approach Christmas, let us allow the Lord to enter into our lives.  We must be watchful that we do not reduce Christmas to a material celebration, of fun, merry making, food and partying, as such external celebrations, unless they come from a heart filled with gratitude and joy for Christ’s coming into our lives, is meaningless, empty and passing.  Christmas is almost here, have you yet let Him into your life?  Hear the appeal of the psalmist, “Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.”  Let us make room for Him in our hearts by making time for prayer, contemplation and for friendship and love.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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In the text which we are meditating on this Sunday, the concern of Matthew is evident, he wants to confirm the faith of the communities. It is as if he wished to tell us: “You do not live deceived! Jesus is truly the Messiah! “The intention of Matthew in chapters one and two of his Gospel is to inform the readers concerning Jesus, whose activity will be described beginning in chapter three.

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In the first two chapters, Matthew presents the credentials of Jesus, the new Legislator, the new Moses. In the genealogy (Mt 1, 1-17), he had already shown that Jesus belongs to the race of David and of Abraham (Mt 1, 1). In these verses (Mt 1, 18-25) Matthew continues to present Jesus to us describing his birth. He says how Joseph received the news that Mary was with child and, the prophecies which will be realized with the birth of Jesus, showing that he is the expected Messiah.

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During the reading, it is well to pay attention to what the text tells us on the person of Jesus, especially in what concerns the significance of the two names that he receives.

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b) A division of the text to help the reading:

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Matthew 1, 18: A legal irregularity in Mary Matthew 1, 19: The justice of Joseph Matthew 1, 20-21: The explanation or elucidation by the Angel Matthew 1, 21-23: The melody in Matthew’s Gospel Matthew 1, 24-25: The obedience of Joseph.

The text:

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 18 This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally. 20 He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ 22 Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: 23 Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. 24 When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home; 25 he had not had intercourse with her when she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

A moment of prayerful silence

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….so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

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Some questions

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…. to help us in our personal reflection.

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i) Which point of this text struck you the most? Why?

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ii) According to the words of the Angel, who is the Son who will be born of Mary?

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iii) According to the words of Matthew, which prophecy of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus?

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iv) Which are the two names which the Child receives and which is God’s project hidden in these names?

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v) How is Joseph’s attitude to be understood? What does this attitude teach us?

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vi) In what exactly does Joseph’s “justice” consist?

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vii) Which is our justice, compared with that of Joseph?

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For those who desire to go deeper into the theme

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Context of the evangelic text:

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The genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1, 1-17) leaves us with a question. Next to the names of the forty-two paternal ancestors of Jesus (Mt 1, 17), Matthew gives the names of four maternal ancestors only: Tamar (Mt 1, 3), Rahab, Ruth (Mt 1, 4) and the wife of Uriah (Mt 1, 6). The four women conceived their sons outside the parameters of purity or of the legal justice of that time. Therefore, the state of these four women is irregular before the Law. The irregularity of these four ancestors is evident. It is sufficient to read the texts of the Old Testament where their story is described. And thus, at the end of the genealogy arises a question: “And Mary, the spouse of Joseph, from whom Jesus is born (Mt 1, 16), does she also incur in some irregularity of a legal type? The text on which we are meditating this Sunday speaks about this.

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Commentary on the text:

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Matthew 1, 18: A legal irregularity in Mary Mary is with child before going to live with Joseph, her promised spouse. The one who looks at things from outside is aware of an irregularity and will say: “Mary, how horrible!” According to the law of Moses, these errors merited a death penalty (Dt 22, 20). To avoid this mistaken interpretation of facts, Matthew helps the reader to see the other aspect of Mary’s pregnancy: “She conceived by the Holy Spirit”. To human eyes this may seem a transgression of the Law, but in God’s eyes this was exactly the contrary!

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Matthew 1, 19: The justice of Joseph The pregnancy of Mary takes place before she went to live with Joseph, not because of a human deviation, but because of the divine will. God himself made fun of the law of legal purity in such a way as to make the Messiah be born among us! If Joseph had acted according to the requirements of the law of that time, he would have had to denounce Mary and possibly she would have been stoned. Pregnancy before marriage is irregular and according to the law of legal purity, she should be punished with the death penalty (Dt 22, 20). But Joseph, because he is just, does not obey the requirements of the law of purity. His justice is greater. Instead of denouncing, he prefers to respect the mystery which he does not understand and decides to abandon Mary in secret. The greatest justice of Joseph saves both the life of Mary and that of Jesus. Thus, Matthew sends an important message to the communities of Palestine and Syria. It is as if said: “Behold, what would happen if the rigorous observance would be followed, which certain Pharisees demand from you! They would put the Messiah to death!” Later Jesus will say: “If your justice is not greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5, 20).

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Matthew 1, 20-21: The explanation or elucidation of the Angel and the two names of the Son of Mary: Jesus and Immanuel. “The Angel of the Lord” helps to discover the deepest dimension of life and of events. He helps to make an X-Ray of events and to perceive God’s call which with our human eyes alone we cannot perceive. The Angel makes Joseph understand that Mary’s pregnancy is the fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. God himself, the day of creation, blew over the waters and filled with force the creating Word of God (Gen 1, 2). The new creation takes place in Mary. It is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth, announced by Isaiah (Is 65, 17). The Son of Mary receives two names: Jesus and Immanuel. Jesus means “Yahweh saves”. Salvation does not come from what we do but from God, rather from what God does for us. Immanuel means “God with us”. In the Exodus, when getting out of Egypt, God goes down to be with the oppressed people (Ex 3, 8) and tells Moses: “I will be with you” (Ex 3, 12) and from that moment on he never abandons his people. The two names, Jesus and Immanuel, render concrete, and even go beyond the hope of the people.

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Matthew 1, 22-23: The melody of Matthew’s Gospel “All this took place in order that what had been said of the Lord by the prophet could be fulfilled”. This phrase or other similar ones are like a melody, words which are repeated many times in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 1, 23; 2, 5.15.17.23; 4, 14; 8, 17; 12, 17; 13, 14.35; etc.). This reveals the purpose which the author had in mind: to confirm for his readers of Jewish origin the fact that Jesus is truly the promised Messiah. In him the promises of the prophets are fulfilled. Here Matthew quotes the text of Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7, 14). The title Immanuel more than a name reveals the meaning of Jesus for us. Jesus is the proof that God continues to be with us. The name itself of the Child is Jesus (Mt 1,25).

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Matthew 1, 24-25: The obedience of Joseph Waking up from sleep, Joseph does what the Angel told him and took Mary to his house. And he continues to say that he had no relation with Mary, to confirm that Jesus is born from the Holy Spirit.

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Extending the information:

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A key for the Gospel of Matthew – The Gospel of Matthew is addressed to a community of converted Jews, who live a deep crisis of identity in relation to their Jewish past. When in the year 65 AC the revolt broke out against Rome, the Jewish-Christians did not participate and they abandoned Jerusalem. The Pharisees did the same thing. After the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, the Pharisees reorganized the people who had remained and they lined up, always in a more decisive way, against the Christians, who at the end were excommunicated. This excommunication made the problem of identity even worse. Now, officially excommunicated, they could no longer go to their Synagogue, to their rabbi. And the question arose among them: To whom do the promises belong: to the Synagogue or to the Church? Who is the true People of God, they or we? Is Jesus truly the Messiah? Matthew writes his Gospel for this community. The Gospel of Matthew can be defined by the three following words: i) The Gospel of consolation for those excommunicated and persecuted by their brother Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah (Christ); it helps to overcome the trauma or shock of the breaking. ii) The Gospel of revelation: It shows Jesus as the true Messiah, the new Messiah, in whom is the summit of all the history of the Old Testament with its promises. iii) The Gospel of the new practice: which describes the practice of Jesus, and shows how to attain a new justice, greater than that of the Pharisees.

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This happened in order that it could be realized – by means of this phrase repeated many times in his Gospel, Matthew touches on the point of greatest tension between Christians and Jews. Starting from the Bible, they said: “Jesus is not and cannot be the Messiah!” Starting from the Bible itself, Matthew responds and affirms: “Jesus is truly the Messiah!”

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The pregnancy of Mary – Matthew as well as Luke quote the text of Isaiah “A virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she will call Immanuel” (Is 7, 14). But there is a difference. Luke places Mary in the centre and gives more importance to the sign of virginity (Lk 1, 31). Matthew places Joseph in the centre and gives more importance to the significance of the name Immanuel.

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Joseph’s dream – the Angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep and helps him to understand. With the help of the Angel, Joseph succeeded in discovering God’s action in this event, which according to the opinion of the time, seemed to be only the fruit of deviation and of sin. Angel means messenger. He brings a message and a help to perceive God’s action in life. Today there are many Angels who guide us in life. Some times they act while we sleep, in our dreams, other times in our meetings, in conversations and in Biblical encounters, in facts, etc. So many Angels, so many Angels!.

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Prayer: Psalm 72 (71)

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His name endure for ever!

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God, endow the king with your own fair judgment, the son of the king with your own saving justice, that he may rule your people with justice, and your poor with fair judgement.

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Mountains and hills, bring peace to the people! With justice he will judge the poor of the people, he will save the children of the needy and crush their oppressors. In the sight of the sun and the moon he will endure, age after age.

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He will come down like rain on mown grass, like showers moistening the land. In his days uprightness shall flourish, and peace in plenty till the moon is no more. His empire shall stretch from sea to sea, from the river to the limits of the earth.

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The Beast will cower before him, his enemies lick the dust; the kings of Tarshish and the islands will pay him tribute. The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts; all kings will do him homage, all nations become his servants.

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For he rescues the needy who calls to him, and the poor who has no one to help. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the needy from death. From oppression and violence he redeems their lives, their blood is precious in his sight.

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Long may he live; may the gold of Sheba be given him! Prayer will be offered for him constantly, and blessings invoked on him all day. May wheat abound in the land, waving on the heights of the hills, like Lebanon with its fruits and flowers at their best, like the grasses of the earth.

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May his name be blessed for ever, and endure in the sight of the sun. In him shall be blessed every race in the world, and all nations call him blessed. Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders; blessed for ever his glorious name. May the whole world be filled with his glory! Amen! Amen!

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Final Prayer

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Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-4th-sunday-advent

Related:

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JESUS’ DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY TREE

The full story of how Jesus Christ came to be born includes elements that we do not easily imagine when we sing our Christmas hymns. Jesus’ family tree and blood-line were far from perfect and this, according to the great biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, needs to be kept in mind whenever we are tempted to believe in Jesus but want to reject the church because of its imperfections, scandals, and bad history. Jesus may have been immaculately conceived, but there is much in his origins, as the gospels make clear, that’s as un-immaculate as any contemporary church scandal.

For example, in giving us the origins of Jesus, the gospels point to as many sinners, liars, and schemers in his genetic and historical lineage as they do to saints, honest people, and men and women of faith.

We see, for example, in Jesus’ genealogy a number of men who didn’t exactly incarnate the love, justice, and purity of Jesus: Abraham unfairly banished Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, rationalizing that God favours some people over others; Jacob, by scheming and dishonesty, stole his brother Esau’s birthright; and David, to whom Jesus explicitly connects himself, committed adultery and then had the husband of his mistress murdered to cover-up an unwanted pregnancy and in order to marry her.

And the women mentioned in Jesus background aren’t much better. It’s interesting to note, as Raymond Brown does, which women don’t get mentioned in reference to Jesus’ origins. The gospels don’t mention Sarah, Rebekeh, or Rachel, all of whom were regarded as holy women. Whom do they mention?

They mention Tamar, a Canaanite woman, someone outside the Jewish faith, who seduces her father-in-law, Judah, so that she can have a child; Rahab, also a Canaanite woman, and an outsider, who is in fact a prostitute; Ruth, a Moabite woman who is also outside the official religion of the time; and Bathsheba, a Hittite woman, an outsider who commits adultery with David and then schemes to make sure one of her own offspring inherits the throne.

All of these women found themselves in a situation of marriage or pregnancy that was either strange or scandalous, yet each was an important divine instrument in preserving the religious heritage that gave us Jesus. It’s no accident that the gospels link these women to Mary, Jesus’ mother, since she too found herself in a ritually taboo pregnancy and in a marital situation that was peculiar.

And beyond these less-than-saintly characters in Jesus’ lineage, we see as well that some of the institutions that shaped the Jewish faith were also less than saintly. Institutionalized religion back then suffered from many of the same problems it has today, including the corrupt use of power. Moreover, Israel itself (perhaps justifying the deed by referring to what Jacob had done to Esau) seized the land of Canaan from those who had a prior claim to it, claiming ownership by divine privilege.

Finally, and not insignificantly, we see too that the lineage that gave us Jesus built itself up not just upon the great and the talented, but equally upon the poor and the insignificant. In the list of names that makes up the ancestors of Jesus, we see some that are famous and others that can make no claim to specialness or significance. Jesus’ human blood, scripture tells us, was produced equally by the great and the small, the talented and the talentless.

What’s to be learned for all of this? Perhaps Raymond Brown captures it the best. What all this tells us, he says, is that God writes straight with crooked lines, that we shouldn’t accept an overly-idealized Jesus Christ, and that our own lives, even if they are marked by weakness and insignificance, are important too in continuing the story of the incarnation.

As Brown, himself, puts it: “The God who wrote the beginnings with crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of those lines are our own lives and witness. A God who did not hesitate to use the scheming as well as the noble, the impure as well as the pure, men to whom the world harkened and women upon whom the world frowned – this God continues to work through the same melange. If it is a challenge to recognize in the last part of Matthew’s genealogy that totally unknown people were part of the story of Jesus Christ, it may be a greater challenge to recognize that the unknown characters of today are an essential part of the sequence.”

Christianity isn’t just for the pure, the talented, the good, the humble, and the honest. The story of Jesus Christ was also written and keeps getting written too by the impure, by sinners, by calculating schemers, by the proud, by the dishonest, and by those without worldly talents. Nobody is so bad, so insignificant, so devoid of talent, or so outside the circle of faith, that he or she is outside the story of Christ.

http://ronrolheiser.com/jesus-dysfunctional-family-tree/#.WFWhdxsrKUn

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, March 21, 2016

March 20, 2016

Monday of Holy Week
Lectionary: 257

Bible; Jesus Christ; Revealing Himself; Resurrection; Mary Magdalene Painting - Jesus Revealing Himself To Mary Magdalene by William Brassey Hole

Reading 1 IS 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Verse Before The Gospel

Hail to you, our King;
you alone are compassionate with our faults.

Gospel JN 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

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Commentary on John 12:1-11 from Living Space

Today’s Gospel serves as a lovely prelude to the Passion of Jesus.

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Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did.

.This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.

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While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.

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Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.

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Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

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“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.

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“As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.

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Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.

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Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.

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Source http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1062g/

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we continue to proceed into the Holy Week, and in a few days’ time we shall be commemorating the three days of Easter Triduum, the heart of our faith, when we commemorate the time when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, and giving up His Body and Blood, He suffered and died for us, so that by His resurrection from the dead, He gave us a new life and a new hope that sin and death can be overcome.

Today we heard the hypocrisy of Judas, who criticised Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who had poured a whole jar of very expensive perfume made of pure spikenard on the feet of Jesus and wiped it dry with her hair. In another account, the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume also anointed His head with the same perfume, and she was criticised all the same.

As mentioned, Judas did not do so because he cared for the poor in any way, and he did it because he was a thief and a cheater, who stole the money from the common fund of the Apostles, which was meant for the poor and the needy. Thus, he spoke a lie and brought about calumny and injustice to another. His inability to resist the temptation of money, desire and the impurities in his heart led him to do what he had done, that is to betray his own Lord and Master, for a mere thirty pieces of silver.

Just for your knowledge, that when Joseph, the son of Jacob was sold by his brothers out of jealousy into slavery, he was priced at about the same price. And at that price, they were valued at even lower than animals. A good quality animal would have fetched far higher prices than those which Judas received for betraying his Lord and which the brothers sold Joseph with.

Thus we value so low the Lord who had loved us all completely and sincerely with all of His heart, we looked down on He who was tortured, mocked and rejected for our sake, who died for us on the cross, so that we might be saved. We did not appreciate the things which He had done for us, and all the hard works which He had undertaken for our own good.

We are often tempted and our minds and hearts clouded with worldly things such as greed, pride, pleasures of the flesh and many others. The Pharisees, the elders and the chief priests were all infected with the disease of greed and jealousy, as well as fear and insecurity. They were all concerned only with preserving themselves and their own livelihoods. This is why, even though they were supposed to be the ones with wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures, they refused to believe in Jesus and instead trying to undermine His works by plotting against Lazarus whom Jesus had resurrected from the dead.

They were manipulated by the wickedness and malice that Satan had planted in their hearts, which also exist in all of us. They were afraid of losing their position of honour and the respect which they have been accorded with by the society. They did not want to take a risk with the Romans, whom they were afraid that they would destroy all of their livelihood. And similarly with Judas, Satan manipulated his greed and desire for money, and in the end they destroyed and condemned only themselves.

It is a lesson for all of us that we cannot be hypocrites in our faith. Instead, we truly have to live out our faith, through our own actions. And we cannot be divided in our faith, just as we cannot have two masters. We cannot both serve God and worldly things, and as Jesus mentioned, that we will either despise one and love the other or we will not be sincere in our faith as a whole.

Therefore, let us all reflect on this occasion, and take steps to change our lives for the better. We can make a difference by committing ourselves more and more to the cause of the Lord. Now the choice is in our hands to make that difference. Let us therefore emerge from this Lenten observation, a better, more dedicated and more faithful servant of God. God bless us all. Amen.

Source http://petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang.com/2015/03/30/monday-30-march-2015-monday-of-the-holy-week-homily-and-scripture-reflections/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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• We have entered into Holy Week, the week of the Passover of Jesus, of his passing from this world to the Father (Jn 13, 1). Liturgy today places before us the beginning of chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, which serves as a link between the Book of the Signs (cc 1-11) and the Book of the Glorification (cc 13-21). At the end of the “Book of Signs” there appears, very clearly the tension between Jesus and the religious authority of the time (Jn 10, 19-21.39) and the danger which Jesus was facing. Several times they had tried to kill him (Jn 10, 31; 11, 8. 53; 12, 10).
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So much it was like this that Jesus was obliged to lead a clandestine life, because he could be arrested at any moment (Jn 10, 40; 11, 54).
• John 12, 1-2: Jesus persecuted by the Jews, goes to Bethany. Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany to the house of his friends Martha and Mary and of Lazarus. Bethany means, House of Poverty. The police was looking for him (Jn 11, 57). They wanted to kill him (Jn 11, 50). But even now that the police was looking for Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus received him in their house and offered him something to eat. Because love overcomes fear.
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• John 12, 3: Mary anoints Jesus. During the meal, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a pound of perfume of pure spikenard (cf. Lk 7, 36-50). It was a very costly perfume, so very expensive that it cost three hundred denarii. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The whole house was filled with the scent of the ointment. Mary does not speak during this whole episode. She only acts. The gesture filled with symbolism speaks for itself. In washing the feet, Mary becomes a servant. Jesus will repeat the gesture at the Last Supper (Jn 13, 5).
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• John 12, 4-6: Reaction of Judas. Judas criticizes the gesture of Mary. He thinks that it is a waste. In fact, three hundred denarii were the wages of three hundred days! The wages of almost a whole year spent in one time alone! Judas thinks that the money should have been given to the poor. The Evangelist comments and says that Judas had no concern at all for the poor, but that he was a thief. They had a common fund and he stole the money. A strong judgment which condemns Judas.
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It does not condemn the concern for the poor, but the hypocrisy which uses the poor for self promotion and to enrich oneself. Judas, in his own egoistic interests, thought only about money. This is why he was not aware of what Mary kept in her heart. Jesus reads in the heart and defends Mary.
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• John 12, 7-8: Jesus defends the woman, Judas thinks only of the waste and criticizes the woman. Jesus thinks of the gesture and defends the woman: “Leave her alone; so that she can keep it for the day of my burial!” And immediately Jesus says: “You have the poor with you always; you will not always have me!” Which of the two lived closer to Jesus: Judas or Mary? Judas, the disciple, lived together with Jesus for almost three years, twenty-four hours a day. He was part of the group.
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Mary saw him once or twice a year, on the occasion of some feast, when Jesus went to Jerusalem and visited her in her house. But to live together with, not having any love does not help us to know others. Rather it blinds people. Judas was blind. Many people live together with Jesus and praise him even with many hymns, but do not truly know him and do not reveal him (cf. Mt 7, 21). Two affirmations of Jesus merit a more detailed comment: (a) “You have the poor with you always” and (b) let her keep it for the day of my burial”.
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(a) “You have the poor with you always “. Is it perhaps that Jesus wants to say that we should not be concerned about the poor, given the fact that there will always be poor? Or does he want to say that poverty is the destiny imposed by God? How is this phrase to be understood? At that time, persons knew the Old Testament by heart. It sufficed for Jesus to begin quoting a phrase of the Old Testament and persons already knew the rest.
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The beginning of the phrase said: “There will never cease to be poor people in the country” (Dt 15, 11ª). The rest of the phrase which people already knew and which Jesus wants to remind is the following: “And this is why I am giving you this command: always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and is poor!” (Dt 15, 11b).
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According to this Law, the community should accept the poor and share its goods with them. But, Judas instead of “opening his hand to help the poor” and to share his goods with them, wanted to do charity with the money of others! He wanted to sell the perfume of Mary for three hundred denarii and use it to help the poor. Jesus quotes the Law of God which taught the contrary. Anyone who, like Judas, carries out a campaign with the money of the sale of the goods of other does not disturb or trouble. But, the one who, like Jesus, insists on the obligation to accept the poor and to share with them one’s own goods, this one disturbs, troubles and runs the risk of being condemned.
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(b) John 12, 9-11: The crowds and the authority. To be the friend of Jesus could be dangerous. Lazarus is in danger of death because of the new life received from Jesus. The Jews had decided to kill him. Lazarus alive was a living proof that Jesus was the Messiah. This is why the crowd was looking for him, because people wanted to experience closely the living proof of the power of Jesus. A living community runs the risk of its life because it is the living proof of the Good News of God!
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Personal questions
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• Mary was misinterpreted by Judas. Have you been misinterpreted sometimes?
• What does this text of Mary teach us? What does the reaction of Judas say to us?
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Concluding Prayer
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Yahweh is my light and my salvation,
whom should I fear?
Yahweh is the fortress of my life,
whom should I dread? (Ps 27,1)
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Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer (c.1655)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 MARCH 2016, Monday of Holy Week
ENTERING INTO THE PASSION OF OUR LORD THROUGH UNDERSTANDING AND LOVE IN ACTION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 42:1-7; JN 12:1-11 ]

As we enter into Holy Week, the Church invites us to contemplate more deeply on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For this reason, Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to face His death.  At the same time, the reading of the passion prepares us for what is ahead for Christ.  It therefore calls for a deeper reflection of His passion for us.   How can this be done?

Firstly, we must deepen our understanding of His passion through knowledge.  In the first reading, we are told that Jesus, who is the suffering servant, brings justice to the nations by gently inviting us to reflect on our own lives.  As the light of the nations, “he does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets. He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.”

But more importantly, the understanding of His passion cannot stop at mere intellectual appreciation.   We must feel with Jesus in our hearts, for that is what common passion is all about.  Instead of words alone, Jesus acted decisively through deeds of love and works of wonders, for as God said, “I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.”  Indeed, Jesus was able to show that God is our light and our salvation not only through His words, but also by His actions and miracles.  And as the psalmist wonderfully declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamps against me, my heart will not fear; though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust.”

This is what Mary in the gospel teaches us as well.  She loved Jesus so passionately that she even anointed His feet with expensive ointment and wiped them with her hair shamelessly.  Mary understood the true meaning of hospitality and making space for God in prayer.  In the earlier episode when Jesus visited her, she gave full attention to Jesus by listening to Him instead of being distracted by doing things for Him.  On this occasion she knew, unlike her elder sister, that faith and love in action was also necessary.  She anointed the body of Jesus for burial, and most of all, worshipped Him as the Christ by washing His feet and wiping them with her hair.  Not only did she love Jesus, but she also recognized Him and worshipped Him.

Of course, Judas could not understand because his love for Jesus was not from the heart but from the head.  Indeed, without love, we tend to think and reason only from the head.  Logically, what Judas said about saving the money for the poor was not wrong.  Yet, love goes beyond mere logic alone.   Jesus understood this truth when He said, “’Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’”   So too the Jewish leaders as well!  They were too full of hatred and jealousy to see the good works that Jesus did.  Ironically, the evangelist says that “the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.”

When we love someone we do not think in terms of logic, and definitely not in terms of money.  Love does not count the cost.  That is why parents would do anything for their children, even if they have to sell their assets or borrow money for their sake.   When we love, we will do anything and everything within our capacity for our loved ones.  When love is lacking, then we tend to act on the rational level and become calculative.  True love is never calculative.

Today, let us follow  Mary and Martha in preparing for the passion of Christ.  Let us wait on Jesus as Martha did, in serving Him through good works and sacrifices.  But more importantly, let us follow the path of Mary who shared the passion of Jesus by being one with Him in His moment of anxiety and aloneness in His sufferings.  Through our common passion with Jesus in prayer and in love, we will be able to appreciate His love for us even more.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 28, 2016 — “For us, our homeland is in heaven” — “Our Goal is To Be With God” — “There is no other goal”

February 27, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 30

Reading 1 EX 3:1-8A, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro,
the priest of Midian.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely,
God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
God said, “Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.
I am the God of your fathers,” he continued,
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
But the LORD said,
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt
and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers,
so I know well what they are suffering.
Therefore I have come down to rescue them
from the hands of the Egyptians
and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.”Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites:
I AM sent me to you.”God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.“This is my name forever;
thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills,
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
The LORD secures justice
and the rights of all the oppressed.
He has made known his ways to Moses,
and his deeds to the children of Israel.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Reading 2 1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
that our ancestors were all under the cloud
and all passed through the sea,
and all of them were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food,
and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them,
for they were struck down in the desert.

These things happened as examples for us,
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.
Do not grumble as some of them did,
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.

Verse Before The Gospel MT 4:17

Repent, says the Lord;
the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gospel LK 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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While doing our Bible Study this morning, my mind flipped for just a moment to Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary.
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The story is in  Luke 10:38-42:
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“Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

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During Lent we are reminded to concentrate on “The One Thing.”

Art: Jesus with Mary and Martha By Christen Dalsgaard

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Reflections for the Third Sunday of Lent from Living Space
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Commentaries on the Readings Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6,1-12; Luke 13:1-9
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ONE OF THE RECURRENT THEMES throughout the Lenten season is the compassion and mercy of our God. It is something that we constantly need to be reminded about. Our God is always faithful and consistent. His love for us never changes, no matter how we behave, no matter how serious our sins may be. It has to be that way because our God not only loves, he IS love. Love is of the very essence of his being; he cannot not love.

His love is like the sun which gives its warmth to good and bad alike; like the gentle nurturing rain which falls on good and bad alike. And we are called, as far as possible, to imitate him in this – to love always and unconditionally. Because we find that difficult, it is hard for us to think of God loving that way. We do need to get rid of the idea of an angry, disappointed, vengeful God threatening catastrophe on a wicked world – an idea still being fostered by those who claim to have had special revelations.

Does anything matter?

If God’s love for us is so constant and unchanged by our behaviour, does that mean we can do anything we like? Does it matter whether we lead good or bad lives? Whether we sin or not? It is very doubtful if we would be justified in drawing that conclusion.

Today’s readings seem to be saying three things to us:

a. We cannot find our salvation and wholeness as persons without the love and the help of God.

b. God does not punish people because of their bad behaviour.

c. God will not save us against our will or without our co-operation.

It is absolutely true – and we should never have doubts about this – that, if we sin, God continues to love us as he always did and does. But it is also true that, if we sin, we are not loving him. And so we become separated from him. Love is essentially mutual, it is a two-way process, it is a bonding. Love is not complete until it is reciprocated on both sides. So God’s love is not perfect, is not fully effective in me until I have opened myself to receive it and to give mine in return. When we sin, God does not stop loving us; it is we who stop loving him. It is we who break the relationship – always.

Does God kill people?

In today’s Gospel, some people approach Jesus and tell him of how some Galileans had been killed by Roman soldiers in the Temple sanctuary. Did they want Jesus, as a Galilean himself, to denounce the Roman authorities? Jesus responds by taking another track altogether. Instead, he mentions another incident, apparently a sheer accident when a building fell on some purely innocent people and killed many. Jesus asks his questioners: “Did these people die because of their sin? Was this God’s way of punishing them? If I do not suffer in that way, does that mean that I have no sin?”

It is quite common to meet people who believe that such events are acts of punishment by God. Perhaps even more frequently one meets people who ask why a loving God does not prevent such things happening. As if God was a kind of puppet master who rules the world by pulling strings.

When a jumbo jet gets blown out of the skies because of a terrorist’s bomb on board and everyone is killed, is it because those passengers were more deserving of death?

When thousands are killed or made homeless as the result of some terrible natural disaster, an earthquake or a cyclone, are we to read it as an act of punishment for those people or even for the whole country?

Is the AIDS epidemic in Africa God’s way of punishing people for rampant sexual immorality? What about those who get AIDS through blood transfusions or babies who get it in their mother’s womb? AIDS may well indeed be the price that people, including the innocent, pay for promiscuous sex but there is no need to see God’s direct hand in it. (However, he may be present there in other very different ways.)

Does God love some people more?

Does God love those victims less? Are those who escape such disasters more loved by him? Maybe it is the other way round. Those who died may have been ready to meet their God while those who survive are being given an opportunity to put things right with their lives. Jesus gives a clear warning: “Unless you repent, you will ALL die as they did.” ‘Repent’ (Greek, metanoia, ) implies not just regret for the past but a radical conversion and a complete change in our way of life in responding to and opening ourselves to the love of God.

What Jesus is saying is:

a. If I am regarded as very “successful” in my life (money, career, status…), it does not at all mean that I am a good person, a person without sin or that God somehow loves me more. Jesus makes that quite clear in the Gospel.

b. If I suffer in my life, it does not at all mean that God does not love me or that I am more sinful than others.

In fact, every single experience I have is a sign of God’s love. If I am showered with blessings – spiritual, emotional or material – they are given that I may share them with others, so that I become a channel of God’s love to others. If I am struck down with disaster, disease, pain or failure, it is again a message for me to seek and find there the presence of a loving God. Paradoxically, it is often only through such experiences that we can grow and come closer to God and others. Diseases like AIDS and cancer can draw out of relatives and friends extraordinary depths of compassion and care. Rude health and material prosperity can often lead to selfishness, individualism and neglect of others. Where there is love, there is God. Where there is no God, one is not likely to find much real loving.

No unconditional guarantees

Jesus is also saying that, just because I am a baptised Christian and call myself ‘Catholic’, it is of itself no guarantee that I will experience salvation and wholeness as a person. In today’s Second Reading, Paul, speaking of the Israelites in the desert with Moses, says, “[They] were all under the cloud [of God’s presence]; all passed through the sea; all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food [manna] and all drank the same spiritual drink [from the rock struck by Moses]… Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of our ancestors and their corpses littered the desert.”

Having an identity card or passport is no guarantee that I am a good and responsible citizen. Being baptised, even my presence at this Mass or my going to Confession is again, of itself, no guarantee that I really love God and love my brothers and sisters. For we know well we can go through these rituals in a very mechanical and meaningless way. After years of attending Mass or “going to confession” our lives may show little sign of progress in spiritual or interpersonal growth and responsibility. So, if I find myself consistently giving out the same laundry list in confession or if I don’t go because I have nothing to say, then it may be time for me to ask myself what exactly is happening in my Christian life.

Taking a close look

So today’s readings are asking us to take a good look at ourselves. We are like that tree that Jesus speaks of in the parable in today’s Gospel. It is alive but it bears no fruit. It should be cut down. The man responsible for the tree asks the owner to give it one more year. If after that, there is no fruit, it should be cut down.

Every Lenten season is our chance to fertilise our tree and to see how it can be more fruitful. For some reading this, it may indeed be their last year, their last Lent to take care of their tree.

I am being called not merely to survive personally as a Christian, to “hang in there” (just staying out of sin and being in the “state of grace”). I am being called to grow continually in being a truly loving person, loving God and loving all those around me.

To take a few examples:

For instance, what kind of influence am I within my family circle?

In work, how do I relate with my colleagues and is my presence a positive element in our workplace?

What is my attitude towards strangers, that is, people I do not know and who are not “useful” to me?

What kind of contribution (apart from giving money and being physically present in church) do I make to the life of the Christian community in that part of the world where I live?

In general, what kind of contribution could I be said to be making in my society or do I expect society to satisfy only my needs and those of my immediate family?

Two-way love

On the one hand, I need to realise that God always and everywhere loves me. But that love is only fully completed in me when I become a genuinely loving and caring person, one who loves both God and others in word and action.

There is no need for us ever to be afraid of God. He will never directly punish us or the world around us. But we do have the choice to come closer to him, to experience that love he is reaching out to us, to open ourselves to that love or, like the Prodigal Son, go our own way, separate ourselves from him and wallow in the cesspools of life. The choice is up to us. God’s love is there for the taking. What are we waiting for?

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/lc031/

 

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From The Abbot in the Desert

Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

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Jesus speaks very strong words in the Gospel today.  We are called to repentance.  We must turn away from our sins and seek to do good.  Jesus is very clear with us:  if we do no repent, we shall perish.  Today, in many cultures, people do not want to hear such a strong message.  On the other hand, we cannot preach Jesus and change his message to us.

Let us look at the first two readings and then return to the Gospel.  The first reading today is from the Book of Exodus.  It recounts for us the encounter of Moses with the living God.  Moses is not expecting to meet God.  It is God who chooses Moses for a special role among the people.  Moses has to come to know God little by little.  It is through Moses that we come to know God as well.  This is a God who seeks us out, a God who reveals Himself, a God who asks us to live for Him and a God who is always faithful in His relationship with us, even when He asks difficult things of us.

The second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  Again we hear about Moses and our ancestors in the faith.  God called them all but was not always pleased with them.  Yet God remained faithful to them when they were unfaithful to Him.  Saint Paul wants us to be faithful, not to play games with God.  There should be no time when we take God for granted, as though we have won salvation and no longer have any work to do.  No.  Rather we must strive every day to be faithful to God even as we trust in God’s love for us.

When we return to the Gospel today, from Saint Luke, we can hear the strong words of Jesus again, realizing now that they reflect fully the tradition of the Old Testament.  God loves us intensely and wants our love in return.  God does not want us to play games with His love, even though God accepts us as sinner.  God wants us to repent of all that causes problems in our relationship with Him.

Why?  Because God wants our hearts in this time of Lent.  God is not interested in the good works we do so much as in our giving our hearts and our whole being to Him.  When we give our hearts and our whole being to God, good works result in abundance.  But if we strive to do things for God without giving our heart and our whole being, then we are only playing games with God.

My sisters and brothers, may this time of Lent draw us deep into the mystery of God’s presence in our world and in our personal lives.  May we open our hearts to Him and seek Him with our whole heart and all our being.  May this Lent be a time of repentance and love for us.

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Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/2016/02/3rd-sunday-of-lent-cycle-c-2016/

 

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapor

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28 FEBRUARY 2016, 3rd Sunday of Lent

TAKING THE GRACE OF GOD FOR GRANTED

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Ex 3:1-8, 13-15; Ps 102:1-4, 6-8, 11; 1Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

This is the Jubilee of mercy.  All the scripture readings of this Sunday proclaim the goodness, mercy, compassion and patience of God.  The text from the book of Exodus speaks of God’s identification with the misery and the cries of the Hebrews.  God said to Moses, “I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings.” Indeed, God is never oblivious or blind to our sufferings and struggles in life.   He feels with us and for us.   More than that, He wants to set us free from our misery, our slavery and our hopelessness.  He told Moses, “I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.”

Truly, this God of ours is a God of mercy and compassion.   His compassion goes beyond merely delivering us from our misery and suffering, He comes to free us from the cause of our misery, namely our sins.   The responsorial psalm speaks of the experience of the Israelites of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  “It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion.  The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. For as the heavens are high above the earth so strong in his love for those who fear him.”

Yet He is a patient God.  He does not expect us to change immediately.  He waits for us like the man who had a barren fig tree that was not producing fruits.   When the man wanted to cut it down, the one looking after it said, “Sir, leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”   So God is caring, forgiving and patient.   He understands our struggles and our limitations.  He does not expect us to be saints overnight.

In the light of our experience of God’s mercy and compassion, we must rejoice.  Indeed, Christianity is about celebration, about rejoicing.  What are the reasons for us to rejoice?  Simply because of His love and mercy for us!   A sad and hopeless Christian is a contradiction.  Authentic Christians are always positive, full of joy and live a liberated life.  How could it be that Christians are not joyful?  How did they lose their joy if they had it?

It all boils down to a complacent spiritual life.  The blessings of God are taken for granted and not valued.  They never consider the costs of God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world.   They never give a thought to Christ’s suffering on the Cross, His passion and death.  The graces of God that they received have been reduced to cheap grace.  It is grace without conversion, grace without repentance, grace without fellowship, grace without commitment; grace without love.  Indeed, there is no transformation of life.  Weakness becomes an excuse for a mediocre Christian life.  This is what St Paul is warning us as he warned his fellow Christians of what happens if we take the grace of God for granted.   “I want to remind you, brothers, how our fathers were all guided by a cloud above them and how they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in this cloud and in this sea; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them as they went, and that rock was Christ. In spite of this, most of them failed to please God and their corpses littered the desert.”   So too, we might be baptized Christians and we might think we belong to the Church of Christ.  What is the use of belonging to His Church when we do not share in His life, love and in communion with our brothers and sisters?  A ritual baptism and a mediocre Catholic life cannot save us nor give life here on earth or in heaven!

The way to recover our faith in Christ is through thanksgiving.   Be grateful for what we have received.   We must give thanks for all that we have and are.  We give thanks especially for Christ who has taught us how to live a meaningful life.  We give thanks for His justice, compassion and forgiveness.

To give thanks is to show our gratitude not just in words and in worship.  It is to live a life in imitation of Christ.  Only when we live a transformed life, will others see the good works we do and give glory to God.  Grateful people express themselves by loving the person and doing things for the person who has loved them.  Without any offering to give to the Lord or a changed life, it clearly shows that we are not grateful.

Indeed, people without gratitude for God’s love in Christ either do not practice their faith or they do it slavishly more out of fear of God’s punishment than out of love for God. Their religious and spiritual life is but a routine, a set of rituals that they perform but they are all empty practices that do not touch the core of their being.  It is done perfunctorily and superficially.  At most their faith, if any, is but an intellectual knowledge of some doctrines taught to them.

To remain grateful to the Lord, what is necessary is to keep on going back to our memories of Christ’s love for us.  This is done through prayer and meditation and worship.  We need to renew our relationship with the Lord all the time, just as in human relationship.  Out of sight, out of mind!   If it is true with human relationship, it is even truer in our relationship with God.  This is what secularization seeks to do, to empty and sideline the sacred presence of God from our daily life.

Consequently, if we were to keep our joy alive sustained by a life of gratitude, we need to renew our personal relationship with God always.   We need to go back to the Burning Bush experience as Moses did.  Only by reliving our Burning Bush experience like St Paul in his Damascus experience, could we then keep our hope, courage and joy alive. Unless we come to appreciate in our heart, not just our head, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross not for us but for me and you, we will never be cut to the quick and feel grateful.

Thus, without constant prayer, worship, fellowship, and sharing the Word of God, we will eventually become distant from God and from His love.   We need to continue to contemplate on His passion, death and resurrection; then celebrate it in the Eucharist.  This is the common mistake of our Catholics.  They are weak when it comes to follow up after a Conversion Experience or in Christian discipleship.  Many are baptized and just remain converts.  Many are born again but died prematurely. We lack mentors and serious Christian discipleship to form and strengthen our Catholics in faith.  Indeed, we are called once again to stand on Holy Ground like Moses so that our experience of God’s love can be renewed and we can be fired up again.   

This joy that we have must be sustained by an evangelical life.  The only way to keep our experience is to share with others.  Like Moses we are called to announce the mercy and compassion of God to others.

Finally, there is a veiled warning that if we do not respond positively with joy and gratitude to what God has done for us through a life of prayer, discipleship and evangelization, we will lose whatever little we have. God is patient with us but there will come a time of judgment like the Israelites.  We too can suffer the same fate as them and the Galileans like the fig tree if we do not bear fruit.  So before it is too late to regret, let us refocus our direction in life.  Let us take up the challenge of living authentic lives in joy, love and service, regardless of our state of life.  The whole world is holy ground and we must bring the joy of Christ to all.  Let us therefore not allow the love and joy of Christ we have received to die with us.   So, be joyful witnesses of life and love wherever you are and in whatever you do!

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Prayer and Meditation for December 27, 2015 — Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph — Am I The Complete Father God Wants Me To Be? Mother? Friend? Helpmate?

December 26, 2015

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Lectionary: 17

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience….

Art: The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, by Carlo Dolci

Reading 1 SIR 3:2-6, 12-14

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

Or 1 SM 1:20-22, 24-28

In those days Hannah conceived, and at the end of her term bore a son
whom she called Samuel, since she had asked the LORD for him.
The next time her husband Elkanah was going up
with the rest of his household
to offer the customary sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vows,
Hannah did not go, explaining to her husband,
“Once the child is weaned,
I will take him to appear before the LORD
and to remain there forever;
I will offer him as a perpetual nazirite.”

Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him up with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
Hannah left Samuel there.

Responsorial PsalmPS 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (cf. 1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks 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 and walk in his ways.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
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 and walk in his ways.

OrPS 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10

R. (cf. 5a) Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
Happy they who dwell in your house!
Continually they praise you.
Happy the men whose strength you are!
Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
O LORD of hosts, hear our prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob!
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

Reading 2 COL 3:12-21

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,
as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives,
and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything,
for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children,
so they may not become discouraged.

Or COL 3:12-17

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Or1 JN 3:1-2, 21-24

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

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

AlleluiaCOL 3:15A, 16A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts;
let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

OrCF. ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 2:41-52

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
of Passover,
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.

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Related:

There is not one comment of Joseph’s recorded in the New Testament. He just always did the right thing. He lived his faith and saw no reason to talk too much about it! He was humble and not proud. We can all learn a lot from Joseph!


Art: Joseph guides the mule to Bethlahem, “The Journey” by Joseph Brickey

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Commentary on Genesis 15:1-6;17:3b-5,15-16;21:1-7; Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19; Luke 2:41-52 From Living Space

IT IS CUSTOMARY to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday immediately following our celebrations on the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It is a time when we can reflect on the quality of our own family life in the light of the Church’s (if not the world’s) ‘First Family’.

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For a large part of his life Jesus was part of a family. We always imagine that this must have been an extremely happy family. Yet, like every other family, it must have had from time to time its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its problems and difficulties.

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There may have been problems about supplying the family’s needs on occasion. Surely someone fell sick at one time or another and was a source of anxiety for the rest of the family. And this was in an age when medical resources were few and relatively little was known about health and hygiene.

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During Jesus’ public life, Mary appears a number of times and she witnessed his death on the cross. But we do not know anything about Joseph. Had he already died by the beginning of Jesus’ public life (although his name is mentioned during Jesus’ visit to Nazareth [Luke 4:22])? Given the short life expectancy of those days, it is very possible that, by the time Jesus was in his 30s, Joseph had already died. If so, it must have been a painful experience for mother and son. There is no reason to think that Holy Family was spared any of the pains or denied any of the joys of ordinary families.

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Leaving the family

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It must have been a painful time – as it can be for any family – when Jesus, already about 30 years old, left his family for the work his Father had given him to do. But warning of this had come much earlier, as described in today’s Gospel.

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The family had gone to Jerusalem, according to their regular custom, to celebrate the Passover with thousands of other pilgrims. We are told that Jesus was just 12 years old, the age when he was regarded as entering adulthood and be required to observe all the requirements of the Mosaic Law. This partly explains his behaviour on this occasion.

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As the caravan of pilgrims (very likely the people of Nazareth went together with relatives and neighbours) was on its way home, Mary and Joseph suddenly realise that the Jesus is not with them. Being in a group of neighbours and relatives they would not at first have experienced any alarm if he was not in their immediate company. If he was a normal boy, he would be spending much of his time with other boys in the group.

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But then – perhaps he did not turn up for a meal or in the evening time – the parents began to become anxious. When they went looking for him, there was no sign anywhere among family members and friends. So they went back to Jerusalem “looking for him everywhere”. Only people who have lost a son or daughter or sibling in this way will be able to appreciate the anxiety such a situation would engender. What was worse, the city of Jerusalem was filled with strangers and anything could happen to a young boy on his own.

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Finally, the parents went to the Temple and were amazed to find their boy calmly sitting with the religious teachers and discussing with them. And he was impressing them with his intelligence and the answers he was giving to their questions.

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Mary, however, was not quite so appreciative. “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” “Why were you looking for me?” Jesus replied. “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” What did he mean talking like that? Mary had mentioned Jesus’ ‘father’ but Jesus had spoken about ‘my Father’. They did not yet fully grasp what he was talking about.

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They all then went back together to Nazareth where peaceful family life resumed as it had been. But this interlude was a presage of things to come. Their Son had a very special mission which went far beyond the life in Nazareth. Only later would the Mother understand. For now, she stored the memories in her heart.

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From now on, Jesus would belong to a new family, the family of the world and especially of those who were committed to follow his Way. His mother, brothers and sisters would from now on be those who became his disciples, those who heard the Word of God and kept it. They would, of course, also include Mary his mother, for no one kept and heard God’s Word better than she.

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Most people, in one way or another, leave their family environment. While the family must always have top priority in our concerns, it is not an absolute priority. All of us, and especially Christians, are called to follow the example of Jesus and align ourselves with the family of the world. For, with one Father, we are all brothers and sisters to each other and are called to care for each other. One of the problems with some modern families is that they see the surrounding society as being there simply to satisfy their wants and ambitions. It is this attitude which can put unbearable pressures on young people.
http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/c1227/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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27 DECEMBER 2015, Sunday, Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
WITNESSING TO CHRIST BY BEING AN AUTHENTIC CATHOLIC FAMILY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 Sm 1:20-22.24-28; Ps 83; 1 Jn 3:1-2.21-24; Lk 2:41-52

Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr, that is, a witness to Christ as the light of the world.  We too are called to be witnesses of Christ, especially as Catholic families.  Indeed, this is the challenge to all Catholic families.   Be what you are!  When people choose cohabitation or same-sex union over marriage, it is because they have lost faith and confidence in the institutions of marriage and the family. The solution to the problems facing society is not to condemn the world but to be models of beautiful Catholic marriages that are fruitful, loving and faithful.  We are called to make our family into the miniature Church, the house of God. Unless your family is one of faith, your house cannot be said to be a miniature Church.

How do we strengthen our marriage and family?  By recovering our identity!  “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”  With these words, St John spells out our true identity, origin and destiny in life.  This is our dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.  We are more than just creatures. We are the brothers and sisters of Christ because He has assumed our humanity by being born into a human family with Joseph and Mary as His parents.

Consequently, as parents, we must never forget that our children are first and foremost the children of God.  Our heavenly Father is their father and they belong to Him.   The children do not belong to us. We are like Joseph, taking care of God’s children on His behalf.  Indeed, as mere guardians, we have no right to do what we want with our children, but our duty is to bring them up according to the law of Christ and what God wants for them.

What are the implications of this premise with regard to bringing up our children?  We need to consecrate our children to God since they belong to Him.  This was what Hannah did in offering Samuel, her only son, to the Lord’s service.  She said, “This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.”  Similarly, Mary and Joseph at the Presentation in the Temple also consecrated Jesus, their first born, to the Lord.  And she was reminded again at the Temple that Jesus belonged primarily to the heavenly Father when Jesus told her, “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” So it is our duty as parents to consecrate our children to God, since they are given to us as gift.  We must be like Hannah, showing our gratitude to God by offering them back to Him for His service to do as He wills with them.

Firstly, we must give them Jesus.  This is what St John said, “His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to.”  No greater gift can we give to our children than the gift of Jesus Christ.  When we do not give them Jesus, they have no one to depend on or follow after.  Their models will be that of the world and we know that the world’s models are often pursuing power, success, money, fame and glory.  They are not happy and many of them feel empty in their success, are lonely and fearful that they will lose their popularity, position and power.   What we need is to give them Jesus as their model and mentor so that they can live a life like Jesus, for others and find fullness of life and joy.

With Jesus, they will learn to be God-fearing people.  Parents must bring them up according to God’s commandments.  We need to educate our children to revere and respect God so that they will never think too highly of themselves or that they can do without Him.  Only with reverence for God will we be able to obey the commandments as St John urges us, “whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants.”  Keeping His commandments is to walk in the light of truth and love.   His commandments are the guidelines to live a life of charity in truth.

Secondly, the primary task of parents is to help their children to fulfill their vocation in life.  Just as Mary and Joseph at the Temple respected that the vocation of Jesus as to be about in His Father’s business, we too must discern with our children the Lord’s will for them in their lives.  Once we know what the Lord is asking of them, we must help them to accomplish His will through proper nurturing of the faith and of their intellect through study and formation.  Indeed, parents must not decide the vocation for their children just to fulfill their own ambition of wanting their children to become what they like and not what God is calling them to be.  Some parents emphasize too much on academic achievements and success without realizing that their spiritual and moral development are equally important.  Success is not just about doing well in studies, making money in one’s career and living luxuriously.  Success is to be able to spend one’s life meaningfully and usefully for the service of our fellowmen.

How can this come about unless parents begin by being good and exemplary children of God themselves?  Children learn by our examples; not by what we say.  The reason for the loss of faith among our children is always because of the dichotomy between faith and life.  In the Church and during catechism lessons, they learn one thing, only to realize that at home, their parents do not believe or observe what have been taught to them.  It is the failure to live a life of integrity, allowing one’s faith to be expressed in one’s lifestyle, thinking, conduct and words that cause young people to be skeptical of their faith.  Such confusing and conflicting signals do not help children to be convinced of what have been taught to them.  Because they find faith to be merely a tradition, a custom or just for show, they feel it is too hypocritical to continue to act as if they believe in God or the Catholic faith when they lived contradictory lives.  Parents as the first catechists must share their personal faith with their children, not just teach them the doctrines, but share their own experience of God and their prayer life.

Hence, parents must begin by growing and deepening their own faith before they can impart to their children.  We cannot give what we have not got.  The truth is that many of our parents are poorly instructed in their faith.  Many are poor witnesses. They are supposed to be the first catechists but more often than not, they never impart the faith to their children but leave the task completely to the catechists in Church.   Furthermore, the teaching of faith is not just about imparting information. The discourse and discussion between Jesus and the doctors of the faith presents to us how faith is to be imparted, not through dry academic lectures but dialogue and interactive discovery of faith.

Parents must be praying and God fearing people.  Unless they have reverence for God, they cannot be good models and examples to their children.  They must be models of prayer and of faith.  Do parents invite their children to pray with them?  How can we call ourselves a Catholic family, a miniature Church, when we do not pray together as a family or share the Word of God together?  It is ironical that we are ready to share our food, our bed, our wealth, our things with each other but not our faith when faith is the most precious and personal gift we can give to anyone.   To arrive at being a holy family, every member of the family must be deeply rooted in prayer, in love and worship of God, and most of all, be living a life of charity among themselves and with our neighbours.  Most of all, like St Stephen, we must teach and practise the virtue of forgiveness in family life.  The happiness of the family is not that there are no quarrels and everyone is perfect. Rather, it is the encouragement and affirmation that we give to each other and always ready to forgive each other when the other party fails.

For this faith and love to exist in the family, husband and wife must support each other in love and in faith.  Parents must therefore imitate the parents of Samuel and Jesus in the way they lived out their faith and supported each other.  So too was the case of Joseph and Mary.  When they found Him in the Temple discussing with the religious leaders, they knew that God had a plan for Jesus.  They supported Jesus all the way and when the time came, Mary gave Him her blessings to do the work of His heavenly Father. What is unfortunate today is that parents do not support each other in faith, especially when one party is not a Catholic.  They do not share their faith together and thus they fail to inspire their children.  Instead of bringing the parents and the family together, their faith ironically becomes a source of division!

In order for them to grow in age and wisdom, children on their part must cooperate with their parents.  They must recognize that their parents are not perfect but they are doing their best.  They are called to collaborate with their parents and be docile to their formation.  Like Jesus, their duty is to be docile to the elders.   Jesus was ready to listen and to ask and to learn about God and His will for Himself.  He was obedient to His parents when He was young, and went home with them.  Like Jesus, children must grow in wisdom and understanding and in virtues.

Truly, if we have done our part to bring up our children according to the faith of the Church, then regardless what happens to them later on, our conscience is clear because we have done our best and our part.   As St John said, “My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence.”   Let us not live our lives in regret and blame ourselves later on in life when our children live immoral lives or they make a mess of their life.  What kind of people they will be tomorrow, whether they will be people of integrity, honesty and selflessness depends on the kind of faith we give to them today and the kind of virtues we inculcate in them.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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File:Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, c 1635.jpg

Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, Guido Reni (c. 1635)

In Christian tradition, Joseph has been given a much lower profile than Mary. One reason for this is that, whereas we give the title “Mother of Jesus” to Mary, we reserve the title “Father of Jesus” to the heavenly Father, in our bid to highlight the divinity of Jesus. A second reason has been our reluctance to call Joseph “husband” of Mary, in a bid to highlight the virginity of Mary.
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Today, Vatican II has tried to correct this imbalance by presenting Joseph for what he really was: husband of Mary and father of Jesus. Joseph was husband and father in a real, if not in a biological, sense. This understanding is brought out in the preface of the Mass of St Joseph, which we celebrate today:He is that just man, that wise and loyal servant, whom you placed at the head of your family.
With a husband’s love he cherished Mary, the virgin Mother of God.
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With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.The word “husband” is generally understood today as a man that is bonded to a wife. Originally, however, the word simply meant “master/owner/caretaker of a house,” without a direct reference to a wife. Husband was a function, more than a relationship.
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Joseph was the husband in the Holy Family of Nazareth. He cared for and provided for the Holy Household. This was a responsibility which he carried out in a heroic manner. And so, as Christians, we can all look up to St Joseph as the ideal husband and father. Many qualities qualify Joseph to be a role model for a Christian husband and father.

  • Joseph was a just man (Matthew 1:19). He was the kind of man that all Christian men are called to become.
  • He was compassionate. When he suspected his wife of infidelity, he planned to divorce her quietly rather than denounce her publicly and expose her to public shame and penalty.
  • He was a man of prayer and deep communion with God. He always sought God’s will and guidance and often found it in his dreams.
  • He was a man of obedience to God’s word. Whatever he knew to be God’s will be promptly did, whether it was to go back to his wife or to emigrate to a foreign land.
  • He was a care provider. When Jesus went missing, Joseph went back to Jerusalem looking for him. When Jesus’ life was threatened he took him with his mother and escaped to safety in Egypt, bringing them back to Israel only when he knew it was safe to do so.
  • He was a man alive to his spousal and parental duties, doing all he could to protect and care for his wife and his child. He made sure he got the child circumcised, named and presented to the Temple as and when due.
  • He was a man who respected his wife and gave her the space to exercise her initiative. In the temple in Jerusalem, it was Mary who spoke up and not Joseph.
  • He was a patient man. He must have felt betrayed when he discovered that Mary was pregnant. But he did not act rashly or take matters into his own hand. He remained patient and sought divine guidance in the situation. Similarly, when the boy Jesus followed his mind and stayed back in Jerusalem only to be found after three days, Joseph did not smack him as many fathers of his day would have done. He reminded himself that “Boys must be boys” and quietly took him back home.
  • He was a man who led his family by example rather than by precept. A marriage success rule for men says, “When you are wrong, apologize; and when you are right, keep silent.” Joseph followed this rule. That explains why no words of Joseph’s are recorded in Scripture.

Joseph was indeed an ideal husband. Today God’s Holy Family is the Church. No wonder St. Joseph is today invoked as patron of the universal church. Patron is another word for husband, understood as a function of watching over, caring for and protecting those that God has placed under one’s charge.

St. Joseph has an important message for all Christians, especially for men. For men who have been called by God to be husbands and fathers, do we try to exercise our spousal and fatherly responsibility in the family with diligence as Joseph did? For those who have been called in any capacity to be spiritual fathers of the people of God, do we care for and nourish the family that God has entrusted into our care or do we do our ministry like business-as-usual? Through the example and prayers of St Joseph, may we have the patience, courage, wisdom and strength to be ideal caregivers and providers for the families, natural and spiritual, that God has placed in our charge.

http://www.munachi.com/z/josephhusbandofmary.htm

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Author Devin Schadt wrote “Joseph’s Way — The Calling To Fatherly Greatness” to help all men with relationships, parenting and living as a Christian husband.

Devin Schadt talks to us about how we can translate The Word — and the lessons of Jesus and the saints —  into the best kind of a Christian life; especially for fathers.
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Today’s scripture readings reminded me of this passage in Schadt’s book, “Joseph’s Way” — “Both Adam and the New Adam establish the pace for the dynamism of love, or absence thereof. The former established the paradigm of neglect, selfishness and lust while the latter set the paradigm of responsibility, of self giving, of complete self-donation.”
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How do we, each of us, become the rock? How do we keep the keys to heaven? (Matthew 16:18-19). How do we become “the cornerstone” even if we were once sinful and felt rejected? (Psalm 118:22). How do we “pour ourselves out” (Isaiah 58:10) and become people of self-donation?
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Over and over again, Christ urges us to “go the extra mile,” (Matthew 5:41) and He tells us that through faith and prayer, He will always meet our needs — giving us what we need when we need it to complete our mission for Him.
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

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Related:

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Book by Father Edward Leen. Father Leen was a teacher who encouraged everyone to “invite the Holy Spirit into ourselves and our lives.” He encouraged all to seek “The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit”