Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 85’

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 11, 2017 — All Things Are Cured By The Grace of God

December 10, 2017

Monday of the Second Week of Advent
Lectionary: 181

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Jesus Heals The Blind Man

Reading 1 IS 35:1-10

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (Isaiah 35:4f) Our God will come to save us!
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD –for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Our God will come to save us!
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Our God will come to save us!
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Our God will come to save us!

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold the king will come, the Lord of the earth,
and he himself will lift the yoke of our captivity.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Paralysed man lowered through the roof to where Jesus could heal him. By James Tissot

Gospel  LK 5:17-26

One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”

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Commentary on Luke 5:17-26 From Living Space
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The First Reading from Isaiah expresses the excitement and anticipation of God’s coming in our midst.
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The Gospel is an example of this promise being realised. It is Luke’s version of the healing of a paralysed man who can only reach Jesus by being lowered through the roof of the house. The efforts which the sick man’s friends make to get him to Jesus is an indication of their tremendous faith and confidence in Jesus.
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However, the man may have been somewhat surprised to hear the words of Jesus: “My friend, your sins are forgiven.” That was not what he came for. He hoped something could be done about his paralysis. But the Pharisees and Scribes present were even more shocked. “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sin?” Of course, they were perfectly right but they did not put two and two together and identify the presence of God in Jesus.
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So Jesus asks them: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise up and walk’?” Naturally, the first is easier to SAY. But to show that Jesus has the authority really to forgive sin he says to the paralysed man: “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” Immediately, the man stands up before them all, picks up his mat and goes home.
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To understand what is happening here we have to realise the perceived close relationship in those days between sin and sickness. Sickness, especially something chronic like paralysis or blindness, was often presumed to be the result of or punishment for sin. So if Jesus can totally remove the sickness, it must mean the sin which caused it has gone too. Jesus can forgive sin.
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We may not express things quite the same way now but there was a lot of truth in the belief that there was a relationship between sickness and behaviour. A large proportion of people are sick and even in hospital because their bodies are revealing symptoms of dis-ease which has its roots in their hearts and minds and feelings. The healing power of Jesus, which we all need, has to extend to every part of our being – body, mind, heart and in our relationships with others.
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There are intimations in this story of resurrection, new life, when the man now stands up, something he could not do before. And, now able to walk, he goes home, that is, he goes to the place where he belongs. We too need the healing of Christ which removes the things which paralyse or handicap us in our following him. We need to stand anew in the Life that he gives and then find our way to our true home, which is to be with him.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Sing
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11 DECEMBER, 2017, Monday, 2nd Week of Advent
FINDING COURAGE TO LET THE LORD COME INTO OUR LIVES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 35:1-10Ps 85:9-14Lk 5:17-26  ]

Many of us are paralyzed in life.  We are paralyzed in different ways.  Some of us are paralyzed physically. We feel constrained in mobility and are heavily dependent on caregivers.  Others are paralyzed by their past. They cannot forgive themselves or the mistakes they had made.  They also cannot let go of those unpleasant events in their lives.  They cannot forgive themselves or those who have hurt them.  Whenever they recall the pain and the shame they suffered, they are unsettled.

If we feel paralyzed and too weak to get back to living again, let us take courage for the Lord is assuring us that He has come to save us.   He said, “Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.’”  We hear these words, “take courage” very often in the bible.  David said to Solomon, “Be strong and of good courage, and do it. Fear not, be not dismayed; for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chr 28:20)  Moses said to his successor, Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them: for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt 31:6)  And the angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  (Lk 1:30)  Indeed, this is good news.  We need to renew our courage again and take comfort that the Lord will come to render justice to us all.

With His coming, He will make the soil and the land fertile again.  He will renew the face of the earth.  ‘Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy.  The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.”  Indeed, whenever the Lord is with us, we will be always fruitful.  This is what the Lord said, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  (Jn 15:5)  “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”  (Jn 15:16)

The Lord has come also to heal us of our illnesses.  This is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.”  We read in the gospel that “the Power of the Lord was behind his works of healing.”  Jesus healed and delivered people from all illnesses.  “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity.”  (Mt 9:35)  Hence, we must not despair when we are sick or unable to find the right medication or doctor to cure us of our sickness.   There is always hope.  The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”  (Num 11:23)   Indeed, just as in the New Testament, the miracles continue to be worked even in our days because the Lord promised His disciples, “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mk 16:17f)

So what is preventing us from being healed? Firstly, it is because of our sins.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.”  (Isa 59:1f)  That is why above all, the Lord comes to forgive us our sins.  This was what He said to the paralyzed man.  “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”  Jesus understood that the deepest healing that anyone needs is not physical healing.  We just have to look around us.  Many of us are healthy and strong and yet are most miserable and unhappy in this world.  Yet, there are those who are of ill-health but are much more cheerful, positive and joyful.  So the crux of the problem is that we are spiritually dis-ease and so are also physically sick.  Forgiveness of sin brings about physical and emotional healing as well.  This is the most important form of healing.

Secondly, because of the lack of faith.  The scribes and the Pharisees were not receptive to the healing power of our Lord because they did not recognize Him as coming from God. “The scribes and the Pharisees began to think this over. ‘Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”  To prove that He had the power to forgive sins, Jesus manifested His divine power of forgiveness by healing the man, since sickness was connected with sin and being healed indicated that he was freed from sin.  Hence, Jesus said, “Which of these is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’?   But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralyzed man – ‘I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’”

Indeed, it is faith that will allow the Lord to heal us deeply.   In the first place, the Lord healed the paralyzed man not because of his faith – he then had no faith – but it was the living faith of those who carried him to be healed by Jesus.  We can admire their faith which was put into love.  (cf Gal 5:6)  “Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralyzed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him.  Seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’”  The faith of his friends brought Jesus’ desire to heal the man on account of their faith in Him.   We can be sure too that the faith of his friends would have helped him to be open to the Lord.  Faith inspires faith.  When we are weak, the faith of others will inspire us.  That is why sharing of what God has done for us in our lives is important because it inspires the faith of others. Whenever faith is present, the Lord will heal and show His power.  Elizabeth said this of Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  (Lk 1:45)

Thirdly, it is because we place limits on the power of God.  The religious leaders could not go beyond their narrow mindset. They were constrained by their knowledge of the laws and traditions and so were unable to accept Jesus as the prophet of God.  Those without faith will be skeptical. Those with faith are creative and resourceful.  Where there is a will there is a way.  They never give up, like the four men who carried the paralyzed man to Jesus. Finding no way to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus “as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus.”  As the angel rightly said to Mary, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Lk 1:37)

So let us walk this Sacred Highway as the prophet asked of us.  “And through it will run a highway undefiled which shall be called the Sacred Way; the unclean may not travel by it, nor fools stray along it. No lion will be there nor any fierce beast roam about it, but the redeemed will walk there, for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.”  This Sacred Way is the way of faith and holiness.  It is the way of justice and fidelity to God.  The psalmist prays, “Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced. The Lord will make us prosper and our earth shall yield its fruit. Justice shall march before him and peace shall follow his steps.”  When we seek to live a life of justice and truth, we will be able to praise God because there will be joy in our hearts.  Indeed, we “will come to Zion shouting for joy, joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended.”  Even in our struggles, let us walk in faith and in joy knowing that He will lead us to fullness of life.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 10, 2017 — Go up onto a high mountain, herald of glad tidings

December 9, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 5

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Reading 1 IS 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

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Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

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Responsorial Psalm  PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14

R. (8) Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Reading 2 2 PT 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Alleluia LK 3:4, 6

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

Gospel MK 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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Homily From The Abbott At The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Advent pulls our hearts to the Lord!  Advent is a time to begin anew.  Advent is a time to be still and listen again to the Word of the Lord.  All of this is to say that we must prepare the way of the Lord in our lives and in our hearts.

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah.  We have to understand this word as originally aimed at the Jewish people who had been taken out of their own land and were living in a foreign land without must capacity to celebrate their own faith.  These people longed to return to their own land and to rebuild the temple of the Lord.  As in any community, we can be sure that not everyone wanted to return because they knew that returning would be even worse hardship than staying where they were.

This is a parallel to our own lives today.  We are in exile from the Lord because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors.  Not everyone today wants to turn to the Lord because the Lord makes demands on our lives.  The words of the Prophet Isaiah can be addressed to us if we long to live according to the Word of the Lord and recognize that we cannot do that without the grace and mercy of God in our lives.

If we have tried to be faithful and find ourselves failing over and over, then surely the words of Isaiah speak to us!  Comfort, give comfort to my people!  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.

When we are using our energies to seek the Lord, these words of Isaiah can bring tears to our eyes and open our hearts so much more to the presence of the Living God, who is seeking us.

The Second Letter of Saint Peter, from which is taken the second reading today, repeats this lesson to us:  “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  It is God Himself who wants to give us comfort but can only do so insofar as our hearts are open and waiting for Him.  It is God who invites us to be patient and who reminds us:  “Beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”

Advent is a time to stir up our desire for God, to stir up our hope in the Lord, to deepen our awareness of His love for us.

The Gospel of Mark today gives us the account of John the Baptist, a man seeking the Lord with all his strength.  Mark recognizes that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that speaks of the one who will go before the Lord to prepare His way.  John himself speaks this way in the today’s passage.  And John is so completely humbled by his task that he sees himself even unworthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of the Lord who comes.

Everything in and about John the Baptist points to the One Who Is To Come, the Savior, the Messiah.

May our lives become so focused on God and His ways in our lives that we become like John the Baptist:  our lives only giving witness to the love and mercy of God and drawing others to that love and mercy.

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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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10 DECEMBER, 2017, Sunday, 2nd Week of Advent
JOY COMES FROM LIVING A BLAMELESS LIFE IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 40:1-59-112PT 3:8-14MK 1:1-8  ]

Deep in the heart of every human person, there is this feeling of unrest and unhappiness.  In spite of the fact that we have such an affluent life, we cannot deny that many of us are not happy.  We have so many anxieties, fears, and emotional problems like anger, resentment and unforgiveness.  Indeed, like the people of Israel, we are waiting for consolation.  We hope that we can be liberated from all these problems that afflict us.  The question is, can we really live a liberated and joyful life as prophesied in the first reading? Or is the prophecy just another utopian dream?

The conviction of the Church is that this dream can become a reality.   Advent precisely celebrates our hope for liberation.  Advent is a message of hope that our sufferings will be over soon.  This will happen when the Lord comes and lives within us.  This is the day of the Lord, a day of deliverance and therefore to be awaited with joy and not with fear.  In a concrete way, the day of the Lord will come for us in a special way at Christmas.

How do we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming into our lives?  The first thing that is required of us is repentance. John invited his people just as he now invites us to repent and confess our sins so that we might find forgiveness and so that the Holy Spirit can be given to us.  But the word repentance is most frightful for many of us.  We simply do not like to hear that word.  It sounds like a bad word to us because repentance means giving up, turning around; and that is what many of us are unwilling to do.  The fact is that not many of us want to give up our present way of life.  We want to cling on to our old life-style.  We know it is not the best but we are not yet willing to exchange it for something else.  Perhaps we are not too sure if there is something else better than what we have now.

Hence, instead of speaking about repentance, we should perhaps speak more positively about living a blameless life so that we can share the joy of the kingdom as Prophet Isaiah tells us.  Unless we are convinced that it is of a greater joy to live a blameless life than to live our rotten life of self-centeredness, anger and bitterness, then we will not give up our old life.  So repentance is not something that is we have to exercise our will and go against our very grain to do; something contrary to our nature.  On the contrary, true repentance is not so much to turn away from what we are doing but to turn into ourselves so that we might be faithful to who and what we are. This is true repentance.

So when we speak about repentance, we are not talking about trying to be something or someone we are not.  Repentance is the call to be faithful to oneself.  This is what Peter meant when he spoke about living a blameless life.  To live a blameless life is to live a holy life.  Now, what is a holy life if not a life that is wholesome; a life that is integrated; a life that is lived harmoniously within oneself and with others; a life that is in Christ.  Yes, only a blameless life, that is, a life lived in clear conscience, true fidelity to oneself and a deep trust in God can give us real and lasting peace and joy.

Now to live such a life, all we have to do is to simply stop doing what is against our nature.  And truly, if we reflect on ourselves, we are doing many things against our nature.  How can we say that our lives are in accordance with our nature when they are filled with valleys of prejudice; when we stand up like mountains of pride and walk in the crooked paths of injustice?   Concretely, isn’t it against our nature to be selfish since we all want is to be loving and in harmony with others, yet we are always thinking about ourselves; isn’t it against our nature to eat or have more than we need, especially when others are hungry or deprived; isn’t it detrimental to our inner peace to hold grudges and resentment against others, and yet we hold on to grievances for years, refusing to let go, letting these hurts to fester in us?  Therefore, only by realizing the harm we are doing to ourselves, can we have the wisdom and strength to get rid of them.

The beauty of truth is that the moment we stop acting contrary to our human nature, our real nature appears.  That is what Isaiah says in the first reading.  He says that the moment when everything becomes levelled, that is, when everything becomes normal and settled, then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.  In other words, the moment, we give up our resentments, we find peace; the moment we eat moderately, we become healthy; the moment we give up our desires, we no longer compete and crave; the moment we learn to accept, we become at peace.  Yes, the corollary of unhappiness in life is happiness.  That is why Peter says that when we live lives without spot or stain we will be at peace.

Indeed, life is like a well-spring.  It is said that all of us are like springs.  The water in us wants to flow out.  This water is love.  This water is life.  And it is when we allow the water of life and love to flow out from us that we find our happiness because that is the nature of a spring and our nature as well.  Consequently, all we need to do is simply to remove the stones which are the obstacles to life and love. Once the obstacles are removed, then we become normal again. Conversely, not to allow life and love to flow out from us because we continue to live lives that are contrary to our nature, is to live abnormal lives.  Naturally, a person who lives an abnormal life cannot be happy because he is not one with himself; nor authentic to himself.  In the words of John the Baptist, to be authentic to oneself is simply to allow the Holy Spirit who is living in us to be operative in our lives.  To be authentic to oneself simply means to live the life of the Spirit.

This is the invitation of God to us today.  He wants to give us a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah tells us, God is like the good “shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.”  He is not asking us to give up anything that is good for us.  He is not a joy-killer or a life-killer nor a wet blanket.  No, he does not want us to burn ourselves by courting danger.  He wants us to realize that all the things that we have been doing will in the end be burnt up.  Desires, ambition, wealth, power, unforgiveness, licentiousness, slander, etc will destroy us in the end.  This is what Peter is warning us about.  We must see the vanity of our useless pursuits in life.  All these things will pass away.  The tragedy is that we are really blind, in fact so blind that what we think is good for us is actually the cause of our unhappiness and sorrows in life.

Nevertheless, as Peter says, God has been patient with us all this while.  Day after day and year after year, He waits for us, even though we are so slow to respond to His love and invitation.  But that is not the only meaning when Peter says that one day is a thousand years and a thousand years is one day for the Lord.   The reality of this statement is that God is always coming.  God transcends time.  He is beyond time.  He is always inviting us.  But the question remains:  Are we going to miss another opportunity again? Are we removing all blockages and obstacles that prevent the Lord from coming close to us?  Our peace and happiness is dependent on our positive response.

If the answer is in the affirmative, then the implication is that the joy and happiness which God wants for us would also be given to us immediately the moment we welcome him into our lives.  We must not limit the Day of the Lord’s coming to a physical last day on earth.  Rather, the Day of the Lord is that day, it could be any day, when the Lord comes into our hearts because we allow Him in by opening our doors to Him.  On that day, the new heaven and the new earth will already be ours; and all our anxieties and sadness and sufferings will be dissolved in flames because peace and righteousness now lives.  Indeed, the last Day has already begun today.  This is our hope and the promise is real.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, August 22, 2017 — “For God all things are possible.” — “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

August 21, 2017

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 420

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Reading 1  JGS 6:11-24A

The angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth in Ophrah
that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite.
While his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press
to save it from the Midianites,
the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said,
“The LORD is with you, O champion!”
Gideon said to him, “My Lord, if the LORD is with us,
why has all this happened to us?
Where are his wondrous deeds of which our fathers
told us when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’
For now the LORD has abandoned us
and has delivered us into the power of Midian.”
The LORD turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have
and save Israel from the power of Midian.
It is I who send you.”
But Gideon answered him, “Please, my lord, how can I save Israel?
My family is the lowliest in Manasseh,
and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.”
“I shall be with you,” the LORD said to him,
“and you will cut down Midian to the last man.”
Gideon answered him, “If I find favor with you,
give me a sign that you are speaking with me.
Do not depart from here, I pray you, until I come back to you
and bring out my offering and set it before you.”
He answered, “I will await your return.”

So Gideon went off and prepared a kid and a measure of flour
in the form of unleavened cakes.
Putting the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot,
he brought them out to him under the terebinth
and presented them.
The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and unleavened cakes
and lay them on this rock; then pour out the broth.”
When he had done so,
the angel of the LORD stretched out the tip of the staff he held,
and touched the meat and unleavened cakes.
Thereupon a fire came up from the rock
that consumed the meat and unleavened cakes,
and the angel of the LORD disappeared from sight.
Gideon, now aware that it had been the angel of the LORD,
said, “Alas, Lord GOD,
that I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”
The LORD answered him,
“Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
So Gideon built there an altar to the LORD
and called it Yahweh-shalom.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 85:9, 11-12, 13-14

R. (see 9b) The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
and to those who put in him their hope.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.

Alleluia  2 COR 8:9

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus Christ became poor although he was rich
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Gospel  MT 19:23-30

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich
to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Again I say to you,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said,
“Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men this is impossible,
but for God all things are possible.”
Then Peter said to him in reply,
“We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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Gideon and the angel by David T. Lamb
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God sometimes protects us from suffering (he’ll deliver Israel through Gideon), but somethings he sends suffering to get our attention (he handed Israel over to the Midianites), and other times he allows suffering almost randomly (e.g., Job).  The problem is discerning how God is working in the midst of suffering, and why.

One of the major problems with the people of God in the Old Testament is the worshipping of idols, ie. idolatry.

They were called to be God’s people and to worship the one true God and yet they turned to idols and bowed down and prostrated them in worship of images or idols that represented or were thought to embody various pagan deities.

But what was it that made them turn to idolatry? What was the attraction of idolatry that made them unfaithful to God who had showed them such great signs and wonders?

The attraction, and the seduction, came in many forms: fertility of animals and crop and the connected ritual sex, material gains, power and conquest of other nations, etc.

Being faithful to God would seem boring to say the least, with those laws and commandments, and they felt like losers compared to the other idol-worshipping pagans around them.

But what they fail to see is that they were also being slowly seduced by an evil power that was drawing them away from God, and leading them down the road of immorality and wickedness.

As we heard in the 1st reading, God punished them for their unfaithfulness but He also appointed judges to rescue them from their enemies. But once the judge was dead, they relapsed and behaved even worse than their ancestors. Obviously, the evil power never gives up in pulling the people away from God.

In the scripture, the rich young man who wanted to possess eternal life wands to know how. Jesus wanted him to follow him on the condition that he gives up his earthly riches.

Jesus was trying to pull him out of the clutches of the idolatry of earthly wealth, but like his ancestors, he was too attracted and obsessed by it.

As for ourselves, do we know what earthly attractions we are attached to or obsessed with? Let us ask Jesus to pull us out of it and to be faithful to Him.

If Jesus is not our first above all, then in the end, we will have nothing at all; neither here nor in eternity.

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Commentary on Matthew 19:23-30 From Living Space

After hearing the sad story of the rich young man who could not accept his invitation to be a disciple, Jesus gives some comments on the effects of wealth. It is next to impossible for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God, says Jesus. It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (It is said that Jesus was referring to a narrow entrance in the city wall of Jerusalem called the ‘eye of the needle’. In either case, Jesus is indicating something which is extremely difficult, in fact, next to impossible.)

Some of us may feel slightly uncomfortable about this. Even if we are not rich ourselves, we might like to see our children get rich some day or we admire people who have, by their hard work, become wealthy. What is wrong with having a lot of money which one has earned by the one’s own sweat and labour?

What does the Gospel mean by being rich? To be rich here means to have a large surplus of money and possessions while around one are people who do not have what they need to live a life of dignity. How can I continue to hold on to “my” possessions when such a situation prevails? How can I claim to belong to the kingdom, the reign of God, which is a kingdom of love and justice? “I was hungry and thirsty and sick and in prison” and you did not give me to eat or drink, you did not visit me or show any compassion. Instead, you piled up all that money in the bank or on the stock exchange or you splurged it on BMWs and fancy restaurants and expensive clothes.

To be rich in the Gospel means refusing to share what you have with those who have not. As long as you behave like that, you cannot be eligible for the Kingdom. It really is like trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle. There is a radical incompatibility.

The disciples were quite amazed at Jesus’ words. They were thinking along lines traditional to their culture and their religion. Wealth was a sign of God’s blessings; poverty and sickness a sign of his punishment. But Jesus is turning their traditions on their head.

It was something the young man could not understand either. He was under the impression that his wealth was a grace, a sign of God’s favour. The idea of giving alms was to be highly commended but to share his wealth with the poor and create a more just playing field was something for which he felt no obligation and which made no sense.

Then Peter, the optimist, begins to see the bright side. “What about us? We have left everything and followed you.” Jesus gives a twofold reply.

As the leaders of the new community and people who have generously put their whole security in Jesus, his disciples will be especially rewarded. And indeed everyone who leaves family and goods for Jesus’ sake will be rewarded many times over with father, mother, brothers, sisters, goods. This is not just a pie-in-the-sky promise. It is one that can be realised and, in many parts of the world, is being realised. When everyone works for the good of the other, everyone benefits.

The wealth-is-good world believes that it is every man for himself. There is only a limited amount of the cake and it is up to each one to get as big a piece as he can. Too bad about the losers.

In the world of Jesus, everyone gets because everyone gives; because everyone gives, everyone receives. It is not a ‘gimme’ world; it is a reaching out to others world. And when everyone reaches out, everyone is benefiting. In such a world, I do not have to worry about a roof over my head, or about brothers and sisters, or property or security. It is the realisation of “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” It is where love and justice meet. For too many people in our world, there is neither love nor justice.

If the rich man had liberated himself from his wealth and shared it with the poor and become a follower of Jesus in the new community, he might never have been rich again but he would have had all his needs attended to.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2203g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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22 AUGUST, 2017, Tuesday, 20th Week, Ordinary Time
CALLED AND EMPOWERED

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jdg 6:11-24Mt 19:23-30 ]

There are so many challenges facing the Church, society and the world today.  The Church is facing many challenges from within and without.  From within, the Church has to deal with scandals, bureaucracy, connectivity to our people.   From without, the Church has to deal with the question of mission in the new era of ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and secularism.  Above all, within and without, the Church is divided on ethical and moral issues, especially those that deal with family and marriage.  Society is divided as there are no common values to hold all together because of relativism.  There is also the tension of integrating migrants into the host country.   The world is more unstable today because of wars and the abuse of ecology.  If not properly handled, the world could risk destruction.

In the face of these challenges, many simply lament about the state of the Church, society and the world.  Like Gideon, we feel distressed at the developments in the world.  When we are facing trials, not just on the global front but within our own families, because of broken marriages and dysfunctional children, we cannot but blame God and the world for the state we are in.  Gideon said, “Forgive me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, then why is it that all this is happening to us now? And where are all the wonders our ancestors tell us of when they say, ‘Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has deserted us; he has abandoned us to Midian.”   Indeed, where is the God whom we believe in, the God of love, mercy and might?  So much so in our trials, we wonder whether God really exists, because He does not seem to be able to help us.

Instead of looking outside ourselves and finding fault with the situation, the truth is that the problems of society begin with us.   We do not see that the problems are created by us.  When Gideon complained why God had deserted them, it was a wrong judgment.  God did not abandon Israel but rather, it was they who abandoned the Lord and sought false gods.  They did not obey the commandments given to them to help them in their relationship with God and with each other.  So it was they who left God and went on their own ways instead of following the ways of God.  They believed in themselves.   It is true of the world today.   In a world of relativism, everyone seeks to go his or her own way.  It is based on subjectivism.  We find all sorts of reason to justify our opinions.

We pride ourselves for being pragmatic people, doing what is best at the point in time without having the wisdom and insight to consider the implications of our decisions for tomorrow and for the future of humanity.  We just have to examine the short-sighted policies advocated by the world today, be it the redefinition of family and marriage, population control, abortion and euthanasia, the destruction of ecology, etc, all because we want to have a good life now.   So the sufferings we are going through and the problems we are facing is the result of so-called pragmatic policies and decisions that we made earlier.   Only from hindsight do we learn that policies which we thought were good for humanity are actually destructive. So instead of over-population, we are now have a depopulation; with the resultant effect that a decreasing workforce is now having to shoulder the burden of looking after a burgeoning aged population, in addition to the young.

Indeed, this is the folly of the world.  This is what the scripture readings are telling us.  The ways of God are not our ways.   The way to find life is not through riches, power and glory.  Indeed, the Lord said, “I tell you solemnly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Such teaching of Jesus was revolutionary because it was always thought that wealth is a sign of God’s blessings and poverty, the consequence of sin.  Hence, “when the disciples heard this they were astonished.  ‘Who can be saved, then?’”

This was the same question that Gideon raised when the Lord said to him, “’Go in the strength now upholding you, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian.  Do I not send you myself?’ Gideon answered him, ‘Forgive me, my Lord, but how can I deliver Israel? My clan, you must know, is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least important in my family.’”   He was too weak to be sent to save his people.   He found himself inadequate and lacking the capacity to accomplish the task of setting his people free from the enemies.  His immediate reaction was, “I am not the one!  I cannot do it!”   Isn’t this our response too when called upon to undertake a mission or an appointment for the greater good of the community?  We would say, “Choose someone else, not me!”

The truth is that we are shirking our responsibilities.  Instead of stepping out to make a difference in the lives of our fellowmen, we lament and hide.  This was the case of Gideon.  He was hiding from his enemies.  Gideon “was threshing wheat inside the winepress to keep it hidden from Midian.”  Indeed, those who are called are not willing to sacrifice themselves for the service of the Church, society and the country.  They want to protect their comfort zone.   This was the same attitude of the rich man in the gospel.  He was a man of great wealth and when asked to sell everything to give to the poor and follow Jesus, he declined.

The sad reality in the world today is not that there are not enough leaders to lead.  We have prophets and leaders, but not many are ready to sacrifice their comfort, convenience and security to offer themselves for public service, either in Church, in NGOs or in the government.  God has never failed to supply us with good leaders and shepherds.  But not many are responding because they are afraid of the sacrifices both to themselves and their families.  But if we are called, we cannot say “no” since we have been endowed with the talents and skills for the job.  Otherwise, by leaving our job to others who are not called, the little that we have will be taken away because bad leaders will destroy not just themselves but the whole Church, society and country.

The Lord wants to give the world peace through us.  This is what the psalmist says, “I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people and his friends and those who turn to him in their hearts.   Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced. Faithfulness shall spring from the earth and justice look down from heaven. The Lord will make us prosper and our earth shall yield its fruit. Justice shall march before him and peace shall follow his steps.”  We know that we are called when God stirs our hearts like He stirred Gideon’s.  He knew that something was not right and something had to be done.  But instead of offering himself, he was thinking that others should do it.  In the same way too, it is not right to complain about the poor leadership in our Church and country if we do not give ourselves for service.

If we are willing to say “Yes”, God will make peace a reality through us.  It will not be with our own strength.   Just as Jesus gazed at the disciples, He would also gaze at us and say, “For men, this is impossible; for God everything is possible.”   Indeed, we are called to rely on God alone in all that we do.   By our own strength and reasoning, we cannot go far.  Without the superior light of faith and revelation, we cannot see the long-term implications of the rationalistic decisions we make for today.  This was what the Lord said to Gideon.  “Go in the strength now upholding you, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian.  Do I not send you myself? I will be with you and you shall crush Midian as though it were a single man.”  We are not to depend on our riches and self-sufficiency.   We are called to rely on His grace alone.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Children hold up signs begging for food and water near Cebu, the Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan, November 2013
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From The Carmelites
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Matthew 19, 27: The question of Peter. The background of the misunderstanding of the disciples appears in the question asked by Peter: “Look, we have left everything and have followed you. What are we to have then?” In spite of the beautiful generosity of abandoning everything, they still have the old mentality. They have abandoned everything in order to get something in exchange. They still had not understood well the sense of service and of gratuity.

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Jesus gives the keys to Peter

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Matthew 19, 28-30: The response of Jesus. “In truth I tell you, when everything is made new again and the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory you yourselves will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much and also inherit eternal life. Many, who are first, will be last, and the last, first”. In this response, Jesus describes the new world, the foundation of which had been placed by his work and that of the disciples. Jesus stresses three important points: (a) The disciples will sit on twelve thrones next to Jesus to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (cfr. Rev 4, 4). (b) In exchange they will receive many things which they had abandoned: houses, brothers, sisters, mother, children land and will inherit eternal life. (c) The future world will be the reverse of the present world. There, the last ones will be the first ones and the first ones will be the last ones. The community around Jesus is the seed and the manifestation of this new world. Up until now the small community of the poor continues to be the seed and manifestation of the Kingdom.

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Every time that in the history of the people of the Bible a new movement arises to renew the Covenant, it begins by re-establishing the rights of the poor, of the excluded. Without that, the Covenant will not be reconstructed. This is the sense and the reason for the insertion and the mission of the community of Jesus, in the midst of the poor. It draws from the roots and it inaugurates the New Covenant.

Concluding Prayer
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Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you Lord, are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me. (Ps 23,4)
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Jesus offers his cross to Peter
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, August 13, 2017 — Stretch but don’t Break! — Do not be afraid….

August 12, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 115

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Elijah’s offering is consumed by fire from heaven in a stained glass window at St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina

Reading 1  1 KGS 19:9A, 11-13A

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
Then the LORD said to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (8) Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD — for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Reading 2 ROM 9:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie;
my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness
that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my own people,
my kindred according to the flesh.
They are Israelites;
theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;
theirs the patriarchs, and from them,
according to the flesh, is the Christ,
who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Alleluia CF. PS 130:5

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I wait for the Lord;
my soul waits for his word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 14:22-33

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

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Reflection From The Abbot in the Desert

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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Many of us think of God and strong and powerful—and God is that.  But God also shows Himself to be weak and poor and powerless.  Today’s readings show us this God who is so powerful that He can be weak and poor for our sake.

The first reading is from the First Book of Kings and is about the Prophet Elijah—one of the greatest of prophets.  There are so many accounts of the strength of this Prophet and yet he relies completely on God.  Today this Prophet has fled to the holy mountain, Horeb, which is probably the same as Mount Sinai.  This mountain is where the 10 commandments were given to Moses.  It is a place of encounter between God and His people.

When we think of the 10 commandments being given, we think of thunder and lightning and enormous displays of strength and might.  Today, in the same place, God manifests Himself in a tiny, whispering sound.  This is the God who can be all powerful and also be insignificant and weak—all because He loves us just as He loved the Prophet Elijah.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Romans.  Here Saint Paul is telling us how he would willingly give up everything for the sake of the salvation of his own people.  We are given powerful words:  “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

We are challenged to give our lives for our own people and for all peoples.  How much do we love?  How much do we care?  Has salvation become simply a private possession for me to have—and to ignore all others.  No, this cannot be.  We must be like Saint Paul and long for the salvation of all other peoples.

The Gospel from Matthew today is the wonderful account of Jesus walking on the water and then inviting Saint Peter—who said that he wanted this gift—so walk with him.  Saint Peter panics and lets fear get hold of him.  And he sinks.  “Do not be afraid.”  Pope Saint John Paul II often used those words to encourage others.  We also must learn not to be afraid.  Our faith will let us do amazing things.  The most amazing is simply believing.  From that faith, that belief, we are given strength for so many other things.  The most important is to love and to serve others with all our strength.  We must hear the words of Christ echo within us as we love and serve:  Do not be afraid.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

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Some questions:

In moments of darkness and interior storms, how do I react? How are the presence and absence of the Lord integrated in me? What place does personal prayer and dialogue with God have in me?
What do we ask the Lord in a dark night? A miracle, that he frees us from this? A greater faith? In which attitudes am I similar to Peter?

Meditatio

Brief commentary

22. And at once he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side while he sent the crowds away.
The multiplication of the loaves (14, 13-21) could have generated in the disciples triumphant expectations concerning the Kingdom of God. Therefore, Jesus orders them at once to get away. He ‘obliged’, usually a verb of strong significance. The people acclaim Jesus as a Prophet (Jn 6, 14-15) and wish to make him a political ruler. The disciples are easily drawn by this (Mk 6, 52; Mt 16, 5-12), there is the risk of allowing themselves to be drawn by the enthusiasm of the people. The disciples have to abandon this situation.

23. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came he was there alone. 
Jesus finds himself in front a situation in which the Galilean crowd becomes enthusiastic because of the miracle and runs the risk of not understanding His mission. In this very important moment, Jesus withdraws alone in prayer, as in Gethsemane (Mt 26, 36-46).

24. While the boat, by now some furlongs from land, was hard pressed by rough waves, for there was a head-wind.
This verse where the boat is noticed, without Jesus, in danger, can be close to verse 32 where the danger ceases when Jesus and Peter get into the boat.

25. In the fourth watch of the night he came towards them, walking on the sea. 
Jesus appears to his disciples in an extraordinary way. He transcends the human limitations, he has authority on creation. He acts as God alone can do it (Job 9, 8; 38, 16).

26. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’, they said, and cried out in fear. 
The disciples were struggling with the contrary wind, they had lived a very impressing day and now a sleepless night. At night (between three and six), in the middle of the sea, they were really terrified in seeing one coming towards them. They did not think in the possibility that it could be Jesus. Their vision is too human , and they believe in ghosts (Lk 24, 37). The Risen Lord though, has overcome the force of chaos represented by the waves of the sea.

27. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying. ‘Courage! It is me! Do not be afraid!. 
The presence of Jesus drives away all fear (9, 2.22). In saying “It is me” he evokes his identity (Es 3, 14) and manifests the power of God (Mk 14, 62; Lk 24, 39; Jn 8, 58; 18, 5-6). Fear is overcome by faith.

28. It was Peter who answered: ‘Lord, he said, ‘If it is you, tell me to come to you across the water’. 
Peter seems to want still another confirmation of the presence of Jesus. He asks for a sign.

29. Jesus said, ‘Come’. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water. 
Nevertheless, Peter is ready to run the risk, getting out of the boat and trying to walk on the agitated waves, in the midst of a strong wind (v. 24). He faces the risk of believing in the Word: ‘Come’.

30. But then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink: ‘Lord’, he cried, ‘save me!’ 
Perseverance is also necessary in the choice of faith. The contrary forces (the wind) are so many, that there is the risk of sinking. The prayer of petition saves him..

31. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘You have so little faith, he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ 
Peter is not left alone in his weakness. In the storms of Christian life we are not alone. God does not abandon us even if apparently is absent and does nothing.

32. And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. 
As soon as Jesus got in the boat the forces of evil cease. The force of hell shall not prevail over it.

33. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said: ¡Truly, you are the Son of God.’ 
Now comes that profession of faith which had been prepared in the preceding episode of the multiplication of the loaves, purified by the experience of getting away from the Bread of eternal life (Jn 6, 1-14). Now Peter can also confirm his brothers in faith, after the trial.

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the text

Jesus, man of prayer

Jesus prays in solitude and at night (Mt 14, 23; Mk 1, 35; Lk 5, 16), during the time of meals (Mt 14, 19; 15, 36; 26, 26-27). On the occasion of important events: for Baptism (Lk 3, 21), before choosing the twelve (Lk 6, 12), before teaching how to pray (Lk 11, 1; Mt 6, 5); before the confession of Caesarea (Lk 9, 18); in the Transfiguration (Lk 9, 28-29), in Gethsemane (Mt 26, 36-44); on the Cross (Mt 27, 46; Lk 23, 46). He prays for his executioners (Lk 23, 34); for Peter (Lk 22, 32), for his disciples and for those who will follow him (Jn 17, 9-24). He also prays for himself (Mt 26, 39; Jn 17, 1-5; Heb 5, 7). He teaches to pray (Mt 6, 5), He manifests a permanent relationship with the Father (Mt 11, 25-27), sure that He never leaves him alone (Jn 8, 29), and always hears him (Jn 11, 22.42; Mt 26, 53). He has promised (Jn 14, 16) to continue to intercede in heaven (Rm 8, 34; Heb 7, 25; I Jn 2, 1).

6. Oratio: Psalm 33

I will praise Yahweh from my heart;
let the humble hear and rejoice.

Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh,
let us acclaim his name together.

I seek Yahweh and he answers me,
frees me from all my fears.

Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright,
you will never hang your head in shame.

A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears,
saves him from all his troubles.

The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear him,
and rescues them.

Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in him.

Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones;
those who fear him lack for nothing.

Contemplatio

Lord Jesus, sometimes we are full of enthusiasm and forget that You are the source of our joy: In the moments of sadness we do not seek you or we want your miraculous intervention. Now we know that you never abandon us, that we should not fear. Prayer is also our force. Increase our faith, we are ready to risk our life for your Kingdom.

http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-19th-sunday-ordinary-time

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Image result for rope, frayed, about to break, photos

Stay Focused!

 / 05:04 AM August 13, 2017
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The story is told about a monastery on a cliff that could only be reached via a suspended basket that was pulled upward by the monks. A tourist who was in this scary ride noticed that the rope was old and worn-out. In a trembling voice he asked the monk who was riding with him how often the rope was changed. The monk thought for a moment, and then said: “Whenever it breaks.”

In today’s gospel (Mt. 14, 23-33), the disciples are in a very scary ride on their boat that is being tossed about by the waves. But what terrifies them more is seeing a “ghost” walking on the water toward them. What scares them is something they cannot control, and someone they do not know. We, too, are scared by the uncontrollable and the unknown. What can make us overcome our fears? It is our faith, our focus on something or someone greater than ourselves that helps us stay afloat and move on.

What made Peter sink? As long as he was focused on his Master, he was all right. When he took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on his surroundings, he started to sink. Our daily news is filled with stories of people who have become so focused on money, power, fame, and worldly pleasures, and  who sooner or later sink in shame, and into oblivion. Stay focused on the Master!

I wonder what the other disciples thought when Peter made the bold request that he be allowed to walk on the water? Perhaps some of them were inspired by his courage, or were critical of his nerve. Like them, often we encourage (“Wow! What courage!”) or criticize (“The nerve of this guy!”) those who do what we do not do, or dare not do.

Of course, we also ask what moved Peter to request his Master to let him walk on the water. Was it sincere faith? Was it pride? In the same manner, we, too, must always examine ourselves why we do the things we do. God sees the heart. It is only in quiet prayer that we, too, can really see what is in our hearts.

Are you a “sinker” or a “floater”? A sinker is one who tends to go down, while a floater is one who tends to stay afloat. But a sinker can also be a person who sinks or pulls down others, and a floater can be one who keeps other people afloat. Sinkers are good in criticizing. Floaters are good in encouraging.

It was such an encouraging and inspiring event to join the Priests’ Day sponsored by St. Bridget School of Batangas City last Aug. 7. According to Fr. Nonie Dolor, this worthy tradition was started in 1981 to help students and priests get to know and help each other. On behalf of my brother priests, and on behalf of Jesus Christ, our Eternal High Priest, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your prayers, support, and understanding.

On the lighter side, I think we finally found the answer to the puzzling question: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? San Jose, Batangas, is known as the poultry and egg capital of the Philippines. If you approach it via the old highway from Lipa to Batangas City, you will see a big egg landmark on the left side of the road. But if you are coming from Batangas City to Lipa, you will see a big chicken landmark on the right side of the road. So, it all really depends on where you are coming from.

Think about this: “Learn to give all to God — your health, your family, your friends, your work, your worries, your fears, your finances, your hopes, your frustrations, your dreams, your weaknesses, and sins. When you learn to let go, you learn to be empty, and when you are empty, you can be replenished and be refilled aplenty.”

Inviting you to join a pilgrimage to Catholic shrines in Japan on Sept. 14-23. We start in Nagasaki, where the atomic bomb was dropped in World War II, and where many Christians were persecuted. The highlight of the trip will be a visit to Akita, where the Blessed Mother has been manifesting her messages and miraculous healing since 1973. Included also is a visit to different churches and shrines in Tokyo. For inquiries, please contact Executive Resources at 5238581 to 88 or 09176311903, or e-mail pilgrimagecenter@pilgrimage.ph or http://www.pilgrimage.ph.

A moment with the Lord: Lord, help us to stay focused on You so as not to sink and be drowned in the raging waters of this world. Amen.

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Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/106297/stay-focused#ixzz4pdxEXIGe
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 AUGUST, 2017, Sunday, 19th Week, Ordinary Time
FINDING FOCUS IN THE STORMS OF LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KGs 19:9.11-13PS 84:9-14ROM 9:1-5MT 14:22-33 ]

Like the disciples in the gospel we all battle with the storms of life.  They were “battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind.”  This is the reality of life.  All of us have storms in life, regardless whether we are young students in school or in tertiary institutions, working or retired at home.  This life is fraught with challenges.  This is true even when we are successful or when we do good.  As it is said, call no man at peace till he is dead, and that we must add “hopefully!”

Indeed, this was the case of Elijah.  He had just performed two great miracles by his efficacious prayers to God.  He had won victory over the false prophets of Baal and killed them.  Secondly, he performed the miracle of the rain as Israel was in drought, demonstrating the power of Yahweh and who the true God is.  Instead of being impressed, Queen Jezebel was enraged when she heard how Elijah destroyed her prophets.  She decided to eliminate Elijah and went for his life.  We can imagine the anti-climax that Elijah must have experienced after being elated at these two victories.  Victory turned to discouragement, fear and loneliness.  He had to flee for his life.  Alone and discouraged, he sought refuge in the desert.  He wanted to die and felt defeated and useless.  “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  (1 Kg 19:4b)  

Jesus in the gospel was battling with His life and mission as well.  Earlier on, He was informed of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod.  (cf Mt 14:1-9) We read that “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  (Mt 14:13)  He was thinking that what happened to John the Baptist and all the prophets before him would also happen to Him.  He sensed the danger of death ahead of Him.

In such moments as these, what we need to do is to withdraw.  This is the first stage of finding focus.  We cannot continue to fight the battle when we have lost our focus, our direction and our sanity.  When we are angry, disillusioned and resentful like Elijah, we cannot remain objective.  Instead of acting, we will just react to situations and people who are against us. If we retaliate like our opponents, then we will fare no better than them.  That was what Jesus did not do.  Instead, He retreated to find focus.

The first attempt to find rest in a deserted place failed because the people sought Him out, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  But He did not give up easily.  When He found the next opportunity, He withdrew to pray. We too often find ourselves overwhelmed by problems and demands, one after another.  There will always will be an urgent need or thing to do but we must find the window for us to escape to pray as Jesus did.

So too God lead Elijah away from the troubles that were overwhelming him.  He came to comfort Elijah and led him through the desert to Mount Horeb, where He revealed Himself to Moses.  From Beersheba, Elijah walked through the desert to the Mountain of the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, covering almost 250 miles.

The pilgrimage that Jesus and Elijah did was simply to enter into themselves.  It was a journey inward.  The pilgrimage did not start when Elijah reached Mount Horeb, it began from the moment he left Beersheba and all the way to the Mountain.  He needed time to process his feelings, his fears and his underlying motivations for all he did.  Indeed, the Lord challenged Elijah to look deeper into his resentment and disappointment   When asked by the Lord twice what was bothering him, he replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 kg 19:10,14)  But that was not true.  Elijah was self-righteous.  He was engaged in self-pity.  He was not the lone true prophet as he claimed to be.  There were other good prophets too.  He thought too highly of himself.  We too often think that we are the only good people left when there are many more good people around us.

Indeed, the real pilgrimage we need to take is to become more aware of ourselves, our anger, feelings and motives.  To find focus in life, we need to withdraw from the hurly burly of life and enter inward to find ourselves, like Jesus and Elijah.  Only then can we find clarification.

From an inward journey, we must then take the upward journey to God. This is symbolised in Elijah going up to Mount Horeb and Jesus going up to the hills to pray. It was in the silence of the cave that Elijah heard the Lord speaking to Him.  God did not appear in the mighty works of creation as he thought he would, for God is often associated with earthquakes, fire, wind, lightning and thunder.  On the contrary, God came to him in a whisper.

How true! God often speaks to us in the silence and recesses of our hearts.   I know of many who encounter God when they are in deep contemplative prayer or when they “rest in the Spirit”.  Many of them testify to the peace, the healing and assurance they received during such moments of encountering the Lord.  In solitude and in silence, the Lord comes to our lives and put all things in perspective.  So we must look for God in silence; not turn to the pub, or alcohol, or social activities to drown our pains and frustrations.  They will only lead us to more problems and more frustrations.   But like Elijah and Jesus, we must make the inward journey into ourselves and then the upward journey to God.

From this upward journey, we are now ready to move out and make the outward journey. We note that after encountering God, Elijah was given a clear mission.  To Elijah the Lord told him. “You shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha as prophet in your place.”  (1 kg 19:15f)  He would no longer be alone but he would have an assistant to help him in his mission.  Jesus too, after spending time with His Father, came to rescue the disciples from the storm.  “Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’  And as they got into the boat the wind dropped.”  With Jesus in their boat, there was calmness again.   With Jesus in our midst, there is no need to be afraid of anything.  With the assurance of His love, we can do everything in Him.

We too who have received the gospel must now do likewise.  Having encountered the Lord and been renewed in His love, we must now reach out to those who are lost in the storms of life.  We must help others to find focus, just as St Paul did in the second reading.  He was moved by God’s mercy and love for him.  He felt so much for his fellow Jews who rejected the gospel when they were the chosen people of God.  He said, “my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood.”  Truly, only when we have encountered God’s mercy and love, will we also desire to share our experience with others as St Paul and Elijah wanted.

However, in this process, we must never take our eyes off Jesus again. This was the mistake of St Peter.  In his impulsive and spontaneous response, he asked the Lord, “’If it is you, tell me to come to you across the water … but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.”   Indeed, those of us who have been renewed must never take our eyes away from the Lord.  We must not depend on our impulse to do great things for God.  Our spiritual life cannot be dependent on finding new highs and experiences all the time.  We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by our heart and feelings alone.  Whilst it is important to be ruled by love, as Peter did, we also need to use our reason and discipline to help us overcome the trials of life.  The way of Christ is always through the cross and suffering.

Nevertheless, even if we sink again, let us also never forget that He will save us again, just as He put out his hand at once and held Peter saying, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Peter failed the Lord many times and betrayed Him.  But the great thing about Peter was not that he failed, but that he was humble enough to pick himself up again. Through his failures, he came closer to the Lord.  Through his failures, he learnt to be humble.   We too should not be afraid of failure but we must continue to rely on His grace and mercy.   He will not fail us even when we fail Him.  This is our God, the merciful and compassionate one.  All He asks of us is to have faith in Him and bring Him into our lives.

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

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, June 15, 2017 — “Let light shine out of darkness”

June 14, 2017

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 362

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Reading 1  2 COR 3:15—4:1, 3-6

Brothers and sisters:
To this day, whenever Moses is read,
a veil lies over the hearts of the children of Israel,
but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is freedom.
All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
as from the Lord who is the Spirit.

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Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us,
we are not discouraged.
And even though our Gospel is veiled,
it is veiled for those who are perishing,
in whose case the god of this age
has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,
so that they may not see the light of the Gospel
of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord,
and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.
For God who said, Let light shine out of darkness,
has shone in our hearts to bring to light
the knowledge of the glory of God
on the face of Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (see 10b) The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

Alleluia JN 13:34

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another as I have loved you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Art: Fiery Hell of Gehenna

Gospel  MT 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother,
Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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15 JUNE, 2017, Thursday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time
REFLECTING THE GLORY OF GOD REQUIRES HOLINESS OF LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 3:15-4:1.3-6; MT 5:20-26 ]

In the first reading, St Paul speaks of our calling to radiate like Moses the glory of God in our lives.  “It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness,’ who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.”  All of us who have been privileged to come to encounter Christ have received the light.  It is an obligation to make Christ known to the world.  This is something that has been entrusted to us because we are recipients of God’s mercy in Christ. St Paul wrote, “Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part.”   St Paul was conscious of what the Lord had done for him by calling him, a great sinner, to be an apostle of reconciliation.   Hence, he gave his whole life and applied all his energy and resources to announcing to all that Christ is their savior.

At the same time, St Paul was conscious that his vocation was not to proclaim himself but the Lord.  “For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  It is the Lord that we are called to manifest in our lives.  We are servants of our Lord.  Like St John the Baptist, he was conscious of his role as the forerunner of the Messiah; that he was only the voice, not the Word, the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom.  Unfortunately, instead of directing people to the Lord, some of us in our ministry and in our lives either mislead them into sin and falsehood or attract them to ourselves.  We need to be always aware of these two temptations in witnessing to the Lord.  

In the same vein, this is also what the Lord is asking of us when He said, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”  A deeper spiritual life entails that we perfect our virtues.  We must go beyond mere external observance to the spirit of the law.  Holiness is not an external observance of some rituals or laws but it is a matter of the heart.   In fact, even what we do does not count unless it comes from a pure and gracious heart.  As Jesus tells us, it is not sufficient simply not to kill, but even anger, which is the root of all killings, must be destroyed.  In no uncertain terms, Christ said, “anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother ‘Fool’ he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him ‘Renegade’ he will answer for it in hell fire.”  Failing to see the spirit of the laws is to have the veil cover our eyes.  Quite often, the veil of anger, revenge and hatred prevents us from seeing the goodness of God in others.

Hence, Jesus exhorts us to perfect our virtues.  Failing to do so will cost us our credibility and effectiveness as mediators and messengers of Christ.  We must strive to grow in holiness before we can be truly His evangelizers.  This explains why St John Paul II in his apostolic letter, “Novo Millennio Ineunte” wrote, “First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. Was this not the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee indulgence, as a special grace offered by Christ so that the life of every baptized person could be purified and deeply renewed?  It is my hope that, among those who have taken part in the Jubilee, many will have benefited from this grace, in full awareness of its demands.”  (NMI 30) 

So what must we do to ensure that we are not obstacles to people who are seeking the Lord?  We need to turn to the Lord so that we are clear of our motives and our love for Him.  St Paul wrote, “Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over the minds of the Israelites.  It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord.  Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect, this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.”  Only when we are filled with the Spirit of Christ can we then radiate the presence of Christ in our lives.  Unless the love of God lives in us, we will not be able to radiate the goodness and peace of God in us.  Truly, we know someone is a man of God not so much by what he says but by his demeanor, his way of speaking and his dealing with others.  When we observe the humility, sincerity and genuineness of St Teresa of Calcutta, all can recognize her as one.

This calls for a greater contemplation on the face of our Lord.  Yes, if we contemplate on the face of the Lord, then we will find the light of God shining in our lives.  We will live the life of true freedom from blindness and sin.  By meditating on the gospel, we will come to know the truth about ourselves.  Again, St John Paul II invites us to set our gaze firmly on the face of the Lord.  He wrote,  “And is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium? Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face.”  To contemplate on the face of Christ would require us to search the scriptures and meditate on the life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. “The contemplation of Christ’s face cannot fail to be inspired by all that we are told about him in Sacred Scripture, which from beginning to end is permeated by his mystery, prefigured in a veiled way in the Old Testament and revealed fully in the New, so that Saint Jerome can vigorously affirm: ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”  (NMI 17)

Finally, there is a warning  as well for those of us who fail to deepen our virtues.  The Lord said, “Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.”  This is truly good advice from the Lord.   If we do not take our sins seriously, even the “small sins” will become big eventually and we have no way to deal with them.  The trouble with many of us is that we feel that because we do not commit serious and scandalous sins, we therefore are “holy”.  But we do not realize that a person will eventually become numb to his weaknesses and imperfections.

So it is important that we deal with a problem before it becomes hardened.  When that happens, we will become like those who are blinded by their pride and ego.  This is what St Paul also said about those who reject the light.  “If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  So whilst we still can recognize our superficiality in our spiritual life and virtues, we must take action immediately to rectify it.  We must confess our sins, acknowledge our hypocrisy and turn to the Lord for forgiveness.  Just like the two men who had a quarrel and were on the way to court for a settlement, we must preempt such a situation by resolving our quarrels or differences before the Day of Judgment.  So too let us turn to the Lord in contemplation so that we truly discover our real self and, exposed to the light, we can grow in true humility, in love and in truth.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Lectio Divina From The Carmelites

God of mercy and compassion,
you challenge us to be responsible
for the good and the evil we do
and you call us to conversion.
God, help us to face ourselves
that we may not use flimsy excuses
for covering up our wrongs.
Make us honest with ourselves,
and aware that we can always count on Jesus Christ
to be our guide and strength on the road to you,
now and for ever.

Reflection

The text of today’s Gospel forms part of a broader or more extensive whole: Mt 5, 20 up to Mt 5, 48. In these passages Matthew tells us how Jesus interprets and explains the Law of God. Five times he repeats the phrase: “You have heard how it was said to our ancestors, in truth I tell you!” (Mt 5, 21. 27. 33.38. 43). Before, he had said: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; no, I have come not to abolish, but to complete them” (Mt 5, 17). The attitude of Jesus before the Law is, at the same time, one of breaking and of continuity. He breaks away from the erroneous interpretations, but maintains firm the objective which the Law should attain: the practice of a greater justice, which is Love.

• Matthew 5, 20: An uprightness which surpasses that of the Pharisees. This first verse presents the general key of everything which follows in Matthew 5, 20-48. The word Justice never appears in the Gospel of Mark, and it appears seven times in that of Matthew (Mt 3, 15; 5, 6.10.20; 6, 1.33; 21, 32). This has something to do with the situation of the communities for which Mark wrote. The religious ideal of the Jews of the time was “to be just before God”. The Pharisees taught: “Persons attain justice before God when they succeed to observe all the norms of the law in all its details!” This teaching generated a legalistic oppression and caused great anguish in persons, because it was very difficult to be able to observe all the norms (cfr. Rm 7, 21-24). This is why Matthew takes the words of Jesus on justice to show that it has to surpass the justice of the Pharisees (Mt, 5, 20). According to Jesus, justice does not come from what I do for God observing the law, but rather from what God does for me, accepting me as his son, as his daughter. The new ideal which Jesus proposes is the following: “Therefore, be perfect as perfect is your Heavenly Father!” (Mt 5, 48). That means: You will be just before God when you try to accept and forgive persons as God accepts and pardons me, in spite of my defects and sins.

• By means of these five very concrete examples, Jesus shows us what to do in order to attain this greater justice which surpasses the justice of the Scribes and the Pharisees. As we can see, today’s Gospel takes the example of the new interpretation of the fifth commandment: You shall not kill! Jesus has revealed what God wanted when he gave this commandment to Moses.

• Matthew 5, 21-22: The law says: You shall not kill!” (Ex 20, 13). In order to observe fully this commandment it is not sufficient to avoid murdering. It is necessary to uproot from within everything which, in one way or another, can lead to murder, for example, anger, hatred, the desire to revenge, insult, and exploitation, etc.

• Matthew 5, 23-24. The perfect worship which God wants. In order to be accepted by God and to remain united to him, it is necessary to reconcile oneself with the brother, the sister. Before the destruction of the Temple, in the year 70, when the Christian Jews participated in the pilgrimages in Jerusalem to present their offerings at the altar and to pay their promises, they always remembered this phrase of Jesus. In the year 80, at the time when Matthew wrote, the Temple and the Altar no longer existed. They had been destroyed by the Romans. The community and the communitarian celebration became the Temple and the Altar of God.

• Matthew 5, 25-26: To reconcile oneself. One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew exists the most is reconciliation. That indicates that in the communities of that time, there were many tensions among the radical groups with diverse tendencies and sometimes even opposed ones. Nobody wanted to cede before the other. There was no dialogue. Matthew enlightens this situation with the words of Jesus on reconciliation which request acceptance and understanding. Because the only sin that God does not forgive is our lack of pardon toward others (Mt 6, 14). That is why, try to reconcile yourself before it is too late!

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-matthew-520-26

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From:

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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RECONCILIATION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 18:21-28; MT 5:20-26 ]

Are you at peace?  Why is there no peace?  The root of our unhappiness is division.  Externally, this division is manifested in our estranged relationship with our fellowmen.  Spiritually, it is manifested in the absence of God in our lives.  Personally, this division is rooted within ourselves.  In other words, the absence of inner peace and joy springs from the lack of integrity.  This is what the prophet said, “he shall live because of the integrity he has practiced.”   So our misery comes from the fact that we live contradictory lives.  We are confused ourselves and as a consequence, the inner division within us is expressed in our lack of understanding, charity and justice in our dealings with our fellowmen.

Indeed, finding inner peace and joy is the basis for anyone who truly wants to live.   Otherwise, such a life is as good as a living death. This is what Ezekiel tells us.  Death is the result of our own doing, our own sinfulness and not because of God.  Sin, which is anti-love, brings about death.  God wants us to live.  Many of us might be physically alive but are really dead because there is no love in our lives.  We substitute love with power and pleasure.  Without love, we are not alive.

How then can we find ourselves?  Finding ourselves is what integrity is all about.  The antidote to integrity is reconciliation.  That is why the gospel speaks on the theme of reconciliation, which is fundamental to Lent.  In the second reading of Ash Wednesday, Paul tells us “Be Reconciled.”  And so we are called to be reconciled with God, within ourselves and with others.   How can this reconciliation be brought about so that we can live more integrated lives?

In the first place, we need to acknowledge our sins, our lack of integrity.  This is what Ezekiel is calling us to do.  Without recognizing that we lack integrity in the way we live, we cannot speak of any reconciliation. “If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. But if the upright man renounces his integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked man and practices every kind of filth … All the integrity he has practiced shall be forgotten … and for this he shall die.”  So before we can speak of reconciliation, we must first be ready to renounce our sins.  So long as we are not humble and courageous or desire to do so, we cannot begin the path to integrity.   Reconciliation, or coming to terms with oneself, is the first step to integrity.

Secondly, we need to be reconciled with our neighbours, especially our brothers and sisters, as Jesus taught in the gospel.  We cannot have peace within ourselves if we continue to hold grudges against those who have hurt us; or when we know that someone holds grudges against us.  We may pretend that we are not bothered.  But the fact is that they do bother us.  Whenever we think of them, or we come across them, or when our memories surface, then we cannot but feel hurt all over again.  The wound never really heals; only buried.  Deep in our unconscious, the heart is dis-eased.  It is sick and wounded because when we are separated from others, especially those who are closest to us, we cannot but feel empty and lost.  One of the greatest regrets in life is that we were never able to make peace with people whom we had quarrels or misunderstandings.  When the relationship is not properly healed or closed, whenever memories of them come to mind, we would feel sad and kind of regret.  Worse still, if by the time we want to be reconciled, and that person is no longer around, because of death or simply loss of contact, then we would have to live with the guilt we carry in our hearts till death.  To know that you have never really been forgiven or that the person is still hurting because you have not forgiven, is a memory that you would not like to burden yourself with.

Whatever the case, if we are not at peace with our fellowmen, we cannot be at peace with God either.  This is because God reaches out to us through our fellowmen.  The way to experience God’s love is through others.  So long as we are not healed, we tend to withdraw from others.  When someone has betrayed our trust, our conclusion is that no one else can be trusted anymore; more so if that person is closest to us or is a representative of an institution, as in the case of those who are hurt by priests and religious leaders.  No one can hurt us most than our brothers and sisters as Jesus specifically singled them out in the gospel.  Aren’t the biggest pain in our hearts those inflicted by our loved ones?  Family feuds, quarrels and misunderstandings are often carried in our hearts for years and even generations.  The most difficult people to forgive or ask for forgiveness from are our loved ones, especially when we have been badly hurt.  Those who have been so badly wounded by religious leaders have either left the Church or never got involved again in ministry, because they are afraid to get hurt again.  By so doing, they are depriving themselves of ways in which God wants to reach out to us.  We put obstacles in the paths of God.

Understandably we can appreciate why Jesus is adamant about the need to be first reconciled with our brother before we can even present the gift at the altar.  Furthermore, Jesus speaks of the last penny to be paid.  That is to say, so long as we do not make peace with those who have hurt us, we will remain their slaves, since memories of them will always make us feel pain, ache and anger.  Our enemies whom we do not set free ironically are the ones whom we have given power to weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. We can never let these sore feelings go until we are reconciled with them; only then are we set free.

But how can we find the grace to acknowledge our sins, forgive ourselves and forgive others or ask for forgiveness?  Not without God’s grace.  The capacity to forgive others presupposes that we have forgiven ourselves.  And we can forgive ourselves only when we have received God’s forgiveness. Today’s assurance of the prophet about God’s forgiveness therefore must be the starting point of reconciliation and the path to integrity.  The Lord says, “Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?  … When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins, he shall certainly live; he shall not die.”  The psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.”  God does not ask us to forgive others without first forgiving us.  Forgiving our brothers and sisters is at times simply impossible, especially when we have suffered so much humiliation, pain, loss of property and even physical injury.  God forgives us not once, but again and again.  He only wants us to repent so that we will live.

Let us therefore turn to the Lord during this time of Lent to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us in our ignorance and to lead us to experience His love.  With the healing love from Him, we can then find the strength to let go and let God take over.  The gospel today, when read within a Christian context, suggests that we let the Eucharist be the source of that love and the path to reconciliation, since from that we receive love and healing by the Lord. We want to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters so that this union with Him is perfected in our reconciliation and union with them. “If you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”  Our desire to receive the Lord in the Eucharist will be the motivation for asking for forgiveness for our sins; and the Eucharist will give us the strength to be reconciled with our brothers. The Eucharist truly, then, is the source of unity and love with God, ourselves and with others.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, January 20, 2017 — “He is mediator of a better covenant enacted on better promises” —

January 19, 2017

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 315

Image may contain: 3 people, outdoor

Jesus Appoints The Apostles, By James Tissot, 1886

We read in the gospel about the calling of the Twelve.  Those whom Jesus called, noticeably, comprised of a motley crowd of different characters and temperaments with very diverse theological and political affiliations.  Yet, He chose them “to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils.”

Reading 1 HEB 8:6-13

Brothers and sisters:
Now our high priest has obtained so much more excellent a ministry
as he is mediator of a better covenant,
enacted on better promises.

For if that first covenant had been faultless,
no place would have been sought for a second one.
But he finds fault with them and says:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of
Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand to lead
them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they did not stand by my covenant
and I ignored them, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
and I will write them upon their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying,
“Know the Lord,”
for all shall know me, from least to greatest.
For I will forgive their evildoing
and remember their sins no more.

When he speaks of a “new” covenant,
he declares the first one obsolete.
And what has become obsolete
and has grown old is close to disappearing.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:8 AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (11a) Kindness and truth shall meet.
Show us, O LORD, your mercy,
and grant us your salvation.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 3:13-19

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted
and they came to him.
He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles,
that they might be with him
and he might send them forth to preach
and to have authority to drive out demons:
He appointed the Twelve:
Simon, whom he named Peter;
James, son of Zebedee,
and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges,
that is, sons of thunder;
Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew,
Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus;
Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean,
and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

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Art:

James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles, circa 1886–1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

James Tissot (1836–1902), a French painter, painted The Exhortation to the Apostles as an opaque watercolor over graphite on gray woven paper between 1886 and 1894. The painting is a beautifully detailed portrait of Jesus speaking to his 12 chosen apostles while they each attentively listen to him. Tissot was known for two things: in the early part of his life he painted highly detailed portraits of Victorian society, and in the latter part he painted popular Bible portraits. The biblical paintings, such as this one, were done in a more relaxed, impressionistic, and decorative style, and some critics claim they were the basis for the visual style of certain Hollywood epics. Tissot was particularly adept at painting larger groups such as the one in this painting.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 JANUARY, 2017, Friday, 2nd Ordinary Week
CALLED TO BE APOSTLES OF THE NEW COVENANT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB  8:6-13; MK 3:13-19   ]

In order to understand the significance of today’s first reading on the New Covenant, it is important to appreciate the background of Jeremiah’s prophecy which the author of the letter to the Hebrews cited.  For this we return to the beginning of creation and its fall.

What is the cause of sin and misery?  It is because man has rejected his relationship with God.  He wants to gain his autonomy without being subjected to God.  By negating his fundamental and constitutive relationship with God, he is unable to find himself.  He becomes insecure and fearful of his life.  Apart from God, he becomes selfish and self-preservative. He feels threatened by his own fellowmen. The consequences of this broken relationship are death, sin and alienation.

In response to this failed relationship and the resultant disorder in creation, God, who initiated this relationship, must also be the One to restore it.  He began by calling Abraham to be the father of the Chosen People and the multitude of nations. From Abraham originated the twelve tribes of Israel. After their deliverance from Egypt, they became the Chosen People of God. They were supposed to be the model of God’s people for the rest of humanity, living a life of obedience to the Word of God and in harmony amongst themselves.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  The kings and the people did not obey God.  Instead, they adopted the pagan practices of their neighbouring countries by worshipping false gods.  Instead of relying on Yahweh, they relied on worldly powers and man-made gods.   This led to their eventual destruction and the fall of the kingdom to Assyria, then Babylon and then Persia.

But why did the Mosaic Covenant established with the People of God fail?  It was not effective because the laws were merely observed externally.  The worship rendered to God was mere rituals, without true expression of a contrite and loyal heart. This was very clear during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, when he condemned the people for worshipping God whilst continuing with their evil deeds.  As the author noted, “See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will establish a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They abandoned that covenant of mine, and so I on my side deserted them.”  Indeed, the laws which were written on tablets and on stones could not change the hearts of the people.  They failed to interiorize what they had seen, especially the powers of God and His divine providence and might in delivering them from Egypt and the dangers they encountered whilst wondering in the desert for forty years.  They forgot what their forefathers had gone through.  They failed to see the wisdom of the Laws God gave to them.

Consequently, a better and more effective Covenant was needed.  What is this New Covenant that is required to effect the communion between God and man, since the animal sacrifices did not bring about that result?  Again, the prophet said, “It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.”  This New Covenant, unlike the Old Covenant, will be effective because God will be giving them the Spirit of His Son.  It would not be so much a question of obeying the commandments or a legalistic conformity to some burdensome laws, but rather, it would be in the spirit of love and union with God.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see Jesus giving Himself freely as a sacrificial offering for us out of love for His Father and for us.  And through His resurrection, He gave us all a share in His Spirit as well.

As a consequence too, our sins are forgiven and we are able to respond in love and not out of fear or obligation.  As we contemplate on the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus, especially in His paschal mystery, we cannot but respond with gratitude and joy.  Furthermore, our knowledge of God is no longer from without, but from within our hearts.  It is no longer merely an intellectual assent to God but a personal assent that engages the mind and the will.  Through the Holy Spirit given to us, we grow in intimacy with God whom we know as a friend and most of all, as our Father who counts us worthy to be His children, adopted sons and daughters in Christ.  Indeed, this is what the Lord said through His prophet who wrote, “Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord.’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest, since I will forgive their iniquities and never call their sins to mind.”

Having received this New Covenant in Christ, we too, like the apostles, are sent out to bring others into the ambit of God’s love.  We read in the gospel about the calling of the Twelve. Those whom Jesus called, noticeably comprised a motley crowd of different characters and temperaments with very diverse theological and political affiliations.  Yet, He chose them “to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils.”  Regardless of their background and character, the Lord knew that the love of God and the Holy Spirit will bind them together as a college so that they would work together for the establishment of the kingdom of love on earth.

They were also called to preach and to heal. Both are integral in the proclamation of the gospel.  Preaching must be accompanied by healing and vice versa.  We are called to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, and to reconcile hurting parties.  Like the apostles, we too are called to “cast out devils” in a real sense of the word and also by extension, to conquer and eradicate the evils of fear and selfishness in the world through the proclamation of God’s love and mercy, definitively concretized in Jesus, especially in the Paschal Mystery.

In order to continue this work of extending the New Covenant given to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit, we must therefore remember that we are called first and foremost to be His companions before we are sent out.  To go to the hills or the mountains or the desert is an invitation to intimacy with Him.  Otherwise we cannot acquire the Spirit of love and compassion of the New Covenant.  Only when we are immersed in His love and filled with His mercy can we be passionate about sharing what the Lord has done for us with others.  Indeed, in Jesus, we can rejoice with the psalmist, “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”  May we who come to know God’s mercy and truth be set free to live a life of compassion and truth in our relationship with everyone so that all will come to share in the unity of God’s family.

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

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

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Commentary on Mark 3:13-19 from Living Space

Jesus goes up a mountain. It has no name because it is the symbolism that is more important than the location. Mountains in the Scriptures are holy places associated with the presence of God. Jesus goes up mountains at more solemn moments in his public life: here, during the Sermon on the Mount, at the Transfiguration, and after feeding the 5,000…

Jesus’ purpose on this occasion is to pick the inner circle of his followers. “They were those whom he wanted.” Later he will say: “I have chosen you; you have not chosen me.” And “they came to him”. A call includes both the invitation and the response. The same is true for each one of us. The call is always there; can we say the same about our response?

There were twelve in this inner circle of disciples. In the New Covenant they would be the “patriarchs”, the foundational pillars of the new community, embracing the new Israel.

They are called “apostles”. A word to be clearly distinguished from “disciples”. The ‘disciple’, which comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to learn’, is essentially a follower who imbibes the teaching of the teacher and tries to make it part of his life. The ‘apostle’, however, from a Greek word meaning ‘to go out on a mission’ (like an ambassador), is essentially one who has a mandate from the teacher to pass on to others.

In the Pauline letters, where the term appears most often in the Christian Testament, it means primarily one who has been a witness of the Risen Lord and has been commissioned to proclaim the resurrection. Paul himself, because of his experience at Damascus, is regarded as an Apostle.

These Twelve were to be Jesus’ companions. They were to preach, that is, proclaim his message of the Kingdom and work with him to make it a reality. They were to cast out demons, to liberate people from all situations which enslaved people to any form of evil.

The list is headed – as are all lists of the Apostles – by Simon Peter. For Mark, the name Peter was given on this occasion. In Matthew it is given later, following his confession of Jesus’ identity. Strangely, the list includes included one man who would betray (‘hand over’) his Master and Lord. And today there are still those, called by Jesus, who betray him. What about me? “Is it I, Lord?” “There go I but for the grace of God.”

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2026g/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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The Gospel today describes the acceptance and mission of the twelve apostles. Jesus begins with two disciples to whom he adds other two (Mk 1, 16-20). Gradually, the number increased. Luke tells us that he called the 72 disciples so as to go on mission with him (Lk 10, 1).
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Mark 3, 13-15: The call for a two-fold mission. Jesus calls whom he wants and they go with him, they follow him. Then, “He appointed Twelve, to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message, with power to drive out devils”. Jesus calls them for a double purpose, for a two-fold mission: (a) To be with Him, that is, to form the community of which He, Jesus, is the centre. (b) To pray and to have power to drive out devils, that is, to announce the Good News and to fight against the power of evil that ruins the life of people and alienates persons.
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Mark says that Jesus went up to the mountain and while he was there, he called the disciples. The call means climbing up. In the Bible to climb up the mountain recalls the mountain that Moses climbed and had the encounter with God (Ex 24, 12). Luke says that Jesus went up to the mountain, prayed all night and, the following day, he called the disciples. He prayed to God so as to know whom to choose (Lk 6, 12-13). After having called them, Jesus makes the election official and creates a more stable group of twelve persons in order to give more consistency to the mission; and also to signify the continuity of God’s project. The twelve Apostles of the New Testament are the successors of the twelve Tribes of Israel.
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Thus, the first community of the New Testament comes into being, is born, a model community, which gradually grows around Jesus during the three years of his public activity. At the beginning they are only four (Mk 1, 16-20). Shortly afterwards the community increases in the measure in which the mission is developing, extending in the towns and villages of Galilee. There is a time in which they do not even have the time to eat or to rest (Mk 3, 2). This is why Jesus was concerned about giving the disciples some rest (Mk 6, 31) and to increase the number of missionaries (Lk 10, 1). In this way, Jesus tries to maintain the two-fold objective of the call: to be with Him and to go on mission.
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The community which is formed in this way around Jesus has three characteristics which belong to his nature: it is a forming, missionary community, and is inserted among the poor of Galilee. • Mark 3, 16-19: The list of names of the twelve apostles. Immediately after, Mark gives the names of the twelve: Simon to whom he gave the name of Peter; James and John the sons of Zebedee, to whom he gave the name of Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the man who was to betray him.
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The majority of these names come from the Old Testament. For example, Simon is the name of one of the sons of the Patriarch Jacob (Gn 29, 33). James is the same as Jacob (Gn 25, 26). Judas is the name of the other son of Jacob (Gn 35, 23). Matthew also bore the name of Levi (Mk 2, 14), who was the other son of Jacob (Gn 35, 23). Of the twelve Apostles, seven have a name that comes from the time of the Patriarchs. Two have the name of Simon; two are called James; Two Judas; one Levi. There is only one who has a Greek name: Philip. It would be like in a family where all have names of ancient times and only one has a modern name. This reveals the desire that people have to remake history, from the beginning! It is worth while to think about the names which we give our children today. Like them, each one of us is called by God by our name.

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Personal questions
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To be with Jesus and to go on Mission is the two-fold purpose of the Christian community. How do you assume this commitment in the community to which you belong?
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Jesus called the twelve disciples by their name. You, I, we, all of us exist because God calls us by our name. Think about this!
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Concluding prayer
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Show us, Lord, your faithful love, grant us your saving help. His saving help is near for those who fear him, his glory will dwell in our land. (Ps 85,7.9)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
(From 2015)
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CALLED TO BE APOSTLES OF THE NEW COVENANT 

SCRIPTURE READINGS: HEB 8:6-13; MK 3:13-19
http://www.universalis.com/20150123/mass.htm 

In order to understand the significance of today’s first reading on the New Covenant, it is important to appreciate the background of Jeremiah’s prophecy which the author of the letter to the Hebrews cited.  For this we return to the beginning of creation and its fall.

What is the cause of sin and misery?  It is because man has rejected his relationship with God.  He wants to gain his autonomy without being subjected to God.  By negating his fundamental and constitutive relationship with God, he is unable to find himself.  He becomes insecure and fearful of his life.  Apart from God, he becomes selfish and self-preservative. He feels threatened by his own fellowmen. The consequences of this broken relationship are death, sin and alienation.

In response to this failed relationship and the resultant disorder in creation, God, who initiated this relationship, must also be the One to restore it.  He began by calling Abraham to be the father of the Chosen People and the multitude of nations.  From Abraham originated the twelve tribes of Israel. After their deliverance from Egypt, they became the Chosen People of God. They were supposed to be the model of God’s people for the rest of humanity, living a life of obedience to the Word of God and in harmony amongst themselves.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  The kings and the people did not obey God.  Instead, they adopted the pagan practices of their neighbouring countries by worshipping false gods.  Instead of relying on Yahweh, they relied on worldly powers and man-made gods.   This led to their eventual destruction and the fall of the kingdom to Assyria, then Babylon and then Persia.

But why did the Mosaic Covenant established with the People of God fail?  It was not effective because the laws were merely observed externally.  The worship rendered to God was mere rituals, without true expression of a contrite and loyal heart. This was very clear during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, when he condemned the people for worshipping God whilst continuing with their evil deeds.  As the author noted, “See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will establish a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They abandoned that covenant of mine, and so I on my side deserted them.”  Indeed, the laws which were written on tablets and on stones could not change the hearts of the people.  They failed to interiorize what they had seen, especially the powers of God and His divine providence and might in delivering them from Egypt and the dangers they encountered whilst wondering in the desert for forty years.  They forgot what their forefathers had gone through.  They failed to see the wisdom of the Laws God gave to them.

Consequently, a better and more effective Covenant was needed.  What is this New Covenant that is required to effect the communion between God and man, since the animal sacrifices did not bring about that result?  Again, the prophet said, “It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.”  This New Covenant, unlike the Old Covenant, will be effective because God will be giving them the Spirit of His Son.  It would not be so much a question of obeying the commandments or a legalistic conformity to some burdensome laws, but rather, it would be in the spirit of love and union with God.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see Jesus giving Himself freely as a sacrificial offering for us out of love for His Father and for us.  And through His resurrection, He gave us all a share in His Spirit as well.

As a consequence too, our sins are forgiven and we are able to respond in love and not out of fear or obligation.  As we contemplate on the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus, especially in His paschal mystery, we cannot but respond with gratitude and joy.  Furthermore, our knowledge of God is no longer from without, but from within our hearts.  It is no longer merely an intellectual assent to God but a personal assent that engages the mind and the will.  Through the Holy Spirit given to us, we grow in intimacy with God whom we know as a friend and most of all, as our Father who counts us worthy to be His children, adopted sons and daughters in Christ.  Indeed, this is what the Lord said through His prophet who wrote, “Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord.’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest, since I will forgive their iniquities and never call their sins to mind.”

Having received this New Covenant in Christ, we too, like the apostles, are sent out to bring others into the ambit of God’s love.  We read in the gospel about the calling of the Twelve.  Those whom Jesus called, noticeably, comprised of a motley crowd of different characters and temperaments with very diverse theological and political affiliations.  Yet, He chose them “to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils.”  Regardless of their background and character, the Lord knew that the love of God and the Holy Spirit will bind them together as a college so that they would work together for the establishment of the kingdom of love on earth.

They were also called to preach and to heal.  Both are integral in the proclamation of the gospel.  Preaching must be accompanied by healing and vice versa.  We are called to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, and to reconcile hurting parties.  Like the apostles, we too, are called to “cast out devils” in a real sense of the word and also by extension, to conquer and eradicate the evils of fear and selfishness in the world through the proclamation of God’s love and mercy, definitively concretized in Jesus, especially in the Paschal Mystery.

In order to continue this work of extending the New Covenant given to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit, we must therefore remember that we are called first and foremost to be His companions before we are sent out.  To go to the hills or the mountains or the desert is an invitation to intimacy with Him.  Otherwise we cannot acquire the Spirit of love and compassion of the New Covenant.  Only when we are immersed in His love and filled with His mercy can we be passionate about sharing what the Lord has done for us with others.  Indeed, in Jesus, we can rejoice with the psalmist, “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”  May we who come to know God’s mercy and truth be set free to live a life of compassion and truth in our relationship with everyone so that all will come to share in the unity of God’s family.

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.CyuaP8Rd.dpuf

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 5, 2016 — “The eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared” — Do not be afraid — Go to any length to get it

December 4, 2016

Monday of the Second Week in Advent
Lectionary: 181


Art: Christ and the Paralyzed Man Lowered Through The Roof by J. Kirk Richards

When we are living in sin we are paralyzed…

Reading 1 IS 35:1-10

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (Isaiah 35:4f) Our God will come to save us!
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Our God will come to save us!
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Our God will come to save us!
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Our God will come to save us!

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold the king will come, the Lord of the earth,
and he himself will lift the yoke of our captivity.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 5:17-26

One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”

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Commentary on Luke 5:17-26 From Living Space
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The First Reading from Isaiah expresses the excitement and anticipation of God’s coming in our midst.
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The Gospel is an example of this promise being realised. It is Luke’s version of the healing of a paralysed man who can only reach Jesus by being lowered through the roof of the house. The efforts which the sick man’s friends make to get him to Jesus is an indication of their tremendous faith and confidence in Jesus.
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However, the man may have been somewhat surprised to hear the words of Jesus: “My friend, your sins are forgiven.” That was not what he came for. He hoped something could be done about his paralysis. But the Pharisees and Scribes present were even more shocked. “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sin?” Of course, they were perfectly right but they did not put two and two together and identify the presence of God in Jesus.
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So Jesus asks them: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise up and walk’?” Naturally, the first is easier to SAY. But to show that Jesus has the authority really to forgive sin he says to the paralysed man: “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” Immediately, the man stands up before them all, picks up his mat and goes home.
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To understand what is happening here we have to realise the perceived close relationship in those days between sin and sickness. Sickness, especially something chronic like paralysis or blindness, was often presumed to be the result of or punishment for sin. So if Jesus can totally remove the sickness, it must mean the sin which caused it has gone too. Jesus can forgive sin.
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We may not express things quite the same way now but there was a lot of truth in the belief that there was a relationship between sickness and behaviour. A large proportion of people are sick and even in hospital because their bodies are revealing symptoms of dis-ease which has its roots in their hearts and minds and feelings. The healing power of Jesus, which we all need, has to extend to every part of our being – body, mind, heart and in our relationships with others.
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There are intimations in this story of resurrection, new life, when the man now stands up, something he could not do before. And, now able to walk, he goes home, that is, he goes to the place where he belongs. We too need the healing of Christ which removes the things which paralyse or handicap us in our following him. We need to stand anew in the Life that he gives and then find our way to our true home, which is to be with him.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Sing
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05 DECEMBER, 2016, Monday, 2nd Week of Advent
THE LORD IS COMING TO RESTORE US IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Isa 35:1-10; Ps 84:9-14; Lk 5:17-26 ]

Some of us may be feeling like we are in the wilderness.  We are lost and confused.  We are not sure of our direction in life.  At the same time, we are stuck where we are.  We do not feel that we are making progress.  We are not happy at our workplace.  We feel marginalized and discriminated by our bosses.  We are embroiled in complicated relationships and trapped in a marriage that is loveless. We cannot feel the presence of God.  We cannot pray and God seems so far away.

Then there are those who are sick, physically and emotionally.  Their health is failing.  Some are paralyzed in bed like the paralyzed man in the gospel.  Many are losing their memory and suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  Some are losing their hearing.  Many are suffering from terminal illness as well.  Then there are those who are in depression and always at the verge of taking their life.  We can feel with them in their frustrations; unable to get out from bed and to take care of themselves.  Those who are care-givers are equally stressed because looking after the sick and the elderly can be very challenging; not only in having to attend to their physical and medical needs but trying to understand their emotional and psychological make up as well.

If we feel this way, then the prophet Isaiah says, “Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.’”  As we enter the Second week of Advent, the liturgy wants to assure us that the Lord is indeed coming to save us and restore us to fullness of life.  The promise made to the Israelites is also ours.  “They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended.”

This prophecy is fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, that is, Christ the Lord.  In the gospel, Jesus fits in the prophecy for He carried out what the prophets had foretold.  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy; for water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.”  In the gospel, we read of Jesus’ healing miracles and works of exorcism.   We read of His power over nature in the calming of the storm and the multiplication of loaves.  Most of all, He demonstrated Himself to be the author of life in raising the dead back to life.   In St John’s gospel, Jesus is the living spring that gives living water, quenching the thirst of every person.

In today’s gospel, we read of the healing of the paralyzed man.  Not just of his physical healing but also spiritual healing because the Lord forgave his sins.  The healing of this man was not just a superficial healing of the body but also of the soul.   Jesus knew that the man needed first to be healed spiritually before he could be healed physically.   The man was paralyzed by his fears and his past.  Most of all, he was crippled by his sins.  Perhaps he could not forgive God and society for the situation he was in.  Most of us would assign blame to someone for the predicament we are in.  Someone has to be blamed; our parents, our bosses, our friends, and finally when we cannot find a scapegoat, then God is responsible.  Many of us have much resentment and bitterness against God because we have lost our loved ones or are suffering from terminal illness or because we have lost our job.  So, until and unless we are forgiven for our sins of anger, resentment and unforgiveness, no real healing can take place because the bitterness and grudges we hold in our hearts block the grace of God’s peace and love from entering into our lives.

But how do we know that Jesus is truly the Messiah who can grant us full restoration of life?  This is the question that is asked in today’s gospel.  This was the question that the Scribes and Pharisees asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But underlying this question, there is also another related issue that presupposes this question.

It is the relationship between sin and sickness.  For the religious leaders, the cause of sickness is sin.  Sickness is the punishment of God for our sins.  So if we are sick, it is because we are in sin.  Hence, we can appreciate why the religious leaders are obsessed with the observance of the laws.  The Pharisees considered themselves as the “Separated Ones” as they can keep the laws meticulously and themselves pure and holy.  The common people were despised because they held occupations that made them impossible to be ritually cleansed at all times, e.g. the shepherds and the poor labourers.  Of course, the tax collectors were the most detested people.

Jesus knew what was in their mind and thus He proceeded by forgiving the man his sins.  He was well aware that He would be accused of committing blasphemy since only God could forgive sins.  So He deliberately went ahead to forgive the man’s sins despite the hostility of the Jewish religious leaders.  He outsmarted them because when they asked the question, “How could he forgive sins except God alone?” Jesus showed that precisely because He has been given divine authority, He could forgive.  He said, “But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’, he said to the paralysed man – ‘I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’ And immediately before their very own eyes he got up, picked up what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”

What is the basis for Jesus’ divine authority?  The fact that Jesus healed the man means that the man has been forgiven his sins.  Otherwise the man would not have been able to walk!  If sins caused him to be paralyzed and now that he was able to walk, it shows that his sins were truly forgiven by Christ.  Ironically, in challenging Jesus, they had to admit that Jesus was divine.

Today, if we want to seek full healing, we must come to Christ in faith. Without faith, we cannot be healed.  The scribes and Pharisees were not healed by Christ because they were proud and self-righteous.  They thought salvation was by merit and by effort alone through the observance of the laws.  But what Christ needs from us is a deep humility and trust in His mercy and love.

But what if we lack faith or are weak in faith?  This is where we need the support of our Catholic friends.  The problem with us Catholics is that many of us walk alone in our faith.  We have no Catholic friends.  But having Catholic friends alone is not enough.  We must come together to share our faith through the breaking of the Word of God.  Unless we share faith experiences and reflections with each other, we cannot strengthen each other in faith.  Coming for the Eucharist alone is not enough.  We need the Body of Christ to strengthen our weary knees and drooping spirit.   Interestingly, it was those men who carried the paralyzed men to Jesus that made it possible for Jesus to work His miracles.  “Seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’”   So the faith of others can inspire our weak faith so that we can open ourselves to the power of God to heal us.

It was just Jesus’ faith in His Father that empowered Him to do what He did.  Missing in today’s gospel is a preceding sentence that says, “He withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.”  If “the Power of the Lord was behind his works of healing” it was because He was recharged in prayer.   Let us walk the way of Jesus, surrendering our lives to Him in faith and confident that He will restore us to the fullness of life so long as we are willing to give up our sins and seek healing from Him. “I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people. His help is near for those who fear him.”


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

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

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Our Daily Bread (Philippine Star)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. —1 John 4:7

Chess is an ancient game of strategy. Each player begins with 16 pieces on the chessboard with the goal of cornering his opponent’s king. It has taken different forms over the years. One form is human chess, which was introduced around ad 735 by Charles Martel, duke of Austrasia. Martel would play the game on giant boards with real people as the pieces. The human pieces were costumed to reflect their status on the board and moved at the whim of the players—manipulating them to their own ends.

Could this human version of the game of chess be one that we sometimes play? We can easily become so driven by our goals that people become just one more pawn that we use to achieve them. The Scriptures, however, call us to a different view of those around us. We are to see people as created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). They are objects of God’s love (John 3:16) and deserving of ours as well.

The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Because God first loved us, we are to respond by loving Him and the people He created in His image. – Bill Crowder

Open my eyes, Lord, to people around me,

Help me to see them as You do above;

Give me the wisdom and strength to take action,

So others may see the depth

of Your love. —Kurt DeHaan

Read: 1 John 4:7-12

People are to be loved, not used.

http://www.philstar.com/daily-bread/2016/12/05/1650407/human-chess

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Isaiah 35:1-10

COMMENTARY:

ISAIAH 34-35. THE CONTEXT

Chapter 35 presents a vivid contrast to chapter 34, where “Yahweh is enraged against all the nations” (34:2). In that chapter, “Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood” and will effect “a great slaughter in the land of Edom” (34:6) and “a day of vengeance” (34:8). Edom’s “streams will be turned into pitch, its dust into sulfur” (34:9). “It will lie waste” and “no one shall pass through it” (34:10). “The pelican and the porcupine will possess it” (34:11). “Thorns will come up in its palaces, …and it will be a habitation of jackals, … ostriches, …wild animals, …wolves, …and wild goats” (34:13-14). This is the Lord’s judgment on a sinful land.

But in chapter 35, the prophet/poet pictures a glad land, where “the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose” (35:1)—where people “shall see Yahweh’s glory” (35:2)—where the Lord “will come and “come with vengeance” to “save you” (35:4; note the contrast with 34:8)—where the blind will see and the deaf will hear and the lame will “leap like a deer” (35:5-6a)—where “waters will break out in the wilderness” (35:6) and “grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay” (35:7; note the contrast with 34:9, 13). “A highway will be there” (35:8; note the contrast with 34:10). “No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous beast go up on it” (35:9; note the contrast with 34:11-14). “Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, and come with singing to Zion” (35:10).

Because chapter 35 has something of the tone of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-66), some scholars suggest that it might be the work of Second Isaiah. However, the majority think that Second Isaiah started his work with chapter 40.

ISAIAH 35:1-7. A CHIASTIC STRUCTURE

A chiasmus (plural “chiasmi”) is “a rhetorical construction in which the order of the words in the second of two paired phrases is the reverse of the order in the first. An example is ‘gray was the morn, all things were gray” (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004) or “an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases (as in Goldsmith’s to stop too fearful, and too faint to go)” (Encyclopedia Britannica 2007).

Chiasmi are quite common in Biblical poetry. Brueggemann suggests that we see verses 1-7 as a chiasmus:

(a) the transformation of creation (vs. 1-2)
(b) the transformation of disabled humanity (v. 3)
(c) the assertion of God’s coming rescue (v. 4)
(b’) the transformation of disabled humanity (vs. 5-6a)
(a’) the transformation of creation (vs. 6b-7)” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, 20)

Note the parallels between a and a’ and between b and b’—with c as the center point, the focus, the point of it all.

ISAIAH 35:1-2. THE WILDERNESS AND THE DRY LAND WILL BE GLAD

1The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.
2 It will blossom abundantly,
and rejoice even with joy and singing.
Lebanon’s glory Lebanon will be given to it,
the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see Yahweh’s glory,
the excellence of our God.
“The wilderness and the dry land will be glad. The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. It will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing”

(vv. 1-2a). This contrasts dramatically with the land soaked with blood and the soil turned to sulfur and burning pitch in 34:7, 9. In chapter 35, the desert wilderness remains a desert, but a glad desert that rejoices and blossoms. Those who have lived in deserts know how quickly deserts can come alive with colorful flowers after a rain shower. It is a sight that inspires joy in the hearts of those who are accustomed to seeing the more usual desert colors. This is the image that our prophet/poet captures to convey the sense of vitality and joy that will be present in the place that he is portraying.

Wilderness, dry land, and desert refer to the arid land that could be lovely when the rains came—but they seldom came. The wilderness could stretch a shepherd’s ingenuity to the breaking point, and could claim the life of the unwary traveler.

But while a desert wilderness might seem forbidding, it was in the wilderness that Yahweh forged Israel into a nation. It was through the wilderness that the Lord carried Israel, “as a man does bear his son, in all the way that you went, until you came to this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31). During their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord was with Israel so that they lacked nothing (Deuteronomy 2:7). It was in the wilderness that the Lord humbled Israel, “and fed (them) with manna, which (they) didn’t know, neither did (their) fathers know; that he might make (them) know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 8:3). John the Baptist will go to the wilderness to proclaim the need for repentance (Matthew 3:1). Jesus will be tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1ff.), and will retreat to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16). In other words, the wilderness is inextricably interwoven with the spiritual history and discipline of Israel.

Therefore, a wilderness that blossoms abundantly and rejoices with joy and singing represents more than geography. It is a metaphor for spiritual renewal and vitality—for a people who are in a right relationship with the Lord and are blessed to enjoy the prosperity which the Lord has given them.

“Lebanon’s glory Lebanon will be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon”

(v. 2b). These three places, Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon, are famous for their lush beauty.

• Lebanon (on the Mediterranean seacoast about 25 miles or 40 k. north of the Sea of Galilee) is a land of snow-capped mountains, snow-fed mountain streams, and cedar forests. Solomon arranged with Hiram of Tyre to use cedars from Lebanon to build the temple (1 Kings 5), because they were the trees fit for a king—or for the Lord.

• Mount Carmel (on the Mediterranean seacoast 17 miles or 27 k. west of the Sea of Galilee) rises majestically from the sea. Although it is only about 1740 feet (530 m.) high, it enjoys abundant rain that fosters verdant growth.

• The Plain of Sharon is a lovely coastal plain stretching along the Mediterranean seacoast south from Mount Carmel for about 35-40 miles (55-65 k.)—known for its fertile fields and flowers (Watts, 540).

These three places, all on the Mediterranean seacoast, are remote from the wilderness both geographically and spiritually. They represent prosperity, while the wilderness represents austerity. But the prophet says that the wilderness will be like these glorious, majestic places.

“They will see Yahweh’s glory, the excellence of our God” (v. 2c). In the preceding phrase (v. 2b), the prophet spoke of “Lebanon’s glory” and “the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.” Now he speaks of “Yahweh’s glory” and “the excellence of our God.” Isaiah is a great poet, so this parallelism is deliberate. If Lebanon is glorious and Carmel and Sharon are majestic, they are only reflecting, however imperfectly, the glory and the majesty of the one who created them. If the wilderness will become glorious and majestic, it is only because the Lord has deigned it to be so.

The prophet provides no clear antecedent to the pronoun, “They”—so who are “They”? “They” could be the wilderness and the desert of verse 1. “They” could be Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon of verse 2. “They” could be God’s people (v. 8). Or this could be a royal, all-embracing “They” that wraps its arms around all people everywhere.

ISAIAH 35:3-4. “BE STRONG. DON’T BE AFRAID!”

3Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong.
Don’t be afraid.
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.
He will come and save you.
“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (v. 3). Israel has been in exile for decades, and their bondage has sapped their spirit and strength. The first step to recovery of physical strength is recovery of spirit. The prophet calls people to begin that recovery, and begins to lay the foundation for them to hope. A person with no hope can be expected to have weak hands and feeble knees, but when hope is restored, he/she will find reservoirs of untapped strength—both spiritual and physical strength.

“Tell those who have a fearful heart (literally “hasty heart”), ‘Be strong. Don’t be afraid’” (v. 4a). Fear makes people’s hearts beat faster and makes them weak. But these people have no reason to be afraid, because Yahweh is their God—and Yahweh is present with them.

“Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution. He will come and save you” (v. 4b). This, in fact, will happen. Yahweh will raise up Cyrus of Persia who will defeat Babylonia and establish Persia as the dominant power. Cyrus will allow the exiles to return to Jerusalem.

But the counsel of verse 4a not to fear and the assurance of verse 4b that God will save is eternal—applies to God’s people in every time and place. The God of Israel is our God too. The God who promised to save Israel has also promised to save us.

ISAIAH 35:5-6a. THEN THE EYES OF THE BLIND WILL BE OPENED

5Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6a Then the lame man will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing;
“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing” (v. 5-6a). This is poetic language, and thus lends itself to various interpretations. It could reflect a Godly concern for people with physical infirmities. It could be a metaphor for the people of Israel who will experience joyous freedom. It could be a metaphor for the people of God generally. It could have an eschatological (end of time) character, portraying the beauty that we can expect with God in heaven. Most likely, it is all of these—and more.

The New Testament portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of this promise. When John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answers,“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:3-5; see also Luke 7:22). That passage follows a host of healing stories:

• Of a leper (Matthew 8:1-4)
• Of a centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
• Of many people at Peter’s house (Matthew 8:14-17)
• Of a Gadarene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34)
• Of a paralytic (Matthew 9:2-8)
• Of a little girl and a woman (Matthew 9:18-26)
• Of two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31)
• And of one who was mute (Matthew 9:32-34)

“then the lame man will leap like a deer” (v. 6a). This will be fulfilled literally when the Apostle Peter heals a man lame from birth. Luke reports that the man jumped up and began to walk—”walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8).

ISAIAH 35:6b-7. FOR WATERS WILL BREAK OUT IN THE WILDERNESS

6b For waters will break out in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.
7The burning sand will become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.
Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay.

The preceding verses portrayed salvation with various metaphors—as a blossoming desert (vv. 1-2)—as God coming to save the people (vv. 3-4)—and as infirmities lifted (vv. 5-6a). Now the prophet/poet returns to the wilderness metaphor.

While not devoid of life, deserts present a challenging environment for most life forms. Lack of water makes it impossible to raise traditional crops. Finding water for grazing animals is a challenge. Many people die trying to cross deserts because they run out of water. While it is possible to get some moisture from cacti and to eat some desert animals (rattlesnakes, for instance)—the desert does not easily support human life.

But modern irrigation has proven that it is possible to farm the desert. Water is all that is needed, but providing water to the desert is, for the most part, an elusive dream. But the prophet pictures a desert where waters gush forth and streams flow—where the rocky haunts of jackals become a swamp and grasses (suited to dry land) become reeds and rushes (suited to marshy land).

In the previous chapter, one mark of the curse was that “It shall be the haunt of jackals” (34:13). Now that curse is reversed as the habitat of jackals is transformed into a swamp.

ISAIAH 35:8-10. A HIGHWAY WILL BE THERE

8A highway will be there, a road,
and it will be called The Holy Way.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
but it will be for those who walk in the Way.
Wicked fools will not go there.
9No lion will be there,
nor will any ravenous animal go up on it.
They will not be found there;
but the redeemed will walk there.
10The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return,
and come with singing to Zion;
and everlasting joy will be on their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
“A highway will be there, a road, and it will be called The Holy Way” (v. 8a). In the last chapter, the prophet, describing the land of the curse, said, “No one will pass through it forever and ever” (34:10). But in this chapter, describing the land of blessing, the prophet says, “A highway will be there.”

“The unclean shall not pass over it, but it will be for those who walk in the Way” (v. 8b). God gave the Israelites a number of ceremonial laws codified in the Torah to determine whether a person is clean (ceremonially fit for worship) or unclean (unfit for worship). This has to do with spiritual rather than physical cleanliness. It has to do with ceasing to do evil (Isaiah 1:16)—and ceasing to worship idols (Ezekiel 36:25)—and not defiling the tabernacle or temple (Leviticus 15:31).

Israelites could be rendered unclean by eating animals proscribed by the law (Leviticus 11)—by giving birth (Leviticus 12:2ff.)—by contracting leprosy (Leviticus 13)—or by coming into contact with certain bodily discharges or dead bodies (Leviticus 11:39; 15:18). But the Torah also prescribes remedies for various unclean states so that unclean people might become clean. The purpose of these laws is to establish Israelites as a holy people—separate from other people—set apart to be God’s people (Leviticus 20:26).

The highway promised by the prophet will be reserved for God’s people—people who maintain themselves as separate from other people—people who keep the law—people who keep themselves ceremonially clean and free from evil.

This is cause for rejoicing, because God’s people will not have to worry about thieves and muggers and others who might pose a threat. They will not have to post a guard to warn of enemies. They will not have to circle their wagons into a defensive configuration at night. The only people that they will encounter on this road are God’s people.

“Wicked fools will not go there” (v. 8c). Blowing sand can quickly obscure a desert pathway so that only a highly skilled guide can find the way. Those who lose their way are likely to wander aimlessly and die. But this is no obscure pathway. It is a well-marked, smooth highway. No skilled guide is required. The way is so sure that even a fool can proceed without danger.

But fools (those opposed to God’s will) will not go there. Their perversity will cause them to regard a Godly pathway as unattractive. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis notes: “We are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” Therefore, only the redeemed of God will travel that road.

“No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous animal go up on it. They will not be found there” (v. 9a). In the previous chapter, the cursed land was populated with jackals, ostriches, wildcats, goat-demons, and buzzards (34:13-15). But the blessed land of this chapter will be free of all dangerous animals.

“but the redeemed will walk there” (v. 9b). Redemption has to do with being freed from bondage by the payment of a price. However, “when God is said to be the redeemer, as in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 41:14; 47:4), the emphasis is placed upon his mighty act of deliverance that will be like the Exodus” (Myers, 876).

The redeemed shall not only walk on this highway, but they shall also walk boldly, having nothing to fear.

“The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, and come with singing to Zion;

and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v. 10). The wording is the same at verse 51:11, but it was probably original here.

“The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return” (v. 10a). Ransom is the price paid to redeem (to set free) a slave or prisoner of war. In other words, redemption is the process of freeing a captive and ransom is the price paid to achieve redemption.

The Torah requires families to redeem (pay ransom for) the property of family members who have been forced to sell their property (Leviticus 25:25-34)—and to support family members in need without enslaving them (Leviticus 25:35-46)—and to redeem family members who have been forced to sell themselves in to slavery (Leviticus 25:47-55).

But here it is the Lord who redeems (pays the ransom for) the people of Israel. It is the Lord who insures that they will return.

This idea of the Lord redeeming his people continues into the New Testament (Mark 10:45; Luke 1:68; 21:28) with a strong emphasis on the redemptive work of Christ (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:30).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bartelt, Andrew H., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)

Goldingay, John, New International Biblical Commentary: Isaiah (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)

Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)

Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)

Scott, R.B.Y. (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 1-39); Kilpatrick, G.G.D., (Exposition of Isaiah 1-39); Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)

Seitz, Christopher R., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)

Smith, Gary V., The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, Vol. 15a (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2007)

Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)

Tucker, Gene M., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)

Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 34-66 (Nelson Reference and Electronic, 2005)

Young, Edward J., The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 19-39, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969)

www.lectionary.org

https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/isaiah-351-10-commentary

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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, August 20, 2016 — “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

August 19, 2016

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 424

 

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Jesus and the doctors of the Faith, a painting by a follower of Giuseppe Ribera.

Reading 1 EZ 43:1-7AB

The angel led me to the gate which faces the east,
and there I saw the glory of the God of Israel
coming from the east.
I heard a sound like the roaring of many waters,
and the earth shone with his glory.
The vision was like that which I had seen
when he came to destroy the city,
and like that which I had seen by the river Chebar.
I fell prone as the glory of the LORD entered the temple
by way of the gate which faces the east,
but spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court.
And I saw that the temple was filled with the glory of the LORD.
Then I heard someone speaking to me from the temple,
while the man stood beside me.
The voice said to me:
Son of man, this is where my throne shall be,
this is where I will set the soles of my feet;
here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (see 10b) The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

Alleluia MT 23:9B, 10B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You have but one Father in heaven;
you have but one master, the Christ.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

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“They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders.”
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From Living Space: Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

It looks like an attack on the Pharisees but we should really see it directed towards members of the Christian community, especially its leaders. Jesus levels two criticisms against the Pharisees:

– they don’t practise what they preach, and

– they do what they do to attract the admiration of others.

In fact, the words of Jesus are warning to all people in authority. Jesus was attacking the Pharisees but his words can be applied to many positions in our own society. Executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, bishops, priests, civil servants, parents can all be included here.

In so far as they have genuine authority, they should be listened to – the doctor about things medical, the lawyer about things legal, the priest about things spiritual, the parent about family matters…

The Pharisees tried to impress by wearing wider phylacteries and longer tassels. The phylacteries were small boxes containing verses of scripture which were worn on the left forearm and the forehead. The tassels, worn on the corners of one’s garment, were prescribed by Mosaic law as a reminder to keep the commandments. By making each of these items larger one drew attention to one’s superior piety and observance. It is not difficult to see parallels in our time.

Unfortunately, it would be wrong to follow the behaviour of such people especially when they become arrogant and domineering, when they use their authority to draw attention to themselves, to assert their supposedly superior status. When they impose burdens on those ‘below’ them which they themselves do nothing to alleviate. One is reminded of Miss Brodie in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie telling her students who questioned something she had done: “Girls, don’t do as I do; do as I say.”

Authority is not for power but for empowering and enabling. Real authority is a form of service, not a way of control or domination or a claim to special privileges. So Jesus has no time for people who insist on being addressed by their formal titles. Matthew’s attack on the Pharisees again points to similar weaknesses on the part of church leaders in his time. It is something that again we are all too familiar with in our own time.

“Hi, Jack!” “Mr Smith to you, if you don’t mind.”

“Hi, Father Jack!” “Monsignor Jones to you.”

As Jesus says, ultimately we are all brothers and sisters. And elsewhere he tells us that the greatest among us is the one who best serves the needs of those around him rather than the one who has the most impressive titles, or the biggest desk, or eats in the executive dining room, or has his/her picture on the cover of Time or Hello.

Unfortunately, we contribute a lot to this nonsense because some of us dream of being there ourselves some day.

“Anyone who lifts himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be lifted up.” The perfect model is Jesus himself, who “though in the form of God emptied himself… walked the path of obedience all the way to death… For this reason God raised him to the highest place” (Phil 2:7-9).

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Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12 From Living Space

We begin today chapter 23 of Matthew which consists of a severe indictment of the Pharisees and Scribes by Jesus. This is not to be taken as a blanket condemnation of every individual Pharisee and Scribe, because we know that many of them were good people. One outstanding example is Gamaliel who appears in the Acts of the Apostles as a man of justice and integrity. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night and was involved in Jesus’ burial, was also a Pharisee.

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Jesus and Nicodemus by Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645

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The passage certainly reflects some of the conflicts which arose between the early Christians (especially those who were Jews themselves) and those Jews who were opposed to the Christian Way, who saw it as a heresy and who often subjected the Christians to verbal and even physical attacks and harassment.

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What Jesus is attacking is not so much a particular people as certain attitudes of mind. And these attitudes can be found just as easily within the Christian community of that time and every period since then. We should listen to Jesus’ words, then, directed not so much to abstract “Pharisees and Scribes” but to ourselves. It is for our benefit and reflection that they have been included in the Gospel. The Gospel is written for us and to us; it is not a historical diatribe against certain people in the past.

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Jesus first of all emphasises that as people in authority and experts on the subject, the Scribes and Pharisees should be listened to with respect and they should be obeyed when they teach. But Jesus says that in their behaviour their example should not be followed. “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.”

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They have no hesitation in drawing up rules which are difficult for people to carry out but they do absolutely nothing to help in their implementation. The Church has not always been without guilt in this kind of thing, even in our own day. Nor have civil legislators or other people in authority, including parents of families or teachers in schools, been without fault.

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This is the double standard, where people set the rules which they themselves do not keep: “Do as I say, not as I do” or “You will do it because I tell you to do it.”

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Secondly, the Pharisees are attacked because everything they do is to attract attention to themselves. But it is all on the outside. What we call today ‘image’. Their phylacteries were bigger than others’ and their tassels huge. The phylactery was a small box containing some of the central words of the Law. It was worn on the arm or the forehead, a literal interpretation of the exhortation in Exodus (13:9), “[the Law] shall be as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead”. There were four tassels, sewn at each corner of one’s cloak.
The message is clear: “We are better, we are holier.” But it is a sham because it is all on the outside. But when it comes to ‘image’ our contemporary world has nothing to learn from the past.

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They also expect special attention to be given to them: the first row in the synagogue, places of honour at banquets, special honorific titles. Sad to say, we have seen this not infrequently among church clerics in our own lifetime. We see it daily among our politicians, business leaders, our media personalities. They are not only given these things; they soon expect them as a right. It is the VIP syndrome and often it is pathetic: the private jet, the executive lounge in the airport, the special table in the restaurant, the limousine from the hotel…

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Even ordinary people become slaves of the image: the brand label on the clothes they wear, the places where they live, the cars they drive, and all the other consumer baubles with which they surround themselves. None of these things, says Jesus, makes a person great.

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The greatest is the one who serves, that is, the person who uses his or her gifts for the benefit of others, whose whole life is dedicated to making this world a better place for others to live in. A person to whom such trappings are totally irrelevant.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2207g/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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20 AUGUST 2016, Saturday, 20th Week of Ordinary Time
BE GOD’S INSTRUMENTS IN MAKING THE EARTH THE SANCTUARY OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  EZ 43:1-7; PS: 84: 9-14; MT 23:1-12 ]Ezekiel was a prophet before and during exile.  He saw the disastrous destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.  But he was asked to give hope to the Israelites in exile.  He prophesied the return to Jerusalem and the restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem.  He had a vision of the Temple of Jerusalem filled with the glory of God where God lived.

However, the restored temple could not be compared to Solomon’s glorious temple.  This brought them great sadness.  Hence, the prophet spoke of a greater temple which is in the hearts of man.  God wants to dwell in our land.  That is the prayer of the responsorial psalm, “The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.”  The message is that God lives in all. He will give us a new heart and pour His Spirit in us.  But before God can live in us, we need to repent, like the Israelites in exile.  God can only live in hearts that are ready to accept Him.  Only when God is worshipped can God also dwell in our land.

Today, the Church as the Body of Christ is the New Temple of God.  And as individuals, because His Spirit lives in us, we are also the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is from this perspective that we are called to be the sign and sacrament of God’s presence in the world, a world that is becoming fragmented and divisive, godless and valueless, because of secularism. In such a secularized climate, all the more, priests and Church leaders, lay or religious, are called to communicate the presence of God to the world.

However, if the Church lacks power in the work of evangelization today, it is because many of us priests, religious and lay leaders are lacking in holiness and apostolic zeal.  Indeed, Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of His day could well apply to us all in different ways.  Like them, consciously or unconsciously, we are not living examples of holiness.  We might be doing “church work”, but more as an activity or a duty, rather than consciously doing it for the love and glory of God.  Quite often, instead of glorifying God together, we scandalize the world with our inner division and power play to control and dominate.

We live lives of contradiction because what we say is not what we do.  We teach forgiveness but we do not want to forgive.  We talk about unity and communion, but we cannot live in communion with each other.  We speak of humility but we want honour, recognition and acknowledgement.  We speak of vulnerability, but we are easily hurt by the remarks of others. We talk about service, but we are concerned with controlling others and being served.

Indeed, the words of Jesus to His disciples could well apply to us. “You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them?  Not they!”  Isn’t this reprimand of Jesus applicable to all of us, regardless whether we are priests or lay?  We all are leaders in our own fields.  We are hard on those under our care who fail in their duties.  We give them the dos and don’ts.  Yet we do just the opposite ourselves. We cannot live up to what we tell others.  How sad indeed when we are reduced to this state, for words without actions lack power!  Yes, Pope Paul VI reminds us that what the world needs is not teachers but witnesses!  If our teaching has not changed lives, it is because we lack credibility.  In a word, the glory of God is not radiating from our very beings.

For this reason, we all need a renewal in holiness of life.  This is what the Pope St John Paul II in his apostolic letter Millennio Ineunute, asks of us all.  He wrote that if we are to be ready for the work of evangelization, then the starting point is to train ourselves in holiness. Holiness is intrinsic to the ministry and presupposes the ministry. Without holiness, all that we say will sound hollow and hypocritical.  Unless others see that what we say is working and transforming our lives, why should they even bother to try?

If we are lacking in holiness, perhaps the root cause can be traced to formation.  We are not taking our formation in spiritual life seriously.  How many of us, after completing RCIA, are making time for spiritual formation by attending talks or enrolling in courses?  Can one grow in spiritual life without ongoing formation or spending time to do a personal retreat?  Worse still, many of us do not even make time for prayer and meditation on the Word of God.  Yet we are serving the Church in different ministries, often holding important and critical positions.  How can our clerical and lay leaders be discerning and be exemplary in Christian life if they are not filled with the glory of God?

Today, we are called to turn to Christ who is our true teacher and master.  We are not the teacher but only the servant of Christ.  We cannot call ourselves “Father” unless we show the face of our Heavenly Father in our lives.  All that we do must lead people to Jesus, and through Him, to the Heavenly Father.  Without enrolling in the school of our Lord, learning from Him our sole Teacher, we cannot be teachers to others, whether at Church, in the offices or to our children.

We are called to look towards Him as our exemplar in humility in service.  Jesus said, “The greatest among you must be your servant.  Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is the only acceptable reason for leadership.  We seek to be humble servants for Christ and His people by being servants of the Gospel both in word and deed, as the Prophet Ezekiel was in his prophetic words and actions.  Thus, it is necessarily to be purified of our motives.  Let us ask for the gift of humility today so that, aware of our own inadequacies, we will come to the Lord for inspiration and guidance.  We must turn to Christ our teacher and master in prayer, asking for that grace to grow in holiness, zeal and most of all, in humility and charity.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Vision of St Bernard.(detail). Murillo.Museo del Prado.Madrid
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St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was born in Burgundy, France in the year 1090 atFontaines-les-Dijon – the castle of theFontaines. He was sent to the best of schools, had a great taste for literature and loved poetry. Entering college at an early age, he studied theology and Holy Scripture. After the death of his mother, he resolved to become a monk. He could have joined one of the rich and powerful monasteries of Benedictine monks, where the wealth and influence of his family would have assured him a distinguished career. Instead, he chose to enter the very strict Cistercian Order. In 1113, at the age of twenty-three, he entered the Cistercian monastery atCiteaux along with thirty young noblemen – a group that included brothers, uncles and friends.His superiors soon noticed that Bernard had made great progress in his spiritual life; thus, in 1115, he and twelve other monks were sent to found a new monastery in what was then known as the Valley of Wormwood; within time it became even better known as the Valley of Light, or Clairvaux. His aged father came also, giving up his wealth and honor for the poverty of a monk in the monastery of Clairvaux. His married sister loved wealth. She visited Bernard, and the words he spoke moved her so deeply that two years later she retired to a convent with her husband’s consent.

It was at Clairvaux where Bernard was appointed Abbot. As the Abbot of Clairvaux, Bernard did not lead a life of quiet contemplation – well read, literate, and having a bit of a short temper, he was nothing if not outspoken in his opinions and views. He was a powerful preacher and is reported to have performed miracles, especially in healing the sick. His reputation attracted great crowds of pilgrims to Clairvaux which soon became the most important of the Cistercian monasteries.

This saintly man was gradually drawn into world affairs as church leaders came to seek his advice. Even the pope’s legates sought his counsel. A prolific writer, Bernard led much of the discussion and dialog on reforms and restructuring of the church as it passed through its first millennium. Most of St. Bernard’s written records and correspondence have been lost over time, but what has survived has given historians a rich picture of everyday life in the European High Middle Ages. Ultimately he was recognized as the most influential spiritual leader of his time and was largely responsible for the rapid expansion of the Cistercian order. By 1153, the year Bernard died, there were more than 300 Cistercian monasteries, sixty-eight of which were founded directly from the monastery at Clairvaux.
Bernard was able to accomplish many things; one of his greatest achievements took place after the death of Pope Honorius II in 1130. A disputed election of the new pope caused a schism in the Church. Both Innocent II and Anacletus II were claimed to be the new pope. Catholics took sides and neither side would give in. Bernard traveled from one country to another to talk to church leaders in an effort to end the rift. After eight years of preaching and negotiating, the schism was finally ended. That was thought to be Bernard’s crowning triumph.

Bernard also had his disappointments. When Pope Eugene III asked him to preach the second Crusade, he aroused great enthusiasm and hosts of men were inspired to join, but the expedition was a failure. That dealt Bernard a crushing blow.

By this time, Bernard’s body was getting weary of travel, but his mind was still sharp, so he turned to his writing. His works fall into four categories: 1) letters, 2) treatises, 3) sermons, and 4) hymns. Yes, this gifted man also had a talent for music. Many of his hymns survive today and are used in both Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Bernard died in his monastery at Clairvaux in 1153, at the age of 63. His case for sainthood was organized early on – it was in 1121 when Bernard performed his first miracle, restoring speech to a mute and allowing him to make his first confession. By making the Sign of the Cross, he was credited with curing many people over his lifetime. He was canonized a saint by Pope Alexander III in 1174 and named a doctor of the church by Pope Pius VII in 1830. His feast day is August 20. By his life, St. Bernard showed how deeply he cared about God and God’s people.

Samples of his writing:

Love

“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself, it is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in the practice. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves all he desires is to be loved in return. The sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.”

St. Bernard was devoted to Our Blessed Mother: The Memorare

“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee O Virgin of virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen”

Prayer

“Nevertheless, each time that I speak about prayer, I seem to hear some very human thoughts come from your heart that I have often heard from others, having experienced them myself at times in my own heart. In fact, how can we explain this: we never stop praying yet it seems that we practically never know, through experience, what the fruit of that prayer is? As much as we pray and continue to pray, no one gives us anything, it seems as if we have toiled in vain.”

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Bernard

God, You blessed Your Church with St. Bernard, a man full of zeal for Your house, radiating brightness and ardent love. Through his intercession, grant that we may be animated by the same spirit and always walk as children of light.   Amen.

http://www.sbcwickford.org/history/bernard.html

Resource: Lives of the Saints
Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O. Cist., Ph.D.

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, July 19, 2016 — “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” — “Cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.”

July 18, 2016

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 396

Reading 1 MIC 7:14-15, 18-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea
all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. (8a) Lord, show us your mercy and love.
You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Restore us, O God our savior,
and abandon your displeasure against us.
Will you be ever angry with us,
prolonging your anger to all generations?
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.

AlleluiaJN 14:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him
and we will come to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 12:46-50

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
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Commentary on Matthew 12:46-50 From Living Space

Just before we enter the third great discourse which are on the parables of the Kingdom, we have today’s short passage on who really belong to Jesus.

As Jesus was speaking to the crowds his mother and other family members arrived. “They were standing outside and were anxious to have a word with him.” Matthew does not say what that word was but we know from another context that they were embarrassed by what he was doing, probably because of the way he was earning the displeasure of the authorities. In later times, many who opted to follow Christ have been a source of embarrassment and displeasure to their families, especially in situations where being Christian or Catholic was a violation of state law or religious affiliation.

When Jesus is told they are looking for him he stretches out his hands to his followers and says that

they are his “mother and brothers”. And then he defines how one becomes one of his brothers and sisters: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

It is significant that Jesus’ own blood relatives are spoken of as being “outside”; Jesus’ disciples, those who really listen to him, are those who are “inside”. This is not to say that Jesus is rejecting his family; to do so would be to contradict his own teaching of loving all unconditionally. But he uses the situation to make a very important point: namely, that relationship to Jesus is based on one thing only, total commitment through Jesus to the Father.

To be a Christian, a disciple, is to enter into this new relationship with God and with others. All other bonds, including those of blood, take a second place or are to be understood in the light of this bonding to God first of all and above all.

It would be wrong to conclude that Jesus was rejecting his own mother here. Yet what he says applies to her as much as to anyone else. Mary is measured by her commitment to the Father and the Son, who is also her Son. That commitment was clearly made when she accepted to be the mother of Jesus, “Let it happen to me according to your word.” It was a commitment that was still being kept as she stood in grief at the foot of her Son’s cross. Mary was certainly on the “inside”.

Let us ask her today that we, too, may always be ‘insiders’.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2163g/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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19 JULY 2016, Tuesday, 16th Week of Ordinary Time
A NEW BEGINNING WITH A NEW FAMILY THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ MIC 7:14-15. 18-20; PS 84:2-8; MT 12:46-50  ]

In life, we always hope for a new beginning.  We have made our fair share of mistakes in life.  We do not want to continue to live the wretched life that we have got ourselves into.  Like the Israelites in exile, we want to return to those good old days when our lives were much better.  This was what they said, “As in the days when you came out of Egypt grant us to see wonders.”  Many of us live in nostalgia.  We wish we could go back to those days when we were carefree, playful and life was much easier.  But now, with failed relationships, failed businesses or trying times in our job, we are discouraged.

Today, we find encouragement from the scriptures because our God is a faithful Lord.  He is true to His Covenant.  This was the experience of the Israelites when they prayed, “Grant Jacob your faithfulness, and Abraham your mercy, as you swore to our fathers from the days of long ago.”   They trusted in the Lord’s faithfulness.  The Lord does not hold our sins against us.  But He is ever ready to forgive us our past as long as we are ready to turn to a new life.  He is full of mercy and compassion for all our failings.  Indeed, as the prophet remarked, “What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger forever but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults, and to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.”

But this hope for renewal should not just be a return to past glory.  God wants to give us a new and glorious beginning.   Restoration is not going back to where we were, regardless how great and glorious it might be.  Rather than simply speaking about restoration, the scriptures speak of a New Heaven and a New Earth.  We must move forward, not backward.  We must think big and have a vision beyond what we have experienced.  Unless we dare to dream big, no great things can be accomplished.  We are as big and happy as our dreams.

So what is this newness that the scriptures speak about if not the New Family of God?   Jesus precisely has come to start the New Family of God.  Unlike in the Old Testament, the family of God was based on race. The Israelites and the Jews considered themselves as the Chosen People of God.  They felt that they were the Privileged Ones of God and therefore entitled to all the rights of the People of God.  But membership was determined by race, not by faith.  This was the real problem of the Israelites.  As a consequence, they abused their privileged position as God’s chosen people. They claimed membership without living out the Covenant in their own lives.

So what is the new family of God based on?  It is not founded on race but on discipleship.  This is the intent of Jesus when His mother and His brothers came to see Him, most likely, to bring Him home because of what they heard.  They thought He was out of His mind.  But the response of Jesus was swift.  He said, “’Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?’  And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.  Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”  Clearly, for Jesus, He wanted to go beyond biological kinship, whether of family or of race to spiritual kinship.   Who are those who are members of His family?  Not those outside the circle of disciples but those within the circle of disciples.  Anyone who is a disciple of the Lord is His brother, sister and mother.  So what is more important than merely being a member of the chosen race?  It is following Jesus and living the life of discipleship and doing the will of God.  A true disciple of our Lord is one who imitates Jesus in doing the will of His Father, obeying His commandments and carrying out His word. Hence, the new membership is based on baptism and being a member of the body of Christ.

This new family of God became a reality at the death of the Lord on the cross.  In the gospel of St John, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, at the Wedding in Cana told the servants to “do whatever He tells you.”  She instructed the servants how to be disciples of the Lord by obeying the word of the Lord and submitting to His authority.  So the servants did what the Lord asked of them to fill the six jars with water meant for ablutions.  But it was only at His death, when the Hour of His glorification had arrived, that the Lord realized the promise of the spiritual motherhood of Mary anticipated at Cana in Galilee.  There He gave Mary, the woman, to be the Mother of the beloved disciple who represented the Church.  By giving Mary to the Church, she truly became the mother of all disciples represented by the beloved disciple.  Thus, in truth, Jesus became our brother because Mary has become our mother.  From that hour, she exercised her spiritual motherhood for the Church.

Thus, the declaration of Jesus became a reality when He said, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  Who did the will of God if not Mary at the Annunciation, at the Wedding at Cana and at the foot of the cross? The whole life of Mary was dedicated to the will of God.  So much so, when someone praised the biological motherhood of Mary, Jesus immediately corrected the praise by directing it to the spiritual motherhood of Mary.  “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’”  (Lk 11:27f)  Obedience to the Word of God is paramount in determining true discipleship. (Jn 15:4)  We are known as disciples of the Lord only if we do His will.

Indeed, as Christians we must be more and more united with Christ so that we become more and more brothers and sisters with each other.  To the extent that we are in union with Christ, to that extent we are in union with the Body of Christ.  Only those who are united in Christ will share His common love for the Father and His people.  We are gathered together by faith in Christ, not by sociological concerns.  It is our common love for Christ that unites us together.  If we find the Christian community divided, then clearly the members do not love Christ but themselves.  We will not want to divide Christ or hurt Him to see His family divided.  In the same way, parents like to see their children united and not at odds with each other.  The greatest joy we can give to our parents is to let them know that their children not only care for them but that they care for each other and look after each other as a family.  We cannot say we love Christ if we do not care for our brothers and sisters.

Secondly, we need to strengthen our bonds together by forging more common experiences, especially religious and social experiences.  It is only when we share a common faith experience, a religious encounter through some spiritual programs, for example, LISS or RCIA, etc that we are able to identify with each other.  Without common religious experiences, we will end up divided because of theological conflicts and differences.  Whether we admit it or not, it is not ideology that unites us but common experiences in life.  What gels a couple is not when they share thoughts and ideas but when they share their common experiences in life, their joys, sorrows and struggles.  The reason why the Church is divided is because we do not have common experiences.  We are the product of our experiences.  So, depending on where we come from, we share a common identity and bonding.  This explains the different religious traditions within a particular religion and among religions.  Even with Catholicism, there are various kinds of spiritualities, but regardless of our affinity, we all share a common faith and love for Christ and His Church, including devotion to our Blessed Mother.  What matters in the final analysis is that, like Mary, we do the will of God.

So let us, as Catholics, see ourselves as the New Family of God and the Body of Christ.  We must renew our love for the Church and our union with each other.  We need to be on guard against parochialism when we divide the Church through protectionism, competition, jealousy, comparison and self-promotion.  There is only one Family of God, the family of our Lord, all doing His will and united in living out our lives as disciples of Christ in faith, love and hope.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Here’s my favorite prayer to get each day started right:
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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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Notice how similar this prayer is to the prayer of Jesus himself at Gethsemane:
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“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39)
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Many spiritual directors spend years working to help people become more adept and seeking and doing God’s will.
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And why do we do this. What’s the pay-off?
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The answer is simple: we get peace. We find serenity.
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Hundreds of times we see in the scriptures the words “Do not be afraid.”
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Our spiritual dimension and relationship with the Lord allows us to find and hold peace when others cannot.
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Many religious leaders from all over the world have suggested methodologies to increasing our closeness to our Higher Power. St. Ignatius Loyola recommends the “Spiritual Exercises” — which are still used by many today. Alcoholics Anonymous uses “The Twelve Steps” to nourish those seeking more spiritual power in life. The A.A. Step Twelve is the capstone of many hours of worK — “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
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The goal is a spiritual awakening. The proof is in one’s ability to have a better life. For me, that better life is filled with gratitude, service to others and an overwhelming sense of peace and joy.
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Related:
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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, July 2, 2016 — Are we living a life of true Discipleship?

July 1, 2016

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 382

Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles –By James Tissot

Reading 1 AM 9:11-15

Thus says the LORD:
On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
That they may conquer what is left of Edom
and all the nations that shall bear my name,
say I, the LORD, who will do this.
Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel;
they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities,
Plant vineyards and drink the wine,
set out gardens and eat the fruits.
I will plant them upon their own ground;
never again shall they be plucked
From the land I have given them,
say I, the LORD, your God.

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (see 9b) The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.

Alleluia JN 10:27

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

Gospel MT 9:14-17

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.
No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth,
for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse.
People do not put new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined.
Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

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The Good Samaritan By Walter Rane

“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you”

Jesus urges us to discover the wisdom and the principles underlying the laws … and He asks us to live by these principles in all our affairs.

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Related:
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Anyone who wants to work harder on true discipleship might go to Amazon where there at dozens of great books on discipleship….
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Commentary on Matthew 9:14-17 From Living Space

Today’s reading follows on yesterday’s challenge of Jesus by some Pharisees. On that occasion they asked why Jesus was eating with sinners and outcasts. Now they go one step further and ask why he is eating at all. They put forward the example of John the Baptist and his disciples who used to fast regularly. Jews were only required to fast one day in the year, on the feast of Atonement. However, like the Pharisees, it seems that John’s disciples used to observe fasts which were not prescribed by the Law in the hope that their extra devotion would bring about an early coming of the Kingdom.

Jesus answers their question in two ways:

First, people do not fast when they are in the company of the bridegroom. That is a time for celebration. By implication, of course, Jesus is the groom. As long as he is around, it would be inappropriate for his disciples to fast. However, he says a time will come when the groom is no longer with them and then there will be reasons to fast.

His second answer is more profound and takes the form of two examples. It does not make sense to repair an old piece of clothing with a patch of new cloth. The new cloth, being much tougher, will under stress only cause the older cloth to tear. In the second example, he says that it is not wise to put new wine into old wineskins. Wine was kept in containers made of leather. Because new wine was still fermenting and expanding it needed to be put in new leather bags which were resilient and could expand with the wine. The old bags would be already stretched and new wine would only cause them to burst. Then both the wine would be lost and the bags ruined.

What did Jesus mean by these images? He was giving a clear message to his critics. Jesus’ ideas were like new wine or new cloth. They could not be fitted into old containers. People like the Pharisees were trying to fit Jesus’ teaching and his ideas into their ways of thinking. It would not work.

Clearly, the old garment and the old wineskins represented Judaism in so far as it contained elements which were being replaced. The new cloth and the new wine are the spirit of Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus. The ex gratia devotions of the Pharisees and John’s disciples were like patches on old cloth or new wine in old wineskins, trying to put life into something that was giving way to a totally new order. The new wine that Jesus brought involved what we would call now a paradigm shift, a radically new understanding of how God was to be loved and served.

So John’s disciples wanted to know, for example, why Jesus was not fasting. Because, in their book, a Jew fasted and a pious Jew fasted more often. But Jesus did not measure religion by external actions like fasting or keeping other requirements of the law (such as washing hands before eating, etc). For him religion was a matter of the inner spirit as we saw in his deeper interpretations of the Law during the Sermon on the Mount.

Over the centuries the Church has moved its position in many areas as it reaches a deeper understanding of the faith and how it is to be lived in a changing world. Such a movement took place with the Second Vatican Council. It involved much more than external changes (like having the Mass in the vernacular instead of Latin). It involved a whole new way of seeing our faith and our place as Christians in the world.

There are still, however, people who try to live in the post-Vatican II Church with a pre-Vatican II mentality. It is like trying to squeeze new wine in old wineskins. It is a source of much friction and misunderstandings in many Christian communities. We all have an obligation both to enter fully into the mind of Christ as presented in the New Testament and into the mind of the Church in this post-Vatican II era.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2137g/

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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My spiritual journey started with these words spinning though my head:
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“We have everything we need.”
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“Cherish what you have.”
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“Often the outside looks good but the inside is a train wreck.”
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“You’ll have to give God permission to change everything about you.”
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“Your life does not belong to you.”
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Jesus is the physician. The “Cook Book of Life” is in the Word of God. Doing God’s will brings the greatest satisfaction in life.
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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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Jesus teaches us to “pour yourself out in service to others.” But this pre-supposes we have allowed His to create within us  the new wine skins capable and ready to pour out Christ’s message and His love.
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

• Matthew 9, 14: The question of the disciples of John concerning the practice of fasting. Fasting is quite an ancient use, practiced by almost all religions.  Jesus himself practiced it during forty days (Mt 4, 2). But he does not insist with the disciples so that they do the same thing. He leaves them free. Because of this, the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees, who were obliged to fast, want to know why Jesus does not insist on fasting “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?”

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• Matthew 9, 15: The answer of Jesus.  

Jesus answers with a comparison in the form of a question: “Surely the bridegroom’s attendants cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is still with them?”  Jesus associates fasting to mourning, and he considers himself the bridegroom.  When the bridegroom is with his friends, that is, during the wedding feast, they have no need to fast.  When Jesus is with them, with his disciples, it is a feast, the wedding feast. Therefore, they should not fast. But one day the bridegroom will go away.  It will be a day of mourning. Then, if they want they can fast. Jesus refers to his death. He knows and feels that if he continues on this way of liberty, the authority will want to kill him.

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• Matthew 9, 16-17: New wine in new skins! In these two verses, the Gospel of Matthew gives two separate phrases of Jesus on the patch of new cloth on an old cloak and of the new wine in new skins. These words throw light on the discussions and the conflicts of Jesus with religious authority of the time.  A patch of new cloth is not put on an old cloak; because when washing it, the new piece of cloth shrinks and pulls on the old cloak and tears it and the tear becomes bigger.

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Nobody puts new wine in old skins, because when the new wine ferments, it tears the old skins. New wine in new skins! The religion defended by the religious authority was like a piece of old cloth, like an old skin. Both the disciples of John and the Pharisees, tried to renew the religion.  In reality, they hardly put some patches and because of this, they ran the risk of compromising and harming both the novelty as well as the old uses.

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It is not necessary to want to change the novelty which Jesus brings to us for the old uses. Either one or the other! The new wine which Jesus brings to us tears the old skins.  It is necessary to know how to separate things. Most probably, Matthew presents these words of Jesus to orientate the communities of the years 80’s. There was a group of Jew-Christians who wanted to reduce the novelty of Jesus to the Judaism of the time before the coming of Jesus.  Jesus is not against what is “old”.  He does not want that what is old be imposed on that which is new and, that it prevents it from manifesting itself.  Vatican II cannot be reread with the mentality before the Council, like some try to do today.

Personal questions

• Which are the conflicts around the religious practices which today make many persons suffer and are a reason for heated discussions and polemics? Which is the image of God which is behind all these preconceptions, these norms and these prohibitions?
• How is this phrase of Jesus to be understood: “Nobody puts a piece of new cloth on an old cloak?   Which is the message which we can draw from all this for your community today?

Concluding Prayer

I am listening. What is God’s message?
Yahweh’s message is peace for his people,
for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly. (Ps 85,8)

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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02 JULY 2016, Saturday, 13th Week in Ordinary Time
THE COURAGE TO CHANGE OUR HEARTS AND MINDS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ AMOS 9:11-15, MT 9:14-17 ]

In the gospel, the Kingdom of God is likened to a marriage.  God is the bridegroom and we are the bride. In the New Testament, Jesus is our bridegroom.  Marriage is an apt symbol of what heaven is all about because it is about intimacy, love and relationship. There is nothing more fulfilling and necessary in life than love and intimacy.  Indeed, Jesus is offering us an intimate relationship with His Father, just as He shares this intimacy with His Father.  The whole purpose of Jesus’ coming was to restore the broken relationship between God and man and among men.  He came to reconcile us with the Father and with one another.  For this reason, Jesus told the disciples of John, “Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”  In other words, it is sin that leads to separation and death, biological or spiritual death that causes us to be estranged from God. When that happens, it will inevitably affect human relationships as well because without God’s love and peace in our hearts, we will act out our inner dissatisfaction when dealing with others.

How, then, can we overcome this barrier between God and us?  Jesus wants to fill us with the new wine of His Spirit.  Indeed, the desire of Jesus is to give us His Holy Spirit so that we will be filled with the joy and love of His Father.  The Holy Spirit is none other than the love of God that is poured into our hearts.  (cf Rom 5:5)  The Holy Spirit enables us put on the mind and heart of our Lord.  This explains why the Holy Spirit is very much associated with the gifts as well, especially the habitual graces of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and reverence for the Lord.  When God’s love dwells in us, we begin to look at life the way God sees it.  With the Holy Spirit, we will be filled with joy.  Hence, wine is always associated with celebration, rejoicing and joy.

But what are the conditions to receive the Holy Spirit?  We need to purify the receptacle otherwise the New Wine of the Holy Spirit will spill if we are still wearing the old wineskin.  New wine is still fermenting and it is therefore very strong.  It expands.  So if the strong wine is put into old goatskins that are hardened and no longer stretchable, it will surely burst the skin.  That is why Jesus said, “Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost. No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.”

This old wineskin refers to the hardness of a heart of sin and the stubborn and prideful mind. Many of us, having fallen into sin over the years, have become so hurt and wounded that we have become numb to our sins.  We continue sinning because our consciences have become desensitized over the years that we no longer feel any more, even when doing wrong.  It has become part of us.  When our hearts are hardened by sin, selfishness, self-centeredness, anger and hatred, we can no longer feel with others or be receptive to goodness and love.  Indeed, sinners hate to hear the truth spoken and do not like to be told that they are wrong.  If criticized, they are not only defensive but they can be hostile and vindictive.  They will retaliate and seek to destroy those who put obstacles in their path because they want to continue their sinful way of life.

At the same time, many are too proud to be receptive to the truth.  They think they know everything and unless one agrees with their opinions, he or she is wrong.  When man makes himself the absolute in judgment and the absolute reference point, then he has unwittingly established himself as god and ironically denying the principle of relativism held by them.

As a consequence, they become misfits in society.   Thus Jesus said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunken cloth on to an old cloak, because the patch pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse.”   The truth is that the old and the new cannot match.  We cannot continue to live a life of sin and yet seek to live in holiness.   When we try to match both together, the danger is that we destroy not just our own faith but the faith of others.  This is truly the potential danger of adulterating the faith.  Many of our Catholics are weak in their faith.  They do not know Jesus personally and they do not have a sound knowledge of Catholic doctrines and the Word of God.  They import all kinds of foreign elements from other sources, whether of ancient religions or some esoteric practices and seek to inject them into our Catholic faith.  As a consequence, the purity of faith is compromised.  What is worse is that they mislead other Catholics who are ignorant of the origin of such practices.  Unknowingly, they begin to think that such practices and values are in line with the gospel.

Jesus makes it clear that to choose Him is to break from the world of sin and selfishness.  It is to break away from all forms of idolatry and to worship the Lord our God alone.  The shema of the Israelites is still valid for us when Moses commanded, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  (Dt 6:4f)  Our obedience and allegiance is to the Lord Jesus alone and all that is revealed in the scriptures, the Word of God.  There cannot be any compromise unless such values are in line with the gospel.  We must be careful not to import any practices and values that are foreign to the gospel that we have received from the Lord and the Apostolic College.

Within this context, we can then appreciate why the Lord permitted the Israelites to go into exile. The Northern Kingdom was steeped in corruption and social injustice because of affluence and wealth.  They were cheating each other, especially the poor and the weak.  Their hearts were far from God and the Covenant was not observed.  So the Lord allowed the Assyrians to bring His people to task, to break them down not as a punishment but in order to raise them up. Unless we are ready to be broken down, to face the truth about ourselves, we cannot be raised or restored to fullness of life.  So long as we are proud of our achievements, arrogant of our knowledge and harbor a sense of self-sufficiency, as if we are in complete control of our lives, then we will act as if we are all powerful like God.  But like the Israelites, it is always when things have gone wrong and we are reduced to nothingness that we come to realize our place in this world.  No matter how rich, powerful and influential we are, a time will come when we will be stripped of all that we have.  No one can conquer sickness and death.

But if we are ready to let go of our fears, insecurity of change, our habitual ways of doing things, then the new wine of the Spirit will be given to us.  So long as we want to be in charge of our lives and do what we want without asking God for guidance, we will destroy ourselves.  But in the destruction, God will raise us up as He did with the Israelites.  The prophet Amos prophesied of the day to come when Israel would be restored.  “That day I will re-erect the tottering hut of David, make good the gaps in it, restore its ruins and rebuild it as it was in the days of old … when harvest will follow directly after ploughing, the treading of grapes soon after sowing, when the mountains will run with new wine and the hills all flow with it.  I mean to restore the fortunes of my people Israel; they will rebuild cities and live in them, plant vineyards and drink their produce. I will plant them in their own country, never to be rooted up again out of the land I have given them, says the Lord, your God.”

If we seek peace today, the psalmist invites us to hear the voice of the Lord.  “I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people and his friends and those who turn to him in their hearts.  The Lord speaks peace to his people.”  After hearing His Word, let us be ready and courageous to put the Word of God into practice, placing our entire trust in His Word so that we can live a life of joy, peace and love.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

 

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

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