Posts Tagged ‘Rejoice in hope endure in affliction and persevere in prayer’

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, August 15, 2016 — What is the reason for losing the joy of the Lord? What are the enemies of our joy? “Your life does not belong to you…”

August 14, 2016

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Mass during the Day
Lectionary: 622

The Visitation, By Antonio de Pereda y Salgado

“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer.”

 

Reading 1 REV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB

God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16

R. (10bc) The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear,
forget your people and your father’s house.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
So shall the king desire your beauty;
for he is your lord.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
They are borne in with gladness and joy;
they enter the palace of the king.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.

Reading 2 1 COR 15:20-27

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death,
for “he subjected everything under his feet.”

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Mary is taken up to heaven;
a chorus of angels exults.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the infant leaped in her womb.’

Gospel LK 1:39-56

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

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

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

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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14 AUGUST 2016, Sunday, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary*
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ASSUMPTION CELEBRATES THE GRACE OF CERTAIN VICTORY

SCRIPTURE READINGS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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A Word About The Sanctity of Human Life

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Catholics are taught that all life is sacred from conception until natural death, and the taking of innocent human life, whether born or unborn, is morally wrong. The Church teaches, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae, 5). This puts Catholics at odds with many people on issues of abortion and euthanasia.

Related:

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass_ring

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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What keeps us locked up and unable to learn? Lack of faith, too much pride, insisting upon self-sufficiency, not enough gratitude …. So if we have lost our joy, we need to come back to the Lord…

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Partial Homily:  Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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From 31 MAY 2016

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Indeed, when the Lord is with us, we are free from slavery and bondage, like the Israelites.  The Lord has given us new purpose, new hope and meaning.  So the Good News is proclaimed to the downtrodden, the lowly and the poor.  God has come to assure us that He is with us.  This explains the joy of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  So, too, in the resurrection appearances, the disciples were filled with joy when the Lord appeared to them.  To have Jesus so near to them, in their womb and in their midst gave them joy that was incomparable.  Indeed, whoever knows that the Lord is with him or her will no longer fear about tomorrow!   St Paul wrote, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8)   We too are filled with joy whenever we are at prayer and feeling His healing and assuring presence.

But for some of us, we have lost this joy.  What is the reason for losing the joy of the Lord?  What are the enemies of our joy?  In truth, unlike the Israelites, our real enemies are not external enemies. It has to do with ourselves.  

Our enemy, as the Magnificat tells us, firstly is the lack of faith. We lack faith in the Lord and therefore we live in fear and anxiety.  Mary was called to be the mother of the Saviour.  Of all peoples, we would expect Mary to be full of fear and anxiety at the prospect of her pregnancy; how she would have to explain to Joseph and her family, and her community.  But we read that upon receiving the message of the angel, she left everything into the hands of the Lord.  Instead of focusing on her needs and her future, she turned outwards and immediately went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who too was pregnant with John the Baptist, in her old age.  Indeed, the remark of Elizabeth captures the spirit of Mary when she said, “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Secondly, it is the enemy of pride.  Mary said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”  Only the humble and lowly, the anawim can receive the blessings of God.  Many of us rely on our own strength, on our wealth, power and talents.   That explains why the modern man and woman are so proud of their achievements.  They think that their success is all due to their hard work, ingenuity and intelligence.  Such people are arrogant and look down on others who are not as successful as them.  But the day they are struck down, with a marriage failure, an incurable illness, a tragedy or an accident, they will come to realize their nothingness and finiteness.

Thirdly, it is the enemy of self-sufficiency.  “The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”  Many of us cannot feel the presence of God in our lives because we do not need Him.  We think we can manage by ourselves.  This is what the humanist is saying to us.  We do not need God.  We can solve all problems by ourselves.  We have intelligence and with will, we can conquer the sky.  There is nothing we cannot do, no problem we cannot solve.  Such self-sufficient people cannot feel with others.  They lack the humility to know their limitations.  That is why God only comes to those who need Him and acknowledge that only He is sufficient.  When we are self-sufficient, we live in fear of losing what we have.  But if our sufficiency is in God, we live a life of freedom and detachment.  St Paul wrote, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:12f)

Fourthly, it is the enemy of ingratitude.  When we are proud and self-sufficient, we lack gratitude for what we have because we feel that we have earned them and hence there is no one to whom we need to be grateful to.  An ungrateful person is an unhappy person because he is not appreciative of what he has.  Mary was a woman who felt blessed, not because of her merits but by the grace of God.  And so with great joy, she could say, “Yes, from this day on all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.” Her greatness, she knows, comes from God and therefore she did not rejoice in herself and become proud, but instead she remained always humble before the Lord and His people, for she did not merit her position as the Mother of the Savior, or whatever she has been blessed with.  For her, everything is pure grace.

So if we have lost our joy, we need to come back to the Lord.  The Lord wants to be with us but we must welcome Him like Mary, Elizabeth and St John the Baptist.  He wants to fill us with His joy and peace.

We begin this process by recounting the wonderful things that the Lord has blessed us with.  Like Mary, we must recall the good things that the Lord has done for us.  As the psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name! Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!  Declare the greatness of his name. Sing a psalm to the Lord for he has done glorious deeds; make them known to all the earth!  People of Zion, sing and shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Giving thanks and praise for all that He has done for us like Mary is the way to recover that joy which we have lost.

Secondly, we must then pass that joy to others, the same way that Mary did.  St Paul invites us to live a life of charity like Mary in reaching out to others.  He said, “Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of Spirit.”  (Rom 12:8-11)  When we share the joy that we have received from the Lord, that joy multiplies and increases.  Mary in bringing the joy to Elizabeth and John the Baptist augmented her own joy.  Whenever joy is shared, joy increases.  We do not keep joy to ourselves.  The sign of true joy is that of spontaneity in sharing that joy with others, just like the outbursts of Mary and Elizabeth and John the Baptist in thanksgiving. Again St Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.” (Rom 12:15f)

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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, May 31, 2016 — “The LORD has removed the judgment against you has turned away your enemies.” (The Greatest Reprieve)

May 30, 2016

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

The Visitation, By Antonio de Pereda y Salgado

“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer.”

Reading 1 ZEP 3:14-18A

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

Or ROM 12:9-16

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

Responsorial PsalmISAIAH 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6

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

Alleluia SEE LK 1:45

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the infant leaped in her womb.’

Gospel LK 1:39-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

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

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

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

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

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A Word About The Sanctity of Human Life

Catholics are taught that all life is sacred from conception until natural death, and the taking of innocent human life, whether born or unborn, is morally wrong. The Church teaches, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae, 5). This puts Catholics at odds with many people on issues of abortion and euthanasia.

Related:

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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

 

 

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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31 MAY 2016, Tuesday, 9th Week in Ordinary Time

The Feast of the Visitation

MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL OF JOY

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

The scripture readings of today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary exude joy from beginning to end, both in the first reading and in the gospel.  To the Israelites in exile, the prophet said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!” For Mary, she too exulted in joy.  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.” John the Baptist also leapt for joy.  Elizabeth exclaimed, “”Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.”

We have just completed the Feast of Pentecost when the Lord commanded us all to go and proclaim the Good News to all creation.  This Good News therefore must be one that gives joy to those who receive them.  But it can only be of great joy to those who hear them provided the messengers themselves are filled with joy.  On this feast of the Visitation of Mary, we are called to imitate Mary by being messengers of joy to others.  In this way, we too become like Mary, bearing the visitation of our Lord.

How can we be joyful messengers of the gospel unless we ourselves have been recipients of joy?  We cannot give what we have not received.  Mary was the recipient of that joy herself.  She was not only called to be the mother of the Saviour but her real joy was that the Lord was not only with her but in her.   She was filled with joy simply because God was so close to her, truly the Emmanuel.  This is but the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zephaniah when he said, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”

When we know that the Lord is with us as our warrior and commander, we have no fear, just as the angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  In a similar vein, the prophet said, “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear. When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp.”  Thus Mary could exalt when she herself with confidence proclaimed the saving help of God. “Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Indeed, when the Lord is with us, we are free from slavery and bondage, like the Israelites.  The Lord has given us new purpose, new hope and meaning.  So the Good News is proclaimed to the downtrodden, the lowly and the poor.  God has come to assure us that He is with us.  This explains the joy of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  So, too, in the resurrection appearances, the disciples were filled with joy when the Lord appeared to them.  To have Jesus so near to them, in their womb and in their midst gave them joy that was incomparable.  Indeed, whoever knows that the Lord is with him or her will no longer fear about tomorrow!   St Paul wrote, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8)   We too are filled with joy whenever we are at prayer and feeling His healing and assuring presence.

But for some of us, we have lost this joy.  What is the reason for losing the joy of the Lord?  What are the enemies of our joy?  In truth, unlike the Israelites, our real enemies are not external enemies. It has to do with ourselves.  

Our enemy, as the Magnificat tells us, firstly is the lack of faith.  We lack faith in the Lord and therefore we live in fear and anxiety.  Mary was called to be the mother of the Saviour.  Of all peoples, we would expect Mary to be full of fear and anxiety at the prospect of her pregnancy; how she would have to explain to Joseph and her family, and her community.  But we read that upon receiving the message of the angel, she left everything into the hands of the Lord.  Instead of focusing on her needs and her future, she turned outwards and immediately went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who too was pregnant with John the Baptist, in her old age.  Indeed, the remark of Elizabeth captures the spirit of Mary when she said, “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Secondly, it is the enemy of pride.  Mary said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”  Only the humble and lowly, the anawim can receive the blessings of God.  Many of us rely on our own strength, on our wealth, power and talents.   That explains why the modern man and woman are so proud of their achievements.  They think that their success is all due to their hard work, ingenuity and intelligence.  Such people are arrogant and look down on others who are not as successful as them.  But the day they are struck down, with a marriage failure, an incurable illness, a tragedy or an accident, they will come to realize their nothingness and finiteness.

Thirdly, it is the enemy of self-sufficiency.  “The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”  Many of us cannot feel the presence of God in our lives because we do not need Him.  We think we can manage by ourselves.  This is what the humanist is saying to us.  We do not need God.  We can solve all problems by ourselves.  We have intelligence and with will, we can conquer the sky.  There is nothing we cannot do, no problem we cannot solve.  Such self-sufficient people cannot feel with others.  They lack the humility to know their limitations.  That is why God only comes to those who need Him and acknowledge that only He is sufficient.  When we are self-sufficient, we live in fear of losing what we have.  But if our sufficiency is in God, we live a life of freedom and detachment.  St Paul wrote, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:12f)

Fourthly, it is the enemy of ingratitude.  When we are proud and self-sufficient, we lack gratitude for what we have because we feel that we have earned them and hence there is no one to whom we need to be grateful to.  An ungrateful person is an unhappy person because he is not appreciative of what he has.  Mary was a woman who felt blessed, not because of her merits but by the grace of God.  And so with great joy, she could say, “Yes, from this day on all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.” Her greatness, she knows, comes from God and therefore she did not rejoice in herself and become proud, but instead she remained always humble before the Lord and His people, for she did not merit her position as the Mother of the Savior, or whatever she has been blessed with.  For her, everything is pure grace.

So if we have lost our joy, we need to come back to the Lord.  The Lord wants to be with us but we must welcome Him like Mary, Elizabeth and St John the Baptist.  He wants to fill us with His joy and peace.

We begin this process by recounting the wonderful things that the Lord has blessed us with.  Like Mary, we must recall the good things that the Lord has done for us.  As the psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name! Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!  Declare the greatness of his name. Sing a psalm to the Lord for he has done glorious deeds; make them known to all the earth!  People of Zion, sing and shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Giving thanks and praise for all that He has done for us like Mary is the way to recover that joy which we have lost.

Secondly, we must then pass that joy to others, the same way that Mary did.  St Paul invites us to live a life of charity like Mary in reaching out to others.  He said, “Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of Spirit.”  (Rom 12:8-11)  When we share the joy that we have received from the Lord, that joy multiplies and increases.  Mary in bringing the joy to Elizabeth and John the Baptist augmented her own joy.  Whenever joy is shared, joy increases.  We do not keep joy to ourselves.  The sign of true joy is that of spontaneity in sharing that joy with others, just like the outbursts of Mary and Elizabeth and John the Baptist in thanksgiving. Again St Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.” (Rom 12:15f)

 

 

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