Saturday, April 25, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter, Year B, 26.04.2015

Acts 4:8-12 / 1 John 3:1-2 / John 10:11-18 

One of the most prominent Church figures in the 20th century is Pope John XXIII. He was canonized on the 27th April 2014.

Besides the fact that it was he who got Vatican II Council started when nobody expected a 78 year-old Pope to do so, he was also prominent because of his figure.

Before he was elected Pope in 1958, one of his appointments was being papal nuncio to France. It was then that one of the French diplomats described him as “a sack of potatoes”. And if we look at photos of John XXIII, we will somewhat agree.

But one of the prominent characteristics of John XXIII was his sense of humour. Once he went to a school and there he asked the boys what they would want to become when they grew up, and one of them said that he would want to be a pope.

The pope smiled and said: Oh anyone can be a pope. Look at me! If I can become a pope, anyone can become a pope.

Such was the humour of John XXIII. But jokes aside, he knows that not anyone can be a pope, just as not anyone can be a priest.

This Sunday, the Church also celebrates Vocation Sunday and the Church is called to pray for more vocations to the priesthood.

We are called to reflect upon Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and the reflection is focused on the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.

The reflection goes further for those whom Jesus is calling to be His priests and to follow Him to lay down their lives for His sheep.

It is often said that God will provide. And so it can also be said that God will provide priests for His Church.

But the crisis that the Church is facing is the falling numbers in vocations to the priesthood, and at present there are only 10 seminarians in the Major Seminary, and that is already ringing the alarm bells for the future.

Added to that are the scandals that have rocked the Church and smeared the dignity of the priesthood.

With all those factors weighing in heavily on the Church, the resultant is that there is a growing skepticism and cynicism about the priesthood.

This skepticism and cynicism is reflected in this so-called poem and the title is none other than “No one wants to be a priest” and it goes like this.

It goes like this: 
No one wants to be a priest because …If he begins Mass on time, his watch is fast;If he begins a minute later, he keeps people waiting.If he preaches too long, he makes people get bored;If his homily is too short, he is unprepared.If his voice is strong when preaching, he is shouting;If his voice is normal,people do not understand what he is preaching about;If he goes to visit families, he is always out:If he does not, he does not care for them.If he asks for donations, he is a money-face;If he does not do it, he is too proud and lazy.If he takes time in the confessional, he is too slow;If he makes it too fast, he has no time for his penitents.If he renovates the church, he throws away money;If he does not do it, he allows everything to rot away.If he is with the youth, he forgets the old.If he warms up to old aunties, he must be missing his mummy.If he keeps distance from all of them, he has a heart of stone.If he is young, he has no experience;If he is old, he should retire.As long as he lives, there are always people who are better than him;BUT IF THE PRIEST DIES....THERE IS NOBODY TO TAKE HIS PLACE!Because no one wants to be a priest!!!
But God will provide and the Church must keep praying that those who are called will respond.

And the Church must also pray for those who have responded to the call to be good shepherds who will lay down their lives for the sheep.

As for myself, having been a priest for 17 years, when I was appointed parish priest of this parish, I knew that the sacrifice will have to go one notch higher.

And this sacrifice is best expressed in the Eucharist where I lead the community into prayer with the sign of the cross at the beginning and call upon God’s blessings on the community at the end of the Eucharistic celebration.

In between, I pray that we will be delivered from every evil and that we will have peace and be safe from all distress.

The fundamental task of a priest, as the 2nd reading would put it, is to form his people to be God’s children and to be like Him.

And if his people do not behave like God’s children, then the priest is called to do penance and pray for them because he is accountable for their souls and their salvation.

So I am accountable for your soul and your salvation. And do I want to be held accountable? 

I can only firmly say “Yes” because I am doing this for God who has lavished His love on us by calling us His children.

And God wants all of us His children to be with Him in heaven. And it is my mission as the priest and the spiritual father of this parish community to do that.

Pope John XXIII died on the 3rd June 1963 and his last words were these: "I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, may they all be one.”

I had the great grace to be a priest serving in this parish community. I also hope to teach you the fear of the Lord and to love Him. 

May you pray for us priests that we continue the saving work of the Lord so that we will all be one in Christ … on earth, and in heaven.

Friday, April 24, 2015

St. Mark, Evangelist, Saturday, 25-04-15

1 Peter 5:5-14 / Mark 16:15-20

St Mark was not one the the 12 Apostles. Known as John Mark who is mentioned in the 1st reading, he was a cousin of Barnabas, and he also accompanied St. Paul in his missionary journeys and he also worked closely with St. Peter in Rome.

So though St. Mark was not an "Apostle" (as in being one the chosen Twelve) he wrote an account which became known as the "Gospel according to St. Mark.

When we read that gospel, we also get an idea of the person of St Mark and what he thought of Jesus.

He does not focus on the lengthy teachings of Jesus (the gospel has only 16 chapters) but more on the deeds of Jesus and His power over evil and sickness.

As we heard in today's gospel which is from St. Mark, the emphasis is on the "signs" that Jesus had worked in His ministry and Jesus expected those signs to be continued in His disciples.

And those signs are indeed spectacular - cast out devils; gift of tongues; picking up snakes; unharmed by deadly poison; laying hands on the sick who will recover.

These are not only what Jesus did, but what His disciples did too as they went off to preach the Good News and these signs are associated with them.

And it was the underlying expectation of St. Mark that Christians in every age and time would work these signs and wonders so as to bring people to the faith.

So if these signs are not associated with us in this age and time, then what can the problem be? Is it a lack of faith, or doubt. Or as Jesus puts it - "In my name they will ... "

Are we doing it in the name of Jesus, or are we doing it to make a name for ourselves.

May all we say and do be in the name of Jesus, may we come to know Jesus as St. Mark did, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

3rd Week of Easter, Friday, 24-05-15

Acts 9:1-20 / John 6:52-59

It is said that all things work for the good of those who love God and do His will.

But it cannot be denied that we have our own ideas of what loving God entails and what His will is all about.

In the 1st reading, we heard that Saul was breathing threats to slaughter the Lord's disciples and he even went all out, even to Damascus to arrest them.

Saul thought he was loving God in that way and doing His will, until Jesus had to stop him on his tracks on the way to Damascus and even blinded him to get the message across.

But it was not just Saul who had his own ideas about God. Ananias too had his own ideas about what God wants of him.

So much so that God had to order him to go and see Saul and to give him back his sight.

Even the people had their own ideas about the teaching of Jesus on eating His body and drinking His blood.

Just like the people in the past, we too have our own ideas about God and what He wants of us.

But today's readings make us think. Can being angry and unforgiving, can being selfish and unkind, can being boastful and proud, be what God wants of us and is that pleasing to God?

Before we get blinded and are brought to our knees, let us ask to Lord to help us do what is right and just. It is for our own good anyway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

3rd Week of Easter, Thursday, 23-04-15

Acts 8:26-40 / John 6:44-51

When we hear a person using words like "What is there is stop me?", we know that it means serious business!

Usually people will be more polite and gentle with their words, and even if they want something, they would be courteous and put it across in a more acceptable way.

In the 1st reading, we heard the eunuch asking Philip "Is there anything to stop me from being baptized?"

It was not out of arrogance that the eunuch was making that statement. It was an expression of a deep desire after a dramatic conversion through the explanation of Scriptures by Philip.

More than just an enlightening explanation of the Scriptures by Philip and the openness of the heart of the eunuch, there was present the grace of God that enable the two to be connected.

As Jesus said in the gospel: No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me.

Let us realize that nothing can happen, dramatic or otherwise, without the grace of God.

It was the grace of God that called Philip to set out on that road that goes from Jerusalem down to the Gaza, and it was the grace of God that drew the eunuch to ask for baptism.

So when the grace of God calls out to us and draws us to a mission and to do His will, let us be open to His grace.

There is nothing to stop God from doing what He wants. But what He wants of us is a loving obedience to His will. May we be docile to His grace.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

3rd Week of Easter, Wednesday, 22-04-15

Acts 8:1-8 / John 6:35-40

If we can remember the beginning lines of the novel "A tale of two cities" (Charles Dickens), it goes like this: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

That passage makes marked use of anaphora, the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of consecutive clauses—for example, “it was the age . . . it was the age” and “it was the epoch . . . it was the epoch. . . .” This technique, along with the passage’s steady rhythm, suggests that good and evil, wisdom and folly, and light and darkness stand equally matched in their struggle.

And that is also a reflection of life and its cycles of good and evil, wisdom and folly, light and darkness, etc.

We have just celebrated the Resurrection. It was a time of light and joy. But following that, as we heard in the 1st reading, was a time of evil and darkness that began with the martyrdom of Stephen and then a bitter persecution started against the Church.

But even in the midst of that time of evil and darkness, there were little lights that flickered and showed that the darkness cannot overcome the light. Also it is interesting to note that there is a unit of measurement for light (lux or lumen) but none for darkness.

One of those lights was Philip who went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Good News of Christ to them, and there was great rejoicing in that town.

The light that we have received at our Baptism needs to be nourished by Jesus, the Bread of Life so that just like a candle whose light is fuelled by the wax, the light of our faith can continue to burn when we are nourished by the Bread of life.

Then even in the best of times or worst of times, whether in wisdom or foolishness, whether in belief or incredulity, whether in hope or despair, our light will continue to shine through the darkness.

Monday, April 20, 2015

3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday, 21-04-15

Acts 7:51 - 8:1 / John 6:30-35

A telescope has two ends. And depending on which end we look into, there will be two images of reverse sizes.

Looking into the end from which we would normally look into, what we will see is a magnified image of a distant object.

But if we were to look into the other end, we will get this feeling that we are looking at the same object through a tube, and what we get is a tunnel-vision of that object.

In today's two readings, there were two groups of people, and each group was like looking into the two different ends of the telescope.

In the 1st reading, there were the elders and scribes who were infuriated with Stephen for what he said about them - that they were a stubborn people with pagan hearts and pagan ears, resisting the Holy Spirit just as their ancestors did, and that they were betrayers and murderers of the prophets right down to Jesus.

They looked at Stephen from the other end of the telescope, and to them he was so insignificant that doing away with him was no issue at all.

But Stephen, on the other hand, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on God's right hand. Stephen saw beyond and much more.

In the gospel, the people saw Jesus as a supplier with an unending flow of bread who will satisfy their own needs.

What they couldn't see is that Jesus is the mystical bread of life who came to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst.

May our eyes be opened to see the spiritual and the mystical dimensions of the Eucharist and come to be filled by Jesus the bread of life so that we will always look for the things of above instead of being too focused on the things of earth.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

3rd Week of Easter, Monday, 20-04-15

Acts 6:8-15 / John 6:22-29

Retirement might sound like a wonderful thing.

Because when we think about retirement, we might have this notion of a stress-free life, going for holidays and to places which we have not been before, and doing things which we never had time for.

But we have also heard of stories about how people lose their purpose in life after retiring.

Some get depressed and for some, life just fades away and they lose purpose and meaning.

It seems that once there is nothing to work for, no purpose or objective in life, then there is also no meaning in our life and for our existence.

In today's gospel, Jesus is asking us: What are we working for?

Is it something that we can relish and treasure, not just into our retirement, but also way into eternity?

In the 1st reading, the deacon Stephen knew that God was working in him and through him and so even in spite of the oppositions and dangers, he kept focused on his service for God.

Stephen believed in Jesus and he knew that the most fundamental in his work for God is to witness to Jesus. That he did, and he did it right to the end, and also into eternity

Because in the end, that is what counts. Not just in this life but also in eternal life.