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Second Sunday of Lent

Scripture Readings

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis was in the unlikeliest of all places - the US-Mexico border. He visited the  border town of Cuidad Juarez, once known as the most violent place in the world. Before he celebrated mass for about two hundred thousand people, Pope Francis laid flowers at the memorial which remembers the immigrants who have lost their lives. The Pope’s gesture added fuel to the already fiery and controversial issue of immigration in the United States. While in Cuidad Juarez, he also visited the local prison, where, just a week before, 47 inmates were killed in gang-related riots. He said to the to the prisoners, “Jesus urges us to have the mercy that embraces everyone and is found in every corner of the world. There is no place beyond the reach of his mercy, no space or person it cannot touch.” 

First Sunday of Lent

Scripture Readings

Every since I have gotten my smart phone, I have become dumber. I used to be able to remember phone numbers. Now, I have to look up my own number. It is worse with passwords.  People are becoming bad spellers because of spell-check on our computers. Technology is adversely affecting human memory. We remember less and less because machines do it for us. The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has warned that that artificial intelligence ultimately will destroy us.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Over the last couple of months, I have been accompanying a very dear friend of mine through his terminal illness. I would describe this friend as “a good man.” He is a really good man - married, faithful to his wife, children and family, God-fearing, and genuinely good to everybody. In more ways than one, he is a model for me. As the end of his life approaches, he shared some of his fears with me. Prominent among them is his fear of standing before God. As a pastor and friend, I know that he has nothing to fear. His life has been right and just. Yet, he says that he is afraid. I have not reached a conclusion whether his fear rises from the religious formation he received as a child, or it is the “Fear of the Lord,” which we know as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is the latter. This latter gift is also called “awe of God.” It means a healthy fear of God.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

It is not uncommon for people to ask, “How did you decide to become a priest?” My answer often is a big sigh! First of all, it is a complex story. I find it hard to talk about my call to priesthood either as a casual conversation or a conversation that is time-constrained. The second reason is that my decision to become a priest was unlike Jeremiah’s call in today’s first reading. I did not hear voices or see visions. I was a teenager trying to figure out what to do. I did not even know if I wanted to be a priest. I simply wanted to try it out, and then, year after year, for twelve years continued to plough on. On the way, I faltered, I fell, I got up and fell again, and.… here I am today. Today, almost twenty-two years back, as I look back at my priesthood, I realize that this is my calling. The peace I have in the depth of my being… that is what assured me of my call.  

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I have probably shared this with you before. Every time I leave home, my parents and I gather for prayer. Something wonderful happens just before I leave. My mom and dad lay their hand over me  and bless me. I feel their breath. I feel the warmth of their body. I feel their tears as they feel mine. Most of all, I touch their holiness. And then, they both make the sign of the cross upon my forehead. Right at that moment, I experience a little bit of heaven. Right at that moment, I feel a little more free, a little more strong, a little more loved, a little more sure. I know that heaven is indescribable. But if someone asked me what heaven it like, I would say, its like my mom and dad blessing me. 

The Epiphany of the Lord

Scripture Readings

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany literally means manifestation. It is the feast of the manifestation, the revelation, presentation of Jesus to the world. If this is true, then, is it not truly amazing that the magi saw a mere child and recognized the Divine? Today gospel says that “ they prostrated themselves and did him homage.” If I was one of them, I probably would have been disappointed that the spectacular star had led me only to a mere child. Perhaps, that is why, they, unlike me, are known as three wise magi.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Scripture Readings

The Feast of the Holy Family is a relatively new feast compared to the two thousand history of the Church. The Coptic Church has always had a devotion to the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph because of the biblical reference to their flight to Egypt. In the Western Church, however, devotion to the Holy Family dates back only to the early sixteenth Century. The Feast of the Holy Family as a liturgical celebration was established by Pope Leo XIII as late as 1893. It was the time when the very structure of the family, its identity and its role was being radically transformed by unbridled and rapid industrialization. 

Our families, as we find them today, is a direct result of the impact that the industrial age has had on the family. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, I am sure our minds are drawn to our own families. May I offer three points for us to reflect upon. 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

How big do you think is heaven? I think of heaven as limitless, unbounded, unfathomable. In fact, everything that we imagine about God and eternity is unimaginably big and boundless. God has no beginning and no end. So is eternity. The created universe too is an endless expanse. Creation is magnanimous. So what about the small? Is there room for ‘small?’ After all, if we put human life in perspective, we are like a speck of dust. In fact, we are so small that if tomorrow any of us dies, nothing will change. Life will go on. What about the small?

Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

Since the terrorist attack on Paris, and then closer home in San Bernardino, California, it does not take too long in a conversation for people to say, “The world is in such a mess.” Perhaps, I am not wrong in saying that the mood is a little dull these days. Sure we are trying to keep things as normal as we can, but there is a certain fear that lurks in the background. And then we come to church and realize that this third Sunday of Advent is also ‘Gaudate Sunday’ or “Rejoice Sunday.’ I am wondering, though, if we are not finding it difficult to feel sheer joy these days year because of the situation of the world. 

 What shall we make of Gaudate Sunday even as we celebrate it in an uncertain world? 

Second Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

In today’s gospel Luke provides us with very descriptive historical details. This kind of detail is rare in the gospels. Luke tells us who the Roman Emperor was (Tiberius Caesar), who the governor of Judea was (Pontus Pilate), who the regional leaders were (Herod, Phillip, and Lysanias), and who the high priest were (Annas and Caiaphas), when John the Baptist began his ministry. Surely, Luke was being intentional in giving these details. What do these details teach us?

First Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

Thursday was Thanksgiving. On Friday I was the celebrant at the very tragic funeral of 41 year old Vic Brinkman who died unexpectedly. He leaves behind his parents and his young children. In less than twenty-four hours I had moved from joy to sadness. And now here I am celebrating this mass with you. There is something amazing about us humans. Hope never fades for us. Even Vic’s funeral, as tragic and saddening as it was, not without a silver lining. Faith gave the family hope. For that matter, think of all the tragedies his world has experienced - the Black Plague, the World Wars, the terrorist attacks, the horrendous natural disasters and countless other tragedies. Somehow, we human manage to emerge from the shadows of these dark moments with grit and resilience. We call it ‘hope.”

The Solemnity Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Scripture Readings

We are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King under the shadows a very violent two weeks in Paris and violence in Mali. Even though we are going about our normal lives here in Dayton, perhaps, it would not be wrong to say that we are not unconcerned about our own safety. 9/11 introduced us to a new kind of violence – the kind that we do not know how to define. It is not a war in the classical sense of the word, but it is a war. It is and is not a religious conflict at the same time. Some call this terrorism others call it martyrdom. No one word describes this new phenomenon. Whereas this kind of conflict is new for us, perhaps it is surprising to know that it was not new for Jesus. Today’s conflict between the West and religious radicalism bears similarities to the conflict between the Romans and Zealots in Jesus time.  In other words, Jesus was not immune from the kind of conflict we experience today. As a child he had to flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. Jesus was a refugee and an immigrant. In his time there were insurrections and the brutal suppression of freedom as well. Rebels were publicly crucified.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Today is the second last Sunday of the liturgical Year. This liturgical year will end with the Solemnity of Christ the King next Sunday, and then we will begin a new liturgical year. Two weeks from now is also Thanksgiving. While the church will begin the Advent season and new liturgical year, the commercial world will focus on Black Friday, hysterical sales pitches, a month-long Christmas mania and New Year sales and parties. In other words, we are about the enter a frenzied time in the calendar year in which families, celebrations, gifts exchanges, meals, parties, and religiosity will take center stage. In the midst of all these things, these two weeks are an invitation to pause, to slow down, even to stop. This is the time to retreat, to evaluate, to think about that which is truly important.

Let us use the readings as we accept this invitation:

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

There are two stories in today’s reading and they both involve poor widows. In the first story, Elijah, as he flees from his murderous enemies, seeks refuge with a poor widow. The story tells us that she and her son had only and handful of flour and a little oil left. They were desperately poor. The second story tells us about Jesus’ admiration of a poor widow who put in two small coins into the treasury. The two coins were all she had. These two thought-provoking stories made me think…  If Elijah was looking for respite today, would he come to my house? And why? Of all the people gathered in this church today, who would Christ take notice of? Could it be me or you?

Solemnity of All Saints

Scripture Readings

The origin of the Feast of All Saints goes far back into the history of the Church. In fact, it goes back as far as the persecution in the early church. The persecution of Christians at the hands of the Roman Empire gave birth of many, many martyrs. These martyrs stood firm in their faith in Jesus Christ as they endured horrendous suffering and ultimately, death. When persecution ended with the conversion of Constantine in 314 AD, the church felt a great need to honor these martyrs. The church wanted to honor their striving toward godliness and faithfulness. As early as 379 AD, Pope Boniface of Caesarea called for a common day to venerate all the martyrs. After centuries of further development Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church and to include all the saints, known and unknown. Today, I feel very proud and privileged to be part of this long tradition in the Catholic Church. I feel proud, not only because of the history but also because of what the feast stands for – honoring the striving for godliness and the fidelity it takes to get there.

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

How deep are you into Jesus? The healing of the blind man in today’s gospel reading is hardly an isolated story. Mark wrote this gospel very carefully to communicate a very intentional message – that Jesus is the Son of Man (one of the Old Testament titles for the Messiah), that he was put to death by undiscerning religious and political authorities and that God raised him from the dead. However there are two more things to consider about Mark’s composition of his message.  First, Mark is writing from the perspective of discipleship. He wants the reader to take a personal stand with regard to Jesus when he or she reads his Jesus story. Second, he is writing in time of great persecution. This means that taking a stand for Jesus will cost the reader something, if not everything.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

It was eight years back. I was officially appointed associate pastor at St. Helen and Immaculate Conception Parishes. Fr. Dave entrusted much of the administrative responsibility of IC to me. Huge challenges stood before me. The community needed to rebuilt bottom up, faith formation programs needed to be revamped and the parish had a $320,000 debt. I was confident that through sheer hard work, commitment and the volunteerism of our parishioners the community could be built up. However, I was genuinely concerned about the debt. I took James and John’s approach in today’s gospel reading. I pray, “Lord, I want you to do for me whatever I ask you.” You may not believe this, but I even bought lottery tickets and prayed that God may ease our burden by making me win the lottery. Well, as you probably know, I never won the lottery. But something far greater happened. This community rallied together under and banner of discipleship, developed a vision, strived to live the gospel message, repaid the debt within four years and today is a growing, vibrant and diverse community of disciples. I believe that, had I won the lottery and paid off the debt, this community would not have the character it has today. Our struggles and our hard work taught us commitment, generosity, sacrificial giving and dependence on God.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The story of the rich man coming to Jesus and asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” is one of the most compelling stories in gospel of Mark. In the upcoming verses, Mark will contrast this story with the story of the blind beggar who left everything a followed Jesus. Immaterial of how the story ends, it is not difficult to find ourselves in the story.

Let me offer three points for reflection:

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Those of you who have not heard about be prepared to be shocked. It is a Canada-based online dating service and social networking service. There is nothing shocking about this, is there? It is what stands for that is shocking. “Life is short. Have an affair” – that is the motto of this website. It is marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. The website boasted of having 39 million registered users. Most of them were men but the number of women is equally concerning.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I am sure most of you have been following Pope Francis’ visit to the United Sates rather closely. I have not watched this much TV in all my life. I tweeted my response to his visit in these words: “I have never been more proud of being a Catholic priest as I am today. I am thrilled to be a priest in the Pope Francis era.” There is no doubt that as concludes his visit today, he is creating history. Last week I prepared a homily in preparation for his visit. This week, based on today’s scriptures, I would like to read between the lines of the Pope’s speeches, visits and words to give some pointers for our own discipleship. Let me do so in five points.