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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 ashleymadison.com 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 ashelymadison.com 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.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Pope Francis is coming to the United States this week. Of course, every time the Pope visits any country there is a heightened level of excitement. However, the anticipation is even more palpable this time. As the days of Pope Francis’ visit draws nearer, the Pope is getting unprecedented media time. And the reason is obvious. While it is true that Pope Francis is the successor of Peter as were the 265 prior popes, he is uniquely different from them all. In his statements, his focus, his approach, his demeanor, and his style, he is certainly breaking the mold. Should we then be surprised at the attention he is drawing days before his visit to the United States? It is no secret that there are those who love him and there are those who feel insecure about the direction he is giving the Church. Today, basing myself on today’s scripture readings, I hope to offer a larger and deeper analysis of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

AJ Jacobs is a New York journalist. He is also a Jewish agnostic. He decided to do a radical experiment – a year of living biblically. He attempted to follow every rule of the Bible literally for an entire year. The way he ate, talked, dressed, thought, and touched his wife – he did everything biblically. He did it, because he wanted to see if he was missing anything. He said later in an interview later that the hardest thing to do was avoiding the sins we commit every day: lying, gossiping, and coveting. But the greatest lesson he learnt was the power of behavior over thinking. Following Descartes’ famous line, “I think therefore I am,” we normally believe that thought influences behavior. But Jacobs says that the opposite is even more powerful. He said that most of us do underestimate the power that behavior has to shape thought. “It’s astounding. I watched it happen to myself. For instance, I forced myself to stop gossiping, and eventually I started to have fewer petty thoughts to gossip about. I forced myself to help the needy, and found myself becoming less self-absorbed. I even watched it happen with prayer. After a year of praying, I started to believe there’s something to the idea of sacredness. It was remarkable. So if you want to become someone different, just start acting like the person you want to be. Jacobs now calls himself a “reverent agnostic.”

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I came into the United States fifteen years back. It doesn’t seem too long back. Yet, things have changed dramatically over the last fifteen years. I have to admit, for the first time, I live a little fearfully these days. I move about a little more cautiously. I went to the movies the other day and people’s bags were being searched before they entered the theater. I must say, I was just a little unnerved. There was a time when I would laugh off things like someone flipping me of on the road or cutting me in a queue. Today, I am afraid someone might have a gun. Even racially, I have become very sensitive these days. So when I hear Isaiah say in today’s first reading, “Be strong, fear not!” I am comforted, but I am not sure if I feel that strong.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings 

In a recent homily I shared with you the Pew Research Center’s latest data on religious affiliation in the United States. Apart from the fact that atheism has shown dramatic increase over the last decade, the data also showed the emergence of new group of people when it comes to religious affiliation. They are referred to us the “nones.” On a census paperwork, they would choose “none” to the question on religious affiliation. These are not atheists or agnostics, neither are they are irreligious or ungenuine people; they are simply “none.” You might hear them make statement like “I believe in God but not in religion,” or, “I am spiritual but not religious.” Today, the “nones” make 23% of the American population.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Today’s gospel reading concludes the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse which we have been reflecting on the last few weeks. The discourse ends tragically and yet hopefully. Some of his followers left Jesus’ company after Jesus’ discourse. At this, Jesus came to his inner circle of disciples and asked them, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67) What happens next is one of the most emotional yet poignant expressions of faith, which thankfully, has been preserved for people like us. Peter says to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68).

In this homily I would like to take Peter’s response and make it our own. If we had to affirm our faith in Christ in Peter’s words, what could it mean?

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

We move to the fourth week of our reflection on the ‘bread of life discourse.’ We began with the multiplication of loaves three weeks back and for the last two weeks we have been reflecting on the meaning of “the bread that came down from heaven.’ Today, the emphasis is on the real of presence of Christ in the bread and wine. We must remember that by the time John wrote the gospel, the Eucharist had already been established in the early Christian community. However, there were serious objections to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Gnostics, especially, emphasized the indwelling presence of Christ rather than his physical presence. Hence John statement in today’s gospel, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

This is the real story of a 16 year old teenager in Dublin named Jamie Harrington. Recently, Jamie Harrington was on his way to an American sweetshop, when he saw a man in his 30’s sitting on the ledge of a bridge. “Wow...” Jamie said to himself. And then he walked up to man and simply said three words, “Are you okay?” Even though the man said that he was, Jamie knew from the tears in his eyes that he was not. So he sat and talked to the man for 45 minutes and then finally convinced him to call an ambulance. That day, Jaime saved the life of a man who was ready to jump into the river. Three months later, Jaime got a phone call. It was the man whose life he had saved. His wife was pregnant and they have decided to name their child Jaime. “Are you okay?” It took only three words to give hope to somebody.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

For the next three weeks our gospel reading will be taken from chapter six of John’s gospel. Most of this chapter is the “bread of life” discourse. It began last week with the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and will end with many disciples ceasing to follow Jesus because his teachings were too hard. Gospel readings stretched out over three weekends give us the opportunity to explore its meaning in depth. So pardon me if I delve right into my three practical implications. Let me also caution you that my three practical implications raise more questions that answer them.