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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.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner and the British Physicist Stephen Hawkins are putting their money and brains together. They have joined forces for one of the most tantalizing yet most elusive project –finding intelligent alien life. The price tag for this project? $100 million! Recently, NASA’s space probe “New Horizons” flew by just 12,500 km (7,800 miles) away from Pluto. The probe took 9 years and travelled almost 3 billion miles to get to Pluto. This mission cost about $900 million. Just this week NASA’s $600 million Kepler mission has revealed an earth-like planet whose distance from its sun is the same as the earth’s distance from our sun. I get very excited about news like this. I am no scientist but I understand the significance of such missions. It is in our nature to probe the mysteries that surround us and it advances science However, here are a few other pieces of information that could leave us wondering. Feeding America, a network of food banks in the Unites States, tells us that just in the United States, 16 million children face hunger on a daily basis. It also tells us that 84% of its clients with children purchased the cheapest food available even if they knew it wasn’t the healthiest option. The world hunger scene is even more critical. As I said earlier, I am not against us trying to find alien life in the universe. But it is puzzling that we cannot solve the hunger problem here on earth.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

To understand today’s readings we must understand the context within which Jeremiah (today’s first reading) prophesied. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet in the year 628 BC when Josiah was the King of Judah. Josiah began a process of reform that would rid the nation of idolatry, injustice and false religiosity. Jeremiah wholeheartedly supported Josiah’s reform. After Josiah, however, under King Zedekiah, the false prophet Hananiah began to counsel the King to revolt against the Babylonians. It was also at this time that the old idolatry and infidelity returned. On instruction from God Jeremiah opposed the King and the false prophet. As a result, Jeremiah was arrested, imprisoned, and publicly disgraced. Had Zedekiah listened to Jeremiah and stayed faithful to the covenant, perhaps, Judah would be spared. Tragically, the Babylonians pillaged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, killed thousands of Israelites, took into exile all able bodied men, women, and children, and left behind to die, the aged and disabled.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings 

Pope Francis is on a visit to South America. There are many highlights to his visit – visiting the notoriously violent and overcrowded Palmasola prison, vesting for mass at the local Burger King, and blessing a children’s hospital in Paraguay and masses at various places. Yet, the most unexpected action of the pope was an apology. Pope Francis apologized for the "many grave sins" committed by Christian colonists against indigenous peoples in South America. Talking about "new colonialism," in which corporations and banks replace the old colonial powers, the Pope acknowledged Thursday that the Catholic Church's history is not entirely free from transgression. "I say this to you with regret," he said in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, "Many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God." Pope Francis is not the first pope to make apologies. In the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II did the same during the last years of his term. Both these popes are admitting that there are times that the church has lost sight of her mission, her meaning and purpose. Perhaps, she has acted even contrary to her mission. 

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Last week, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision on same-sex marriage. I assume that some of you are thrilled about this decision and others tormented by the same. The official statement from the American Catholic bishops has been clear on two aspects. First, it considers the SCOTUS decision contrary to the long-held biblical and church doctrine. As Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said, “Under the false banner of ‘marriage equality,’ the United State Supreme Court today redefined marriage by judicial fiat.” He also affirmed that “traditional marriage is the cradle of the family, the basic building block of society.” On the other hand, the official statements were also empathetic of same-sex couples. I think Archbishop Schnurr said it best when he stated, “… It is undeniable that families headed by same-sex couples are growing in number and visibility. These families deserve everyone’s love, respect, compassion, sensitivity and, where appropriate, pastoral care from the Church.”

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I had an extra week in India this time. Not only did I get the time to travel with my parents but it I also got the opportunity to meet people who I otherwise would not get to meet. Many of them were families in our own neighborhood and a few even beyond. Not that I am surprised but in many of my conversations with people I became aware of the immensity of their needs. There are families and social service institutions that are simple overwhelmed by the immensity the needs.  There is a couple, for instance, with four daughters struggling to educate them and then see that they are married and settled down.  In India, getting the daughters married is huge responsibility. And then, there is this woman whose husband is paralyzed but supports him and the education of her two children by working as a maid. She barely makes it. There is a couple who got into debt so that their son could emigrate to Dubai and realized that the job he promised is not what awaited him and now cannot repay the debt. There is a woman whose husband is an alcoholic and the only son who supported her met with a bike accident and is now laid up with compound fractures. There are more stories but they too depressing. I did try to help some of these families, but I wish I could simply wipe their pain away. It is the immensity of the needs that overwhelmed me. We are not alien to situations like these in our own nation, are we?

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

In about two days, I must leave home again to return to my ministry in Dayton. As I have said after my earlier visits, every time I leave home, I leave part of me behind and I bring part of my home with me to Dayton. I am finding it harder yet again. It is probably because dad is weaker than before. Every time dad and I ventured out of the house, I have had to hold his hand all the way. Mom is not getting any younger. My parents understand the reason I must leave, but they also wish I lived closer. For me, however, more than even before, leaving home will be an act of faith. It is going to every ounce of faith in me to believe that my parents will be in God’s hands in my absence. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are very poignant and it seems that they are directed toward me. Jesus said, “He said, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" (Mk 4:40).

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Scripture Readings

There is nothing like being home for the feast of Corpus Christi. By this I do not mean the festivities at our local parish. Rather, I mean that I am with my parents. It is only so many days in a year that my parents and I get to be present to each other in flesh and blood. We hug and kiss each other. We hold hands, we talk, we laugh and cry together. During the rest of the year we speak on the phone. But being present in a real way twice a year is radically different. Just yesterday, my parents thanked me for coming home every six months. It gives them something to look forward to. It is the same with me. Real presence matters.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Scripture Readings

I spent twelve years in the seminary before I was ordained. Through the first eight years, my only goal was to get to the theology classes because I wanted to get into the depths of the knowledge about God. I plunged into theology with the excitement of a two-year-old about to jump into a puddle. But a puddle is only so deep, right? That is how I felt with theology as well. The best of my efforts to understand God led me only thus far. The best of my theology professors often ended the class with the line, “It is a mystery.” If I heard that statement one more time I could scream. Twenty-one later, today, when people ask me questions about God, I tell them what I was told when I was young, "It is a mystery.”

Pentecost Sunday

Scripture Readings

This Saturday, May 23rd, a day before Pentecost, the Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified. Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador at a time when there was widespread economic oppression and gross human right violations. Romero threw his weight behind those who were suffering. He was one of the foremost figures in the revolution. He wrote in his book, The Violence of Love: “For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. As holy defender of God’s rights and of his images, the church must cry out.” And he did exactly that. As a result, Archbishop Romero was assassinated at the altar as he raised the chalice at consecration. Once, Romero was a peaceful and non-violent revolutionary.  Today he is a saint! 

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Scripture Readings

There is some new data that should worrisome for many of us. The Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. The drop in the Christian share of the population is seen mainly among mainline Protestants and Catholics. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings

(Let me preface the homily by saying that the stories I will share are not meant to put the people in them in a negative light. I respect each person and where they find themselves at a certain point in their life. I am sharing these stories with immense respect for them).  

I am going to share two stories with you. The first story is about a patient at hospice I anointed last Sunday. He must have been about eighty years old. When I introduced myself to him, he seemed relieved. One of the very first things he said to me was, “Father, I am glad you are here. I have not been to church in thirty, fourty, fifty years. I have no reason for that. Just did not do it. I wish I had.” I tried to console him and let him know that God’s love is greater than our weaknesses. He believed that. But then, it is what he said afterwards that got my attention. He said, “When I get out of here, I am going to come and see you in church. I promise I will be in church every Sunday, if I can.” Of course, in my mind I was wondering if he knew he was at hospice. I really prayed that he might recover and at least be able to go to church at least once. The larger question in my mind was, did it have to come to this to realize what he should have always done? To face death with regrets – It is really not a good place to be at!

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings

There is a story my second grade teacher told us in my catechism class. Strangely, I still remembered the story as I read today’s scripture. One day, Michelangelo walking through a garden in Florence, saw a block of marble in a corner protruding from the earth. It was half covered by grass and mud. He stopped suddenly as if he had seen someone. Then he said to his friends who were with him, exclaimed: "An angel is imprisoned in that marble; I must set him free." And, armed with a chisel, he began to work on that block until the figure of a beautiful angel emerged. The teacher continued, “Each of us is an angel in the making. And God is the artist. The chisel is the Word of God. God uses his word to bring out the best in us.” Later when I got older, I verified the truth of Michelangelo’s story. It turns out, that my teacher was correct. The angel is now in the Basilica of St Dominic in Bologna, Italy.