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First Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings

The Christmas frenzy has begun. No matter how much I try each year, there is no escaping it. More often than not, I feel violated by all the in-your-face glitz and glamor. It is crazy, but my first Christmas party is on the 12th of Dec. It goes ridiculously downhill after that. I have given up trying to make Advent a quite time. The social and commercial dimensions of the season are so blatant, that there simply is no escaping it. All I can do is to make sure that I do not lose out on the real meaning of the Advent season. 

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Scripture Readings

I am sure you have heard about the concept, ‘Culture Wars.’ Culture Wars refers to the conflict between traditionalist or conservative values and progressive or social liberal values in the Western world. Here in the United States, the term culture wars entered our contemporary vocabulary in the 1990’s with a book by James David Hunter, entitled, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. On the Feast of Christ the King, I begin my homily with a reference to Culture Wars because this movement is affecting the Catholic Church greatly. There is a very small but a vociferous movement in the Church that believes that Pope Francis is committing heresy. There are many reasons for this accusation, but the most prominent of them is that the Pope making it possible for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion on a case-by-case basis. They accuse him or undermining centuries of Church doctrine. Pope Francis, on the other hand, is clear the he is not overruling doctrine, but that he is providing pastoral care for those in need. The culture war in the church runs the risk of creating a schism. 

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Latest data tells us that now the richest 1% own 86% of the world’s wealth. In the United States, top 20% of Americans own 86% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population own 14%. I begin with my homily with these statistics not only because of staggering the inequality, but also because in a Capitalist economy such as ours, the Parable of the Talents might make us conclude that the top 1% are really the heroes of the parable, and that the rest of us are lazy, stupid, and incapable. After all, the master said, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich.”  Matthew’s purpose of writing this parable is certainly not economic. If the Master is God and the servants are us, it becomes very important that the parable is interpreted correctly, least it become a tool for oppression. 

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

At every baptism, after the child is draped in white garment, the celebrant lights the baptismal candle from the Paschal candle, and hands it to the child with these words, “Receive the light of Christ.” And then the celebrant says to the parents and godparents: “Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light. May he (she) keep the flame of faith alive in his (her) heart. When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.” These words are a direct reference to to parable of the ten wise and foolish maidens in today’s gospel reading. The symbolism of the lighted candle is simply this - that our baptism, at which we receive the new life of Christ, is an invitation to live that new life, wisely and not foolishly, with faith rather then faithlessly, in anticipation of Christ’s coming rather than aimlessly. Our baptism is a commitment to intentional living. 

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Last Tuesday, the Church observed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On the 31st of October, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian Monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the chapel at Wittenberg castle. Luther’s main issue in the 95 theses was indulgences. There are very few events that divided humanity in the way the Reformation did. It is not my intention to criticize Martin Luther, to discuss indulgences, or to judge 16th Century Church leaders. Historians tells us, though, that the schism caused by the Reformation could have been avoided. Depending on which side of history the Catholics and Protestants find themselves, they look at the Reformation very differently. Yet Catholics admit that perhaps that the Popes of the time, Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X, misread the signs of the time. As Renaissance Popes, they were more interested in art, music, and architecture rather than paying serious attention to the needs of their flock. The rest is history. 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The great Christian mystic, John of the Cross, once said, “In the evening of our lives we will be judged by love alone.” Today’s readings are bound to create a genuine problem for preachers and congregations in Catholic parishes across the world, unless of course, preachers decide to by-pass the issue. The very first statement in today’s first reading says- “Thus says the LORD: You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” Across the globe, national elections are being won and lost based on particular political party’s stand on both documented and undocumented aliens or immigrants. Not only do some Catholics disagree with the Catholic Church’s pastoral teaching on immigration, but they have gone so as far as to openly dissent with Pope Francis and the US Catholic bishops on the issue. 

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mt 22:21). This perhaps one of the most well-known quotes of Jesus. I would like to reflect on this quote in three questions. 

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

How many of you are familiar with the Baltimore Catechism? It is very different than the Catechism of the Catholic Church we have today. Published in 1891, it has about 300 pages and the entire Catechism is written in question answer format. I think it is still the clearest and direct explanation of the Catholic faith. For example, the first question is, “Who made the world?” The answer, “God made the world.” The sixth question  asks “Why did God make you?” The answer is, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” Did to hear that? God made us to be happy! This may sound contrary to the lessons we draw from today’s gospel parable of the man thrown out from the wedding feast for coming without a wedding garment. In fact, when understood correctly, even this parable is about happiness.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

This is the third week in a row that the gospel reading is about a vineyard. Two weeks back we heard the parable of the workers hired to work in a vineyard during different times of the day and being paid equally by its owner. Last week we heard the story of the landowner who asked his two sons to work in the vineyard and them responding differently. Both these parable had a common message - that God was accessible to the first and last alike, and yet, that it was the ones who were last that were walking in the kingdom of God first. This was not because God was somehow unjust, but because some of those who were first refused God’s offer of unconditional and redeeming love for all people. 

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I am not going to talk about the state of public discourse in our country. People are up to their noses with it. To get respite, many people have chosen to withdraw from public discourse. Others have completely abandoned social media and news channels. I am not going to talk about it either, because I don’t want you to feel oppressed in church as well. My personal challenge has been to discern my Christian code of conduct in these times. As a Catholic priest, pastor, and a public figure, how do I navigate through the divisiveness and the hate without also compromising the cause of justice and righteousness? How do I become a healer and reconciler? These are questions that affect my eternity.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

How often have you cried out and said, “Its not fair!” I probably say this at least once day. Sometimes I am right and sometimes I am not. When we experience an injustice, we seek justice from the justice system. It is the right thing to do. It is right to seek justice not only on a social level, but we Catholics also believe that justice is a divine quality. We know God to be just. There is a problem, however. When we have done something wrong and we come before God, we don’t seek justice, but rather, mercy. Here, then, is the dichotomy - we know God to be just but we expect to be treated with mercy. If God treated us sinners in the same way that our justice system treats offenders, what would the confessional look like? In the Christian tradition, God is known to be both just and merciful? Where do justice and mercy meet? The purpose of the parable of the generous vineyard owner in today’s gospel reading is meant to address precisely this question. Just to recall, in the parable, a vineyard owner invites laborers to work in his vinegar at various time during the day, but pays them all the same wages, which causes the ones who came first to the field to grumble. 

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Besides “Love one another, as I have loved you,” no other teaching of Jesus is more definitive of Christianity than his teaching on forgiveness. There are no ‘ifs’ and 'buts' attached to Jesus command to forgive. This makes the teaching of forgiveness challenging for the holiest of Christians. It is simple, it is straight, and it is uncompromising. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in today’s gospel reading ends with this saying, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” As far as Christian spirituality is concerned, the unconditional demand for forgiveness is where the rubber hits the road. 

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I am a cradle Catholic. I was twenty, and about two-and-a-half years in the seminary, when I had my first deep spiritual experience. I made a good confession, I resolved to spend time in prayer each day, and also make some serious life-changes. Because I felt close to God, and because I was earnest about living my new life, I expected life to get a lot easier. The opposite happened. I lost some friends and I found my new existence to be a struggle. Like me, most people who newly become Christians or have had a conversion experience, expect life to get easier. They expect temptations to go away, their prayer to be answered easily and their strained relationships to get smooth. Their rational is very logical. As they move closer to God, and as they embrace holiness, they expect a turn around. The expectation makes perfect sense. If you take medication for an ailment and do everything the doctor asks you to do, you are supposed to get better. In spiritual life, often, the opposite happens. Life actually becomes harder. It is counterintuitive, but this is exactly what happens. 

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Not because Jesus was having an identity crisis, he asks his disciples who they thought he was. Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” As I said last week about the story of the Canaanite woman, Matthew wants his readers know that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. What happens after this is truly meaningful. Jesus does not ASK Peter who Peter is. Jesus TELLS Peter who Peter is - the rock on which he will build his church. In fact, Jesus defines two things - Peter and the church. Jesus was not having a identity crisis. Jesus was giving Peter and the church a vision and a mission. 

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Today’s gospel reading has confounded a lot of people in the pews. Its the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus pleading with him to heal his daughter. It is a great story of great faith. However, do you cringe every time you hear Jesus say, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs?” Was Jesus’ response to the helpless and desperate mother an insult? Let me simply say this: there is more to the story!

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Do you think that Jesus experienced fear? Were there moments in his life where he was overcome with fear? The gospels have no recorded instance of Jesus being afraid. The only instance that we can assume that he was afraid was at the garden of Gethsemane, where Luke tells us that, “He was filled with such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood.” On the other hand, the gospels have instances of Jesus urging his disciples not be afraid. Just within the last two weeks, twice we have heard that twice. Last weekend, after the transfiguration, he came to his frightened apostles and said, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” In today’s gospel readings he came to the rescue of his terrified apostles and said, “Take courage, It is I; do not be afraid!” 

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Scripture Readings

Whenever I read passages like the ones we have as our readings today, I feel a little disconnected. I am not saying that I have any doubts about the marvelous experiences of Daniel in today’s first reading or the apostles in today's second reading and the gospel. All I am saying is that I haven’t had them. I am not sure about you, but, I am left with a piece of bread and some wine in my hands. It takes everything in me to believe that the God who appeared to Daniel and the apostles is the same God I hold in my hands. I lay my hand on people who are ill, anoint them with Holy Oil and believe that God is hearing my prayer. All I have is the quiet time I spend before God in prayer. Sometimes, it takes everything in my to believe that there is somebody on the other side. 

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I wish that today’s first reading was read prior to last Sunday’s reading from the book of Wisdom. Today’s reading recounts the story of God’s gift of wisdom given to Solomon. The book of Wisdom was written after God gave Solomon the gift of Wisdom. 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I am going to begin my homily with a few sayings: “A jealous ear hears everything, and discordant grumblings are no secret” (Wis 1:10). Here is another one: “A great number of wise men is the safety of the world” (Wis 6:24). One more: “Our lifetime is the passing of a shadow; and our dying cannot be deferred because it is fixed with a seal; and not one returns” (Wis 2:5). The last one: “Age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time, not can it be measured in terms of years” (Wis 4:8). All these saying are from he book of Wisdom, the book from which our first reading is taken. 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The use of parables to teach the lessons of life was one of the most brilliant strategies that Jesus used. Besides the fact that Jesus used imageries and analogies from the daily events to connect with his audience, parables by their nature are open ended. We can draw multiple meanings from parables. For that matter, a parable never runs out of meanings. The parable of the Sower and the Seed is one of the richest parables in the gospels.