Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Love One Another As I have Loved You

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

“I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.” For many of us, the commandment of love has become so familiar to us that we may fail to recognize its ‘newness.’ What is so new about this commandment?

The commandment to love found in the Gospel of John is very different from the commandment to love found in the other gospels. In the gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, the gospel writers have Jesus repeat the core teaching of the Old Testament covenant that is to love of God and love our neighbor as ourselves. The standard or comparison made there is that our love for neighbor must correspond to our love for ourselves.

But in the gospel of John, we are commanded by Jesus to love one another as he, Jesus, has loved us. Self-love no longer becomes the criteria but Jesus’ love for us. In the first letter of St. John, where he speaks so much of love and where he names God as Love, we find these beautiful words “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) Our weak, limited, imperfect and inadequate ‘love’ for ourselves no longer becomes the standard by which we should love others but rather Jesus’ love for us. Only God loves perfectly because God is LOVE himself! And this is the love of God – that he is prepared to become man, suffer and die for us. This is the love of God, that he is prepared to become one of us, to share our pains and sorrows, to experience our sufferings and give us hope and encouragement in the midst of all these. This is the love of God – that he will “wipe away all tears from (our) eyes”, destroy death and sadness. This is the love of God – that he will make all things new.

Love must therefore be the mark of our discipleship. “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are (Christ’s) disciples.”

But we realize that we will always fall short of this high standard. We will never reach this perfect standard precisely because we are not God. And that is why we must continue to support, encourage and pray for each other. We must follow the examples of Paul and Barnabas, who in the first reading “put fresh hearts into the disciples.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Joy of Listening to the Shepherd's Voice

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Being a Christian disciple can be disheartening. How much sorrow, trials and bitterness has life in store for everyone, especially for those who try to live good lives. How many innocent people suffer, are subjected to violence, injustice, betrayal and deceit. It is not easy trying to live Christian values in a world that promotes contrary values. In business, we are told that honest people will never be successful. In order to be rich, one must be prepared to lie, to be dishonest, to cheat and be involved in corruption. Is there a place in such a world for a Christian who is called to live and speak the Truth?

The world tells us that we must be nice to our friends and to those who can help us but we must be wary of our enemies. As a Christian, we know that we are not to make any distinction between friend and enemy. In fact, Christians are called to love their enemies. The world cannot accept this because it would appear that we are allowing our enemies to have the victory and to take advantage of us. Is there a place for a Christian who is called to love and forgive?

Today’s readings give us the reassurance that we need. In the first reading, it may appear that the wicked are victorious. The enemies of Paul and Barnabas spread lies about them and opposed them. Finally, these enemies managed to get Paul and Barnabas expelled from the town. But the reading does not end on a disheartening note. Rather, it ends with a curious remark: “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Instead of shedding tears of sorrow, the disciples are filled with joy. This is a sign that joy can go together with tears, as well as with the unfulfilled hopes and sorrow for suffering injustice. The wicked enemies of truth will never be able to experience this kind of joy; they fight the gospel, are proud like winners, but are in fact, so foolish.

In the second reading, we are given a picture of the destiny of those who have suffered or even died for the sake of the gospel. They are those who in this world went through sufferings, persecutions and gave their lives for their brothers like the Lamb. Other people looked on them as losers, but for God they are the winners. As a reward for remaining faithful, they will no longer experience suffering, hunger or thirst because the Lamb will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water. God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Christians are not called to make every one happy. It is impossible to make everyone happy. There will always be someone who will disagree with you or with the things you are doing. Therefore the criteria is not whether others are happy or not with our actions but rather that we follow our conscience and do what is right. To follow our conscience in order to do the right and loving thing is what it means to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. This is the promise and reassurance given by Jesus the Good Shepherd to each of his disciples: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.”

We cannot deny that it is difficult being a Christian. Jesus did not promise us that he will take away all our problems and sufferings in this life. If we want to be his disciple, then, we must be prepared to face the same fate as Jesus did, we must be ready to endure hardships and persecutions. What Jesus has promised, however, is that he will shepherd us with love. He will never allow us to despair. He will give us the courage and strength to bear the cross. And finally he will lead us to “restful waters” where our spirits will be revived.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Letting God take Control

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

If we examine the sources of our unhappiness, if we take a closer look at the reasons behind our feelings of anger and impatience, then we will discover a characteristic that is often common to all of us – the need to be control.

From the moment that we are born, each individual human person struggles to take control of his own life, his surrounding circumstances and even the people around him. The baby cries as a way of controlling his parents to feed him or give him security. As the child grows up, it learns new ways of controlling his situation- throwing tantrums, screaming, refusing to do as he is told, or even doing something nice for others so that he can get something in return. We adults are no different. We have developed different ways of controlling others – through our words and actions. We want others to change and when they don’t change, we get frustrated and angry. We can either scream at them or we can choose to give them the silent treatment.

We want to control our own lives, our destiny. We want to control the lives of our children. We want to choose the best jobs and the best spouses for them. We even want to control God through our prayers and penances.

The real truth of the matter is that we are not in control – we were never in control- and we shall never be in control. Only God is in control and we must allow God to take control of our lives and the lives of others.

These were the words of Jesus to Peter: “when you were young, you put on your own belt and walked where you liked” – in other words, Peter thought that he was in control of his own life. When he began to follow Jesus, he thought that he was responsible for this decision all by himself. His sense of independence/ self-reliance was shattered when he saw himself betray Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested. Discouraged and feeling as if he was a failure, Peter decided to go back to that same job which he thought he could do best – fishing. He still thought that he was in control. But even in this job, he fares badly – he fails to catch any fish. Only with the help of Jesus could he manage to catch fish.

It is the same with us. We must not grow to become so egoistic as to think that we can achieve everything all by ourselves. We must not be so proud to think that we are in control of our lives and our future. The fact is that we are not in control. The sooner we learn this, the better. We need the grace and strength of God. All that we do is done only with the grace of God. We must never forget this.

This is the true meaning of discipleship. We must put ourselves at the service of the Master. We must listen to Jesus and be always ready to do God’s will, not ours. We are called to follow him, to place our entire lives into his hands and let him take control of our lives.

During this mass, let us pray for the grace to be able to let go – to let go of the need to be control of our lives, to let go of the need to be in control of others, to let go of the need to control God and our destiny.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Faith in Community

Second Sunday of Easter Year C

What does the resurrection mean for each of us? For many of us, it means coming to Church on Sundays, because it is the day Jesus rose from the dead. For others, it means not having to fear death any more, because Jesus has now promised us that we will rise with him.

But today’s readings, give us another meaning and understanding of Easter. Easter is not only experienced personally by each of us but is something which must be experienced and lived out in the community.

Today’s gospel gives us the story of Thomas, one of the twelve apostles. When Jesus first appears to the apostles, Thomas isn’t there. We are not told the real reason for his absence. The death of Jesus has effected each of the apostles in a different way. Perhaps in the case of Thomas, the death of Jesus brought about his disillusionment with the community. There was no point hanging around with the others any more. Thomas has begun to doubt others, the community, the church, even perhaps God. He can only trust his own senses.

And so when Thomas insisted on seeing proofs of Jesus’ resurrection and return, he did not doubt Jesus nor the fact that he may have risen. He doubted the words of his brothers, the Christian community. Jesus appeared to the other apostles that very first day of his resurrection. He could have appeared to Thomas at any time throughout the week, but he chose not to. Jesus waited till Thomas had returned to the community. Jesus waited till Thomas was ready to accept his brothers in faith and to begin to listen to each of them. And so, it was only one week later when Thomas was with the others in that same room, that Jesus appeared and revealed himself to Thomas and to others.

For many of us, believing in God and in Jesus isn’t that difficult. But believing in the community is another matter. We often see the sinfulness, the hypocrisy and the weaknesses of others in the community. We may question whether God is really present in such a community. And so, for many us, we stay away from Church activities and from our BECs because we feel scandalized by the presence of persons living contrary lifestyles.

But, the truth of the matter is this – we can only find Jesus when we are able to see him in that community of ours. Its not a perfect community. No community is perfect. The Church is made up of sinners, just like you and I. But it is only in this broken and sinful community, that Jesus continues to be present. He is present to heal us in our sickness, to console us in our sadness, to strengthen us in our failures.

How can we see Jesus in this community? How can we recognize his presence in the Church? Our physical eyes will often deceive us as they only focus our attention on the weaknesses and sinfulness of others. We must see with the eyes of faith. This is the only way to see. Jesus tells us: “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Like the people in the first reading, many of them saw the wonders worked by the apostles and the early Christians, but it was only those who “believed” that came to join them.

As we share this Eucharistic meal, may our eyes of faith be opened too. Let us begin to see Jesus not only in the bread and wine of the sacrifice but also in our brothers and sisters. “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”