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Monthly Archives: May 2011

MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD

MY SOUL MANGNIFIES THE LORD

(A biblical reflection on the feast of THE VISITATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY,  31 May 2011) 

Gospel Reading: Lk 1:39-56 

First Reading: Zeph 3:14-18 or Rom 12:9-16; Psalms: Is 12:2-6 

The Scripture Text

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His hand maiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home. (Lk 1:39-56 RSV) 

It was remarkable that God chose to bring about His work of redemption through two human babies and their mothers. Jesus was still in Mary’s womb, yet in His presenceElizabethand her own unborn son, John, were filled with the Holy Spirit. This short but powerful scene gives us a glimpse of the forceful love of God, who simply cannot wait to pour out His life. What a foreshadowing this is of the glory of the risen Christ, who wants to pour out His Spirit on all people! 

Elizabeth’s pure and humble response to the work of God in their lives must have brought great comfort to Mary. InElizabethshe finally found someone with whom she could share her joy and awe at what was happening in her. Who else at this time could understand the song welling up within Mary’s heart (Lk 1:46-56)? Rather than being jealous of her younger relative’s exalted position,Elizabethrejoiced with Mary and embraced her own supportive role. For her part, Mary did not wait forElizabethto come to her, but hastened to her side. 

While this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is unique, there is something here that we can all experience. As baptized believers, each of us is capable of bearing Christ to others. If our eyes were opened to the glory of this truth, we too would rejoice and be humbled in the presence of so holy a vessel as a sister or brother in Christ. Even non-believers would move us to great reverence because they too are created in God’s image and have just as much potential of being filled with the Holy Spirit. If God has so highly honored human beings this way, how could we fail to show them equal honor? 

God used His Son, Jesus, even when He was just a fetus in the womb of Mary, to pour out divine life. Everyone, no matter how strong or weak, has been created as a dwelling place for God. So how can we long for God’s presence and yet disregard Him in the people all around us? 

Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, as You openedElizabeth’s eyes in the presence of Mary, so open our eyes to those who also bear Christ. Help us to honor the potential of each person to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Jakarta, 31 May, 2011 [The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary] 

A Christian Pilgrim

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CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD

CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD

A reading from the letter of a disciple to Diognetus [+/- 250-310] 

N 5-6 

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life. The doctrine they profess is not the invention of busy human minds and brains, nor are they, like some, adherents of this or that school of human thought. 

They pass their lives in whatever township – Greek or foreign – each man’s lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behaviour there is more like that of transients; they take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens. For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country. Like other men, they marry and beget children, though they do not expose their infants. Any Christian is free to share his neighbour’s table, but never his marriage-bed. 

Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on the earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men – and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance. They are dishonoured, yet made glorious in their very dishonour; slandered, yet vindicated. They repay calumny with blessings, and abuse with courtesy. For the good they do, they suffer stripes as evildoers; and under the strokes they rejoice like men given new life. Jews assail them as heretics, and Greeks harass them with persecutions; and yet of all their ill-wishers there is not one who can produce good grounds for his hostility. 

To put it briefly, the relation of Christians to the world is that of a soul to the body. As the soul is diffused through every part of the body, so are Christians through all the cities of the world. The soul, too, inhabits the body, while at the same time forming no part of it, and Christians inhabit the world, but they are not part of it; and Christians inhabit the world, but they are not part of the world. The soul, invisible herself, is immured within a visible body; so Christians can be recognized in the world, but their Christianity itself remains hidden from the eye. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against her without any provocation, because they are opposed to its pleasures. 

All the same, the soul loves the flesh and all its members, despite their hatred for her; and Christians, too, love those who hate them. The soul, shut up inside the body, nevertheless holds the body together; and though they are confined within the world as in a dungeon, it is Christians who hold the world together. The soul, which is immortal, must dwell in a mortal tabernacle; the Christians, as they sojourn for a while in the midst of corruptibility here, look for incorruptibility in the heavens. Finally, just as to be stinted of food and drink makes for the soul’s improvement, so when Christians are every day subjected to ill treatment, they increase the more in numbers. Such is the high post of duty in which God has placed them, and it is their moral duty not to shrink from it. 

Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are indeed the light of the world. Every one who follows You can never walk in darkness; he will possess the light which is life. May Your name be forever glorified. Amen. 

Taken from THE DIVINE OFFICE II – LENT AND EASTERTIDE – The Office of Reading – The Second Reading, pages 590-592. 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE HELP OF CHRISTIAN HOPE

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE HELP OF CHRISTIAN HOPE

(A biblical reflection on THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 29, 2011) 

Gospel Reading: Jn 14:15-21 

First Reading: Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Psalms: Ps. 66:1-7,16,20; Second Reading: 1Pet 3:15-18 

The Scripture Text

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you.”

“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (Jn 14:15-21 RSV) 

Jesus promises that His disciples will endure persecution; but He also pledged they would witness love conquering hatred, life triumphing over death (see Jn 15:20). When people face persecution, hope is often the first casualty. That is why hope in the face of violent death is deeply puzzling to many people – particularly to those who aspire to kill not only the believers but what they believe in. What kind of hope is it that enables those who suffer to play music in the face of death? In the death of the martyr, the persecutor and the onlooker are always questioned by the hope that sees through death. 

Hope is the virtue that enables us to look to the future with real confidence. It is not to be reduced to wishful thinking. We can all pass the time daydreaming, imagining a future that has nothing to do with reality. Wishful thinking has no bounds; it admits of no limitation; it is not criticized by what is actually possible. Hope is grounded in real life. Hope, however, is not limitless; it is limited by real possibility. Hope needs help if it is going to go beyond the expression of desire. If we hope for peace, for example, our hope needs all the help it can get if it is to be more than a cherish wish. Without help, hope remains an orphan – abandoned in the nursery of the mind. 

Jesus has no intention of leaving His disciples behind Him in a situation where they are left to hope without any help. Jesus promises His followers another Counselor (Paraclete), the Holy Spirit, who will be with them forever. The power of the Holy Spirit is the help of Christian hope. Without the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would be thrown back on their own resources, which are clearly inadequate when the going gets rough. The time of Jesus’ passion proved that. With the help of the Holy Spirit, however, the disciples can face the future with a power that is much larger than themselves. That power is the Holy Spirit, the gift of God Himself. The reality of the Holy Spirit is the ground of their hope

Jesus warns the disciples that the world will not welcome the Holy Spirit “because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (Jn 14:17). Nevertheless the Spirit of God will be in the disciples, even though so many people cannot recognize its presence. The only way the persecutor and onlookers will catch something of the reality of the Holy Spirit is when they see the courage and hope of the disciples in remaining steadfast in witnessing. 

The hope of Jesus’ disciples is something the world can see, but cannot account for. The disciples can account for their hope by pointing to the power of God’s Spirit which energizes them. They know that such power is not their own. Without that Spirit, there would be no music to puzzle the firing squad. 

Finally Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit He promises will be given not only to the present disciples but to all those who love Him and keep His commandments. The Holy Spirit which will sustain them through persecution and martyrdom is the same Spirit which is given to all who love Jesus. That promise is extended to each of us in our own struggle in faith. And that is why we are called on by the Church to pray again for a renewal in the Spirit at Pentecost. With the Holy Spirit in us we can continue the ancient Christian practice of puzzling people with the hope that is in us

We can feel the judgment and rejection of others in the arena of daily life when we refuse to compromise our Christian values. In the face of such hostility and banishment we must not give in to anger and/or violence. The words of St. Peter are crucial: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1Pet 3:15-16). In other words, there is a clear-cut Christian way to deal with opposition. 

We must proclaim the Lordship of Jesus confidently but without arrogance; firmly but with respect for others; and with an inner conviction that comes from the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who is within us always. 

Short Prayer: Holy Spirit, come more deeply into the hearts of all Your faithful. Help us, teach us, guide us, and show us the love of the Father and of the Son. Amen. 

Jakarta, May 27, 2011 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES

I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES

A reading from the commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria [380-444] on St. John’s Gospel 

Bk 10,2 

Because Christ wished to show His disciples how necessary it is to be rooted in love of Him, and how beneficial it is to cling to Him, He told them in figurative language that He was the vine, and that the branches of the vine were those who were united with Him, and, so to speak, inserted and grafted into Him so as to participate in His nature through receiving a share in the Holy Spirit; for we are made one with Christ the Saviour by His Holy Spirit. 

Those who approach the vine are attached to it by choice, but what attaches it to us is not part of our natures. For it is through our right choices that we have come to Him through faith, and received from Him the dignity of sons, so as to become His people. As Saint Paul said: ‘He who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.’ 

Similarly, in another passage, in the words of the prophet, Christ is the base and foundation. For we are built on Him, and are called ‘living and spiritual stones, to be a holy priesthood’. We are God’s house in the Spirit, and we cannot be built on to Him in any other way than with Christ as our foundation. So too, by an analogous process of thought, He calls Himself the vine, which is, so to speak, the mother who feeds the branches that grow from it. 

For we have been reborn from Him and in Him, that is, in the Spirit, in order to bear the fruit of life; not the old life we used to live but the life that consists of newness of faith and of love for Him. We are preserved in being if we grow on to Him and cling fast to the holy commandment that has been handed down to us, and if are eager to keep the blessing of nobility, that is to say, if we never consent in any way to grieve the Holy Spirit, who has come to dwell in us and through whom, we believe, God has made His home in us. 

Saint John, with his power of vision, can show us in what way we are in Christ and He in us: ‘By this we know that we abide in Him and He is us, because He has given us His own Spirit.’ 

For just as the vine-stock supplies and distributes the virtue of its own inherent natural quality to the shoots, so too the only-begotten Word of God implants in His people a sort of affinity with His own nature and that of the Father. By the gift of the Spirit they are united with Him by faith and every kind of holiness. He nourishes them so that they become devout, and He moves them to knowledge of all virtue and of good works. 

Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, I believe in Your words, that no branch can bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains united with the vine: You! Help me so I can remain united with You. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen. 

Taken from THE DIVINE OFFICE II – LENT AND EASTERTIDE – The Office of Reading – The Second Reading, pages 587-588. 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

CHRIST GAVE HIS BODY FOR THE LIFE OF ALL

CHRIST GAVE HIS BODY FOR THE LIFE OF ALL

A reading from the commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria [380-444] on St. John’s Gospel 

Bk 4,2 

‘I am dying’, said the Lord, ‘for all men, so that through me all may have life; by My flesh I have redeemed the flesh of all men. For in My death death will die, and fallen human nature will rise again with Me.

‘In this way I have become, like you, a man descended from Abraham, so that I may be made like My brethren in every respect.’Saint Paulunderstood this well when he said: ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in them, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.’

There was never any other way to destroy the one who had the power of death, and therefore death itself. Christ had to give Himself to God His Father as a spotless sacrifice on our behalf: ‘You wanted no sacrifice or oblation, but you prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Then I said, “Here I am.”’

He was crucified on behalf of us all and for the sake of us all, so that, when one had died instead of all, we all might live in Him. For it was impossible that He should be defeated by death or that one who is life by His very nature should yield to corruption. Indeed, Christ’s own words prove to us that He offered His flesh for the life of the world: ‘Holy Father, keep them.’ And again: ‘For their sake I make Myself holy.’

He said, ‘I make Myself holy’, meaning ‘I consecrate and offer Myself as a spotless sacrifice with a sweet savour.’ For what was offered on the altar was made holy or called holy according to the law. Therefore Christ gave His body for the life of all, and through His body planted life among us again. How this came about I shall explain as best I can.

When God’s life-giving Word came to dwell in human flesh, He remade it for its good, that is, for its life. Being linked with flesh in this unique form of union, He made it a source of life, just as He is by His own nature a source of life.

Thus the body of Christ gives life to those who share with Him. By being among those who are liable to death His body drives death out; by bringing forth in itself a principle capable of utterly destroying corruption, His body expels corruption. 

Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the good shepherd and You know Your sheep. You will lay down Your life for Your sheep. Thank You, Lord. Glory is Your Holy name! Amen.

Taken from THE DIVINE OFFICE II – LENT AND EASTERTIDE – The Office of Reading – The Second Reading, pages 550-551. 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

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I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE

I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE

(A biblical reflection on THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 22, 2011) 

Gospel Reading: Jn 14:1-12 

First Reading: Acts 6:1-7; Psalms: Ps. 33:1-2,4-5,18-19; Second Reading: 1Pet 2:4-9 

The Scripture Text

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so would I have told you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me; or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” (Jn 14:1-12 RSV) 

Jesus sensed what was going on inside the community of His disciples who must now prepare themselves for His crucifixion and departure. The disciples were growing anxious. They were not quite sure why they felt uneasy, but they did. Jesus was talking of going somewhere they could not follow. Looking around at the unsettled faces of the men who had been so close to Him for three years, Jesus spoke reassuringly: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me”  (Jn 14:1). He told them of His Father’s house and of His plan to return and take them home with Him. These words, however, were easier heard than lived, for the disciples’ thoughts were filled with impending doom. Jesus had called them together for what certainly seemed to be the last time. Their hearts were indeed troubled. 

The consolation and courage offered by Jesus is directly directed to faith in Him. The troubled heart can only find peace in Him who is our peace. The disciples no doubt had misunderstood Jesus’ departure as abandonment. Once again they found themselves on their own with little resources and little ability to trust. Seemingly, to them Jesus was one more episode of misplaced hopes and dashed dreams. However, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Jesus did not seek to calm their troubled hearts with easy answers or promises that could not be realized. Jesus would leave the disciples, but His leaving was not desertion but preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus must return to the Father so that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, could be sent to indwell in the heart of each disciple. For it is only when the Paraclete come to dwell in our hearts that fear and anxiety are replaced with a peace the world cannot give nor take away. “I will go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3). Clearly the departure of God signals a new way of relating to Him and others. We no longer turn to God out of fear but with loving confidence. We no longer use others for our own selfish ends but love them the way He taught us to love. 

Jesus’ preparation for the sending of the Holy Spirit will require the ultimate sacrifice – the laying down of His own life. Jesus told the disciples the way that led to following Him – the cross. But Thomas protested: “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Yet their entire three years with Jesus had been a preparation for following Him. Each day was further lesson in the reality of the cross. Jesus’ answer to Thomas (and to us all) is very clear: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.” (Jn 14:6-7). 

Jesus is the way to the Father. And this way is the way of the cross. Jesus is the truth. He is God’s Son sent to reveal the Father as suffering, enduring love. Jesus is the source of eternal life. Each time we eat His flesh and drink His blood we pass from death to life. The way that leads to Jesus and moves us from a troubled to a peaceful heart is the cross. The cross is not a symbol of disgrace and defeat but the sign of God’s suffering love that alone gives eternal life. To see Jesus on the cross is to see the loving heart of the Father made visible

Perhaps it seems strange that we are talking about the cross several weeks after Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet this is how it should be. The death and resurrection of Jesus cannot be separated from the ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. All of this events form part of a larger whole – God’s love for us. We must not lose sight of the cross as the supreme act of God’s love. The cross moves into the glory of resurrection and new life. In time Jesus must return to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit sent by Jesus into the hearts of the disciples is for us as well. Let not our hearts be troubled. Let us believe in Jesus and see the Father’s love. Let us have the courage and confidence to follow Jesus as the way, truth and life. 

Short Prayer: Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God, I want to glory in Your cross today. May all I think, do, and say reflect the new life that You have won for me. Amen. 

Jakarta, May 20, 2011  

A Christian Pilgrim

 

CHRIST’S CROSS, THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE

CHRIST’S CROSS, THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE

A reading from the sermons of St. Ephraem [c.306-373] the Syrian 

Sermon on our Lord, 3-4.9 

Our Lord was trodden underfoot by death, and in turn trod upon death as upon a road. He submitted to death and endured it of His own free will, in order to destroy death against death’s will. For our Lord went out carrying His cross, according to death’s wish; He cried out on the cross and led the dead out from hell, against death’s wish. 

Death killed Him through the body which He bore; the same body was the weapon with which He conquered death. His divinity was hidden beneath His humanity and came to death, which killed Him and itself was killed. Death killed His natural life, but in turn His supernatural life killed death. 

And so, since death could not devour Him without a body and the world of the dead could not swallow Him up without flesh, He came to the Virgin, so that He might receive from her a chariot on which to ride to the underworld. In the body He had assumed He entered death’s domain, broke open its strong-room and scattered the treasure. 

And so He came to Eve, the mother of all the living. She is the vineyard whose hedge death opened by Eve’s own hands so that she might taste death’s fruit. Thus Eve, the mother of all the living, became the source of death for all the living. 

But Mary blossomed, the new vine compared with the old vine, Eve. Christ, the new life, lived in her, so that when death, brazen as ever, approached her in search of his prey, life, the bane of death, was hidden within her mortal fruit. And so when death, suspecting nothing, swallowed Him up, death set life free, and with life a multitude of men. 

This glorious Son of the carpenter, who set up His cross above the all-consuming world of the dead, led the human race into the abode of life. Because through the tree the human race had fallen into the regions below, He crossed over on the tree of the cross into the abode of life. The bitter shoot had been grafted on to the tree, and now the sweet shoot was grafted on to it so that we might recognize the one whom no creature can resist. 

Glory to You! You built your cross as a bridge over death, so that departed souls might pass from the realm of death to the realm of life. 

Glory to You! You put on the body of a mortal man and made it the source of life for all mortal men. 

You are alive! Your murderers handled your life like farmers: they sowed it like grain deep in the earth, for it to spring up and raise with itself a multitude of men. 

Come, let us offer Him the great, universal sacrifice of our love, and pour out before Him our richest hymns and prayers. For He offered His cross to God as a sacrifice in order to make us all rich. 

Short Prayer: Heavenly Father. You are God the Almighty and Creator of heaven and earth. Thank you for giving us victory over sin through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia. Amen. 

Taken from THE DIVINE OFFICE II – LENT AND EASTERTIDE – The Office of Reading – The Second Reading, pages 546-547. 

A Christian Pilgrim