Jakarta, 11 June 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THE HOLY TRINITY
(A biblical reflection on the Solemnity of THE MOST HOLY TRINITY [YEAR A] – Sunday, 11 June 2017)
Gospel Reading: John 3:16-18
First Reading: Exodus 34:4b-6,8-9; Psalms: Daniel 3:52-56; Second Reading: 2Corinthians 13:11-13
The Scripture Text
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not condemned, He does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18 RSV)
In today’s reading, Jesus explains to us the real reason He came into the world. He did not wish to condemn us or to scare us into obeying God’s laws, but rather to show us He loves us and wants us to respond to that love by loving Him in return. The Bible often compares this love between God and His people to the love between a husband and wife.
A husband who knows his wife doesn’t like to pump gas, fills the tank before she uses the car. A wife who doesn’t like science fiction movies attends a Star Trek film festival with her husband because that’s his favorite show. The husband and wife do these things not because they have to but because they want to express their love for each other.
Our relationship with God is very similar. Just as the husband and wife communicate their likes and dislikes to each other, God communicates His likes and dislikes to us through Scripture and just as the couple show their love for each other by doing certain things and avoiding others, we show our love for God by doing what pleases Him and avoiding what makes Him angry. That sounds simple enough but, in reality, showing our love for God is often very difficult.
Sometimes we think of the Ten Commandments simply as a list of do’s and don’ts and maybe only reluctantly follow them because we don’t want to go to hell when we die. When this is how we view the Commandments, we are forgetting the reason God gave them to us.
Because the Commandments are God’s way of telling us what pleases Him and what does not please Him, obeying them is like the wife watching Star Trek or the husband pumping gas. Following the Commandments, then, shows our love for God. If we understand them in this way, we will no longer ask if we have to obey them but will want to obey them because that is what loving God is all about.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels, pages 112-113.)
PRAYER: Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, grant us in our misery that we may do for Your sake alone what we know You want us to do, and always want what pleases You; so that, cleansed and enlightened interiorly and fired with the ardour of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to follow in the footsteps of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so make our way to You, Most High, by Your grace alone, You who live and reign in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified, God all-powerful, for ever and ever. Amen. (A prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi  at the close of his Letter to a General Chapter).
Jakarta, 8 June 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
JOHN’S VERSION OF THE PENTECOST
(A biblical refection on the PENTECOST SUNDAY [YEAR A], 4 June 2017)
Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23
First Reading: Acts 2:1-11; Psalms: Psalm 104:1,24,29-31,34; Second Reading: 1Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
The Scripture Text
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23 RSV).
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” (John 20:21)
Pentecost is a Greek word that means “fifty days”. It originally referred to a religious feast observed fifty days after Passover, on which the Jews thanked God for the wheat harvest. Today Christians celebrate Pentecost fifty days after Easter to commemorate the day God sent the Holy Spirit to the early Church.
In today’s Gospel, “Peace” is the first word the resurrected Jesus says to the apostles, a word the Jews used in everyday speech as both a greeting and a farewell. Jesus then shows them His hands and His side to prove that it really is Him. He truly is alive!
During this post-resurrection appearance, Jesus tells His disciples He is sending them out on a mission just as His Father sent Him on one. He then breathes on them and tells them He is giving them the Holy Spirit so they can go out and bring forgiveness to all people.
The word “apostle” comes from a Greek word that means “one who is sent” (John never calls them apostles, but he calls them disciples). In today’s reading, Jesus sends the apostles to tell the world about the forgiveness of sins made possible through His death and resurrection.
Breathing on the apostles like Jesus did may seem a bit crude but this action had much religious meaning. In the book of Genesis, we read that God gave life to the first man by breathing into his nostril (Genesis 2:7) and in the book of Ezekiel the prophet describes a dream he had in which a valley of dry bones comes to life with the breath of God (Ezekiel 27:1-14) the prophet describes a dream he had in which a valley of dry bones comes to life with the breath with new life, we should understand Jesus’ actions in today’s Gospel as Him giving new life to His Church by breathing the Holy Spirit into it.
Finally, today’s reading is the closest the four Gospels come to describing the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We are accustomed to hearing about the strong wind and the tongues of fire appearing while the apostles and friends of Jesus gathered in prayer, a story we find not in the Gospels but in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all end their Gospels with Jesus promising He will soon send the Holy Spirit but only John, in today’s reading, gives us an account of the Holy Spirit actually arriving. However, since John’s story is so simple and uneventful, we often overlook it.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, “Cycling Through the Gospels”, pages 44-45)
PRAYER: Blessed Holy Spirit, come! Stir up faith and hope in me today. Fill me with confidence how You are working through me when I am with my family or while I am working. I pray to You also with the hope that I will become more aware of how You are working in my life. Amen.
Jakarta, 3 June 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THIS WILL BE A SIGN FOR YOU
(A biblical refection on CHRISTMAS MASS – Sunday, 25 December 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 96:1-3,11-13; Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
The Scripture Text
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:1-14 RSV)
In the countryside close to Bethlehem, on the first Christmas night, St. Luke tells us, there were shepherds watching over their flocks, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them. At first fearful and bewildered, the shepherds were reassured by the angel. “Be not afraid”, he said to them, “this will be a sign for you; you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”.
“This will be a sign for you.” In the Old Testament there were many such signs which were regarded as visible evidence of the presence and purpose of God. For example, in the greatest of these, when Moses received the Tables of the Law from God on Mount Sinai, we find the traditional signs of that time denoting the presence of God, peals of thunder, lightning, flashes of fire, the ground shaking. The reaction of the people was one of fear and awe, and they said to Moses, “Do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.” Yet, while Moses was speaking to God on their behalf on the mountain, their faith grew weak, to the extent that they fell into idolatry and worshipped a golden calf.
Four hundred years later, on the same mountain, we have another sign, a further self-revelation by God, this time to be another sign, a further self-revelation by God, this time to the great prophet Elijah, who stood in a cave while the Lord passed by. Then, we are told, there came a mighty wind, followed by an earthquake and by fire, but God was not in any of these; He was no longer associated with the forces of nature. But after the fire there came the “whisper of a gentle breeze”, or taking the Hebrew literally, “a still small voice”, and when Elijah heard this he covered his face, because he felt himself in the presence of God, and no one, it was believed, could gaze upon the face of the Almighty God and live. Elijah regarded God as a Spirit who was beyond human comprehension. Yet again, while all this was taking place, the people of Israel were in a state of revolt against God, and lapsed into idolatry.
Let us in the light of these two signs try and understand the sign granted to the shepherds of Bethlehem, that of the baby in the manger. For it is here, we can say with certainty, that we have the greatest self-communication of all time by God to the human race. There is nothing of the fire or lightning of Mount Sinai, but the glory of the Lord. There is no dreadful rumbling of earthquake or thunder, but a heavenly host praising God and proclaiming peace to the world. And although there is the still small voice which somehow recalls that which was heard by the prophet Elijah, it is rather the first earthly sound made by a new-born child. But in complete contrast to the other two signs, this new sign of the baby in the manger, is not one to instill terror into the hearts of those privileged to gaze upon Him.
Later on in His public life, Christ in a reference to the Cross was to say, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32). And in the humility of His birth, in the gathering of some lowly shepherds drawn to His manger, He was from His first moments on earth already preaching the lesson of self-abondonment that He would preached in so complete a way during His last moments on Calvary. What one among us is not touched by the helplessness of a new born babe. The infant lying in the manger, on the threshold of life, is a sign to melt the heart, to draw all people, as would the crucified on the Cross with the last agonizing breath of His life.
But the tragedy is that this sign, like the other two, would be met largely with unconcern, misunderstanding and disbelief. Christ would be rejected by the leaders of Israel, the Pharisees, Scribes, Priests, and the majority of its people, because He did not correspond to their expectations of what the Messiah should be. We should do travel down that road, nor turn our backs on the actions of the Holy Spirit by trying to hold on to our own concepts of God.
Prayer: O Holy Spirit, open our minds and let our hearts be melted by the consideration of God assuming a tiny, fail human form, and being laid in a manger. May our faith in Christ then reborn this Christmas day, because only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of those things which at present remain hidden from our view. Amen.
Jakarta, 24 December 2016
A Christian Pilgrim
COME, HOLY SPIRIT, COME!
(A biblical refection on the PENTECOST SUNDAY, 15 May 2016)
First Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Psalms: Psalm 104:1,24,29-34; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7.12-13 or Romans 8:8-17; Gospel Reading: John 14:15-16,23-26
The Scripture Text
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:1-11 RSV)
Among the qualities we must admire in others – and hopefully to be admired and found in ourselves – is fidelity. Perhaps fidelity is so admired because we experience it so rarely. What is fidelity? Fidelity is a virtue (strength) of character by which we keep our word in the face of danger and personal loss.
It is often said that times change and with it our commitments. When we make a commitment the circumstances are known. However, tomorrow or next week things may be different. This is certainly true. Yet what must endure is fidelity to our word regardless of the change of circumstances and the inconvenience that we may fac. Our word cannot be binding only when things suit us or work to advantage. Our various pledges and vows (husband, wife, priest, teacher, doctor, student, etc.) can weigh heavy on our hearts. New obligations and even misfortunes can arise. What to do? The faithful person “keeps on keeping on”. The faithful person continues to keep watch and refuses to just walk away.
Pentecost Sunday is a powerful example of Jesus’ fidelity. In the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel we read: “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” (John 14:18-20). Today we celebrate the gift of the Spirit and the beginning of the public witnessing of the faith-community. Through His passion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension Jesus remained faithful. He told His followers of His constant love and guidance. Today is one of the great joy, for the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts. We can believe and trust the words of Jesus. They are forever.
Our first reading from Acts, recounting the Pentecost story, says that the Holy Spirit came to rest on the disciples, who “began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). The fear that once gripped their hearts is now replaced by God’s liberating love. They must go public and witness that “Jesus is Lord”. They mus go forth and share the peace they have received from Jesus. As their sins have been forgiven, so they must now set about the ministry of reconciliation: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
On this Pentecost we must ask some very profound questions of ourselves and our community: How do we witness that Jesus is Lord? Are we chariots of fire alive and burning with the flame of Pentecost? Are we bold in our proclamation and even bolder in working for justice, peace and forgiveness among individuals and communities? For today is the day that we are sent forth to proclaim peace and forgiveness froam the only One who is lasting peace and total forgiveness. The Holy Spirit comes as a flame to burn away our illusion and liberate us to see the world on fire for Christ and His peace. In a world which so desperately needs the Holy Spirit, let us be about the work of Pentecost.
There are so many false flames in the world seeking to “light up our life”. Yet in the end such flames only consume us and leave us dead and cold. The Holy Spirit is a flame of bold conviction and profound proclamations about Jesus and the truth of our lives. The flame of the Holy Spirit does not consume us but transforms us into the likeness of the One who said: “Please I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you … You heard Me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you’” (John 14:27-28). Today in the Spirit, Jesus comes into our hearts. Let us earnestly pray: “Come, Lord Jesus! Come, Holy Spirit, come!”
Note: Adapted from Rev. William F. Maestri, GRACE UPON GRACE, Makati, Philippines: ST. PAUL PUBLICATIONS, 1990, pages 45-47.
Prayer: Father of light, from whom every good gift comes, send Your Holy Spirit into our lives with the power of a mighty wind, and by the flame of Your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Loosen our tongues to sing Your praise in words beyond the power of speech, for without Your Holy Spirit man could never raise His voice in words of peace or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord, who lives and reign with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 May 2016
A Christian Pilgrim