Introduction:Lent begins with a reflection on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The Church assigns temptation stories to the beginning of Lent because temptations come to everybody, not only to Jesus, and we seem almost genetically programmed to yield to them. Scripture lessons: The first readingdescribes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God during the harvest festival in order to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. In the second reading, St. Paul warns the early Christians converted from Judaism not to yield to their constant temptation to return to the observances of the Mosaic Laws. He reminds them that they will be saved only by acknowledging the risen Jesus as Lord and Savior. The graphic temptations of Jesus described by Matthew and Luke in their Gospels are pictorial and dramatic representations of the inner struggle against a temptation that Jesus experienced throughout his public life. The devil was trying to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission, mainly through a temptation to become the political Messiah of Jewish expectations, and to use his Divine power to avoid suffering and death.
Life Messages:1) We need to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed: Like Jesus, every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, and is drawn to the use of unjust or sinful means to attain good ends. Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations through prayer, penance and the effective use of the ‘‘word of God.” Temptations make us true warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. We are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: "The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Hence during Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies with prayer (especially by participating in the Holy Mass), with penance and with the meditative reading of the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible prepares us for the moment of temptation by enabling us "to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day," as William Barclay puts it.2) We need to grow in holiness during Lent by prayer, reconciliation and sharing. We become resistant and even immune to temptations as we grow healthier in soul by following the traditional Lenten practices: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him and listening to Him; b) by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives by uniting ourselves with God both by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by forgiving those who have hurt us and asking forgiveness of those whom we have hurt; and c) by sharing our love with others through our selfless and humble service, our almsgiving and our helping of those in need.
LENT 1 [C] (Feb 14): Dt: 26: 4-10, Rom 10:8-13, Lk 4: 1-13
Anecdote: # 1: The Exorcist: Because of the book and movie, The Exorcist, there is probably more talk about the Devil than ever. The movie earned even more than The Godfather - $180 million. For blocks people lined up, waiting to enter the theaters. The movie was so frightening that one theater operator reported that, at each showing, there were four blackouts, six vomiting spells, and many spontaneous departures during the show. Today, we are pre-occupied with the Devil. In New Jersey, a twenty-year old lad persuaded his two best friends to drown him because he believed that upon death he would be reborn as a leader of forty legions of devils. In San Francisco, there are 10,000 dues-paying members of a church of Satan. In The Exorcist, we see how terrible it is to be possessed by the Devil and how hard it is to get the Devil out of a person. The film tells the story of how a twelve-year old girl was possessed by the Devil, how unsuccessful every attempt was to cure her, and how two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism in the Name of Jesus and with His power. So horrible is it to be possessed by the Devil that the movie was considered a horror movie, leaving viewers with psychological trauma. Our real concern today should not be how to get the Devil out of us, but how to keep the Devil out. Even if we get the Devil out of us, we may not be permanently free of the Devil. Recently, someone asked me what would happen if one did not pay one's Exorcist. I did not know. He told me, "You will be repossessed!" In today's Gospel, Jesus' challenge was to keep Satan from entering Him. We see Jesus confronted by the Devil and watch Jesus refuse to allow the Devil to come into his life and thinking. Today, we need to study the methods of Jesus that we, too, may keep the Devil out!
# 2: The Satan Seller: Mike Warnke, known as "America’s Number One Christian Comedian," has sold three million copies of the story of his life, The Satan Seller, where he explains how he escaped from Satan's trap. He has appeared on The 700 Club, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Focus on the Family, and ABC’s 20/20.Warnke’s Gospel ministry is based on the story he tells of his involvement with Satanism. The Satan Sellernarrates the story of a young orphan boy raised in foster homes, who joined a secret, satanic cult with fifteen hundred followers in three major cities. First, he descended into the hell of drug addiction, and then he ascended in the satanic ranks to the position of the high priest. He had unlimited wealth and power at his disposal, provided by members of Satanism’s highest echelon, the Illuminati. Then, after his conversion to Christ, he described the basic concepts of Satanism, warning readers about the real danger of satanic temptations. Mike's story is a good commentary on today’s Gospel, which describes Jesus' confrontation with Satan.
# 3: From Eve to Buddha & Dr. Faustus:In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree to become like God. The devil (Mara) came to the Buddha as he sat in contemplation under the Boddhitree, tempting him to renounce the spiritual enrichment he sought by bombarding his mind with sensual pleasures of this world. Literature and films abound with stories of people who have sold their souls to Satan for temporary earthly pleasures.The classical example is Faustus, treated by Christopher Marlowe in The Tragic History of Dr. Faustus (1588) and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Faust (Published: Part One, 1808, Part 2, 1833). Today’s Gospel passage describes Jesus’ temptations.
Introduction:Lent begins with a reflection on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The first readingdescribes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. In the second reading, St. Paul warns the early Christians converted from Judaism not to yield to their constant temptation to return to the observances of the Mosaic Laws. He reminds them that they will be saved only by acknowledging the risen Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Church assigns temptation stories to the beginning of Lent because temptations come to everybody, not only to Jesus, and we seem almost genetically programmed to yield to them. We are surrounded on all sides by temptations, and they have become so familiar to twenty-first century life that we scarcely notice them.
The first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy (26: 4-10), describes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God during the harvest festival to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. The people would bow down in God's presence and hear the recital of the mighty acts of Yahweh in Jewish history. This ritual was performed annually as part of the Covenant renewal ceremony known as the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover and the day after the Seventh Sabbath which ended the seventh week after Passover; thus got the name Feast of Weeks], when the people formally declared their loyalty to the Covenant with Yahweh.
In his letter to the Romans (10: 8-13), Paul counsels the early Christian converts from Judaism not to yield to their temptation to go back to the practices of the Mosaic Law. Many of these early Christians insisted that Gentile converts to Christ needed to become Jews first and to keep the whole Jewish law for their "justification." But in today’s second reading, Paul teaches that none of us can achieve righteousness on our own. Hence, Paul argues that God offers us a share in Divine righteousness as grace -- a free gift -- to which we contribute nothing except our Faith in Christ’s Resurrection and our public acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We live out that acceptance through our Baptism and by using his ongoing gifts of grace in our later virtuous words and deeds. Thus Paul answers those who are tempted to dismiss the Resurrection and take from the Gospels only what seems most reasonable.
Exegesis:Forty days of fasting and prayer. The phrase “forty days” was the Hebrew way of expressing a long period of time. We find it used in the recounting of various incidents in Jewish history: a) forty days of rain in Noah’s time (Gn 7:1-23); b) forty days which Moses spent on the mountain with God (Ex 34:28); c) forty days during which the prophet Elijah traveled in the wilderness (II Kgs 19:8). The wilderness was probably a desert in Judea, perhaps the great deserts of Horeb or Sinai, where the children of Israel were tried for forty years, and where Moses and Elijah fasted forty days.
The temptations. Bible scholars interpret the graphic temptations of Jesus described by Matthew and Luke as a pictorial and dramatic representation of the inner struggle against a temptation that Jesus experienced throughout his public life. The devil was not trying to lure Jesus into some particular sin -- rather, he was trying to entice Jesus away from the accomplishment of his mission, mainly through a temptation to become the political Messiah of Jewish expectations and to use his Divine power to avoid suffering and death. The opposition, hostility and rejection which Jesus experienced were constant temptations for him to use His power as God's Son to overcome evil. The temptation story depicts Jesus as obedient to his Father’s will, refusing to be seduced into using his Divine power or authority wrongly. Each of the three temptations, according to the Fathers of the Church, represents an area in which humans regularly fail: the lust of the flesh (stones to bread), the lust of the eye and the heart (ruling over all kingdoms), and the pride of life (a spectacular leap from the Temple). Note that Jesus overcame these temptations through the knowledge of his identity, his purpose, and God's plan for human salvation.
The offensive and the defensive techniques employed: The temptations to turn stones into bread, to worship Satan and to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple demonstrate three aspects of self-control: material, civil and spiritual. Likewise, they correspond with three levels of human blessings: 1) material goods, 2) political power and 3) spiritual powers. These, in turn, correspond to three human seductions: 1) If you will worship me, I will make you rich; 2) If you will worship me, I will give you political power; 3) If you will worship me, I will endow you with magical power. Jesus dismisses the temptations by references to Deuteronomy. "One does not live by bread alone" (8:3); "Worship the Lord your God"(6:13), and "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (6:16). Jesus used two powerful weapons against the temptations: the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture. First, Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit," and the Spirit helped him to survive his temptations (Lk 4:1, 4:14, 4:18). Second, Jesus quoted Holy Scripture in response to all three temptations.
The first temptation: The first temptation was well-timed. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights. Since the people of Israel in the Old Testament had been miraculously fed by manna, why not the Son of God? Giving in to the temptation to make bread from a stone (vv. 2b-4), would, therefore, be analogous to Israel's failure to trust God for sustenance in the wilderness (Ex 16:3, Ex 16:4-5, Ex 16:20). This first temptation was not merely aimed at the urge to satisfy Jesus’ own physical hunger. It was also a temptation to ignore His real mission as Messiah and to respond to others’ physical needs alone, without, at the same time, showing them that the Kingdom of God is more than mere food and drink. Let us ask ourselves the same question: do we use the powers God has given us – physical, financial, mental, or spiritual – for our own satisfaction, comfort or enrichment, or for the well-being, spiritual as well as physical, of others in the community?
The second temptation: In the second test, Satan offers Jesus an easy way to establish the Kingdom of God on earth: enter the world of political power. The temptation to gain the kingdoms of the world by worshiping the devil (vv. 5-8) is analogous to Israel's temptation to worship other gods (Dt 6:13-15, Ex 32:4; Dt 9:16). The temptation for Jesus was whether he would opt for political power and success or choose the path that would lead to suffering, humiliation and death. Satan said: ""Worship me and it will all be yours." But this was really an invitation to accomplish His mission by dishonorable means: "If you are going to get along in this world, you need to compromise now and then." This temptation points to our subtle attraction to doing the right thing by using the wrong means. Jesus answered Satan: "It is written, 'Thou shall worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.'" (Dt 6:13).
The third temptation: Luke ironically presents Jesus’ third temptation as taking place on the pinnacle of the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life.This is analogous to Israel's testing of God at Massah and Meribah (Ex 17:3, 17:7, Dt 6:16). In this final temptation, Jesus was urged to doubt God. Satan suggested that Jesus should put God to the test: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” trusting in Divine protection as promised in Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus responded by quoting another text from Deuteronomy: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Dt 6:16), which refers to an incident in which "the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'" (Ex 17:7). Sometimes we become angry with God when He fails to respond to tests we set up for Him. The test may be something like this: "If my husband is healed of cancer, then I'll know God loves me." "If my boy comes back safely from Iraq, I’ll know God is on my side." "If I get the job that I’ve been praying for, I’ll know that God cares about me." Jesus teaches us that the Spirit-filled life requires unconditional surrender to God's will.
'Bye for the time being:The devil departed from him for a time: The Holy Spirit, Who brought Jesus safely through the temptation and empowered him for his ministry, would later fill the disciples and empower the Church (Acts 2:4). However, the temptation story ends with the ominous statement that the devil departed from him until a more opportune time. That “time” came at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. It came again whenever people demanded signs from him to prove who he was (Lk 11:16, 29-32; 22:3, 54-62; 23:35-39). Ultimately, it came in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.
Life Messages: 1) We need to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed: Like Jesus, every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and positions of authority, and is drawn to the use of unjust or sinful means to attain good ends. Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations through prayer, penance and the effective use of the ‘‘word of God.” Temptations make us true warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. We are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: "The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Hence, during Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies with prayer (especially by participating in the Holy Mass), penance and the meditative reading of the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible prepares us for the moment of temptation by enabling us "to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day," as William Barclay puts it.
2) We need to grow in holinessduring Lent by prayer, reconciliation and sharing.We become resistant and even immune to temptations as we grow healthier in soul by following the traditional Lenten practices: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him and listening to Him; b) by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives, uniting ourselves with God both by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by forgiving those who have hurt us and asking forgiveness of those whom we have hurt; and c) by sharing our love with others through our selfless and humble service, our almsgiving and our helping of those in need.
3) We need to be on guard against veiled temptations: Let us remember that even Spirit-filled, sanctified and vibrant Christians are still subject to the Original Temptation of Eve: "You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil” (Gn 3:5). We are tempted to give ourselves godlike status and treat others as our subordinates. Consequently, we resent every limitation of our freedom and vigorously deny the fact that we are dependent others. We don't want to be responsible for the consequences of our choices. We are also tempted to accomplish honorable goals by less-than-honorable means such as the use of lotteries to help schools, or casinos to provide jobs for Native Americans, thus setting traps for the most vulnerable members of our society. These are veiled temptations to accomplish good ends by bad means. We are also tempted to fraternize with people of questionable character. Our temptation to adopt pop culture in liturgical services ultimately leads to trivialization of the worship service.
(Prepared by Fr. Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org) for CBCI
Introduction:Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum), is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh, King Ben Hadad of Syria, and Queen Esther fasted wearing sackcloth and ashes.In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel in the first reading insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart, and not simply regret for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day:The priest, dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return" or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:
1- a firm conviction that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable;
2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance; and
3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance and a renewal of our life as the prodigal son did.
Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for sins by turning away from occasions of sins and making a right turn to God.We need to express our repentance by becoming reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to others who have offended us.
# 2: We need to do prayerful fasting and little acts of penance for our sins,following the example of Jesus before his public ministry. Fasting reduces our “spiritual obesity” or the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies, evil habits and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy.
ASH WEDNESDAY (Feb 10) Jl 2: 12-18; II Cor 5: 20- 6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Introduction:Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I (served September 3, 590 to March 12, 604; McBrien, Lives of the Popes, p. 96), and it was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 A.D. Since the 11th century, receiving ashes on the first day of Lent has been a universal Christian practice. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply sorrow for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day:The priest, dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return" or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:
2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins and do penance; and
3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance, as the prodigal son did.
Ash Wednesday message: We are invited toeffect a real conversion and renewal of life during the period of Lent by fasting, penance, and reconciliation.
I- We are todo prayerful fasting: a) byfollowing the example of Jesus before his public ministry, and b) by imitating the king and the people of Nineveh (Jon 3: 7), who fasted in sackcloth pleading for mercy from the Lord God; of the Syrian King, Ben Hadad (I Kgs 20: 31-34),who did not fast, but wore sackcloth and begged Israel’s King Ahab for his life); of Queen Esther who fasted, begging God to save her people (Est 4:16); of the soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who fasted so greatly they felt too weak to fight (1 Mc 3:17); and of St. Paul who observed "frequent fastings" (2 Cor 11:27).
(Historical note: In the past, the Greek Orthodox Christians had 180 days of fasting and the Orthodox as well as Catholic Syrian Christians had 225 to 290 days of fasting every year. The Roman church also had a number of fast days. Technically speaking, fasting is now only required on two days in Lent, namely, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, in addition, abstinence alone is commanded on all Fridays of Lent).
Fasting: True fasting is “tearing one’s heart and returning to God” with true repentance for one’s sins (Jl 2:13). It is “breaking unjust fetters, freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread with the hungry, clothing with the naked and home with the homeless, and not turning away from the needy relatives” (Is 58:6-7).
Advantages of fasting: a - It reduces the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (=spiritual obesity).
b - It gives us additional moral and spiritual strength.
c - It offers us more time to be with God in prayer.
d - It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy.
e - “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of Christians who eat and drink less in order that their minds may be clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God's word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day's liturgy throughout Lent” (Thomas Merton).
II - We are to lead a life of penance because:
1 - It is the model given by Jesus.
2 - It was his teaching: “If any one wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” “Try to enter through the narrow gate.”
3 - Theological reasons: a) it removes the weakness left by sin in our souls, b) it pays the temporary debt caused by sin, and c) it makes our prayers more fruitful.
III - We are to enlarge our hearts for reconciliation.
Byreceiving the ashes, we confess that we are sinners in need of the mercy of God, and we ask forgiveness for the various ways in which we have hurt our brothers and sisters.In the recent past, our Catholic community has experienced acute suffering caused by the scandalous behavior of a few of our spiritual leaders. Lent is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us allow the spirit of forgiveness to work its healing influence in our parishes and families. God bless you.
Ash Wednesday agenda: By Almsgiving, we highlight others as being more important than ourselves and give ourselves to them as Jesus gave Himself to others. By Prayer, we highlight God as being most important in our life, magnifying Him, humbling ourselves (thus realizing the distance between Him and us), and trying to come to come closer to the Lord. By Fasting, we discover our personal self and see who we really are. Cutting, pruning and disciplining ourselves will be part of this job. Doing all these three things with joyful heart and mind will prepare us to rise with Jesus. (Fr. Raj).
Anecdotes: 1) The Potato Salad Promise: Tony Campolo tells about a Church that one day every year celebrates student recognition day. One year, after several students had spoken quite eloquently, the pastor started his sermon in a striking way: "Young people, you may not think you're going to die, but you are. One of these days, they'll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the church and eat potato salad." We may not like to acknowledge it, but someday, every one of us will have to face the "potato salad promise", that we will all die. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust....."
2)Kill the Cyclops in you: The Cyclops is that strange monster of Greek mythology with one big eye in the middle of its forehead. We pretend to ignore the truth that, for 325 days of each year, we are all Cyclopes because there is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right in the middle of our heads! If we are skeptical about this assertion, we might watch our words for one day, from morning to night. What’s the first thing we think about each morning? “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “I think that” and “I agree” and “I disagree” and “I like this” and “I don’t like that” and “I just want to say...” I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that we think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.” The problem with seeing with one eye is that we’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional because with only one eye, we have no depth-perception. Consequently, we go wrong in assessing people. In Greek mythology, the Cyclops was killed when Odysseus and four of his men took a spare staff of the Cyclops, hardened its tip in the fire and used that to destroy the monster’s one big eye. It is precisely this that we must do on Ash Wednesday. With two strokes of his thumb smeared with ash on our forehead, the priest will cross that “I” out of our head. By this sacramental ritual we are asked to take that “I” at the front of our mind and cross it out by “self-denial” and “self- mortification.” Doing so will help us to see the beautiful creatures of God all around us and replace “I” with “You." (Condensed from Fr. J. K. Horn)
3)“Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Some of the senior citizens here today can remember a song that was popular exactly 41 years ago. In 1971, a group from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit called “Signs.”The song is about how signs are always telling us what to do, and the chorus says, “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Four decades later, the question it poses – “Can’t you read the sign?” — is one we might ask ourselves today. We are going to be signed with ash in the sign of our Faith, the cross. “Can’t you read the sign?” The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves. It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken, and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses. It also reminds us that we are dust and ashes – mortal human beings carrying an immortal soul. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/)
4) A living children’s sermon: The Rev. Timothy J. Kennedy tells a wonderful true story that is perfect for Ash Wednesday. It was told to him by a colleague, Pastor Chris Mietlowski. It concerned a Baptism that Mietlowski once performed on an infant named Eric. During the Baptism, Mietlowski traced the cross of Christ on Eric’s forehead using the oil of catechumens. Following ceremony, Eric’s family celebrated the occasion with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate burgers and chips and played volleyball under a summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his backyard stroller. When Mom got him up, whoops. Basted on Eric’s forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric’s forehead following his Baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sun-screen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric’s forehead as a sunburn. Eric’s Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children’s sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best basting a child can have to be marked
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE FOR LENT
1. Everyone 14 years of age or older is bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent including GOOD FRIDAY.
2. Everyone 18 years of age and under 60 years of age is bound to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
3. On these two days of fast and abstinence only one full meatless meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal one full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted on these two days, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.
4. To disregard completely the law of fast and abstinence is a serious matter.
5. Going to Mass every Sunday, doing acts of charity, forgiveness, and good deeds of virtue are obligations of daily life of Catholics especially during Lent.
Give Up for Lent:
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person.
There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift: your time!
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.
GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. (Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, "What to Give up for Lent")
(Prepared by Fr. Tony (email@example.com) and published by CBCI)
Scripture lessons: Isaiah in the first reading and Peter in today’s Gospel express their unworthiness to be in the presence of God’s great holiness, and Peter and Isaiah both immediately receive their Divine calls. Today’s second reading describes the call of another great apostle, Paul, who judges himself to be unworthy of the name or the call as he was a former persecutor of the Christians. It was by giving these three men a strong conviction of their unworthiness and of their need for total dependence on His grace that God prepared them for their missions. The Second Vatican Council teaches that we are all called to ministry by virtue of our Baptism into Jesus Christ.
Life Messages: 1) We need to pray that our encounters with the holiness of God may lead us to recognize our sinfulness. God, who calls us and commissions us for His service, wants us to realize His presence everywhere and in everyone, to repent of our sins and to remain in readiness to speak and act for Him in our life circumstances as He shall direct.
2) We need to teach and practice expressions of reverence for the Lord. We need to express our reverence for God through appropriate bodily gestures. For example, when we come into Church we need to show reverence for Jesus’ presence in the tabernacle by making a deep bow or by genuflecting and blessing ourselves with sign of the cross. Then we need to honor Him by listening to the word of God and by actively participating in the liturgy's prayers and singing. This same sense of reverence can be expressed by keeping the Bible, God’s living word to us, in a prominent place in our homes and by kissing it each time we read from it. True reverence for God naturally leads us to the reverent, respectful love of our neighbors as God dwells in them. 3) Each of us has a unique mission in the Church. This is why God has a different call for each of us. Each of us is unique, so each of us has a mission which no one else can fulfill. Let us accomplish this mission by radiating the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus and by participating in the various ministries of our parish.
Anecdote 1: “Ours is total commitment!” There was a story about the hen and the pig bragging to each other about their contribution and commitment to humanity. The hen brags: “We hens supply thousands of eggs for the market every day. Ours is the best.” Not satisfied, the pig countered, “And who lay down their lives so that people may eat bacon, lechon, barbecue, ham and sausages? Pigs. Ours is total commitment!” In all the readings for today, especially the Gospel, the message is one – a Call from God and the Commitment expected from those God has called.
# 2: A call rejected: Reverend Billy Graham tells of a time early in his ministry when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy had told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, “If you’ll come to the Baptist church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to Heaven.” “I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “Why?” Billy Graham asked him. “Because you don’t even know your way to the post office! How can you show me the way to Heaven?” Today’s readings tell us about the calls of the prophet Isaiah, Paul, and Peter to God’s ministry.
# 3: Call answered as a continuous process: There is a story about a sophomore who worked in the library at Princeton, New Jersey to earn money to help with his education. One night about closing time, he was walking around the empty halls of the library when he noticed in the very back corner amid an old stack of books, an old man reading and taking notes furiously. The old man was very intent. The librarian became a little curious so he went back to the old man and said, "My, what are you studying so intently?" The old man looked up long enough to say, "Well, I'm a student of physics." The young librarian said, "Well, last year I took a course in physics and I think I have all I need for an understanding of physics." He then turned and walked back to his desk. You can imagine his chagrin a few minutes later when the old man checked out some books, and on his library card was the name Albert Einstein. God's call is a calling to a process, not to a single task. Today’s Scripture readings about the calls of Isaiah, Peter and Paul remind us that our calling is to a lifelong process of obedience, service and surrender to God in which we grow daily more like Jesus. There is nothing in the world more joyful than that. There is nothing in the world more challenging.
# 4: Divine call daily executed: One day, author and educator Howard Hendricks was on a plane that was delayed from takeoff. As passengers became irritated and demanding, Howard noticed how gracious one of the flight attendants continued to be with each passenger. When they were finally in the air he continued to be amazed at her poise and control. When she came by his seat, Howard asked if he could write a letter of commendation to the airline on her behalf. “I don’t work for the airline,” she replied, “I work for Jesus Christ. My husband and I prayed this morning that I would be a good representative of Jesus Christ on this flight.” Do you have a career or a calling? You see, somewhere out on Lake Galilee, a handful of fishermen were transformed in such a way that they would eventually change the world because Christ had come and had given them a mission for eternity.
Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is God's call and people's response. Today’s readings teach us that Christian spirituality is discipleship, which means a positive response to God’s call. Discipleship has three steps: 1) The revelation: The miraculous, catch of fish described in today’s Gospel was a revelation of Jesus’ identity as the One sent from God. 2) The recognition and confession of one’s unworthiness and inadequacy: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 3) The word of reassurance from Jesus and a call to share in his life-giving mission. Today’s readings are “epiphany-call stories” which tell us that God has His own criteria for selecting people to be prophets and ministers. Presenting the special calls, or vocations, of Isaiah, Paul and Peter as life-changing events, the readings challenge us to examine our own personal calls to conversion and discipleship. When faced with the awesome power of God, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter are all struck dumb by a sense of their own unworthiness. Peter in today’s Gospel and Isaiah in the first reading express their unworthiness to be in the presence of God’s great holiness, and Peter and Isaiah both immediately receive their Divine calls. Today’s second reading describes the call of another great apostle, Paul, who judges himself to be unworthy of the name or the call as he was a former persecutor of the Christians. It was by giving these three men a strong conviction of their unworthiness and of their need for total dependence on His grace that God prepared them for their missions. The calls of these various ministers of God are set before us so that we can reassess our own call from God and our response to Him. The Second Vatican Council teaches that we are all called to ministry by virtue of our Baptism into Jesus Christ.
First reading, Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8: In the late eighth century BC, God's people in the Promised Land had become divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. Among outside hostile forces, Assyria was the dominant power in the region. A fourth nation, Syria, was also vying for power, and trying to recruit Israel to support its ambitions. The kings of Israel and Judah started cooperating in political schemes to insure their nations’ safety, instead of relying faithfully on the Lord God to sustain them. This was the situation in which Isaiah received God’s mission to speak God’s word to the kings and people of Judah and Israel. Yahweh permitted Isaiah to experience His magnificence in a vision in the Temple of Jerusalem. Experiencing the glory of God, Isaiah at once confessed his unworthiness, calling out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” In the presence of God’s holiness, Isaiah became painfully aware of his own sinful human nature. However, when cleansed by God, he was ready for His ministry: "Here I am. Send me!" God gave him the courage to speak His word, interpret His will, and call His people and their leaders to repent and return to God’s ways.
Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11: Some Corinthian Christians questioned Paul's authority and disputed the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Paul silenced them by presenting the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Then he recounted the story of how he had been chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles. But Paul confessed his unworthiness to be an apostle because of his former persecution of Christians and gave the full credit to God for his call to the ministry: "By the grace of God I am what I am.” That is, it was only by the grace of God that Paul was claiming the designation of "apostle" and only by that authority that he proclaimed the Gospel, toiling harder than the other apostles. He reminded the Corinthians that he had already passed on to them the traditional confession of faith about Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which he had received personally from Christ Himself. Hence, the Corinthians should not doubt his teaching about the resurrection, lest they forfeit salvation and wind up having believed in vain. A real Faith not only accepts the content of God's message but involves a total surrender of one's self and all one has into God's hands. Our response to God’s grace must be like that of Paul.
Exegesis: Epiphany on the sea: The story of the miraculous catch of fish described in today’s Gospel is similar to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus recounted in John 21: 4-14. In both accounts, the apostles at first fail to recognize who Jesus is, then receive a revelation of his true identity. This prompts a full confession of Faith from Simon Peter to which Jesus responds by commissioning him as the representative of the disciples. In this sense, both narratives are Epiphanies in which Jesus reveals himself to the world as the Messiah —for he does what only God can do. The point of this story lies, not in the miraculous catch, but in the confession of Peter and his commissioning by Jesus.
The fishermen and fishing: The scene is the Sea of Galilee (Gennesaret in Greek and Tiberias in Latin). This body of water is thirteen miles long and seven and a half miles wide. In Jesus’ time, there were ten prosperous towns situated around the lake. Most of the people residing in them made their living from the waters in front of them. Thus, one gets the idea of how rich the lake was in fish. The Sea of Galilee was the site of many manifestations of Jesus’ Divine power. In the incident in today's Gospel, Jesus preached from Peter's boat to a large crowd jammed together at the edge of the water. When the teaching had ended, Jesus told Peter to pull out into deeper water for a catch of fish. In matters of fishing, Peter was an expert, while Jesus was only a carpenter. Hence Peter, perhaps not wanting Jesus to look foolish, explained, "Master, we have worked hard all night long, caught nothing." Peter might have added that fish come to the surface in the Sea of Galilee only at night, or that the presence and noise of people would frighten the remaining fish away. Instead he said, “Nevertheless, if You wish it, I will lower the nets.”
Hope against hope: That declaration of trust was what made the miracle that followed possible. We may assume that Jesus smiled a little, indicating that he understood Peter’s point and still wanted the fisherman to take the boat out into deeper water. So Peter obeyed. This time, however, instead of pulling up an empty net, Peter and Andrew found the net was filled to bursting point, and they had to ask the help of their partners, Zebedee’s sons James and John, to help them bring in the catch. Simon Peter understood the message very quickly. Confronted by the size of the catch, he recognized the presence of God before him and became convinced of his own pride and self-centeredness, that is, of his sinfulness. We find the same response in all three readings today. Isaiah, seeing the glory of God in his vision, says, "What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips... and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of hosts." Paul, not particularly known for his modesty, says, "I am the least of the apostles... I hardly deserve the name apostle." Peter begs Jesus to go away. His simple confession --“Leave me Lord. I am a sinful man.”-- marks a turning point in his life, and becomes the model for our response to Jesus. Jesus seized the opportunity to proclaim Peter's mission, a call Peter was able to receive because he had seen the tremendous power of God. Thus Peter became the first person in the Gospel to acknowledge his sinfulness. He is also the first apostle to be called by Jesus. Today’s Gospel concludes with an inspiring image of commitment: “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11).
The abundance miracle: The miraculous catch of fish is a miracle of abundance and resembles other "abundance" miracles such as the sending of manna to Israel in the wilderness (Ex 16), the widow’s never-empty meal jar and oil jug (1 Kgs 17:8-16), the necessary supply of oil for the lamps for the rededication ceremony of the Temple (2 Kgs 4:1-7), and Elisha's feeding of a hundred men with twenty loaves of bread (2 Kgs 4:42-44). Later in this same Gospel, we will see Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish (9:12-17). The Gospel of John reports another abundance miracle, the wine Jesus supplied at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). All these "abundance" miracles have two common characteristics: (1) they meet human needs and (2) they demonstrate God's power. The spiritual outcome of this particular miracle was that the disciples, "left everything and followed [Jesus]" (v. 11).
Dimensions of discipleship: The Gospel reading today displays the three dimensions of discipleship: (1) the recognition of the power of Jesus, (2) the response of confession, and (3) the assurance of success when we follow God’s word. Peter's commission is one which is repeated often in the New Testament (Lk 9: 20, 22:32; Jn 21: 1ff; Mt 16: 16ff). Peter and the other disciples were given the privilege of sharing in Christ's work of gathering people to God. As they shared in gathering the fish, so now they would share in gathering "lost" human beings. Simon’s response was similar to the responses made in other Old Testament human encounters with God. As he stood before the burning bush, Moses confessed his disqualifications for leadership, particularly his inability to speak well. (Ex 3:11-4:17, esp. 4:10). Later in the Bible, when God came to Solomon in a dream, Solomon declared that he was not wise enough to govern God’s people and asked for an “understanding heart” (1 Kgs 3:7-9). Likewise, when God called Jeremiah, the prophet recognized the inadequacy of his youth to take on this mission (Jer 1:6).
Who are called as the fishers of men? It is not true that Christ’s invitation to become “fishers of men” is addressed only to the apostles and their successors (the bishops together with the priests and religious). Every Christian is commissioned to a ministry of love and justice by virtue of his/her Baptism. Lumen Gentium - one of the documents of Vatican II, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in paragraph no. 31 describes all of us very clearly as, “the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ’s Body and are placed in the people of God and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” In addition to this, Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem no. 3 says, “Incorporated into Christ’s Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, the laity are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself.” It is even stated that where lay involvement is lacking, “the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect; where lay responsibility is absent the Church is incomplete,” (Apostolicam Actousitatem nos. 10, 21, PCP II).
Life Messages: 1) We need to pray that our encounters with the holiness of God may lead us to recognize our sinfulness. The Good News of today’s Gospel is that our sinfulness -- our pride and self-centeredness – does not repel God. Our God is a God Who gives sinners a new start. It is important that we acknowledge our sinfulness. Our response must be modeled on that of the tax collector in the parable: "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Lk 18:13). The recognition of our inadequacy and sin is necessary for us, if we are to be willing and able to receive transformation through God’s grace. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter teach us that even the greatest among us stand in need of conversion. God, Who calls us and commissions us for His service, wants us to realize His presence everywhere and in everyone, to repent of our sins and to remain in readiness to speak and act for Him in our life-circumstances as He shall direct.
2) We need to teach and practice expressions of reverence for the Lord. Today’s world desperately needs a "revival of reverence." We need both to recognize God as God and to express that reverence for God through appropriate bodily gestures. For example, when we come into Church, we enter the presence of Jesus dwelling in the tabernacle. We need to remember that this is His house, a part of Heaven, and we need to express that remembrance by making a deep bow toward the tabernacle, or, if we are able to kneel, by genuflecting on the right knee before we enter the pew. We should offer him the same reverent recognition when we leave the Church and His Sacramental Presence. We might also remember to give a slight bow of the head whenever we hear, or say, the name of Jesus. The new regulation of bowing one’s head before receiving Communion is another beautiful act of reverence. This same sense of reverence can be expressed by keeping the Bible, God’s living word to us, in a prominent place in our homes and by kissing it each time we read from it. True reverence for God naturally leads us to the reverent, respectful love of neighbor. Blessed Mother Teresa loved people because she saw Jesus in them. That was the same Jesus Whom she reverenced and experienced in the Holy Eucharist. We, too, will have many opportunities for daily experiences of Christ. So the heart of our mission as Christians is really to find him hidden in our neighbors, and to accept his challenge to us – to love him, to have compassion on him, to practice justice toward him, to be kind to him there. Then it becomes easier for us to forgive injury as he did, and to be reconciled to those with whom we have difficulties. Thus, our mission as his disciples is to seek, to find, and to respond to Him in all people and events.
3) Each of us has a unique mission in the Church. God has a different call for each of us. Because each of us is unique, each of us has a mission which no one else can fulfill. God will use all of us, and particularly what is unique in us, to bring this mission to fulfillment. Our response must be like that of Isaiah: “Here I am, Lord…send me." "I’ll do it. I’ll play my part. I’ll speak to that neighbor, that coworker, that friend, that relative. I’ll talk to my daughter about the way she is rearing her children. I’ll keep my mouth shut and refuse to gossip or criticize my co-workers or my bosses. I’ll pray every day. I’ll learn to listen patiently to those in need. I’ll do it.”
Prepared by Fr. Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published by CBCI
Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have and show the courage of our Christian convictions in our Faith and in its practice in our communities, even when we face hatred and rejection because of our Christian Faith.
Scripture lessons: The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In his prophetic vocation, which he lived out while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah prefigured Jesus, the greatest of all prophets. In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God's gifts was causing competition, jealousy and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a "way" which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love and instructs them to exercise their gifts with love.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel presenting his own people’s reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address” at the synagogue of Nazareth. The passageshows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1: 4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.
Life messages: We need to face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect or abuse, even from friends and family members, when we reached out to them as God's agents of healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. Perhaps we, too, have been guilty of ignoring or humiliating people with our arrogance and prejudice. Let us learn to correct our mistakes and face rejection from others with courage.
2)Let us not, like the people in Jesus' hometown, reject God in our lives. We reject God when we are unwilling to be helped by God, or by others. Such unwillingness prevents us from recognizing God’s directions, help and support in our lives through His words in the Bible, through the teaching of the Church, and through the advice and examples of others.
3) We need tofollow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ without being hypocritical or disrespectful. We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought "politically incorrect." Jesus taught us to love and respect others without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. We need to be kind, charitable, honest and forgiving, but clear in speaking out our Christian convictions as Jesus was when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth.
Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31—13:13; Lk 4:21-30
Anecdotes # 1:Facing rejection, Martin Luther King style: April 16, 1963, almost fifty-two years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. offended a lot of people by writing a letter from a Birmingham jail.). He wrote that letter to Church people, to the pastors. He said, "Now is the time. God wills that all his children be free. God wills that all his children be given an equal chance in this life.” He challenged the Church to believe that what the Scripture says, applies to "now." Not to sometime later, not to when everything is ready, but now. Not some other time, but right now. Martin Luther King, Jr. said a generation ago, “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet you physical force with soul force. Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. For love is the most durable power in the world.” (https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html
# 2: The prophetic call and fear of rejection: John Quincy Adams,the sixth President of the United States and the son of a former President, reportedly said that he would rather clean filth from the streets than be President. Scripture tells us that most of the prophets shared John Quincy Adams’ feeling of inadequacy to their calling. Moses tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, and Jeremiah complained to God that he was too young. The prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them – and with good reason. Israel had a long history of rejecting prophets (2 Chr 36:16; Jer 2:30; Amos 2:12; Matt 23: 37; Luke 13: 34; I Thes 2:15; Heb 11: 32ff.). Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into an empty and muddy cistern, imprisoned, dragged off to exile in Egypt, and, perhaps, most painful of all, was forced to watch the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to King Ahab of Israel concerning the King’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, Elijah was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kgs 16-29-17: 3 and I Kgs 18: 16-19: 4). Today’s Gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Nazareth turn from amazement to such fury at Jesus’ words they seized Him and dragged him off to the cliff to murder him. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of missionaries have been martyred since 1990. Thousands of Christians have been killed this past year in Moslem countries and Communist countries. Christians are subjected to the white martyrdom of mental torture in advanced countries, including the U.S., by the agnostic and atheistic media and liberal politicians and judges, as forms of the media constantly ridicule and insult Christians with unprecedented vengeance.
# 3:Liberation for Dalits through Jesus:High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet they dominated Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. For centuries, Indian society lived under a rigid caste system imposed by the high caste Hindus in which each person was born into a set social group. People who were born into the highest social group, or caste, used to receive the benefits of honor respect and privileges. Then, there are different levels, or castes, below this. A person's caste at birth determined what job he could have, whom he could marry, and what rights he had in his society. On the very lowest rungs of society were the Dalits, whose name actually means "broken, crushed." The Dalits were the targets of violence and discrimination in Indian society for long time. Fortunately, formal discrimination no longer exists under the new law. But now, the Dalits face persecution for another reason: their Faith. Nearly 70% of Indian Christians are Dalits. The reserved 22.5 percent of all government and semi-government jobs, including seats in Parliament and state legislatures, is available only to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy. The legal reason is that there is caste system in Christianity and Islam. The Christian Faith was quite attractive to the Dalits. They chose to follow Christ even when they knew the consequences they might face including the denial of free education and job reservation given to Hindu Dalits. Why would the Hindu Dalits, who were targets of discrimination and abuse, invite more such treatment by becoming Christians? Because in Christ, they meet a God of liberation Who loves and lifts up those whom others would tear down. His heart is with those who suffer. He cares about those who are hurting, who are helpless, who are brokenhearted, who are in bondage. They consider Jesus as their Divine liberator, and God of justice. [Timothy Merrill, "Giving Flesh to the Word," Homiletics, (July-August 1999).]
Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should have and show the courage of our Christian convictions in our day-to-day lives in our communities, when we face hatred and rejection because of our Christian Faith. In both the first reading and the Gospel, Jeremiah and Jesus are presented as prophets, chosen, consecrated and sent to their brothers and sisters as emissaries of the Word of God. The first reading tells us how God called Jeremiah as His prophet and equipped him to face opposition and rejection. In his prophetic vocation, which he lived out while encountering rejection and persecution, Jeremiah anticipated Jesus, the greatest of all prophets. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (71), expresses the feelings of one who encounters opposition but trusts deeply in God’s protection, and determines to continue his proclamations of God’s Justice and wondrous deeds in spite of the negative response. In the second reading, we hear Paul speaking with the courage of his convictions in correcting the Corinthian Christian community where the exercise of God's gifts was causing competition, jealousy and divisiveness. He courageously presents to them a "way" which surpasses all others, namely, the way of love. He warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith and generosity are useless. Then Paul spells out for them and us the true nature of love. Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, presenting his own people’s reaction to Jesus’ “Inaugural Address.” The readingshows us how Jesus faced skepticism and criticism with prophetic courage. Along with Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul believed that they were commissioned by God to proclaim a disturbing prophetic message (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). No matter how strong the opposition, the three had the conviction that God was with them.
First reading, Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19: Today's first reading prepares us to hear the gospel, Luke 4:21-30, where Jesus, early in his mission, faces stiff opposition and compares himself to the prophets who had come before him. The prophet Jeremiah (600-550 BC) never held back in describing the persecution he suffered. Here in the first sentences of his book, Jeremiah describes how God called him, bolstered up his Faith and courage and predicted the opposition he would endure. Speaking to Jeremiah, God makes four assertions: “I formed you” (as a potter forms clay), “I knew you” (referring to the intimate relationship between God and Jeremiah), “I dedicated you” (consecrating Jeremiah to do God’s work), and “I appointed you” (to a mission as His prophet to Israel). At the start of Jeremiah's ministry, Yahweh warns the young prophet not to be intimidated by those to whom he prophesies (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19). "They will fight against you," Yahweh warns, "but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you." During his lifetime, Jeremiah was considered a total failure, but in later times he has been recognized as one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Jeremiah is a wonderful example of “the triumph of failure."
Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13: There were diverse manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the Christians living in the Greek seaport, Corinth. Paul spends chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this letter trying to get the Corinthians to enjoy and express their gifts in ways that give strength to the community and glory to God. Paul is addressing a community on the verge of self-destruction because of the Corinthians’ inability to recognize that Jesus is present in each member of the community. So he advises them to use their spiritual gifts for the unification of the Church, by humble submission to lawful authorities, by bidding farewell to rivalries, and by the re-direction of their efforts toward mutual service. Paul also warns them that, if exercised without love, even the gifts of tongues, knowledge, Faith, prophecy, and generosity are useless. So he instructs them to recognize Christ in one another and to treat each other accordingly. The only way for them, and for us, to treat others is with love. Paul concludes the chapter by affirming that even the greatest of virtues, Faith and Hope, cannot exist without Love, the driving force of all life in time and in eternity the only virtue to survive will be Love.
Exegesis of the Gospel passage:Amazement turning to hatred.The first reaction of the people in the synagogue to Jesus' words was one of astonishment. They were amazed that one of their fellow villagers could speak with such grace and eloquence and with such authority. Luke says they were "amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips,"because they knew him only as a carpenter from a poor family, with no formal training in Mosaic Law. But their amazement turned into displeasure when, during his “Inaugural Address” or “Mission Statement,” Jesus took upon himself the identity of a prophet, different from the image of the miracle-worker that people wished to see. Like the other prophets of the past, Jesus called upon people to relinquish their selfishness, faithlessness, their lack of justice and mercy (Mic 6:6-8), and their sinfulness. Hence, their displeasure turned into anger when Jesus claimed that he was the promised Messiah of Isaiah’s prophecy. They challenged his Messianic claim, asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” They could not understand how a mere carpenter could be the Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic kingdom. Jesus explained their attitude by saying “No prophet is accepted in his native place.”
Jesus’ reaction to His people’s skepticism: In response to his townsmen's skepticism, Jesus referred to the Biblical stories of how God blessed two Gentiles, while rejecting the many Jews in similar situations. The reason for this was that these Gentiles were more open to the prophets than the Jewish people. First, Jesus reminded them of the Gentile widow of Zarephath, a village on the coast of present-day Lebanon, near Sidon (1 Kings 17:7-24). The Prophet Elijah stayed with her and her son during last year of the three-and-a-half-year drought that preceded Elijah's part in the Lord God’s victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Because of her kindness to the prophet, the widow's small jar of flour and tiny jug of oil were never depleted. Later, when the widow's son died, Elijah's prayers revived him from the dead. No Israelite received such a blessing.
Naaman’s healing presented as reward of faith: Then Jesus recalled for his listeners of the story of Naaman, the Syrian Military General. Naaman had contracted leprosy. But when he heard that the Prophet Elisha had the power to heal, he appealed to the prophet for help. At Elisha's word, Naaman bathed seven times in the Jordan, after which his leprosy was healed and his skin was restored, becoming like that of a child. There were many lepers in Israel at the time, commented Jesus, but only this foreigner was healed because he had Faith in the man of God.
Total rejection and attempted murder: Jesus' words implied that, like the Israelites of those former days, the people of his hometown, were unable to receive miracles because of their disbelief. That was why in former times God had bestowed miracles on the Gentiles who believed in Him. Jesus, like the earlier prophets (Jer 37:12-38:6; Mal 1:2, 6, 7, 13; Mic 3:5-8), dared to speak the truth to people who did not want to hear it. Jesus’ reference to the unbelief of the Jews and to the stronger faith of the Gentiles infuriated his listeners. "Good" people don't like to be reminded that God can and does work through religious systems other than their own and even through individuals who are outside any religious system. Hence, without a trial or even a hearing and in violation of both Jewish and Roman Law, his townspeople rushed to seize Jesus in order to throw him over the edge of the cliff on which their town was built. But Jesus escaped because “his hour had not yet come.”This rejection of Jesus by his own townsfolk must have sincerely grieved him. Later John wrote, "To his own he came but his own did not accept him" (John 1: 11). This rejection in Nazareth foreshadowed the opposition and rejection that Jesus would experience in the coming years, culminating in his crucifixion. Today’s Gospel tells us that prophets are rarely accepted among their own people. The pacifism of Dorothy Day, for example, was an embarrassment to the hierarchy. Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero was hated by those in power, not simply because of his commitment to liberation theology and his advocacy of the poor, but because he was seen as opposing the ruling upper classes who felt the Church was “their own.”
Life messages: 1)Let us facerejection with prophetic courage and optimism. The story of Jesus' rejection in his own hometown is a story that we can identify with, because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect or abuse. What about rejection by those closest to us? Often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to us, refuse our advice and reject the words of grace, love and encouragement that we offer to them because they are unable to see us as God's appointed instruments, the agents of God's healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. How often have we discounted people through prejudice? We must realize that God's power is always available to transform even the most unlikely people and that His power may come to us through unlikely instruments.
2)Let us not, like the people in Jesus' hometown, reject God in our lives. The story of Jesus' rejection by his townsfolk is also a story about how we often ignore and reject God. Are we unwilling to be helped by God, or by others? Does our pride or lack of trust stop us from seeing or recognizing God’s purpose? Does it prevent us from recognizing God’s direction, help and support in our lives through His words in the Bible and through the advice and examples of others? God calls us in many ways. Are we willing to listen to this calling and discover our role in carrying out God’s purpose?
3)We must have the prophetic courage of our convictions. By our Baptism, God calls us to be prophets like Jesus, sharing his prophetic mission. The task of a prophet is to speak and to live out God’s truth. We must never be afraid of this call, for it is Jesus who will supply us with the courage, the words and the deeds we will need to oppose the many evils in our society. By legalizing abortion in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the killing of over forty- seven million unborn children in forty years. The Roe versus Wade decision is currently permitting the brutal execution of 4400 unborn babies every day. Our television and movie conglomerates, which are supported by the money paid by millions of Americans and many large corporate sponsors, are spewing forth pornographic material that is poisoning our children and our society. Our society tells adults and youngsters that promiscuous sex, drugs, gambling and alcohol are legitimate pleasures for modern, liberated people. Our country needs to hear God’s Truth from Spirit-filled Christians with the prophetic courage of their convictions. Heroes like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King consistently refused to retaliate violently while affirming the dignity of every person, including their enemies.
4)We need to follow Christ, not political correctness, and to speak the truth of Christ without being hypocritical or disrespectful. We must never remain silent in the face of evil for fear of being thought "politically incorrect." Jesus was not against conflict if it promoted truth. He taught us to give respect and freedom without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior. That was the example given by Martin Luther King and his civil rights marchers singing, "We shall overcome," as they were carted off to jail, were washed down with fire hoses and had savage Alsatian dogs loosed on them. Love does not tolerate destructive behavior, but it sometimes causes pain--just as a surgeon must sometimes hurt in order to heal. We need to be kind, charitable, honest, forgiving and clear in speaking out our Christian convictions as Jesus was when He spoke in the synagogue. We live in a pluralistic society, but as the American Bishops say in their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal."
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (email@example.com) and published by CBCI
Introduction: Today’s Gospel, presenting Jesus’ inaugural speech in the synagogue of Nazareth and outlining his theology of total liberation, marks a great moment in Jewish history. The Scripture readings for today focus our attention on the importance and liberating power of the Word of God as "sacramental," making God present in our midst. The readings challenge us to listen to the Word, accept it into our hearts, then put it into practice as we live out our lives, liberating ourselves and others from all types of bondages.
Scripture lessons: Today’s first reading, taken from Nehemiah, and Luke’s Gospel both describe a public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenged the hearers to make a "fresh beginning" with a new outlook. In the first reading, after rebuilding the Temple and restoring the city, Ezra was leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony by reading and interpreting the Law. The Second Reading, taken from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that “Together we are Christ’s Body, but each of us is a different part of it.” This suggests that, as different parts of Christ’s Body, we each have a share, as his instruments, in bringing the freeing and saving mission of Christ to our world in our times. Today’s Gospel describes how, on a Sabbath, Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, reading and interpreting what Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah and his mission. Jesus claimed that he was the One sent "to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed"—language that reflects the Biblical year of Jubilee. To the great amazement and disbelief of his own townsmen, Jesus declared that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled at that very moment “in their hearing," because the prophet was foretelling and describing Jesus' mission and ministry. Jesus’ mission would be to give liberation to everyone who would listen to his “Good News,” accept it and put it into practice. Luke reports that the initial reaction of the people was surprise at the power and eloquence of this son of their soil.
Life messages: 1)We need to receive Christ’s freedom, live it and pass it on to others: As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we share in the freeing, saving mission of Jesus. But we are captives of sin. We need Christ to set us free. We are often blinded by our evil habits, addictions and need for financial security. Once we receive true liberation from Christ, we have to share it with those we encounter in our daily lives, families, neighborhoods, parishes and workplaces.
2) We need to let the power of the Holy Spirit fill us, and to be ready to have miracles done through us. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus performed miracles because he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us be ready to become Spirit-filled instruments of Christ’s saving freedom.
Anecdote: # 1: Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero’s “option for the poor.” Speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus used Isaiah’s prophetic terms, long since seen as referring to the coming Messiah, to describe his own mission. Jesus said he had been sent, among other reasons, “to bring Good News to the poor." The success of Jesus’ mission, particularly with the poor who had no political power except that conferred by their sheer numbers, made Jesus a “dangerous” person to the religious authorities of Israel and eventually resulted in his crucifixion. The Christian Gospel is still dangerous when its truth is really put into practice. This is clearly seen in the case of Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero, who was murdered when, like Jesus, he reminded people of the needs of the poor and the oppressed in El Salvador. The story begins in 1979 when a young priest, Father Grande, was shot and killed on the streets of El Salvador. His "crime" was that he spoke out against the government, which brutally suppressed all forms of protests and executed thousands of innocent people using its notorious “Death Squads.” When Fr. Grande's great friend, Bishop Oscar Romero, was chosen to be the new Archbishop, the authorities thought he would keep quiet on the question of the oppressed poor in that country. Instead, Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero became an outspoken defender of the poor and a critic of the state-supported “Death Squads.” To honor the memory of his martyred friend, Romero refused to appear in any public ceremonies sponsored by the army or the government. He soon became the voice and conscience of El Salvador. His words and actions were reported throughout the whole world, so that everybody knew the atrocities happening in El Salvador. Romero’s fight for human rights led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. On March 24, 1980, at 6:25 PM, as the Archbishop was offering Mass in a hospital Chapel, a shot from the back of the Church struck him in the chest, killing him instantly. Thus, Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero died a martyr for the Gospel of Christ. As we reflect today on Jesus' words about his mission, let us remember Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero and continue to strive to live out faithfully, in our world and in our daily lives, the “dangerous” truths of the “Good News” which is Jesus’ gift to us today.
#2: "Don't you want to be free?” In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides tells the story of a dramatic mission during World War II. On January 28th, 1945, 121 hand-selected Army Rangers slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines in an attempt to rescue 513 American and British POW's who had spent three years in a hellish prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan. Hampton Sides describes the first effects of liberation as chaos and fear. The prisoners were mentally too brittle to understand what was taking place. Some even scurried away from their liberators. One particular prisoner, Bert Bank, refused to budge, even when a Ranger walked right up to him and tugged his arm. "C'mon, we're here to save you," he said. "Run for the gate." Bank still would not move. The Ranger looked into his eyes and saw they were vacant, registering nothing.” “What’s wrong with you?" he asked. "Don't you want to be free?" Finally, a smile formed on Bank's lips as the meaning of the words became clear, and he reached up to the outstretched hand of the Ranger. The Rangers searched all the barracks for additional prisoners, then shouted, "The Americans are leaving. Is there anybody here?" Hearing no answer, they left. The freed prisoners marched 25 miles and boarded their ship home. With each step, their stunned disbelief gave way to soaring optimism. In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents to his fellow-townsmen his mission of bringing them God’s saving freedom, to their great astonishment and, for some, their disbelief.
# 3: Liberation theology: A woman in Nicaragua gets eleven cents for sewing together a pair of blue jeans that are sold by an American company for $14.95. That company made $566 million in profits on those jeans in one year. One out of every five Ugandan children will not live to age five because they do not have simple, primary health care. That is not just in Nicaragua. This is not just in Uganda. There are hurts to heal in our cities. There are poor people here. There are homeless people here. There are addicted people here. There are lonely people here. There are oppressed and captive people here. There are hurts that need to be healed! And you ask, "What can I do? Is there anything I can do? Can I be one who stands in the gap between the way things are and the way things can be? Can I be a bridge over which other people can travel in that journey from the way things are and the way things can be?"
Introduction:The Scriptures for today focus our attention on the importance and power of the Word of God and its challenge for us today. The Word of God is called "sacramental,” in the sense that when it is spoken, read or heard, God becomes present in our midst. For that to happen to us, we must listen to the Word, accept it into our hearts, and then put it into practice as we live out our lives. Both today’s first reading, taken from Nehemiah, and Luke’s Gospel, describe the public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenged the hearers to make a "fresh beginning" with a new outlook. In the first reading, after rebuilding the Temple and restoring the city, Ezra was leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony. In this ceremony, with the active assistance of a few Levite helper-priests, Ezra read and interpreted the Law to the Jews gathered before the Water Gate from early in the morning till mid-day on the first day of the Jewish year. Taken from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the second reading reminds us, “Together we are Christ’s Body, but each of us is a different part of it,”suggesting that, as different parts of Christ’s Body, we each have a share, as his instruments, in bringing the freeing and saving mission of Christ to our world in our times. Hence, we should work together like the different parts of a body, offering our time, talents and treasures to each other as well as to all we encounter in our lives, in fulfillment of our Baptismal calling and promises. It is in mutual giving and receiving as one Body that we assist each other to experience the true freedom which Jesus offers us and wishes us to have, that is, freedom from our common legacy, the effects of Adam’s original choice of himself for god, namely, sin, darkness and the power of the evil one. Today’s Gospel describes how, on a Sabbath, Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, reading and interpreting what Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah. Jesus rooted his mission and ministry in the written word of Isaiah, in the passage in which the Spirit sends the prophet to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed—language that reflects the Biblical year of Jubilee. These words had long since been seen as applying to the coming Messiah, whom the Spirit would send to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberation to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.To the great amazement and disbelief of his own townsmen, Jesus declared that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in him at that very moment because the prophet was foretelling and describing his mission and ministry. Jesus’ mission would be to give liberation to everyone who would listen to his “Good News,” accept it and put it into practice.
First reading, Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10: After defeating Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the exiled Jews, who had spent seven decades of exile in Babylon, could return home to Jerusalem. The Jews who returned rebuilt their ruined Temple (Ezra 6:15-17), and finished rebuilding the city walls under Ezra, their spiritual leader, and Nehemiah, the Governor appointed by Persia (Nehemiah 6:15). The Lord gave an important mission to both men. They were to teach the Hebrew Scriptures and inspire the people to the high ideals of their ancestral religion. In today’s reading, Ezra is leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony. In this ceremony, with the active assistance of a few Levite helper-priests, Ezra read and interpreted the Law to the Jews gathered before the Water Gate, from early in the morning till mid-day on the first day of the Jewish year (Nehemiah 8:8). The Torah, thus, became a living Word of power, grace and forgiveness for these exiles. It evoked from them a dramatic response. They came to realize the many ways in which they had failed to keep God’s Commandments. Hence, with tears of repentance in their eyes and joy in their hearts, the people responded with a great "Amen!" Israel, as we sing in today's Psalm, was rededicating itself to God and His Law. The passage describes the birth of preaching! The first sermon took place at an assembly of the people during the 5th century BC!
Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30: The Christian community in the Greek seaport, Corinth, was a mixture of people of various ethnic groups, a combination which occasionally caused divisions that threatened its unity. Paul was worried that the community might break apart into factions. So, in order to help them build up the Body of Christ in Corinth, he wrote about the need for them to have unity and mutual love. Paul was addressing a Christian community with diverse manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prophets, preachers, healers, teachers – you name it, the Spirit had bestowed the job on someone there. These folks often exercised their gifts in spectacular, ecstatic ways that drew a lot of attention, much as they can do today among people who attend revivals and the crusades of some faith-healers. Paul spent chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this letter trying to get the Corinthians to enjoy and express their gifts in ways that would give strength and unity to the community and glory to God. Paul insisted that the Corinthians must use their spiritual gifts to glorify God, not themselves. This particular passage tackles the unity-of-the-Church issue with the metaphor of the parts of the body. Everyone in the Church is compared to a part of the body, making his or her unique contribution to the health of the whole. Hence, Paul urges the Spirit-gifted Corinthian Christians to find Jesus in their community by recognizing Jesus in one another. The same plea is being addressed to us in our day. Even if the Spirit has not granted us the gift of speaking in tongues or that of healing powers, we can always choose to exercise the gift of love, which we have all been given, and which Paul ranks higher than all the rest. Paul, the earliest Christian author, believes that it is essential for all Jesus' followers to understand and appreciate the necessity of their own presence and of their freeing role in the Body of Christ.
Exegesis:Synagogue worship:The Jews had only one main Temple, located in Jerusalem, for offering sacrifices to God and for celebrating the major feasts. Throughout the rest of the country, however, there were synagogues, one for every ten families or more, where the community, particularly the men, could offer Sabbath prayers and study the Scriptures. It was customary for the men to sit in the central part of the synagogue, where the scrolls were kept. The women and children sat in a separate area on the side of the synagogue. It was the Jewish custom for the reader to stand while reading, and to sit down while teaching (Mt 13:54; Mk 6:1). The synagogue liturgy was based on seven readings. The first four were from the Law (the Torah or the Pentateuch) followed by explanations given by the rabbi, who was the teacher of the Law. The second set of readings, taken from the prophets, could be read and interpreted by any circumcised male over thirty years of age. It was in this second capacity that Jesus read and preached on the passage from Isaiah (61: 1-2a). Naturally, the people of his native place were curious to hear from this carpenter-turned-prophet who had grown up among them, and who, supposedly, had worked miracles throughout Galilee. Luke reports that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," Jesus said, “because He has anointed me…” This “power of the Spirit" was absolutely essential in order for Jesus to complete his mission.
“Theology of liberation”: The reading from Isaiah describes a kind of Messianic figure. Jesus identifies himself as that figure and declares that the mission and ministry prophesied are his mission and his ministry. This mission was similar to the mission given to Moses in Exodus 3: 7-10. Jesus claims that he has been sent to Israel: (1) to bring glad tidings to the poor; (2) to proclaim liberty to captives; (3) to give recovery of sight to the blind; (4) to free the oppressed, and (5) to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. [“An acceptable year,” in this context, suggested the ancient “Jubilee Year.”] Isaiah meant that the period of his ministry would open for all Israel the long-desired restoration of Zion which the Lord God Himself would accomplish, giving Israel His forgiveness and restoring her to His love and favor. In selecting this Messianic passage as referring to himself (“This text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen”), Jesus sums up both the source of his power and authority, and the nature of his freeing and saving ministry. First, Jesus claims the power of God’s Spirit as the source of his work. Second, Jesus makes this proclamation in the context of Judaism – on the Sabbath, from the Scriptures, and in the synagogue. Third, Jesus identifies his work, the work of the Messiah, with that of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (see Isaiah 42: 1-4, in particular), who brings Good News to the poor, proclaims release to the oppressed and recovery of sight to the blind -- figuratively and literally. Fourth, this agenda begins in Nazareth and extends to all places where the Word of God will be heard and understood.
Life messages: 1)We need to receive Christ’s freedom, live it and pass it on to others: As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we share in the freeing, saving mission of Jesus. However, even after we have chosen to believe in him, to accept his teachings and to live them out in our lives, we are still in bondage. We are captives of sin, and only Christ can set us free. We are often blinded by our evil habits, addictions and need for financial security. Pride and prejudice can make us blind to the needs of the less-fortunate, prompting us to fear and avoid them, rather than to love and help them. We can also be blind to the presence of God within ourselves and others. We are often not free to listen to a lonely, heart-broken neighbor. We can be prisoners of materialism and consumerism, chained to pleasure, power, money and control of everyone and everything in our world. Accordingly, we need to be freed and raised to a richer level of life. Once we receive true liberation from Christ, we need to share it with those we encounter in our daily lives -- in our families, communities, parishes and workplaces.
2) We need to let the power of the Holy Spirit fill us, and to be ready to have miracles done through us. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus performed miracles because he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the same Spirit to his disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…. He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). To this very day, the Holy Spirit is available to all believers who sincerely ask Him to dwell in their hearts. If we fail to receive, and then to use, His power and His gifts, we are left with nothing but our natural abilities, and we will be unable to be used as instruments in His freeing miracles. Miracles occur every day through weak human instruments, although they may be less spectacular than the ones Jesus performed. People whose minds are ravaged by fear and hatred can be miraculously filled with peace and kindness. Those whose hearts are crippled with bitterness and anger can be made gentle and peaceful. Perhaps others, whose relationships with their spouses are strained, can be miraculously healed by love and faithfulness. These are true miracles, performed by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, often making use of human instruments. Let us be ready to become Spirit-filled instruments of Christ’s saving freedom.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published by the CBCI