Scripture Reflections

Sunday, September 2, 2012


GET CLEAN

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

September 02, 2012


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18,21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23



In a job interview the boss opened the session with the applicant: “See, we are very keen on cleanliness. Did you wipe your feet on the doormat as you came in?” The applicant said: “Yes, sir. I did”. Then the boss replied: “We are also very keen on truthfulness. But there is no mat at the door. You fail the test”.




The culture of cleanliness


The modern society attaches premium to the value of cleanliness. The saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” is adopted as the gospel principle of the modern business enterprises and market economy. Indeed, we live in an era of cosmetic and sanitary revolution. The markets are flooded with cosmetic and sanitary products. Over 60 percent of the advertisements and commercials on media are on cosmetics sanitary and beauty products. Beauty pageants have become recurrent celebrations of pride and achievements calling every individual on earth to invest in beauty products. The image-conscious culture of our time has trapped us into a web of unwritten laws, traditions and practices regarding beautification, maintenance, sanitization and purification. In the Biblical times, especially the Jewish culture was thriving on well-developed laws and traditions partly from the Torah and mostly from their religious interpretations.  Most of these traditions on ritual cleansing and purification had assumed practical significance as marks of religious perfection. The violation of any of these traditions or laws was considered scandalous and sinful. The Pharisees and scribes confront Jesus with such an issue: the ritual and physical impurity of some of his disciples at the table. The irony of the episode is that the Lord who is the source of sanctifying grace is now accused of impurity by those whose hearts were shown to be unclean!

Purity—the mark of a True Christian


Jesus turned the tables on a legalistic and “image conscious” society by inviting them to check “what is within” even as they present a seemingly clean external. Jesus exposed the paradox of their “clean periphery” and the “unclean center”. In the final analysis it becomes clear that this high culture of purity, in fact, floats and thrives on the low culture of impurities. Further more, Jesus inverts the measure of purity—purity as a virtue does not consist in the cleanliness of the externals such as the body, the clothing, food and the environment, rather in the purity of the inner chamber of the heart. Jesus is not negating the need for external purity, but is emphasizing the order of priority. Physical cleanliness follows the purity of heart. To be a Christian, then, is to be a clean person, pure in thoughts, intentions and dealings. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall have the vision of God” (Mt 5: 8). No wonder, Jesus has made it an imperative for His disciples to wash themselves in the waters of baptism and cleanse in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.

This purity is now made possible by three elements: 1) The Word of God, 2) The sacraments, and 3) Charity. 

The Word of God: The Source of Purity


The incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, is the norm and source of purity. He is the Holy One, Who became man that mankind may be made holy. It is in and through Him that we have the vision of God. The fallen humanity, which languishes in the filth of sin, has come to know what it means to be clean and pure by gazing on the Crucified and risen Lord. We have come to understand how to live in purity primarily by accepting the person of Jesus, in His teachings, examples and abiding presence. Indeed, the one who follows the precepts of the Lord will always have His abiding presence (the first reading).

The Word of God sanctifies us from all impurities (1 Timothy 4:5). Keeping the covenantal relationship with God and observing His commandments and precepts will help us live in grace and cleanse our hearts, minds and attitudes. Jesus criticized the Pharisees and scribes for being selective in their acceptance of the Sacred Scripture as they emphasized some traditions and ignored the major precepts of the Law of God. But for the Christians, the Scripture is to be accepted and interpreted in its entirety. St Augustine has warned us of the danger of the selective manner of approaching and interpreting the Scripture, as he said: “If you choose to follow the teachings of Jesus that are appealing to you, and neglect those that are difficult for you to practice, you are not following Jesus, but your own self-interest”. Therefore, know your God and yourself by knowing the Word of God. Read the Bible on a daily basis, reflect on it relating it to your life experiences and live on the commandments and covenant of God. This way you will walk in the path of holiness.


Sacraments: The visible signs of sanctifying grace


Rituals are part of any culture. Christian culture is rooted on sacramental rituals. The seven sacraments of the Church impart to the believer the grace necessary for his/her life. In baptism one is washed clean of all his/her sins and impurities accumulated in his life and shared from the original sin. It is a sacrament of re-birth, being born again as a child of God who is pure, holy and immaculate. The sacrament of reconciliation ritually sanctifies the sinner from all the impurities of his actions and omissions. Repentance is a necessary condition for the sanctifying grace. The Holy Eucharist allows the Christian to enter into the sacrificial grace of Christ, to wash His impurities in the blood of the Divine savior. In the Eucharist, what is impure is made pure and filled with the strength of grace that no more one may live in guilt, sin and impurity. The other sacraments (confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick) also impart to the recipient sanctifying grace along with the specific grace necessary for the state of life he/she enters. So, frequent reception of sacraments is necessary for a life of purity.

Love: manifestation of sanctifying grace


Now, rituals, devoid of the spirit can remain just that—rituals. The sanctifying grace of the rituals are to be lived and practiced in the virtue of charity—selfless love. Love has the power to heal and cleanse. Any ritual without love is ineffective. Love impels one to put into action what he/she celebrates in the sacraments. Love teaches us that clean hands and clever minds are not substitutes for a clean conscience. A clean conscience is the manifestation of a loving heart. The nursery rhyme “Clean little hands are nice to see” teaches the children of the beauty of cleanliness, but the “commandment of love” teaches us of the beauty of a life well founded purified in the sacrifice of love. This is what St James asserts to us: Obey the commandments. Be doers, not just listeners of the Word of God. By love and charity we enflesh the Word of God. In your love incarnate the Word of God in the present. We are not only called to read, learn and interpret the scripture, but we are challenged to become the Word by doing God’s Holy Will. This is the essence of our religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1: 27)

Heart is the center of purity. We need to avoid the extremities of ritualism and self-validation. Love and rituals are not contradictory. They compliment our life of purity.

How clean am I? Do I pay attention to the purity of my thoughts, words, intentions and dealings as much as I care for the cleanliness and grooming of my body? How often do I notice impurities in my thoughts, words, dealings and intentions? What steps do I take to cleanse my conscience and sanctify my life?

Thought Capsule:

“Show me a people's bathhouses and bathrooms, and I will show you what they desire, what they ignore, sometimes what they fear – and a significant part of who they are.”
(Katherine Ashenburg in her book Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing

Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE LEPER THAT I AM

6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)


FEBRUARY 12, 2012

Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Mark 1: 40-45

I recall an incident that happened when I was a student of theology, during my seminary days. Our theologate was at Rishikesh, the sacred place of Hindu tradition and spirituality. One fine evening, I sat along the bank of river Ganges, observing the gentle flow of the river and watching the rituals Hindu devotees perform in the river. After a while, I noticed a man who sat across me, intently looking at me. He appeared to be an aristocratic, a man in his forties, and was well dressed. When I smiled at him, he approached me and greeted me, inquired my name and profession. When I said, I am a Catholic undergoing training to be a priest; he sat beside me and asked if he can talk with me for a while. Then he took off his shoes. I was surprised and shocked. Suddenly, I sensed the stench of rotting flesh, and I could not stand there any more. His feet were mutilated, toes missing, soles oozing puss… Oh! My God, I can still feel the overpowering stench filling my nostrils and gushing to the lungs! This man was suffering from leprosy. The reason he approached me was to see if I can help him find an institution that cares for people afflicted with leprosy. He particularly inquired I would recommend him to the Mother Teresa Sisters’ community. He had been wandering around with the hope of finding a place of care and acceptance.


In the Gospel for our reflection today Jesus encounters a leper who puts His hope and trust in Him. He believes that “if Jesus wants to, He can make him clean”. From the first reading we heard the grim situation of anyone afflicted with leprosy, that he/she should be reported to the priests who would pronounce him/her to be unclean. Then the afflicted person is forced to live in seclusion, isolated from his family and friends. A very grim situation, indeed!

Yet, you may be in shock, to realize that all of us might already be afflicted with the “dreaded” decease of leprosy. I, for one, find within myself, some telling signs of leprosy. The medical dictionary defines leprosy as an infectious disease characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. All forms of the disease eventually cause peripheral neurological damage (nerve damage in the arms and legs) which causes sensory loss in the skin and muscle weakness. Yes, lack of sensation or insensitivity and mutilation within me, as well as isolation/seclusion from the community, and uncleanliness are the visible signs of leprosy that I find within myself.

Sensory Loss: A person afflicted with leprosy experiences the loss of sensory perceptions. He is incapable of experiencing pain, heat, cold and so on. People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation. There are so many of us who are incapable of knowing the pains, sufferings, tears and sorrows of our brothers and sisters. All around us we find people who are hungry, sick, in misery and agony. But the more I am exposed to such realities, I tend to take them for granted, as normal realities that ought be. Thus, I do not even notice, much less do I respond to the cries and tears, needs and deprivations of my brothers and sisters. Do I lack compassion? This is sign of leprosy!

Mutilation: Deformity and mutilations are the most visible signs of leprosy. Physically, I may be fit and perfect, handsome/beautiful and healthy. Yet, I may be living with deformed views, mutilated ideologies, short tempers, wounded feelings, fractured mindset, deformed attitudes and broken relationships. It could be that I do not even realize that I have such deformities and imperfections. But every time I open my mouth, people might get hurt. As I move about doing my business, people might sense the stench of arrogance and pride. How wonderfully I might manage to smile, I might still remain un approachable. How great I might think of me, my attitudes might be too mean and construed. Do I hurt people often? Do I humiliate and disrespect others? Do I have lost the original grace that I received in baptism? Have I deformed the image of God in me? If so, I admit, I’m afflicted with leprosy.

Isolation: As we heard from the first reading, a person afflicted with leprosy is kept secluded from the rest of the society. Do I discriminate against some of my brothers and sisters? Are there people in my family or community with whom I find it hard to live and work with? Do I keep off from someone? Do I feel uncomfortable in the presence of anyone? Are there people in my family who keep off from the Church? Do I ever feel that I am not wanted, I am not being respected, I am not being cared for in my family or community? Do I feel the pain of loneliness? Am I carrying the burden of isolation any time of my life? Do I lack self-esteem? Do I consider that I am good for nothing, that I have nothing to do with the family concerns or the community activities? If so, I need to be treated for spiritual leprosy.

Unclean!: In the Biblical times a leper was considered unclean. The priest declares him unclean. Whenever he comes across people in the society, the leper was to cry out “unclean, unclean!”. This was not simply because of the unhygienic situation that the leper was in, but more so because of the belief that leprosy is a punishment from God, and as a result, it is a manifestation that the person is a sinner. Jesus has made it clear that sin defiles a person. It is not the external beauty and physical hygiene that makes a person clean, but the divine virtues and spiritual worth. Yes, every sin I commit, I become unclean… Do I live in sinful situations? Do I harbor evil thoughts and make evil designs? Are my words and dealings clean? Are my attitudes straight and aspirations transparent? Do I engage in corrupt practices and deceit? Is my conscience as clean as my hands?

If I exhibit the signs and effects of leprosy, what shall I do? We heard from the first reading, let the person report it to the priest. Yes, let us report it to the High-priest Jesus Christ. Let us report to Him the symptoms of growing insensitivity to the needs and pains of others, the mutilation and deformity of my character, the pain of isolation and loneliness and my unclean conscience and life-style. Unlike the priests of the Old-testament who declared them unclean and forced them to seclusion, Jesus our high priest now will declare us to be clean and re-integrate us into the community of God and His people. Jesus effects this healing by reaching out and touching my deformed-decayed life. Wonderful indeed, He dares to touch me. He wills to heal me. If only I come to Him and declare myself unclean! Today in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist Jesus does just that. He washes me in Divine grace and makes me whole.


Monday, January 16, 2012

CHILD: THE ROLE MODEL




FEAST OF SANTO-NINO (THE CHILD JESUS)

Isaiah 9:1-6; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18; Mark 10:13-16


Child is the role model for Jesus’ followers. Jesus loved children. Children loved it to be with Jesus. Children had free access in His presence, any time, anywhere! He embraced them, blessed them and made them stand before the elders as an imitable model. The heart of the child, Jesus found, is closer to tHis own Heart. This is why He claimed that the way to the Kingdom of God is the way of the children. Jesus challenged His disciples with the imperative of becoming like a child: “Unless you become like a child you shall not enter the Kingdom of God”.

What did Jesus find in a child so fascinating, admirable and so unique to be elevated as the yardstick of His discipleship? A deeper examination of the word child would give us the clue.

The word “c-h-i-l-d” encompasses the chief qualities of an ideal disciple:

C- represents Care
H- stands for Humility
I- signifies Innocence
L- indicates Learning, and
D- suggests Dependence

Do Care, and Be Careful

Children remind us of the need to give and take care. Children are the most vulnerable in the human family. They need the care of their parents, elders, relatives, friends and the society as a whole. The child reminds us of becoming a caring family. When God the Father placed Jesus, His Son in the hands of Mary and Joseph, He was in fact showing us what care is all about. He was also proving us how much He cares for us. The next time you are bothered by the feeling that no body cares for you, look at the child Jesus, and remember that you are always placed in the caring hands of God. He has carved you in the hollow of His palm. There is something in the whole of creation that our heart is tuned to be caring for the little ones.

I remember it well. My parents used to remind me several times a day, to be careful. When I cross the street, when meet strangers, when I play with children, when I am out in the rain or shine... I used to hear them say, “be careful”. Even today, my well wishers and friends, in the parish remind me, “Father, be careful when you are alone, travelling on a jeep or visiting strange places and people...” It is natural for children to take this advice to their heart. As elders, we still need to be careful. Be careful with the kind of relationships we build, with the barkadas we move around with. I need to be careful with the attitudes I have, with the words I speak and the emotional outbursts I have. Yes, I need to be careful with the ways I walk, the places I step in, the examples I give to the people, the way I spend my time and talents. There are so many things I need to be careful about in my daily life. But as an adult, I often feel that I am strong enough, and nobody needs to remind me of being careful. How many times have I regretted the fact that “if only I had followed the advice and directions of my parents, and elders”! Let me be a child that I may care for others and be more careful about myself.

Humility: the hallmark of a child

There is this saying: “as humble as a child”. A child is humble because it knows it is small, weak, tender, vulnerable and dependent. When a child begins to act like an adult, we call them “proud”. Humility restores the rightful place of our life on earth. Children have the ability to grow because they are humble. Children get-over their hurts easily because they are naturally humble. Humility allows them to be respectful and obedient of their parents, teachers and elders. Children teach us that humility is not weakness but strength. Because they are small and vulnerable, children are the most powerful persons in the family. They make mistakes but easily say sorry. The matter is settled. They forget the hurts of others. It is easy for them to get along with others than it is for the elders.

Children consider others as bigger and greater than themselves. Their view of the world is one of wonder and praise. It takes humility to recognize the greatness of others. Humility is the melody of the heart that sings the notes of praise. Humility is the eye of the soul that can see unfolding miracles of life. Wonder, owe, praise, appreciation... these are signs of humility. Lord, help me be humble like a child that I may know my littleness and see the greatness of your love and the wonder of your creation.

Innocence: The synonym of an infant 

If you do not know what innocence is, just behold the face of a child. Children are naturally innocent because they come fresh from the heart of God. They reflect perfectly well the “image” and “likeness” of God. Children do not lie. They do not keep grudges in their heart. There is no malice in what children do and say. They behave as naturally as they are. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They do what they feel and find joy in little things. There is no duplicity in the heart of children. They do not discriminate. They do not put barriers and conditions on relationships. And so children enjoy tremendous freedom. The entire world is their home and play ground. Everyone on earth is their family member. They are at peace with anyone, anywhere. Have you seen how children sleep, and have you wondered if you were able to sleep like children—stress free, worry free, anywhere, any time? Be innocent as a child.

As we advance in years, we learn the ways of the world. The elders are our models. As elders we teach our children to tell lies, to be angry, to discriminate against people, to be selfish, not to be open. We teach them the ways of corruption and duplicity. Children challenge us to return to the original innocence with which we entered into the human family. No wonder, Jesus was categorical in telling us that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we become innocent like children.

Learning: The sign of growing-up

Everyone who comes across a baby would be pleased to see that the baby learns something from him. Children are expected to learn. We take special care to teach our children. Parents take pride to see their children excel in learning. Children learn. They learn fast. They learn from their mistakes. It is ok for children to make mistakes. But they grow by learning lessons from them. It is easier to teach a child than an adult.

Children learn fast because they are open to the world that unfolds before them. They know pretty well that they do not know anything. Children are seekers. They want to grow up fast. So they are happy to grasp anything that comes along their way. They are uncritical. They do not engage in negative criticism. They look at others as genuine masters. Their eyes and ears are open to the words and directions, signs and symbols, laws and rules of the world. This makes their life exciting each moment.

For an adult it is hard to learn. This is because they become more critical, more self centred and close-minded. I often feel I know better. I feel that I know the fullness of truth. I feel you do not know anything. This is why if ever someone points to my mistakes I feel deeply hurt. This is why I often mutter, “How dare you teach me?” It is much difficult for me to admit that I make mistakes. It is much more difficult for me to learn from my mistakes.

Dependence: The key of security and happiness

A child is the most vulnerable creature on earth. Before birth it needs nine months in the protective atmosphere of the womb. After birth, it takes two years for a child to stand on its legs. It needs to be fed, bathed, carried around... yes the child depends on its parents and elders for everything. This dependence on others helps the child to grow in intimacy, love and affection. The child would naturally cling to its mother and the father. When they are around, the child feels secure and safe.

As I grow mature, I tend to be independent. I want to go my own way. The safety of the home and the instructions of the elders become barriers and fetters for me. I feel I am man enough. I do not like anyone guiding me. I do not want to depend on anyone. I feel ashamed to ask for help. Dependence is seen as weakness. Happiness is now found in my ability to be on my own.

Jesus’ ideal of a child challenges me to learn the value of inter-dependence. No matter how I advance in age, I am still a child of God, totally dependent on Him for my life and sustenance. I’m what I am because of the human family. I depend on the society for my daily needs. My joy is complete only when I find myself in others and share my joy with others. There is no single moment in life that I can live without God and others.

Lord, help me be a child, caring and careful, humble, innocent, learning, and dependent.





Saturday, September 17, 2011

GIVE. FORGIVE.

September 11, 2011

Sunday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in the Ordinary Time
Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35


I wrote on the door of my heart: "please do not enter." Love came smiling and said: "sorry, I am illiterate"

It is said: God has a Son. His name is LOVE. Love has a wife. Her name is FORGIVENESS.
From the union of Love and forgiveness come all the virtues in the world.
The devil has a son. His name is Hatred. He has a wife. Her name is Anger.
From the union of hatred and anger emerge all the evil in the world.
Love and Forgiveness are soul-mates. Wherever there is love, there is forgiveness.
Wherever forgiveness goes love follows her.
Love without forgiveness and forgiveness without love are incomplete.
Anger and hatred are soul-mates, too.
Wherever there is hatred, there is anger. Hatred follows anger wherever she goes.

Whose child are you: of God, or of the devil?
What is in your heart: Love and forgiveness, or hatred and anger?

Jesus declares us to be true children of God: born in love, redeemed in forgiveness and sanctified in grace! We are sons and daughters in the SON!

The central message of the scripture passage for our reflection today is FORGIVENESS. We are commanded to forgive…forgive... and forgive. Never count how many times; and never ask how long. The commandment to forgive is an extension of the commandment to love. If love is the mark of a true disciple of Christ, forgiveness is the way to grace.

Jesus offers us two reasons why we should be forgiving unconditionally and unlimited: 1. We are forgiven by God, and 2. We ourselves need forgiveness.

I am forgiven:
God’s eternal love is revealed in forgiveness. He has forgiven me first. He keeps forgiving me. His patience endures forever. This has been the experience of people throughout human history that have a God who forgives us unconditionally and unlimited. The psalmist verbalized it: “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion” (Ps 103). Indeed, if I survive today, it is because of the mercy of God. I was born in sin, I inherited a sinful world, and I wallow in sinful ways each day of my life. I owe God for all that I have and all that I am. I can never ever re-pay him enough in this life or in a thousand lives. Each day I break my covenant with Him and bring disgrace to His name. Yet, God keeps patiently waiting for me, loving me more each time I sin, and justifying me with His grace. If only I turn my steps towards Him or raise my eyes to His heart, He grants me forgiveness: no questions asked; no penalties imposed.

It is this ineffable forgiving love of God that impels me to be forgiving. This is why Jesus speaks of forgiveness in the same breath as He speaks of love. Forgiveness is the true expression of love.

Forgiveness is a conditional grace. The very word for-giving implies the centrality of “giving”. We receive forgiveness in as much as we give it. Jesus never got tired of talking about the “conditional grace of forgiveness”. He inserted it in the beatitudes, in the Lord ’s Prayer, in the parables and instructions, and demonstrated it in His prayer on the Cross. It is forgiveness that makes the Cross worth embracing.

I need forgiveness:
Forgiveness, like love, is necessary for a healthy, happy and long life. More than a burden, forgiveness is the path of grace. Do you want long life? Forgive! Do you want peace and joy? Forgive! Do you want healthy, fulfilling relationships? Forgive!

Unforgiveness is a poison that will kill you. Hatred and anger in your heart will see you through a miserable life and a gradual painful death. I may not be able to kill my enemies with my unforgiveness. Yet, I will kill myself if I refuse to forgive. The one who suffers more because of my refusal to forgive is not my enemy, but myself. The more I harbor anger and vengeance in my heart and the longer I live with those feelings the more my life gets rotten.

Anger, bitterness, hatred and unforgiveness are more toxic than all the most dangerous elements in the world. You need to clean regularly the sanctuary of your heart from the “emotional trash” and the “toxic feelings”. If you keep trash in your house, and pile them up each day, what happens? They begin to rot, stink, and spread deadly germs. You become sick. Jesus offers to clean the trash from your heart. He offers His services for free. Consider turning your steps toward the confessional. You will feel clean, healthy and good.

Consider each time you forgive as the first time. Never say enough. We never forgive enough. For, you never say enough in love. Nobody gets offended in forgiveness. If your brother or sister loses his/her temple, hold yours in tact. Do not make yourself a victim of your enemy. When you refuse to forgive, you make yourself his/her slave. Forgiveness restores true freedom. Is it not funny that we give the control of our life to our enemies when we fail to forgive them. You cannot step out of your house and walk freely for the fear that you might stumble upon your enemy! Forgive, and you will know what freedom and peace is!

The rule of love is also the rule of forgiveness. “Love your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.” Forgive your offender with all your heart, with all your will and with all your strength. Many a time forgiveness fail, because I have not been able to apply “all my heart, all my mind and all my strength” in forgiving.

Thought Capsule: "Don't be afraid to forgive. It is a sign of strength. Forgiveness may not make the other person right, it makes you free. "

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SERVANT CULTURE



October 20, 2010
Wednesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:39-48


Expect the unexpected:

Human life is marked with a sense of uncertainty. With all the scientific progress we have made, we cannot yet predict with certainty what lies ahead of us. When I can get sick, when fortunes in my life can change, when relationships can grow soar, when and what manner I am to bid farewell to this world—these are mysteries that humanity has come to live with from its very inception. However, we know for certain that as I entered the world, so will I pass away, not into uncertainties but into the certainty of faith in the hands of a loving and caring God. So, I need not worry as to how and when I may die, rather I need to be concerned with how I make my life so as to be “always ready and vigilant” for encountering my creator face to face. There are three things I need to keep in my mind in this journey of my life: my identity as a servant, prudence and, faithfulness.

Identity as Servant:

The perennial question “who am I” has been answered by Jesus in two complementing directions, as a “child of God”, and a “servant”. Jesus was aware of His being the Son of God yet He also knew that He is a servant of God and His people. He was more comfortable to be called a servant than a master. Indeed, He taught His disciples that one cannot claim the “sonship/daughtership” of God unless one first becomes a servant of all. He claimed of Himself as “the son of man who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as ransom for many.

We live in a time when “service” has acquired myriads of implicit meanings. The service sector of our society is going through a crisis of credibility and survival. It is not only the rampant corruption that has ravaged the service sector. Much more, it is a change of ideology, a shift of paradigm, and an alteration of culture. In the political and commercial, cultural realms, nay, even in the religious sphere, service has become a springboard of power, profit and privileges. “Service” means more of self-service than of public welfare. “Servant” assumes the position of the master. Against such a culture, Jesus cries out to follow Him, the “suffering servant”, the “servant of all” who spends His all for the sake of His people. In Jesus’ vision “servanthood” is about humility, obedience, faithfulness, loyalty, self-sacrifice and diligence. Such a servant has nothing to fear, nothing to hide, for he/she always lives a life of transparency, busying him/herself in doing the will of his/her master. The “master’s” will and happiness keeps him/her in great anticipation, readiness and alertness all the time of his/her life.

Prudence:

A true servant cannot be timid. Prudence is that quality by which a servant becomes aware of the options before him and is able to discern and decide on the right thing, in the right manner at the right time. Prudence is always shown in action. Prudence dictates to me that my true identity is that of a servant, and as a servant, I am supposed to serve, vigilant and active, carrying out the plan and projects of my master. There is no greater value for me than the “mind”, “will” and “orders” of my master. Seeking the will of God in all things in all times is the mark of a Christian. I am called to serve God and His people. I’m concerned only with one thing: how can I be of help to you. When I say I am a servant, I am declaring that you are my master. Being my master, I consider you as greater than I am. This makes me humble. The test of service is humility and obedience. If I feel it natural and easy for me to work under anyone, to take orders, and not to impose my will and mind on others, then I know I am growing in ‘servanthood’.

Faithfulness:

As a servant, I am expected of faithfulness in life, relationships and duty. The master has the right to expect that I am faithful to Him and His work. Faithfulness is manifested in my commitment to the master and to the task. Diligence, fairness and cheerful countenance are the marks of a faithful servant.

Friday, October 15, 2010

CRITIC WITH A HEART


October 15, 2010
Friday, 28th Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:1-7


Critic with a Heart:

Criticism is an art, virtue and business. In literature criticism is an art. In religion it is a virtue. In media it is a business. We cannot live without criticism. In journalistic approach fairness and objectivity arise only in a critical view of reality. In a culture of liberty and integrity critics abound. However, criticism can do more harm than good if it is not done in proper manner and disposition. Liberty and freedom of expression does not mean that one has the absolute right of criticizing another to the point of destroying him/her. Indeed, not everyone has the right to criticize. As Abraham Lincoln has once said, “he has the right to criticize who has a heart to help”. Criticism therefore should be practiced only with a view to help and not to destroy.

Jesus was a critic. He was a critic with a heart. He criticized not individuals rather the rotting system of the Pharisees and the scribes which ran on the fuel of hypocrisy. Jesus challenged them to self-critic. The chief purpose of God becoming man was to invite us to be critics not of others but of ourselves. In His preaching, healing, performing miracles, companionship with the sinners and outcasts, sufferings, death and resurrection Jesus called for conversion. Conversion begins with an examination of conscience, a criticism of the heart. Jesus model is a critic with a heart. The intention of the critic be pure, without blemish and holy. It is totally opposite of the kind of journalistic criticism as proposed by Kushwant Sing in his adage, “with malice towards all”. Jesus’ model rather is one born in love, as a mother who would critic her baby, a lover who would critic his/her partner. In this form of criticism, the critic owns responsibility for the situation and places him/herself in the position of the criticized, and then proposes the ways to change. Correction is a noble ministry, a divine responsibility God has put in the hearts every lover. It is not a weapon placed in the hands of an enemy. Indeed, I have no right to criticize my enemies. I can only criticize my friends. If I do not criticize my friends, then I am not a true friend.

Fear the Right Thing:

Fear is a common experience I have learned to live with. What are my fears? Do I fear the right things? I may fear cockroaches, rats, insects, lizards, snakes, ghosts, and other elements in nature. I might have phobias that frozen my thoughts, feelings and numb my movements. It is funny, however, that I fear such insignificant things as the insects and un harmful things as spirits or imagined things as ghosts, yet I do not fear the real things I should. In Jesus’ words, there is only one thing I need to fear: God! If I have fear of God then I fear nothing else. If I am not God-fearing then I fear everything else. Fear of God, however is not the fear I have of things, elements, situations, and people. It is a reverential fear. It is the “owe and wonder” I experience when I realize the might, power and glory of God. As I stand before the “tremendous, fascinating mystery” that is God, I realize how little I am, yet how exalted I am because of His grace! This realization at once elevates me to the height of His grace and to the depths of my creatureliness. I fall on my knees before Him in adoration and praise!

Thought Capsule
God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person. (Saint Teresa of Avila)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BE CLEAN


October 12, 2010
Tuesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 11: 37-41


The Culture of cleanliness:

The modern society attaches premium to the virtue of cleanliness. The saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” is adopted as the gospel principle of the modern commercial enterprises and market economy. No wonder, we live in an era of cosmetic and sanitary revolution. The markets are flooded with cosmetic and sanitary products, 60 percent of the media advertisements and commercials are on cosmetic and sanitary products. The image-conscious culture of ours has a web of unwritten laws, traditions and practices regarding beautification, maintenance, sanitization and purification. The Biblical times, especially the Jewish culture was not less concerned about physical cleanliness. Jesus is confronted with such an issue, his ritual and physical impurity at the table. The irony of the episode is that the Lord who is the source of sanctifying grace is now accused of impurity by those whose hearts were shown to be unclean!

Purity—the sign of a Christian

Jesus turned the tables at an “image conscious” society by inviting them to check “what is within” even as they present a seemingly clean external. Jesus exposes the paradox of “clean periphery” and the “unclean center”. In the final analysis it becomes clear that this high culture of purity is in fact floats on the low culture of impurities. Further more, Jesus inverts the measure of purity—purity does not consists in the cleanliness of the externals, rather in the purity of the inner chamber of the heart. To be a Christian, then is to be a clean person, pure in thoughts, intentions and dealings. No wonder, Jesus has made it imperative for His disciples to wash themselves in the waters of baptism and cleansed in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. This purity is achieved, aside from the power of the Word of God, on the strength of the rituals (sacraments) and charity.

Sacraments: the source of sanctifying grace

Rituals are part of any culture. Christian culture is rooted on sacramental rituals. The seven sacraments of the Church impart to the believer grace necessary for his/her life. The grace of sanctification is basic among the graces. In baptism the one is washed clean of all his/her sins and impurities accumulated in his life and shared from the original sin. This ritual of purity is represented by water and a white piece of cloth. It is a sacrament of re-birth, being born again as a child of God who is pure, holy and immaculate. The sacrament of reconciliation ritually sanctifies the sinner of all the impurities of his action and omission. Repentance is a necessary condition for the sanctifying grace. The Holy Eucharist allows the Christian to enter into the sacrificial grace of Christ, to wash His impurities in the blood of the Divine savior. In the Eucharist, what is impure is made pure and filled with the strength of grace that no more one may live in guilt, sin and impurity. The other sacraments (confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick) also impart to the recipient sanctifying grace along with the specific grace necessary for the state of life he/she enters.

Love: the source of sanctifying grace

Now, rituals, devoid of the spirit can remain just that—rituals. The sanctifying grace of the rituals are to be lived and practiced in the virtue of charity—selfless love. Love has the power to heal and cleanse. Any ritual without love is ineffective. Love impels one to put into act what he/she celebrates in the sacraments. Love teaches us that clean hands and clever minds are not substitute for a clean conscience. A clean conscience is the manifestation of a loving heart. The nursery rhyme “Clean little hands are nice to see” teaches the children of the beauty of cleanliness, but the “commandment of love” teaches us of the beauty of a life well founded purified in the sacrifice of love.

Purity lies in the middle. We need to avoid the extremities of ritualism and self-validation. Love and rituals are not contradictory. They compliment my life of purity.

How clean am I? Do I pay attention to the purity of my thoughts, words, intentions and dealings as much as I care for the cleanliness and grooming of my body? How often do I notice impurities in my thoughts, words, dealings and intentions? What steps do I take to cleanse my conscience and sanctify my life?