Finding Ourselves and Our Proper Place before God

First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Reading: Mk 1: 12-15

THE Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”


Other Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 | Psalm 25 | 1 Peter 3:18-22


REFELCTION | HOMILY

VaccinationA DEACON in the US has posted a question on a deacons’ web forum on how to respond to parishioners asking for guidance regarding the debate around vaccination, which is a hot topic these days in that country. Doctors and other medical practitioners are urging parents to vaccinate their children because diseases—especially German measles—are on the rise. Their call to vaccinate aims to protect not only the young children but also the general population.

On the other end of the debate are those who object to vaccination in general and vaccination against German measles in particular because the vaccines generally used against measles were derived from the cells of aborted fetuses almost four decades ago. The objection comes from the view that if we get our children or ourselves vaccinated, we are condoning the practice of an act—that is, procured abortion—that the Church describes as “the deliberate and direct killing of innocent human life” and therefore inherently morally wrong.

Now you may be asking: Well, what’s that got to do with the gospel message today or with the Lenten Season? At the root of the issue, IS identity. The question to be resolved is whether the action to vaccinate or not to vaccinate affirms or contradicts that identity. And the Bible, especially the early chapters of Genesis gives us two competing views about the human identity. On the one hand, we alone of earth creatures are in the image and likeness of God and therefore should be the most life-giving creatures on earth. On the other hand, the story of the flood warns us that we can become the most dangerous and the most destructive creatures in creation—not at all in the image and likeness of God. So the call for us is to decide which of the two images of humanity we are to choose. To make a proper response, one has to really search him or herself as to what kind of person he or she is; to truly know oneself.

Jesus-TemptationofChrist-EricArmusikNow in our Gospel, we heard that after his baptism, Jesus was driven to the desert to be tested. In the Bible, the desert holds special significance to the Jewish people. The Old Testament tells us that it was in the desert where they formed their identity as a people. To the ancient Jews, the desert was a place to find oneself before God and others. The desert was not a place of escape, but a place of discovery. Those who went into the desert found themselves facing “their own demons.”

The gospel tells us that in the desert, Jesus too needed to discover himself—his proper relationship with God, before he was able to begin his public ministry. Jesus in the desert revealed the new Adam. Unlike the Adam in Genesis, he did not give in to the temptations of selfish ambition. Instead, he remained faithful to God, the Father. Jesus found or rather affirmed his proper place before God. And because of this fidelity, he was able to claim victory over Satan.

The gospel portrays a Jesus, who “because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he was able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2: 18). For us, his followers, his NO to Satan becomes our rejection of Evil and his YES to God becomes our battle cry of hope for the Father. Just like Jesus, we too, are being invited this Lenten season to find ourselves and return to our proper identity and proper place before God. Let us admit it is not an easy task. The deacon and other well-intentioned Catholics in the US who confront the issue of vaccination are probably struggling with the question of how to remain faithful to Church teachings; to their Christian identity without compromising the health of their children and the general public or vice versa.

discernmentBut this is precisely what the desert experience offers to each and every one of us: The chance to discover ourselves, to confront our own demons, to be able to listen to what God is whispering to us so as to learn and grow both in wisdom and holiness. And indeed, in this desert experience, God is always with us. One of the lessons we get from the gospel of Mark is that our God is the God who constantly accompanying us in our journey; the one who constantly asks each one of us: WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? WHO AM I TO YOU?

As we enter into this new season in our liturgical year, let us not consider Lent just as a penitential commemoration of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Rather, let us view it from the perspective of our identity and our relationship with God. The Church teaches that Lent has a dual character. It is both baptismal and penitential. During Lent we are reminded of our baptismal identity and at the same time give us the chance to heal ourselves, to put things back in order. And as mentioned earlier, to do this effectively, we may need to spend some time in our own deserts, in a place where we will be free from excessive comforts and social distractions. We need to examine our conscience with honesty and new insight.

So let us ask ourselves what plans we have for this Lent and how we can turn away from sin? More importantly, we need to ask how we can turn more towards God during this time. As we examine our conscience and our lives this Lent in order to re-discover ourselves and renew our relationship with God and with others, let us pray to the Father that He sends us his angels, to assist us and comfort us, just as He sent them to Jesus to comfort him while he was being tested in the desert. ###

 

Breaking Barriers and Extending the Kingdom

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time-A

Gospel Reading: Mk 1:29-39

ON leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.


Other Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7 | Ps 146: 1-6. R. v 3 | 1 Cor 9: 16-19. 22-23


REFLECTION | HOMILY

A FRIEND of mine told me how he used to idolize his mother. He said his mother was a very strong woman. She managed to raise three boys and two girls almost single-handedly because his father worked overseas as a heavy-equipment mechanic. On top of that, she taught for more than thirty years as primary school teacher. Even other people recognised this, said my friend. He would tell me how relatives and neighbors used to come to their house to ask his mother’s help on all sorts of things—from being a mediator between two disputing neighbors or a ‘padrino’ to young couples who eloped and wanting to get blessings from their respective parents so they could get married to getting things going for civic organisations.

But I noted to him that he said ‘USED TO IDOLISED’ and ‘WAS’ a strong woman. And he said “I came to notice the change in her after we all grew up, move out of the family home to build our own families and especially after she retired from teaching. Sometimes, after a long-distance conversation on the phone, I wonder what happened to the strong woman I know.“ It seems, without the responsibility of raising children, without the identity and dignity of work—as a teacher, she lost her self-esteem. Maybe in her mind his mother thought she had lost her place in the family and even in society.

Peter's mother-in-law was healed Matthew 8:14-15Today’s Gospel narrates the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus is told of her illness, and without speaking a word he goes over to her, grasps her hand and helps her up. Mark implied in this gospel passage that Peter’s mother-in-law was a widow without family support. In Jesus’ time a widow without a family would be regarded as homeless and thus socially less worthy than other members of the family in Peter’s household.

When Jesus sat the woman up, he did not merely heal her of her sickness. But He restored her function and place in the family and society. He restored her self-esteem. In touching Peter’s mother-in-law and then allowing her to serve him, Jesus broke down traditional barriers. He took a hands-on approach to a situation that formal Judaism at that time kept at arms’ length: that the sick and the sinners be isolated from society. The gospel is teaching us that the Kingdom of God cannot tolerate prejudice and taboo just as sickness and evil has no place in the Kingdom. The power of Jesus’ words brings wholeness and holiness. While his words heal and restore us to our proper place in society, they, more importantly, return us to our proper place before God.

The Gospel is teaching us, inviting us to follow Jesus; to break all barriers, to extend our boundaries so that the Kingdom of God may reach further and further. Just like Peter’s mother-in-law, who served Jesus after he had healed her, may our service to each other, to the Church and to society become the solid evidence of our healing by the power of God’s words and also a demonstration of our response as followers of Jesus.

5sundayOT-blog2Jesus is no longer physically present on Earth. However, each one of us is encouraged to become Jesus’ eyes to look on the world with compassion, just as he did with Peter’s mother-in-law and all the sick and afflicted. Each of us here is being challenged to be his hands and feet to do good and bless others, in the same way as Jesus sought the marginalised and isolated to deliver God’s Good News them. Through the gospel, Jesus is teaching each one of us the essence of his mission—and therefore our own mission as Christians: to proclaim the Kingdom of God, by approaching those who suffer, by grasping their hands, helping them up and by healing the broken-hearted and binding up their wounds.

The second reading told us that Paul learned this lesson well. Following the example of Jesus, he offered himself in the service of others, becoming all things to all people.

In order to follow Jesus, to be able to participate actively in the proclamation of the kingdom of God, let us ask ourselves: what are the barriers that prevent us from seeing the world in the way Jesus did? How can we overcome these barriers to reach others so that they may be able to know the Kingdom of God? What can we do to comfort the elderly, to help to feed the starving Children, heal the hatred and violence in our world? How can we help to solve misunderstandings in our families so that we may not become alienated and separated from those with whom we share life? How can we put an end to bigotry and indifference? What can we do—as individuals and as community—to make our world a better place today?

On this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us put our trust in the power of God’s words and actions. Let them carry us so that, in turn, we may lead others to God. Let us pray to our God to heal and strengthen us by the power of his words and actions so that we may be faithful revealers of His Kingdom. ###