Sunday, January 06, 2019

My Star Shines Everyday

The Feast of Epiphany is sometimes called "little Christmas."  The word "Epiphany" means "manifestation."  The liturgy readings narrate the revelation of the Christ-Child to the world of the gentiles in the form of a star.  The Christmas Season captures the two forms of one reality- God came to earth to be with His people.  The first form of this manifestation was on Christmas day when "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Prologue of St. John).  The Word assumed a human nature and became like us.  God the Father manifested Himself to us through the Son, Jesus.  This is the first manifestation.  Then on the feast of Epiphany, God manifested Himself again, not in the silence of the night in some hidden cave in Bethlehem, but to the world, through the persons of the
Magi, and in them, to the Gentiles.  This is the second manifestation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019


January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of all the titles of Mary, her motherhood is the title I like best. I love to collect photos of Mary showing her with the Child Jesus. There is something in that mystery that draws me. Of course, it gives me much delight to know that I was also born on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome - August 5th. The Basilica is the largest basilica in the West dedicated to the Mother of God. It was erected, as the story goes, at the site where Our Lady of the Snows appeared.

A great heresy in the Church, promulgated by Bishop Nestorius, claimed that Mary was not the Mother of God, but the mother of the man, Jesus. He proposed that Mary could not have borne God since he is God, but bore only the man. In saying this, he was actually denying the divinity of Jesus. This heresy was put to rest in 431 at the Council of Ephesus when the Greek Fathers of the Church, headed by St. Cyril of Alexandria, defined the maternity of Mary. It was on this Council that the title of "Theotokos" or "God-Bearer",was first used.

It is interesting to note that Mary's motherhood is presented to us by the Church calendar at the beginning of the year. This maternal role actually began at the Annunciation when Mary agreed to be the Mother of the Son of God. But because the Church wants to put the spotlight on the person of Jesus, the Emmanuel, Mary sort of faded into the background. Now that the climax of Christmas is somewhat over, Mary is again brought back on stage. It is also fitting to celebrate this feast at the opening of a new year because it brings to mind the reality that Mary is the dawn and Christ the Rising Sun. She is the one that leads us to God. She opens the way so that we can follow the path of true discipleship. The document "Lumen Gentium" says that Mary is the first of Christ's faithful disciples.

It is unfortunate that this motherhood of Mary is rejected by many, Protestants and Catholics alike. By Protestants, because of a misunderstanding and fear that she will take away from Jesus the honor and worship that he solely deserves. By Catholics, because they have reduced Mary solely as an object of empty and silly devotions, the heroine of mythic proportion. Saint Therese of Lisieux one day complained about the manner in which priests of her days talked about Mary in their homilies. "They talk of her imagined life, not her real life. Why can't they talk about how she doubted like us, that she suffered like us."

Of all the insights about Mary, one I ponder the most, is our late Pope John Paul II's words in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater that Mary is blessed BECAUSE SHE BELIEVED. It was her faith alone that we can all strive to imitate. Her other attributes of the Immaculate Conception and Divine Motherhood are attributes that will never be ours. But her faith, her trust and surrender, are virtues we can all imitate. Woman of Faith.. Mother of God... Mother of Mine.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Holy Family

Today is the feast of the Holy Family.  It is a celebration of the dignity of that age-old institution we call the human family. It is a celebration of life, relationships, and the bond which makes us individually unique and with our own sense of identity and history. Every family , the unit of human relations and origins, derives its source from God. We are born into a family and whether we like it or not, we are tied to this family for life until death.  Saint John Paul II called the family the “sanctuary of life.” It is in the family that life starts in all its aspects. It is a miniature form of society where you have hierarchical roles to establish order. There is no equality in a society as far as roles and responsibilities go. Not everyone can be presidents, mayors, governors, etc. Specific responsibilities are assumed by people appointed to the position either by due process of law or by Divine Providence. Each has a role to play and responsibilities to assume. In a family everyone assumes a place. Not all can be mothers, fathers or children as far as the physical reality goes. Special circumstances can sometimes demand that one assumes different roles and we must admit the stress this creates and the confusion it can sometimes entails. We are individual members of a body. The Book of Sirach talks about an exhortation for each member of the family. It carries a promise of a long life and abundant blessings. Love is the engine which must be at the heart of each family. It is the love St. Paul talks about, a love which sacrifices, forgives, bears with limitations, respects and believes in the other. We cannot have a dialogue in our families if it is not first of all inspired by a true love for each other. Dialogues not motivated by a true desire to listen and understand will just be an excuse to vent out problems, assign blame on someone and end up in even more frustrations. Taking the time is just the beginning. The real test is our ability and willingness to listen. We can use an abundance of words without really engaging in real communication. Often times paying more attention to what is not said in words could take us more into the heart of the matter. This is why St. Paul explains that we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s gifts are not just to be received but are exercised so that they can develop in us. The art of listening is an acquired gift. The Holy Family invites us to celebrate life . To celebrate life can mean upholding values which promote beauty, joy, openness, growth, appreciating the gift of each other, unity, loyalty and the like. Parents complain about the present generation without acknowledging that the present generation is being short-changed. There is a cause and effect in everything. Money cannot replace what parents can give their children. Children need not receive what they want but what they need. If they cannot find what they need at home they will seek and find them somewhere else. The West is affluent in everything material but we are the most impoverished in relationships. Mother Teresa stated that we suffer from a different poverty here- the poverty of self-sacrificing love which translates in lasting relationships and hard commitments.  The Holy Family was materially poor but was rich in love for God and for each other. It was a family which lived in total trust in God. Joseph and Mary were people who lived in faith, not understanding the works of God but allowed themselves to be used by His Providence, and in the end became the ideal home for the Child Jesus. Does it mean that the holiness of the Holy Family came to be because they were always happy, always provided for, always sure of what the future was? You and I know that this was not so. Holiness is conformity to the Will of God in whatever shape or form it manifests itself. It is seeing God’s hand in everything which happens to us. It is the “fiat” of Mary, the acceptance of Joseph, the subjection of Jesus to authority. These are all virtues which can be imitated, albeit with difficulty sometimes, but all possible with the help of God. The family is a holy institution. In the mind of God it is to be the sanctuary of life. Marriage is the bond which keeps it together. It is a bond which unites a man and woman together before God. But this bond is not magical, it needs to be worked at, it needs nurturing, it needs to be kept alive by mutual sacrifices and self- forgetfulness. Family life is the stage where the drama of human existence unfolds. It is the stage where stories of pain, sufferings, infidelities, betrayals, unhappiness can unfold. Let’s face it, there were times we wished we were born into a different family! But it is also the stage where the grace of God can manifest itself if we are open to it and open to the sacrifices the solutions to problems entail.  It is truly sad and frightening how the family has been the object of attacks in recent times!  Redefining marriage from the union between a man and a woman open to the possibility of transmitting a new life to a union between anyone for any reason is a turning away from truth and reason.  Trends in a society come and go and if that society bases its life on trends, that society will end up confused and eventually lost.  Changes in society are defined by changes in attitudes.  Attitudes are influenced and eventually defined by the moral aptitude and moral orientation of the person.  The issue then is not whether changes in society dictate the way family life is lived, but rather, people must reorient their moral compass, so as to shape society according to values based on truth and reason and thus preserve the true meaning of family.

 I am also thinking here of a religious family. Saint Teresa of Avila had no patience with those who complained about the state of their religious Orders. Instead of complaining, she exhorted to do something about the problems. It is the same with our own human family. We have to find solutions to human problems and not just complain about them. And if they cannot be fixed, we must have the faith to trust that God knows how to bring something good out of a bad situation.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Advent, Mary and Woman

Advent is a time of expectant longing. The prophet Isaiah expresses it beautifully when he says: “ Return for the sake of your servants!” or “ No ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen, any God but you, doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” One senses an air of impatience, of calling out with insistence that God would come back. During Advent, we find expression of this longing in the way we celebrate this season. We remember those we love, we buy and give gifts, mend broken relationships and ponder the state of our inner life. God has planted that longing in our heart. He created it in us so that like Isaiah, we may cry out in a loud voice the desire for a deeper kind of fulfillment.

The mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus is God’s response to this cry. It is as if leaving heaven, God assumed a body and entered the realm of time to satisfy this longing. It was an act inspired by love for the sake of those He loves. This was the greatest manifestation of God’s power, but more so, His greatest manifestation of Love.

Our longings are about to be fulfilled in the coming days as we await the great day of Christmas. But before we bask in the glory of the coming of the Lord, let us focus our attention on Mary, the woman of the hour. The story of Christmas is intimately linked to Mary. Her presence dominates the scene. The spotlight is on her as the drama of the Annunciation unfolds. What vigilance she practiced! What vigilant expectation! What anticipation she manifested as she waited for the realization of the words of the angel. What deep faith she had as she allowed the light of the event to illumine her response and her actions following her consent. She was focused to go beyond the trappings of this great event of revelation: the vision of the Angel, the words proclaiming her greatness, and focused on the reality of a life offered to her. As the story of the Incarnation progresses, we shall see how Mary recedes into the background to give way to the presence of the Child- her Child- the Emmanuel. In this instance, I seem to hear the echo of a voice- that of the Baptist- who said “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Isn’t this the story of every woman? And in particular of a woman with child? Isn’t this the ethos of woman, to conceive within her the reality of God and in due time, according to the degree of our cooperation, give birth to the Son of God in the realm of grace? Aren’t the qualities inherent in woman- her nurturing instinct, her maternal solicitude, her intuition, her self-sacrificing ability for the sake of others- present precisely because of this reality? These qualities are never effaced whether one chooses a life of natural motherhood or single state of life as a lay person or as a consecrated woman.
The reality of spiritual motherhood is as real and deeper. A woman with child is reliving the mystery of God made Man. If we believe that we are temples of God, then we must agree that a woman pregnant with her child is pregnant “with God.” Can she like Mary, be vigilant so that the mystery does not pass her by? Can she look beyond the trappings of physical inconvenience, added responsibilities, added expense, added burden, and focus herself on the mystery being unfolded within her? Can she, like Mary, be joyful in the faith that tells her “she is blessed among women because she believes?” Believes in the power of LIFE? Believes in her dignity as a woman, a vessel of life? Can she, like Mary, sing in refrain the Baptist’s cry “He must increase” because the life within her is of God? And that she must decrease because she must forget herself with all her supposed needs?

The Season of Advent is a time of conceiving and giving birth. To conceive in faith desires that transcend ourselves and giving birth to them by the help of God’s grace thus transforming ourselves, our lives and those of others. We wait... Wait for what? For the Good News promised to us that God will come to be with us. As the Psalmist exclaims “God delights in his people!”

Friday, December 21, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

“I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul. For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice...” We call this prayer the “Magnificat” almost always used in reference to Mary. But this prayer can also be applied to John the Baptist. John was certainly a man singularly blessed by God to be the precursor of the messianic age. He was God’s mouthpiece announcing the dawn of a new age. His was the message of repentance, forgiveness and justice. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him because God anointed him to send glad tidings to the prisoners under the bondage of sin, to announce the year of favor from God. Interestingly enough, this was the passage used by Jesus for his own credentials when John, from prison, asked Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or do we wait for another?” This same message was played out by two different personalities. One with a loud voice in the desert and an unyielding reed standing by the banks of the Jordan. Another with the power of love and service, a lamb who opened not his mouth, a bruised reed.

John knew his role in the salvation drama of Israel. He himself acknowledged that he is only the voice in the desert announcing the coming of the Lord. He is fully aware of the words of the prophet Isaiah. What struck me the most with him was his deep self-knowledge and his being fully rooted in the truth about himself. The questions (more like proposals) that were addressed to him were unhesitatingly answered with what he knew to be the truth. “I am not Elijah or the prophet or the Messiah. No, I am only a voice... Someone mightier is coming after me.... I am not worthy to untie his sandals....”

Only in our knowledge of the truth can we truly deliver the message of God. Only in knowing ourselves can we fully serve God without the danger of losing our souls. The “proposals” we can encounter in the service of God can become a wine that intoxicates us. We can easily forget that the message is more important than the messenger. We can easily forget that we are not the Elijah’s, or God forbid we have the illusion that we are the Messiah, of our world with subtle agendas. We are only voices in the deserts of this world, witnessing to the reality that there is One, more powerful and more important who will accomplish the impossible which we cannot do ourselves. John was important in the plan of God, and so are we, but only to the extent that we remain in the vine, rooted in the truth of who we truly are on the chess board.

John the Baptist never witnessed the fullness of God’s revelation. He never saw the fullness of God’s intent to save his people. He never witnessed the victory of the Resurrection. And yet, God needed him to prepare the way of this ultimate victory. We may never witness the ultimate victory in our fight for justice. We may never reap the harvest of our labors but God needs us to proclaim the Good News of His Son. We may never see the end to abortion, euthanasia, social injustice, poverty and sufferings in this world. But we should be firm in our faith and hope that One who is mightier will come and will make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

I believe that only if we truly make this our conviction that we can rejoice always and pray without ceasing as St. Paul exhorts us to do in the second reading. I believe that if we can seek out the good from the bad can we retain what is good. Only then is it possible to be thankful in all circumstances. Only then can we be found blameless until the coming of the Lord. For as St. Paul says, God is faithful and He will accomplish His plan present since the foundation of the world.