Friday, February 16, 2018

Temptations: Good or Bad?



"The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.  The breath of life... this breath is sometimes referred to in some theological books as the "soul" given to man making him a spiritual being.  Did you ever wonder why the story of creation began with the natural world and ended with the creation of man?  Why did God created Paradise before he created Adam and Eve? It was an act of pure love.  He wanted to make sure that they would want for nothing, everything would be ready, when they opened their eyes for the first time.   It was a great act of hospitality.  How good God is.  "Lord, what is man that you care for him?" the Psalmist would ask.  The story of Adam and Eve is I think a story of great betrayal.  It is a story of great ingratitude.  It was not the apple which made the difference but the disobedience, the total disregard, to what God had requested them not to do.  
"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it;"  Spiritual writers have warned us that sin comes to us in the guise of good.  St. John of the Cross has this to say: "it must be noted that, among the many wiles used by the devil to deceive spiritual persons, the most ordinary is that of deceiving them under the appearance of what is good and not under the appearance of what is evil; for he knows that if they recognize evil they will hardly touch it. " (Counsels of Love and Light).  In our world where the idea of freedom is treated as an absolute value, separate from accountability and responsibility, this might be an apple we may want to bite without hesitation.
"and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."  Misery loves company.  I wonder if Adam ate it because he loved her too much and wanted to share with Eve whatever would come about, or was it because he just didn't know any better?  Sin made malicious what was previously seen as innocent.
Why did God created the serpent which created this mess that Adam and Eve found themselves in?  It comes down to the notion of choice.  The greatest thing about being human is the fact that we were created with our reason and free will.  These are gifts which elevate and give us dignity.  When God endowed us with free will, he was running the risk of us using it to our own advantage- and so it happened.  But love opens itself to risks.  True love, if it is to be true, think only of the beloved's good.  St. John of the Cross warns us that true love subjects the lover to the beloved- so be careful who and what we love.  If we fix our heart on frivolous things, we become frivolous.  That's why St. Paul encouraged us by saying: whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is true, think about these things.  We become what we love.  Temptations can make us humble because we are forced to acknowledge our weaknesses and depend on God's grace .  They can make us strong when we persevere in resisting them.  They can make us wise when we learn from our mistakes.  They can make us compassionate towards others because we learn to understand their struggles.  Ultimately, the choice is ours.

The Gospel reading on this First Sunday of Lent is about the temptations of Jesus.  Temptation can be both external and internal.  We are tempted by what we see or hear or perceive around us.  But it can also be internal because we have our inner obsessions, compulsions and addictions.  Jesus was tempted by the devil over three important areas of human needs: physical (food), knowledge,and possessions.  Jesus shows us that having the Word of God for our foundation, we can fight the snares of the devil.  If we know the truths of God, we will recognize the lies of the devil.  The truth will set us free.
Temptations can be good even when we fall.  We don't look for them, just as Jesus didn't look for his, but if we cling to God's words and trust in his mercy, everything will work out for the good of those who love Him.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

St. Bernadette and the Story of Lourdes





 The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th, is close to my heart.  The first Saint I was ever aware of was St. Bernadette and the movie which made me keenly aware of the presence of Mary was The Song of Bernadette.  It made such an impression on me that I joined the Children of Mary with their white dresses and blue sash.  I read lots of books on Bernadette, my favorite being "Saint Bernadette Soubirous" by Abbe Fancois Trochu, and "A Holy Life" by Patricia McEachern.  Renee de Laurentis also wrote delightful books on St. Bernadette.  Among the many virtues of the Saint, it was her humility, simplicity and modesty , which spoke volumes to me.  I believe that Mary is drawn irresistibly to these virtues and is very close to those who possess them.  The story of Lourdes is closely linked to the story of suffering and February 11th is designated as World Day of Prayer for the Sick.  It is no wonder that St. Bernadette was chosen since she was the perfect model of bearing our sufferings with patience, faith and love.  Her life bears witness how God confounds the proud and lifts up the lowly.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Feast of the Presentation

 

We celebrate February 2nd  as the Feast of the Presentation of the the Lord or traditionally called "Candlemas."This is an ancient feast in the Roman Catholic Church dating back to as far back as 312 with some historical homilies by bishops.  This feast falls 40 days after Christmas and commemorates the Purification of Mary in the temple in Jerusalem following the mandate of the Law of Moses in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 12:2-8).  According to this Mosaic Law, any woman who had given birth to her first-born son is considered impure, and would have to go through a process of ritual purification.  Consequently, the Child Jesus was also presented to the temple to be consecrated to God according to the same Law.  Candlemas was originally a celebration of the blessing of candles.  These candles were blessed and were reserved for the use of the Church in its different liturgical celebrations throughout the year.  In the liturgy, we still have the part of Simple or Solemn procession and blessing of the candles.  After Vatican II, the emphasis was refocused on the feast of the Presentation itself.  It traditionally became the day when Religious renew their vows as a symbol of renewing their religious consecration. 

This feast presents to us many points for personal reflection.  There are many things which come to my mind and among these are the following:
A lesson on poverty:  This feast recalls to mind how Mary and Joseph were really poor.  They offered to God what was prescribed in the Law as the offering of poor people: turtle doves.  Sometimes we may be tempted to think that the Holy Family's poverty was a pious tradition to exalt the virtue of poverty to those who were born poor in this world. Or to pacify the restless hearts of peasants during the middle ages by the backing of religion.  But this Gospel event proves to us that they were materially poor in the true sense of the word.  It is so consoling to think that material possessions are not always a badge of God's favor and the lack of them is not a sign of God's disfavor.
We are all consecrated:    By virtue of our baptism, we are consecrated to God.  We are set apart to do a particular mission in life to bring about the Kingdom.  Consecration is lived out in many ways.  Religious are consecrated by a certain ritual in the Church which sets them aside for a particular ministry following a particular charism, within a particular Religious Order.  Ordained Priests are consecrated to be God's ministers of Word and Sacraments for the life of one's soul.  A baptized Christian in the world is consecrated to be a leaven, a salt of the earth, to make present the presence of God in the market-places of the world.  No one is exempted.  We just do not exist, we live for a purpose.  The Presentation of the Child Jesus was a statement of this truth.
God lives in His temple and because of that we ought to give the House of God the respect it deserves.  The drama of Mary's purification, Jesus' consecration, the prophecy made by Simeon and the love of the prophetess Anna, all demonstrate to us how holy the temple or Church is.  In our Catholic Churches is present, day and night, the Son of God, Lord of Heaven and earth, who chose to remain in that little piece of bread we call the Eucharist so that He can be with us always.  And yet, for one reason or other, we take it for granted.  We need to recapture the reverence and awe we once had for the House of God.  Everyone of us can cite examples of how people can be so disrespectful of God's temple.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and as such should be treated with respect and reverence.  Our body is the instrument to render homage to God by acts of good deeds and virtues or to be used as an instrument to offend Him.  This feast reminds us to be conscious of this reality.
The sword piercing Mary's heart was a prophecy of the Cross.  Along with the joy of having given birth to God, the joy was lined with sorrow because the prophecy foretells  rejection, hate and death.  Isn't this a consequence of following Jesus, of discipleship?  The Cross is never far away from those who truly follow God.  That is one reason why people are afraid to follow Christ, "it is difficult, too complicated" many would say.  It entails dying: to self, selfish desires, life of sin.
As we celebrate this feast of the Presentation, let us again be mindful of these truths and ponder the insights which God reveals to those who seek Him.  "And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek (Malachi 3:1-4).  "Are you not aware that you are God's temple?"  Let us enter in, into the temple of our soul.  Let us remain in silence before the Lord our God.  Nothing is needed for this journey except the desire to be united with Him. As St. John of the Cross would say, the language God hears best is the silent language of love.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD, MOTHER OF MINE


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.