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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Bearer of God's Image versus Caesar's Image

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Readings - Isaiah 45:1,4–6; Psalm 96:1,3–5, 7–10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5; Matthew 22:15–21

(Image courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)

Courage of Holy Martyrs must strengthen us

The 29th Sunday of the year which falls on the 18th October gives us a very challenging message with the feasts of martyr saints falling before and after as a symbol for a different interpretation. Because on the 17th October, the Church celebrates the feast of  St Ignatius of Antioch ((-107), one of the earliest Holy Martyrs of the Church. He is remembered greatly for his astonishing but bold words that he spoke at his martyrdom which took place in the Circus Maximus in Rome by the lions: "I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ."  On the 19th of October the Church commemorates the memory of  the martyrdom of saints John de Brebeuf, Issac Jogues and companions.  The boldness of these saints to give life for Christ at such gruesome, cruel death is truly staggering. For example, St Issac Jogues (1607-1646), a French Jesuit, even though on a earlier occasion he was peeled of skin of his body and mutilated his fingers, once again returned to the mission territory of Huron and Iroquois tribes to work and for the second time he was peeled of his skin and killed. Looking at his courage, his killers (Mohawks) seems to have eaten up his heart because it resembled such an amazing courage. Jogues words speak about his impeccable endurance to follow the Crucified Christ: "My heart tells me that if I have the happiness of being employed in this mission, Ibo et non redibo [I shall go never to return]; but I shall be happy if our Lord will complete the sacrifice where he has begun it, and make the little blood I have shed in that land the pledge of what I would give from every vein of my body and my heart."  One of the most fascinating hagiographical (holy life) accounts that I have ever read and captivated my imagination of boldness of a missionary priest is that of a martyr saint that is of St Issac Jogues. 

II

We bear God's image, therefore, we belong to God

The readings of this Sunday put us into a difficult question: Whom do you want to follow, God or Caesar? To put it a little more strongly: Whose image you would like to bear? Bearer of God's image or Caesar's image? This is what precisely Pharisees and Herodians, the enemies of Jesus come to him with a question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). And Jesus' answer is simple: “Render therefore to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 22:21). Even though the enemies of Jesus asked him the question in order to trap him, for us the answer of Jesus challenges us to take a stand. The follower of Jesus must bear the image of God and not of Caesar. In the words of St Paul, we owe Him our very lives—all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, offered as a living sacrifice of love (Romans 12:1–2). In other words, we owe to God everything. The coin might bear Caesar’s image however we bear God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). We are reminded that God "created man in the image of himself, in the image of God He created him" (Gen 1:26). In other words, we bear God's image in ourselves. If we bear God’s image, we belong to God and we must give back to God what belongs to God. 

III

God brings forth good out of  unexpected corners

Prophet Isaiah (45:1) gives us a surprise by saying that God chose a pagan king Cyrus to rebuild the broken house of Israel, to restore the Israelites from exile, and to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–4). God says to Cyrus, "I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me" (Is 45:4). Even though, Cyrus, being a foreign ruler, did not know the history of the God of Israel, yet he listens to Yahweh and does what he was supposed to do to the Israelites. This is the beauty of the works of our God. If He wants us to raise beyond our capacities, limitations then he can do. God can transform us  to bring glory to Him in spite of our wretchedness. We are invited to look beyond our limitedness or our weakness. Often we are grappled by the complexities that exist in the world with its messy domestic and international politics, global economic meltdown, Corona health pandemic, personal traumas and dramas of life, and many more such things.Therefore St Paul invites us to remember our God and Father in whom work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope perfectly meet through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes 1:3). Our Lord Jesus Christ is our king whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) but it begins here in His Church, which tells of His glory among all peoples. In fact, we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), who are called to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14), always and with steadfast endurance —working in faith, laboring in love, and enduring in hope, as today’s Epistle counsels.

IV

A call for a right discernment

 On this Sunday we are being invited through St Paul to actively seek God's wisdom, and to use the power of the Holy Spirit to be part of the Gospel of our Lord (1 Thes 1:4-5). This does not entail to shun the world and its affairs once and for all. God does not ask us to completely withdraw from the world. He wants us to actively pursue godly living that incorporates all of the human experience: politics, science, technology, economics, art, medicine, music and other aspects which  on the surface, may not appear to be spiritual matters. Discernment also means to be attentive and cautious in matters such as fake news and the manipulations of facts and figures. Jesus teaches his disciples how to be careful and discerning when clever questions are asked to trap you, manipulate you and use against you. Jesus takes the coin with face of Caesar, the emperor to emphasize that even though it belongs to the emperor but by virtue of being a human being, Caesar too like any other human being is made in the image of God. Thus Caesar too is subject  to the One True God  just like king Cyrus was. As Christians we are called to be men and women of truthfulness having deep conviction that truth is revealed in Christ Jesus and we are called to live out in our lives. Therefore, there is no manipulation of truth in actual life instead the conviction in the power of truth itself must free us. Jesus himself says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). This great understanding of Jesus must help us to return ourselves to God, whose image we bear, and to help others to return themselves to God, whose image and inscription they also bear. St Ignatius of Antioch and St Issac Jogues could inspire us through their courage, determination, conviction and life. 

    Lord, open our hearts and our minds that we may be people of truth; and that in being witnesses to your truth we may trust in the power of the truth that we proclaim. Amen.

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

17 October 2020

Thursday, October 15, 2020

God of Faith and God of Science

(Image courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)
Discoveries and inventions are very little in front of the immensity of knowing God

What Christian Scriptures want to say to us is that God is present everywhere and powerfully present in the working of this immense universe. I suppose we are conditioned by God's omnipresence and omnipotence in the affairs of this world. When this Corona is threatening us at our door steps, we are made aware that all our learnings and scientific discoveries in the medical field are so small, so little and so tiny. It's like a drop in the ocean. That means in order to draw strength, we should begin to think about the immensity and knowledge that is in God and kneel down and just begin to contemplate this unutterable mystery that we call God. All our discoveries and inventions have no effect or meaning at all at the face of our littleness and shallowness. The more we know our fragility, smallness, emptiness, vagueness, in fact about our life itself, we see the immensity, greatness and vastness of God. In other words, we are putting constraints around ourselves in knowing our God.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Courageously Joyful in Chasing the Dreams of Jesus

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Readings - Isaiah 25:6–10; Psalm 23:1–6; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14

Image courtesy: Creative Commons

I

Every call is holy, just and considered

"For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). These words of Jesus must wake us up. Am I one of those who are called? Am I the chosen out of "many"? We often see this dichotomy of many and few. Why is that God does not choose all of them who are called? Many wrongly understand these words of our Saviour.  Often people believe that only a few are called to be priests or nuns or consecrated people. By our Baptism God has called and chosen everyone and left no one. Perhaps only a few make a real commitment to the call Jesus mentions about. Every call is holy, just and considered whether it is to form a family, remain single or be consecrated. Our call is to do the will of God. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

God's Omnipotence and Motherly Protection Versus Corona's Omnipresence

(Image courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)

I

Fear of Covid and Faith in God

The intense fear of Covid and deep faith in God seem to be keeping our life going in these days of so much uncertainty. The unexpected arrival of the Corona virus into our country, state, and place of our inhabitation has made the omnipresence of this nasty infectious virus more than tolerable. A good number of seniors and those who could not tolerate the onslaught of Covid 19 have left this world to eternity. 

Corona virus has left no one untouched, from a pious lay person to a ferocious politician, from a simple beggar to a holy priest corona has played its game and won it. Those who are still around might be thinking when will this corona affect and take them as a victim. Others might be thinking what this nonsense of corona lockdown is, and in number of countries this laxity in people's behaviour has led to increase a sudden surge of corona infections. Many have downplayed the enormous health hazards this virus brings and succumbed to this killer bug as if a punishment to their pride and arrogance. Moreover, during this time, we must have lost count of the days, weeks and months. We are already in the eighth month since the Corona virus started to make news in India. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Taking Care of God's Vineyard and My Responsibility

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Readings - Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

I

Listening to the Master

In short, the Sunday readings bring home a very important idea that is taking care of God's vineyard. This Old Testament symbol "vineyard" tells about Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7), the Church and the Kingdom of God. Ultimately, God is the planter or the owner of this vineyard and we are just tenants or workers in the vineyard. Vineyard gives job to people, grapes to eat, beauty to eyes and wine to drink. In other words, vineyard gives security and solace to the one who does his or her job well. Unless and until we get back to the plan that God has for us, we would be remaining idle in the vineyard. Someone said, "an idle mind is a devil's workshop". Therefore, our job is just doing the job the owner has called us to do and not undoing what God intended for us. Jesus wants us to listen to him, listen to the owner of the vineyard who may appear in different persons. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Christian Media and Solidarity: Where are we now?

Recently, I have turned my attention to reading a number of Catholic journals published in India. We do get a good number of journals in our Jesuit Provincialate. I read through recently published - Vidyajyothi Journal of Theological Reflection, Jeevadhara, The New Leader, Jivan, Indian Currents, In Christo, Salaam, Word & Worship, Kristu Jyoti, Asian Horizons, Prabodhana, Journal of Indian Theology, Magnet, Ignis, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by their content. All these journals do deal with Covid 19 and  its repercussions. Certainly the editors of these journals should be appreciated for their courage and resilience to think about the present day reality and respond to it in their own way. Here are some of the titles of the articles that appeared in the journals. (Due to space constrain, I have restricted only to a few)