Saturday, February 20, 2021

We are Made Alive in the Spirit

1st Sunday of Lent: 21 February 2021

Readings: Genesis 9:8–15; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15

The Temptation of Christ by the Devil, by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1860

Please click here to listen to my audio reflections

I. Ordeals help one to make the right choices

On this First Sunday of Lent, the liturgy invites us to look at Christ and how he triumphed over Satan in his pursuit of God and His Will in life. Even though the Gospel writer St Mark in just two sentences speaks about Jesus' life in the wilderness, the primary message of the Messiah on repentance and believing in the Gospel takes a central stage here. This is how Jesus establishes his credibility and authority in his robust public ministry in Galilee. Only a person who has triumphed over temptations and Satan can preach about God and His mission to the people. Jesus' desert experience of forty days taught him how to focus on his vocation to which he was called. During this time he learnt what it was like to be hungry and thirsty as he managed to survive in the dry and inhospitable landscape. 

What is fascinating here is, as Jesus emerged from the desert physically weakened and spiritually strengthened that the choices before him were clear. His ordeal taught him to make the right choices, gave him time to prepare and make himself ready to go out and proclaim the gospel. Certainly, during his period in the desert, he must have grappled with the ultimate questions of his life and faith - about truth and meaning, suffering and purpose, relationship with God, others and the cosmos and the like. His experiences were the raw material to draw conclusions about his mission of preaching the reign of God. All these questions about life are not problems to be solved but mysteries to be deepened. Lent is a wonderful season where we acknowledge just how lost we are in this messy world.  

II. Being other centred is the goal of Lent

Speaking about Lent, St John Chrysostom has words of wisdom for us: "No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually if you do no good to others, you do nothing great". The traditions of our Lenten season like prayer, almsgiving and fasting give us ample opportunities to come closer to the person of Jesus Christ. These creative means help us to explore various ways to spend Lent profitably for the good of our soul. When we do some good deeds to others, then those who receive them feel comfortable and at ease. We can think about those health care personnel in the hospitals or clinics - doctors, nurses and other persons - who through their skilled care put us at ease even if the illness is terribly hurting us. This is what Saint John Chrysostom meant in his quote. 

Doing the good deed is one thing, but the way in which it is done is quite different.  Our Christian spirituality teaches us to be other-centred, in other words, God-centered. Serving the other is the main objective in our quest in being human and kind. The Lenten journey teaches us to be mindful of the other person's needs, wants and desires. Oftentimes, we would like to do a lot of things because of what we want so and not what the receiver desires. Lent calls to create new patterns in our thinking and doing. God also makes a new start in his relationship with humanity as we see in the first reading by making a covenant with Noah that his way of acting with the new humanity is different (Genesis 9:11). 

III. We are partakers of eternity once and for all

Jesus' mission of preaching the good news to the world had a purpose. St Peter tells us boldly that "for Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3: 18). In Lent, we contemplate something serious. It is about our future with God for all ages. Thus God becomes our destiny once and for all. We manifest that thirst for God in concrete ways during this special period called Lent. 

God becomes wholly real to us when we contemplate those mysteries of Christ's life, suffering and death. It is both in words and deeds. Through the waters of Baptism, we made a covenant with God and thus entered the kingdom of His beloved Son as St Paul tells us: "For he [Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13–14). In other words, we are all made children of God as His beloved sons and daughters (Galatians 4:3–7). Therefore our life as Christians is about nothing being politically correct or making a judgment about our appearance or personality. Rather it is about getting closer to Christ. The 40 days of desert experience that the Church gives is an opportunity to come out from our hiding or that which covers us under the guise of dirt of some sort. We need to find Him in nature or in the things that make our way or cross our paths as blessings or woes. 

The first Sunday of Lent invites us to look for something big in God instead of getting distracted by disorderly attachments (as St. Ignatius of Loyola would call them) we have in our lives. They could be our anger, frustration, self-centeredness, stubbornness, unforgiveness, negativity, rude, fear and doubt, abuses of power and unearned privilege, and pervasive tribalism, etc. Let us make time for God and the things of God in this time of the year.  Let our sight on God's Grandeur may not dim instead, we may be absorbed by this immense mystery. Just like Jesus experienced the fullness of life in God in the desert, we pray that we too experience God who brings, life, love and laughter during this Lenten season. 

Questions for Reflections:
 1. What change will Lent, our desert time, bring about in us? Will we emerge at the other end strengthened and committed to make a change in our world?

2. What does it mean to me to take up the daily crosses during this season of Lent?

3. What are personal commitments that I would like to take up to make this lent spiritually fruitful?

God of love and goodness, send down your Spirit to renew us in Christ your Son so that we can face with Jesus the sin and suffering within us and around us. Thus we may walk with him the path that leads to the glory of life renewed in and for you. Christ Jesus, you know what it is to hunger and thirst. Let this Lenten season be a good reminder for us to put the needs of others first. So that we may acknowledge God in others, in His creation and all He gives us. May this Lent be a holy reminder to come closer to you in every word - be a prayer, and our every act be testimony to your love and truth, and may we know your presence every second of this Lent.  Amen.

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

20 February 2021

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Why Ashes When God is Compassion And Mercy?

(Photo courtesy: Jean Mark Arakelian)

To listen to the audio reflections please click here

1. To do what matters most

As we begin our Lenten journey, what are our uppermost thoughts? We started the Covid-19 lockdown during Lent last year, (March 2020). For many, the outbreak of the Corona pandemic has been a long, unending Lent. Many have lost their dear and near ones; a lot of our known acquaintances have lost their job, work and cut in their salaries; the majority of students including the tiny tots have not entered the school premises. Many have postponed marriages, jubilees, Final Vows, sacraments, and other family and community celebrations. The onslaught of Covid-19 has been felt across every sector of our life, be it economics, politics, social, cultural, religion, and so forth. In this context, we begin our 40 days of Lenten journey which leads to Easter. It is certainly a time to take stock of the things of our life and see what matters to us most. We might look at ourselves, look at those around us, look at where we are, consider where we might like to be. In other words, it is a time to reflect on our lives, a time of self-reflection or self-introspection, repentance and identifying areas for spiritual growth, to take a decision, and to make a fresh start. This will help us to discover our joy and anguish, temptation and fear, thus we may opt resolutely for honesty and integrity, clarity of vision and acceptance, generosity and gentleness.  Without a doubt, putting ashes either on our forehead or on the head will symbolize that we are ready to do that wholeheartedly and without postponing it. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Enduring Love of God Heals Us

 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 14 February 2021

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1; Mark 1:40-45

Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, Jesus Healing the Leper

I. Even a leper is a child of God

One of the beautiful things that a person with chronic illness would love to see in life is one's complete healing. This is what we see in the life of this man with leprosy in today's gospel (Mark 1:40-45). In this interaction between Jesus and a man who asks to be made clean, we see trust and faith from the leper, and compassion and willingness to act from Jesus. What a joy that man must have experienced having restored his health completely and reincorporated into the community where he was once an outcast since he got leprosy! In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands, a god-sent curse (Num 12:12–15; 2 Kgs 5:27; 15:5). Moreover, considered “unclean”—unfit to worship or live with the Israelites. The lepers are considered “stillborn,” the living dead (Num 12:12). Awfully describes the requirements and prohibitions imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading (Lev 13:1-2, 44-46)—torn garments, unshaven head, covered beard—are signs of death, penance, and mourning (Lev 10:6; Ez 24:17). Lepers could live out their lives without human contact, a complete ban on his functions as a member of human society, in other words, a complete social alienation. This gives an impression that only God can cure leprosy and cleanse from sin (2 Kgs 5:7), and only God has the power to bring about what He wills (Is 55:11; Wis 12:18). Jesus was 'moved with pity' looking at the state of life of the man with leprosy who does not even have a name to call. Those who have seen a leper will understand what it means to have those wounds on the body with that disease. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Serving God Untiringly in a World of Suffering and Pain

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 07 February 2021

Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife by John Bridges

To listen to my audio reflections please click on this link

The readings of this Sunday liturgy are captivating. Because they place before us an important fact of our life and that is our life in God. Our goal in life is to serve God. We carry in our lives the reminiscences of God's enduring presence. Therefore our lives should be pleasing to God. As I write these few Sunday reflections I am with the Sisters of Charity of Maria Bambina (SCCG) in Secunderabad preaching an eight-day retreat. While reading the "Rule of Life: Constitutions and Statutes" of the Sisters a line touched me very much is of Sr Vincenza one of the foundresses of the congregation, "He who knows the Crucified One, knows everything" (p.22). In other words, if you have experienced or encountered Him, then everything has a meaning. This is what we see in the life of prophet Job, preacher Paul, and Jesus the Messiah. Job endures suffering to such an extent where God allows Satan to take control of him completely except taking away his life. Since his conversion to Christ, Paul sees the meaning of life only in the preaching of Christ whom he encountered so powerfully. Jesus' whole day program was so packed, that he had very little time for himself. We see this in the following.