The Challenge of the Light

On Laetere Sunday, we are called to joyfully anticipate the victory that will be won and the joy that will be ours at Easter. We are half way through Lent and have progressed by way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And particularly through the Liturgy of the Word, we have meditated on the human condition and our response to God’s loving invitation down the ages.

Looking back, on the first Sunday of Lent, the First Reading dwelt on the creation of the world and the sin of our first parents; on the second, the call of Abraham, the father of the people of God; on the third, we read the story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt; and today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we witness the rise of David (Hebrew for ‘Commander’) as ruler of the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1 Sam 16: 1.6-7.10-13). God bid Samuel to anoint the youngest son of Jesse (‘God exists’) with oil, in his hometown Bethlehem.

Thus, David, a shepherd, replaced the first king, Saul, who had disobeyed God, and “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Interestingly, a millennium later, Jesus (‘God saves’) was born in Bethlehem (‘House of Bread’) and would eventually declare Himself the Good Shepherd. That city in the hill country of Judah was located about six miles north-west of Nazareth, where Jesus lived until he was thirty, and about five miles south of Jerusalem, where He would die, three years later. Thus ended the public ministry of God’s slain Lamb, so unprecedentedly full of miracles and blessings.

The Gospel of today (Jn 9: 1-41) speaks of one such miracle or "sign": the cure of a blind beggar. Inasmuch as the disciples were bent on knowing if that condition meant a chastisement, they seemed ‘blind’ too. The Master clarified that “it was not that this man had sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Proclaiming Himself the “Light of the World”, Jesus sent the blind man to Siloam, which meant ‘The One Sent, the Siloah’. This was incipient baptism, carrying as it did a promise of sweet light and refreshing health to the weak and suffering[1]. Once cured, the man labelled Jesus “a prophet” and later acknowledged Him as the Son of Man. Clearly, he had received not only natural sight but also supernatural light!

Overawed by this occurrence, the local cabal began to work overtime and to close in on Jesus. The Pharisees spread a canard: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” No doubt, Jesus had cured the blind man on a sabbath but, as elsewhere He had said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk 2: 23–28) But far from recognising Him as the Messiah, some Pharisees argued that he who has not kept the sabbath cannot be of God. They kept questioning the cured man, in the hope that he would retract his earlier statement, but he retorted: “You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. (…) Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

In the face of such irrefutable logic, the only thing left to do was to hype the case against Jesus. The parents were called upon to confirm their son’s congenital blindness; they did, but pleaded ignorance as to the author of the marvel, for “the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” This was pure conspiracy! Alas, how many do the same today! They swim with the current, compromising their principles, that they may gain social acceptance and/or political mileage! Likewise, arm-twisting and intimidation are rampant; it is always the same old story of giving someone a bad name and hanging them!

At that time, Jesus was at the height of his ministry but also at the threshold of his Passion and Death. He was the Light of the World, the light shining in the darkness, but the world did not know Him (cf. Jn 1) The cure of the blind man shows Jesus to be the Messiah, who came into the world “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” That is, His light was “as mighty as to enlighten the lowly as it was to dazzle and blind the proud.”[2] To the Pharisees, who felt targeted by this powerful proclamation, He said that only physical, not spiritual, blindness could be excused.

In today’s topsy-turvy world, one sees right-minded persons banished whereas the doctrinally flawed promoted. But we are not to be frightened or discouraged. By our baptism, we have been invited to cross from darkness to light, from sin to supernatural life. St Paul in the Second Reading (Eph. 5: 8-14) exhorts us to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them.” Persevering in this mission through life is indeed the challenge of the Light.

[1] Abbé C. Fouard, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Goa: Don Bosco, 1960, p. 290

[2] Op. cit., p. 293

Drinking of the Living Water

Moses almost fell out with God for the sake of the people, and with the people for the sake of God. The dilemma faced by the most important prophet of the Old Testament is palpable: “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

It’s lonely at the top if we venture to do things alone! As for Moses, He had God on his side. He more easily saw God face to face and heard Him with his own ears than he could humour the fickle-minded and ungrateful Israelites. Here was a man who had led them out of an oppressive land, across the Red Sea, and into freedom; yet his countrymen pined for the fleshpots of Egypt!

That is what the story of humankind has on the whole been like, as a result of Original Sin. But God never gave up; He knew that doubting pointed to a seeking. He commanded Moses to strike the rock and quench the people’s physical thirst with water in abundance. For their moral guidance He declared the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb. Yet, one day, there would be a New Moses issuing a new Commandment of Love and from His heart wounded by a lance on Mount Calvary would come forth blood and water.

In the Gospel (Jn 4: 5-42) Jesus offers the Samaritan woman that water of eternal life. At first, mistaking this for the same sparkling water of Jacob’s well that Jesus Himself had asked for, she was confused. But then, with that doubt dispelled, she goes to town, exclaiming, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Obviously, open to divine grace, she had welcomed the Word of God.

Meanwhile, Christ’s disciples kept urging Him to eat and satisfy His bodily need; they miserably failed to see the significance of what he had said: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” What a far cry from the Samaritan, who had understood the Lord. The very perceptive St Augustine sees her therefore as the figure of the Church about to be founded. And the fact that it took a Samaritan woman to proclaim Jesus as that much-awaited Christ shows that none is a prophet in one’s own land, and the Church is destined to attract the whole wide world!

Of the Gospel as a whole, the Bishop of Hippo says: “The things spoken there are great mysteries, and the similitudes of great things; feeding the hungry, and refreshing the weary soul.”[1] Indeed, of great profit are his interpretations of the Lord’s weariness; the sixth hour; the five husbands; the fountain and the well; the living water; the harvest and the labourers, and, of course, of the woman herself.

God promises to reveal to us by degrees the treasures of His love, just as Jesus did to the Samaritan woman. He is the Bread and Water of Life, and woe to us who do not believe it. We, who are heirs to the Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, must not hang on to new-fangled notions; when we have the Living Bread and Water, of what use is it to pine for the flesh-pots of Egypt? And is it not downright stupid for us who have the Saviour of the World to dabble in a weird world of petty godmen who go about ruining souls?

Let us, then, turn a new leaf. Let us harden not our hearts but rather praise and thank God, bow down in worship and kneel before Him who made us (cf. Ps 94: 2, 6-7). Let us pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and be sure, as St Paul teaches in the Second Reading (Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8) that “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

Above all, like the Samaritan woman, let us give witness and proclaim that Jesus is Lord. Pope John Paul has said, “The Church is very much aware of the specific contribution of women in service of the Gospel of hope.” Further, calling on laypeople in general, he states that “[a]s full sharers in the Church's mission in the world, they are called to testify that the Christian faith constitutes the only complete response to the questions which life sets before every individual and every society, and they are able to imbue the world with the values of the Kingdom of God, the promise and guarantee of a hope which does not disappoint.”[2]

[1] St Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Tractate XV, § 1.

[2] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (28 June 2003), 41, 42


Transfigured by the Cross

After God created man in His image and likeness, He always dialogued with humankind. But alas, the dialogue was soon interrupted by Original Sin; to resume it, God chose Abram, who thus became the first of the Hebrew patriarchs.

Abram, trusting solely in God’s Word, left his hearth and home in Ur, Mesopotamia, and walked into the unknown, to a place later identified as Canaan. The Lord had promised Abram: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (…) and by you all the families of the earth will bless themselves.” That is how Abram (meaning ‘God is exalted’) became Abraham (‘Father of many nations’).

The Jewish people are descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, and the genealogy of Jesus is traced to him. But equally pertinent is the fact that Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. So much for the relevance of today’s First Reading (Gen 12: 1-4) to the season of Lent.

In the Gospel (Mt 17: 1-9) we note that the apostles Peter, James and John had a prevision of the Resurrected Lord. Jesus was “transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light.” And as though this were not enough, “there appeared before them Moses and Elijah [central Prophets of the Old Testament], talking with Him.”

At that point, Peter, as if to continue savouring the ambience, wished to stay put on Mount Tabor, but he was shaken out of his comfort zone when “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” The apostles, who were filled with awe, fell on their faces. Jesus bade them to rise and not fear. And just as they had an insight into the Lord’s divinity, even if no inkling into His mission on earth, they also felt emboldened to follow Him.

Their experience was brief but marvellous. Jesus wanted His Apostles to treasure its memory and later testify to its truth, for it would be precisely Peter, James and John who would be destined to witness the Agony in Gethsemani! So, “it was fitting that their faith should be fortified beforehand and their eyes illumined by the effulgence of the Godhead.”[1]

To what extent are you and I fortified – transfigured – by learning of the apostles' experience? Or, do we, like Peter, only wish to feel good and dream of happy days to come? The Transfiguration was – and will always be – a sign that Christ’s mission does not lend itself to trivialisation. Also, we must be conscious of our special mission as Christians, and never feel disheartened or tempted to give up. When we look around us and see people wallow in sin, we ought to see how their happiness is only a mirage.

On the other hand, those who have chosen the narrow part are the fortunate ones, for they are continually transfigured. Jesus had instructed the Apostles to “tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” He indeed rose from the dead; and today, it behoves us to testify with conviction. But St Paul (2 Tim 1: 8-10) says that we have to also “take [our] share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God who saved us and called us with a holy calling (…) and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”

We can never thank God enough for our holy vocation. Being inheritors of an exalted tradition of faith in action, we are duty-bound to come out and call the world’s bluff. It is high time the world realised that by drawing back from the Cross it is in fact at cross-purposes with God’s loving plan of salvation. For our part, therefore, let us move forward decidedly and be transfigured by the Cross.

Banner: P. P. Ruben’s Transfiguration of Christ

[1] Abbé C. Fouard, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Goa: Don Bosco, 1960), p. 263.

From Trials to Triumph

Today’s readings rewind to the creation of the human race and come back to where we stand today. They invite us to renew our faith in Him who sent His Only Son to save the world from the havoc caused by our first parents. The texts are cathartic, to say the least.

The First Reading (Gen 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7) speaks of the Garden of Eden, where it all began. If it wasn’t for Original Sin, the history of humankind would have been different, you may say. But then, why think only of the negative side of the Fall? God, who churns out good from just anything, tweaked it in our favour. Felix culpa, therefore, “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer,” as the Exsultet (Paschal Vigil Mass hymn) chants.

In the Second Reading, St Paul (Rom 5: 12-19) gives a striking description of how “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” Further, “if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

In the Gospel (Mt 4: 1-11), Jesus, the New Adam, reverses the wrong that Adam committed in the Garden of Eden. And behold the spirit and substance of the Son of Man: whereas Adam feasted and fell, Jesus fasted and did not fall. Jesus in the desert represents the new Israel and the new Moses (both of whom spent forty years there) and the new Elijah (forty days). And what a pearl of wisdom He presents when tempted in His human state, by the devil: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. This has since become the one invigorating thought for when we are tempted by power, knowledge and riches that the world deceptively offers.

Humankind, marked by sin from the very inception, is now at the crossroads. We have taken God for granted; and, missing the point of his goodness, we have taken liberties. Having almost lost the sense of sin we are at a loss to know how to regain our innocence and obtain divine grace. Only to those with a pang of conscience, life feels like a combat, a minute-to-minute battle between the forces of good and evil, grace and sin, God and Satan.

How long can we continue thus? Life is short and unpredictable. Let us be steadfast in God’s love, embrace the Cross and experience God’s mercy. Let us not be disheartened, for if Jesus had to experience umpteen trials and temptations, why won’t we? But then, like Him, we too shall triumph over sin and see the light of the Resurrection.

Banner: Sandro Botticelli's Temptations of Christ, Sistine Chapel (1480-82)

Where are the Fishers of Men?

On the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Isaiah points to Our Lord as the Light of the World; St Matthew recounts the first days of Christ’s ministry in the wake of St John the Baptist’s arrest; and St Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remain one in mind and heart.

In the First Reading (Is 8: 23 – 9: 3), God in His goodness promises to break “the yoke of [Israel’s] burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor”: He would let it triumph over the Assyrians, as He had done against the Midianites, using men armed with clay pots, torches and trumpets!

But even more significant is what Isaiah said about Zebulun and Naphthali[1], both located in Galilee. This region had a large, non-Jewish, immigrant population; hence called “of the Nations”, or “of the Gentiles”. Although the Galileans were thought to be of dubious ancestry, uneducated and seditious, they were in fact more faithful to God than others worshipping false gods. God rewarded Galilee by letting it play host to the Lord of lords and King of kings, who would be a Light to the Nations.

In the Gospel (Mt 4:12-23) we see the realisation of the Isaian prophecy. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and Nazareth, where He grew up, were towns in Galilee. It was here that Jesus undertook His three-year ministry. On feeling the heat of John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus settled in the fishing village of Capernaum, “in the territory of Zebulun and Napthali”. He soon attracted Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, all humble fishermen, whom he would make “fishers of men”. And “He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity”. He urged them to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 4: 17), thus establishing a link with His Forerunner’s teaching.

But what is “repentance”? And is the kingdom of Heaven still “at hand”? Repentance is a change of mind and heart; it is a flight from sin to God. On the other hand, the hardening of our hearts to God’s call is tantamount to playing into the hands of the devil. “The kingdom of God [or ‘of Heaven’, to the Jews] means, then, the ruling of God in our hearts; it means those principles which separate us off from the kingdom of the world and the devil; it means the benign sway of grace; it means the Church as that Divine institution whereby we may make sure of attaining the spirit of Christ and so win that ultimate kingdom of God where He reigns without end in ‘the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ (Rev. 21: 2).”[2]

Thus, Repentance and the Kingdom of God are not passé but vital to our everyday life. They must be uppermost in our minds, especially considering that enemies of the Church are lurking in the shadows. It may come as a shock – but it is a fact – that Rome herself is under siege, and so are you and me. Creditable Vatican observers state that the highest authorities, enchanted by the world, are playing into the hands of the evil one. Such reports are dubbed ‘conspiracy theories’ by those who wish to anaesthetize us but, really speaking, who can deny that idolatry, indoctrination, deception, division, demoralisation, and so on, are the handiwork of the devil? That theological errors abound, moral teaching is being undermined, and tragically, inter-religious ecumenism given the advantage over evangelisation, are signs of the times. If this is not the self-demolition of the Church that Pope Paul VI spoke of half a century ago, what is?

The situation has never been so bad, and it seems like the worst is yet to come. Therefore, what St Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17) is now relevant to a much higher degree: we have to be “united in the same mind and the same judgement”. Whereas in the early days philosophical schools caused discord; in our day and age, Humanism borders on the very denial of God.

On the other hand, in these trying times, where are those “Fishers of Men”? To neutralise nefarious influences, it is of the essence that the powers that be uphold the Apostolic Tradition, that is, “the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings. The apostles transmitted all they received from Christ and learned from the Holy Spirit to their successors, the bishops, and through them to all generations until the end of the world.”[3] That is what true Fishers of Men ought to do, Ad Gentes: to the Nations.

[1] Names of two of the twelve sons of Jacob who eventually formed the twelve tribes of Israel; they were brothers of Joseph, whom some of the siblings sold into slavery into Egypt, because they hated him. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin survived.

[2] Pope, H. (1910). Kingdom of God. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 20, 2023 from New Advent:

[3] (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Chapter two, question 12)


Primordial Light

That part of the liturgical year called Ordinary Time (in Latin, Tempus per annum) has begun. It comprises 33-34 weeks outside the major seasons, Advent and Christmastide and Lent and Eastertide. This year, the Solemnity of the Epiphany was the first Sunday, at the head of the first week in Ordinary Time, and Monday marked the Baptism of Our Lord. Historically, Jesus began His public ministry after His Baptism at age 30. So, it is only fitting that the readings of the second Sunday should touch on that primordial light of Christianity.

In the First Reading (Is 49: 3, 5-6), who is that “Servant” chosen to unite the scattered tribes of Israel and to enlighten the world with His Word? The Old Testament refers to several as “servants of the Lord”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Job, Nebuchadnezzar; and even God’s chosen people, Israel, often called 'Jacob'.

While it is no wonder that that title should refer to Israel, eventually it has more specifically come to represent Jesus Christ: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Although he was “crushed for our iniquities”, as Isaiah had said (cf. Is 53) that he would be, Christ accomplished His salvific mission. Christianity is the world’s largest and most widespread religion, with over two billion followers representing one-third of the global population. Yet, given that the light of divine revelation is still waiting to envelop the world, there is no room for complacency. Rather, it behoves us to be God’s instruments and say: “Here I am, Lord! I come to do Thy will.”

In fact, it is the vocation of every Christian to walk in Christ’s footsteps and do His will without fear or favour. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). The Psalm teaches us that He is always by our side, stoops down to us, hears our cry, and turns our cry into song. What is more, He asks not for sacrifice and offerings but for a listening ear and a willing heart. If we only delight in His law from the depth of our hearts – where God’s law is engraved – we will see that He is our only hope and salvation, and proclaim His justice in the great assembly.

In this regard too, St Paul set a noble example to all generations. In a self-introduction to the Corinthians (1: 1-3), he announced that God had called him to be an apostle. He dared to establish a community in a city steeped in corruption, urging sinners to become saints. Thus, the local church of Corinth was symbolic of the universal Church in the making. He warmly encouraged his people to persevere in holiness, for God is holy. What a lesson to be learned by us who so easily get discouraged and begin to falter!

Holiness is a sweet challenge, and only a life of faith, hope and charity can help us attain it. To this end, we must be an alter Christus, ipse Christus – another Christ, Christ Himself! St John the Baptist, who knew the path to salvation, never ceased to say, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’. And although, in his own words, he was unworthy to untie the Lord’s sandals, he baptised Him in the Jordan, “that He might be revealed to Israel”. Curiously, Jesus and John, though relatives, did not know each other closely; one had grown up in Galilee and the other in the Desert. Nonetheless, John instantly saw Jesus was the Messiah, when the Holy Spirit descended and remained on Him, as preannounced to him by the Heavenly Father.

“The Holy Spirit had rested upon Jesus, not only to bear witness outwardly to the grace which abounded within Him, but to exercise an active influence over Him,” says the Abbé Constant Fouard in his classic work La Vie de N.S. Jésus-Christ (1880). “And therefore, so soon as the Christ had received this consecration He was ‘led by the Spirit’, St Matthew recounts; ‘led on into the wilderness,’ says St Luke; ‘sent out’, borne away, driven ‘into the desert’, according to St Mark”[1]. Over there, as is well known, the Son of God came out eminently triumphant from a threefold attack waged by Satan. And however much we may shudder to wonder how God allowed Himself to be tempted by the devil, we should also marvel at how He came out unscathed, “for having taken no part in the perversion of our humanity”[2].

On Jesus’ return from a forty-day stay in the Judean wilderness, where he had prayed and fasted, in close preparation for His public ministry, St John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him. It was here that the Precursor presented Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, as today’s Gospel passage (Jn 1: 29-34) tells us. To the Jews pursuing John it was evocative of the oracle uttered by Isaiah: “The lamb standing dumb before his shearers, the Man of Sorrows, Who shall bear the sins of the people.” (Is 53: 3) In other words, John was referring to his cousin Jesus, not as a mere symbol of the traditional paschal lamb but as the One who would be immolated on the Cross.

“And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God,” stated the Baptist, very confidently. Should not you and I too respond to the primodial light of our own baptism and bear witness to Jesus Christ, that He may always be “a light to the nations” and His “salvation may reach to the end of the earth”?

[1] Cf. Jesus Christ the Son of God, by Abbé Constant Fouard, translated from the French by George F. X. Griffith; published by Longmans, Green & Co. and reprinted by Don Bosco, Goa, 1960, p. 83.

[2] Op. cit., p. 84.

Luminous Epiphany

In places where the Solemnity of the Epiphany has been moved from 6 January to the Sunday between 2 and 8 January (both days inclusive), the readings are quite different from those that celebrate it as originally set. Meanwhile, three parishes in the archdiocese of Goa celebrate the feast on the traditional day: the church of Reis Magos (The Magi), in Verem, Tiswadi; the chapel of Our Lady of Remédios (Cures) in Cuelim, Mormugão; and the church of Our Lady of Bethlehem, in Chandor, Salcete; where little boys play the Wise Men who followed a wondrous star to Bethlehem and paid homage to the Infant King.

The Epiphany (from the Greek ‘manifestation’) is a very ancient feast that predates the celebration of Christmas on 25 December. It was central to Christian life: whereas Jesus was born unsung, it was His manifestation to the Magi that illuminated the mystery of Christmas. The early Church combined that Visitation with the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the Wedding at Cana, as all those events pointed to Jesus as being the Son of God. Only centuries later, at the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set Christmas day on 25 December, the Epiphany on 6 January,[1] and named the twelve days between the two feasts as the Christmastide, with the latter solemnity marking the grand finale.

The day’s readings highlight an incomparably sublime event in the history of humankind: the manifestation of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah (60: 1-6) looks at battered Jerusalem he envisions it as the quintessential city that will be the Bride of the Lord. The city would manifest its glory, and the peoples of the world would flock to it with gifts, curiously, the same that the Magi would bring to the Babe of Bethlehem centuries later. Most importantly, by the end of times, “all nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord,” as sings the Psalm.

While the Gospel passage (Mt 2: 1-12) echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, it also quotes the chief priests and scribes as saying to king Herod that it was indeed written by the prophet (Micah 5: 1-2; 2 Sam 5: 2): “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.” On the one hand, it shows how well the authorities knew about the coming of a Messiah whom, sadly, they would reject. On the other hand, the reference to Bethlehem is significant, for Jesus would give up on the fortress Jerusalem and choose to be born in humble Bethlehem.

To be noted are Herod’s wily ways: was he not all sweetness who bade the Magi to let him know where the Babe lay, and almost in the same breath ordered the killing of infants under the age of two? A great lesson for us who are naïve vis-à-vis the world and its devious ways. Even while we enjoy the benefits of Christian civilisation, we fail to notice infiltrators bent on paganising the Mystical Body of Christ. Are we, Christians, alert and zealous enough, ready to stand up, speak up? Are we sufficiently imbued with the Good News to desist from entertaining bad news?

We have to emulate the Magi of yore and reject the Herods of the world. Those noble pilgrims from the Orient, astrologers and/or philosophers conversant with Hebraic messianic beliefs, were the first Gentiles to adore Jesus; they accepted Him while the authorities rejected Him – a pathetic drama that is still unfolding in our times. The gifts they offered were gold, in acknowledgement of the royalty of Jesus; frankincense, a reference to His divinity; and myrrh (not mentioned by Isaiah), pointing to the suffering humanity of Jesus.

Finally, St Paul (Eph 3: 2-3, 5-6) states that the Gentiles are indeed “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” This is in stark contrast to the narrow and exclusive Jewish idea of Salvation. The chosen race had clearly failed God, so it is now the Church that is that chosen race, royal priesthood and holy nation. It makes you and me privileged bearers and proclaimers of His luminous message. Our task is to put the lamp on a stand, such that it gives light to all in the house! Instaurare omnia in Christo.


[1] The Church has spread out the rest of the feasts. This year, the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated on 9 January.

Under Two Holy Names

The New Year will surely be brought in with much fanfare the world over. The faithful will drive enthusiastically to church in their year’s best outfits to pray for a worthy year ahead. No doubt, it is the beginning of the civil year, but since Time belongs to God, we ought to honour it. Moreover, there is a Christian facet to it: it is the first day of the Gregorian calendar, called so as it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, way back in the year 1582, as a modification of, and replacement for, the Julian calendar whose algorithm had miscalculated the date of Easter.

Although the Gregorian calendar is now used in most parts of the world, some churches not affiliated to Rome still follow the Julian. Ukraine is a case in point. Only some days ago, in a bid to distance itself from the Russian Orthodox Church, Zelenksky’s country fell in line with the Church in the West and celebrated Christmas on 25 December, instead of 6 January.

Some of our faithful, however, may be unaware that 1 January is the Octave of Christmas, which, this year, has fallen on a Sunday. The first day of the civil year is also dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in celebration of her unique privilege and title as Mother of God. Accordingly, the readings dwell on the Mother of Jesus and on the Holy Name of Jesus.[1] The Feast highlights Mary's role in the economy of Salvation and helps us place our problems and concerns under her mantle. To complete the picture, the Catholic Church also celebrates the World Day of Peace[2] on the first day of the first month of the year.

Today's First Reading is from the Book of Numbers (6: 22-27), one of the five books (Pentateuch) dictated by God to Moses. Called so because it begins by listing the numbers of a census of the Hebrew people, the Book represents a march of God’s people across the desert wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. In the course of this march, the people gathered experiences that eventually impacted their future. God asked Moses to address Aaron because his brother was a worshipper of a Canaanite god and had helped the Israelites to build a Canaanite idol to worship. God’s command and Moses’ blessing here are a promise of peace for Israel, which was to be fully realised with the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mystery of the Incarnation was a fulfilment of a long wait; it was a manifestation of God’s benevolence and love for His supreme creation, humankind. His Son has liberated us from the old law and from sin; we have also secured His blessings, the highest one for Christians being the privilege to be called God’s children (rather than creatures). Of course, none of this would be possible without the Blessed Virgin Mary’s willing collaboration; she is thus, very naturally, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth.

That is why St Paul in the Second Reading (Gal 4: 4-7) says: “God sent forth His Son born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” His words highlight the human side of the Son of God; that He became man first to save the Chosen People; that He was formed by the religion of his ancestors (to us, the Old Testament); and that in time He perfected the law, whereby all men and women of goodwill would be saved.

Finally, in the Gospel according to St Luke (2: 16-21), we see that the poor shepherds were the first ones to receive the Good News of Salvation. They met Mary and Joseph, with the Babe lying in a manger; they soon understood the magnificent Hymn of the Angels, Glória in excélsis Deo et in terra pax hominíbus bonae voluntátis, and became the first proclaimers of the Word made Flesh; and in Him, they were adopted as children of God.

That at the end of the Octave Jesus was circumcised and given His Holy Name, as preannounced by the Angel Gabriel to Mary, justifies the celebration of His Holy Name concurrently with Mary’s title as Mother of God; it also explains why 1 January was, way back from the 13th century, observed as Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, with a Marian orientation predating it. This feast day was cancelled by Pope John XXIII’s General Roman Calendar of 1960 and simply called “Octave of the Nativity”.

Like Mary, we too need to keep all these things, ponder them in our hearts, and be ever more faithful to Holy Scripture and Tradition. The Blessed Virgin understood the full import of her Son’s words only after the Resurrection and Pentecost. We too ought to bide our time and, meanwhile, put His Holy Name upon our world, pray for God’s blessing, and discern our vocation. Above all, we ought to eschew sin, cease to be slaves of the world, and happily be sons and heirs by God’s grace.



[1] At other times, or say, when the Second Sunday of Christmas does not coincide with 1 January, there is a different set of readings. The feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was first granted, on the petition of King José I of Portugal, to the dioceses of Portugal and to Brazil and Algeria, in 1751. By 1914, the feast was established in Portugal for celebration on 11 October and was extended to the entire Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1931. The 1969 Revision of the liturgical year changed it to 1 January.

[2] Pope Paul VI established it in 1967, inspired by Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) and with reference to his own Populorum Progressio (1967).

The Three Christmas Masses

Did you know of the three Christmas Masses – Midnight; Dawn; Morning – each with its own liturgy?

The Midnight Mass is also called ‘the Angel's Mass’; the second, ‘the Shepherd's Mass’; and the third ‘King's Mass’.

Although all readings are on the theme of hope, light and salvation, each of the three Masses has its own focus and all of them worth reflecting upon.

The First Reading is always from the Book of Isaiah, who is the Prophet par excellence of the Messiah and the Good News. The Second Reading of the first two Masses comprise passages from St Paul’s Letter to Titus whereas the Morning Mass is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. The Gospel of the first two Masses is from St Luke, while the daytime Mass reads from St John.

The Lectionary carries a note: “For pastoral reasons, one or other of the three Masses may be used at any hour.


Why a Mass at midnight? It is traditionally believed that Jesus was born at midnight. The physical darkness is a reminder of the spiritual darkness we are steeped in, a darkness that only Christ the Light of the World can dispel.

The First Reading (Is 9: 2-4, 6-7) states: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The prophecy is specific to Israel, whose king, Ahaz, had entered into alliances with kings instead of with the King of Kings. Isaiah announced to the hapless nation that the royal line would produce a descendant that would save them. Ahaz’s son Ezekiah was indeed a righteous king, but the adjectives describing him – “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” – are infinitely more apt for Jesus Christ the Messiah, a descendant of the Royal House of David.

The Gospel account (Lk 2: 1-14) is about the humble birth of Our Lord, proof enough that the His government would be of the spiritual realm. That “there was no place for them in the inn” tells us of how the rich and mighty would reject Him, as they still do. No wonder, the poor shepherds were the first to be invited to visit the Divine Babe in Bethlehem.

After the Fall, there was a chasm between God and man. The Son of God came to overcome that barrier, yet we vacillate when it comes to things divine. Nowadays, when under the guise of secularism, the world is steeped in irreligion and passions, let us heed St Paul’s advice to Titus (2: 11-14): “… live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

In this dark world, then, Christmas comes with a message of light and hope for humankind.


The Mass at dawn commemorates the shepherds’ early and eager visit to adore the Lord in the manger. As natural light increases at dawn, those who believe in the Lord are blessed with His gift of light.

In the First Reading (Is 62: 11-12, Isaiah announces the good news of salvation to the daughter of Zion, that is, Jerusalem, or the Jewish people. Or, as the luminous Psalm says, “This day a new light will shine upon the earth: the Lord is born to us.” This light will shine on the just, and joy will belong to the upright of heart.

The Gospel (Lk 2: 15-20) tells us that the lowly – represented here by the shepherds, who were considered the scum of the earth – are the upright of heart: they see with eyes of faith, and they glorify and praise God. Like little children, it is the lowly who are apt to inherit the kingdom of God.

Yet, we are never worthy. As St Paul says to Titus (3: 4-7): “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy.” Our baptism, then, is the dawn of a new life of the spirit.


The third and final Christmas Mass is celebrated in broad daylight, symbolising the promised Son of God Who has been revealed to the world. The Gospel reading is a standing invitation to all nations to worship the new-born King of Kings, hence the name ‘King's Mass’.

The First Reading (Is 52: 7-10) announces the Good News to Israel, and eventually, to “all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the world.” How happy we should consider ourselves to be included in that number, thanks to the Apostles who visited our subcontinent way back in the first century (Kerala, Tamil Nadu) and later, other proclaimers of the Word, from the sixteenth century onwards (Goa and surrounding areas).

The Gospel (Jn 1: 1-18) strikes a somber note, that is, nevertheless, thought-provoking: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world, He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew him not.”

How true that is of our world, two millennia after the Birth of Jesus. We know Him not, and those who are privileged to know, care not! “He came to his own home, and His own received Him not.” Jesus came to save Israel, and they rejected Him; He wants us to announce the Good News to the world, and what do we do?

How can we despise God Who has stretched out His hand to humankind?

The Second Reading (Heb 1: 1-6) emphasizes how “in many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son… He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his Word of power.” Let us acknowledge Him duly and gratefully.

This Christmas let us reflect on the power and glory of God and how we are privileged to inherit His light on earth and everlasting life in Heaven. Let us rise above matter and embrace the spirit; let us look beyond the physical and gaze at the supernatural; let us put the pettiness of the world behind us and live like the angels on high. Thanks to the Holy Catholic Church, the ineffable mystery of Christmas stays with us through the year.

Awaiting that Wondrous Birth

“Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” Today, is there a clearer sign that Jesus was the One referred to in these words of the Prophet Isaiah? Some versions even translate ‘young woman’ as ‘virgin’. Who other than Jesus can lay claim to virgin birth? What woman other than Mary ever gave birth as a virgin? Was it not crystal clear that this was the Messiah that Israel had long been waiting for?

In the First Reading (Is 7: 10-14), Isaiah said those reassuring words to king Ahaz, a young and evil king of Judah (731 BC to 715 BC) responsible for introducing idol worship and sacrilege against the temple of the Lord (2 Kings 16; 2 Chron 28). The Prophet wished to win him back to the Lord by announcing the coming of a son to be named Ezekiah. He would save Israel but the king despaired of God’s help, put his trust in kingly alliances, and eventually caused the downfall of the kingdom.

More importantly, Isaiah’s words prefigured Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World, and marked the beginning of messianism.

Alas, how many Ahazes are there in our midst and, sadly so, within the Church itself: haven't their actions facilitated the entry of the “smoke of Satan” through some crack (as pointed out by a Pope in the 1960s)? We for our part have to “let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory” – as the Psalm sings. Or, as St Paul puts it in the Second Reading (Rom 1: 1-7), we are “called to belong to Jesus Christ”. This is an unparalleled privilege, a supreme honour, yet how reluctantly we wear the badge! Even in this blessed season of Advent, while the birth of our Saviour is imminent, we find ourselves so engrossed in worldly things that we forego the Saviour!

It is absolutely disastrous that Christmas is sometimes held with pomp and splendour and that Christ becomes only a pretext for a mundane celebration. Rather, we should have let our hearts be moved by the Gospel (Mt 1: 18-24) that dwells on the wondrous Birth of Our Lord! It may be noted that Mary had only been betrothed to Joseph when she received the divine call to be the Mother of Jesus. And how! Even before they came together, she was with child, through no fault of a man (as profane thinking may have us believe) but rather through God’s designs. But even though it happened in fulfilment of the Isaian prophecy it was not without a trace of suspicion....

Again, if we fast-forward to our times, we may be tempted to irreverently think of Mary as an unwed mother. But it was not so. Betrothal in those days meant that Mary and Joseph were husband and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except that of actual cohabitation. Meanwhile, God in His infinite wisdom provided for Jesus to be born before the couple had come together, thus to let it be known that He was “child of the Holy Spirit”. Think of how the claim of virgin birth would have been suspect had Jesus been born after the couple’s cohabitation. No doubt, Joseph had prior reservations (and even wanted to “quietly send her away”) but eventually he believed the Angel’s words – “do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” – much unlike king Ahaz, his ancestor of the House of David, who became a victim of his own scepticism.

Thanks to Joseph the Silent Saint and to Mary conceived without Original Sin, we are blessed to have God become Man in order to save us. Earth never had anything more wondrous to show than the Birth of Our Lord and Saviour. On this Laetere Sunday, which focusses on the internal joy of anticipation, we enter the last leg of the Advent journey. Let us await the divine event that is to come, like people with clean hands and pure heart, who desire not worthless things (cf. Ps 23: 4), and let us wholeheartedly collaborate in God’s salvific plans.