Treasures of the Kingdom

We are finite and never masters of our destiny, so we beseech God to satisfy our many needs. But alas, when we pray, we highlight a whole gamut of material needs and put spiritual needs on the back burner. Hence, Jesus’ classic declaration: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God.” Or as today’s psalm says, “The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”

In striking contrast, King Solomon in the First Reading (1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12) is one whose prayer was pleasing to God’s ears. The child servant king, who replaced his father David, was at Gibeon, then the most important high place of prayer (the temple of Jerusalem was yet to be built). At its altar he presented a thousand burnt offerings and in a dream the Lord urged him to ask for his heart’s desire. Did he ask for more power, health and wealth, name, fame and influence? None of that. All he wished for was an understanding mind to govern his people and an ability to discern between good and evil – in short, wisdom, which for sure isn't the same as mere knowledge.

What a wonderful pearl of wisdom for our administrators, parents, teachers and other leaders holding positions of responsibility to acknowledge and cherish! For this end, it is of the essence that we first see life in a proper perspective, discerning the true, the good and the beautiful. We ought to have a clear direction and the right priorities. We ought also to realise our limitations and let God be in charge. In the ultimate analysis, all signs will point to Heaven, where our real treasure lies.

While the Gospel (Mt 13: 44-52) is still in parable mode on yet another Sunday, the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl form a striking pair showing the need to aspire to the Kingdom of Heaven. The fact is we would do anything to attain the Kingdom (read God) if only we had understood its perennial value; everything that the world has to offer would then pale into insignificance. For example, if the Kingdom were a “treasure hidden in a field”, one would endure great sacrifices to buy the field for the sake of the treasure! Similarly, a connoisseur merchant, on finding a rare pearl, would do all that it took to lay his hands on it.

But that is not all. The parable about the Kingdom is dovetailed into another – that of the Fishing Net – which is pure eschatology. This time around, the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a fishing net that has caught fish of all kinds: the bad will be instantly thrown away. Only an unusually dull-witted or spiritually dead person will fail to see that that is what will become of us if we do not fall in line with God’s commandments: like the weeds that will be bundled together and burned, and the fish that will be thrown away, we might have a similar fate on the last day.

Are we ready to accept God’s plan for us as individuals and as a race, or are we going to remain a deceptively all-knowing and self-serving generation? Readiness to align our will to God’s and to fall in line with His plan is a basic attitude to be cultivated before formulating any prayer. There is no denying that God knows best and, as St Paul puts it (Rom 8: 28-30), “all things work for good for those who love God.” So, why not acknowledge God as the alpha and omega of our life, the be-all and end-all of our very existence?

In the Lord's Prayer we say: "Thy Kingdom come...". What does it mean? If we have properly understood Jesus’ teaching, we will not hesitate to apply the wealth of the Scriptures to everyday situations. God will be our constant companion, and we will proclaim Him to one and all. That will be to seek first the Kingdom of God; and we can be sure that whatever else we need will be given unto us (Cf. Mt 6: 33). Oh, what a world of difference between divine and human wisdom! Can we commit to being like householders ever bringing out old and new treasures to the fore?


Reap what you sow

Today’s Readings are an eloquent commentary on how modern man should invest in living wisely. The fact that “we have no time to stand and stare”, as the Welsh poet W. H. Davies so beautifully puts it, sets a huge limitation on our physical, social, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. We fail to realise how we fritter away our lives when we should only be thanking God for adding life to our days, and not simply days to our life. Today’s Readings are thus a fascinating eye-opener for our jet age.

Come to think of it, they are apt for all times, for human nature has hardly changed since its inception, and we, like little children, still need to be reminded of what is good for our health and what is not. The First Reading (Wis 12: 13, 16-19) therefore goes back to the basics, showing us the omniscience and omnipotence of our God who, at the same time, cares even for the least of His creatures. He balances justice with mercy – providing an inspiring model for human administrators of all time. In our times of misery, the wisdom of Solomon draws our attention to the comforting reality that there is n-o-n-e like God, Who fills us with hope by forgiving us our sins.

Of course, it is one thing to sing ‘O Lord, you are good and forgiving’ when the going is good; and quite another when our minds are beset by fear and our hearts clouded by doubt. Under such circumstances, do we still have the verve to praise the Lord and trust Him, as Job did? It is not easy but try we must – and we can rest assured that God will turn and take pity on us. All we need is to have our ear to the heartbeat of Jesus our Lord.

St Paul in the Second Reading (Rom 8: 26-27) is quick to point that “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Several masters of Catholic doctrine as well as saints of old have taught us, by word and example, that it is of the essence to trust in divine providence. We can gain insight not through prayers, rituals and pious practices alone but also through our sufferings in the daily grind. It is legitimate to ask for what we want but we also ought to learn to align our will to the will of the Father in Heaven.

Finally, the Gospel (Mt 13: 24-43) the parable about the Kingdom of Heaven comes close on the heels of last Sunday’s Parable of the Sower. Jesus compares the Kingdom to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Jesus warns us against blindly trusting the world, for its spirit drives a wedge between us and God, just like our enemies do who plant weeds among the wheat we have sowed. Consider how many parents today lament the company their children keep! No wonder Don Bosco urged the youth to avoid bad company like poisonous snakes.

The problem of evil, weakness and death that the parable raises will have its final solution only at the end of times: the Father will have the weeds bound in bundles to be burned, whereas the wheat will be gathered into His barn. It is unknown when this will happen, but then, its delay amounts to opportunities for sinners to repent!

Meanwhile, we ought not to leave it all to God alone. You and I are duty-bound to discuss the divine plan of salvation and strive towards influencing people accordingly. For instance, have we spared a thought for Manipur? And what have we done concretely in that regard? Let us not lull ourselves into believing that we are powerless; we have God on our side, yet how fervently have we prayed? On the other hand, those who think they are powerful have their days numbered and will soon come to reap what they have sown.

Jesus also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed which, though the smallest of all seeds, grows into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree. Furthermore, He likens the Kingdom to leaven that a woman has hidden in three measures of meal, till it is all leavened. While the former parable convinces us that, no matter how poor, humble or apparently inconsequential we may be, God takes care of our future; in the latter parable Jesus hints that everything that has been hidden hitherto will come to light through His Bride, the Church. Truth will prevail.

It is therefore fundamental that we continually refresh our understanding of God’s Kingdom. Our aim should be to let His Kingdom come here on earth and have all nations gather to worship Him. It will undoubtedly be a win-win situation for God and man. Although the world we live in is a bundle of contradictions let us not lose heart. We are sinners, yet called to be disciples of Christ. We who are made in the image and likeness of God are called to transcend human nature and embrace divinity! We have been endowed with a free will and would do well to use it wisely. The bottom line is that we will reap what we have sown.


Called to Sow

Quite interestingly, the theme of sowing in the Readings today runs parallel to our monsoon sowing season. The First Reading (Is 55: 10-11) points to how the rain and the snow come down from heaven to help sprout the seed that will ultimately produce the sower’s bread. While this speaks volumes of God’s magnanimous concern, what follows is a clincher: “… so shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

Those words coming from the Father find echo in the Gospel’s well-known Parable of the Sower (Mt 13: 1-23). Here Jesus speaks of four types of soil – flat, rocky, thorny and fertile – a metaphor for categories of people’s minds and hearts. The Sower is God Himself and the seed, His Word, that bears fruit only when our minds and hearts are receptive. The seed does not produce results in soils (read spirits) that are shallow, hard and knotty, for they only pay lip service, or hit back at God’s Word, or even stifle it.

Why did Jesus speak in parables? It was a teaching tradition of His time to tell simple stories in prose or verse; parables comprise some of the very best short stories ever told and have turned into an important literary genre. Parables sometimes come across as riddles but the fact is that they contain profound teachings, central to Jesus’ doctrine. That was indeed Jesus’ manner of reaching out to folk who were not given to know the secrets of God’s Kingdom.

Above all, parables have the purpose of making us aware of real-life situations and have us firmly decide on a course of action. Therefore, we as Christians have a heavy responsibility on our shoulders: we who have been let into the secrets of the Kingdom have to be Sowers of the Seed on God’s behalf. We can do this first by learning Catholic doctrine and then evangelizing through word and deed. We need to use our talents in God’s service, without worrying about the success of our efforts. We cannot be indifferent to God’s call; rather than be seduced by the world, we have to set out eyes on the treasure that lies in Heaven.

Meanwhile, as St Paul in the Second Reading (Eph 1: 3-14) reminds us, we have to be thankful for every spiritual blessing. God has chosen us very especially, inscribed us on the palms of His hands. For our part, we must respond by living a virtuous life. We ought to be thankful for the insights into the mystery of His will and fulfil its purpose. Finally, like the rain and the snow, we must return to Him at the end of the world, forming one body.

Messiah of Peace and Hope

Right from the eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, we have been looking at the messianic role of Israel, on the one hand, and, on the other, looking at how Jesus was preparing His disciples for the apostolic mission. And today, the fourteenth Sunday, Zechariah famously announces the coming of the Saviour at an unspecified time in the future and, in the Gospel, Jesus spells out the nature of His Kingdom.

Zechariah is a common name in the Bible. The figure we encounter in the First Reading (Zech 9: 9-10) is one of the twelve minor prophets of Judah (and not to be confused with the New Testament Zechariah who was the father of John the Baptist). Zechariah was born in Babylon where his ancestors had settled after the Babylonian capture of Israel in 597 BC. Some seventy years later, when Babylon in turn was captured by the Persians – whose policy it was to repatriate foreigners and have them worship their own gods – Zechariah and fellow Jews returned to Israel.

The Jews now devised plans to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, and to constitute a nation. They were conscious of their status as God’s Chosen People, destined to attract the nations to worship the true God in Jerusalem. This led Zechariah to write in a messianic vein, as is evident from the second part (chapters 9-14) of his book. Hopes of restoring the kingdom of David remained unfulfilled in his time, but half a millennium later, Jesus, the true Son of David, fulfilled those expectations by preaching the Kingdom to the Gentiles, so that every knee may bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The prophecies of Zechariah came true in Jesus’ life. Note how the donkey was Jesus’ choice as He entered Jerusalem. The donkey is looked down upon today but was a noble beast back in the day; it was used by royalty on missions of peace whereas the horse was a herald of war. The significance of Jesus’ choice was surely not lost on the Jews; but while the crowds cheered Him, Jesus silently weeping for His beloved Jerusalem, anticipated that the cheers would soon turn into jeers.

In the Gospel (Mt 11: 25-30), Jesus states that the Kingdom will be more easily reached by the little ones than by the worldly wise, and by the poor rather than by the rich. The children and the poor are more attuned to the spirit of truth and love, which is God’s; the learned elders and the affluent, on the other hand, depend overly on themselves and tend to forget God, until the going gets tough and they can’t get going! Jesus graciously invites all and sundry to come to Him and be at peace; His yoke is liberating, whereas the spirit of the world is jealous and boastful, arrogant and rude; it insists on its own way, is irritable, resentful, and rejoices at wrong (cf. 1 Cor. 12: 4-8).

Our Lord’s teachings are not for individuals alone; it is for societies and countries too. It has the power to raise a civilisation, as it once did, especially in the West. Christianity has inspired art and culture, politics and philosophy; it has influenced ethical and aesthetic standards across human activity, including architecture, education, medical care, music, science. It is quite another matter that the same spirit is now conspicuous by its absence, for many societies and countries have unfaithfully and ungratefully relinquished their gold medals and settled for bronze.

St Paul in the Second Reading (Rom 8: 9, 11-13) teaches us how to live by the Spirit, making it a way of life. As we reflected last Sunday, we ought to live in the supernatural sphere rather than in the natural plane, for as the Apostle of the Gentiles reminds us: ‘You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you.’ Just as family members worth their salt partake of the family ethos and thus have a sense of belonging, only those who have Christ’s Spirit belong to Him. Christ’s Spirit is life-giving; the flesh is deadening.

That’s the agenda every Christian should go by, live by, and then, as the Psalmist sings, we will have a multitude of reasons to bless God’s name, give Him glory and praise for evermore for our life of hope and joy.


God above Self

Placing God above ourselves in word and deed is a sign of our openness to His presence and action in our lives. When we receive God’s representatives, we welcome God Himself; when we place ourselves at their service, it is the Almighty that we serve. In fact, we cannot do without Him: a reminder to the contemporary world that has closed in on itself.

The First Reading (2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16a) introduces us to Elisha and to an unnamed, wealthy woman who served him and, upon discerning his holy vocation, sheltered him. Elisha, who was himself the son of a wealthy landowner, had left hearth and home on being selected to succeed Elijah in the prophetic mission. He spent time with Elijah on Mount Carmel; later, he served as royal advisor and became known throughout the kingdom as a wonder worker – not least among the wonders being the blessing of a child to his long childless benefactress.

However, the focus is not on accomplishments but on total trust in God and commitment to His message. This is a point that Our Lord highlights in the Gospel (Mt 10: 37-42) when He says that those who love their kith and kin more than they love Him are not worthy of Him; those who love their life are bound to lose it whereas those who lose it for Jesus’ sake will find it. Whoever takes exception to the Lord’s words knows neither the ways of the world nor the ways of Our Lord: The world appears sweet but is deceitful, whereas Jesus, who comes across as harsh, is truthful.

Jesus is no politician currying favour with His people. He is incredibly frank, straightforward, even blunt – but never false. He does not promise us a bed of roses; on the contrary, He invites us to take up our crosses. He does not encourage us to seek service but to serve as He did, unto death. He does not point to a highway but to the narrow path to Heaven. Had we – not individuals alone but countries as a whole – wholeheartedly embraced the philosophy of the Gospel, the world would have been a better place to live in.

Pope Leo XIII in his memorable encyclical Immortale Dei (1885) [1] reminds us of how once upon a time the world had found favour with God: “There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favour of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and always will be, in renown, witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out or ever obscured by any craft of any enemies. Christian Europe has subdued barbarous nations, and changed them from a savage to a civilized condition, from superstition to true worship. It victoriously rolled back the tide of Mohammedan conquest; retained the headship of civilization; stood forth in the front rank as the leader and teacher of all, in every branch of national culture; bestowed on the world the gift of true and many-sided liberty; and most wisely founded very numerous institutions for the solace of human suffering. And if we inquire how it was able to bring about so altered a condition of things, the answer is beyond all question, in large measure, through religion, under whose auspices so many great undertakings were set on foot, through whose aid they were brought to completion.

Contrast the Pope’s prophetic words with our condition today. The world is in a shambles, with atheism, materialism and individualism reigning supreme. No wonder, Russia has spread its errors across the world and is now attacking Ukraine for petty gains; France, formerly considered the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church, has been facing unrest; and in our country, the social and political scene is unbelievable – so enormous that our Shepherds finding themselves speechless have left the sheep to be devoured by the wolves. Against the particularly devastating scenario in Manipur, Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has been the lone voice crying in the wilderness – God bless him! Meanwhile, the encouraging words from the state's new dispensation for the services traditionally rendered by the Christian community have provided human solace to the archbishop. Proof that the Lord keeps His promises and never abandons those who decidedly stand by Him.

Against this dismal background only the Gospel can give us hope, set us free. St Paul in the Second Reading (Rom 6: 3-4, 8-11) invites us to reflect on the fact that with baptism in Christ we die to sin and are on the path to our final glorification. Therefore, putting God above everything is a good idea. We could well say that only devponn (divinity) can protect our munisponn (humanity), only godliness can save our humaneness. That is Jesus’ radical call for discipleship. So, let us shed our natural approach to life and live supernaturally, putting God first in everything we do. Such a worldview may alienate those kith and kin accustomed to overrating the world; but it will surely keep us at peace with God. We ought to allow nothing to come between us and our God and Saviour, to whom we owe our very existence.



Truth and Trust

Isn’t it ironical that everyone believes that truth must prevail but few are ready to hear the truth (especially when it concerns themselves) and act on it? Scientist, politician and layman alike want to change the world ‘for the better’, yet few have the courage to confront the real truth. Maybe we just don’t trust that the truth will keep us afloat – save us – or maybe we are simply too lazy to change our crooked ways. At any rate, we fail to stand by what is good, right and true and succumb to the forces of darkness. Such lack of integrity will sooner rather than later destroy the social fabric and, what is more, sever our ties with God.

In the First Reading (Jer. 20: 10-13), we see Jeremiah entrusted with a very difficult mission: to announce to unfaithful Jerusalem that it was soon to be torn apart. The people responded with a smear campaign; even friends issued threats and awaited the Prophet’s fall. But Jeremiah was unshakeable: “The Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore, my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me.” He notes how God “tries the righteous” and comes to their rescue. A lesson in perseverance in the face of opposition.

How many of us stand our ground when it comes to defending the Verum, Bonum, Pulchrum – Truth, Goodness, Beauty? For instance, everyone is quick to criticise a corrupt politician but they mellow in their sight if not melt down at the first sign of trouble. Every one of us has a calling to be prophetic. Jesus shows us the role of prophecy in the church, our churchmen repeat the injunction again and again but how many walk the talk, or simply call spade a spade? There were times when the church hierarchy, from the Pope downwards, authentically stood up to the secular powers and asserted God's law. That had a ripple effect in society and kept it running like a well-oiled machine.

In the Gospel (Mt 10: 26-33), Jesus sends forth His disciples to fearlessly proclaim His doctrine. He promises to expose what is hidden and announce what is merely whispered: He calls us to be upfront about God and His dominion over Creation. However, He cautions His disciples against satanic forces that can destroy body and soul; yet there is none to fear but God who alone has authority over all things. In short, Jesus calls us to be proactive, to acknowledge and stand by Him – for, then, He will stand by us, when we go to our eternal reward. And woe to him who denies Him, for they will be paid back in the same coin.

Expanding the ideas of eternal life and damnation, St Paul in the Second Reading (Rom. 5: 12-15) speaks of how sin and death entered the world through Adam and how humankind was redeemed through the supreme sacrifice of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whereas Adam’s act led to our separation from God and set off our condemnation, Jesus’ Resurrection brought hope of reconciliation with God and ensured our salvation. This is the supreme reality, in the face of which everything else pales out into insignificance.

Today we are invited to examine our lives: to what extent do we believe in the existence of God? How far are we ready to overcome all odds and affirm our faith? To what extent do we trust in the Announcer of the Good News – and in Him alone? Do we suffer from a trust deficit in things that really matter? Or do we at times suffer from overtrust? At any rate, it matters who and what we trust. In the era of fake news, it matters what we finally believe and trust.

At the end of a terrible week that saw Titan go the way of the Titanic, let us realise, before it is too late, that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we trust in Him without reserve, there is no titan to fear. Note how the fishing boat trapped in that fierce storm in the Sea of Galilee did not sink as the supposedly unsinkable did the submersible went down in the North Atlantic: rather than the size of the craft or the material used it was the presence of the proverbial Pilot Jesus Christ that made all the difference.

Adoring the Real Presence

All of us at some point or other must have wondered as to why we Catholics consume the Body and Blood of Christ! Today, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (Latin for “Body of Christ” and short for Dies Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini Iesu Christi, or “Day of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Lord”) provides an answer to our concerns. It celebrates the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist instituted on Maundy Thursday. On this day, with the shadow of the Cross by now on the liturgy, the Church is at a loss to express her joy at this ineffable gift; hence, a special feast.

This feast has an interesting history. Whereas from the earliest centuries, the Church believed that the elements used in celebrating the Eucharist changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, it was only at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) that the doctrine was termed as "Transubstantiation". In the year 1226, canoness and mystic Juliana of Liège had visions of Our Lord, who asked her to work towards the institution of such a feast but this happened only twenty years later and only locally. In 1263, at Bolsena, Italy, when a consecrated host that bled onto a corporal at the altar was considered a Eucharistic Miracle, by St Thomas of Aquinas, at his behest Pope Urban IV issued a papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo (1264) (unprecedentedly) declaring a universal feast: that of Corpus Christi.

However, both before and after this watershed year, there was continued scepticism about the Body and Blood consumed in Holy Communion. Back in Jesus’ time, the Jews considered the very proposal a gross violation of the Mosaic law, but Jesus insisted that only “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Early Christians were accused of cannibalism, so much so that, while persecution by Jews and Romans alike was rife, the faithful felt compelled to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the privacy of their homes or in the catacombs.

Nonetheless, Jesus who is at the centre of all history had to be right. Note how Jesus’ radicality was born with Him in the manger (feeding trough) in Bethlehem (literally, ‘house of bread’), and was confirmed at the Last Supper when He declared unequivocally that He is the Bread of Life. On hearing objections, He did not soften his language but reinforced it. Obviously, taking Jesus at His word, the Church teaches that the Eucharist is not symbolic but real, in fact, “the source and summit of Christian life”. It is said that just as death came into the world by eating the forbidden fruit, eternal life is restored by eating the Bread of Life. If His flesh is food, by the same logic, His blood is drink.

Meanwhile, the First Reading (Deut. 8: 2-3, 14-16) speaks of manna – a perishable bread! Moses told his people that by this God made them know “that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (which, in the New Testament, is also Jesus’ wise retort to Satan in the wilderness). Moses was only exhorting his people to remember God not only in bad times – when they need His help – but also in good times, when they tended to forget Him.

In the Second Reading (1 Cor 10: 16-17), St Paul too highlights the sublime mystery that is the Holy Eucharist. He shows the sheer incompatibility of the Christian eucharistic feast and pagan sacrificial banquets. The Eucharist is truly sacrificial in nature and bears the Real Presence of Christ. The Apostle of the Gentiles draws our attention to the power of the Eucharist – that “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” The Israelites of old merely consumed the offerings; Christians who consume the Body and Blood of Christ gain eternal life.

Finally, Joan Carroll Cruz's Eucharistic Miracles and Eucharistic Phenomenon in the Lives of the Saints (Tan Books: 1991) and others on the same topic will let us see, concretely, how "real" the Presence is. While the Holy Trinity is a central tenet of our faith, as we saw last Sunday, the Holy Eucharist, being a real communion with Christ, is a central feature of ecclesial life and most worthy of perpetual adoration.

The Holy Trinity, a deep Mystery!

Close on the heels of Sunday of the Holy Spirit comes Sunday of the Holy Trinity, this latter being the central mystery of our faith and life (CCC 234). We believe in One God, who is not alone, solitary, but a Trinity, a Triune God, a divine family of life and love. As the Father sent His Only Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, to be born in the world; and, in turn, Jesus Christ, who upon ascending to the Father, made sure that the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, would descend upon the world, it is but natural that we acclaim them all together today – in the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.

The First Reading (Exod 34: 4-6, 8-9) takes us back to the beginning, to witness Moses’ encounter with God the Father. God rightly introduces Himself as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This delightfully accurate self-description so comforts Moses that he promptly invokes his “stiff-necked people” (a true description of the miserable human race) who, by relapsing into idol worship, had provoked Moses into breaking the tablets inscribed with the Decalogue. Moses calls upon God to pardon their iniquity and their sin, and take them for His inheritance, or say, forgive their shortcomings, restore them to health and become beneficiaries of His love.

The Gospel (Jn 3: 16-18) refers to the Second Person, in the words of none other than Jesus Himself: “God so loved world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here we have an endorsement of God’s love and the promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him. In the words of bishop St Cyprian of Carthage (3rd century AD), salus extra ecclesiam non est, or extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, which means that outside the Church there is no salvation.

So, what about “he who does not believe”, as Jesus put it? God’s love expressed through Jesus – who died to save us – is so great that we lose our salvation if we do not stand by Him and embrace the Faith. This is what the Catholic Church has traditionally taught. The present Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, explains: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (CCC 847) Food for thought and discussion beyond the Reading of the day!

The Second Reading (2 Cor 13: 11-13) speaks of the Holy Spirit. St Paul teaches us to greet one another saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Familiar words. That’s how the Apostle of the Gentiles ends his letter to the Corinthians; and that’s how we begin the liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So routinely do we pronounce these words that we fail to appreciate their deep meaning.

The fact is that none can claim to have fully understood the Holy Trinity. But, as the Catechism says: “God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel's faith before the Incarnation of God's Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit (CCC 237). The Father is revealed by the Son; the two are revealed by the Spirit (CCC 238-248) The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. (CCC 258) The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God's creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC 260)

So, how do we proceed from here? Even before trying to delve into the Mystery, we must acknowledge how privileged we are as Christians to have been let into what is indeed the Mystery of the intimate life of God. It is profound, simply overwhelming, incomparable! If we have not fully understood it – and we never will – there is nothing to fear. St Augustine tried to reason out, but to no avail; there is that famous story of how a little child set his questions at rest…. So, out of the mouths of babes...!

On the other hand, what the mind cannot do, our hearts can – faith can! How does a mother understand her baby who only babbles? She does it with love. And that is how, even with reference to everyday things, we may understand the working of the Trinity, "God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation". One popularly quoted instance is the flame of fire, which has three attributes (heat, light and shape) and yet is one; and can never be a flame of fire if one of them is missing! The same trinitarian spirit must inspire our domestic life.

Today provides us with an opportunity to meditate upon this fundamental Mystery of our faith and love and to initiate a personal relationship with each of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity!

Pentecost and Proclamation

Today, the eighth Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Pentecost, or say, the fiftieth day after Easter. It marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The intimate connection between the two feasts will be lost on us if we do not look at its pre-Christian background.

In the old Jewish tradition, the feast of Shavuot was the fiftieth day after the Pesach (Passover). This was held to commemorate the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. On this occasion, many Jews from countries around the Mediterranean came on pilgrimage and stayed on till the Shavuot. This was at first an agricultural feast (a thanksgiving for the first fruits of the wheat harvest) but later came to be related to the receiving of the Law by Moses on Mount Sinai.

On the other hand, a new tradition began when the Resurrection coincided with the day of the Passover. In fact, the Resurrection replaced the Passover, for precisely by His death and resurrection, Jesus offered the world freedom from death and sin. Similarly, fifty days later, or say, coinciding with Shavuot, Jesus sent down the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. Thus was Shavuot Christianised and called Pentecost, Greek for ‘fiftieth day’.

So much for the relation between the old and the new.

In the first Reading (Acts 2: 1-11), St Luke describes the marvel of Pentecost. The disciples and others were gathered to celebrate Shavuot when there was a rush of a mighty wind and tongues as of fire came to rest on each of them. While the wind represents the breath of God blown into the disciples, the fire represents the courage and enthusiasm that filled the disciples.

Concretely speaking, the Pentecost represents the foundation day of the Church. On this day, Jesus sent down the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire the disciples on their mission to preach the Gospel, just as He had promised them before he ascended to the Father. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you,” says the Gospel (Jn 20: 19-23; a longer form of which was read on the Second Sunday of Easter).

To effectively carry out missionary work, each member of the community received (and still receives) one or more gifts and charisms. There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Whereas gifts are “permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1830) given primarily for the purpose of personal sanctification, charisms (e. g. healing) are special gifts given for the common good, or say, the good of the Church (cf. CCC 798 ff).

. Significantly, on the Birthday of the Church, there were people separated by languages, cultures, races and nations (all symbolised by the expatriate Jews present over there): they now formed the new People of God.

So, how important, really, is the Holy Spirit? St Paul, in the Second Reading (1 Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13) says that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit”. It is the same Spirit that fills us with charisms, and lets us serve, each according to our gift. While the charisms and services are varied, it is the same Lord. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Which implies that our life must be dedicated to the Truth that is God and to the service of the community.

This community is fundamentally the Church. Jesus is the tree or the body, and, correspondingly, we are the branches or the members. The Holy Spirit keeps us united and drinking of the same belief in the True God.

Can there be any doubt, then, that the Church is a divine rather than a human institution? The Holy Spirit gives it life. The same baptism of fire that the apostles received we too do receive through the Sacrament of Confirmation. The gift of tongues symbolises the fact that the Church goes out to the peoples of the world and adapts to their culture while doing what she has been called to do: most clearly proclaiming Our Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone. That is how intimately the proclamation of the Gospel is related to the Pentecost.

A hymn for Pentecost: 

Ascension: Heaven and Earth drawn near

Even just the last two mysteries of the life of Jesus – the Resurrection and the Ascension – are sufficient to convince us that Jesus is God. The Resurrection shows that Jesus not only rose from the dead but also never died again. In his new, glorified body, Jesus revealed Himself at many locations, over a significant forty-day period. Now, before the apostles’ very eyes, He ascended to His Father, and has been there ever since.
The two mysteries are not only embedded in Scripture, they are recognised by several non-Christian historical sources as well. Even some writers hostile to Christianity attested to the historicity of Jesus and the Resurrection, among them, Stoic philosopher Mara (c. 73 AD) in a letter to his son Sarapion; the Greek-writing Jewish priest Flavius Josephus in his book Jewish Antiquities (c. 93 AD), the influential Roman historian and senator Tacitus in his Annals (c. 116 AD); another Roman historian, Suetonius, in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars (c. 121 AD); and the Talmud (c. 400 AD), a collection of ancient Jewish laws.
If about the Ascension, there seems to be only Scriptural testimony, it is possibly because the eleven apostles alone were privy to the marvel. St Matthew (28: 16-20) and the Acts of the Apostles (1: 1-11) – both of which form the Gospel and the First Reading of today; St Mark (16: 15-20) and St Luke (24: 46-53) (earmarked for Years B and C of the liturgical year) talk about the Ascension. Curiously, the Old Testament too refers to the Ascension, in Psalm 68: 18, a reference that St Paul has used to great effect. In the Second Reading today, we read a passage from his letter to the Ephesians (1: 17-23).
Here is how The Catholic Encyclopaedia describes the glorious Ascension: “Although the place of the Ascension is not distinctly stated, it would appear from the Acts that it was Mount Olivet, since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day’s journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension and Christian piety has memorialized the event by erecting over the site a basilica. St Helena built the first memorial, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, to be destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the crusaders. This the Moslems also destroyed, leaving only the octagonal structure which encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ, that is now used as an oratory.

“Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, in John 6: 63 Christ asks the Jews: ‘If then you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?’ and in 20: 17, He says to Mary Magdalen: ‘Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God.’ Again, in Ephesians 4: 8-10, and in Timothy 3: 16, the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.
“The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words ‘sitteth on the right hand of God’ mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view ‘He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight’ (Acts 1: 9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the Scripture phrase.”
To positivists and rationalists who may mock the doctrine of the Ascension, the all-important twentieth-century author of Miracles , C. S. Lewis, states interestingly that after the Resurrection, it may have been that Jesus, “a being still in some mode, though not our mode, corporeal, withdrew at His own will from the Nature presented by our three dimensions and five senses, not necessarily into the non-sensuous and undimensioned but possibly into, or through, a world or worlds or super-sense and super-space. And He might choose to do it gradually. Who on earth knows what the spectators might see? If they say they saw a momentary movement along the vertical plane – then an indistinct mass – then nothing, who is to pronounce this improbable?”
In the universality of its observance, the Ascension ranks with Christmas, Easter, and the forthcoming Pentecost. The Ascension completes a glorious cycle which began with the Incarnation; so, it makes perfect sense that Jesus who deigned to come into the world should, at the end of his mission of reconciling man to God, return to the bosom of the Father. His momentous last words on the occasion bear this out. For our part, we must bear Him witness throughout our pilgrim journey on earth, also gratefully acknowledging that, through His Ascension, Heaven and Earth have drawn near.