Watchful and Fearless

Today is the first of the four Advent Sundays and the beginning of a new liturgical cycle (Year A for Sunday Mass readings). They focus on waiting in hope for the Lord’s coming, an act symbolised by a purple candle traditionally placed in the evergreen wreath.

In the First Reading (Is 2: 1-5), the Prophet Isaiah glorifies Zion, the mountain on which stands God’s temple. He envisions peoples from across the world streaming to adore God and learn his law. A proper understanding of the Word of God will unite the peoples and inaugurate a period of peace, in which hatred will turn into esteem and armaments into instruments of work and welfare. In short, it will be the ‘City of God’ that St Augustine of Hippo speaks of in his De Civitate Dei, expounding a Christian view of society and history.

The spread of Christianity across the world was a step in that direction. As Pope Leo XIII points out in Aeterni Patris (1879), “the only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who came on earth to bring salvation and the light of divine wisdom to men […] commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, and left the Church which He had founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples. For men whom the truth had set free were to be preserved by the truth; nor would the fruits of heavenly doctrines by which salvation comes to men have long remained had not the Lord Christ appointed an unfailing teaching authority to train the minds to faith.” Only a Church faithful to the Lord’s commands can “teach religion and contend forever against errors”,[1] thereby showing us the way to the new and eternal Jerusalem.

Christ’s Incarnation was a watershed in the history of humankind. From then on, we Christians have had the opportunity to learn the true law and work towards our salvation. Urging Christians to achieve this true liberation, by overcoming the darkness of sin, St Paul puts it very vividly to the Romans (13: 11-14): “You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.” Then, he issues us a clarion call to “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light […] to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” Which is a caution against falling head over heels for the evanescent world we live in.

How many of us respond positively to the Lord’s standing invitation? Isn’t much of what is going on in the world today an affront to the Creator? God gives His people enough rope, and some hang themselves! Few realise that it is no use gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul; similarly, they fail to see that life is terribly uncertain, and so is the time when the Lord will come again. The covid-19 pandemic was no doubt an eye-opener, but the world is back to its waywardness. To quote a nineteenth-century advocate of the Irish Catholics, “the condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”[2]

Isn’t servitude to sin rampant? How long do we wish to continue in the depths of the pit! We must, therefore, work hard to not let sin gain ascendancy in our individual and societal life; we must not only make a collective effort towards living a life pleasing to God but also not hesitate to swim against the tide of opinion when our spiritual good so requires. Finally, we must heed St Matthew’s counsel (24: 37-44) to “be ready: for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Of course, if we remain watchful, there is nothing to fear; on the contrary, eternal happiness will be the reward that we will receive.



[2] John Philpot Curran (1750-1817)

Thy Kingdom Come!

Today is the culmination of the liturgical year, a special day to reaffirm our faith and trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ as the King of the Universe. This Solemnity, which, according to the older liturgical calendar, used to be observed on the last Sunday of the month of October, preceding the Feast of All Saints, is now held on the Sunday immediately prior to the first Sunday of Advent.

The day’s readings are a clear endorsement of the Kingship of Our Lord. In the background to the First Reading (2 Sam 5: 1-3) lies the story of Saul, the first king of Israel, who lost to the Philistines, an enemy tribe. Given his ineptitude, God guided the Prophet Samuel to David, a humble but talented musician, who was secretly anointed king. While Saul was still living, David settled in Hebron where he was accepted by the tribe of the southern kingdom of Judah and reigned as their king for seven years.

After Saul died, the northern tribes who had been under Saul came to David at Hebron and anointed him King of all of Israel. Hebron, a Palestinian city thirty kilometres from Bethlehem, is one of the oldest cities in the Levant (a geographical area comprising Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Syria) and now in the focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David reigned for forty years, from his capital Jerusalem, until he died at 70 years of age. He had already chosen his son Solomon for his successor, after whose death Israel was no longer a united kingdom. As for David, he is still honoured as an ideal king and the earthly forefather of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by His Cross willed to unite all the peoples of the world.

Equally apt for the great Feast of the Kingship of Christ is that passage of St. Paul’s Epistle (Col. 1: 11-20) that reminds us Christians that God has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” and “transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.” Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, through whom and for whom all things were created, “whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities”. Jesus made peace “by the blood of his cross”, and “in Him all things hold together.”

The Gospel text (Lk 23: 35-43) points to the striking contrast between Our Lord’s Passion and His final Victory. He died not because he deserved to die; He chose to die as a sacrificial lamb for our salvation. Not realising this, the soldiers mocked at him, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Jesus had clarified that His kingdom was not of this earth; and although the inscriptionIesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum’ (‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’) was meant to be ironic, it went down in history as the real truth. It reflected the conviction that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that they were waiting for – although this school of thought was anathema to the establishment.

There is no doubt, however, that both Jewish tradition and public opinion had unwittingly endorsed the true and complete kingly identity of Jesus. But what did He mean by ‘Kingdom’, as in the remarkable words ‘Thy Kingdom come’ from the Lord’s Prayer? In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes: “The Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is He.”

The Lord’s Kingdom is indeed a spiritual kingdom that has the minds and hearts of the whole of humankind for its domain; but this mystical dimension has its consequence in civil society too. In fact, it is here that we Christians must practise the Beatitudes to the fullest extent, and proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the world, ensuring that our earthly journey becomes a fulfilment of God’s will – the will of His Son, Jesus Christ, King and Lord of the Universe.

Lead, kindly Light!

Eschatological texts on yet another Sunday correlate the end of the liturgical year with the end of the world. There is now only one Sunday left between today and the joy of Advent beginning on 27 November. Meanwhile, to enable us to sing with full-throated ease the victory song of Christ the King on 20 November, His Feast, the Church invites us to first imbibe the Biblical teachings about the end times.

The First Reading is taken from the Book of Malachi (3: 19-20). The debate on whether or not Malachi is really the author’s name (in Hebrew, it simply means, "my messenger") pales into insignificance when we note the core of the text: a chastisement of the Israelites, which, unfortunately, included the priests, too, in post-exilic Jerusalem for their lax religious and social conduct. Today’s passage is brief but its message loud and clear. It dwells on the day of Judgment, when the wicked ones will, like the stubble, be devoured by the flames; whereas, for those who fear the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” No two ways about it.

Malachi is the last of the eighteen prophetic books and also the last book of the Old Testament. In pointing to the day of the Lord’s coming, it carries a message of hope. Some five hundred years later, our Divine Lord – “the sun of righteousness” – came into the world to address people of goodwill. Thus, the Book of Malachi builds a bridge with the New Testament; and given the absence of any other prophetic record in the intertestamental period, it assumes even greater significance.

The Second Reading, from St Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians (3: 7-12), addresses the community’s slothful ones. He urges both pastor and pauper to eat their food by the sweat of their brow. Whereas the Apostle of the Gentiles was very concerned about setting a good example himself, his followers had begun taking things for granted and even lived off the charity of fellow Christians.

Does that mean anything to the twenty-first century Christian community? If we have begun to look like wayward children basking in past glory while letting the present slip through our fingers, we are in for trouble. It is high time we pondered on whether we, leaders and followers, parents and children, priests and laity, are exerting ourselves enough to ensure that tomorrow will belong to us! Let us get our act together, that His Kingdom comes here on earth and thereafter we deserve to inherit Heaven. No gains without pains!

In the Gospel (Lk 21: 5-19) we hear the words that Jesus spoke to His Apostles when His Passion and Death was at hand. Just in case they had thought that a life in the Lord’s service would be a cakewalk, Jesus forewarns them that proclaimers of the Good News might in fact be assaulted, convicted, jailed, or even killed. In other words, following Christ involves renunciation and suffering; we are called to be committed, to take an unambiguous position, to not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds! It’s a little cross we willingly bear, as an infinitesimal share in the mighty Cross that Our Lord and Master carried to Calvary.

Through all of it, we must fix our gaze on His Divine Face and not on the façade of the temple “adorned with noble stones and offerings”. Vanities will meet their nemesis: “there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Precisely when this shall come to pass is not clear as crystal, yet the secret of our holy success will depend on our sticking to the Lord through thick and thin. Behold the Lord’s words of caution: “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified: for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

Jesus is our Light and our Life! Lead, kindly Light, even as we witness nations rising against nations; earthquakes and famines, floods and pestilences devastating the earth. When we watch the Light amid the encircling gloom, we will not be afraid. We can be sure that we will never be left to the designs of the evil one, for when we are with the Lord – the Lord is with us! – we have nothing to fear! You must not draw back when, horror of horrors, “you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death.” And, miracle of miracles, you and I need not even “meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict,” says the Lord.

As the liturgical year draws to a close, it is highly recommended that we take stock of our spiritual baggage and ponder on the inescapable fact of our individual and collective end, praying thus with Cardinal Newman:

[A]long the narrow, rugged path, 
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Steadfast in Christ

When the Greek emperors ruling over Palestine wished to impose their gods on Israel, monotheistic Israel vehemently rejected their overtures. The First Reading’s (2 Macc 7: 1-2, 9-14) description of the bid to convert seven brothers (now the Saints Maccabees) and their mother (a foreshadowing of our Blessed Mother) [1] to idolatry is pregnant with meaning. One of the siblings says in no uncertain terms that they are “ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” If the earthly king kills them, the King of the Universe will raise them up to an “everlasting renewal of life.” They regard sufferings as nothing because they regard God as their everything; and they do so with the hope of their resurrection to life!

How many of us do readily sacrifice vain human bonds and put God first in our life? On the contrary, we often take God for granted while eager to satisfy fellow humans, especially if there are material benefits at stake. We readily bend over backwards for fear of displeasing or antagonising friends and relatives, and glibly say ‘God will understand’. Such opportunism is most displeasing to the Lord for, taking Him for granted could eventually lead to denying Him, Jesus Christ, the God of Life and Resurrection.

On the other hand, believing in the living God involves a wholehearted acceptance of the revealed message. The Gospel (Lk 20: 27-38) underlines that “He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.” Even this may remain as words, words, mere words, if we do not open our minds and hearts to Him. In the world today, instead of subjecting ourselves to God and His teaching, alas, how many bend before human authority, misleading though their teachings may be; and how casually they do so – as though God does not exist!

"The Courage of a Mother", one of Gustave Doré's illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours, 1866.

While Maccabees speaks of the apparent riddle of the seven brothers, the Sadducees mentioned in the Gospel present a teaser. A woman marries seven brothers in succession and is childless: whose wife will she be in Heaven? It is to be noted that, as against the Scribes and the Pharisees, the Sadducees (who belonged to the higher echelons of the Jewish priesthood) did not believe in the resurrection; hence their question. But then, Jesus takes the opportunity to educate them on the resurrection and eternal life: they are both for real, yet it is not a material reality like the one lived on earth; the resurrected will be akin to angels!

Resurrection and Eternal Life may well be among the most difficult realities for the human mind to accept. In our positivist age, many wish to be known as men and women of science rather than of faith. In fact, there is no antagonism between religion and science, but there are many who wish to drive a wedge between the two. To every doubting Thomas, therefore, St Paul’s prayer in 2 Thess 2: 16 – 3: 5 is: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

[1] Although unnamed in 2 Maccabees, the mother is known variously as Hannah, Miriam, Solomonia, and Shmouni in the Catholic Church.

Banner: The Holy Seven Maccabees, their mother Solomonia, and their teacher Eleazar (Russian veil icon, 1525)

Repentant and Ready

As the curtain gradually comes down on the liturgical year, the readings focus on the Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgement. Unfortunately, there is a strange conspiracy of silence over those four realities associated with the end of the world. They are seldom mentioned in homilies, sermonettes or sermons, but it is in the fitness of things to exercise our minds and hearts in this regard. They form an integral part of our Lord’s command “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mk 16:15), the Good News being that of our eternal salvation.

The First Reading (Wis 11: 22; 12: 2) expresses King Solomon’s faith and trust in God’s omnipotence. The son and successor of David bows in deep humility before the One for whom the world is but a speck. His creation continues to exist because He wills it. He lauds His mercy and love. By His infinite love, He corrects “little by little those who trespass”; He gives us a long rope but also warns us. He wants us to be happy through our participation in the divine life. Not even philosophers had come upon such a marvellous doctrine before.

If we pause to review how well we accept God’s gentle interventions, which come in least expected ways, we will see that He is kind and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. His ways are so different from ours that we sometimes distrust them. His message may not be music to the ears but is the truth nonetheless. We ought to thank the Lord and praise His Holy Name, which, alas, the rich and famous sometimes fail to do.

Zacchaeus in the Gospel (Lk 19: 1-10) was an exception to that rule. A rich tax collector, he yearned for a divine encounter. He felt rewarded when Jesus visited his home. There were murmurs, because as per the Jewish law communicating with sinners meant impurity. To them, it was a scandal; to Zacchaeus it meant a change of heart. The people did not realise that the Son of Man had come “to seek and to save the lost”. Indeed, what a difference it made in Zacchaeus’ life! His act of renouncing material goods was a sign that he was ready to receive spiritual goods.

Don’t we have a standing invitation to redirect our gaze to Heaven? It pays a hundredfold to seek the Lord and His Kingdom. The peace and joy that fills us is invaluable; the treasure that awaits us in Heaven, incomparable. Hence, we should live dignified lives, worthy of the Lord’s call.

In that regard, St Paul’s message (2 Thess 1: 11; 2: 2) in the Second Reading today is ever relevant. Like us, the Thessalonians too lived in times of persecution and tribulation, which put their Christian vocation to the test. They believed the end of the world was imminent. The Apostle of the Gentiles moderates their euphoria and gives them hope of the time when Jesus comes again in His glory: those who once faced trouble for His sake will now find rest and consolation; they will be glorified, whereas their persecutors will go to their eternal damnation.

When we are assailed by temptations and fears, we must not be shaken. There are both true and false prophets in our midst; we must not rush or feel excited but be calm and discerning. We must work to let His Kingdom come here on earth. We must repent for our sins and be ready to receive our reward. For one thing is sure: God is in control of every situation and will not allow His Bride, the Church, to face defeat. Similarly, we have the reassuring words of Our Lady, Mother of Jesus and of the Church: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Prayer of the spiritually oppressed

Today’s readings very especially bring hope to the oppressed. They speak of God’s ways as different from man’s ways. Those who trust in the Lord can thus rest assured that they will be protected on earth and rewarded in Heaven.

In the First Reading, from the Book of Sirach (35: 12-14, 16-18), we hear the reassuring message that God is impartial; He lends a listening ear to those who call on Him, He responds to our prayers, and above all, He does justice to the righteous. What a far cry from human justice, which is vitiated by relativist thinking, very often prompted by friendships and/or self-interest.

When our miserable world talks of justice, it is usually on the material plane. This is important, no doubt, yet material oppression, be it physical or economic, is not the only thing we ought to shun. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God: which makes oppression of the spirit the worst form of oppression indeed.

The spiritually oppressed are those prevented from realising their basic reason of being: the realisation of God’s kingdom on earth. Ironically, some who are obliged to undertake this noble task, by virtue of their office, simply take God for granted. Some others even assume a sort of spiritual superiority vis-à-vis the man in the street; or perhaps are so hard-hearted that they fail to empathise with the poor sinner who has had a change of heart. Hence our Lord’s words of indignation: ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.’ (Mt 13)

In today’s Gospel (Lk 18: 9-14), we have the parable of the Pharisee who assumes that he has a hotline with God; he despises the tax collector who is at the receiving end of society. Can the Pharisee’s mere observance of the letter of the law let him take the moral high ground? Perhaps the major difference with their counterparts in our day and age is that these take the moral high ground even while they blatantly break the traditional and written law. It is tantamount to Satan in Paradise Lost saying: ‘Evil, be thou my good.’

Thankfully, in St Paul we have an advocate of the spiritually oppressed. In his second letter to Timothy (4: 6-8, 16-18), he announces that while on the point of being sacrificed the Lord it is who rescued him from the lion’s mouth, from every evil, and gave him the strength to proclaim the Word fully – that all Gentiles may hear it!

Woe to those who today seek to muffle rather than proclaim the Word of God. This is the worst kind of oppression that the spirit can endure. But, then, those who have given themselves heart and soul to Jesus Christ will endure just anything – with serenity and joy – and when their time is up, they will gladly say: ‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.’ This moral certainty will be the crowning glory of the prayer of the spiritually oppressed.

Persevering in Prayer

Alexander Pope, one of Britain’s Catholic poets, famously wrote, ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’ Although this is now an oft-repeated quote, how many realise that hope is sustained by prayer? Today’s Readings dwell on the need to pray at all times – a theme at the heart of Christian living and which has been treated at length by saints and spiritual masters down the ages.

The manner in which the First Reading (Ex 17: 8-13) describes the struggle between the Amalekites and the Israelites may lead some to think that prayer is a magical formula, or even that God has his favourites whom He grants all requests. It must therefore be noted that, while Moses directed Joshua, his successor, to engage Amalek in battle, he himself kept watch and prayed incessantly for the success of his nation’s efforts.

If we note the supernatural trust and confidence that Moses had in the Lord, and the fact that God does not save unless man partakes of his own salvation, we can draw a practical lesson for ourselves: that we must do what we can before we expect fellow humans and God to help us. And when we have done our best, God does the rest!

In the Gospel (Lk 18: 1-8) of the Unjust Judge, Jesus impresses on his disciples the need to pray always – and without becoming weary. This parable bears a close resemblance to that of the Friend at Night. Elsewhere, Jesus says, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ (Lk 11: 9) Yet, we are not to take God for granted. We must ensure that our prayer is worthy and pleasing to God; we must pray in humility, faith and perseverance.

But that’s not all. Perhaps a key aspect of our prayer is to talk less and listen more; not try and bend God’s will to ours but ours to His. An indulgent parent may grant their child any kind of request; but not God, who will concede only what, in His omniscience, is in our interest and, thus, in keeping with His Will. No wonder St Augustine suggests that we pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depended on us. This wise counsel teaches us how to achieve peace of heart.

In a godless world, many may doubt the efficacy of prayer, but they are the poorer for it. It is pride that prevents them from acknowledging God’s presence and works; only a change of heart can save them. So, it is never a good idea to challenge God, Who has us in the palm of His hand. Thankfully, those open to His loving kindness will be able to stoutly say with Tennyson: ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’

It is absurd, then, to deny that we are beneficiaries of God’s loving kindness. It is equally absurd that few ever remember His deeds; instead, they wonder how corrupt men and women enjoy a great time on earth and demand that God shows His justice forthwith! He will, in His time. And, for His part, He never forgets the labour of love shown towards His Name. St Luke says, ‘He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.’

In fact, the Evangelist makes a suitably cutting retort to ungrateful humans: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’ These words are an eyeopener to the contemporary world, whose words and actions are often an affront to God’s Holy Name and so call for urgent reparation. Alas, in many, love for God has grown cold! St Paul in the Second Reading (2 Tim 3: 14 – 4: 2) therefore exhorts us to ‘remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it’ – a reference to Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Indeed, the Scriptures are our rock, capable of giving us wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. We ought not to twist them and ingratiate ourselves with the New World Order; rather, we are to use them ‘for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ How aptly the Apostle of the Gentiles urges us to ‘proclaim the Word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching’! We are called to keep up the Tradition, the spiritual fervour of the Apostles and of our ancestors in the faith, and to serve the Lord – to be ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ (Rom 12: 12)

Banner: Five saints depicted in the Eglise du Sablon, Brussels

Jesus, our Light and our Life

Today’s readings are about giving thanks, glory and praise to the Lord our God for the wonders he has wrought in our life… They are about remembering him with gratitude and never taking Him for granted… They are about doing our bounden duty and awaiting the crown of glory when the race is done.

The first and third readings talk about healing. In the First Reading (2 Kings 5: 14-17) the Syrian general Naaman goes into the Jordan, as recommended by prophet Elisha, and comes out clean, his flesh restored like that of a little child. He returns with a present to thank the man of God, who does not accept it – for he was not there to serve himself but the Lord. Extremely thankful, Naaman wishes to carry earth with which to build an altar for the Lord in whom he now believes, in his land of origin.

In the Gospel (Lk 17: 11-19), only one of the ten lepers who were cleansed return to thank Our Lord. An instance of kam’ zalem, voiz melo (once cured, one forgets the physician), a classic case of human ingratitude. The Master Physician notes that the lone grateful man whose faith had cured him is indeed a foreigner – a man from Samaria, a district that was anathema to Israel.

The two stories above are not about physical healing alone; they are about liberation from sin – yet failing to proclaim the Good News to the world. How many of us who stop everything to ask God for healings and successes also stop to thank God on receiving them?

The Anglican-turned-Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton in his Autobiography stresses ‘the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted.’ But alas, gratitude seems to be one of those rare commodities in our jet age. It is as though we expect everything as a right, not a favour. In our self-centredness no gesture of kindness from another touches our soul. Sometimes, a ‘thank you’ is a mere formality; and when it comes to God, hardly a necessity.

St Paul (2 Tim 2: 8-13) clinches it. He places before us the everlasting model that is Jesus Christ our Lord. Our Lord is faithful even to the faithless – because He can’t be any different. What a noble lesson for humanity. The Apostle of the Gentiles who, a little earlier in the letter to Timothy, had spoken of the good fight, the race, and about keeping the faith, now uses a fragment of a hymn from his area of evangelisation to convey the same message.

The point is: why do we sometimes deny Him? Why are we faithless? Is it mere weakness or is it malice? Sometimes we do not know that we are caught up in the web of the evil one. Let us break free. Let us wake up and think. Let us rise and speak. The Word of God is not fettered. Have faith, Jesus is the Light of the World; those who follow Him will have the light of life.

Rekindling our charisms

The readings of today invite us to nurture great faith in the Lord God who is our Creator, Master and Saviour. However much we may feel discouraged at times, or even lose sight of the path to follow, let the spirit not dry up within us. We have to persevere in faith.

In the First Reading (Hab 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4), Prophet Habakkuk voices the feelings of the people; in his lamentations, he resembles Job and Jeremiah. He wonders if the Lord has forgotten His people, especially the just and the innocent ones. They cry for help but He does not hear; they are about to be destroyed, but He does not save! Finally, Habakkuk conveys a divine message: ‘If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.’

What a lesson for those of little faith! We expect God to do things for us, but what is our contribution to extending His Kingdom on earth? Do we heed His commandments? Do we stand by Him at all times? Jesus tells those who want Him to increase their faith, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, “Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea”,’ and it would obey.

On the other hand, praying with faith does not mean imposing one’s personal wishes on Him who has given us that gift; praying with faith means readiness to accept His doctrine and His divine will. Yet, let none think we have done God a favour. In a spirit of love and deep humility, we must believe ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty,’ as the Gospel (Lk 17: 5-10) tells us. This can never be overstated, because it is human tendency to be self-satisfied that they have visited the sick, clothed the naked, fed the hungry!

The Church teaches that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. Sometimes we are more concerned about showing love to our neighbour but care not about loving God. We take Him for granted. Very often, we fail to speak and stand for Him. Hence, the relevance of St Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (2 Tim 1: 6-8; 13-14): ‘… for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed, then, of testifying to our Lord… guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.’

That’s not always an easy thing to do, but with His help, we can! The Word of God demands great commitment. Moreover, there are secular ideologies at work, which are hostile to Christianity, and render Christian living difficult. Hence, it is important for a pastor that Timothy was, to preserve and faithfully transmit the doctrine of the faith. In a broader perspective, it is a timeless message for all of us who are priest, prophet and king, and have received ‘the gift of God’, the charisms that lie within us. We must not leave them idle; we have to rekindle them.

Spare a thought for the other!

What a mighty God we serve! Whether we have won a fortune or suffered a misfortune, He conveys a message meant to open our eyes and help mend our ways. In the last two weeks, when we witnessed the tainting of two hallowed arenas (read ‘Elephantine Blunder’ and ‘Mother of all crises’ in this blog) – the respective Sunday readings were spot on! But did those concerned take a leaf from the Book of Books? This Sunday, God in His infinite mercy gives us another chance.

The First Reading (Amos 6: 1.4-7), once addressed to the nobility of Israel, is now a message for Everyman, be it in Goa or California. Prophet Amos admonishes those who only eat, drink and make merry; ‘lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches’, and show least concern for their suffering brethren. They are beneficiaries of God’s munificence, yet ‘are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!’ (a reference to the ten tribes of Israel with whom Joseph’s name became synonymous).

The Second Reading picks up where the previous one left off. St Paul (1 Tim 6: 11-16) advises the faithful to ‘aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.’ How many of us love the truth in its fullness; stand by God at all times; live in deep faith; show love to family and friends; are committed; and, without a hint of pride, are fortiter in re, suaviter in modo – firm in action, gentle in manner?

The Gospel (Lk 16: 19-31) puts it all so vividly in a parable. An unnamed rich miser who cared for none but himself is plagued in hell; whereas poor Lazarus, once at his mercy on earth, enjoys the Beatific Vision. As Mephistopheles says in the last Act of Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: ‘Fools that will laugh on earth must weep in hell.’ Perhaps the rich man’s only charitable thought consisted of a request to God to warn his family, ‘lest they also come into this place of torment.’

Finally, if the popstar believes that ‘Heaven is a place on earth’ and ponders the ‘mystery of living’; it is equally important to contemplate the mystery of death. Today, St Luke has invited us to examine the transition from earth to eternity, and work towards a change of heart. St Paul has highlighted God’s Kingship vis-à-vis the sinful practice of paying tribute to false gods. He warmly exhorts us to heed God’s Word, ‘fight the good fight of the faith’, and praise to the Lord Who gives life to all things, ‘Who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light’. Meanwhile, let's spare a thought for the other and we will receive a hundredfold.