Mother of all crises

Are you overwhelmed by the ways of the world and believe the corrupt get away unharmed? Well, those who imagine they hold God in their pocket are sadly mistaken. Not only has God foretold the course of human behaviour, He has numbered the hairs on our head. Most of all, He has listed acts of commission and omission that will come back to haunt us some day.

Consider the First Reading (Amos 8: 4-7). It’s a clear message to those who ‘trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land’ – those crooks who snatch bread from the tables of simple, credulous citizens, and rather than be sent to jail are sent to Parliament! It also addresses those who, in the privacy of their homes or institutions, tell lies, bully and beat, exploit and cheat, drink and debauch, and without any qualms of conscience go out and preach. Amos, who shines in history as a prophet of social justice, warns that the Lord will never forget a thing they have done!

Thankfully, in God we trust. As the Psalm says,

He raises up the lowly from the dust;
 from the dunghill he lifts up the poor
to seat them with princes,
 with the princes of his own people.

For our part, then, how are we to conduct ourselves? Wherever we may be, we are stewards by default – managers of the time and tasks entrusted to our care. And it is never for long; popular wisdom says, ‘Sonvsar charuch disancho’. Yet, how casually we handle our duties and responsibilities, joys and sorrows, problems and solutions!

In the Gospel (Lk 16: 1-13), Jesus is appreciative of the shrewd steward’s efforts to provide for his future; it is not the steward’s expediency but his decisiveness that Jesus focusses His attention on. Then come two most illuminating remarks: ‘The children of this world are wiser in their own generation than the children of light,’ and 'You cannot serve both God and mammon.'

Who can deny that the worldly-wise are more diligent than the spiritual-minded, and evil more active than good? That’s a clarion call to God’s people to be more dynamic and combative! We have to show greater enthusiasm and go forward together with our united strength, for indeed the price good folks pay for lukewarmness is to be ruled by evil doers.

The world is a common inheritance we have received from God. Whoever prevents us from enjoying its benefits is guilty of a grave crime. Which puts the spotlight on elected representatives: if they lack a moral compass, they easily turn responsibility into revelry and God’s kingdom into their personal fiefdom.

Truly, moral crisis is the mother of all crises. Hence, St Paul in the Second Reading (1 Tim 2: 1-8) invites us to pray that our leaders be instruments of peace and justice leading us to our eternal salvation as Jesus envisaged it.


Crucible of love and mercy

It’s never too much to talk of love and mercy. God is a crucible of love and mercy – celestial material that humans yearn for. And be it between parents and children, husband and wife, neighbours, friends or foes, love and mercy are of the essence; they keep the machine of life oiled and running sweetly.

God the Father, who is the source of all that is good, has set the example. In the First Reading (Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14) God is rightfully angry with His people for forgetting Him Who had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. Now they worship abominable little gods of their own making.

In the Gospel (Lk 15: 1-32), we read three delightful parables that highlight the extent of God’s love and mercy. The Divine Master’s abiding concern is to reach out to those in need, so He responds to those who fail to appreciate His mingling with sinners. Jesus speaks of the proverbial shepherd going out in search of his lost sheep and of a woman who is in search of a lost coin.

Alternatively, we could look at the lost sheep and the lost coin as entities hoping to be found or saved by their respective owners – in the same way as our spirits thirst for the love of the Father!

Yet, the most heart-warming part of the trilogy on redemption is that parable about the Prodigal Son. It covers a whole gamut of human experiences: if the younger son could be booked for greed, lust, gluttony and sloth, the pharisaic elder one is symbolic of pride, greed, envy and wrath. Between them they have all of the seven deadly sins! And whereas the son is prodigal – extravagant – with his money and possessions, the father is prodigal – overgenerous – with his love and mercy.

Finally, St Paul’s frank testimony (1 Tim 1: 12-17) echoes a common experience. Just as he acted out of ignorance, sometimes we too aren’t careful about how we judge people and situations. We dub parental concern or spousal devotion ‘paranoid’; neighbours’ concern, ‘inquisitiveness’; and friends suddenly become foes for unexplained reasons. In the midst of it all, and much against the evangelical command, we stay put and criticise everyone; we don’t care to lift even a finger to help those in need – maybe for fear of getting it wrong, or simply out of laziness or indifference!

That’s when it will pay to remember that the divine crucible of love and mercy is peppered with justice!

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Surrender and Win

We have heard it said so many times that life is a mystery; but isn’t that so because the One who has created us is a Super-Mystery? We have neither seen Him, so as to be able to judge for ourselves, nor have we heard enough about Him to say we know Him completely. Yet we go on from day to day, based entirely on our relationship with Him who is the Unknown but also the only One who can save us.

We humans are eyeballs that can’t see and earlobes that can’t hear, especially when we are immersed in the world. Yet, the Almighty addresses those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, particularly when we renounce worldly attractions, our mind and all our senses give us an understanding of the present and the final reality. When we give ourselves up in sweet surrender, God lets us in on the secret of His wisdom (Wis 9: 13-19), through the working of the Holy Spirit who has meanwhile descended upon us. Then we begin to appreciate God's ways and desires, for He reveals Himself to those desirous of that unique experience.

Seeing that humans had foolishly turned in on themselves and were acting like little gods, our Father in Heaven sent His Only Son Jesus to the world. In the Gospel today (Lk 14: 25-33) Jesus shakes the people out of their complacency. Putting all His cards on the table, He demands nothing less than total commitment, total acceptance of God’s ways and total surrender to the Father. As He says elsewhere, ‘Whoever is not with Me is against Me’.

It is paradoxical but true that the more we give of ourselves to God, the more we feel free – it is a freedom easily verifiable from our everyday experience. Who can deny that the more we are attached to the ways of the world, the more we are in chains? Unbridled love for earthly things, be it money, power, influence, knowledge, is enslaving! On the other hand, how liberating it is to know and love God more and more!

That is why St Paul (Phil 9-10, 12-17) pointed out to Philemon, a man of high social standing, whom he had converted to Christianity, that it is of the essence that his slave, also a neo-convert, be treated humanely, as a brother in the faith. This new spirit in which the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote his short but important letter indeed prepared the world, mentally and spiritually, for a great transformation that finally led to the abolition of slavery.

The Lord has been our refuge from generation to generation! The readings of today invite us to keep a tab on the life of our minds and hearts, and to find out what can fetch us true peace and happiness. One thing is sure: without God’s help, we can do nothing – we are nothing! A sweet surrender to His will is a promise of our final victory.

Switching off our vanity lights

Today’s readings form an exceedingly beautiful trilogy. The folly of vanity is illustrated with a parable and rounded off with a nugget of wisdom about gazing heavenward. They make an interesting counterpoint to the capricious lifestyle of contemporary man.

Did you know that there was a time when ‘vanity’ simply meant ‘emptiness’ or ‘uselessness’ (from the Latin vanitas)? When used to represent arrogant or boastful obsession with one’s appearance, possessions or accomplishments, it underlined the same meaning. The original Hebrew term, sometimes translated as ‘illusion of illusions’, literally meant breath, wind, vapour, implying that things are uncertain, empty, futile.

The First Reading (Eccl. 1: 2; 2: 21-23) could not put it better. Life is indeed a string of vanities! Omnia vanitas: all is vanity. In fact, everything that is extravagant – and not useful or indispensable – is usually conceited: it focusses on the earthly creator and forgets the Divine Creator. This aspect of fallen man is something that Ecclesiastes, one of the ‘Wisdom Books’ of the Old Testament, has bared to thinkers and commoners alike. When its anonymous author says that there is ‘a time to be born and a time to die’, he tells us in no uncertain terms that life is brief and death inevitable.

That we are not masters of our destiny; that what we do lasts brief hours and weeks; that death comes like a thief: such thoughts flood our mind as we hear the Parable of the Rich Fool. Why, then, do siblings fight over land or even honest people build mansions to keep up with the Joneses? Is it not true that we must seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be given unto us? How about burying our egos, surrendering to God’s will and giving up our acquisitive instinct for things that genuinely matter?

In today’s Gospel (Lk 12: 13-21), Jesus asks: ‘The things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ That’s a very pertinent question, for alas, how we take solace, nay, pride, in the abundance of our possessions, as though we are going to live for ever! But then, Covid-19 has taught us someting as perhaps only Covid can: that our life can change in an instant and from one day to another we may be catapulted to the presence of God. That’s when we will learn, albeit late, the full import of these words from Deuteronomy, with which Jesus shot down the devil in the desert: ‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

In effect, we are faced with an existential question: are we to sell everything, pack up our bags and head to the nearby forest? Clearly, not everybody is called for so radical a decision. We have to live in the world without being of the world; for it is not where we live, but how we live, that matters. Hence, St Paul, in the Second Reading (Col. 3: 1-5, 9-11), exhorts us to seek the things that are above, where Christ is; to set our eyes not on things that are on earth. He sets before our eyes a catalogue of vices that our old self has to be stripped of, and five virtues that our new self has to be clothed with, through baptism: a radical transformation by the action of the Holy Spirit.

But is it all that straightforward? In the world today, it is difficult to be a Christian – not because Christ’s teachings have lost their relevance but because we seem to have lost our conviction. It is true that the secular powers-that-be are continually conspiring to splinter Our Lord’s precepts; on the other hand, haven’t the spiritual powers-that-be played to the gallery and capitulated to the ways of the world? And what are you and I doing to clear the stables? To be ruled by evil men is the price we pay for indifference to civil and ecclesiastical affairs!

The question remains: how do we proceed from here? Flashing before my eyes is St Pope Pius X’s motto: Instaurare omnia in Christ, to restore all things in Christ. To be committed Catholics, living the Gospel values to the best of our abilities, a life in communion with the Resurrected Lord should be our goal. The said Pope was acclaimed for his efforts to root out the Modernist heresy, which he dubbed ‘the synthesis of all heresies’, in his Encyclical titled Pascendi Dominici Gregis (8.9.1907). Much as we are programmed to love the word ‘modern’, Modernism represented an agnostic doctrine that attempted to pull the rug from under the Catholic faith. And, alas, it still does!

The trilogy of readings today invites us to go beyond self and see the world as it is. Isn’t vanity the leitmotif of the contemporary world? A culture of death is being promoted disguised as the culture of life. Engrossed as we are in our own personal worlds, more often than not we miss the larger picture. In fact, you and I unknowingly aid the advance of those cultural forces by the choices that we make every single day. It is high time we shunned the clutter outside and saved ourselves of that painful emptiness inside. Let not the city lights overwhelm us; let us switch our vanity lights and set our gaze on the True Light of the World.

Finally, on the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, let us pray that the words he famously said to St Francis Xavier soften our hearts too: 'What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?' (Mt 16: 26; Mk 8: 36)

Prayer must be a way of life

To every believer whose desire is to know how to pray, here are some heart-warming pointers: in today’s Gospel (Lk 11: 1-13) we have a formula par excellence, and in the First Reading (Gen 18: 20-32), an illustration of how to pray. It is not ours to reason why, for if we are to survive, praying must come as easy as breathing. As Alexis Carrel, Nobel Laureate for Medicine, puts it: ‘Simple souls feel God as naturally as they feel the heat of the sun or the fragrance of a flower; but the same God, accessible to those who know how to love Him, remains hidden from those who do not understand Him.’

Abraham had no difficulty in relating to God who visited him in human form. They talked about Sodom and Gomorrah that were slated for severe punishment for their grossly offensive conduct. That is when Abraham began to do a deal with God, like a child would with his parents: he was concerned about the safety of his nephew Lot who had relocated to Sodom in a huff. Abraham left no stone unturned to secure a good ‘bargain’ as only he can do who knows God intimately.

Thankfully, Christian mystics from St Paul down to St Padre Pio have elaborated on kinds, methods and levels of prayer, and offered formulas; but none of them are crucial, for a child talking to his parent follows no fixed action pattern. The best policy is to be our honest selves, ready to do our Father’s will in all things, as the ‘Pater Noster’ counsels. While St Augustine reportedly said that he who sings, prays twice; St Aloysius of Gonzaga believed that work is prayer. Which goes to show that it is of the essence to establish a hotline with God and not merely employ a certain formula or method.

That God finally took a softer line at Abraham’s instance should be an eyeopener to those who doubt the efficacy of prayer! Such doubts stem from a secular attitude or a spirit that excludes God from our life. It is clear from today’s parable that God wants us to ask and persevere in the asking – while all the time believing with The Imitation of Christ, that ‘Man proposes; God disposes.’ And how can we forget the words of Our Lord Himself: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’!

Of course, that promise comes with a rider: we must have a change of heart; deep faith and trust in God; and pray calmly, humbly and confidently. We must praise and thank God, petition Him and intercede for others. When we leave it to Him to fix our broken lives soon we will hear our lips sing, ‘Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me… Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.’ We have the Lord’s promise: ‘If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’

But is that all as simple as it sounds? It is so if we do not let sin snap our hotline with God. At any rate, the Sacraments that can help restore it. We also need to create the right physical and psychological conditions to communicate with the Creator: for instance, personal prayer in the privacy of our rooms, and communal prayer in the sacral ambience of our churches. Notice how the interior of a monastery or the protected area of Old Goa or even a quiet and sprawling campus like Don Bosco’s situated in the middle of Panjim city can set the tone for a divine encounter: they are oases of tranquillity fit for the angels of India!

Although forces of evil are pressing against us, we must not be disheartened. St Paul in the Second Reading (Col 2: 12-14) puts things in perspective when he says that God has given us the ultimate gift of love through His Son Jesus Christ, thus securing us a return to the One we are united to through Baptism. So, even if our outer shell be diseased, the core of our being finds healing through prayer. We remain insulated against the fear of suffering, sickness and death if our life be a prayer offered to God, ‘an elevation of our soul to God’ (Tanqueray, The Mystical Life, cit. The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, p. 765), a way of life!

Active and Contemplative

Do you wake up listless and dejected, upset about things not going your way? Do you dismiss a brand-new day as just another ordinary day? Well, if we give time to time, we might suddenly see things changing unexpectedly. What’s more, we will find that all things are possible – especially the impossible – when we are sustained by God’s Word! That’s putting things in perspective.

In the First Reading (Gen 18: 1-10), we are privy to a miracle. If Abraham, kind and obliging even at a ripe old age, seems to be without a worry in the world, it may help to know that he and his wife Sarah were heartbroken but had lovingly come to accept their situation. Abraham obliges his guests, not because he sees something in it for him but because he is an honourable man. The threesome leave before long – but not without announcing the good news that Sarah will bear a child. No doubt she laughs it off (note that Mary in her own case wondered, ‘how can this be’!) – but so it is: she gives birth to Isaac, a name that means just that: ‘he who laughs’ or ‘he who rejoices’! In short, nothing is impossible with God!

The Gospel (Lk 10: 38-42) has a matching situation. Here, Jesus is hosted by Martha and Mary. The elder sister’s busy chores are her presents for Jesus; the younger one, awestruck by every word that Jesus utters, honours Him with her presence. Truly, if simple living and high thinking is what a self-respecting guest values, it is more so Jesus, who is always about His Father’s business. Mary makes these words her own: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant hears; you have the words of eternal life.’ And Jesus praises her, for she has ‘chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.’

My dear departed grandmother used to say that faith and education none can take away from us. After all, that is what matters, for man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. So, when it is the Living Word alone that can sustain us, why settle for less? But alas, how often do we think of God in our everyday chores? How zealously do we mention Him at our glitzy social gatherings? How well do we recognise the voice of God in our daily encounters? Note that if Abraham were to despise the three men – seen as God Himself with two angels or, alternatively, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – the ‘Father of Many Nations’ would have been father of none. Like Abraham, let’s get our priorities straight!

Can we rightfully say with St Paul in the Second Reading (1 Col: 24-28): ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for your [the Colossians] sake, and in my flesh [through his body] I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church’? As Christians, we are duty-bound to shun sadness and joyfully put our belief, hope and trust in the Lord – and then go on to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. We must stand firm for ever, as the Psalm says; if not, how will we admitted to the holy mountain?

To conclude, if all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, imagine how dull – and empty – we should feel if we always work and never pray! Let us make it a point to set aside quality time for God, listen to His voice and do His holy will. Let us delight in the presence of God and bless His Holy Name. Let’s not get too caught up with worldly things; rather, like Mary, let’s choose the good portion, and everything will fall in place. Let us balance action with contemplation.

Just as Jesus was not going to be with His friends for too long, we too will not live too long on this earth, will we? Let us, then, receive God in our hearths and homes today, so He recognises us tomorrow, when we knock on Heaven’s door!

Being a Good Samaritan

Who can deny that the world would be a better place if we followed God’s commands to the hilt? No doubt, sincere people take to them like fish to water; they don’t find them difficult to follow, ignore them, play up or spurn them. The natural moral law is etched on our minds and we know it by heart. As the First Reading (Deut. 30: 10-14) says, ‘The Word is very near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.’ In the modern lingo, we are hardwired to love God’s law and must beware of worldly-wise, pirated software designed to infect the system!

God is not crazy or eccentric; His law is not ‘out there’, unusual and unconventional. He has had covenants with us, but alas, we have failed to honour them! In days of old, God spoke directly to His people or to a prophet. But then, being invisible had its flip side: God began to seem distant; so, He sent His Only Son to be born of a Virgin. Jesus walked the earth, spoke the language of the land, worked out miracles to everyone’s amazement, and died for our sins in an unprecedented outpouring of love. The essence of his parting message was that we love God and neighbour.

But isn’t that easier said than done? In the Gospel (Lk 10: 25-37), a Jewish scriptural scholar, after admitting that one can inherit eternal life only by loving God (Deut 6: 5) and neighbour as oneself (Lev 19: 18), demands to know who is our ‘neighbour’. His question makes sense for, to the Jews, only a member of their religion or race was a ‘neighbour’. The scholar probably wished to hear a novel definition that would navigate through issues like religion and ethnicity (Jews/Gentiles) gender and class (clean/unclean). Instead, Jesus responded with a parable that unimaginably expanded the scope of the term; and He topped it up with a question that dispelled all doubts!

In that touching and famous Parable of the Good Samaritan – reported by St Luke alone – he who attended to that half-dead man, with compassion, was from a region that the Jews looked down upon, thanks to their mixed ethnicity and their worship outside Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus introduces us to an individual Samaritan whose behaviour is a far cry from that of the Jewish priest and the Levite (temple assistant from the Hebrew tribe of Levi). Were these two too busy to stop and help, or were they merely playing it safe, for touching a dead man would prevent them from carrying out their temple duties! Or maybe not, for Jesus talks about them going from Jerusalem to Jericho, and not the other way around. While Jesus leaves the backstory a mystery, we can rest assured that God had moved the Samaritan to set an example to generations to come!

Which brings us to the Second Reading (Col 1: 15-20) in which St Paul emphasises that Jesus alone can inspire and help us humans to love and serve. The Apostle of the Gentiles portrays Christ as the mediator between Creation and Redemption: He who was present at the time of the creation of the world will also be the One through whom the world will be redeemed. Shouldn’t He, then, be the focus of our life? Our life makes sense only through Him. Note the repetition of the word ‘all’ in the passage: the writer wishes to emphasise the fact that there is nothing outside Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the be-all and end-all of our existence. This reality can never be emphasised enough, lest we begin to sacrifice the truth of the Gospel to the distorted values of the contemporary world.

The values of the contemporary world are centred on money, influence and power. They keep us bonded; they prevent us from reaching out to others in love, as Jesus did. Subservience to the material world is a despicable form of bondage that only God’s laws have the power to liberate us from. Hence, Jesus alone is deserving of our trust and confidence; He is our only model for doing things through love. So, it is not good businessmen but Good Samaritans are God’s instruments of hope – fools for Christ, in this mad, mad world!

However, being a Good Samaritan does not mean being naïve; it does not demand suspension of our critical faculties. In the near-Godless world we live in, steeped in malice and misunderstanding, Good Samaritans must indeed act with discernment. Wherever we may find ourselves – be it at home or at work; in a school or a hospital, in the street or on the battlefield – reaching out to our neighbour is of the essence. One sure way of doing this is to ward off pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. When we evict those seven trespassers, God comes into our minds and hearts, moving us to be Good Samaritans in a way that is most pleasing to Him.

On the mission field

Today’s readings grab our attention: the first, by Isaiah’s colourful imagery (Is 66: 10-14); the second, by St Paul’s passionate testimony (Gal 6: 14-18); and, of course, the third by Jesus’s stirring voice (Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20). Close on the heels of last Sunday’s Gospel passage, which invited us to be resolute in disseminating God’s Word, Our Lord brings into sharp focus the mission of His disciples – which is our mission too!

Coincidentally, in India, 3 July is the Solemnity of St Thomas, the Apostle. The readings proper to the occasion are from Acts 10: 24-35; Heb 1: 2-3 or Pet 1: 3-9; and Jn 20: 24-29, whose last sentence from the mouth of Jesus is ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe’. However, we are going to comment on the readings proper to the universal Church; by God’s grace, they also fit like a glove, dwelling as they do on the life of a missionary, which St Thomas was one par excellence.

A fragment of today’s Gospel reading rings in the ear of every believer: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers few.’ How many did Jesus commission?  Some codices say seventy, others seventy-two: both figures are right, as they represent the pagan communities (70 in the Hebrew text, 72 in the Greek) mentioned in Genesis 10.

St Luke is the only Evangelist who makes a mention of this number, suggesting that Jesus would not limit Himself to the twelve tribes of Israel (denoted by the Apostles) but would reach out to all communities and nations. One of them, St Thomas, travelled to South India and died there. And as members of the Church today, it is our responsibility, until the end of the world, to evangelise like them, without fear or favour.

It is noteworthy that Jesus spoke to the seventy-two after He had spoken to the Twelve (see Lk 9). Thus, the Gospel was proclaimed first in Israel and thence to others. Jesus commanded the disciples to go ahead of Him into every town and place. That He sent them out ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves’ spoke volumes of the trials and tribulations awaiting them in a hostile world. Yet, He bid them to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and to salute none along the way: He expected them to trust in Him alone.

The disciples also received some practical tips from the Divine Master. They were not to waste time in elaborate greetings, so typical of Oriental cultures, but to focus on announcing the Good News without delay. The disciples were to eat, drink and accept accommodation as provided to them, for the labourer deserves his wages; but they were not to have expectations or make demands – for God would sustain them. They had to reach out to the sick – not only physically but spiritually – by giving them the hope of eternal salvation.

Jesus made an interesting distinction between what was to be the disciples’ behaviour in a household and in a town per se. Not only would their greetings differ, but their attitude as well. If an individual or his household refused the disciples, the latter’s response would be milder than when a town rejected them. In the latter case, Jesus recommended that they shake off the dust of their feet. He promised them authority over the enemy and that their names would be written in Heaven. The disciples fulfilled their mandate diligently and, no wonder, they returned with joy.

If Our Lord’s occasionally tough language does not match that goody-goody image of Him, let’s remember Jesus was not a goody-goody; He called a spade a spade, was earnest about his Father’s holy business and brooked no nonsense. Thus, the peace His disciples carried went beyond mere greetings of good health and prosperity; it was a messianic peace. And the hard-hitting words that Jesus and His disciples uttered were but messianic lamentations, for the fate that awaits detractors is one worse than Sodom’s.

Jesus expects us to adopt a like posture; we are not to trivialise God. St Paul, who witnessed similar crises in the communities he tended, concludes his letter to the Galatians, by stating that salvation lies only in the Cross of Christ: ‘I do not wish to take pride in anything except in the cross of Christ Jesus our Lord,’ he said unequivocally. This is an eye-opener for us who we must learn to guard against sacrificing the truth of the Gospel to materialistic values and goals. Let us not doubt, let us not harden our hearts when we hear the Lord’s words.

We who have had the fortune of meeting our awesomely loving God must proclaim His works. The prophet Isaiah fashioned most beautiful images to give us an idea of God’s unfathomable love: it is like that of a mother for her child; of a husband for his wife; of a bridegroom for his bride. We too must acknowledge God’s omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. We must strive to be true disciples of Christ, the salt of the earth and light of the world. We must not hide the light under a bushel but set it upon a lampstand so that it radiates light to all in the world.

If we announce what God has done for our souls with true missionary zeal, the world will cry out with joy and sing glory to His name!

All for the greater glory of God

What is our response to God who has lovingly revealed Himself in myriad ways on three successive Sundays? The Mass readings of today are an apt reminder of what should be our posture vis-à-vis the purpose of our existence.

In the First Reading (1 Kings 19: 16B, 19-21), we meet Elijah, a prophet who lived in Israel nine centuries before Christ. He defended Yahweh, the one true God of the Israelites, against Baal, a false god of the Canaanites. God worked miracles through Elijah as a sign that he was His favoured one. He was bodily assumed into heaven on a chariot of fire; and at the time of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, he too appeared, along with Moses. It is said that he will return before the last day, as a harbinger of the Saviour.

Before his departure, Elijah had made sure that Elisha would step into his shoes as prophet. The cloak thrown over Elisha symbolised the transfer of Elijah’s very persona, with all the rights and charisms of his vocation. Elisha spent some time on Mount Carmel (hence, a favourite with the Carmelites) where Elijah had once lived and challenged the prophets of Baal. Not everything that these two distinctive figures did is documented, but one thing is sure: they were clear about what was expected of them and faithfully carried out their missions.

How beautifully this links to the Gospel (Lk 9: 51-62), which urges each one of us to readily respond to God’s call, like Elisha did. Here, Jesus presents us with three injunctions, veritable pearls of wisdom; though not uttered in quick succession, in real time, St Luke stringed them together thematically. When Jesus was refused accommodation by a Samaritan village, in keeping with the customary animosity with the Jews, our Saviour commented on it pointedly, in three pearls of spiritual knowledge.

The first of the pearls is a lament on how ‘foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’ That is, while the least of creatures, if worldly-wise, are well received, those who have an other-worldly outlook, even if thinking logically and acting fairly, are made to feel unwelcome.

That is how fallen man behaves; hence the second pearl, in the form of a piercing arrow: ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ says Jesus, and bids us to single-mindedly get going with God’s business. And then comes the third pearl, as a tough challenge: ‘No one who sets a hand to the plough and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.’ Jesus warns us against pinning our hopes on the world; we rather be steadfast in divine matters.

Meanwhile, will we ever overcome our innate love for the world and all that is in it? Is it possible to tread the path that Jesus points to? Will its difficult terrain not cause us untold hardship and misery?

We have it on excellent authority that God has called us for freedom – and only He can set us free! St Paul in the second Reading (Gal 5: 1, 13-18) says, ‘For freedom Christ set us free; so, stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.’ The Apostle of the Gentiles, who had freed the Galatians from the oppressive Mosaic law, wanted them to hold fast to their newfound, Christian freedom that liberates one not only from the yoke of law but from the yoke of sin as well. Alas, how we underestimate that freedom!

On the other hand, how are we to conduct ourselves? Like Elisha, of course! He who heeded God’s call asked for time only to slaughter his oxen and burn the very plough. Elisha was in the right frame of mind; he trusted the Lord and renounced everything. For our part, how about asking for the gift of discernment to help us separate the wheat from the chaff?

Not that it will set us rolling on a comfortable highway; life will mostly likely remain the same narrow path it always is, filled with trials and tribulations. But surely, our slow and steady daily grind will liberate us from the yoke of egos and taboos; our suffering will gradually score a victory over evil tendencies, purify and sanctify us. And when we have run the race, having kept the faith, we will gladly have followed Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Finally, if all of the above seems silly or extreme, consider why we find the world in a shambles today! It is because we have lost sight of the primary reason of our being, that is to seek God and know Him, to love God and serve Him, ‘above all nature and all created things.’ We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Let us, then, quickly turn around and live our lives ad majorem Dei gloriam – as the motto of Ignatian spirituality says – for the greater glory of God!

Bread Broken, Wine Shared

In June we celebrate three important solemnities – Pentecost; Holy Trinity; and the Body and Blood of Christ. These solemnities held on three consecutive Sundays form a kind of triptych drawing our attention to those central mysteries of our faith. The first solemnity helps us see the Holy Spirit at work in the Church; the second focusses on the Triune God whose Source is the Father; and the third highlights the Son’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. These solemnities are all so rich in meaning that if we only stop to understand their significance, our faith can easily take on a deeper reality.

Today’s Solemnity, which used to be called Corpus Christi (Latin for ‘the Body of Christ’), is now known as the Body and Blood of Christ, more in keeping with the Eucharistic theology. Really speaking, the solemnity falls on a Thursday after that of the Holy Trinity; but, in India, both solemnities have been moved to the Sunday following, to enable a more worthy celebration. Similarly, the shadow of the Cross falling on the liturgy left little scope to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. Hence, way back in the 13th century, the Church found it appropriate to bathe the solemnity in the paschal joy.

It is common knowledge that the fateful Thursday that marked Jesus’ final Passover comprised a meal to mark the Jewish thanksgiving to God for delivering the people from slavery in Egypt. That meal, now known as the Last Supper, instantly assumed a new meaning when Jesus proclaimed a new commandment of Love; instituted the Priesthood; and established the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Thus, over and above the thanksgiving, the Eucharist involves our participation in Jesus’ eternal Priesthood and a re-enactment of His Sacrifice on Calvary.

The multifarious connotations of the Eucharist are reflected in the day’s readings. In the First Reading (Gen 14: 18-20), we meet a mysterious figure, Melchizedek, king of Salem (presumed to be Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High, on his way to bless Abraham who was returning from a just war. In his thanksgiving to God, Melchizedek offers bread and wine, a common food and drink for the Jews. Christian tradition sees Melchizedek as prefiguring Jesus, who is Priest, Prophet and King; and his offering, in the mould of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The Second Reading (1 Cor 11: 23-26) refers to the Eucharist instituted by our Lord. St Paul’s writing of circa A. D. 55 predates the Gospels and is the oldest testimony relating to the Last Supper. Jesus breaks the bread, symbolising His Body, and raises the Cup, symbolising His Blood. He does this for us in love beyond compare and bids us to repeat it as a memorial. So, there is an ineffable union with Jesus Who is present at every Eucharistic celebration.

Finally, St Luke’s Gospel (9: 11-17) talks about the remarkable meal that fed five thousand who had gathered to listen to Jesus. This is evocative of two passages from the Old Testament: the feeding of the Israelites in the desert and of Elisha’s feeding a hundred people with twenty loaves. They herald the Eucharist as food and medicine for the body and soul.

A deeper reality underlies the Holy Eucharist: the miracle of Transubstantiation. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, ‘there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376) The species do not change in appearance but turn into the very essence, reality and matter of the Lord’s Body and Blood. It is the Lord’s Real Presence – dwelt on by the encyclical Mysterium fidei.

The Eucharist is indeed a ‘mystery of faith’. St Thomas of Aquinas states that this ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ (CCC 1330) ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses but only by faith. Before him, St Cyril of Alexandria advised: ‘Do not doubt that this is true; instead accept the words of the Saviour in faith; for since He is truth, He cannot tell a lie.’ (cf. CCC, 18) To those who seem unconvinced, the ‘Eucharistic Miracles’ are most likely to provide satisfactory proofs (cf. Eucharistic Miracles and Eucharistic Phenomena in the Lives of Saints, by Joan Carroll Cruz)

As we take a leap of faith and humbly surrender ourselves, the Lord of the Eucharist will reveal Himself to us sooner rather than later. The Eucharist, so rich in symbolism, will bring meaning to our lives. And as we gradually enter into full communion with Him and open ourselves to His Mystery, God will protect the sacred mystery of our lives. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, ‘It is through the working of the Spirit that Christ himself continues to be present and active in his Church, starting with her vital centre which is the Eucharist.’ That's a wonderful lesson from June’s Mystery triptych!