Ascend the Mountain of Prayer

February 25, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Baptism, Commitment, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Prayer, Trust

Second Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps 116 / Rom 8:31b-34 / Mk 9:2-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

As we journey through the Lenten season, the readings invite us to pause, reflect, and deepen our commitment to spiritual growth and transformation. This Sunday’s scriptures call us to embrace the call of discipleship, acknowledging the challenges and joys that come with following Christ.

The first reading, from the book of Genesis, recounts the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, demonstrating profound obedience and trust in God’s providence. Abraham’s faith challenges us to examine our own willingness to surrender our desires and plans to God, even when it requires great sacrifice. Like Abraham, we are called to trust that God will provide and to step out in faith, knowing that His promises are faithful and true.

In the second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, we are reminded of the power of God’s grace to transform us from within. Paul writes of the assurance we have as heirs with Christ, heirs who are called to share in His suffering and glory. This passage invites us to reflect on the ways in which we are called to die to self and to live for Christ, allowing His grace to shape and mold us into His likeness.

The gospel reading from Mark recounts the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, where Peter, James, and John witness His divine glory. This extraordinary moment reminds us of the importance of encountering God in prayer and contemplation. Like the disciples, we are called to ascend the mountain of prayer, to seek moments of intimacy with God, and to be transformed by His presence. In these sacred encounters, we are reminded of our identity as beloved children of God and are empowered to live out our faith with courage and conviction.

There is a story of a young shepherd named David, who lived in a small village nestled between towering mountains. David was known throughout the village for his unwavering faith and his deep connection to the land. One day, as David led his flock to graze in the lush meadows, he felt a strange pull toward a distant mountain peak. Despite the warnings of his elders, David felt compelled to climb higher and higher, drawn by an inexplicable force.

As he ascended the rugged terrain, David encountered trials and obstacles along the way, but with each step he felt a sense of peace and purpose guiding him forward. Finally, after a long journey, David reached the summit of the mountain and there, in a breathtaking moment of revelation, he beheld a sight that filled him with wonder and awe. The sky seemed to open up, and a radiant light enveloped everything around him. In that divine moment, David experienced a profound connection to something greater than himself: a glimpse of the glory of God. It was a great mountaintop experience.

As he descended the mountain on the return to his village, David knew that he had been forever changed by his encounter with the divine. Though he could not fully describe the experience, he carried within him a newfound sense of purpose and clarity. From that day forward, David lived his life with a renewed sense of faith and devotion, sharing his story with all who would listen. And though some doubted his tale, those who truly listened could sense the truth in his words, a truth that transcended the limitations of human understanding.

In the gospel of St. Mark, Jesus’ disciples have been following Him and watching what He does. What they were seeing was the human side of Jesus, who was mostly healing people and telling them not to tell anyone, because He didn’t want to become known just as a healer. In earlier passages Jesus had healed a blind man and told him not to return to his village. He told the deaf man that he healed to tell no one. And He told the leper that He cured to tell no one anything.

In a previous passage in Mark, Jesus told His disciples that He would suffer greatly, be killed, and rise after three days. What kind of human leader could this be? So, to help His followers see more than His human side, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop to reveal His divine side. Even after that experience, Jesus wanted it to be a secret until after He had risen from the dead, because only then would His followers be able to understand that He was the Son of God.

The deeper meaning of Mark’s narrative for us during Lent is that, even after moments of transcendence and transformation, we must come back to earth, continue to hear the voice of Jesus, and follow Him on the way to the cross.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus’ followers had to leave their mountaintop experience and descend down the mountain to continue to follow Jesus and to do the more mundane things of building up the Kingdom. We too cannot continue to live on a mountaintop, but we have to come down to help build up the Kingdom. Like Peter, James, and John, we cannot remain there, but we have to come down to wherever we spend most of our regular life.

Jesus’ disciples did their part two thousand years ago. We must do ours in our home, school, place of work, in the parish, and wherever we connect with God’s people.

At Baptism, our ears were blessed to hear the Word of God, and our mouth was blessed to proclaim the Word of God. So, how is our proclamation going? Are we telling people about the way to salvation, or do we need to seek a mountaintop experience to set ourselves in motion? Just as Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, so too can we experience moments of profound transformation, when we open our hearts to the mystery and wonder of God’s presence in our life.

So, as we reflect on the readings today, may we be inspired to deepen our commitment to discipleship, to embrace the challenges and joys of the journey, and to trust in God’s unfailing love and providence. May we ascend the mountain of prayer, encounter Christ in His glory, and be transformed by His grace, so that we may shine as lights in the world, bearing witness to the love and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Into the Desert of Lent

February 18, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Reconciliation, Repentance, Self-Reflection

First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 9:8-15 / Ps 25 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Liturgy invites us into a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal.   As we embark on the journey through the desert of Lent, the readings and themes for this day serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward deeper communion with God.  Lent comes from a Latin word meaning to soften.   Lent is a forty-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Pascal Triduum.

Forty is the number often associated with intense spiritual exercises.  God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth.  The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years.  Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mt. Horeb.

The gospel reading for this Sunday centers around Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, highlighting the struggle between the forces of good and evil.  It prompts us to contemplate our own vulnerabilities and the temptations we face in our daily lives.  Through Jesus’ example, we find encouragement to resist these temptations with the strength of faith and reliance on God’s word.

In the Old Testament we encounter the story of Noah and the flood, symbolizing purification and renewal.  This narrative reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity and His promise of redemption even in the midst of trial and adversity.  It serves as a reminder of faithfulness and obedience in our relationship with God.

St. Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the church, lived for twenty-five years in the cave where the child Jesus was born.  One time he prayed to Jesus thus, “Dear Child, you have suffered so much to save me.  How can I make amends?”  “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard.  “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied.  “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again.  “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome explained.  The voice said, “Give your money to the poor.  It would be just as if you were giving it to me.  But what else can you give to me?”  St Jerome became distraught and said, “Lord, I have given you everything.  What is there left to give?”  “Jerome, you have not still given to me your sins,” the Lord replied.  “Give them to me, so I can erase them.”  With these words, Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”

Brothers and sisters, the liturgical season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination, urging us to identify areas for growth and transformation through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  We are invited to draw closer to God and to our neighbors, embodying the love and compassion of Christ in our actions.

The gospel reading today tells us that Jesus went into the desert and spent forty days there.  It tells us about the first time that our Lord was tempted.  It was the first time that the devil openly confronted Christ and put Him to the test.  But as we know, Jesus did not sin.  He was like us in everything but sin.  The devil tempted Him overtly, but Jesus did not give in to the temptations that the evil one placed before Him.

This is a very important event in Jesus’ life.  This event in Jesus’ life shows us that we should not believe that Satan would never tempt us openly.  We cannot say as some do, that I do not ever commit a sin.  Satan puts everyone to temptation, and many times we give in to him, something that our Lord Jesus did not do.

Lent is a time for us to show our repentance through fasting and abstinence for the sins we have committed.  Mortification, penance, strengthens our souls so that we can resist the devil, who as tradition tells us during the entire year, but especially during these forty days of Lent and during the days that we commemorate the Passion of Christ, will try to tempt us with greater determination and venom.  We should not forget that even though Satan will tempt us, Christ, especially during these forty days, will help us to free ourselves from sin.  He will give us the graces that we need to conquer those temptations.  Of course, He will do this if we prepare ourselves, if we wipe clean our souls of sin, if we ask Him for those graces. When we are sincerely repentant and we say, “Lord, protect me from all sin,” He will do just that.

The season of Lent, the season of mercy is the best time for us to purify ourselves and strengthen ourselves to change our lives, to repent and follow Christ.  We begin to feel this process of conversion when we firmly resolve to better our spiritual lives and to change our lives if they need to be changed.  If we truly believe in the Good News, the Gospel of Christ, we must feel the radical need to abandon our lives of sin.

In those forty days spent in the desert, fasting and praying, our Lord gave us an example of what we need to do to prepare spiritually for Easter.  During these forty days of Lent, Jesus asks us to let go of all those worldly things that tie us to sin.  He asks us to let go of our selfishness, our sinful pride, our belief that we are better than everybody else.  The conversion that the Lord asks us to go through really means maintaining a close relationship with God.  It would be a lamentable error if we did not take advantage of these Lenten days, leaving for later what we know we need to do now in order to change our lives, with an ardent desire to change our lives, remembering that there is still time today, but it may be too late tomorrow.

Let us repent and confess our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.  As we reflect on the readings and themes on this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of the significance of this season as a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time to reorient our hearts and minds towards God, to seek forgiveness for our shortcomings, and to deepen our commitment to living lives of holiness and discipleship.

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Becoming What You Can Be

February 14, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Humility, Lent, Prayer, Repentance

Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is this beautiful saying which is very fitting to our celebration today. It says, “Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.” What do we need to give up today in order for us to become the person that is pleasing before the eyes of the Lord?

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent: forty days of preparation for the coming of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, which we call the Pascal mystery. Forty is a very important number, because we know that, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, He was there in the desert for forty days and forty nights to prepare for His public ministry. During that time Jesus encountered a lot of challenges and temptations.

After the homily, we are going to receive the ashes, which are a sign of our repentance. This is also a reminder of our human weakness, that we are all in need of God’s mercy. When we receive the ashes, there are two formulas that will be said. The first one says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and that can be found in Mark 1:15. The second formula that we are going to use is, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and that can be found in the book of Genesis 3:19.

Ashes remind us of our humanity: that we are all created by God. That’s why in Genesis 2:7 it says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Here we can see, brothers and sisters, that when God created us, He created us from the dust, and because we came from dust, this is also a good reminder for us not to be proud. The scripture lets us continue to remain grounded, to be humble.

But in spite of the fact that we came from dust, of all God’s creations, He only breathed the breath of the Spirit on man. That’s why we are all so special in the eyes of God. Hence the formulas that are used as we receive the ashes, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

This may lead us to ask the question, what does this challenge us to do today? As we try to reflect on the words that we will be hearing soon, this helps us also understand the call of Lent. The word ASH can also be an acronym.

“A” stands for almsgiving. Our human weakness tells us that we only think of our own needs. Everyone always tells us: Think of yourself first before you think of others; just think of yourself. Our human weakness tells us we are always tempted to be selfish and greedy, to think of ourselves. That is why during the season of Lent we are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, that we belong to one body of Christ. That because we are one body, we need to think of others also. That’s why we are encouraged during the season of Lent to give.

Our gospel today reminds us that when we give, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. There are people who, when they give, just seek to be praised. Of course, that’s not what our gospel tells us. When you give, do it in secret; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This tells us that when we give, our giving must be inspired with true love and brotherhood.

“S” stands for sacrifice. Worldly people will think that suffering, or any form of sacrifice is worthless. Comfort, happiness and physical satisfaction are all they are looking for. And that’s what the world tells us: satisfy your thirst, satisfy your hunger, satisfy your longings. We as Christians are taught that suffering can be valuable if we offer it with the Cross of Christ. Our pains, our problems, sufferings in life can only be meaningful when we learn to unite all our problems and sufferings with the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminded us in the gospel of Saint John, chapter 15, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. That’s true love. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest also reminded us that there is no love when there is no sacrifice. That’s very true. That’s why for us Christians we can only show a genuine love when sacrifice is there.

That’s applicable to anybody that we deal with, even between husbands and wives. You say I love you, honey. I love you, sweetheart. You must be willing to sacrifice, willing to forgive, willing to understand, willing to remember the promises that you made during your wedding day: “I will be with you in good times and in bad.” That’s the promise you made a long time ago that you cannot deny. It’s like saying, “Show me your flaws, and I will not leave you, I will be there, I will be here.” We are bound by the promise that we made not only in front of the community but in front of God, I will not leave you, I will be with you whatever will happen.  That’s one way of showing our sacrifice.

When we give something that hurts us, that is true giving. You should learn to sacrifice yourself. Learn to forget yourself in order to see the needs of others. And that’s a Christlike act.

Lent also encourages us to fast. And when we fast, we fast not only for health reasons or for beauty. That should not be our intention in fasting: I want to be healthy. Brothers and sisters, when we fast or when we sacrifice something, when we don’t eat, when we don’t purchase something, that’s a sacrifice. Our normal thinking will tell us that we save, we don’t purchase something we don’t eat in order for me to save.

But fasting tells us that when we don’t eat, what we don’t eat belongs to the poor. Every time we fast, we should put something aside for the poor and remember those people who have nothing to eat. That’s why, during the season of Lent, we are given the Rice Bowl container, so that every time we fast, we put an amount of money in there. That’s our way of expressing our solidarity, our charity towards poor people.

We don’t only fast, but we also feel how it is to be hungry. Fasting is about giving. Fasting is also an invitation for us to conquer our selfishness. That’s also the main purpose of fasting. It’s a time during the season of Lent to combat our cravings and greed. This is the best time for us to learn to discipline ourselves. To fight against our cravings and our desires.

“H” stands for humility. How do we humble ourselves? The answer is through prayer. Prayer is an act of humility. Someone once said prayer is nothing but a humble acceptance of our total dependence on God. People who pray wholeheartedly are people who realize that apart from God, we are nothing and we can do nothing. That’s why we need to pray, brothers and sisters, because our prayer will make us realize that we are really nothing and we can really do nothing without God.

People who do not pray, even if they don’t say it, are proud because they think that they can survive life without God, that things can be well even without God. That’s where prayer is very important.

Of course, our gospel also today reminds us that when we pray, we don’t pray like the hypocrites, just to win the praise of others. Our intention in praying is to give praise and glory to God. Not to win, not to receive praise from other people. Yes, it is true that we can pray everywhere, we can pray even in our workplace, in the marketplace or wherever we are, but let us always remember that we need to pray in the silence of our hearts. We don’t need to show it to other people that we are praying. Even in our own silence, even in the midst of noise or chaos, we can continue to pray in the silence of our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, let us take the challenge. Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.

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Flawed and Beautiful

February 11, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Compassion, Father Nixon, Healing, Life, Reconciliation

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 11, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 / Ps 32 / 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 / Mk 1:40-45
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The readings for today invite us to reflect on the call to holiness and the transformative power of God’s love in our lives.

In the first reading, from the Book of Leviticus, we encounter the intricate laws given to Moses by God for the purification and healing of those afflicted with leprosy.  Leprosy, a symbol of sin and impurity, isolates individuals from their communities, casting them into the margins of society.  Yet through the compassion of God and the actions of the priest, those suffering from leprosy are offered a path of restoration and reconciliation.  This narrative reminds us that God’s love knows no bounds and extends even to the most marginalized and excluded members of society.  It challenges us to examine our own attitudes toward those who are different from us, and to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.

In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection.  We strive for flawless appearances, impeccable achievements and seamless performances.  Yet, amidst this relentless pursuit of perfection, we often overlook the inherent beauty found in imperfection.

Once in a distant village nestled among rolling hills, there lived a potter, renowned for his exquisite craftsmanship.  His creations were flawless, each vessel bearing the mark of his skill and dedication.  People from far and wide sought his pottery, believing it to be the epitome of perfection.

One day a traveler passing through the village stopped by the potter’s humble workshop.  Intrigued by the tales of the potter’s mastery, the traveler watched intently as the potter skillfully molded clay into elegant shapes.  However, amidst the display of precision, the traveler noticed something peculiar:  a small crack on the surface of a seemingly flawless vase.

Curious, the traveler inquired about the imperfection.  With a serene smile, the potter replied, “Ah, my friend, perfection is an illusion.  It is in the imperfections that true beauty resides.”  He then proceeded to explain that the crack in the vase was not a flaw to be concealed, but a unique feature that added character and depth to the piece.

The potter’s wisdom speaks volumes about our own lives.  We often strive for flawlessness, believing it to be the ultimate measure of success and happiness.  Yet, in our relentless pursuit of perfection, we overlook the beauty found in our imperfections, the cracks and blemishes that make us uniquely human.  Just as the cracked vase held a beauty beyond its flawless counterparts, so, too, do our imperfections enrich our lives.  It is through our struggles, failures, and vulnerabilities that we learn, grow, and connect with others on a deeper level.  Our imperfections are not signs of weakness, but signs of our resilience and capacity for growth.  We just need to offer them to God and allow Him to heal and cleanse us from our blemishes.

In our gospel today, we encounter a powerful demonstration of Jesus’ compassion and healing ministry.  This passage tells the story of a leper who approaches Jesus with humility and faith, seeking to be cleansed of his affliction.  The encounter between Jesus and the leper reveals profound truths about the nature of God’s love and the transformative power of compassion.

The leper, marginalized and shunned by society due to his condition, takes a bold step in approaching Jesus.  Despite the social stigma surrounding leprosy, he approaches Jesus with unwavering faith, believing in His power to heal.  His plea, “If you wish you can make me clean,” reflects both humility and trust in Jesus’ authority.

Moved by compassion, Jesus responds with a gesture that speaks volumes.  He reaches out and touches the leper.  In this simple yet profound act, Jesus not only demonstrates His willingness to heal, but also breaks down the barriers of social and religious exclusion.  By touching the leper, Jesus communicates a message of solidarity and acceptance, affirming the leper’s dignity and worth as a beloved child of God.

The healing of the leper is not merely physical, but also spiritual and emotional.  Through Jesus’ compassionate touch, the leper experiences not only physical restoration, but also reconciliation with God and the community.  He is no longer an outcast, but a restored member of society, free to fully participate in the life of the community once again.

As we reflect on this passage, we are reminded of the profound truth that lies at the heart of Jesus’ ministry:  the transformative power of compassion.  No matter how imperfect we are, no matter how simple we are, Jesus still reaches out to us with compassion and empathy.  He’s ready to make us clean if we reach out to Him.  As He said, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”

Jesus’ compassionate response to the leper also challenges us to examine our own attitudes and actions toward those who are marginalized or excluded in our community.  Do we, like Jesus, reach out to those in need with compassion and empathy?  Do we challenge the social and religious barriers that exclude others and perpetuate injustice?  Are we willing to extend a healing touch, both literal and metaphorical, to those who are hurting and in need of restoration?

So, as we journey through life, may the parable of the potter encourage us to embrace our imperfections with grace and gratitude.  Let us recognize that it is our flaws that make us beautiful, that our scars tell stories of trial over adversity, and that our brokenness is a testament to our strength and resilience.  And may we find solace in the knowledge that, in the eyes of God, we are perfectly imperfect, cherished just as we are.

May the story of Jesus’ encounter with the leper inspire us to embody His compassion in our own lives.  May we reach out to those who are marginalized or excluded, affirming their dignity and worth as beloved children of God.  And may we be agents of healing and reconciliation, in a world that is longing for the transformative power of compassion.

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The True Mission

February 4, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Evangelization, Father Nixon, Healing, Mission, St. Paul, Uncategorized

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 4, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 147 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mk 1:29-39
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The word “apostle” comes from two Greek words that together mean: one who is sent.  Each Christian has an apostolate to follow.  We have been called to evangelize, to be sent out like St. Paul and the twelve apostles, to announce the Good News of the love that God has for us all.

Today in our gospel reading, St. Mark continues his story about the first days of Jesus’ public life.  Mark tells us that Jesus preached in the synagogues, and that upon leaving the synagogues, He drove out many demons.  One day after preaching in a synagogue in Capernaum, the town in which Simon Peter and Andrew lived, Jesus decided to visit their home, together with James and John.  When He arrived, Jesus was told that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.

Jesus immediately decided to cure her.  That was how Jesus’ miracles occurred.  He saw the plight of the people that wanted to be cured, and He cured them.  Jesus approached Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, grasped her hand, and she was cured.  She immediately got out of bed and began to serve Jesus.  This was the way she showed that she was thankful for being cured.

After learning of this occurrence, the townspeople spread the news of the Lord’s miracle.  The news went from home to home, and soon the entire population of the town crowded around the door of the house.  From the surrounding area, people brought all who were sick or possessed by demons.  Jesus cured those who came to Him in faith.  The next day before dawn, Jesus went off to a certain place where He prayed.  Jesus was praying when the apostles arrived to tell Him that everyone was looking for Him.  People who wanted to be cured continued to arrive, but instead of returning to town, Jesus said to the apostles, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come.”  Our Lord’s true mission was to evangelize, to announce to all humanity the Good News of the love that God has for all human beings.

The gospel reading for this Sunday presents a glimpse of Jesus’ ministry, for He not only preached, but also engaged in acts of healing and compassion.  After healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and numerous others, Jesus retreated to pray, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a deep connection with the Father.  He then expressed His mission to preach the Gospel to other towns, underlining the purpose of His coming.  Jesus came to preach.  He came to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God, to invite all humankind to let God reign as king in their hearts and in their lives, to reconcile us with God and with one another.

Much of the sickness, poverty, and suffering that exists in our world is traceable to the disharmony or sin that separates us from God and from one another.  By healing this root cause of all of our problems, we find ourselves in a position to receive God’s abundant blessings in all areas of our lives:  spiritual as well as physical, moral as well as material, social as well as psychological.  But to try to seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God is to miss the point.

In reflecting on the gospel passage, we are invited to consider our own response to the call of discipleship.  Like Jesus, we are called not only to receive His healing and grace, but also to actively participate in the mission of sharing the Good News.  Our faith is not meant to be passive, but dynamic, influencing our actions and interactions with others.

St. Paul invites us in the second reading to follow the example of the Lord to evangelize.  The true mission of all Christians is to proclaim the gospel to a world that needs to hear the word of God.  Our second reading reminds us of what St. Paul said to the Christians of Corinth, that for him, preaching was an obligation.  He did not do it for his own glory or to become rich.  He did not even start to do it on his own initiative.  He had been given a task to do:  to be a missionary of the Word of God, to become all things to all, so that he could save at least some.

St. Paul did not do this without problems, but despite the difficulties, he continued to announce the gospel.  He continued on the mission that he had been given.  If we want to do the same, we have to do as St. Paul did.  Our mission does not end when we walk out of the doors of this church after Sunday Mass.  It continues.

At Baptism, all Christians receive the same mission:  to evangelize within the boundaries of our own lives, every day, whether at school, at work, or in the home, in our words, our example and our way of life.  We are obliged to show that we are Christians, that we follow Christ, and that because we follow Christ, we constantly fight against evil and injustice in this world.  As Jesus’ message spreads to other communities, those people, too, receive His message and consolidate it, nurture it, and allow it to become part of them, abiding deep within them.  The Holy Spirit builds on it, in and through the people who hear and respond to it.

There is so much to be done, so much we can do, so little time to do it.  There are never enough hours in the day, days in the year. We do what we can and keep our eyes on the big picture. We draw strength, inspiration and vision from our prayerful “time-outs” with God to focus our energy, direct our choices, and lead us mindfully through the busy-ness of our days comprised of so many different possibilities and needs.  We can’t do everything.  We are all too aware of our limitations, so we ask the Lord to help us do what we can do, well, with focus, clear priorities, and above all, with love and compassion.

As we continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, let us reflect on the ways we actively participate in the mission of Jesus.  Are we open to being instruments of healing, compassion, and reconciliation in our communities?  Do we recognize the urgency of sharing the Good News in a world that thirsts for hope and meaning?

May we, like Jesus and St. Paul, respond to the call of discipleship with enthusiasm, trusting that God’s grace will empower us to fulfill our mission in the world.  Let us also ask the Virgin Mary to help us to be faithful to the mission that God has given us, just as she was.  And let us thank God for having called us to carry it out.

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The Ultimate Authority

January 28, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Mission, Obedience, Scripture, Trust

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 28, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Dt 18:15-20 / Ps 95 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mk 1:21-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Once, a government surveyor brought his equipment to a farm, called on the farmer, and asked permission to go into one of the fields and take readings.  The farmer vigorously objected, fearing that the survey was the first step toward the construction of a highway through his land. “I will not give permission to go into my fields,” said the angry farmer. Whereupon the surveyor produced an official government document that authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter into any field in the entire country and take necessary readings.”

Faced with such authority, the farmer opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter the field. The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the raging bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and ran for his life.  The farmer shouted after him, “Show him the paper! Show him your authority!”   Yes, the unfortunate surveyor has the authority, but the farmer’s bull has more convincing power.

Brothers and sisters, the same can be said about the gospel we preach and teach. The people of Capernaum received sacred instruction in their synagogue every Sabbath.  One Sabbath they had a different teacher, Jesus.  What Jesus taught them that day, as well as the way He presented and demonstrated His message, simply astonished them. Why?  It is because He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus’ teaching contrasted sharply with that of the scribes. In one word: Jesus taught with authority. The scribes did not.

Jesus astonished the people around Him for three big reasons. First, the teaching of Jesus is from the heart and not just from the head. He teaches with absolute conviction in his message, because He knows that His message is in accordance with the mind of God.  As He says in the gospel of St. John, when trying to persuade His unbelieving audience, “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.” His preaching is a personal testimony of His intimate relationship with God, His Father, unlike the scribes. They got their knowledge, not from their personal communion with God, but from their long and intricate commentaries on the law. As a result, most of their teaching is from the head and not from the heart.

If we claim to have faith in Christ, it is essential that we must listen to Him. We need to open ourselves to His wisdom and authority. The bottom line is not to take His teachings on the level of theories and ideas. Rather we must situate it into our faith life experience. For faith, devoid of practical action, is empty.  Theology without praxis is nothing. Knowledge waning in application is useless.

Second, it focuses on the spirit, and not on the letter of the law.  The scribe seeks to apply the prescription of the law to the letter. Jesus goes deeper, to find out the spirit, the original intent of the law, like for example, the law of the Sabbath observance. The scribes would busy themselves trying to determine precisely when the Sabbath begins and ends, and what constitutes work and what does not. Jesus would rather seek the mind of God, who gave the law to His people as an expression of His fatherly care and love.  His conclusion is that the Sabbath is a day we keep away from our work in order to serve God and do God’s work.

Lastly, it inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers, and not just to make the people feel bad. Like, for example, the man born blind.  The scribe seeks to explain why he is blind: whether it was he who sinned, or his parents. Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in curing the blindness. For this reason, Jesus performed healings and exorcisms together with His teachings to show that His primary concern is to change the human situation and not just to explain it.

These are the three big reasons why people get astonished with Jesus: He teaches from the heart and not just from the head. He focuses on the spirit and not on the letter of the law. And he inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers.

There was an Indian prince who was a lover of knowledge. He had collected thousands of books in his large library. It happened that he was appointed the right hand of the king.  This position demanded that he travel almost always, in the kingdom’s vast territory and neighboring kingdoms, to represent the king. He brought along with him his books; thirty camels were needed to carry them.

Realizing the impracticality of loading all the books, he said to his chancellor, “Read all the books and then give to me the only book that is most important for my journey.”  After some time, the chancellor gave to the prince the book that summarized all the wisdom of the world. It was the Bible.  The prince asked, “What authority does this book have for it to be the only one that I should carry with me? Whereupon the chancellor replied, “It is the authority of the Son of God.” Shortly afterwards, the prince was baptized.

Brothers and sisters, we witness Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue with a profound authority that astounds the people. The crowd is amazed, not just by His words, but by the power with which He speaks. His authority is not like that of the scribes but comes from a deeper source. It is the authority of the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh.

As we reflect on this gospel passage, we are invited to examine our own lives and consider who or what holds authority over us. Do we recognize Jesus as the ultimate authority in our life, or are we swayed by the many competing voices in the world?

Jesus’ authority is not oppressive, but liberating. It brings healing, freedom, and a deeper understanding of God’s love.

In our daily lives, we may encounter challenges and struggles that test our faith. The authority of Jesus is a source of strength and hope during these times. When we submit to His authority, we open ourselves to the transformative power of His love and mercy.

So, as we continue to celebrate the Holy Mass, may we take a moment to reflect on the authority we recognize and submit to.  Let us renew our commitment to follow Jesus, allowing His authority to shape our thoughts, words, and deeds. In doing so, we embrace the freedom and joy that come from being in communion with the One who has authority over all creation.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Answer the Call

January 21, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Mission, Obedience, Uncategorized

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 21, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10 / Ps 25 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mk 1:14-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is a story about a despondent man who came to his mother and said, “Mom, I’ve stopped going to church, for two reasons.   First, I don’t like the people and second, the people don’t like me.”  And the mother looked at him and said, “My son, you should go back to church for two reasons.  First, you are already fifty-nine years old and second, you are the pastor!”

But, brothers and sisters, as we reflect on the readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are invited to ponder the profound concept of Divine Calling.  In the gospel, we witnessed the pivotal moment when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to become fishers of men.  This summons, with its immediacy and simplicity, carries timeless significance for each of us.  The gospel narrative unfolds with a sense of urgency, mirroring the immediacy of Jesus’ call.

In our own lives, we may hear the echoes of that same call, urging us to respond promptly and wholeheartedly to the divine invitation.  Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, to follow Him with courage and conviction.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John provide us with inspiring models of immediate obedience.  Without hesitation they leave their nets and professions in order to follow Jesus.  Their response challenges us to examine our own readiness to abandon whatever may be holding us back from fully embracing our calling.

The metaphor of fishers of men calls us to engage actively in the mission of spreading God’s love and compassion.  We are called not merely to catch fish, but to cultivate relationships, to cast the net of love and inclusion.  This mission beckons us to be present in our communities, reaching out to those who may be lost or in need of hope and help.

A story was told about a pious Christian lady who had to do a lot of traveling for her business, so she did a lot of flying.  But flying made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along with her to read, and it helped her to relax.  One day she was sitting next to a man who didn’t believe in God.  When he saw her pull out her Bible, he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing.  After a while, he turned to her and asked, “Do you really believe all the stuff in there?”  The lady replied, “Of course I do.  It’s the Bible – the Word of God.”   The man said, “Well, what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?”  She replied, “Oh. Jonah.  Yes, I believe that.  The Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and I believe it, and if it had said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, I would believe that too.”  The man laughed and asked, “Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?”  The lady answered, “Well, I don’t really know, but I guess when I get to heaven, I will ask him.”  “What if he is not in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically.  “Then you can ask him when you reach hell,” the lady replied.

Brothers and sisters, in the first reading, we encountered Jonah’s mission to Ninevah.  Here, too, we witnessed the transformative power of responding to God’s call.  The people of Ninevah heed Jonah’s warning and repent.  This reminds us that our response to God’s call can have a profound impact, not only on our lives, but on the lives of those around us.

In fact, the entire readings of today’s liturgy emphasize the absolute need for total repentance and our immediate need for a quick and prompt response to God’s invitation to repentance.  Whereby, we face God’s wrath of perpetual destruction in hellfire should we ever play down the entire content of divine revelation, seeking our redress as portrayed in the funny response of the pious traveler to the atheist in the story.

In the second reading, St. Paul orders the Corinthian Church to waste no time in embracing the message of the Good News and in renewing their lives with repentance.  Whereas, the gospel reading describes the summary of Jesus’ preaching, “Repent, and believe in the Good News.”  It also describes how Jesus called His first set of disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, and John, which portrays how we sinners need to respond to God’s call with total commitment by abandoning our accustomed style of sinful life.

Today’s readings are all rather extraordinary.  Each of them shows an immediate and wonderful response.  First Jonah preaches, and the Ninevites surprisingly repent and change immediately.  Then Paul calls upon everyone to live in the immediate moment, for the day of the Lord is imminent.  Then Jesus calls His disciples, and they leave immediately.

Jesus’ call is offering a whole new world, a new vision and a new set of relationships.  The values of the Gospel are revealed in their fullness.  If the disciples had paused and thought about what they were doing, they could have dreamed up heaps of reasons why they should not go – their business, their insecurities, and so on.  They did not let these things get in the way.

Thank goodness they responded to the call straightaway.  This is not encouraging recklessness, because surely Jesus called people after a lot of prayer and discernment, and He called disciples whom He had observed were already living in the way that showed their longing for the value of the Kingdom to be established in its fullness. Along comes Jesus and He says, “The time has arrived.  Come, follow me.”  And they do – immediately.  It is what they had been waiting for.

In our lives, brothers and sisters, Jesus calls each one of us in big and small ways.  In the daily events of life, in our words, actions, and priorities, let us respond immediately and with trust.  As we reflect on the readings today, let us prayerfully consider the nature of God’s call in our lives.  Are we attuned to His voice?  Are we ready to leave behind our nets and respond with unwavering trust?  May the example of the first disciples inspire us to embrace our calling with joy and purpose, recognizing that in our response lies the potential for transformation, both for ourselves and for the world.

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The Invitation

January 14, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Evangelization, Father Nixon, Obedience, Service

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 14, 2024 — Year B
Readings: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19 / Ps 40 / 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20 / Jn 1:35-42
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

As we gather on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the readings invite us to contemplate the significance of responding to God’s call and recognizing Jesus as the Lamb of God. The scriptures today beckon us to explore the depths of our own hearts considering how we, like the disciples of old, respond when God calls us. How often do we pause in the midst of our busy lives to discern God’s voice, to recognize His call amidst the noise of the world?

In the first reading Samuel hears the voice of God calling him in the night. Initially he mistakes the call for that of Eli, his mentor and priest. However, as he discerns the voice, Samuel realizes it is the Lord reaching out to him.

Just like in our lives, too, God’s call may sometimes be subtle, easily mistaken for the familiar voices around us. Samuel’s response echoes the sentiment of recognizing and responding to God’s call. Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.

The psalmist declares the simple, yet profound statement that encapsulates the essence of discipleship; a readiness to align our will with God’s will, a willingness to respond to His call with a resounding “yes.” It challenges us to examine our own hearts and ask if we are truly open to doing the will of God even when it diverges from our plans and desires in life.

In the gospel reading, we encountered the scene of Jesus being identified as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist. Two disciples, upon hearing this proclamation, decide to follow Jesus. When Jesus turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?” it prompts us to reflect on our own motivations for seeking Him. Are we following Jesus merely for personal gain, or are we sincerely seeking the transformative encounter that comes with recognizing him as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world?

We are presented with a powerful narrative that invites us to reflect on the transformative nature of encountering Jesus and responding to His invitation. This passage unfolds with the testimony of John the Baptist, as he points out Jesus to his disciples, setting in motion a series of events that revealed the depth of discipleship.

“Rabbi where are you staying?” they asked Jesus. It’s a simple yet profound inquiry. In their question lies the recognition that Jesus is more than just a passing figure. He’s someone worth knowing intimately, understanding where He abides and by extension, where He invites them to dwell.

Jesus responds with an invitation that reverberates through the ages, “Come and you will see.” These words encapsulate the essence of discipleship. An invitation to experience, to witness, to dwell in the presence of the One who is the source of life and love. It is an invitation not just to observe from a distance, but to engage personally and intimately with the teacher.

The disciples accept the invitation, and what follows is a transformative encounter. They spend time with Jesus, learning from Him, experiencing His presence, and allowing their lives to be shaped by His teachings. One of the disciples, Andrew, is so moved by this encounter that he seeks out his brother Simon and declares, “We have found the Messiah!” It is a powerful passage.

We find an invitation echoed throughout the ages. Jesus is calling each of us to come and see, to experience His transformative presence. It prompts us to ask ourselves, have we, like the disciples, responded to the call to seek Jesus, to dwell in His presence, and to witness the depth of His teachings?

Moreover, the passage challenges us to be like Andrew, sharing the good news of our encounter with Jesus with others. In our daily lives, are we actively inviting those around us to come and see, to experience the life-changing presence of the Messiah?

Jesus calls us to the primary vocation of being servants and disciples of Christ in our daily lives and work. We achieve this by staying very close to Jesus in prayer, in scripture reflection, in reading about the teachings of Christ, in worshipping regularly, in union with the Christian community, and learning from the teachings of the Church. Christ must live in and with us as we with Him. It is a deep and wonderful connection that we are invited into. Each one of us today is called by Jesus and our response like Samuel’s is, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

Just as Jesus received opposition, misunderstanding, and rejection, so too, can we expect this for Christ’s Church, but we keep persisting in this life-giving message. Inspired by today’s second reading, we recognize that Christ and His Church have a rather powerful and different view of the human person and the human body than do some sectors of the world.

Saint Paul sums up this gospel understanding, “You know surely that your bodies are members making up the body of Christ. Anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, since you received Him from God. You are not your own property. You’ve been bought and paid for by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.”

At its essence, this is extremely positive and encouraging teaching. To put ourselves — mind, body and spirit — at the service of God and God’s vision, our lives are to be lived with intention, not so much rights, but responsibilities.

As we continue our Mass today, let us open our hearts to the invitation of Jesus. Let us respond with a sincere desire to dwell in His presence, to learn from Him, and to share the transformative power of encountering the Lamb of God with those around us. May this passage inspire us to be not just followers at a distance, but active participants in the journey of discipleship guided by the teachings of our Rabbi Jesus Christ. In the ordinary moments of our lives, may we find the extraordinary grace to recognize and respond to God’s call. Let us embrace the invitation to follow Jesus, the Lamb of God, with sincerity and openness, trusting that in doing so, we will discover the abundant life He promises to those who respond with faith and love. May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Family Love

December 31, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Christmas, Family, Father Nixon, Love, Mary, St. Joseph

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
December 31, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 / Ps 128 / Col 3:12-21 / Lk 2:22-40
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Our readings today from Sirach, Colossians, and Luke present a harmonious theme that revolves around the dynamics of family, relationships, and the virtues that foster a harmonious and godly life.

In Sirach, we are reminded of the honor and respect due to parents. The call to honor your father and mother is not just a cultural or societal norm but is deeply embedded in the divine order. It reflects a recognition of the role parents play in our lives and the wisdom they can impart. The passage also emphasizes the importance of kindness, which extends beyond familial relationships to the broader community.

The letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians provides a practical guide for Christian living within the context of family and community. The virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness are highlighted as essential for maintaining the unity and peace of the Christian community. Above all, the apostle Paul underscores the central role of love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The passage challenges us to live out our faith not only in public worship, but also in the intimate spaces of our homes and relationships.

The gospel reading from Luke introduces the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the devout figures of Simeon and Anna. Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, recognizes Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise and a light for all nations. Anna the prophetess adds her voice to the praise and thanksgiving. This encounter in the temple symbolizes the dedication of the Holy Family to God’s plan and the broader significance of Jesus’ mission for all people.

As we continue our journey through Christmas season, this feast of the Holy Family is an important celebration straight after the feast of the Nativity of the Lord and within the octave of Christmas.

There is a story of a man who tried to follow in the footsteps of Santa Claus by giving out gifts to strangers every Christmas. When asked why he wanted to be like Santa, he said, “I grew up in an orphanage. Every Christmas I visit homes and hand out gifts to children and adults alike with the hope that I would eventually find my parents, meet my family, or at least touch the hearts of other families.”

At this time of the year, we give sincere thanks for the love, nurturing, and support that our family can give us, and the love, example, and intersection that the Holy Family gives us on our journey through life. We think of our parents’ and family’s countless acts of kindness, love, and sacrifices. When we were young, we probably didn’t appreciate the scale of it all. When we get older and have our own families or watch with admiration our brothers and sisters and friends raising their own families, we start to appreciate what our parents must have given and sacrificed out of love, and we are truly grateful for this.

We are also very mindful of people whose family life has been extremely difficult, and who did not have that support that others take for granted. That is, not everyone in this world has been blessed with an unconditionally loving and accepting family who support one another.

We give thanks to mentors and all people who have been good role models and sources of care and protection for the young. These people have been family to others, beyond the ties of blood. We keep in mind currently families worldwide who’ve had it really tough this year, perhaps due to illness, distance, separation, financial hardship, and worries.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the patron saints supporting each other and sticking together when everything is going wrong around them. For example, when we look closely at the very first Christmas, we quickly see that life for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was anything but smooth sailing.

The joy and hope of this celebration comes from the fact that God came into our world and made a home with us when everything was going badly for the world. The first Christmas came at a time of incredible unrest for the people of Israel who were suffering under the foreign domination of a pagan empire. They had values quite opposed to and different from many of the sacred religious values of the Jewish people.

Mary and Joseph are forced to take a terribly difficult trip to Bethlehem when Mary is imminently due to give birth. This would have been a difficult trip at the best of times, but it must have been extremely difficult for an expectant mother at the end of her term. They arrive at their ancestral hometown, and there is nowhere to stay. They are forced to sleep in a barn, and Mary gives birth to a baby surrounded by animals. The baby is placed in a food trough where the animals normally eat. The shepherds, some of the poorest and lowest outcasts in society, are the first to hear about the birth and come to pay their respects.

Mary and Joseph also had countless incidents when they had just to trust in what God was doing and all the while were plunged into confusion about what it all meant. They trusted in God and supported each other especially when things were unclear and did not make any sense to them, and this made all the difference.

The celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph offers a poignant moment to reflect on the significance of family life and the virtues exemplified by the Holy Family. In contemplating the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we find a model for love, unity, and faithfulness that resonates across the ages. At the heart of the Holy Family is a profound sense of love and sacrificial service.

Joseph’s unwavering commitment to Mary and Jesus, even in the face of uncertainty and challenges, speaks to the strength that comes from selfless love. In Mary, we see a mother who treasured and pondered the mysteries of her son’s life, embodying the qualities of contemplation and deep faith. Jesus, the son of God, chose to enter the human experience, growing up within the embrace of a human family.

This feast invites us to consider the sacredness of our own families and the responsibilities that come with it. In a world that sometimes seems to devalue the institution of the family, the Holy Family stands as a beacon of hope, and a reminder of the importance of cultivating love, respect, and unity within our own home.

As we reflect on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph we are called to strengthen the bonds of love within our families, to prioritize faith in the face of challenges, and to embrace the sacredness of the family unit. Whether our families are nuclear or extended, biological or spiritual, the virtues embodied by the Holy Family of love, trust, and faithfulness, serve as a timeless guide for building strong and resilient families that reflect the love of God in our world.

May the Holy Family inspire us to cultivate holiness within our homes and to be a source of light and love for others. In a world often marked by division and discord, these readings offer a counter narrative of unity, love, and mutual support within the family and the Christian community. They challenge us to embody the virtues of Christ in our daily interactions, extending compassion and forgiveness to those closest to us and to the wider circle of humanity. As we celebrate the Holy Family, we strive to emulate their virtues, creating homes and communities that reflect the love and harmony of God’s Kingdom. The Holy Family is our inspiration and prayerful support.

At this fifth day within the Christmas season, we give sincere and heartfelt thanks for family, and the support and strength we can give each other along life’s long journey with all these joys and sorrows, graces, and temptations. Holy Family of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, pray for us. May Jesus Christ be praised.

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He Is in Our Midst

December 17, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Father Nixon, Joy, Sacraments, Scripture

Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 61:1-2A, 10-11 / Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 / 1 Thes 5:16-24 / Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The Third Sunday of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  The readings for this Sunday focus on the theme of joy.  Isaiah proclaims a message of good news and glad tidings.  Our second reading encourages us to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.  Then John in the gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Advent is a time during which we prepare for the coming of the Lord.  He is coming to us sacramentally at Christmas.  He is coming to us individually at the end of our lives.  He is coming to us collectively at the end of time.

Now suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us.  What difference would it make?  Here is a story of the enormous difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as communities.

A certain monastery discovered that it was going through a crisis.  Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to.  The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed, and bitter in their relationship with one another.

The abbot heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods, and decided to consult him.  He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and looked like a skeleton of what it used to be.  Only seven old monks remained.  The hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him.  The secret was that one of the monks presently living at the monastery was actually the Messiah, but that He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.

With this revelation, the abbot returned to the monastery, summoned a community meeting and recounted what the hermit had told him.  The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ.  Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time?  But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others.  Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help?  But he’s always eating and drinking and cannot fast.

The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging His true identity.  This only made them more confused and they could not make any headway in figuring out who was the Christ among them.  At the end of the meeting, what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ.

From that day on, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be the very Christ.  They began to show more love for one another.  Their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent.  Slowly, people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction.  Word began to spread, and soon candidates began to show up. The monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness.  All of this came about because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  John tells them, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.  I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

The reason why today we would not be able to recognize Jesus as our Lord and Messiah is because, like the Jews in Jesus’ time, we have definite ideas about how the Messiah is going to come.  For the Jews, the Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel.  No one would know where He came from, humanly speaking, because He came from God (John 7:27).  When finally, Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him.  He was too ordinary and unimpressive.

Since then, God has continually reached out toward us, but we resist His coming by hiding in layers of distractions.  Christ wants to speak to us in the silence of prayer, but we drown His voice with noise from televisions and cell phones.  Christ wants to talk to us through His words.  Hearing God’s word on Sundays is not like listening to a TV recording being played.  When God’s word is proclaimed, it enlightens our minds on what to do.  It challenges us and tests our wills and moves and inspires our hearts.

He comes in the sacraments, especially in those of the Eucharist and Confession.  As Christians, we may recognize the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments.  We may also recognize Him in our fellow human beings, especially among the poor, the marginalized, those who have no voice in society.  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did this to Me.”

There are other ways in which God comes to our lives.  The list includes events, both good and bad, people we encounter daily, the beauty of nature, books, plays, and movies that have cultural and Christian values.  The season of Advent is a time for us to get in tune with all of the ways in which Christ comes, so that when He comes at Christmas, we will be ready to recognize Him, regardless of the form in which He chooses to appear.

As Angelus Silesius said, “Do not seek God in outer space. Your heart is the only place in which to meet Him face to face.”  This Sunday we are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  We can do this by living in joy, by praying without ceasing, and by reflecting on the mystery of the incarnation.  As we prepare for the Lord, let us also remember those who are in need.  We can show our love for our neighbors by reaching out to those who are suffering and by working to create a more just and compassionate world.

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