Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a / Ps 23 / Eph 5:8-14 / Jn 9:1-41
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Our gospel today is about a man who was born blind. What a privilege for the blind man to have met Jesus and be healed by Him! What a privilege for him to have Jesus touch his eyes and bring him sight! Yet who would think that a paste of clay put on one’s eyes and then washing in the Pool of Siloam would restore the blind man’s sight? But Jesus worked through clay and water. Jesus used ordinary elements around us in nature to convey his healing power. Jesus gave the gift of sight by using matter. The blind man could feel the paste of clay on his eyes; he could feel Jesus touching his eyes; he could hear Jesus. He could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
In the first reading God works in a similar way. Samuel, under instructions from God, anointed David with oil, and when he did so, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. In the first reading and gospel, God’s power and healing were conveyed through elements of nature applied to the body and were conveyed through matter.
So, when Jesus comes to us, how does He come? Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly through His sacrament. Just as the Holy Spirit came mightily upon David when he was anointed with oil by Samuel, and just as Jesus used matter of clay and water for the healing of the blind man, Jesus comes to us in each sacrament with matter used together with prayer, and we call the prayer “the form.” So the matter and form of every sacrament is the visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly, but powerfully, in the sacrament.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, the matter is water, which is poured over the head to baptize and symbolizes washing. And the form is that the priest will say the name of the person or the baby, and then continue by saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which is prayed at the same time as the water is poured.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the matter is the bishop using his thumb to anoint the forehead with Oil of Chrism. And the form is that he says the name of the person and says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the matter is bread made from wheat and wine fermented from grapes. The form is the words of the Consecration at Mass over the bread and wine. “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the matter is not something that we can see as in the other Sacraments, or something that touches our senses. Instead, it is our sorrow and repentance and the penance we perform after receiving the absolution. The form is the words of absolution prayed over us by the priest, which conclude, “And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father (the priest makes the sign of the cross), and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the matter is the anointing with the Oil of the Sick on the forehead and on the palms of the hands. The form is a prayer prayed by the priest at the same time, when he says, “Through this Holy Anointing, may the Lord, in His love and mercy, help you through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then he anoints the forehead, and he continues by saying, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” Then he anoints the palms.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in which deacons, priests, and bishops are ordained, the matter is the laying on of hands by the bishop on the head of the man being ordained. The form, the prayer of consecration immediately following the laying on of hands, differs on whether it is a deacon, priest, or bishop who is being ordained.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the matter and form of the Sacrament is the mutual self-giving and self-acceptance by the couple as they hold each other’s right hand.
When David was chosen by God as King, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him when he was anointed by Samuel with oil. When the blind man was healed by Jesus, the healing of Jesus came to him through being anointed with a paste of clay and washed in the Pool of Siloam. He could feel the paste of clay on his eyes, he could feel Jesus touching his eyes, he could hear Jesus, he could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us by touching our senses, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly in these sacraments. Who would think that anointing with oil would be the signal for the spirit of the Lord to fall mightily on David? Who would think that anointing with a paste of clay and washing would restore sight?
But God uses ordinary elements of nature to convey His power and healing to us in the sacraments, and in every sacrament, Jesus comes to us invisibly, but powerfully. So, as you receive the sacraments, you hear Jesus and Jesus touches you. Jesus touched the blind man and Jesus touches you when you receive the sacraments.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Gn 12:1-4a / Ps 33 / 2 Tm 1:8b-10 / Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Our gospel today talks about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, or Mount Hebron. Since the fifth century, every August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the Second Sunday of Lent each year is also called Transfiguration Sunday.
Because the gospel talks about this great event in the life of Jesus Christ, and His three disciples, Peter, James, and John, were witnesses to it, we can say the main purpose of Christ’s Transfiguration was to prepare the apostles for the events of Holy Week, when Jesus Christ sacrificed, died, and was nailed on the cross because of His great love for each one of us. In other words, He prepared them for His upcoming suffering.
On the mountain, Peter, James and John saw that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. During the Transfiguration, they get a glimpse of the future glory of Jesus’ resurrection.
And like them, we, too, get glimpses of the presence of God in our lives. We get glimpses of God in the love we receive from other people. We get glimpses of God when badly needed help suddenly comes to us from out of nowhere. We get glimpses of God when we look back over our lives, and what we couldn’t understand in the past makes sense now. We see glimpses of God in the beauty of a fine day, a nice beach, a beautiful sunrise or sunset. We see glimpses of God when a passage from the Bible or a homily strikes a chord in our hearts. We get a glimpse of God when we spend time in prayer and experience the loving presence of God in our lives. We get more than just a glimpse of God when we receive the body of Jesus in Holy Communion. The Transfiguration, coming early in Lent, encourages us to continue our Lenten penances, because it reminds us of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead.
When Jesus and the disciples came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Of course, they didn’t know what He meant. Unknown to them was that the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration was preparing them to accept the scandal of the cross. They would understand this only afterwards when looking back.
Brothers and Sisters, the good times take us through the bad times. So, when our cross is heavy, or we are tempted to despair about the meaning of life, let us look beyond the pain of the present moment and remember those times when we got glimpses of God, those times when God sent us His consolation. Let us look beyond the pain of life and see the presence of God in our world and the offer of life that God wants to make to each of us. Let us look beyond the illusion of happiness that this life offers to the real happiness that God offers us. Let us look beyond this world to eternal life with God.
In our first reading, we heard Abram being called by God to leave his present place and go to a new country. He was seventy-five when called to leave his old country but had to wait another twenty-five years for the promised son, Isaac, to be born, so that the promise of future descendants could be fulfilled. That was a long wait. It was a long time for him to be continually looking beyond the present to the promise of God. With faith, we can see what we cannot see with our eyes.
On the mountain, Peter, James and John looked beyond the appearance of Jesus and saw His future risen glory. Let us look beyond and see that God is really with us. God has not left us on our own. God is with us.
The Transfiguration of Jesus in our gospel was not just about Jesus. It was a vision of the glorious future to which we are all called. We encounter problems and negativities, and we get hurt going through life. Then we have the choice either to say negative things, or we can choose to remember who we really are: brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of God since Baptism, and that the glory of the Transfigured Jesus awaits each of us.
We can choose to think in negative ways, or to remember the encouragement we receive in sacred scripture. In his first letter, John writes, “We are already children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that, when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He really is. We shall be like Him.”
The glory of the Transfigured Jesus is awaiting each of us, thanks to our Baptism. So then for one who believes, there is no room for negative thinking. We will be tempted to think negatively because of the events that occur to us, but let us not forget our dignity, no matter what happens, and no matter what others think of us or say to us.
The second reading today also gives us an insight into what God has destined for us. It says, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to His own design, and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.…” God’s grace was granted to us before the beginning of time. Imagine: Since the beginning of time, God had you in His plan and had His grace planned for you. Since the beginning of time, God planned to transform us through His son, Jesus.
The disciples who experienced Jesus’ Transfiguration had to come down the mountain and return to normality, but they remembered the Transfiguration. Like them, we live in normality, but we believe, and know, that God has destined great things for us. We say the Transfiguration prepared the disciples for the scandal of the cross. Celebrating Jesus’ Transfiguration early in Lent reminds us of what comes after the cross, because it reminds us of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead. In our worst moments of pain, may we not think negatively, but remember the encouragement we receive in sacred scripture, and that God has destined the glory of the Transfiguration for each of us in the next life.KEEP READING
February 22, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Our gospel today reminds us of the three traditional gestures, or balances, so that we can enter into the spirit of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This also helps us to prepare for the suffering and death and resurrection of Our Lord, who is the source of our salvation.
Today the Church asks us also to fast and abstain. Fasting is a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food and drink. This is applicable to ages fifteen to fifty-nine. Abstinence refers to refraining from certain kinds of food or drink, like meat or those cravings or those foods that we like to eat every day. This applies to ages fourteen and above.
Why, brothers and sisters, does the Church ask us to fast and eat only one full meal today and on Good Friday? (Fasting is only for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) We don’t fast in order to save money or to lessen our expenses.
First, we fast so that what we gather or what we collect we can share with the hungry. Sanctifying ourselves has to do with tenderness and compassion for the poor and the needy. Our penance has a social dimension, so that we can be in solidarity with others who are hungry.
Second, we fast because we are hoping that we experience physical hunger, so that it will awaken in us a deeper level of hunger. What is that deeper hunger? It is the hunger for God, hunger and thirst for God.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters observe fasting, which they call Ramadan. It is said that, when they are at the height of their hunger because of long fasting, that is the time when they read the Koran, their holy book. They believe that, when the body is very hungry, it is open to receive God.
The same thing with us. When we feel hunger, it awakens the deeper hunger that we have: our hunger for God. This hunger of ours for the Lord will bring us to our brothers and sisters who are hungry because of poverty.
In our first reading, the prophet Joel tells us that God, the Lord, is gracious and merciful. In our second reading, Paul reminds us that we are God’s coworkers, and he urges us not to receive God’s grace in vain. Connecting the meaning of the two readings, they tell us that the mercy that the Lord has given us, we will need to share with others.
How can we keep our penance and our compassion from making us sad people, because doing our penance or showing an act of compassion can be a very challenging thing?
Fasting is not only for food but also for our bad habits. Yes, it is true that every one of us here has our favorite food, but we also have our favorite sins. During the season of Lent, we’re invited to avoid these sins by denying ourselves, by controlling our desires and cravings.
Going back to the question, how can we keep a happy heart even if we deny ourselves? A spiritual writer said: “We can be happy even with our sacrifices and self-denial if we put emphasis on what we say ‘yes’ to, not to what we say ‘no’ to.” If we focus more on what we say ‘yes’ to, that makes us happy.
If we want to be happy in all our sacrifices, we need to focus on the reasons why we say ‘yes.’ For example, as parents, your ‘yes’ to your children is “I want my children to be successful, and that’s my commitment, that’s my ‘yes.’ But that ‘yes’ has a payment. It involves a lot of sacrifices. That’s why, in order for my children to succeed, I must work hard. Sometimes I work overtime. When I get my salary, I will take good care of it, and I will not waste it on my vices.”
That’s a big sacrifice on the part of the parents. They work so hard, even if they are tired. They continue to work overtime because of their love for their children, because they have that vision, they have that ‘yes’ that “I want a good future for my children. That’s a big sacrifice and it is meaningful for me, as a parent, and that’s what makes my heart joyful.”
So, brothers and sisters, we focus our commitment on saying ‘yes,’ because if we do that, we can be closer to the Lord. Our penance, every time we celebrate the season of Lent, is to be closer to the Lord and closer to the poor and those who need our help.
Saint John Paul II said, “The deepest fulfillment of every human person is in the giving of self.” Who can do this? Who can give their selves to others? Only those people who are hungry and thirsty for God.KEEP READING
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 3:16-23 / Mt 5:38-48
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Late one night, a cheerful truck driver pulled up to a roadside café for some refreshment. As he was eating, three wild-looking motorcyclists rode up to the café’s entrance. The atmosphere became tense as they walked in wearing dirty leather jackets and tattoos.
Immediately they picked out the truck driver as the target of their meanness. One poured salt and pepper into his coffee. Another took his apple pie, placed it on the floor, and squeezed it under his dirty boot. The third overturned his coffee, causing it to spill into his lap. The truck driver said not a word. He merely stood up, walked slowly to the cashier, calmly paid his check, and left.
“That guy isn’t much of a fighter, is he?” sneered one of the motorcyclists. The waiter behind the counter peered out into the night and replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t seem to be much of a driver either. He just ran his truck over three motorcycles.”
Brothers and sisters, in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Offer no assistance to one who is evil.” (Mt 5:39). He is really a good teacher, because He goes on to give an example of what He means. He says, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
During the time of Jesus, Roman soldiers controlled Palestine, and they had life and death power over Jewish citizens. In other words, Roman officers could commandeer Jewish citizens and could order them to carry some objects for a distance – one mile for example. In other words, as Christians, we are expected to do more, to do extra, to go beyond our human transactions.
The Code of Hammurabi that existed between 1793 and 1750 BC, expressed the law of retaliation which we heard a while ago, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the very first verse of our gospel, Matthew 5:38, which was not a command to do violence, but to set limits on giving vengeance for an offense. The debtor must pay his debts, but the creditor must never ask for more than the amount involved. Payment for one’s misdeeds must be in the same measure – no more, no less. In other words, before Jesus Christ, this precept was a law of mercy.
For example, if one of your friends knocked out one of your teeth, you could retaliate by knocking out one of his. If someone struck you in the eye, you could return the strike, but no more than one eye. But Jesus did not like this law and presents a real challenge – love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
Why? It is because Christians are expected to do more. A bishop once said: To love those who you know as friends is not extra. To give to those who have given you in return is not more. To work because you are paid a salary is not beyond. To give in order to be given in return in the form of honor, praise, or promotion is not extra. All this – friendship, salary, honor, praise, and promotion, are ordinary human grounds of transactions. Everybody, even pagans and bad people, do this.
Jesus also adds to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Whether we like it or not, we like to return evil for evil. We are like a rubber band; you stretch it hard and once it snaps, it stings. Gandhi said that if we take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then the world would be filled with blind and toothless people. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it is said that if the moneylender Shylock were to be allowed to cut a pound of flesh from the body of Antonio, who failed to repay him, what would become of us, but a walking bone.
The Divine Counsel, however, tells us to return good for evil. In fact, St. Paul reminds us to conquer evil by our good deeds.
Just like what a mother said to a priest after Mass, “Father, we were late for Mass because on our way to church, we were robbed inside the bus. There were six of us, and four young robbers pulled knives on us.” Expressing concern, the priest asked, “Are you all right? What can I do to be a help to you? Do you still have money for your fare back to your home?” She replied, “We are a bit shaken, but we are OK, Father. I was able to hide enough money for our fare.
“But I want to make a request. You see, I was touched by your gospel reflections about the man who was robbed, and a Good Samaritan came to help. If you really want to be of help, in your next Mass, please pray for the young men who held us up.” The priest was shocked because he was praying for kind and loving people most of the time, for sick persons, etc., but never in his life had the priest prayed for robbers. If he would not pray, who would pray for them?
What Jesus said is a challenge to all of us. But why do we have to love even our enemies and not hate them instead? It is because first and foremost it is extra and more. To love those who are not lovable, to give to those who cannot give in return, to serve those who cannot serve in return, and to forgive even our enemies.
The other reason is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our vocation as humans is to resemble our Father in Heaven.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Pierre Charles, the son of St. Ignatius of Loyola once asked, “How can I see Christ if I do not see Him in Christians?”
Also, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once wrote, “If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed?”
What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers, depending on whom you ask. Possible answers might include mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc.
Jesus said to us in today’s gospel, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Both salt and light are indispensable in our daily lives. Without them, we have major problems. We use salt to prepare delicious meals, and we rely on light to go about our normal activities. These two, salt and light, symbolize how we act and live as Christians in the world, to others, and also to ourselves.
Jesus did not say, “You should be…” or “You have to be like…” He said, “You are.” This is already the nature and the characteristic of a Christian. That is, to give good examples to somebody, so that, as the gospel says, “They may see your goodness.” They will see the goodness in your acts and they will give praise to your Heavenly Father, and not to your own self.
That is why, when I say something nice, or I say I appreciate someone, they respond to me, “Praise be to God, Father.” That really humbles me. Yes, we are so proud if someone praises us, and that is normal, but let these praises lead us to pray, praise, and thank God, who is the giver and author of all real talents and abilities.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says to His disciples, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) But elsewhere in John 8:12, Jesus says of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” So, who, then, is the light of the world, Jesus or His followers? This apparent contradiction can be solved by another passage in John 9:5, where Jesus modifies His statement about Himself. He said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
This shows that Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood as the embodiment of the light. As long as He is physically present in the world, He is the light of the world. But when He is no longer physically present, His followers will assume the role of being the light of the world.
The role of the Christian can be defined with two words in today’s gospel: salt and light. Now, what do these mean? Do you know that the word “sugar” never occurs in the Bible? In ancient times, salt was the ultimate seasoning that gave taste to food. Without salt, food would be tasteless. Jesus is saying that as salt is to food, so are Christians to the world. Christians are in the world to make it a better place.
How can we make the world a better place? We find the answer in the parallel passage in Mark that says, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50) As salt, we are called to be good disciples, friendly and kind, living at peace with everybody. As light, we are called to show the way. Without light, we bump into each other and fall into the ditch. But light says, “Here is the road: take it. Here is the danger: avoid it.” Without light and salt, the world would be in very bad shape, uninteresting, and impossible to live in. With light and salt, the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place.
The Church tells us today how to do it: the same way that salt and light do it. First, salt must be different from the food before it can be of use. If salt loses its taste, it is useless, and can no longer make a difference. Light must be different from darkness in order to be of help. A flashlight with a dead battery is no good for someone in the dark. Being the salt and the light of the world means being different from the world. If believers have nothing that distinguishes them from the nonbelievers, then they are like salt that has lost its saltiness, and therefore cannot make a difference.
And what distinguishes us from nonbelievers should not be so much what we claim to be, or the badges and pins we wear, but the lives we live. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Love is the distinctive mark by which you can tell the true Christian from the false.
Secondly, both salt and light operate by associating with the thing they want to change. Salt cannot improve the food unless it goes into the food and changes it from within. Light cannot show the way unless it encounters darkness.
Sometimes Christians think that the way to go is to keep away from getting involved with society and popular culture. But by shying away from the realities of our society and our world, we might indeed be hiding our lamp underneath a bushel basket. To make a difference, we must get up and get involved.
Today’s gospel is frightening. It says, in effect, that if there is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today, it is because we, as Christians, have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world. But we can decide to make a difference starting from today. We can decide to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness. Even the smallest candle helps in a world of darkness. This is our task; this is our challenge; this is our mission; and this is our goal.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Zep 2:3; 3:12-13 / Ps 146 / 1 Cor 1:26-31 / Mt 5:1-12a
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A newspaper in England once asked this question of its readers: Who are the happiest people on earth? The four prize-winning answers were: a little child building sandcastles; a craftsman or artist with a job well done; a mother bathing her baby after a busy day; and a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation to save a human life.
The editors of the newspaper were surprised to find that virtually no one submitted kings, emperors, millionaires, or others of wealth and rank as the happiest people on earth. Even W. Béran Wolfe, a psychiatrist and author, said, “If you observe a really happy man, and you find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, he will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living twenty-four crowded hours of the day.”
In our gospel today according to St. Matthew, Jesus is talking about this popular heavenly constitution – the Beatitudes. In Greek, the word beatitude is makarios, which means happiness. So the meaning of the word “blessed,” as Jesus told it, is that this is happiness. All that Jesus wants is for us to be happy, not according to the understand of the world of what happiness is all about, but according to what God meant by this word.
“Happiness is that which all men seek,” so says the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle also observed that everything people do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is what they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. But the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not, in fact, always bring them true and lasting happiness.
Think of the drunkard who believes that happiness is found in a beer bottle – one bottle too much and he is driving home, runs the red light, hits a car, and wakes up the following morning in a hospital with plaster and stitches all over his body. Then it begins to dawn on him that the happiness promised by alcohol may be too short lived.
Or take the man who frequents the casinos to deal with excitement – by the end of the month he finds that his account is in the red, and that he can no longer pay his mortgage. Creditors go after him until he loses his house and his car. Then it dawns on him that the happiness promised by the casino is fake.
So, Aristotle says that the ethical person is the person who knows and does what can truly bring them not just excitement or pleasure, but true and lasting happiness.
Another word for true and lasting happiness is blessedness, or beatitude. In today’s gospel, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, shows that He wants His followers to have true and lasting happiness – the happiness that the world and everything in it cannot give. This is the state of blessedness that Jesus calls being in the Kingdom of God or being in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The beatitudes that we have in today’s gospel constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to obtain the happiness of the Kingdom. So why does Jesus deem it necessary to establish this guidepost to the Kingdom from the very first teaching that he gives the disciples? It is because of the importance of this teaching. Everyone seeks happiness, but often we look for it in all the wrong places.
Ask people around you what makes them happy and compare the answers you get with the answers Jesus gave. We see that the values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact countercultural. We cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live.
Of course, Jesus does not demand that we abandon the world, but He does demand that we put God first in our lives, because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away. Our God wills us to be happy.
It is interesting to note that the first miracle of Jesus happened in the wedding party at Cana, where everyone was enjoying the occasion, the wine, and the food. He chose such an occasion of joy to make His first miracle in order to show that He was a happy person who could love and enjoy Himself. He wanted to show that each of us has a right to happiness.
Happiness is not wrong or a sin. Since joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, a happy person does not fall into sin very easily. Satan stays away from happy and joyful people; they are too hard to tempt.
The eight beatitudes do not describe eight different people such that we need to ask which of the eight suits us personally. No, they are eight different snapshots taken from different angles of the same godly person. The question for us today, therefore, is this – do we live our lives following the values of the world as a way of obtaining happiness or do we live by the teachings of Jesus?
If we live by the teachings of Jesus, then we may rejoice and be glad, for the reward in Heaven is great.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 49:3, 5-6 / Ps 40 / 1 Cor 1:1-3 / Jn 1:29-34
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today our gospel reading relates the beginning of the public life of Jesus. Christmas is over. The child is grown up. He has become a man and is baptized in the waters by John the Baptist. This is a sign of His oneness with all of humanity. He is indeed the Messiah; true God and true man.
Today we hear John the Baptist testifying that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is walking by and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Messiah.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Son of God.” Instead, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Lambs are very important to a shepherd people. Of course, we think of the lamb most of all when Jesus says that He is the shepherd, and the lambs hear His voice and follow Him.
This, however, is not what John the Baptist has in mind. What John has in mind is something much deeper, something much more important. He’s telling his followers that this is the sacrificial lamb offered at the time when the people were under the slavery of Egypt. The lamb was offered that terrible night, with its blood placed upon the doorpost of all the children of Israel. The lamb became the sacrifice by which all of them were freed. This is the lamb who is the sacrificial lamb. This is the Messiah who does not come with great armies. This is the Messiah who comes to us as a sacrificial lamb, and as John says, who offers His entire life so that sins may be forgiven.
The word, sin, is very much used, but does not exist in any other language except Hebrew. This word is a gift of the Jewish people, who recognize something very important in its use. We think of sin as something that offends the ten commandments. It’s not that. We think of sin as something terrible that other people fall into.
Very seldom do we ourselves sin, because we think it is a series of activities against laws. It’s true that if you break a law, you break a commandment. If you break a commandment, that commandment is the law of God and therefore you have sinned. But that is not what sin means.
Sin is a very interesting word. It really means that you have failed to love. God has given you His love, and you have turned your back on Him. God has given you Jesus, and He becomes a lamb led to the slaughter to show you the depth of God’s love and to help you understand that when we say, “I have sinned,” we have not broken a commandment. Rather, we have broken a promise. We have broken a person. We have nailed Him to the cross.
Sin is a failure to care, a failure to love. It is not meaningful to simply say, I broke the sixth commandment, or the tenth commandment, etc. When you sin, you break a heart, not only the heart of Jesus, but the heart of the person that you have sinned against. This is why it is such an important word.
When Jesus enters the waters, He becomes one with us, walking with us through life, feeling the things we feel and hoping the things we hope. He is every bit a human being. When He does this, He’s coming so that He might take away all sin. For if sin is a sin against the love of God, Jesus redeems us by His great love, not only for God, His father, but also for all of us. It is in the love of Jesus that we are forgiven, for He never held it against us. He never went away and hid, waiting for an apology.
Sometimes we think a confessional is where our sins are forgiven. Forgiveness, however, begins in the heart of Jesus and there is no sin that Jesus Himself does not immediately forgive, because His love is so great. When you go to confession, you come in contact, not with the judgement of God and being forgiven. Instead, you should come to understand that when Jesus offered Himself on the cross for all mankind, the greatest love that a God-made man could offer His father, that all was forgiven to all for all.
This is the message that the gospel teaches us, and this is the message that we often forget. Remember, that when we sin against each other, it is not merely the breaking of a rule, regulation, or law. It is the breaking of another person’s heart. We must realize that Jesus came only to love. That’s why He said, “I have not come to judge, but only to teach you how to love.”
Jesus tells us today that He is the Lamb of God. This means, of course, that He is the shepherd, and we are the lambs. Through Him, we are to become the lambs of God, to become the sons and daughters of God, or as it says in the readings, the children of God. The one thing that God calls us to do each day is to love. Jesus teaches us each day that there is only love and that, if we sin, we take ourselves out of the one thing that is necessary for our heart, soul, and lives: the fullness of God’s love flowing through us into each other.
This is why Jesus came and why today we say with great gratitude, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He takes away everything that stands between us and the love of a loving Father, who has given us Jesus to show the way and, as mentioned in the gospel today, fills us with His Holy Spirit.KEEP READING
The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
During the Christmas season, the image of the Most Holy Virgin Mary with her child comes readily to mind. We see this image in all Nativity things, right in front of us, and in many other places, on many Christmas cards or postcards that we receive from our families or friends. It should also be in our hearts.
We have come together here today as a family of God on this first day of the New Year. We celebrate the maternity of Mary, the event around which this feast is celebrated. As we start the New Year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, thus reminding us of our other mother: of course, Mother Mary.
When a child is in danger, it will instinctively call out, “Mom” or “Mama.” That’s because the essence of being a mother is care, love, help, support, and concern for her children. As a Jewish proverb puts it succinctly, “God cannot be everywhere, so he created mothers.”
As we commemorate this solemn feast, the Church has for us these brief reminders. In the year 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus, an ecumenical council of bishops of the Catholic Church, settled whether Mary was to be called “Mother of Christ” – Christotokos, implying Jesus is merely human, or “Mother of God” – Theotokos. The Council decided on the title Theotokos, Mother of God, for Mary. The Council said that Mary is rightfully the Mother of God, therefore affirming the divinity of Christ.
In the Bible, the very first person to refer to Mary as the Mother of God is her own cousin, Elizabeth, who said in a loud voice, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There is nothing wrong with invoking Mary with the title “Mother of God.”
So what do we mean when we invoke Mary as the Mother of God? When we say Mary is the Mother of God, we do not mean that from all eternity, our God took His Godship from Mary, or that Mary is the source of the Godship of Jesus. As the Catholic Church teaches us, Jesus Christ was eternally begotten by God, Light from Light, True God from True God, eternally begotten by the Father. It means that Mary did not give Jesus Christ His Godship; Mary only gave birth to the humanity of Jesus Christ.
However, right from the moment of conception, the baby in the womb of Mary was truly God and truly man at the same time. Therefore, the baby born from the womb of Mary is God and man. Mary gave birth to God and man. When we say Mary is the Mother of God, it does not mean that she gave Godship to Jesus; it only means that Jesus was God right from her womb.
Saint Thomas added to this by asking, “Do mothers beget bodies or persons?” As one priest asked, “Do our mothers merely give birth to our bodies, or to ourselves as persons?” As people, of course. Thus, Mary conceived in her womb the Son of God, not just His human nature, but His divine nature as well.
If we look at the attitude of the mother, it is very beautiful. At the start, when she still bears the child in her womb, she must take care of herself, in order that the child is not in danger. She can’t sleep at night, because she watches the child sleep. As the child goes to school, she’s the one preparing the provisions.
But on the other hand, the womb of the mother becomes a battlefield or war zone, the worst enemy of the unborn, defenseless child. The enemies of the unborn child are many: abortion, artificial birth control, cigarette smoking, drinking hard liquor, and many more. That is why the child, while still in the womb of the mother, experiences rejection, insecurity, human rights violations, and lack of love from the parents. This is not so of Mary, who follows God’s will to be the mother of Jesus, even though she is in danger of being punished through stoning.
There was a teacher who had just given her primary grade class a lesson on magnets. In the follow-up test, one question read My name starts with M, has six letters and I pick up things. What am I? She was surprised to find half of the class answered the question with the word mother. Of course, the answer was supposed to be magnet.
People especially need their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, or insecurity. We need our mothers to pick us up. Perhaps even more so for those of us who are already old, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
So as we begin another year, with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary. May we all be like Mary with our total trust and faith in the Lord.
Let us not put our hopes in someone or something that may only give us false and ephemeral hope in the end. Instead, we place our entire lives in the loving and caring presence of our God who is always there for us. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” With Mary, we pray that the Lord will bless us this new year, and all the days of our lives.KEEP READING
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
December 25, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 52:5-10 / Ps 98 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There was an inquisitive 4-year-old who happened to be rooted strongly to the “why” and “tell me” stage of life. The little boy was helping to sort out ornaments and said, “Daddy, what does ‘ignore’ mean?” The father explained, “Ignore means not to pay attention to people when they talk to you.”
Immediately, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus.” Puzzled, the father knelt closer to his animated son and replied, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus either, son. I think we should give Him our full attention. So why do you say that we ignore Him?” “But daddy, that’s what the Christmas carol says: O come let us ignore Him.”
Kids sure say the darnedest things sometimes. But you know, brothers and sisters, often we actually get so caught up in the frenzy of preparations — parties, shopping, and decorating — that we appear to ignore the true meaning of Christmas and fail to prepare a place in our hearts to come and adore Him.
Let us adore the baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love? Imagine Jesus, the son of God and our savior, born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of a crib. When God comes, He usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance.
God’s humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better, but of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So, no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus, we will not be able to comprehend. It will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God.
So let us praise God now in our own words. As we look at the baby Jesus, we think of the mystery of God’s love for us, and ask ourselves: Why did God, who is almighty and all powerful, become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. If Jesus had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing God really loved us, but now we know for sure.
John the Evangelist says this is the revelation of God’s love for us: that God sent His only son into the world that we might have life through Him. This Christmas, brothers and sisters, let us thank God for revealing His love for us in Jesus, that He who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that He became one of us to help us be more like Him, to have life through Him.
So, as we see baby Jesus in the manger, we reflect on God’s way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. God’s way is not one of violence, but gentleness. There’s a lot of goodness and love in the world but God is always tender and loving. As we look at baby Jesus in the manger, we see that He is the answer to today’s problems.
Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. So let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender, and loving with those around us, as He was in the manger.
Jesus in the manger gave us hope. In the darkness of our world His light has shone. His coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. And we remember the message of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, peace!KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 11:1-10 / Ps 72 / Rom 15:4-9 / Mt 3:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
When big events are approaching, people start to worry about a lot of things and how to prepare for them, not the least of which is what they will wear. Many of us are already engrossed in the preparation for Christmas; a good number have sent out their Christmas cards; and Christmas shopping is already in full swing. Malls are filled with Christmas stuff. Others are engrossed in deciding what gifts to give, while children are busy deciding what they want to get from their parents or from Santa.
Many of us are excited as we look forward to the big day. The trouble, it seems, is that our modern society has commercialized Christmas, so that we have mistaken the icing for the cake. Somebody once made this strange proposal: Christmas should be abolished because it only makes the poor suffer more. The season only dramatizes the sharp contrast between those who can go on shopping sprees and those who have virtually nothing. We should not, however, be too strict about brushing aside the external trappings – the decorations, gifts, food and drinks – if we brush them out, the spirit surrounding Christmas would be lost.
But let us remain aware that there is always the danger of losing the right perspective. Hence, we need to constantly remind ourselves to keep Christ in Christmas.
Another truth is that Christmas is a religious event. We are celebrating the birth of our Savior who came down centuries ago. Think about it: The child whose birth we are all celebrating and rejoicing in came as the least of men. Poor and simple. He would never be able to afford our glittery and incredibly extravagant celebrations. In this case, we overlook, in the flurry of preparations, the internal preparations in our heart. Let us be ready to share some of our blessings this Christmas that would cheer somehow, or somehow alleviate the harsh condition of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
That is why in today’s gospel it instructs us to prepare in the true spirit — that is, inwardly – by which John the Baptist beautifully announces, “Reform your lives; for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Christmas carol Joy to the World puts it beautifully: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
This is a big event, the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, it is a big event in world history. But John does not worry about his outfit, or what he will eat, or even his popularity with the leaders of the Jews. John does not worry at all. He simply gets ready for the coming of the Lord, and, as God’s messenger, he wants the rest of the people to get ready, too. He wants them to prepare for the very Son of God who will enter human history, not dressed in silken clothes nor sleeping in an air-conditioned or heated room, nor sleeping on a mattress, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Advent is a time for preparation. It is also a season of conversion and repentance, a time to live out the message that John proclaims: “Reform your lives, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom does not appear out of the blue. It will not come automatically. God will bring about the realization of this via people. This will come only when certain conditions are met: where people are converted to a new style of life; where they are willing to commit to banish injustice, either personal or societal; and ready to stand for one another. In this, the kingdom is at hand. But whether it will materialize depends on each one of us. Our Church reminds us that repentance and conversion will not only happen during Advent. It should be forever, but the question is: “In what way?”
It is by begging pardon for our sins, because sin is like a poison in the body, which it slowly kills. Penance is the way to detoxify our souls. Many of us collect sins and, before we know it, our souls are cluttered, like attics filled with junk. To prepare for God’s coming, we need to do some housecleaning. We must make room for Him by getting rid of sin. Sacramental confession is a great help. We are not only looking for Christ, but we are looking for His coming at the end of time. We are so very thankful for His continual presence in us. But He can only enter a heart that is contrite and pure: a changed heart.
As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Change your hearts. Unless we change our hearts, we are not converted.” The Greek word metanoia means “change of heart.” Metanoia is a biblical term for repentance or “complete change of heart.” It turns one away from sin, to serve the living God. In the Old Testament, the prophets called for a conversion that would turn the people away from idolatry, and from a merely superficial practice of religion to live in fidelity to God’s law and their social responsibilities.
In the gospel of today, John the Baptist, and then later Jesus, preach a radical change of heart, as demanded by the coming of God’s kingdom. That is why the baptism of St. John the Baptist is a baptism for repentance. During apostolic times, in the name of Jesus, the apostles invited people to be converted and baptized, and so begin a new life in the spirit. So today let us reform and repent. Let us turn away from sin and say we are sorry. And we must do it now, for tomorrow may be too late. Now is the acceptable time because the kingdom of God is at hand.KEEP READING