Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10; Mt. 11:2-11

Signs of hope, joy, new life and fulfillment of promise characterize the message of this Sunday. Last Sunday the readings focused on a peaceful kingdom in the future, when the wolf and the lamb would lie down beside each other. This Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday. We are invited to pause and rejoice. We are told that salvation is near; the Messiah is in our midst. The Sunday takes its name from the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon of this Sunday taken from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians which begins with Gaudete in Domino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). That is why today we light a desert rose candle symbolizing joy, because our salvation is already here in our midst. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah announces to the people in exile that the Messiah will come; their situation is about to change; they will soon be free to go back home. Isaiah shows the people a poetic picture of how the desert will become fertile and all the foliage will sing out the goodness and glory of God. Then in the final section, the reading recounts how the change will affect those who long for salvation; those who look for real joy and happiness. There would be nothing as joyful as a blind person seeing, nothing as beautiful as a deaf person hearing; nothing as uplifting as a lame person walking and a mute speaking. The reading therefore invites us to rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming soon to make that vision a reality; to bring real joy and happiness into our lives. In the Second reading from the Letter of James, we hear the same message: “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The Gospel starts with John the Baptist in prison. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is really the Messiah or would there be another to come. Jesus refers to what Isaiah had prophesied in today’s First Reading, and says that there is no need to keep waiting for salvation. It is already in our midst. There are already clear signs of joy, hope and new life. Jesus tells the messengers: "Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, the lame walk, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor". That is why we need not wait. That is why we need to rejoice and be happy. The deeper question we need to ask on this Sunday is what constitutes real joy and happiness in our lives? I am a lover of high tech and cool gadgets, but once I have them, I enjoy using them, but at the end of the day, they do not give me real joy and happiness. The joy and excitement that many had in having the latest cool gadgets on Black Friday is already over. In other words, material possessions, no matter how cool, never give lasting satisfaction and joy. That is why St. Augustine once said: Our heart is restless until it rests in God. This Sunday, the readings help to see what Christ is already accomplishing in our midst, through the Church and through our own witness that makes the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk! Miracles do happen in our parish: just open your eyes and ears! Let me sum up in a few points. 1) The readings proclaim joy because our salvation is closer than when we began this season. The air of Christmas is all around us. 2) The readings draw our attention to the Messiah who is already in our midst. There are many signs of hope: the saving action of Christ is present in our parish. 3) The readings lead us to rejoice as we encounter the hidden “miracles” of today. Yes, “the blind see, the lame walk, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.” 4) Let us pray that the Lord may open our eyes and ears of faith to see and hear what Jesus is already doing in our midst; that we may go and tell others what we have seen and heard.

 ©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Is 11:1-10; Rm 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12

The readings this Sunday are quite similar to last Sunday in that they focus our attention on two key Advent themes: 1) the call to prepare ourselves through conversion, and 2) the call to wait in hope for a kingdom of peace. Obviously, both themes are interrelated. In the Gospel, John the Baptist announces a message of repentance "for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand". John is the prophet Isaiah spoke of saying, "Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight". This is the real meaning of Advent, preparing ourselves for the Saviour who comes to bring the gift of peace for the world. The Liturgy of the Word therefore invites us to prepare ourselves spiritually, by being reconciled with God and with one another. That inner conversion should be so real that we are led to action; that we open our eyes to see the plight of the poor around us and to do something about it. The lesson we learn from the encounter between John the Baptist and some Jewish religious leaders is important. John underlines the importance of authentic spiritual reform – conversion. Genuine spiritual reform is always accompanied by action as evidence that we have truly been transformed by the Lord. That is why John the Baptist tells the Pharisee and the Sadducees to “Produce good fruit as evidence” of repentance. In other words, the sign of our inner transformation shows itself in the life we live. It is not enough to be baptized. For John the Baptist, conversion literary meant turning around from the direction one is going.

The second theme, waiting in hope and trust for a kingdom of peace is found in the both the first and second readings. Isaiah prophesies that out of the line of David would come a king who would be a different kind of king. “Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” That king would be nothing but just, for He will establish justice and peace. That peace would be so great and genuine that natural enemies in animal kingdom like the wolf and the lamb would lie down next to one another, a beautiful image of harmony among God’s creation. That is the kingdom of peace John the Baptist was preparing the people for when he said, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Paul in the Second Reading reminds us that our God is a God of endurance and encouragement and as people of hope we must never give up until all is realized in Christ. The message of this Sunday may be summed up in 3 points: 1) The readings highlight the meaning behind the lighting of the Second Candle on the Advent Wreath, signifying our need for repentance and calling us to reform our lives. 2) We are called to be reconciled with God and with one another; to live in genuine peace and harmony; 3) That reconciliation and acceptance of God’s mercy will certainly lead to the kingdom of peace we all await when Christ comes; the kingdom of peace starts with me when I am humble enough to be totally reconciled with God and with others.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Mt. 24:37-44

Waiting, watching and preparing: are the three key words that sum up best, the Advent Season that we begin today. A true story is told about Colonel Abraham Davenport, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives back in 1780. One day, while the House was in session, the sky of Hartford suddenly grew dark and gloomy. Some of the representatives looked out and thought that was a sign that the end of the world had come. Uproar ensued with the representatives calling for immediate adjournment. But Davenport rose and said, “Gentlemen, the Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.” Candles were brought and the session continued. We too need to choose to be found doing our duty as Christian when the Lord comes, watching and waiting. Advent is about waiting for fulfilment of Isaiah’s vision of all the nations transforming their weapons of war into tools of cultivation and harvesting for their people; a time anticipating peace and joy.

The Gospel reading urges us to stay awake and to be ready "because the Son of Man is coming at an hour" we least expect. Paul in the second reading suggests that we prepare ourselves through conversion: throwing “off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light;” putting “on the Lord Jesus Christ, and making no provision for the desires of the flesh”. The readings underline two basic Advent themes: 1) anticipation and hope for the second coming of our Lord and Savoir, who brings peace into our hearts and in the world, symbolized by the green circular wreath. The circle points to the promise of eternal life. The 5 candles: three purple, one rose and one white in the canter are lit progressively on each Sunday, with the white one being lit on Christmas Day. The lighting of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that dispels the darkness of our lives and brings us newness, life and hope. 2) The second theme symbolized by the colour purple is conversion and renewal in preparing a suitable place to welcome our Savoir in our hearts. Conversion is a call to be instruments of peace in the world, so that a kingdom of peace may come about; so that nations may no longer engage in wars; so that neighbours may talk of peace and not of war; so that God’s reconciling love may become a reality.

Briefly we may sum up the message of this Sunday in three points: 1) Advent is a season of watching and waiting with hope for Christ, who brings peace into our hearts and in the world; 2) Advent is a time of looking forward with eagerness and anticipation for the joy of salvation that Christmas brings. 1) But above all it is a season of spiritual preparation to receive Christ in our hearts by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King Year C

Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

Some of you might recall the movie, For Greater Glory, a true story on the Cristeros War (1926-1929) between the people of Mexico and the atheistic Mexican government. In that movie, our Mexican brothers and sisters go to their death with these words, "Viva Cristo el Rey." Long live Christ the King! The movie features a young man named Luis Magaña, a teenage boy, Jose Sanchez and a priest in his mid-thirties, Fr. Miguel.  When asked to bow before the government, they all say: I am a loyal son of Mexico, but I belong first to Jesus. Viva Cristo el Rey! These three – now Blessed Luis Magaña, Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio and St. Miguel Pro represent hundreds who gave their lives for Christ in the late 1920s. These witnesses were totally committed to Jesus Christ their king. You and I are challenged by two basic questions. Who is your king? What kingdom do you serve? The account of David’s anointing in the first reading speaks of his closeness to the people and his future role as a shepherd-king. David is the deliverer and shepherd of his people, thus pre-figuring the mystery of Christ, who is King, Shepherd and at the same time the lamb slain on the cross for his sheep. That is the point of Luke’s crucifixion narrative, in which everything said about Jesus comes to be true: the “chosen one”, the “Messiah”, the “Saviour of all”; the one who saves himself by surrendering his own life. Indeed the readings lead us to meet Christ, who, in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, "is the image of the unseen God and the first born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible...everything was created through him and for him"(Col. 1. 15-16). In this beautiful hymn that is highly poetic, St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the Father, who sums up all creation in Christ.

St. Paul's meditation on the Father summing up and reconciling all things in and through Christ, is one of the most beautiful prayers of thanksgiving to the Father. We are invited to offer our gratitude to the Father for all that he has done for us throughout the Liturgical Year that comes to an end this Sunday. Thus in the Eucharist, we offer to the Father a sacrifice of thanksgiving through Christ, the King, who by his death and resurrection enters into an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. The prayer after Communion beautifully sums up the mystery of Christ we celebrate this Sunday: “Lord, you give us Christ, the King of all creation, as food for everlasting life. Help us to live by his Gospel and bring us to the joy of his kingdom”. This last Sunday of the Liturgical Year challenges us to be more determined to live by the values and principles of Christ our King, and to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for those values. Our baptism into the life of Christ was and continues to be a bold statement to the world: Jesus is Lord and King of our lives. We dream His dreams. We share His hopes. We believe that nothing, not even death, can take away the dream of His Kingdom from us. The Solemnity of Christ the King is not just a conclusion of the church year. It takes us to the beginning: ushering in the King who is, who reigns in our hearts, and who is yet to come, a new Advent. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are invited to live by the Gospel Christ preached; by His values of peace, Justice and love that Christ shared; and by rules that govern His Kingdom –the Commandments. 2) The readings exhort us to let Christ reign in our lives, so we may be truly united with him, and thus be effective witness in Christ’s kingdom. 3) As we conclude the Liturgical Year, let us pray that you and I continue to be faithful servants of our King; that we may continue to bear good fruit for the growth of his Kingdom.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thirty Third Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

 Time Year CReadings: Mal 3:19-20; 2 Thess 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19

Signs of the end and readiness to meet the Lord are some of the phrases that help us to focus of the central message of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to the urgency of being ready for Christ’s triumph over the enemy in a battle that is already taking place. In the first reading from the prophet Malachi, we hear that the day is coming when those who do not listen to the Lord will be burnt up, while those who listen and dance God’s melody will leap like calves going to pasture. Paul in the Second Reading deals with the question of the Second Coming of the Lord, because some faithful in Thessalonica believed that Christ was about to return soon, and therefore there was no need to work. Paul corrects that misunderstanding. As we draw close to the end of the liturgical year, the readings turn our attention to the end times, symbolized in the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the apocalyptic events before the end.

Jesus in the Gospel teaches us that before the events of the end take place, we too must undergo persecution, but by our perseverance, we will secure our lives. Jesus also cautions against the danger of false prophets, who try to announce the end of the world. Christians from the very beginning have always been curious about the meaning of today’s readings, and some would want to ask the same question the disciples asked: “Teacher, when will this happen?” They want know when exactly the end-times will be. Jesus confirms that the end times will certainly come, and warns against false prophets. “Take care not to be deceived…because many will come using my name and saying ‘I am he’ and ‘the time is near at hand’... And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen, but the end is not so soon” (Lk. 21:8). Because those are only signs, do not listen to anyone telling you when the end of the world is coming: whether they be priests or televangelists or self-proclaimed prophets or spiritual writers. As soon as you hear any preachers say they know when the end will come, be sure to avoid them like the plague. Jesus in the Gospel does not tell us when the end times will come. He only speaks about signs of the end: wars, earthquakes, insurrections, famines and plagues; “and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven." The point Jesus makes is that we should not be concerned about when the end will be. Rather we should be concerned about our readiness at all times. The Gospel therefore underlines that aspect of readiness: our growth in faith and hope, and gearing ourselves for Christ’s victory, which is also our victory. In the face of suffering and persecution, through perseverance, we will triumph. “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed.” The message this Sunday may be summed up in three points. 1) The readings draw our attention to the urgency of our readiness at all times for Christ’s triumph over the enemy. The battle is already taking place. 2) We must not live in fear, but in faith and hope, prepared to stand up for the truth; prepared to suffer persecution; ready to meet the Lord. 3) The bottom line is whether you and I will secure our lives; whether we will triumph in the end; whether that day will find us ready, in God’s grace. The choice is yours.

©2016 John S. Mbinda