28 nov. 2010

1er Domingo de Adviento


Preparando la venida del Señor, pues viene en espíritu y poder
(P. Luis J. Tamayo)
Damos comienzo al primer domingo de Adviento, y con ello comenzamos un nuevo año litúrgico. El Adviento viene del latín adventus, que quiere decir venida o llegada. Si Adviento significa venida, la pregunta es sencilla “¿quién es ese que viene?” la respuesta: “Jesús es quien viene”.
Este año, nos podríamos preguntar es si el Adviento, es decir, la venida de Jesús es algo que puedo vivir de verdad, y devolverle todo su significado profundo; para ello lanzo unas preguntas: ¿Cómo puede ser este Adviento un tiempo para vivir y hacer realidad la espera de Jesús? ¿Cómo me puedo preparar para dejar que Jesús venga a mi vida, a mi familia, a mi historia, a mis circunstancias…?
El Evangelio de este primer domingo de Adviento nos habla de una actitud muy importante en la vida cristiana, y en especial para vivir este Adviento: -Jesús mismo lo repite con sus palabras- estar preparados!, estar en vela!
El Evangelio de hoy (Mateo 24, 37-44) dice que en aquel tiempo, dijo Jesús a sus discípulos: “estad en vela, porque no sabéis qué día vendrá vuestro Señor. Comprended que si supiera el dueño de casa a qué hora de la noche viene el ladrón, estaría en vela y no dejarla abrir un boquete en su casa. Por eso, estad también vosotros preparados, porque a la hora que menos penséis viene el Hijo del hombre.
La Tradición de la Iglesia siempre ha hablado de las dos venidas de Cristo. Por ejemplo, os leo un fragmento de una catequesis de los primeros cristianos, cuyo titulo es “Las dos venidas de Cristo” (De la Catequesis de San Cirilo de Jerusalén, Obispo - Catequesis 15, 1-3: PG 33, 870-874):
Anunciamos la venida de Cristo, pero no una sola, sino también una segunda, mucho más magnífica que la anterior. La primera llevaba consigo un significado de sufrimiento; esta otra, en cambio, llevará la diadema del reino divino.
Pues casi todas las cosas son dobles en nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Doble es su nacimiento: uno, de Dios, desde toda la eternidad; otro, de la Virgen, en la plenitud de los tiempos. Es doble también su descenso: el primero, silencioso, como la lluvia sobre el vellón; el otro, manifiesto, todavía futuro.

En la primera venida fue envuelto con fajas en el pesebre; en la segunda se revestirá de luz como vestidura. En la primera soportó la cruz, sin miedo a la ignominia; en la otra vendrá glorificado, y escoltado por un ejército de ángeles”.
En nuestra profesión de fe –el credo que rezamos cada domingo–, decimos que creemos en las dos venidas: nació de Santa maría la Virgen y subió al cielo, y está sentado a la derecha del Padre; y de nuevo vendrá con gloria para juzgar a vivos y muertos, y su reino no tendrá fin.
Ahora bien, San Bernardo, habla de una tercera venida, y esta es la que ahora nos interesa a nosotros. Se habla de una venida intermedia. San Bernardo dice (Sermón 5 en el Adviento): “La intermedia, es una venida oculta, y en ella sólo los elegidos ven al Señor en lo más íntimo de sí mismos, y así sus almas se salvan”. Es decir, que en la primera, el Señor vino en carne y debilidad, en la última, en gloria y majestad; y sin embargo en esta tercera oculta, el Señor viene en espíritu y poder.
Si retomamos la pregunta de cómo puedo vivir más intensamente el Adviento de este año para preparar la Navidad, es aquí donde uno ha de preparar su corazón, su vida interior, pues como decíamos, el Señor viene en espíritu y poder:
En espíritu, por que es en el interior del corazón que tengo que acogerlo, desde intensificar la oración, poner atención en lago más de recogimiento, en privarme de algo que son caprichos para tener el espíritu más despierto… y en poder, pues el Señor actúa y trabaja el corazón orgulloso del hombre uno le deja.
San Pablo lo insiste en la segunda lectura (Rm 13, 11-14): “dejemos las actividades de las tinieblas y pertrechémonos con las armas de la luz. Conduzcámonos como en pleno día, con dignidad. Nada de comilonas ni borracheras, nada de lujuria ni desenfreno, nada de riñas ni pendencias. Vestíos del Señor Jesucristo”.
San Bernardo dice algo precioso sobre esta tercera venida oculta: “Esta venida intermedia es como una senda por la que se pasa de la primera a la última”. Esta senda implica dejar las tinieblas del orgullo, para dejar que la luz del Señor entre.
Démonos el regalo de preparar este Adviento con intensidad.

26 nov. 2010

REFLECTION Sunday´s Gospel


1st Sunday Advent A
(28 Nov 2010)

Fr James McTavish, FMVD

Expect the unexpected!

So we start a new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent. We have a few weeks to get in shape, to get spiritually fit, to lose a few pounds of unwanted baggage and have the manger of our heart in tip top shape for the coming of the Lord. Are you excited? Sometimes not so much and that is why we have to pray and prepare. The Lord exhorts us in the gospel today “Stay awake! You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (See Matt 24, 37-44)

It is important to stay awake. This week I got a taxi from the airport to downtown Manila. Being sleepy I was dozing off until I seen the fare – triple what it should have been! It is important to stay awake. One German seminarian I know was told that the Bishop would come. When he told his fellow seminarians that he did not know what he looked like they told him to just keep an eye out for the guy with the mitre, the staff and a big Bishop’s cross. He was waiting at the main gate of the seminary and hardly noticed a man arriving in jeans and T-shirt. Imagine the seminarians surprise when he got a call 10 minutes later telling him that the Bishop was already in the seminary. Yes, the guy in the jeans and T shirt was the Bishop! Perhaps God will come in a way we will not expect and that is what we have to stay awake.

In the film called the Nativity, the 3 wise men arrive at the scene of the manger. One of them said “Look, the King of Kings in the most humble of places.” Many missed his coming 2000 years ago. Will it be any different today? This is why we need to prepare well our hearts for the coming of the Lord. In the military there is the adage of the 5 P’s – “Previous preparation prevents poor performance.” Let us prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord, flattening the hills and filling in the valleys to make straight his path.

When we talk of the coming of the Lord we can think of the first coming, his birth as a little infant over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. There is also the second coming, at the end of time, when Christ will come again in all his glory, the cosmos will end, the dead will rise and there will be the universal judgment. When this will be Jesus said only the Father knew. Many sects have gained popularity by predicting the day and the hour of this second coming. Perhaps the coming that we have to stay awake for though is the coming in the here and now. Let us listen to the words of a twelfth century Saint, Bernard of Clairvaux – “We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible... In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him”... If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you.”

An attitude of vigilance keeps us attentive and on our toes. Sometimes surprises come along. Many were surprised at the comments of Pope Benedict XVI on the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention. How great that the Pope is not afraid to dirty his hands with contemporary moral issues. Fr Ronald Rolheiser once said that good theology is not meant to be a safe non-contact sport. Theology needs to get bruised by reality, especially by suffering.” The Catholic Church is in a good position to speak about the suffering of HIV/AIDS. After all which organization takes care of more than 25% of all cases of AIDS in the world? Yes, the Catholic church. Pope Benedict XVI said that if a HIV infected prostitute uses a condom then it is the first step towards in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility. It does not mean in any way that he is advocating condoms for artificial contraception. We will follow this debate with keen interest and give a big thumbs up to B16 (as Fr Stan the rapper affectionately calls him) for not being afraid to enter into this important debate. As the letter of Peter reminds us - to always be ready to give reasons for our faith.

This time of Advent is a time for our expectations to grow. How wonderful if our attitude could be like the novel of Charles Dickens – Great...expectations! Isaiah the prophet of the first reading today (Isaiah 2, 1-5) has great expectations for the coming of the Messiah – “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

How are our expectations for the coming of the Lord? When the Lord comes things change, things cannot remain the same. Imagine the power of the Word when we let it enter into our hearts. Today's second reading is from St Paul's letter to the Romans (Rom 13, 11-14). It was the passage that coverted Augustine! Let us listen to his conversion story "I felt that I was still enslaved by my sins, and in my misery I kept crying, ‘How long shall I go on saying “Tomorrow, tomorrow”? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins this moment?` I was asking myself these questions,weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the chorus, ‘Take it and read, take it and read’. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be God’s command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall …I seized it and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: ‘No orgies or drunkenness, no immorality or indecency, no fighting or jealousy. Take up the weapons of the Lord ]esus Christ; and stop giving attention to your sinful nature, to satisfy its desiresf I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of faith flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.

May the coming of the Lord in his Word not leave us unchanged or indifferent. Let us prepare the way of the Lord! Jesus is coming! Let us prepare the manger of our hearts to receive him. Amen

20 nov. 2010

REFLECTION Sunday´s Gospel


Christ the King (Year C, 21 Nov 2010)
Fr James McTavish, FMVD

Viva Cristo Rey!
(The cry of Fr Pro before his execution)

Well done. You have survived until the last Sunday of this liturgical year, year C. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of cycle A. Anyway whether we are in cycle A, B or C the last Sunday of the Year is always the celebration of Christ the King! This feast was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI to remind us that our hearts should only have one King: Jesus. All four Gospels note ‘the fact that on the cross Jesus had the words written above his head “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

In the gospel today (Luke 23, 35-43) we see Jesus being treated in a most unkingly fashion. He is mocked, jeered, laughed at and his authority is challenged “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” How does Jesus react? We have a King who is meek and humble of heart. The two thieves either side have contrasting reactions. One reviled Jesus saying "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." Perhaps in this challenge we can hear our own voice echoed – if you don’t answer my prayers I will stop praying, if you don’t take this suffering from me then I will be in a bad mood with you and ignore you, if if if...It is easy to become the King. At the seaside when I was growing up we would build a sand castle and chant “I’m the King of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal!” How easy to make ourselves King. Elvis was known as the ‘King’ but in or little way it is quite easy to impersonate Elvis, making ourselves King and ousting Jesus from his rightful place as King of our hearts.

The so-called good thief shows us true respect for Christ the King. Once there was a famous celebrity being interviewed talking about his life as a pop star, his songs, the band and all that. The interviewer came to the final question “Ok, and for the final question, what are the last words you would most like to hear” He surprised me and the interviewer when he said “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” These are the exact words that the good thief heard. How beautiful. HE was a very good thief. Imagine, he stole the heart of Jesus in his dying moments. But these words of Jesus can also be extended to each one of us as paradise is this union with God, it is to do his will, today. St Paul said that today is the day of salvation. But as the procrastinator said “maybe do tomorrow what you can do today.”

Who is actually the King in my life? If it is food then it is burger King, if technology, CDR King (electronics firm here in Philippines), if I spend my life watching movies then King Kong. One danger in life is when the only factor deciding everything is my feelings. It is interesting to reflect on the role of feelings in our daily lives. One extreme, especially after one has suffered, is a kind of hardening of the arteries, an indifference or coldness. But it is actually inhuman to totally deny our feelings. On the other hand it may be imprudent to let my feelings decide everything for me. What can be a happy balance?

Four centuries before Christ, Aristotle was grappling with this question and in his book of Ethics came up with the so-called ‘Doctrine of the mean’ which helps one avoid the extremes, which would be vices, and pursue the middle path, which would be a virtuous response. The example of anger may help. There are some hot-headed types who fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. Here the words from the book of Proverbs could be helpful – “a patient man is worth more than a hero, he who rules himself and his temper is worth more than a warrior who takes cities” (Proverbs 16,32). However the other extreme of repressing anger is to be avoided also – as Aristotle noted those that repress anger “are hard to reconcile and keep their anger for a long while, because they repress the feeling...they keep the weight on their minds: because it does not show itself, no one attempts to reason it away, and digesting anger within one’s self takes time. Such men are very great nuisances to themselves and to their best friends.” (Nicomachean ethics, Book IV, V, 1126a). That is why much of our moral life is, as Alisdair MacIntyre notes, “an education sentimentale.” This renowned contemporary moral philosopher writes that “virtues are dispositions not only to act in particular ways, but also to feel in particular ways.”

When Christ reigns it gives a certain stability to a person – they are more constant, less likely to be so affected by the waxing and waning of various emotions and more interested in what the Lord is telling them in their prayer. After all, the reality is Christ. He is the King of the Cosmos as St Paul observes astutely in his letter to the Colossians. He is the head of all principalities and powers. I was talking to a businessman this week who told me that in his office he places various chocolates as food for the supposed ghosts there. I reminded him that as a Catholic to never forget that Christ is the head of the cosmos and all powers and principalities are inferior to Him. Whenever these fears come upon us who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters of course, the ghost buster extraordinaire, the Holy Spirit, none other than the Holy Ghost himself.

And who can forget the beautiful testimony of many martyrs like Blessed Miguel Pro, going to their death with “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King) on their lips elegantly professing that only one King sat on the throne of their hearts, Jesus. Let us remember that as Christians we are called to participate in the kingly mission of Christ, to build up the Kingdom here on earth. I cannot finish without sharing some of my joy to be working with the deaf in Manila. Two friends, Carol and Marie, are very inspiring as they dedicate to spreading the Kingdom of God, to helping many deaf children to receive an education. The gospel is being fulfilled as we speak – “the deaf here.” Perhaps we can reflect ‘In what way am I building the Kingdom?’ If Christ truly reigns in us we will see it in the spread of the Kingdom. Let us ask for this grace! Viva Cristo Rey!

13 nov. 2010

REFLECTION Sunday´s Gospel


33rd Sunday of Year C
(14 Nov 2010)

Fr James McTavish, FMVD

Keep smiling!


We are coming to the end of the Liturgical year. Next Sunday is the celebration of Christ the King, then we will be entering Advent already. The readings today call us to perseverance, to keep on smiling in the difficulties and not to give up. To keep running the race until the finish line. Once in a school race I was leading the 100 metres sprint. Just before the finish line I raised my arms in a precocious celebration of triumph. Imagine my humiliation when a slower rival lunged for the finish line and narrowly edged me out of first place. The Gospel today reminds us “By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (see Luke 21, 5-19). Perseverance is essential in our Christian lives. One enemy of patient endurance is impatience. Pride makes one impatient whereas humility helps us to persevere until the end. Let us beg for the grace to be humble, to keep our head down especially in the middle of the battle.

The readings today invite us to be watchful and vigilant. Jesus talks of the signs of the end of the world because some people were taken by the beauty of the temple. He tells them that the temple will be destroyed and so they ask him when. Jesus response invites us to vigilance and reminds us that as Pope John Paul II said while commenting on today’s gospel “when our road seems hard and laborious, when fear and anxiety seem to prevail, it is especially then that the Word of God should be our light and strong support.” God speaks to us on our journey through his Word, which is a lamp for our path and a lamp for our feet. How wonderful if the Word could be our strength for the journey as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus exclaimed “No sooner do I glance at the Gospel, but immediately I breathe in the fragrance of the life of Jesus and I know where to run.”

Drawing strength from the fragrance of the Word allows us to persevere in the struggles. They are like sacred smelling salts to revive the soul. Perhaps you have seen a person who has been overcome being revived by placing smelling salts under the nose. At times we need this spiritual reviving also to being us back to life. To not lose our smile in the challenges. Mother Theresa gave the following advice in difficult moments: “Whether Jesus wants to give or take...or when your nothingness frightens you, give him a big smile!” There is an action song we teach in our activities and it is entitled “With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm”. One day this week when I was feeling stressed I received a text message asking me if I was still smiling and at that precise moment I was not and it reminded me not to forget to smile! How about you? Are you still able to give Jesus a big smile in the difficulties?

It is interesting in the Gospel today the purpose of all the calamities and disasters described. What do they all lead to? To the opportunity for us all to give witness to our faith! Jesus says that all these trials and struggles “will lead to your giving testimony.” How wonderful to view the unexpected struggles, both external and internal, as moments to give testimony, to show our love, and most of all to persevere. St Augustine wrote in his Confessions “Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Who would choose troubles and hardships? You command us to endure them, but not to love them. No-one loves what he has to endure, even if he loves the endurance, for although he may rejoice in his power to endure, he would prefer to have nothing that demands endurance. In adverse circumstances I long for prosperity, and in times of prosperity I dread adversity.” The lives of the Saints are really testimonies of endurance, of perseverance until the very end. St Teresa of Avila said “dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God.” She realized that impatience makes us suffer all the more and as an antidote advised that we “watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though our impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.”

Jesus reassures us in the Gospel not to worry too much about our defence as he will give us the necessary wisdom, and even if we are put to death by our ‘loved ones’ (as sometimes those closest to us inflict the most painful blows!) and hated by all because of the name of Jesus: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will save your lives."

Let us pray like many of the Saints for the gift of Holy perseverance. Actually perseverance is part of the virtue of fortitude. Fortitude is not only necessary to begin an action with courage but to sustain it, until the end. Often to endure and purse a difficult path, seeing it through to the end is more difficult than just initiating it! Of course we need each other to persevere. It reminds me of the three men stranded in the desert. They come across a genie in the lamp who grants them one wish each. The first wished to go home to his air-con, his family and a cold ice-tea. Pow! And he was gone. The second wished to be on a beach with a cool breeze blowing and an ice cold orange juice in his hand talking to his wife. Pow! And he was gone. The third was reflecting. He was not married, no family. His companions would be busy now with their families. “Now I feel a bit lonely, how I wish my companions were bhere again”. Pow! They came back. We need each other, and especially to persevere. May our good Lord, our best friend and faithful companion strengthen us in the hour of battle and help us to persevere until the end. And in the heat of the struggle don’t forget to look at Jesus and give him a big smile! Amen.

7 nov. 2010

REFLECTION Sunday´s Gospel


32nd Sunday Ordinary time C
(Nov 7, 2010)

Fr James McTavish, FMVD

Three little worms

There were 3 worms crossing the railway track, daddy worm, mummy worm and baby worm. Suddenly a train came. They squiggled as fast as they could. After the train passed the baby worm said “Thank God the four of us are safe.” Explain! This was the question I was asked this week. Sometimes in life there are tricky questions which come along and the same happened to Jesus in front of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a priestly class, many of them aristocratic and wealthy. They did not believe in the resurrection and held on the Pentateuch (Torah) as authoritative. They present Jesus a trick question - "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her." It is a trick question because they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

How does Jesus answer them? He reminds them that in this age marriage is necessary to continue the human race but in the next life all will be alive in God. There will be no wedding celebrations in heaven only the definitive ‘wedding’ of each one with God. One woman came back from Church and told her husband that the priest said in the homily that in heaven they would not recognize each other. The husband replied “that is why it is called heaven!” A little joke! In this present earthly life, consecrated life is called to be a sign of the future reality where we will be joined to God. Some people wonder why Religious do not have a wife or husband. Is it because no-one found them attractive or just because there was no talent? One missionary told us how when he was a medical student, long before he entered missionary life, he fell in love with the smile of a beautiful girl in the library. She was studying dentistry and would go there to look at her books and he would go to look at her. One day she invited him for a cup of tea at her grandmother’s house. There he admired so much the beautiful teeth of this dentistry student. When the grandmother asked him for more tea he got a shock as he saw her lone tooth. In that moment he had a vision of things to come – the contrast between the beautiful teeth of his sweetheart and the beautiful tooth of the grandmother. He would later enter religious life and once a priest he became extremely sick. Some students asked him did he regret not marrying his girlfriend. He replied from his wheelchair “No way! Before I only had one girlfriend, but now I have 3,000 million.” Consecrated chastity is a sign of the world to come and invites Religious to have a heart full of the love of Christ for all people.

A sure sign of faith in the resurrection comes from those who give their life for Christ. It is not by chance they are called martyrs, which is a Greek word meaning witnesses. By their death, they witness their undying love for Christ and their faith in the resurrection. The first reading presents the seven brothers put to death for their belief in God (2 Maccabees 7, 1-2.9-14). They were tortured to force them to eat pork against their Jewish faith. At the point of death they said “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever” and “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him”. This same courage is shown in the lives of many martyrs. Last week we went for a 2 day retreat in a Jesuit retreat house in Novaliches, near Manila. I was very struck by an image and the life story of an English Jesuit martyr called Edward Campion. He was a brilliant orator at Oxford university and gave the welcome address to Queen Elizabeth I when she came to visit in 1569. Later he became a Jesuit Catholic priest and was put to death for his faith, sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.

Seeing the courage of these people can help us live the challenges of this life. They help us strengthen our faith in the resurrection. How is our faith in the resurrection? We should look at how we live each day and how we face death – those moments when we should die to our selfishness and useless fears. Die to that feeling of rancour and bitterness towards that person you do not like! Die to that laziness that makes your following of Christ lukewarm! Die to that addiction to Facebook that cuts your prayer time! There are many small ways we need to die, to die to sin, to die to all that is not love including dying to pessimism and criticisms! In the moment of death our earthly life will be transformed. Don’t leave all the work for the last minute but each day we need to die a little each day! Eternity begins today. If we do not believe in the resurrection we will also be Sadducees - Sad-you-see! If we do not believe in the resurrection then in the moments of struggle and death we too will be sad you see. How great in the moments of darkness to announce like the psalmist “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full!” We have this certainty that after the winter comes the spring. Jesus alludes to this God of the living in answering the Sadducees. He draws from their much loved Pentateuch where it says that God is a God of the living and not of the dead so their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive in God as “God is a God of the living not of the dead”.

And why did the baby worm say 4 of us were safe and not three? Because he couldn’t count yet! But one thing we can count on is God’s love for us and he comes in every Eucharist to strengthen our love for him and to learn how not to be afraid of death. In this way, we can give witness and be martyrs, so that ‘the Word of God can run its course and be glorified’ (2 Thess 3,1). Let us continue this Eucharist with courage knowing we have a God who loves us and gives his life for us in every Eucharist and may he strengthen our faith in the resurrection of the dead. Amen