GOSPEL: Saint John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.
The Gospel this Sunday has the beautiful statement from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life”. The Lord presents us with such a marvellous gift, and our incredible dignity lies in the fact that we can freely welcome God’s unconditional love for us. But our freedom can also lead to the abysmal poverty that comes with rejecting the love of God. Every day we make many decisions about our health, our careers, our relationships, but there is one decision in life that stands above all others: will I welcome the light that is coming into the world, the love of God for me as a person? If I decide to accept this love, then my life must change radically. It is not possible to accept this love in an authentic way and continue living the banal life that I lead. Once I accept God’s love for me, then I must renounce my self-absorption, my reliance on my own works, my striving for the approval of others. What an incredible dignity we have been given! The capacity to accept God’s gift of himself or to renounce it! We all fail and we are all in need of pardon. The important point is not the greatness of our sin but the greatness of God’s love for me.
God loved us so much that he gave his only Son, but we must accept that Son. And accepting God’s love means to allow our lives to be changed completely
Lent is a battle for our hearts and for our inner freedom. The Fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally associated with consolation and joy. Christian joy is something that has its feet firmly on the ground. Our happiness is something that is always threatened. It must be welcomed, received and defended constantly. The Gospel of John has the beautiful statement of God’s radical concern for us: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life”. The sacrifice of a son that was asked of Abraham is now given by God himself out of love for us. This Son represents the gift above all gifts, bestowed on us because we are so important to him. As a result we are presented with the incredible and beautiful task of welcoming this gift, accepting the Son who carries us with him into the love of the Father. This possibility of salvation does not come without risk. We can believe or refuse to believe. And if we believe, then we cannot continue with the same banal lives as previously! The life that has opened itself to faith cannot be the same as a life that is closed to the faith.
Our enormous dignity consists in the fact that we are free to accept God’s love. But we also have the capacity to refuse it and to sink into abysmal poverty
The first reading gives a summary of a dramatic episode in the history of Israel. The Second Book of Chronicles was the final book in the Hebrew Bible, summarizing the narrative contained in the Scriptures themselves. The passage that we read on Sunday tells of the end of the Exile. There are two elements here: there is the joy of liberation, but this is preceded by great suffering. Israel had descended to the depths of its sinfulness. Its leaders had committed infidelity upon infidelity until the nation had fallen into the hands of foreign invaders. The point is that it is very easy to refuse the gift of God. Christian happiness is not guaranteed simply by virtue of the fact that we are baptized. The greatness of the human being is his freedom to choose; and it can also lead him into abysmal poverty. We can say yes or no to God. Our will is frail and our weakness is great, but we have the incredible possibility of accepting freely the love of God.
The principal decision that we have in life is whether or not to accept the love of God
There is one decision in life that stands above all other decisions. On a daily basis we are confronted with choices regarding our health, our careers, our approaches to different issues. But the real decision of life is whether or not to accept the light that is coming into the world. What counts in life is not acceptance by others, or the approval of the world, or whether or not I succeed in my enterprises. The only thing that matters is whether or not I accept the love of God, allow myself to be loved by Him. When the light comes into the world, will I place myself before Him? Poor as I am, I have the awesome capacity to accept the light. The one who does evil hates the light. All of us do things that are wrong and all of us are weak. The question is how attached we are to our own works, how trapped we are within our own self-absorption. The first reading tells of a people who live only for themselves, following their own ways, incapable of placing themselves in the light of God. As Pope Francis says, God never tires of forgiving us, but we tire of asking for forgiveness. On this Sunday of Joy let us ask for forgiveness! And what is forgiveness? What is joy? It is the fact of being welcomed by God even though we are poor. This is true happiness! But it involves renouncing our own false images of success. Coming into the light involves denying our own works and escaping from the illusion of self-sufficiency.
Just as the people in exile were liberated by a gracious act of God, so too the Lord is ready to free us for no other reason than his enormous love for us
The first reading tells us that the people were ready for liberation after seventy years of exile and suffering. At this point it had become very clear that the salvation being offered to them was pure grace, not something that they had won by merit. The joy of liberation, consequently, was not self-celebration but praise of God. Lent is in progress. Let us hurry to welcome the light, poor as we are. The thing to keep in mind is not the greatness of our sin but the greatness of the love of God for us.
GOSPEL: Saint John 2:13-25
Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
The Gospel recounts the event of Jesus purifying the Temple and chasing away the things that should not be there. There is a clear parallel between the Temple of Jerusalem and the temple that is our bodies. Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit and in need of the purifying activity of Jesus. The first reading lists the Ten Commandments. In the Old Testament these are always referred to as the “Ten Words”. They were not cold imperatives but statements of a loving dialogue with a providential Father. The Commandments were kept in the Ark of the Covenant in the most sacred part of the Temple. In the same way, the most sacred area deep within each of us should be a place where the word of the Lord dwells. This Sunday’s Gospel should prompt me to ask myself: What is in my heart? A relationship of abandonment to the providential love of God? Or a spirit of profit and self-gain? “To profane the Temple” in the Old Testament meant to place something that should not be there in the Holy of Holies. May the sacred place inside of me not be profane! May it be the place of a relationship of trust with my loving Father!
There is a parallelism in this text between the purification of the Temple in Jerusalem and the need to purify what is inside each one of us, since we are temples of the Holy Spirit.
The last line of this Gospel is a useful way to approach the meaning of the passage, even though it would be very easy not to notice it at all. We are told that Jesus did not need to be told what was in the heart of man, because he already knew. This verse can be used as a lens for viewing the entire story of the purification of the Temple. Jesus arrives at the Temple and discovers animals, doves, money changers and sellers. He fashions a broom and clears all of them away from the entrance to the Temple. The act is clearly premeditated. It is not a case of Jesus losing his temper, flying into a fury and losing control of himself. Such interpretations are inconsistent with the wider picture of this symbolic, profound action on the part of Jesus. He then makes an extraordinary prophecy about his Passion and Resurrection. John places this event in the second chapter of his Gospel, immediately after the miracle at Cana. Matthew, Mark and Luke recount it to us just as Jesus is entering Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. But John describes this event just after his account of the transformation of the water into wine, using the very jars used by the Jews for acts of purification. Then he goes to the Temple and cleanses it of the things that ought not be there.
Jesus found the spirit of profit and self-gain in the Temple. What does he see when he gazes inside each one of us?
When the Jewish leaders challenge him about his actions, Jesus begins to speak in a prophetic way about his own body. This connection between temple and the body of Christ is something that we are now well familiar with. The Church is the body of Christ, and each of us is called to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. John’s account contains allusions to all of these elements. At the end of the passage he tells us that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man. In this time of Lent it is important to focus on purification and on what is needed for a pure and healthy heart. “Purification” means “to pass through fire”. What is in our hearts that needs to be passed through fire? When Jesus enters the Temple, he finds merchants. In a parallel way we should realize that when the Lord looks into the interior of each of us, he finds a marketplace. He sees habits and attitudes that use the things of God for our own selfish ends.
The most sacred area of the Temple used to contain the Ten Commandments. These commandments represent a relationship of dialogue and trust with God. What is in inside us, in the most sacred area of our interior lives?
The first reading contains a statement of the Ten Commandments. What is the connection between the Commandments and the purification of the Temple? The Ten Commandments were contained in the Ark of the Covenant, and the Ark was placed in the most sacred part of the Temple. The Temple was divided into different sections. The Court of the Gentiles was an area where even the non-Jews could enter. Then there were areas reserved only for Jews, for the tribe of Levi, for the priest whose turn it was to offer the sacrifices, and finally there was the most internal zone, the heart of the Temple, the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept. To profane the Temple meant to put something in that area that did not belong there. When the Gospel says, “Jesus knew what was at the heart of man”, we should reflect on what ought to be at the heart of any temple of the Lord. In the Latin tradition we speak of the “Ten Commandments” but in the Old Testament these were always referred to as the “Ten Words”. In other words, they were not abstract, cold imperatives, but a relationship of dialogue with the Lord. What is in man? Either God is at the heart of each one of us, speaking to us as an intimate providential Father, or there is deceit, the darkness that comes with refusing the authority of God. When the latter is the case, profit and conceit take over in the Temple. Jesus says, “Do not make a market of this place!” Either we have the paternal wisdom of God at heart, wherein we entrust ourselves to his providence in the Holy of Holies within each of us, or we are a marketplace, consumed by a spirit of self-profit that is never satisfied.
May this Sunday be a time when the sword of God’s word strikes us within, making us ponder what it is that lies in our hearts! Is it a relationship of trust with God, or a spirit of egoism and self-gain?
In this time of Lent we must focus on the state of our hearts. The word of the Lord this Sunday is like a sword that strikes at us within, enquiring what has taken the place of the relationship of trust with God. What is within our hearts? One of the Psalms says: “If you do not speak to me, then I am like one who goes down in the pit”. But if God speaks to my heart, then I am truly alive, happy and well.
GOSPEL: Mark 9:2-10
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleach could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Rabbi’, he said it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
As they came down the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.
1. In the first reading, Abraham ascends the mountain to sacrifice his son. In the Gospel, Jesus ascends the mountain and the disciples discover that he is the divine Son that is offered to humanity.
2. By going apart with Jesus, the disciples discover his true identity. We too need to go apart with Jesus so that we can find out who he really is.
3. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain. They represent the Old Testament, which reveals the light of Jesus’ face. We too will contemplate the light of Jesus’ face when we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures.
4. After the Fall, Adam fled from God, not realizing how wonderful it is to be with the Lord. On the mountain Peter says, “It is beautiful to be here!” Peter rediscovers that which Adam had lost. We too can discover the wonder of being with the Lord if we generously set aside time to be with him.
5. Even from the Cross, the good thief discovers that to be with Jesus is to be in Paradise. This Lent may we discover our Mount Tabor where we can spend time with Jesus and learn to appreciate his beauty, just as Abraham discovered the beauty of God on the same mountain.
In the first reading Abraham ascends the mountain to sacrifice his son. In the Gospel, the Father reveals Jesus as God on the mountain and offers him to us
The second Sunday of Lent is traditionally the Gospel of the Transfiguration. Both the first reading and the Gospel describe mountain ascents. Abraham climbs a mountain to offer his son in sacrifice to the Lord; in the Gospel, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James and John, and it becomes clear that God, too, is making an offering of his son. Abraham’s experience on the mountain is dramatic and full of enigma. As a result of the experience he comes to realize that God is much different than he thought. At this period of history, the Canaanites lived in the area and they had the terrible practice of sacrificing their children to the gods. In order to maintain their control over the things they valued in their lives, they believed that they had to offer to the gods the most precious thing they possessed. Abraham is in the process of getting to know his God, and he must still discover that his God is not of the Canaanite sort. Abraham soon discovers that God does not make demands but provides, gives the very best of himself to humanity. This discovery of the real nature of God comes to completion in the person of Jesus.
In going apart with Jesus, the disciples discover who he really is. We too must go apart with Jesus in order to get to know him
The story recounted in the Gospel is of the utmost importance. The Eastern Church considers this text to be of central significance for theology and spirituality. It highlights the importance of going away to a separate place in order to discover who Jesus really is, to behold his true countenance. In the Gospel, the disciples are given this privilege for a short time: they see Jesus as the Father sees him, not only as a man but also as God. For a while they Jesus in another way, not in the sense of being different but in the sense of being complete. As St Paul says, with the eyes of faith we look at the invisible dimension of things; we look on things as God looks on them.
Abraham discovered God on the mountain and so must we. We do so through immersion in the Scriptures (symbolized by Moses and Elijah) which reveal the light of Jesus’ face
Jesus reveals himself as God on this mountain. Abraham, our father in faith, had a definitive experience of God upon a mountain. We can see things from the perspective of the plain, or with the eyes of God from the perspective of the mountain. The disciples here see Jesus as light and splendour. No laundromat on earth could produce the whiteness that shone from Jesus. No human work can shine like the work of God. One of our most tragic and wayward tendencies is our persistent belief that we can manage on our own without God. But we are made to do things along with God and our neighbour. Without God and neighbour, we are not fully authentic human beings. Along with Jesus on the mountain appear Moses and Elijah. Moses is the giver of the Law, whilst Elijah is the greatest of the prophets. These two personalities represent many things. They speak with Jesus as the disciples look on. In this way they symbolize the Scriptures, composed of the law and the Prophets and which reveal the light of Jesus’ face. The entire Old Testament is oriented towards revealing the light of this man who is not just a man.
Adam fled from God’s presence, not realizing the wonder of the Lord’s presence. This Lent, may we discover the places where we can discover how beautiful it is to be with God.
Peter is afraid and doesn’t know what to say. He comments, “It is beautiful for us to be here!” There is no doubt that the beauty of Jesus must have been immense. But Peter says something more specific: “It is beautiful for us to be here! It is beautiful to be with you and to know you!” It was beautiful for Abraham to entrust himself to God completely. It was the moment when he became a father in the fullest sense. It is beautiful to be in God’s presence. We tend to put God in a compartment where he can come to our aid whenever we need help. But it would be better for us if we were with God all the time. On the Cross Jesus tells the good thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. It is beautiful to be with Jesus, even on the Cross. It is good for us to be with Jesus wherever he is. After the Fall, Adam did not want to be with the Lord. When the Lord searched for him, Adam hid himself. Peter discovered that which Adam had failed to realize: “It is beautiful to be with you, even if I am weak and incompetent. It is beautiful to be with God!” A son doesn’t have to be on the level of his father in order to feel happy in the presence of his father. A student doesn’t have to be on the level of his master in order to appreciate being in the master’s presence. A creature doesn’t have to be perfect; he merely needs to know how to be with his creator. He doesn’t have to be autonomous; he simply needs to allow himself to contemplate his maker. This Lent may we discover our places of transfiguration! May we seek out our Mount Tabors where we learn to entrust ourselves to God and abandon ourselves as Abraham did. Lent calls us to experience intimacy with God so that we can descend from the mountain in the knowledge of the beauty of God.
GOSPEL: Saint Mark 1:12-15
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days,
and was tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee.
There he proclaimed the Good News from God.
‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand.
Repent, and believe the Good News.’
God makes a covenant with Noah after the flood. Jesus goes into the desert and then announces the Kingdom of God. Both of these episodes reveal that communion with God comes after the time of purification. The desert is an essential part of Christian life! Woe to us if we think we can enter the Kingdom, taking all of our illusions, fixations and self-deceptions with us! We need to be purified before we can enter the pure house of God’s love. Woe to us if we confuse the door that leads to our own limited goals with the door to the Kingdom of Heaven! There are many things we need to be rid of before we can make a real alliance with God. The experience of the desert rids us of these things. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is at arm’s reach, but we must repent and be converted if we are to enter it. The word “convert” means to turn and face a new destination; the term in Hebrew means to return to the original state of goodness; in Greek it means to go beyond our habitual scheme of thinking. Lent is the season of the desert when we do all of these things! God wishes to make an intimate alliance with us, but he cannot make an alliance with our self-deceptions! Let us embrace this happy time of Lent and all that it brings: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, emptying of self. This purification is an essential part of orienting ourselves to the Kingdom that Jesus brings.
After the flood, God makes an alliance with Noah. After the time in the desert, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom. Purification is a prelude to communion with God!
In contrast to the First Sunday of Lent in other years (which present us with an account of the temptations of Jesus in the desert), this year we have the succinct account of St Mark. After the temptations in the desert, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven. The first reading recounts the covenant God makes with Noah and with all living flesh. This comes in the aftermath of the flood when God vows that he will never again destroy life with a flood. The alliance with God comes after the time of tribulation. Similarly, when Jesus emerges from the desert, he proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and asks that people repent and believe the Good News. This is a wonderful key for approaching the season of Lent. The time in the desert is an essential prelude to new life and communion with God.
The desert is an essential part of Christian life. To arrive at the freedom God wishes for us, we must be stripped of those things that limit our freedom
In Mark’s Gospel we are told that Jesus goes into the desert after he is baptized. Why could he not begin his mission immediately after his baptism? The text tells us that the Spirit drivesJesus into the desert. The original Greek terms is particularly violent, as if Jesus was dragged into the desert. This emphasizes that his sojourn there is no accident. The Spirit takes him to this place of desolation and temptation because Jesus must follow the same path that every human being follows. Every human being must reach the stage of forming an alliance with God. And it is not possible to arrive at the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven if we do not first make this journey that Jesus makes on our behalf. The Season of Lent every year is the happy time when we make this journey in a special way. We must go to the place where we can confront our temptations and be purified. We must face down the wild beasts and the dangers in a sacred space where we do not have our domestic comforts. Our need for purification is an essential need, a need that if often overlooked today. The journey to freedom, beauty and joy is not a victorious journey. It involves being stripped bare of those things that obstruct our entry into the Kingdom.
Do we really think we can enter the Kingdom whilst holding on to our disordered habits and behaviour? There are many things in our life that cannot enter the Kingdom, and we need the desert to rid us of these
Jesus, having taken on our flesh, confronts the desert. The desert is a fundamental element of the Christian life. Before Noah can make the alliance with God, he must pass through the period of desolation. Woe to us if we think we can enter the Kingdom, taking all our fixations with us! Woe to us is we think that we can cling on to our disordered behaviour and still enter the pure house of freedom, the splendid and joyful house of love! There are many things in our lives that must remain outside. It is simply not true that everything in life can be “canonised” or made acceptable. A cultural tendency in our time is to sanctify and regularize those problems that we are unable to face. We have certain internal or moral difficulties, but instead of confronting them, we convince ourselves that everything is fine as it is. But the human being needs purification; he needs to enter into combat with these aspects of himself; he needs the biblical flood to prepare him for entry into the Kingdom.
Lent is the season of reorienting ourselves to the Kingdom of God. But we must repent and be converted before we can enter the Kingdom. “Convert” means different things in different languages: to return to the original state of goodness; to turn towards a new destination; to go beyond our usual ways of thinking
Lent is a season when we reorient ourselves to the Kingdom of God. Jesus says in the Gospel, “The time has come”. In other words, this moment is a beautiful one, full of possibilities and good things. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. We can be saved wherever we are and in whatever condition we are in. However, the next words of Jesus are important: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Believing in the Gospel is fairly easy because it is a beautiful thing, but the business of conversion is not so simple. It involves a definite choice on my part. The term “convert” literally means to turn towards a new destination. The old Hebrew word for conversion signified “to repent and go back to the original good state”. The Greek word that appears in the original version of the Gospel means “to go beyond my habitual way of thinking”. All of us need to return to the original state of goodness! All of us need to direct ourselves to the right destination! All of us need to go beyond our habitual schemes! We need to orient ourselves to that which is truly worthy of us.
God wishes to make an alliance with us, but he cannot make an alliance with our self-deceptions! We need the desert to eliminate these.
This Lent we need to enter into this time of purification, enter into this flood, establish a new alliance with the Lord. God will not make a covenant with my self-deceptions! The gate to the Kingdom of Heaven is not to be confused with the ambiguous gate that leads to my limited and self-referential goals. God gives us signs of purity and of freedom. The rainbow reveals the secret of light and of colour. It normally appears when the rain is over and the sun is breaking through. It comes after the tribulation, after we have rid ourselves of the unessential. In impoverished words, we are called during the season of Lent to enter into combat with our self-delusions, with the demon, with Satan. Who among us can face this combat by himself? We need Jesus to lead us and guide us. We need to enter into that space which has none of our domestic comforts. If we remain in our comfort zone, refusing to be challenged by other ways of thinking and living, then we will fail to make the leap to the most noble part of ourselves. We need the desert, an experience away from the banality of ordinary life. This experience makes possible the leap beyond our schemes of thinking. The fact is that the Kingdom of Heaven is beyond our normal convictions and comfort zone. It comes after the desert. Let us embrace this desert, this time of Lent, with all that it brings, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, sobriety, self-emptying! We need purification if we are to be oriented towards the Kingdom of Heaven.
GOSPEL: Saint Mark 1:29-39
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped, her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighboring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’
And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.
In the first reading, Job speaks of the misery and anguish of life. In the Gospel, all the miserable and anguished present themselves to the Lord and the Lord heals them. Our anguish and despair is the door by which the Lord gains entry to our lives. Don’t worry about your illness! Don’t be anxious about your limitations and inadequacies! These are the very means by which Jesus reaches you; this is the space in which the Lord moves! We have two choices open to us, as Job had. We can complain about the fact that life doesn’t bring us the self-satisfaction that we crave; complain about the demands of others on us. Or we can see these limitations and the demands of others as an opportunity to go beyond ourselves in joyful service. How different it is to consider our body as an instrument for our own satisfaction, or to look on it as an instrument of service for others! How different it is to look on our own lives as a failed venture in seeking our own advantage, or to look on it as a process of continual formation in the art of love, a journey of opening our hearts to the transcendent. In the Gospel story, Jesus is presented with the opportunity to enjoy the adulation of others, But he rejects that and states that he was sent to go and preach elsewhere. Like Jesus, we too were made to go elsewhere, to go beyond, to no longer live for ourselves and to give ourselves in joyful service to others.
The first reading from Job presents us with a picture of an afflicted humanity. We see the same afflicted humanity in the sick people who pursue Jesus.
The first reading presents us with the bitter picture of the suffering of Job. Job describes the suffering and anguish of the human being on this earth. His days are lived like a hired mercenary who longs only for his wages. At night he wonders when will it be morning, but when day comes he wonders will it ever end. The Gospel that follows is divided into two parts. Firstly, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to the house of Simon. The passage from synagogue to house is symbolic of the beginning of the church. Here in the house we meet the very suffering humanity that Job has told us about in the first reading. The mother of Simon is ill. Jesus confronts the vulnerability and limitedness of the human condition and performs a healing. The lady rises and serves them, demonstrating in the act of service that she is no longer the victim of her condition but is capable of looking after the needs of others, an example of the true healing of the human being! It is the Sabbath day and there is a Jewish prohibition on movement. But when night falls, all the afflicted people in the locality present themselves at Simon’s door. Jesus heals the sick and drives out demons. Then the Gospel changes tone and we move into the second part. In the early hours, Jesus goes away by himself to pray. Simon searches for him, saying that everyone is looking for him. Jesus replies that he must go to other cities to preach there, for that is why he came.
Our anguish and despair is the door by which the Lord gains entry to our lives
How can we illuminate these two parts of the Gospel in the light of the first reading? The anguish of humanity described in the first reading is the lead up to something else. It is the prelude to encountering the Lord! Our poverty, our “fever”, our limitedness, our fatigue, is the space in which the Lord can enter, the landing ground for his power to descend on us. It is in our poverty and illness that we experience the healing power of the Lord. Therefore let us not be anxious about our illness. It is a way for us to encounter the Lord! Every human limitation is a doorway for God to enter our lives! Our anguish, our desperation, our bitterness, is the space for the sweetness of God to be manifested.
Our role in life is either to be mercenary or missionary; to work for our own satisfaction or to serve others
Job speaks of the man who lives a life of drudgery and service on earth. He is a mercenary who is useful for as long as he has a job to do. After his work is done and he has received his pay, he no longer counts for anything. This bitter vision is completely overturned by Jesus’ view of himself and his mission. The Lord rises early to pray. Everyone searches for him and he is confronted with the temptation to enjoy his success. His response is, “Let’s go elsewhere! I came to preach in other places too.” He goes through all of Galilee driving out demons and healing people. This illustrates something for us: We can see our role in life as being mercenary or missionary. We can consider life to be an obligation in which we are required to do certain unpleasant things, or as an adventure in which we have been entrusted with something wonderful. How different it is to look on our daily life in a mercenary fashion, or as a mission to be accomplished! How different it is to look on the demands of others as a burden to be avoided or as an opportunity to go beyond ourselves in joyful service. How different it is to consider our body as an instrument for our own satisfaction, or to look on it as an instrument of service. How different it is to look on our own lives as a failed venture in seeking our own advantage, or to look on it as a process of continual formation in the art of love, a journey of opening our hearts to the transcendent. Like Jesus says in the Gospel, we were made to go elsewhere, to go beyond, to no longer live for ourselves. We were brought into the world in order to complete beautiful works. When we see a child we must immediately think, “Who knows what beautiful thing this person will accomplish!” When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we should ask ourselves the same question, ask ourselves what good thing we will achieve this day. Let us not look on life in the bitter fashion of the mercenary! Let us look at it as someone who has been called to love and serve others!
GOSPEL: Saint Mark 1:21-28
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
In the first reading, the people of Israel complain to Moses. They do not want to hear the voice of the Lord anymore because it fills them with terror. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches in the synagogue and fills the man with an impure spirit with terror. That is what the authoritative teaching of the Lord does: it makes us feel uncomfortable; it uncovers the deceptions and illusions in our hearts! When Satan tempts us, he rarely does so in a way that explicitly sets us against God. His methods are much more subtle. He leads us to justify and rationalise evil things as if they were acceptable and even good. The term “impure spirit” is very significant. Impure water is water than has something foreign in it. An impure spirit has good elements in it that seem acceptable, but these elements are perverted for deceitful ends. Woe to me if I think I can recognize the deceitfulness in my own heart! Woe to me if I think I can know when I am being led astray by Satan! How am I to win this battle against the deception and treachery within me? How am I to recognize it? The Gospel shows us that only Jesus can flush out the duplicity in our hearts. The man with the impure spirit went to the synagogue every Saturday, but it was only when Jesus spoke that he reacted violently. We all react violently when we encounter the truth. To drive out the deception within our hearts, there is only one solution! That solution is to stay close to Jesus and to the things of God! This will provide us with the constant exorcism that we need!
The people of Israel do not want to hear the voice of God directly. It fills them with terror. Moses foretells the coming of the one true prophet who will speak God’s words, but he also warns of false prophets. There are two types of false prophecy: the exterior ones who preach a false Gospel, and the interior perversion of God’s word in our hearts
The theme of the first reading reappears implicitly in the Gospel. Moses announces the appearance of a prophet that will be of equal stature to Moses. This prophecy is made in response to the behaviour of the people at Mount Sinai. They complain that they are unable to bear hearing the words of God directly. When God proclaimed the ten commandments to them they were filled with terror. This is all very natural! The truth is tough to listen to. It wounds us and embarrasses us. We prefer to hear the truth gradually or through a mediator who brings it to bear on us more gently. Moses accepts the role of mediator but he is aware that he will not live forever, so he announces the arrival of a future mediator. This foretells the coming of Jesus, the one, true prophet. This authentic prophet will have the words of God in his mouth. Moses also speaks of false prophets who will pretend to speak the words of the Lord. This problem of true and false prophecy is a great exterior problem and also a grave interior one.Exteriorly, there are false prophets who misinterpret God’s word and preach a false Gospel. Interiorly, all of us are susceptible to thoughts and patterns of behaviour that misrepresent God’s word.
The authority and truth spoken by Jesus flushes out the impure spirit. The impure spirits within us are not evidently contrary to God. They can profess faith in God whilst distorting and misrepresenting that faith
In the Gospel we are presented with Mark’s first account of a demonstration of authority on the part of Jesus. There are aspects of this account that are unsettling. Jesus preaches in the synagogue on a Saturday and he preaches with greater authority than the scribes. How did the scribes teach in those days? The Hebrew tradition involved citing various interpretations of a given text. No single interpretation had more authority than the others. Thus there were many opinions, thousands of beautiful reflections on various passages of scripture, but nothing definitive. Jesus, by contrast, speaks with authority, with the sense of one who has the capacity to define things. This authority is made explicitly manifest by the violent reaction of the man with the impure spirit. Each Saturday this same man would have gone to the synagogue without ever reacting because no one had ever before spoken with authority. The man could easily bear the relativism of the rabbinic practices of his time! For as long as there was a general failure to define things clearly, mistaken practices and attitudes could carry on in a hidden way. The term “impure” is not an accidental one. It is a word that seems to belong to chemistry more than to ethics. Impure water is water that has other things present in it. The fact that the spirit is termed “impure” indicates that it incorporates various elements mixed together. The spirit cries out, ““What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” There is nothing false or deceptive about this statement! The most dangerous temptations are not those in which we do or say something evidently wrong. The most insidious temptations involve being lured into doing something that seems right in itself, but at the wrong time, or in an inappropriate way. Satan is not a beginner when it comes to tempting us. We must be careful if we think we are always able to recognize when we are being tempted. After many years of the spiritual life we are still regularly led astray by the spirit of deception, who is more subtle and intelligent than the human being.
Woe to us if we think we can recognize the false prophet, or the deceit within our own hearts! Satan is an expert at helping us to justify the indefensible
The impure spirit tries to escape destruction by professing faith in Jesus as the Son of God. The most terrible things are done in the name of God. Things that are done directly against God are relatively easy to recognize. What is more difficult to combat are the false images of God, the misrepresentations of his work, the exhortation to patience when God is actually calling for action, the claim that God is severe about things that he is not actually severe about, falsifications, perversions and half-truths about the things of the Lord. This is the work of the tempter. How do we win this difficult battle? Woe to us if we think we can recognize the false prophet at first sight! The battle is all the more difficult because we react violently when the deceit in our heart is at risk of being exposed. There is a serenity and calmness about thoughts that come from the Lord, inspirations that derive from the Holy Spirit. By contrast there is a violent reactivity associated with the things that have their origin in evil. When our thinking is impure, it is self-contradictory in itself, but it doesn’t show itself immediately: it shows itself when it is confronted with the truth. There are things in our lives that are incompatible with the teachings of the Church, the content of the Gospel and the stirrings of our conscience, but we justify them with a tortuous rationalisation that only serves to obscure the truth. We use our intelligence to justify things that are unjustifiable.
Only Jesus can flush out the deceit. We must stay close to him and to the things of God if the deceit is to be driven out of our hearts
So how do we flush out this impure spirit? It is the Lord Jesus who drives it out into the open. This is the important point of the Gospel! The impure spirit attended the synagogue happily every Saturday and only Jesus was able to drive him out. We too have desperate need of real contact with Jesus and the things of God. These things are incompatible with the things of evil. We need to become ever more conscious of those things that dispel darkness and illuminate our lives. There are things we don’t like to speak about, because if we were to speak about them, our self-deceptions would come to the fore. Often we justify things that are indefensible with the expression “You are unable to understand me!” If we can’t be understood, then maybe it is because the way of thinking that we are clinging to is an irrational justification of the deceit that lies in our heart. It is common for people with a spiritual director to notice that there are things that they are afraid to talk about. The things we are afraid to talk about are shadows of the impure spirit within us. We need to be where Christ is if this battle is to be won, for it is the Lord who wins the battle in us! These things we have said about the Gospel today are poor, elementary and incomplete. How much else could be said! Recall those moments when a clear light shone in our hearts and darkness was dispelled! When the deceit and delusion was driven out! We need constant contact with Jesus in order to have this continual exorcism from our inner deceptions.
GOSPEL: Saint Mark 1:7-11
And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.I have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit as a dove descending, and remaining on him.
And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
The feast of the Baptism of our Lord presents us with the Third Epiphany or the manifestation of our Lord, the first being the Nativity of our Lord and the second, the feast of the Magi. The Baptism of Jesus was the moment when he passed from the relative obscurity of village life in Nazareth onto the public stage of his mission of proclaiming the God’s Kingdom. We are brought to the banks of the River Jordan somewhere north of Jerusalem where John the Baptist had begun his ministry. John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness and was baptizing all those who would respond to his message of repentance. The purpose of his ministry of preaching and Baptism was to direct people toward Jesus who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus came from Galilee to River Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus subjects himself to this simple act of repentance and is baptized by his own cousin. Baptism is meant as an acknowledgement of sin and Jesus was totally sinless. He had no need of repentance or forgiveness. Yet this was the beginning of his mission as was planned by his Father. The Baptism of Christ as recorded in all the four Gospels indicates the Trinitarian Revelation and the commencement of the public ministry of Jesus. When Jesus came out of water after his Baptism the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. There is also the voice of the Father that comes from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The first reading of today from Prophet Isaiah summons the exiles to return to Jerusalem and go back to the life in God they had before the exile to Babylon. It is full of symbolic language which invites all those who are thirsty to come to the waters that supply the spiritual refreshment and renewal we all need. All are to come for wine and honey, symbols of abundance. No money is needed because all these things are beyond all price. They are price-less. The prophet asks why they have to spend their money for that which is not bread and their labour for that which does not satisfy them. The prophet may have referred to their worship of idols found in the pagan religion. Instead, they are called to eat what is good and delight themselves in rich food namely, the spiritual blessings from God in Scripture. The Prophet now calls the people to seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near. He admonishes the wicked to forsake their ways and return to the Lord because the God is filled with forgiveness and love. Towards the end of the passage Isaiah says that our human thoughts and ways are not God’s ways. The prophet asks people to set their minds on the flesh are death, but to set their minds on the Spirit is life and peace. The passage ends by saying that the Word of God is powerful and shall not return to God empty. Just as the rain and snow do not return to the skies without having watered and nourished the earth, so God’s Word will not return without fulfilling its purpose. God’s plans and God’s designs cannot be frustrated.
If we use Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 for the first reading we have the word of God regarding the promised Messiah who is God’s chosen Servant in Whom the Divine Soul would delight. God speaks with joy about this servant, announcing that he is filled with God’s Spirit. This servant goes about the mission in a way that distinguishes him from prophets who went about proclaiming the word of God in public places. The servant proclaims the word of God more by example than by words. He proceeds with kindness and mercy, nurturing those who retain the potential for new life. His ways are gentle and his aim is to transform the nations of the world, reaching even distant coastlands. God assures the servant the ultimate victory. Filled with the Spirit of God, the servant will bring forth justice to all the nations, not just to God’s chosen people, to restore the nations of the world to a right relationship with God. He will give them new sight, free them from whatever holds them bound, and bring out into the light those who live in darkness of sin and ignorance. A dimly burning wick He would not quench and there is always hope when the grace of God is at work. In the end, the promised Messiah would faithfully bring forth justice, not a worldly justice but a spiritual one.
In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter of John, we are told that those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, have been born of God. Those who love God the Father, they also love Jesus, the Son of God. We show that we belong to God’s family when we believe in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. Through our love for God and our obedience to His commandments, we show our love towards others who are also children of God. To shine in the love of God, we must obey His commandments. His commandments are not so difficult to obey because when we are born of God through the Sacrament of Baptism, we receive the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Most Holy Name of Jesus so we may overcome the worldly desires and pleasures. Our victory over the world is our living faith in Christ. Our living faith is manifested by our spiritual works that are signs of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Faith is a pure gift from God and a living faith is a sign of our relationship with God. Jesus came into the world by water and Blood, meaning through his Baptism and through his death on the cross. He did not come by water alone but by the water and the Blood. In this way Jesus overcame the world and he now enables us to live as the children of God.
The opening words of today’s Gospel tell us that John the Baptist was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is important not to misunderstand the meaning of these words. It would be quite wrong to think that people simply had to come for baptism in the river for all their sins to be wiped out. That would be little more than superstition. The baptism itself was a symbolic act which had to be accompanied by an inner change. The word for ‘repentance’ here is metanoia in Greek, meaning a change of heart. It implies a radical change in the way we look at the meaning and purpose of life and how we live that life ourselves. It calls for much more than is connoted by ‘repentance’ which we normally understand as ‘being sorry’ for something we have done. Metanoia is much more than just feeling sorry. It calls for a total reorganization of one’s attitudes so that such errant or hurting behavior would simply disappear from one’s life. At the same time the ‘forgiveness of sins’ is more than just God just wiping out the guilt and the threat of punishment that our sins might involve. In a sense, our sins can never be wiped out. The damage they do often lasts for a very long time and cannot be undone. If I have pained someone badly, the hurt feelings remain and there are damages even when we feel sorry about it. Hurtful words spoken cannot be called back. If we have destroyed a person’s reputation, the damage remains forever. Obviously, ‘repentance’ and ‘forgiveness’ in this sense bring people and God together and bring people and people together. That is what John was preaching and it is a message which Jesus, too, will preach during his public life.
It is very important in the gospel tradition to make clear that John the Baptist is in no way equal to Jesus. In the writing of Mark, John does not know who the Messiah is but he does know and states emphatically that it is not himself. In the Gospel narrative we heard the account of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. John’s Baptism was a Jewish ritual cleansing with water and instilling repentance for sin. This in fact was part of the preparation process for the advent of Messiah. The Messiah however will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit. Mark does not give an explanation of this nor does he show it being fulfilled. Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up in this term: “baptism”, which in Greek means “immersion”. The Son of God, who from eternity shares the fullness of life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was “immersed” in our reality as sinners to make us share in his own life: he was incarnate, he was born like us, he grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the “baptism of conversion” administered by John the Baptist. The first public act of Jesus, as given by the Evangelist, was to go down into the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, in order to receive this baptism. The entire mystery shows that the Messiah will bring a new creation animated by the power of God.
Mark clearly shows with the Baptism of Jesus that he is the Messiah, the one for whom John served as a precursor. As John speaks, he tells the crowds that someone far more important is coming than John himself. This person is far more powerful and will do far greater things. He is so great that John is not worthy even to untie his sandals. This person too will proclaim a baptism but it will not be like his baptism with water but with water and the Spirit. When Jesus arrived at the River Jordan, John was naturally reluctant to baptize him, and indicates that it ought to be the other way around. But because this was the Father’s will, Jesus insisted that he be baptized. Once he was baptized, there was the transformation that took place. Jesus became aware of his mission, the call of the Messiah. It was manifested to him by the spirit. By being baptized by John, Jesus becomes fully identified with Israel and the people of God. With the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove, the divine identity of Jesus is made manifest. In a real sense, Jesus is here anointed with the Holy Spirit for his divine mission and his ministry. The presence of his Father revealed it to him. From now on the Spirit will lead him to the desert, to public life and finally to his cross. Baptism was the starting point of his new mission given by his Father. What is happening here is that Jesus, as he stands there in the River Jordan, is being ‘commissioned’ by his Father for the work he is just about to begin. He is here getting the total endorsement of his Father for that work.
The final confirmation of the divine identity of Jesus comes from a mysterious voice which can only be understood as the voice of God the Father. The Evangelist today recalls that when Jesus came out of the waters at River Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, while the Father’s voice from Heaven proclaimed that Jesus is God’s beloved Son and that God is well pleased with him. Mark wants this affirmation to recall in the mind of the reader those very important Suffering Servant Songs of Isaiah. These will provide the context within which Jesus will fulfill his Messianic calling as God’s beloved Son. A voice from the heavens confirmed the scene. There are only three recorded times in the New Testament when the voice of the Heavenly Father has been heard by the world. This was the first time; then at Transfiguration and finally at the end of his Ministry when Jesus asks his father to glorify God’s name. The second part of the message tells us that God is pleased with Jesus. The Heavenly Father has placed on his beloved servant the Spirit which is necessary for the redemptive work. The Father is the one who has chosen him and has sent him on the mission and the obligation of every individual is to listen to him and follow his dictates.
The dove mentioned by Mark is a symbol of many things. In the Jewish Scriptures it symbolizes peace and love. In the wisdom literature it is the symbol of gentleness. In today’s context of Baptism the dove is pre-eminently a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who was present at the creation of the universe. This is the same Spirit of whom Isaiah had prophesied when he said the spirit would rest upon him. The implication is that Jesus specially endowed with the Holy Spirit is the creator of the new people of God. From that very moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as the One who came to baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit and St John tells us that he came to give men and women life in abundance, eternal life. This gift of God brings every human person back to the divine life and heals him entirely, in body and in spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created. The purpose of Christ’s existence was precisely to give humanity God’s life and his Spirit of love so that every person might be able to draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why St Paul wrote to the Romans that we were baptized into the death of Christ in order to have his same life as the Risen One. That is the reason why Christian parents bring their children to baptism, knowing that life which they have communicated calls for fullness, a salvation that God alone can give.
In order to understand today’s feast and what took place at the River Jordan, we have to go far beyond seeing Jesus’ baptism as a matter of dealing with sinfulness. Baptism is not, as is true of all the sacraments, an isolated ritual. It takes place in the context of our whole life and the life of the community. Whether we are baptized as children or as adults, what primarily is happening is that we become incorporated embodied, into the Christian community. We become not passively, but actively member of the Body of Christ. It can never be something imposed on us against our will. That is why, for adults, there is now a long process of initiation leading up to Baptism and celebrated in the presence of the whole parish community and at the Easter Vigil. As today’s readings tell us, the Sacrament of Baptism is insufficient to save us. We must live our faith in Christ by obeying the commandments of God. This is achieved by shining in our love towards others as lights in the world. This is why we are told by St. James that our Faith without works is dead. It is insufficient to have faith in Christ to be saved. To be saved, we must practice what we believe in, the teachings of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus we too have the manifestation and the mission and we have to make the choice for God. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us thank Jesus for having showed us the way to salvation that is obtained through His Blood. Let us always remember to call upon the indwelling Spirit who is our spiritual strength to overcome the desires and pleasures of this world.
A little Chinese girl about eight years old was a close observer of the Missionary priest of their village church. She used to watch him at his prayers in the church, listened closely to his teaching and preaching, and watched him as he went about visiting the sick or consoling those in sorrow and pain. She stopped with him and cheered people as he greeted them in the street. He always had a kind word, a smile, a little advice for the young and sometimes a sweet for the children. One day the girl went to the neighboring village. They were having catechism that day and the Sister was telling them of the man who was always kind, who helped the sick, cheered up those discouraged and sad, and who always went about doing well. Noticing the strange girl the Sister asked her if she knew who this Person was. The girl quickly replied: “He is the Missionary Father from our Village.”
GOSPEL: Saint Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him.And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Judah. For so it is written by the prophet:
And thou Bethlehem the land of Judah art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.
The feast of the Epiphany is the celebration of the Lord’s manifestation to all peoples, represented by the Magi, who came from the East to adore the King of the Jews. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from Greek, meaning, a ‘showing’ or ‘manifestation’. Originally the word Epiphany referred to the visit of a king to the people of his provinces. Matthew who recounts the event, tells us how the Magi arrived in Jerusalem following a star, seen at its rising and interpreted as a sign of the birth of a new king. Originally this feast celebrated on the 6th of January, contained four great manifestations of Jesus, namely, the Nativity of our Lord, the coming of the Magi or the three kings, the Baptism of our Lord and the wedding at Cana. Today we celebrate only the feast of the coming of the Magi in search of the newly born king and God revealing himself to the universe to a group essentially non-Jewish. The magi were strangers, foreigners, total outsiders who came to pay royal homage to this little child. In the first reading of today a prophet encourages the people to stand up and welcome a new day. All the darkness will be replaced with light and Israel will become a light to the nations. They will see all the good things God has in store for them. In the second reading Paul refers to the great mystery of God revealed to him, namely that God desires to save both Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Gentiles join the Jews in experiencing God’s promise of salvation. The Gospel of today tells us about the wise men from the East who followed a star in search of the new born king of the Jews. When they find him, they worship him and pay him homage by offering him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In today’s First Reading Prophet Isaiah consoling the people in exile speaks of the restoration of New Jerusalem. In the New Jerusalem, the glory of God would be seen, not only upon the Jewish nation, but also upon the Gentiles. The prophet invites Jerusalem to rise to its feet and witness all the wonderful things God has in store for it. The darkness and thick clouds of human pride and ignorance are replaced with light. The prophet speaks of the splendor and radiance that envelopes Jerusalem. The glory of God shines over it. Just as the lips of Prophet Isaiah were once purified by the Holy Fire, so too sins of the nation were purified by the fire of divine judgment. With so much impurity removed, the nation now reflects the light of faith. It becomes the light to the nations, guiding them along the right path to God. The prophet says that as Jerusalem looks on, she sees her children returning home along the way the Lord prepared for them, from their exile to the Promised Land. Those that return are given the assurance that future generations will enjoy all the benefits God has in store for the nation. In thanksgiving for the priceless lessons of faith offered by Jerusalem, the nations will bring wealth by land and sea. This truth is made very obvious in the last verse of the passage that they shall bring gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice and all shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.
In the Second Reading Paul tells the Ephesian community of the commission of God’s grace that was given to them and prior to the glorious Resurrection of Jesus, the salvation of the Gentiles had remained a mystery. Now, by the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, the mystery had been revealed to the holy apostles and prophets. Paul, who realized that he has received a special grace from God, was commissioned to make this mystery known to the world. He tells them that God’s revelation is universal and sees himself as the steward of God’s grace. Through this revelation the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same Body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. The mystery he received by revelation he is to hand on to others. This mystery was hidden from earlier generations and was not made known to humanity. Paul indicates two parts of the mystery. First of all the mystery is God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Secondly it includes both Jews and gentiles in the plan of God. All are called to be members of the body of Christ and all enjoy the promises God made to Israel. He tells the Ephesians that they should always be grateful to the Jewish people of those days. Thanks to them, we the sinful creatures rejoice because the gracious mercy of the Lord God was bestowed upon us. Now, through our faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism by water and Spirit, we are admitted into the Body of Christ as spiritual members of the growing Kingdom of God on earth.
The Gospel Reading of today gives us the story of the three wise men that followed the star in the sky that led them to the Child Jesus. To the Magi, the light of the star was a symbol of hope, of joy and of peace. To them, the star was but a small reflection of the fullness of the Light of the world that awaited them at the end of their journey. Matthew in the Gospel narrates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea and the arrival of the Magi during the reign of King Herod. The Magi are the central personages in today’s feast of Epiphany. They were pagans who did not know anything about the true God of the Jews. Yet that God revealed to them of the birth of the king he had promised to the Jews. Because Matthew mentioned that the magi observed the star rising in the East and followed the star, support the tradition that the Magi had the knowledge of astrology. Another factor to consider is that they came from the East. This implies that they came from Mesopotamia, the home of astrology in the Hellenistic world. The record of the magi confirms that Jesus was the promised King and Messiah. They came to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, a totally new place, expecting of course the whole city and the country rejoicing at the birth of the prince. Instead they find suspicion and hatred in the reigning king, the hatred which would in a few days turn to murder. When King Herod heard that a King was to be born among the Jewish people, he panicked and called together all the chief priests and scribes. He panicked because he was afraid to lose his throne.
The Magi found the religious leaders full of knowledge of the past history but totally indifferent as regards the present and the future. The leaders were aware that the Messiah, the King would be born in Bethlehem. They also were aware that the Magi were very sure of the truth revealed to them. Otherwise they would not have travelled a long distance in search of the newly born king. In spite of that the thought of going to Bethlehem with the Magi never entered their minds. These were the same leaders who later rejected Jesus as the Messiah and saw to his crucifixion. What they looked for from their Messiah was political power, earthly freedom and prosperity. Now King Herod, after consulting the chief priests and scribes, learned that it has been prophesied that the King would be born in Bethlehem, the land of Judea, the birth place of King David. He told the wise men to continue their journey and when they had found the Child Jesus, to report back to him so that he too could go and pay homage to the King. Again the star led the Wise Men, not only to the town, but also to the house where Jesus dwelled. When the guiding star stopped over the house, the Magi were overwhelmed with joy. They entered the house and found the Child Jesus with Mary His mother and Joseph and worshipped the King. They offered him gifts worthy of a king, namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh, as prophesied in the Old Testament.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that wise men from the East followed the direction of the star and came to visit the Babe of Bethlehem. In the Greek text they are called magoi which is usually rendered in English as “Magi”. Magi were a group or caste of scholars who were associated with the interpretation of dreams, Zoroastrianism, astrology and magic. We are not told what their names were or how many of them there were or their place of origin. Tradition settled on three, presumably because there were three kinds of gifts. And they were also given names, probably from the seventh century, Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. The name Caspar means treasurer, Melchior meaning splendor, Balthazar meaning God protect the king. On finding him, without hesitation or doubt they pay their homage and present him three symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Three gifts are explicitly identified in Matthew, which are found only in Yemen. Many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of the gifts have been brought forward. While gold is fairly obviously explained, frankincense, and particularly myrrh, is much more obscure. All three gifts are ordinary offerings given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as anointing oil particularly at death, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable precious item. The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense or incense as a symbol of priesthood, and myrrh, the embalming oil as a symbol of death. . He will be rejected by the very people he came to save. Ironically, he will be accepted by the outsiders, the gentiles, the marginalised and the insignificant. The star is rather to be seen as a symbol: a light representing Jesus as the Light of the whole world.
The story of the wise men from the East has been a favourite part of Matthew’s infancy narratives. The presentation of the details of the birth of Jesus in a way indicates the future events that will take place in his life. Jesus the Messiah will be rejected by Israel and accepted by the gentiles. Herod, the Chief Priests and the Scribes and all of Jerusalem represent those Jews who reject the messianic king. The Magi on the other hand represent the Gentiles who recognise his divine presence and accept him. Strictly speaking, these wise men were gentiles and they had no reason to travel the distance in search of a Jewish Messiah. Yet the divine revelation makes them undertake the difficult journey in search for the new born king. Matthew is not attempting to show us what really happened historically and factually at the birth of Jesus. He is far more concerned with unfolding of the messianic message to believers and unbelievers alike. Thus the meaning is very clear that God, in the person of Jesus, is reaching out to the whole world. On the other hand, Herod, the chief priests and others are depicted as being uninformed and confused by the wise men’s desire to see the new born king of the Jews. Herod was already the king of the Jews and neither he nor his people were looking for another king. Similar to the ancient story following the birth of Moses, Herod wants to find this child and eliminate him, even though he disguises his plan as a desire to pay his homage.
The Epiphany is the celebration of the universal destination of our Christian message. This story highlights two important truths. First of all, it reveals the royal messiahship of Jesus and secondly, of God’s revelation to the Gentiles. Considering ourselves as their followers we too are called to adore Jesus just as the Magi had done. This also tells us that every Christian is the Church, and each one of us has the mission to proclaim the Word. The Magi heard the word through the star that appeared to them and came in search of the King. The feast tells us that God continues to reveal himself through different stars and invites us to discover the presence of the Jesus the King living among us. We have to put forth our efforts to find him. Most of us are born into a Christian family; it is difficult for us to appreciate how great a grace faith is, and easy to take it so much for granted that we fail to exercise it. Our encounter with the Child will fortify us to readily accept the inconveniences and sufferings with joy, to protect what we have found, in order to proclaim the message of the child. From the Magi, who were making the journey for the first time, we learn how faith perseveres, even when the star is hidden. They did not lose hope. When the star appeared again, they continued their search and like them we too will come into contact with Jesus.
The Feast of Epiphany is a reflection that Jesus is the Light of the world. Through his birth we see the arrival of the Light into the world. The three wise men saw the brilliant star in the sky, understood the meaning and followed it. Through the Magi, we see the light of hope, of joy and of peace to come. All in all, today’s feast is telling us that for God there are no foreigners, no outsiders. From his point of view, all are equally his beloved children. We all, whatever external physical or cultural differences there may be between us, belong to one single family which has one Father, God. It means that every one of us is a brother and sister to everyone else. There is no room for discrimination of any kind based on nationality, race, religion, class or occupation. There cannot be a single exception to this position. The facts of today’s story may be vague but the message is loud and clear. The story tells us that there is no partiality in God and we all of us are his chosen people. Let us try to understand more deeply God’s closeness to us which is also a reason for us to be close to each other. The story the Magi is story of the ways in which God reveals himself and even more about the different responses which his revelation receives. The Magi followed the star and they encountered God. It tells us that we too have to search for our God and cannot rest till we find him.
A certain woman given much to piety had a dream. She was told that Jesus himself would come to her and she must prepare herself and wait for him. She got up very early, cleaned the house, kept things ready for the guest including a meal and waited for the Lord. As she was standing there with expectation a beggar woman came asking for food. The woman was annoyed and chased her out saying I am waiting for an important guest and come another day and I will help you. Then her neighbor came and asked for urgent help in some chores and she refused saying she was busy. Then a school boy came to her asking for some help as he was not able to get the necessary books and she refused. The day went on. Several people turned up at the gate and she found no Jesus coming. Sadly she went to sleep that night and in her dream the Lord came again and she began to complain to him telling how he had let her down. Jesus told her I came to you several times and you refused to recognize me. I was the beggar woman who was hungry, I was the neighbor who needed the help, and I was the school boy who needed support. Whatever you do to the little of my brothers you do it to me.
GOSPEL: Saint Luke 2:22-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesustook him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord — observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord — and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’
As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected — and a sword will pierce your own soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
In Hebrew culture, there were various rituals by which the people consecrated the important moments of their lives to God. The point of these rituals was that they expressed the belief that God was the master of life. He gave the gift of children so it made perfect sense that the first-born child must be entrusted back to him. How often we seek to be the masters of our own lives! And when we do, we end up building consecration camps, or enacting laws that allow us to select which lives to keep and which to discard. We test the child within the womb and if we don’t like the result of the analysis, we act like God and become selectors of who is to live and who is to die. In the feast of the Presentation, Mary humbly consecrates her child to God. And, incredibly, God entrusts him back to us! As the Gospel tells us, this act of presentation is the source of a conflict in the world, the fall and ring of many. We are confronted with the choice to consecrate our lives to God, or to live in a self-referential way, depending on purely human resources. But human resources cannot break down the walls of nothingness that surround us! Only Jesus can. God brings life where it seems impossible, as in the infertility of Abraham and Sarah recounted in the first reading. This Christmas Season, let us entrust our lives to the child born in a stable who reaches down from the depths to entrust his life to us!
Jesus was born among the animals because he wanted to reach down to our very depths to lift us up to him
We approach the feast of the Holy Family in the context of the wave of joy that comes during the celebration of the Christmas season. The birth of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem is the key for interpreting the readings of Sunday's feast. Why is it so important and urgent that the Son of God himself should become man and be born with a flesh like ours? Why couldn't God just have given us a clear list of instructions by which to live? Why couldn't we just make a greater effort to behave better? None of this was enough for God, and that is why Christmas is such a joyful time. God comes himself to live among us and raise us up. He initiates the great adventure of the union between humanity and the divinity. Immanuel - "God with us" - makes himself the least of humanity. In fact he is born in a stable among animals because there is no room for him in human society. God reaches down to the very place where mankind has dehumanised itself in order to lift it up to God. It is this union with God that makes Christmas so joyful. Life is no longer focussed on the purely biological, on the trivial issues that drive us to despair. The union of God and humanity lifts our gaze to higher things, to the wonderful dignity that we possess, and to our supernatural vocation on account of the fact that the image of God has been imprinted on us.
The first reading tells how God blesses us by doing extraordinary things, by giving life where none seems possible
These themes become concrete in the holy family. The first reading from Sunday tells how Abraham has arrived at the edge of desperation. He is old and still has no heir. But God makes him realize that what is at going on here is something of global significance, a blessing that is unfolding and that has no limits. Then the reading skips on a few chapters and we are told that Sarah in her old age conceives a child. Here, we are confronted with the great, the extraordinary, the unexpected. We cannot survive without the extraordinary! Why did the Son of God become incarnate? Because we need something exceptional that only he can give! We need to see the sterile womb becoming capable of generating life, the old age of Abraham transformed into something fertile.
The Presentation is about consecrating life to God. When we try to be the masters of our own lives, we end up destroying the unborn, constructing concentration camps, and creating horrific situations in the world. Life belongs to God and must be entrusted to him. At the same time, God entrust his only son to us.
In this light we consider the Gospel reading, which this year describes the presentation in the Temple of Jesus. The days of purification have ended and it is time to present the first-born to the Lord. This theme is very important in the Old Testament. Life is a gift from God and the first born must be entrusted to the Lord. Rites of purification in the Hebrew tradition were rites that involved human cycles of birth, life and death. There was no sense of "dirtiness" in these rites. Instead they were held sacred because they were ways of consecrating life to God. Life was not something that we were to manage by ourselves. When we seek to manage life by ourselves, we end up constructing concentration camps. When we take it upon ourselves to decide the parameters of life, then we engage in a selection of the species, which is exactly what we are doing now. Our laws permit us to make decisions, following medical analyses, as to whether particular children are suitable for life or not. If we don't like what we see, we are free to discard the life freely. We have become the selectors of who lives or dies. When humanity grants itself the authority to manage the issues of life, we do things that are inhuman and intolerable. In the Gospel, by contrast we are confronted with a mother who humbly consecrates her child to God. But there is also a more universal dimension to the story. The mother is entrusting her child to God, whilst God at the same time is giving his son to all of humanity.
The Presentation of Jesus causes a conflict in the world. Salvation is placed before us. Indeed, the son of God is entrusted to us. We too must consecrate ourselves to him. If we do not, then we will end up living lives that are incomplete and not even human. God is the source of real life. Without him we cannot penetrate the wall of nothingness that surrounds us.
During this Presentation scene we hear beautiful and illuminating prophecies. Jesus is to be a light for all nations and the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. But at the same time, a sword will pierce the soul of Mary; the child will cause many to rise and fall. What is the source of this conflict? We will rise from dust to glory, seeing that glory has descended to the dust in Christ Jesus. But to rise from the dust it is essential that we entrust ourselves to this child who is placed before us. Our families are often precarious places, heading for shipwreck. And they are in this terrible state because they are self-referential, based purely on human resources. But human logic will not overcome the wall of nothingness that surrounds us. In order to truly discover who we are, we must penetrate this wall of nothingness, and it is only with the Lord Jesus that we can accomplish this. In order to overcome the challenges that confront the family, we must consign ourselves to Jesus, purify ourselves so that our hearts are penetrated by the sword that rids us of what is not ours. We do not come to salvation on a wing, making our way with things that are merely human. We must give ourselves over to the Lord. The Lord gives himself to us so that we might give ourselves to him. His was born in the stable of Bethlehem was so that we might start to be reborn in him, to make the essential leap away from ourselves and towards him. The presentation in the temple manifests this combat in which we must engage in order to make the leap. We belong to God. If we do not consecrate our lives to God then our lives are not even human. They are unsatisfying and incomplete. In God everything becomes holy and wonderful. But God cannot force us to give ourselves to him; we must do it ourselves just as Mary did when she consecrated her only son.
We wish a peaceful season of Christmas to everyone and a happy celebration of the incarnation of Our Lord.
GOSPEL: Saint John 1:6-8; 19-28
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ’. ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No’. So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord’.
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap’. This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
This is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. What do we rejoice about in Advent? Isn’t it supposed to be a penitential time? The Christian must always seek to be joyful, even during penitence, because we are a Church oriented towards the Resurrection, towards the love of God for us. There are two types of “joy”: the self-directed “joy” I feel when I am gratified by something; and then there is true joy, which involves rejoicing in another. The first reading says that the Lord is going to clothe us in wedding garments. The joy we feel as Christians is the joy of someone who is getting married. This is the joy of giving oneself, not a joy that measures the value of something in terms of how beneficial it is to me. John the Baptist in the Gospel reading is a prime example of a person who is walking in the joy of the Lord. His entire mission is to point out Christ. He will not tell us who he is himself, only who he is not. He describes himself as a “voice”, but the words he speaks are the words of another and they are dedicated to showing the way to Christ the true light. Adam and Eve tried to make themselves the centre of existence, the light of their own world, but they fell into darkness. John the Baptist, by contrast, moves to the side and allows Jesus to come in. He allows the light to shine. John prepared the way for the Lord to come and Jesus will come into our lives too this Christmas if we stand aside and let him in, just as John stood aside! Our mission is not to serve ourselves but to point to another. In the age we live, humanity blesses its own name. We must learn to bless the name of the Lord
Joy is always a proper state for the Christian, even in the midst of penitence
This is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. Advent and Lent are both seasons of penitence, but both are broken by joyful celebrations on the fourth Sunday of Lent and the third Sunday of Advent. The Church is always joyful because it is primarily oriented towards Easter, towards new life. Therefore it is always turned away from the abyss and looking towards the heavens. Rejoicing is the proper state of the follower of Christ, not the state of sadness! Even in the midst of tribulation the Christian is capable of joy, but this is not to say that we are out of touch with reality. Our joy is a joy that is full of wisdom and fully cognizant of the negative realities in the world. The root of the word “gladness” in Italian (“letizia”) is also used for compost - it is something fertile! Christian gladness is a fertile state of being: it leads to something better and more beautiful.
The joy that we experience in Advent is like the joy of getting married. It is not a joy focussed on oneself but a joy that involves self-giving
The first reading prepares us for this new understanding of gladness or joy. It says: “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God”. The speaker is to be wrapped in the garments of a wedding ceremony, like a groom wearing a crown, or a bride wearing her jewels. The Lord treats me as if I am about to enter a wedding ceremony and encounter another person. The joy of entering a wedding relationship is a particular type of joy. We can imagine a person living in solitude who enters into relationship with others only if those relationships are beneficial to himself. Entering into the marriage relationship is joyful but it involves donating myself to the other. A meagre meal eaten in company is more joyful than exquisite food eaten alone or in anger. The marriage relationship is like the earth that produces green shoots. It is fertile to the extent that it involves self-giving and dying to oneself.
John is a person whose focus is not on himself. He is a voice, but he allows another to speak through him.
Let us consider the Gospel in this light. Once again the text is focussed on John the Baptist. The passage is a bit curious in that it involves a series of negations. A man named John is sent from God to bear witness to the light. We are told that John himself is not the light, and when the officials ask him who he is, he denies that he is the Christ, Elijah or the prophet. “So who exactly are you then?” John replies, “I am the voice of one crying in the desert.” This does not tell us who John is either! He is only the voice - the words come from somebody else. John the Baptist bears witness to the light, but he himself is not light. How important this discourse is! John is the point of entry for the public ministry of Jesus. He has learned to be free from himself. God is working through him. In fact, Jesus says that his equal has never been born – he is the most extraordinary man in history up to that point. But he knows how to keep himself apart and be the voice for another. How liberating it is not to take oneself too seriously!
Adam and Eve tried to make themselves the centre, the light, and they fell into darkness. They failed to see that we are invited to a wedding relationship with him, not to a self-gratifying relationship with reality
What is the problem with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? They try to place themselves at the centre of life, and as a result they become lost in darkness. How wonderful and illuminating is the figure of John the Baptist! He prepared the way for the Lord to come, and the Lord always comes when we put ourselves to one side. For we are invited to a marriage, not to a self-gratifying relationship with the Lord. We are called to fix our gaze on him and not on ourselves. We are asked to be his witnesses, not advocates for ourselves. How boring it is to listen to Christians who wish to speak primarily about what they have done, and who speak too little about what God has done. It gives us infinitely more dignity when we keep ourselves in our proper place, when we know how small we are, when we appreciate that our lives are directed not towards ourselves, but towards something else.
Our age is an age in which humanity blesses its own name. Advent is about learning to bless the Lord’s name when he comes. And he will certainly come if we move to the side.
We are living in an epoch where the human being has made himself the centre, the light, the focal point of reality. How can a creature as impoverished as I am put himself at the centre of reality! What we need to discover, instead, is that we are central only as far as the love of God is concerned. God is central, but he wishes to love us, marry us, to place a crown on our head and a ring on our hand. He wishes to unite with us and make us vest ourselves in the robe of justice, with the beautiful mantle of his love. And we must make ourselves small, make space for him in our lives. We must be able to say, “I was sent by God. It is not me who determines my mission and direction in life. My task is obedience and to follow the plan God has laid out for me. My task is to bear witness to the light, not present myself as the light”. In the spiritual life we often encounter people who have a messianic complex to some degree or other, people who present themselves as saviours of others. But only Christ can save! Let us learn to relativize our own significance! It is thanks to God that we are able to do the little that we do! If we pretend to be able to raise up others, then we take upon our shoulders an unbearable burden, and we will certainly disappoint. The Advent of the Lord is about blessinghis name when he comes, and being free from preoccupation about our own. This is peace, and detachment, and freedom.