SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION Gaudete Sunday 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C by Fr. Efren Jimenez, OFM

The liturgy of the 3rd Sunday of advent is full of reassurance and comfort for us. In the past it was known as “Gaudete Sunday,” the Latin word meaning “rejoice.” The liturgy then tells us to be happy, not to worry, that the Lord is near And if we want the peace of God to be in our hearts and in our thoughts – our hearts that are always seeking to possess the things of this world – our circumstances, but moreover about our future – then that peace will be ours if we simply and trustfully ask God for it. Scripture tells us to do precisely this where it says, “There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving.” Note as well that it tells us not to wait until after God grants our requests before thanking him. Even as we ask, we should be giving thanks. One of the things we should thank God for at the end of this year has been the Christian witness given by so many good people in our time.

Wherever there is evil, God will ensure that resolute and saintly souls will rise up to combat it. Such was the call, the prophetic witness associated with the person of St. John the Baptist, as described in the readings for this Christmas preparation period. People were prepared to walk all the way from Jerusalem down to the vicinity of Jericho in the deep Jordan valley, on the edge of the desert – all of fifteen miles each way – in order to see John, this charismatic figure who until then had lived the life of a recluse in the desert around the Dead Sea. Having seen him, many moreover wanted to stay and listen to his message and be baptized by him. But the reaction also of many of them to John was one of uncertainty – that uncertainty which surfaces in all of us when we take time to cast a critical eye on the kind of life we are leading.

“What must we do?” they asked him. And John spelt out the answer for them in no uncertain terms. While their seeking for guidance showed their willingness to change, it also showed that they were lacking in the Holy Spirit, in that fire in which according to the Baptist, Christ when he comes will baptize. For not only does the Holy Spirit guide us, he pleads for us with sighs too deep for words. “Love and do what you will,” was to be the motto of St. Augustine; meaning that if people have total inner commitment to God then they will be incapable of doing wrong. They will know instinctively what is right from the promptings of the Spirit within them.

John the Baptist however attempted to effect this inner change in his listener’s hearts by telling them not to be grasping, not to exact from others more than a just return for their services but rather to help those in need. “If anyone has two cloaks, he must share with the man who has none.” “Give your blood,” the ancient monks in the desert used to say, “and you will possess the Spirit.” The society to which John was addressing himself – as indeed Jesus did later – was to collapse because of its lack of spiritual depth, its over concern with externals as evidenced by the Pharisees, its pursuit of a narrow minded nationalism as seen in the Zealots who resorted to violence and assassination in their hatred of the Romans.

The greatest danger to the continuation of any society becomes a reality when most of its members become motivated by selfish concerns, greed and covetousness. The message that our own society invariably highlights is not, alas, that of sharing cloaks but of wearing outfits that are better, more comfortable, more in keeping with the size of one’s pay differential. The sad thing is that all this unbridled seeking for earthly comforts, this concern with the cares of life pulls us further and further away from the yearning for himself that God has placed within all of us. It turns us away from the things of the Spirit and from the pursuit of religious idealism. Prayerfully then and in the presence of God, let us give thanks to the Father in this mass for the gift of his divine Son, who in its celebration, makes us one with himself. Let us ask for the peace of God as Sacred Scripture urges us, for that abiding peace which is so much greater than we can ever understand, so much greater than anything in this world can ever offer us. And we can be assured that for all who faithfully do this the reward will be everlasting.

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Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous – the saints each of us have known.

An interesting challenge has been described by Brian Gleeson, CP (Passionist Congregation) on the meaning of the celebration for us today, as we follow Jesus on the way to perfection.

Jesus has just given us his challenging advice on how to be good people. He has told us, in fact, how to be the best people we can be and about the qualities he wants to see in us, his followers. A quick focus on those qualities shows us that they are the very opposite of common and accepted standards and values.

The world around us says, “Blessed are the rich, because they can have anything they want.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” By ‘poor in spirit’ he means those who put their trust in God rather than money, and those who admit that it is not their income, possessions or bank account that make them rich in the eyes of God but the kind of people they are.

The world says,”Blessed are those who live it up and never stop having fun.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” He means those who let themselves feel the misfortune, pain and sorrow of others, and who respond to them with understanding, sympathy, kindness, compassion, and practical assistance.

The world says, ”Blessed are the assertive and aggressive that talk tough and act tough.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the gentle.” Gentleness is not weakness but a form of strength. St. Francis de Sales used to say that you catch more flies with a spoon full of sugar than a barrel full of vinegar. In Jesus’ book, there’s just no place for bullies and bullying.

The world says, “Blessed are those who hunger for power, status and fame.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right.”The only power and status we really need is to keep living in God’s way and to keep doing the right thing. More satisfaction and contentment will be found in living with a good conscience than in hanging out with the movers and shakers andwannabees of this world.

The world says, “Blessed are those who show no mercy and who take no prisoners.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful.” Happy are those who make allowances for the faults and sins of others, and whose greatness lays in their ability to forgive. They will receive mercy and forgiveness from God for their own sins.

The world says, “Happy are those with clean fingernails, sparkling eyes, gleaming teeth and unblemished skin.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those with clean hearts.” It is from the heart that all our thoughts, words and actions flow. If the heart is clean then everything that flows from it will be clean, as clean as water flowing from an unpolluted spring.

The world says, “Blessed are those who get even and exact revenge.” But Jesus says, ”Blessed are the peacemakers.” Happy are those who spread understanding among people, those who welcome strangers and those who work for a more just and equal society. They are truly the children of God.

The world says, “Blessed are those who lie and cheat and get away with it.” But Jesus says,”Blessed are those who make a stand for what is right and true.” They may suffer for their stand, but the wounds they bear will be marks of honor and integrity. Jesus practiced what he preached. In his own person he was the Beatitudes. Living them day after day made him the thoroughly good person he was. It’s the same for us too.

Today’s Feats of All Saints is less concerned with the canonized saints than about all the good and holy people who have ever lived. None of us, I feel sure, is aspiring to be or expecting to be a canonized saint. We don’t fantasize that one-day the pope will tell the world what saints we are. We don’t kid ourselves that our picture is going to pop up one day on the walls of churches. Not for a moment do we imagine anyone saying prayers to us or carrying around pieces of us as relics. We don’t foresee any statues of us being carried high in processions.

But in its document on the church, the Second Vatican Council wrote a chapter called, ‘The Universal Call to Holiness.’ So surely our feast today is reminding us of our deep-down longings to become better people than we currently are! Surely, too, it is reminding us that Jesus Christ can and will empower us to practice what he preached and to live what we believe! Surely then, we won’t ever want to stop receiving Him as our ‘Bread of Life’ in Holy Communion!

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SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Fr. Efren Jimenez, OFM

The ninth chapter of Mark’s gospel is alive with visionary wonders. It begins with the narrative of the transfiguration in which Peter, James and John behold Christ with new eyes – yet Jesus orders them not to tell anyone what they have seen –Jesus is teaching the disciples about the coming passion, but they are fearful and fail to see what he means.

Meanwhile in Capernaum, they are arguing on the way about who among them will be the greatest! But this is normal, isn’t it?”I don’t want to a basketball player, I want to be the greatest basketball player!” and we also think of other ambitions of life when we want to succeed greatly, and it does not seem problematic to want to fulfil one’s human abilities and gifts to the best of our abilities.

So what is the problem with arguing, “I am not just one of the twelve, I am the greatest apostle?”

Here Jesus is presenting to his apostles a spiritual world in which greatness is measured not by human striving or boundless ambition but by servanthood. This is a gift and an ability that does not rely on pre-eminence or superiority, but on presence for those in need.

Notice the text moves swiftly from passion prediction through teaching about servanthood to receiving a child in Jesus’ name. It is a movement from death through confronted ambition to a new insight into what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And it is the child in Jesus’ arms who incarnates this lovely truth about discipleship.

In taking the child, Jesus incarnates his teaching. In his reception of the child Jesus models openness, vulnerability and humility to which we are invited. The deep wisdom of God is at work here, for we are all children of God, dependent at all points in our lives on the service of others in varying and different ways.
To recognize that we are called disciples of Jesus is to be at the service of others, especially children and all others who are vulnerable, marginalized and otherwise forgotten.

Servanthood orients our relationship with others, for when our desires are out of order, as James writes, our relationships become disordered: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at way within you?”

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SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) By Fr. Efren Jimenez, OFM

For about three Sundays now, the liturgical readings from the gospel of St. John are about the theme of the “Bread of Life.” Jesus points to Himself as the Bread of life. This is one of the great passages of the New Testament , and one of the most difficult text to understand, just as the Jews have difficulty in understanding Jesus’ saying of the Bread of Life because it is so allusive and use of symbolism is not familiar to us.

But this is why the liturgy has carefully matched these excerpts with stories from Hebrew scriptures that shed light on the sayings of Jesus, and later its special relation to the Eucharist will be quite obvious.

For most Christians this narrative of John brings us to the gradual understanding of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the center of their religious observance. It is a special moment in the week, perhaps in the day, perhaps less often, but nevertheless in the Eucharist they find their faith and hope engendered. It is not just a time set aside but it is an action that sets them apart in the whole of their lives.

To take pat in the Eucharistic celebration is always an act of allegiance, of self-identification and commitment, however slight.

For many decades now, many liturgical reforms and changes have taken place, and has made possible a simpler yet classic, accessible ritual for the faithful to participate. The Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy has guided the believing community to make the Eucharistic celebration the peak or summit of their daily Christian experience of Jesus, to which everything was directed and from which everything flowed. Some of the changes in liturgical matters have often been distressing or disruptive, yet if the liturgical changes were theologically and pastorally well based, the faithful will no doubt integrate their faith towards a meaningful celebration.

Some question maybe pertinent – has the Christian gospel anything to say in response to the social questions of our day? (That is, the questions that arise out of urgent and widespread human suffering today, like the world problem of hunger.)

The Bread of Life is full of implications beyond immediate physical nourishment. But the message that man does not live by bread alone really only acquires a human experiential meaning when seen as the complement to the message that man does not live without bread. There is an obvious, though not literal sense in which we claim to be bread of another, and beyond the strictly physical sense, one person in fact is the sustenance of another whenever one rescues another from despair, hopelessness and after something to which to live.

Our encounter with Jesus, the Bread of Life, is our encounter with hope, light, and salvation.

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The new encyclical of Pope Francis about the Environmentspeaks of the church thinking on the value of care for creation, since, “it cries out to us because we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed us.”

It is characteristic of God to give life, to sustain life and to desire not death but the fullness of life (Gospel of Thirteenth Sunday B).

We feature in this section some relevant themes of life from the encyclical Laudato Si.

Paragraph 8 – The statement of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for, “in as much as we all generate small ecological damage,” we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.” [14] He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings…to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of is natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” [15] For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” [16]

Paragraph 9 – At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion.” [17] As Christians, we are called to “accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” [18]

Paragraph 25 – Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent of natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources, which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatever. Sadly there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.

Paragraph 29 – One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Everyday, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.

Paragraph 48 – The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effect of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.” [26] For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems, which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. [27]

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Ascension Sunday (B) SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION by Fr. Efren Jimenez, OFM

There is much pathos and longing in the story of the ascension which these readings give us twice. The story contains on the one hand the theme of the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, as we have preserved it in the creeds – the theme of the indication of Jesus and of all he stood for and all he taught. But the story contains, on the other hand, the sending of the followers of Jesus to continue his mission, to be his presence in the world. That is why there is a gentle irony in the question raised by the assembled disciples in Acts I. Is this the time at which Jesus will establish his Kingdom, restore sovereignty to Israel? It seems that they who are sent have by no means grasped even now what is the nature of Christ’s kingdom and what is the nature of the hope that is offered to them.

The Ascension story really raises all the important questions about the nature of that hope not only for the disciples of those five years, but or all of us even in our own times. The Ascension means that there is no magic answer to the troubles of the world – no answer that can bypass or dispense with true conversion and transformation of our human society with all its distorted values and inauthentic relationships. The Ascension challenges us to realize that the grace of God does not work above or alongside of our own freedom but within it, and to know that what is accomplished within the human freedom of Jesus cannot substitute for our own conversion but must yet come to include it.

Even the apparently simple imagery of the Ascension story is important. Jesus has gathered his disciples about him one last time, giving final instructions and encouragement. Then he was “lifted up” and enveloped in a cloud. It is an image that recalls the presence of God with Israel in the form of a cloud. It also recalls the passing of Elijah (who was expected to return at the end-time) in a fiery chariot. And the two white clad figures are like those at the tomb, exhorting the disciples not to look here into the past, but out to the community and the future, knowing what is the hope in which they live and reach out to others.

The mission of the apostles was a simple one. It was to teach others all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The program of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only two things that matter have not changed at all.

“You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?” Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful is to give witness. It must seem obvious to anyone who wishes to see, that the evidence of someone who is trying to live the sort of life that Jesus has taught us to live, must be a powerful witness, indeed.

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