THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD: 21 May 2023


CONTINUING THE MISSION
Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

Leonardo da Vinci was working on a large canvas in his studio: he chose the subject, sketched the outline, applied the colours. Then he stopped, summoned one of his students, and invited him to complete the work. The horrified student protested that he was unworthy and unable to complete the work which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him: “Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?”

Our master began his work of proclaiming the good news by what he said and did, and by his passion, death, and resurrection. Then he stopped and summoned his disciples to complete the work.
This is the thrust of the Ascension. Jesus gives his disciples a program (witness to him) and a promise (the Holy Spirit).

This focus comes through beautifully in today’s selection of readings.
In the gospel, Jesus commissions his disciples to teach all nations and to make disciples of them. He promises to be with them “always, until the end of the age.”
In the first reading, the program and the promise are similar. Jesus calls his disciples to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” and promises them the power of the Spirit.

There are three aspects about Christian witness.
a) in a court, a witness cannot give hearsay evidence but personal experience; a Christian testifies to a personal experience of God.
b) witness is not of words but of deeds.
c) the Greek word for witness and for martyr is the same: “martus”; to be a witness means to live the mission of Christ no matter what the cost.

Christian witness sounds a tough task. And it is… if we attempt it alone. That’s why Jesus promises his presence and the Spirit, the Comforter (which comes from the Latin fortis, which means strong). The Spirit strengthens the disciples to carry on the mission of Christ.

Like da Vinci’s disciple, we may think we are unworthy and unable to complete the work of our master.
Will his life not inspire us to do our best? How will I witness to Jesus and carry on his mission? Will I live the program and rely on the promise?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

VI SUNDAY OF EASTER: 14 May 2023


NOT ALONE!
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

Home Alone. The real-life experience, not the movie, of many people. Here’s just one story: 

“I am sixteen. A year ago, I lost the most important person in my life: my grandmother. She was my world, and suddenly she was gone. I was alone. I cried for days, cursing God, her, and even myself for her death. I had no idea how to get through my freshman year, but I did. Now I remember her and do what I know she would want me to do: help people.”

Alone. On their own. That’s perhaps the way the apostles felt during the Last Supper.

Jesus, the most important person in their lives, has repeatedly told them about his death. Jesus promises them his Spirit to comfort and lead them: “The Father… will give you another advocate to be with you always… I will not leave you orphans.” He reminds them: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

A promise and a reminder! The promise of the eternal, comforting, abiding, and advocating presence of the Spirit. The reminder that they will experience the full presence of the Spirit when they love… because the Spirit is love.

We see the promise and the reminder unfold in the first reading: with the power of the Spirit and with love, the disciples go out to proclaim Christ to the people of Samaria. Like the sixteen-year-old, when they reach out, they are alone no longer.

We, too, have been given this gift of the Spirit. Why do we still feel lonely and troubled? Perhaps because we have forgotten the promise and the reminder. 

Am I open to the comforting and guiding presence of the Spirit? Do I keep the commandment of love? Then… I will not be alone. I will not feel “orphaned”.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

V SUNDAY OF EASTER: 07 May 2023


FEAR BUSTERS
Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12


A little boy was scared to sleep alone. He called out to his dad: “I’m scared. Please stay here with me.”
Dad said: “Son, nothing will happen to you. Mom and I are in the next room.”
“I know, Daddy. But I’m scared.”
“There’s no reason to be scared. God is there with you.”
“I know that, also, Daddy. But I want someone with skin on.”

The little boy’s fear is like the disciples’ fear. Jesus—their master, for whom they left everything—is leaving them. They are afraid to face the world alone; they fear staying in their “room” alone.

Jesus assures them that there is no need to be afraid and gives them three fear busters.
The first fear buster: faith in God and his Son. “You believe in God, believe also in me.”
The second fear buster: God is with us. Jesus tells Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In and through his Son, God is by our side, is present with skin on, is deeply involved in the events and crises of our world.
Jesus says: “I am going to prepare a place for you.” God has a special place for each one of us in the church and in the world. We need to find that place/mission/role. The third fear buster: finding our place and mission in life.

Does this mean we won’t have problems? No! The first reading describes the problems the fledgling church has in the food distribution system!
The fear busters help the church overcome this problem. Faith in God and the awareness of his presence with them keep the apostles from getting overwhelmed. They find their place and role in the church: the apostles focus on preaching; they appoint deacons to look after the administration.

The little boy’s fear is like our own. Problems assail us, the darkness of our “nights” frighten us. We need someone—with skin on—by our side.
Do I have faith in God? Do I believe that he is with me in his Son and in people? What am I doing to find my place in life?
May we hear the Lord say: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

IV SUNDAY OF EASTER: 30 April 2023


DO I STILL HEAR THE SHEPHERD?
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20b-45; John 10:1-10


An Amerindian and his friend were walking in midtown New York. Decibel levels were deafeningly high: people chatting, vehicles moving, horns honking. Suddenly, the Amerindian said: “I hear a cricket.” His friend exclaimed: “That’s crazy! You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all this noise!”
The Amerindian insisted that he had heard a cricket. He walked to a big plant, looked under the branches and… found a cricket.
His friend was stunned: “That’s incredible! You must have superhuman ears!” The Amerindian said: “My ears are no different from yours. It depends on what you’re listening for!” He pulled out a few coins from his pocket and dropped them on the sidewalk. Every head within twenty feet turned to see if the money that had tinkled on the pavement was theirs!
“See what I mean!” said the Amerindian. “It depends on what your ears are attuned to, and that depends on what’s important for you.”

Today’s liturgy highlights the importance of having ears attuned to God and his word.

The gospel has two parables.
In the first, the imagery is of a sheepfold into which the shepherd and a prowler seek to enter. It is a challenge to Israel’s religious authorities: will they listen to and heed Jesus’ message? Jesus can offer no external credentials for his authority.
The second parable concerns the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, and between the sheep and a stranger. Jesus indicates that a small group respond in faith to his message because they hear in it the authentic voice of God.

Both parables make the same point: The Lord is our shepherd who cares for us, accompanies us, protects us, and gives us abundant life; we need to listen to him and allow him to be our shepherd. The previous chapter of John had shown Jesus doing the work of the Good Shepherd—healing the man born lame and then seeking him out!

The first reading is an “enactment” of the second parable! The people listen to Peter’s admonishment. “They were cut to the heart” and ask what they must do. They heed Peter’s voice: they repent and are saved.

If Jesus and his word are important for us, we will hear him above the bustle of our lives, above the noise of consumerism and materialism. If our ears are attuned to power, prestige, and pleasure, we will hear those. To whom/what do I listen? Whom do I follow? Do I still hear the shepherd and follow him?
The quality of our life indicates to what our ears are attuned! If we do not live “abundantly”, we are listening to and following not the shepherd but a stranger.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

III SUNDAY OF EASTER: 22 April 2023


GOD WALKS WITH US
Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

The film “The Miracle Worker” is the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. It depicts how Sullivan broke through Keller’s isolation, confusion, and anger, which came about because of her inability to communicate with people. For 49 years, she journeyed with Keller—first as teacher and then as companion. She showed Keller the meaning of words; she helped Keller transform herself from a wild girl into a world-famous speaker, author, and advocate for differently abled people.

The two disciples on their way to Emmaus had a journey like Keller. They have just experienced a great loss. “We had hoped,” they say. Past tense! They have left the community of disciples and are walking away from Jerusalem… away from the place where their hopes were shattered! And then Jesus walks with them. They went from despair to hope, from looking downcast to having burning hearts after the Risen Jesus journeyed with them as teacher (he broke the word to them) and companion (he broke bread with them). After this walk, they became messengers of hope to the other disciples.

The second reading is an excerpt from 1 Peter written for Christians in Asia Minor whose acceptance of the gospel alienated them from society. Peter bolsters their faith. He tells them that during the time of their sojourning, the Risen Jesus sojourns with them.

“God walking with us” is a recurrent theme in the Bible: he walked with Adam and Eve in the garden; he walked with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he walked with the Israelites in the desert; he walked with the exiles; he walked the shore of Galilee healing the sick and comforting the anguished.

We are often on an Emmaus journey. God walks with us in our times of anguish and despair, confusion and pain, when we cannot make sense of the events of our life and our world. Do I recognise him? Or do discouragement and despair prevent me from recognising him?
God continues to explain his way and his word to us. Will I listen to him and attempt to understand? Do I walk with others?

May you and I be aware of God walking with us on our “Emmaus” journeys! May the opening the scriptures and the breaking the bread strengthen us to walk with others to bring them hope.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

II SUNDAY OF EASTER: 16 April 2023


BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

After a lecture on mental health, Karl Menninger—the famous psychiatrist—answered audience questions. One person asked: “What would you advise a person to do if he/she felt a nervous breakdown coming on?” Duh! the obvious answer: see a counsellor! Menninger caught everyone off guard with his response: “Lock up your house… find someone in need and do something to help that person.”

Brilliant advice! And it applies to all sorts of situations: when you have problems of your own, get out of yourself.

That’s what the risen Jesus advises and commissions his disciples to do when he finds them “on the evening of that first day of the week” behind closed doors “for fear of the Jews”! He sends them out with the Spirit to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness.
A week later, he finds them still behind closed doors. Little wonder, then, that Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was risen. They were—in Pope Francis’ idiom—the first “Christian bats”!
They eventually do go out of the closed room. The result? They “suffer through various trials” (second reading). They also experience fellowship—sharing of material resources and spiritual moments—and growth (first reading).

A natural reaction when we are afraid is to focus inward. Sometimes the “unnatural” works better.
Moreover, our closed doors do not stop Jesus; he comes to us in our fear, doubts, confusion… with his peace and with his Spirit. He keeps returning week after week… in the word, in the bread and the wine. And he keeps sending us out of our closed rooms into a world that needs his gifts of life and peace.

What are the fears that keep me behind closed doors? What makes me a Christian bat?
May I live in the awareness that Jesus is always with me. May I get out, help those in need, and proclaim God’s love and forgiveness.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

EASTER SUNDAY: 09 April 2023


BECAUSE HE LIVES

Readings for the Easter Vigil
Genesis 1:1—2:2; Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 14:15—15:1; Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 32—4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-28; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Readings for Mass During the Day
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9


The new pastor—fresh out of seminary—was visiting Joe, an elderly and terminally ill parishioner.
After talking about everything else, the pastor finally asked: “Joe, doesn’t it bother you? Aren’t you frightened?”
Joe smiled and said: “Padre, I know I’m not going to make it, but I’m not afraid. You see… I’ve peeked at the end of the book.”
“What do you mean?” the priest asked.
Joe replied: “Ten years ago, I had a massive heart attack. I remember the doctors thinking I was dead. I also remember the tremendous feeling of being surrounded by God’s love. The doctors revived me. Ever since that day I have been unafraid to die. I’ve been there; I’ve seen the future and it doesn’t frighten me. I know that one day soon I am going to sleep and I believe that when I awaken, I will be surrounded by God’s love.”

Joe peeked at the end of the book. And this made him unafraid to die. We have read the beginning, the end and through “the book”.
The tomb is empty. Christ is risen; he is alive. And we too, shall live… because he lives! Because of the Resurrection, we have a glimpse of the future, of what awaits us; and we can live transformed and fearless lives.

It is the Resurrection that gives meaning to our Christian life. Recall Peter’s address to the crowd on Pentecost (First Reading): he emphasizes that God raised Jesus to life. Recall how the apostles made sense of all that Jesus said and did—during his public ministry—in the light of the resurrection. Recall Paul’s words: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). We shall live… because he lives!

How do we live this new life? First, we commit ourselves to living this new life by renouncing values and ideologies contrary to the way of Jesus. Second, the risen Lord sends us to proclaim his resurrection: “Go and tell my brothers and sisters…”

How will I live like an “Easter person”?
To whom and how will I proclaim the good news of the Resurrection?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

PALM SUNDAY: 02 April 2023


WHEN THE CHEERING STOPPED
Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Gene Smith’s book “When the Cheering Stopped” tells the tale of US President Woodrow Wilson. After World War I, Wilson was a global hero; on his first visit to Europe after the War, cheering crowds greeted him everywhere.
After a year, Wilson ran into opposition: his League of Nations was not ratified; at home, his party was defeated in the elections; in Europe, leaders were more concerned with their own agenda. As long as he “spoke” peace, Wilson was heralded as the new messiah. When he called for change that would lead to peace, the cheering stopped. Wilson became a broken man and a failure.

It’s a sad but not unfamiliar story. Jesus faced something similar during his journey to Jerusalem!
As long as Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, he was popular. As long as the people saw him as a political messiah, they gave him a royal welcome.
When Jesus emphasised that he was a king of love-peace and not a military hero, when he showed that he would rule through humble obedience, when he broke social and religious barriers, when he became a threat to the religious authority and political standing of some people, when he loved all people unconditionally, when he called people to change… the cheering stopped. It turned to jeering. On the cross, Jesus became (literally) a broken man and a human failure.

One who makes people feel good is popular. When one tries to translate ideals into reality, when one wants to change “feel good” to “do good”, when one challenges people to amend attitudes and action… the cheering stops.
Will I be the popular guy who makes people feel good or am I ready to be the unpopular guy who challenges people to be good? What will I do if/when the cheering stops?

I need to remember: The Jesus “story” does not end on the cross; there is the empty tomb. It does not end on Friday; it begins a new chapter on Sunday.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

V SUNDAY OF LENT: 26 March 2023


REVERSAL!
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

I was in Grade 5 when the school showed us a film. It was a thrill to see the shades drawn in the school library and a 16 mm projector set up facing a blank wall. After the film, a few students were hanging around; the art teacher, rather than rewind the film, showed it in reverse. We laughed at the strange images: disintegrated objects were reconstituted, buildings crumbled by earthquakes took shape, people who had been knocked cold came back to life. It was fascinating!

Today’s readings are a vivid description of God’s power to run the film of life in reverse and to revive the lifeless.

Ezekiel (first reading) tells the exiles—dead in heart and spirit—that God will open their graves, raise them, and put his life-giving spirit in them.
Paul (second reading) writes to the Romans that God’s spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.
The story of the raising of Lazarus (gospel) shows us the kind of God we have: our God

  • does not intervene every time to remove pain/suffering and death;
  • is with us amid our suffering; he is one with us, compassionate and empathetic;
  • gives us life.

The recurring narrative today is one of fear and death. We can easily get overwhelmed and bury ourselves in a tomb of fear.
Jesus tells us what he told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life” and asks us the same question: “Do you believe this?”

The liturgy challenges me to

  • make an act of faith that God feels my pain and is one with me.
  • spread the hope that God will revive our lifeless and listless world.
  • be a life-giver through empathy with people who are suffering.

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB

IV SUNDAY OF LENT: 19 March 2023


FROM BLINDNESS TO SIGHT
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Author John Griffin was blinded in an explosion during World War II. Twelve years later, he suddenly began to see what he described as “red sand”. A specialist later told him that a block to an optic nerve had abruptly cleared causing him to see. Commenting on his experience, Griffin said: “You can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time.”

The blind man of the gospel had an experience like Griffin’s: after Jesus anoints the man and he washes in the pool, a son saw his parents for the first time! He saw more than his parents; he saw Jesus as his Lord.
While his physical sight was instantaneously restored, his spiritual sight grew in stages: Jesus is the man called Jesus, a prophet, a man of God, and finally Lord.
The Pharisees/Jews make an opposite journey; they become increasingly blind. They expel the man from the synagogue. Even his parents disassociate themselves from him out of fear.

For the evangelist, this is not merely another miraculous cure. John is writing to a community that is experiencing rejection from Jewish society. Through this sign, he presents the blind man as a model of spiritual growth to encourage them to continue to “see” Jesus as their Lord.

Like the blind man, we have been anointed and washed in the waters of baptism.
Have I grown in my faith response to Jesus: do I “see” him as my Lord… or is he merely a man, a prophet, a man from God?
Am I ready to risk rejection in my desire to see Jesus?

By: Fr Dr Mascarenhas Vinod SDB