On September 30, 2019, on the Feast of St. Jerome, Pope Francis declared the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time as Sunday of the Word of God. On this day he published an Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio "Aperuit illis" which also marks the 1600 death anniversary of St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin. St, Jerome said: "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ." The Sunday of the Word of God is dedicated to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the Word of God.
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965. Pope Francis quote Dei Verbum, 21 in his Apostolic Letter, “Aperuit illis,” “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she has venerated the Lord’s body, in that she never ceases, above all in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the word of God and the body of Christ.”
Pope Francis says in his Apostolic Letter that regular reading of sacred Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist makes us realize that we are a single people who make a pilgrimage through history, in presence of God who speaks to us and nourishes us.
This weekends reading tells us about the importance of listening to the Word of God. In the first reading from the book of Jonah chapter 3, we see Jonah who announces God’s message. The first two chapters of Jonah describes how God responded to Jonah’s flight from His call and the mission He had assigned the prophet, exposing him to a deadly storm and an agonizing experience in the belly of a whale. At God’s second call to preach repentance in Nineveh, Jonah obeyed. Jonah had not even finished the first day of his preaching journey before the people had totally turned around – doing visible penance while asking and hoping for God’s love, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Contrary to Jonah’s expectations, the pagan peoples of the city "believed in God" and "renounced their evil behavior."
In the Gospel of John, in the first chapter, we read, the Word was God and everything came to be through Him, and in the fullness of time, Word became flesh. This weekends Gospel is from the Gospel of Mark, where we see Jesus, the Word made flesh, inviting people to repent and embrace the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God closely connected the ancient kingdom of Israel. Even though David’s kingdom is collapsed, but it foreshadowed the glory of Christ's reign. Where Jesus is there is the kingdom of God.
Today, we have thousands and thousands of missionaries proclaim the Word of God around the world. We see in today’s Gospel reading the initial step. Jesus invited Simon, Andrew, James, and John to join him, so they can be prepared to continue his mission, preaching the Word of God. They couldn’t resist Jesus’ compelling invitation to follow as disciples. They left everything and followed Jesus. They listened to the Word of God, witnessed the miracles and grew in faith.
We all know the reception of the Holy Spirit made the disciples able to proclaim the Word of God. Pope Francis in his apostolic letter says, “The work of the Holy Spirit has to do not only with the formation of sacred Scripture; it is also operative in those who hear the word of God.”
The Pope says that Dei Verbum makes clear that “the words of God, expressed in human language, are in every way like human speech, just as the Word of the eternal Father, in taking upon himself the weak flesh of human beings, also took on their likeness” (No. 13).
Our God is one who comes to us and is with us through the Word and Sacraments and continues to guide us with the Holy Spirit. Today and every day let us find time to spend time with the Word of God.
COME AND SEE!
We live in a time of technology. Especially during this pandemic, we use technology to meet and communicate. Cell phones are handy, we can receive calls anywhere. There are so many options on a cell phone. If we have saved someone’s name and/or picture and number of the person, when they call you, it will show us the name and picture of the person calling. So you can recognize the person, and it makes it easy to respond.
How do we recognize God’s call? Last weekend we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, the inauguration of the new exodus, the heaven was torn open and heard the Father’s voice, “This is My Beloved Son.” Jesus, the Lamb of God, called us in our baptism to be daughters and sons. The reading for this weekend gives us the opportunity to reflect on it.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist with two of his disciples and told them, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” In the Bible, the Lamb is brought to the temple on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:20-22). The Lamb was offered on the altar every morning and evening (Ex 29:38-42; Nm 28:1-8). The Paschal Lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of the Jews (Ex 12:11ss.). Isaiah talks about suffering servant. All this leads to Jesus and John introduces him, as “The Lamb of God.”
The two disciples of John followed Jesus. One of them was Andrew (1:40) and the other should be John the evangelist. Andrew went and got his brother Simon, to whom Jesus said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated, Peter.” Cephas in Aramaic means rock. Jesus is calling Peter to be the rock and in which he is going to build the Church. It's a way of calling him to the fullness of his identity, to fulfill the mission he was created for. Jesus spoke to his heart.
In the first reading, we hear the call of Samuel. The first chapter of first Samuel describes Hannah’s prayer for a child and the birth of Samuel. Elkanah and Hannah dedicated him in his early childhood to God’s service in the Temple at Shiloh, as an apprentice to the priest Eli.
One night, God called Samuel, and Samuel thought it was his master, Eli. Twice Samuel went to Eli, and twice Eli told him to go back to sleep. The third time Eli realized what was going on and told Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” It's so real, so human, so personalized, that Samuel keeps thinking that Eli is the one who's calling him. Eli is someone who knows Samuel, someone Samuel knows, a close companion in life. Samuel was able to confuse God's voice with Eli's shows just how personal and intimate God's offer of friendship was. In Hebrew ‘Shema’ is the word for hearing and listening. Listening is much more than hearing. Samuel listened to God and grew up, and the LORD was with him. God chose young Samuel instead of Eli.
The young Samuel had been called to lead and instruct God’s people and to anoint the Kings of Israel. Andrew, John, and Peter called to follow Jesus, eventually, they will be sent out to the ends of the earth. In these both calls, we can see someone to direct. For Samuel, it was Eli, a priest who trained him and for Andrew and John, it was John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord and Peter, it was his brother Andrew.
We all received a call to follow Jesus. Jesus said to the two disciples, come and see. And they stayed with him the rest of that day. Do we stay with Jesus? In the Eucharist, Jesus breaks and shares with us. He wants to stay with us. Why do we want to stay with him? He wants us to follow him and make his name known and loved.
Christmas season ends with the Baptism of the Lord. Christmas told us God became one of us. Last weekend we celebrated Epiphany, the revelation of the Lord to all nations. This weekend again we celebrate God the Father who reveals his Son at baptism. We can see here all three persons of God were present. Jesus Christ, the second person of God, standing at the Jordan River. We hear the voice of the Father from heaven and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. The Baptism of the Lord tells us that Jesus is not just having human nature, he has Divine nature.
We know the Exodus story from the Old Testament, a journey from slavery to the Promised Land. In that journey, the Israelites crossed two rivers. We all know the story of crossing the Red Sea. It was the beginning of the Exodus story. At the end of the Exodus story is crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.
In the New Testament, at the Baptism of the Lord, begins the new Exodus story. John the Baptist at the Jordan River is giving the baptism of repentance. In the Book of Malachi 3:1 says, “Now I am sending my messenger- he will prepare the way before me.” Jews believed that Elijah will come to prepare the way of the Lord (3:23). John invited them for the baptism. Washing or a purification ceremony was common for Jewish people. It is called Mikveh, the pool they went to for the washing ceremony. In the Gospel, John talks about the one who is coming and inviting people to receive the baptism of repentance at the Jordan River in order to prepare the way.
Even though Jesus is sinless, and no need of repentance, Jesus chooses to be baptized to identify himself with his people, sinners, as part of the Father’s plan to save them. St. Gregory of Nazianzus says, “Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters… Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him.”
In the Gospel reading, we see the fulfillment of the promise. A voice…with you I am well pleased: God’s acknowledgment of Jesus as his unique Son, the divinity of Christ. The presence of the Trinity at this baptism reveals Jesus' true identity and mission of Jesus. Father’s approval of Jesus is the assurance that Jesus will fulfill his messianic mission of salvation.
“This is my beloved Son” the Father’s announcement echoes several Old Testament passages. In the first reading from the book of Isaiah 42:1, 6&7, we see prophesy that the coming of God’s pleasing servant, who will rescue Israel, and he will be the light of the nation. Jesus fulfills this role as a suffering servant and light of the world (John8:12). Psalm 2:17 portrays King David as the anointed son of God. Jesus is here from the house of David, anointed by the Spirit and Father revealing Jesus' identity, “This is my beloved Son.”
The Baptism of the Lord was the inauguration of the new Exodus. Then began his ministry of the miracle at Cana, opening the eyes of the blind, healing the sick, bringing out prisoners from confinement, feeding the five thousand, instituting the Eucharist to remain with us forever, and offering on the cross, poured out blood to give us new baptism, to wash away our sins. Through his passion, death, and resurrection, he gave us the Sacraments to prepare us to go out and bring the same ministry he did.
When we walk into the Church, we used to dip the fingers of our right hands into the holy water font and bless ourselves when we came into the church. Because of the pandemic, we don’t have that opportunity. This blessing is supposed to remind us of our baptism. And so when we bless ourself with holy water, we should be thinking of the fact that we are a child of God; that we have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that we have been made a member of God’s family, and that we have been washed, forgiven, cleansed and purified by the blood of the Lamb and we have been sent out to bring the Good News by serving one another.
This year we had the opportunity to see the “Star of Bethlehem” or “Christmas Star.” It is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together. Did you see it? I missed it, but saw lots of pictures and read about it.
We are celebrating the Epiphany. The Magi, astrologers from Persia, follows the star and comes to the manger in Bethlehem, the city of David. Matthew also draws upon the Old Testament story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “A star shall advance from Jacob” (Nm 24:17), though there the star means not an astral phenomenon but the king himself.
The word Epiphany means a showing or manifestation of the Lord. Magi were eager to find and adore the true King: Child Jesus and offer gifts. They were not members of the Chosen Jewish People; tradition says that they were Persians.
The Church of Nativity is the oldest church in the Holy Land. I had an opportunity to visit this church a couple of years ago. In 613, the Persians invaded the Holy Land and destroyed all the churches, except the Church of Nativity. This church has a mosaic of the Magi, who were wearing Persian-style clothes. It seems like they had respect for their countrymen. Magi were the first Gentiles who recognized the kingship of Jesus.
God’s mercy is extended to all people, everywhere. St. Bernard was an 11th-century Cistercian monk. St. Bernard said that God sent to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. It is a small bag, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells the fullness of the Godhead. In St. Bernard image the infant Jesus as a little bag bulging with mercy.
Where did Magi enquire first in search of the newborn king? They went to the palace. Who else is likely to be there? King Herod and his family were there. But the Magi had to come to a cave or a stable to find a poor family, with animals and perhaps a few shepherds. Magi entered the manger and saw the child Jesus with Mary. They prostrated themselves and did him homage and offered the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The story of the Epiphany contradicts our intellectual concept. The Magi, the intellectual giants came to a stable and prostrated in adoration and offered the gifts of Gold, Incense, and Myrrh. It was a custom to have a gift when visiting a King. What was the meaning of these gifts? The gold is a gift for a king. Jesus was born in the family of David. The promise is fulfilled. Frankincense is the gift for the priest. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, which means a bridge-builder. The priest is the man who builds a bridge between men and God. Jesus opened the way for humanity to God. Myrrh, a spice used at the funeral. Jesus came to this world to die for us.
We see this episode in the first reading from the book of Isaiah. The prophet proclaims the blessing which to come to Zion, the return of her children, and the wealth of the nation. Specifically, we see Isaiah 60:6, Gentile nations bring gifts of gold and frankincense to God of Israel.
When Magi offered their the gift to Jesus, they were proclaiming Jesus was to be a true King, the perfect High Priest, and the Savior of humanity. On this Epiphany, let us take a moment to kneel down at the manger in adoration and give ourselves as a gift to Jesus.
Thank you: Thank you to everyone who took your time to decorate our Churches for Christmas; all those who donated trees, wreaths, flowers, and so on for the decoration; church cleaners, and everyone else who prepared our Churches so beautiful for Christmas! I would also like to thank musicians for the melodious music to beautify the Liturgy. Also, I would like to thank of all those who purchased gifts for our homebound, daycare and religious education families. Thank you, everyone!