Once upon a time, there were two close friends, love, and forgiveness. They were so close and had a mutual understanding. One day they came across two other individuals, jealousy and ego, who wanted to become friends with them. Forgiveness was not very comfortable with their attitude, but love asked that they give them time to know them more
Soon, it became clear that ego and jealousy didn’t have any good thought for love and forgiveness as they could no longer function together; love would now go one way with jealousy and forgiveness would take another route with ego.
Love missed forgiveness, but jealousy would allow them to get back together. On the other hand, forgiveness could not function without love, but ego would discourage a rethink to get back to love. One day another old and wise friend called trust came looking for love and forgiveness and seeing the damage jealousy and ego was causing, trust used his strong powers to chase them away from love and forgiveness, and they reunited once more. They thus realized that they could not do without each other.
The Entailment of Love
One of the most misunderstood concepts in the world is love. Most times, people confuse love with fondness or the feeling of excitement. Love is beyond how you feel. It is more about what you do. Love shows itself in the action of the lover toward the loved one.
We have some biblical examples indicating the actionable character of love. The Gospel of John (3:16) tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Here we see the expression of love in the act of giving.
Furthermore, towards the end of his earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ had this to say, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Here again, we see the expression of love in the act of laying down one’s life. One common factor in the two examples is that love is sacrificial, and to make a sacrifice, one needs to give up something of great value.
The First Reading today (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18) tells us about God’s first instruction about loving others. Notice that God begins the directive by asking the people to reflect His holiness. He further instructs them not to bear hatred in their heart, take revenge, nor bear grudges against others.
From this instruction, we understand that true love does not entertain unholy and sinful dispositions like hatred, anger, revenge, and ill-feeling towards people. St. Paul makes this clearer in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:4-7) where he says, among other things:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
True Love Activates Forgiveness
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 5:38-48), which is a continuation of the sermon on the mount, our Lord Jesus Christ makes a practical reappraisal of the entailment of love using forgiveness as a measure. In the sermon, our Lord overrules the conventional “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” with the noble attitude of non-resistance and non-retaliation.
On the concept of love, which in the Jewish tradition was restricted to one’s neighbors (insiders), and excluded enemies (outsiders), our Lord recommends love for all even to the so-called enemies and persecutors. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Lord Jesus Christ answered the question, “who is my neighbor?”
Moving Forward with Forgiveness
The question that could follow our Lord’s recommendation above is, “how can we love our enemies?” The answer is also straightforward, forgive them! For one to be your enemy means that there is an offense against you, and the best gift you can give to an enemy is love not hatred as the First Reading tells us. Mother Teresa once said that if we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.
It may sound weird and complicated for many of us to accept the invitation to forgive those who have wronged us badly. But that is the authentic Christian approach which our Lord Jesus not only taught but also practiced while hanging on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Forgiveness would not change what happened in the past, but it does enlarge the future and leaves a liberating positive impact. An author once said that to forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you. Loving and forgiving help us to reproduce God in our lives. Often people will hurt us, make us mad, and even make a mess out of our lives. It takes a firm Christian disposition to love again. Pay attention to the following in every fight:
God bless you and have a blessed week ahead.
Once upon a time in an ancient kingdom, there lived a semi-barbaric king who believed so much in the power of choice. For everything, he would ask his subjects to make a choice and any decision anyone made became his or her reward. For instance, if you wanted money, he would put money in one of his clenched fists and ask you to choose.
At some point, he extended the idea of choice-making to men found guilty of severe crimes in the kingdom. He would ask his guards to bring the offender to the public square and the person would choose between two identical locked doors; behind one is a fierce tiger and behind the other a beautiful lady. If one opened the door with the tiger, that would be the death of course but if one is lucky to open the door with the beautiful lady, he would be married to her instantly at the public square.
One fateful day, the princess and the only daughter of the king met a very handsome young man while taking a walk with some maidens outside the palace. One thing led to the other, and they fell in love. Every day, the princess would sneak out of the palace to see the young man at their secret meeting place.
After some time of their love life, the king discovered and had the young man arrested and put in prison. The king judged the relationship as disrespect and crime to the throne because ordinary folks like the young man were not supposed to have a close relationship with royalties like the princess.
Soon, it became clear to the princess that his father would bring the young man to the public square to choose between the two doors. She made contacts with the guards about which door the tiger would be kept for that day and with that information he assured the young man that she would help him, he needed only to look at her at the public square to know the hand she would raise; that is right or left indicating the right door or the left door.
On that very day, the guards brought the young man out and asked to walk to any of the doors he would choose. Turning to bow to the king as the law demanded, he saw the princess raising her right hand, then he turns and walks up to the right door. On reaching the door, he stopped and said to himself, “she loves me so much that she wants me to live but I will be married to another lady, not her I should die rather.” Afterward, he went to the left door and opened it!
Guess what? The left door had a beautiful lady. The princess had said to herself, “I love him so much and won’t stand to see him marry another lady, I will direct him to the tiger and afterward, I will poison myself and die.” The young man’s final choice saved his life and he lived to see that the princess had a different option for him than what he thought.
Your Life is Your Choice
Life is all about making choices and we are as good or as bad as our choices because every choice count. The First Reading today (Sirach 15:15-20) invites us to choose between keeping the commandment of God to gain salvation or leaving it for damnation. The writer further tells us that we have options between fire and water, life and death, good and evil.
At creation, God put into humans the moral “software” of freedom. The book of Genesis has this to say:
The Lord God gave the man this order; you are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree, you shall not eat; when you eat from it, you shall die (Gen 2:16-17).
Now, we understand that God was fair about the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. They had an option to choose between good and evil from eating the fruit and refraining from eating it. Notice that when the serpent comes to tempt Eve, it began by asking if they have a choice, “Did God really say you shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). In answer, Eve recalls that God gave them the freedom to choose but they had to make the right choice, or they would die.
Moving Forward: The Choice to Do What the Lord Says
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt. 5:17-37), our Lord Jesus Christ continues the narrative about choice-making by restating the importance of making the right choice through obedience to the commandments and teaching others to do the same.
In a more detailed discourse, our Lord makes a distinction and an opportunity to choose between what was said to their ancestors and what he says to them. Our Lord’s reappraisal of the commandments shows that in making our choices, little things we conceive in our minds count. For instance, we choose against killing by stopping anger, and we choose against adultery by regulating the lustfulness in the hearts.
Let us try to be more intentional about our choices as they could help or hinder us in the long run because our choices have their respective consequences. While making choices consider them in the following questions:
As we enter the new week, keep in mind that you always need to make a choice but make it the right choice. God bless you.
A world Without Salt and Light?
Who can imagine a world without salt and light? Such a world would be tasteless, dark, and utterly weird. Salt and light are two essential valuables we need every day, either directly or indirectly. We also use salt to add taste to food, the preservation of food and for healing. There are other uses of salt, for instance, cleaning, melting of snow and other things; in fact, there are about fifty-five smart uses of salt inside and outside the home.
Light, on the other hand, may not need so much explication with regards to its importance. First, nobody will be able to read this reflection without the foreground of natural or artificial light. Primarily, we use light to see, we get vitamin D from the sun and it helps plants to grow and produce the food we need. Through the sunlight, we harvest solar energy which could be useful for a variety of things. In short, we depend on light to live meaningfully on earth.
The First Reading today (Isaiah 58:7-10) tells us that our love, mercy, and compassion, especially to the poor, would make our light to break forth like the dawn. Furthermore, we shall experience divine healing and vindication while the glory of God would surround us bringing answers and solutions to our problems. The responsorial psalm lends support to the oracle of the prophet when it says: “the just man is a light in darkness to the upright.”
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 5:13-16), our Lord Jesus Christ brings the phenomenon of salt and light together to describe the vital and functional characteristics of a true Christian. Let us go through some of those lines again for clarity:
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste with what can it be seasoned? You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
It is very clear from the Gospel narrative that our Lord is asking us to become a positive influence in the world like salt and light. From the excerpt above our Lord asked: “But if salt loses its taste with what can it be seasoned?” In other words, when salt loses its taste-giving value, what would help it to regain its flavor since salt has to give taste? The answer he gives is that it would be good for nothing.
Moving Forward: On Becoming Salt and Light of the World Around Us
At this point in this reflection, it has become vital for us to begin to consider ourselves the salt and light of our families, workplaces, associations, church community and the society we live.
We become salt by bringing the flavor of truth to the world that is made bland by lies and dishonesty. Our Lord Jesus Christ says: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). We become salt by bringing healing to those who are wounded and hurting after the manner of God who “heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). We become salt by helping to cleanse the world of moral and spiritual decay.
We become light of the world, on the other hand, by dispelling the darkness of doubt and bringing clarity to everything. We are living in a world beclouded by uncertainty, confusion and unclarity. Our Lord says in the Gospel that we should not hide but stand out to shine, “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
We become light to a sad world by bringing joy and hope. We become light to the world by bringing hope to the hopeless. We become the light of the world by proclaiming peace and the good news to the troubled in our midst.
The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi gives us an excellent summary of how we can become the Salt and Light of the world:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let your love increase
Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease
When we are your instruments of peace. (Refrain)
Where there is hatred, we will show his love
Where there is injury, we will never judge
Where there is striving, we will speak his peace
To the millions crying for release,
We will be his instruments of peace
Where there is blindness, we will pray for sight
Where there is darkness, we will shine his light
Where there is sadness, we will bear their grief
To the millions crying for relief,
We will be your instruments of peace.
God bless you and have a beautiful week ahead.
There is a common knowledge that says, “first impression matters or counts.” To a considerable extent, this assertion holds because we are very sentient beings and by nature, we desire to know even the smallest details from visual, sound, and tactile cues when we meet people for the first time.
Some people contend the idea that subsequent impressions count when they can disapprove of the first impression. However, some still argue that one may need to have all the conditions and persons involved in the first impression to change the narrative using subsequent impressions.
Weighing in on this debate, Author Dobrin would say that “first impressions matter but the substance has the final word.” The substance of any reality is that which lies beneath the thing which is different from what is perceived physically with the senses.
Imagine the impression of people around and within the temple area seeing the humble family of Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the temple to present him to God with their pair of turtle doves. And coming from Nazareth “where nothing good could come” (John 1:46) did not give them a lofty impression from the people either.
Beneath the external impressions lies the real substance of the one coming into the temple. In other words, the King of Glory was entering the temple, but it needed the in-depth discernment of two individuals, Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess to understand what the people could not comprehend.
The Real Facts about Simeon and Anna
Simeon gives us the ideal characteristics and functions of a priest. The Gospel narrative says he was righteous, devout, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Simeon came into the temple in Spirit at that moment the parents of Jesus brought him to the temple (Luke 2:27). Furthermore, we learn that he blessed (praised) God and blessed them (Luke 2:28-34).
On the other hand, there was in the temple at that same hour the eighty-four years old Anna, a prophetess, and a widow for many years. She had devoted her life to God in worship, prayer and fasting every day and rarely left the temple. Encountering the presentation of the Lord, she gave thanks to God and proclaimed the good news of redemption to all she met.
Simeon (the priest) and Anna (the prophetess) represent the priestly and prophetic offices which together align with the kingly office represented by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the new-born King to make up the three offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Notably, we all share in these offices through our baptism (1 Peter 2:9).
Purification of the Temple
According to the Jewish law of the time, a woman remains unclean after the birth of her son for forty days before coming to the temple for purification (Leviticus 12:1-5). So, ideally, the presentation of Jesus Christ in the temple also meant the purification of Mary according to the law as it is now forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ.
In the case of Mary, there was no need for purification because there was no pollution in her. The entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple was to purify the temple just as the entry to the Jordan river for the baptism of John was to sanctify the water of baptism.
When the Holy One entered the temple, he purified the temple, cleansing as it were the stain of the blood of the animals used in the past for sacrifice while preparing to be the pure lamb for the sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Presentation means Offering
The word presentation comes from the Latin word praesentare, which means “to place before” put in another way; it means to offer. So, whenever we make a presentation, we are offering something.
What the parents of Jesus Christ did today in the temple was to offer our Lord Jesus Christ to God. A more profound way of looking at it would be to see it as offering back to God His excellent gift to us (John 3:16). Here, we recall the story of Hannah the wife of Elkanah who asked for the gift of a son with the promise of offering him back to God which she did with her husband (1 Sam.24-28).
In the Holy Mass, we continue this exchange of offering between heaven and earth. During the offertory, we present the bread and wine (God’s gifts to us), and in the Holy Eucharist, we receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so generous that He gives back to us whatever we give to Him and He does so in amazing and spiritually rewarding ways.
Moving Forward: What are you Presenting to God Today?
All our thoughts, words, and actions are presentations to ourselves and our immediate environment. When we make presentations, we offer what we have and that means we disclose ourselves to the entity before us. Our presentations could harm or safe, help or hinder. Therefore, we need to be careful about what we present.
The parents of Jesus presented him to the temple; in other words, they introduced him to the sacred path. It is no wonder then that the next time we would hear about Jesus, he was found in the temple amid teachers listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46).
Where you present your child determines to a great extent what goes into the formation of the child. Parents should be careful about what they present to their children. If a child receives aggression, anger, fighting, and other destructive attitudes, the child will grow that way. It is essential for us, as the bible says, to teach a child the way he or she should go and when the child grows, he or she will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Have a blessed Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Everything our Lord Jesus Christ ever did or said had a purpose underneath. So, we can say that with his ministry, nothing was said or done for no reason. Today, the Gospel Reading (Matt. 4:12-23) gives us the narrative about the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with deep introspective lenses, we could see that all the actions and words used have relevance to his central mission.
Our reflection this Sunday would take us through the main highlights at the inception of our Lord’s ministry, and these would leave us with transforming lessons.
The Power of Location
The Gospel begins by telling us about our Lord’s relocation from Nazareth to the upper northern city of Capernaum by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This movement fulfills the oracle of the prophet Isaiah which we read in the First Reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3). The region of Zebulun and Naphtali and in indeed the then Galilee was not the abode of the rich and the learned. Unlike big cities like Jerusalem and Jericho, one would see here the ordinary people, fishermen, and people of low class.
It was God’s plan for the preaching of the Gospel to start with the poor and ordinary people just like the birth of Jesus was first revealed to poor shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). God is always identifying with the lowly and lifting them (Luke 1:52).
The ministry of our Lord thus started from the far north and ended in the south, where he was crucified and died on the cross. Now, there is a need for us to know that for every divine orchestrated activity, there is always a divine location. Put in another way, there is a divine ground for fruitfulness and striving. If we go back to the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis (37,39, 40,41), we will discover that God planed the prosperity of Joseph but it has to take place in Egypt and circumstances took him to Egypt just like the death of John pushed our Lord to withdraw to Galilee from Nazareth.
The Ministry of the Word, Light, and Repentance
In the Gospel of John (1:1-5), we read the following:
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
If we go further in the Gospel of John (1:14), we shall see where he concludes by saying that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
Here we have a testimonial of the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ identified as the Word made flesh. From the Gospel outline of the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, we understand that he began preaching the word of God which brings the light to dispel the darkness beclouding the people and leading them to repentance.
Note well that our Lord Jesus Christ did not start performing miracles and healing people of their physical sicknesses. He began by preaching to instruct the human soul that has been down with the illness of the soul, which is sin.
With the reign of sin, everything became dark because there was no light; darkness does not exist when there is light. So, those sitting in darkness are those living in sin and who need the light repentance powered by the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus testifies about himself saying, “I am the light of the world anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Walking in darkness means walking in sin but walking in the light means repentance.
To advance the full length of his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ goes out to the seaside of Galilee to get fishermen who would, in turn, help to fish people into the community of believers through prayers and preaching.
By calling the first four disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ indicates to us that his ministry is collaborative; in other words, it is not the prerogative of just one individual but the action of individuals working together.
Our Lord goes further to demonstrate the importance of collaborative ministry when he sent the twelve apostles out in pairs to the places he was to visit with the mandate to preach and pray over the people (Mark 6:7-3). The same he also did with seventy-two other disciples.
In the apostolic times you, we discover that the apostles excelled using the facility of collaboration. Peter worked with John; Paul worked with Silas, Timothy, Titus, and others. Collaborative ministry reflects the heart of the trinitarian functionality.
Ministry of Healing
Healing is a significant aspect of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, his missionary portfolio includes the duty of healing. In several places, the Gospels tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ brought healing to many people with different ailments (Mark 6:56).
However, the most significant healing he brought was the healing of our transgressions and sins through his passion and death, “But He was wounded[a] for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him And by His stripes[c] we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
There is a need for all of us to open our minds to learn these exceptional lessons from the early ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is especially very instructive for those in ministry to pay attention to a location, not for gain but redemptive value for those in need of God’s liberation. We need to be where God needs us to be not where we want to go.
The Word of God should come first in our ministry, which should be collaborative in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. It is very fitting that Pope Francis is has instituted this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time of the Year for us to reflect on the power and potency of the word of God in our individual lives and our families.
We encounter God when we read the bible; in fact, one could say that God did hide in the Bible and as much as we read the Bible, we continually discover Him in new and beautiful ways.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
One of the most amazing but unfamed wonders of the world is our fingerprints. There are no two identical fingerprints in the world, even among identical twins who share the same DNA. Every one of us in the world has a unique fingerprint and they do not change even with all the processes of growth, development, and maturity.
For many years, most scientists have been battling with the mystery of fingerprints, and some have ended up with ideas about their formation from the tenth week after conception, information about its use for gripping things, and the three forms of fingerprints, namely the loop, whorl, and arch. However, there are no universally accepted and concrete findings on why no two individuals cannot share the same fingerprints.
The United Nations estimates, as of April 2019, that there are about 7.7 billion people in the world. If this demographic information stands, it means that there are about 7.7 billion distinct fingerprints. This information makes it plausible that each person in the world is uniquely endowed with an unchanging identity. The bible supports this uniqueness from the words of David in the Book of Psalms (139:13-14):
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
The Testimony John the Baptist and the Identity of Jesus Christ
The Gospel Reading today (John 1:29-34), narrates John’s testimony about our Lord Jesus Christ as he makes his identity public. The Gospel Reading tells us that as John the Baptist was coming towards Jesus, he said among other things, “behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Furthermore, he reveals that Jesus Christ is the one who is coming after him and ranks above him. He further testifies that he knows that Jesus is the Christ through God’s revelation that on whomever he sees the Spirit descends and remains would be the one, and we observed this happening during the baptism of the Lord.
It is one thing to have an identity and yet another to activate that identity; that is, to put it into action. After John’s testimony and identification, we watch as the elements of the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ play out in his mission on earth which culminated in his death on the cross where he paid the debt of our sins (John 19:30).
Searching for our Christian Identity in a World of Multiple Identities
There is no doubt that the world runs on multiple identities, and most of them are false identities. With the rapid rising and spreading of modern means of communication, most people now find it easy to highlight and ascribe to themselves identities that are far from whom they are in reality; a tour through Instagram and Facebook and other social networking sites show the rising chaos in the search for identity.
Identity theft is not something new in and around us; in fact, falsehood rides on the wings of distorted identity. To tell a lie, one would need to add or remove something from an existing identity.
The Light Identity
The First Reading today (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) tells us about one of the identities we have received from God and that is about our being “a light to the nations.” The power of light is not something we can negotiate. We depend on light from dawn to dusk for almost everything we do including seeing. To be a light for others means helping them to see, giving them warmth and hope.
We could recall this light identity from the sermon on the mount when our Lord Jesus Christ said, “you are the light of the world, a city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Here our Lord Jesus Christ is asking us to live by our identity. The primary duty of light is to shine, not for itself but others. In the First Reading God says I will make you a light for the nation. Furthermore, the sermon on the mount also says:
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5:15).
The Holiness Identity
In the Second Reading (1 Cor. 1:1-3), St. Paul instructs the Corinthians who have received sanctification to live by that identity, namely, holiness. Holiness does not entail locking oneself out from the world and praying from morning to morning. It instead means making the right choices in our relationship with God and others.
Some time ago, while reflecting on the Holy family of Jesus Mary and Joseph, we said that the word HOLY is an acronym which means humility, obedience, loving, and yielding; we shall hold unto that in this reflection. There is no contention with the fact that without humility, obedience, love, and yielding to God, we cannot achieve the life of holiness.
When we acquire the holiness identity, we, at the same time, gain the grace of God that would produce the spiritual fruit of peace in us as St. Paul further said in the narrative.
Moving Forwards and Living by our Identity
When adults start behaving like children, there would be every reason to suspect that something is fundamentally wrong somewhere, at least attitudinally. In the same way, when we as Christians fail to live by our Christian identity, there would be every reason to conclude that something is spiritually wrong.
In the Gospel of John (4:23-24), our Lord Jesus Christ instructs that God is Spirit, and those who come to worship Him must do so in Spirit and truth. From the preceding passage, we understand that we fail to live by our Christian identity when we depend on the flesh and falsehood. Writing to the Galatians St. Paul says, “live in the spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. Regarding the truth, our Lord Jesus Christ encourages us to know the truth because only the truth would set us free (John 8:32), just as the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44).
As we march into a new week, may we resolve to live by our Christian identity by becoming the light in a dark world striving to be holy through humility, obedience to God, loving without limits and yielding positively to God and others in all things.
God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.
Unfortunately, there are limited reflections on the theme of baptism among Christian preachers and teachers from year to year. There are more pieces of literature, sermons, and talks on prosperity and healing than on baptism, which is the gateway to the Christian life. We all know that it is impossible to become a Christian without receiving the sacrament of baptism; in fact, baptism makes us Christians, children of God and members of the Church.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be fitting to ask why our Lord went to John for baptism because the baptism of John was that of repentance for the forgiveness of sin (Luke 3:3; Acts 19:4); and the scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ is the sinless one (Hebrew 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
In the Gospel Reading today (Matthew 3:13-17), John the Baptist identifies with the same confusion as to why the sinless one comes to him for baptism; “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Our Lord answers John and says, “Allow it now, for thus, it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” The next question would be, “what is this righteousness?”
It would fit for us to understand that righteousness here means what is appropriate or necessary. But why is it appropriate or necessary for the sinless one to receive the baptism of repentance? Our Lord comes to John’s baptism to show the importance of baptism, to sanctify the water of baptism and also to baptize John the baptizer through his desire to receive baptism from the Lord, remember he said, “I need to be baptized by you.”
The Power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism
The water of baptism derives its power and efficacy through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. All the Readings today tell us about the action of the Holy Spirit in connection with baptism. The First Reading (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7) gives us the exact words of God the Father during the Baptism of our Lord while adding the active presence of the Holy Spirit; “here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.”
The Second Reading (Acts 10:34-38), presents a section of Peter’s sermon in the house of Cornelius before administering the sacrament of baptism on him and his household. Peter recalled that after receiving the baptism that John preached, God anointed our Lord Jesus Christ with Holy Spirit and power.
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 3:13-17), presents the scene of the baptism of the Lord. The most intriguing part of the narrative was when our Lord came up from the water after John’s baptism. We learn that the heavens opened FOR HIM, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. Then, also comes the voice of God the Father saying, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased .”
Moving Forward: Activating our baptismal Impartation
Baptism typically inaugurates our Christian life. It is also essential to note that Christian life is impossible without the active and functional presence of the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). It is little wonder then that our Lord Jesus Christ instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the power from on high; the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).
When we receive the sacrament of baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), we at the same time receive a special seal of authority as children of God with the ability to trample upon all the powers of the enemy (Luke 10:19).
As baptized Christians, we carry within us the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says that we have the Spirit of God in us (Romans 8:9). St. Peter (1Peter 2:9) has this to say about the identity of the baptized:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Through our baptism, we become like commissioned combatants with all the arsenals to conquer the formations and fortresses of the enemy. However, we have more privileges than the conventional combatants because our weapon of warfare is not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4); furthermore, we only need to make ourselves prayerfully available as God will do the fighting for us (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 3:22).
As we celebrate the feast of the baptism of the Lord, we are invited to rethink and relive our baptism in our lives as Christians. As the heavens were opened for our Lord as he stepped out from the Jordan, in the same way, our baptism has opened up the heavens for us and through that portal, the Holy Spirit is continuously poured on us to give us the right directions in our Christian journey.
Furthermore, the voice of the Father speaks to us His beloved ones through the Word of God and the voice of God in our hearts. As the beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, may the voice of the Father speak into our lives and bring that transformation that would take us to the next level of divine grace and sustenance. Have a beautiful celebration and a glorious week ahead.
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God is always manifesting Himself to us in various ways. Abraham encountered God through the divine invitation that took him away from his father’s house to an unknown destination (Gen.12:1). Moses met God at the burning bush, and he also experienced the presence of God alongside the people of Israel with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21). Elijah had diverse experiences of divine manifestation including the still wind at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:12-13).
There are other examples of divine manifestation through the vision of angels, for instance, Abraham (Gen.18:1ff), Gideon (Judges 6:11), the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2ff), Isaiah (Is. 6:1ff), Zachariah (Luke 1:11ff), and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26ff), to mention but these. The peculiarity of the feast of Epiphany is that God decided to manifest (show) Himself to the whole world in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word that became flesh…
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Various characteristics and attitudes go with different families. It is not strange to hear people credit or discredit a family because of some recurrent virtues or vices the members exhibit. Consequently, there are good families and there are bad ones; there are nice families and not so nice ones. Furthermore, there are happy families and unhappy ones. Finally, there are fighting families and peaceful ones; what’s your family type? Don’t be shy about it!
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Typically, the feast comes on the Sunday following Christmas day. Christmas generally is a family-based event as it gives the narrative of the family where God decided to use as the first point of His contact with humanity as per the incarnation. We could rightly say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) through the family of Joseph and Mary.
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the word “Holy” jumps out for us for a more profound understanding. There are numerous definitions of the word as there are various religious dispositions and creeds. The dictionary definition would refer to holy as something consecrated, sacred, revered or hallowed but these are not all about holiness.
Still, in dire search for a more inclusive definition, we have a more insightful approach from the First Letter of St. Peter (1:15-16),
But as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.
A careful look at the quotation above shows us that holiness has a lot to do with our conduct than being exclusively devoted to prayers and estranged from the world. From this, also we understand that holiness is not a one-time accomplishment but a journey that ends with God, who is the author. In his letter to the Ephesians (1:4) St. Paul throws more light when he says that God chose us to be holy and blameless before Him. To be blameless means that our actions do not attribute any guilty to us; that is what holiness entails.
What Made Them A Holy Family?
There are thoughts that the family of Joseph and Mary became holy the moment Jesus Christ, the Holy One, was born. Other ideas hold that God poured holiness on them. We shall begin this section of our reflection by transforming the word Holy into an acronym. For this reflection HOLY as an acronym would mean Humility, Obedience, Loving, and Yielding. We shall locate and examine the resonance of these virtues in the lives of the members of the Holy Family.
The Humility of the Holy Family
Starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we discover humility at its height. She humbly accepted the awesome invitation to become the mother of the messiah in line with God’s plan. Furthermore, we see Mary humbly setting out to visit her cousin Elizabeth at the news of her sixth-month pregnancy not counting on her potential status as the Mother of Christ.
Two verses from Mary’s Canticle while visiting Elizabeth reaffirm her humble nature (Luke 1:48, 52).
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed… He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted the humble.
Joseph and Mary had no accommodation available when the child was to be born. The only open space in the whole of Bethlehem was a manger in an animal’s house, a humbling cradle for the King of the Universe.
The life of Jesus Christ on earth has every detail of humility. St. Paul says that though he was in the form of God, he did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-8).
The Obedience of the Holy Family
Starting with Mary again, we locate her steadfast obedience to God. If we understand obedience as compliance Mary was excellent in that regard. Before the miracle of changing water into wine, she instructed those present to do whatever his son our Lord Jesus Christ tells them (John 2:5); in other words, she was telling them to obey our Lord.
Joseph was obedient to God’s instruction through the angels in his three-fold dreams (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13;19-20). The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows obedience at its apex. In the Gospel of John (4:34), our Lord Jesus Christ says, “my food is to do the will of my father and to finish His work. St. Paul concludes that Jesus was obedient even unto death.
The Loving disposition of the Holy Family
God is love (1 John 4:8), and every act of God is motivated by love. The gospel of John (3:16) tells us that God loved the world so much that he gave His only begotten Son.
The actions of all the members of the Holy Family was motivated by love. Mary’s loving heart made her intervene at the wedding at Cana (John 2:3). Joseph was a man of great love; in fact, the bible calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). During his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a new commandment of love (John 13:34).
The Yielding disposition of the Holy Family
To yield is to surrender, submit, or give way to someone or something. The members of the Holy Family lived the life of total yielding to God. Mary’s fiat, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke I:38), is an expression of yielding to God. Joseph yielded to God by following all the instructions he received; he allowed God to have His way.
The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows total submission and commitment to God. Our Lord personally said that he does nothing on his own apart from what he sees His Father doing (John 5:60); that is yielding. And before the death on the cross, he yielded his spirit to the Father (Matt; 27:50).
Moving Forward: Becoming Holy in our Families
The elucidations we have made so far should prompt us at this point to have a rethink on what it means to be Holy. It is essential to note that we are not by implication, excluding prayer life from the route of being holy. We become more prayerful and connected with God when we are humble, obedient, loving and yielding towards God and others.
It is also important to note that having a holy family does not exclude your family from trials and troubles; being holy does not stop you from being human. The Holy Family of Nazareth had their share of human problems from the moment Mary conceived to the time our Lord was crucified and died on the cross with his mother Mary standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:25).
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family today, let us try as much as possible to pay attention to the values in the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn how we could redefine and renew the face our various families and advance with the virtues of humility, obedience, love and yielding to God and those who constitute family for us.
Have a beautiful Sunday and joyous feast of the Holy Family.
Conception and childbirth are among the incredible activities that happen in the human body. Tiny cells meet and begin the process of development from an embryo into a fetus that eventually grows into a baby at birth. Imagine the scenario; all of us started our journey into life as tiny cells that transmuted into what we are now.
Let us look at some statistics. More than 355,000 babies are born daily around the world. Among these, there is an estimate of about 250 new lives every minute around the world. There is a flip side. World Health Organization reports that globally about one million babies die within 24 hours of birth. Furthermore, the UN inter-agency report (2017) shows that there is about 211 maternal death for every 100,000 live births globally.
Generally, there are various narratives for various births. No matter how would-be parents prepare, childbirths do not often go as planned. There are stories of women who had their babies on the road, malls, hospital hallways, even in flights, cruise ships, and other odd places; I have not, however, heard about childbirth in a cemetery; have you?
Our reflection started with the preceding elucidations to help us put the narrative of the conception and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ into our normal human context so that we can locate the nature and character of the divine orchestration that makes it amazing.
Before the birth of Jesus Christ, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived through a different route never recorded in human history until then. Joseph was waiting for Mary to return from her three months visit to her cousin Elizabeth only to learn, upon her return, that she was already pregnant. Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary quietly, but he was asked to suspend action because the Holy Spirit was responsible for her pregnancy (see Matthew 1:18-24).
Bethlehem and the Manger
The time Mary was due to have her child was the same period the ruling government called for a census of the people. Joseph had to travel to his original home, that is Bethlehem in Judea with Mary. On their arrival at night, Mary went into labor as the child was fast coming. They searched for a place to stay but there was no room in the guest house, and nobody wanted to share the agony of an expecting mother.
Fast-forwarding help eventually came from an animal’s house where a Manger was offered to them as a cradle to hold the child after Mary’s delivery with the assistance of Joseph, her ever-supportive husband. Let us examine the high points connected with Bethlehem and the Manger.
The name Bethlehem is a combination of two Hebrew words; Beth, which means house and lehem which means bread. So, Bethlehem means house of bread. Every person or thing connected to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ had a significance. Bethlehem as a birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ, was an oracle of the prophet Micha (5:2) seven hundred years earlier:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
One could still ask the question, why the town of Bethlehem and not any of the other towns in Judah? Like we pointed earlier, Bethlehem means house of bread, and our Lord would in the course of teachings, declare that he is the bread of life (John 6:36). In another place, he says more expansively:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51).
From the references we have above, it is clear to us that God chose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life coming down from heaven. This description reminds us of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the summit of the Church’s life and ministry and one of the two great gifts we have received from God, the other being the Holy Spirit.
The Manger is also an essential accessory in the nativity narrative. Often the pictures of the nativity scenes around us look very magnificent and attractive. However, the real place of the birth of Jesus Christ was far from being what we see in pictures. First, it was an animal barn and you can imagine how fresh the air could be.
A manger is a wooden feeding trough for animals. And the word manger is traceable to the French manger, Italian mangiare or Latin manducare which means to eat. So far, any active mind may begin to make a connection between Bethlehem and Manger, in other words, between the house of bread and eating. Jesus Christ, the new-born King, is the bread of life and whoever eats him would have everlasting life.
Another relevance we can see from the manger is that it is a lowly place. When kings are born, they stay in royal cradles, but the eternal King is found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Part of the oracle of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7), says, “for a child is born to us, a son is given us…They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace”. One would expect that the child in this prophecy would be born in one of the most outstanding palaces in the world, but God’s thoughts and ways are always different (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Remember that in the message of the nativity angel to the shepherds who were keeping watch that night, the manger would be a sign for them about the Savior. Here, we see the manger as a sign of humility on the part of the Great One born in our midst. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians makes it more evident that our Lord Jesus Christ, though in the form of God, did not count his equality with God but humbled himself taking the form of a slave”. (Philippians 2:6-8).
Furthermore, the wooden manger reminds us of the wood of the cross. At birth, our Lord Jesus Christ was laid on the wooden manger and at death, he would be laid on the wooden cross. We know that wood comes from a tree, and the first sin of disobedience happened at the tree in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:3). The manger stands as a sign pointing to the cross where the debt of our sin would be paid finally and in full (John 19:30). The manger stands between the tree in the middle of the garden and the cross of Calvary.
As we gather around the nativity scene with the beautiful lights and relishing the sweet Christmas carol melodies, let us take some time to reflect on the resonance of some of the significant places, events, and actors surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially the ground meaning of Bethlehem and
Have a beautiful celebration, and have for yourself a Merry Christmas.