03 January, 2016

Who was the Baby in the Manger?


The Jesus of Christmas

Who was the Baby in the Manger?

Books and TV documentaries abound with questions about the Jesus of Christmas. Our world is divided today about the identity of the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Christians worship the Jesus in the manger as “Immanuel,” (God with us). They believe Jesus came to redeem men and women from their sins.
Some believe the story is just a myth. Others like to believe that the baby Jesus somehow will bring peace to our troubled world. And although the world seems to be heading in another direction, Christians believe Jesus will someday return, as he promised, to bring both lasting peace to the world, and judgment to his enemies.
But even non-Christians are fascinated by the identity of that baby in the manger. CNN talk show host, Larry King, was asked to choose one person from all of history he would most like to interview. King instantly replied, “Jesus Christ.”[1]

Why Jesus?

The question is: Why would King, a Jew, pick Jesus as his most wanted interview? One answer might be that Jesus Christ has greatly impacted our world. But King followed up his initial response with a question relating to Jesus’ origin. He wanted to know if the Christmas story is a myth or whether it is really true.
Although skeptics believe the entire story of Jesus was invented, most world history scholars believe the evidence points to Jesus being a real man who has greatly impacted history. The non-Christian world historian, H. G. Wells, when asked who has left the greatest legacy on history, replied, “By this test Jesus stands first”[2] (see http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/1-jesus-real-person)
But there was, and still is a mystique about Jesus that goes far beyond even his historical impact. When examining the life and words of Jesus, the great British scholar, G. K. Chesterton, a former skeptic, concluded:
“The Jesus of the New Testament seems to me to have in a great many ways the note of something superhuman; that is of something human and more than human.”[3]
Even great world leaders have acknowledged Jesus as unique among all others. One of the greatest military leaders in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, lusted for power and world dominance. As emperor of France, he nearly conquered all of Europe until he met his famous “Waterloo.”
While in exile on the rock of St. Helena, Napoleon had time to reflect on world history, and the impact of Jesus Christ. After reading the New Testament, he called Count Montholon to his side and asked, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?” When the Count had no answer, Napoleon remarked:
“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”[4]

Jesus’ Radical Claims

Although Jesus did show remarkable love and compassion to all who were willing to receive it, his mystique results more from the question of his identity than from his historical impact. People who heard and saw him kept trying to understand what he meant by his radical claims.
As Jesus traveled around the rocky hills of Galilee, huge crowds gathered to hear his words and his apparent power over nature. As his followers witnessed his amazing words and deeds, Jesus would make statements like, “I am the light of the world,” or, “I am the only way to God,” or, “I am the resurrection and the life.”[5]
What are we to make of such radical claims? Former skeptic and Oxford professor, C. S. Lewis, originally considered the entire account of Jesus a myth, similar to pagan gods in Greek and Roman religions. However, one day he had a lengthy discussion with a known atheist on campus who had examined the evidence. He told Lewis that there appeared to be significant evidence supporting the New Testament accounts.
Lewis was stunned! He decided to examine the evidence for himself. After his search to discover the real Jesus, Lewis concluded that Jesus both existed, and was the greatest man who ever lived. However, because of Jesus’ radical claims, Lewis concluded that Jesus couldn’t have been simply a great moral teacher.
According to Lewis, Jesus was either telling the truth, which meant (to him) that he is God, or Jesus was wrong, making him either a liar or a lunatic. (see http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/3-is-jesus-god for a summary of Lewis’ argument). The hinge pin on which the identity of Jesus Christ stands of falls is the claim that he rose from the dead. His disciples were so convinced that he had risen that they went everywhere proclaiming him alive, even at the cost of their own lives. What convinced them? (see http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/6-jesus-rise-dead)
So who was the baby in the manger? The answer to that question, as Larry King inferred, is the most important one in all history. For if Jesus was not who he claimed to be, his promise of eternal peace is empty. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then our lives can have no meaning without him. ((See http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/7-jesus-relevant-today to discover what Jesus says about the meaning of life.)

03 January 2016 
The Epiphany of the Lord


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Is 60: 1-6, Eph 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2: 1-12

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Epiphany

Today, the church celebrates the feast of epiphany. A realization that Christ is the Son of God! Adoration of the Magi consolidates the event of incarnation of Jesus as Son of God.
It is interesting to note what Wikipedia, the most sought –after-reference- web site, explains the word epiphany.  An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. As it had happened with Sir Isaac Newton.  Hitherto unexplained, a falling apple made him realize that everything falls down because of the gravitational force exerted by the earth. Thus epiphany is a situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.
It was not even in the wildest dreams of anyone that a helpless babe born in a manger could be Son of God, the promised saviour the Israelites were waiting for. Neither the religious and political leaders nor the devout ordinary men had a clue. But the magi sharp in their observation could not take away their attention from a particular star in the story which appears, disappears, leads and then stands over a house. They watched, followed and dare to be guided by the star. And Lo! Here happens the miracle of epiphany. Hitherto a fragile babe in a manger born for an illiterate couple is the focus of attention of the most known wise men of the time and they bent their knees in reverence and they did undo the treasure chest they have been carrying for a while and offer to him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus they had that enlightening realization of epiphany. God became man and dwelt among us.
Unlike any other organisms or creatures, Humans are a race class apart and it is their ability to have epiphanies what makes the trick. For a grazing cow green grass is nothing but its fodder. How much ever they try, they won’t have any other deeper realizations or enlightenment. But for a human being a sudden enlightenment could lead to realize the umpteen shades of green the grass carries and now they know how much a green grass can contribute for the existence of the entire universe by the emission of oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. For him, the ordinary greenness of grass which is only a fodder for a cow turns to be an extraordinary life giving gift of God. The miracle of Epiphany.
A beggar begging for a living had been an ordinary scenario but an epiphany changed Sr.Teresa to Mother Teresa. This epiphany made her take up a fourth vow and she was to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. And now millions live happily solely due to her responding to the epiphany she had.
A couple of months ago the world was inspired by an another epiphany that had been realized in Malala Yousafzai, a petite, beautiful, innocent and young girl from Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. Responding positively to the epiphany that getting education is each girl child’s prerogative, she defied the unjust ban proclaimed and enforced by the Taliban on gilrs going to school. She refused to be bullied. She wanted to study in her school along with her friends and amongst her peers and she was not going to be dictated by a set of bullies. Malala’s defiance was a slap in the face of the brutes. The savages had to crush this defiance and they did. The Taliban painted a bull’s eye on the little girl and let loose their killers. One afternoon as she finished school and was playing with her friends in the school yard there was gunfire and Malala fell, shot through her neck and head.  An epitome of courage and bravery. Thanks to the epiphany she had realized. Malala lives. No hatred, no bitterness, just an ironclad resolve to continue doing what she is determined to do, to go to school, every day, alone if required, but defiant and determined.
Epiphany! Three wise men bent their knees in front of a silly babe born in a manger!
Epiphany! An ordinary nun turns to be the most revered lady in the world for serving the poorest of the poor.
Epiphany! A girl of 14 years becomes the symbol of courage and defiance inspiring the millions of girl children to learn and lead life worth.
We need epiphanies. Let us open our eyes and ears and all the more our hearts to witness and become part of that epiphany. A moment of ignorance and we may miss it badly. We need epiphanies so that there shall be peace, love and courage abound in this new year.

Fr. Joby Pulickan CMI


St. KURIAKOSE ELIAS CHAVARA

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara. St Kuriakose’s life was dedicated to the service of Syrian Church and society in Kerala. Under his leadership, a good number of apostolic initiatives were undertaken: the establishment of seminaries for formation of the clergy; the introduction of annual retreats for the faithful, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament by introducing forty hours of adoration, a publishing house for Catholic works, schools attached to the Parishes for education, a house to care the destitute and the dying and a Sanskrit school for Dalit Children.
Saint Chavara dedicated himself for encouraging and counseling Christian families. He fought schisms and tried his best for the unity and harmony within the Church. Today Catholic Church solemnly recalls with love and gratitude all his efforts to resist threats of disunity and encourage the Clergy as well as the faithful irrespective of rites to unity and solidarity with the Universal Church.
Saint Chavara conceived three words: tapasubhavanam, besrauma, and darsanaveedu which means house of asceticism, house on the top and house of vision respectively, to describe the highest ideal of monastic life. Saint Chavara is the first priest who started monastic life in India. He also added, “The strength of the monastery is not in the thickness of its walls, but in the zeal and virtues of the members who live in it”.
It was St. Chavara who realized the need forempowering women for the social uplift of the families and for the dedicated service of the Church. In 1866, St. Chavara together with Fr. Leopold OCD started the first religious house in Kerala for women which is known as the Congregation of Mother Carmel.
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara was an embodiment of Christian spirituality and mysticism. St. Chavara wrote many spiritual books. ‘Atmanutapam’ or Compunction of the soul is considered to be his best work. Compunction is a spiritual disposition which is pricking guilt feeling of one’s conscience for wrong actions. Though Chavara did not commit any sins, his compunction for his misdeeds were so deep which emerges from a profound sense of gratitude to God for his abundant and merciful love. This feeling of unworthiness before God made him a great Carmelite mystic together with Theresa of Avila and Theresa of Child Jesus who always maintained the Carmelite spirit, “I am nothing, God is everything”.
The life and the deeds of Saint Chavara are a great source of inspiration not only to the Christian Community but to humanity as a whole.

Fr. Shepherd Thelapilly CMI

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The Word Exposed - Gospel (January 3, 2016)