Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

The Feast of the Holy Family (Year B)

Dec 31, 2017 Views 308 Listen 3 Downloads 2
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Genesis (15:1-6, 21:1-3)

The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision, saying: "Fear not, Abraham! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great." But Abraham said, "O Lord God, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?" Abraham continued, "See, you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir." Then the word of the Lord came to him: "No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir." The Lord took Abraham outside and said, "Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so," he added, "shall your descendants be." Abraham put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

The Lord took note of Sarah as He had said He would; He did for her as He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated. Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9)


(R) The Lord remembers His covenant forever.

Give thanks to the Lord, invoke His name; make known among the nations His deeds. Sing to Him, sing His praise, proclaim all His wondrous deeds. (R)

Glory in His holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord! Look to the Lord in His strength; constantly seek His face. (R)

You descendants of Abraham, his servants, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones! He, the Lord, is our God; throughout the Earth His judgments prevail. (R)

He remembers forever His covenant which He made binding for a thousand generations which He entered into with Abraham and by His oath to Isaac. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews (11:8, 11-12, 17-19)

Brothers and sisters: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age - and Sarah herself was sterile - for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name."

He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the Gospel according to Luke (2:22-40)

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord. Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted - and you yourself a sword will pierce - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is the third book of Moses. The book primarily deals with all of the laws and regulations for Jewish worship, and includes instructions on the rite of purification for a woman after she gives birth to a child. We read in the twelfth chapter that a woman who gives birth to a child is considered impure for forty days and that, thereafter, she must bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering. A burnt offering is a form of sacrifice offered to honour, propitiate or supplicate God, i.e., a slaughtered animal is burned wholly on the altar for the purpose of allowing its smoke rise toward heaven. A sin offering is a sacrifice of an animal or a fowl on the altar to expiate unintentional sins. If the woman can't afford a lamb, she can bring two turtle doves or pigeons.

In the book of Exodus (13), we find further instruction on the law relating to consecration of the first offspring. It is written that every first-born child which "opens the womb", whether human or animal, must be offered to God because it belongs to God, Exodus (13:2-15). However, if the animal, for example, the first-born male donkey, is critical to a family's livelihood, they could buy it back from God by offering a lamb in its place. So too, the first born male child could be bought back from the Lord by paying five silver shekels to the temple, Numbers (3:46-51); Leviticus (27:6). Thus, the first-born son is consecrated to God in a special way, Exodus (13:1).

All of this may sound strange but it was a part of the ancient "Jewish" faith, or Judaism. Most Jews don't seem to have much interest in such practices and no longer observe them. As a matter of fact, animal sacrifice, purification, or the ritual cleansing of persons and objects, were common in all cultures and religions, and can be still found in practically all regions of the globe in some cultures.

The Jewish custom of offering and redeeming the firstborn son goes back, about one thousand five hundred years before Christ, to the time Moses who led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for 430 years, including 400 years of slavery and oppression under the hands of the Pharaohs, Genesis (15:13); Exodus (12:40). God wanted to liberate these miserable people, and He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to ask for their release. But Pharaoh refused to free the captives. As a response to the Pharaoh's unwillingness to listen to God through Moses, God sent plagues, Exodus (7-12).

Now a plague is a very bad thing, and God caused ten of them to persuade the Pharaoh. The plagues generally increased in intensity as they progressed, culminating in the death of firstborn children, including the firstborn son of Pharaoh, in the 10th plague. But the Israelite children were spared. Once the final plague happened, the Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go. To always remember that their lives were spared, every first-born son from then on was to be dedicated to the Lord, i.e., the firstborn male children were set apart to serve God even if it was only ceremonial.

Being devout Jews, Mary and Joseph just carried out the requirements of the Law of Moses. In accordance with Jewish custom and the Law of Moses, they were already betrothed and married; had registered their child in their ancestor's hometown, Bethlehem, Luke (2:1-4), which was also a Roman law, and on the eighth day after his birth, they had Him circumcised and named Him Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb, Leviticus (12:2-3); Luke (2:21). And then, a month later, they went to the temple at Jerusalem to carry out the law of purification and to consecrate their son to God.

Jesus was God in human flesh. Mary was a specially chosen woman to be the mother of Jesus Christ, out of the many women in the whole of Israel and, indeed, of the world. Joseph was a "just" or "righteous" man, Matthew (1:19). Yet, they humbly submitted themselves to all the Jewish customs and traditions of their day, even the laws, like any other ordinary people. By bringing turtle doves, instead of a lamb, for sacrificial offering they also identified themselves with the poor, with whom Jesus Himself most closely identified. By presenting Jesus in the Temple, they willingly accepted that Jesus was born in the context of the covenant established between God and the people of Israel. They knew that they had got a child who, in a very special way, did not belong to them but to God and His people.

Upon bringing the infant Jesus into the temple, Joseph and Mary encountered two elderly individuals Simeon and Anna. The name "Simeon" means "God has heard." That means, he was close to God's heart and his prayers had been heard by God. He was "righteous" and "devout". Being righteous refers to his moral, good, honourable, just or upright behaviour among people, while being devout refers to his faithfulness and commitment to God. Not just that, he was also a Jew waiting and longing for the consolation of Israel, which God had promised to bring to His people by His coming, Isaiah (40, 61); Ezekiel (34:23-24).

Imagine! He was in the temple everyday reading and hearing the scriptures about the coming of the Messiah and performing sacrifices, and seeing so many infants being brought into the temple. He was old but still full of anticipation and hope that, someday, the promised Messiah would come. In fact, he had prayed to the Lord that, if possible, he would be able to see for himself the Lord\s face before he died. And the Lord granted his request. It was also revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he sees the face of the Messiah. Hence, he waited patiently even though it took him many years of waiting before he saw the Messiah. When he finally saw Jesus, he humbly and gratefully recognized him; held Him in his hands and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem, and asked not the Lord for himself long life nor material things but eternal peace, Luke (2:38).

Anna in Hebrew means "favour" or "grace" or "beautiful". She was a widow since she was young, and was a prophetess. Like Simeon, she spent a great deal of time in worship and prayer in the house of the Lord. When she recognized the promise of God's salvation in Jesus, she didn't keep it to herself; rather, she gave thanks to God and shared the Good News with others. Mary and Joseph did exactly what they came to do. After the observance, and whilst also amazed by the testimonies of Simeon and Anna concerning Jesus, they returned to their home town of Nazareth, where Jesus "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him", Luke (2:25-40).

What is the message for us?

  • Today's celebration reminds us that, as Christians, we are bound by certain obligations to God and our family members, especially our social and religious obligations, although we may have additional special obligations to other human beings. Like Mary and Joseph, we must humbly and selflessly submit ourselves to our Christian family traditions and spiritual observances such as rituals, worships, sacraments, prayers, meals, gatherings and celebrations which foster a sense of belonging and security whilst also bring more happiness, joy and peace to everyone in the family even when we can be excused from these because of our privileged position in our family, or more financial contribution to the family's income, or individual beliefs and values. Sometimes, we also need to fulfil certain obligations for others, such as infants, young children, elderly adults, who are unable to do things for themselves.
  • Simeon and Anna attentively and expectantly but patiently waited all their lives for a glimpse of the Messiah. They were devout, God-fearing, and faithful people, who listened to God's Spirit, as they waited. So, they were able to recognize baby Jesus when He was brought in. Just like them, we too must be expectant and hopeful despite all disappointments and delay and the pain of unanswered prayers. When we read the Sacred Scriptures or hear them read in the church, when we attend Holy Mass or say our prayers, let us be like Simeon and Anna in having the deep intense desire to encounter the Lord and experience his salvation.

While we patiently wait for His revelation, let us give our best efforts to keep ourselves holy and blameless before God, who recognizes those who wait on Jesus Christ.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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