Issues Vol. 168 >
Vol. 168 No. 01 - January 07 - January 13, 2017
One of the most attractive scenes of the Christmas season is the picture of the Magi slowly journeying to the Messiah in Bethlehem, guided by a star. We can all relate to it. The Gospel simply calls it a star. Something entered their horizon, in their search for truth, that changed their life and prompted this spiritual journey.
The Magi, Matthew tells of in his Gospel, come to Christ without the light of a heavenly revelation but by their own careful observation of times and seasons. When they come to Jerusalem - the custodian of the ancient revelation - the chief priests and scribes confirm what they have already begun to understand, that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. When they continue their journey, they see the star once more, and are filled with joy.
Everyone who persists in the search for truth knows something of that joy, but the joy of these men leads them to see the child, and find that after all it is God who has seen them and known them, and has called them to be His own. And opening their treasures (suffering, death and resurrection), they get to the heart of who Jesus is, pointing to His definitive triumph over sin through His priestly suffering.
This journey of the wise men is important for us who proclaim Christ in a world which is no longer motivated by Christian revelation. Each wise men represent a different nation, culture and religion that show all are called to seek and belong to God. The feast of the Epiphany, the revelation of the mystery of God’s presence also point to another kind of universality of the people of God, renewed in Christ - the Church.
It is more than where they come from or who they represent that makes the Magi so important for us. They show us that it is not just those who are the unworthy recipients of divine revelation who are called, but those who by the light of reason have not lost the divine image imprinted in creation. It is not just those who have some sort of experience of faith, those who have a natural interest in religion, an affinity with prayer and worship who are called to worship Jesus. He is Lord also of those who have no religious roots, those who in our secular culture search for what is true and good and beautiful.
Christ is available to all. Whether we are waiting for him, or have not yet responded to the call, he has come for all. Whether our journey to him is a response to heavenly light given through baptism and confirmation and sustained in the Eucharist, or it is the result of looking honestly at our world and refusing to flinch from the deeper questions: He calls all to make their way to him with great joy.
The Epiphany teaches us to encourage every truthful enquiry, every search for purpose and meaning. There may not always be a star to lead to the manger, but everything true is an echo of the Word through whom all things were made.
Secondly, not to misuse the scriptures as Herod did for his own ends, but to present the truth of the Gospel faithfully in its entirety, even when it costs us greatly.
And thirdly as the gifts the wise men offer point so powerfully to who Christ is, so we must be ready for those who come to Christ to pass beyond our experience of Him, and to get to the heart of His mystery!
Let us pray for our world on this blessed Feast that men and women may be led to the beauty of the Son of God, and that together all may become His disciples and come to adore Him.
The feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate the revelation of the mystery that "the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph 3:6), strikes me as an especially appropriate time to reflect on the meaning of interreligious dialogue, to think about our relation to people of other faiths.
The author of the letter to the Ephesians tells us that in former generations, the great mystery of God's love for all peoples was not made known to humankind (Eph 3:5). It was only gradually that the people of Israel came to understand that the reason God chose them was not to reward them for their accomplishments, but to make them a light to the nations, that God's salvation might reach to the ends of the earth (Is 49:6).
But even the prophets, who proclaimed the universality of God's love, continued to think that it was only through the people of Israel, only through the splendour of Jerusalem, that God's light could shine on the world. As far as Isaiah is concerned, the world's peoples are all shrouded in darkness. If the Gentiles are to walk in light, it will have to be in the light that shines forth from Jerusalem, the Jerusalem to which they will then bring their wealth in thanksgiving (Is 60:1-6).
In his story of Wise Men from the East, Matthew picks up on Isaiah's poetic vision. These Magi observed the star—the light—of the child who has been born king of the Jews, and they have come to Jerusalem to pay him homage. The chief priests and scribes, however, send them off to Bethlehem, where they find the child, worship him, and return home (Mt 2:1-12).
With the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord immediately after the feast of the Epiphany, we 'fast forward' about a quarter of a century in Jesus' life. Now Jesus comes from the home of his birth to the River Jordan as an adult to fulfil the promise of Bethlehem, to commence the work of redemption. He immerses Himself in the Jordan River, joining the people in the solidarity of Baptism and to begin the public teaching, healing, forgiving, finding and restoring people to the life of original grace which was what He was born to do. Now His public ministry begins.
In January, we move on. We cannot stay in Bethlehem. If we try we will find ourself all alone; the shepherds are gone; they went back to their work in their fields. The Magi are gone; they went back to their home country. Mary and Joseph are gone; they left for Nazareth, and of course, Jesus did not stay in Bethlehem; he went with them.It is no more the wonderful and warm season of Christmas.
Yes, ordinary time is where life is lived. People are born in ordinary time, grow up in ordinary time, marry in ordinary time, and have families in ordinary time. People age in ordinary time, and experience new turns in their life in ordinary time. And people die in ordinary time.
In every person's life, there comes a time when the glow of marriage, a new job, a new school, of conversion, of a new baby start to wear out, and then we get down to business, living out the substance of our commitments. That is our "ordinary time" where we live and grow. Ordinary time is
not filled with decorations, sentiment, charming songs, lights decorating homes; but it is filled with reality - the reality of sin and the reality of grace.
As we enter church, we bless ourselves with holy water as a reminder of our baptism. It goes back to a time when the baptismal font was always at the front door, and people would touch themselves with the baptismal water to recall their baptismal commitment.
The baptismal font was our spiritual Bethlehem where we were born to new life in Christ. It's where we received the power to live the Christian life. Few of us ever go back to look at the font where we were baptised because the baptismal font, like Bethlehem, is not a place to stay, but a place from which we move on. The purpose of the sacrament of Baptism is not to keep us glued to the font, but to move us on in our life, now filled with Christ, to be light to others.
Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, in collaboration with Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly, New Delhi, organised a discussion of scholars from various religious communities at Baha'i House on December 17, 2016. The theme of the discussion was 'Dharma Granth: Hamaaree Saajhee Viraasat' (Religious Scriptures: Our Shared Heritage). The discussion was chaired and moderated by Dr M. D. Thomas, Founder Chairman and Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi.
The discussion was planned as a workshop among a few selected scholars, in view of more in-depth and a fairly complete analysis. Prof. Amrit Kaur Basra, Prof. Rita Bagchi, Prof. Veer Sagar Jain, Prof. M. M. Verma, Prof. Manjit Singh, Dr Chand Bhardwaj, Dr A. K. Merchant and Dr M. D. Thomas were the participants in the discussion.
Dr A. K. Merchant, Trustee, Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly, welcomed the participants. Highlighting the theme of the discussion, he said that the Holy Scriptures have a vital role in the making of the human society. A large number of people in society are not aware of other religious scriptures and have not even seen them, tragically so. Ignorance is the root of prejudice, which needs to be overcome. This discussion is a solid step in this direction.
Yesterday, I visited my friends Beth and Mod, and asked them: "Why were you not participating in the ordination of our two young Salesian priests, Deacons Shawn and Mylin, in Don Bosco's, Matunga ?"
Their answer was simple, direct and to the point. "We belong to the parish of St Dominic Savio, Antop Hill, and we do not go outside our parish church. Everything begins and ends in the parish church— baptisms, marriages and funerals!" I asked them, "What about the Priestly Ordination that is taking place in a bigger church, the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna, officiated by Osward Cardinal Gracias?" "We had heard of it, but we are getting old," they chorused. United they stood together. "We belong to our parish." Full stop.
Perhaps the most confusing word after 'love' is the word 'Church'. Just as the alphabet 'I' is at the centre of Christ, the alphabet 'U' is at the centre of Church. Both are connected together, the I and the You. I am I, I am you, We are us. We are Church when we own being of the mindset of the vulnerable and compassionate Jesus.
I wish to share with you how I understand the complex, sophisticated and complicated word 'Church'. The visual says it all and a little note will enlighten me to its explosive nature as the new way of being Church. In the new way of being Church, the freedom to choose is imperative. Freedom should be at the heart of all our decisions, small or big.
The image is taken from a popular toy available in a children's toy shop - a pyramid of seven coloured rings. A bottom-up approach, this is.
We are in the New Year, a time for making new resolutions, a time for new beginnings, a time to look at situations in a new way. This then is the time in one's life to make a choice, whether to continue to live life along the path being used until now, or choose to take a different path. Doing either may or may not make a difference to one's life. But choosing or at least attempting to alter the original path, will definitely reap benefits as I discovered. I am now a staunch believer in the adage: 'Change is the only constant in life.'
The reason why most youth or young adults, for that matter, choose not to think too far ahead, or think differently, is probably because they have gotten too accustomed to the comfort zone of the regular life they live, and are either daunted or plainly reluctant to change anything within it. As a young adult, I would be the first to agree that the Comfort Zone is a beautiful place to be in, but inefficacious, for nothing grows there. Similarly our savings or money do not grow if placed in the bank or stored under our beds, 'safely' and 'comfortably'. We need to choose to take a step that will allow us to reap rich dividends in the future. That major step commences with a change in our thought processes.
When the captain of a ship does not know his destination, and when he is not aware of the direction in which he is headed, it bodes ill for his passengers, who, willy-nilly are simply following the captain, without knowing where they will end up or how they will get there. The Prime Minister of India is now captaining the nation, without knowing where he is eventually going. When he announced his demonetisation drive on November 8, he informed the nation that this was his way of ending the circulation of "black money" and creating a corruption-free economy. We were given to understand that there would be a "temporary inconvenience" in our normal lives, but eventually, things would not only get better. This would make India a totally corruption-free nation – the envy of the entire world!
When the "temporary inconvenience" began to look as if the total disruption of our normal way of life would be a long and arduous struggle, Modi informed us that he was fighting international terrorism by cutting off the supply of "black money" to the terrorists. His Defence Minister, who, by the way, trained as a metallurgist – and not as an economist – claimed that Mumbai's crime rate had been halved as a direct result of the demonetisation drive.
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