Advent is from the Latin word meaning “coming.” It has many profound and symbolic meanings, with varying points of view depending on our personal perception or preferences.
Looking back. Some 2000 years ago God decided to divinely intervene into man’s existence with His physical presence and the Word proclaimed by the prophets of old “took flesh and lived among us.”
Not many understood its meaning and even the nation prepared by God for this event, Israel, was not exactly welcoming and “had no room at the inn” for the Messiah, the Anointed one of God. Sadly, mankind “did not know the hour of His visitation” and the leaders of the chosen people, representing and including us all, crucified the “Author of Life” – Jesus of Nazareth.
Advent, therefore, invites us to reflect on what God had done, and continues to do, in order to save us from our own self-destructive folly. It is the anchor that steadies our faith in a turbulent world – that no matter what – God loves us with an eternal love that only He can give.
Looking inward. We are so undeserving of God’s unconditional love and yet, ever so mysteriously, He continues to love us so. Sinful as we are, “for all have come short of the glory of God,” He never stops in reaching out to us and waiting for us “to come home” to His loving embrace. Advent invites us to be grateful and to give thanks to Him to whom we owe so much and everything else.
Looking forward. Advent gives us hope – the faith that “all things work out for the good for those who love God” for He alone knows the plans He has prepared for His beloved children. We all have our own dreams and plans for the betterment of the family, careers, health, community, society and many other things besides. But His will is for our good and we need to re-align our own will to His to benefit abundantly that we may “experience joy to the full” as He has promised. As the Psalmist used to pray, “Wait on the Lord, trust, and wait.”
Looking outward. The world is in great turmoil. Mankind still “has no room at the inn” and the hour of darkness “and the violent take it by force” is in our midst. We, in Couples for Christ and its Family Ministries, are called to be “a light to the nations” that somehow the Gospel of Jesus Christ still holds true for those who accept the message of God’s love. The rejection of the world is strong and a big challenge but we need to keep the faith and continue to run the course for “the crown of glory” that awaits us at the end of our days.
Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus Christ, come and save us.
Jimmy Lozare, 16 January 2015
The above theme selected by the Thai Council for our 25th Anniversary last year ‘connected’ the CFC Theme of the Year of 2014 (“Behold and Ponder,” from John 19:27 and Luke 2:52) with the new theme for 2015 (“Love More,” from John 21:15-17) before we knew of the latter.
And we do need to receive God’s love first, for we cannot share or give something that we do not possess. It is fitting that we all start our CFC journey with CLP Session I – God’s Love.
Everything is so timely now with a world full of conflict, violence, and despair, and people have no peace because, maybe at one time or another, we have not truly loved enough. St. Paul states it clearly that the three most important ideals we need in life are faith, love and hope, but the greatest of these, and the most enduring, is love (I Corinthians 13:13).
In celebrating 25 years of CFC-Thailand last October it is nice to look back to “behold and ponder” the mighty works of God in our vibrant community and in our own families, and to look forward to try harder to “love more” for this year onwards.
Twenty-five years is a milestone of adulthood and maturity, and it is encouraging to see how CFC has truly grown, not only in numbers and mission areas, but also spiritually, with CFC getting actively involved in the CBCT Commission on the Lay Apostolate for the Laity department and the Family department in the past three years, with Amb. Precha/Sirikul Pitisant of the Thai Council representing CFC-Thailand in both.
The Diocese of Surat Thani has taken over the Diocese of Ubon Ratchathani as our fastest growing mission area – with the English groups expanding from Phuket to Krabi, Chumphon, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and Surat Thani itself, and the Thai groups growing from Phanom and Phuket, to Prachuab Khirikhan, and Surat Thani as well.
CFC is grateful for the active support of His Excellency Bishop Joseph Prathan, who has been a big help, and the move of Fr. Terry Tapay from Chiang Mai to Phanom is heaven-sent. Bishop Prathan has recently appointed Fr. Tapay the new CFC spiritual director for the diocese I find it interesting to prayerfully “behold and ponder” that at the end of my time on earth, and finding myself standing face to face with our Lord, He will not ask me about my “achievements” (my ministry, service, sacrifices, etc.) nor possessions, stature, titles and awards, but how much I have loved (Matthew 25:31ff), with the ultimate question being “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17).
I hope I would have enough courage then and be able to say with grace, like Peter, that – “Lord, You know everything, You know that I love You.” (John 21:17). Actually I’m more afraid of a second question not really asked, “Why have you come alone, where is your brother?” I cannot respond as Cain did, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” because I know the answer to that, as I’m certain you also do – that we are all called to “go out” on mission.
I pray and wish that at that time maybe I could hopefully echo Ezra, and say: “They refused to obey and no longer remembered the miracles You had worked for them. They stiffened their necks and turned their heads to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy; You did not forsake them.” (Nehemiah 9:17)
In this age of divine mercy, may: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26).
EDante - 25 December 2014
The Christmas mass at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) hasn’t changed much since we arrived here 25 years ago. Father Joe was there; the community was packed with colorful attire; and the altar in front was well decorated and lighted. The stories and liturgy were nothing new. As always, Father Joe began with a touching narrative of how many years had passed from important biblical and historical events to the birth of Jesus. It is called the Christmas Martyrology (also known as the Christmas Proclamation):
“In several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel. In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.”
I found the above timeline very powerful in seeing Christmas as a real event in history, and not just a story of faith. It locates the birth of Christ in a concrete time period and place. Like any human being, Jesus was born in a specific time and place. The time of His birth is a turning point in history. Since then, time has been measured as either before His coming, which is called BC, and after it, or AD. Anybody following the Gregorian calendar has their time of birth attached to the birth of Jesus. Thus, my year of birth in 1965 signifies that 1,965 have already passed since the time of Christ. This is a strong reminder of the significance of Christmas in our life.
The place of birth is also of interest. It is a small town called Bethlehem which still exists under the same name. The bible tells that the place of birth was pre-determined and pre-announced: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet (Matthew 2:5)”. Why Bethlehem? It was the hometown of king David whom God promised that the savior be born from among his descendants and that this savior’s Kingdom will last forever. In Hebrew, the word Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. Interestingly, Jesus presents himself as the bread of life: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst (John 6:35)”. This bread as we know is the word of God which is food for the soul. Jesus stressed this point: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).’”
At the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was the smallest town of Judah. It was under the occupation of the Roman Empire whose emperor was the mighty Caesar. Upon his order, a census was administered requiring all inhabitants to register in their place of origin. Joseph and Mary were among the crowd of people who travelled to Bethlehem to enroll. The narrow road leading to Bethlehem was very crowded. Little donkeys, loaded with goods and people, were going towards the town. Other people were travelling on foot fast because it was cold. Joseph and Mary travelled by donkey from Nazareth. A long and tiring journey especially during the cold season and for a pregnant woman. Upon their arrival, they looked for a room to stay but could not find one. Joseph implored to some of the travelers to give Mary, who was about to give birth, a place to stay for the night. He begged them to have mercy. The fact that they came from Galilee did not help since Galileans were discriminated at that time. Upon the advice of some shepherds they met on the road, they went towards the country and found a stable, which was used by merchants to keep their animals. This damp and cold stable became the birth place of Jesus and a symbol of God’s infinite humility.
Today, Bethlehem is far remote from its past glory. It is again a besieged town surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. It has a population of about 22,000, of which 18 per cent are Christians. In and around Bethlehem there are some 32 physical barriers to Palestinian movement erected by Israel, including checkpoints, roadblocks, dirt mounds, and gates. In June 2012, the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, was named by UNESCO as an endangered heritage site. Reverend Dr. Mitri Raheb, a pastor of the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, said that “if Jesus were to be born in Bethlehem today, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.”
As we reflect upon the time and place of the birth of Jesus, we can’t help but marvel at the significance of the event. Christmas is the fulfillment of the numerous acts of God and his people from the time of creation. It is the culmination of centuries of expectations and waiting for the promised savior. Mighty prophets of old spoke oracles after oracles about the coming of the Messiah. What exactly happened at Christmas? It was when God decided to be amongst men on earth, and no longer a remote God in heaven. Suddenly, men no longer need to look at heaven to worship God, but simply look at the people around him to perceive Him. It was when God made heaven here on earth. It was when God became accessible and visible to men. It was when God opened the gate of Heaven for men to enter. John the apostle summed it up nicely: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:16-17)”.
Christmas is a great act of God towards man. Using the words of Mother Mary, Jesus’ birth was “…infinitely simple and infinitely great,” and “the greatest thing on the earth, concealed under very ordinary appearances.” Christmas, regardless of what we do, is very special. Please enjoy your holidays, but also stop, listen and reflect on the story of Jesus’ birth and the significance of the event.
Peace and Joy: A Christmas reflection
EDante - 25 December 2013
Recently, I found myself constantly pondering about the word “peace”. Expressions like “unspeakable joy”, “immortal gladness” and "eternal happiness" we heard as we busied ourselves singing carols during the cool nights of December also made me wondered what these words meant for the soul. Does peace bring about joy?
The Christmas story of a multitude of angels descending to the cold and lowly Bethlehem during the birth of Christ tells of the glorious song “peace on earth to men of good will”. It was a song of worship to the baby who is to be called the “prince of peace”. Many hundred years before that, prophets of old believed that the “Emmanuel” would come when the whole world is at peace. But many Jewish religious authorities argued that there was no peace when the angels came. The entire Palestine was under the imposing military rule of the Roman Empire. They were persecuted and heavily taxed. Jewish insurrections against the Romans were common and were easily crushed by the mighty power of Rome.
In the midst of that, God appointed that time for the birth of His Son. In the mind of God, without peace, it was not possible for the mighty Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome, to declare a general census throughout the entire Roman occupation. Without peace, it was not possible for Mary and Joseph to travel from their home village in Nazareth down south of Bethlehem. Without peace, it was not possible for the Jews to practise their religion and worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In this case, peace was seen as the absence of war.
There is also another kind of peace. Have you ever seen the peaceful, rolling stream of a river? Have you gazed recently at a vast valley and wondered at the beauty of nature? Have you recalled how you felt when resting in a beautiful garden? Modern studies show that being out in nature actually has a positive impact on your physical and emotional health. In other words, one can find peace by being out in the nature. In Isaiah 66:12, the Lord says, “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.”
The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, lived in a garden called “Eden” where nature served as their original habitat. Along with that, peace reigned in the hearts of our first parents. But when sin was consumed, they were evicted out of the garden to live in a harsh environment. It was no longer the lush and abundant Garden of Eden. Extreme climate and poor ground conditions made it difficult for plants to thrive. God declared the punishment: “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield, all the days of your life! Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you as you eat of the plants” (Gen 3:17-19).
This month, my work in the United Nations brought me to Yangon, Myanmar. About two years since it began a major political and economic reform, the city has turned into a beautiful garden with landscaped boulevards, century-old trees lining the streets, and serene lakes turned into green parks. Yangon no longer resembled the city I visited in 2009 just after it was ravaged by Cyclone Nargis. “You know Yangon is known as the Garden city of Asia”: our local host proudly said. If I heard that before, I would have doubted. But that time, Yangon was indeed a beautiful garden. City streets were well landscaped, multitude of plants decorated the side streets, and well trimmed ornaments covered the city parks. Our unimpressed UN partner argued it was because of the South-East Asian games that the nation was hosting for the first time.
Yet, there is a greater kind of peace. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Divine peace is a gift. God gives it when we do acts of real love and charity. So today at Christmas day, I felt divine peace. For almost a decade, my family, together with a small group of friends from the AIT Catholic Community, has spent Christmas day in the slums of Klong Toey together with orphaned children under the care of Father Joe Maier through the Mercy Center. Joyful Christmas songs led by the largely Filipino choir were sung after the solemn Thai mass. It was amazing to see Thai children singing along confidently in English the Jingle Bells and the Santa songs. As I gazed at Father Joe while he was saying mass, I reflected on the great things this person has done in life. He has devoted his entire adult life to help the poor and abandoned children and gave them not only a place to stay but also love. How much peace must he have received?
Long ago, exactly on 10 June 2006, I was in the small village named Tharae, some 800 km northeast of Bangkok. While resting in a small park by a lake, I started to scribble: “All laborers deserve a rest. After a long night trip from Bangkok to this far away village, after a day of speaking with Thai people in English with translation, after taking a spicy Thai lunch mixed with some Lao food, I am here by the beautiful lake of Tharae. In this small yet lovely garden park, sitting with both my feet fully stretched out, gazing as far as the other side of the lake, and savoring the natural serenity and beauty of the place, I felt so much peace both outside and inside me. There was peace that the world cannot give but can only come through clear conscience and service to God. Let me dwell in this peace forever; evermore let this peace continue to grow until it reaches the pinnacle of peace that is found in heaven.”
Peace is indeed one of the greatest things in life. And you can’t buy it. No amount of modern entertainment can acquire it. People try to take drugs to get it, relationships to mimic it, and transcendent religions to acquire it, but the only thing that brings true peace is to do what is good and right. All good deeds come from God and are willed by God.
A story was told of a man who traversed land and sea to check for himself a master with an extraordinary fame. “What miracles have your master worked?” he asked one of the disciples. “Well, there are miracles and miracles. In your land, it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will. In our country, it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God.” Indeed, the miracle we witnessed at the Mercy Center today was about God’s will being done.
Life and death: A Christmas Reflection, EDante, Perth, Australia, 26 December 2010
The missalette at St. Gerard Parish, located in a small suburb, north of Perth, for the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth (26 December 2010), carried a quote by Fr. Stephen Freeman, "Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good, but to make dead men live."
The “dead men” reminds me of the famous dry bones vision in the Book of Ezekiel (Ch. 37). In that vision, the people of Israel was liken to dry bones, completely devoid of organs, flesh and skins critical to support human life. It was to show to Ezekiel that the people of Israel are dead. It was not a physical death, but rather a spiritual one brought about by sinful life.
In the book Poem of Man-God, Jesus explained the meaning of life and death. He said that man falls into error when considering life and death. Man calls “life” the period of time in which, born of his mother, he begins to breathe, to nourish himself, to move, to think, to act; and he calls “death” the moment when he ceases breathing, eating, moving, thinking and acting. But it is not so. Life is not existence. Existence is not life. A plant or an animal exists but they do not possess the life which I am speaking about. The life of which I am speaking does not begin with the existence of the body and does not cease with the ending of the flesh. It does not start in the mother’s womb.
Life begins when a soul is created by the Thought of God, and when infused or injected into the fetus inside the womb of the mother. This fetus plus the soul injected with life makes up a man, created in the image and likeness of God. The destiny of this man is heaven. Now listen, life never ends because the soul does not die. But life can die to this divine destiny if sins kill it and then the soul suffers eternal punishment in hell.If preserved as such, this life reaches the perfection of living, by becoming eternal, perfect, blissful like its Creator.
The dry bones vision followed God’s promise of a new life based on fidelity to God. That promise was fulfilled through the birth of Jesus. St. John the Apostle declared to us this beautiful truth through his famous words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Furthermore, he explained that Jesus’ presence in us is true life, “Whoever has the Son has life, and whoever has not the Son of God has not life.” (1 John 5:12). Christmas is indeed the fulfillment of God’s promise for a new life.
The celebration of Christmas these days is far too remote from its spiritual origin. Christmas has now turned into a major secular celebration. It now bears the words “Holiday Season” and marks with secular message of “Season’s Greetings”, with no regard of the birth of Jesus. Christmas party is now called “Year-end party” as a pretext that the former is offensive to non-Christians. Little time is spent for prayers and the sacraments. Meanwhile, worldly matters occupy our mind and time. At Christmas day, shopping malls are filled, new products are launched and big parties are held. They seem to promote a spirit of joy, but they give a bad aftertaste of emptiness and selfishness. They do not produce the kind of joy that brings peace in the spirit.
The following parable suggests an insight of what might had happened over the years:
“A father had a son whom he was extremely pleased. The son has brought great joy to the father and to all his friends, relatives and servants because of the son’s obedience, humility and great love to all. To honor his son, the father decided to appoint a special day of the year for his son. On this special day, the father threw a big feast for all the people of his town. Everyone is invited. The father, who was so talented, rich and very generous, know how to make a very good party that give great joy and merriment to all people. Everybody loves the party. The spirit is so beautiful and gives great joy to one’s heart. As years pass, people who come to the party came to enjoy the food, dancing, laughter and the whole ambiance much more than the honoring of the son. Until such time that people no longer recognize the son in the party. The day is celebrated but the son is forgotten.”
At the Christmas Eve mass in St. Gerard Parish, Moonyeen and I, with our children, witnessed signs of hope. In spite of the blistering summer heat, and with no air-conditioning, the chapel was filled with parents and their children. The church had never been so packed with people as we understood it from our daughter. Even the least sought front seats were completely occupied. The priest gave a very inspiring sermon about the birth of Christ and the love of God. I still recalled his powerful words, “God is much closer than you think”. His words were so nourishing to the spirit and brought so much joy in our hearts. The church choir sang beautiful Christmas songs reminding us of that special night of the birth of Christ, the glorious hallelujah of the angels, and the visit of the shepherds, the first among those who venerate the body of Christ apart from Mary and Joseph. The Christmas story is indeed amazing.
In the midst of secularizing and spiritual dryness, God continues to shower His graces upon us. His promise of a new life is eternal. It was truer at that time of Ezekiel as it is now. There is hope for those who allow God to fulfill his promise in them according to his words, “l will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:25-28).