Be blessed with comfort and joy

This Christmas morning, may you be blessed with the comfort and joy that Christ brings for all the world. The words of this carol are so powerful and touches my soul.

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October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord – Happy Easter!

Wishing everyone a Happy Easter.  This Sunday, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus whom God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, raised from the dead to defeat sin, death and evil.  Praise the Lord!

The resurrection is God’s living proof to the disciples, and to us today, that he will fulfill his promise to also resurrect us on the Last Day.  It is the power of God that enables us to receive the good news…to see it and believe it that your sins are really and truly forgiven. The good news is that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God.  Praise the Lord!

St. John and St. Peter at Christs Tomb. Artist: Giovanni Francesco Romanelli

Easter Prayer of Confession

Gracious Father,
you sent your Son to die and rise to new life
in order that death might be brought to an end
and that we might live a new life in Him.

Yet we confess that we too often have chosen to remain
captive to doubt and fear and ways that lead to death.
By our thoughts, words, and actions,
we have scorned your love,
diminished the lives of others,
and defaced your image in us.

Father, forgive us for Jesus’ sake,
and enable us by His resurrection power
to live no longer for ourselves
but for Him who died and rose again for us. Amen.

(Prayer from: http://www.missionalchallenge.com/easter-prayer-of-confession/#.VtpVQpwrKhc)

Title: The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection.  Eugene Burnand (1850-1921)

In this painting, the artist captured Peter and John’s sense of urgency and determination.  There is also a sense of uncertainty and anxiety mixed with excitement (“could it really be true that our Lord is alive?”)  Some of us might have these same feelings. Pray that the Holy Spirit may give you certainty of Jesus resurrection and life hidden in Christ Jesus.

Lent – chance to live a new life

lentI was impressed by an excerpt from an article by Sr Joan Chittister. She says Lent is not only about repentance, but also about making changes in our lives. She states:

Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.

Lent is a summons to live anew.

The first challenge of Lent is to open ourselves to life. When we “rend our hearts” we break them open to things we are refusing for some warped reason to even consider. We have refused for years, perhaps, to even think about renewing old commitments that we’ve allowed to go to dust — spending time with the children, visiting our parents, exercising, taking time to read good books. We’ve closed our minds, maybe, to the thought of reconciling with old friends whom we have hurt. We’ve refused to put the effort into reviving old spiritual practices like visits to church, meditation in the morning, the memorization of the psalms, that we allowed to die in our youth but failed to substitute for as we aged. We’ve failed to repent old abrasions, quick words, harsh judgements made in haste and expiated never. We have closed the doors of our hearts, as time went by, to so many of the things we need to live full and holy lives.

Lent is the time to let life in again, to rebuild the worlds we’ve allowed to go sterile, to “fast and weep and mourn” for the goods we’ve foregone. If our own lives are not to die from lack of nourishment, we must sacrifice the pride or the sloth or the listlessness that blocks us from beginning again.
(…full article)

Ash Wednesday and Lent: about repentance

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. It’s a time of the year that’s observed by some in the Christian world.  But for most Christians today, Lent has been forgotten and goes unobserved. What is Lent?   This time of year is actually a good practice because it’s traditionally a time meant for Christians to reflect upon what we’ve done wrong toward God and others, upon our personal failings, unforgiveness, personal vices, and other ways we’ve fallen short in our lives. May we prepare to move toward repentance so that we can truly and more deeply experience repentance and forgiveness through Christ.

During Lent, may we experience a spiritual revival through genuinely repentant hearts, as expressed through the words of the prophet Joel:

12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; 13 tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive. 14 Who knows whether he will have a change of heart and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? 15 Blow the horn in Zion; demand a fast; request a special assembly. 16 Gather the people; prepare a holy meeting; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the groom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep. Let them say, “Have mercy, LORD, on your people, and don’t make your inheritance a disgrace, an example of failure among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” 18 Then the LORD became passionate about this land, and had pity on his people. (Joel 2:12-18, Common English Bible)

Pentecost: Festival of Harvest (Weeks)

Mexican Pentecost icon
Mexican Pentecost icon

This coming Sunday, May 23rd, marks a very special day in the church calendar: Pentecost Sunday.  The term “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, meaning fiftieth. Fifty days after Passover, Jewish people celebrated Shavuot (also called Festival of  Weeks or Harvest/Reaping (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot) as found in Lev. 23:15–21; Exo. 23:16. Jewish Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts for the post-exilic Jews.  Diaspora Jews made pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

For Christians, this celebration of Pentecost has been a long tradition.  It is one of the most important celebrations after Christmas and Easter.  Since about the 2nd century, Christians have since celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  This was witnessed or testified by the charisms/charismata being endowed up0n followers of Christ during the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem.  This day marks the birth of the universal church of Christ on earth and many churches will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians regard the word “Pentecost” with greater relevance for today because they claim that the gifts (“charismata”) of the Holy Spirit are still being practiced today, and to a greater extent in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Testimonies and claims concerning the charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g., Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12) being exercised in the church seem to be less frequent in the northern hemisphere (i.e., North America, Europe) and more frequent in the southern hemisphere.  Why?