Weekly Reflection (19 Dec 2021)

4th Sunday Of Advent Year C

Micah 5:1-4
Hebrew 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

Let us invite His Word in our hearts; His Presence into our body; and connect our hearts to His through prayers. Amen.

We are into the final week of our four-week preparation period for Christmas. In the First Reading this week, we read about yet another Old Testament prophecy on the birth of the Messiah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel” (verse 2). Ephrathah was the name of the clan from which king David came from. It is also another name for the village of Bethlehem. The First Reading foretold that it is from this little village that a new King will be borne to God’s people. Tracing Jesus’ ancestry to David, the passage tells us that the new King’s “origin is from of old, from ancient days” (verse 2).

Last week, we reflected on how Jesus is a warrior for our heart against secularism; and how He defend our hearts against sin. As the First Reading proclaimed, we will be delivered at “the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” But in spite of Jesus’ incarnation, many of us are still secular; many of us continue to be enslaved to sin (Jn 8:34). Why is this so? Was Jesus ineffective? The truth, my brothers and sisters, is as Jesus said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:41) Faith does not just magically comes to us when we are baptised. Faith is not a passive endeavour. Neither does faith comes to us from mere participation of religious rituals. Participation in religious rituals by itself does not bring us closer to God. Faith is an active encounter of the heart. Only then can Jesus can work wonders in us.

Sadly for some of us, worship, masses and church services are nothing more than rituals. Hence, in spite of our frequent participation, Jesus is not in our hearts. And worse, like the Pharisees and scribes in Gospel times, some of us think that by virtue of our ritualistic observations, we are guaranteed salvation. We become complacent and even arrogant. We even despise those whose faith we deem is not as strong as ours. Jesus warned us, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Mt 23:2-4). Am I guilty of the same behaviour? Do I look down on those who does not attend church regularly? Do I look down on divorced and remarried couples, especially if the second marriage is not sacramental? Do I look down on those who had abortions or are same-sex attracted? And if I have a family member with such struggles, do I even deem the person spiritually inferior to me and refuse to accept them? In doing so, I create a rift in the family, causing pain and hurt. As a result, relationships are broken – between us and God, and among the people of God. And the ironical part is, the resulting broken relationships run counter to Christian love.

Sadly, the above situation is more common than we care to admit. In the Second Reading this week, referring to the old Jewish ritual of yom kippur, Jesus said to St Paul, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings”, even though “these are offered according to the law” (verse 8). In the ritual, the priest sprinkles blood of animals in the temple. These sacrifices are made year after year, yet did not take away the sins of anyone. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:4) So, it is true, if our faith remains at the ritualistic level, the rituals by themselves do not make us sin less. They do not make us holy. They cannot mend our broken relationships. And in fact, as explained above, if we become complacent and arrogant on account of our participation in the rituals, the opposite can be true – we are drawn into sins.

The truth is, the rituals are not the root of problem. The root of the problem lies in us. My brothers and sisters, we are only one week away from Christmas? As I drawn closer to the birth of Jesus, spiritually, am I any closer to Him? If not, it is never too late. So what must I do? For the rituals to achieve their intended effects, I must first truly open my heart to Jesus and actively encounter Him there. Only then, can the rituals come alive, becoming the physical manifestations of the faith that is in my heart. How do I actively encounter Jesus in my heart?

Firstly, I need to read and reflect on His Word regularly. As I read the Bible, I ask Him to speak into my heart. But do not make the mistake of equating Bible reading as a theological study of the Bible. Theology is an academic discipline that feeds the head but not necessarily the heart. In fact, the great theologian St Augustine once said that theology is faith seeking understanding. In other words, for theology to be more than an academic endeavour, I first must have faith in our heart. To let God touch our hearts, a good model for Bible reading method is the ancient study model of Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina can be used either in small group settings or for personal study. Through a four-step process of Lectio, Contemplatio, Oratio and Meditatio, we invite God to speak to our heart through the word of the Bible. There is no need to engage in deep theological study. Rather, we just be our humble self, and let God speak to us in our present situation – in our joy, in our struggles, and in our victories. There are many Lectio Divina guides on the Internet that can guide you. If you are not familiar with Lectio Divina, I invite you to try it. There are two important keys to successful Bible reading. The first is persistent. Make a commitment to do it regularly. Form cell groups among your friends or family members and meet regularly. The second is to start with modest expectation. To get started, treat it just as a regular catch-up conversation with Jesus. Let our Lord lead you to grow over time. Over time, your Bible reflection will grow into something that touches your heart deeply.

Secondly, I need to invite Jesus Presence into our body. We need to make the Eucharist comes alive us, so that more than a ritual, it becomes a real spiritual nourishment. In the Gospel this week, we read how Mary, as the living tabernacle carrying the Body and Blood of Christ, visited her cousin Elizabeth. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). The Church teaches that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). So we ask ourselves: each time I receive the Eucharist, how do I feel? Does our soul leap in joy the same way John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb? If not, let us prepare ourselves better before we approach the Eucharistic table; let us create a spiritual hunger in us. And after we receive our Lord, let us be constantly remind ourselves that we carry Jesus in us – in our very being. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:4-5)

Thirdly, I need to connect my heart to Jesus through regularly prayers. To have a health relationship with any person, I need to maintain constant communication with that person. It is the same with God. Prayer is my heart-to-heart connection to God. Like Bible reading, I need to find a quiet period in my day to do it, and I need to do it regularly. Otherwise, like any relationship without ongoing communications, the relationship dies. There are four forms of prayers – adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. While supplication prayers, i.e. asking God for favours, is the most natural form of prayer to many of us, I must recognise that supplication is also the most inward looking form of prayer. By over-emphasising on supplication and ignoring adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, I reduce God to a mere dispenser of heavenly favours. Not only that, it reduces my relationship with God into a utilitarian one. Sadly, there are many Christians who walked away from their faith because God did not grant them the favours they ask for or in the manner they ask for them. As God revealed through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9) Let us ask ourselves: when I pray, am I listening to God? Or am I asking God to listen to me?

My brothers and sisters, this Advent, let us make a spiritual resolution. Let me inviting His Word in my heart; His Presence into my body; and connect my heart to His through prayers. If you do this constantly, I promise you, it will change your life. Have a blessed Christmas. Amen.

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