Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

BIBLICAL APOSTOLATE OF THE PROVINCE

Introducing Fr. Freddie's Gospel Reflections for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Second Sunday of Advent (A)

Second Sunday of Advent [Mt 3:1-12]
04 December 2016
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
Readings: (1) Is 11:1-10 (2) Rom 15:4-9
1.  Theme in brief
Bearing fruits worthy of repentance
2.  Focus Statement
We need to prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus at Christmas by a radical change of mind or attitude, by straightening our crooked paths and by producing fruits of good deeds as evidence of our repentance.
3.  Explanation of the text
Matthew’s gospel presents John the Baptist as a prophetic figure whose dress resembles Elijah, and whose message sounds like Isaiah or Amos.  As the forerunner of Jesus, he prepares Israel to receive the more powerful Person coming after him, namely, Christ the Lord (3:11). He prepares them by foreshadowing the main theme of Jesus’ own preaching in his public ministry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2). In Matthew’s gospel, this statement of John found in 3:2 is the same as Jesus’ in 4:17. In plain language, John’s main message implies this: in order to experience God’s total love or governance (technically called the Kingdom of heaven or God) over their lives people must take a new direction contrary to the one they have taken and change their attitudes radically.
Repentance preached by John and Jesus is more than being or saying sorry for one’s past sins. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and beginning a new one with the initiation of baptism in Jordan. In other words, John insists on the necessity of undergoing a radical change of heart to experience God’s rule of love over their lives.
John the Baptist’s second message is about preparing the way for the Lord, and amending the crooked paths that are an obstacle to receive him (3:3). He considers his preaching as the voice of a prophet (like Elijah) crying in the ‘wilderness’ (that symbolizes a meeting place with God).   
In his third message John the Baptist urges Israel to consider seriously the urgency of a decisive action that proves their repentance (3:10), or the necessity of bearing fruits of good deeds (3:8, 10). He confronts people with the last opportunity to repent and bear fruits worthy of repentance very urgently (3:8). He has harsh words (such as “brood of vipers”) and a stern warning for Pharisees and Sadducees, who believe that they have nothing to change in their lives. He affirms that merely being descendants of Abraham or being pious persons in itself does not exempt them from the coming judgment, if they do not change their ways. As they cling proudly to their ethnic purity because of their descent from Abraham, they remain unchanged. If they do not reform their lives, John insists that they cannot escape from “the wrath to come” (3:4), that is, God’s definite intervention. The time left for a radical change is short, since the axe is already laid to the trees' roots (3:10). Every tree that does not bear fruit in good deeds will be cut down and burnt (3:12). At the end there will be a radical separation between the ‘wheat’ (= those who bear fruits) and the ‘chaff’ (= those who are barren or unproductive), when the final judgement comes (3:12).
John sets a personal example of asceticism and humility. He renounces worldly comforts by wearing clothing of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (3:4). He humbly admits that “the Coming One” (Jesus) is mightier than him. He is not even worthy to become the Mightier One’s slave by carrying his sandals. He contrasts his baptism by water with the much more powerful and life changing baptism of Holy Spirit and fire to be administered by the Coming One (3:11).
4.  Application to life 
On the second Sunday of Advent, the Church, through the teaching and personal example of John the Baptist, invites us to take the following three decisions:
(1) Changing our minds or attitudes in order to experience the nearness of the Kingdom of ‘heaven’ (or God): God’s loving rule comes near to us or in our midst in a renewed manner at Christmas through the Person of Jesus Christ. Hence, as we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus at Christmas, we should heed to John the Baptist’s call for repentance – a firm decision to change the direction of our life. Yes, a direction contrary to the one we have taken now. In the context of Advent Season, for us accepting Jesus as our Saviour and Lord is the same as accepting the Kingdom of God. It implies, making Christ (or God) as the Centre of our life. As long as sin reigns over our lives, or long as we do not turn away from sins and selfish behaviour, and turn towards God’s love, the Kingdom of God cannot come near to us; that is to say, we cannot experience God’s total love or governance over our lives.
Just like the people went to John to confess their sins and be baptized by him in Jordan, Advent invites us to  renew our baptismal grace by putting to death our old way of life and taking a rebirth to a new way of life (Rom 6:3). Jesus one’s again comes to offer us his gift of salivation from sins. We need him more than before to save us from sins. But if somebody says there is no such thing as sin, where is the need for Jesus and his salvation? Modern people seem to be more interested in salvation from illness, unemployment, poverty, terrorism, environmental disaster and natural calamities than from sin. If this is true of us, we may be looking forward to celebrate Christmas only socially without Christ and keep him out of our lives and hearts. Advent is the appropriate time to reflect on God’s dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs in our world and wants to increase love, compassion, freedom, forgiveness, peace and justice. Now is the time to seriously think how we can bring something of heavily atmosphere here on earth by turning away from values of the world such as corruption, violence, injustice, exploitation, and to turn towards the values of God.
(2) Listening to the Baptist’s prophetic voice that resounds before us and urges us to prepare the way of the Lord by straightening our paths: It means turning away from crooked ways of the world and returning to God’s ways. We need to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus by straightening of the crooked paths we are walking, so that he may enter. We have to examine whether there are symptoms of any crookedness in our behaviour, action, dealings or attitudes that are contrary to God’s path. We often hear people speaking about “dirty politics” and “dirty business” to refer to crookedness of some people in public places and posts/ positions. The former word is used to refer to not only political circles, but also to any crooked or dishonest behaviour or double-dealing found within families, neighbourhoods, villages, religious/ social institutes and the Church. The latter word is used for any business that uses corrupt or dishonest means. How can the Lord enter if our way is so crooked or “dirty” (as people say)? In what way are we preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight a path for our God in our own and other's lives?
(3) Examining ourselves whether we are like fruit-bearing trees or not: Repentance is not only turning away from sin but also a turning towards a fruitful life. It means not only thinking differently but also acting differently. We need to show evidence of our conversion (repentance) in our action or behaviour. In other words, if our repentance is sincere and genuine, it should be visible in our action (termed as “fruits” in today’s gospel). The good fruits are our good deeds such as proactive service to the needy, joyful sacrifice of quality time for the good of others, a spirit of reconciliation with our offenders, overcoming evil by doing good, upholding spiritual and moral values at any cost, etc. Parents and teachers should bear fruits before their children and students by matching their words with their good example; service-holders by upholding principles of honesty and dedication to duty; priests and religious by using all their energies, talents and training to the maximum.
Experts say that 60 to 70% of our everyday thoughts are negative because of which a major portion of our vital energy is lost. They also say that most people do not use all of their potential or energies to the fullest extent. Many of us are satisfied by doing the minimum required when we are placed in leadership roles in social or religious organizations. If we could use a portion of our free time for productive purposes (such as a community service that is not ordered or assigned by anybody), instead of using it for useless gossiping, loitering around, extensively watching T.V. and making/ receiving too lengthy fun-calls in our cell-phones, we could become better fruit-bearing or productive trees. If we are living an unproductive life, our claim of belonging to a Christian ancestry or family will not save us. God does not show any ethnic partiality and his salvation is not hereditary (as the Baptist reminded). Since we need to be always prepared to face God’s judgement, there is an urgency or shortness of time left to be productive. So we have to decide urgently to bring forth good fruits before the final judgement comes suddenly.
Those who think like the Pharisees and Sadducees that they have nothing to change are like empty and useless chaff. Following John the Baptist’s appeal, we need to change soon from ‘chaff’ into ‘wheat’ before God’s judgement comes. Coming of Christ involves a separation between ‘wheat’ (those who yield fruit) and ‘chaff’ (or those who are empty/ sterile/ fruitless/ unproductive). Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, it is easy for us Christians to take pride in our long-standing Christians traditions and heritage. This does not excuse any of us for not changing our selfish and worldly ways. John the Baptist tells us in clear terms that such tags as “old Christians,” “established Church,” “family of priests and religious,” etc., will not save us, if we do not take care of regular change of our attitudes.
A spirit of asceticism and humility – the striking example of John the Baptist – are contributory factors for making all the above-mentioned decisions. John’s ascetic lifestyle and detachment from the comforts of this world is a silent protest against comfort culture and self-indulgence of modern people and the false security they tend to place in worldly possessions. His spirit of humility is necessary for admitting our own sins and our own need of salvation. It is an antidote for our own attitudes of self-sufficiency, arrogance and a life independent of God’s total dominion over our lives.
5.  Response to God's Word
As Christmas is approaching, what is our main focus? Is it on new clothes, party, decoration, dance, eating and drinking, or change of our mental attitudes that will lead to change of our behaviour? What efforts are we going to turn away from self-centredness in our behaviour in families and communities that leads us to dishonesty, abusive language, regular quarrel over the same issues, slander, aggressiveness and violence? What are the spiritual means we plan to use in order to turn towards God? What are the crooked paths we are walking that need to be straightened? Are we like productive or unproductive ‘trees’? Are we wheat or chaff? How can we imitate the spirit of renunciation and humility followed by John the Baptist in order to be productive?
6.   A prayer
Merciful God, as we prepare ourselves to welcome your Son Jesus at Christmas, grant that we may heed to John the Baptist’s call for a firm decision to change the direction of our life so that you, and not sin, may rule over us. Give us the strength to straighten our crooked ways. May our repentance be genuine so that it yields to visible action. Make us realize the urgency of bringing forth good fruits before it is too late. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Friday, 25 November 2016

First Sunday of Advent (A)

YEAR A
ADVENT SEASON
First Sunday of Advent [Mt 24:37-44]
27 November 2016
The Necessity of Watchfulness to Meet the Son of Man
Readings: (1) Is 2:1-5 (2) Rom 13:11-14

  1. Theme in brief
Readiness to meet the Lord whenever he comes
  1. Focus Statement
We have to be always alert and vigilant so as not to get totally engrossed in material (worldly) affairs, and not to be found unprepared to meet the Lord when he comes at an unexpected hour.
  1. Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel Jesus compares “the coming of the Son of Man” (also called Parousia or the Second Coming of Christ) to two imageries: (1) the flood in Noah’s time; and (2) the unexpected coming of a thief. The text answers three questions: (1) What happened in the days of Noah? The flood came suddenly and unexpectedly. The wicked people knew nothing until it came at their doorstep (24:38). (2) What were the people doing at that time? They were fully preoccupied with worldly affairs such as eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (24:38). (3) What did the flood do or what happened then?  It swept away (= destroyed) everybody. They perished in the deluge without any preparation (24:9).
In the second imagery (24:43), Jesus makes use of the common practice of a thief breaking into anybody’s house at an unexpected hour of the night and the owner getting caught off guard. If he knew he would have stayed awake the whole night and fortified himself with all types of weapons and defence force.
Jesus further instructs his disciples that he may come suddenly in the midst of daily work or chores; for instance, while men work in the field and women grind at the mill (24:40-41). At that time, there will be an irreversible separation between those who are prepared and those who are not; those who are prepared will be taken away with him and those who are not will be left behind. 
To the question, “What must the disciples do?” Jesus answers that they must keep awake, that is, be alert and vigilant always, because they do not know the exact time when he is going to come (24:42). They should be ready to meet him even if he comes at an odd time or unexpected hour (24:44).
  1. Application to life
As the Church begins the Advent Season, on the first Sunday she focuses our attention not on the first but on the second or final coming of Christ. Spiritual authors and liturgists speak of threefold coming of Christ: in history, mystery and majesty. Though we are preparing for the commemoration of his coming in history (that is, his historical birth) on Christmas Day, this gives us an opportunity to think and reflect about his Second Coming at the end of time in glory and majesty, and prepare for it by strengthening our faith by recognizing him in the mystery of the Word and sacraments, especially in the Hoy Eucharist. This threefold coming is beautifully put in the invocations that can be optionally used by a priest instead of traditional “Lord have mercy” in the liturgy of the Holy Mass: “Lord Jesus, you came to gather the nations in the peace of God’s Kingdom”; “You come in Word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness”; and “You will come in glory with salvation for your people”. Yes, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore writes: “Have you not heard his silent steps? He comes, comes, ever comes. Every moment and every age, every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.”
As the first Sunday of Advent is meant to prepare us for “the advent of Christ” at the end of the world, we can also personally apply this advent of the Lord to meet us at the end of our earthly journey, that is, at our death. Which will come first: next Christmas, or our own death, or the Second Coming of Christ? Not knowing for sure and when exactly the Lord is coming, we need to be ready to meet him whenever he comes. "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour" (24:44).
How to be ready? In today’s gospel Jesus instructs us to be ready by keeping awake, that is, being always alert and vigilant to meet him whenever he comes. Normally, we make a lot of efforts to keep awake when we feel very sleepy. Similarly, a lot of efforts are needed to remain alert and vigilant in spiritual matters.  Keeping awake implies a constant awareness of the Risen Lord’s presence in all situations of life and a willingness to do what he wants us to do. It also means resisting all that goes against God’s will. In the words of St. Paul, it also means waking up from our sleep and casting off the works of darkness such as revelling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy Instead, putting on the armour of light that comes from Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:11-14).
But the problem with us is often we are unprepared to welcome the Lord because of our preoccupation with material and worldly affairs. Far from constant vigil and readiness to meet him by leading a life worthy of our call, we tend to be engrossed in day-to-day business and worldly concerns. Actually from the “the days of Noah” till today people are too busy in work, celebrations and other social activities and eating and drinking. According to the Book of Genesis, in Noah’s time the wickedness of humankind had reached such a height that “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). In those days people had become “so corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth we filled with violence” (Gen 6:11). They thought God was “out of sight;” hence, they kept him “out of mind.” But a sudden flood swept away or swallowed up all the securities they had put in material things and merry-making.
When people put all their trust in material things, they don’t know where to go when a sudden “flood” such as a sudden accident, serious illness, economic recession, tsunami, cyclone (hurricane/ typhoon), earthquake, inflation, terrorist attack, etc., bangs at their door. Then they feel life is meaningless and empty! This is what has happened in various parts of the world when terrorist attacks took place and people as well as the governments of those countries were caught unprepared. Therefore, the Lord warns us not to live like the wicked in Noah’s times, as if eating and drinking, work and business, worldly/ civil/ family duties and responsibilities were the only purpose of life. Looking at our life from the perspective of our faith, we understand that we are put here on earth by God with a purpose. God has a plan for each one of us. God has put us on this earth to make a personal contribution to his cause. For persons of faith, life becomes meaningful only when they co-operate with to realize his plan, in the particular way he wants them to do so. If one fails to do what God intends one to do with one’s life, then life would be meaningless.
If so, today’s gospel message motivates us to question the meaning, purpose and significance of our life. Once we do this, we begin “living” life rather than just existing. As Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Today’s gospel leads to self-examination: Why am I here on earth? Am I here only to eat and drink; only to grumble, complain, blame, criticize; only to be lukewarm and indifferent; only to live for oneself? We are here to find fulfilment by living life with a passion. Experts tell us that “the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose”. Our purpose is concerned with the values which we uphold so strongly that we want them realized in our life. Let me cite some examples from my pastoral experiences to see whether many Christians are motivated to live a life purpose by thinking or acting beyond the shell of “SELF”.
When I ask our own Catholic youth about the purpose of their lives, many of them say – studying hard, getting a good result, securing a high job, marrying respectably in the society and getting settled in life is the aim of their lives. When I ask the young people who come to attend Marriage Preparation Courses about the purpose of their marriage, many of them give only personal or physical, social and economic reasons. Though these reasons are essential for life, very few think and dream of something higher or beyond the circle of self. Only when we will live life with a passion we dream of contributing something specific for others’ or world’s welfare. Above all, we should not forget what really counts in life is our eternal salvation which is gained, as Jesus tells us,  by rendering concrete deeds of mercy to the least of our brethren (Mt 25: 40). The people who perished in the deluge in Noah’s days “knew nothing” (24:39) about the real purpose of life. They were so selfish that they totally neglected what is essential in life – centrality of God in our life and our concern for the needy.
To be watchful and alert means to ward off carelessness about the most essential concern or purpose of our life and being ready always and at all times to meet the Lord. The Lord comes unexpectedly like a thief to break in our indifference. He comes to us in the midst of our most ordinary occupations: our daily work, household chores, social activities and relationships. He also comes in the daily events, in prayer and sacraments, and in the guise of the poor and the downtrodden. He comes and meets us through thick and thin of life. We need faith to recognize him; or else he may pass by us. In today’s gospel Jesus says, at last, at the end of our lives or at the end of the world (whichever comes first) when he manifests himself in full glory, he will take with him those who are ready and leave behind those who are not ready. Thus there will be an irreversible separation between the saved and the lost. For those who are always actively watchful, the moment of meeting the Lord will be a joyful event and not a frightful one. Our joy will reach its heights when he will fulfil our heart’s desire as we “await the blessed hope” (cf. the liturgy of the Mass) of his coming in glory.
Yes, Advent is a season of blessed hope that our expectations will be fulfilled when we meet the Lord and receive the crown of glory he has promised. The hope of future glory should prompt us to live a life of hope. This in turn should motivate us to live a positive life. Many people live a life of negativity about everything: negative about our world, country, the Church, family and life itself. They allow negativity to dominate their thinking and acting. Actually speaking, if we are negative about everything in life, we not only condemn ourselves to unhappy and joyless life but also negate our faith in Jesus Christ. He has defeated the negative forces of evil and eternal death. He has also shown us that genuine love has power to defeat the power of hatred and vengeance. If so, negativity directly contradicts our faith in these truths of faith.
  1. Response to God's Word
Do we lead a care-free, careless and purposeless life? Do we realize that God has put us on this earth for a greater cause? What is that greater cause? Is there any meaninglessness that has crept into our life? What is our dream of making a specific contribution and giving a specific message to the world? Are we ready and prepared to meet the Lord any moment of our life? Do we recognize Him when He comes in our day-to-day events and situations? Will we be suddenly swept away like the people in Noah’s days when Christ comes at the end of our life or at the end of the world? Will our material securities save us then? More than God’s, are we attuned to the devil’s refrain: “No hurry; don’t worry?” Are we waiting for the Lord’s coming eagerly and joyfully, or frightfully?
  1. A prayer
Deliver us from our tendency to become so much engrossed in day-to-day business and worldly concerns that we keep you out of our consideration. Grant that we may not put all our securities in material things so that we are not suddenly swept away when you come. As we await the blessed hope of your coming, give us the grace to be watchful and alert so that we can ward off carelessness about the most essential concern or purpose of our life. Come, Lord Jesus. Come and fulfil our heart’s desire. For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.




Friday, 18 November 2016

CHRIST THE KING (C)

 Christ the King C [Lk 23:35-43]
(Thirty-fourth Sunday)
20 November 2016
Promise of Paradise to the Repentant Criminal
Readings: (1) 2 Sam 5:1-3 (2) Col 1:12-20
1.  Theme in brief
Freedom to accept or reject the offer of salvation
2.  Focus Statement
We are free either to accept the universal pardon and salvation offered by Christ our King as the repentant criminal did, or reject it by our hardheartedness and doubt like the unrepentant criminal.
3.  Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel text we see three categories of people: the Jewish leaders and soldiers who scoff and mock Jesus (23:36); the unrepentant thief on the cross who challenges him to show his actual power and save himself and also save both of them (23:39); and the repentant thief who admits his and his companion’s guilt but proclaims Jesus’ innocence (23:41).
By pointing at the inscription above Jesus’ head, "This is the King of the Jews" (23:38), Luke wants to tell us that Christ is really a King. But what kind of King is he? He is a King (1) who showers his gift of pardon and awards paradise to a repentant criminal who is hanged beside him (23:43), and (2) the one who saves even the worst of sinners like that criminal. While dying on the cross, he shows his Kingship over all people by his offer of forgiveness and universal reconciliation.
In spite of the written inscription that Christ is the King of the Jews, the Jewish nation in general rejects this King and his Kingship. Hence, the gates of divine mercy get opened to whoever opens one’s heart to receive his mercy and forgiveness of sins, just as the repentant criminal does. To the repentant thief who begs an entry into his Kingdom of infinite mercy, Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (23:43). What a generosity and magnanimity extended to a hardened sinner! Jesus invites a hardened criminal condemned to death on a cross “to be with him” or to share his heavenly glory and kingly majesty.
From the dialogue between the two criminals crucified on both sides of Jesus we cannot but notice the striking contrast between the attitudes of these two: the one who mocks him by challenging him to save himself and both of them if he were the real Messiah, and the other who rebukes him by declaring Christ’s innocence (23:39-41). Both of them represent the contrast between what sort of kingship the people expect from Jesus and what sort of King actually he is. The unrepentant thief represents people’s expectations: If he is really a king he should show his power by solving their immediate problem, namely suffering and death. The repentant thief rightly understands that Jesus is not the Messiah who has come to cancel legal consequence of anybody’s crimes or from suffering and death. Acknowledging his own sins, he just surrenders his heart to his infinite mercy.
The unrepentant criminal is so hardhearted that he is unable to understand and accept how a crucified man can offer paradise. Here we get a contrast the hardheartedness and doubt of former one with the faith or trust of the latter. Here Luke the evangelist wants to tell his readers that Christ enables all repentant sinners to regain or re-enter the Paradise which was lost due to Adam’s sin. Thus Christ the King becomes the new Adam who re-opens the gates of Paradise for anyone who repents by meditating on the mystery of the cross. Normally, earthly kings ask their subjects to give their lives to defend and save their kings; in contrast, Christ our King dies a shameful death on the cross to save his subjects (= sinners). Thus, by his mercy and pardon granted to a repentant criminal, Jesus makes it clear that his Kingdom belongs to sinners as well the virtuous, provided they welcome it with repentance.
4.  Application to life 
As we acclaim Christ as our King today, the gospel presents before us a King hanging on the cross in the midst of two criminals crucified with him. We should keep in mind that Jesus' crucifixion did not take place on an altar between two candles as we commemorate it during the Holy Mass today, but between two criminals sentenced to death by crucifixion. Luke's passion narrative presents a crucified Messiah who establishes his Kingdom amidst mocking and brutality. It tells us that Christ is a King who dies a disgraceful death in order to save his subjects. His throne is the cross, and his crown, the crown of thorns. Even in the midst of excruciating suffering, he continues his ministry of seeking out the lost and saving them. From the cross he reaches out to a repentant criminal (sinner) with his gifts of pardon and salvation (= Paradise). Thus, he becomes a King of our hearts by winning over the hardness of our hearts with his divine mercy and pardon, just as he did to the repentant criminal.
In real life we could be either like soldiers and unrepentant thief or repentant thief.  We have to examine and see whose characteristics we represent and daily make a choice among the three. The hardened criminal crucified along with Jesus proves that once a person allows wickedness to rule totally over his heart, even fear of a shameful and agonizing death may not change such a person. On the contrary, the repentant thief was open to God’s divine mercy. He proved that true repentance was never too late. His was a clear case of God’s readiness to pardon even a hardened sinner who repents at last on death-bed. But this is not an argument to postpone our repentance to death-bed. What guarantee is there that all of us will get such a chance? Will all of us get an opportunity to do what the repentant thief did: He owned his guilt by saying that he deserved such a punishment for his crimes, and proclaimed faith in Jesus saying that he suffered innocently.
What a wonderful faith the repentant thief had! Could anyone imagine that a person who was crucified in between two criminals could be a king? What a faith he needed to say that a crucified person who suffered disgraceful capital punishment like him and could not save himself, nor was saved by his Father, could dispense pardon and Paradise.  We are often tempted to approach the matters of faith purely on the basis of rational or logical arguments like the unrepentant criminal. He must have argued in his mind how foolish his companion was to think a criminal like him could award paradise to anyone. Instead, with a simple faith he could have said like his companion: “What about me, Lord? Please remember me also when you come into your Kingdom!” He did not ask Jesus to save him from the cross but to remember him in his heavenly Kingdom. Even in the midst of personal agony, Jesus extended his arms of mercy to him. Yes, Jesus died to open the gates of heavenly Kingdom to all those who cry to him with repentant hearts. The other hardened sinner had no faith to beg for mercy, though the Saviour was so close by. What about us? Whom do we represent: the repentant and hardened sinner?
Though it is true that our faith is an intellectual assent to revealed truth, it is more than that. When we do not see and understand God’s ways through human reason, our faith is tested and shaken. Reason alone does not work when we do not get always what we want in life. At those moments, we have to move from pure reason to a deeper faith or from reasons of the head to reasons of the heart.  Christ the King invites from the cross all doubting Thomases either to go on challenging God to prove his almighty powers, or to make a deep faith-surrender and say: ‘My Lord and my God (Jn 20:28), I do not understand your ways; do what you want with me’.
Hardheartedness and doubts against one’s faith are the two great spiritual enemies against which we need to combat constantly. The repentant criminal becomes the model of those who accept the offer of pardon and salvation which Christ offers, and the hardened criminal represents people who reject his offer of salvation till the end of their lives. When we look at our King hanging on the cross helplessly, we are challenged either to accept him in faith as the Ruler (King) of our hearts and lives, or to challenge him to come down from the cross and save both himself and us from all calamities of this life as the Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers and the unrepentant thief did. He is not a King who uses his powers to his own advantage or profit, instead the one who gives life to save others. Remaining hardhearted like the unrepentant criminal and refusing to listen to the inspiration or stirrings of the Holy Spirit for conversion till the end of one’s life is rightly called by Jesus the unpardonable sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31-32). The Holy Spirit (quite often through our conscience or ‘inner voice’ and sometimes through our guides) knocks at the door of our hearts and prompts us to admit our sins, repent for them and be reformed. But if anybody constantly silences the prompting of the Spirit and totally loses the sense of sin, or justifies wrongdoings saying that there is nothing wrong in them till the end of life, nobody can save such a person. Such a person will not be forgiven either in this age (because he/she does not want it) or in the age to come (because it is too late, Mt 12:32).
Today’s feast of Christ the King invites us to surrender ourselves to the loving reign of God, to make a choice between the three categories of people mentioned above. Now it is up to us to accept the gifts of pardon and salvation which Christ the King offers with a repentant heart, or to reject them. We are either like the repentant thief or the unrepentant thief and Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers; we either allow our King to rule over us with his qualities of compassion, pardon and salvation and allow him to pour these into our hearts, or become hardhearted by allowing evil and criminal tendencies to rule over us till the end. As sinners, we always have free entry into his Kingdom if we accept his forgiveness with repentance. The infinite compassion of Christ flowing from the cross can melt the hearts of even hardened sinners leading them to repentance.
If we claim Christ as our King, in our social life also it is our duty to spread and dispense the same qualities of mercy and forgiveness towards the lost ones, and work for the liberation of people and society from evil. When we are engaged in this sort ot life-promoting mission we become loyal ‘soldiers’ of our King who came to seek out and save the lost (Lk 19:10), and laid down his life so that we may have life (and also share life) in abundance (Jn 10:10). But this sort of mission may sometimes make us victims of mockery, abuses, and challenges to prove our power to bring about quick solutions to the burning issues of modern society – just as people did to Jesus. But let us trust in God. Occasionally we may get a few people like the good thief who will support us and tell others that we have not done anything wrong to deserve harsh treatment or judgement.
5.  Response to God's Word
Today, are we willing to accept pardon and salvation which Christ the King offers, or reject it like the hardened criminal? When we do not see and understand God’s ways through human reason, do we make a deep faith-surrender and allow God to take us where he wants by putting ourselves into his hands? Do we allow our conscience to become blunt by hardheartedness, and refuse to heed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to admit our wrongdoings? Are we losing the sense of sin due to widespread acceptance of immoral practices in our society, or due to social pressure? Do we justify our wrongdoings by giving so many excuses? Do we allow Christ the King and the values of his Kingdom to rule over our hearts, or the evil ways of the world? Whether we succeed or not, do we try to win over people’s hardness of hearts with mercy and pardon? Are we loyal ‘soldiers’ of our King who are willing to work for his Kingdom in which mercy, pardon, reconciliation and magnanimity will be the guiding principles?
6.  A Prayer

We hail you, Christ our King. You alone are the King of our hearts. You accepted to die an agonizing, disgraceful and humiliating death in order to save us, your subjects. Even in the midst of excruciating suffering, you were faithful to your ministry of seeking out the lost and saving them. Be a true King of our hearts by winning over the hardness of our hearts with your mercy and pardon. With a humble and repentant heart we accept your gifts of pardon and salvation. We pray that you send your Spirit to melt the hearts of all hardhearted sinners, so that they may come to your throne of mercy and pardon. Amen.