God exaggerates – the mould less chosen: praise, thanks and blessing
The story of God entering into a covenant with Noah (Genesis 9: 8-15) who emerged from the ark after the flood is sheer mindboggling. God goes to extremes to set a new beginning. He makes that incredible covenant “with every living creature (…) the birds, the cattle, and every beast on earth”, and then highlighting it with the rainbow in the sky. A new beginning with a very small group of persons, yet there is such grandeur and majesty. God does not hold back when he makes a new beginning. Take another example. Sarah and Abraham had no child, but God promised to give them one. Sarah found this ludicrous and burst out in laughter (Genesis 18: 2), at which God was not amused at all. However, God tells Abraham (Genesis 15) that he will be a father of many nations. He will have descendants more than sand on the seashore! Total exaggeration! Yet, that is what God is capable of. When the Israelite people came out of Egypt, God promised them the land, that flows with milk and honey. (Exodus 3: 8) Lamenting the sins of the people, God nevertheless says, “Come now, let us set things straight. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.” (Isaiah 1: 18)
These are but a few snippets of the way God takes us by surprise in His total exaggeration to set new beginnings. The visit of the Archangel Gabriel is such a moment of total exaggeration, a moment of God showering His grace upon the young woman of Nazareth, Mary. She will become the mother of His Son by the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1: 26-38)
Take a leap forward. God sent His only Son into the world because He loved the world so much. (John 3: 16) God gives everything every time. Jesus was from the same type. He multiplies 5 loaves and 2 fish (Matthew 11: 14: 13-21), and there were 12 baskets over! He changed water into wine! (John 2: 1-11) God exaggerates all the time to make a point. And Jesus, His beloved Son (Mark 1: 11) is proof of it.
The point is that God exaggerates against negativity. He emphasises the opposite; He goes well beyond all expectations. He has no time for negative, morbid habits. He wants rejuvenation and renewal by exaggerating His power and majesty. That exaggeration we call God’s grace, which is God sharing Himself with us. Where God is, there is hope against despair, and trust against helplessness.
Is there a way we can align ourselves to this God of exaggeration? Is there something we must do to show the new beginning of God in us? May I suggest three things we should do to show that we are doing God’s exaggeration? These are praise, thanksgiving and blessing. Believe me, it is easier to be hypercritical and negative than to make the option for the three. It begins with a positive reaction. Imagine my heroes, the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. So simple, yet there is so much wisdom in these three monkeys. Let us get away from the negative approach of focusing on what is evil and doom.
Praise! It is time that we learn again to praise. I remember a conversation with an elderly friend some years ago. I had my fair share of complaints. Having listened to me, he answered: “Ivanhoe, praise more.” Yes, we must praise more to show that we should be positive against all odds. Praise is a new beginning because we turn away from negativity to positivity. Make praise a daily undertaking. Let us get away from just seeking what is dark and sinister. The option is not good because it means despair, stagnation and hopelessness. Praise is a good remedy against anger, vindictiveness and jealousy.
Thanksgiving! Giving thanks is to remember our blessings. It is proven that people who thank are physically and emotionally healthier. Their immune system is stronger, and they have a more positive outlook on their future. Count your blessings. Thanksgiving reduces toxic elements such as envy, aggression and frustration. Psychological studies show that people who thank are generally mentally stronger and physically healthier. Just imagine, to say thank you is to boost your immune system against attacks on the body! One of the greatest benefits of thanksgiving is humility because we acknowledge our inter-dependence and accept that we are living in relationships, which benefit us. Thanksgiving is to see God’s hand in our lives through so many people.
Blessing! To bless is to wish someone well. It is against gloating and enjoying the failure of others. God blesses us all the time. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” (St Irenaeus) Blessing is to wish prosperity and fruitfulness. Be a blessing to others. This means that we strive to make others happy.
The time and place where all three come together is the celebration of Holy Eucharist. Jesus went to the extreme by leaving us his Body and Blood for all times. The Eucharist is the celebration of and teacher in praise, thanksgiving and blessing. Jesus is so extreme, humanly speaking exaggerating when he said, “This is my Body; this is my Blood.”
Let us not forget. It is tougher to praise, thank and bless. And that is where we need to be reminded of God’s preferrable way of making new beginnings. Let us let Him take hold of us, so that we can be positive in the new mould of praise, thanks and blessing.
Fr Ivanhoe Allies February 21, 2024 (Bothasig)
LENT: Ambassador for Christ
The Season of Lent and Easter is the most special time of our Christian calendar. The spotlight is on every Christian who professes to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. There is something most compelling about this time because it wants us to define who we are. Under the spell of the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no room for evasive action. We must be part of this time, or we are not what we proclaim, namely people of the Way.
In the Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul puts it together for us: we are ambassadors for Christ! (1 Corinthians 5: 20) A quick glance into the commercial world gives us a way to understand what is meant. Everything today is about marketing a brand. The success is measured by the retail. However, every company will testify that before you sell, you must get into the minds and hearts of the people. That is the purpose of their marketing strategy. The success is not, in the first instance, at the till. It is in the fact that people identify with the brand and make it their own. Knowingly or unknowingly, they present the brank symbol, slogan and represent its values. They are, in fact in the words of St Paul, the ambassadors for the brand.
Similarly, a Christian (someone who bears the name of Christ) is an ambassador for the brand we call Jesus Christ. Jesus himself once stated that that is how also he views his life when he said: “To have seen me is to have seen the Father.” (John 14: 9) That is the terrain, in which we move. It does imply that we are familiar with the “brand”, that we value him and feel compelled to show him to others. How does it begin? With an acknowledgement of belonging to Jesus Christ. He deserves our attention and expects our commitment because he showed us the depth, constancy and totality of his love on the Cross. It should be an honour to become his ambassador. A Christian takes up the challenge of Lent to show Jesus Christ and may echo the words of Jesus Christ: “To see me, is to see the Lord.”
We are, further, advised to make sure that we represent him as our “brand” and not our own egos. In the Gospel reading from St Matthew, Jesus teaches that whatever we do, we must do it for the right reason. If we do it for attention from others, then we have our reward. If we do it for the Father, then He will give us the reward. That is such an important move to ensure that we are people of integrity and selflessness. We know how people can boast with brands. St Paul once said that if he wants to boast, it is with the Lord. (“Let the one who boasts, boasts in the Lord.” 2 Cor 10} This requires the humility to take up the task of ambassador, and not to replace Christ with our own desire for attention and accolades.
The Gospel Matthew 6: 1-6: 16-18 suggests a three-pronged action plan for the ambassador of Christ. It is fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Fasting intends to overcome the sluggish, lazy, lustful and greedy desires of the body. It is combat to steel and discipline the body. Spiritually, it brings us closer to the suffering of Christ. Fasting, however, can also mean that we take back control of our lives, especially our bodies. Instead of “going with the flow”, we take charge of ourselves. Instead of being pushed and moved from the outside, we cease to be remote-controlled. We want to live from within, being in control of our emotions, values and morals. Then fasting can mean that we attempt to put an end to selfishness, anger, intolerance, prejudice, false pride, condemnation and self-righteousness. Fasting can be the exercise to thank, praise and say sorry.
Prayer is the heart-to-heart conversation with God and His Son through the Holy Spirit. The formulated prayers like the Our Father, the Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father are helpful. But a conversation with God can be simple and direct just as we speak with one another. The important part is that we secure such time for prayer. Set aside the time when there is no disturbance or distraction. Secure the time! Just for ten or fifteen minutes with the Lord. The formal devotions help us to pray, such as the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary. Above all, Lent is the time to make a special effort to attend Holy Mass during the week. After all, the Eucharistic is the summit of all prayer and devotion because it takes us right back to the Upper Room, Gethsemane, Calvary and the empty tomb. The Eucharist is the celebration of the powerfully present Jesus Christ.
Almsgiving is in our Catholic Christian tradition regarded as the summary of all Christian duty. We look out for the poor and needy when we make our financial contributions to the Church to assist them. Almsgiving comes from the depth of the heart to be like the Good Samaritan who does not turn his face to the other side but sees the sister and brother in need. Christ is in the sister and brother when we are reminded that when you did this to the least of these, you did it to me (Matthew 25). Almsgiving is so important in the form of spending time with others, beginning with our own family. Playing family games and going out with each other lay the foundation for sound relationships. Moreover, there are people who wait for a visit and an uplifting conversation.
An ambassador for Christ is and shows Christ to others. Lent is the time to do so.
Fr Ivanhoe Allies February 16 2024 (Bothasig)
LENT: what is behind this strange word?
The word “Lent” has become part of our vernacular. We all seem to have a common understanding of it. Hardly ever do we raise the question about its meaning. This is even more surprising considering the fact that it is a very unusual word, and it is just used for a particular time.
Of course, we all know that Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, most, if not all Catholics, treat it in such a way. The Church is packed to the rafters. We have never been able to fathom why exactly this is the case. The same thing will happen on Good Friday. Lent is the beginning of the time when the Church commemorates the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. For fourty days, we focus on his suffering which culminates in his Crucifixion. Fourty day! That is 6 and a half weeks of fasting and abstinence. Six weeks make 36 days, adding the 4 days before the First Sunday of Lent. The Sundays during Lent are not days of fasting and abstinence and, therefore, not included in the forty days.
Ash Wednesday, like Good Friday, is a day of fasting and abstinence. All those under the age of 60years and above the age of fourteen are obliged to fast. Fasting means one full meal per day. Abstinence is somewhat different. That means that that people abstain from eating meat and indulging in luxuries. It should be noted that people who are sick or on chronic medication are exempt from fasting and abstinence.
So when and where did all these customs arise. Already in the second century Christians held two days of total fasting to prepare for the celebration of Easter. In the third century it became a whole week of total fasting. By the fourth and fifth century, the Church referred to the “Quadragesima”, the forty days of fasting.
The idea was to imitate Jesus who fasted 40 days after his baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 4; 2; Luke 4: 1f). The Church Fathers saw in this practice an indication to the forty days of the fasting of Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34: 28) and the Prophet Elija on the way to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19: 8) and the forty years of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert.
The Quadragesima began on the sixth Sunday before Easter and lasted until Holy Thursday, on which the festive welcoming-back of penitents was celebrated. In the fifth century, the number of days was reconstructed, and Ash Wednesday was taken as the begin of the Quadragesim. Fasting during this time meant that only one full meal was taken in the evening. Abstinence from meat and wine became the normal practice. The Quadragesima (40 days) were essentially determined by the reconciliation of the penitents and the introduction of those to be baptised to the sacraments of initiation in the Easter night.
And all of that is called Lent today. The word is in use in the English language since the 13th Century. It follows the Middle English word “lente”, which means “springtime”. Springtime is derived from the Old English “lencten”. It does make sense if you live in the Northern Hemisphere where nature is slowly bracing itself for the end of Winter and getting ready for Spring.
Meanwhile, wherever we are in the English speaking world, we get ready to celebrate Lent. Elsewhere, they may have different names for the same thing.
Blessed Lent, or Quadragesima.
Fr Ivanhoe Allies, February 8 2024 (Bothasig)
WHAT THE DEVIL! JESUS THE EXORCIST
When Jesus appears in the Gospel of Mark 1: 21-28, the scene is set for the rest of his life. That scene describes the battle ahead of Jesus. On the one hand, there is the devil with his helpers. On the other hand, there is Jesus with the Archangel Michael and his helpers The outcome of this battle is about the one in the centre – you and me. Luke’s Gospel 4: 1-13 treats this battel somewhat differently when Jesus is tempted in the desert by the devil – and is victorious.
This battle takes us back to the scene in paradise where Adam and Eve enjoyed supreme bliss, harmony and peace. The only condition they had was not to eat of the tree of knowledge. However, they were tempted by the serpent, and succumbed to his seductive words. What follows, is really the familiar story of hardship in its diverse forms, which is nothing but the continuous commentary to the disobedience in paradise followed by the expulsion of Adam and Eve. Everything thereafter is about the restoration of that original harmonious relationship. The battle was going to be that God would do everything possible to bring redemption, sometimes with success. Most of the time, however, God had to concede defeat due to the stubbornness and disobedience of man and woman who thwarted His efforts. Patriarchs, judges and prophets all lined up in the service of God – to no avail.
What was the issue at stake? According to the Old Testament, the devil (so called for the first time in Wisdom 2: 24) found it totally unacceptable that God could make man and woman with such dignity as to be His image. Envy is at the root of his evil actions. For their part, man and woman could not accept being under God. Their temptation and downfall were that they wanted to be like God.
The Old Testament addresses the question: why is there such evil in the world? The creation narratives from Genesis 1-11 attempt to answer that question. The scene is set for the whole of history of evil, corruption, confusion, war, chaos and all other evils. There is a significant insight: man and woman, for all their evil, cannot be alone accountable for evil in the world. In fact, they are incapable of rising to such high measure of evil. There is another force called the devil or Satan that exercises unbelievable power and influence.
Just as the ultimate source of evil comes from the outside, so also the force that overcomes it, comes from the outside. God’s plan against evil is called salvation. God’s salvation plan resists the history of evil.
That is where Jesus comes in. His mission is salvation by overcoming the devil once and for all. The main adversary to Jesus is the devil and his diversity of demonic powers. It was the devil who influenced Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.
A word must be said about the third actor, namely man and woman. They are endowed with the gift of intellect and freedom. It is their task to think and make choices. They must use their free will to decide on what side of the divide in the battle they want to be. They cannot do this without failure and therefore need the grace of God. That grace comes from the victory of the Crucified Christ who conquered the devil. It must be noted that the Bible does not promote the idea of the devil and God being of equal strength. That would be called dualism. The evil one is himself created by God. No, God is stronger and remains so. Jesus, His Son, conquered the evil one, and he remains conquered. However, and that is the critical point: we, man and woman, remain in this conflict, which is the spiritual battle until we breathe our last.
It is with humility that we must accept this battle in the background of everything that we do. We require alertness, especially in truth and morals. The area of the devil is lies and confusion. His domain is the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. Today there is the denial of absolute truth and universal morals. True and moral is what society dictates. In this regard, Church has a difficult task to maintain its position of the truth of God that should prevail morally in our personal and social interaction. The Church offers us power of Christ, the Exorcist, the forgiveness of sins in Confession and the healing remedy of the Eucharist.
The Letter to the Ephesians puts in a nutshell: “Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the armour of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. Our battle in not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in the regions above. You must put on the armour of God if you are to resist on the evil day; do all that your duty requires and hold your ground.”
We must pray for the strength of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary whom the devil could not influence. The spiritual battle continues until the second coming of Jesus Christ. We uphold against all hatred and evil that God is love.
Fr Ivanhoe Allies
February 1, 2024 (Bothasig)