Compassion not condemnation – Tuesday, second week of Advent – Is 40:1-11

While today’s reading begins with a double command to comfort, I find the season of Advent awfully un’comfort’able. It’s more like a mixed bag of comfort and discomfort. Deep down the feeling is wonderful but on the surface it almost seems to be too good to be true.

If Lent is all about us turning to God, it almost seems like the readings in Advent is all about God bending backward to make us happy. This makes me feel awfully uncomfortable for it should be the other way round. The feeling of being uncomfortable really gets to you when it dawns on you that such love is not merited but freely given.  

The reading of today, sung through the season of advent in our Churches, is taken from the second book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55) this section is generally attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile.  

In 587 BCE Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. In fairness this was a well-deserved punishment from God to a people who had made idols their gods and refused to trust in Yahweh. The first book of Isaiah ends with chapter 39 and the unspoken (in this case unwritten) exile to Babylon. While the narrative is recounted in 2Kings 20:12-19, chapter 39 which precedes this text simply finds it hard to even acknowledge this painful historical reality.

Yet Chapter 40 which begins around the year 540 BCE seems to pop out of a dark tunnel of shame like as If nothing happened. It’s as if with one stroke (seventy years in reality) God has had a change of heart for his wayward people. To a people undeserving of such comfort, God insists, if not commands that His people be comforted. There is compassion not condemnation for the exiles and it almost seems like God is repentant of His decision rather than His people of their actions.

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Simple Truths – When rainy days never come

I was taught to save things for a rainy day. So all my life I did exactly that. There was a reason why this was drummed into my head, why this ‘value’ was planted deep within us. We came from a middle class family and there were times when life was hard and every last paisa had to be stretched till the end of the month.

I was not the only one, for there was a whole generation like me that was taught to save every paisa. We reused and recycled much before it became the borrowed mantra of the western world in their effort to save the planet, ironically after exploiting it. Sheer necessity forced us to recycle everything. Cycle tyres became our playthings, milk bags became reusable containers, whisky bottles were used to store drinking water and left over food found ten creative ways to make reappearance at dinner time.  

Inadvertently I grew up in a culture of fear. What if we don’t have enough for tomorrow? It is true that our generation grew up on the sacrifices of our parents but with those sacrifices and struggles we also inherited their fears. At the back of my mind the panic of the possibility of those hard days looms over every minute decision I make. I am worried to throw caution to the winds and gamble away good sense while inviting troubled times again. And so I pull back and tighten everything and every decision, from wallets to waist lines.

My generation spent little on ourselves, always with the conviction that we did not need this ‘little luxury’. Should a nice gift be presented to us it would be kept for that ‘rainy day’ or tucked in the furthest corner of old mother’s cupboard. Holidays were rare, candy and ice cream were non-existent, public transport was the order of the day, toys were a waste of money and a rare meal at a restaurant ended more with an apology that we could have eaten better food at home for half the money spent.

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Paradise regained – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary- Gn 3:9-15, 20

So it’s back to the beginning if we want to understand this feast and that’s exactly where the Church’s liturgy takes us; to the book of Genesis. The narrative we are told is a familiar one. It is a narrative of disobedience and disbelief in God. Adam and Eve brought into the world original sin by their disobedience and disbelief in their creator. As a consequence of this original sin all humans are born in sin; save one, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Often times, we are made to think that the sin of our first parents was merely one of disobedience. In reality it was that and more for in one swift move the devil in three statements, planted doubts and fear and corrupted faith in God. To undo this we needed a Saviour.

Let’s look at the narratives of lies and doubt sowed by the devil. The devil told Eve she would not die, which she would not, had she not sinned; sin brought death. He then told her that her eyes would be opened and she would be “like” God when in reality she “was” made in God’s image and likeness. Finally she was convinced by the devil that when she ate of the fruit she would know good and evil when in reality she was already introduced to God who is good and did not need an introduction to the devil who is evil.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God confronted them as He does with our sin. Like Adam, we too feel a sense of shame and nakedness and try to run away from God. The reality is that we can run away from God but can never hide for God found Adam and He will finds us.

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Take courage, your deliverance is at hand – Friday, First week of Advent- Is 29:17-24  

 For more than twenty odd years I saw the stress that loomed large on my parents face. A family dispute which dragged on in the courts of Mumbai had left more than a few wrinkles on their face. The situation seemed bleak for we were on the verge of losing our home. What vexed me the most was the corruption of the legal system in the nation’s courts. It is no secret that corruption runs deep and the pockets of crooked judges and lawyers run deeper.

In all of this my parents clung on to their faith in God and in His time a settlement was reached. We made a decision to walk away with God gave us even though by human standards it was an unfair settlement. My parents found peace and celebrated their Golden Jubilee of the wedding last year. We as a family continue to be blessed by God

I write this because so many people are locked in court battles. Many of them are innocent victims suffering at the hands of greedy relatives, neighbours and unscrupulous people. The stress and strain is heightened even more by corruption and then there is often what seems to be the silence of God.

Where is God we ask? Why does he not strike our enemies and redeem us from our pain? Why does evil seem to prosper and the just person suffer? Today’s first reading which is a continuation of the promises of God to the house of Jacob addresses the promise of God. He promises never to abandon us. Yesterday’s reading asked us to keep our mind on Him and He will keep us in peace. Today God promises his vengeance on those tyrants who scoff at his faithful.

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The Christmas Canvas, a gift for Pope Francis

CHRISTMAS! Up goes the twinkling tree and on go the glistening lights. It’s the season for gifts and candy canes; for fruit cakes and carols. But beyond the bows and mistletoe in a tiny Manger lies the true magic of Christmas; of God born as man! This magic of Christmas for long has enchanted artists who have employed their flair to narrate the timeless story from the Annunciation to the Presentation.

This Christmas, the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, Mumbai, brings to you the story of Christ’ birth through twelve brilliant masterpieces. The twelve write-ups that form the ‘Christmas Canvas’ were first written by Miss Joynel Fernandes, Asst. Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, Mumbai in 2017, as a mini-series for a blog site (www.pottypadre.com).

The presentation of these classical paintings coincides with the twelve days of Christmas, narrating to us the story of faith as captured by some of the most amazing artists of all times. The book was warmly launched by H.E. Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay at Archbishops House, Colaba on December 3, 2018.

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