Daily Scripture Analysis

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Third Sunday - Year C - Advent

Readings: Zep 3:14-18a; Phi 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18. 

 

Reading 1 (Zep 3:14-18a):

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Reading 2 (Phi 4:4-7):

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel (Lk 3:10-18):

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
"What should we do?"
He said to them in reply,
"Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise."
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
"Teacher, what should we do?"
He answered them,
"Stop collecting more than what is prescribed."
Soldiers also asked him,
"And what is it that we should do?"
He told them,
"Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages."

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
"I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.


Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.

 

I. THEME: Rejoice because our salvation is near. 

            People are sad, worry and hopeless because they are threatened by many fears such as: failure, prison, slavery, sins, separation, death, especially God’s judgment and punishment. In opposition, people are joyful when all these fears are lifted up: as prisoners or slaves were set free, as students were graduated after passing all examinations, as lovers were lived with their beloved.

            The third Sunday of Advent is called “laetare,” meaning the Sunday of joy and hope because the Messiah is coming. He comes to take away all sufferings, sins and despair by filling up with joy, love and salvation.

            Today readings express the wonderful joy when people have God in their life because when they have Him, they have everything. In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah called the Israelites to be joyful because their time of exile is going to be ended. God shall take back His punishment and push away their enemies. In the second reading, St. Paul invited the Philippians to be joyful and to always rejoice in God, since when people have God in their life, they have no need of anything. In the Gospel, John the Baptist called people to rejoice because the Messiah is coming. He shall purify their sins and bring God’s salvation to them.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: Be glad and exult with all your heart, because the Lord has removed the judgment against you.

           

1.1/ The Israelites should rejoice: To understand Zephaniah’s passage, we need to understand the historical background of the Israelites at this time. Their whole nation was conquerred by their enemies; the temple and their holy city Jerusalem were completely destroyed; their people were living in exiles: the Israelites in Assyria and the Judahites in Babylon. Living in such situation, the Israelites lost all their faith and hope. The most painful feeling is that they thought God forsook and handed them in the enemies’ hands.

            (1) The calling to rejoice: But God’s love overcomes the Israelites’ betrayal and infidelity; this is the reason why the prophet Zephaniah was sent to announce the good new for Israel: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” Zion, Israel and Jerusalem represent for all the Israelites. Since this is so great and joyful new which they are waiting for, they can’t keep within themselves, but to shout for joy.

            (2) The reason to rejoice: The prophet Zephaniah clearly gave the reason of their joy: "The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear." The reason of the Israelites’ exile is their disobedience to God and chasing after foreign gods. To give them an opportunity to return, God must let their enemies to wipe out their country. Now, the time of purification is going to end and they don’t have to worry about misfortunes anymore because the king of Israel is in their midst. Like oracles of other prophets, the fulfillment must be considered in two levels: First, God liberates the Israelites from the exile and brings them back to re-establish their country. Secondly, God gives them the Messiah to dwell in their midst in order to teach and to bring salvation for them. They must rejoice because with God’s presence, their enemies shall have no power upon them.

           

1.2/ God will also rejoice when His people are joyful: Sufferings affect not only human beings but also God because of His love and care for them. Therefore, when people are liberated from shameful and painful exile, He also rejoice with their joy and gladness. The prophet described God’s joy when He welcomes the Israelites’ coming back, "The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals."

2/ Reading II: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!”

2.1/ Let always rejoice: St. Paul really felt the joy of a person who has God, because he has everything. This is the reason why he encouraged the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”

            Joy is the sign of the person who has God; therefore, the believer must always rejoice because God is always with him. People are only worry and afraid when they live far away from God and chase after worldly vainglory; and then, they must receive all painful sufferings from them. St. Paul also teaches us an important lesson: true joy only comes from our relationship with God; we can’t find it from anyone or the world. He also advised the Philippians to be kind with all people; this means to live justly and to have compassion for people. Like God, He treats people not only with justice but also with mercy, even though people betrayed Him. Only with mercy, people may have a chance to renew their life.

2.2/ Let always pray: People are worry and fearful when they face difficulty and challenge in their life. St. Paul advised the faithful to get rid of them by a life of prayer, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Several things people must be attentive to when they pray to God:

            (1) Pray with God about anything: There is nothing which is greater than God’s mighty power; and there is also nothing which is too small for His attentive caring. Let put in His hands all of our past sins, our present problems, and our worries for future.

            (2) Pray with a complete trust: When we pray to God, we must believe that we are praying to a wise God who understands all things; a powerful God who can do all things; a gentle Father who is ready to bestow all graces for His children.

            (3) Prayer helps us to find true peace of mind: An author said, “peace is the effect of a trustful prayer.” Once people completely believe in God’s love and power, they entrust everything in His hands; they are no longer worry or fearful; therefore, they have the true peace of mind. St. Paul also ascertained this belief with his faithful, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In other place, he wrote: “If God gave us His Only Beloved Son, what else He can give and doesn’t give to people?”

 

3/ Gospel: What people need to prepare to welcome the Messiah’s coming.

           

3.1/ They must change their life: Not everyone can recognize and welcome Christ as the Messiah, sent by God to them. The history showed many people, not only didn’t recognize him but also condemned or killed him. When the Jews came to John and asked him about what they must do to prepare the way for the Messiah, he told them to be humble and changed their life according to the truth. John Baptist gave them concrete and practical advises depending on their situation. He didn’t demand them to change their career but the attitude when doing their job.

            (1) To the crowd: They asked him, "What then should we do?"He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." John taught people to practice charity by sharing with others what they have because happiness isn’t depended on what they possess but on love they have for people. Christ also taught, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

            (2) To the tax-collectors: They came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" John answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." The temptation of the tax-collectors is to collect more than what people should pay and to keep that extra money. John advised them to respect justice by being content with their salary and to return to others what they illegally collected.

            (3) To the soldiers: They also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" John told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages." The temptation of the soldiers is to surpress people because they have weapons on their hands. John advised them to truthfully live according to their conscience, don’t steal from the innocent; don’t falsely accuse anyone and be content with their wages.

3.2/ The difference between the Messiah and John the Baptist: Observing John Baptist’s simple life and his way of preaching, many stipulated in their hearts that “whether John might be the Messiah.” He was very truthful and wiped out all people’s suspicion by mentioning two main differences between the Messiah and him:

            (1) The difference in power: He said about the Messiah: "One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals." He is only the herald for the Messiah, to prepare for people to meet the Messiah.

            The Messiah has authority to judge and to compensate people according to their works:

"His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." John Baptist has no authority to judge and to punish or to reward people.

            (2) The difference between the two baptisms: John made a difference between his baptism and Christ’s baptism: "I am baptizing you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

            John’s baptism is according to Jewish tradition for those who want to convert to Judaism. His baptism can’t forgive sins. Christ’s baptism is the baptism in Holy Spirit and fire. In order to receive salvation, people need not only be purified from their sins but also be sanctified by grace. These things can only be accomplished by Christ’s baptism.

           

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:                     

            - When we live far away from God, we live in anxiety and fear. In order to have true joy and happiness, we must return to God and live in His presence.

            - Many people think that in order to be happy, they must have freedom to do what they want; but reality proves the opposite: to have true joy and peace, people must live according to God’s word and commandments.

            - The perfect joy is achieved when we completely entrust our life to God. He shall teach, care for, protect and grant us the true peace of mind.

            - To be able to receive God, we need to purify our mind by confessing our sins and by treating others with justice and charity.

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Saturday - Second Week - Advent

Readings: Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a, 10-13.

 

Reading 1 (Sir 48:1-4, 9-11):

In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
and who falls asleep in your friendship.

Gospel (Mt 17:9a, 10-13):

As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.


Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.

 

I. THEME: The prophet Elijah and John the Baptist           

            The prophet Elijah lived in the reign of king Ahab (874-853 BC), a prosperous time in material but deteriorating in spiritual dimension. The king got married with the princess Ideven, the Sidon king’s daughter, and publicly declared to worship Baal. He established an altar to worship Baal in the temple which he built at Samaria (1 Kgs 16:30-33). Because of him, most people turned their backs to God and to worship foreign gods. The prophet Elijah was sent by God to reprimand the king and to advise people to return to God.

            John the Baptist lived in the time during which the Jews were dominated by the Roman empire, and all people are looking for the Messiah’s coming to liberate people from the Roman empire and to reign over them. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare a way for the Messiah to come. People were flocked to him to hear his preaching, to confess their sins, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

            These two persons had many similarities: mortified eating and drinking, living in desert, and wearing camel hair clothes; their preachings were like burning fire; their missions were to prepare for God to come. They were prepared people by their preaching in order to to turn the heart of the father to the son. Today readings are centered around their lives. In the first reading, the author of Sirach talked about the prophet Elijah’s life. In the Gospel, Jesus talked about John of Baptist’s life. Jesus declared and his disciples recognized John the Baptist is the prophet Elijah whom the Jewish tradition believed that he will come to prepare a way for the Messiah.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: The prophet Elijah’s life

           

1.1/ The Elijah’s appearance: He appeared in a fire (Sir 49:1) and also disappeared in a fire. His preaching was burning up like a fire; “his word burned like a torch.” There are not many who worked many miracles like him. Some of his miracles were mentioned in 1&2 Kings.

            (1) He closed the heaven’s door so that there was no rain in 3 years during Ahab’s reign. Sirach repeated what has been mentioned in 1 Kings (cf. 1 Kgs 17:1-18:46): “He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number. By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens.”

            (2) He commanded the Zarephath widow’s jar of flour shall not be run out and her cruse of olive shall not be spent, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth; because she trusted in his word and baked bread for him to eat (1 Kgs 17:14).

            (3) He also in the name of God resurrected the widow’s son after three times he lied on the top of him (1 Kgs 17:1-24).

            (4) He prayed and commanded fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice offering in his competition with the prophets of Baal and Aserah gods, in order to show that Israel’s God is the only true god (1 Kgs 18:23-38).

            (5) Three times, he called fire from heaven to burn up three officers and their 150 soldiers who were sent by the king to seize him. On the fourth time, the sent officer must beg him, instead of commanded him, he and his soldiers could escape of burning by fire from heaven (2 Kgs 1:1-15); only after that, the prophet agreed to meet king Ahaziah.

            In all prophets of the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was considered the most well-known one because all miracles he worked, as the words of Sirach praised him: “How glorious you were, O Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! And who has the right to boast which you have?”

           

1.2/ Elijah’s departure: After completed his mission, Elijah was not died as human fate, but carried away by God as the author of Sirach described: “You who were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire.” No one knew where God took him to; many said he was hidden in a high mountain. The Jewish tradition believed he wasn’t died and shall come back before Messiah’s coming to prepare his way. They also believed Moses wasn’t died; therefore in the Temple, there were always two emptied chairs: one for Moses and one for Elijah.

1.3/ Elijah’s coming back: Since he wasn’t died, Elijah shall come back as Sirach described: “You who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. Blessed are those who saw you, and those who have been adorned in love; for we also shall surely live” (Sir 48:10-11). The prophet Malachi also reported Elijah’s coming back in the supplementary part (Mal 3:23-24).

2/ Gospel: John the Baptist is the prophet Elijah.

            Today passage of Matthew happened after Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. The disciples have seen and heard Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. As the Jews, the disciples knew what tradition believed about Elijah. So, they asked Jesus: “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He replied, "Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” Through this reply, Jesus would like to tell his disciples two things:

            (1) The tradition is right because it believed Elijah shall come to prepare the Messiah’s way: John the Baptist called himself the herald to prepare a way for the Messiah when he was questioned by the scribes and the Pharisees: I am “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mat 3:3). The way he prepared for the Messiah is to prepare people’s mind so that they are worthy to welcome Christ. After have heard Jesus’ explanation, the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. He is the prophet Elijah.

            (2) The tradition is wrong in believing the way the Messiah and Elijah shall use to liberate people. The Jews believed they shall use power to destroy unbelievers; but Jesus and John the Baptist used sufferings and sacrifices to win over unbelievers. Jesus came, not to destroy sinners but to bring them back to God by his love and painful death on the cross. As the world used power to kill John Baptist, they shall also use their power to kill the Messiah.

           

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:                   

            - The prophets were sent because people have gone astrayed. Their duty is to use preaching and miracles to lead people back to God.

            - The way to lead people back to God isn’t by force; but by preaching of truth with love and forgiveness. 

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Friday - Second Week - Advent

Readings: Isa 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19.

 

Reading 1 (Isa 48:17-19):

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.

Gospel (Mt 11:16-19):

Jesus said to the crowds:
"To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,
"We played the flute for you, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn."
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
"He is possessed by a demon."
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
"Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'
But wisdom is vindicated by her works."


I. THEME: Don’t expect others to do everything according to our will.             

            God created everyone different in many ways, such as: thinking, sentimentality, hobby. These differences lead people to have different vocation, way of life, and manner of working. The reason why God didn’t create people in uniform because He wanted people to compensate, to unite and to rely on each other. The conflictions happen when there are dictators who force others to follow their way of thinking, living, and working. God, who alone can force people, let people free to act; while some people want others, even God, to do their will.

            Today readings center on this problem. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah advised the Israelites that they had to follow God’s teaching in order to have God’s blessings. In the Gospel, Jesus showed people’s clueless criticism: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `he has a demon'; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: Blessed are those who walk in God’s way.

1.1/ People must obey God’s teaching: The prophet Isaiah said to the Israelites: “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had hearkened to my commandments!” To obey God is the sign of a wise man since none in this world has wisdom as God has. He created people and He knows what is good or bad for them.

1.2/ Benefits for those who act according to God’s will: There are many benefits, but Isaiah listed out three main ones.

            (1) Have a peace of mind: Who do God’s will have inner peace, because they know they do the right thing. They can also expect good result, as the prophet described: “O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”

            (2) Have many descendants: “Your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains.” Our ancestors think children are God’s gifts; but today parents didn’t think like that. They are afraid of having many children. This mentality needs to be corrected since God’s words are never wrong.

            (3) Be remembered by God for ever: “Their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.” Those who didn’t listen to God’s words took their names out of the list of God’s children. God always pays attention to those who pray to Him and walk in His path.

2/ Gospel: The imperfection of human ways

            God respects human freedom, He won’t force people to do what they don’t want to do. The way God works is that He shows people the truth and let them choose if they want to follow His way; whoever chooses to follow, will enjoy good result from it; whoever refuses to follow, must endure bad result. In opposition to God’s way, many people who have neither truth nor grace, but they force others to do their will and in their manner. Jesus condemned these two bad habits of his contemporaries.

2.1/ Those who force others to follow their will: Jesus said to his audience: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates,`We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'”

            (1) They want everything to be done in their way: A dictator isn’t concerned with the others’ ways; to them, his way is always the best. He forgets that he must follow God’s way; and depending on different situations, he must follow the way of the responsible people.

            (2) They want everyone to follow their will: Whatever people do must be proper according to time and place. A dictator wants everyone to do his will right away regardless of others’ will or availabity. He forgets that God created people with intellect and will, not as a robot nor a cartoon so that he can manipulate people whatever way he wants. In today’s passage, Jesus wanted to show his contemporaries’ dictatorship: they were in the market places; they couldn’t dance as you wanted as in a wedding! There were all living people in the maket; they couldn’t weep as you wanted as in a funeral!

2.2/ Those who like to criticize others: The contemporaries criticized both John the Baptist’s austere life and Jesus’ social life. Their criticism was concisely described by Jesus as follows: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon'; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” People like to criticize others because of many reasons:

            (1) They want to show off what they have: Many like to criticize others to show that they have a vast knowledge or they don’t want to accept the others’ good. These people forget that there always have many people who are better than them and they need to learn from others.

            (2) They are jealous because they don’t want others to be better than them: Many criticized because they’re worry they will loose their influenced on people. This reason was true for the scribes and the Pharisees. They didn’t want to accept Jesus’ teaching, not because that they didn’t now it is the truth, but because they were worry that they would loose their influences on people. They wanted to kill Jesus because they were afraid people won’t listen to them.

            (3) They don’t want to accept the truth in order not to practice it: This reason used to happen to many atheists. They don’t believe in God, not because that they didn’t recognize Him, but because if they believe in Him, they must practice His teaching.

           

2.3/ The wisdom is verified by its result: To know what way is wise, people need to see its result. If the result is good, that way is wise; if the result is bad, that way is foolish. Many people flocked to John the Baptist because they knew he was a holy man and he prepared for people to meet the Messiah. Many people came to Jesus because they knew Jesus had power to heal, God’s wisdom, and truly loved them, not as the scribes and the Pharisees who only used them.

           

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:                  

            - We must study to find out God’s standards and ways; after that, we must have courage to live according to them. We also need to examine human standards and ways, and to recognize all of their hidden agendas.

            - When we live according to God’s way, we will have a true inner peace, lasting results, and were always protected by God.

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Thursday - Second Week - Advent

Readings: Isa 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15.

 

Reading 1 (Isa 41:13-20):

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Gospel (Mt 11:11-15):

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”


Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.

 

 I. THEME: God’s way and standard 

            God’s way and standard often oppose with worldly way and standard; for examples: to be great by being humble; to be important by serving others; to be strong by believing and to be loved by being punished. They are contradictory because worldly people rely on themselves while the believers rely on God’s help.

            Today readings center around these contradictions. In the first reading, God punished the Israelites because they didn’t listen to him; and then He had mercy on them when they repented. He let them greatly suffer and then gave them immense strength. In doing these, God wants to teach people an important lesson: They can’t live without Him. In every situation, they must completely put their faith in God. In the Gospel, Jesus praised John Baptist as the most important person born by a human being; but he added, the least of the heavenly kingdom is more important than him.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: God punished the Israelites and then had compassion on them.

1.1/ God had mercy on the Israelites: In this passage, the prophet Isaiah wanted to emphasize on two points: First, God is powerful and holy while the Israelites are lowly and sinful. Secondly, God is merciful while the Israelites are betrayals.

            Isaiah called the Israel the worm; the Hebrew word is used here “tôlaat,” meaning the worm in wine or fruits. The prophet wanted to emphasize Israel’s littleness and sinfulness. God loves them out of His mercy, but they themselves have nothing to be loved: “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

1.2/ God increased strength for Israel: Though Israel is weak and useless as the worm, God made them strong and powerful to destroy their enemies, as the prophet wrote, “Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff;you shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them.”

1.3/ God made Israel to be happy: The prophet continued, “And you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.” The prophet emphasized another important point: happiness depends on people’s possession of God, not on any creature. When people center their life around God, they shall be glorified. 

            (1) God has mercy on the poor and those in need: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” 

            (2) God can do all things: Nothing is impossible for God; He can converse desserts into fertile land as the prophet described, “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together.” 

            (3) People must recognize and believe in God’s power: So that “men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” God has done so many wonderful things for people and the world; but if people don’t recognize or attribute them to other power or accidents, they shall never be happy.

2/ Gospel: He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John Baptist.

2.1/ John Baptist’s nobleness: Jesus praised him, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Why is John Baptist so noble? There are some reasons which were reported in the gospels: 

            (1) He is consecrated from his mother’s womb: This was revealed by an angel for Zechariah, his father, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb” (Lk 1:15). 

            (2) God chose him to prepare the way for the Messiah: The angel continued to reveal about John Baptist, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk 1:16-17). 

            (3) He is the first to see Jesus and to introduce his important mission for people: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me'” (Jn 1:29-30).

2.2/ He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

            (1) One must be strong to enter the kingdom of heaven: Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” When we review the John Baptist’s life, we see that he faced worldly power: King Herode imprisoned and beheaded him. Jesus faced powers of the Sandherin and Pilate: they seized and nailed him to the cross. Twenty centuries have passed, many martyrs faced the worldly power and be killed by them. Therefore, whoever isn’t stronger than worldly power, that person can’t enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever entered the heavenly kingdom, he showed that he is stronger and noble than those are outside, including worldly kings. Of course, John Baptist also belongs to the kingdom of heaven because he conquered the worldly power. 

            (2) John Baptist is the prophet Elijah: The Jewish tradition believes Elijah isn’t dead and he shall return before the Messiah’s time to prepare the way for him. In today passage, Jesus declared: “And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Jesus implied that John Baptist is the prophet Elijah. 

            There is a proverb which said: “People can bring horses to a spring to drink, but they can’t make them to drink.” Jesus sent John Baptist to witness for Jesus and Jesus himself certified his witness. If some people, after they heard both John Baptist and Jesus and still don’t believe in them, God can’t do anything more to save them!

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:

            - As God’s children, we must learn and follow God’s way and standard. 

            - We must completely believe in God, forfeit our own will and do His will. 

            - We must have the attitude that it is better to be the citizen of the kingdom of heaven than to enjoy all worldly glory and prosperity.

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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - December 8th

Readings: Gen 3:9-15, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38.

 

Reading 1 (Gen 3:9-15, 20): 

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, "Where are you?"
He answered, "I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself."
Then he asked, "Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!"
The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me--
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it."
The LORD God then asked the woman,
"Why did you do such a thing?"
The woman answered, "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it."

Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
"Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel."
The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.

Reading 2 (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12):

Brothers and sisters:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

Gospel (Lk 1:26-38):

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.


Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.

I. THEME: To be humble and to obey God are two main keys to win over sins and death.

            Many authors compared human life as the battle between good and evil, truth and falsity, light and darkness, and life and death.The most important thing is to find out the way to win this battle in our life.

            Today readings help us to learn victorious exemplars and to avoid failure examples in the history of the salvation. In the first reading, Adam and Eve miserably failed due to the serpent’s temptation. The serpent aroused their pride so that they disobeyed God’s command. The happened results were they were ashamed and hidden from God. In the second reading, by Christ’s humility and obedience through the mystery of Incarnation, human beings receive grace upon grace: the forgiveness of sins, the right to be God’s adopted children, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, by Blessed Mary’s humility and obedience, she was kept immaculate, became Mother of God; and through her, God’s promise of giving the Messiah to human was fulfilled.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

           

1.1/ Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, they were separated from God: When they didn’t sin yet, they had a perfect relationship with God, other and all creatures. When they sinned, these relationships were damaged.

            (1) Adam and Eve were afraid and hidden from God: When God looked for them after they had sinned, He called out to them: "Where are you?"Adam said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." The nakedness caused them to be ashamed and hidden from God; this feeling wasn’t happened before they committed sin. Sins caused people to feel ashamed and to be afraid when they faced God. He continued to ask them: "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The original sin can be called as the sin of pride and the disobedience of God’s command. People wanted to be like God so that they don’t have to obey Him.

            (2) Sin damaged the relationship of man with other: Before they sinned, Adam and Eve loved and trusted each other; after they sinned, Adam suspected and found a fault in Eve. Adam told God the reason of his sin: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” This also implied Adam found a fault in God’s providence: Because you gave me that woman, I listened to her and failed.

            (3) Sin damaged the relationship between human and God’s other creatures: According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the original sin supposed the angels’ fall. The author of Genesis used the image of a serpent to symbolize for Satan because of his falsity and craftiness. Right from the beginning of chapter 3, the author mentioned this fact: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made” (Gen 3:1). This falsity was also expressed twice when he bent the truth in his dialogue with Eve. First, he said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'" (Gen 3:1)? Sin used to start with bending of the truth. Second, the serpent convinced the woman by two false beliefs: first, there is no death; second, the good result after eating the fruit will be as gods who know good and evil, no longer depending on God.

            This is the temptation of many people. They don’t want to listen to anyone who preaches morality, to tell them what they should do or avoid. They want to determine for themselves what is good or evil according to their thinking and standard. Eve felt into temptation due to the fruit’s attraction and the deisre to know what is good and evil like God. She ate it and gave to Adam, and he also ate it. When they recognized that they were deceived by the serpent, it was too late (Gen 3:4-7). When God asked the woman: "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate."

1.2/ The enmity between Satan and human beings: First, God declared the serpent’s punisment because he is the cause of sin: “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Next is the human punishment, they must continually fight with the serpent. This battle will happen in two areas:

            (1) Between the serpent and the Woman: Today event, in the first Book of the Scripture, has a relation with the event between the Woman and the red dragon, the old serpent, in the last Book of the Scripture (Rev 12:1-18). The scholars easily identified the old serpent as Satan, but not on the Woman. Some said the Woman in Revelation is Mary; the others said she is the Church. I agreed with the second but saw no opposition between the two opinions because Mary is always with the Church to fight against Satan and his companions.

            (2) Between your seed and her seed: God said to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Even human must always fight, but God implied the final victory will be on the Woman’s seed through the words, “he shall bruise your head;” and the serpent’s hopelessness, “and you shall bruise his heel.” The Woman’s seed is first applied to Christ, and then, all those who belong to him.

2/ Reading II: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ.”

2.1/ Christ is the new Adam.

            (1) The origin of grace: The author of the Letter to the Ephesians explained to us the origin and the meaning of grace when he praised: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Grace comes from God, is bestowed through Christ by his merits. Grace is also the Holy Spirit’s seven gifts which Christ sent to us after his departure from this world.

            (2) The priviledges which human are inherited: By Christ’s meritorious works in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, human are inherited the following graces:

            + To become pure and holy: "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." 

            + To become God’s children: "He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will."

            + To praise God: "To the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."

2.2/ Christ brought back glory for human: Due to Adam’s fall, human were condemned and died; but due to Christ’s obedience to God, human are forgiven from all sins, given grace upon grace, and inherited eternal life. This is God’s plan of salvation which existed from the beginning of the world, but only was revealed to human beings when Christ incarnated. The author explained this mystery as follows: “In him, according to the purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will,we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory.”

3/ Gospel: Christ incarnated after the word “Fiat” of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

3.1/ God chose Mary to be the mother of the Messiah: First, we need to make clear that verse 26 in this passage is Luke’s introduction before he entered into details the Annutiation event. This understanding helps us to avoid the question: Why the Virgin Mary said “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” in verse 34, while in verse 26 described, “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph.”

            We could say that most of the Blessed Mary’s titles which the Church declared through generations, have their origins in the details of the Annuciation.

            (1) Mary is full of grace and God is always with her, as Gabriel’s salute to Mary: “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

            (2) Mary is always in good standing with God: The angel said to her: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." This shows Mary is always free from sin. The title “Immaculate Conception” which we are praising today found its origin here.

            (3) Mary is the Mother of God: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High." Mary is the Mother of God because Jesus is the Son of the Most High.

            (4) Mary is the one who brings God’s promise to our forefathers to fulfillment: “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

3.2/ The conflict between God’s and Mary’s will: When Mary knew God’s will through the angel’s revelation, she also declared her will to the angel that she was wanting to live a consecrated life: “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” The angel revealed to Mary the mysterious conception which was different with all conception in human history: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

            This means Mary had conception while she is still a virgin, as foretold in Isaiah 7:14 and repeated in Matthew 1:23. St. Luke ascertained this by Gabriel’s words: “For with God nothing will be impossible.” If God let those who conceived in their own ages, such as Sarah, Adam’s wife, Sampson’s mother, Samuel’s mother, and Elisabeth, Mary’s kinswoman, He can also let Mary to conceive and to be a virgin. Nothing is impossible to Him.

3.3/ Mary’s Fiat: Mary’s answer to God taught us two things. The first is her humble attitude when she said to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” The second is her obedience to do God’s will: “Let it be to me according to your word.” With these two proper attitudes, she conceived Christ and opened the salvation age for all humankind.

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE              

           - The original sin is the result of Adam and Eve’s pride and disobedience. We must try to destroy these two sins in us.

            - Grace and salvation are from God’s immense love, Christ’s and Mary’s humility and obedience to do God’s will.

            - We are still fighting against Satan and his companions because it is the continuous enmity; but we are promised by God that we will be victorious if we are always humble and do God’s will as Christ and Mary did. 

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Tuesday - Second Week - Advent

Readings: Isa 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14.

 

Reading 1 (Isa 40:1-11):

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated;
Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A voice says, "Cry out!"
I answer, "What shall I cry out?"
"All flesh is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.
So then, the people is the grass.
Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
the word of our God stands forever."

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

Gospel (Mt 18:12-14):

Jesus said to his disciples:
"What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost."


I. THEME: Forgiveness

            We have a tendency to love those who are good and to discard those who are bad or have nothing to love; but if we follow this tendency, sooner or later, we have no one to love because human beings are the combination of good and bad qualities. A true love requires one to accept people as they are and to forgive them as God loves and forgives us.

            Today readings rotate around the themes of love and of forgiveness. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah compared God as the Good Shepherd, who “will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” In the Gospel, Jesus proved himself as the Good Shepherd by putting out the question: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” A lost sheep couldn’t be a concern for men, but is a concern for God. Jesus came to this world to look for sinners and brings them back to God.

II. ANALYSIS:

1/ Reading I: All have sinned against God.

1.1/ The reason of the exile: God was torn between either to let the enemies completely destroyed the Israelites because of their sins, or to punish them on exile with a hope that some of them will recognize their sins and come back to Him. To completely destroy them is so easy to do; but to patiently instruct them is hard to do because it requires time, effort, and His dependence on human beings. Out of His love, God chose the second solution, He must punish them but will forgive if they repent. Before the exile, God sent His prophets to them to reveal their sins and to threaten them with war, famine, and exile. During the exile, He changed His tactics by sending His prophets to console and to encourage people so that they won’t loose their hope.

            Jerusalem is personified to indicate the Israelites. The prophet’s duty is to comfort, not to threaten them anymore. This duty isn’t easy to do for the prophet after he witnessed what the Israelites did to God and to him. The prophet must comfort people with tender words, not harsh words as before the exile. God’s way of educating people requires both hard and tender words, both punishment and forgiveness. The prophet must announced three things: first, her warfare is ended; second, her iniquity is pardoned; and third, she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. The last thing isn’t clear to understand: some understand as God punished the Israelites twice as much of her sins. This understanding violates God’s justice. Matthew Henry understands as the coming Messiah will forgive not only people’s past sins but also their future sins.

1.2/ Sins will be forgiven if people repented.

            (1) People must prepare a way for God to come to them: God left people because they sinned against Him. In order for God to come back, people must be purified from all of their sins; beacuse God is the Most Holy One, He can’t live in a sinful soul. God sent His prophets to the exile people to call people to repent and to help them to prepare a way for God to come back. The prophet Isaiah proposed a proper way for people to follow: “make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” We already explained this way in details on the second Sunday of Advent.

            (2) The most serious sin is not to love and to revere God above all things: In all Wisdom Books, the authors declared many times this sentence: “To fear God is the source of all wisdom.” Therefore, to despite God is the source of all foolishness. The prophet Isaiah reminded the Israelites of their foolishness in this passage: “A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.”

            People are flowers and grass, they depend on God’s rain. People have this absurd thought when they think they can live without God. From the beginning, God condemned such a thought: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: "Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand"” (Isa 1:2-3).

1.3/ God will receive the Israelites back if they sincerely repent: The exile was necessary time for the Israelites to examine their conscience and to recognize that they couldn’t live without God’s presence. When they repented and obeyed God, He will do two things for them which they never dare to think about them:

            (1) In the close future: God will set them free from the exile and let them to return to their country to rebuilt the Temple and to establish their nation.

            (2) In the distant future: God will send His Messiah to govern His people: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

2/ Gospel: “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

            Many people ask “How can God know and care for all people of this world?” Only in three short sentences of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus showed God’s power and concern for all.

2.1/ God always looks for lost sheep, even only one: Jesus put out this question to his audience: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” To a man, a lost sheep is nothing, since he still has other ninety-nine sheep; especially if the one who intentionally got lost. To God, He will let ninety-nine there and look for the lost one until He will find it.

2.2/ God is happy when He found the lost sheep: God isn’t only looking for the lost sheep; “and if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

           

III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:      

            - The modern world esteems individualism, they only concern with what will benefit them and discard what are heavy burden for them, such as: the elders, the terminated diseases, and the enemy. If God behaves the same, we won’t have a chance to be saved.

            - We pray the Our Father everyday which said: “Forgive us as we also forgive those who sinned against us.” We must forgive others in order to receive God’s forgiveness.

            - The best way to forgive is to often receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. Everytime we examine our conscience, we recognize many bad habits in ourselves. This will help us to see others’ sins with compassion, since they are also weak like us. Those who don’t often examine their conscience easily condemn others because they think they have no weakness.