This talk is based on the reading from the Gospel of Luke 2:41-52
We read in the Word of God about Jesus’ childhood days. We do not have much information about His early years. However, we know from the Word that He was once lost in the Temple. This is a beautiful passage from Luke Chapter 2, and from this we have many things to learn.
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover- Luke 2:41
According to tradition, all Jewish people were supposed to go to the Jerusalem temple at least three times a year for the following occasions: the Festival of Tabernacles, the Festival of Pentecost, and the Festival of Passover.
During festival times, at least 2 million people would come together and stay in Jerusalem for many days. Jerusalem itself was not that big, so inside the city, each family would set up a small tent and stay there. On the day of the Passover Festival, the head of the family would go out to buy a lamb that was to be sacrificed in the Temple by the priest. The blood of the lamb was drained out, collected in a basin, and then sprinkled on the altar. The body of the lamb was then pierced with a long rod through the mouth to the lower end. Another rod would pierce the body from the left to the right side. So effectively for Passover, the priest not only sacrificed the lamb but crucified it as well. Afterwards the head of the family had to carry the crucified lamb back to the tent where it was cooked and eaten along with the Passover meal. So this is how every Passover meal was celebrated, the lamb being sacrificed as well as crucified. Jesus used to see this every year, and He knew that one day He was to be the new Passover Lamb. One day He was going to be sacrificed and crucified.
The Word of God tells us that “every year, his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival”. In this reading, Jesus was 12 years old. This means that for the last twelve years of His childhood they had been going to the Jerusalem temple, which continued right up until and during His public ministry.
Brothers and sisters, remember one thing: Jesus is the almighty God. Mother Mary, full of grace, knew Jesus was the Saviour who had come to save humanity. Joseph knew that Mother Mary was the chosen woman, and Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. But still, every year they did not withdraw from the Jewish festivals, nor excuse themselves from going to regular prayer services. They could have said to each other, “Why do we need to go to the temple? God is here with us. Jesus is the almighty God, why should we go to church and pray?”
Many people ask this question today. We now have online masses and adoration, everything is available. God is here with us in our homes. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed online, and we can worship God and celebrate Holy Mass in our home. Therefore why should we go to church? We do not need the churches to be re-opened.
Celebrating Holy Masses online
Today’s Gospel reading is very important. Though the Almighty God Himself was with Joseph and Mother Mary, the family made sure to attend every festival and important occasion when they were supposed to, even when it was difficult and painful for them. This should open our eyes.
During a recent online Bible study session, a participant asked if the Holy Masses celebrated online were equal to the regular church service, and if it was possible to continue this after the COVID lockdown. In order to answer this, suppose one of our Divine team members was getting married and there was going to be a large banquet where all the participants of live streaming, ten thousand people, were invited. However, the dinner would be broadcast online, so everyone would be welcome to watch us eat and enjoy ourselves.
In a similar way, this is what we mean when we speak about the Holy Eucharist. Your Eucharist is a sacrifice and also a meal. The lamb should be sacrificed and it should be eaten. Unless and until you eat the Body and Blood of Jesus, there is no life in you (John 6:53). It is not enough that you watch online. I know that when I announce this, you may stop watching livestreaming from tomorrow, and I do not mind because this is the Truth. Online Eucharistic celebrations are only for the time being until your lockdown is over. After that, if we continue Holy Masses online, they are meant for the people who are bedridden and unable to attend physical masses. So, for all those watching and joining us on live streaming please do not doubt. Do not be misguided. The online Holy Eucharist celebration cannot in any way substitute the Holy Eucharist that is supposed to be celebrated in your parish. You will have to go to your parish, go for confession, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and be holy. Only when you receive the Holy Communion on your tongue and in your body is the sacrifice of the Passover meal completed. Otherwise it will never be completed.
Moses and the Passover
We know that there is a foreshadow of the Passover meal in the Old Testament when the Israelites were saved from slavery under the Egyptians. The Passover event kick-started the Exodus to the Promised Land. What was the Passover? God had told Moses and the Israelites that on the night of Passover, they were to kill a lamb, take its blood and sprinkle it on their doorpost. And the body of the lamb was to be eaten. And only once they had eaten the lamb, was the Passover meal completed. Now this is exactly what we celebrate in the Eucharist. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is sacrificed on Mount Calvary and the same body is given in the Last Supper to each and every one of us.
He said, “Take, eat, this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Only when they take and eat, and take and drink, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Passover meal completed, otherwise it is only a ceremony. It is only a ritual just like any other religious ceremony.
Therefore this is very important to remember. Please do not be satisfied with every spiritual nourishment that you can get in your home. We all have to be centred around the church, centred around our parish, and centred around the Eucharist. This is why the Second Vatican Council instructs Christians to lead a Eucharistic-centred life. “Eucharistic-centred” means the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated. Hence in effect, the whole world is an altar, and we must be centred around the altar of Our Lord.
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival – Luke 2:41
In this Gospel passage, we note two important points: the Holy Family went to Jerusalem “every year”, and “as usual”. Here, St Luke is stressing the continuity of their spiritual journey towards Jerusalem.
When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents were unaware of this – Luke 2:43
As explained earlier, we are not blaming Mother Mary and Joseph as it would be quite natural for this to happen anywhere, anytime, especially if you knew the situation around the temple during the Festival. There would be a minimum of 2 million people gathering in Jerusalem City. One could easily lose a child or family member. But why did St Luke specifically stress this here?
The Lord will always want to give messages through the Holy Scriptures. What is the message here? Even if Almighty God is with us, even if we are full of grace and holy, there is always a possibility that we may lose God. There is a possibility that we may overlook the presence of God. And we may not even realise that we have lost Him.
We read a passage from the Old Testament where Moses used to meet God face to face. Afterwards, his face used to shine like the sun and the moon. And when he came in front of the people they used to say, “Please don’t look at us”. This is because they were so afraid to look at the face of Jesus, it was so powerful. They asked Moses to cover his face with a veil so that people could approach him. The Word of God tells us that later on his shining face became dim. The light had gone. But Moses did not remove the veil because he was afraid of being caught. He was afraid that people would realise that he had lost his anointing.
Have you lost your anointing?
My dear brothers and sisters even if you are like Moses, even if you are like Mother Mary, even if you are like Joseph, there is a possibility that anytime unexpectedly, when you least expect it, you may lose the presence of God. You may lose Jesus from your life. You may not even realise it, and you may even continue to believe you are anointed or filled with the Holy Spirit.
But remember, we always have to be careful. That is why the Word of God says this gift is given to your hand in a clay pot. What is the speciality of the clay pot? If you are not careful enough, if it drops, it will break, and there is no second chance. Therefore you have to be very careful with your spiritual life. It is very important.
There is another question that we need to ask: why did my Mother Mary and Joseph lose Jesus in the Temple? It was too busy, it was too crowded, and there were too many activities and too many things going on. And in this situation, they lost Jesus. We may also lose Jesus in the busy schedule of our daily lives and in the many activities of the world. Too many activities of the worldly life can take away the presence of God from us.
Every year, during training in the Seminary, we were always given vacation time for one month. The rector and priests were always reluctant to send us on long vacations, but it was needed in the first few years. But with this we had to be very careful. My spiritual father would give us one statement before sending us home: “vacation is the occasion to lose our vocation”.
We did not fully comprehend it those days, but later on we understood that vacation is the time we are busier with so many things going on, visiting people, meeting old friends, enjoying old memories, eating and celebrating. In this process, there is the risk of losing your vocation.
How busy are you?
The same thing can happen in our spiritual life. You may be too busy with worldly things, you have no time to read the Bible, you have no time for personal and family prayer, you have no time to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, you have no time for all the spiritual activities of God, you have no time to reflect about Jesus. Instead we are reflecting about movies, reflecting about the world, reflecting about neighbours, reflecting about boyfriends, reflecting about everyone else. In this, there is the possibility that you may lose the presence of God.
Why did Lucifer fall?
Why did Lucifer lose the presence of God? Why was Lucifer thrown down from Heaven? In the Word of God, the angel had been taking control of the King of Tyre. And the Prophet came and said to him:
Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God: You were the sign of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and worked in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you – Ezekiel 28:12-15
And what was the iniquity?
In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from among the stones of fire – Ezekiel 28:16
In the abundance of too many activities, there is a possibility that you may be filled with violence, anger, and irritability. In many families, there may be too many responsibilities, too many headaches, too many things on your head, and then you sin. This is how Lucifer was chased out because he was too busy and he lost the anointing. If you lead a busy life, with so many worldly activities which are not connected to spiritual activities, there is a possibility that you will lose the anointing. You will lose the presence of God, you will be chased out.
When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it – Luke 2:43
Jesus’ parents did not know it. They did not even realise that Jesus had gone. He was missing. In our busy schedule we will not even realise that we have lost Jesus. Let me tell you a very important thing. Occasionally, stop, stand still, listen, reflect. Go back to your root, from where you came from, and see where you are now, and rectify yourself.
“Adam, where are you?”
This is what happened when Adam and Eve were enjoying the Garden of Eden. You can imagine they were holding each other’s hands, singing romantic songs, “You’re the bone of my bone, liver of my liver…kidney of my kidney…” And then suddenly in this busy life, they lost the presence of God.
They used to go for morning walks, evening walks, and jogged with God every day. But one day, Eve went alone without her husband and without God. And then they entertained the evil spirit. They lost the anointing. They lost the presence of God. And then suddenly God came down and said, “Adam, stop. Where are you now? Where do you stand now?”
It is a question for Adam to reflect on, to think about himself. God knew where they were. Adam knew where he was. Eve knew where she was. Everybody knew where they were. And God also knew where they were hiding. So why did God ask the question, “Adam, where are you?”
Think about who you are. Where do you come from? Where do you stand? Where is your position? Are you with me or against me? With every detail you have to think.
Go back to your root
When in Tabor Retreat Centre Mumbai, after my ordination, I had a very busy schedule with lots of activities, ministry, preaching and prayer. In between we had a few days free. So I decided to visit my parents in Kerala. On the first day of my visit we talked and talked. The next day I was bored because we had spoken everything we could and on the next day I just wanted to continue ministry. But then when we prayed, the Lord said, “Go to your room, sit alone and pray”. So I started praying in the room. Then suddenly the Lord said, “Get up and go out”. I did not know where to go. Then the Lord said, “Go to the place where you were brought up”. (The place where I was staying was a different town to where I was brought up. After my ordination, my family moved). So the Lord said, “Get up. Take your rosary. Go to your old home”.
Suddenly I did not know what God wanted but I went to my old house where somebody else was now living. I travelled there by bus, stopped outside and stood on the road looking at the house. I saw the rubber estate around the house. It had been so many years since I left aged 15 years old. And now I was back again aged 32 years old. I was holding my rosary and praying. The Lord did not say anything. The Lord was only asking me just to look around and pray. I remembered the old memories that I had forgotten, and one by one everything started coming back to my mind.
Everything that I saw had a story to tell – the trees, the stones, the electricity poll – everything had an incident connected to it. There were so many experiences connected with these things. Then the Lord said, “Start walking on the same road to school”. I had studied in the school from the 1st– 10th standard. It was 2 kilometres away. I used to walk this route every day to and from school. When I started walking I saw many people, some of them I could recognise but I did not speak to because I was in prayer.
Nobody recognised because I left the place when I was 15 years old, and now I was 32. But I could recognise every house, and my friends’ houses. I could remember their faces and also the incidents with them. At the end, I reached the school. There was no door as the place was always open, so anyone could walk inside. I entered the 9th grade classroom and sat on the same bench where I used to sit. Suddenly, all the memories started flooding back one after another. I started remembering all my teachers and classmates who used to sit next to me, and faces that I had forgotten. Every bench, every tree, every stone had a story to tell. It was a nostalgic feeling.
In my school, there were 2,700 students, and out of these 2,700 students, I was the only Christian. All the others children were either Hindus or Muslims. After two years, one more Christian came, and he was my brother. So that is how we were brought up in that school. When I was reflecting about my classmates, I thought about how most of them must be struggling to get daily wages and ordinary work. Many of them have married and settled down, and maybe one or two went abroad to work to gain a better position.
As I was reflecting, I started crying; the tears were rolling out because I started comparing myself with what I was some years ago. I was just an ordinary student like everyone else. But God took me out of those thousands and made me a priest. He took me to different places to preach the Word of God where I was able to meet thousands of people. God is using me to evangelise the world. I was overcome with what God was doing through me now compared to what I was years ago. I had no choice but to cry non-stop in that lonely school where nobody was around.
That was the best retreat I ever attended. It only lasted four or five hours but the experience was the most powerful of my personal life because I went back to my root. I came to know who I was, where I was, and how God had used me. My dear brothers and sisters, it is very important to stop and go back to your root and see how God is lifting you up and using you for His many purposes.
Stop. Stand still. Listen. Reflect
In today’s Gospel, when the festival ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem but his parents did not know it. They did not realise what they lost. If they had stopped at the beginning of the journey, stood still, stepped back and reflected who was missing, they would have found Jesus. But many things were taken for granted and they did not realise that Jesus was already missing.
Our own journey is a long journey of life with schedules, responsibilities, being busy with the husband, busy with the wife. In this process, we may overlook and take many things for granted. We may not have given enough time for the husband, enough time for the wife, or enough time for the children. We may realise it late so we need to stand back, take a break. Breathe. Stop. Listen. Are you giving enough time for your life partner? Or do you give more time for your classmates or colleagues and others? Have you noticed your children’s behaviour has changed? They were not like this before, in fact they were joyful and happy and used to come to you but nowadays they are busy alone in their room with their mobiles. Have you noticed your wife or your husband has no time for you now? Your spouse is instead spending time in front of the computer, internet, mobile phone, watching movies after movies.
Is there anything that you did wrong? Have you given enough time for him or her? Have you thought about your root? Where you started? How you started? After the first night of your marriage you had made so many promises to each other? What happened to these promises? Where are you right now? Today the Lord wants to ask all of you this question: Adam, where are you? Eve where are you? Where do you stand? Are you with me or against me? The Lord is asking you. The Lord has the Word to tell all of us:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them to be false – Revelation 2:2
The Lord knows you are so good, you are so holy, and you work very hard. He knows you are very active in the parish and your working places, and you are always there to help people. He knows everything.
I also know that you are enduring and bearing up for the sake of my name and that you have not grown weary – Revelation 2:3
He also knows you are enduring patiently, going through lots of suffering for the sake of His name and that you have not grown tired in the ministry.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first – Revelation 2:4
My dear brothers and sisters, this is very important point. The Lord says that He also has this complaint against us, that we have abandoned the love we had at first. Sometimes we think, “OK, I’m good. I’m serving God. I am doing the ministry. I am preaching the word of God. I am running the Bible study. I’m doing this, I’m doing that”. Yes, the Lord knows every hard work that we do. God is so happy that we are living a holy life.
But the first love is not there anymore. Think about the time when you started your public, spiritual ministry. The time when you started your preaching, the time when you joined the ministry, what was the zeal you had, what was the dream you had? Now where is the dream? Now where is the zeal? Now where is the commitment?
Where is the love?
What does this mean? We can all do ministry and serve God. We can do this with love. And we can do this without love. God does not care about any ministry that you do without love. But if you do ministry, whether it is a small ministry, you do it with love. That is what God values.
A husband and wife came for a retreat with a big problem. The husband said, “Father please help us, I protect my wife. I love her. I give everything that she needs. Every day I spend lots of time with her. I never shout at her. I never get angry with her. I never hurt her. Every week we go for movies, outings and the park. Once in a while we go for lunch or supper. I give her a lot of money. Whatever she does, I don’t care, she has full freedom. I never interfere in her personal matters. I do everything. But I don’t understand why she’s blaming me.”
I asked the lady if this was true. She replied, “Yes Father, whatever he said is correct. He loves me. He gives me time. He gives me money. He takes me out. He takes me to movies. He’s a very good husband.
I asked, “So what is the problem?”
She replied “He’s having an affair with another woman”.
The husband said this was true. He replied, “Why is this problem for her? I’m giving her everything. Why does she want to interfere in my personal matters? I’m having an affair, but she’s getting everything she needs as a wife”.
The wife replied, “Father, even if he doesn’t give me any money, even if he doesn’t take me to the park, movies or doesn’t have time for me…if I know that he is faithful to me, and loves me wholeheartedly with an undivided heart and not having any affair, that is enough for me. That is what I expect. But if he gives everything but has an affair, I cannot tolerate it.”
In every husband and wife relationship, even if you get everything but if your spouse is not faithful to you, everything collapses. If your husband gives you lots of money, but you know that your husband loves someone else, then you will never enjoy life as a wife.
The Lord wants to tell you the same thing. If you do not have commitment for Him, if you do not have love for Him, you are doing it but not out of love.
Where are you searching?
We return to the Gospel reading for today. What happened to Mother Mary and Joseph?
Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends – Luke 2:44
If Jesus is missing in your life, do not search for Him in the wrong places. When many people feel emptiness inside, they start searching among friends. They think that by going to pubs and enjoying themselves, they can fill the gap. Some people think they can drink to fill the gap. Some people think that having a boyfriend or girlfriend will fill the gap. They are searching for God in the wrong places.
And here too, Jesus’ parents were searching for Him in the wrong places among their relatives and friends. They could not find Him. But in the end, they went to the Temple. They went to God.
When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him – Luke 2:45
They returned to where they had first lost Him. My dear brothers and sisters, you have to go back to the place where you first lost God. You have to ask yourself, where did you first lose God?
Remember, then, from what you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent – Revelation 2:5
When did you fall? When did you start losing the presence of God? Go back do the works you did at first. Go back there. Mother Mary and Joseph went back to Jerusalem where they lost Jesus instead of wasting time searching among friends, relatives and other places. They went back to the original place. Where and when did you start losing your anointing? Go back, reflect, repent and start doing the things which you did at first.
He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49
If you search for Him, you will find Him. But search for Jesus in the Holy place, in the Father’s house. Do not search for Him if you are searching for perfection and happiness. Do not search in the pubs. Do not search in wrong places. Do not set search in the marketplaces. Do not search among the boyfriends and girlfriends, you will never find Him. But search in the Father’s house. Do not read the worldly books. Read the Bible. If you are searching for God, do not speak to the wrong people but speak to the people who know God.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded – James 4:8
The Word says that if anybody wants to know God, then draw near to God and He will draw near to you. The biggest problem today is that many people say, “I searched for God but I couldn’t find Him”. And where are these people? They are found 24 hours at home watching movies, going to the pubs, having wrong relationships. At any time did they go to church? At any time did they take the Bible and read it at least once?
If you search for God in the wrong places, you will never find Him.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure – Psalm 40:1-2
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile – Jeremiah 29:13-14
The message from the Word of God is very clear. If you search for Him, He will let you find Him. My dear brothers and sisters, let us all close our eyes, examine our conscience and see if we have searched for God in the wrong places, and ask forgiveness from Him.