Fr. Imo's Reflections
August 30, 2020
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me
Everyone has a mission or a job to accomplish in life. Each mission has its ups and downs; it has its own cost. Jeremiah’s job is to be a prophet. To be a prophet has its own cost. When he preached and was greeted with derision and disbelief, he became disturbed and blamed God for it. Peter could not hide his feelings and thus rebuked the very thought of Jesus to face rejection, condemnation, and crucifixion. He took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord! This must never happen to you’” (Matt 16:22). But Jesus retorted “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”. Jesus said this because he saw in his cross the salvation of the world. He did not see the weight of the cross; he looked beyond the suffering he was to undergo to the goal he was going to achieve, namely, the salvation of the world.
Why did Peter oppose Jesus? It is human to dread suffering and reject anything that may cause it. Peter is not the only one. When Jeremiah, in our first reading, preached and was greeted with derision and disbelief, he lamented. It is natural to become angry when we are experiencing some hardships, or when there is some disruption in our life. Such was the case with Peter who became angry when Jesus mentioned that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem. The standard of this world is to take advantage of any situation and challenge that come to us. The world tells us that we should put ourselves first in order to have a better life. This is what Peter wanted Jesus to do but for Jesus, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Like Peter we too experience suffering on daily basis and the cry of the pain of suffering is everywhere. Today we hear the voices of those experiencing the cross among the suffering patients of the scourge of Coronavirus, the cancer patients, the hungry and homeless. We feel the cry of the pain of the Cross within ourselves when we become seriously ill or bereaved; when our marriage breaks up, a child runs away, or a friend is unjustly treated. In the face of all this, we wonder why God does not want to intervene or whether he has given up on us. As a matter of fact, God has not given up on us (Jer. 31:3). He still hears us and reaches out to us through the Church and some good spirited persons.
How then should we respond to the cross and suffering? If Jesus invites us to carry our cross and follow him, it means that the cross is to be a constant feature in the daily lives of his followers. One of the possible ways to understand and respond to this invitation is to see Jesus as encouraging us to face the pain of life instead of running away from it. It is to accept self-denial and sacrifice as part of our daily lives. It is to believe that there is something good about the cross that can come our way when we carry it. When we have pain in our lives, when we must carry a cross, we depend more on God. This is important because it is inevitable, and the more it draws us close to God the better we see in it values that outweigh the suffering we experience. It is then wrong to resign and run away from our mission because of suffering.
The take home message today is that we cannot but experience one form of the cross or the other. Jesus had his own share of it. The world is the place for the cross, and heaven is the place for the crown. We experience some degree of both here. Hence the invitation to “take up your cross and follow me.” The question which each one of us needs to ask oneself is: what radical shift of values, or reordering of priorities, or refocusing of vision must take place in my heart in order to experience the transformation that comes from carrying one’s cross according to the mind of Christ? If we make the necessary shift of values, we will begin to live in such a way as not to create any cross for ourselves through disobedience. The good news is that since we cannot but experience the cross, we should try always to yoke our sufferings to Christ who will make them bearable.
August 23, 2020
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
You Are the Christ
In the first reading of this Sunday, the key to authority of the house of David was taken from Shebna, who served only himself, and entrusted to Eliakim who served God, and ruled with fairness and integrity. In our Gospel Jesus promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven because he recognized that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. While Eliakim got this symbolic key by his witness of life, Peter got it by giving witness to the identity of Jesus. In the second reading, Paul praises God’s wisdom and knowledge about his mercy and salvation to the Jews.
The same is true of the Jews of the time of Jesus. Those who had encounter with Jesus during his earthly ministry knew him by what he had done – preaching, miracle working, etc. With this they began to associate him with the personality of some past prophets. They did not know him as the Messiah. This lack of proper knowledge of the identity of Jesus made the people treat him like an ordinary man or one of the prophets in history. Therefore, to test how much they knew about his identity, Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Some say John the Baptist (because Jesus told it the way it was); some Elijah (because Jesus performed miracles); some say Jeremiah (because Jesus preached his message without fear or compromise). These people thought of him this way because Jesus resembled the other prophets they had seen in his teachings and actions.
Jesus knew that the Apostles too did not really know him despite his teachings and miracles. He then directed the second question to them: “But who do you say that I am?” The disciples remained silent until Peter spoke up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). So, while others had their own opinion about Jesus’ identity, Peter confessed that Jesus was not just another good man or just “one of the prophets”. He is not just the spokesperson of God; he is the one who carries the message of God. He is not just the Son of the living God; he is the Christ. He is not just sent by God; he is the Presence of God to the world; he is our Savior. Only Peter realized this uniqueness of Jesus, and this prompted Jesus to give him the authority over all believers.
Like the Jews of the time of Jesus, a good percentage of us do not know God personally. About fifty percent of Christians live at their First Holy Communion Catechetical level of the knowledge of God. This superficial knowledge of God is responsible for the empty pews in today’s parish churches. There is no way we can be faithful to our calling if we do not have good knowledge of the identity of the Lord. The knowledge we need to have of God is more than intellectual knowledge. We need the knowledge of God that can help us address the daily challenges of life and yet be faithful to God. We need knowledge of God which will never lose its salt when we meet with success or misfortune. We need well informed knowledge of God that will enable us to stand our grounds during challenges that may threaten our wellbeing like the Coronavirus.
This knowledge, according to the Gospel passage, is one which comes from knowing Jesus as Lord and Messiah (Matt 16:13-16; 211-28); the knowledge which makes us ready to follow him in season and out of season even to the point of giving up our lives for Him. It is the kind of conviction that made Peter in another situation to declare: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68). This is akin to the knowledge Peter expressed in his confession in today’s Gospel.
Today, the Church is asking us to make out time to evaluate our personal knowledge of God and how far we have grown over the years. Let us go from this Mass today and evolve a dynamic schedule of ongoing formation on the knowledge of God that will help us sit in council with God (Jer. 23:18) through a daily reading and meditation on His word (Joshua 1:8), and through retreats and conferences.
August 16, 2020
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
In a world where those who are perceived as different seem to be at greater risk, God invites us to break down the boundaries that separate us from each other. The Gospel this Sunday tells us that Jesus and his disciples went to Tyre and Sidon, a region inhabited mainly by the Canaanites, who did not share the same faith with the Jews. Tyre and Sidon were fifty miles north of Israel and still exist today in modern Lebanon. As a theocratic Nation, the Jews thought too highly of themselves and put non-Jews down. Today we have the example of a mother who was put down because she was different but refuses to give up until her child receives the help she seeks.
This Canaanite woman came up to Jesus and begged him to heal her daughter who was tormented by a demon, Jesus did not initially give her any answer but when he did he said that it was not good to throw the children’s food to the dogs. What did Jesus mean by the expression “throwing bread to the dogs”? The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles with arrogance and insolence as “unclean dogs”. This is so because the Gentiles did not follow God’s law and were excluded from God's covenant and favor with the people of Israel. There is another reference to “dogs” in Matthew's Gospel where Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not give to dogs what is holy” (Mt 7:6). For Jesus to have compared helping Gentiles to feeding dogs (a slur commentators find hard to explain) did not only embarrass the disciples but shocks every today’s reader.
One thing is clear however, that is the belief that God’s blessings are somewhat limited to peoples of certain tribes or cultures or nation. Many people and cultures have a handful of such prejudices and myths – from the myth of the Jews as the only people of God to that of no salvation outside the Church, from the prejudice of the caste system in India to that of racial superiority in Nazi Germany, from the myth of the superiority of men over women to that of the myth of white supremacy to people of other racial backgrounds. When we emphasize them, we put fear and discourage participation and advancement. The Canaanite woman invites us today to expose such myths and correct their false and exaggerated claims, just like she created the awareness that belief in the exclusive divine prerogatives of the Jewish people did not stand up to reason. The first reading calls our attention to how God is the Father of all peoples and Nations.
What does the Church want us to learn from this passage? Matthew gave this testimony to his community to teach them the power of faith; how faith can bring power to the powerless. A faithless person is a hopeless person; a non-persistent person is a visionless person. Life is all about faith. Without faith, we are scared by the challenges of relationship, marriage, academics, jobs, sickness, and other life’s pursuits. The Canaanite woman is telling us that when studies become puzzling, keep your eyes on the prize; when frustrations and stress are scaring you, keep your eyes on the prize you intend to achieve. It is this kind of determination that enables advocates of the rights of victims to speak up even when the people around them are tired of hearing their pleas, or the dogged persistence that makes dedicated Christians not allow weakness, anger, frustration or even this pandemic come in the way of their prayer life.
As we can see, it takes a lot to bring our focus to one essential thing. At times, it takes a personal challenge or the problem of a beloved member of the family or friend or the COVID-19 to begin a journey of prayer as the Canaanite woman did. Who knows what could happen if more people prayed with such confidence? Who knows how many of us could wrestle with God like Abraham, Jacob, and the Canaanite woman in prayer and win? This is the kind of faith that will win us God’s approval when we pray. But know this, no one who ever seeks Jesus with earnest and expectant faith - whether Jew or Gentile - is refused his help.
August 9, 2020
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Call Out to God and Fear Not
The readings this weekend present us with the ever-present presence of God and man’s struggles to perceive it when faced with difficult times. These readings featured three men who were weighed down with concerns due to their difficult experiences. In the first reading, Elijah experienced depression because his miraculous deed to protect the faith of his people backfired. The great prophet of Israel is now scared to death by the threats of the wicked Queen Jezebel and fled for his life. In the second reading, the refusal of the Israelites to accept salvation in Christ led Paul to frustration and grief. In the Gospel, the disciples experienced a storm wave, and were devastated when their struggles to get to a place of safety failed.
What is at stake in these challenges is not necessarily the magnitude of their experiences but how each one responded to them. This is important because our strength during difficult times is measured, not by how much we suffer but how we respond to our sufferings. Often, it is in our human nature to respond with fear, doubt, frustration depression or loss of hope. This is what we see in the readings. While Elijah responded with fear, Paul responded with frustration and grief. The disciples also responded with fear. But when Peter found out that the supposed “ghost” walking on the sea was Jesus; he begged to come over to him. He wanted to run away from danger to safety, from poor condition to an exalted position. He started off with joy but gripped with fear again, started sinking until he cried out: “Lord, save me.”
Why did these three believers suffer? Where did they go wrong? It is a common place that harsh experiences might come our way for no fault of ours, but at times we suffer because of our own shortsighted or negative response to difficult situations. The problem with us is that many a time we never see the true picture of where we have gone wrong. The underlining issue with Elijah which compounded his suffering is his pride and power-consciousness. He paid much attention to grand and heroic gestures than to the consequences of his action and the unlimited ways God operates. In Peter we see ambition and acting without thinking. His impulsive attitude characterized his deeds in the scriptures. In this context, he acted on his impulse and emotional fervor without counting the cost. In Paul we see gift-consciousness which made him think he could change the world over night. When our views are wrong, our expectations fail. Our views motivate our response to be either negative or positive.
How should we respond to difficult times without giving in to fear? The way out is to fight fear with faith. In the face of our struggles with fear, faith can help us to walk through raging waters. This is what Peter did, in the moment of his failure, though shaking with fear, yet he clutched at Jesus and held him firmly. Christ is more powerful than any storm we may face. What is required is trust and faith in his foreknowledge of us that “the hairs of your head are all numbered, fear not” (Lk 12L7).
The good news today is that our being in this world is like walking on waters of success and or adversity, and the only way out is to realize that Jesus is always with us and call out to him. Our problem is that at times we get consumed by wonder and surprise at our experiences and fail to cry out as Peter and Elijah did and were answered. He who calmed the storm will never leave any stone unturned to answer us when invited to our situation. God never abandons the cries of his children who sincerely call upon him.
So, in these unique readings about Elijah, Paul and Peter, the Church wants us to realize that all of us, no matter how smart, strong or rich, need Jesus to reach out a hand and save us in moments of difficulty and turmoil. Even when we are certain that God is leading us and we are acting according to his will, we dare not think we can go it alone, relying solely upon our own resources and abilities. All of us are dependent on the Lord to calm the winds and the waves of our lives. So, let us go from this Mass today, seeking to be God’s faithful people, trusting and depending on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, always keeping our eyes focused on Him who is our source of life, hope, strength and salvation.
August 2, 2020
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Give Them Something to Eat
Anderson, a prosperous and God-fearing farmer is praying with his son one night at bedtime. Anderson says to his son; let us pray for that poor man who lives down the road that the good Lord may come to his help. His son turns to him and replies: “But, Dad, we don’t need to bother God about that. We can do it ourselves.
Anderson was trying to show concern for his neighbor by praying for the poor man who lives down the road. But as his son reminds him, prayer and good wishes are not always enough. Sometimes when we pray God’s answer to us is “But you can do something yourselves”. This is what we see today in the gospel when the disciples were concerned about the hungry crowd and prayed to Jesus to dismiss them, but Jesus turned to them and said “You give them something yourselves”. And when they brought out what they had - five loaves and two fish - Jesus blessed them and fed the five thousand.
How would you and I respond to similar situation? Our responses vary from person to person. Like the disciples, some of us do not believe that we can do anything except to ask them to go and work for their living. Some believe that what they have is not much to meet the needs of any other person but their families. Some of us identify with the poor but cannot do anything except to pity them. We may wish people well but have no intention of taking positive action to help improve their situations (James 2:15). In fact, what prevents some of us from taking positive action is because we think that the little we can do is not going to make any difference.
Today sufferings abound. There are many hungry people who roam our streets: some beg for their livelihood, some move about angry, and others turn rogues. The number stares us on the face that it is a crime to look the other way and pretend this does not exist. It is a moral issue which involves the freedom to act or to ignore the situation. No matter the circumstances we find ourselves, God wants us to do something. This is obvious because where there is a will, there is a way. The parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fish teaches us that when there is a will, there is always something we can do. This goes to confirm the saying that “a miracle is not God working for us but God working with us”.
The Good News today is that it does not take being wealthy to be able to help the poor in our midst, all it takes is love translated into action to feed and take care of the many less privileged individuals - the homeless persons, the jobless people, refugees and others who are going through difficult time. To fail to do something just because we feel they should go and work to feed is lack of Christian charity and faith. Faith believes that something can be done; if we cannot see what is done, we can do what can be seen.
Today, God continues to invite us to come to him in moments of need, and to learn from him how to respond to the needs of the poor with positive action. As imitators of Christ, therefore, let us break with complaining and self-pity over what we have not, and rise to do something to feed and to feed others. Today let us ask Jesus to give us his spirit of compassion to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of people around us. Let us ask for the grace to realize that there is nothing we have that we did not receive. (1 Cor. 4:7); for the grace to use what we have been given to help those who are lacking in the good things of life to better their situation; and for the grace to know that Christianity is not only a body of doctrines to believe and recite but a way of life to live out.
July 26, 2020
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The One Thing We Need to Be Content
The discernment about how to choose between want and need is what is at stake in the readings of this Sunday. The first reading invites us to ask the question: Among all the things I desire in life, which one do I consider will help me in my responsibilities? This is what Solomon understood when God asked him to make a request. As a young king, Solomon had many legitimate needs. He needed wealth, military might, fame, security, prosperity, a long life and happiness. But he chose one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom (Is 11:1-2). He knew that with wisdom comes every other good thing he needed and desired. God confirmed this by given him both wisdom and other needs of his life.
The Gospel gives us three parables about the kingdom of God that are said to be treasures of great value. It gives us the picture of three personalities and what they did to possess these kingdom values. For the first person, the Kingdom is a surprise discovery, “a treasure buried in a field;” for the other, it is a prized acquisition secured after a painstaking search, “a pearl of great price.” We even have a third group, who are of mixed personalities, “a net thrown into the sea” which calls for sorting, separating and in fact assessment. The kingdom is the reign of God.
According to the Gospel passage this kingdom treasure has two distinctive marks: it is a treasure of great value that is worth possessing, and which will be possessed by giving up something. Both the treasure buried in the field and the pearl of great price are not mere images but valuable ones. They are not only good but with each one comes other good things. On the other hand, there is a cost to be paid to possess them. The price refers to how the discoverers responded to what they found. Solomon undertook to forgo the desire for fame and fortune for understanding as great treasure to rule his people (1 Kg 3:5, 7-12). The finder in the Gospel realizes the value of what was found, sees it as a “need” and sells everything he had to obtain it.
As a matter of fact, the price abounds. It can be about wealth, talent or time that stand in the way of our faith that we need to forgo, or any sinful habit to give up to obey the Commandment, or fear to give up to embrace faith. It may be a self-denial, sacrifice, abstinence, forgiveness, selfishness, anger, beauty, games, profession, or any lifestyle that need to be given up. In fact, all it costs is everything we have – the entirety of our lives and all we possess! We either give our lives over to him entirely or we keep them for ourselves. What governs our choice or decision about what to give up is discernment.
What is the one thing that calls for discernment, and when possessed meets our other needs? This object of our discernment or decision is neither Silver nor Gold. The pearl that will require us to sell all we have to possess is Jesus. In Christ God offers his kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy as incomparable treasure at a price we can afford (Rom 14:17). He is the Pearl of great price. He is the Hidden Treasure that is discovered by a few. He and only he is worth our giving up everything. To possess him is to have God’s reign and riches. We cannot pay the full price for the life which God gives us; but when we exchange our life for the life which God offers in Christ, we receive a treasure beyond compare.
So, the parable of the treasures challenges all our perishable values that can be traded for the imperishable riches (grace) of God. Are we ready to take the pains to walk the walk and not only talk the talk? Today, the Church is asking us to look around for any part of our lives where the reign of God is yet absent – social, moral, political, economic, etc. and subject it to His reign. In this way we will not only achieve satisfaction but fulfillment. It is Jesus who fulfills our every need. We are to desire not only his gifts but Jesus himself, the Pearl of great price. As we celebrate this Eucharist, we are expressing our faith in Jesus as our “Pearl of great price.” Jesus is worth everything to us, and by allowing ourselves to be united to him in Communion is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves.
July 19, 2020
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Let Them Both Grow for Harvest
Today’s Gospel contains three parables of Jesus plus an allegorical interpretation of one of them, namely, the wheat and the weeds planted in a field. Jesus uses this parable to explain the nature of the kingdom of God on earth. The image Jesus uses in this parable, wheat and weeds represent good and bad people. The field on which they are planted is the world.
The servants of the owner of the field want to uproot the weeds to prevent them from contaminating the good ones but the master refuses. Though weeds can spoil and even kill a good harvest if they are not separated and destroyed at the proper time, uprooting them too early, can destroy the good plants in the process. In this parable, one wonders why the master decides to leave the weeds till the time of harvest. We all know how easily the weak can be influenced by the presence of evil if allowed to live together.
Like them, today we wonder why some wicked people who parade our streets, namely, thieves, vandals, kidnappers, drug pushers, drunkards, terrorists, hijackers, abortionists, rapists, and child-molesters, should be allowed to live. Eliminate them! Hitler tried it on the Jews. Stalin tried it on his enemies. The military in Argentina tried it during their so-called ‘dirty war’ against terrorists. Though attractive, it is not a Christian solution to a problem of this kind.
We, too, are like the servants in the parable, quick to judge when one does something wrong and ready to condemn. This is not good! The time for judgment is not yet at hand because God’s kingdom on earth is still at the growing stage. Now is only a time for repentance and conversion. Jesus did not weed out Judas who betrayed him. He did not weed out Peter who denied him, not only once but three times. He saw the wheat in him as well as the weeds. He knew that with more understanding, the wheat in Peter would overcome the weeds which later happened.
In this way, it becomes a message for overzealous believers who would want the Church to get rid of all bad people from the Church. We can think of Saul who undertook a personal crusade to root out Christianity because he believed it was a bad idea. We think of Christians who go about hunting down abortion providers and homosexuals. That is not what God wants from us. Jesus told the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds to teach us that creation is good but infested with the evil actions of the devil. The most justified approach to it is to tolerate those whose ways of life are opposed to our belief system until the day of reckoning.
So, today the Gospel is loud and clear: if you want to be a faithful servant of God you must be prepared to make room for those we perceive as evil. We must heed the words of the Master: “Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (verse 30). Jesus in his wisdom wants us to take this line of approach because he believes that humans are dynamic, they are likely to change and repent. It is not any wonder why he says that “some who are first will be last and some who ae last will be first” (Luke 13:30). The Christian who proves to be good today may fall tomorrow as has always been the case, and the one who proves to be bad today can repent tomorrow.
He adopts this attitude to teach us to wait till the day of reckoning because he looks forward to the repentance of sinners. He “does not derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked but rejoices when he turns from his evil way and live” (Ezekiel 18:23). We should endeavor to have the same kind of mind: “doing all we can to help sinners repent.” Today, the Gospel challenges us to put up with all humans without discriminations or antagonisms but love of Christ. We should allow our knowledge of the presence of evil in the world to help us not only to appreciate the patience of God for sinners, but to learn to put up with one another with the hope that by our good works and loving concern the sinner may be converted to God.
July 12, 2020
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Fruit of the Seed of the Word
In every liturgical celebration, God speaks to us through the readings of the Mass. In the readings of this Mass, he tells us that his word comes to us for a purpose. He does not just speak; the word he speaks leaves an impression on us. It produces some effects to be realized every time we hear it. In the first reading, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the Israelites after 50 years of their captivity in Babylon, the present-day Iraq. He tells them that their years of captivity and slavery to the Babylonians would soon be ended. But some of them doubted. In today’s passage God assures them that he will keep his promise. He compares his word to the rain and the snow that have the power to keep the world green and alive. As it were, roughly 50 years after the exile, the Persians, present-day Iran destroyed the Babylonian empire and allowed the Jews to return home.
In this first reading, the effectiveness of the word of God was realized. “The word that goes out from my mouth shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, and achieve the end for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Just as the bread which sustains life is the product of the power of rain, the power of the word of God is made manifest in the effect it produces, giving life to the inner self. When it fails to produce effects, we know something is wrong. What exactly could make the word not bear fruit or have an effect in those who receive it? Jesus uses the parable of the sower in today’s Gospel to answer this question.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us that the condition of the heart can be responsible for not realizing the effects of what God wants to communicate. He uses this famous parable of the Sower and the Seed to describe how the word of God comes to us and how we receive it. When the heart is rightly disposed, the word survives and produces good effects, but when it is wrongly disposed it does not yield any fruits.
What then can make the human hearts lack disposition to the word of God? The answers abound: (i) Indisposition to the word of God happens when the Christian lacks intimate relationship with God. The word of God makes much meaning only to those who are friendly with him. A friend likes to hear from his friend and commune with him on a regular basis (Ps. 122:1). (ii) Living in sin is opposed to the kind of life the Bible approves as good. As a result, sinners hate to hear their sins mentioned because it indicts them, and some cannot stand the pain and guilt it provokes in them. They can do anything to avoid the word (iii) Those who doubt the truthfulness of the Bible lack faith in it, and do not pay attention to preaching. (iv) A person who fails to recognize the voice of Jesus in the voice of the homilist/preacher or see oneself as the person who is being addressed with the preaching word (Acts 10:33) lacks real disposition. (v) the contempt of those who have grown too familiar with the word makes conversion difficult. In fact, these and other reasons are responsible to why some of the seed of the word of God does not take root but even when it does, it does not survive.
How can one improve the disposition of his heart so that the word of God can bear abundant fruits in his life? This calls for some attitudinal change that will lead to good disposition, love for the word of God, and the daily reading of the Bible. It also calls for the acknowledgement of the power of the word of God. “The gospel is the power of God to save those who believe in him through faith” (Rom 1:16). God’s word, planted in hearts like a seed, produces a harvest that neither time nor hardship can destroy. It is a fruitful word. God’s effective will is behind it. Though we may not see the effects at times, the saving power of the word is indisputable.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 5, 2020
Living Lightly and Freely
Life is full of struggles. These struggles constitute themselves into a heavy load to carry. These loads range from social to moral, and personal to public. The three readings prescribe causes to why we carry heavy burdens. The first reading tells us that the burden we carry comes from the scars of war and breakdown in the relationship. In light of the second reading, it is caused by the desires of the flesh, sinful indulgence, and human frailty. The Gospel tells us that the burden we carry comes from the interpretation of the law and its unrealistic expectations.
The Gospel uses the word “yoke” and “burden” to describe these loads. Technically, a yoke is a heavy plank, a piece of wood, very heavy to be lifted that it requires two to do so. It is used literally or figuratively to describe the condition of someone who is under the authority of another. Servants are said to be under the yoke of their masters (1 Timothy 6:1) and subjects under the yoke of their rulers (1 Kings 12:10), or that a person is a slave to sin (Rom 6:15-25). The “burden” which Jesus refers to here is the burden of unrealistic expectations and responsibilities of the law as interpreted by the religious leaders.
When weighed down by burden what is needed is rest. People seek this in different ways through varied means. To help his hearers understand how he could give them rest, Jesus used the language and example of farming system in which the burden of labor is made less cumbersome by the services of two oxen or horses. Similarly, Jesus can make up the services of the two needed if invited to join us carry our loads of life.
The indisputable fact of the matter is that many people are living in pain. Whether we know it or not, all of us are weary, weighed down and heavy laden. We all experience anxieties, worries, disappointments, discouragements, hardships, the pain of ill-health, and bereavement. As a result, at one time or the other we feel overwhelmed, exhausted, desperate, hopeless, restlessness, and suffer from a nervous breakdown, stroke, neurosis, cardiac attack, and burn-outs. When this happens, some run to God, some to friends and others reach out to some indulgent lifestyles: drug and alcohol as a coping skill. Though we constantly seek rest in education, relationship, partying, eating and drinking and vacation, yet we cannot find lasting peace in them. Lasting peace and real rest come from yoking ourselves with Christ.
To yoke with Christ means to team up with him to shoulder our responsibilities. It is accepting Jesus to be our teammate (John 15:5) and surrendering our will to him. Jeremiah tells God’s children that the only way to find rest for their souls is to walk in the way of the Lord (Jeremiah 6:16). Through Moses, God tells the Israelites that if they walk in his ways, his presence shall go with them, and he will give them rest (Ex 33:13-14). When our will is swallowed up in the will of God, and we begin to live according to the mind of Christ, we become humble and then able to experience peace of mind which passes all understanding (Phil 4:7). This is the way out to real rest. This rest is not simply a break between work periods or annual vacation. It is an understanding as well as an activity.
So, the takeaway message today is that we need divine help to shoulder most of our teething problems that confront us daily. When these problems get bigger, more difficult, perplexing or challenging than usual, we need power from above. This is the intention behind Jesus’ invitation. Because yoke requires two people to operate it, Jesus volunteers to be the second party with us. He is inviting us today to teach us how he could carry our burden if we yoke ourselves to Him. He is inviting us to consider in the face of our life’s challenges to first take time to entrust and share our problems with him and then wait to see what he is going to suggest as possible solutions to them.
Today, Jesus is offering us an easy burden and light yoke in which there is salvation. Jesus’s yoke is easy because it frees people from the ‘yoke of slavery’. It is not that there is no burden, but with Jesus our burden becomes our song. Jesus is no weight to carry, he is our savior and the one who lifts our burden off our shoulders. Though through the ages Christians have borne heavy burdens yet the chief characteristic of the Christian remains joy. When we yoke our burdens to the Lord’s, we allow his joy to be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 28, 2020
Whoever Receives You Receives Me
The readings this weekend present us with the ministry of God’s messengers, and the reward of hospitality shown to the bearers of the Gospel and needy disciples. As the one who serves and speaks for God in our Church, the priest is God’s special messenger to us. The first reading tells us how the Shunammite woman took care of Elisha because he is a messenger of God, and how her act of charity was rewarded. Paul reminds the Romans how God’s hospitality helped us who were dead to sin to become alive by our baptism into the death of Christ. Paul assures believers that, although our bodies will die, we already possess eternal life through God’s grace made visible through the sacraments. In the Gospel Jesus describes the messenger’s commitments, cost of discipleship, and how to take care of him by the people of God.
The first part of the Gospel is about the loyalty and faithfulness of the messenger of God to his vocation. The Gospel presents the qualities expected of the Apostles and how they are to be received by the people of God. The phrase “whoever loves (parents or siblings) more than me” does not indicate a competition for human affection. It refers instead to actual conflict between Jesus’ teachings and the expectations of the people. The loyalty required of every disciple to Jesus is absolute, and surpasses the loyalty demanded by one’s family. In this passage Jesus tells the Apostle to be ready to disagree with any one of his relatives in anything that is opposed to the will of God, his love notwithstanding. He is invariably telling the disciple to always be prepared to wage an uncompromising war to any person or thing that stands in his way, to make him lose the crown of salvation (Mathew 25:34; Rev. 3:11).
The second part of the Gospel tells us how to welcome those who serve and speak on behalf of God as Prophets or Apostles, and how to be hospitable to the needy disciples. The Scriptures tell us that those who officially serve and speak in the name of God, should be maintained by the people of God. This is why when he sent them out, Jesus said to them: “Do not take gold or silver …for the journey… The laborer deserves his keep. (Matt 10:9-10). In other words, preaching the Gospel is like being an electrical conduit which receives current only to give it out, and gives out current only to receive again.
Today, while some Christians hesitate to give their support to the Church, others do not appreciate the priest/prophet. What we must not fail to understand is that the priest as the Apostle or Prophet of God is there for us. His intention and sacrifice are good and noble even when his will power fails him. While we are sleeping in the night, he wakes up early to sanctify the day for us, and when we wake up to begin normal activities, he is at Mass asking God to bless our undertakings. In fact, without the work the priest is doing to promote and nourish us with the Mass and Sacraments, to denounce evil, correct ills, reproach sinners, refute errors, condemn injustice and train the people in righteousness; sin would have multiplied and triumphed over good much more than we have today.
The Good News today is that charity which is at the heart of hospitality is beneficial. The first reading tells us that we can use our charity to build a house for God to dwell with us. The little rooftop room demonstrates how one woman prepared a place for God’s word to dwell in her house. Hospitality then becomes one of the ways we can reflect our union with God before others. We have many opportunities in our daily lives to reach out to others, to be a welcoming presence and a sign of God’s love. Let us then heed Peter who advises us thus: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:8-10).
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 21, 2020
Do Not Be Afraid
Some years ago, a Christian minister and a group of students from Canada went to Kenya for a summer field study program. They had a jeep to enable them to travel deep into the rugged hinterland. On one of their travels the vehicle broke down and they had to employ the services of the village mechanic. The mechanic saw the problem, travelled to the city and bought spare parts, came back and fixed the car. He spent three full days working on the car. The clergyman, who told this story himself, said that he was afraid that the mechanic’s service charges would be too high. In order to force the mechanic to settle for less, he went into the washroom, removed much of the money from his wallet and hid it in his socks. The idea was that when the mechanic tells him the cost he would open his wallet and say “Look, this is all I have.”
So, he comes out of the washroom and they are ready to leave. He says to the mechanic, “So now, what do you charge for your workmanship?” The mechanic looks at him and says, “You are a man of God. I do it for God. God will pay me. For you it is free of charge.” The clergyman concluded his story with the observation that the mechanic, through his faith in God, has overcome the fear of poverty and attachment to money, which he in his relative affluence was not able to do.
Today’s gospel is a continuation of the instructions that Jesus gave to the twelve apostles as he sent them out to go and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The values of the Kingdom are different from the values of the world, so much so that people tend to reject the message and turn against the messengers. Tradition has it that almost all the apostles died the violent death of martyrdom. Some of them ended up being crucified on the cross like Peter and Andrew; OR beheaded like James and Paul; OR flayed alive like Bartholomew; or thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil like John. It was natural, therefore, for the apostles to fear as Jesus sends them out to evangelize a hostile world. Yielding to this fear would make them abandon the dangerous mission in order to save their skin.
Jesus says, “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” in the Gospels about 107 times. In Matthew, Jesus spends a lot of time trying to get his followers to commit to discipleship wholeheartedly. Those who follow him fall into two groups: people on the outer edges, physically and literally, needing to jump in with both feet and follow Jesus unreservedly. The second group, his inner circle, is fully committed but doesn’t understand all Jesus expects of them because their faith is not fully formed. As disciples, they still leave much to be desired.
The gospel identifies two fears that the apostles had: fear of false accusation and conviction, and fear of bodily harm and death. In either case Jesus teaches them that the way to overcome the fear is by keeping one’s mind focused, not on the here-and-now but on the coming kingdom of God.
So, the key is to look unto Jesus as their hero and model. As Jesus said earlier in this discourse “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master” (Matthew 10:24). By looking to Jesus, we see that the trials and sufferings of this life, especially those that we face as we try to live out and share our faith with others are short-lived. We should, therefore, not give in to fear of contradiction, knowing that in the end truth with triumph over untruth, justice over injustice, and eternal life over death, as we see already in the life, death and resurrection of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 14, 2020
I Am the Bread of Life
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, popularly known as the “Corpus Christi”. In the first reading Moses gives the Israelites a last-minute instruction before they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land while he goes off to his eternal reward. Afraid that they might become complacent and forget their God once they got comfortable in this new land, he sets out to instruct them to remember how God has stood by them and provided their needs on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. And drawing an inference from this history of God’s benevolence to his children, Jesus tells the Jews that he is the real living bread that came down from heaven. In the second reading, Paul tells us that the partaking of this living bread in question units us to God and to one another.
While manna is mentioned as one of those things the Israelites should remember in the new land, Jesus contrasted the living bread he claims to be with the mana from heaven. Manna served as a copy of what is to come. As the lose copy of the real, the manna could only solve physical hunger. But Jesus is the real Bread who can give eternal life. As a sacrament, the Eucharist is not a symbol of his presence but extension of the Person and mission of Jesus.
The mystery that is involved in what Jesus teaches about his body and blood is not easy to grasp with the human mind. Problem arises when some Christians approach it with a materialistic mentality. This happens when we regard the Eucharist as a symbol and receive Him as a mere bread, like the waffle. The Eucharist is true food and true dink but at the same time it is quite different from every other food and drink. The Lord’s divine energy seizes upon the limited energy in the piece of bread or cup of wine. In this divine energy lies the Presence of God. So, while we transform ordinary food into our own bodies, the Eucharistic bread transforms us into the body of Christ. It is a sacred food for a sacred communion with a Holy God (Lev. 19:2). It changes us to become one with Jesus in a communion of love and life.
If this is the nature of the Bread from heaven, why then do some of us who receive the Eucharist fail to experience this radical transformation that the Eucharist gives? The answer comes down to three things: faith, awareness, and openness. This is a matter of faith, not logic or magic. In Israel, some people turned away, unaffected by his presence. The effect of his presence in the Eucharist on us is up to us, and up to our faith. We must be aware of what we are doing when we receive the Eucharist. We are not just following an old Catholic custom but a timeless practice of the real presence of Christ. We are literally receiving Jesus as food into our life. We must have the awareness that the Eucharist is a communion with the Holy – a sharing in the dignity that belongs to God. We cannot share in the dignity that belongs to God and still behave ungodly. If Moses is required to remove his shoes to step into the holy presence of God (Ex 3:5), we, who share in the life of Jesus should do so with fear and trembling than with indignity.
So, the Good News today is that the body and blood of Jesus, as a sacrament, is transformative and life-giving. If we wish to receive the Eucharist with its desired transformation, we must see the Eucharistic celebration as entering an encounter with Jesus with an openness to receive a message. The Eucharist has a message of love, life, charity, communion, and unity. In every mystical encounter with Jesus, we may receive an assurance of his love, perhaps an idea of how to be a channel of that love to others, perhaps a challenge to turn away from things that are wrong and unholy. It is then wrong when we receive the Eucharist and fail to become what we receive. Do you believe that Jesus in the Eucharist transforms you into himself so that you make him present by a good witness of life?
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
June 7, 2020
Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The perception of God as a Trinity (three persons in one God, equal in divinity and distinct in personality) has never ceased to be a turbulent issue. All we need to know is that the fullest affirmation of God as a Trinity is not about mysterious and complex theological language. It is simply the way we experience God in the world. Christian living is the Trinity in action. Thus, experts in Theology advise us that “God does not want us to know how He is a Trinity but only why He is a Trinity. Today’s readings take this approach.
The readings reveal him as a God who is a Trinity for the benefit of the human person. The first reading tells us that a time when Moses was burdened with the sins of his people, God passed by him and introduced himself as a loving God who forgives sins. In the Gospel, when the Israelites were suffering without a Savior, motivated by love for them, he sent his only begotten Son into the world not to condemn it but that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:16). In the second reading, Paul presents grace, love, and fellowship as personal manifestations of the Triune God. We can say from these passages that God is a Trinity to share his relationship with humanity. He is not a God who keeps to himself or exists in solitary individualism but in a community of persons and relationship. In so doing, he reveals that the secret to good relationship is love. Love, in its different forms, is what makes relationship beautiful, free, and gratifying.
As a loving Father, God does not desire the death of anyone of us (Ez 18:23,32) instead he gives us the freedom to choose between life and death, and between good and evil. Though God opposes sin and evil with his just and right judgment, he approaches sinful people and evil doers with mercy. He is “slow to anger" and "ready to forgive". To show how much God loves the world, today’s Gospel goes on to emphasize that God willingly and lovingly “gave” his only Begotten Son to the world, not to condemn but to redeem - not to destroy but to heal and restore it. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity is not just some abstract dogma about God but a statement about us and opportunity to share in his life and be part of his household.
As those created in the image of God, who participate in the Body and Blood of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, we now share in the dignity that belongs to God and partake of his divine life. This mystery of participating in the Trinity extends to our relationship with one another as sons and daughters of God. With the Trinity, we are individuals in loving relationships in a community of people possessed by God because we are made in God’s image and likeness. Jesus does not only redeem us to live in the divine kingdom, he unites us with God in a community of love. As brothers and sisters in the Trinity, we are called to build a community and to share what we have with one another. The description of God in Exodus as merciful, gracious, slow to anger, loving and faithful, should characterize our lives and relationships with our neighbors. If we believe in a Father who would give up everything out of love for his children, our sharing in the Trinity requires us to emulate Him in sharing ourselves and our possessions to serve one another’s needs. In this lies the solidarity of our young protesters in the streets of the U.S. today, protesting injustice to humanity by some of us.
If we thus embody godliness in our nature, we have potential for love and mercy that are very much lacking today. For this reason, the Church is asking us today to use our godly love and mercy to check the spread of heartless wickedness which shows itself in our lack of forgiveness, divisiveness, party spirit, hate, character assassination, discrimination, backstabbing, racism, and the like. Let the thought that we share in the dignity that belongs to the Trinity and thus reflect his character, help us to avoid and break with sins against love and charity.
The Holy Trinity helps us realize the nature of the God we worship, our sharing in it and its implication to relate with one another. From this picture of communion, we see the kind of people we should become – loving, merciful, forgiving, peaceful, gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. So, instead of trying to reason our way through the Trinity, we would do much better trying to appreciate how the Trinity affects us, how it helps us experience God in the world of humans, and relate more closely to him and to one another, how it helps us realize how personal and loving God is to each one of us, how we share in the dignity that belongs to the Trinity, and enabled by it to be like the God we worship.
Solemnity of Pentecost
May 31, 2020
The Power of the Pentecost
Today’s Gospel for Pentecost Sunday comes from John and is often referred to as the “Johannine Pentecost.” It is quite different from the familiar Pentecost story of Acts 2:1-13. The first reading presents how the promise of Jesus in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8 for the Holy Spirit is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, the disciples, who locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews, overcame their fear by the power of the Holy Spirit and were sent out to give the peace of Christ to others.
When Jesus appeared in the Upper room after his resurrection he said to the Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit”. They did not only receive the Holy spirit but the gifts. In these readings we learn that as the Holy spirit is given for a purpose (as our Advocate), the gifts of the Holy Spirit are also given for a purpose. In the first reading, the Apostles received and started to speak in different tongues about the mighty acts of God. The second reading tells us that to each person is given a manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit. In the Gospel, the Spirit is given with power to give witness and reconcile sinners to God. In other words, the Spirit is given for a to be used for good of the people of God, and the recipient equipped for a mission.
So, to receive the Holy Spirit is to have the ability to manifest its power in what a person does. He can never be received without a realization of the power of his presence, a power which enables the human person to do extraordinary things. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, questioned how she would conceive without any knowledge of man, the Angel said it would be possible by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). When this power of the Spirit of God came upon the Apostles they spoke in tongues and preached the Good news without fear. In the second reading, Paul noted that there is no way anyone could testify the truth of the Lordship of Jesus without the power of the Holy Spirit. It was in the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul did his numerous missionary works.
Like the Apostles, at our baptism, when hands were laid upon us by the priest and confirmed by the Bishop who also laid hands on us and anointed us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we received the Holy Spirit who equipped us to do good works. We do not only receive the Holy Spirit but are sent out to exercise the power of the Holy Spirit. As my father sent me with power, so, I send you with power to transform the world (John 20:21). Our life is no longer to be one of “business as usual” but a life of public witnessing of the truth of the Gospel of salvation.
Unfortunately, for the most part the power lies dormant within us. Though all of us have the Spirit, some of us lack the power. The inability to realize the power is due to some reasons. We can receive this gift only as a property to enjoy the delight; or receive and drop it aside; or receive and put it to use. So, there are varied ways of responding to what we receive from God. We can respond with ignorance of the person of the Holy Spirit (Jn 4:10), or ignorance of his operation and mission; or live a sinful life that is devoid of holiness by which the Spirit of God is defined (Rom 1:4), or lack prayer life that can fan into flame the gifts (2 Tim 1:6); or lack earnest desire of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:31); or possess but not believe that our gift has power of manifestation.
Today, Jesus is reminding us that we are gifted for a mission with gifts that need to be exercised. It is a mission meant to transform our personal life, and exercised in our family, jobs, meetings, fellowship and contact with friends by an exemplary witness of life. When this mission of the presence of the Holy Spirit is understood, and we are ready to engage him, you will then realize that there is a power in you wanting to be recognized – the power to live a good life; pray, love and forgive sins and spread the good news. The power to make a good home – be a good husband or a good wife. It is the power to apply your time, talent, and treasure to make a difference in the Church and Society.
So, today we are not celebrating the feast to receive the Holy Spirit anew, we already have him. We are doing what Paul tells Timothy: “I wish to remind you, timothy, to fan into flame the gifts in you, which you received on the day I laid my hands on you” (2 Tim 1:6). Let the message of this Mass help us to fan our spiritual gifts into flame by asking God to renew and rekindle the Spirit within us so that in his power and inspiration, we will avoid sin, witness the Good News and serve him in our neighbor faithfully. Happy Feast of Pentecost!
7th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 2020
Departed and Still With Us
In today’s Gospel, the appearance of Jesus took place in Galilee. This was the first encounter the disciples of Jesus had with him since his resurrection. Interestingly enough, their response to seeing him was one of mix feelings. On the one hand, they worshiped him, but on the other hand, they doubted. The human condition was not erased even when coming face-to-face with the risen Jesus. They showed that they were still people of little faith. This human condition is confirmed by Luke in the first reading. According to him, before the ascension, the apostles still struggled to understand the kingdom. They wondered if the Lord was about to restore the kingdom of Israel. Their thinking was still limited to the realm of the earth. But Jesus restored Israel in an ideal way by awakening humanity to all the advantages gained from living for the kingdom for God.
One of the ways to understand and cherish Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom is to take a journey into his earthly ministry with the disciples. Jesus lived and worked with them for three years during which he taught them that the reign of God was in their midst. He touched those sick and in need to bring them healing. He travelled, continually staying on the move when others wanted him to settle down and become an earthly ruler. Through his passion, Jesus taught the ultimate lesson on the humility and love of God. Through his resurrection he taught about God’s power, and with his resurrection appearances, he announced God’s willingness to forgive our sins and betrayals. With his ascension, Jesus announced God’s kingdom of glory and the dramatic change in what it means to be with him and in our role as his disciples. In fact, Jesus restored the kingdom of power and humility; the kingdom of peace and justice, the kingdom of love and selfless service, the kingdom of joy and wellness.
In this appearance, therefore, Jesus is not going to restore the kingdom but to transfer his mission to the disciples. In this regard we see the question of the two angels in white robes to the Apostles - why do you look up in the sky - as being valid for us too. Jesus wants us to preoccupy ourselves with continuing his work. The mandate of the master to evangelize is an imperative and very empowering. The implication of the question is that we should get back to work, to be worshiping in the temples and bearing witness in the world. Even when our personal resources are not equal to that challenge, it is heartwarming to hear Paul tell the Ephesian believers that as living members of Jesus’ body, the Church, our share in Jesus’ victory is guaranteed. It does not matter how much education we have, the Spirit of power in each one of us will do it.
Today we recall that this celebration is part of our preparation to take up the work of witnessing. Like the disciples of the time of Jesus, we are near graduation from the Lent-Easter refresher course given to us by the Church. With the anniversary of the descent of the Holy Spirit next Sunday, Jesus announces that from now on, we must be the ones to teach others that the reign of God is in our midst. We must be the ones to touch the lives of others with the healing power of God’s presence. We must be the ones to travel about, sharing this Good News and “making disciples of all nations.”
Though like the early community we may worship and yet doubt, Jesus tells us in the today’s Gospel, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” With this blessed assurance, we heed the words of the “two men in white” by turning our eyes from distant skies that beckon us toward heavenly rest and focusing instead on this world’s messy streets. For there, as Jesus teaches in the gospel, we must “see” and serve Jesus in the hungry and thirsty, those lacking clothing and shelter, those sick and imprisoned, the least whom we must love the most if we would continue to build God’s kingdom and inherit Jesus’ kingdom.
So, the Ascension is not to be seen as our primary focus of the disciple but secondary. We are first to be witnesses before becoming beneficiaries of the glory of the Ascension. This does not rule out the importance of the Ascension in our witnessing. The mystery of his ascension lies in the fact that though Jesus left to the Father, yet he is still with us – he has not departed from us. It does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He does not occupy a specific place in the world but lives in every place and time, and present to all of us. He is with us to help us do his work properly.
So, before the day when we will be called home to the house of God through the passage of the body, we are reminded today to make it happen every day with the heart. This passage of the heart towards God does not divert us from the historical duties we have in the world. All we need do is to go from this world and not go with the world. “To go from this world” and “not to go with this world,” as Saint Augustine said, we must work on ourselves so that every day our hearts can go toward what is eternal. We must look, not to the sky, the atmospheric one, but beyond it to God whom our hearts long for. As Paul put it: “But our Citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). In other words, the sky of the Christian life is ultimately a person: it is the risen Christ to whom we are incorporated and with whom we are called to the life after life. Therefore, to celebrate and to live out the Ascension is to feed on the holy desire of God to be with Christ now and hereafter.
6th Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
Make the Paraclete Your Coach
Last Sunday we read how the deacons were appointed to help with the daily distribution of food to the poor and widows. This week the first reading tells us how one of the deacons, Philip, took the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus to the Samaritans who did not see eye to with the Jews. In the second reading, Peter tells us how we must live as baptized and confirmed disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel passage, filled with concern for the disciples that he was going to leave behind, Jesus said to them: “I will not leave you orphan. I will give you another Advocate” (John 14:16-18).
The Greek rendering of the word “advocate” in John 14:16 is Parakleton, meaning Paraclete. Paraclete is a Greek legal term meaning a defense attorney. Some words used to translate it into English are spokesman, advocate, mediator, intercessor, comforter, helper or counselor. The English word that most nearly captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete is our coach, who is always by our side. He is someone who stands alongside to protect and sustain the one assisted.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us how the Paraclete mediated the ministry of the disciples from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world. In the first reading we see how the Paraclete enabled Philip to break the barriers of hostility and proclaim the Good News of Jesus where it had not been preached before. Aided by the Paraclete, the people responded, were baptized and confirmed, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that the town was bursting with joy and that a fever of joy came over everyone.
Today we have legal attorneys and counselors. Do we still need the assistance of the Paraclete? Yes, no matter how good sports people are, they need coaches. Even Tiger Woods and Serena Williams have a coach. We are so weak and prone to mistakes and errors that if left on our own without a couch, we cannot do much. In a world where there are so many problems, we need the Holy Spirit by our side to enlighten and instruct us in our ignorance, to correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we could, to defend us and fight for our rights when evils assail and or the judges are unfair to us.
So, in this promise, Jesus assures us as he did to his Apostles that he is always at our side. The main reason we do not see or recognize the Spirit in our own personal lives is because we tend to compartmentalize our spiritual lives as something that comes from outside or up there somewhere. But the Jewish Talmud says, “No place is empty of God.” This calls for openness and docility of the mind and heart to let God’s will prevail if we truly need God’s help. If no place is “empty of God”, it is then wrong to equate the lockdown of the sacred places of worship to a lockdown of faith. It is then important to know that as we struggle to maintain our identity as believers in Jesus Christ, we must know that Jesus is ever at our side through the Spirit living within us.
How then do we receive or renew this all-important Spirit Helper? We are to do the same thing the Apostles did and preached, namely, repentance and prayer. Firstly, we are to repent from the sins that have shaped our lifestyles. In the second reading Peter called for repentance and clear conscience. In the Gospel, Jesus said that knowing the commandment is not enough, and as such called for love expressed by keeping the Commandments. As a matter of fact, true worshippers of God will be known by their observance of a faithful life. We cannot fool God by ritual acts, tithes and pious looks. The one who sees into the human hearts knows if our love is lip service or real passion. Therefore, let in love, and you would provide a place for the Spirit of God because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5:5).
Secondly, after the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus went to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Next Thursday is the solemnity of the Ascension. Between Ascension and Pentecost, the Church invites all her children to a period of Novena and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Novena to the Holy Spirit is our own Upper room waiting prayer for the Paraclete. Through this Novena, invite and make the Paraclete your Coach.
5th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020
In My Father's House
The Gospel passage starts with words of comfort to calm the anxious disciples and ends with Jesus’ promise to go ahead to prepare a place so as to return and “take them home.” The main point in this Gospel passage is about the “mansions” to which he would take them to in the Father’s house. Believers have wondered how God’s house can be full of “big houses”? The Greek word for mansion is mone which comes from meno and translates as “staying” or “abode”. While a few centuries ago the word “abode” was only the past tense of the verb abide (meaning remain, dwell, or reside), now this verb form has come to be used also as a noun meaning “a dwelling place”. So, in this passage, Jesus was not talking about a place or a location as Thomas thought but the abode of the Lord. Is not the Incarnation a way Jesus is abiding (making his abode) with us so that we may one day abide with him and the Father?
Why is Jesus much concerned about this? It all began during the Last Supper meal when Jesus spoke in plain words to the disciples about his approaching departure. The disciples were deeply distressed and overwhelmed by grief to hear this (Matt 17:22-23). They were afraid to face the world alone. This Gospel passage is one of the efforts Jesus made to strengthen his disciples. He began by telling them not to “let their hearts to be troubled”. He knew that his departure would cause the disciples much consternation. He also knew that the uncertainty of life and its confusion would threaten the disciples’ commitment to him.
In this passage Jesus drew the attention of the disciples to the dangers of anxiety when bereavement is not received with faith. He placed this potential emotional state within the human heart (Jn 14:1). He knew that when the heart of a psychosomatic being is troubled, the mind is affected, and the entire life becomes disoriented. When this happens, any of these emotions will take the center stage: grief, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, frustration, confusion, fear and doubt. All these are the enemies of faith and hope.
What is the relevance of this teaching to us? Like the disciples, we too have our own troubles: the experience of injustice and persecutions intimidates us; the scarcity of the necessities of life stares us on the face. We are troubled when we see certain things going on in our lives that we do not have answers for or the power to deal with them. We are infuriated by the lies that go with power politics in the country today; bewildered by the rate of secularism in our schools and Nation. As much as we try to avoid troubles, we inevitably encounter challenges and trials that can shake our confidence and trust in God. The outbreak of the coronavirus is one of such uncertainties distressing our hearts. In fact, when adversity or trouble comes our way, it challenges us to give in to fear and despair.
What is the way out? The way out to these life’s uncertainties is faith. Faith is the only way we can see the see the future and overcome its uncertainties. Jesus wants his disciples to have faith in the life after life. Jesus told his disciples that in his father’s house there are dwelling places. He does not only go to secure for his disciples a place of refuge, peace, and security, but secures for them an intimate communion and friendship with the Father. Here Jesus is talking not only about abode but also about a relationship. The disciples are promised a place in the indwelling relationship between the Father and Jesus. This indwelling relationship is a form of residence in God’s house.
Faith in the union between Jesus and the Father. One of the ways to avert the potential emotional state that comes from daily troubles is union with God. Jesus was inviting them into union with him and the Father; a connection, a relationship and not a location. The issue is to grasp all this through faith and allow that faith to direct their lives. This is the sacred union from which flows the work of salvation.
Jesus is the revelation of god – the selfless love he reflected in himself and shared with the world. He is calling us to a union through which we will carry on that very same work of revealing God to the world. Understood this way, when we ask where Jesus is when we pray for a medical cure, we find him in the medical workers, who perform wonders in our midst. When we ask where Jesus is in the natural disasters that occur, we find him in the loving care of emergency workers and in friends and neighbors who come to our aid. It is about a relationship. It is about falling in love with God through Jesus who is the reflection of God. It is about opening one’s heart to be informed by the selfless love of the father in Jesus Christ. This is the way to reveal the Father to the world.
All of this is an attempt to express the unity that exists between Jesus and the Father in the work of salvation. The Lord Jesus, through his victory on the cross and his resurrection, has opened the way for each one of us to live in peace and friendship with our heavenly Father. So, the Good News today is that this exhortation has given us the confidence to walk in the way of Jesus, and to count on his truth to shape our own lives. Let us then be confident that whenever we apply his truth to whatever we do, we can never be wrong, or live our life according to the pattern of his commandment, we will never regret, or walk by his Spirit and will never stumble until at last we get to live with him in eternity.
4th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020
My Sheep Hear My Voice and Listen
As we celebrate today the Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus presents himself in the Gospel as a saving Shepherd who is opposed to the bad shepherds who come to steal, kill and destroy. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus tells his followers, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life.” This shepherd-sheep relationship with God reveals to us two respective points of God’s responsibility to his people and that of the people to their God.
It is the responsibility of God as a shepherd to know his people individually and shepherd them to enjoy life from here through eternity. As a Shepherd who takes care of his flock, God has absolute knowledge of his people: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jer. 1:5); and …..“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine” (Is 43:1). There is nothing that motivates faith as to know that God knows each one of us individually. The awareness that God knows us individually does not only provoke trust within us to God but assures us that he knows our plight and understands our cravings.
Hearing and listening to the voice of the master is the first responsibility demanded of the sheep in our text. Dogs and cats hear their owners more than any other person no matter their dispositions. They can be silent to the voice of an outsider but the moment they hear the voice of their owner, they jump up. This kind of reaction is proper to the relationship of a father or mother and child. The same is true as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of our relationship with him as our Shepherd.
Our duty then is how to distinguish between the two voices: the voice of God in his agents and the voice of the devil in his own agent in the world. Unfortunately, the problem with us is that we like the voice of the world more than that of God, and we pay attention to these other voices than the voice of God. We can listen and believe the weather forecaster, the astronomer, the medical doctor and the economist, but when God speaks, we take it for granted. Look at the ease with which we make reference to the speeches of historians and politicians but pay little or no attention to the spoken words of God in the Bible or when taught by the Church.
Learning the voice of Jesus takes reflection, time and confrontation with our egoistic voices. This is important because our attention to something is determined by our desire. If our desire is to have peace, we will listen and understand the language of peace. Our desire determines which voice that will appeal to us. Again, we need knowledge and transformation to make a connection to hear not only the word but the interior voice (Mt 15:8). Yes, we need intimate relationship with God to be able to distinguish his voice from the many voices that urge us to follow them; that try to influence our values and behaviors with their voices.
This brings us to the second thing demanded of the sheep in the Gospel reading today, namely, following the Lord. The sheep does not only listen to its shepherd but follows him and his instructions. The problem with Christianity today is that on Sunday so many people come to Mass to listen to the voice of God but when the Mass is over, they go home and follow their own conscience, opinions and ways of life. No one who believes in God does things his own way but follows the way of the Lord.
So, it is in listening to God that we allow him to lead us, and in following him we prove that he is our Shepherd. As such, believing in him is not enough if it cannot lead us to follow him. Today we pray and ask God to give us the grace to listen and follow his voice in the teachings of our priests; and to give us holy and dedicated priests; priests who love and care for the needs and well-being of the people more than their own; priests who can sacrifice their personal joy for the salvation of the people, priests who are shepherds after the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Therefore, let us all endeavor always to listen to God, believe in him and follow him.
3rd Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020
Recognizing the Risen Lord
Right from his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus has busied himself with appearing before his disciples to confirm the truth of his resurrection. Today’s Gospel presents us with his appearance to the two disciples travelling on their way to Emmaus who failed to recognize him. The first appearance was to Mary Magdalene near the empty tomb, but she too did not recognize Jesus. While these two men thought that Jesus was a stranger whom they met on the way to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener.
Why did the disciples fail to recognize Jesus is a question that has been on the mind of every Christian? This puzzle is intensified when we recall that Jesus’ disciples knew their master personally and heard him say that he would die, and after three days, he would be raised. One of the reasons some scholars advanced is that the disciples did not recognize the risen Lord because Jesus’ death shattered their hopes and dreams and threw them into confusion. They saw the cross as a defeat and could not comprehend the empty tomb until the Lord Jesus appeared to them and gave them understanding. Others say that the disciples thought that Jesus was dead which left them with only memories of death. They did not think he could be physically alive except as a ghost. Still others say that it might be the result of the phenomenon of seeing someone entirely outside the context in which they used to see him. But once one overcomes what blocks his perception, then the unfamiliar becomes familiar.
Like the disciples, when our relationship with the Lord is based on what he does than on who he is, we have a hard time recognizing he is among us when things do not work our ways. This was the case with the disciples. Despite the number of years they spent with Jesus, the disciples built their love on the things he was doing and related to him as disciples to a great teacher. As a matter of fact, self-sacrificing love was lacking. This is the new thing Jesus set out to teach them by lavishing them with love after his resurrection to prove to them that His love was not exhausted on the Cross of Calvary but endures to the end of time. Despite their lack of love and faith, Jesus continued to appear to them.
The Church is telling us today to remember that Jesus still walks with us when we are walking our own ways through life. If the road to Emmaus is the path of sorrow, confusion, fear, disappointment and uncertainty, the road to Emmaus is here with us. We have all travelled the road to Emmaus at one time or the other we had our hopes dashed. Even now, we are travelling the path of a most difficult moment in history caused by the COVID-19 episode.
So, it is important to note that as Jesus appeared to them over and again to the disciples during their moments of need, so he appears to us this troubled and uncertain period. But it is one thing to appear to us and another thing for us to be able to recognize him. He does not just appear but uses our circumstances to talk to us. As he challenged the ignorance of the two disciples to Emmaus concerning the biblical implications of their experience, today he challenges how we are using the wisdom of the Scriptures to interpret our experience of the Covid-19.
In fact, at any time we are able to realize that the risen Lord accompanies us, our eyes are opened to a new way of looking at reality by the word of God. We would realize that Jesus is not just present, but transforms us, renews us, recreates us just as he restored hope and joy once again to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. So, Emmaus message reveals to us not only something about who Jesus is, but also how Jesus opens our eyes to see him for who he truly is, and about how we can come to know him, and master our challenging situations with courage.
Today, the Good News in these appearances is that Jesus is risen to be encountered and interacted with in a real personal relationship. He now freely reveals himself to each one of us as we listen to his voice in the Scriptures. We do not need to go to Israel to encounter him at the sea of Tiberias, or the road to Emmaus, the garden outside the empty tomb or to the Upper room. There are many ways in which we can encounter him now in the privacy of our room, office place, marketplace, school, prayer meetings, the Church, Retreat Centers, Adoration grounds or in the pages of the Bible. He is now unstoppable from reaching us either by race and language or by time and space. He is not far from your reach, look out for him, look around and look within you. He is there with you!
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
The Call to Share Divine Mercy
On this final day of the Octave of Easter, the eight-day celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, the Church celebrates the Divine Mercy Sunday. In today’s Gospel, Jesus commissioned the disciples and sent them out as his Father had sent him. The first reading tells us how the disciples took to prayer after the resurrection and benefited one another with their possessions.
When the reports about the resurrection of Jesus reached the disciples, they were filled with joy but later they started to entertain some fear and guilt. Then a week after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to them to strengthen them. In this appearance, he did not discuss with them about the event of the Good Friday or indict them for abandoning him or for their fears and doubts. The first thing he did was to say: “Peace be with you” – a greeting which the disciples needed most. You will recall how the disciples left him alone and fled his presence on Good Friday. If God had built his kingdom on the standards of tit-for-tat, Jesus would have spelt his anger and revenge on them in this Upper Room encounter. Instead, he offered words of peace as a sign of reconciliation to the disciples who had turned away from him. With this he forgave them without asking for any apologies.
In this encounter, Jesus did something which only love, and trust can do. Despite every disappointment, he gave them peace (shalom), not recrimination, and showed them mercy, not retribution. He did not want to define them by their failures but believed that the human person is much more than his or her failures. As if this was not enough, he gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them out to bring God’s merciful forgiveness to the world. What a love, what a mercy!
Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus wanted the story of the mercy of Good Friday to be told with the message of his resurrection. We do not only see it in how he forgave his disciples but how he handled the faithless speech of Thomas. The attitude of Thomas calls for judgment and blame, but Jesus corrected him with love and treated his wrong approach to the resurrection with understanding and compassion.
So, the message behind the Upper Room appearance is that Jesus wants the disciples to know that his Church is founded on mercy and has a mission to bring about forgiveness and peace. This message of love, peace and mercy calls for urgent attention. There is no peace today because the world lacks true love, true mercy and true forgiveness. Therefore, leaders of Nations have constantly failed in their peace plans. As a result, the world today is full of hate, unforgiveness and revenge. We see it in racial discrimination, in the parade of terrorists and their attacks, in the onslaught of gangsters in our schools and communities, in children’s abduction, in brothers and sisters not talking to each other, and in the rate of divorce in marriage.
Jesus wants us to know that the human person is so weak, and if we measure his activities with justice alone, he will never know peace or be saved. This is where the Lord’s message of mercy to Sr. Faustina reminds us of the need for mercy. It also reminds us that Jesus is not only the God of justice but of mercy (Lam 3:21-23). Jesus does not count our sins and treat us as we deserve but tampers the just demand of our sins with mercy. He wants us to learn from him how to forgive without counting the insult. Let us then heed Paul’s admonitions to the Romans: “Bless those who persecute you and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14,17,19,21). It is our duty then to open our hearts to let in his peace and our minds to receive his instructions, and finally to share the divine mercy of Good Friday with friends, relations and those who come in contact with us by the way we live, talk and relate.
April 12, 2020
Jesus Brought New Life Out of Death
The Gospel just read does not proclaim Jesus’ presence but His absence; yet despite that absence, belief begins to bloom and blossom. Why? What did the disciples and Mary Magdalene see? Did they have any other evidence beyond what their eyes saw? May be a belief! Was it a belief without foundation, belief that came from impulse, belief that is reliant on enthusiasm, or belief as abject surrender to God’s inscrutable will? It was certainly not a dead body that they saw! The dead body of Jesus would have disproved the resurrection and made his death a tragic conclusion to a glorious mission of a great teacher and miracle worker. On the contrary, our scripture readings today are all from the New Testament and they all testify to the resurrection of Jesus.
What was it like for the disciples who had stood at the Cross of Jesus and then laid him in a tomb on Good Friday, to come back three days later and discover that the sealed tomb was now empty? It certainly did not settle down well. In John’s account, Mary of Magdala instinctively concluded, as the authorities had warned Pilate, that someone has removed Jesus’ body. For her the empty tomb does not “prove” that Jesus is risen, only that his body is missing. When Peter entered the tomb he saw not Jesus, but only what Jesus left behind: signs of death that are not yet, for Peter, signs of new life. When John entered, “he saw and believed,” but not clearly, for the Gospel concludes, “they did not yet understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (Jn 20:8-9). As it were, Easter morning’s Gospel does not proclaim Jesus’ presence but Jesus’ absence; yet despite that absence, belief begins to blossom.
It is surprising how John saw in the empty tomb the resurrection of Jesus. What Mary Magdalen saw and believed was the action of thieves, John saw and believed it was the Lord’s resurrection (John 20:8). What did John see in the tomb that led him to believe in the resurrection of Jesus – was it a belief without foundation, belief that came from impulse, belief that is reliant on enthusiasm, or belief as abject surrender to God’s inscrutable will? It was certainly not a dead body. The dead body of Jesus would have disproved the resurrection and made his death a tragic conclusion to a glorious career as a great teacher and miracle worker.
All one can say is that although John had not understood the Scripture concerning the resurrection, what he saw convinced him that Jesus had supernaturally risen from the dead and was gone. So, when he entered the tomb, and saw the grave clothes folded, what unfolded in him was an affirmation. He had no doubt that God had acted. He must have recalled Jesus' prophecy that he would rise again after three days (Mk 10:32-34). So, the tomb was not empty because the body of Jesus had been stolen but because Jesus returned to life on the third day, proving Himself as the Messiah. He did not come back to life for a while but lives forever.
This, however, calls for faith. Although the Gospels report that the risen Lord was seen by numerous witnesses, the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection remain for us a matter of faith. It is only through faith that we can declare today, “He is risen.” And if faith, is progressive, and it begins with attraction to Jesus’ “sign” as one who comes from God, the resurrection then invites us to move beyond sign faith to recognition of Jesus as Messiah. In other words, faith based on what we have seen and heard must move beyond signs to acceptance of Jesus, particularly in the gift of his death for us. This will be clearer if we recall that the Gospel of John tells the story of the resurrection in the context of Jesus’ relationship with the so-called “beloved disciple.” Here, the disciple lets us know that faith is easier for those who are open to a close relationship with God. It takes faith and personal relationship with the Lord to accept and believe the new dimension of death as revealed in his resurrection.
In this way, our celebration is not about futility and loss of life but the enduring presence of God in the human person. The empty tomb provides a kind of symbolic symmetry with the notion of resurrection. Even if death is truly the annihilation of the total self, our faith leads us to believe that this “emptiness” brought by death can be transformed by God into the fullness of new life. The one unforgettable thing Jesus’ resurrection left us with to hold on is the faith that God in Jesus brought new life out of death. Like the agonizing death Jesus underwent, it does require a belief that God will seize our emptiness and fill it up with something new.
The Easter message then is the rumor that there is more within us than we dare to believe. This is why we say that the resurrection is beyond what the eyes can see, beyond human imagination and beyond science. The grave, as we all know, is the abode of death. As such, the grave is the hole which swallows the human person and life ceases to be. To be put in the grave is to become finally gone from this life. To be buried then is to be lost and forgotten as there is no coming back to life. Contrary to this popular belief, Easter Sunday celebrates the life of Jesus who died, was buried and after three days came back from the grave to life. In his life and resurrection, death is no longer the end but a door to the beyond.
Thus, we see the resurrection of Jesus as our own not only because it is the assurance of our salvation but the assurance that new life is possible (2 Cor. 5:17). It is in this new life that life in abundance subsists (Jn 10:10). God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him (Eph 2:6-7). In our baptism the victory of Jesus becomes our victory; his rising from the dead becomes our rising from sin and its enslavement. He has lifted us from our fallen human nature to his divine nature. As Peter puts it, we are now partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) because we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
If we truly want to experience the new life which Jesus offers, then the outer shell of our old, fallen nature, must be broken and put to death. This process of death to the “old fallen self” is both a one-time event, such as baptism, and a daily, on-going cycle in which God buries us more deeply into Jesus’ death to sin so we might rise anew and bear fruit for God. The paradox here is that death leads to life. When we "die" to ourselves, we "rise" to new life in Jesus Christ. To “die” to oneself is to put to death what is sinful. This is achieved when a person willingly cooperates with the grace of God to stop entertaining one’s appetite for sin to the extent that such a sin becomes dead in that person’s life – powerless and resistible. All one can do today to be raised with Christ is to leave this Mass dead to the world that he used to live in, dead to his fear for death, dead to self, dead to superstitious life, dead to living for Satan and begin to live for Jesus in all things.
It is in this resurrection experience that the fear of the prevailing coronavirus ceases to dominate us. It is then we begin to realize that Jesus did not only die but was raised and now lives with the Father and with us (Matt 28:19). By his resurrection he has caused us to live in hope of resurrection (1 Pet 1:3) and God’s abiding presence. Now he lives forever. In our suffering he suffers with us, in death he dies with us and lives on in glory with us. Now we do not let our hearts be troubled (Jn 14:1) because our hopes are not broken but fulfilled. Our future is not destroyed but perfected. Our life is not in danger but secured for all eternity. This way we live in hope that is not vague, in a hope that gives certainty and courage to face the future. This makes tolerable the sufferings of the present moment, which are not comparable to future glory (Rom 8:18). May you have a most blessed Easter!