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January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

Baptized for a Mission

Today we stand on the threshold between two seasons of the Church year. We conclude our Christmas season celebration today, but we also mark the First Sunday of Ordinary Time. Perhaps this symbolism is meant to remind us that we are called to look outward; that our Baptism does not just require us to bask in the Christmas glow but must bring Christ to the rest of the world. Is it any wonder why our first reading begins with a universal invitation to all of us to come to the waters, to the Lord, the fountain of salvation? The invitation to the waters will be fulfilled in Christ who is the living water in whose name believers are baptized. This invitation to the waters opens to those who are truly thirsty of the salvation that God offers through his son Jesus Christ, the living water.

In our second reading, John calls our attention to the importance of believing in Jesus Christ. He highlighted three elements that bear witness to the sonship of Christ: water, blood and spirit. Jesus Christ, whom the Father testified as his Son in whom he is well pleased bears these witnesses as the marks of his mission to humanity. Through His water, our souls are washed and purified for eternal life in heaven. Through His blood, we are justified, reconciled, and presented to God as righteous. Through His Spirit, we are made strong for the battle of life. Christ loved the church, and gave himself for us, that he might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water in baptism (Eph 5:25-27).

Why did Jesus submit himself to be baptized since he did not need any rebirth is a question that bothers the mind any time this Gospel passage is read. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) - of which Jesus had no need. However, in this humble submission we see a foreshadowing of the "baptism" of his bloody death upon the cross. Jesus' baptism is the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God's suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners and submitted himself entirely to his Father's will. What Jesus accomplished on the Cross was inaugurated on his baptism, namely, salvation.

As a matter of fact, John’s baptism was a public commitment people made to live holy lives and to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus, in being baptized, was publicly committing himself to do God’s will and to preach and build the kingdom of God. On his baptism the Spirit came upon him and Jesus was identified as God’s beloved Son. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all who come to believe in him. At his baptism, the heavens were opened, and the waters were sanctified by the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, signifying the beginning of a new creation. For Mark, this baptism scene serves to clearly designate the divine identity and mission of Jesus: he is the Son of God who is commissioned to inaugurate a new age and a new creation.

Today, Jesus is telling us that Baptism is a commitment to God to do his will in promoting his kingdom. Like Jesus we get baptized in order to do the will of God, to live for him in all things as Jesus did, and to join hands build the Body of Christ, the Church with our times, talents and treasures. In other words, we get baptized to take over what Jesus started with his baptism and perfected by his death and resurrection. Are we prepared to ask the Lord Jesus to fill us with his Holy Spirit so that we may radiate the joy of the Gospel to those around us? As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, let us renew our baptismal commitment to bear witness to the Good News of the kingdom of God in word and in deed.

January 2, 2021

The Epiphany of the Lord

They Fell Down and Worshipped Jesus

Our Christmas celebration continues today with Epiphany by turning our attention toward the world that Jesus came to save. In the Gospel Mathew sees him as “the revealed star seen at its rising by the magi who come to do him homage.” Today we come like the modern-day magi, following the light, and seeking the newborn King. While the rest of the world has already set Christmas aside and moved on to the next thing, we are here today, pondering the great news of God’s revelation of himself to humanity. On this day, we celebrate that we are part of that world and emphasize the glory of the God - man to the world.

In the Old Testament God revealed himself to the Jews through Abraham but in the New Testament he revealed himself to the Gentile Nations through the Magi from the East. In fact, God has always chosen human instruments to reveal himself as we see in the choice of these three wise men from the East. These wise-men were the professors and philosophers of their day. Today astrology has gotten a deservedly bad rap but in the beginning astrology was connected with man’s search for God and human destiny. In other words, these wise men from the East are nature worshippers, who interpreted phenomena and events by reading the movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies. God used their mode of seeing and interpreting reality to make known his glory in the Child Jesus.

So, the feast we are celebrating today is about the historic evolution of God's relationship with us at the birth of Jesus. The promise made to the people whom God called his "chosen people" is now given, revealed, shown and made manifest to the rest of the world. This made the seekers who studied the stars for an understanding of "mysteries," to be led to the mystery of a child born in a stable. They could neither have comprehended the full meaning of this discovery, nor could the child's parents have fully explained it to them without divine intervention. However, their presence as part of this story fulfills the promises of the prophets about human salvation.

One of the great news of the feast of Epiphany is that as the Lord of the universe revealed the star of Bethlehem to the Gentiles of the East to enable them to come and worship Jesus, he too can give each one of us the same light of revelation to recognize and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Like them we too need, not the light of the star but the light of the Holy Spirit to move our hearts and open the eyes of our minds to understand, accept, and believe the truth which God has revealed to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.

As we can see in the Gospel reading, the Jews who claimed an exclusive right of God and also had the Scriptures to show for it, failed to recognize that the Savior was in their midst while the Magi who followed the natural light of the stars were able to find him. To have the Bible and not walk in its light or the Sacraments and not participate fully in it, is not going to take us anywhere. With the magi, we learn that it is not the possession of the truth, like the Jews, that matters, but how prepared we are to walk in the light of the truth that we possess. In other words, we will not be saved because we possess the truth but because we live out the truth we possess. Any knowledge of God then that does not lead to his worship and adoration as the magi did is incomplete and does not have the light of life (Jn 8:12).

The good news today is that we are serving a self-revealing God. The encounter with the magi is not the first time He revealed himself to his people through diverse ways. Just as he used the magi to make known his glory in the Child Jesus, so he uses different means to reveal himself to us. The joy in this is that God still reveals himself to his people. There is always more to be known about God in spite of the many revelations committed to writing. This does not pose any surprise because God’s knowledge is unfathomable. What we already know is but little and we have the capacity to know more as we draw near to God.

So, the take home message today is that there is no one standard to measure how God reveals himself to creation. He defiled what the Jews knew about him before the birth of Jesus. He revealed himself in the Child Jesus to the shepherds who were keeping watch in the field in spite of their social stigma; he revealed himself to the magi in the East in spite of their paganism; he revealed himself to Paul the persecutor of the Church in spite of his sinfulness. He saw in them positive instruments to be used to make himself known and turned them to his glory. He can do the same with you and me. As a God whose ways are unsearchable and inscrutable (Rom 11:13), he can use crooked lines. Our prayers this New Year should be to ask God to open more our eyes to see, our hearts to love and our minds to know and serve Him unceasingly.

December 27, 2020

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

The Holy Family

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. It is ideal to celebrate this feast after Christmas when families have the opportunity to spend time together, enjoy one another’s company, relax, and have special family meals together. For Sirach in the first reading, honoring parents is a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness of our sins and acceptance of our prayers. In other words, in an ideal family, it is the role of children to make their parents happy. When they do, a blessing follows them as Paul admonishes in Eph 6, 1-2. In the second reading, Paul speaks of what makes for a peaceful and holy family. Paul presents a litany of virtues that are indispensable for living together: “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” The Gospel presents us with the fulfilment of the prophesies of Simeon and Anna concerning the salvation of Israel in the Child Jesus. In fact, all the readings of this Sunday are carefully selected instructions about an ideal family and the duties of each member to maintain the sanctity of the family.

In the presentation of Jesus in the temple we see the unfolding history of God’s presence to his people. From making manifest his presence in symbols of the pilar of cloud and light, and glory, he revealed himself in a physical presence in the temple. The physical presence of the Lord, dwelling with Mary and Joseph is one of the reasons why they are a holy family. When one looks at Mary and Joseph in the way God chose them to bring about his plan of redemption for humanity, one would not only see them as most gifted and favored but as having no problems. But a second look would remind us that gifts and blessings have their challenges. The selection of Joseph and Mary to be the parents of Jesus did not exonerate them from the problems of life. Simeon said that the blessing of Mary, as the mother of the Savior, would become a sword which pierced her heart. No mother would be glad to hear such a prediction concerning her baby. But it is a fact that Mary could not avoid. Mary’s first experience of the sword piercing her heart was when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to save Jesus from Herod’s wrath. It was another traumatic experience when Jesus got separated from them after the feast of Passover in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple after searching for him for three days. The worst happened when her Son, Jesus, died on the cross. In all their ups and downs, Mary and Joseph remained together.

As we can see, Mary received both the crown of joy and the crown of sorrow. But her joy of motherhood of Jesus was not diminished by the sword of sorrow because she placed her hope in God. “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” In other words, Mary and Joseph had to go through life like other parents. This is a big lesson to some Christian families in our country who run from one Church to another looking for the God who will solve all their problems. It is a lesson to the prosperity preachers and pastors who teach and promise their members and listeners that to believe in Christ is have one’s problems solved.

Looking at the Holy Family, we see the love, the protection, and the diligent care that Mary and Joseph gave to Jesus. They continued to accompany him in love until he was mature enough to take care of himself. They provided for his needs and made sure that they brought him up in the faith. They did this by presenting him to God at the appropriate time. When they thought he was lost, they looked for him. Indeed, they played their role well as parents. As the Gospel says, Jesus grew under them and became strong, filled with wisdom; and God’s favor rested upon him.

Mary and Joseph went through all these experiences with total resignation to the will of God. “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19). This is what makes the holy family a model. Mary and Joseph handled these challenges without pointing accusing finger at each other. As a family that trusted God and allowed their faith to determine their response to the challenges of life, they went through all these troubles with love and faith. It is a proven fact that the knowledge we have of God in our family helps us to make our burden bearable. As Luke frequently reminds us, we need to be patient with ourselves, with others, and even with God, for God’s own Son grows “in wisdom and age and grace,” just as we do.

Today, to talk about the family is to talk about marriage. Marriage is too often conceived as the sacrament which unites a man and a woman to form a couple but in reality, it establishes a family. As a basic social unit consisting of parents and children, the way challenges are responded to determines whether it is holy or unholy; good or bad; happy or unhappy, joyful, or sad. Mary and Joseph are telling us today that a holy family is holistic. It is not fractured by challenges but integrated. It is mindful of God and not neglectful of his Presence and love. It forgives and affirms the uniqueness of each of its members.

Therefore, Paul admonishes us today to put on love and compassion. Love knows it is not perfect yet, so it makes allowances for other’s mistakes and forgives their wrongs. Love knows that its understanding and knowledge is limited, it puts on humility. Love knows that the world is full of hurtful words and deeds, so it tries to make the home a haven of kindness and gentleness and respect. Love realizes that growth takes time, so it practices patience. Love gratefully welcomes and treasures every family member, looking for the good in them. This is the only way to realize the Messiah who is born in our family, Emmanuel, who is God with us. Let’s pray for couples who are married and mothers with young children. Let’s also pray for the grace to find new ways to support our families and to proclaim the beautiful plan of God for the family.

December 20, 2020

4th Sunday of Advent

Let Your Will Be Done

On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church, using the closing words of Paul to the Romans, in the Second Reading, invites us to celebrate the great mystery known only to God for ages, which has now been revealed to believers in Christ by his taking flesh to dwell among us. This mystery started, as noted in the First Reading, when the Ark, housing the Presence of God was brought back in a great procession to Jerusalem. As a result, Jerusalem became a Holy City because of the presence of the Ark. Concerned about the housing of the Ark, David started to think how to build a Temple to express this holy presence, but God told David his own plan to raise a house that will last forever. So, while David talks about a ‘house’ in terms of building, the Lord speaks of a ‘house’ in terms of ‘descendants” of David; a house and family line that will bring forth a special personal presence.

At the appointed time as we read in today’s Gospel, God came to Mary, and told her his plan to fulfill this promise made to David through her. Mary, though surprised at the nature of this message, gave her consent. The moment she gave her consent the angel departed. This consent to the divine plan brought God down from heaven to dwell in the soul and body of a lowly young woman, Mary. In so doing, Mary becomes a symbol for all Christians, whether men or women, challenged to be servants of the Lord. Because she was open to God working in and through her life, the Son of God was born. Mary’s response is a key role to unpleasant consequences that brought God to the human world. She gave God a holy space in her life to take flesh for the salvation of all. Today the Church presents her as the vessel that carried our Savior in her womb and gave him his human identity. With this she has given us a model of deep abiding faith in God and a desire for the promises of God to be fulfilled.

This divine mystery presents Advent as a celebration of the history of divine promises. We may promise and fail, God does not fail. He is true to his word. He is still keeping his promises; still intervening, and still intruding in human affairs. In other words, salvation history did not end with Jesus’ coming; it continues into our day. Sometime today, and perhaps on many occasions, God will intervene and intrude. This is so because the annunciation of Jesus’ birth is a statement concerning the relationship between humanity and the divine life which she is called to bear.

As Christmas draws near, the readings challenge us to consider what roles we need to play to realize God’s plan of salvation where we are now in this Advent. Like Mary and Joseph, we are to accept that “God is with us.” He does not just come; he expects us to provide a place for him in our hearts and homes. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, what should we do to provide him this all-important place? What changes need to take place in our lives and in our relationship with one another? This is necessary because sometimes the problem is not that God is not with us, the problem rather is that we do not recognize the ways of God’s presence and actions among us. We need to realize that because God decided to be “with us,” the world is changed. We can now discern his presence and action in our lives.

This is the kind of thing Advent has been preparing us to achieve these four weeks – to be able to reflect the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives as well as see him among the people around us. It has also been preparing us to be able is to be able to make the prayers of Mary our own: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). This prayer of Mary is the summary of the positive efforts she made to realize God’s plan of redemption. It is the prayer that brought God down from heaven to dwell in the soul and body of a lowly young woman. It is the prayer that brought about the greatest event in human history, God becoming human in Jesus. It is a prayer that transforms us from our selfish prayer, “my will be done,” to what God wants, “Thy will be done.” All God seeks is our cooperation for his will to be done in our lives and families.

December 13, 2020

3rd Sunday of Advent

I Will Greatly Rejoice in the Lord

Today, popularly known as Joyful Sunday, we pause to acknowledge that our Advent season of preparation is not one of gloom and dread, but rather of joyful expectation. The spirit of joyful waiting permeates the readings of this Mass. In the first reading, Isaiah tells us how to celebrate joy purified by suffering. He cries out with joy as he experiences the descent of the Spirit of God who impels him to a mission of liberation. He likens the mood of this joyful scene to a bright and colorful wedding imagery fitting in a book that celebrates the restored bond between God and humanity.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah. He tells those who came to inquire about his identity that he is but a herald for the Messiah. “I baptize with water but among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (Jn 1:26-27). In essence, what John was saying is not so much to prepare the Jews for the coming of the Messiah (because he was already there) but to get the Jews to see the Lord who stood in their midst unnoticed and to listen to the Good News that he brought to them. The description of John’s witness in this passage leaves his hearers hungry to know more of the one to whom this great figure shows such reverence – “the true light” that is going to transform a darkened world with the joy of salvation.

Like the Jews who were suffering in their exile, we too are undergoing some turmoil due to the prevailing pandemic and economic downturn not only in our country but all over the world. We are living amidst uncertain times. As a result, we are consumed by fear, worry and anxiety – with the expectation of a better tomorrow. This makes the invitation to rejoice very expedient. As things stand now, if one does not entertain hope of a better future, depression will undoubtedly set in. At least what we read about the Jews during the time of Isaiah and their experiences will help us make sense of our own challenges today. So, this third week of Advent we celebrate the certainty that something makes sense no matter how it turns out.

It is important to note here that joy is a sure sign of making sense of our circumstances. Hence this third Advent exhorts us to rejoice. If rejoicing is God’s will for us, why do we so often struggle to be joyful? It is because we allow our frustrations, lack of control, and the cares of life to dominate our time and attention and rob us of our joy. Jesus is right when he tells his disciples to not worry or be anxious about what to eat or wear (Matt. 6:30-34), So it happens when we let worries, preoccupations, fears, inordinate ambition, insatiability, and what-ifs come in the way of our peace of mind and trust in God. On the contrary, joy is not a celebration of success and victory as such, but a celebration of hope and expectation. It comes from a feeling that as long as God is in control, everything is going to be okay, and whatever happens to us is for our good (Rom 8:28).

As a way forward, the Church is telling us today not to give in to worry but to rejoice in anticipation of what the presence of God will bring when realized. We are therefore required to put on smiles on our faces as we look forward to the coming of the Lord. This is important because if we abandon ourselves to the way things present themselves now due to the coronavirus and bad economy, we will see no reason for joy, but if we look beyond our difficulties, we will see love and signs of love to cheer us up.

So, the good news today is that we are invited to bring the true joy of the light of Christ to a world in which there is so much darkness, fear, hunger, and pain. When the task seems beyond us, let us remember with prophet Isaiah that we are working for God’s future; let us understand with Paul that it is first and foremost the quality of our lives together that will bring people to share our faith and joy; and let us learn from John the Baptist that the effectiveness of our outreach will depend upon the unselfish commitment of revealing Jesus, the Light and Savior of the world.

December 6, 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent

Prepare the Way of the Lord

In the first reading, Isaiah announces to the people that their long years of exile have come to an end. In the second reading, the Christians of Peter’s time suffered great persecutions, including being thrown to the lions. But Peter assured them that God is coming but at his own time as unexpectedly as a thief. In the Gospel John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, invites the people to get ready to welcome the Lord. He came to make known the Messiah who was present but not recognized by the people. He was not recognized because the Jews had an idea of a Messiah who would descend from heaven with divine powers to destroy the enemies of Israel and establish his kingdom.

Isaiah’s lament last week in which he wished God would “tear down the heavens and come down” has been replaced by a voice from heaven which demands that a way be prepared in the wasteland east of the Jordan River through which God will lead his back from Babylon to their homeland. John appeared from the wilderness with a wake-up call to the people to prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Lk 3:4). With the baptism of repentance, he opened their eyes to see the Lord who had come to save them and give them hope.

Like the people of the time of Isaiah, we too have experienced our own time of exile and hardship. The coronavirus has brought us isolation from family and loved ones, alienation from school and churches, from friends and playmates. Like them we have experienced hardship from the threat of the coronavirus to our economy and employment, sickness and bereavement, division, and hatred from our recent election in our country. We also have some other experiences that reveal the exile we feel in ourselves caused by temptation and sin, sickness, and misfortune. Like the Jews also, our own trouble comes from many different directions. While some stem from our own decisions and faults, others stem from the decisions made for us by others.

Like the audience of John the Baptist, the Church is telling us that sin is at the root of our present suffering. We are to prepare to receive the Lord by first acknowledging our sins and repenting from them. This is important because there is no true repentance without a proper awareness of what sin is and does to our relationship with God and our neighbor. The two factors that make personal acknowledgment of one’s sin difficult are living in denial and self-righteousness.

Isaiah sees the hearts of the people as a wasteland in need of restoration. He mandated us to fill in those valleys of prayer neglected, and kindnesses postponed. Level the mountains of self-importance and hills of self-complacency. Smooth jagged edges of harsh judgment. Unfortunately, the problem with the majority of people in this country, is that we live in denial of our sins. The father gives reason for his bullying; the mother does not see anything wrong with lying and the children give reasons for their disobedience. For without a healthy sense of sin, confession is but a mere fulfillment of all righteousness. It is only when a person has realized his fault, accepted responsibility for it, will repentance be necessary and sincere.

So, the Good News today is not different from the wakeup call of John the Baptist. The reason for not experiencing what Jesus has accomplished more than 2000 years ago is sin, which according to the Baptist, blocks the pathways that lead to God. Like John the Baptist, the Church is calling on us today to recollection and reconciliation. Let us not wait for tragedy to strike before we remember to seek the Lord and beg for him to show us the way forward. A lovely Jewish story illustrates this point beautifully: A student once asked his Master, “Rabbi, why in the scripture does it say, ‘May thy words be upon my heart’? Why not in my heart?” The Rabbi answered, “Even God, my child, cannot put the words directly into the heart. They are placed upon the heart, so that when the heart breaks, His words can drop in.”

November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent

Be Alert and Watchful

Today the Church begins the Advent season through which she prepares for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. The first reading has as its context Israel in Palestine after the Babylonian exile. The desperate situation of things caused by the sin of the people and the destruction of their temple is expressed in laments by Isaiah. He is aware of the guilt of the people but stresses that God can come down from heaven and set things right if he wishes, just as a potter fashions clay as he likes. In our second reading, Paul encourages the Church in Corinth to be faithful as they await the coming of Christ. The Gospel is a clarion call to be awake and alert because no one knows when the Lord will come again.

Since the day Jesus ascended into heaven, disciples after disciples have been keeping watch for his second return. While some Christians are beginning to doubt the truth of Jesus’ second coming because it has taken more than two thousand years since the promise was made and it’s yet to be fulfilled, some approach it with complacency and others with anxiety (1 Thess. 3:12-4:2). But Jesus spoke of his return in glory at the close of the ages as an indisputable fact and predetermined act which he will perform as the Judge and Ruler of all peoples, nations, and individuals who ever lived on the earth.

The problem with this teaching is that while the second coming is for certain, the exact time of his appearance is not known by anybody. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). This saying can be understood literally to mean that Jesus did not know the date of the end of the world. It can also be understood as a strategy intended to discourage the disciples from further inquiry into the matter. In either case the implication for us is the same: Put an end to idle speculations regarding the date of the Last Day. In God’s good time the day will come unexpectedly. This is why Jesus asked his listeners in today’s Gospel to “Take heed and Watch”!

Why watch? While Jesus was with them, his presence was enough to make them serious, awake and functional. When he left them, the situation would not be the same – his absence would not only create a vacuum but temptations and persecutions. Like them we too are to be watchful because at times we are not able to recognize our moral crisis until it is too late. We are then to keep watch so that we do not leave anything for tomorrow or later time but be busy always at our duty post. So, keeping watch does not mean to go about listening to and getting excited over the end times prophecies and visions that have multiplied today. Rather it is to be more assiduous and faithful to our duties as responsible children of God.

As today we enter the season of Advent and countdown to Christmas, the Church reminds us that the celebration of Christmas begins with a right response to Advent preparations. Amidst the running about in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and preparations, let us resolve to be awake in the spirit by living a life of faith and love in service to the Lord so that whenever he comes we shall be ready to follow him into the glory of eternity. The good news is that these are the intentions of someone who loves us, not of someone who is threatening us. He intends our anticipation of his final judgment to be a powerful deterrent to unfaithfulness and wrongdoing.

So today we commit to leave no stone unturned by making every day fit for his coming through absolute fidelity round the clock. While we are living and waiting for the end, let us resolve (a) to let no one lead us astray, (b) to shun the doomsday anxiety that is catching up with the Christian world today, (c) to not allow the difficulties of the last times to weigh us down or make us dispirited. Finally, let us open our eyes in faith to see God present and active in our life and in our world. Let us open our heart and our house to the Lord who comes to us daily in the form of the needy man or woman. This is the best way to prepare to welcome the Lord when he comes on the Last Day, and or Christmas Day.

St. John XXIII Catholic Community Fontana, CA.

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