The power of humility: A homily for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday. April 13th 2014.
Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 27:11-54

The power of Humility

“He humbled Himself.”

In the course of my vocation discernment journey, I attended many “Come and see” weekends, visiting with the religious communities that I was thinking of joining. I would usually find myself with a group of men about my age who were really thinking of joining one of these communities. On some of those gatherings, the question that usually arose among us prospective religious was, “Which of the three evangelical counsels – poverty, chastity or obedience – was most demanding of us?” Most of the time chastity topped the list. It seemed we were all set to live lives of evangelical poverty and wholehearted obedience but it seemed we needed just a little bit more divine help in living consecrated chastity.

But now I know better. I have had to face my ever present self will that makes religious obedience difficult. I have had to come to grips with the heart’s insatiable want for more that constantly challenges the genuineness of evangelical poverty. I have come to realize that we were then asking the wrong questions about the vows. The question should not have been which of these vows is the most demanding but how deep were we willing to humble ourselves so that God’s grace will prevail in us and over the demands of the vows. Those three vows are not possible without the virtue of humility. Even genuine love that animates the vows is rooted in humility. (1Cor 13:4-5) Without humility, we will constantly seek to get more of material and spiritual goods till we lose the sense of our dependence on God and then violate the vow of poverty. Without humility, we will surely not obey any religious superior out of love for God. Without humility, we surely cannot love others without seeking to possess the beloved so as to gain something from them and this basically puts an end to genuine consecrated chastity.

Palm Sunday highlights how Jesus dealt with the huge demands of being the innocent Savior of all mankind. The liturgy begins with the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem while the crowd proclaims Him as the prophet. What is Jerusalem known for as a city? They are known for killing prophets and they lived up to this reputation. Jesus once exclaimed, “It is impossible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.”(Cf. Lk 13:33-34) Yet Jesus knowingly enters into Jerusalem knowing fully well what awaits Him in the city. Where does He get this inner strength to do such a thing? The letter to the Philippians tells us that Jesus first “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in human likeness.” As if it was not enough for Him to become one like us, he also “humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Though He is the true Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the author and source of all graces, because He continuously humbled Himself in His humanity, the power of God was immensely manifested in His human actions.

Jesus’ humility had no limits. Jesus began with humility, continued with humility and ended with humility and this is why the power of God was present in His humanity. He humbled Himself to surrender Himself completely to a creature of His when He chose to be a slave in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, completely dependent on her as her son and obedient to her as His mother. He humbled Himself to be born in a manger, to live as a son of a carpenter and to heed the rude commands of the Jewish and Roman leaders. He enters Jerusalem today on a borrowed donkey! In His humility, He accepted the painful humiliations of His Passion, the abandonment by His disciples, His condemnation by those of His own nation and his burial in the another person’s tomb. Because of this His humility without limits, “God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name above all names” such that all knees in heaven and earth must bend at the name of the Lord Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the demands of the Christian life are great, more so in our day and time. It is so easy for us to be filled with zeal to serve the Lord at one moment only to betray Him the very next moment. We can be like the crowd that shouts out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” on Palm Sunday and then shout out, “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. Without humility, without that attitude of the heart that recognizes that we are nothing and have nothing good in us that God has not given to us and continue to sustain in us, we will be overwhelmed by the demands of our Christian vocation and we will begin to compromise or even give up completely. We lose our way completely when we begin to rationalize which of the demands of the Christian life are possible or impossible and forget the immense power of divine grace in us and its ability to overcome all things if only we will “humble ourselves and pray.”(2 Chronicles 7:14)

We need to humble ourselves before God and others. Lack of humility before others is manifested in self-righteousness, condemnation and being impatient with others. Lack of humility before God will be shown in giving up on prayer because we do not see visible results or because it does not make us feel good, giving up on the spiritual life because of past moral failures, believing only truths that are suitable to our taste and preference, getting complacent, letting the sufferings and pains of life quench our faith in God and succumbing to the temptation that we deserve a better deal from God in this life. With this lack of humility, we hinder the reception and flourishing of God’s grace in our lives because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

We can grow in this humility through begging for the grace of humility and by making use of the several opportunities to practice humility that God offers us in daily life. Praying for humility brings the knowledge of our nothingness from our heads to our hearts and thus influences our attitude before God and others. We have ample opportunities to practice humility with this grace in the times of failures and hardships in life, insults, humiliations, rejection and criticism of others, spiritual struggles, incessant temptations, etc. These opportunities are the avenue for divine grace to overflow in us if we approach them with humility and self renunciation.

Lastly, we attain this humility of heart through devotion to Mary. It is in her womb that Jesus Christ began His self emptying and His humility reached its peak on the Cross with her at His side. How did she get the inner strength to fulfill the demands of being Mother of the Redeemer, to stand at the Cross with Him in those painful moments when all the other disciples abandoned Jesus save a handful of them? She continuously humbled herself too, choosing to be the “handmaid (slave) of the Lord.” She witnessed and experienced the humility of God in her very being like no other person. She believed that “with God all things are possible” and she learned how to continuously humble herself too in imitation of Jesus so that God’s grace will prevail in her life. In the school of Mary we learn this humility of heart.

Jesus’ humbles Himself further in the gift that He makes to us of Himself under the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist so as to pour His grace into our souls. This grace is immensely powerful but only a humble attitude on our part will allow this grace to be truly effective and manifested in us.

If after receiving these sacramental graces, we still feel discouraged by the demands of faithful Christian living in our world today and we long for easier demands of discipleship on us, we must pause and ask ourselves the right question, “How deep are you willing to humble yourself before God and others?”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Who am I not to judge? : A homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent. March 30th 2014.
1Sm 16:1,6-7, 10-13; Eph 5:8-14, Jn 9:1-41

Who am I not to judge?

On a recent classroom discussion on current moral issues, one of the participants remarked, “Didn’t Pope Francis say, “Who am I to judge?” These words are obviously taken out of the context in which the Pope used them in discussing passing judgment on a priest who had repented of his sins against chastity. Unfortunately, this has now become a mantra that somehow suggests that the Pope can, and has, dispensed us from using our judging faculty when it comes to moral issues. It appears it is somewhat okay to make judgments constantly in everyday life decisions but not acceptable to make judgments about right and wrong in morality. “Who am I to judge?” has become a tacit escape from the responsibility of confronting moral evil in the world and an excuse to condone the most sinful things in our society especially in the areas of sexuality and human life.

In the First Reading, we find Samuel on a mission to anoint the successor of King Saul. He begins to judge between Jesse’s sons based on their physical appearances. God does not prohibit Samuel’s human judgment but reminds him of the due limits of human judgment and the dependence of human judgment on divine light for sound judgment: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearances but the Lord looks into the heart.” It is the Lord who actually selects David as King, enlightening and guiding Samuel to make the right choice between Jesse’s sons. Enlightened with light from above, Samuel discovers God’s chosen king, concurs and “anoints David in the presence of his brothers.” God enlightens and uses the judgment of Samuel in this very important task. There is no discarding of human judgments here but divine light enlightening human judgment to make choices that are pleasing to God.

As human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we must and we should judge human actions and tell what is right from what is wrong based on what we perceive alone. Besides, God enlightens us to make right moral judgments. But God alone judges the human heart because He alone can look into the heart of man and ascertain the true intentions, the heart’s health or sickness, its deepest desires, and levels of freedom of the human heart. When it comes to the inner workings and movements of the heart of other peoples, we do not have the right or the ability to make such judgments.

St. Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus about the enlightenment that they have received through their union with Christ in baptism. By the grace of baptism, Christians are “no longer in darkness but are now light in the Lord” and now are called to live as “children of light.” Having been enlightened in baptism, Christians can and should make judgments about “goodness, righteousness and truth” without compromise. By virtue of this ability to make enlightened judgments about good and evil, right and wrong, Christians can and should “learn what is pleasing to the Lord, take no part in the fruitless works of darkness, and expose the works of darkness.”

Our Christian vocation thus brings a greater urgency to judge good from evil and to show them for what they really are. However, this enlightenment that has made us “light in the Lord” still does not give us the ability or the right to judge the hearts of others; but we are enabled to make moral judgments that are pleasing to God and edifying to others in society no matter the moral climate of the society. As the letter to the Romans attest: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” (Rom 12:2) Since our mind have been renewed in baptism, we Christians can no longer hide behind the statement, “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to morality.

Today’s Gospel shows the healing of the man born blind. Jesus healed him and gave him the sight he never had before. Having received his sight, this man makes some courageous judgments. When asked by the Jews what he thought about Jesus, he made a judgment based on Jesus’ actions, “He is a prophet.” On the other hand, the Pharisees condemned Jesus and pretended they could read His Sacred Heart: “We know that this man is a sinner.” The healed man does not attempt to judge the heart of the Jews or the heart of Jesus: “If he is a sinner, I do not know.” But, based on Jesus’ actions in his life, he makes his judgment that this man (Jesus) “must have come from God” because “it is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.” He gives witness to Jesus even though the Jews had made it clear that all who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. Lastly, He makes a confession of faith before Jesus: “I do believe, Lord” and then worships Him. He made a judgment to worship the God-Man Jesus Christ in full view of the skeptical Jews. This man did not bother judging the hearts of others but, receiving sight from Him who is the Light of the world, he made judgments that were pleasing to Jesus and edifying to others.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are souls today who do not have the divine light that we have received in Holy Baptism to give them the supernatural help they need to make good judgments. There are souls today who do not see the grave danger of the choices that they are making and they make a boast out of their vices and sins. Our world has become insensitive to the divine majesty that is offended through sin. How can we continue to say, “Who am I to judge?” in the face of the many sins against human life in all its stages, the exploitation of women and children in human trafficking, the widespread acceptance of diverse depraved sexual practices, the unbridled greed and myriad forms of injustice in the global arena? Tolerance has become the highest virtue of our times. However, the new life of baptism demands that we Christians now answer the question, “Who am I not to judge?”

When we are tempted to revert to “Who am I to judge?” in the face of moral evil, we must remember that the Spirit that we received in baptism is giving to us to “lead us to all truth” and not to make us loved and accepted by the world. Our salvation depends on how willing we are to tell the truth in love and to be good and hopeful examples of sound judgment to others as St. James teaches us, “Whoever brings back a sinner from the errors of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”(James 5:20)

In this Eucharist, Christ comes into our world for judgment “so that those who do not see might see.” In the words of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” In and through baptism, we have “arisen from the sleep of death,” and “Christ has indeed given us light.” Our baptismal grace is deepened in this Eucharist because Christ touches us again, filling us with His own light and strength. A world in sin and confusion eagerly awaits our good examples and words of truth flowing from enlightened judgments that are pleasing to God. Let God alone judge the hearts of men. Our part is to bear the true light of Christ in our world. Thus the last thing that the world needs to hear from us Christians as regards human actions are those truly uncaring words, “Who am I to judge?”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Worshipping in spirit and in truth: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent. March 23rd 2014
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; Jn 4:5-42

Worshipping God in spirit and truth

A few months ago I thought I’d get in touch with a college buddy and roommate of mine whom I had lost contact with since we graduated from college. I did an internet search for him and was shocked and pained to find out that my dear friend was now serving jail time in Nigeria for financial fraud. I asked myself the question, “Why me?” How come we were so close then in college and now have come to go our separate paths in life? Why am I a priest today and my close friend is serving jail time for fraud? God knows that it is not about who is holier or who prayed more or who went to Church more or who is more devout. Just live with me for a while and you will know why it would be unpardonable madness for me to suggest that God’s choice has anything to do with personal holiness.

The bottom line is that I stand here today before you as a priest only because God loves me and continuously desires to sustain my response to His love with His grace. God loves us all even in our sinfulness and has freely chosen to sustain us with His grace so that we make our response of love to Him wherever we find ourselves in life and in the spiritual journey. In His love, He has called me and graced me to respond to His loving invitation even as I struggle with my own sinfulness. If not for the grace of God, I would surely do worse than my friend had done. And I mean a lot worse! We can only realize this truth when we stop and ask, “Why me?”

“Why me?” This is undoubtedly the question on the mind of the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel passage. Why is Jesus, a Jew, speaking to her of all people and asking her to give Him a drink? First, He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan, sworn mutual enemies of the Jews. Secondly, Jesus’ speaking to her one-on-one goes against the custom. Jesus’ disciples were shocked to find Him talking to her on. Thirdly, she was a woman with a sinful life with her long list of husbands. According to some biblical commentators, she came at the time of the noonday heat and not at the earlier and cooler hours of the day as others do because she wanted to avoid contact with those who looked down on her because of her sinful lifestyle. Of all the possible choices, why was she the one so privileged to have this life-changing conversation with Our Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is simple – because God loves her and wishes to sustain her own loving response with His grace.

Jesus reminds her that this His encounter with her is not merited on her part but God’s way of gifting her with something that she could never merit: “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he will have given you living water.” When she failed to realize the import of these words, Jesus goes ahead to remind her that this gift of His was far beyond ordinary water: “The water that I shall give will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” This living water is a reference to the grace of the Spirit of love (See Jn 7:39) It is only after talking of the unmerited nature of this gift and its power to introduce one into sharing in the divine life that Jesus taught that true worship cannot be limited to certain conditions or places, be it Jerusalem (as the Jews believed) or Mount Gerizim (as the Samaritans believed). “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth and to do so in every time and place without realizing and accepting the great love that He has for us sinners and the power of His grace to move and sustain us in our somewhat pathetic efforts at loving Him back.

What happens when we forget why God has chosen us? We find an answer in the First Reading where the newly liberated Israelites forgot why God had chosen them among all the other nations. Moses had informed them earlier why God chose them: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (Deut 7:7-11) God chose them out of His love for them and intended to sustain them in the journey to the Promised Land. This fact was to be the impulse to faithful worship of God on their part. But faced with lack of water, they failed to remember this truth and ended up complaining and grumbling to Moses, even regretting that God had brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Failure to ask and ponder the question, “Why me?” inevitably led to ungrateful and rebellious hearts.

St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that through Jesus Christ, “we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand” and the “love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We did not merit this love and grace at all but it is out of God’s love alone: “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Christ Jesus died for us ungodly ones “while we were still helpless.” If Jesus so loved us when we were both ungodly and helpless, why should we think that our sins and weaknesses now will overcome His love and grace in our lives and thwart His plan to bring us to Himself through this valley of tears? On the contrary we should be so confident that His grace will sustain us in our own response to His love so that our worship and service of God is deified by divine grace, inspired by love alone, and not limited to certain places and times and conditions. This is what it means to worship the omnipresent God in spirit and in truth.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are we people who worship God in spirit and in truth or are we people who constantly complain and grumble about everything? Are we getting discouraged about our sins? Maybe we are among the many that have had a lousy Lenten season so far and have abandoned the Lenten disciplines. Or maybe we are facing deep pains and sufferings in our lives now that have shaken our faith. Please let us stop and ask ourselves the question, “Why me?” Why are you a Catholic today when many have lost their faith? Why are you called to participate so closely in Christ’s saving mission today? Why are you persistent in seeking holiness of life? Why are you sensing an invitation to share intimately in His sufferings at this time? Why do you still have that desire to give of yourself even in your moments of pain? Why do you have that light of hope that others seem to search for in vain? Why are you here on this beautiful day seeking to receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion? Why do you have any love for the Blessed Mother and the Saints when many ignore them? Why do you strive to live in obedience to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in an age of dissent and rebellion? The only answer is this: because God loves you and His grace is sustaining you now and always wherever you find yourself.

It is only when our minds and hearts are open to this love and grace that we can ever hope to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Changing faces, unchanging hearts: A homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 16th 22014
Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Changing faces, unchanging hearts

Two things changed during the Transfiguration of Jesus. His face “shone like the sun” and his “clothes became white as light;” but His heart remained the same. Jesus’ face and His clothes changed but His heart’s commitment to the Father remained the same. Jesus Himself gave us an insight into His mutual commitment with His Father when He said to His disciples, “He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him.” (Jn 8:29) There would be a stark contrast between the transfiguration experience and His brutal death but, by virtue of their mutual commitment, Jesus is emboldened to declare that even in death, He will be “raised from the dead.”

Fast-forward now to the moment of His agony at the garden of Gethsemane. Now His Father is silent. There is no Moses or Elijah. There are no bright clouds. Jesus’ face changes again but this time it is not shining like the sun but it is filled with anguish and pain. His clothes changes again but this time it is not white as light but it is drenched with the bloody sweat of His Passion. His situation changes but, once again, His heart’s commitment to the Father does not change as He cries out from the depths of His being, “Father, not my will but yours be done.”

The Transfiguration experience in today’s Gospel does not last long. It cannot be prolonged indefinitely. This is so as to impress on the hearts and minds of the disciples this basic truth – their conditions will constantly change in this life but, if their hearts remain faithful to their commitment to the Lord, they will share in the fullness of the glory. The transfigured face of Christ presents to them a preview and foretaste of the glory that awaits us when we go through the ups and downs of this life but do not let our hearts’ commitment to God to waver in any way.

I personally know an elderly couple in Indiana who used to attend daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration together every single evening. The man passed away recently. In my last conversation with the widow, she shared with me the new realities of her life. The pain of her loss was still so hard to bear, the family house had become too big for her alone and she could not drive herself to the places she used to go before. But she added with a joyful note, “But I have a friend at Church come to fetch me and take me to Mass and adoration. I will walk to Mass if I had to do so. I will continue to worship and serve God.” Her conditions have changed, her face surely has changed, but her heart’s commitment to God remains the same. This is the way to the fullness of glory that Jesus brings to us.

Abram’s family has just settled in Haran after leaving Ur. Abram’s settling down is interrupted by God’s call for him to go to an unspecified place, a land which God was to show to him. We are told that “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” By letting go of the security of his land and home, Abram’s situation changes but his heart’s commitment to God remains constant. God will so bless Abram that “all the communities of the earth shall find blessing him” only if Abram’s heart commitment to God does not waver in journeying to the new land that God would show to him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this world, our situations will constantly change, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. As our situations and that of the world changes, it is normal for our own faces to change too. There will be times of joy and times of pain, times of hope and times of worry, times of light and times of darkness, times of turmoil and times of peace, times of serenity and times of temptations. There will be times when we feel God so close and moments when we feel abandoned by Him. We are tempted to act like St. Peter who tries to hold on to the passing transfiguration vision: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But he must learn to let the vision go while maintaining his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. We too cannot hold on to life’s glorious moments no matter how hard we try.

What do we do in a world of constant change? This is the time we must consciously renew the commitment that we made to God in holy baptism. At the moment of baptism, either personally or through our godparents, we rejected sin and Satan and pledged allegiance to Jesus Christ and His mission to all mankind. We professed our faith in the One God and our membership in the Catholic Church to worship and serve Him in the Church all the days of our lives. Most importantly, God also made a solemn commitment to us too at baptism that we will be a Father to us, providing for us and guiding us home to Him through this life of constant turmoil. God renews His commitment to us constantly but on our part, we so easily forget our own commitment to Him. We thus become unconscious Christians, blown to and fro by the changing currents of our life and our world.

St. Paul reminds Timothy in the Second Reading that, as a loyal servant of God, his situation has changed. He should now “bear his own share of hardship for the gospel with the grace that comes from God.” Timothy is apparently stressed and worn down by the false teachings of some people in the community. In these trying moments, Timothy is to keep his focus on Christ, remembering that God “calls us to a holy life, not according to our works, but according to His own designs and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.” It is in the heart of the Redeemer Jesus Christ that we find both the mysterious designs of God for us in a constantly changing world as well as the grace to follow this plan with a faithful heart. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Gaudium et Spes #10)

This same Jesus Christ renews His commitment to us in every Eucharistic celebration in these words, “This is my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant.” It is through our sacramental communion with His body that we have living contact with and participation in His own unchanging heart towards the Father and towards us. He does not come to make life unchanging for us! He comes to renew and strengthen us in our baptismal commitment in the face of unavoidable life changes. We should remember and recommit to the mutual commitment of our baptisms and remember that the Eucharist is not an end in itself but it is to deepen and sustain us in our life of union with God and with others and the life of loving service that should flow from it.

Let us look to Mary and seek to walk with her along this difficult and mysterious path. She knows best what it means to face constant changes in life and still maintain her commitment to the Lord and His mission. Her face changed a lot in life. Just meditate on the Pieta. But she never wavered in her heart’s commitment: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” With Jesus living within us and Mary guiding and guarding us, life will still bring us changes. Our faces will still change. If our hearts’ commitment never changes we can surely hope to enter into the fullness of glory because God’s commitment to us never changes.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Preparing for temptations: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 9th 2014
Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12, 17-19; Mt 4:1-11

Preparing for temptations

The religious significance of the three places where Jesus was tempted in today’s Gospel (wilderness, temple, and mountain) tells us something about temptations. The wilderness is considered a prime place to face temptation because it is considered a land inhabited by evil spirits (Lk 11:24), a place of punishment for sins (Mt 23:38), and a place of testing in our fidelity to God. But the Jerusalem temple is another kind of place all together. The temple is the sign of God’s presence among His people and the place where the people encountered God. Lastly, the mountain is seen as a unique place where God reveals Himself (as in Horeb in Ex. 3:15) as well as a unique place of encountering and worshipping God. Unlike the desert, the temple and mountain do not signify in any way places of temptations.

So Jesus, the beloved Son of God, was tempted in both the most likely (desert) and the most unlikely places (temple and mountain). Why? To teach us that no matter how close we are to God, no matter where we are, we cannot escape all temptations. Those annoying temptations follow us everywhere we go. We cannot wish them away or pray them away. Choosing to yield to these temptations and indulge in sin does not make them go away but only increases the intensity of the temptations. What then are we to do in a world of constant temptation? Flight alone is obviously not enough but we must learn from Jesus’ example and prepare ourselves always for the temptations to come because they will surely come.

Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan where the Father confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Jesus did not get complacent but entered into a prolonged time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the temptations that were to take place in the most likely and unlikely places. This is the lesson we learn from His temptations in today’s Gospel.

By baptism, we are now one with Christ, sharing in His life, His sufferings, His temptations and ultimately, His victory over sin and death. Jesus is victorious so that we too can be victorious. We are now so close to God as His children, but, like Jesus Christ, no matter how closely united we are to God, we too will be tempted in the most likely and unlikely places in this life. We cannot avoid all temptations but we must prepare ourselves for coming temptations.

Adam and Eve received from God existence, life breath, and “all that was delightful to look at and good for food.” They had a loving relationship with God. God’s gifts and His closeness to them were meant to prepare them for the temptations to come. God did not prevent the “most cunning of all the animals” from approaching and tempting His beloved creatures. In that place of so much peace, beauty and happiness, despite the closeness of God to His creatures, temptations to sin prevailed over our first parents. How could we ever hope to live in this world without facing temptations?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in times of tranquility, when we are not being tempted, we must constantly prepare ourselves for the temptations that are sure to come. We cannot flee from every temptation in this life. The saints reminded us to constantly prepare for temptations to come. Allow me to share with you five ways in which we can be constantly prepared to face temptations whenever and wherever they come.

The first way is to live a life of constant prayer. Constant prayer instills in us a sense of God’s presence with us at all times, even at the times of temptation. After 40 days of prayer, Jesus was surely aware of the Father’s loving presence and His will for Him during His temptations and He faced His temptations with that consciousness. In addition, we must pray before, during and after temptations. We pray before temptations so that “we will not enter into temptations.” (Mk 14:38) We pray during the temptations to make contact with the sufficient grace needed to overcome the temptation. We pray after the temptation to thank God for the victories and to beg pardon for the failures during temptation. Even in failures, we can thank God for not allowing us to fall more than we actually did. Such humility and gratitude for little victories opens us more to God’s graces to fight future temptations.

Secondly, we must go beyond merely reading the bible but ask ourselves how deeply we believe in God’s words and promises to us about temptations. How deeply do we believe that “God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it?” (1Cor 10:13) Do we rejoice in times of temptations because it is a sure path to perfection? (James 1:2) If we do not believe in God’s words to us, we will be helpless against temptations. Jesus’ temptations show us that the devil knows scripture and how to twist it to his agenda. Jesus, the eternal Word, knew the scriptures well as well as its deepest meaning. The word of God was His food. Do we nourish ourselves on the word of God and interiorize it?

Thirdly, we must regularly partake of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. Jesus once warned us that the unclean spirits, whose dominion over us is terminated at baptism, returns with “seven other spirits worse than himself” and easily re-enters into a place that he finds “empty, swept and put in order,” (Mt 12:43-45) but unoccupied. We must let Jesus who liberates us to fill us with His presence through Communion if we are going to prevail over temptations. The Sacrament of Confession avails us forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name but also gives us light to see the deeper roots of sin within us so that we can uproot it completely. With frequent reception of these sacraments with the right disposition, we are prepared to overcome temptations.

Fourth, we must develop and maintain a lively relationship with our Immaculate Mother Mary because she is the New Eve who has the mission of crushing Satan’s head. The serpent’s victory over God’s creatures in Eden began with the failure of the woman Eve. Eve fell before Adam and made it easy for Adam to fall. Likewise, Jesus’ victory over sin began with the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her obedience of faith in giving us the God-Man. As St. Louis De Montfort exclaimed, “I have Jesus in my soul thanks to Mary.” Our Immaculate Mother has intense hatred for sin and an undying love for the sinner. With a loving dependent relationship with Mary, we begin to develop a great hatred for sin as well as a refusal to give up in the battle with temptation. We must never underrate the power of Mary in dealing with temptations.

Lastly, we must learn from our past failures in temptations. We must constantly reflect on what the temptation promises us at the beginning and what it actually gives after we have succumbed. We must reflect on the expectations of happiness from the temptation and the guilt, shame and regret that lingers long after the temptation has prevailed. We must then note our points of weakness and prepare for the next temptation in that area. Without this self knowledge from reflection on past temptations, we will not be prepared for coming temptations.

St. Paul reminds us that through one man, Adam, “sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” But “the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” We encounter Jesus, the sole victor over sin and death, in this Eucharist. He does not come to shield us from all temptations; but that we share in His victory. Jesus makes us one with Him and with His Father in the One Spirit. In the Eucharist, we cannot be closer to the Triune God here on earth even as we live in a world of constant temptations. But we too must prepare ourselves for the temptations to come.

May we leave this Mass today with renewed courage and divine assurance that we have been adequately prepared to face every single temptation in both likely and unlikely places.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Know your needs, conquer your worries : A homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 49:14–15; 1 Corinthians 4:1–5; Matthew 6:24–24

Know your needs, conquer your worries.

“All these things will be given you besides.”

Supposing I ask you now to name all of your hearts wants and desires. Name those things that make you say things like, “God, please give me this or that and I will be happy.” No doubt you can easily list so many of your wants. Next, supposing I asked you to name one thing that you need today to be faithful to God’s plan for you. I really doubt if we could readily name two to three of such needs. On the other hand, many of us may even find ourselves unsure if something were a want or a need.

How well we know our wants but how poorly we know our needs. We usually find it difficult to judge if something is a mere want or a pressing need to be faithful to our vocation. Our ability to differentiate our wants from our needs is the key to overcoming worry in this life. We constantly worry when we are only aware of our wants and fail or refuse to distinguish between our wants and our needs.

What then is the difference between wants and needs? Our wants are dictated by the “I,” the self and they arise from the desires of our hearts, thus they are usually self-centered and egoistic. On the other hands, our needs arise out of our creaturely relationship with God and our complete dependence on Him to fulfill the plan that He has in creating us and keeping us in existence at each moment of our lives. Basically, our wants are desired for the sake of the ego fulfillment while our needs are the necessities to fulfill the plan of God in our life today. Thus in all our desires and wants, we must be able to answer the question, “Is this merely a want or is this something that I need today to enter into God’s plan for me today and be what God has created me to be?”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus warns against anxious worrying about some necessities of life by reminding us that our Heavenly Father provides all that the creatures need at every moment to fulfill the Father’s plan for them in reflecting His glory. Our Father “feeds the birds of the sky” even though they do not sow or reap and he clothes the wild flowers even though they are destined to be thrown into the oven the next day. We are not to worry about what to wear, what to eat or what to drink because “our Father knows that we need them all.” He knows our needs and guarantees us that He will provide us with these needs at each moment; He does not guarantee that He will grant all our wants.

St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Principle and Foundation reminds us why were created and why God has guaranteed us all that we need: “We were created to praise, reverence, and serve God here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. All the other things on the face of the earth are given to us to help us attain the purpose for which we are were created.” God will provide us with all that we need at every single moment of our lives to fulfill His plans for keeping us in existence today, which is to praise, reverence and serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

But how do we connect to our needs and differentiate them from our wants? How do we begin to conquer worries by trusting God to give us what we need to be faithful to His mysterious plans at each moment? Anxious worrying about our numerous wants distracts us from the presence of the Lord Jesus in the present moment and makes us live focused on a future even if worrying cannot “add a single moment to our life-span.” But if we can connect with what we need here and now to fulfill the divine plan for us in each moment, we conquer the worries and connect with Jesus Christ, the God-with-us.

Let me share with you three ways to connect with our needs and differentiate them from our wants. First, pray prayers of honest and complete abandonment to God’s mysterious plan for us. In this prayer, we honestly and frankly bring our wants to the Lord Jesus as numerous as they are as well as the reason why we desire such things no matter how unreasonable our motives may seem to us. Asking alone for what we want is not enough; we must get in touch with the deep motives behind our asking. But we must be ready to pray with a note of abandonment, “Lord, let your will be done and not mine.” Our Lord usually rewards this type of prayer by enlightening us to our deepest needs and preparing us to receive that which we really need at the moment to be what He has created us to be.

Secondly, we must pray with the certainty that Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, God and Savior that we must unceasingly love, depend upon and serve with all our being. Our prayer must reflect that attitude that Jesus wants from us today, “You cannot serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon.” We must ask ourselves, “Are we going to worship the things we pray for and do their bidding or are we going to use them to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?” Is it not true that sometimes we can turn the creaturely gifts of God into the “Creator” and begin to depend on them as if there were our God? Our prayer must have this attitude of reflecting and recognizing the absolute lordship of God in our lives. In this way, we are sure that “all these things (our needs) are given to us besides.”

Thirdly, we need the intercessory prayer of others like Mary and the saints to pray for us. Because of our concupiscence, we easily bring our egos into prayer, praying only for what we want for self and for others and failing to realize what we need to bring glory to God by being what we are created to be. Because she remains our spiritual mother, Mary intercedes for us all according to the will of God and not according to what we want. She grasped what the couple at the wedding feast of Cana needed for a successful wedding and brought it to Jesus, “They have no wine.” After her discussion with Jesus, she also grasped what the servants needed to do to remedy the situation, “Do whatever He tells you.” Thus a miracle was performed and the wedding was successful. Mary’s intercession for us with God is accompanied by her enlightening us on what we truly need to ask for and do. We need this if we are going to know our needs from our wants and thus conquer worries.

The First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah is God’s promise of restoration to Jerusalem even as her children are experiencing the hardship and misery of their exile. The grieving Zion feels forsaken by God for her infidelities. But the Prophet Isaiah reminds them, as a mother “cannot forget her infant or be without tenderness for the child of her womb,” so much more will God not forget or forsake His people. He will surely provide their needs for them at every moment so that they can remain faithful to His plans for them.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the new People of God and God never forsakes or abandons His own people. Anxious worrying makes us feel forsaken and forgotten despite the presence of a trustworthy God with us. We will always have wants in this life. But we also have needs for each day. “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” God does not guarantee that our wants will be met but He assures us that we will have all that we need to fulfill His own plan.

If we connect with our needs and differentiate them from our wants, all these things (needs) will be given to us besides. If Christ Jesus fulfills His promise to us to the point of giving Himself completely to us under the form of bread and wine in this Eucharist, what need of ours will He deny us to fulfill His loving plan and come to share in His eternal joy? If we have such a divine guarantee and we connect with our deepest needs, how could we ever live in endless anxious worry?

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Being open to divine goodness: A homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time. February 23, 2014
Lev 19:1-2,17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

“Be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect.”

How could you forgive the man who raped your mother and who is responsible for your being conceived in rape? How do you forgive such a man who is responsible for your being born with a respiratory problem? If you are a priest, how could you knowingly hear the confession of such a man, forgive him from your heart and absolve him from his sins in the sacrament of confession?

These were the questions on my mind when I read the story of Ecuadoran parish priest Fr. Luis Alfredo Leon Armijos. His mother had conceived him in rape at the age of 13, she was rejected and abused by her family because of the pregnancy, and she fled from home and gave birth to him with serious respiratory problem. Many years later, after being ordained a priest, his scared father called him shortly before undergoing a delicate surgery, asking his priest-son to hear his confession. Fr. Leon absolved his father and gave him Communion for the first time after so many years.

Fr. Leon could personally forgive and absolve his father in Confession because he chose to focus on divine goodness in his own life and not on the personal hurt to him and his mother. His testimony reflects his constant focus on God’s unfailing goodness to him even in the painful moments in his life. In his words, “I could be in a trash can, but I was given life,” “I realized that God was allowing me to be a priest not to judge but to forgive; I had judged my father a lot for everything,” “You can come to know your own story and hate your life, judge God like I had done. But I discovered that God’s love had been there looking over my life,”“Everything I have is a gratuity. Life itself is an exquisite gift from God.” By focusing on the divine goodness in his life, Fr. Leon could forgive his rapist-father and offer him those consoling and hopeful parting words that brought tears to his father’s eyes, “Father, you deserve heaven, an eternal life.”

Fr. Leon’s story reminds me of my favorite biblical story of forgiveness, the story of the Patriarch Joseph in the Book of Genesis. His brothers had sold him to slavery but God in His goodness brought him from the dungeons to becoming second in command in Egypt and dispenser of the scarce grains at time of regional famine. After their reconciliation and the death of his father Jacob, the brothers came to Joseph in fear, thinking that Joseph would now take revenge on them and pay them back for the harm they caused him. But Joseph reassured them of his forgiveness in these words, “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve His present end, the survival of many people.”(Gen 50:20) He forgave them again wholeheartedly as he had done while his father was alive not because he forgot their malice but because he chose to focus on divine goodness “that meant it all for good” in his own life and not on the hurts and pains that they had caused him.

Focusing and getting in touch with divine goodness in our lives is not just a mental exercise but connecting with this goodness and believing in it transforms us and moves us to let this goodness prevail over evil in the world. This is because divine goodness must spread by its very nature and it transforms us as we let ourselves become its channel to others. God’s goodness is so gratuitous that He gives to all His creatures without any merit on their part: “Not according to our sins does He deal with us, nor does He requite us according to our crimes.”(Ps 103:10) In Jesus Christ, divine goodness triumphs overwhelmingly over evil such that “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”(Rom 5:20)

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to be “perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Our Father’s perfection lies in the fact that no evil can triumph over the divine goodness. The Father’s goodness is not diminished nor hindered by the evil we do. On the contrary, without any merit on their part, the Father “makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” We can only hope to be perfect like the Father because He has placed His goodness in us with its power to transform us and move us to become channels through which this same goodness can triumph over evil in the world. We can “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” not by our will power but only when we let this divinely bestowed goodness in us triumph over evil in the world. This goodness has so much transforming power in us that we can “become children of our heavenly Father” simply by letting His goodness in us prevail over evil. We may not change others or eliminate all evil in the world but we are changed by power of divine goodness when we freely become its channels.

The Apostle Paul calls the divided Corinthians to focus on the divine goodness in their lives by reminding them that the Holy Spirit dwelling in them without any merit on their part has made them God’s temple: “You are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” If God’s Spirit of goodness dwells in us and if we let this goodness prevail in the face of evil, we shall be so transformed that our love for others should begin to reflect God’s perfect love for us that is not hindered by our evil deeds.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there will always be evil in this world and we cannot avoid it. People and organizations can and will hurt us and cause us pains, sometimes leaving us angry, hurt, revengeful and resentful. It is so easy for us to focus on the hurt that we feel and forget the divine goodness within us, making it so easy to treat people as we think that they deserve. By so doing, we give evil the power that it does not have over the divine goodness we possess and we thus fail to let this goodness transform us further into faithful images of God. When we begin to think that the hurt is more real and powerful than the goodness of God, we need to recall God’s goodness in the past and make acts of trust in God’s constant goodness to us.

Let me share with you three sure ways in which we can begin to experience and hold on to the divine goodness in our lives. The first one is to have a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a powerful manifestation of divine goodness prevailing over evil in our lives and in the world because, in this sacrament, the all-holy God-Man heeds the voice of an unworthy priest and makes Himself present in the midst of sinners to communicate to us His own goodness that overcomes evil. But how much do we appreciate this gift of divine presence in an world steeped in evil? How well do we prepare for this sacramental encounter, how properly disposed are we to receive Him, and how deep is our gratitude for this gift? Do we spend time in thanksgiving after Holy Communion so as to appreciate this gift more or do we join the mad rush to leave the Church even before the end of Mass? Divine goodness must be appreciated before it can take hold of us and transform us. Jesus Himself appreciated His Father’s goodness to Him and this led Him to conquer evil in the world: “The one who sent me is always with me and He has not abandoned me because I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29)

The second way is to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation often and to strive to bring the fruits of our reconciliation with God in this sacrament to others. Our sins are confronted and washed away by the blood of Jesus in this sacrament. We must not stop there! We must let this divine goodness we encounter spread from us to other hearts. The goodness that cleanses us wants to spread like wild fire to other hearts from our own hearts. Our transformation is deepened if we let this goodness spread to others who have hurt us, setting them free just as we have been set free. According to Pope Francis, “Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops.”(Evangelii Gaudium #9)

A third way to connect with divine goodness is to pray constantly out of gratitude to God for His unconditional love for us and not praying only because we are hurting. Don’t we pray more out of our hurts than out of gratitude to God for His goodness to us in the past and His continuous goodness even in the pains of the present moment? When our prayers are focused almost exclusively on our hurts and we fail to connect first with the divine goodness in our lives, we run the risk of succumbing to the evil we experience. Jesus’ prayers were always rooted in the Father’s goodness to Him even when the hurt was deep as evident in His prayer at Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”(Mk 14:36) If we come to prayer out of gratitude to God for His goodness to us, for His unconditional love for us, we become transformed channels of divine goodness in the world, channels though which this goodness overcomes all evil.

Let us look to Mary, the Mother of God, who did so much good to others not just because they deserved them but simply because she focused on the goodness of God that she had experienced in her own life. She did not visit Elizabeth “in haste” because she needed or expected something good from her in return but simply because, in Mary’s words, “God has done great things for her.” Conceived without sin and being the Mother of God, she had experienced divine goodness so radically and her response was total in letting this goodness prevail over all evil in the world. She let divine goodness prevail over the unjust death of Jesus on the Cross when she accepted the beloved disciple as her son in obedience to Christ’s command, “Behold your son.” Let us beg her to teach us that the main reason to be good to people, whether they merit it or not, is because God has been good to us and His goodness desires to spread and transforms us in as much as we let this goodness prevail in the world.

In this Eucharist, God continues to do great things for us despite our lack of merit. His goodness is more real and more powerful than the pains we suffer from evil. As we receive divine goodness in this Eucharistic sacrifice, if we open ourselves to this goodness and let it spread as it is meant to spread to others, we will be transformed more and more into living images of the infinitely Good God here on earth even as we face the hurts of life. This is how we become perfect like our Father in heaven.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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