Gifted to be Christ’s witnesses today: A homilyfor the 2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent. December 9, 2018.

Baruch 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6,8-11; Lk 3:1-6

Gifted to be Christ’s witnesses today

 Here are three separate scenarios I encountered recently: A devout Filipina Catholic lamented to me, “I am really troubled because Philippines’ President Duterte’s does not like us Catholics and Catholicism. His recent rants show that he has nothing but hatred and contempt for the Catholic Church, its bishops and priests, and its teachings.” Secondly, an elderly man who was active in his parish chose to abandon his parish for another one close by because he felt that his parish priest and his pastoral council did not like him or appreciate his hard work for the parish all these years. Lastly, a newly ordained religious priest is about to abandon his community because he believes that the other brother-priests dislike him.

I felt their pain at not being liked or appreciated. It is natural to want to be liked and accepted by others. But are we not setting up ourselves for unnecessary and useless suffering when we expect all people to like us and to accept us all the time? Is it part of our mission as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ to win the acceptance and esteem of others? More importantly, does Jesus give us His gifts so that all people accept and like us all the time? Aren’t we today taking lightly Jesus’ assurance that “we will be hated by all because of His name?”(Mt 10:22)

Jesus Himself shows us that He bestows gifts on us so that we belong to Him and that we give witness to Him whether others like us or not, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good work and give glory to your heavenly Father.”(Mt 5:16) St Paul adds, “It is not ourselves that we preach but Christ Jesus as Lord.”(2Cor 4:5) We cannot have His gifts and then be contending with Him for the glory that is due to Him alone from all people.

We are told that “the word of God came to John the son of Zachariah in the desert,” and he “went throughout the region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “all flesh may see the salvation of God.” John did not use the gift of the divine word he received to win the esteem and affection of the people but He used this powerful word to help them recognize the coming Messiah. He called them to repentance by the power of this word because sin blinds us to the presence and action of God in our lives. Those who received his baptism of repentance were disposed to recognize Jesus when He began His public ministry but those who refused John’s baptism or received it with the wrong disposition could not recognize Jesus despite His own powerful words and miracles.

Clearly John the Baptist, his message, and his style were despised and hated by many. He was clearly not a fashionable figure. The Pharisees and religious leaders questioned his authority, accusing him of being “possessed by a demon”(Lk 7:33) Herodias hated him and wanted to kill him because he had the courage to tell King Herod the truth that it was wrong for Herod to have her as his wife while her husband, his brother, Philip, was still alive. Herod was willing to murder John in prison to save his own face.

John’s fidelity in proclaiming Christ no matter the cost and in the face of so much dislike from others towards him disposed him to recognize Christ, His exalted dignity, and his (John’s) own unworthiness when Jesus came to receive baptism from Him, “It is I who should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.”(Mt 3:14) We too can recognize Christ and His grandeur in our lives to the extent that we make use of all His gifts to give Him glory and make Him better known and loved, instead of trying to win the liking and acceptance of others all the time.

From the moment of baptism, we are the lamps which Christ has lit with His grace and truth and placed in this world for His own glory alone. It is not possible that, bearing this light into the world, we will be liked and accepted by all people always. If we are liked by everyone all the time, and all people speak only glowingly about us, then there is something seriously wrong with us! Jesus put it this way, “What is of human esteem is abominable before God.”(Lk 16:15)

As God’s people gifted by Him to be His witnesses in this world, we owe this world only three things whether we are liked or not. Trying to go beyond these three things so as to win the liking of others is a waste of time and energy.

First, we owe all people our undying love. We love them and desire their good, praying intensely for them and readily making any sacrifice for their eternal and temporal good. Our prayers and sacrifices obtain for them the divine grace that alone can open their hearts to the transforming power of divine love.

Secondly, we owe them good examples of Christian life and the joy that it brings. We are to show them what it means to really live a life of ongoing conversion, holiness, service, selfless charity towards all, and fidelity to God’s commandments and our commitments to each other. This is making present the ever liberating example of Jesus in every age and time.

Thirdly, we owe them the truth of God’s word. We do not proclaim our convenient opinion because it has no power at all to enlighten minds or to change hearts. We speak the words that Jesus has spoken to us in the Church and in the silence of our hearts, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.”(Mt 10:27)

St. Paul was not a stranger to being disliked but he still offered this beautiful prayer for the Philippians from his prison cell, I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you…And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” What an example of universal undying love that prays for all people that they may know and love God more? What an example of fidelity to Christ and joyful living even in the midst of suffering and pain? What an example of one who speaks the truth that He has received from God whether he is liked or not? Can we ever doubt that the Apostle Paul was deeply conscious of Christ’s abiding presence with him even in prison?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare for the coming of Christ in this Advent season, may we not be blind to His abiding presence with us in the present moment. Despite His presence with us, we feel abandoned by Him when we fail to use His gifts to give witness to Him. We question and doubt His loving presence with us because we are so fixated on winning the esteem and acceptance of others with His gifts. We can recognize His abiding presence when we are rooted in our mission to be His witnesses in the world today, helping others to recognize His hidden presence with us now, love Him more, and thus long intensely for His glorious return.

Our Eucharist is always an encounter with the grace of Christ through communion with His blood. What are we going to do with this gift of His blood today? Are we going to still try and win the liking of others? Or are we going to use this gift to become ever more faithful witnesses of His who love all people, show them good examples and courageously share with them the saving truths of the gospel? Whether we are liked or not, our choice to be Jesus’ faithful witnesses will surely open our eyes to see that the God who always comes to save us is truly with us today.

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

 

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Our striving for holiness in the Advent Season: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent. December 2, 2018.

Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36

Our striving for holiness in the Advent Season

St. Teresa of Calcutta was once asked about her sanctity and how she attained such heights of holiness. She replied, “Holiness is not the privilege of a few but a calling to all.”

Reflecting on all our past sins and failures, our inability to rise above some spiritual or personal problems in our lives, our repeated failures, our dread of the challenges ahead for us, and the feeling of discouragement that constantly knocks on our hearts, the words of this saint about us all being called to holiness may appear as something impossible for us. We ask ourselves doubtfully, “Can I be holy after all my sins and failures in life?”

The truth remains that we are all called to holiness, holiness is not impossible, and we all can be holy no matter our sins and failings of the past, the challenges ahead for us, or the painful memories of our failures. We can still be holy because holiness is not something that we do or achieve or what others confer on us. Holiness is first and foremost what God does in us and how we freely respond to the effects of God’s actions in our lives.

 As we begin this holy season of Advent, we read how St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians to prepare for the “coming our Lord with all His holy ones” by their striving for holiness. But this holiness is not something that they are to achieve by their own effort but primarily it is allowing the love of God to take root first in their hearts. It is this love of God that strengthens our hearts for holiness, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father.” Holiness becomes a reality for us when we allow this divine love to strengthen our hearts to the point that we respond by “conducting ourselves to please God in all things.”

We are all destined by God to reach a certain degree of holiness in this life based on our gifts that God has bestowed on us. By divine grace, all our circumstances in life, all our life experiences, and, of course, God’s enduring love for each and every  one of us at each and every moment of our lives, are the means by which God brings us to the degree of holiness that we are created for. The more we are faithful in striving and attaining the degree of sanctity that God has willed for each of us, receiving and responding to divine love with actions aimed at pleasing God alone, the more that we experience that inner strength that comes from an invincible hope in the life to come.

Jesus describes in today’s Gospel the two responses to the distressing and troubling signs that will accompany His return in glory. There will be those who, seeing these signs, will “die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” These are those who, during their earthly life, took divine love for granted, who did not respond in consistent action to the movement of divine grace and thus whose hearts lacked the spiritual strength needed to face those dreadful moments. Ignoring the call to holiness and settling for mediocrity and even sin, rejecting or being complacent towards the divine love that makes holiness possible, they are hopelessly paralyzed by fear.

Then there will be those who have let divine love strengthen and purify their heart for holiness. Constantly striving for holiness, they are filled with so much hope that they will look beyond the signs of the coming disasters, and they will “stand erect and raise their heads because their redemption is at hand.” They are so filled with divine love and so intent on continuously responding to this love to the point that “this perfect love has cast out all fear.”(1Jn 4:18)

My dear brothers and sisters, which of these two groups are we going to belong to? If we are living in fear of the glorious return of Christ, then we must stop and ask ourselves if we are striving for the degree of holiness that God is calling us today. Are we receiving and treasuring the gift of divine love for us all or are we doubting or questioning this love for us based on our past sins and failures, present struggles, or future challenges? Are we constantly receiving the merciful love of Jesus that heals us of our sins in the Sacrament of Confession? Are we receiving the love of Jesus that transforms and strengthens us in the Eucharist?

Secondly, how consistently are we striving to respond to this love? Responding to divine love means seeking to do and endure all things so as to please Him and not ourselves. All things – our live of prayer, relationships, work, service, worship, and even our striving for holiness – should be done primarily to please God. Our holiness demands our striving to please God alone because “God is (truly) at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”(Phil 2:13)

Jesus warns us that His return in glory will be a day that will “assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” He does not want us to live in fear of that day but to be courageous through a life of vigilance and prayer, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength … to stand before the Son of Man?” Our reception of divine love and our own response begins with an intense life of prayer, a prayer in which we encounter the only Holy One, listen to His words, experience His love for us, repent of our sins, and begin again the journey to holiness no matter the past failures.

Jesus is the God who remains with us always, the God of the continuous Advent, who always comes to us with the gift of His love to prepare us for His second and glorious return when He will come to judge both the living and the dead. He offers us in today’s Eucharist the only thing that makes us holy – His love for us so that we begin again and persevere in personal holiness. Let us renew in this Advent season our journey to holiness so that our hearts are strong enough – strong enough to overcome all things in this life and, at the end of time, strong enough to also “stand before the Son of Man.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Giving all from our poverty: A homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 11, 2018.

1Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44

 

Giving all from our poverty

“But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

 I was asked some years ago to give a 3-days retreat to some priests and religious of a religious community. I arrived at the venue only to realize that they had been on retreat already for two days earlier and their retreat director for those two days was a prominent Bishop here in the Philippines. I experienced that familiar feeling of being insufficient and unqualified to complete a retreat began by this other renowned and revered Bishop, theologian, and retreat master.

The only thing that gave me hope and strength at that time was this story of the widow’s mite of today’s Gospel (Mk 12:38-44). As she observed the many who “put in large sums,” she rejected all feelings of insufficiency but confidently and silently gave her “two small coins worth a few cents.” Her offering was obviously unnoticed to everyone else except to Jesus who commended her and held her up as an example for all His disciples, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” I knew for sure that I too would win Jesus’ commendation if I gave all that I had no matter how little it may be or what may result from it.

But why does this widow draw such praise from Jesus? She wins Jesus’ commendation because Jesus does not look so much at how much is given but He focuses on the heart behind the giving. Jesus is more interested in the generosity of her heart, her heartfelt trust in God to provide for her in her poverty, and the silent giving that the widow exhibits more than the actual money that she put into the treasury, “But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Nothing can stop her from giving to God – not the death of her husband, her poverty, her home that may have been devoured by the scribes or her lack of status in the society of her time. Jesus could not help but notice such decisive and generous giving on her part.

Contrast this commendation of the widow with the condemnation that the scribes received from Jesus. The scribes are not condemned because they liked “long robes,” “seats of honor in synagogues,” and “places of honor at banquets.” They are deserving of a “severe condemnation” because, in pursuing these things, their hearts became far from what God expected from them. They had no problem taking what belonged to others to the point of “devouring the houses of (helpless) widows,” and their prayer lacked any authentic relationship with God, “As a pretext, they recite empty prayers.”

The widow in 1Kgs 17:10-16 shows us how God notices and rewards the little things that we do from our hearts that are aligned with His will for us. The widow uses the little that she had left, “a handful of flour in her jar and a little oil in her jug,” to make a little cake for Elijah the prophet. She had a heart obedient to God and trusting in His promises, “For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” By her generous obedience to the stranger’s request from God, she gained more than she could ever imagine.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have in us things that remind us of our poverty, things that cause us to think of ourselves as insignificant or incapable of making an impact in the Church and in the world today. Our sense of poverty becomes magnified when we compare our little talents and efforts with all the good that others have and are achieving in life.

The moments when our poverty become evident, making us feel insufficient, inadequate or incompetent, are moments when Jesus is inviting us to give all out of our poverty for His own sake and take whatever may result from giving all. These are not moments to become discouraged or despondent, simply wishing that we had all things together first. It is also not a time to pretend that we are self-sufficient and perfectly suited to the tasks. But these are moments when Jesus is inviting us to show Him the faith, hope, and love that He has poured into our hearts by the gift of His Spirit. He would surely commend us for our positive response to His invitation to give all for His sake no matter how little we have.

The Gospel message calls us to offer our whole selves to God and trust God to repay us. St. Paul states it this way: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well that you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.”(Col 3:23-24)

Mama Mary was the first person to receive and respond to the Gospel’s invitation to give all for the sake of Jesus from her own poverty. Asked to be the Virgin-Mother of the God-Man Jesus Christ, she humbly acknowledged her poverty before the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be since I am have no husband?” But she showed her faith-filled heart by giving all of herself to God in a way that we could never even fathom, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” God greatly delighted in her offering to the point that He became man and came to us in and through Mary’s complete self-offering in faith.

Jesus chose to show us how to embrace our own poverty by becoming a slave of love in the womb of Mary, completely depending on Mary for everything that He needed. Mary on her part learned from Jesus to offer all of herself to Jesus from her own poverty, a poverty that would lead her to stand at the foot of the cross on Calvary, completely unable to change the course of those painful events. Not many appreciated her offering then and many today do not even acknowledge her; but Jesus notices and rewards her for everything that she did and endured for Him.

When the sense of our poverty seems to overwhelm us, when we feel that we do not have what it takes to respond to God’s call, when we feel like others are more gifted than we are, when we feel insignificant and useless, when we feel that we cannot make any difference with what we have, when we feel like nobody notices our appreciates our efforts, we should also do what Jesus did – enter into the womb of Mary and depend on her as her slaves of love. She will surely help us to do what she did so perfectly – offer all from our poverty for the sake of Christ alone, knowing that He looks more at the heart behind the giving rather than the gift itself. He notices all and He will surely reward us with His words of eternal commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy.”(Mt 25:23)

 

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

 

 

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Why we must drink the cup of Jesus today: A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 21, 2018.

Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45

Why we must drink the cup of Jesus today

Have you ever had the thought of quitting on some inspired goal? Maybe you have been trying to practice a particular virtue or overcome a vice? Maybe you have been trying to meet some set spiritual goal or accomplish a project that you sense God has inspired in you. Maybe you have been trying to reach out to a loved one who never seems to reciprocate your love? The desire to quit becomes stronger when the effort just seems too much, the obstacles appear insurmountable, and the results inadequate.

The truth is that if we quit doing something truly good for whatever reason, then it is all about us and has nothing to do with the love that we should have for God. Quitting such activities shows that we never had God as the origin and center of such activities. In short, we were never acting to please God.

The Zebedee brothers approached Jesus in Mk 10:35-45 with this request, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”  The simply wanted to gain instant glory without any reference to living a life that was Christ-centered and pleasing to God. It was all about them securing the highest places in the kingdom.

Jesus responds to them by telling them that they must first drink His cup, “The cup that I drink, you will drink.” They must share in the cup of Jesus, doing what He did, enduring all that He endured, and most importantly, they are to do and endure all these so as to please the Father and not for their own selfish goals. Likewise, the cup of Jesus’s suffering is present in our lives so that we act like Christ in all circumstances and to do so for the greater glory of the Father.

Divine providence places this cup of Christ’s suffering before us in many ways even as we embrace what we truly believe is the will of God for us. It may be persistent failures or poor results in our lives. We may be facing endless obstacles and challenges as we seek to do His will. We may feel put down by others. We may even experience strong temptations or become discouraged by the lack of visible results. Things like these are to guarantee that we are not using our God-given gifts to build our own ego-temples. One way that we can show that we are doing it for God and not for ourselves is to endure all these and refuse to quit doing the true, good and beautiful thing.

How does the cup of Jesus help us to purify our intentions so that the things that we do are not about us but God-centered and God-directed?

Firstly, the cup of suffering is our intimate sharing in the Christ’ suffering and joy. We share in His suffering both interiorly and exteriorly, personally and communally. Didn’t Jesus assure us that “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn into joy.”(Jn 16:20) Didn’t Jesus also assure us that “One’s enemies will be those of his household?”(Mt 10:36) Our interior trials and the insults and persecutions from others, especially loved ones, mysteriously ensure that our activities are not self-centered.

Secondly the cup of Jesus’ suffering is also a source of grace and mercy because it is an encounter with Jesus Christ, “the high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.” In such difficult moments, instead of seeking confidence in ourselves, we must “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” This is how the cup of suffering brings about deep ongoing conversion from self-centered living to Christ-centered living.

Thirdly, the cup of Christ’s suffering helps us to reject worldly values and closely follow the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus spoke thus to the indignant ten, “Those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them…But it shall not be so among you.” They are rather to be conformed to Christ who served all at great personal cost, “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Fourthly, the cup of Christ’s suffering helps us to serve and give like Jesus who served and gave His life. Don’t we tend more to serve and take? We claim to be serving God but do not hesitate to take from others what is our due and even more than our due if possible? We can easily serve for the sake of what we can get from others e.g. remuneration, praise, acceptance, patronage, etc. Like Jesus, we must be ready to serve and to give up our legitimate rights to certain things and rewards from those whom we serve.

Lastly, the cup of suffering nurtures in us selfless compassion for others who are in deep spiritual need. There are many people living today without the true knowledge and love for Jesus, His saving truth, or the teaching of His Church. We can offer to Jesus all the difficulties and pains of our activities for the salvation of souls. Jesus’ suffering was definitely not in vain, “Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt He shall bear.”(Is 53:11) Likewise, our own sufferings as we seek to follow Christ – prayer, service, witness, charity, etc. – are all useful for the salvation of souls if we unite it to the suffering of Christ.

How are we responding to the ongoing scandal on homosexuality in the clergy? Do we see it as a time to quit or to cower as Catholics before a ruthless secular culture or do we look deeper and see a divine invitation to be truly Catholics for the sake of Jesus and not for our selfish ends? Can we perceive Jesus offering us to drink from His cup of suffering as Holy Mother Church goes through a great trial today?

We are indeed sharing in the suffering of Christ as the Catholic Church and faith is being mocked and ridiculed because of the heartless sexual perversity of some of her clergy and the cover up of the hierarchy over the years. Because Jesus is not surprised or shocked by our weakness and sinfulness, we are certain that this is also a time of mercy for our repentance and grace for heroic living. This is also a time to vehemently reject all worldly values like homosexuality that is being presented as something good, true, and beautiful. This is the time to be conformed more closely to Christ and to imitate His own purity. This is not a time to serve and to take but to serve and to give up what is even dear to us like our comfort and approval from others. This is a time to labor for those souls who are trying to quench their hunger and thirst for God in the filth of our secular world.

We must not be deceived: Jesus will reward only what is done for love for Him and inspired by His grace, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” (Mt 5:46) This is why we must embrace and drink His cup to the dregs today if we are going to do and endure all things just like He did and for His Father through Him, and thus gain eternal merit.

Our Eucharistic cup is truly our sacramental participation in Christ’s life and suffering. It is here that Jesus pours His grace and mercy into our hearts so that we can courageously share in His cup of suffering in our daily life despite our weaknesses. But we just cannot receive His grace and then build our own kingdom.

Our Lord has also given us His own Mother to help us do all for Him. It was all about God always for Mary. She did not glory in her works but offered praise to God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She did not quit from her vocation as Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of all the redeemed even if she had to stand at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus die.

With divine grace in our hearts and with Mary as our Mother, we can embrace the cup of Christ’s suffering today and do and endure what Christ did and endured for the glory of the Father. If we still choose to quit, then it is all about us and has nothing to do with God.

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

 

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Why our hearts must be transformed first: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 7, 2018.

Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16

Why our hearts must be transformed first

“Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”

I was asked by a faithful Catholic recently, “Father, don’t you think that it would be great if the law on priestly celibacy was changed and you priests, religious, and bishops were all allowed to get married?” I knew where she was coming from. She was echoing a very common idea that allowing priests to marry will somehow put an end to all the clergy sexual abuse plaguing the Church. I replied to her that I had never really thought about the discipline changing and I have never prayed or desired that it be changed. The thought had never really crossed my mind. I gave this honest response for two reasons:

First, changing the law on priestly celibacy and allowing priests to marry cannot solve the problem of clergy sexual abuse in any way. Aren’t there cases of sexual abuse and deviant sexual behavior even among clergies of Christian denominations that are allowed to marry? Has being married to a spouse prevented some of these clergy people from acting out sexually with people of the same or opposite sex outside their marriages? How then can we ever expect a Catholic priest or a bishop who is unfaithful to his vow of celibacy after many years of priestly formation, who repeatedly abuses young and matured boys and women, to suddenly become chaste and faithful to one woman in the exclusive unbreakable union of Christian marriage? Hello!!! No one overcomes sexual deviations simply by getting married.

Secondly, I do not waste my time praying for a change in this law or any other Church discipline because I am busy praying for something more important – that God change my heart. I strongly believe that if I allow God to change my sinful heart and make it more like His own, there is no law that I cannot keep, even the law on priestly celibacy in these our profligate days. Without a changed heart, there is no divine or Church law that I could ever hope to obey, no matter how the law is changed or diluted.

The entire work of creation and law-giving is an act of divine charity. God created Adam in love and allowed him to experience his loneliness among all the creatures whom he knew and named, “None proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” Out of love, God formed a suitable partner for him and “brought her to the man.” In another act of divine love, God gave expression to the law that has been written into man, “A man would leave father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” This divine law cannot change because, coming from God our Creator, it is stamped and programmed into our very being as male and female. The law was given only after Adam was created and recreated by God to show that, as certain as God’s love for us never changes, so also does His laws written into our nature do not change.  

When the Pharisees tested Jesus about the lawfulness of the divorce allowed by Moses, Jesus responded, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” Moses was helpless in the face of the hardness of their hearts that he allowed divorce. Jesus is the Son of Man, who “came not to abolish the law but to fulfill them.”(Mt 5:17) He fulfills the law because He is the God-Man who alone has power, wisdom, and love to change our hearts and make them like His own so that we too can see the love behind the Father’s law and commandments and obey them out of love for God. Instead of wishing that the immutable divine law on marriage and life be changed, we should be begging Jesus to change our hearts more and more into His own heart.

Our hearts can only be changed by Jesus when we approach Him with a child-like attitude of surrender and giving of ourselves to Him, “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter into it.” We have all become self-conscious and self-reliant adults who are reluctant to offer ourselves entirely to God because we feel that we are not worthy or ready to commit to Him. Instead of seeking to belong completely to Him as we should and begging Him to change our hearts, we futilely long for a change of the law as if that would solve all our problems.   

The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “the one who consecrates,” and we who are being consecrated have one origin. He is the eternally begotten Son, whose food was to “do the will of the One who sent Him.”(Jn 4:34) We are the ones created in time who are rebellious at heart, and at the best, ambiguous regarding our fidelity to God’s laws and commandments. Yet Jesus is not ashamed to call us “brothers.” Why then should we be ashamed to give ourselves to Him completely in faithfulness to our baptismal consecration? Why are we reluctant to allow Him shape our hearts into His own? There is no divine or Church law that we cannot obey when our hearts have been changed into the heart of Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, many people today are clamoring and demanding for change in laws that are basically unchangeable. Many fail to see that the divine love behind our being created and preserved today is also the source of the laws that govern our nature. There is the clamor for the legalization of so-called “same-sex” marriage. There is the push to have divorce recognized. The acceptance and condoning of adultery has made mockery of the sacred bond between husband and wife. The move to normalize homosexual relations is fueled by the utter rejection and disregard for that in-built equality and complementarity between the sexes.

The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate,” reminds us that we live an illusion when we think that these laws can be changed by governments, presidents, senates, courts, or even by the Church. Longing for changes in such divine laws is a waste of time and only leaves us broken, frustrated, distracted, and confused. Even if the Church laws and disciplines can be changed, what is the guarantee that we can obey the new laws while our hearts remain as hardened as ever?

What we need is to become like little children who know and depend on their mothers. We too look to Mary as our Mother to help us give ourselves to Jesus Christ completely just like she did, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” Mary did not have time to beg for the change of any law because in her pure heart she saw the divine love, power and wisdom of God in those laws. This is how she let God make her into what He wanted her to be – the Virgin Mother of God.

This same divine grace and love that transformed Mary completely is offered to us in this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus who assures us that “Only those who do the will of God will enter the kingdom of God.”(Mt 7:21) He comes as usual to change us more into Himself and not to change the law. This divine will never changes but if we give ourselves to Him, sincerely and fervently begging and allowing Him to change our hearts, we will surely be transformed more into His own image and then there would be no divine law that we cannot obey with love.

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

 

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Prophets after Christ’s own heart: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 30, 2018.

Num 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43,45,47-48

 

Prophets after Christ’s own heart

I met a prophet some years ago and it was not a bible preacher or missionary or anything like that. It was a poor man who came looking for work in our community. He told me he chose to quit his only job immediately because he was being pressured by a female co-worker to have intimate relationships with her. She was making his workplace extremely toxic to this family man and there was no way he could get her to cease her unwanted advances towards him. He said that he would rather quit his only job and have his large family suffer the consequences than be well-paid but living with a troubled conscience from being unfaithful to his wife and His commitment to Christ.

What a powerful example he is to each of us of fidelity to God? He reminded me that God constantly raises up and multiplies His prophets, especially in times of widespread sin and troubles in the world. God gives these prophets all they need to hear, live, and speak His word to His people always and everywhere for His sake no matter what it would cost them.

The First Reading is a time of great upheaval and rebellion among the liberated Israelites. They “complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortune.” They craved for the food of slaves that they ate in Egypt to the point that they were disgusted with the manna with which God was feeding them, “Oh that we had meat to eat…There is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” They longed for the food of slaves and even showed their disdain for their liberation.

God responded to all these by raising prophets who would be and act like Moses, “Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the Lord bestowed it on the seventy elders.” Even Eldad and Medad, who were not in the gathering, received the spirit of Moses and began to prophesy in the distant camp. Moses refused to stop them but revealed God’s desire to have us all become like prophets, “Would that all the people of the Lord are prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all.”

This desire of the Father that we all become prophets is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the New Moses and the Eternal Prophet. Jesus Christ is the one who forever hears, lives, and speaks God’s words to us for the sake of the Father even if it cost Him His life, “In ancient times God in various ways to our Fathers through the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son.”(Heb 1:1) Jesus Himself attested, “My teaching is not my own but that of the One who sent me.”(Jn 7:16) He sacrificed His life so that we could live in the truth as God’s beloved children, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.”(Jn 12:32) As in the case of Moses with the Israelites, God has also bestowed on us the same Spirit of Jesus so that we too can be prophets with and like Jesus.

Jesus in today’s Gospel does not allow John to prevent the man who expels demons in Jesus’ name but invites us to become His prophets in His name through our words and actions, “There is no one who does a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” This is an emphatic invitation to us to act and live the life of a prophet first and foremost before we can speak prophetic words to others. We have no business as prophets preaching that which we just refuse to practice.  

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are living in days when the sense of sin seems all but completely lost and upheavals abound even in the Church. What is God doing? He is multiplying His faithful prophets by sending into our hearts the Spirit of His Son. But how ready and willing are we to abandon our comfort-zones and worldly profits and become prophets after the heart of Jesus?

Let us examine how prophetic our Christian life is: First, are we so united with Christ like the branches to the vine and participating in His love and grace so deeply that we receive and speak His words always and live just like He did? Secondly, do we give good examples to others of Christian living first before we give good advice or teaching to them? Thirdly, are we willing to sacrifice anything dear to us so as to avoid giving scandal to others but to bring them to know and love God more? Does this saying of Jesus impact us in any way: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

The Church is reeling from a lingering clergy sexual abuse scandal and hierarchical cover-ups that have reached even to the papacy. Priests, bishops, and cardinals, guilty or complicit in these crimes are being advanced to prominent positions in the Church. In an unprecedented deceit, the scandal is being blamed on clericalism and not homosexuality. Priests and bishops are having a field day boldly rejecting the scriptural and traditional teaching of the Church. At the same time, we are gathering the youth in a synod this week on the topic, “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”  

There is no problem with listening to the youth but what are we going to teach them about discernment when we are dismissive of the objective and unchanging moral norms that should guide authentic discernment in healthy sexuality? Have we first of all listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd regarding healthy sexuality or are we simply going to repeat our warped opinions about homosexuality? Are we going to confirm them in the depraved sexuality that they have learned from the secular culture and which we have sadly began to condone and promote in the Church? Haven’t we contributed to their moral decadence by our own failures and obstinacy? Do we even believe in the call to chastity for all Christians and the exclusive reservation of sexual intercourse to a man and woman in married love? Have we been bold enough to mirror to the youth the courage of Christ who spoke truth to those who crucified Him and even forgave them on the cross? How long are we going to give good advice about things that we do not even believe in or want to practice? How can we be prophets to them when we are not ready to sacrifice anything to help them avoid evil of the culture of death and to lead them to know and love God more? As long as questions like these are not honestly answered, we are nothing close to the Christ-like prophets we are called to be.

One good lesson that can be drawn from this sexual abuse scandal and hierarchical cover-up is that we are all called and equipped by God to be Christ-like prophets today by virtue of holy baptism when we received His indwelling Spirit. Gone are the days when we looked exclusively to the ordained clergy as anointed prophets, unquestioningly accepting everything that they teach. Recent events indicate that many of these clergy have little or no supernatural faith in what Christ teaches in His Church today. With a firm faith in the unchanging teachings of the faith, let us also unite ourselves and adhere to Christ more than ever as St. John invites us to do:

“I write this to you about those who would deceive you: but the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie; just as it has taught you, abide in Him.(1Jn 2:26-27)

These are times of fierce struggle with the forces of darkness that seek to deceive us on the authentic Catholic faith and morals. The Church does not need those who will just follow the crowd sheepishly, mouthing the mantras of the secular world. We do not need gossip mongers and those who choose to keep silent in the face of evils. What we need are prophets from the all the vocations in the Church – laity, religious, priestly and single consecrated – who would heed God’s invitation to be prophets after the heart of His Son, Jesus Christ, and give good examples and speak the truth in our times.

We don’t need to be sinless to be His prophets today; we only need to unite ourselves inseparably to Him so that we strive to share more deeply in His own holiness and participate in that Spirit of His that enables us to reflect the power of His grace and the beauty of His truth to others.  As we share deeply in His Spirit through this Eucharist, what are we ready to sacrifice so that God can make us His prophets after His Son’s heart in these our times of sin and upheavals?

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

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Following Christ’s path to true greatness: A homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 23, 2018.

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

Following Christ’s path to true greatness

While lamenting her ardent desire to be a great saint and her obvious littleness and weakness, St. Therese or Lisieux exclaimed, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires.” She grasped deeply that God instilled in her this desire for greatness and that He alone could fulfill it in her if she but used the means that God would provide. We can deduce the following from this her statement:

First, we all have this desire for greatness in all aspects of our lives because we have been created by a great God who calls us to share deeply in His own excellence. This desire for greatness persists despite all our failures and shortfalls simply because it is from God.

Secondly, there is nothing that we can do, have, experience, or achieve on our own to give us this true and lasting greatness. St. James asserts that we cannot get this greatness by grasping and wicked competition with others. Such grasping and fighting only lead to conflicts within us, in our families and societies, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice…Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.” Such attitudes also renders our prayers and spiritual life dead, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passion.”

Thirdly, God alone makes us great. He invites us and leads us along the path of true greatness by revealing His will to us and by bringing us to attend to the needs of others. To the extent that we cooperate with His grace in fulfilling His holy will for us and attend to the myriad needs of others to the best of our ability, especially the needs of those who have no ability to repay us, we open ourselves to experience the divine presence and action that alone make us truly great.

Fidelity to the Father’s will and responding to our needs was Jesus’ own path to true greatness.  He did not seek to make Himself great by dominating or subduing others by the power of His divinity. He did not “regard equality to God something to be grasped.” He chose to sacrifice Himself in response to our desperate need for a Savior to deliver us from sin, the devil, and death, “For us men for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.”(Creed) He was ready to die for us all though we had no way of paying Him back for His life of service and death on the cross. This fidelity to the Father’s will and self-sacrifice for our sake allowed the Father’s love to take hold of Him and raise Him from the grave and make Him the greatest, “Therefore God raised Him up and gave Him the name above all other names that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and every tongue confess to the glory of the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.”(Phil 2:5-12)

The disciples in today’s Gospel fell into the age-old trap of grasping for greatness, “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Jesus calls them to follow the way of true greatness by serving all people as God wills. In receiving the children, i.e. those who are constantly in need and who have no way of paying them back, they will open themselves to experience the exalting power of divine  love. Hence Jesus’ assurance, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have this desire for greatness that lingers in us despite our past failures, present miseries, or fears about the future. We feel frustrated as we try to attain it by grasping and dominating others. Our false humility can make us think that this desire to be great is sinful. We may even choose to become discouraged, mediocre, and lukewarm, thinking that this spiritual or moral excellence is for others and not for us.

The Little Flower’s words, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires,” assures us that God is making it possible for us to be great by making His grace abundant to us, making His will known to us, and bringing us face to face with the needs of others. There are so much need in our world today – physical, spiritual, moral, psychological – and many who cannot or will not repay us for serving their needs. These occasions of need are all divine opportunities for us to be truly great because they are avenues to open us to the divine love and presence that alone makes us great.

I read last week that the Food and Drug Administration of the United States had given a contract to Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) to procure aborted baby parts and tissue for the sake of research that would make mice with human immune systems. The research grant is specifically for the procurement of fresh human fetal issues and not from miscarriages.

So it is not horrible enough that the babies are slaughtered but we now use their body parts and tissues to create mice with human immune systems. How can any society or culture that condones, encourages, or keeps silent about such crimes against the unborn ever hope to taste true greatness? This is a horrific example of the “disorder and foul practice” that St. James warned us would arise from our unbridled passion and desire for greatness completely disconnected from the will of God and the needs of others.

Where is that collective outrage that this and similar situations should evoke from us? Maybe we are so scared of what people will say if we stood up for the helpless infants and spoke the truth about the inviolable sanctity of every innocent human life. By our silence and inaction, we miss out on a golden opportunity to grow in true greatness.

Our good example and witness to the truth will surely win us the persecution and reviling of others like the just figure in the First Reading, “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us… with revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test… let us condemn him to a shameful death.” They may never repay us appropriately for the good that we do and witness to but we are assured that the divine goodness that makes us truly great will flood our souls as we receive them and serve their needs for truth out of love for Christ.

Let us turn to Mary whom the Angel Gabriel told, “This child to be born of you will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary was not promised greatness and she did not grasp for it too. It is her Son, Jesus Christ, who alone is great. Mary chose to serve God and cooperate with divine grace to meet our needs for a Savior, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” Her fiat opened her to receive the Eternal Word in her womb and become the dwelling place of the Triune God here on earth. Can we think of a greater exaltation of a creature by her Creator? Can we even say that we have even tried to repay her back for the good that she has done for us and for all humanity in every age? Mary becomes an example and help for us to open our hearts to true greatness.  

True greatness will surely allude us as we grasp, fight, and compete with others for it. The Good News is that the God who created us, invites us to greatness, and who alone makes us great comes to us in this Eucharist simply because He just cannot inspire unrealizable desires. We will never lack divine grace to do His will and the opportunities to meet the needs of others. Let us grasp these moments to meet their needs to the best of our ability, whether they repay us or not, and so allow divine love and grace to grasp us and make us truly great.

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

 

 

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