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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Who do we say that Jesus is? A homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 18, 2018.

Is 50:5-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35

Who do we say that Jesus is?

Who do you say that I am?

NBA superstar Stephen Curry had a wonderful time in his brief visit to the Philippines a few weeks ago. Shortly after his departure, it was reported on social media that he had said the following about the Filipinos, “You know why Filipinos are stupid? Because they voted a killing president,” This understandably angered many people, especially his fans, who denounced, mocked and ridiculed him. However, it was soon discovered that this alleged statement was nothing but fake news and that Curry had never said anything like that. In a few hours, a single fake news item had caused him his devoted fans and good reputation and had earned him condemnation and insult even from his fans.

Fake news, the telling of lies about a person(s), or what they say or do, for whatever motive, is not a new thing. There was also fake news about Jesus, His words and actions, during His earthly life that affected how people responded to Him. The Jews denied His divinity, “How can this man say that He came down from heaven?”(Jn 6:42) He was called a “drunkard and glutton.”(Lk 7:34) He was believed to “have a demon” (Jn 8:52) and considered an agent of the devil, “By the prince of demons He casts out demons.”(Mt 9:34) Some called Him a Samaritan and denounced His teaching, “He is teaching disgusting doctrines.” He was depicted as an enemy of the State, “He is perverting our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar.”(Lk 23:2)

It became imperative in the face of all the fake news about Jesus that His followers should really know Jesus. The disciples must know the fake news about Jesus in their time; hence Jesus’ first question in today’s Gospel, “Who do people say that I am?” Assuredly, there was so much fake news about Him: “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” In order to reject this fake news of their time, it is more necessary for the disciples to also know who Jesus Christ is and not just know about Him; hence Jesus’ second question to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Without true knowledge of Jesus Christ we too will succumb to the fake news about Him in our times and end up abandoning Him. Secondly, we can spread this fake news too by our words and actions and lead others astray instead of leading them to Jesus. Hence, we must know Jesus Christ today and not just about Him and grow constantly in this knowledge.

How then can we know Jesus Christ and grow in this necessary knowledge?

First, we must believe in all that God has revealed in the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church. The Father reveals His Son Jesus Christ to us through the Scriptures, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him to me.”(Jn 6:44) Peter can say to Jesus, “You are the Christ” simply because “it is the Father who reveals this to Him.”(Mt 16:17) It is so important to get this point down in our times when we can pick and choose which parts of divine revelation and morals to believe and adhere to and which to reject based on our personal taste and political acceptability. We ignore the fact that believing a single fake news about Jesus and His words and actions is enough to undermine our faith in Him.

This believing in the fullness of divine revelation alone is not enough. Second, we must allow our faith in divine revelation transform us and our actions so that we act on what is believed always and do good works always for the sake of Christ. St. James reminds us that ours is not just a mere intellectual faith but one that is expressed in good works that touches the lives of others, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Knowledge of Christ also comes through our faith inspired good works because our contact with others is always an encounter with Christ who assures us that “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do onto Me.” We can never really know Christ when we ignore the demands of Gospel living or selectively choose when to act and when not to act on what we believe.

Third, we know Christ through our life of prayer that listens to God as much as we speak to God. The psalmist says, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice in supplication.” God hears and listens to our prayers but do we hear and listen to His voice? Are we even aware of God’s desires to draw us closer to Jesus? Aren’t we so fixated on petitioning for our needs that our prayer is nothing close to the loving conversation with God that it should be? Revealing our hearts to Him and opening our hearts to receive His own self-revelation nurtures our intimate knowledge of Jesus.

Lastly, we know Christ only when we are ready to follow, obey, and serve Him even to the point of suffering for Him. Believing in divine revelation, constantly living the demands of the Gospel, and having heart-to-heart prayer moments is not enough to know who Jesus Christ is until we are ready to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.” We are condemned to a mere head knowledge of Jesus Christ when we are reluctant to suffer something and “lose our lives for His sake and that of the gospel.”

The First Reading depicts the suffering servant who remains steadfast in following God and bringing God’s message to the rebellious people despite all the insults and rejections that he experiences. He can do this only because he knows who God is, “The Lord God is my help… God is near who upholds my right… The Lord God is my help.” Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of this suffering servant because He knows His Father so perfectly and was faithful to His mission to lead others to the Father without flinching in the face of suffering and persecution from His enemies.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is today so much fake news about Jesus Christ, His teaching and actions simply because we do not know Jesus Christ as we should know Him and we are not growing in our knowledge of Jesus. This is painfully evident in the clergy sexual abuse scandals rocking the Church today and the hierarchical cover-up and deafening silence. Let us reflect on this briefly.

We are so busy picking and choosing the elements of divine revelation and Church teaching that we want to embrace and live out those that are not politically correct. How else can one explain the widespread and pervasive homosexual activity within the clergy and the advancement of homosexual predators in the Church? Have we really stressed the need to have our faith transform every part of our lives including our sexuality or haven’t we encouraged a certain compartmentalization by which we think that our perverted sexual activity does not have a bearing or consequences in our personal life and ministerial duties? Is our prayer life deep enough to grasp God’s loving desire and persistent invitation for deeper conversion or haven’t we fallen for the “God made me gay” mantra? We are so afraid of the wrath of the secular media that we cannot suffer for the truth and rightly name homosexuality within the clergy as the root cause of this scandal. Instead we cowardly blame it on clericalism and rigidity. Our failure and reluctance to speak and accept the difficult truth is a clear sign that we are far from true knowledge of Jesus, the King of Mercy, and this also explains why we will always be plagued by scandals.

The effect of the fake news about Jesus from within and outside the Church is that many souls are being led away from Jesus. The challenge for us today is to first know Jesus Christ intimately and personally so that we can reject fake news and spread the Good News of His Gospel and His saving grace and mercy. Our true knowledge of Jesus Christ, not just our knowledge about Him, will lead us to experience the power of His grace and mercy to break the bonds of all sins and renew the Church, His beloved but wounded bride.

St. Louis de Montfort rightly wrote that “Jesus is not well known because Mary is not well known.” No one knows Jesus like Mary who believed every single thing that was revealed to her about Jesus Christ and His saving mission. She embraced this word so completely that the eternal Word became flesh in her womb. She was a woman whose faith and good works touched the life of many like St. Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon, Hannah, the servants at the wedding feast of Cana, and off course, the disciples of Jesus. She prayed with perfect disposition to God while she remained attentive to His will as she counsels us to do, “Do whatever He tells you.” She freely chose to serve, obey, and follow Jesus to Calvary when all the disciples abandoned Him. She too, like Jesus and with Jesus, was resolute in fulfilling her God-giving mission without paying any attention to fake news. In our time where this is also fake news about Mary and her role in salvation history, let us know and love Mary more that we too can share in her own journey of faith to that intimate knowledge of Jesus.

Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, shed His blood for every single soul, including those who are being led astray today by all the fake news that abounds because we do not know Jesus as we should. As He infuses His blood into our souls in this Mass, He also asks us today, “Who do you say that I am?” No matter the past, let us begin today to know Him more so that we can reject all fake news, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and lead souls back to Him.

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

 

 

 

 

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The real truth about our defiled hearts: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 2, 2018.

Dt. 4:1-2,6-8; James 1:17-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The real truth about our defiled hearts

I was shocked and disgusted at the airport a few weeks ago when I noticed two men giggling like children as they watched pornographic movies in the middle of a crowded airport lounge. To have the guts to do such a thing in a public place shows the death of decency, shame, fear of God, purity, and respect and concern for the purity of others. I easily recalled and prayed the prayer of Jesus on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Then the news broke recently of two Chicago area priests – Frs. Diego Berrio and Edwin Cortez – engaging in sexual act in a parked car along Ocean Drive, considered Miami Beach’s most famous street and busiest tourist road, in the broad day light on a Labor Day holiday afternoon. How could I repeat the prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” They are Catholic priests for goodness sake, with all their spiritual training, intellectual formation, moral training, and pastoral counselling. Could we also say that they too did not know what they were doing?

They should know what they are doing but they do not grasp the full consequences of their sinful and depraved actions. In this sense, we too never know what we are doing because we can never predict or estimate the temporal and eternal consequences of our sins.

Only Jesus Christ reveals to us the source and full consequence of our sinful thoughts, words, and actions as He did in today’s Gospel, “All these evils come from within and they defile.” This means: All sin finds it source in our hearts and all sins wound and deform the heart no matter what we may think or say about it. The word “defile” is much more than a stain that is easily washed away but it indicates a corruption, a wounding, and a deforming of the heart through sin.

Such a defiled heart will have the following qualities: First, a defiled heart is a blind heart, unable to perceive the good things that God is doing now and promising us in the future. Such a heart will only see evil and gloom everywhere – in themselves, in others and in the world. They cannot see the victory of divine love on the cross, God’s offer of grace at the moment, and the hope that God offers to us for sanctification and eternal life. The impure remain spiritually blind. Hence, the beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Second, a defiled heart is a hardened heart, unable to reach out and receive the good things that God is offering us in the present moment. It cannot receive divine direction leading it to the place of divine blessings. It cannot perceive God’s loving plan for it as it is in bondage to its own judgments, evil passions and goals. Third, a defiled heart is eventually a dead heart, unable to enjoy the good things that God is offering to it at every moment. It is chained to the sensual and the transitory things of life.

Today’s Gospel presents to us the Pharisees and Scribes as good examples of men with defiled hearts. They cannot perceive the presence and action of God in Jesus Christ, they accuse Him of being possessed by a demon, and eventually condemned Him to death because of their envy, “Pilate knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered Him up.”(Mt 27:18) They are so hardened in their ways that Jesus once called them “blind guides,” hypocrites who are like “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”(Mt 23:27) They cannot receive the divine forgiveness and saving grace that Jesus offered them because they prefer to “cling to human traditions” rather than obey God’s commandments. They cannot enjoy the good things that Jesus offered because all they see is evil in others whom they scrutinize and judge according to their own warped sense of the law. By persisting in their defiled hearts, they cannot perceive, receive and enjoy divine blessings being offered to them.

In today’s First Reading, Moses calls the Israelites to obey God’s commandments “without adding or subtracting from it.” This loving obedience is to help them perceive, obtain, and enjoy the freedom and independence that God offers to them in the Promised Land, “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and take possession of the Land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers is giving you.” They are not to be influenced by their pagan neighbors, but their fidelity to God’s commandments is to be a source of witness to the other nations, “Observe them carefully for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’” The first step to true witness to God before others is their obedience to all His commandments and the purity of their hearts.

Reflecting on the current clergy sexual abuse scandals and episcopal cover-ups in the Church, it is clear that we still do not know what we are doing at all today. We fail to grasp the full impact of the most grievous sins of impurity that we have done, condoned, encouraged, and even covered up in the Church. We have dismissed and justified such degrading actions like pornography and homosexual actions as simply consensual acts involving adults that does not hurt anybody. Nothing can be further from the truth because all evil defiles, wounds, and corrupts hearts. The consequence is that the world ends up “evangelizing” the Church as worldly mores become more acceptable, justified and welcomed in the Church.  

How can we perceive the divine love that God has for us when we persistently live with defiled hearts and justify our evil actions? How can we sense the vocation that God has created and gifted us for on this earth when we dismiss His commandments as being too rigid or out of touch with reality? How can the Spirit of love and life lead us to divine blessings when we have given full reign and power over us to our sinful passions? How can we enjoy inner peace, joy, love, faith, hope, self-control and other gifts that God is offering to us when our hearts remain cold and hardened by our willful sins? How can we reject God’s own standard of morality and compromise and adapt to the worldly values of our times and still hope to perceive, receive and enjoy the fullness of blessings that God offers to us?

St. James tells us that “All good giving and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” No matter our holiness or sinfulness, God does not change in offering us “perfect gifts” that perfect and fulfill us. His first gift is His “word of truth” that gives us birth and “is able to save our souls” if only we “are doers of the word and not just hearers who delude ourselves.” We are also called to a “pure and undefiled religion,” in which we must “keep ourselves unstained by the world.”

Jesus Christ alone, the truth incarnate, reveals to us the true dangers of living with defiled hearts. He reveals this to us so that we can turn to Him with radical confidence and let His love and truth purify us from the very depths of our hearts. Like in our Eucharist today, He is always offering us “perfect gifts,” even as He repeats His prayer for us, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Yes, we never know what we are doing but, by His perfect gifts, we too can today begin to live His truth with pure hearts without compromising with worldly values so that we can perceive, receive, and enjoy the amazing things that God is doing and offering to us today.

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

 

 

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The Eucharist and the shocks of life: A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 26, 2018.

Jos 24:1-2,15-17,18; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

 

The Eucharist and the shocks of life

A man asked me some years ago to anoint his dying wife in hospital. After I had anointed her and gave her viaticum, the couple asked me to also witness their renewal of marriage vows. At that moment of grief, sorrow, and pain connected with death, they once again renewed their commitment to God and to each other as husband and wife, in the presence of their little children. The woman died a few days later. I would never forget that experience wherein they taught me that commitments had to be constantly renewed, even in moments of pain, if love was going to last.

How do we react to the shocks and tragedies of life? How do we react to those moments and events that shatter our sense of security and wellbeing? We can choose to see those shocks of life as God’s invitations to us to greater intimacy with Him. They can become for us pathways through which we can know and love God better if only we would renew our commitment to Him at those moments.

The Israelites in today’s First Reading are about to cross into the Promised Land as God’s own people. How did Joshua prepare them for this transition? He asked them to renew their commitment to God and to choose to serve Him again, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” The people renewed their commitment to God by their words but we know that they were not always faithful to this commitment in their actions.

In baptism, we rejected Satan and became children of God by the power of His Spirit dwelling in us. We promised to forsake idols and to worship God alone and to serve Him in others in the Church all the days of our lives. But what happens when the shocks of life come about? We slowly or abruptly take back our commitment to God. We fail to see in those shocking moments a divine invitation to renew our commitment to Him and thus to know Him in ways that we never dreamt of before.

One reason why we fail to continuously renew our commitments to God is that we are not living with the full conviction that God remains ever committed to us, no matter the gravity of our sins or the degree of the pain that we are going through. We can only renew our commitment to God when we are firmly rooted in God’s unfailing commitment to us. This unfailing divine commitment to us is made present in every Eucharist.

The Eucharist is God with us, Jesus, constantly renewing His own commitment to us by His presence, words and actions. He communicates His life to His by His presence, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” His words too are life giving, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” His communicates His life to us by His actions, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

The Eucharist allows us to constantly renew our commitment to Him and thus constantly enter into a more fervent and intense love for Jesus. Like many people today, many of Jesus’ disciples were shocked and scandalized by His teaching on the Eucharist. They failed to see in His teaching on the Eucharist an invitation to renew their commitment to the person of Jesus and thus enter deeper in their sharing in His glory. In the words of Jesus, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” Failing to renew their commitment to Him because of His difficult teaching on the mystery of the Eucharist, they prepared themselves to abandoning Him completely, “As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”

St. Paul teaches us that this undying commitment of Christ to the Church made present in the Eucharist should be mirrored in our relationship with each other, especially in that relationship between husbands and wives, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything out of reverence for Christ… Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her to sanctify her.” Where that personal commitment to Christ is lacking or inconstant, where it is not constantly renewed and made to reflect Jesus’ undying commitment to us in the Eucharist, then there is no reverence for Christ and no selfless love in marriage or in any other vocation in the Church.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, life brings to us moments that shock us to our bones and lead us to question or even doubt God’s love, power and wisdom in our lives. We struggle to understand or make sense of what is happening and what God intends for us. Let the Eucharist at those moments draw us to a deeper experience of God’s undying commitment to us and our own source of grace to renew our own commitment to Him. Continuously renewing our commitment to Jesus in those moments, opens us to experience that freedom of God’s children by which we too can love and act like Jesus Christ.

These are not easy days for Catholics around the world as we come to grips with the shocking clergy sexual abuse and the cover-up of the bishops and cardinals. It is shocking to hear of the sexual abuse of priests and seminarians in the hands of esteemed clergymen in the hierarchy. We are pained to hear of the shocking allegations of wicked and negligent cover-up levelled even against the Holy Father, Pope Francis. We are shocked and pained to see the painful division among the prelates of the Church in these days over this scandal.

What are we to do? We are to renew our commitment to the person of Jesus Christ by our words and actions just like St. Peter did in today’s Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Our renewed commitment will not only bring us to a deeper relationship with Jesus but will also give us the grace to respond to this crisis as Jesus demands. We will refuse to be swayed by the secular values of our times. We will respond with that love that speaks the whole truth without compromise. We will reject that false compassion that labels authentic Gospel living as rigidity. We will be courageous enough to call a spade and spade and condemn the unpardonable tolerance and encouragement of homosexual activity within the clergy. We will be honest enough to repent of our own failures without blaming others. We will accept the painful truth about the crisis without trying to malign those who are courageous enough to speak the truth. All this will happen only if we experience God’s undying commitment to us in the Eucharist and respond with our own constantly renewed commitment to Him.

Every vocation in the Church – marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life – is a call to Christic love, a call that demands ever deeper inner freedom. This freedom grows from our constantly renewed “Yes” to the person of Christ. We can only thrive, grow, and flourish in our vocations when this commitment to the person of Jesus is constantly renewed.

God’s undying commitment is made present to us again in today’s Eucharist. In the words of St. Paul, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not Yes and No, but in Him it was always Yes.”(2Cor 1:19) We will surely grow in intimacy with Christ and do the Christ-like thing in these shocking moments of the Church’s history if we too choose to constantly renew our commitment to Him in our words and actions just like St. Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

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

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The forgotten the purpose of the Eucharist: A homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary time.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 12, 2018.

1 Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51

The forgotten purpose of the Eucharist

I was still basking in the joy of having received my First Holy Communion when my mother brought me to reality about the Eucharist by saying something like this, “Congratulations on your First Holy Communion. Now I want to see a change in you.” I didn’t understand then what she meant but now I do.

The Eucharist demands change from us constantly because it is no ordinary or earthly food. When we eat earthly food, we receive strength to do what we want to do. But when we receive heavenly food, the food that God gives to us and food that we know about only because God chooses to reveal it to us, God strengthens us do what He wants us to do.

The First Reading shows heavenly food in action. The Prophet Elijah is in flight for his life from the murderous queen Jezebel because he had given public witness to God before all the Israelites that led to the slaughter of 450 prophets of Baal. He is afraid, discouraged, and longs for death, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” God gives him heavenly food in the form of “hearth cake and a jug of water.” He does not grasp the power of this mysterious meal but God reveals to him through an angel the importance of this food, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you.” When Elijah ate and drank, he abandoned his earlier plans for death and received strength to do what God wanted him to do at that time, “Strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus speaking about His Eucharist presence as the ultimate heavenly food. Jesus attests that it is God who provides this meal for us, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” It is also the Father and not mere human wisdom that reveals to us the nature and power of the Eucharist, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.” Then, here is the clincher: the Eucharist is not to give us strength to do what we want to do but through the Eucharist, God strengthens us to do what He wants us to do and to do so just like Jesus Christ did i.e. with love, generosity and sacrifice.

Jesus emphasizes the utter uniqueness of the Eucharist among all other heavenly foods by comparing it with the manna that the Israelites ate on their journey to the Promised Land. God gave and revealed this mysterious food to His chosen people. The manna was meant to give them strength to do what God wanted them to do i.e. obey His Commandments, journey faithfully to the Promised Land, and give witness to God before all the nations. The Jewish ancestors “ate the manna in the desert but they died,” because they ate but did not change at all from their willfulness. Knowing what God wanted from them, they still chose to rebel and reject His plans for them.

The Eucharist remains the ultimate heavenly food because it gives eternal life, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Eternal life is attained by doing the will of God with love, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”(Mt 7:21) The Eucharist gives eternal life by giving us divine strength to continuously transition from doing what we want to do to actually seeking to do only what God wants us to do the very same way that Christ Jesus did it.

Hence merely receiving the Eucharist is not enough for eternal life. The Eucharist is not a magical rite such that we are changed simply by our frequent reception of this Blessed Sacrament. We must also come to the Eucharist with a readiness and willingness to change and let go of our self-willed tendencies to embrace the divine will no matter what it may cost us. If this constant change is lacking, if we are not constantly moving from self-will towards the divine will, then we forfeit the eternal life that Christ offers to us even as we partake of the Eucharist.

St. Paul invites the Ephesian community to change too. They are to remove all “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice,” and embrace “kindness to one another, compassion, and mutual forgiveness.” They are to be “imitators of god, as beloved children.” This is a tall order. How can they do this? They can do so by focusing on “Christ who loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” Where did Christ hand Himself over for us? He did so first on the Cross and He renews His self-offering to the Father in every Eucharist that is offered. In every Eucharist, Christ, the Living Bread, comes down to us to transform us into God’s children bathe in the fragrant aroma of divine adoption and enables us to make a pleasing offering of ourselves and our wills to God just like He did.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how easy it is for us today to do only what we want to do without any regard to what God desires for us? How can we hope to experience the transforming power of the Eucharist in our lives when we come to Mass with the intention of receiving divine grace so that we can carry out our own plans and not God’s plans? We easily let others in our deviant cultures dictate to us what to do. Even when we do what God wants of us, we hardly do so with the spirit of love, generosity and sacrifice that we find in Christ. More than more Eucharists, we need better dispositions in our Eucharistic celebrations shown in our openness and readiness to be constantly molded more and more into Christ’s own image.

The present clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is a painful reminder that we have forgotten (or ignored) the purpose of the Eucharist as the ultimate heavenly meal that makes us more like Jesus Christ and strengthens us to act like He did. When the ordained faithful, graced and transformed for the sake of the Eucharist, become satisfied with being merely good or looking good to the public, when our ongoing conversion is ignored and we become reluctant to journey continuously to become more like Jesus Christ and to participate ever deeper in His own attitudes, then our Eucharistic celebrations fail to impact and change us as it has the power to do. Clergy scandals abound when, indelibly configured to Christ, we ordained do not strive to become more like Him and imitate His readiness to do not what He wants but what His Father wants. The Eucharist is to guarantee that we say what Christ said to the Father at the Agony in the garden, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The same applies to all the faithful conformed to Christ at baptism. The Eucharist is meant to deepen our conformity with Christ in heart, mind and soul and to make us act accordingly. If we too are not striving for that which is great, better, and more beautiful by God’s standards, then we too become open to scandalous behavior in our words and actions.

Our Eucharist is no earthly meal and it is not just another heavenly meal! That is why it demands constant change from us. Because the Eucharist is the ultimate heavenly meal in which Jesus comes down from Heaven continuously to offer Himself to us and reveal to us the power and beauty of His Eucharistic presence, we too are strengthened today to change and offer ourselves completely to God the Father and do what He wants us to do in a Christ-like way no matter the cost. This is how we and our actions become a truly fragrant aroma to God even as we journey into eternal life.

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

 

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