The Eucharist: God’s response to our helplessness – A homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

 

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 2, 2020

Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35,37-39; Mt 14:13-21

The Eucharist: God’s response to our helplessness

Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand in Mt 4:13-21 gives us an insight into how He responds to human helplessness, those moments when we feel overwhelmed by our personal and societal circumstances.

Firstly, by His humanity, Jesus indeed freely chose to experience and share in our helplessness. He “withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by Himself” after He heard of the brutal beheading of His beloved precursor, St. John the Baptist. We can only imagine the sorrow in His heart even though He could easily have prevented the capture and murder of St. John. It is the same sorrow that He had at the death of His beloved friend Lazarus in Lk 11:1-44 when He could have come earlier and prevented his death.

In His humanity, He feels the pain of the crowd that sought Him, “following Him on foot from their towns.” Though they had intruded on His planned solitude, “His heart was moved with pity for them and He cured their sick.” In His humanity, He welcomes us in our helplessness and He always looks at us with pity and compassion. Indeed, “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”(Ps 103:14)

Secondly, in His divinity He asks them to come to Him, bringing with them all that makes them feel helpless, “Bring them here to me.” The disciples had earlier sensed their helplessness in the face of the mammoth crowd before them and they wanted Him to deliver them from this helpless situation, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus does not remove the cause of this helplessness.

Jesus responds in His divinity by making a triple invitation to them: Come, Offer, and Receive. He invites them to come to Him with everything, offer all that they had to Him, and then receive all that He offered to them. The disciples responded to this invitation, coming to Him and offering to Him their meagre five loaves and two fish and they received from Him both His instructions and multiplied loaves. The crowds “all ate and were satisfied” to show us that it is not what we have but what Jesus offers to us after our complete surrender to Him that sustains and satisfies us in our helplessness.

God offers the same invitation to the helpless Israelite exiles returning to devastated Jerusalem. God invites them to come back to Him and not just to return their homeland, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water.” They have no excuse not to come to Him and receive all that He is offering to them, “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk.” Their only hope to triumph over their helpless situation is to receive God’s words and gifts, “Come to me heedfully, listen that you may have life.”

St. Paul lists things that are sure to leave us helpless in this life: “Anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword.” Because these things cannot separate us from the love of Christ, we are assured that “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.” We are conquerors in Him alone and not in ourselves as long as we come to Him and receive the pure gift of His love.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Covid-19 has brought a heightened state of helplessness to our life, Church, and world. We already have that helpless feeling that come from our personal struggles and challenges, strained relationships with loved ones, past wounds and failures, etc. Now we also have no control over this virus and how it may impact our future. We are further rendered helpless in the face of the many contradicting information and statistics about this virus.

Sadly, we can respond to this helplessness by distancing ourselves from Jesus and justifying this by claiming that we are not holy or good enough to come to Him. We can also respond by hiding behind the many excuses that we make up for our helplessness like the disciples who said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late.” We can also respond to human helplessness by blaming God, our situations, and other people for our helplessness. Even many Catholic clergy and laity today blame Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass today for the pathetic situation in the Church and in the world? These are inappropriate responses to human helplessness.

God has given us a remedy for our helplessness in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ in our Churches. It is in the Eucharist that we have access to both the humanity and divinity of Christ Jesus and are brought into communion with divinity through His human flesh. This is the same humanity of Christ that is ever compassionate to our miserable situation. This is that same divinity that lovingly invites us to come to Him without excuses, offer all to Him, and receive all that He offers to us.

Coming to Him in the Eucharist, we also come to Him with confidence that we will not be rejected. It is in the Eucharist that Jesus assures us, “All the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.”(Jn 6:37) We also come to Him with the intention of offering and surrendering all to Him and leaving it all in His hands. This will allow Him to transform the things behind our helplessness into something life-giving to us and to the Body of Christ. Then we must open our hearts to receive all and refuse nothing that He offers to us, especially His love, truth, and grace.

We need to heed God’s eucharistic invitation today to come to Him, offer to Him and receive from Him. That is why it is imperative that the faithful have unhindered access to the Eucharist always, especially as the world continues to struggle with the Covid-19 virus. Our helpless situation may not be completely remedied and things may never return to normal as before. But what we receive from coming to our Eucharistic Lord and offering all to Him will sustain and satisfy us.

At the wedding of Cana, Mama Mary saw that familiar helplessness in the faces of the servants when they ran out of wine. She led them to Jesus and instructed them to listen and offer to Him the water-filled jars that Jesus demanded and so receive the abundance of new wine that Jesus was offering.

Mama Mary still looks at us with pity in our various forms of helplessness. Can we let her also lead us to Jesus her Son in the Eucharist and teach us to surrender all to Him and receive what He offers to us? If we let her do so, we will know for certain that it is not what we have but what Jesus offers to us after our surrender to Him that alone sustains and satisfies us.

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

 

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Living the joy of God’s kingdom today: A homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

 

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 26, 2020

1Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

Living the joy of God’s kingdom today.

“Out of joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

I was waiting for my turn at a bank in Boston a few years ago where I had gone to close my personal bank account in preparation for my entry into the Novitiate formation in our Congregation. Some thoughts were running through my mind: “Supposing you do not persevere to become a religious priest. What financial reserves are you going to have to fall back on then? Why don’t you just keep something back for yourself in case of an emergency?” These anxious thoughts were dispelled the very moment that I sensed God reminding me, “I have called you.” I confidently approached the cashier and asked to close my account. When he asked me why I wanted to close my account, I simply replied, “God has called me to do so in preparation for religious life and Catholic priesthood.” I can still remember the look of shock in his face.

One of the most powerful things in Christian living is the joy of being called by God to belong to Him completely and to live for His purpose alone. It is pure gift of God’s love that has nothing to do with personal sanctity of the part of the beneficiary. The Second Vatican Council states thus, “The invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite them and take them into fellowship with Himself.”(Dei Verbum #2). This joyful fellowship with God moves us so powerfully that we do great things for God without even thinking of the cost or consequences.

Jesus describes the kingdom of God as a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and “out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” This is the power of joy in action! It is this joy of finding this pearl that consumes and moves the person to sacrifice all for the sake of fully possessing this treasure to the end.

For us Christians, our treasure is our radical calling to belong to God completely and to live for His purpose alone. This call brings with it a joy that moves us to let go of our sins and sinful attachments, to struggle relentlessly with our selfishness, to give faithful witness and share the Good News with others, to pray, labor, and sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of souls, etc. We willingly endure and sacrifice all things because we know that we cannot outdo the generosity of the God who has called us in love.

St. Paul reminds us also that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” We are filled with joy because the God who “predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son,” has also called and justified us in Holy Baptism and He will glorify us in His glorious kingdom. As long as we have that love of God in our hearts from belonging to Him and we are ready to live for His purpose alone, we have this unquenchable inner joy because we know that He will surely work all things for our good, all things including the disastrous consequences of current evils like Covid-19 and all its attendant evils.

Because “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” (Neh 8:10) we are easily overcome by bitterness, anger, revenge, fear and anxieties when our hearts are devoid of this deep joy that comes from belonging to God and knowing we are destined to glory with Him. This is why only an eternity of regret awaits those who willingly forsake this joyful calling to belong to Him till the very end, “They will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

This joy of belonging to God is a gift we should value greatly, believe, hold on to and mature in. We must never lose it for anything. It is the fuel for our spiritual and moral life. How can we hope to live for God’s purpose faithfully when we do not find any delight in being called to belong to Him in the first place? Without this joy, we will be overwhelmed with the many demands of the Kingdom of God and we will lack both the generosity and energy to persevere to the very end.

Let us consider three ways of holding on to this joy and maturing in it.

First of all, we must beg God for this joy through constant prayer. This joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and it is obtained through fervent prayer. We mature in our relationship with God in and through prayer. Prayer allows God’s Spirit to impress on our hearts this conviction of belonging to Him. Jesus assures us that He will pour His Spirit into our hearts if we pray persistently, “How much more will the Heavenly Father give His Spirit to those who ask Him.”(Lk 11:13)

Secondly, we must refuse to settle for the false and insufficient joys that abound in our world today. The world futilely promises us a joy that comes from getting more, doing more, achieving more, having more, experiencing more, enjoying more, etc. None of these satisfies us because we are made for full communion with God and we cannot hope to have His joy in us as long as we are frenetically pursuing the grossly insufficient joys of this world.

Lastly, we must pursue and possess what is of value to God and not just what we think is good for us. God asked King Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” There are so many good things that Solomon could have asked for himself. But he chose to ask for what he needed to fulfill God’s purpose for him as king of the Israelites, “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” God was so pleased with his response that He gave him the wisdom he desired and all that his heart desired. We too receive the joy that our hearts long for when we go beyond searching only for what we think is good for us without asking how that thing helps us fulfill God’s purpose for us.

Mama Mary was the first person who received this call to belong to God completely for His own purpose. She was called to belong to Him as beloved daughter of the Father, faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit and loving mother of the Son. She made a complete and irrevocable offering of herself to God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” She was so filled with this joy of belonging to God that she “went with haste” to visit Elizabeth and filled her with the Holy Spirit through her words of greeting and her Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This inner joy was her strength even in the dark and painful moments of her lives. Mary, Cause of our joy, remains a great help for us in holding on to this joy of God’s beloved children.

The same Jesus whom we encounter in today’s Eucharist is the one who triumphed over His passion and death through joy in His heart, “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”(Heb 12:2) He also promised us that we will triumph over all things through His joy in us, “My joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”(Jn 15:11)

The joy of Jesus is that of belonging to the Father as only begotten Son. It is the only joy that our hearts are made for and the only joy that sustains us. By the grace of this Eucharist and the help of Mama Mary, may we never lose this joy but hold on to it and to mature in it constantly to the end of our lives because this joy is the most powerful thing in our lives as Christians.

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

 

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Why we must struggle in the spiritual life: A homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 19, 2020.

Wis 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43

Why we must struggle in the spiritual life

“Let them grow together until the harvest.”

We have a profound experience of God’s love in the sacrament of confession. We leave the confessional and walk right into an occasion of temptation and we may even fall into the very same sins that we had just confessed in the sacrament and resolved never to commit again.

We resolve that we are not going to allow the toxic character of someone close to us to spoil our moods or kill our good attitude. We are faithful for some time and then, in a moment of poor vigilance, we give in and allow the unsavory character of another person(s) to influence us negatively.

We are not strangers to scenarios like this. We have them all the time. We may be thinking, “When am I going to get final victory over these sins and weaknesses in my life?” Or we ask, “When am I going to avoid or triumph over the negative influences of evil in the world?” We come so close to becoming discouraged because of this unrelenting struggle.

We can easily relate with the servants in the parable of the weeds and the wheat who cry out to their master when they see the toxic weeds mixed in with the good wheat, “Do you want us to go and uproot the weeds?” We can just sense their desire to get this struggle over with as soon as possible.

But Jesus’ two responses teach us something about our spiritual struggles. He first says, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” Jesus’ desire that this wheat grow is so intense that He would not risk anything that might endanger them. He would not even risk a premature separation of the wheat from the weeds if this will risk the growth of the wheat.

Then He adds, “Let them grow together until the harvest.” Jesus wills that the wheat struggle with the weeds for nourishment and space till the time of the harvest. Jesus’ words show a certain trust that He has that the life in this seed will eventually triumph over all adversities.

In short, Jesus desires that the wheat grow and that they grow, not through complete separation from the toxic weed, not through isolation from all adversities, but through the unceasing struggle with the weeds that the enemy has planted.

Applying this to our own lives, Jesus wills that His life in us too should grow through our struggle with sin within us and evil in the world. Sacred scripture confirms His confidence that His life in us will surely ultimately prevail over all darkness, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(Jn 1:5)

But we must also embrace the struggle involved to the very end because, as the saying goes, “Dead bodies do not struggle; they just float down the river.” We who are alive with the very life of God in us must also struggle that that divine life grow within us and spread out to others.

But Jesus does not just plant His life in us in holy baptism and then let us struggle with sin and evil in the world. On the contrary, He is giving us all that we need to struggle faithfully against sin and all evil till the end of time.

First, He is offering us His gift of the Spirit so that we too pray and live just like He did in fidelity to the Father’s will, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought…The Spirit intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” Our spiritual struggle begins with our unceasing struggle to pray well and to grow in our prayer. The Catechism speaks of prayer as a battle because it is “both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort.”(CCC 2725) It is in prayer that we cultivate that spiritual discernment we need to be vigilant and discern rightly the good seed from God that must be accepted and the poisonous weed from the devil to be rejected.

Secondly, Jesus is offering us the gift of His mercy because He knows that, despite our good resolutions, we will often fail in fidelity, “Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all…But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency.”(Wisdom 12:16,18) The same powerful God who governs all things and permits evils in our lives and in the world also “permits repentance for our sins.” The sacrament of Reconciliation is the greatest expression and avenue for this divine power to bend over and alleviate human misery today.

Thirdly, Jesus is offering us the gift of time. Just as both the weed and the wheat are given time to grow through struggle, Jesus allows us time too to repent of our sins and failings, mature in the goodness that He has planted in us, and communicate this goodness to others in our world today. Time is also a gift of divine mercy that we cannot take for granted.

Fourthly, He is offering us the gift of His own Mother Mary to help us in this struggle. By virtue of the Immaculate Conception, Mama Mary had no internal struggle with sin whatsoever. But as a lily among thorns, she experienced that tension of being the only sinless human person in a fallen world. When Jesus gave her to us at the cross to be our mother too in Jn 19:27, He gave us a spiritual fortress in whom we can find sure refuge from the assaults of the enemy and all the graces and examples that we need for our spiritual struggles.

Ultimately, Jesus Christ gives Himself to us in the Eucharist to strengthen that divine life within us. The Christian life cannot be reduced to struggling against sin within and evils without; it also includes growing in divine grace through our communion with Jesus in the Eucharist. We cannot win our spiritual battles without frequent and fruitful reception of the Eucharist. It is in this sacrament that we too like Jesus can “advance in wisdom and age and grace before God and man.”(Lk 2:52)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because we have this divine life in us today, we, though sinners, must struggle to grow in this life and spread it in our world of evil. Jesus wills this, “Let them grow together until the harvest.” This divinely willed struggle is both a sign of divine life in us as well as a prerequisite for this life to grow in us and spread to others.

We cannot dispense ourselves from this struggle and pretend that we can indulge in a life of sin without disastrous eternal consequences, “The angels will collect out of His kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Only eternal and fruitless regret awaits us if we refuse to embrace the grace-filled and meritorious struggle with sin and evil here on earth.

Our only choice is to humbly embrace this struggle with darkness using all the helps that Jesus offers us – Holy Spirit, prayer, mercy, time, Mama Mary and sacramental graces – and embark on a life of unending struggle for the sake of Him who entered into mortal combat with death and prevailed for our salvation. We will surely have occasional defeats and failures as we live in this world. We must remind ourselves that this is not the time to shine in final victory and triumph over sin and evil. Besides, we have that assurance that Christ’s light in us will ultimately prevail over darkness if we do not abandon the struggle.

But the beautiful and mysterious thing is that we slowly become more and more like Jesus as we struggle with personal sin and social evils for Him and like Him to the very end. And as we become like Jesus, we shall be more constant in radiating divine goodness and slowly become the ones who Jesus lovingly describes as “the righteous ones who will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

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

 

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Why I will remain an “adolescent” priest

 

Why I will remain an “adolescent” priest

It was a weekend in the last Lenten season and the strict lockdown for the Covid-19 virus had just begun. I could not get my mind off a friend of our religious community who was lying at home dying from a second massive stroke in a few months. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do for her. No matter how hard and fervently I prayed for her, I could not get my mind off her. I kept on experiencing the nudge of the Spirit to visit and anoint her but I resisted because of the strict lockdown.

I eventually could not ignore the nudge any more. Having taken the necessary precautions, I drove to her home and anointed her around noon on a Sunday. She passed away before midnight that same day. Her sister who was at her bedside said to me later, “It was as if she was waiting for that anointing because her restless mood changed to a peaceful resignation until she passed away peacefully.”

Why did I go to visit the sick and dying woman in a moment of lockdown when there was a red alert for the Covid-19 virus? Well, I reflect on what happened on the day that I was ordained a Catholic priest. On that day, the Holy Spirit imprinted on my soul the indelible character of Christ, the High Priest, the one who took the greatest risk to become one like us to deliver us from the bondage of sin and death and bring us into the Father’s kingdom as His children. By the consecration by this same Spirit, I too could say the words of St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”(Gal 2:20) Jesus speaks of this same Spirit’ freedom in these words, “The Spirit blows where it wills…So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(Jn 3:8) This same Spirit moves us to forget our own safety and take risks for the eternal good of souls.

It is this same Spirit that nudged me to leave my native country and beautiful family in Nigeria and migrate to the United States. It is this same Spirit that moved me to abandon my lucrative job in the United States and embrace the vocation to the religious life and Catholic priesthood. It is this same Spirit that moved me to be open to become a missionary in the Philippines. It is this same Spirit that moves and sustains us in spreading the faith in aggressively secular cultures of our times. If there is any iota of maturity in my spiritual life at all, I owe it all to the promptings and grace of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

This is why the words of Pope Francis a few days ago about priests who chose to attend to the sacramental needs of the faithful at the height of the Covid-19 virus was both painful and disappointing to me. He had this to say about those priests who tried to administer the sacraments despite the lockdown measures, “This priestly creativity has scored some ‘adolescent’ expressions against the [lockdown] measures of authorities who have an obligation to safeguard people’s health.”

I recall my deceased friend whom I had the privilege to anoint, the one who was patiently waiting for Jesus to walk with her through those dark and temptatious moments before death. This devout Catholic was waiting for one last encounter with Jesus Christ in the sacrament of holy anointing. This is the big picture from the Church’s sacramental system: she was waiting for the same Christ who was relentlessly nudging me to visit her no matter the risk involved.

If she was waiting for Jesus at that moment, what was the most supernaturally relevant thing for me to do for her at that moment? Was I to go and get a permit from the city’s mayor first to allow me visit and anoint her? Was I to visit her just to buy her grocery or do her laundry? What was I ordained for if not to serve as a bridge to reconcile souls with Christ and to prepare them for their own particular judgement? I was ordained to bring Jesus in His sacraments of the Church and that is exactly what I did and I have no regrets or apologies for anybody.

After close to 1800 canons, the Code of Canon Law ends with this often ignored phrase, “The salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”(Canon # 1752) Even in the Covid era, the Church’s supreme law remains the salvation of souls, not the prevention of infectious diseases or the slavish acquiescing to secular government.

Besides, have we forgotten that we are in a secular climate now in which many people are practically atheists and often anti-Catholic? They thus lack that Christian faith that brings a joyful hope in the face of life’s hardships. Consequently, they have an excessive fear of any suffering and death. They have little or no concept of laying down one’s life for another. Many of them cannot see beyond the material and worldly aspects of human existence. Are these the secular leaders who should guide the Church in her pastoral response in moments of pandemics? To suggest we slavishly follow their directives is to gravely grieve the Spirit within us.

I must confess that my first response to such a provocative statement from the Pope was a purely natural one of counter-accusation. If we priests who risked our lives to provide the sacraments for those in need are being called adolescents, then what about the homosexual predator priests who raped young boys and their wicked accomplice bishops who covered for them? What about the members of the hierarchy who covered the detestable crimes of their brother bishops all these years while continuing to promise accountability and transparency to their flock? What about the members of the hierarchy who promised us over two years ago a thorough investigation and report on the laicized Theodore McCarrick but have nothing to show us today? What about the hierarchy in Germany who have defied the papacy and entered into a Synodal path that is proposing the most heretical teachings unabated? I think these clerics rightly deserve to be branded adolescents first before anyone else.

But my ultimate response cannot be purely human because God’s Spirit in us calls us to rise above that and show Christian maturity. The Spirit will not allow us to stoop to throwing invectives, name calling, and accusations because that is an adolescent attitude. Our response must be both charitable and supernatural.

When I look at Christ, His words speak to me at this time, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of His household?”(Mt 10:25) Jesus received many uncalled-for names from the religious authorities of His time and so must we His priest-disciples be ready to receive our names, even if it come from the Pope, our spiritual father, whom we look to for good example, encouragement, and support in our Christian life and ministry.

We Catholics have a great reverence for the Roman Pontiff and we freely adhere to his magisterial teaching with heart and mind. I must attest that this attitude of name calling of priests from Pope Francis is threatening the mutual relationship that should exist between him and the many priests around the world who are striving to live and teach the faith in these times. We have been branded as “rigid” and “intolerant” in the past, and now, “adolescent,” because our ways and priorities differ from his and he finds some of us objectionable. What ever happened to the mercy and compassion that this papacy touts? Don’t we have enough insults from our culture to deal with already? Isn’t the mockery of the devils and the shame of our past failures in the Church enough for us priests to deal with? Must we also be insulted by the person whom we see as the visible head of the Church and whom we pray for at each Eucharist?

At this time, barring any miracle of grace, I have resigned myself to receive unwarranted invectives from Pope Francis. I am not feeling the love at all but, what the heck, only the love of Jesus is indispensable for us. Christ’s love alone can console and strengthen us as we seek to act as matured Christians for His sake. I find my solace in this beatitude, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evils against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”(Mt 5:11-12) I want the reward that come from this beatitude so badly that I choose, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to continue to offer the Pope the love and respect that his sacred office demands no matter if that love and respect is not reciprocated. That is not an adolescent attitude but true Christian maturity and for this, I remain grateful to the Holy Spirit for His inspirations and His bride, the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the grace to respond.

These words of St. Peter also assure me of the Spirit’s presence as we are insulted as Christ’s disciples, “Blessed are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you.”(1Pet 4:14) The Spirit has come to rest on us with power and He is moving us powerfully to bring souls to Jesus and face what comes, even the unwarranted insults of the Pope. We find our blessedness by following His inspirations faithfully no matter what.

By the grace of this Spirit of Jesus, I proudly bear my “adolescent” badge from Pope Francis for Christ’s sake. Christ bore more than that for me. I also beg Jesus to send us many more truly “adolescent” priests who will follow the inspirations of His Spirit for His sake and for salvation of souls today no matter the risks involved.

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

 

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What our trials teach us about discipleship: A homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 21, 2020

Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

What our trials teach us about discipleship

Have we ever paused to reflect on the purpose of the trials that we face as Jesus’ disciples? Has it ever occurred to us that we can learn a lot from our trials as disciples?

The Prophet Jeremiah learns three basic truths by facing the trials that come from being a messenger of God to His people.

First, he learns about his true self and ability from this trial. He sees himself as “the poor,” one who is helpless in the face of the “power of the wicked.” He comes to accept that he is completely incapable to fulfill this mission on his own in the face of all opposition. He sees the need to surrender to God, “For to you (God) I have entrusted my cause.”

Second, he learns about his true friends and enemies, “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’” This moment of trial allows him to differentiate his true friends from his pseudo-friends.

Third, he learned about the true God who never abandons His own people, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He comes to experience the undying fidelity of God to him in his moment of trial and the triumph God will eventually give him over his adversaries, “My persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting unforgettable confusion.”

He learned these truths not by avoiding but by facing the trials that come from being a prophet in those moments when God chose to “test the just and probe the mind and heart.” These three truths – the knowledge of his true self, his true friends and true God – give him power over his fears. Experiencing these truths, he does not succumb to fear but gives praise to God in the midst of all his trials, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for He has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”

Moments of trials are moments of truth! The same thing applies to us as we follow Christ as His disciples and face interior and exterior trials in His name and for His sake. Our times of trials give us the chance to know our true self with our virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, light and darkness, etc. We suspend our usual self-deception to face our true selves. Times of trials also show us who our true friends are, those who will stand with us and help us to be faithful to God and those who will abandon us or even add to our pains at those moments. Trials are also the time that God waits to manifest His true self to us beyond what we ever thought or imagined about Him. These truths, which are basically more experiential than intellectual truths, give us power over our fears. We are easily overcome with fear when we lack these truths.

Jesus first invitation to us in the Gospel is this: “Fear no one.” His second invitation is that we give constant witness to all persons in all times and placed without fear or favor, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Our God speaks to us His children even in the dark and painful moments of our lives, offering us a message of hope and renewal to the world.

But we can fulfill this double commission only when we are fully grounded in these three truths that come from facing trials as Christ’s disciples.

We come to know our true selves and our true value before God; that we are known and loved by God and precious to Him, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” We cannot succumb to fear when we live out of this sense of our true worth before God.

We come to know our true friends and enemies and the divinely ordained limit of their influences in our lives, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” This knowledge allows us to resist unrealistic expectations of friends and exaggerated fears of our enemies.

We come to know the true God, the God who knows us intimately as well as all that we are going through in life, “Even all the hairs on your head are counted.” God knows us very well, more than we know ourselves and, more importantly, He knows the good that we can do in His name with the aid of the abundant grace that He makes present to us as St. Paul affirmed, “If by that one person’s transgressions the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

Divine grace indeed overflows in those moments so that we can face trials in Jesus’ name, learn those truths, and give faithful witness to Him even in the midst of trials. Hence Jesus concluded, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Knowing the true God who knows us completely and the abundance of grace He offers us, we focus more on what God sees as we witness to Him before others and not on what other people think or say about us.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not strangers to trials in our life as Christ’s disciples. Interiorly we have temptations, doubts, fears, inner wounds, sins, sicknesses, worries, lingering weaknesses in character, etc. Exteriorly we face persecutions from others, rejections, temptations from demons, ridicule, insults, threats, etc. These trials can breed fear into our hearts and leave us crippled in our discipleship. The only remedy is knowing our true selves, our true friends and the true God. This three-fold truth alone gives us power over all fears. But how can we gain these truths?

Firstly, let our prayer over our trials be focused more on our relationship with God and learning from Him these truths more than on securing a reprieve from the trials of life. Even as we must pray fervently for our deliverance from the trials of life, we must also remain attentive to what God is revealing to us about ourselves, Himself, and others in and through these trials.

Secondly, we cultivate a spirit of surrender similar to that of Jeremiah who said to God, “For to you I have entrusted my cause.” God teaches and instructs us and we become more docile to His teaching when we begin to surrender to Him and give Him absolute control over all the aspects of our personal life, personality and activities. We cannot learn anything as long as we are holding on to our own preferences and likes.

Lastly, we cultivate the attitude of Mama Mary who “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”(Lk 2:19) This characteristic attitude of Mary allowed her to constantly learn these truths in all the events of her life. She was not a reactionary or activist in her trials but, through these trials, she constantly learned about her mysterious self, her true friends, and the true God who loved her so much to take human flesh in her chaste womb. She really knew her true friends. How else could she have gone in haste to visit Elizabeth but fled immediately to Egypt when King Herod sought to kill her son Jesus?

Our God is speaking to us even in our dark and gloomy world, offering us words and abundant graces to give faithful witness to Him before all persons even as we ourselves are beset with trials within and without. We cannot completely avoid these trials as Jesus assured us, “In this world you will have tribulations.” Our only hope is to know the true God, the one who assures us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33)

The trials we face as disciples of Jesus are neither useless moments nor moments to doubt God’s love, presence, and wisdom in our lives. But if we face them as disciples of Jesus, these trying moments become moments of liberating truth and overflowing graces for our faithful witness to Jesus in word and deed.

With the help of Mama Mary, let us correspond to this graces and constantly grow in these three truths – our true self, our true friends, and our true God – and we will have power, divine power to overcome fears and face trials for the sake of Jesus Christ.

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

 

 

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The Eucharist and our vocation to the blessed life – A homily for the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. June 14, 2020.

Dt 8:2-3,14-16; 1Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

The Eucharist and our vocation to the blessed life

Moses reminded the Jews how they had been blessed by God, “Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert…He fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers…He brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery…He guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its serpents and scorpions.”

They were blessed by God but they did not live the blessed life that God demanded and for which He had set them free from bondage in Egypt. On the contrary, they abandoned God, adopted the idols of their pagan neighbors, and were eventually exiled from their Promised Land because they failed to reflect God’s holiness to their neighboring nations as God intended.

The Solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ reminds us Catholics that we are more blessed than the Jews were blessed because of the hidden presence of the God-man Jesus Christ with us, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. In Him we have with us, under the forms of bread and wine, the same God who liberated His people from bondage, fed them with mysterious manna, gave them water from the rock, and patiently directed them all the way to the Promised Land despite their repeated infidelity. We likewise thus have a greater calling to live a blessed life and no one and nothing dispenses us from striving for this blessed life.

Jesus described this blessed life when He spoke of the Eucharist in these words, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” We can deduce from this statement of Jesus three dimensions of this blessed life that the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist demands from us today.

First of all, the blessed life we have from the Real Presence is a supernatural life, a real and vital participation in the very life of Jesus, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Those of us who partake of this life are lifted way above blindly adopting or conforming to politically acceptable worldly mores or values. On the contrary we live the blessed attitudes of Jesus listed in Mt 5:1-12 and we constantly exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Gal 5:22-23.

Secondly, the blessed life we have from the Real Presence also means a supernatural bond with all others, above and beyond the merely natural bonds we already have with all men and women. We relate with all people because we see them in Christ and Christ in them as Jesus attested, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me.”(Mt 25:40) Because our Eucharistic bread is not just as sign as many erroneously think but a “(real) participation in the very body of Christ,” St. Paul states, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”(1Cor 10:17) Our love for others in this blessed life has Christ as its source, sole motive, and ultimate purpose.

Lastly, the blessed life means that we also live with a deep longing for the full and perfect blessed life of perfect communion with God in heaven. We become and remain heaven-oriented even as we are fully engaged in temporal realities. This other-worldly orientation is only possible because the Eucharist gives us both a foretaste and pledge of that fullness of life with God. We refuse the temptation to be individualistic and journey alone but choose to invite all others to join us in our heavenly pilgrimage.

Our world today is marked by the idols of crass individualism, heartless revenge, and unjustifiable violence in many ways. Violent riots, looting, and destruction of other’s property have been going on for the past few weeks in the United States after the brutal murder of George Floyd, an African American in the streets of Minneapolis. In their individualistic mentality and mindless rage, though the perpetrators of this horrible crime have been arrested, the rioting and looting continues. The arsonists on the streets do not care at all about the owners of all the damaged properties and businesses or those who depend on them for their livelihood. It is obvious that they have no real concern for true justice.

The roots of such individualism and vengeful violence can be traced to the ongoing murder of millions of unborn children in their mothers’ womb. Planned Parenthood, the global abortion giants, have also been found to sell the aborted baby’s parts. Ironically, most of their abortion mills target the low income African-American families. Where is the due global outrage on this infanticide? Doesn’t the life of the unborn matter too? There is an unpardonable silence and even support for this gruesome infanticide from government officials and politicians, many of whom claim to be devout Catholics.

The situation is also bleak within the Church where close to one-third of the Catholic bishops of the United States refused to affirm that abortion was and remains the pre-eminent moral issue facing the Catholic Church today. The unborn babies too have been screaming silently all these years the same words of the murdered George Floyd before his death, “I can’t breathe.” They silently screamed these words as their lives were slowly snuffed out in abortion. Inside and outside the Church, we ignore them and continued to focus on the environment and immigration.

What happened as the Church itself ignored the cries of the most venerable of her children, the infants in the womb? We became a Church that condones and promotes the most debased of violent homosexual acts of pedophile and rape of seminarians by clergy. Young boys and seminarians are raped by Catholic clergy, the violent crimes of sodomy are covered up, the perpetrators are advanced to Cardinals in the Church, and it is all blamed on clericalism.

The fact that the promised Vatican report on Theodore McCarrick scandal is yet to be published after close to two years is proof that the Church has indeed become a den of individualism, revenge and violence. There will be a continuation of the unbridled careerism of the clergy, violence against the conscience, faith, and morals of the faithful, the preying on the young and vulnerable, the plot to silence and obstruct any revelation of such crimes, and the refusal to bring about any form of true justice in the Church.

These are not easy times. It is so easy for us Catholics to become infected with these three idolatrous viruses plaguing the Church and our world today. They are both deadlier than the Covid-19 virus and more difficult to detect and remove. We are so susceptible to these because of all the distressing things in the world today and the culpable silence in the face of evil, theological and moral confusion, and insincerity we are seeing within the Church.

They only remedy is the Eucharist. But it is no longer enough to merely attend the Mass or to spend time in Eucharistic adoration. We must also allow the Lord Jesus Christ to cultivate in us the three dimensions of the blessed life that He alone possesses and offers to us. We first must choose to participate deeply in His blessed life while rejecting any form of compromise with this world’s many depravities. This is the remedy for all forms of individualism because His life orients us towards God’s will and the needs of others.

Let us be clear about this: All lives matter to God and to us because of the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross and made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice for our sanctification now and for our fullness of life with God in heaven. Because all lives matter to us, beginning with the unborn, we also treat others as our brothers and sisters redeemed by that blood we have received in the Eucharist, no matter their race, skin color or age, irrespective of if they are inside or outside the womb.

We just cannot turn our attention away from the most vulnerable among our loved ones, the unborn, and hope that we will not become grossly individualistic, senselessly violent, and wickedly vengeful towards all people. The words of Jesus ring true in this case, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”(Mt 7:2)

Then lastly, let us remember the heavenly orientation of this blessed life from the Real Presence and strive for the fullness of our blessed life in heaven with God in heaven. We refuse to lose hope in this struggle with darkness inside and outside the Church.

This is the blessed life that we have to live because we have been blessed with the greatest gift – the Real Presence of Jesus Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity. We become hopeless slaves here on earth and eternally lost souls when we ignore this vocation to the blessed life.

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

 

 

 

 

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Holding on to the promises of the glorified Christ: A homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

 

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. May 24, 2020.

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

Holding on to the promises of the glorified Christ

I had an interesting phone conversation with my niece in Maryland some months ago during my last visit to Los Angeles from the Philippines. She asked me point blank, “Uncle, when are you going to come and visit us?” I gave her many valid reasons why I could not really visit her during my brief stay in the country. Her unrelenting reply left me speechless, “But uncle it is not fair; you promised to visit us when next you come to the United States. You promised. You promised!”

She was right. I had indeed promised her a long time ago that I would visit her the next time I was in the country. Thanks be to God for providing the means and time for me to eventually fulfill my promise and visit with my niece and her family during that visit. I learned from this experience to be very careful about promising my niece anything from now on. She never forgets and she will surely hold me accountable for all my promises to her.

But I also learned a deeply spiritual lesson. When I reflected on how this little girl held on to her uncle’s promises all these years and how she prevailed on me to fulfill them at the opportune time, I had to ask myself how strongly I held on to God’s promises to me as His beloved son. Do I really believe and hold on to God’s promises to me with conviction till it affects all aspects of my life? Do I let those promises of God shape my self-image, my life of prayer, apostolate, actions, attitudes, relationships, plans, etc.?

The Ascension of Jesus Christ is Jesus fulfilling His promises to His disciples and us, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to your God and my God.”(Jn 20:17) The fact that the glorified Christ did not abandon His human nature after His resurrection but ascended in His glorified humanity gives our human nature a great dignity as God’s children, coheirs with Christ.

The Ascension of Jesus is also a renewal and updating of His promises to us. There are three promises from the Ascension that we must hold on to if we are going to live our lives according to the dignity that Christ has won for us.

First, there is the promise of God’s abiding presence with us always, “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.”(Mt 28:20) Even after Jesus fulfilled His promise to rise from the dead, the disciples still “doubted as they worshiped Him.” Jesus promises them that He would still be with them even when they persisted in doubting Him or His presence with them as the risen Savior.

Second, there is the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of witnessing to Jesus. Though Jesus had enjoined them to “wait for the promise of the Father about whom you have heard me speak,” the disciples still wanted to know the plan of God for their nation, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,6,7-8) The disciples may not know or understand God’s plan for them, their community, or their country but they are given divine power to witness to Christ in all places and in all circumstances.

Third, there is the promise of Christ’s glorious return to judge the living and the dead, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.”(Acts 1:11) Rather than live in fear of His glorious return, we wait in that joyful hope because we know that He died and rose so that “He may bring us to God.” (1Pet 3:18) The disciples are not just to wait for Jesus’ glorious return but give witness to Him by His own power and authority, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Ascension of Jesus into heavenly glory with our humanity also implies that we too will follow Him into His heavenly glory only if we also live according to the dignity that He has won for us as God’s children. We cannot live according to our dignity when we are not holding on to these three promises of the glorified Christ.

We are easily overcome by doubts when we are not holding on to His promise to be with us always. We doubt His abiding love for us because of our past sins and failures. We doubt our ability to face our uncertain futures with His grace. We doubt that He would adequately provide for our needs. We doubt the efficacy of prayer and the sacraments. We doubt our ability to triumph over evil in our lives. We lose our exalted dignity because we do not see the glorified Christ present with us always and sharing in all our dark and painful experiences.

We also have those questions that do not seem to have answers. We have so many things we do not understand and we just cannot accept. Why have we been locked up in quarantine for almost three months over a virus? When are things going to go back to normal again? When will God answer our deepest questions? When can we return to full public liturgical worship? Why is there so much scandalous behavior in the Church? We cannot understand many things but as Jesus told His disciples, though these are mysterious moments, we are empowered by the Spirit at these times, not to live for ourselves, but to bear witness to Him, making Him better known and loved by others.

What happens when we forget that Jesus is returning to judge every single one of us based on how we have made use of all His Spirit’s gifts? We make up our own convenient mission in life and ignore His mission. In the words of the Catechism, “The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.”(CCC 850) We ignore this primary mission and settle for things like protecting the environment or some purely sociological activities that has little or nothing to do with bringing other souls to know and love God more, live according to their dignity, and also long for His glorious return. We thus live for this world only, forfeit that joyful hope of God’s children, and consequently get overcome by fear of death and judgement to come.

The Preface of the Mass for the Ascension of Jesus has this beautiful line about the glorified Christ:

“Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state but that we, His members, might be confident in following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”

This succinctly states the great dignity that Ascended Christ has won for us as God’s children as well as the huge responsibility we have to bear faithful witness to Him before others.

Like Mama Mary, who held on to God’s promises to her and “believed that there would be a fulfillment of all that was spoken to her by the Lord,”(Lk 1:45) we too can only live up to our exalted dignity and fulfill this lofty vocation when we hold on tenaciously to the glorified Christ’s promises to us – to be with us always, to empower us with His Spirit for faithful witness, and to return in glory to judge each and every one of us.

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

 

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Are we really docile to the Holy Spirit?: A homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter 2020

6th Sunday of Easter. May 17, 2020

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

Are we really docile to the Holy Spirit?

The following words from Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s spiritual classic, The Spiritual Combat, merit some deep reflection:

It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our actions under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.

These words lay down the conditions for our actions to merit any supernatural reward. It implies that it is not enough for us to merely perform good acts! We must also be moved by divine grace and perform these acts, without any selfish motive, but for the greater glory of God.

This is a very high calling indeed, one that is utterly impossible for our unaided fallen human nature to even attempt. We need the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, a free participation in that gift of His divine love, and complete docility to the Spirit’s impulses.

Here are three concrete questions to help us ascertain the level of our docility to the Holy Spirit’s inspirations.

Firstly, does our love for God move us to seek what is most pleasing to God at each moment of our lives? By making us God’s beloved and loving children, the Spirit puts in us the very same desire that burned in the heart of Jesus, a desire that He expressed in these words about His Father, “The one who sent me is always with; He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) In the face of all the possible choices at hand at any given time, the Spirit constantly moves us to pursue what is most pleasing to God out of that filial love we have for God as our Father.

When we are not docile to the Spirit, we seek only what is pleasing to us and according to our taste. We then do things out of routine, human respect, self-satisfaction, or custom without that conscious intention of doing them to please the Lord. We settle for mediocrity, or we abandon those good acts when they become difficult or we do not see visible results. Hearts that seek to please others or self at any cost eventually neglect seeking the good pleasure of God and fall into the most depraved of sins.

Secondly, how deep is our desire to know the truth, to live according to that truth, and to proclaim that truth in word and action? The Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” reveals to us who we truly are before God, who God truly is, and the truth of what our relationship with God demands from us. The grace of the Holy Spirit moves us to know, love and act on the revealed truth; the Spirit of God will never let us settle for any of the comfortable lies of our times. We must be willing to let the Spirit guide us deeper into the truth as Jesus promised us, “The Spirit will guide us to all the truth.”(Jn 16:13)

If we ever think that know the truth so well now that we do not have need to know the truth better, then we have ceased being docile to the Holy Spirit. We become deaf to the Spirit’s inspiration when we ignore studying, reading, and meditating on the word of God or we disregard the infallible teachings of the Church and opt for the legion of innovative teachings that abound in our world today. We become obstinate to the Spirit too when we refuse to listen in prayer to what God is speaking in our hearts but focus only on what we want. We are stubborn to the Spirit when we do not take time to examine our consciences every day. We cannot be docile to the Spirit when we settle for picking and choosing only our comfortable truths and rejecting the rest.

Thirdly, how readily do we forget ourselves so as to do and endure things for the greater glory of God? The Holy Spirit gives us a share in that self-emptying of Christ for the Father’s glory so that we too forget ourselves and strive to act for the greater glory of God. When St. Peter exhorts his audience, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” he is pointing to our reception and docility to the Holy Spirit because “we cannot say ‘Jesus is lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”(1Cor 12:3)

When we are not docile to the Holy Spirit, we are so focused on self that it is impossible for us to believe the words of St. Peter, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” Lacking this docility to the Holy Spirit, we give up the inspired good that we are doing in the face of opposition, criticism, rejection, and personal suffering. Sometimes we even return evil for evil.

Speaking about the Holy Spirit Jesus said that “the world cannot accept it, because it (the world) neither sees nor knows it.” The world cannot accept the Spirit and it just cannot accept the Church that is filled with and led by the Spirit. The world looks at the Church and her hierarchical structure and labels the Church misogynist and sexist. The world looks at the Church’s sacraments as empty medieval magical rites. The world hears the Church’s moral teachings and considers it out of date and even bigotry. The world sees only rules and obligations in the Church, rules that we too fail to obey, and they label us hypocrites.

But the world cannot see the Spirit that sanctifies and animates us as God’s children, teaches us saving truths, and moves us to live by this truth and to do so for the greater glory of God. The world cannot see the many “reasons for our hope” as God’s children in His Church even as we face our sinfulness and weaknesses.

Our mission is not to make the Church acceptable to the world as many in the Church’s hierarchy are trying to do today. The spirit of the world, focused on pleasing self, seeking our own glory and self-exaltation, has an orientation diametrically opposed to and irreconcilable with the movement of the Spirit of Jesus.

Our mission is to bear fruit of personal holiness and faithful witness to Jesus before others for the greater glory of God. We are to use His grace and do His works for His glory, no matter what the world may think or say about us. We are to be the “unprofitable servants” who “do all that we are obliged to do,”(Lk 17:10) and leave the rest to God. We must leave the rest to God – our sins, struggles, oppositions, failures, criticisms, etc.

We cannot expect divine rewards when our good actions are prompted by self-love and self-interest. God will only reward us with heavenly merits for our graced actions performed for His own glory. The grace of the Spirit continuously moves us along this path and we will surely receive our heavenly reward if we remain truly docile to the Holy Spirit till the very end of our lives.

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

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How Christ prepares us for our dwelling places: A homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter 2020

5th Sunday of Easter. May 10, 2020.

Acts 6:1-7; 1Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

How Christ prepares us for our dwelling places

Jesus assured us that He has prepared for us numerous eternal dwelling places in His Father’s house, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

He also assures us that He is preparing us to enter into these eternal dwellings, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that were I am you may be also.” Jesus who has prepared a place for us is now preparing us too to enter these already prepared dwellings. It is not an “all are welcome” affair: only those who allow Christ prepare them adequately will enter the eternal dwelling places He has prepared for them.

Jesus prepares us for entrance into our eternal dwellings by giving us two things constantly – divine gifts and numerous opportunities. We are to make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the glory of God and growth of His body, the Church.

The early Church was experiencing a continuous growth in disciples, “The number of disciples continued to grow.” But they had to address the grievances of the Hellenist widows against their Hebrew companions because of the unjust distribution of resources. The Church did not choose just any person(s) to address these issue but those who had obviously received the necessary gifts, “Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” They all used their gifts to respond to the opportunity at hand.

The Church continued to grow and flourish only when those who had been gifted used their particular gift, no matter how insignificant the gift may be, to fulfill the tasks assigned to them at that moment and to do so in such a way that they also made it easier for others to use their own gifts and meet their own assigned tasks. The community bore spiritual fruit as they all used their gifts for their tasks for the sake of the body of the Church, “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large number of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

St. Peter calls the Church to be spiritually alive and fruitful because, in Jesus Christ, we have become “a spiritual house,” a collection of “living stones,” called to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our sacrifices are acceptable to Him only because we have come to share in the gift of His own priesthood through baptism, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” We all have been individually gifted with divine gifts and charisms to make divinely acceptable sacrifices in the opportunities of every place and time for the sake of His body the Church. This is how the Church grows and we too allow Jesus to prepare us for our eternal dwelling places.

The debate on the Catholic priesthood was raging in the Church shortly before the COVID-19 virus appeared and forced everyone to scamper to our homes, communities, and rectories and quarantine ourselves. There were many suggestions to solve the shortage of priestly vocation in the universal Church. Unfortunately many of these suggestions lacked deep biblical, theological, or traditional basis. The popular proffered solutions include the ordination of women as deacons or the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

The implied assumption in this clamor for women ordination and the ordination of married men is that the Church will somehow be stronger if only we had more Catholic priests. That is an illusion because what makes the Church strong and vibrant is not more ordained priests but our greater fidelity to the gifts of our baptismal priesthood. The Church grows and bears spiritual fruit only when every single one of us comes to discover and appreciate the particular gift or charism that Christ has given to us in baptism and make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the building up of the Church, and ultimately, for the greater glory of God.

As we celebrated Mothers’ day last weekend, I spent time reflecting and thanking God for all the mothers in my life whom He had used to bring me to this point in my life. I remember one of them in particular who helped me develop my public speaking skills in my early seminary days. She was obviously gifted and passionate about helping seminarians overcome their fears and speak boldly and clearly from the pulpit. I later on learnt that she was called “Dragon Lady.” She really lived up to that reputation. I am still thanking God I survived her intense one-on-one sessions with me! She was a devout wife, mother, grandmother, and university professor. Despite her deep Catholic faith, vast knowledge, zeal for the priesthood, and speaking skills, she did not have time or reason to clamor for priestly ordination. She knew who she was in the Church and her own gifts. She was focused more on using her particular teaching skills for the sake of the Church’s future priests.

This is an example of what the Church needs now more than ever – Catholic faithful who live their given charisms to the fullest at each moment and help others to do the same. We need married families and homes where the gift of new life is welcomed and accepted and not those in which the life of the unborn is threatened by abortion and artificial contraception. We need parents that are not indifferent but are so on fire with the faith that they passionately raise their children up in the faith by word and example. We need parents who are so about the mission of Christ in His Church that they create the necessary foundations for their children to hear and follow the call to religious life and priesthood in the future. We need parents who will teach their children to love and pray and to be chaste instead of those who unreflectingly cave in to the prevailing materialistic and consumeristic mentality. We need parents who will let the grace of baptism flourish in their children and not be fixated on imposing their own career choices on their children.

We also need the Catholic priests who will realize that they are not ordained for ourselves but to use their own office and unique gifts to help others discover and use their own gifts for the sake of the Church. The Church teaches us: “Through the sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are consecrated to be a holy priesthood…The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed to the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.”(CCC 1546, 1547)

The painful clergy sexual scandals of the past months have taught us the bitter lesson that we need not just more priests, but priests who will allow Christ to deepen in them the grace of their priestly ordination and so overcome all mediocrity and worldliness. We need the priests who will not succumb to public opinion in their preaching but speak the word of God with love, courage, and humility, reminding all of us of the graces and grave responsibility of our baptismal faith. We need the priests who will show our people that it is possible to joyfully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the very sacraments we make present and the helping grace and example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is how the Church will grow and be vibrant in each age and time.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus assured the disciples earlier when they wanted to have privileged places at His right and at His left, “It is not mine to give but it is for those for whom my Father has prepared them.”(Mk 10:40) The Father has prepared these places for us because “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.”(Lk 12:32) Jesus also tells us that these dwelling places are many to remind us that we are to labor to bring others to their heavenly dwellings too. We do try to enter heaven alone but also to help others on their own journey home too.

Jesus has fully prepared these places for us and He will never cease giving us gifts and opportunities to make use of them. If we have been unfaithful in the past in the use of these gifts, we must not panic or get discouraged but prepare ourselves for the next chance because the opportunities and the gifts will never cease as long as we are alive.

In the spirit of Mothers’ day, let us look to Mama Mary who was immensely gifted as the Mother of all the redeemed children of God. She was gifted with the power of intercessory prayer, “They have no wine.” She was gifted with the gift of counsel, “Do whatever He tells you.”(Jn 2:3,5) By using all her gifts to strengthen Jesus’ novice disciples, she too allowed Jesus to prepare her to enter into her own exalted eternal dwelling place as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

As faithful bride of the Holy Spirit who is the giver of all gifts and charisms, Mother Mary can also help us to recognize and appreciate our unique gift from baptism and make use of it for the sake of the Church all the days of our lives. This is how the Church will grow as we let Christ prepare us for the eternal dwellings that He has already prepared for us.

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

 

 

 

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The Good Shepherd’s call to repentance: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2020

4th Sunday of Easter. May 3, 2020.

Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1Pt 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10

The Good Shepherd’s call to repentance

Catholic lay evangelist Stella Davis in her book, Spiritual warfare: Lessons on deliverance from spiritual bondage to freedom in Christ, made the point that in her deliverance ministry, many of the people asking for deliverance from demonic influences usually had one thing in common – they had unconfessed or unrepented sins in their lives. The evil influences ceased the moment that they obeyed her instructions to actually confess these buried and hidden sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation first and began to live lives of ongoing repentance and conversion back to God.

It is not difficult to see why this is the case. Sin does not only rupture our relationship with God. It also consequently prevents us from perceiving and receiving the many signal graces that God offers. Though God continues to invite and move us to repentance, our unrepented sins prevent us from receiving the insight, power, and protection that God is offering us to resist and repel the forces of darkness in our lives. Failing to repent or confess these sins, we lack strength to resist and we find ourselves hopelessly susceptible to further demonic influences.

When St. Peter and the Eleven had proclaimed Christ after Pentecost and explained the presence of the Holy Spirit, the crowd had expectantly asked in response, “What are we to do, my brothers?” The first step was individual repentance if they were ever going to experience the Holy Spirit, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God has promised us all the gift of the Spirit and Christ has paid the price for the Spirit. The very first step for us to have this Spirit is to repent from our past sins and to constantly return to the grace of our baptism.

Jesus describes His mission in these beautiful words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He is our Shepherd, and with Him, “there is nothing that we shall lack.”(Ps 23:1) Though we usually easily focus on what He is asking us to give up for His sake, He has not come to take what is ours but to give us what is His alone to give. We must recognize His voice if we are going to receive what He is offering us, “The sheep follow Him, because they recognize His voice.”

But if we have unrepented sins in our lives, we cannot hear or recognize His voice as He “calls us by name.” Blinded by our unconfessed sins, we cannot sense the love behind His voice as He calls us, we cannot follow Him with that confident trust that He is leading us to “life-giving waters,”(Ps 23:2) and, most importantly, we cannot distinguish His voice from the voice of the “thieves” who come only to “kill, steal and destroy.” This explains why we easily abandon Him and unknowingly open ourselves instead to the devil, the one whom Jesus called “a murderer from the very beginning and who has nothing to do with the truth.”(Jn 8:44)

Despite all our sinfulness and failures in the Church, Christ still calls every single one of us to repentance and conversion through His Church. St. Paul puts it this way, “We are ambassadors of Christ, God making this appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2Cor 5:20-21) The Church remains an instrument in and through which Christ makes present the love of the Father, calls straying humanity to repentance, and makes His necessary graces present through the Church’s sacraments. We do not call others to repentance based on our personal righteousness or sinlessness.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we reflect on the sadness and disconcertedness in the Church when members of the Church’s hierarchy today ignore their grave obligation to exhort us all to conversion but choose rather to dispense us from the demands of constant repentance from our sins. One sad example is Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Germany, who recently called for a complete overhauling of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. He basically rejected the Church’s perennial scriptural teaching of the disordered nature of every homosexual act because, in his words, “This is something that many people no longer want or can understand.”

The arrogance and blindness in such a statement ignores the reality that it is Christ who calls each of us to repentance through the Church. The Church is an instrument and ambassador of the Good Shepherd first and foremost and, like Jesus, we too must say, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.”(Jn 7:16) The Church is not an ambassador of the society and it is definitely not an ambassador of nature or the environment! The message of conversion which the Church bears is Christ’s eternal summons addressed to every single person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender.

But this battle of ongoing conversion cannot be initiated on an ecclesial level but on a personal level. St. Peter explained that the call for repentance is directed to “every single one of you.”

People often ask me when and how I sensed a call to be a Catholic priest and religious. I cannot give an exact moment but I know that I perceived the gift of my priestly and religious vocation as I began to take seriously God’s call to personal repentance. The moment I responded to divine grace to turn away from those places, persons and things that led me to sin, I started sensing that God was calling me to more than a deep personal conversion but to also participate in the salvation of other souls through the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I strongly believe that I would not perceive or receive this gift of priesthood if I had chosen to hold on to my sinful past and pretend that I did not have sins or that it was okay to have them. I also cannot hold on to this gift today if I ever think that I am done with conversion to the Lord.

As many of us are still under lockdown because of this COVID-19 virus, let us use the ample time we have now to examine ourselves on the reasons we try to keep unrepented and unconfessed sins in our lives. Maybe there is trauma involved or deep shame and guilt. We may not even remember them because we have buried them so long ago. Maybe we justified them as something that everybody else is doing. We can take the following steps:

First, let us be courageous in facing these sins and owning them and our responsibility for them. Jesus knows us well with our sins, failures, strengths, good desires, and fears; and yet, He lovingly “calls us by name and leads us out.” He calls us to leave our places of comfort and safety and to follow Him and the first step in response is our sincere repentance for all our sins. Holding on to our sins only keeps us from journeying to a place where Christ wants to bless, heal, and transform us.

Secondly, we invoke the Holy Spirit and beg Him to show us the sins that we cannot see or do not even want to see. The Spirit is the one who convicts us of our sins, “When He (Holy Spirit) comes, He will convince the world of sin.”(Jn 16:8) We also beg Him to show us the root sins in our lives, that is those sinful actions and tendencies that lead to our repeated sins.

Thirdly, bring these sins to the cross and unite it to the body of Christ. St. Peter reminds us that “He (Christ) bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.” He bore all our sins on that immaculate body that He received from His immaculate mother, Mary, so that we do not have to hide them in our being. By surrendering these sins, we can then receive His amazing gifts – “freedom from sin,” “righteousness,” and “healing.”

These three steps will help us prepare for a worthy and fruitful celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation when the opportunity arises. The moment we let the mercy of God wash us clean of these sins and set us free from any bondage, our hearts will be open to perceive and to receive the abundant unfathomable gifts that the Good Shepherd never ceases to offer to us, especially the peace, joy and hope of His Holy Spirit.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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