The power of silence for baptized souls

The power of silence for baptized souls

My first Christmas card in the seminary was such a memorable one that I still have it today. It was a beautiful up-close picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, head bowed, and eyes closed in deep prayerful silence before the mystery of God who had just taken flesh in her chaste womb. I wondered why the seminary community gave me this particular card. One of my religious brothers said to me, “You got that card because you talk too much.” He was probably right. I could surely talk less and reduce my inner chatter. 

Many things happened when Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan river. The heavens were torn open. The Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and the Father exclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” All of heaven and earth seemed to be thrown into joyful ecstasy as Jesus was baptized.

But Jesus remained silent, not saying even a single word. He silently soaked in the Father’s affirming words to Him. He silently embraced that inseparable union with the Father as He later attested, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”(Jn 14:11) He silently let those words of the Father define who He was from all eternity and lead Him to embrace a difficult mission for the glory of the Father and for the salvation of souls.

St. Peter teaches us that, from the moment God “anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and power,” Jesus “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) His silence at His baptism bore fruit in deep inner conviction about who He was and His mission in this world. This silence allowed Him to be constant and generous in His mission in a dark and hurting world.   

Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us that for us to receive the graces that come with our baptism and to be faithful to our baptismal consecration, we also must be people of both interior and exterior silence. This silence is not an option for us if we are going to be faithful to the anointing of our baptism in this age of constant noise and distractions.

Without silence, we will never know the abiding presence of the Triune God within us. Jesus knew that the Father was always with Him even when His beloved disciples would abandon Him, “You will all abandon me, but I am not alone. My Father is with me.”(Jn 16:32) Without silent communion with God within, receiving His love and sharing our lives with Him, we can easily feel alone, rejected, and abandoned by God when sin, darkness, and pain enter into our lives.  

Without silence, we will never know that God loves us for who we are to Him and not so much by what we do and accomplish for Him. The Father was pleased with Christ at His baptism, long before He even accomplished anything spectacular to the human eyes. He had not preached a single sermon or healed the sick or raised the dead. The Father was pleased with Him primarily because of who He is – the Father’s beloved Son. 

We tend to think that we are loved by God primarily because of the good that we do for Him. That is an illusion. We are loved primarily because of who we are in Christ Jesus – sons and daughters of God, “If I give away all I have, and I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”(1Cor 13:3) When we do not accept this truth, we will futilely try to prove ourselves as good persons. We will eventually get discouraged with our poor performance or lack of visible results and give up all together.

Without silence, we will never know our true selves i.e. who we are before God. Without inner silence we cannot see ourselves and our lives the way that the Father sees us because we just cannot hear Him affirming us in similar words, “You too are my beloved son/daughter and I am pleased with you.” He accepts us irrespective of our situation in life because He sees us in His Son from the moment of baptism. Despites the insults and rejections that Jesus faced, He knew His true identity because He received it in silence from the Father.  

Without silence, we will lack that inner conviction about our mission in life. We will judge our mission in life by our external conditions, public opinions, and passing feelings. We will easily give up and become overwhelmed in the face of challenges and oppositions. It is in silence that we receive that “love of Christ that impels us.”(2Cor 5:14)

Without silence, we will not know our true needs and the gifts that God has given to us for the sake of His mission. We cannot differentiate our legitimate needs from our endless wants when we are not accustomed to being silent with God within. We then have exaggerated needs and a poor sense of God’s gifts to us. This explains the dissatisfaction we experience even in our consumeristic times.

Without silence, we will not have a pure motive for what we do. We may start off seeking to do the will of God but end up seeking ourselves our own selfish goals. Silence allows us to ascertain the true motives for what we do and realign it with the will of God. The silent Jesus never lost the focus of doing and enduring all things just to please the Father.

Without silence, we will not experience the saving power of God in our lives. We are God’s beloved children and He wants to act in our lives to save us. He does the most amazing things when we give Him permission to do so by our silent time in His presence. Remember how He raised Jesus His Son from the sleep of death. He too wants to do something similar in our daily lives if only we can remain silent and trusting in His presence.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a very noisy and confused world today. We hear so many scary stories of a stronger variant of the Covid-19 virus, indefinite lockdowns, vaccines that some say contain micro-chips, mandatory vaccines, etc. We also hear of many things that may irritate us like election fraud and senseless violent riots. Many of these things are beyond our control yet we passively let them to dominate our thinking and feeling. We let them to add to our inner chatter about what we must have, must do, must see, etc.

We must begin to sift through all these and weed out the cankerous things in our lives that do not allow us to make that interior journey to deeper union with the God within us. All this noise does is to distract us from soaking in the love that God has for us as His children. We thus begin to waver in our identity as children of God and our sense of mission in this life.

Our God speaks and does amazing things in the heart of truly interior souls, souls who refuse to live on the exterior level alone. These are souls who refuse to be passive receptors of all the mixed and confused messages of our world. These souls are attentive to the affirming words of the ever-present God within. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,

The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence.” (Apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, #66)

In Mary our Mother we see how silence in the face of God’s mysterious love leads to inner conviction and strength to stand with Jesus as He hung dying on the cross. She too was faithful to the very end, constant and generous in her mission. She can help us do the same by sharing with us the serenity of her Immaculate Heart.

Our God is alive and is present in us from the moment of baptism. He again comes in silence in our Eucharistic celebration. Let us receive Him and linger in silence with Him so that we too soak in His love and grace and hear His affirming and convicting words to us, “You too are my beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Glory to Jesus!!! honor to Mary!!!

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Let the light of Christ draw us to Him: A homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, 2021

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. January 3, 2021.

Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Let the light of Christ draw us to Him

The main message of the Epiphany is this: when God manifests Himself, He also draws all to Himself.

The Prophet Isaiah depicts what happens when God manifests Himself in Jerusalem, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” The result is that all people are drawn to Jerusalem, the Israelites in diaspora as well as people from distant lands bearing precious gifts, “For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.”

These lines from the popular song, We three kings describe the role of the little lights:“O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright; West-ward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.”

God manifests Himself to us constantly in different ways, always making use of things, persons and events that we can understand. These things serve as little lights that draw us and bring us to Him, the only perfect light. This is why we must be attentive to recognize and follow the little lights by which God manifests Himself to us. We must follow these lights to the very end no matter the cost.  

God used the light that comes from the scriptures, prophets and law to draw King Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Himself. They knew where the Messiah was to be born, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet.” But they remained in their place, refusing to be drawn to Him. They were never transformed but got worse as Herod would later go on to slaughter innocent babies in his blind rage. Lastly, they remained without joy or peace, “King Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

God also used the light of the star to draw the magi to Him. They understood what the star meant and they were ready to take on a journey to the new born king no matter the cost or the dangers involved in such a quest. They risked all just to have some moments of worship before the new born King, “We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.” They were joyful, “They rejoiced when they saw the star.” And they were also transformed, becoming sensitive to God’s inner promptings, “They departed for their country by another way.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the solemnity of Epiphany reminds us that we are made for communion with God, to be united with Him and to worship Him. Because He has promised us that He would draw us to Himself when He is lifted up, (Cf. Jn 12:32) He never ceases to draw us to Himself in different ways using ordinary things that we can perceive and understand. It may be a desire to be better than what we are now, or seeing someone’s good example, or a word from the scriptures, or an experience of His love in the sacraments, or a moment of intimacy in prayer, or an attraction to the Blessed Virgin Mary or one of the saints. These are the little lights God uses to beckon us to Him.

But for us to recognize and respond to our own little epiphanies wherein God manifests Himself to us, we must have some basic dispositions.

Firstly, we must be ready to abandon our familiar idols and false gods. Those are the things that, though they may not be sinful in themselves, we believe that we just cannot do without them in this life. They are the things we live for and strive to attain more of in life. They are the things that we depend upon and run to for consolation. The magi left behind their own idols to come and search for the living God while Herod held on to the comfort of his palace. Our continued attachment to idols and our dependence on them blinds us to these divine manifestations in our lives.

Secondly, we must be ready to surrender to Him all that we are and have. We are control freaks who like to have things under our control. So, we surrender something to Him today and then take it back soon after. We are very much different from the magi who brought their gifts all the way from their place, refusing to give them to petty King Herod, offered them only to the infant King lying in a manger, and left their gifts there! Our irrevocable and complete surrender of all to God allows us to recognize and respond to His self-manifestations.

Thirdly, we must be open and ready to be transformed by God. Our union with God cannot leave us as we are. God truly loves us as we are but He will never leave us as we are. We cannot wait to be good enough to approach Him because we will never be good enough. The pagan magi were open to be transformed by Him. They showed their transformation by returning home by another way and by their full obedience to God’s inspiration and not king Herod’s wicked and dubious counsels.

Fourthly, we must be ready to accept others as equals in Christ. In the words of St. Paul, “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body; and copartners in the promise in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.” We all have this equal dignity in Christ because in Him we are all being drawn to the Father. Like St. Paul, “we continue our pursuit towards the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 3:12) We cannot be looking down on others with an air of superiority and still recognize divine epiphanies in our lives.

Let us pause and search our hearts today. In Jesus Christ, God has made Himself available to us for the sake of unceasing worship and union. What still prevents us from drawing closer to Him to Him? Look at Him lifted up on the Cross and let His promise ring deep in our hearts today, “I will never reject any one who comes to me.”(Jn 6:37)

The Eucharist is the supreme manifestation of God on earth today, God continuously present and drawing us to Himself, even in the darkest moments of our lives. He wants to transform us and fill us with His own joy. Are we going to let go of our idols, bring ourselves and our gifts to Him, allow Him to transform us, and treat each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord? Or are we going to make excuses for not coming to Him or act like king Herod and ask others to search for Him on our behalf instead?

If we still refuse to draw near to Him after all His invitations, we will not be transformed by Him and we will not have any deep authentic joy. He will also permit us to experience moments of painful inner crisis to bring us to Him in humility if we fail to respond to His gentler promptings and invitations. This may explain the many fearful and troubled hearts of many in our times when many ignore this divine summons.   

A truly transforming and joyful union awaits us if only we allow ourselves to be drawn by many little lights to Jesus Christ, the Perfect Light, who never ceases to manifest Himself to us.

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

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Why marriage and family must be passionately promoted and defended – A homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family. December 27, 2020.

Gen 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Lk 2:22-40

Why marriage and family must be passionately promoted and defended

A little Filipino girl approached me on the street begging for food some years ago. I handed her a can of soda drink I had with me. I was surprised when she did not open the can but ran across the street to her mother and her little brother who were also begging on the street. The mother opened the can, drank from it, and then gave it in turns to each of her children to drink from the same can. They shared the little can of drink amongst themselves.

It was a touching reminder for me about what family was all about. It is not about having much or all that we need. That little girl could have hidden and drunk it all alone but she brought that little can of drink to share with her mother and sibling. She reminded me that family is where we freely receive and share our love and life for the mutual support of all the members.

In the Holy Family, Mary and St. Joseph also shared intimately in the very life, mission, and suffering of Christ. Jesus did not miserly keep His redemptive mission to Himself but shared it with His parents. Simeon prophesied the suffering that Christ would endure, “This child is a sign that would be contradicted.” He also prophesied that Mary would intimately share in Christ’s own suffering, “And you yourself a sword will pierce.” The members of the Holy Family freely and willingly shared in each other’s joys and pains.

Simeon added that this mutual sharing in each other’s suffering will bring blessing to many others, “So that they thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Our hearts would be transparent to the light of Christ because Mary and St. Joseph freely shared in the joys and pains of Jesus’ life and mission.

This sharing blossomed into Mary supporting Jesus all throughout His life, helping Him to fulfill the will of God for Him, even up until that painful moment of His death on the cross and burial. This mutual sharing and support led to growth in the members of the Holy Family. Mary advanced in faith and love by “pondering all these things in her heart,” while the child Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of the Lord was open Him.”

When families become places where love and life are freely received and shared in such a way that the members grow in fidelity to what God plans for them, God blesses the family members. He also blesses others outside the family through the sharing and supporting family.

The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon longed for that day. God fulfilled this promise to him through a family that showed mutual sharing and support and also obeyed God’s own plan for marriage. The same Spirit that brought him to the temple, “He came in the Spirit to the temple,” is the same Spirit that inspired Mary and St. Joseph to obey the laws of God concerning the firstborn sons, “They took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.” Simeon is blessed and his wish is fulfilled through the faithful married love of Mary and St. Joseph and their fidelity to God’s plan for marriage in their time.

When we grasp this point that God wills to bless this world through married love and family life that is lived in accordance with His plan for marriage in every age, then we should be deeply concerned about the violent unrelenting attack against marriage and family life that we are seeing today. These many forms of attack prevent families from being places of mutual reception and sharing of life and places of mutual support in Christian growth.

We have the continuously growing trend of cohabitation where men and women live together without the sacrament of marriage. They do not only reject God’s laws for marriage but refuse to allow God raise their union to the sacramental level capable of sanctifying them and their children. We also have the growing acceptance and normalizing of “same-sex” marriage which remains completely closed to the gift of new life and is a violation of the natural complementarity of the sexes in authentic marriage.

We also have a contraceptive mentality that basically separates the unitive and procreative purpose of marital intercourse and refuses to cooperate with God’s plan for bringing into this world new life. Then there is the monstrous act of abortion that destroys the life of the infant in the womb and gravely scars the mother. Lastly, there is the no fault divorce that separates parents without due reason and has disastrous effects on the children.

My dear brother and sisters in Christ, as members of the family of God in Jesus Christ who believe that the greatest good in our lives, Jesus Christ, came to us through a family, we cannot be silent or indifferent in the face of all these attacks against the family and married life. There are so many “Simeons” in our day searching for a life-changing encounter with Christ and this encounter comes through the family, either the family of the domestic Church or the family of the Church itself.

Let us begin to defend and promote family and married life by being grateful for our own families. There is no perfect family. Our families are places of both joys and pains, laughter and tears, but a place where God calls and gifts us to mature in our Christian journey.

We must also be fully engaged in our families. This means that we are ready to bring our faith and love to the family in a spirit of sharing what we have received from the Lord. We should also support families with our prayers, good example, and witness of joyful fidelity.

Lastly, we should be ready and willing to speak the whole truth about God’s unchanging plan for marriage and family life. We should be deeply saddened to hear members of the Church’s hierarchy even hint on the possibility of having legal recognition of “same-sex” unions at a time when marriage is at an all-time low. Shouldn’t we priests and bishops be bolder than ever in promoting and defending marriage? Have we forgotten that only holy and vibrant families produce good and holy vocations? We shoot ourselves in the foot in terms of priestly vocations when we cowardly refuse to consistently promote and defend marriage in our words and actions.

God is a family of persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The law of marriage and family is written into our nature. That is why God desires to bless each and every one of us in and through the family. That is why we must do all we can now for the sake of unity and growth in families around the world.  

The Eucharist we celebrate makes present the cross of Christ and the blood of the Lamb that alone gathers us into the family of God. He offers us grace to live in family, to grow and mature there, to give witness to marriage, and to defend and promote it in the face of these attacks.

But we must not just receive grace from Him; like Mary and by His grace, we must also share in His mission to strengthen others in their Christian journey and bring them all into God’s family. This is how we become the true family of God and God will bless us in our families and bless numerous other searching “Simeons” through our families.

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

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How can we rejoice always? A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2020.

3rd Sunday of Advent, 2020.

Is 61:1-2, 10-11; 1Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

How can we rejoice always?

On Gaudete Sunday we heard the exuberant exhortation of St. Paul, “Rejoice always.” How can we rejoice always? Is it possible to rejoice always? How can we rejoice always when we sometimes feel low, unloved, broken, and helpless? How can we rejoice always when things seem out of control in our lives and in our world?

But if the word of God says, “Rejoice always,” then it is possible to rejoice always. God only commands what He makes it possible for us to do by His grace.

St. Paul also tells the us three ways to be disposed for this unending joy.

First, we must “pray without ceasing.” Our unceasing prayer maintains our relationship with God even if our conditions do not improve. Our persistent and persevering prayer shows our good will towards God as well as our readiness to receive from Him a joy that is deeper than the ephemeral joys of our earthly conditions. Our joy will be erratic and shallow when we pray only because we need God to help us solve problems or to change our conditions. We ought to pray always because we are in relationship with Him and we want to mature in that relationship through the thick and thin of our lives. 

Second, we strive to do God’s will always out of gratitude to Him, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” No matter the condition of our live, we can surely be grateful to God for something and we express this gratitude by seeking to do His will in all things. Jesus assures us that this fidelity to His will is what makes us intimate with Him, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mt 12:50)

Third, we must always practice spiritual discernment, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” We must constantly ask: where is this thought, desire, feeling coming from and where is it leading me to: towards God or away from Him? Such attitude of discernment allows us to retain what is good, true, and beautiful while we reject every form of evil. We forfeit any hope for deep and lasting joy when we open our hearts and believe and accept all the falsehood, ugliness, and evil in our world, sometimes coming from those shepherds and theologians in the Church who should teach and defend the Catholic faith.

These three steps will lead us to recognize and experience the faithfulness of the God who calls us to rejoice always, “The one who calls you is faithful and He will also accomplish it.” We can only rejoice always when we sense the faithfulness of God in our daily life.

In Jesus Christ, this faithful God who calls us to unceasing joy and who makes this joy possible is with us always. For us to rejoice always, we must know Him, believe what He has done for us, and wait with hope for what He alone can bring to us – the joy of full communion with God.

St. John the Baptist’s words to the Jews could easily apply to us Christians today, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” It echoes the words of the Prologue, “He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him.”(Jn 1:10) How could we ever hope for deep and lasting joy when we do not recognize the presence of Christ with us?

The Baptist knew Jesus well. Knowing Christ, he knows his true identity in Christ, “I am not the Christ…I am not the Prophet…I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” Knowing Christ, he also knows his mission in Christ, “I baptize with water.” He knows that Christ alone brings the Spirit of joy to this world, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” He has inner joy from knowing Jesus Christ, and his identity and mission in Christ, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for Him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been complete.”(Jn 3:29-30).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God calls us to rejoice always even in our troubled world. We do not have to wait until we are without personal struggles, or in control of our lives or in a less chaotic world. That may never happen! Our faithful God who calls us to unceasing joy makes such joy possible even in our era of Covid-19. He is present with us but, like John the Baptist, we must know Him too so that we begin to see our true selves, our mission and our destiny in Him. This is our only hope for unceasing joy.

Truly God has given to us Catholics all that we need to rejoice always. He has given us Himself ever present in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is our ever-faithful God present with us always, repeating those words of His complete self-oblation for us every moment during the holy sacrifice of the Mass despite all our infidelities to Him, “This is my body…This is my blood.” He is constantly revealing Himself to us if we would approach Him in humble faith, ready to know Him and His will. Through the Mass, we can celebrate what He has achieved for us on the cross of Calvary and make it present and efficacious now. We can also learn to wait in hope for the fullness of joy that He brings.

Our faithful God has also given us His own Mother Mary to be our mother too and to help us dispose ourselves to experience the joy of our faithful Lord. Mama Mary is the one who did not seek for joy in her condition or accomplishment but in God alone as she attested in her Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She also helps us to seek for our joy in the faithfulness of God to us even in the darkest moments.

Mary’s grateful heart also helps us to see the reasons for gratitude to God all around us so that we too can echo her words, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” She helps us to lift our heart to God in prayer as she did at the wedding feast of Cana, “They have no wine.” We need to hear her motherly voice prompting to do the will of God always too, “Do whatever He tells you.” We need to learn from her to discern what is from God and what is not as she discerned closely the Angel Gabriel’s words of praise before she consented, “She pondered in her heart what sought of greeting this may be.”(Lk 1:29)

With the amazing grace of the Eucharist with us always and the ever-present help of Mary, Cause of our joy, we too can experience the faithfulness of God and rejoice now, always, and forever.

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

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Keep alive our passion for holiness this Advent: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent. December 6, 2020

Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

Keep alive our passion for holiness this Advent

“Do you want to become a saint?” That was the very first line I saw in a vocation promotion pamphlet of my religious congregation many years ago. My response then was a passionate, enthusiastic, and fervent “Yes” that led me to join the congregation a short while later. I was definitely spurred on then by the heroic examples of holiness by my favorite saints.  

Do I still want to be saint today? Yes, I still desire to be saint but I honestly admit that the passion and the fervor seem to have faded somewhat. Maybe we too have at one point in our lives had a passionate desire for holiness but now find our passion for holiness fading fast.

What kills our passion and enthusiasm for holiness? It may be our personal struggles, repeated sins and failures, scandalous behavior of those whom we looked up to in the Christian life, difficulties of life, the pain and suffering of the Christian life, greater self-knowledge that shows us that we are far from being as holy as we thought we were, etc.

These reasons show that we are losing our passion for holiness because we think that holiness is something that we do or achieve by our effort. We think that we become holy if we say the right prayers, follow a particular rule or code of conduct, belong to particular group, overcome a sinful habit, etc. As long as our focus is on ourselves and our performance, then we will surely lose our passion for holiness and be overcome by discouragement.

On the contrary, Christian holiness, that fullness of divine life and perfection of charity, is attained by simply disposing ourselves to receive and experience the holiness of God that He is offering us in His Son, Jesus Christ, through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. The focus is on God as we allow His actual graces to dispose us to receive His sanctifying grace that makes us holy. St. Ignatius of Loyola describes the need for such disposition in these words:

“There are very few who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely into His hands, and let themselves be formed by His grace…Many people who, we see, now scarcely live as Christians, do not understand that they could become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by the grace of God, if they did not ruin His plans by resisting the work which He wants to do.”

 John the Baptist was a “messenger sent ahead of Christ, to prepare His way.” Though he “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” and all went out to him, “and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sin,” the Baptist’s mission was not to make them holy but to dispose them for the holiness that Christ alone brings. His baptism and their confessing their sins could not take away sins but only served to remind them of their sinfulness and their need for a savior and His own holiness.

John the Baptist knew that that there was nothing that he could do on his own to bestow holiness on them. Everything that he said and did – his preaching, baptism, dressing, food – was to remind them of the urgency of the Messiah’s return and their need to be properly disposed to receive His own holiness. That is why he finally attested after all he had done and said, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus Christ is the truly Holy One, the One who bears in Himself the Holy Spirit and imparts to us this same Spirit of holiness from above. We only have to dispose ourselves to receive this holiness that Christ longs to work and achieve in us in and through the circumstances and events of our lives.

The following are some dispositions that we must have to experience the holiness of Christ?

First, we must have complete trust in God always because God desires our holiness in all that He does and permits in our lives, “This is the will of God for you: your sanctification.”(1Thes 3:4) Because God desires our holiness more than we do, He will surely make us holy in His own way if we remain properly disposed. This is why we must trust in His merciful love, divine grace, and unceasing plan for our sanctification. His mysterious plan for our ongoing sanctification and salvation is present and effective today even as we face the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Secondly, we continue to make effort to be open and docile to His grace no matter the lack of visible results because God is patient with us, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day…He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Our effort at ongoing repentance and giving ourselves to God is a sign of our goodwill towards Him. We too must be patient with ourselves and with others as we make effort for holiness.  

Thirdly, we persevere till the end because our wicked world is passing away. While we strive to “conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion,” we also wait for a “new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” A time will come when holiness will prevail over evil and godlessness. God will make His holiness triumph in us and in the world in His own time if we maintain our proper disposition.  

No matter how far we have fallen from His grace, our desire for holiness remains in us always because God has loved that desire into us. We can only hunger and thirst for more of what we have already received and experienced. Our desire for holiness is like a homing device by which God calls us back to Him after we have accepted the truth that there is nothing that we can do on our own to make us holy or to bestow this holiness on others.

This is why our vocation as members of the Church is to be constantly disposed for holiness ourselves and to help others to develop the same disposition. This is how we are to build up the body of Christ and “hasten the coming of the day of the Lord.”

Some recent episodes in the Church call us to really examine our fidelity to this mission to spread this right disposition for holiness. Are we disposing ourselves for holiness when we hear more of scandals and cover up in the Church than we hear of humble acceptance of errors and sincere ongoing repentance from sin? How can we be disposed for holiness when we are so busy pretending we are sinless and immaculate? Are we disposing others for holiness when members of the hierarchy now campaign for civil status for same-sex couples?

Are we disposing others for holiness when we hand out the Eucharist like free food samples in the mall by giving Holy Communion to people in adulterous relationships and radical and avowed pro-abortion politicians? Shouldn’t we rather dispose them for the fruitful reception of holiness from the sacraments by helping them to form their consciences well according to the truths of the faith, and then confess their sins with true sorrow and firm purpose of amendment? Are we disposing ourselves and others for holiness when we shut our churches and cancel Masses and sacraments faster than the strip clubs and bars in the face of pandemics? Shouldn’t we all be striving to approach the sanctifying sacraments as if that Eucharist or Confession were the very last of our lives?

My dear brothers, we must not lose our passion, enthusiasm, and fervor for our holiness and the holiness of others for any reason. It is a precious gift from God. But we must not be focused on ourselves or our efforts at holiness. We are to simply dispose ourselves properly by being attentive to what God is doing to make us holy in and through the circumstances and events of our lives.

If we are not always disposed to receive the holiness of Christ, nothing on this earth will ever satisfy us as Jesus stated in this beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied.”(Mt 5:6) Our undying passion for holiness is the condition to receive the divine blessings that alone satisfy us. 

Jesus Christ, “who alone is the holy one,” comes with His sanctifying grace in this Eucharist to make us holy. He only asks us to be disposed to receive His holiness like Mama Mary did and to help others be properly disposed too. If He finds us properly disposed and our passion for His holiness vibrant and alive, He will make us truly holy and then we will be truly satisfied.

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

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Cultivating our desire for Christ in Advent: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent. November 29, 2020.

Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Cultivating our desire for Christ in Advent

I once informed my mother that I would be coming home from college at a particular date. Being the crazy college student that I was then, I changed my mind and returned home a day later without informing her of the change. I never thought it was a big deal until I learned later that she had taken time off from work on the day I was expected to return just to prepare my favorite meal for me. She also did not sleep that night as she kept waiting and listening for me to arrive at the house. I really felt bad about my behavior and I learned to communicate my plans better.  

But her sleepless vigil for my return and her preparing my favorite meal taught me that waiting or watching for someone always was not something that was done automatically. Before we can wait for someone without becoming weary, we must have a deep love for the person always. Secondly, we must be ready to do and to endure things that would please the person. When these two conditions are met, we have an intense desire for that person and this is what makes us watch and wait for the person always. We just cannot wait for someone endlessly if we do not have this intense desire for that person.

Prophet Isaiah begs God to intervene because, even after returning to their homeland from exile, the Israelites were still being unfaithful to God. They cloaked their infidelity by their rituals and religious formality. We easily sense the prophet’s desire for God’s intervention, “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” This desire is also accompanied by a prayer for them all to live a life that is pleasing to God, “Would that you would meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.” His desire for God’s intervention is rooted in this readiness to live a life pleasing to God.

The season of Advent calls us to watch and wait always for the glorious return of Christ in obedience to Jesus’ words to us, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” But because our watchfulness for Him cannot be automatic, Jesus also gives us all work to do for Him so as to please Him and thus grow in our desire for Him, “He places His servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.” To the extent that we work for His pleasure, our desire for Him will be intense enough to endure the long wait for His return.

But what is this work that Jesus has given us all to do for His pleasure alone by which we also nurture our desire for Him? There are three interrelated things that He asks from us.

The first work is to be faithful to the duties and obligations of our state of life. Whether we are married, single, priests, religious etc., we embrace these as a sign of our love for Jesus and so as to please Him. We do not break our commitments to others and we do not shirk our duties and obligations. By the grace of God, we strive constantly to become the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, priests and religious that God calls us to be. Just think of all the unbearable pain, wasted time and resources, and spiritually broken lives in the Church because of the infidelity of a few of the clergy to their commitments to priestly celibacy.

The second work is that we become holy like Christ as we fulfill the duties of our state in life. Every vocation in the Church is call to deeper participation in the Christ’s holiness. We embrace this call to holiness through our vocations not trusting in our effort and resources but based on the promise that God who has called us to both our earthly and heavenly vocation will “keep us firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor 1:8)

The third work is that we strive to help others to grow in holiness too. In the words of the Catechism, “The two sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.” (CCC#1534) This role of Christian vocation in the salvation of others explains why no serious and honest disciple of Jesus, who genuinely cares for the salvation of souls, can ever propose or support “same-sex” marriage.

Our world may scoff at these works that please Christ because they think that it is impossible. They will point to the many scandals in the Church and the failures of both lay and ordained in living up to these standards. This is because they have no faith or hope in the glorious return of Christ. They neither know Him nor do they see any need to watch and wait for Him. We must not be deterred by all these because, as we wait for Him, we are certain that He will give us all that we need to do what is pleasing to Him till He returns, “We are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our watching and waiting for Him is itself a source of graces for us too.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are getting wearied of the long wait for the Lord Jesus’ return or if we are weighed down by our own sinfulness and burdens, let us be consoled by this fact: “God is faithful, and by Him we were called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” We are not the ones calling ourselves to heaven; our ever-faithful Father is the one inviting us and He will give us all that we need for full and perfect communion with Christ His Son in heaven.

But heaven too is not automatic. God will only give us what we love and desire the most. He will give us only what we are willing to labor and sacrifice for. He will give us that thing that has given us greatest pleasure here on earth. We cannot hope to enter into heavenly union with His Son Jesus Christ when we do not desire Him above all things and we are not ready to please Him in all things.  

Our Eucharistic Lord gives us all that we need to really love Him above all things and in all things. He moves our wills to seek to please Him alone in all things. He does all this so that we desire Him enough to wait for Him always until the end of time or end of our lives here on earth.  

Let us beg Mama Mary to help us to begin cultivating our desire for Christ today no matter what the past has been. God gave His only Son to Mary because no creature ever desired the Son of God like His immaculate mother Mary. No single person loved Jesus more, was more ready to please Him at any cost, desired Him more intensely, and waited and watched for Him more than Mary.

Indeed, Mary’s waiting for her son was not automatic! This is why St. Augustine said, “The world was unworthy to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father. He gave it to Mary so that the world could receive Him through her.” This mother who ceaselessly watched for her Son and who welcomed Him with love beyond all telling is also our mother.  There is thus no one who can better help us to cultivate that desire for Jesus that makes us watch for His return till our very last breath.

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

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Letting Christ reign through our experiences: A homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, 2020

Solemnity of Christ the King. November 22, 2020.

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

Letting Christ reign through our experiences

There were pictures circulating recently on social media showing the Governor of California, Garvin Newsom, partying with a large group of people packed into in an enclosed space in a prestigious restaurant without any of them wearing the mandatory face masks. This is clearly a gross violation of his own strict prohibition against such public gatherings. This is the same governor who enforces draconian policies with huge fines for violators, all in the name of checking the spread of Covid-19 virus. This is the same governor who would not allow more than a handful at church on Sunday and who even prohibited singing and chanting in church services.

He is clearly another example of typical worldly rulers. They wantonly violate their own laws and rules. They live above the means of those whom they govern. They are completely disconnected from the experiences of their subjects. They are totally detached from the burdens and cares of their own people. While they live in luxury and party heavily, they do not care about what the common people are experiencing because of their policies and decisions.

Sadly, because of our many negative experiences, we Christians can easily project this dismal attitude of our world leaders into Jesus Christ. We easily claim Christ as our king but we can see Him as a strict and inconsiderate lawgiver who imposes laws and commandments at whim. We can see Him as one who cannot wait to punish us for our sins or failings. We can often perceive Him as completely separated from us, up there in heaven, or at the most, hiding in our tabernacles in church, completely detached from us and uncaring about our everyday life experiences.

This is why when Pontus Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, He replied by vehemently dissociating Himself from any idea of a worldly king, “My kingdom is not of this world.”(Jn 18:36) He is singularly unique and transcendent over all earthly kings firstly because of who He is – the eternal Son of God, truly the second person of the Blessed Trinity. 

He is also a unique king because of what He has done for us out of His love. He freely chose to unite Himself inseparably with His us by taking on our human nature so that He could share in all of our human experiences, and by so doing, communicate His own life and love to us. Christ the king is never aloof or disconnected from us as the Second Vatican Council affirmed:

For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (Gaudium et Spes, 22)

There is thus no human experience that is foreign to Jesus, except sin itself. There is also no human experience that He cannot use to communicate to us a deeper share in His own life and love. By bearing in Himself what is traditionally called the “common nature assumed,” Jesus Christ does not only share in our experiences but also communicates to us through those experiences “the first-fruits of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:23) This Spirit makes it possible for us to live and love like Christ Jesus Himself and fulfill His command to “love one another as He has loved us.”(Jn 13:34)

One of the most painful, dreaded, and mysterious human experience is death, our death and the death of our loved ones. But even Christ has experienced this death already in its most painful, shameful, and unjust form of the Crucifixion and has brought us His own life through such a death, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” If Jesus Christ can give us life through sharing in our own experience of death, there is no single human experience, no matter how painful and shameful, that He cannot share in and also use as a means to communicate to us His own way of loving and living.    

Jesus has united Himself with every single person in a mysterious way because, being a divine person, His human nature embraces all humanity and all human experiences. This is why He can rightly say to us, “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” He shares in all our experiences – hunger, thirst, alienation, sickness, nakedness, etc. – and uses them all as channels of His love and life. The righteous are those who live with Christ as King and thus share in His love by letting Him into their experiences. The reprobates are those who succumb to selfishness because they refuse to let Christ be their king through their experiences.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not have control over many of our live events and experiences. We may have personal persistent struggles with sin and addictions. Our health may deteriorate and our finances may dwindle. Loved ones may betray us. Church leaders may betray our trust in their scandalous behavior and teaching. Our civil leaders may be incompetent, uncaring, and insensitive to our needs.

But these experiences and those of others, painful and mysterious as they may be, do not mean that we have been abandoned by Christ the King. They also should not and cannot separate us from Jesus in any way because, by the ongoing Incarnation, we are so united with Him that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”(Rom 8:39)

Let us remember that we have a King, Jesus Christ, who is unlike any worldly ruler. He is never aloof or detached from us because He retains our human nature even in heavenly glory. Beginning with the Eucharist where He makes His humanity perpetually present to us, He is always drawing nearer and nearer to us in and through those experiences so that we too can live and love God and neighbors like He did no matter what we are experiencing. He who wept with Mary and Martha is the same one who renewed their faith in Him by raising Lazarus from the dead. In all that we experience, we too can love, serve, forgive, pray, endure, obey, etc. just like He did if we allow Him reign in us.   

All He asks of us is that we allow Him to reign in us through all our experiences. We can do this by being rooted in His loving presence in and through all our experiences. We cannot recognize His presence in other persons and life’s events when we do not recognize His loving presence with us first. We are then to share with Him all these experiences and beg Him to let us sense His presence in us through them all. We remain united in Him and never think of Him as just being “up there” in heaven or “over there” in the tabernacles of our churches, completely disconnected from us.

Lastly, let us remain open to His grace and love that He is offering us in those experiences so that we too live and love God and neighbor by our actions until we hear Christ the King say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

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

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How to become God’s useful servant – A homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 15, 2020.

Prv 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thes 5:1-6; Mt 23:14-30

How to become God’s useful servant

The servants in the Parable of the talents were all graciously gifted by their master, “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.” But the last one began as a gifted and commissioned servant but ended as a worthless and discarded servant. Here are some steps that led him down that path to becoming useless to his master.  

Firstly, he received the master’s possession without a sense of appreciation for its value. The talent was a huge amount of money, sometimes estimated to about 15 years’ wages of a laborer at that time. Such an amount should have evoked gratitude and generosity on the part of the servant in appreciation of such a huge endowment. But he took it all for granted.  

Secondly, he never believed in the goodness of the master towards him. He had avery negative view of the master despite the master’s graciousness towards him. He failed to realize the great trust that the master had in his ability to make much out of one talent, “He gave them talents according to their ability.” He also did not see anything good in his master and actually blamed him for his laziness and inaction, “I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.”   

Thirdly, he succumbed to baseless fear. His said, “Out of fear, I went off and buried your talent in the ground.” Fear of what? Fear of whom? Fear of the one who graciously endowed you with such a huge amount of money? His imagination surely got the better of him.

Fourthly, he made silly excuses for burying his master’s money instead of trading with it. The master pointed out the unreasonableness of his excuse. If he was really afraid of the “demanding” and “greedy” master as he had indicated, he should have just secured the money by placing it in the bank and letting it yield interest, “Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?”

Fifthly, he wasted time. He was idle all the time that the master was away and his companions were busy trading with their own talents and making profit. Lastly, he stopped making effort. The only thing he did was to dig a hole and bury his master’s money.

How would someone so gifted with so much take such steps and become a useless servant? We find the answer in the words of the master to him, “You wicked, lazy servant!” Wickedness and zealous love cannot coexist in a soul as Jesus once warned us, “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.” (Mt 24:13) Wickedness had entered and spread into the nooks and crannies of his heart and had killed any love that he should have had for the master or the master’s interests.

Before wickedness kills love, it first destroys any gratitude towards God for His gifts. Wickedness then gives us a warped image of God based on our evil deeds. It also allows our fears to dominate us and prevents us from taking responsibility for our actions while we blame others, even God Himself. This eventually leads to that laziness that wastes precious time and fails to express love in action.   

The worthy wife described in Proverbs 31 shows us what happens when love prevails over wickedness. Once she receives the love of her husband, “she brings him good, not evil, all the days of her life.” She also “works with loving hands” and she is praised by all because “she fears the Lord.” Her reverential fear of the Lord moves her to labor in love for her family and the needy without making excuses, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.” She rightly earns her praise from God and humanity.    

The recently released Vatican report on the now laicized Theodore McCarrick shows us how the Church, institutionally and in her members, particularly the hierarchy, is fast becoming a worthless servant before God. It is painful and shameful to read of then archbishop McCarrick sharing his bed with seminarians and other prelates seeing nothing wrong with that but having the guts to still recommend him to be installed as Cardinal-archbishop in Washington DC.

Make no mistake about this: wickedness is fast spreading unabated in the Church and consequently, love is dying in our hearts. We no longer value and appreciate the gift and dignity of the ministerial priesthood that Christ bequeathed to His Church. The report does not lay a single blame on any living cleric but took great pain to blame previous pontiffs and discredit the whistleblower who exposed the scandals. There is clearly a lack of sincere and sustained effort in the spiritual and moral life of many of us in the ministerial priesthood. There are so many grave abuses of the sacred office and trust of the faithful that wickedness reigns rampant.

How wouldn’t wickedness spread when there is clearly a fear of everything and anything except the appropriate reverential fear of God? Those charged with safeguarding and handing on the Catholic faith and morals stood by idle as evil ravaged the Body of Christ and they promoted and celebrated themselves. Souls were defiled in unnatural sex, consciences were violated, priestly vocations were ruined and scarred, many young men are initiated into homosexual predatory activities, the faithful were gravely scandalized and alienated from the Church, while thousands of dollars are changing hands as “gifts” from one ecclesiastical prelate to another.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so easy for every one of us to slide into becoming useless servants too despite our being gifted by God. We can become faithful servants only by reclaiming our identity as children of the kingdom of light, “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness.” As children of the kingdom of light, we are to share in the attitude of Jesus towards all forms of evil by virtue of the gifts that we receive from God. Because His Father never ceased communicating His gifts to Him, Jesus used all that He had received to labor relentlessly to advance the glory of the Father in the face of human evil, “My Father is at work until now, and so I am at work.”(Jn 5:17)

Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are not just called to belong to God in His kingdom of life. We are also called to become willing instruments of His light in our dark and hurting world. This means that we too must echo Mary’s unconditional fiat so that we allow God to use us and all that we have and all that we are. This is how we are to labor for the glory of the Father with all that God has given to us till Christ returns in glory.

We have seen the steps to becoming worthless servants despite our immense gifts from God. We have seen how easy it is for us too to slide into uselessness and make it impossible for God to use us as His instruments of spreading His kingdom. We have seen how this slide to uselessness is sadly taking place right before us in the Church.

Let us now reclaim our identity as children of light and begin to choose the exact opposite of these steps to uselessness. This way we avoid the slide to uselessness but begin the climb to usefulness before God by embracing our vocation to resist wickedness in all its forms and dispel darkness by the grace of that Christ offers us. That is the reason we are gifted by God in the first place.

The Eucharist is God’s greatest gift to us because, in addition to the Real Presence, it contains all the other gifts as found in Christ. Jesus chooses to communicate graces to us through His sacred humanity. He is laboring for us even now in our infidelities. Are we laboring for Him too with His grace? Or are we busy thinking of silly excuses not to do so?

It is not for us to return God’s gifts to Him without maturing in fidelity to Him through our use of those gifts. God can keep His gifts safe without us. He does not need us to safeguard His gifts for Him but to use them all generously till our last breath for His glory. This is how we eventually become gifted, eternally affirmed and accepted worthy servants of God and not gifted, but worthless servants discarded by God at the end of time. 

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

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Having the heart of the wise virgins: A homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 8, 2020.

Wis 6:12-16; 1 Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13

Having the heart of the wise virgins

“Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

St. Paul describes the virgin in the New Testament era in these words:

“The unmarried man is busy with the Lord’s affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord. The virgin – indeed, any unmarried woman – is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit.”(1Cor 7:32, 34)

In addition to belonging to the Lord, the virgin is focused on one thing alone – to do all that is possible to please the Lord with all that he or she possesses. The more the virgins act to please the Lord, the more that desire to please Him alone inflames them and motivates all their actions. By this virginal heart, the virgins are constantly searching for more opportunities and better ways to please the Lord.  

The five foolish virgins in the parable of the ten virgins went out to meet the bridegroom with lamps only without flasks of oil simply because they had lost the desire to please the bridegroom always with all that they had, beginning with the lamps that they had in hand. They forgot that the lamp was not just for their own journey; but it was to please the bridegroom by welcoming him at any time that he would arrive. They would not have neglected the flasks of oil if that desire to please the bridegroom all the time was alive and strong in them.

On the other hand, the five wise virgins brought flasks of oil with their lamp because they had this desire to please the Lord still burning bright in their hearts, “The wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.” This desire to please the Lord is what made the wise virgins vigilant and prepared to welcome the bridegroom at any time or condition that he may arrive

They wise virgins were vigilant for the arrival of the bridegroom. They were also vigilant against those who would take away what belongs to the bridegroom alone. They would not even risk giving some oil to their foolish companions who failed to bring oil with their lamps. When the foolish asked for some oil, the wise replied, “No, for there may not be enough for us and you.” The lamp and oil flasks of the wise virgins were for no one else but the bridegroom and they would not let anyone take it from them for any reason.  

The wise virgins were also fully prepared by their readiness to please the bridegroom with their fully oiled lamps on his return. They would not leave him stranded with his wedding entourage, no matter the time of night that he returned. They never lost that sense that the oil and lamps were given to them in the first place to give pleasure to the bridegroom by welcoming him.   

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all called to be virgins in the sense that we are called to have Jesus Christ as the sole bridegroom of our souls and the one that we strive to please all the time with all that we have. No matter our state in life, married or not, we are all called to have the virgin’s heart towards Jesus Christ by doing what is pleasing to Him at all times and striving to do so more in the future. Without this disposition of a virginal heart, there is no way that we will be vigilant and prepared for His glorious return.

There is nothing more pleasing to Jesus than fulfilling the will of the Father. Jesus Himself attested, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”(Jn 4:34) This is what He longed for the most. The more we do His Father’s will by the power of His grace, the more we become more like Him, more intimate with Him, and the more that He recognizes us as His Father’s beloved children, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mt 12:50) If we strive to do His will all the time, we would be intimately known by Him, and He would not say to us what the bridegroom said to the foolish virgins, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The Church is the virgin bride of Christ and so too should her children be. The Church is always the waiting and vigilant virgin, eagerly awaiting the glorious return of her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. She and her children must be vigilant, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This vigilance also means being on the watch against the many false messiahs who would deprive us of our divine blessings like saving truth, freedom, grace, purity of heart, inner joy, etc. We must flee those who would corrupt our faith, diminish our hope, and quench our love for God, no matter if these people are found inside or outside the Church.

However, vigilance alone is not enough. The Church must also be prepared always for His return by doing His will with all that He has given to her. Moreover, she must do His will for the sake of pleasing Him alone. Jesus Christ, the bridegroom, promises to be with His Church all the time, “I will be with you always until the end of time.”(Mt 28:20) Because He wants us to have a virginal heart like His, He will surely give us all the graces that we need now to do His will now in preparation for His glorious return.  

We must open our hearts now to His merciful love and graces with a view to pleasing Him by doing His will. We must not be like the foolish virgins who learned too late that there are some things that cannot be obtained at the last moment of our lives. The futilely asked then, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out…Lord, Lord, open the door for us.”  

God the Father decreed from all eternity that the Son would be born of a virgin. His Father repeated this promise after the Fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. The Holy Spirit prepared a particular virgin to be the Mother of the Son. The Son freely chose to be born of a virgin, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s heart was vigilant and well prepared through the Immaculate Conception to receive Him at the Annunciation and to please Him always, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” She would seek to please Him always, even if all that she could do was to keep Him company as He drew His last breath on the cross. She is our Virgin-Mother who would help to form this virginal heart in us too if only we let her do so.

Jesus Himself comes to us in this Eucharist to form His virginal heart in us. He will come at the end of time to seek a virgin’s heart towards Him in each of us. This is the only heart that He knows intimately and will identify with in His glory – a heart that strives to please Him despite the failures of the past, the struggles of the present, or the challenges of the future. But if He finds such a heart lacking in us for whatever reason, we will hear those terrible regrettable words addressed to us also, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

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

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Growing in holiness through Christ-likeness: A homily for the Solemnity of All Saints, 2020

Solemnity of All Saints 2020. November 1, 2020.

Rev 7:2-4,9-14; 1Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12.

Growing in holiness through Christ likeness

It is not unusual to hear statements such as this whenever the issue of clergy sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church comes up: “The Catholic Church is the safest place now for children because we are far ahead of any other church or institution in the prevention, reporting, and dealing with issues related to the abuse of children. No other institution has instituted such stringent policies regarding sexual abuse like the Catholic Church.”

These words may be true but they also indicate that we Catholics are now assessing our performance by comparing ourselves with other churches and institutions. The Catholic Church is the one bride of Christ and He remains forever her invisible Head, source, and model of holiness. Sadly, she has stopped looking to Jesus Christ as her ultimate model in the way of holiness and has settled for comparing herself with other churches and secular institutions.

The Evangelist St. John teaches us three facts about Christian holiness:

Firstly, God, through Jesus Christ, is the source of our holiness. In his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, St. John heard the “great multitude” of saints crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” If our salvation is from God through the Lamb, then our ongoing sanctification is also from God through the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Without our living communion with Christ Jesus, no sanctification is possible i.e., we cannot grow beyond sin and His Spirit cannot transform us slowly into His own image.     

We do not have any holiness on our own apart from our partaking in the holiness of Jesus Christ. This holiness is lovingly offered to us by our heavenly Father as His beloved children, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” Like the saints in glory, we too embrace this holiness by accepting the love that the Father offers us in and through Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the world is clueless about this divine holiness and our participating in it by grace. The world cannot be our model or standard for anything holy because it has not and cannot receive the Spirit of truth and sanctity that we received at baptism, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him (God).” Jesus says to the Father, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (Jn 17:16-17) He adds, “The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you.”(Jn 14:17) 

It is thus not wise for us to gauge our conduct by worldly standards or to unreflectively adopt purely worldly solutions. The world just cannot understand or appreciate the holiness of God or our participation in divine holiness. Neither can we settle for the world’s godless standards.

This is why the world persecutes us as we strive for sanctity. The saints are not those who succumbed and acquiesced to worldly values but those who remained faithful to what they had received from God even in the most painful trials. That is also why the angel described the saints as such: “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”

Thirdly, the holiness that we possess now demands that we strive to imitate Christ Jesus both interiorly and exteriorly. Our holiness now as God’s children is not a mere title but a reality that moves us to become more and more like Jesus by grace here on earth and by glory in heaven. In heaven, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” This hope we have as God’s children demands that Jesus Christ alone be the standard of our purity, “Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes Himself pure, as He is pure.” Thus the angel described the saints as those who have identified with Christ completely in His sufferings and bore them just as He did, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to imitate Christ on different levels if we are going to be saints that God is calling us to be. We imitate Him by sharing in His experiences before God, humans and angels. Like Jesus Christ, we too experience that unconditional love of the Father for us that sanctifies us. Like Him, we too are unjustly persecuted, attacked, and scorned by men and women as we pursue holiness according to His standards. Like Him, we are also constantly tempted by demons to keep us from being as holy as the Father calls us to be.   

We also imitate Him by imbibing His own values and sharing in His own attitudes, especially the attitudes that we call the Beatitudes. These Beatitudes in the fifth chapter of Mathew’s gospel are manifestations of the Spirit of Jesus in us as well as attitudes that allow the Spirit to mold our sanctity. We also imitate Him by doing all things for the same purpose that He did i.e. for the greater glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.  

A recent example that the Church has rejected Christ as her ultimate model for holiness is the current discussion about civil unions for so-called “same-sex” couples. Archbishop Bernard Hebda approves of the Church being open to such unions because he said that he sees such unions as “a kind of middle way that would allow persons of the same sex in long-term relationships to have legal benefits without a civil redefinition of marriage itself.” He continues, “While Church teaching on marriage is clear and irreformable, the conversation must continue about the best ways to reverence the dignity of those in same–sex relationships so that they are not subject to any unjust discrimination (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358).”

His statement warrants four responses.

First, the Catholic Church knows of only one union between one man and one woman and it is called Holy Matrimony because it is a means of sanctification for the couple in their love for each other as they accept and bring children up in the faith. The Church has no business speaking about any other form of union when this call to holiness through mutual self-giving and openness to the gift of new life are neglected or even rejected as in same-sex unions. Not even the presumed or intended benefits of the partners can justify the call for such unions.   

Second, the Church is focused on preserving the integral dignity of the human person by which the dignity of the human person does not flow only from being created in the image and likeness of God but also because the human person is called to fullness of communion with God as saints in heaven. Nothing diminishes this integral dignity of the human person more than mortal sin, especially the mortal sin of homosexual acts. We just cannot speak of human dignity while ignoring this deforming and degrading power of our gravely sinful choices.  

Third, the benefits that the Church pursues for all persons are those that facilitate the attainment of the ultimate benefit – eternal union with God in heaven along with the saints. This is the very mind of Jesus Christ when He asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can one give in exchange for his soul?”(Mk 8:36-37)  It is not the mission of the Church to fabricate financial benefits for people who are seeking to have the state approve of their homosexual lifestyle. The Church as instrument of sanctification has in mind primarily the benefits that Christ has won for us on the cross by His resurrection from the dead.

Lastly, there is no such thing as a “middle way” when it comes to the call to holiness. Jesus speaks of only two ways – one that leads to salvation and the other that leads to damnation. The saints chose the way of Christ, which is the “narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life.” The reprobates in every age choose the “wide gate and the easy that leads to destruction.”(Mt 7:13-14) It is an illusion to speak of any type of middle way in the choice before us. The Church does a great disservice to her children when it suggests such a middle way.

Collectively and individually, the Catholic Church forsakes her vocation to holiness when she turns its eyes from Jesus Christ as her ultimate model and begins to compare its performance against any church or institution. Eventually the Church begins to be “evangelized” by the culture, she adopts worldly language and solutions that betray her origin, nature, and mission. We are now debating civil unions for those in homosexual relationships because the Church is no longer following in the footsteps of Christ but now being led by such worldly values as conformism, mediocrity, acceptance at all cost, relevance, tolerance, etc. We knowingly or unknowingly make up our own warped standard of holiness.

Without striving for Christlike holiness as we should, the Church becomes an ineffective instrument for salvation and ongoing sanctification. Just reflect on the number of fallen away Catholics and the growing number of Pro-abortion and Pro – “gay marriage” Catholics today. We lose that hope that belongs to us as God’s beloved children called to holiness. We all know what becomes of us when we have lost that true sanctity that makes us salt of the earth – we are eventually “thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”(Mt 5:13)

Let us turn with confidence to Mary, the Queen of All Saints, and beg her to help us to strive for holiness with Christ as our supreme model in these times of great and unfortunate confusion in the Church. As the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary’s holiness is from God. She received it through God’s unique love for her. As the perfect disciple of Christ, she imitated Jesus perfectly and followed Him to the very end. She is helping us to become Christlike everyday of our lives by reflecting to us the example of Christ. She is praying for us and waiting for us along with all the saints in heaven. She is granting us graces in abundance, graces won for us by her Son Jesus. All we need to do is fix our eyes on her Son as our ultimate source and model of holiness and completely ignore all others.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!  

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