Our identity in Christ and the call to forgive others: A homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time. February 22, 2020
Lv 19:1-2,17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Our identity in Christ and the call to forgive others

It is not easy to forgive. It is more difficult to forgive when the offender(s) does not apologize. It is much more difficult to keep on forgiving and praying for the offending party when they keep on knowingly offending us without any sense of repentance or remorse.

One reason why we find it difficult to forgive others, and to do so repeatedly no matter the cost or the results of our forgiveness, is because we focus on our own weak human nature and forget our new identity in Christ. We say to ourselves, “It is impossible for me to forgive like Christ is asking me to do because I am only human. How can God demand from me such unconditional love when I am so weak?”

Yes indeed, we are human and will always remain so, but we also have a new identity in Christ, the identity of one loved, forgiven, reconciled with God, and united with Him to the point that we share in His own unconditional love. We forget and ignore our new identity without realizing that we can only forgive when we live out of our new identity in Christ, irrespective of the weakness of our humanity.

Jesus doesn’t just ask us to be stoically passive by turning the other cheek in the face of unjust aggression, “When they slap you on one cheek, turn the other one to them as well.” He also does not just to act in denial and just love and pray for those who hurt and persecute us. We set ourselves up for frustration and hopelessness when we try to respond to His call to unconditional love simply by our will power.

On a deeper level, Jesus is asking us to live out of our true identity, that identity that we have in Him as children of God, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” Our loving others unconditionally despite how they treat us proves who we truly are in Christ and it also makes us who we truly are in Him – children of God.

St. Paul also reminds the Corinthian Christians of who they really are in Christ, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Being temples of God in Christ means that God dwells in us with His unconditional love, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5) It also means that God reigns in us irrespective of our strengths and weaknesses and He desires to act in us and through us and communicate to others His own love despite our weak human nature. This is the full reality of our being new creatures in Christ.

We live in a world that is actually steeped in the revenge mentality. The Irish poet Oscar Wilde once said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” Even forgiveness can be used to get back at those who hurt us! We may not do evil directly to one who harms us, but we can easily respond to evil with evil acts or intentions when we live purely on our human level without any regard to our new identity in Christ. A painful example of this is when the life of the innocent child in the womb is taken to avenge the evil of rape against the mother.

What does it mean to live out of our identity in Christ?

First, we live out of our true identity in Christ when we believe deeply in God’s unconditional love for us. We refuse to doubt or question this love, no matter our sins and failures in life or the sufferings that we experience in the hands of other. This unconditional love is what allows us to be our true selves. We cannot love others unconditionally when we are rejecting our true selves.

Second, we constantly seek to experience and deepen this unconditional love of God for us. The sacraments of the Church, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, allows us to experience the merciful love of God that heals us and sets us free to love like Christ. We cannot communicate this unconditional love of God to others when we are not experiencing this love ourselves. Unrepentantly living in sin and doubting the merciful love of God for us leaves us with no hope to forgive.

Third, we begin to forgive ourselves for our past sins and failings. We cannot forgive others when we have not forgiven ourselves. We feel utterly powerless to love others unconditionally when we are full of regrets, blaming and condemning ourselves even after God has forgiven us. Difficulty or refusal to forgive ourselves makes it impossible for us to forgive others. In His name, we must forgive ourselves and let go of all regrets if we are ever going to communicate this selfless love to others.

Fourth, we strive to bring this love to others. The unconditional love that Christ asks us to reflect to others is the very same love that He alone offers to us. We are overcome by our human weakness because we think that this our pathetic, self-seeking, self-gratifying, self-indulging love is what Christ wants us to love others with. Nothing can be further from the truth. The one who calls us to love others unconditionally expects us to look to Him alone for this type of gratuitous and selfless love.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, human as we always are, Jesus has also offered us a new identity in Himself and He also wants us to experience the immense rewards of loving others unconditionally. We get absolutely nothing of supernatural value when we love in purely human ways based on our likes and preferences, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?”

But what is the recompense of loving others unconditionally, of choosing to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? We begin to share in the “glorious freedom of the children of God.”(Rom 8:21) We experience that deep inner joy that “this world cannot give or take away from us,”(Jn 14:27) and “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”(Phil 4:7) This our vengeful world of wicked addictions, endless fears, and troubled hearts cannot imagine or fathom such rewards that come from loving others unconditionally from our new identity in Christ.

It is sure hard to forgive because it calls for a dying to ourselves. But it is possible and supernaturally rewarding. Our only hope is that the One who calls us to such radical love has first made us new creation in Himself by dying for us on the cross while praying for His executioners, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”(Lk 23:34) We do share in that pain of His on the cross as He won forgiveness for us; but we also share in His power to forgive others and pray for them because we are new creation in Him. Jesus alone can rightly demand such radical love from us because He alone can and has loved us so unconditionally and made us new creation by this love.

Jesus offers us this same unconditional love in this Eucharist. He does not take away our humanity or our weakness. We are human and we will remain human. But Jesus lovingly brings us to share in what He truly is in Himself – child of God and temple of God. May He abide, reign, and act in us and through us as His temples, so that we can radiate His merciful love to others no matter our human weaknesses. This is the only way that we can hope to share abundantly in His own freedom, joy, and peace in this vengeful world.

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

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Encountering Christ in the sacraments today: A homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. February 2, 2020.
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 12:14-18; Lk 2:22-38

Encountering Christ in the sacraments today

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.”

Two things happened during the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

First, Jesus came to the temple, a little baby boy in the arms of His Mother, Mary. He came in silence and in complete obscurity and without any ostentation, “Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.” It just seemed like any other family bringing up their first-born son for the presentation rites.

Second, the aged Simeon comes into the temple led by the Spirit, “He came in the Spirit into the temple.” He did not come there by chance but he was being prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit revealed to him the true identity and mission of this baby in the arms of His parents.

These two things – the God-man present in obscurity and His constant drawing us to Himself – happen in every sacramental action in the Church. In and through the seemingly ordinary rites and sacramental elements, Jesus Christ is truly present and active in every sacramental action in the Church, enlightening our minds and inflaming our wills in ways that we can never understand. Catechism #1084 puts it this way:

“Seated at the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit on His Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments He instituted to communicate His grace.”

It is also Jesus Christ who draws us to Himself in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him to me.”(Jn 6:44) In short, we cannot believe in, approach, or truly appreciate the sacramental presence and action of Jesus Christ without the action of the Spirit in our lives. Human reason alone just cannot lead us to the full encounter with Christ in the sacraments of the Church.

What happens when we respond to the promptings of the Spirit and seek out Christ in the sacraments? What happens when we truly encounter Christ sacramentally with the right dispositions?

First of all, our eyes are opened and we begin to see and value things the way that Jesus sees them. Simeon’s encounter with Christ filled him with so much contentment that for him death was no longer something to be dreaded at all cost, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Second, we experience hope that comes from true solidarity with Christ, our “merciful and faithful high priest before God.” By the grace of the sacraments, we experience deeply that Jesus “likewise shared in our blood and flesh so that He might destroy the one who has the power over death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” We experience that Jesus is truly able to “help those who are being tested.” Sacramental grace enables us to respond in hopeful and Christ-like ways in the face of all the things that test our faith in Him.

Indeed we are being tested today in many ways. Our faith is put to the test at every moment. The Church is plagued with outrageous sexual and financial scandals. Heretical views are being propagated and accepted in a vague “spirit of dialogue.” Families are falling apart and priestly and religious vocations are dwindling. Talks of wars, natural disasters, and diseases are rampant.

More disturbing is the clamor today to begin to redefine the forms of the sacraments. There are talks of women ordination, ordination of married men, admission of divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, the abolition of celibacy, blessings of homosexual unions, etc. Those who champion and propagate such ideas fail to realize that the sacraments are first and foremost actions of the risen Christ in the Church and not a property of the Church to be modified or altered at will, not even under the guise of being “pastoral.” It is also obvious that proponents of such ideas neither value these things as Christ does nor do they believe that Jesus, who perfectly knows our weaknesses and struggles, also offers us sufficient helps to fulfill them.

It is still Christ who acts in the sacraments and who draws us to Him. It is Christ who calls a man and woman to the married state and blesses them with the necessary disposition for this. It is likewise Christ who calls a single man to give up the good and beautiful vocation of married love and embrace the discipline of celibacy for the priesthood. It is naïve and deadly to think that the Church can somehow alter this reality without grave unforeseeable consequences.

I was reminded of these two dynamic movements in each sacrament many years ago at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston in the winter of 2001. I met a young lady in the Church vestibule after her Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration who told me that she was in the RCIA program that year in preparation for full membership in the Church. I asked her why she was choosing to come into the Church at a moment when the Church looked like a beehive of pedophile clergy and complicit bishops. She pointed to the tabernacle and said, “He (Jesus) wants me to fully encounter Him in His Church.” Our Eucharistic Lord, hidden under the form of ordinary bread, was beckoning on this young lady to full communion with Him in His Church which was being torn asunder by unimaginable scandals. But the pains of the scandals could not withstand her God-given desire for full communion with Him in His Catholic Church.

Our Eucharistic Lord, present and active under each humble sacramental sign, is doing the same thing today even in the midst of all the scandals and false teachings of our times. He is drawing all of humanity to Him and He is doing so through our encounter with Him in the sacraments. As we encounter Him more and more with the right disposition, He will open our eyes to see and value all things as He does and help us to respond in Christ-like ways. This is the only way we can ever hope to proclaim Christ faithfully to the world as we repeatedly echo the words of Simeon to our hidden Savior, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.”

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

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Following the promptings of grace today: A homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Solemnity of the Epiphany. January 5, 2019.

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

 

Following the promptings of grace today

Imagine the incredulous look on the faces of their relatives and friends when the Magi told them something like this:

We saw this unique star at its rising. We believe that it points to the birth of a special king among the Jews. We are going to follow this star wherever it leads us and no matter what it costs us. We do not know how long we will have to follow that star but we are determined to leave everything and search for this Jewish king until we find Him. Why are we searching for this infant King? Well, we just want to worship Him and offer Him these our gifts wherever we may find Him.

Surely the Magi must have looked like fools to their acquaintances and relatives. Maybe they were called names and mocked for abandoning all that they labored for and embarking on what seemed a ludicrous expedition. But the Magi were not deterred from whatever negative reaction that their expedition provoked from others.

In arriving at Jerusalem, they exuberantly asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen His star and have come to do Him homage.” Their words did not bring the intended joy to the inhabitants of the city but inner turmoil, “When the king heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Again the Magi were not deterred by the troubled hearts of those who heard their joyful message.

The Magi were bent on one thing – finding the infant king, worshipping Him and offering Him their gifts. In short, they were only following the prompting of grace offered them through this star without fear of human respect, acceptance, or approval.

The star was the means of grace by which the infant Jesus was drawing them to Himself. It is the grace of God through this star that enlightened them to the meaning of this star. This same grace moved them to begin their journey with courage and determination, enlightened them on the appropriate gifts to bring for the infant king, and sustained them throughout their journey. All they had to do was follow this star to the very end.

What did they gain by following the star to the very end? They found great inner joy, “They were overjoyed in seeing the star.” In addition, they did not need any more stars, but God began to interiorly guide them through the dangers of their journey back home, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”

Epiphany is not about God manifesting Himself to us for the sake of manifesting Himself. He does not manifest Himself to us for our entertainment but to draw us by His grace towards Himself so that we may “have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) He is drawing all persons, Jews and non-Jews, to Himself because, by His Incarnation, “the Gentiles are now coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

God’s grace is drawing us to Himself today in many ways. Our world cannot understand or accept the ways that God’s grace impacts and moves us because, in the words of St. John, “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us.”(1Jn 4:5) So we will always seem like fools to the worldly minded when we follow the faithfully promptings of divine grace in our lives.

This is why a major obstacle in responding to movements of grace is our excessive fear about what people will say or think about us and our choices. We have this excessive desire to belong and to blend with the crowd, to win their acceptance and favor, to gain their support and praise. We forget that grace moves us to belong to God completely and to please Him alone, to offer ourselves and all that we are to Him for His own glory. No, grace is not given to us to make us blend and become acceptable to the crowd in our secular age.

Our world today has a plethora of names ready for us if we dared to faithfully follow the promptings of divine grace. We will be called “rigid” if we uphold the scriptural and traditional teachings of the Church. We will be called “homophobes” if we dared to mention anything about the evil of homosexuality. We will be called “insensitive” if we spoke of the sanctity of human life and the evil of abortion. We would be called “prudes” if we generously followed the Church’s teaching on sexuality according to our state of life. We are called “extremists” when we take seriously the call to make sacrifices for the sake of Christ. Then we are accused of being “schismatic” when we express concerns and raise questions about the doctrinal confusion in the Church today.

How can we follow the prompting of grace in our world that is becoming more and more hostile to generous discipleship? We need to cultivate what St. Ignatius of Loyola called the attitude of indifference. This does not mean a stoic and uncaring attitude towards our conditions or the reaction of others, but it means that we do not prefer one thing over another as a consequence of our choices to fulfill the will of God as prompted by divine grace. By indifference, we do not prefer praise over insult, acceptance over rejection, fame over obscurity, etc. We peacefully accept all these and see it all as a means to further praise, reverence and serve God by His grace and thus to save our souls.

The infant Jesus who manifested Himself to the whole world was both loved and sought for by the Magi and hated and despised by King Herod before He spoke a single word. He was praised by angels and by the shepherds and also hunted down by Herod’s soldiers. He was ardently loved by His Mother, St. Joseph, the crowds, and His disciples and also hated, insulted, and crucified by the Jewish leaders. We are saved by the indifference of Christ who accepted all these for our sake, willingly accepting the manger as well as the cross and grave as His places of repose.

This same Jesus manifests Himself to us in this Eucharist and He does so to draw us to Himself through the grace that He would offer us through many “stars” in our daily life. With the help of Mary, Our Mother of divine grace, may we recognize our “stars” and follow them as bearers of grace till the very end no matter what others may say or think about us. People will surely think us foolish as we follow the promptings of divine grace. But if we follow the promptings of grace to the very end with a spirit of indifference, we shall find that His joy will be in us and we shall see Him guiding us through the dangerous terrains of earthly life. These divine rewards surely make it worthy for us to follow the movements of divine grace faithfully no matter how foolish we may appear to others in world today.

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

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Sharing in Mary’s invincible faith today: A homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. January 1, 2020.

Nm 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; LK 2:16-21

 

Sharing in Mary’s invincible faith today

Bishop Midyphil Billones, an auxiliary Filipino Catholic bishop of Cebu, recently gave a homily in which he shared an inspiring story of his crisis of faith some years ago and how he recovered his faith. His father and two siblings had passed away many years ago and he was left alone with his aged mother. When his mother fell sick, Bishop Billones begged God fervently to spare his mother’s life but she eventually died. He related how the death of his mother was the last straw that killed his faith and prayer life.

“It was really painful when my mother died. Because of that, I stopped praying, especially the rosary. I stopped praying the rosary because Mary left my mom. She (Mary) turned her back on me.”

He still persevered in his hectic duties as seminary rector though he felt so distant from Jesus and Mary and his faith was wavering.

His faith was miraculously brought to life in the most unexpected of places – a traffic jam in the middle of Manila. While trying to find a way through the traffic gridlock, he found himself stuck on a side street and noticed a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a gate with these words written on it, Am I not here who am your mother?” He described the effect of these words on Him:

“I cried because of pain, because of my sense of loss. I did not really grieve my mother’s death because I have to be strong and I have a lot of work. But I was so ashamed of the thoughts that I felt she (Mary) did not care, and on top of everything, I cried because I learned that she did not leave me.”  

He experienced inner healing that day. He concluded, “The Blessed Mother saw and brought me back into the heart of God. Believe it or not, the next day I started praying again.”

At the moment of his crisis in faith, he providentially looked closely at Mama Mary, saw her as his mother who loved him, accepted her as his faithful mother, and his faith in Christ was renewed. When we too look at Mary as our Mother, our faith in Jesus Christ is renewed and strengthened no matter what we are going through in life.

St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we may receive adoption as sons.” In the eternal divine plan, Jesus Christ, “the only Mediator between God and man,”(1Tim 2:5) was mediated to us through Mary – precisely through the Yes of Mary’s faith at the moment of the Annunciation, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” What a faith! She believed that she, a mere creature, would be both virgin and Mother of her God and Creator!

Through the faith-filled Yes of Mary to God’s mysterious plan and her fidelity to her Yes to the very end, the greatest event in the history of humanity took place – God became man in her womb so that man could no longer be a hopeless slave but become a true child of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” This is why Mary is not just Mother of God; she is also truly Mother of all God’s children, mother of all those redeemed by the blood of her Son, Jesus Christ, and called to belong to God’s family.

In the divine plan, Mary did not only mediate Jesus to us, but she also mediates to us faith in Jesus Christ. Her relative Elizabeth looked at her and came to faith in the lordship of the God-man within Mary’s womb and Mary’s divine motherhood, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The servants at the wedding of Cana obeyed Mary’s counsel, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you,” and they too “started to believe in Him” after the water had become wine. Mary brings Jesus to us, she leads us to Jesus, and she gives us a share in her own strong faith in Jesus Christ.

Mary mediated faith in Jesus Christ throughout her earthly life and she is doing so today too for those who are humble enough to look to her with love and esteem of our Mother. If she can and she did mediate to us Jesus, the “Author and perfecter of our faith,”(Heb 12:2) she is surely more than able to mediate spiritual blessings to us, especially the gift of faith.

The shepherds who went to the manger found “Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger.” Mary is inseparable from Jesus Christ, being present wherever He is. St. Louis De Montfort put it this way: “Jesus is still as much as ever the fruit of Mary.” Mary is with Him in Bethlehem, Nazareth, during the exile in Egypt, and even in the moment of His agony and death on the cross where her faith kept her standing in agonizing vigil as her son died for us to become children of God. She is also mysteriously present wherever the grace of Christ is present. This is the invincible faith that Mary longs to communicate to those who approach her as their mother.

As we pray for peace in our world today, we are reminded that peace begins when we choose to take seriously our vocation as children of God. By the gift of faith, we know God as our loving Father and look at others as our brothers and sisters to be accepted, loved, and cherished. As children of God too, we acknowledge that we also have a Mother, Mary, who communicates to us the life of faith and grace of God. How can we be children of God if we lack faith in a personal God who loves and cares for us to the point of being with us always? How can we have such a faith if we do not know and love our mother Mary who longs to share that faith with us? In short, what type of children are we if we do not know and love our mother?

Let us thank God for the gift of faith and for the grace to enter this New Year with faith. Many who began 2019 with a strong faith have lost their faith for several reasons. Our faith has survived all the painful personal experiences, trials, persistent sins, and distressing situations of the past year. Our faith has survived the many painful and unending scandals in the Church this year, the doctrinal confusion in the Church and the embracing and promoting of Pachamama cult among the hierarchy who ought to be the guardians of the faith. We thank God for the triumph of our faith over all these things in the last year.

We also prepare for the challenge of the New Year and the moments when our faith will be put to test. We must have hope because the moment that Jesus was meriting faith for us on the cross was the moment that He also gave His mother to us, “Behold your mother.” Jesus does not give us superfluous gifts. He knows that our faith in Him will be continuously tested and that looking at Mary as our mother will surely renew and strengthen our faith. Let us do what the beloved disciple did, “He took her (Mary) to his home.” Let us likewise take Mary into our hearts as our beloved Mother to be loved, depended upon, and imitated so that we can share in that her faith that makes us God’s beloved children and unworthy beneficiaries of His abiding peace.

 

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

 

 

 

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Cultivating a docile heart at Advent: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent. December 1, 2019.

Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

Cultivating a docile heart at Advent

I was both sad and surprised to hear from a parish priest that one of his female parishioners threatened to leave the Catholic Church because of what she described as a homophobic homily that I had preached in the parish some weeks earlier during Sunday Mass. What did I say in the homily that infuriated her so much? I had simply reminded the congregation that we Christians are first called in our sinful world today to radical conversion, closeness with Christ, and to pray and sacrifice for the conversion of other sinners. It so happened that the example that I had used to illustrate the need for our prayer and sacrifices was the many Gay Pride parades where our brothers and sisters boldly and obstinately flaunted and celebrated their homosexual lifestyles in the very face of God.

Three things about this parishioner and her threat to leave the Church because of a homily calling for conversion and prayers. First, she obviously came to Mass to worship God. Second, she wanted to worship God but she did not want to be instructed. Third, she left the Mass not with peace but with anger at challenging words of hopeful truth.

We too forfeit divine peace when we try to worship God without that docility that makes us ready and willing to be instructed, trained, formed, and led by God. Our worship of God, if it is authentic, is always accompanied by divine instruction, God summoning us to abandon our old selfish ways and to embrace lives more appropriate for life with Him. When we are docile enough to listen, learn, and respond to divine instructions, we become people of peace who radiate that peace to others.

The worshippers that the Prophet Isaiah prophesied will come from all the nations to the mount of Jerusalem to worship God in the temple were excited to both worship God and to be instructed by Him in His laws. They exclaimed, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths.” Israel was to be a nation wherein God instructed all the nations in living God-like lives, “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The divine reward for their faithful worship and fidelity to God’s instructions was peace within and outside their borders, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

We worship our God present to us in Jesus Christ, the one who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His words of power.”(Heb 1:3) We are transformed by His Spirit into His image as we worship Him, “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”(2Cor 3:18) This same Spirit of transformation also instructs and inspires us to live like Christ and for Christ, “Anyone who has this hope in Him makes himself pure just as He is pure.”(1Jn 3:3) The Spirit leads us to participate in Christ’s own docility to the Father, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing on His own accord; but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise.”(Jn 5:19) Lastly, the Spirit brings us to be instruments of peace to the extent that we are docile to His instructions, “Peace be with you…Receive the Holy Spirit.”(Jn 20:21,22)

Advent is a time of waiting in expectant hope for the coming of Christ at the end of time. Sadly, we only think of Jesus Christ coming at “an hour we do not expect” because we think He really plans to sneak up on us when we least expect Him and find us unprepared. Will Jesus really be thrilled to catch us unprepared when He returns in glory? On the contrary, Christ comes to us at every moment of our lives to instruct us in our Christian life with Him so that we may be ready to welcome Him when He comes at the end of time.

We cannot wait in expectation for Christ if we do not desire His coming in glory; and we cannot desire His coming in glory if we are not docile in following the instructions that He offers us for Christ-centered and Christ-like living. This is why St. Paul counsels the Romans to prepare for Christ’s return by “casting out the works of darkness.., putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Advent is not just about waiting for Christ’s return but a period of training in docility to recognize and welcome Christ in His glorious return.

Jesus teaches that even Noah’s ark was meant to be instructive to the people of the time that there was a deluge to come, “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” But they remained deaf to this instruction as they were engrossed in “eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”

My dear brothers and sisters who worship Christ as God in the flesh, we must never forget that our worship of God must be complemented by our docility to His instructions to us. The living God we worship is constantly instructing us through His inspirations and words, through our time of prayer, the authoritative teaching of the Church, the gentle promptings of our well-formed consciences, and the events and circumstances of our lives. He does all this because He wants us to have His peace in our hearts and in our world through our hearts, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.”(Jn 14:27)

One sad phenomenon in the Church today is a reluctance to instruct in love. We clergy are so caught up with public opinion and acceptance that we dare not instruct the flock entrusted to our care with the sound teachings of the Church. The many heretical teachings from clergy should make us question how much of our Lord’s instructions we even believe in the first place. The flock too today appear to have become allergic to any form of challenging instructions concerning faith and morals that is in line with scripture and tradition. We are more concerned in affirming and accepting ourselves no matter our lifestyles that we lose the sense of the Transcendent One in our midst and the duty we owe to Him, “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(Jn 5:44)

The Church is always Mater et Magister, our faithful Mother and Teacher. But with our reluctance and refusal to instruct properly, the Church fails to evangelize the culture and has become as confused as the culture itself. We appear to be a worshipping Church that lacks docility and openness to divine instructions. The lingering financial and sexual scandals show us that the Church is fast forfeiting that peace that Christ won for her.

Jesus, our Teacher, commanded us thus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19,20) He never said that we or our teaching would be accepted and applauded by the world. He never said that we would live up perfectly to what we teach either, even though we ought to do so. But He offers us His mercy and grace to continue to instruct others by words and actions about Him and His saving Gospel until He returns in glory.

The Eucharist is of course the perfect worship of the Church, a participation in Christ’s own perfect worship, the place where we are instructed by Him who is the source of “grace and truth.”(Jn 1:17) If we still lack peace in our hearts, families, Church and communities, if we fail to communicate this peace to others, then we must pause and ask ourselves how docile we are to divine instructions as we worship God in this Mass.

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

 

 

 

 

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Is Jesus Christ truly my king? A homily for the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe.

 

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, King of the Universe. November 24, 2019.

2Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

 

Is Jesus Christ truly my king?

The image of Christ, King of the Universe, played a central role in my vocation story. I had sensed the call to quit my telecoms job, go to the seminary and begin my formation for priesthood in our religious congregation. The word that featured most in my prayer then was “My.” I constantly lamented to God about my life, my plans, my dream job that I believed I had then, my desires, my abilities and achievements, my family and their expectations, my comfort, my reputation, etc. It was an endless my this, my that during that period of discernment.

Then this question came to me during prayer: Is Jesus Christ truly my King and Lord? It was easy to say Yes to that question but my self-centered prayer and my fixation on all my “My’s” showed that Jesus was indeed very far from being my true king. If Jesus is indeed my King, He owns all things and I too belong to Him completely, together with all that I have and am. It was only when this truth went from my head to my heart that I had the freedom and courage to embark on my journey to the priesthood and religious life.

St. Paul reminded the Colossians why Christ is truly the King of the Universe. He is truly King first of all because of His divine nature, “For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell.” He is King also because He owns all things, “For in Him were created all things in haven and on earth, the invisible and the visible; all things were created through Him and for Him.” Lastly, He is King because He also freely chose to die for us on the cross to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death and bring us into His own kingdom, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”

Because Christ, the King of the Universe by His very nature, the one who owns all things, has also freely chosen in love to be our Redeemer by the “blood of His cross,” and thus to make us His own, we too must freely choose Christ as our Sovereign king. This means that we must freely choose to belong to Him completely together with all that we have and are. We must freely choose to depend on Him for every need. We must freely choose to submit to Him and to please Him in all things by our loving obedience to Him. We must freely choose to do all in our power to extend His reign in our world.

What do we gain when we go beyond lip service and freely submit to Christ as our king? We gain the powerful freedom of God’s children, “To all those who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave power to become children of God.”(Jn 1:12) Freedom, God’s most gracious gift to us, is the power to choose God and His will for us always in our world and to do so with love. When Jesus Christ truly becomes our king, we share in the very freedom of Christ and the power that it bears.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we see this lack of inner freedom in our world today with disastrous consequences. I recently read the touching story of Lamar Odom, a two-time NBA champion, Olympic medalist, and reality TV star, who had been struggling many years with drug and pornography addiction. He had become so addicted to pornography that he lost the freedom to control himself. His story reminded me of what happens to us when we are so fixated on safeguarding and controlling our “my’s,” forgetting that Christ owns and guides it all.

Lamar’s current fiancée, life coach Sabrina Parr, forced him to make a choice between her and his pornography addiction because she could not accept his out of control behavior anymore. Lamar chose to remain with his girlfriend and fight his addiction with her help. He had a choice to make and he wisely chose to love another human being instead of indulging in his addictions. This choice to truly love another person and to make God the center of his life set him on his journey of freedom. He said,

“God brought me back, hopefully for me to tell my testimony and help as many people I can. Just by sharing my story and telling them that they can overcome anything if they put God first and family first and I’m living proof of that.”

If a choice for another human person, a love that is always imperfect, can empower a person to set out on a determined course for inner freedom, how much more power for freedom will we have when we truly choose to belong to Christ, the King of Love. Jesus Christ is our king who wants us to be truly free as He is free, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to captives.”(Lk 4:18)

Sometimes we think that Jesus has come to take away or deprive of all that we hold dear. Then we lament about my this and my that. But in truth, Christ longs to free us from all that takes away or hinders our inner freedom and to “deliver us from the power of darkness.” Despite our ongoing struggle with sin now, we are already in the kingdom of Christ and enjoying the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” Yet we are called to grow in this freedom by freely choosing Christ as our king constantly over sin and selfishness.

St. Luke’s account of the Crucifixion shows us the power of Jesus’ freedom as He hangs on the cross. He cannot be tempted to prove Himself by coming down from the cross. They shouted at Him repeatedly, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen one, the Christ of God,” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” But Jesus did not think of anything that belonged to Him but only focused on what leads to the Father’s glory and our eternal good.

Jesus on the cross received two prayer requests. The first one was from the thief who reviled Him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” This thief only wanted relief from his suffering and he did not want to belong to Christ as King at all. We make such prayer requests too when we beg Jesus to save us from our sufferings and trials in this life but we are not ready to belong to Him as our King. Notice that Jesus does not give any answer to such prayer from the thief or from us.

The second request was from the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This thief was not just looking for relief from his suffering but he was actually longing to remain with Christ in His kingdom. Jesus, in the throes of death, replied to this prayer with painful gasps, “Amen, today you will be with me in paradise.” He thus set this thief free from both temporal suffering and eternal death.

The King of Kings freely offers us Himself today in this Eucharist. He freely shed His blood that we belong to Him. He also asks us to make a free choice: Are we going to freely belong to Him as our King or are we going to continue pretending to be our own kings?

Jesus owns all things, including us and all that we have and are; but as King of love, He will never force us to submit to His kingship. He will only continue to invite us to abandon our self-centered thinking, our constant my this, my that, etc. What would we gain by freely accepting to belong to Him as our sovereign king? We will surely participate in that powerful freedom of Christ that conquers all things, even sin and death itself.

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

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Pachamama and the crisis of fatherhood in the Church today

Pachamama and the crisis of fatherhood in the Church today.

Sheila (not her real name) had a very difficult time relating to the image of God as her faithful Father. She could accept God the Father as Creator of all things. But she just could not accept the idea of a Father-God who would remain faithful to her in her trials and difficulties, who would forgive her sins, love her personally, and accept her in her weakness. Hence, she could not bring herself to trust in God. She suffered consistent panic attacks and would find it hard to trust anybody.

She only recently came to discover why she felt that way about God as faithful Father. It was connected to a very painful experience that she had with her father while growing up. She had come home from her high school unexpectedly one morning only to find her father in the arms of a woman who was not her mother. Her father begged her not to reveal his sordid affair with this strange woman to her mother who was out of town then.

Sheila accepted to keep it a secret. She was torn between loyalty to her mother and her father whom she had trusted so much as her faithful father and a loving husband to her mother. No matter the intention of her father for his adulterous act that faithful day, Sheila could hardly look him in the eyes any more or believe what he said to her. She could hardly trust him or his actions again. She also felt she betrayed her mother too. And most importantly, she lost the sense of God as a loving and faithful father who would never do or permit anything to hurt his children.

Sheila’s story is not unique. There are countless stories like hers in which the terrible actions of fathers have tarnished or destroyed the seed of faith of their children in a faithful and personal God, a precious seed that was planted in baptism. The earthly father whose role was to honor and cherish his only wife and to hold her up to his children as their only mother chose rather to bring home a woman whom the children neither knew nor accepted as their mother.

There has been a lot of stories recently of the Pachamama statues that were present at the opening and closing of the just-concluded Amazon Synod in Rome. A viral video showed some of the faithful and religious bowing to these statues at the beginning of the Synod during a ritual in the Vatican Gardens. Some of these statues were placed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. A later viral video shows the same statues being surreptitiously taken from the Church by some men and dumped into the Tiber a few days ago. Pope Francis then apologized to those offended by the act and announced that the statues had been found and would be in the closing mass of the synod.

What exactly are these statues that are causing so much confusion in the Church? Some say Pachamama represents “Mother Earth.” Some say that she is an image of fertility. Some say that she is our Lady of the Amazon. Some say that it is an image of a fertility goddess. Then Pope Francis referred to her as Pachamama.

But Brazilian Bishop Emeritus José Luis Hermoso shed a somber light on the ambivalent nature of these statues when he described them as “scandalous, demonic sacrilege.” He stated that

“Pachamama is not and never will be the Virgin Mary. To say that this statue represents the Virgin is a lie. She is not Our Lady of the Amazon because the only Lady of the Amazon is Mary of Nazareth. Let’s not create syncretistic mixtures. All of that is impossible: the Mother of God is the Queen of Heaven and earth.” 

Well, whatever or whoever these statues may be, or what they are called or what they represent, they do not belong in any Catholic Church. Authentic Catholic sensibility cannot accept them in any way as symbolic or expressive of motherhood in the Church. We recognize the Catholic Church as our true Mother, from whom we receive truth and sacramental grace from our birth till death. Catholics look to Mother Mary as the perfect image of the Church, both in her fidelity to Christ during her earthly journey and in her glorious union with Christ in heaven. To try to introduce another pseudo-mother under the guise of Pachamama is an affront on the Catholic faith and an unpardonable lack of sensitivity to Catholic mentality.

In his apology to those who were offended by the dumping of the statues into the Tiber, the Pontiff said that the statues were placed in the Church “without idolatrous intentions.” The intent may not be idolatrous but the action has the same effects as idolatry. The statues fails to uphold that Christ has one bride alone – the Catholic Church. The statues divide and distract from the fidelity that we should have towards God alone in the Church. To insist on having the statues placed in a Church again after they had been removed and dumped into the Tiber is to grossly neglect one’s duty as a father whose role is to point his children in faith towards the Church as her only mother. No matter the intent, imposing these statues wounds our faith and negatively impacts our image of God as a loving and faithful Father who offers us communion with Him in Jesus Christ His Son in and through the Catholic Church.

To further exemplify this crisis in fatherhood in the Church today, prayers are now being offered to Pachamama, prayers being proposed by those pastors who are called by Christ to confirm and strengthen the faithful in their faith. One such prayer is the following prayer published by the Italian Episcopal Conference before the synod:

“Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful. Pachamama, good Mother, be favorable! Be favorable! Make that the oxen walk well, and that they not become tired. Make that the seed sprout well, that nothing bad may happen to it, that the cold may not destroy it, that it produce good food. We ask this from you: give us everything. Be favorable! Be favorable!”

As a Catholic priest from Africa whose grandfather was a pagan priest, I know very well how prevalent idols were in my native country of Nigeria before the advent of the Christian missionaries. We had idols for fertility, for good crops produces, for vengeance on one’s enemies, for good weather, etc. You name it, we had the idol for that.

I think back in great admiration and gratitude to the missionaries, many of whom were Irish, who evangelized us Africans because these missionaries were spiritual fathers in the truest sense. They had sufficient Catholic sensitivity not to bring any of these our idolatrous statues into a Catholic Church for whatever reason. They courageously demanded that our ancestors completely forsake these statues and to receive baptism into the Church, Christ’s only bride. Our ancestors were also asked to abandon polygamy for monogamy because Christ had only one bride, the Church. They accepted this Christian way of life with great personal costs, even though having many wives and children was seen then as a sign of immense blessing from God.

The missionaries also taught us the beauty of the Catholic faith that was so foreign to us then. They pointed us to Mary, Mother of God, as our Mother in the faith, who gave us life by her fiat at the Annunciation when she brought Jesus Christ into the world. Mary united herself with Jesus on the cross so that we, her children, may have a share in the life of Christ. Mary is also our only Mother who shows us what the Church ought to be in following Christ. The missionaries taught us how to honor Mary in imitation of Christ, imitate her virtues, and pray to her in all our needs.

The awesome thing was that as we followed their teaching in this regard, we began to hear Mary’s voice too telling us, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”(Jn 2:5) We began to forsake our idols and evil practices to embrace the Catholic faith with its demands and joys. Prompted by Mary’s words and examples, many of us embraced the celibate life and Catholic priesthood, completely giving up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. One cannot speak of the spread of the faith in Africa or the growth of priestly and religious vocation in Africa today without the role of a true devotion to Mary. But once we take our eyes and hearts away from Mary, we lose the sense of the Church as our only mother and then we multiply our idolatrous Pachamamas.

What we need in the Church today is not another mother, whether it is called Pachamama, “Mother earth,” or whatever. We definitely do not need to adopt Pachamamas into the Church. The Church is our Mother already, the only one we have, love, and recognize; and Jesus is not a polygamist!!! We need to bring the fullness of the faith to the world, including the Amazon. Assuredly if we present the fullness of the faith to them, making them look to Mary as their own mother too, her perennial words will echo in their hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” When these words are heeded faithfully, the Christian faith grows and spreads and vocations to the priesthood and religious life thrive as it did in Africa.

What we need are spiritual fathers in the truest sense of the world, i.e. deacons, priests, bishops and hierarchy members who put aside worldly ideologies for the sake of communicating saving truth and grace to the faithful. We need fathers who present the fullness of the faith by words and actions, who strive to safeguard and strengthen the already fragile and wounded faith of the flock entrusted to them. We need fathers who do not live by their own opinions or public opinions, but who echo the words of Jesus, “My teaching is not my own,”(Jn 7:16) and who are ready to point out to all people and all times the one bride of Christ, the Catholic Church.

Until we have such faithful fathers, we will have many more idolatrous pachamamas brought into the Church by our spiritual fathers. Consequently, our faithful will find it hard to look us in the eyes and trust us because we do not show them their one and true mother – the Church, perfectly modeled by Mother Mary. As long as such faithful and prudent fathers are lacking in the Church, it will be difficult if not impossible for many of our faithful to see God as a loving and faithful father.

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

 

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