Why we must grow in our faith today: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 6, 2019.

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tim 1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Why we must grow in our faith today

“Increase our faith.”

Jesus had just assured His disciples of the inevitability of temptations and the severe consequences of scandalous behavior:

Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.(Lk 17:1-2)

The disciples, probably sensing their need for a stronger faith to overcome these temptations and avoid the consequences of scandals, belted out their response, “Lord, increase our faith!” They acknowledged the gift of faith in their lives; but they also realized that this faith had to grow if they were going to triumph over temptations and avoid scandalous behaviors.

We all know fellow Catholics who have fallen away from the faith for several reasons. Their departure from the faith may be due to the scandals in the Church, bad experiences within the Church, poor preaching and catechesis, severe hardships and painful tragedies in life, being uncomfortable with Church teachings, poor liturgy, or they just slowly drifted away.

The bottom line in these departures from the faith is that their Catholic faith failed to grow as their trials and temptations deepened and continued. If the gift of our divine and Catholic faith that we received at baptism does not grow constantly, in good times and bad times, it would surely die in the face of the temptations and hardships of life.

Let us consider five ways in which we can grow constantly in our faith in the face of all the temptations and trials of life that shake the foundations of our faith.

First, be grateful for the gift of faith. We lose our faith when we take it for granted. When we are not grateful for the fullness of the means of salvation found in our faith, then we become complacent in preserving our faith, giving witness to that faith, and in growing in that faith. We begin to compromise with sin and ignore its deadly power to corrode our faith.

Second, be constant in prayer, begging Jesus to increase our faith. God may never give us what we ask for in prayer; but He never fails to strengthen our faith as we call out to Him day and night. Faith matures in a climate of prayer because faith is a lived relationship with God that is based on who God is, what He has done, and what He has revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in His Church, the Catholic Church. We too ought to cry out constantly like the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith!” We must both acknowledge our faith and beg God to increase it just like the father of the possessed boy who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”(Mk 9:23)

Third, we must speak words of faith. Jesus responded to the request of His disciples by asking them to speak words of faith to the obstacles and challenges that they face in life, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Our faith matures when we speak words that show we still believe in the power, love and wisdom of God even in the face of adversities. But our faith withers and dies when our words show signs of doubt in God, in His love for us, and His power and wisdom.

Fourth, we seek to serve God unconditionally in others. We must see ourselves as “unprofitable servants,” who serve God in others always, whether we are performing the tedious tasks of “plowing or tending sheep,” or the less stressful tasks of “waiting at table.” Our faith grows as we respond to the prompting of divine love to serve God in others, “Faith without works is dead.”(Jame 2:17)

Fifth, we strive to obey God in all things, irrespective of the pains or gains. Our faith matures as we do, not what we like to do or what others expect us to do, but “all that God has commanded us to do.” A life of loving obedience to God is the catalyst for an insurmountable faith.

It is not easy for us to grow in our faith constantly; we need the gentle prompting and strength of the Holy Spirit for the cultivation of such a vibrant faith. That is why St. Paul reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God,” the Holy Spirit, so that he can experience the only thing that overcomes sin and scandals – the Spirit’s “power and love and self-control.” By these tangible benefits of the Holy Spirit, Timothy can overcome “being ashamed of his testimony to our Lord,” he can “bear his share of hardship for the gospel,” and also “guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within him.” The Spirit is indeed given to us to live and witness to our faith to the fullness and with boldness in all times and seasons.

Today there is a certain tendency to appeal to a nebulous “following of the Spirit” that at the same time denies and subtly rejects the very traditional tenets of the faith. In the name of “listening to the Spirit,” we are now called to doubt and question everything that we believed and held true as divinely revealed. Holy Communion is being offered to people who are living in mortal sin of adultery. Fr. James Martin SJ is going around the world saying that we should go beyond merely accepting persons with homosexual tendencies but now even begin to accept these sinful acts as beautiful and wholesome things. Then Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the general relator of the ongoing Amazonian synod, downplays the primacy of divine revelation when he tried to justify the controversial synod’s Instrumentum laboris by saying it is a call to listen to the “voice of the earth.” Even Pope Francis is quick to label faithful clergy as being rigid simply because they stand for the timeless faith and would not attempt to naively “follow a spirit” that is contrary to that which has been revealed and held for over 2000 years.

Where is the sense of gratitude we should have for the Lord who died and rose from the grave that we may have a relationship with Him and the Father in the Holy Spirit by faith? What of the gratitude we owe to those saints and martyrs who held on to the faith and suffered martyrdom just to hand on that faith to us? In our utter ingratitude for the gift of faith, we seem to be saying today, “Lord, change our faith!” instead of “Lord, increase our faith!” Why aren’t our words showing that we believe in God and all that He has revealed to us when we face hardships and trials? Where is that obedience to God and dutiful service to the truth before all that makes our faith triumph over all adversities?

These are the scandalous and sinful times when our faith is being put to the test. Many are losing their faith in Christ and in His Church. Jesus Christ sent us His Spirit for the reason of “guiding us to all truth,” and to “declare to us all that in Jesus.”(Jn 16:13,15) so that we live out our faith with courage and fidelity in scandalous times like these. His Spirit is not given to us to dispense us from the tenets and teaching of the faith and morals. The Spirit makes our faith alive and vibrant, constantly growing through all that we face in this life, personally and in the communion of the Church.

Jesus Christ, whom we approach today with the gift of our Eucharistic faith, is forever the “author and perfecter of our faith.”(Heb 12:2) Let us first of all thank Him continuously for the gift of this faith. He constantly communicates to us His own Spirit to intensify and purify our faith. When He asked us, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”(Lk 18:8), He is asking us if our faith in Him and His words will grow constantly till He returns in glory or are we going to mock, reject, and falsify the faith to fit our changing times? Should we choose to let our faith grow constantly, there is nothing that our faith cannot overcome, even the sins and scandalous behaviors and teachings in our Church today.

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

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Lazarus, Dives and the Four Last Things: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 29, 2019.

Amos 6:1,4-7; 1Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

Lazarus, Dives, and the Four Last Things

“My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, why did Lazarus end up in heaven and Dives, the rich man, end up in the torments of hell? There is nothing wrong or evil in having wealth and comfort that would condemn the rich Dives to hell. And there is nothing good about being poor and being deprived of the basic necessities of life that would automatically win heaven for the poor Lazarus. So why does Abraham say to Dives, “My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In their Thanksgiving prayer after each Mass in the convents of the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters usually recite a prayer to Mary, the Mother of God, which has a particularly striking line, “Bless your own Missionaries of Charity. Help us to the do all the good we can.” After the reception of the greatest blessing, Christ Himself in Holy Communion, the sisters pray that they may never omit any good that they can do for the greater glory of God and for the good of others.

Dives lacked this desire and firm resolve to do all the good that he could with the blessings that God offered to him. He neglected the numerous possible goods that he could have done for Lazarus with the blessings that he had received from God. He was not expected to solve all Lazarus’ problems but to do some good to him. Having omitted the one good that he could and should have done, he ended up in hell, the place of endless and unremitting torture.

On his part Lazarus entered heaven because he patiently endured the evil that he could not change or avoid. He shows silent endurance in life as well as silence in paradise when Dives is still trying to boss him around, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue… Send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them lest they too come to this place of torment.” Lazarus does not let his sufferings in life separate him from God or diminish his trust in God. His friendship with Abraham here on earth despite his deprivations prepares him to be at Abraham’s bosom in paradise.

Our spiritual life orients us to heaven and away from hell when we are ready to use all God’s blessings to do all the good that we can do and to patiently endure all the evils that we cannot change, overcome, or avoid.  In our secular and materialistic times, we are constantly tempted to reduce our Christian life to merely receiving and enjoying good things and avoiding bad things. Let us be certain: we are made for God, to be with Him forever in heaven, whether we receive good or bad things in this life.

Thus our Christian life is all about receiving with faith the innumerable riches offered to us in Jesus Christ and preparing ourselves and others to face the Four Last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell. The certainty of our own death reminds us that time is short and that this is the moment to do all the good we can and endure unavoidable evils. Judgement reminds us that the God who has bestowed His blessings on us will subject each and every one of us to strict personal account of how we have made use of His gifts during the time allotted to us. Our goal is to enter heaven and avoid hell by doing all the good we can by the grace of God as we endure the evils of this life. We cannot afford to neglect any doable good or succumb to any avoidable or surmountable evils if we are going to be in heaven.

We walk the path to hell when we willfully ignore the good that divine providence places in our path, reveals to us, and moves us to fulfill. That is why we beg for forgiveness for all our omissions in the Confiteor at Mass, “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

St. Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him that his primary vocation is not just to be bishop, but to attain eternal life, “Lay hold to eternal life, to which you were called when you made the confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Timothy will journey along the path to eternal life as long as he does not omit any of the commandments, “Keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is to focus on Christ and draw strength from Him because Jesus “gave testimony before Pontus Pilate for the noble profession.” Jesus is that “faithful witness,”(Rev 1:5) who did the good of proclaiming the truth even when His life was at stake. Like Him, we too enter into life by doing the good we can and enduring what comes our way.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how firmly resolved are we to do all the good we can today for the greater glory of God and for the good of our neighbors? How are we succumbing to the prevailing tendency today to pick and choose only those commandments or teachings of Christ that appeal to us and rejecting those that are difficult or unpopular in our culture today?

We have an example of this willful omitting of the good to be done that is right before us when we all jump on the climate change bandwagon while we yawn in unpardonable indifference as babies are being aborted and their intact and severed body parts are being sold by biotech companies like StemExpress. We easily look the other way as abortionists like the late Ulrich Klopfer store remains of thousands of murdered babies like trophies in the home. We unreflectingly pretend to care for the environment while being indifferent to the brutal slaughter and selling of the parts of the unborn who are ironically meant to be the due inheritors of the environment from us.

We must also ask ourselves how ready and willing are we to endure for the sake of Christ what we cannot change, overcome, or avoid in life. How ready and willing are we to endure nagging temptations, addictions, persecutions, insults, inner struggles, sickness, repeated failures, suffering and death of loved ones, conflict with loved ones, etc.?

We need to ponder and reflect on the Four Last Things constantly so that we strive to overcome any indifference towards the good to be done now or to become so self-indulgent to the point that we do not endure anything for Christ in this life. The Four Last Things remind us that hell and heaven are final destinations. There is no migration from one to the other as Abraham stated in the parable, “A great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

This is the time that God pours His blessings on us – graces of the Holy Spirit that can do and endure all things, divine mercy that forgives all sins, truth that sets us free, desires to serve others, the companionship and support of Mama Mary, the Saints and angels, talents and gifts that can bring hope and joy to many people, and, of course, the gift of time to make amends and begin again. How we make use of these blessings now will determine our eternal destiny.

The Eucharist we receive is the greatest of God’s blessings because it is the gift of Himself. This sacramental grace enlightens us to the good to be done here and now as well as the grace to do so and endure all evils. If we are going to use these blessings well, we must ask ourselves the following questions adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

What good have I done and what evil have I endured for Christ in the past?

What good am I doing now and what evil am I enduring now for Christ?

What good will I do now and what evil will I endure for Christ in the future?

Our honest answer to these questions will determine if we will face the Four Last Things with confidence in Christ and enter into heaven or not.

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

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Taking the first step back to God: A homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 15, 2019.

Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

 

Taking the first step back to God

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

The last few months have been particularly trying and painful for Catholics around the world. There are numerous credible accusations of clergy sexual abuse and cover up for other abusers in the clerical state. An influential American Cardinal, apparently well known among the hierarchy for his sordid history of sexually molesting young men and seminarians, is reduced to the lay state and banished to a monastery.

As this disgraceful saga continues in the Church, the Church is losing many of her faithful children. Even her staunch defenders are doubting what they have come to believe about the Church all their lives. The Church is also fast losing its ability to attract converts to the faith.

In the midst of this saga and its devastating impact on souls and amidst all the talk about accountability in the Church, one thing that we have never heard, and may never hear from the Church, is a statement of personal responsibility for this mess. No one has had the honesty and courage to say even once, “What I did was wrong and I am responsible for that.” Even as bishops and cardinals resign and priests are taken out of active ministry on supposedly “health” grounds, there is little or no admittance of wrong and personal responsibility.

Why is it very important to admit wrong that we do and take responsibility for it? Because this is the very first step in the journey back to God. In the words of John Paul the Great:

“To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood to recognize oneself as a sinner, capable of sins and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God.” (Reconciliation and Penance #13)

St. Luke’s Gospel gives us three parables in a row about the mercy of God. The first two parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin show us God’s love for every single one of us. In Jesus Christ, God is the one who “goes after the lost one until He finds it,” and who “brings the lost home rejoicing.” But in these two parables, there is no dimension of personal responsibility on the part of the lost and found sheep and coin.

But the parable of the Prodigal Son is different because the younger son first of all faces himself in his financial and moral brokenness and takes responsibility for his own sinful actions and its consequences, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He does not pretend or blame his older brother or father for his behavior. This humble acknowledgement is his very step in his journey back to the Father, “So he got up and went back to the Father.”

He humbly and publicly acknowledges his sin and personal responsibility again before his father and his servants, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” That is all his father needs to hear and he forgives him and restores to him all that he lost and more, “Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” The returning son comes to experience deeply the generous heart of the father like he never knew before.

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, does not put on airs about his personal sanctity, but he is brutally honest about his own sinful actions and his personal responsibility for them, “I was once a blasphemer and persecutor, and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” This honest acknowledgement opens him to receive the merciful love of Jesus who “came into the world to save sinners.” Having been saved by the mercy of God, He is thus strengthened to live his life and ministry to the greater glory and honor of God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us never think that we are the ones who suddenly repent of our sins and return to God, begging for forgiveness. No, on the contrary, we return to God because God constantly seeks for us to bring us back to Him. He enlightens our conscience and moves us to take the first step in returning to Him. He thus relentlessly searches for us at every single moment because He “has prepared a place for us and He wants to take us to Himself.”(Jn 14:3) It is in our returning to Him at every moment, no matter our sins and their consequences, that we can really know the true heart of God. But the first step that we must take on this journey home is to acknowledge the gravity of our sins and to accept responsibility for it.

We speak so much about the mercy of God today without being ready to take this first step back to Him. We first of all pretend that what we are doing is not sinful and that we can even justify it sometimes. This pretense is manifested when we deny moral absolutes, acts that are always and everywhere sinful, no matter the circumstances or the intentions of the actor. We arrogantly pretend that we can determine when God’s unchanging commandments apply and when they do not.

Even when we admit the sinfulness of our actions, we readily blame others for our sins. Children blame their peers for their sinful actions, spouses blame each other for their failed marriages, priests and bishops are busy blaming each other for their sexual perversions, and some even blame God for the deviant sexual orientation and choices that they have come to embrace in life.

Ultimately, when we pretend, justify, or blame others for our own failings, the healing love and mercy cannot flow from the heart of Jesus into His Church and the Church and her members remain spiritually impotent. Remember,

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”(1Jn 1:5-10)

If God’s truth, the only thing that “sets us free,”(Jn 8:32) is not in us because of our persistent self-deceit, how then can we be free enough to give ourselves to God and to others in selfless service? How can we hope to be courageous witnesses to the Gospel when we lack this inner freedom?

Moses stood before God to beg for mercy for his rebellious compatriots after they made the golden calf. Moses did not try to pretend that what they did was right. Neither did he blame their pagan neighbors for their own idolatrous behavior. He appealed to the mercy of God and His promises to the patriarchs, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised I will give their descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” He thus won divine mercy for His people.

All God’s promises in the Scriptures are fulfilled for us ultimately in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for us sinners, “In this God proved His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8) He has freely shed His blood for us and thus we belong to Him now more than sheep belong the shepherd or coins to a woman. Thus He will never stop searching for us until He finds us and brings us to Himself.

Jesus’ unrelenting search for us continues in this Eucharist where He renews His own sacrifice on this altar, to bring us closer to His own heart of love. He wants to heal and transform our broken world through us. His grace in this Eucharist is both light and strength to make that journey back to Him at every moment of our lives. Let us begin again and again our journey back to Him, always ready to take the very first step of acknowledging our sins and personal responsibility, and honestly saying, “Lord, I have sinned against you.”

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

 

 

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Making constant sacrifices in our Christian vocation: A homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 8, 2019.

Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10,12-17; Lk 14:25-33

Making constant sacrifices in our Christian vocation.

 

Venerable Fulton Sheen made a commitment to spend a Holy Hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament every single day of his life as a seminarian, priest, and bishop. His faithfulness to this resolution despite the hectic duties as bishop made him one of the most impactful bishops in the history of the Church in America and one whose messages remain relevant today.

St. Teresa of Calcutta persevered faithfully in her daily prayer despite the lack of the sensible presence of God during her prayer. She still continued to joyfully serve the poorest of the poor and to radiate hope to many people. Today she has her Missionaries of Charity sisters in virtually all the countries of the world.

These examples and many others like them in the Church’s history prove that we serve as channels of divine power and consolation to our world when we are ready to make constant sacrifices to belong to God completely and to follow Jesus faithfully to the very end. In making these sacrifices, we are ready to freely let go of that which is wholesome and good in itself for the sake of something higher, bearing in mind that there is nothing higher than belonging to God completely and following Christ faithfully.

It is this spirit of constant sacrifices out of love for Christ that dispose us to receive the inner peace and strength of Jesus as attested by St. Paul, “For as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in His consolation. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”(2Cor 1:5,6) Jesus Christ Himself consoles and strengthens us and others through us as we freely make sacrifices so as to belong to Him completely and follow Him more faithfully.

The Gospel tells us that “great crowds were following Jesus.” Most probably they sought to follow Him without this indispensable readiness for constant sacrifice. More than being followed by “great crowds,” Jesus desires that we follow Him with large hearts, that we be always ready to sacrifice even the natural family bonds so as to be His faithful companions, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus uses the word “hate” to mean that, as His disciples, the ultimate aim of our lives cannot be to please ourselves or others. Because “we have only one Master, the Christ,”(Mt 23:10) we must seek to please Christ ultimately, even if it means not meeting our expectations or those of our loved ones. Behind every suffering that we face is a divine invitation to sacrifice something to please God alone, “Whoever does not carry His own cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple.”

We are to “sit down and count the cost first,” reflecting on whether we are ready for the constant sacrifices that Christian discipleship demands from us. Since we can never envisage what following Jesus Christ is going to entail or what sacrifices He will ask us to make in the future, our honest self-evaluation must lead to our freely “renouncing all our possessions” if we are going to be His faithful disciples to the very end.

Jesus’ earthly life was one continuous act of sacrifice from the crib to the tomb. He, “in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,”(Col 2:9) did not seek to please Himself but the Father, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) He who had “more than twelve legions of Angels” at His ready disposal to rescue Him from His captors in Gethsemane chose rather to surrender because He wanted to please the Father, “Your will be done.”(Mt 26:53,39) It was through this constant sacrifice that He brought this divine power and consolation into the world.

So we need frequent encounters in our world today where we can be in communion with the person of Christ as well as participate in His life-giving sacrifice. The Catechism points to the Eucharist as the divinely ordained locus of such encounters, “In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of His Body.”(CCC 1368) When we unite the painful situations of our lives to our Eucharistic Savior, we draw from His own sacrifice the grace to sacrifice all so as to please God, belong to Him completely above all things, follow Him faithfully, and bring divine power and hope into the Church and the world.

Many of us are trying to follow Christ today without cultivating a spirit of sacrifice. We shy away from anything that threatens our comfort and security and become “enemies of the cross of Christ.”(Phil 3:18) We only give ourselves to God and others as long as we do not experience pain or hurt.

Though Jesus offers us this spirit of sacrifice through the Eucharist, a recent survey show that many of us deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist and thus live without participating in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ made present on our altars. We strive to make sacrifices on our strength, and we end up frustrated and angry at our efforts and results.

On a much deeper level, some believe in the Real Presence but approach the Eucharist as only a meal and not a sacrifice. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recently linked the Church’s sexual abuse scandals to this attitude of reducing the Mass to a mere ceremonial gesture. He said, “The way people often receive the Holy Sacrament in communion as a matter of course shows that many see communion as a purely ceremonial gesture.”

When we fail to be grounded in our faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, when we ignore the sacrificial nature of the Mass and deny its ability to bring us into the life-giving sacrifice of Christ, we lack inner strength and hope for the journey and we fail to bring this strength and hope to others. We lack the power to endure the trials in our vocations in life. This explains the widespread loss of faith in our times, broken vows and promises in marriages, priesthood, and religious life, and the spread of evil in the Church today as evident in the painful clergy sexual abuse scandals.

We must be sure about this: Jesus did not come into this world to please us but to bring us to make the necessary sacrifices to belong to the Father and please Him alone. He did not please Himself too though He had the power to do so. He did not even live to please Mary, His Mother. When He was lost in the temple for three days, she asked Him why His behavior did not meet her expectations of Him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you anxiously.” Jesus brought her to see that it was neither about her nor St. Joseph but about the Heavenly Father, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business.” (Lk 2:47,49) Mary responded completely to His invitation and willingly belonged to Him completely and followed Him all the way to Calvary when all the others abandoned Him. At Calvary Mary would freely consent to the sacrifice of her one and only son on the cross for the greater good of our belonging to God and following Him faithfully. She remains for us a model and help in making those sacrifices constantly.

The grace of Jesus that we receive in today’s Eucharist was won for us on Calvary and it is not ultimately meant for us to please ourselves or others. Divine grace we receive will surely be accompanied by many opportunities for sacrifices in our lives, moments for us to put self and others aside to please God first and foremost. These will be painful for sure. But by this grace from His sacrifice, we can embrace these sacrifices for Him who sacrificed His life for us. This is the only way that we can experience and bring His power and consolation to our hurting world now and get to be completely His forever and ever. Amen.

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

 

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Taking the lowest place like Jesus: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 1, 2019.

Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29; Heb 12:18-19,22-24; Lk 14:1,7-14

 

Taking the lowest place like Jesus

 

“When you are invited, go and take the lowest place.”

 

What exactly is the lowest place in the banquet that Jesus asks us to choose? Do we become humble simply by choosing this lowest place and avoiding places of honor? We all know that it is indeed possible to take the lowest place in a public gathering and still feel proud about our “humble” gesture. It is also possible to choose the lowest place while secretly coveting the places of honor. So this “lowest place” cannot be merely about choosing a particular sitting position in social gatherings.

 

Indeed to take the lowest place is to humble ourselves just like Jesus did and to do so with His own motive. By virtue of the Incarnation, Jesus is the one who indeed freely chose the lowest place in the Kingdom of the Father that He came to establish, “Though He was in the form of God.., He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance.”(Phil 2:6-7) We cannot think of taking a lower place than God taking the form of His human creatures.

 

Jesus also humbled Himself for the purpose of communicating divine live to us, “Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”(Jn 20:31) The old covenant with its terrifying epiphanies is replaced by Jesus drawing us to the Father with confidence and love, “You have approached God the judge of all…, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” In and through Jesus Christ, humility has become life-giving and life-communicating, the means whereby we receive and communicate divine blessings to others. Pride remains the way of death and darkness.

 

We might deduce from Jesus’ parable about choosing the lowest place in the wedding banquet that humility is meant to prevent us from public embarrassment, “Then you will proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.” But when we begin to see the wedding banquet as symbolic of the kingdom of God, we see that humility is what allows us to enter into the kingdom of God offered to us by Jesus and to remain in the kingdom till the very end. We can never accept the kingdom and abide in it forever without participating in the humility of Jesus Christ, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Mt 18:3)

 

We must accept the invitation to God’s kingdom with humility, without claiming the right to anything but willingly accepting all that God offers to us. Instead of proudly “choosing the places of honor,” we see our calling to be God’s children as a gift that we respond to by conducting ourselves as “unprofitable servants who have only done what we were obliged to do.”(Lk 17:10)

 

But our response to this invitation also demands that we selflessly extend God’s invitation to others no matter their condition in life or their ability to repay us, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” We invite them not because of what we can get from them but simply because we want to communicate to them the divine blessings that we have received. Selfless charity is impossible without cultivating this Christ-like humility and the kingdom of God is impossible without loving others like Christ did, “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.”(Mt 25:40)

 

How then can we begin to choose the lowest place just like Jesus did? St. Paul gives us a huge pointer, “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”(Gal 4:4-5) Jesus began His humble existence in and through Mary at the moment of the Annunciation. Mary freely chose to accept God’s invitation and humbled herself to take the lowest place so as to bring the Author of life into this world, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”(Lk 1:38)

 

Jesus matured in His humility through His relationship with Mary throughout His life, “Jesus was obedient to His parents.”(Lk 2:51) He ended His earthly life by lying lifeless in her arms at the foot of the cross. Mary has thus become the living mold wherein souls are formed and molded in the pattern of Christ’s own humility. When we begin to have a real relationship with Mary we give her a chance to form us into her spiritual children who strive to take the lowest place in imitation of Jesus Christ.

 

What are the signs that we are being formed by Mary to take the lowest place in the way that Jesus did? First, Mary draws us into true relationship with God as His children through our deep childlike prayer and fruitful action. With the aid of Mary as our mother, prayer must bear fruit in action, “Do whatever He tells you.”(Jn 2:5) As we grow in our knowledge of God through our prayer and actions, we know and accept the truth about ourselves and thus grow in humility.

 

Secondly, like our earthly mothers who taught us how to speak and act, Mary begins to teach us the language and attitudes of the truly humble. Here are some examples: We say, “Thank you, God” always, because we see all things as gifts from God and not as something due to us. We say, “Help me, God” always because we realize that we can do nothing on our own. We say, “Forgive me” to God and to others because we realize both our nothingness and our sinfulness. We say, “I forgive you” to those who offend us because we realize that they too are weak and sinful like us. We say, “God, here I am to serve and obey you at all costs,” because we refuse to live for our own glory and comfort. We say, “I trust in you God,” always because we refuse to place any trust in ourselves but in God alone.

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, pride is hardening many hearts in our world today, bringing nothing but death and darkness. Remember, the “wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 6:23) Pride is at the root of all sin and the obstacle to receiving the gift of new life. We see this stronghold of pride in the spirit of bad competition and usurping of rights that are prevalent today. Because we fail to be humble and grateful for what we have, we compete with others easily, envying them and trying to deny them what is their due because we always want more and we want it all for ourselves. We cannot find peace in seeing the good in others. Only the humility of belonging to God as His children allows us to see that God’s gifts are not meant to foster bad competition with others but to help others attain the temporal and eternal goods of the kingdom of God.

 

In our pride, we also usurp rights that strictly speaking belong to God alone. We usurp the right to determine good and evil, we usurp the right to life when we take and destroy human life in the womb in the name of abortion, we usurp the right to determine our own genders, etc. We claim all these non-existent rights because we have simply failed to see all as God’s gifts to us.

 

What is God’s response to the hardness of hearts in our world today? He still desires to bring life and hope into this world but He will only do so through humble souls i.e. through those who would be humble like Jesus and Mary, those who would live in the honest truth of who they are before God. God cannot fill us with His gifts when we are so full of ourselves and obsessed with our own excellence.

 

We receive in this Eucharist Jesus who responds even now to the Father’s call to humbly mediate God’s blessings to us through the humble signs of bread and wine. Just as He chose the lowest place in His relationship of loving dependence on Mary, We too can humble ourselves through our relationship with Mary and choose the lowest place for one purpose alone – to receive God’s life and bring it into this proud and dark world.

 

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

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The right way of striving for heaven – A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 25, 2019.

Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30

The right way of striving for heaven

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

I recently saw a picture of gay pride parade in which a group of protesting Christians at the parade held a banner on the side of the road that read something like this, “Repent now of your sins of sodomy or go to hell.” The message is indeed true. No matter what the sins may be, whether they are homosexual actions, adultery, lying, stealing, incest, slander, murder, etc., no matter how deeply we may feel about these sins, or the excuses we may make for them, we would be choosing an eternity in hell if we chose to remain obstinate in these sins till death.

But why do we easily embrace and present the Gospel message by emphasizing and beginning with a warning about hell? When our primary focus as Christians is on avoiding hell, we become minimalistic, and we live in constant fear, greatly inhibiting the growth of our inner freedom.

Why don’t we begin with and emphasize more God’s loving invitation to us all sinners? Won’t it be more hopeful to also hold out a sign in such parades that reads, “The gates of heaven are open now and we all can and should become saints.” When we focus on God’s gratuitous invitation to us to be with Him eternally and the possibility for us to enter into heaven despite our sins and failings, we become more generous and free to respond to His loving invitation.

Jesus is asked in today’s Gospel, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He did not first answer with a warning or a threat about going to hell. Rather He stressed that in Him the kingdom of God is open now for us all and that those who strive can enter into it, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

It is only after He had stressed the opening of this narrow gate and the possibility for many to enter into it that He warned of eternal regret to those who would take this invitation lightly and shun the needed striving, “And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves are cast out.”

The passage shows us that this narrow gate is all about Christ and a love relationship with Him that make us more like Him to the point that we do all things like Christ and for Christ. Jesus is the “gate for the sheep,” through which we must “enter so as to be saved.”(Jn 10:7,8) We can strive to enter through this narrow gate only because Jesus Christ has truly “loved us first,”(1Jn 4:19) and He readily died for us “while we still sinners.”(Rom 5:8)

Striving to enter through the narrow gate first means that we have to struggle to accept this divine love as a gift and not something that we can earn or merit. Because Jesus unceasingly “welcomes sinners and eats with them,”(Lk 15:2) we too can repeat these words to Jesus found in the parable, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.”

The second level of our striving is to allow this transforming love to make us Christ-like in our being and in our actions. When we begin to abandon our self-will to fulfill the will of God the Father in all circumstances just like Jesus did, we become more intimately known to Him as members of His family, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mt 12:50) And Jesus never rejects His true family, in this life or in the next.

Jesus warns of eternal regret not only for those who reject His love, but also for those who accept His love but do not allow this love to shape and mold them more into His image and move them to act like Him. He will reject those who, though close to Him in this life, chose to act in a manner that is un-Christ like, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.”

This striving to become more like Christ is not the work of our random human efforts, but our humble response to God’s providence in this life. The letter to the Hebrews tells us to “endure our trials as discipline,” because “God treats us like sons,” and “whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges.” Divine love is always acting to ensure that we are “conformed to the image of His Son” here on earth and thus avoid living in regrets now and eternally. Indeed, “For those who love God, all things work for good.”(Rom 8:29,28) In the trials and pains of life, the Father is treating us as His sons and daughters, lovingly molding us more into the image of His Only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We respond to those painful moments by asking, “How is God inviting me to be more Christ-like in and through this event?”

We cannot enter into through the narrow gate if we do not let God transform us into His Son Jesus through the painful disciplining events of daily life. When we allow ourselves to be truly disciplined by divine love, we then can lead others through the narrow gate too, “Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

I am reminded of a Missionaries of Charity sister who visited the sick in a hospital in Manila. She found one of the patients had been neglected and uncared for, with maggots already eating into the back of his head. She took him home to their home for the dying, washed him, fed him, and nursed him till his death. When I asked her why she decided to pick up this particular patient whom no one wanted to attend to, she replied to me, “That is what Jesus did for me, and so I do it to others for Him.”

She has found the narrow door and she is striving to enter through it. She is convinced that Jesus loved her into life when nobody else cared for her. Jesus’ love for her is so real that it has changed her to the point that she is ready to serve others like Christ and for His sake. She has gone beyond a fear of hell but has shown that generosity of those who know that they are children of the Kingdom made present in Jesus Christ and that in Him they have access to all graces. She inspired me to grow in my own life of selfless service in response to God’s love and not out of fear of hell.

We Catholics are so close to God in this life, especially through the Eucharist where Jesus Christ is really and substantially present in His humanity and divinity. Indeed, we are privileged guests at His banquet where He feeds us with His own body and blood. More than anyone else, we can indeed say, “We ate and drank in your company.” But are we going to take this love for granted? Are we going to resist the power of this love to transform us into Christ and move us to do Christ-like things for His sake?

The gate to paradise may be narrow and demanding but, in Jesus Christ, it remains open to us today no matter the past so that we have all the graces that we need to strive for heaven today. If we are going to enter into heaven and bring others with us, we must go beyond a mere fear of hell but strive to enter through the narrow gate now so that we can avoid regrets in this life and in the life to come.

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

 

 

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The fire of Christ and the divisions in our world: A homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 18, 2019.

Jer 38:4-6,8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

 

The fire of Christ and the divisions in our world

We are no strangers to divisions, people divided from us or from each other in our families, workplaces, communities, and Church. We witness more fighting and quarreling among our relatives and acquaintances than we would like to deal with.

We fall into two extremes in response to these divisions. We can easily focus on these divisions and try to solve them all with little or no success. We get frustrated by our inability to reconcile the warring parties and we sometimes even begin to blame ourselves for these divisions and our failure to resolve them. On the other hand, we simply ignore it all and just settle to live divided from others and to allow others to do the same. We may even fuel the divides by our words, actions, and inaction.

What are we to do in the face of divisions that appear irremediable? We must begin to see in those moments of unresolvable conflicts God inviting us to be Christ in our divided world and to make present in this world what Christ Himself made present and to do so the very same way that Jesus did.

Jesus Christ came into a divided world and He had one wish for this world, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing already.” This statement shows us Christ’s response to divisions.

First of all, it means that Jesus did not come into this world to immediately take away all divisions between us. He adds, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” His disciples were divided when they were competing about who was the greatest among them and who would sit at Jesus’ left and right, “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”(Mk 10:41) To the estranged brother who asked Jesus to negotiate with his own brother about getting his own share of the inheritance, Jesus answered, “Friend, who made me an arbitrator and judge between you?”(Lk 12:14) So Jesus did not solve all the divisions that He Himself faced during His earthly life.

Secondly, it means that Jesus’ immediate desire is that His own fire spread in this divided world through us. We are to make Christ present in our divided world and bring into this world what Christ brought into this world in His own earthly life while reflecting Christ’s own attitude towards conflicts and divisions.

What is this fire of Jesus that He brought immediately into the world and that He longs to spread in our divided world through us? We must first remember that Jesus is the sinless One who came into a world divided by sin. Sin in the human heart is what divides us and destroys the harmony in our relationships. In as much as these divisions begin in the human heart, the fire of Christ must begin also in our own hearts and flow out into our divided world.

This fire that Christ brings immediately into the world has five essential components. Firstly, it is a fire of merciful love that forgives all sins and brings inner peace for those who who humbly accept it. Secondly, it is a fire of saving truth that sets us free and constantly challenges us to grow into the image of Christ. Thirdly, it is a fire of divine grace that transforms us into God’s children and moves us to live accordingly. Fourthly, it is a fire of good example to others that encourages them to live the gospel to the fullest by the grace of God and thus to live in joyful harmony with God and with others. Fifthly, it is a fire of hope that faces darkness of human division with a courageous heart that refuses to give up.

This is the fire of Christ that alone conquers divisions and makes us one. This is the only thing that can fulfill the wish of Jesus for our unity in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, “May they be one as we are one, I in them and you in me.”(Jn 17:21) We must let our hearts be completely consumed by the elements of this divine fire and then bring them into our world no matter the cost or the results.

The letter to the Hebrews gives us a hint about how to be enflamed by this fire and make it present in our world today. First, we are to “get rid of all burden of sin that clings to us.” We begin our struggle with divisions in our world by fighting sin in ourselves first, striving to be one with Christ and with others first. How can we fight divisions in the world while we too are ignoring our inner division brought about by sin? We must allow this divine love to consume us first and set us on fire with divine love.

Then, we are to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” We focus on Christ and not on the divisions or on our own inability to overcome these divisions. By focusing on Christ with love and faith in those moments, we receive that which is in Christ, participating in His own grace and attitude. This in turn allows us to be and act like Christ in the face of all opposition that we face personally and among our loved ones. This Christ-like approach opens us to the peace of Christ so that we bring into this world what Christ brought into the world and not our own baggage, agendas, biases, and resentments that only worsen the divide.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our world is divided today and it is further dividing every day. There will always be divisions in this world. We must not be afraid of them and we must also not be naïve and think that we can on our own resolve all these conflicts and tensions. Jesus Christ did not take away all the divisions in this life and neither can we. People will hate us and others and sometimes there is nothing that we can do to change that. Even Jesus warned us, “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”(Lk 6:26) Again He said, “All will hate you because of my name.”(Lk 21:17) We can avoid all naivety in dealing with divisions by remembering that this world is not heaven, the place of perfect and uninterrupted harmony, but a place of conflict and trial, a place in which we are called to make present what Jesus made present in His own time and to have His peace flow through our hearts by doing so.

Let us ask ourselves the right question: what am I bringing into this divided world today? Am I busy taking sides in the divisions that I face? Am I playing the blaming game, judging others and telling who is right and who is wrong? Am I just going to ignore all the divisions and pretend we are one happy family who would in time love each other perfectly from the heart? Are we pacifists who would sacrifice all things, beginning with the uncomfortable truth, for the sake of a false peace?

Or are we going to be Christ in our world today and let the fire of Christ pass through our hearts to the world and share in Christ’s own attitude towards division? Are we going to be living conduits in our world today of Christ’s merciful love and not our biases and resentments, His transforming grace and not our agendas, His example and not our easy compromises, His saving truths and not our empty opinions, and His unfailing hope and not our discouragement and frustrations? Are we ready to do these and pay the price for doing so? Our failure or reluctance to receive and spread this fire of Christ condemns our world to endless and insurmountable divisions.

Jesus Christ longed for our unity, prayed for it, and suffered and died for it. Yet He was not accepted but only rejected and mocked on the cross. Many chose to still remain estranged from Him despite the great love that He showed us on the cross. He died on the cross and rose, not to immediately take away all divisions between us, but that His fire may be in us and that we would let this fire spread and set this divided world ablaze and bring to this world that supernatural unity found in the Triune God alone.

We have this fire in us through this Eucharist today. Let this fire consume us and spread through us no matter the cost so that we can begin to fulfill Christ’s wish for unity in this divided world. This is the only way that we can know and spread the deep peace of Christ even in our divided world.

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

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