When Christ becomes real to us: A homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 13, 2017.

1Kings 19:9, 11-13; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

When Christ becomes real to us

“Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus.”

She had grown up among many siblings in her poor Bangladeshi family. She was the only one that her parents could afford to send to school with the hope that she would help the family out financially. She sensed a call to leave her job and all things to follow Jesus as a religious sister in an international community of sisters here in the Philippines. With great pains to her and to her loved ones, she received the blessing of her parents and prepared to begin her formation process. She had a motor accident on the day of her departure while on the way to the airport with her family that left her mother crippled. She still boarded the plane the next day and left for the Philippines to begin her formation for the religious life.

She narrates her vocation story with deep pains but always ends with these words, “I know that Jesus is here with me and that He will take care of my mother and family in His own way and time and more than I could ever do for them.”  How can Jesus be so real for her despite all that she had gone through in doing what she perceived as His will for her? How can Jesus be so real for us that we know with that certainty that we are never alone in the moments of life? Her story shows us that Jesus Christ becomes real for us when we are willing to take a risk or to sacrifice something dear to us just to be close to Jesus or to imitate Jesus more closely. We give God a chance to act and to reveal His veiled presence in our lives when we are willing and ready to risk something to be close to Jesus or to speak and act like Jesus has done.

Today’s Gospel passage begins with the disciples seeing Jesus Christ as a ghost walking on the troubled sea, “When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said.” But the Gospel passage ends with Jesus being so real to them that they acknowledged His divinity, “Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

But how did the disciples move from seeing Jesus as a phantom, a ghost, to Jesus being so real with them that they affirmed His own divinity? This is possible because one man, Peter, chose to take a risk and come out of the safety of his boat to journey to Jesus, to be with Him on the troubled waters and to do what Jesus was doing, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Upon Jesus’ command, “Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus.” Yes, Peter did not persevere long in walking on water but began to drown soon. He may look like a failure, one who lost his faith and succumbed to fear; but at least he gave Jesus a chance to act and to show him that He (Jesus) is so close to us and can save us in the storms, “Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” They thus ceased seeing Jesus as a ghost but Jesus became so real to them.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how real is the living Christ to each of us today? Is Jesus just a memory, like a hero of the past who has moved on and all we have are stories of Him and His saving actions? Is our Eucharist just a brief encounter with the living Christ who we think abandons us in our life situations? Are our life experiences more real to us than the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst? In short, is Jesus Christ a mere phantom or ghost to us or is He the Son of God who holds all of reality in His hands and for whom all things exist?

What are we willing to risk or to sacrifice to be more united with Christ today and to imitate Him more faithfully? Jesus Christ is inviting us out of our own comfort zone and situations to take a risk and draw closer to Him in readiness to imitate His words and actions. What are we willing to risk so as to love selflessly like Jesus? Are we ready to speak the truth in world that is ready to condemn us as bigots just like Jesus, the Truth, who suffered death at the hands of His countrymen because He revealed the Father’s love for us? Are we willing to risk losing our reputation, the approval of our acquaintances, our comforts, pleasures, etc just to be with Christ and to follow more closely in His footsteps? Jesus Christ becomes real for us only when we risk or sacrifice anything for the sake of greater unity with Christ and closer imitation of Him. This is how we allow God to act and reveal Himself to us in our daily lives.

We must never be afraid of failures when we sense Jesus inviting us to take a risk for His sake. A relative of mine once asked me this question shortly before I went to the seminary, “What would you do if you did not make it and become a priest at the end after giving up your job and all that you had achieved in life? How would you integrate back into society and continue your life after so many wasted years?” I look back now and I know that through the good and the bad moments of priestly and religious formation and ministry, I have seen that hand of Jesus reaching out to draw me out of the waters of failures, sin and sufferings. I have heard His voice booming louder over the loud winds and storms and calling me to courage and perseverance in my vocation. Like Peter, I have seen and experienced Jesus acting in my life. He is definitely no ghost to me. I thank God for the grace to take a risk to follow Him.

The Blessed Virgin Mary took a great risk when she said yes to the request of St. Gabriel at the Annunciation. She almost got herself stoned to death if St. Joseph had disowned the child Jesus. She risked and sacrificed her comfort by giving birth to Him in a manger and fleeing to Egypt with Him. She risked her life to journey with her condemned Son to Calvary and to stand with Him on Calvary, associating with Him to the very end in the face of such hatred from her own people. In all these, she waited patiently for the Resurrection of her Son because Jesus and His promise to her of the Resurrection were more real than anything she could experience. May we learn from Mary to be ready to risk and sacrifice all for the sake of Christ so that Jesus may not remain a ghost to us.

The risen Christ whom we encounter in today’s Eucharist says to each of us, “Come.” He invites us out of our comfort zones to draw closer to Him and to imitate Him closely in our world today. He invites us to pray, love God and others, serve all people, forgive all, worship God alone, bear witness to the Father etc just as He has done. It is risky and there will surely be failures on our part. But if we never cease taking risks for His sake, ready to sacrifice all just to be more united and conformed to Jesus, Jesus will never be a ghost to us but He will be so real to us that no matter what we are going through in life, we shall say to Him, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

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

 

 

 

 

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The Transfiguration and our Christian Identity: A homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of the Lord. August 6, 2017

Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pet 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

The Transfiguration and our Christian identity

I was initially confused about what to do with my life shortly after I arrived in the United States from my native country of Nigeria. I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Geophysics. My dad suggested that I go into Information Technology instead. My uncle was of the opinion that I should get an MBA and pursue a business career. My childhood friends suggested that I ignored my dad and uncle and play soccer instead because it was both profitable and more fun! They were all good options but what was I to do?

Clarity came only when I came to realize that God loved me as His Son in Jesus Christ just as I was no matter what my past has been and He had a mission for me despite my weakness. I came to embrace my priestly and religious vocation only after I realized that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, has won for me the right to be a son of God with great privileges and responsibilities. In Christ Jesus and through Christ Jesus, I have access to divine grace, mercy, forgiveness, faith, hope, love, etc., a gratuitous share in the mission of Christ as well as all that I needed to fulfill this mission.

We are usually confused about what we are to do in life because we easily focus on the issue of what to do without first answering the fundamental question, “Who am I?” Unless we first grasp our true identity in Christ, i.e. knowing who we truly are in the eyes of God, we can never know what we are called to do. When our true identity is blurred, faulty or built on shaky ground, we find ourselves both confused and weakened to act as we should act in this world.

Jesus fulfilled the mission for which the Father sent Him because He never forgot that His fundamental identity was as His Father’s only begotten Son. Being fully aware and conscious of both His rights and responsibilities as the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus knew exactly what to do at each moment of His life no matter what it cost Him or His loved ones.

When He was found in the temple at the age of twelve by His parents He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” He had no doubts about His Father’s love for Him and His union with the Father, “I and the Father are one.” He resolutely embraced the responsibilities that come with being the Father’s beloved Son, “I must complete the work of Him who sent me.” In addition, Jesus “did not seek to please Himself but the Father,” submitting to His Father’s will in His agony in the Garden, “Father, take this chalice away from me but not my will but yours be done.” On the cross, He never doubted that He was the Father’s beloved Son as He gave His last breath as an offering to the Father, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The Father repeatedly affirmed this fundamental identity of Jesus throughout His earthly life. When Jesus began His public ministry at His baptism in the Jordan, the Father exclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In today’s Gospel passage the Father again exclaimed about the transfigured Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” In both instances, the voice of the Father is not to remind Jesus that He is first and foremost the Father’s beloved Son. But this voice is primarily for us, to point us to Jesus as the source of our true identity as children of God. It is Jesus Christ alone who reveals to us our true identity as God’s beloved children, makes us truly God’s children and gives us the grace to truly live as such. Unless we learn to look at and listen to Jesus alone, we will never know our true identity as God’s beloved children, we will live our lives without faith in the rights that Christ has won for us and we will be helpless to fulfill our duties as God’s beloved children, “To those who believe in His (Jesus’) name, He has given power to become sons of God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, where do we get our sense of identity from today? Is our identity rooted in our wealth, job, achievement, fame, success, popularity, or our acceptability by others? How would each of us answer the question, “Who am I?” Are we looking to the world or to others to tell us who we really are? How sad to see many people today who would reduce their fundamental identity to their sexual orientation or to current ideologies or movements within our outside the Church. Whether we call ourselves liberals or conservatives, homosexual or straight, pro-life or pro-abortion, we must never forget our fundamental identity as God’s beloved Children in Christ. In Christ Jesus, we have access to God as His beloved children and the grace that triumphs over the devil, all sin and the grave. It is in Christ Jesus alone that we can also fulfill our responsibilities to live lives of ongoing conversion, loving God and others selflessly, seeking to please God in all things and fulfill the mission for which we were created.

One clear sign that we are truly rooted in our identity as God’s children is that we become like Jesus, constantly in touch with the continuously affirming words of the Father, “You are my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.” When we are firmly grounded on this truth as our fundamental identity, our predominant desire will be to do all things to please the Father and not ourselves. This way, nothing can stop us from fulfilling our mission in life.

If we are going to live our Christian life with conviction and overcome all confusion and weakness, we must look to Jesus Christ and Him alone and listen to His words as He speaks to us in prayer, in the Sacraments, in His written words to us, in our well-formed consciences and in the Catholic Church. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of Man takes on light.” St. Paul echoes this same message when he says to us in today’s Second Reading, “You will do well to be attentive to it (prophetic message) as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Our world is indeed a dark place because it offers us so many tempting suggestions about who we are. Our fallen human nature and the devil are constantly proposing for us false images of who are. The light continues to shine in the dark world because, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, never ceases to come to us as in today’s Eucharist to reveal Himself to us and to reveal to us who we truly are. Mary, the Mother of God, is also reminding us of our rights and duties as God’s children as she whispers in our hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”

Let us fix our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ so that we grasp deeply who we truly are as God’s beloved children even in our sins and struggles. Doing so we will find both light and strength to be and to do what God wants for us in this world and please Him by fulfilling our mission in life so that for all eternity, we will echo the words of St. Peter before the face of the transfigured Christ in today’s Gospel, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How all things can work for good: A homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 30th 2017.

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

 

How all things can work for our good

No one knew how a particular religious sister could connect so deeply with the abused young women in the women’s shelter being run by her religious congregation here in the Philippines. This sister could speak and act in ways that easily won the trust and openness of the wounded women in ways that not even the trained social workers could do. She was once abused physically and emotionally as a child and she had gone through a healing process that saw her experience God’s unconditional love for her so deeply. She got rid of her deep anger, forgave those who hurt her, and begged God to make her an instrument of healing to other abused women. This religious sister had allowed divine love to prevail in her heart and she had consciously chosen to live for the healing of others. Now she is an effective instrument for God’s healing to the abused and wounded women in the women’s shelter.

St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading may sound too good to be true, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” St. Paul assures us that as long as our hearts are filled with the love of God and we are ready to live for the divine purpose alone, all things, no matter how painful or difficult they may be, will surely and eventually work for our own good.

Let us reflect on the life of Jesus.  He was hounded by Herod even as an infant and forced to flee to Egypt, tempted by the devil, opposed by the religious and civil leaders, considered an enemy of the state, maligned by his enemies despite all His miracles and good deeds, denied by His close friends, betrayed by one of 12 apostles, and finally murdered in front of His Mother Mary, crucified between two thieves and buried in another person’s tomb. All these eventually worked for His good because “God raised Him up, having freed Him from death.” (Acts 2:24) All these worked for His good because Jesus’ heart was filled with the love of His Father and His only desire was to fulfill the divine purpose for which He was sent. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete His work.”(Jn 4:34)

Jesus uses parables in today’s Gospel to describe the Kingdom in today’s Gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” What type of treasure can elicit this type of radically generous response if not God’s unconditional and personal love for each and every one of us just as we are? The kingdom that Jesus proclaims and makes present is one in which we experience that love of God that we cannot merit or earn, we experience the joy of being loved just as we are and we receive the grace to respond to this love no matter the cost. We can only sell all that we have joyfully only when we are certain that all things will work for our good.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of God’s kingdom now, how firm is our faith in God’s unconditional and personal love for each of us? How easily we doubt God’s personal love for us because of our sins or our sufferings in life. We may even universalize God’s love without making it personal and concrete. When we doubt His love for us for whatever reason, we hinder that grace to respond to His love for us in the concrete moment and situation and thus we forfeit that joy that comes when all things work for our own good.

No matter what we have gone through or are going through in life today, believing in God’s love for us in those concrete moments and responding to this love for His own pleasure prepares us for that joy of seeing how all things work for our good. Let our petition for divine grace be rooted in our faith in God’s unconditional love for us and we will see how things work for our good.

This is very important especially in dealing with sins against purity. The shame that comes after such sins makes us feel unlovable and dirty. The persistent temptations and painful memories that plague us can make us doubt the efficacy of divine grace. If only we faced such temptations and painful memories with a firm faith in God’s unconditional love for each one of us, a love that we cannot merit or earn, a divine love that is ready to forgive and strengthen us for further battle, and if only we strive to respond to this love without respite no matter the number or the gravity of our failures, we open our hearts to divine grace and God will surely make our sins and failures work for our own good.

The current movement to normalize homosexual unions and to trivialize sexual relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman is a clear sign that we have lost sense of the power and meaning of the love of God offered to us in Jesus Christ. It is not a love that we can receive without making a conscious response of a complete gift of ourselves to God through others for divine purpose. It is a love that cost Him all – His entire life. He died so that our hearts may be filled with that love. It is likewise a love that moves us to sell all for the sake of belonging to Him alone i.e. it moves us to place all things under His own purpose and not for our selfish needs. How can we today be stressing divine love and mercy and ignore the wholehearted gift of self in conscious response for His purpose that this divine love demands?

As we encounter the greatest treasure i.e. the love of God offered us in Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist, let our hearts be like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary who received God’s unconditional love for her with all her being, believed in this love always and responded to this love with a complete gift of herself to God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She waited patiently as Jesus died on the Cross because she knew that all things will work for her good as long as His love reigned in her heart and His will was all that mattered to her, “Blessed is she who believed that what was promised to her would be fulfilled.”

If by the grace of this Eucharist we follow in Mary’s footsteps as she followed in Christ’s own footsteps, always believing in God’s personal and unconditional love for us and striving to respond to this love in actions that are rooted in divine purpose, all things will surely work for our good and the joy of the Lord will surely be in our hearts.

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

 

 

 

 

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Shining like the sun in the Father’s kingdom: A homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 23rd 2017.
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43

Shining like the sun in the Father’s kingdom

I adopted a philosophy in my high school years that taught me a bitter lesson about life. I did not put in my best to excel in studies but to do the very minimum I could do to avoid failing. It backfired. I ended up doing way too little than I should have done, failing the examinations, and having to repeat the exams to enter college. I cannot make the same mistake in the spiritual life, being mediocre and minimalist with the aim of avoiding hell instead of striving for heavenly glory.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus indicates the high goal we should aim for in the spiritual life: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” In the kingdom that Jesus describes, it is not enough to avoid being burned in the fiery furnace like the weeds in the parable that have been planted by the enemy. It is also insufficient to be the wheat merely avoiding to be tainted by the weed. We must aim for Heaven at all cost and strive to enter through the narrow gate. (Lk 13:24)

How can we strive for heaven constantly and not just to aim at avoiding hell? Today’s Readings show us three things that are necessary.
First of all, we must strongly believe in what Jesus Christ has done for us and what He continues to do for us today. These means that
1. We must believe that in His love for us, Jesus continuously sows good seed of His word of life in our hearts, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.”
2. We must believe that Jesus, knowing our utter inability to even pray for what we truly need, graciously unites Himself to us through His Spirit to assist us in our weakness, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
3. We must have faith that we can pray and do His will in all things because of the presence of His Spirit with us: “The Spirit intercedes for the holy ones according to the will of God.”
4. We must also believe in the power of this divine life to transform our world just like the yeast affects the dough in which it is placed, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole batch is leavened.” We are not condemned to a life of easy compromise with this world because this world has no power over the life of Christ that is within us, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”(1 Jn 4:4)
5. We must believe that every moment of our lives is an act of that divine patience and mercy granting us the opportunity to return to God, “Let them (good seeds and weeds) grow together until the harvest.” We can surely make a change in our lives by the grace of God, “God gives His children good ground for hope that He would permit repentance for their sins.”

Secondly, we must be aware of the plots of the devil in our lives and in the world today. The evil one cannot stop the growth and spreading of the good seed; so he plants only what appears like good seed-plants in such proximity to the truly good wheat plants that it is too dangerous to try to separate them immediately, “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” We must learn from our past failures in the moral life how we fall for the direct or stealth attacks of the enemy through his conscious or unconscious human agents  and fallen angels.

Thirdly, in addition to nurturing out faith in Jesus Christ and what He is doing in our lives today and becoming aware of how we are overcome by the evil one, we must also take firm action.
1. This action includes an intense sacramental life, especially the Eucharist and Confession. While the Eucharist nurtures and fosters the life of the true seed of Christ within us, the Spirit’s light and strength from Confession helps us to recognize and reject what does not nurture that life.
2. We must also cultivate a heartfelt gratitude for the seed that has been planted in us. Receiving the good seed with a sense of gratitude to God makes us cherish and appreciate the gift of new life that we have received from Christ Jesus. It is hard for us to be careless and negligent in the spiritual life if we are truly grateful for the gift of new life in Christ.
3. We also need constant prayer so that we can experience the light and strength of the Spirit within us guiding us to do the will of God faithfully in this world. It is in prayer that we allow Jesus to instruct and strengthen us to patiently endure the spiritual battle, “Let them grow together until the harvest.”
4. We must also be convinced that it is only in the will of God that we find our strength, hope and joy. The apparently good seed of the evil one eventually takes away our freedom, makes us confused, and kills our joy. A life of compromise and mediocrity only weakens, discourages and saddens us.
5. We must also be vigilant against our evil inclinations, the deceptions of the devil and the ploys of the devil’s conscious or unconscious human agents. The evil one waits for the opportune moment when we let down our guards to plant his deadly seeds, “While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds throughout the wheat, and then went off.”
6. There is also need for us to examine our attitude to suffering in this life. We should realize that, just as “the sufferings of this present life are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18), so also the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the pains of hell where Jesus teaches that there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.”
7. There is also a need for us to take hold of and make use of the infinite mercy and patience of God now. We must place all our trust in the mercy of God who allows both the evil and the good to exist for now even as He offers the good the grace to persevere in goodness and offers to the evil the grace to repent. For both the good and the evil, there is always grace for a new beginning.
8. Lastly, we must heed the warning of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 who warned us that many souls are going to hell today. Maybe many of us are just aiming to do the very minimum that we need to avoid hell and sadly end up missing the mark. Our Mother Mary also calls us to aim for the excellence of the divine will without compromise “Do whatever He tells you.”

Our Eucharist is an encounter with Jesus Christ, who never ceases to sow good seed in our hearts. The devil is also busy sowing deadly seeds that only appear good to us with the aim of making us doubt what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and to weaken our own free action. With strong faith in Christ’s uninterrupted actions in our lives and our readiness to respond to His divine promptings and reject the seeds of the devil, let us aim for heavenly glory so that we eventually “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.”

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

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The groaning of the Christian life: A homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 16th 2017
Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23

The groaning of the Christian life

Our Lord Jesus Christ used the image of a woman in labor to speak to His disciples of the imminent grief and joy that they would experience from His Passion and the arrival of the Holy Spirit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” (Jn 16:20-21) As certain as the labor pains are for the woman in labor, so is the joy of new life that comes after the pain.

The woman in labor can only experience of the joy of the new life to come by embracing and enduring the labor pains of the present moment. Likewise, the disciples will never know the joy of the Resurrected life of the Spirit without embracing the pains of the present moment. The Christian life is the new life of Christ within us by the power of the Spirit and this life is meant to grow through the trials and pains of life, striving to be brought to perfection and maturity in the life to come. On its journey to glory, the Christian life is one of constant struggle to do and to endure many things so that word of life grows within us.

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading that because of this new life that we have now, we are certain that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed for us.” He then uses the same image of the woman in labor to depict the spiritual life: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Today’s Gospel shows us three ways in which the Christian groans today so as to enter into the joy of new life tomorrow. First, there is the groaning that arises from our constant struggle to grow in our faith and to withstand temptations from the devil: “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” The evil one targets the new life of grace in us to destroy it by making us lose our faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us and our new status as God’s beloved children called and equipped for holiness now and eternal glory in the life to come. This is why those who have the new life of Christ are constantly tempted by the devil.

Secondly, there is the groaning that comes from the trials and persecutions of the world, “The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy…But when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.” We do not find joy by turning back or by compromise with the world when persecuted but by our perseverance through it all, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”(Mt 10:22)

Lastly, there is the groaning that comes from that constant struggle to resist anxiety from worldly desires, “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” We groan as we strive to keep our hearts grounded in God and His love for us and not in earthly things and pleasures.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we face those nagging temptations that we cannot break free from, when we are unjustly treated, persecuted, or face trials, when our future looks bleak or hopeless, it is so easy for us to think that we have been abandoned by God or to think that we are facing divine punishment for our sins. On the contrary, these things come our way because we have this new life of the Spirit within us. This new life must grow, mature, and be made visible by the things that we do and endure through the trials and hardships of life. We are no strangers to the groaning and anguish of the Christian life even as we have the certain hope of eternal life to come.

We must recall that the entire life of Jesus was one of groaning and pain. King Herod persecuted Him before He spoke a single word and caused Him to flee into Egypt as an infant. Jesus would later summarize his entire life in these words, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.”(Lk 12:50) Even His prayers were not lacking in that anguish of heart, “In the days when He was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death.”(Heb 5:7) He entered His Passion in the Garden of Gethsemane with this anguished heart, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”(Mk 14:34) All this anguish was His because He alone is “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” bearing that life of communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit and He desired to bring this life to fruition and communicate it to us by His death and Resurrection. He faced the groans of the present for the sake of the new life to be manifested in us in the future, “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross.”(Heb 12:2) How then can we bear the life of Christ Jesus within us and still hope to be free from the groaning of a new life that grows and matures in a world of pains and temptations?

Our Lord Jesus knew our weakness, reluctance, and fright to embrace the groaning of the new life. That is why He gave us His own mother Mary at the cross to be our own spiritual mother too. Mary is that “rich soil” who bears the greatest fruit, Jesus Christ, in all conditions of her earthly life. She received the Word Himself by her immense faith. She is the New Eve, the woman of Genesis, who has the power and the mission from God to crush the head of the devil. Mama Mary is the one who shared so deeply in the suffering of Christ throughout all the mysteries of His life, groaning with Him till His last breath on the cross so that His life may be in us too. In short, she is our Mother who continues to labor today to nurture the life of Christ in us. Mary has been tested and trusted to help us in our groaning as we grow in the life of Christ. She did not disappoint the Father who gave her His only begotten Son and she will never disappoint us too if we take her as our Mother, advocate, exemplar, and guide in the Christian journey.

Our Eucharist is always an encounter with Jesus Christ, who never ceases to sow His words of life in our hearts. Temptations, trials, tribulations and worldly anxieties may have quenched His words in our lives in the past because we were reluctant to groan as these seeds grew in us. But Jesus continues to sow His seeds of new life in us. Let us never strop striving today to let this seed of new life grow within us continuously even as we groan now so that we will experience the joy of the Lord to come.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mar

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Crippling our fears…for a change!: A homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 25th 2017
Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

Crippling our fears…for a change!

Is it not amazing how we can have so many experiences of God’s faithful love for us and still succumb to fears in our daily lives? We are afraid of what people will say or think about us. We are afraid of being rejected, criticized, and persecuted, etc. We are afraid of failing and disappointing loved ones. We are afraid that our efforts will not be appreciated by others. These are only some of the fears that linger in our hearts.

But we don’t have to let fear cripple us always. We can actually cripple fear too if we learn the lesson that Jesus offers us in the tenth Chapter of Mathew’s Gospel from which today’s Gospel is taken. Jesus does not just command us to avoid fear: “Have no fear of them.” He also shows us how we can cripple fear itself.

First of all, we must open our hearts and minds to the words that Jesus speaks to us even in the dark and frightening moments of our lives and be ready to echo these words to the world, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light.” Even in the darkest moments, Our Lord Jesus continues to communicate words of healing, hope, forgiveness, strength to us and these words are not just for us but are meant to be conveyed to all others by our own words and actions even if they have or may reject us, “As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

Secondly, we must live with the conviction that God is so one with us that He knows us very well as well as all that we are going through, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered.” By virtue of the Incarnation, the Word of God has united Himself to every one of us and He shares in all our experiences too except sin. We must live with this conviction that God knows us as well as our past failures, current worries, present strengths, and future achievements as well as all that we are going through presently. In Jesus Christ, God has experienced what we experience today and gives us the grace to follow in His footsteps, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

Thirdly, we must also live with that conviction that God loves us just as we are and we do not need to pretend to be something or someone else, “Fear not therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The frightening moments of our lives is the time when the Spirit of love within us will surely speak to give witness to Jesus Christ, “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Lastly, we also live with the conviction that God will surely reward us for whatever good that we do or endure for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who assures us that “we will be hated by all for His name’s sake,” also assures us that He will approve us before the face of the Father for what we do for His sake even if the entire world should condemn and criticize us, “So everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

The young prophet Jeremiah in today’s First Reading is facing the frightening prospect of death at the hands of his people for his prophetic message calling them to submit to the approaching Babylonian force. His friends become his persecutors, “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” But he is aware of God’s presence with him, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He sees his trial as God “testing him and probing his mind and heart.” He cripples his fear by praising God, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our fears overcome and cripple us despite God’s amazing blessings in our lives when we begin to doubt God’s words and His promises to us. The same words of Jesus that calmed storms and drove out demons are meant to set us free from fear if we listen to them with faith as the words of the Risen Christ and willingly reflect these words to others by our own words and actions. Compromise with the world or seeking to just blend with the crowd only makes our fears increase. Fears cripple us when we see God as distant and uncaring, not knowing us and what we are going through. We are crippled by fears when we doubt God’s unconditional love for us and think that we have to do something good to win His love and show others that we are worthy of love. Lastly, fears overwhelm and stifle us in the midst of God’s gifts when we are not doing things for the sake of Christ and seeking our rewards from Him alone.

I remember lying down prostrate on the floor as the Litany of Saints was being sung at my priestly ordination. My legs were trembling at the thought of being ordained a Catholic priest. I was thinking, “Am I really ready for this? Would I be faithful to the end? What would people say about me?” Listening to the list of saints being chanted, I pondered how all those saints, beginning with Mama Mary, the Queen of Martyrs, dealt with different forms of fears too. They all faced fears that I could not even imagine: fears from the malice of wicked men and temptations from demons, and fears from their own weaknesses. Their fears did not cripple them but they crippled their fears by “the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”(Rev 12:11) My fears dispelled as I sensed that hope that divine grace offered by the blood of the Lamb was more than enough for me to follow the footsteps of the saints.

Our Eucharist today as always is a participation in the blood of the Lamb who says to us, “Do not be afraid.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is where the God-man, who knows us more than we know ourselves, loves us as we are, shares in our frightening experiences, and assures us that our faithful witness to Him before others will never be in vain.

Let our life of witness be strong by sharing with others His words and fruits of the graces that we receive, by living in that conviction that He knows us perfectly and loves us unconditionally, and that He has assured us of our heavenly reward. This is how we can cripple our fears…for a change.

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

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Gripped by the Eucharist: A homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Dt 8:2-3, 14-16; 1Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

Gripped by the Eucharist

Her husband had left her after close to 40 years of marriage and five grown kids and moved in with another younger woman. Her friends made fun of her for choosing to remain single and faithful to her marriage vows and not follow their warped advice to “move on with her life” and get another “husband.” She had also recently been diagnosed with a form of cancer. Yet this woman would silently enter the pew each morning for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in her local chapel and to receive the Eucharist with a face that betrayed the pain in her heart.

Why should she continue to come to receive our Eucharistic Lord every blessed day though her entire life seemed to be falling apart? I always see in her example a reminder that we need the presence of God in our lives more than we need the gifts of God.

God’s gifts come and go and we cannot hold on to them forever. Think about how our youth, beauty, relationships, loved ones, joys, health, and off course, our earthly life, necessary pass away. But when God is present in our lives, it is not so much us holding on to God, but God who holds on to us forever and He never lets go in good or bad times.

Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of today’s Mass contains two guarantees connected to the Eucharist that call us to trust completely in the worlds of Jesus. Jesus first of all guarantees us His abiding presence with us through the Eucharist, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” We are guaranteed eternal life (not a mere sign of eternal life) that is nothing but the presence of Jesus with us under the form of bread and wine. The second guarantee is that He will hold on to us till the very end and give us all that we need to hold on to Him, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ that we celebrate today reminds us of this double guarantee that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist: to be with us and to hold on to us even till death. Jesus freely surrendered the gifts that His Father bestowed on Him during His earthly life. He saw the death of St. Joseph, He saw His beloved disciples betray, deny and abandon Him, He saw His good reputation destroyed by the Jewish leaders, and He saw His life unjustly taken from Him. But His Father held on to Jesus even in the grave and raised Him from the grave, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of Him, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Jesus held on to His Father as intensely as the Father held on to Him whether the gifts were present or not. By having His life in us, we are guaranteed that God holds on to us too and gives us what we need to hold on to Him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we receive God’s gifts or not, whether we preserve them intact or not, whether we use or lose them, let us continue to come to our Eucharistic Lord so that we live our lives with that guarantee of God’s presence with us always, holding on to us till the very end.

What does Jesus do as He holds on to us? In our Eucharistic Savior Jesus, God is fulfilling and perfecting for us the very same things that He did for the Israelites in the Old Testament. Moses reminds the Israelites in today’s First Reading of God’s power to set them free, “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” First of all, Jesus’s Eucharistic presence is all about setting us free from sin, selfishness, worries, addictions and all things that hinder our freedom from becoming what God wants us to be.

Moses also reminds them of God’s wisdom that guided them through the treacherous desert, “(Do not forget) the God who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched land and waterless ground.” Secondly, Jesus in the Eucharist is our Good Shepherd who guides us along the way of life and enlightens our choices in the journey through life. Lastly, the Israelites are to remember the God who “brought forth water from the flinty rock and fed them in the desert with manna, a food unknown to their fathers.” Thirdly, Jesus in His love mysteriously nourishes and strengthens us with His own body and blood so that we can overcome all things and journey to the very end with Him.

Our Eucharist Lord is present with us to free us, to guide us and to nourish and strengthen us till the very end of our lives. We must go beyond attending the Eucharist in search of earthly gifts alone and then judging the presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs based on the presence or absence of His gifts in our lives. We must also go beyond attending the Eucharist as a mere obligation or duty imposed on us by the Church. How much more transforming will our Eucharistic celebrations be if we approached the Eucharist with the that readiness to be set free by Jesus, guided by Jesus alone in all our life choices and strengthened to do His will in this life?

A woman here in Marawi, Philippines, who has been displaced by the fierce fighting between the government troops and the Islamic Maute group, had this to say recently, “Our homes and stores have been destroyed, our neighbors and relatives killed. We have lost everything. It is only God that we are holding on to now.” Gifts and blessings come and go, often in painful and difficult circumstances. We can always hold on to the divine presence with us. Our Eucharist guarantees us that we are not just holding on to God but God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, is holding on to us as we receive His body and drink His blood, placing all our trust in the words of Jesus alone and in His divine guarantee.

Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist. He knows all our needs even before we ask Him. He comes to give us what we need most – His presence with us. Whether we have and enjoy His gifts or not, let Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, be ever present in our lives to free us, to guide us, and to strengthen us with His body and blood so that He will hold on to us even till the grave from where He will raise us up on the last day…guaranteed.

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

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