The secret of the chosen ones: A homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 15, 2017

Is 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14

The Secret of the chosen ones

St. Paul is incarcerated probably in Ephesus after drawing the ire of both Jews and Gentiles for his proclamation of the Gospel. He writes to the Philippians about discovering the secret of “being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” He states what this secret is, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” After many years of achievements and successes in a difficult and trying ministry, St. Paul affirms that he does not place any iota of trust in himself, anything or person but in Jesus Christ alone. Placing all his trust in Jesus alone, St. Paul has such vision and inner strength to do, overcome, and endure anything. We become confused, weakened, and disillusioned when we place any trust in something or someone else apart from God.

This is not a new secret that St. Paul just happened to discover. Jesus gave us the secret earlier when He said at the Sermon of the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”(Mt 5:3) It is the poor in spirit, those who refuse to place any trust in anything or person that is not God, that will have the insight to recognize the overwhelming beauty and glory of the Kingdom and have the strength to enter into it.

Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel about the Kingdom of God shows a king graciously inviting all people to his son’s wedding banquet, “They gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.” The man who tried to remain in the banquet without a wedding garment is an example of a person who places his trust in himself. He thinks that he is okay just the way that he is with his old garment. He does not accept the wedding garment that such a rich host would typically provide free of charge to his wedding guests so that they identify themselves with the wedding party and share their joy. He thinks that it is good enough to just show up as if he is doing the king a favor. He ends up being thrown out losing his freedom, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Here are some signs that indicate that we are placing only partial trust in Jesus and knowingly or unknowingly placing trust in ourselves, others or in other things:  We become selfish because we want to please ourselves in all things and always. We are easily and frequently overcome by sin because we become discouraged by our weakness and failures or we have an exaggerated sense of our strength that we rashly meddle into occasions of sin. We find ourselves in wishful thinking that God’s Commandments will change instead of trying to obey His Commandments with the help of His grace. We feel so special that we take exemptions to the Commandments. We are not open to a deep conversion and repentance from our sins because we do not place our trust in God’s grace and we trust in our own self-righteousness. We do not persevere in prayer because, depending on our own strength alone, prayer will appear superfluous and unnecessary. We lose our desire to serve God and do His will because the most important thing in life becomes us and our wants, feelings and desires. We hardly forgive others who offend us because we cannot acknowledge or accept our own sinfulness and need for divine mercy too and we are excessively attached to our hurt feelings and moods. We cannot forgive ourselves for our failures even if we claim to have accepted God’s forgiveness. We worry so much about the future that we begin to accumulate and horde material things selfishly. We walk away from the Sacraments because we say to ourselves, “I can do without these Sacraments,” “I don’t feel I get anything from these Sacraments.” “Why should I confess to a Catholic priest when I can just confess to God directly and receive forgiveness?” It is difficult for us to accept that God can bless and lead us through human persons like the saints because we think, “I do not need to pray to Mary or the saints. I can go directly to Jesus.” Most importantly, we cannot persevere in the spiritual life without complete trust in God but we will give up and lose the prize of eternal life, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”(Lk 21:19) Though we have been graciously invited into God’s Kingdom, we cannot hope to be in communion with Christ and the saints in the eternal kingdom if this is our attitude, “Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”(Ps 1:5)

I heard recently of a young high-school student here in the Manila area who was a gifted and attractive student, doing brilliantly in school, and excelling in sports and other extracurricular activities. She was the star of her class, the one who brought joy to all in the class. It was sad to discover recently that she always wore long sleeve coats and shirts because she was hiding the deep self-inflicted scars on her arms. She had been cutting herself for many years and had attempted suicide many times. I regret to say that I have heard numerous such stories.

Why are many of us, especially our young people, depressed and suicidal today? Why do we lose the strength to keep fighting in this life? Why do we get so confused and disillusioned about life that we want to terminate the gift of life that God has given to us? Maybe we need to examine how complete our trust in Jesus is today and ask, “Do I trust in Jesus completely and in Him alone?” How firmly grounded are we on the secret of the chosen, “I can do all things in Him (alone) who strengthens me?”

We can easily say that we trust in Jesus. But let us ask ourselves honestly, “Do I have complete trust in Jesus and in Him alone?” Is there something or someone else in whom I am depending on to provide strength and light to me in this painful journey of life? Am I also placing part of my trust in wealth, fame, popularity, success, power, relationships, careers, pleasure, etc.? Confusion, darkness, weakness and loss of hope come about when we place any trust in creatures and not on the Creator alone who has become man for us in Jesus Christ.

Our God cannot be accused of being wicked in any way. If He has created us for Himself and has prepared a banquet for us with Him for all eternity, if He has willed the death of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ for our own salvation, how then can He refuse us anything that we need to be with Him in Paradise? Jesus Himself calls us to have this complete trust in Him, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”(Lk 12:32) We only have to have 100% trust in Jesus alone, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.”(Jn 14:1)

Let Mary accompany us to Calvary where we will learn from her how to place all our trust in Jesus and in Him alone. Authentic devotion to Mary leads us to place our trust completely in Jesus Christ because Mary always and unfailingly leads us not to herself but to Jesus alone. She teaches us to always trust in Jesus alone as her voice echoes in our hearts, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary is our prime teacher of the secrets of the chosen ones because it is in Jesus alone that she found strength and vision to stand on Calvary even as she watched Jesus her Son die on the Cross and to wait in unshakable hope for His Resurrection in those darkest hours.

Christ is in us and we are in Him through our Eucharist today. “Many are invited but few are chosen.” Good or bad, we are now the invited ones in His kingdom and our garment is complete trust in Jesus alone. We now know the secret of the chosen ones. Let us live out this secret always no matter what life may bring our way with the conviction that we can do, endure, and overcome all things, definitely not in ourselves or in anything or anybody else, but in Him and in Him alone, Jesus Christ, who always strengthens us.

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

 

 

 

 

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An unexplainable peace in a chaotic world: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 8, 2017.

1s 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

An unexplainable peace in a chaotic world

Have you tried to understand the gruesome killing of concert attendees last week in Las Vegas? So many unanswerable questions: What was the motive for the taking innocent lives? Why didn’t someone notice something about the killer in time? How in the world did the killer get so many sophisticated guns and ammo into a hotel room undetected? What did he gain by unleashing such terror on others? Did their death and anguish bring any relief to his own pains?

There are so many things that we cannot explain or understand about such evil in our times. The fact that we cannot also predict these evils or avoid them adds to our fears. Our future appears both uncertain and scary. How can we ever find peace in such a chaotic world with violence that we cannot predict, avoid, or understand?

St. Paul writes to the conflict-ridden Philippian community about a mysteriously unique peace that “surpasses all understanding” even in the tense community. There are three things that lead to such a peace.

First, there is constant and honest prayer that establishes a living contact with God and draws us deeper into relationship with Him, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”  Our external condition may not be changed by such prayer but the love and confidence that such honest and persistent prayer engenders in us opens our hearts to the God of peace, “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Secondly, this peace must be guarded by the thoughts that we let into our minds and hearts. We must be vigilant about our thoughts if we are going to preserve that unexplainable peace of God that comes from our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. In the words of St. Paul, “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of any excellence, and worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Lastly, relationship with God and good, true and beautiful thoughts must lead to action that is in accord with the divine will. St. Paul ends by saying, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” We must choose carefully whom we decide to imitate in this life if our peace is going to be deep and abiding in today’s chaotic world. Our personal models in life will determine our peace of mind.

There is a strong temptation today to seek for our peace from having and enjoying everything we want and having things the way that we want them without any fear of losing it all. We futilely search for peace by trying to protect ourselves from all forms of evil. The bitter truth is that we are always vulnerable to one form of evil or another whether they are natural or man-made. No matter how much we have or achieve or enjoy in this life, we can never find deep, lasting peace because the world’s evils are unavoidable, unpredictable, and unexplainable.

We enter into that mysterious inner peace when we do not allow anything or person come between us and our relationship with God. This peace is ours when not even our sins or our sufferings in this life can quench our relationship with God in the slightest degree. In addition, our relationship with God so “guards our minds and hearts in Christ” that we constantly examine our thoughts and “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”(2Cor 10:5) Lastly, we choose to imitate Jesus Christ alone with the help and example of those who followed Him perfectly like the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.

Today’s Gospel tells of the tenants who receive everything that they needed from the landowner to bear fruit – an already planted vineyard with a hedge around it, a dug winepress and a tower. We just cannot explain their ingratitude to the landowner and their violent behavior towards the servants sent by the landowner to get the produce, “They seized the servants, one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.” The landowner eventually sent his son, not to receive the produce as other servants were sent to do, but to bring the wicked tenants to some form of reverence and to re-start their relationship with him, “He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’” In killing the son, the tenants reject any relationship with the landowner and thus they lose everything, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.”

The tenants had everything that they could ever want even in their infidelity but they lost it all the moment that they refused to be reconciled to the landowner in and though his son and to renew their relationship with him.  A similar things happens to us: no matter how much we have we can never find deep and lasting peace in this unpredictable world without being in a relationship with God and allowing that relationship to change the way that we think and act.

Jesus comes to us first and foremost to bring us into relationship with the Father by His grace. He alone transforms our minds and moves us to act in a new way that is patterned on His way of acting. This is how He offers us a mysterious inner peace in a chaotic world, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves?”(Mt 11:29)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are letting the unpredictable, unexplainable and unpreventable events of our chaotic world deprive us of the unexplainable peace of God from within, we need to ask ourselves some questions:

  1. How deep and true is my relationship with God today? What am I letting to get between me and God? What sin am I clinging to today because I am ashamed or reluctant to let go of it? What person or thing am I depending on and letting to control my life as if it were a god? What suffering is killing my hope today? Is my relationship with God on His own terms and standards or by mine own terms and standards?
  2. How honest is my prayer life? Do I hide things from God in prayer because I think that He does not care or cannot do anything about it? What hurtful memories of my past have I refused to bring to my prayer? What desires and imaginations am I too ashamed to bring to prayer? How does my fear of being condemned block my openness to God and His love for me?
  3. Can I speak to Jesus with all honesty about my deepest thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, dreams, fantasies, imaginations, etc.? How are my thoughts? Do I give room to and entertain every thought that enters my mind? Are my thoughts about God rooted in His revelation to me or are they based on my feelings alone or my wishful thinking? Do I think evil of others? Do I let impure and judgmental thoughts to remain in my mind?
  4. Who am I imitating today? Do I have a patron saint with whom I connect with and try to imitate?

In a world of senseless and inexplicable violence that tends to kill our peace, our God is offering us a peace that is beyond explanation in His Son Jesus Christ. It all begins with a new relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a new way of thinking, desiring and valuing things and life patterned on that of Jesus in our words and actions.

Our Eucharistic Lord, the Prince of Peace, comes to us today in this world where our inner peace is constantly threatened by violence that we just cannot explain, avoid or predict. We are like tenants who cannot claim to have produced fruit abundantly despite all that we have been given. But Jesus comes not to demand fruit from us but first and foremost to renew and strengthen our relationship with God, to reconcile us with the Father and shape our ways of thinking and acting. If we begin to pray honestly and sincerely, thinking only what is true, good and beautiful, and acting as Jesus did, we shall always have an abiding peace in this world that we just cannot explain because the God of peace will truly be with us.

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

 

 

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The Marian path to Christ-like attitude: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 1, 2017.

Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

The Marian path to Christ-like attitude

I pulled out my Rosary beads to pray during a plane flight some years ago.  The passenger next to me asked me that all too familiar question, “Why do you still pray to Mary? Why all these Rosaries and devotion to Mary?” Off course, I had many reasons for my devotion to Mary but the reason that came out of my mouth that day could only be the voice of the Spirit of Jesus. I replied, “I depend on and I pray to Mary because I want to imitate and be like Jesus.”

What? Did Jesus pray to Mary? Off course not. Then why does praying to Mary make us imitate and be like Jesus?

Everything that Jesus Christ said, did and endured in His humanity and still does today are essentially acts of deepest love for His Father. In Jesus Christ, we find the prime and perfect model of love for the Father and for others. Every act of Jesus was also an act of loving obedience of His Father, “I came down from heaven not to do my will but the will of the One who sent me.”(Jn 6:38) It is out of this loving obedience to His Father’s will that Jesus freely chose to depend on Mary as His beloved Mother, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.”(Lk 2:51) Hence we cannot separate the Most Blessed Virgin Mary from Jesus’ act of loving obedience to the Father for our salvation.

St. Paul says to the Philippians in today’s Second Reading, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.” It is not just enough to do the good but we must have a right inner disposition that does not seek gain for self. We must do it all out of love for God by imitating the attitude of Jesus Christ, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

We cannot speak of any of these elements of Jesus’ attitude of loving obedience without bringing in His loving relationship with Mary and His dependence on her. If we are going to imitate Jesus’ attitude, we must reflect on how these His attitudes were present through, in and with Mary.

In the divine plan, it is in and through Mary that Jesus “who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.” In Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ did not hold on to His divine status but grasped the humanity willed by His Father. Mary responded by holding on only to what God offers to her and nothing more, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” It is also in our life of devotion to Mary that we die to our status in this world so as to embrace only what God wills for us and let go of all others.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus Christ freely “emptied Himself.” To “empty self” is to live with an attitude that says, “It is really not about me.” Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, chose the way of loving dependence on Mary to empty Himself. Can we claim to be wiser and choose another path? We also begin to die to self when we enter into this life of dependence on Mary. Mary will teach us how to act like she did and let go of our own plans, timetables, and agendas in life so as to embrace God’s own plan for us. In Mary’s spiritual womb, we do not get discouraged with our spiritual lives because it is really not about us.

It was with and in the womb of Mary that Jesus Christ “took on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found human in appearance.” Slave denotes utter submission and dependence and lack of any rights at all. Jesus chose to be a slave of love in Mary and Mary responded by choosing in love to be His slave too. We cannot obey God when we are too focused on what is our rights or we are slaves of this world or public opinions. With and through Mary we begin to put aside our own rights for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus “humbled Himself.” Jesus’ first act of humble obedience was to choose to be conceived in the chaste womb of Mary. He would depend on Mary for every nourishment and movement. He will depend on Mary to clothe Him, present Him in the temple and to lead Him to safety in Egypt when Herod wanted to kill Him. We begin to put our pride to death by depending on this awesome creature of God called Mary just like Jesus did.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus began His attitude of being “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Speaking of the immaculate body that He received from Mary, Jesus would say, “A body you have prepared for me…I come to do your will, O God.”(Heb 10:5) It is also with Mary that Jesus would consummate His own act of loving obedience of the Father when He gave His life for us on the Cross as Mary united herself inseparably from Him and His sacrifice. She saw Jesus bend His knees in loving obedience from the moment of His conception in her womb to His interment in the tomb. She can surely help us to obey God out of love for Him and wait patiently for God to act in our lives.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus’ loving obedience of the Father did not leave Him disappointed. The Father “greatly exalted Him and gave Him the name above other names so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Jesus has bent His knees in loving obedience and He was not disappointed. Part of His reward is that, since He has bent His own knees in love, we too will not be disappointed if we bend our knees in loving obedience.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in an age when we find it difficult to obey God in our daily lives. Obeying God does not guarantee us good feeling. We do not have visible rewards always for our obedience. We may even face mockery from others for our obedience. Then we are tempted to make those deadly excuses for our disobedience like, “What can I do? Everyone is doing it.” “My disobedience cannot be that bad. God will understand. Isn’t God merciful?”

Even when we choose to obey, we easily say Yes to God one moment and No the next moment. Like the two sons in today’s Gospel parable, we can be inconsistent in our live with God. Our words do not always match our actions. We begin our life-long commitments to marriage, priesthood or religious life with a fervor that only wears off with time as we begin to slowly take back the Yes we said to God. It is in Mary that we find today a guide and help to pronounce our own Fiat and to be faithful to it till the very end out of pure love for God.

As we encounter Christ today, it is in Him that we find that obedience that comes from knowing that we are loved by God just as we are and we respond to the love of the Father by acts of obedience. Jesus’ life of loving obedience on this earth began in, with, and through Mary; it continued with Mary and ended with Mary at the Cross. If we choose to imitate Jesus today by loving and depending on Mary as our Mother too, we will obey God always with love like Jesus did and we too will never be disappointed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgiveness from the heart: why and how? – A homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 17, 2017.

Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Forgiveness from the heart: why and how?

“So will my heavenly do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.”

I thought that I had forgiven a lay faithful many years ago for some slanderous comment that he had made about me. I know for sure that I had even prayed for him fervently and sincerely. Well, I saw him a few years later as I was offering Mass and he was standing in line for Holy Communion. For a moment the memory of his wicked words shot through my mind as I placed Jesus into his hands and he said, “Amen.” The only thing that took the sting out of that painful memory there and then was another prayer for him again and a prayer to Jesus, “Lord, help me to see him through your eyes.”

We may have heard that cliché that definitely does not help any of us struggling with constantly forgiving others: “Forgive and forget!” Can we really forgive and just forget as if nothing ever happened? Is God asking us to pretend that we have amnesia? Doesn’t our painful memories keep coming back with all its hurtful images whether we like it or not? Isn’t it more painful when the offending party never shows any remorse but continue to be a source of pain?

St Peter seems to have the same struggle too with forgiveness. He asks Jesus in today’s Gospel how many times he was to forgive someone who sinned against him. Jesus replies with a parable about a forgiven but unforgiving servant and ends with this warning, “So will my heavenly do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.” The heart is the seat of our choices and decisions, the place where constancy is formed and nurtured. To forgive from the heart means that our forgiveness has to be a well thought out and deliberate decision that must be renewed frequently. Forgiveness from the heart is both unconditional and without limit, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy-seven times.” If our forgiveness is truly from the heart, it just cannot be a one-time thing but an ongoing decision to forgive continuously no matter what.

Today’s Gospel parable also shows us why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart as Jesus implies. The first reason why our forgiveness must come from the heart is that we are sinners who have been forgiven by God. Because God places no limits or conditions to His forgiveness, we have gratuitously received and still continue to receive today divine forgiveness of sins in our hearts. We forgive first out of gratitude to God for forgiving us so graciously.

The wicked servant in today’s parable experienced something of this divine forgiveness that cancels a debt that he could never pay, “Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.” He was set free from his debt without any condition or limit.

The second reason why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart is that we want to remain free and to grow in that freedom that we have received from God’s forgiving love. When we are growing in that freedom that Christ has won, we can recognize and pursue the good freely and avoid all forms of evil in all situations. We slowly lose our freedom and become enslaved to many things and attitudes when we do not forgive others as we have been forgiven.

The servant who experienced the forgiveness of a debt that he could not pay lost his precious freedom the very moment he refused to be patient with a fellow servant who owed him a trifle, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers (jailers) until he should pay back the whole debt.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make a decision to forgive from the heart over and over again no matter the magnitude or frequency of the offenses and regardless of the lack of remorse of the offending party. We must do so simply because we have been forgiven by God in Jesus Christ and because we want to keep growing in that freedom. In Our Lord Jesus Christ, the divine choice to forgive us is made present to us and God will never go back on that decision. When we put conditions or limits on our forgiveness of others, we show ingratitude and we slowly lose our freedom and become slaves of what we should be masters. We become slaves of addictive behaviors like pornography, alcoholism, gambling, sex, drugs, etc. We cannot seem to get enough of material things, pleasures and possessions. We are slaves of human respect, praise, appreciation, affirmation, etc. By our lack of forgiveness, it becomes difficult for us to choose virtues and reject vices and we unknowingly and easily “hand our hearts over to torturers.”

The journey to forgive others from the heart begins with frequent and fervent celebrations of the Sacrament of Confession. For us to forgive from the heart, we must first experience divine forgiveness for our sins in the heart. In and through this sacrament, we acknowledge our past sins, confess that we have sinful tendencies now and open our hearts to that grace to overcome sin in the future. Having experienced this diving forgiveness, the only forgiveness that has no conditions or limits, we are then set free and enabled to reflect this same forgiveness to others.

God became man and came to this world to make us His own children and to share with us the freedom of His own divine life, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) We are called to that “glorious freedom of the children of God.”(Rom 8:21) It is definitely not the will of God that we lose our freedom, live as slaves of things, people and their judgement, and lose our power to choose the good and avoid evil. The only path to this freedom is through experiencing divine forgiveness and making an unwavering decision to reflect the same forgiveness to others from our hearts.

In this world where we are hurt frequently by our fellow sinners and “Forgive and Forget” just doesn’t do justice to our painful memories, the Eucharist we celebrate makes present the paschal mystery of Christ and reminds us why Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Jesus Christ has offered His spotless body to the Father, shed His last drop of blood for us, and gave His own Spirit to us so that we become free like He is as God’s own children and not slaves of hurt feelings, resentments and all the slavery that they bring. He definitely does not ask us to pretend to have amnesia but to open our hearts to His grace and forgive others continuously from the heart. If we experience His liberating forgiveness and still choose to put limits or conditions to our forgiveness of others for whatever reason, we will surely lose our freedom.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Discerning true love: A homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 10, 2017.

Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

Discerning true love

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Here are some common pastoral scenarios that involve relationships: A young man claims to love his girlfriend so much and they are living together and raising a family without getting married in the Church and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. A single woman claims to love her boyfriend who happens to be a married man with his own wife and children. A man opts to euthanize his sick father because he claims to love his father so much that he cannot bear to see him suffer any longer. A young lady in a same-sex relationship with her classmate who strongly claim that they both love each other.

I am usually left wondering, “How can these be called love?” Can cohabitation, sexual relations outside marriage and living in sinful situations be called love? Can adultery and its attendant covetousness and injustice against a spouse be called love? Can we call it love when we terminate the life of another to avoid witnessing their pains? Can sexual relations between people of the same-sex, something that is contrary to both Natural Law and God’s plan for marriage between a man and woman in faithful, exclusive and life-giving union be called love?

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading about the importance of proper loving relationships, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” But he also gives the first and fundamental tool to discern how to love: Is this relationship in agreement with or contrary to God’s laws? “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Because God has made us out of love and for the sake of love, God alone sets the standards for true love, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” In short, we can never call anything love if God’s laws or Commandments are being broken in any way.

The second tool to discern true love is to ask if we are loving the other in a way that leads the person away from sin, the greatest harm to the soul, towards the fullness of life in Christ. Our love for others is true if we cannot be silent or idle as our loved ones choose sin and self-destructive habits. Hence Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our love is true when we have first received the truths of God and let these truths illumine our hearts and minds. Knowing and loving these truths and striving to live them out, we are also willing to risk the ire of our loved ones by telling them the painful truth so as to bring them from sinful lives and to “win over our brothers.” Realizing Christ’s love for each and every one of us, we just cannot stand about idle and quite, watching souls that we claim to love, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ perish in their sins.

The third tool to discern true love is to ask if we are reflecting to the other the forgiveness that we have received from God. Jesus assures us in His mystical body of the Church, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We receive forgiveness for ours sin from God through the sacrament of Reconciliation and reflect these forgiveness to others in relationships bearing in mind how we all fall short of loving in the right way. True love chooses to mediate to others God’s own forgiveness of sins instead of making them public or making the sinner guilty.

Lastly, true love for the other seeks for their temporal and eternal good by prayer and by sacrifice. Our prayers are powerful when we gather together to pray for a single purpose according to the divine will, “Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” We love and we pray for each other, obtaining for others the grace to journey into heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us to love Him and to love others according to His own laws and commandments. No matter how strongly we may feel or how attractive our worldly ways of loving others may appear, we do not and cannot invent the standards of love. In our woundedness, we easily turn away from the ways of true love and allow pleasure and emotions to dictate our way of loving.

God, who has called us to love, knows our sinful tendencies and has united Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ who alone brings to us that true love. Our Lord Jesus is the only one who shows us the love that obeys. He obeyed His Father perfectly, “He has done all things well,” (Mk 7:37) obeying His Father even till death on the cross. Jesus Christ loved us so much to take the risk and become man to tell us the whole truth about our true sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and His Father’s unconditional saving love for each and every one of us. We thanked Him by nailing Him to the cross! Jesus alone shows us that love that forgives even in pain as He cried out on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk23:34) Jesus shows us that love that continues to pray and to sacrifice for us, “He lives to make intercession for us.”(Heb 7:25)

Jesus has also instituted a Church, His own mystical body, where we can participate in His own true love and avoid the temptations to love others in worldly ways. In the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s laws are taught and written in our hearts and we are interiorly moved by His grace to speak and witness to this changeless truth to others in love by virtue of the bond we have with others in Christ. In the Church we receive both forgiveness of sins and divine guarantee of forgiveness in the sacrament of confession and we can reflect this forgiveness to others. Our prayers are powerful in the Church because of our union with Christ and our participation in His powerful prayers at every Eucharist.

Today, as we encounter Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist and participate deeply in the true love that He brings to us, let us discern and choose carefully how we love others. Because we have been made for love, we cannot love anyhow and hope to have His life growing in us and His joy in our hearts. The way that we choose to love will determine the quality of our lives and our joy in this life and in the life to come.

Our hearts will throb with His life and His joy will be ours if only we strive to obey all God’s commandments out of love for Him, speak and witness to the difficult saving truth to others out of love for them, forgive others for their transgressions and are ready to pray and make sacrifices for others simply because Jesus Christ has died and risen for all of us to love others just like He has loved us.

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

 

 

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The path to true contentment: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 3, 2017.

1 Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

The path to true contentment

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When God invited Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah demurred and lamented his lack of experience and his young age, “Ah, Lord God! Behold I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”(Jer 1:6) God responded by assuring him of His abiding presence and help against his adversaries, “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” God also touched his lips and assured him that he would never lack the words to speak, “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”(v.8,9)

Jeremiah received divine assurance of God’s presence, God touched his lips and assured him that he will have the right words to speak at the proper time, and God assured him that his adversaries will surely not prevail against him.

In today’s First Reading we hear the same Prophet Jeremiah lamenting and regretting that he is called to preach God’s words to the rebellious Israelites. He is unhappy with his calling, his message is hard for the people to accept, he is being mocked by all, and he cannot keep silent about the messages from God, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped…All day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me…Violence and outrage is my message…It (God’s message) becomes like fire burning in my heart…I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

It is clear that God’s gifts alone are not enough to guarantee our true happiness. We need something else in addition to receiving God’s gifts – we must strive to make use of these gifts to please God and not ourselves. The Prophet laments the difficulty of the message and the insults that he has experienced in the hands of his countrymen because of this message, “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” He loses his happiness the moment that he begins to deliver God’s message for his own sake, seeking to please himself by the results of the message and not serving God and others for God’s sake.

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of that timeless truth of our intense hunger for God, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Nothing can satisfy this hunger for God no matter how much we have of that thing. We will always be wanting more; but the more we get, the more we want and the less content we are. It is not more of God’s gifts that makes us happy but our striving to use that which we have to know, love, and serve God more for His own sake. God, who desires our happiness more than we desire it, will always give us gifts and invite us to use them all for His sake if our happiness is going to be authentic and deep.

How can we both receive the fullness of divine gift and use it all for God’s own sake? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer because He alone has lived His life perfectly for the sake of the Father and it is by His grace alone that we can also receive the divine gifts and live for the sake of the Father. He did not become man, embark on His ministry or go to Calvary for His own sake but for the Father’s, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter tries to dissuade Him by appealing to the Father, “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking as human beings and not as God thinks. Man thinks of happiness as having and preserving all that he wants; God’s path of happiness is that shown by Jesus – using all that He has for the greater glory of God, to please the Father alone and not Himself, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.” (Jn 8:29) Hence the words of Jesus that point us to the path of true happiness in this life and in the next, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s world, how easily we try to find happiness by getting more natural and supernatural gifts? We hardly ask if the more we seek is pleasing to God or not. We have more pleasure, power and possessions and we are still left unhappy because we want more. We never seem to be satisfied. If our striving in the spiritual life for more spiritual gifts have left us unhappy and discontented, then we must ask ourselves one question: for whose sake am I striving? Is this for my sake or for God’s greater glory?

St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that we can indeed go against the direction of the world and, following in Christ’s footsteps, make an offering of ourselves to God so as to please God, “I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” By offering ourselves to God for God’s own sake, we can “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” The path to authentic happiness is in our complete self-offering to God through, with, and in Christ Jesus with the sole purpose of pleasing God and not ourselves.

Jesus had only one human life to live in the one body that He received from the most Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the same life that He gave on the cross and the same body that was raised from the grave. He shares with us all His own cross so that, like Him, we never follow and serve Christ for our own sake. By participating in His own suffering, we also participate in that love and grace that seeks only the Father’s greater pleasure, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

When we feel weak and unable to seek to please God, when we are so focused on getting more in this life and to please ourselves, we can turn with confidence to Mother Mary. The one and only desire in her Immaculate hearts was to please God in all things with all that she had and not to please herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She never thought about what it would cost her or what was in it for her at the moment of the Annunciation, during Jesus’s infancy and ministry, during his prediction of His passion and death, on Calvary and in her days with the early Church. A confident prayer, “Mary, please help me to do (or endure) this for you,” surely kills the breath of self-seeking tendencies in us and places Jesus Christ in the center of our hearts because Mary was and is all about God and not herself.

The God-Man who shows us the way to true contentment and who alone makes it possible for us to do all for the sake of the Father comes to us in our Eucharistic celebration today. He alone can make us truly happy. He wants to make us truly happy. He comes to us with many gifts. Let us beg of Him all that we need in life for ourselves and for others. Remembering that having more gifts does not guarantee deep happiness, let us use these gifts by His grace to love and serve Him for His sake alone. This is how that deep abiding happiness will be ours in this life and in the life to come.

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

 

 

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Witnessing to The Truth and to truth: A homily for the Passion of St. John the Baptist

Witnessing to The Truth and to truth. The feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist

August 29th 2017

Catholic lay coordinator and activist, Domingo Edo, was working with the Social Action Center of the diocese of Marbel in the South Cotabato province of the southern Philippines. He was found shot dead by unknown attackers on August 22, 2017 and his companion, an altar boy, Ramil Piang, was seriously wounded. They both were on their way to conduct a bible service at the mining town of Tampakan that had been at the center of long-standing disputes between the Church-backed indigenous local communities opposing copper and gold mines in their devastated land and the government and mining companies.

Speaking of the deceased Edo, the diocese’s social action head, Father Ariel Destura, said, “Edo had been handling the diocese’s anti-mining advocacy using dialogue, and was not known to agitate tribal members against the mining company… We are saddened by the death of ‘Doming’ [Edo]. He was well-loved in the mountains and had no known enemies.”

Why was this peaceful young man murdered? He was clearly not advocating violence but seeking a path of peaceful dialogue between the warring parties that would bring justice and peace to the region. The reason is simple: he was bringing the truth of the Church’s social teaching to a world that is intolerant of truth.

Why was the fiery St. John the Baptist beheaded? He did not have troubles calling the Jewish leaders names, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee before the wrath to come?”(Mt 4:7) He was not shy to give stern warnings to conversion, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Any tree that does not bare good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”(Mt 4:10) He surely had many enemies among the Jewish hierarchy during his ministry. He was beheaded because he refused to be silent about justice and truth of marriage. He had boldly said to Herod about Herodias, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

St. Bede the Venerable brilliantly comments on the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist in today’s Office of Reading:

His persecutor (Herod) had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that He should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say, “I am the truth?” Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

Isn’t this the story of our time? We are allowed to profess and worship Christ publicly. We are allowed to speak freely of our relationship with Jesus Christ and His love for us. We are not asked outright to deny Christ. What our world simply requires of us is that we keep quiet about His truth and His teaching as found in the Holy Scriptures and as interpreted in the Church’s tradition and magisterium. It is so comfortable to speak of Jesus Christ, The Truth, and to simply ignore or dismiss His teaching on certain hot-button issues like the sanctity of every human life, sacred marriage between a man and a woman, the evil of premarital sex and artificial contraceptives, etc. Is the Eternal Truth that we profess to be Christ Jesus impotent to also teach us unchanging truths about all the aspects of our lives?

The Gospel Reading of mass on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary time this last Sunday from Mt 16:13-20 has our Lord Jesus Christ say to Peter after his (Peter’s) confession, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This reminds us of three things about being members of the Catholic Church.

First of all, Jesus Christ remains the invisible Head of the Church made of weak men and women and He is constantly building it up individually and collectively. He continuously fills His mystical body of the Church with His truth and sanctifies it with His grace and thus continuously moves us to bear witness to His divine person as well as the truths that He has revealed to us, “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”(Jn 17:19)

Secondly, this Church will always face fierce and often violent opposition no matter how mercifully we present the truth of our faith, “Because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, thee world hates you.”(Jn 15:19). Being sent into this world like “lambs amongst wolves,” (Mt 10:16), we must be ready for violent oppositions, outright contradiction and threats against us and the Church community.

Thirdly, we are assured of final victory if we never cease bearing witness to Christ, the Truth, and His saving truths, “The gates of the netherworld will not prevail.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our witness to Jesus Christ is baseless when we ignore His truths because we are afraid of confrontation with our world. No matter how we present the truths of our faith and morals, whether we are fiery or we tow the way of mercy and dialogue (much better way), we must be ready for rejection and opposition that can come in the form of violence and threats. The solution is not compromise or a cowardly appeal to so-called gray areas where we can make up our convenient “truths” that have no saving power. The solution is to follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist who consistently bore witness to both the person and words of Jesus.

As we encounter Jesus in our Eucharist today, let us put all our trust in Jesus Christ, the Truth, who was no stranger to opposition and threats from men who had hardened their hearts to His truths. When Mother Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, the aged Simeon said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Mary would also participate in the pains of this contradiction and opposition to Jesus, “And you yourself a sword will pierce.”(Lk 2:34,35) King Herod’s murderous plan, a plan to snuff out the Truth before He spoke saving words of truth, forced the Holy Family to flee for Egypt even before Jesus spoke a single word.

We bear the ever active Christ within us in this Holy Mass and have His truths written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus never ceases to build up His Church. We shall surely be victorious and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail over the Church of Christ if we give witness to both the Truth Incarnate and His saving truths even in the face of opposition and confrontation from this world.

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

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