Embracing the risky mission for Jesus today: A homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary time

 

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 7, 2019.

Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12,17-20

 

Embracing the risky mission for Jesus today

I was really fascinated by the giant python snake that laid coiled up in a zoo cage in the beautiful Philippines island of Bohol. I was more shocked when the zoo keeper showed me many pictures of past visitors to the zoo who had entered the same python’s cage with him and had taken pictures with part of the python draped over their necks. He invited me to do the same thing, trying to convince me that I had nothing to fear because the snake had been raised to eat only chickens. I vehemently refused to do such a thing even if it was true that the monster snake had been raised to be vegetarian!

What a silly risk! Wrapping a python over our necks so we can take a picture and maybe upload it on our Facebook pages and get a couple of “likes” for that. We sure do not have qualms when it comes to taking risks for the sake of excitement, thrill, pleasure, reputation, popularity, novelty, material gain, etc.

But why is it that we become overly cautious and reluctant when it comes to taking a risk for Jesus, to follow Him in mission and to make others know and love Him more? We begin to ask, “Will I be successful?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Will I be happy?” “What will it cost me?” “Will people accept and appreciate me?” Our bravery in taking risks in life seems to disappear when it comes to following Jesus more closely and being on mission for Him.

Jesus describes the life of discipleship as one of constant risk taking and confronting dangers, “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” To be on mission for Jesus is to be in constant risks from both men and demons. Jesus assured us of this Himself, “You will be hated by all on account of my name…when they persecute you in one town, flee to another town.” (Mt 10:22,23)  We face the ever present possibility of being rejected, “Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets.”

We will also be tempted and tormented by demons when we choose to be on mission for Jesus. Declaring to be on mission for Jesus, we will surely experience the wrath of “the full force of the enemy,” because Jesus has appeared to “destroy the works of the devil.”(1Jn 3:8)

The truth is that, despite the many risks involved in being on mission for Christ, we can never know Jesus intimately, experience the power of His grace, or know the deep joy of belonging to God as His children if we are reluctant to risk anything for the sake of being on mission for Jesus. The experience of the seventy-two disciples in Luke’s Gospel show us this.

They embraced the risky mission offered by Christ, freely becoming “lambs among wolves” for the sake of making Jesus known and loved more. After the mission, we are told that “the seventy-two returned rejoicing.” Through this mission, they also gained deeper knowledge of Jesus and an experience of the power of divine grace, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Their joy became more interior, their knowledge of Jesus became more lively and intimate, and divine grace became more real for them.

Jesus points us to three proven ways in which we can begin to be on mission for Him despite the risks and dangers involved in this mission. The first way of being in mission is through apostolic prayer i.e. a prayer that begs for what brings greatest glory to God – the salvation of souls. The disciples are asked to go beyond merely praying for their personal needs but to pray God-centered prayers, “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Such a prayer allows the grace of God to move us into mission with courage.

Secondly, we embrace the risky mission when we are ready to trust in God alone for all things, “Carry no money bag, no sack, and no sandals.” Such radical trust in God alone gives God a chance to act in our lives. We cannot be on mission for Jesus if any part of our trust is in something other than God.

Thirdly, we have the courage to be on mission for Jesus no matter the risks when we are people of good will. This good will means that we seek in all things the greater glory of God and the eternal good of others in all conditions. We choose never to wish others evil but that they come to share the same peace that we have found in Christ. Whether they are disposed to accept us and our message or not, our message and wish for them remains the same: “Peace to this household.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we may have grown despondent about the evils and chaos in our world today. It even seems that human hearts have become impervious to divine grace. But Jesus assures us that many souls today are indeed ready and properly disposed for conversion, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” The laborers are those who are willing to labor with Christ and for Him and take risks for the salvation of souls purchased by the blood of Jesus. The true laborers are few because we are so busy trying to remain in our comfort zones and avoid all risks when it comes to being on mission for Jesus.

Let us listen to St. Paul’s account of the risks of his mission to the Gentiles:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been ship-wrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journey, in dangers from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2Cor 11:24-27)

He ends his letter to the Galatians with these words, “For now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” By embracing this risky mission to the very end of his life, he has come to know the risen Christ, experienced the power of His grace, and he does not find his joy in anything earthly, not even in circumcision or in the observation of Jewish laws. His only source of contentment is the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because by this cross, he now experiences the joy of belonging to Christ even as he risks being wounded for Christ in his apostolic ventures.

How can we read about such contentment and joy from a life of risks for Christ and still be reluctant to take risks for Christ? We do not embrace a life of selfless service because we are afraid of being criticized and mocked by others if we fail or make mistakes. We condone grave evils in our families and parishes because we want to maintain our relationships and public acceptance at any cost. We see the evil of homosexual unions being accepted by many and we keep quiet because we are afraid of being called homophobic. We have a shortage of priests and religious today because we are reluctant to risk our careers and comforts for the sake of bringing the hope and truth of Christ to others. But as long as we are reluctant to take a risk and be on mission for Jesus, our idea of Jesus will be infantile, our experience of His grace will be insufficient, and our inner joy will be lacking and erratic.

Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist with His grace to bear witness in a world that is growing more dangerous every day. He took a risk for us by becoming man and dying on the cross so that we can know God as our loving Father and know the incomparable joy of being God’s children called to full communion with Him, “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

We are so comfortable and used to taking risks in this life, even silly risks for trivial gains. Let the grace of this Eucharist move us to risk all things for the sake of Christ and His mission to all the world. This is the only way we can know Him and let His joy abide in us even in this world of constant risks.

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

 

 

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The importance of worshipping the Trinity alone: A homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

 

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. June 16, 2019.

Prov 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15

The importance of worshipping the Trinity alone

A few days ago, a group of cardinals and bishops, included Cardinal Raymond Burke, issued a document called a “Declaration of the truths relating to some of the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time.” This paragraph in the document caught my attention.

Muslims and others who lack faith in Jesus Christ, God and man, even monotheists, cannot give to God the same adoration as Christians do, that is to say, supernatural worship in Spirit and in Truth (see Jn 4:24; Eph 2:8) of those who have received the Spirit of filial adoption (see Rom 8:15).

This may sound boastful and smack of exceptionalism of our Christian faith. In our egalitarian times when the common tendency is to make all religions and faiths equal, such a statement could easily be rejected as being unnecessarily dismissive of other religions.

But why should we in this age of religious pluralism still profess and worship the One True God alone, a living communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Why do other monotheistic religions fall short in this regard?

The first reason is that we are in desperate need of a mediator between us and God if we are going to have any share in what truly belongs to God alone. We need a mediator who can relate with our human nature and also make available to us the very inner life and love of God. And that mediator is the God-man, Jesus Christ, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”(1Tim 2:5) It is only through communion with the humanity of Christ that we are brought into fellowship with the divine persons of the Trinity. Jesus says it this way, “No one can come to the Father except through me.”(Jn 14:6)

Secondly, it is only through our entering into living communion with the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that we have full access to all that we find in Christ Jesus. Jesus Himself declared, “Everything that the Father has is mine.” We have access to all that Jesus has received from the Father only because Jesus has given to us His own Spirit of truth, “He (the Holy Spirit) will glorify me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”(Jn 16:14)

What is this thing that is in Christ that the Holy Spirit will declare to us? The answer is this: Everything by which Jesus offered perfect worship to the Father in His Spirit. We share in His sonship and become children of God who joyfully worship God as our loving Father and not for what we can get from Him. We share in His own spirit of loving obedience to the Father so that our worship is also shown in living according to the divine will no matter the pains and suffering that this will cost us. We participate in His own perfect worship of the Father in the Spirit by which we too make a complete gift of ourselves to God just like Jesus did, “Jesus Christ offered Himself to God without blemish through the eternal Spirit.”(Heb 9:14) We also become coheirs with Jesus of heavenly glory. We participate in His victory over trials, temptations, sin and death as Jesus promised us as He brought us into communion with the Father, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and he will greater ones that these because I go to the Father.”(Jn 14:12)

In short, it is only in and through Jesus Christ that we can adore and worship the true God “in spirit and in truth.”(Jn 4:24) Without Christ as Mediator, we either approach God with slave-like fear because we see Him as a tyrannical dictator, or we simply rebel because we fail to see God as loving Father who loves us and wisely guides us by His Spirit to what is eternally best for us.

Without this living communion with the Trinity, we lack the true worship of Christ. We worship God based on our own taste and preferences. Our obedience becomes conditional and lacking in that generosity that we find in Jesus. Our worship does not go beyond our devotional life or Sunday worship. We cannot break away from seeking only our own selfish interests even as we claim to worship God. We hold back from full worship of God because of the pains and trials of life.

St. Paul shows us an example of one who is worshipping and living in communion with the Holy Trinity. He lives in the full conviction of who the Father is and what He has done for us in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He knows Christ as His infallible mediator with God, “Through Christ we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand.” He finds all his confidence in God, “We boast in hope of the glory of God.”

His trials and afflictions does not take away his boasting in God, “We even boast of our afflictions.” By worshipping God even in these afflictions, he matures in his endurance, he proves his true character, and he experiences a hope that does not disappoint him “because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Jesus Christ faced suffering and death with the certainty that the Father will not disappoint Him. Thus He worshipped the Father, not just by His intense life of prayer but by obeying His Father’s will even to the painful death on the cross. By possessing the love of His Spirit in our hearts, we too can lovingly obey God with that certainty that He will not disappoint us in this life or in the life to come.

Some theologians have opined that this “Declaration of truth” is a mild rebuke of an earlier joint declaration of Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi in February this year in a document entitled “On Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” This document has these controversial words, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

The bottom line is that if God willed a diversity of religions as this document indicates, then God settled for an imperfect worship, a worship unworthy of His nature and majesty. It means that God willed to be worshipped without the mediation of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and a worship in which we do not participate at all in Christ’s own worship by the Spirit. It implies that God desires that some people worship Him as slaves and not as His beloved children in Christ. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Whatever the motive for the “Declaration of truth,” it is invaluable in reminding us of why we Christians need to worship the Triune God alone in these times when Christian worship is easily reduced to liturgical celebrations, personal prayer, reading the scriptures, and some communal services. How easy it is for us to abandon our worship of God today because of the pains and afflictions of life. The scandals in the Church today and the subsequent abandoning of the faith by many of the faithful is an indication that our worship is more of a caricature of the true worship that God deserves.

We do not need to lose hope. But let us unite ourselves intensely to the humanity of Christ whom who receive in this Eucharist. Let Him draw us into the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit as only He can as our infallible Mediator. Then we too can have access to all that we see in Christ, especially His own perfect worship of the Father so that we can worship the true God in spirit and in truth.

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

 

 

 

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Why we must be enflamed by the Holy Spirit today: A homily for the solemnity of Pentecost 2019

Solemnity of Pentecost. June 9, 2019.

Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23

 

Why we must be enflamed by the Holy Spirit today

The Pentecost event is usually depicted showing flames of fire coming to rest on the heads of the disciples at the upper room in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus. This is based on the Acts of the Apostles, “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” But what do these flames tell us about the Holy Spirit in our lives? What is the meaning and implication of these flames in our relationship with the Holy Spirit?

These flames are intimately connected to the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. In St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The presence of the Holy Spirit and His gifts to us are all about manifesting the Lordship of Jesus in our lives as well as extending this lordship over all creation.

This lordship of Christ can be expressed in three ways.

First, the flames of the Spirit purify us and make us beautiful for God. The purifying flames of the Spirit cleanse us of our sins and make us beautiful to God as His children. God delights in us just by our possessing the Spirit of His Son in us. The Father expressed delight in Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan as the Spirit descended in visible form even before Jesus Christ performed any miracle or preached any sermon. The Father exclaimed of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Similarly, by simply possessing His Spirit in us, we are indeed beautiful for God and the Father finds true delight in us always no matter our pains or sufferings. By possessing His Spirit, we are beautiful for God as His children even as we lack personal sanctity, apostolic fruitfulness, or the esteem of others.

Secondly, the flames of the Spirit consume us and make us do beautiful things for God. The Spirit does more than make us beautiful to God but bestows on us gifts to live for the greater glory of God and for the service of others. In the words of St. Paul, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” By possessing His Spirit, we strive to do beautiful things for God so that “others can see our good works and give glory to the Father who is in heaven.”(Mt 5:16)

The tongues of fire that descended on the disciples at Pentecost was accompanied by a “strong driving wind.” The disciples were both gifted and strongly impelled by the Holy Spirit to boldly speak the same message in different tongues. What was this message? They did not speak about themselves or their achievements but they “spoke in tongues about the mighty acts of God.” They spoke about the mighty acts of God that was climaxed by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Thirdly, the flames of the Spirit prepare us to receive the beautiful gifts and rewards that God is offering us today. St. John tells us that the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” God does not want us to live in fear and hopelessness but to have the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit won for us by the risen Christ. Jesus offered this peace, “Peace be with you,” and “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord.” Unless we receive the forgiveness of the Holy Spirit and communicate the same to others, we cannot have the Spirit’s fruits of peace and joy, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

A Gallup Poll in the United States released in May of this year showed significant changes in public attitude towards some moral and social issues in the country. The poll indicates a growing acceptance of many things as morally acceptable as compared with previous polls. Irrespective of their political leanings, 92% of those polled considered birth control as morally acceptable, 77% believe that divorce was morally acceptable, 64% did not see anything wrong with having a baby outside wedlock, 71% saw pre-marital sex as morally acceptable, 63% approved homosexual relations as morally acceptable, 89% approved of adulterous sexual relationships, 61% approved of pornography, 42% saw abortion as morally acceptable, and not surprisingly, close to 80% say suicide as a viable option.[1]

Why is there a growing acceptance of things that were previously rejected as being morally unacceptable? Why is there a tendency to condone and to even approve of evil things now?

This is most probably because the spirit of the world is having greater influence in the lives of many while they continue to possess the Holy Spirit without allowing His flames to consume them. When we are not enflamed by the Spirit we received at Baptism and Confirmation, then we do not care at all about the Lordship of Jesus in our lives and our calling to extend that Lordship over all people in the world.

When we are not enflamed by the Spirit, we fail to realize that we are already beautiful to God and unconditionally accepted by Him. Thus we easily give ourselves up to the myriad of debased passions and desires that we find in our time. We abandon the call to chastity to embrace and condone homosexuality, pornography, incest, adultery, etc.

We also begin to seek for public approval and acceptance from this world to the extent that we become afraid of offending the world by our preaching or witnessing to the Gospel. Overcome by fear of what people will say, we begin to conform to this world’s mores and fashions and surrender our vocation to be witnesses to the truth and hope in today’s world. Hence our values are no longer shaped by the Gospel but we go with the ever-changing fads in the world.

When we are not enflamed by the Holy Spirit, we are not ready to sacrifice anything to do something beautiful for God by extending the Lordship of Jesus over all peoples. We begin to live for ourselves and our own comfort and pleasure by all means.

The most beautiful thing that we can do for God is to make sacrifices so that others may know Him more, “Greater love no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.”(Jn 15:13) How can we ever hope to lay down our lives for others if we cannot even speak up in defense of the inviolable sanctity of the life of the unborn because Jesus Christ remains the Lord of all life?

When we are not enflamed by the Holy Spirit, we care little about the spiritual joys and peace from His Spirit but strive for the fleeting worldly pleasures and gains that only leave us empty, sad, depressed, and even suicidal. We settle for the fleeting and changing joys and so become flaky and inconstant like them.

Jesus warned us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”(Mt 24:35) Worldly ideas and fashions will come and go. What the world considered acceptable will come and go, just like those who hold on to those passing things. But the truth of God’s words will never change because they are from His Spirit of truth that makes us beautiful, moves us to do beautiful things for God, and dispose us to receive the everlasting gifts that God freely offers to us.

Jesus Christ is the Lord and King who “truly desires our beauty.”(Ps 45:11) That is why He continuously sends us His Spirit in today’s constantly changing world. The Spirit will surely keep us constant in the path towards heavenly peace and joy if only we choose to become beautiful for God, do beautiful things for God, and live in hope of the beautiful things that God will surely give to us.

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

[1] See https://news.gallup.com/poll/257858/birth-control-tops-list-morally-acceptable-issues.aspx

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The Ascension: Time to take heaven seriously – A homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

 

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. June 2, 2019

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

 The Ascension: Time to take heaven seriously

  

Two Catholics made the headlines a few days apart in the last week. The first one is United States’ Democratic presidential candidate and Senator, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who rebuked the Church’s scriptural, magisterial, and traditional teaching on male-only ordained priesthood, and the evil of abortion and homosexual activities. In her words,

“I think [the Church] is wrong on those three issues. And I don’t think they’re supported by the Gospel or the Bible in any way. I just–I don’t see it, and I go to two Bible studies a week. I take my faith really seriously.”

But when pressed about her readiness to give witness to her faith in public, she responded, “It (her faith) is not an issue that I talk about really outside of a worship service or a faith-based community because it can be offensive to some people, can be troubling to some people.”

Ironically, she claims to take her faith very seriously while rebuking the unchanging teaching of the faith in public. She also claims to take her faith seriously but she is unwilling to publicly share with others the hope and truth of her faith because she does not want to offend them. What about other Catholics who are hurt by her words? It appears that the seriousness of her faith begins and ends only in the confines of her bible study and when the opportunity comes to publicly ridicule and reject the teachings of the faith.

The second Catholic that made the headlines recently is Providence bishop, Bishop Thomas Tobin. He admonished and warned Catholics about attending or supporting the “pride month” festivities that highlights and celebrates homosexual activities and unions in the month of June. He had tweeted:

“A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”

Understandably his tweet drew the ire of many people who support, are involved in, or sympathetic to the homosexual lifestyle. He was condemned and mocked for his views and solid Christian teaching on homosexuality.

The good bishop did not back down but retweeted recently, “The Catholic Church has respect and love for members of the gay community, as do I. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters.” He rightly affirmed their dignity as God’s beloved children but did not take anything back about the evil and destructiveness of homosexual activities and unions.

As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, we need to ask ourselves which of these two examples of our Catholic brethren we should follow. Are we going to claim to be Catholics while picking and choosing the teachings that are suitable to our taste and least offensive to our secular world? Or are we going to speak the unchanging truth in love like Bishop Tobin, truths that affirms the value and dignity of every human person as well as the universal demand for ongoing repentance and conversion from sin?

In case we are not sure which of these examples we want to follow, let us reflect briefly on the meaning and implication of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.

What is the Ascended Christ doing in heaven? The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “He lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him.”(Heb 7:25) In other words, the glorified Christ is never idle or resting but He is praying and laboring for us to have access to all that He was won for us by His death and resurrection. It is because He has ascended into heaven that we have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit with us today. In the words of Jesus, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (Holy Spirit) will not come; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”(Jn 16:7)

Because Jesus ascends into heaven and constantly sends us His Spirit, we have access through the same Holy Spirit to all that we need for salvation. By possessing the Spirit of Jesus in us, we have what St. Paul enumerated to the Ephesians: “wisdom and revelation resulting in the knowledge of Him (God),” access to the “riches of glory in His inheritance,” “hope that belongs to His call,” and the “greatness of His power for those who believe.” Because of the Ascension, we lack nothing for salvation.

“Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the ‘Father’s house,’ to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, His members, might have confidence that we too shall go where He, our Head and our Source, has preceded us.”(CCC 661)

If Jesus Christ suffered and died for us during His earthly life, and the now glorified Christ is not idle but laboring for us to have access through His Spirit to all that we need for our salvation, then we too cannot be idle in any way if we are really taking heaven seriously. Having the Spirit of Christ in us today, we too must constantly labor for our salvation and for the salvation of others.

Prior to His glorious Ascension, Jesus described the exact nature of this labor that must be undertaken under the inspiration of His Spirit. The first labor is that of constant repentance from our sins and proclaiming that same repentance to others. Because “Christ suffered and rose from the dead,” this is a time for deep ongoing conversion on our part and “for the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His name.” The second labor is to give witness to the risen Christ, His words, and saving deeds, to others by our words and actions. In the words of Jesus, “You are witnesses of these things.”

We need the aid of the Holy Spirit for this constant repentance and witnessing to others. Hence Christ promised to send us the Spirit, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” It is the Spirit of Christ within us that moves us to repent of our sins constantly first, then moves us to invite others to do the same and to bear witness to Jesus Christ before others whether they accept us and our message or not. This is the only way can begin to take heaven seriously.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Heaven is not for idle and lazy persons, people who have chosen to make a compromise or pact with sin in any form or who are indifferent to the eternal salvation of others. Our secular culture’s individualistic tendencies lead us to hide within us the truth and hope that we have received from the Holy Spirit while we watch others gleefully parading to eternal peril. Jesus Himself warned us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”(Mt 7:13)

One of the most common negative responses to Bishop Tobin’s tweet were aimed at reminding him and others of the Church’s sexual abuse crises and how young boys have been molested by clergy and the wicked cover-up by the hierarchy. The credibility of the Church has been badly damaged by the scandals. It can indeed be very hard to witness to others and to call them to conversion when the Church itself is plagued by scandals.

Two things to keep in mind. First, we do not call others to repentance and give witness to them without constantly laboring for our own repentance first. The scandals in the Church show that we have ignored this point to our own detriment. Secondly, we give witness and call others to repentance, not because we are sinless ourselves, but because Jesus, our High Priest, loved us all sinners enough to “purchase the Church by His blood,”(Acts 20:28) and He is laboring for our salvation today and constantly sending us His Spirit.

Because Jesus, our Eternal High Priest, is laboring and praying for us even now in our world of evil and scandal-ridden Church, He remains the “center and principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven.”(CCC 662) We can encounter Him in this Mass and partake of His Spirit in the Eucharist only because He does not cease praying and laboring for us all. This is how seriously Jesus takes our salvation. What about us? We shall be taking heaven seriously when we too labor for the sake of Christ and for the eternal salvation of others. This is the only way we can ever hope to enter into His heavenly kingdom.

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

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Listening to God in today’s world: A homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter. May 26, 2019

Acts 15:1-2,22-29;  Rev 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29

Listening to God in today’s world

 

A priest drew loud cheers from the audience of graduating college students when he ended his homily at a recent baccalaureate Mass with these words, “I love you three thousand.” I was one of the few in the Church that did not cheer because I was utterly clueless about what that phrase meant. Someone explained to me later that it was one of the oft-repeated line in the movie, Avengers: End game.

We sure do know our movies. We know all the latest news around the world, whether they are relevant or not. We know all the trending events and hashtags currently in use and all that they signify. Thanks to the internet and our globalized world, it is so easy for us to access information at the click of a mouse.

All that is good and nice. But how many of us know what God is saying to each of us at the present moment? How many of us can clearly discuss God’s unique words of hope, courage, healing, and challenge to us based on our own unique history, conditions and temperaments?

But does God really speak to us individually and collectively? Yes, He certainly does.

Jesus attests that the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, speaks to us constantly. The Father is speaking to us constantly, “The words that you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.” The Father speaks to us continuously through Jesus Christ in a way that is radically different from before the Incarnation of the Word, “In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us to us by a Son, through whom He created the world.”(Heb 1:1-4) Jesus Himself is constantly speaking to us, “Whoever loves me will keep my words.” The Spirit too is speaking to us constantly, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” God is indeed speaking to us constantly. But are we constantly listening to God?

Jesus states clearly that God comes to dwell in us and bestow on us deep inner joy when we listen to Him and obey Him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” God’s word to us is more than mere information to be cheered about; His word is a loving invitation to inner joy, a joy from the heart by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Triune God.

Thus inner joy is not automatic; but our joy depends on whom we choose to listen to the most in this life and whose words influence our choices, attitudes, and decisions the most. God has made us and invites us to seek for this inner joy and not the joy that comes from the world i.e. a joy that depends on our exterior circumstances in life, “Not as the world gives (peace) do I give to you.” Such worldly joy is ephemeral, erratic, fleeting, easily lost, and unsatisfying.

When we choose to listen to what is not God, or to what does not come from God, or what does not lead us to God, our hearts become troubled and afraid. This is the case of the early Church divided on the issue of circumcision. There was being circulated in the Church a message that did not come from God, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practices, you cannot be saved.” The heralds of such message did so “without the mandate of the Apostles,” thereby “upsetting the Gentile Christians with their message and disturbing their peace of mind.”

The Apostles responded to this crises by listening to the voice of the Spirit that willed to dispense the Gentile Christians from the burden of the strictly Jewish practices. They phrased their response in these bold words, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond what is of necessity.” The Apostles did listen to the different parties in the debate but they listened most precisely to what the Holy Spirit was speaking in those moments of crises. Thus their final decision brought a great peace and joy to the Christian community.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God continues to speak in our lives and in the Church because He loves us constantly. He constantly inspires us to follow the path of inner joy and peace even as we face difficult moments and decisions. By His grace, we can have inner joy in the midst of life’s travails if we are ready to sincerely ask and respond to the question, “What is God’s loving invitation to me at this moment?”

There are three possible reasons why we do not listen to God’s words to us. First, God’s love has not really taken deep roots in our hearts. We will only listen to the one whom we know loves us most. We thus refuse to listen to God always because we think we or someone else loves us more than God does. When we doubt God’s love for us and think our desires for ourselves are better than His will for us, instead of saying, “Speak lord, your servant is listening,”(1Sam 3:10) we say to Him, “Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking.”

Secondly, we are reluctant to change and to grow in our love for Him. We easily settle for mediocrity, for the familiar and the comfortable. We harden our hearts towards Him because we know that His words always challenge us to mature in our love for Him in concrete ways. It is much safer not to listen to His challenging words.

Thirdly, we do not listen because we do not trust His promises completely but have settled for the earthly joys that come and go and leave us empty and frustrated. We do not have trust that the divine presence within us will bring us that inner joy that we long for the most.

Whatever our reason may be for hardening our hearts towards God’s words while we open our hearts to the world, we need the help of Mama Mary to teach us how to listen to God no matter our condition in life. Mary is the one who believed in God’s unconditional love for her completely, “Mary, you have found favor with God.”(Lk 1:30) She was ready to grow in her own love for Him by doing His will no matter how mysterious or costly it may be to her, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” She trusted completely in God’s promises to her, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”(Lk 1:37)

The only time that Mary gave instruction to us in the Scriptures is when she said, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” Imagine the confusion of the servants when the wine ran out. How many thoughts must have crossed their minds? Mary calmly and confidently led the servants and showed them the way to Jesus and she told them to listen to Him and to obey Him as she did. She continues to do the same thing to us today who love her as our Mother and who listen to her and depend on her as we should.

We are living in very confused and confusing times today. The world’s message is so alluring to our rebellious hearts and we are soaking it in with little or no deep reflection. Christians are even divided on many hot-button issues like homosexuality, “same-sex” marriage, abortion, immigration, etc. We listen to all these things and different opinions but how many of us ask, “What is God speaking to me at this very moment about all these?” Are we even aware that God has the only answer to all these problems and conflicts? How convinced are we that God’s answers are the only thing that allow Him to visit and dwell within us and fill us with inner joy? Are we Catholics – hierarchy, laity and religious – ready to live so that we can say about our final decisions in all things, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us?”

The Eucharist is always Good News – God in our midst, dwelling within us in our chaotic and noisy world. He is speaking to us constantly because His love for us is unceasing. Let us be the children of Mary who will let her speak to us and lead us to Jesus so that we can listen to God and obey Him just like she did and know that inner joy that this world cannot give or take away from us.

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

 

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The Eucharist: School of Christ-like love – A homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter. May 19, 2019.

Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5; Jn 13:31-33,34-35

The Eucharist: School of Christ-like love

 “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I was celebrating Holy Mass in the parish in which I grew up in my native country of Nigeria. I had just pronounced the words of consecration when I looked into the congregation and I saw him, a childhood friend of many years who had once caused me great pain. I was holding Jesus, the King of mercy, in my hands when I found myself struggling with hurt feelings. I honestly thought I had forgiven him from my heart all these years. Why then was I still feeling hurt? I could not shake off this hurt feeling even as I was about to raise the consecrated host. I found relief and peace only when I muttered from my hurt heart, “Jesus, no matter my hurts, please bless him with all the graces and gifts that he needs at this time.” A sense of peace returned to me and I could actually embrace him and chat with him after Mass as if nothing painful ever happened between us.

Imagine the hurt in the heart of Jesus during the Last Supper meal as Judas was determined to betray Him no matter the signs of affection that Jesus had offered him all these years. As soon as Judas walked away and abandoned Him, Jesus used this opportunity to give His disciples the only live-giving pattern of loving, “Love one another as I have loved you.” So for us to know how we ought to love others, we must first look at Jesus as the ultimate exemplar of true love for others.

Firstly, Jesus love shows us that to love somebody is much more than being attracted to the person or finding the person beautiful. What would the truly perfect and holy one find attractive in our sinful selves? Indeed, Jesus does not love us because He finds something attractive in us that is not already His own gift to us. In addition, “In this God showed His love for us, in that while we still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) His love for us remains a gift that cannot be earned or merited.

Secondly, the love of Jesus for us shows us that to love somebody is more than getting something from the person. Jesus does not love us because of what He can get from us. He owns all things, including ourselves, “All things are created through Him and for Him,”(Col 1:16) Jesus gave Himself to us in the Eucharist on the very night that He was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by His trusted disciples. His love for them and for us is purely gratuitous.

Thirdly, the love of Jesus for us shows us that true love has little or nothing to do with good feelings. Jesus shows us that divine love can and does coexist with painful feelings. In His love for us, He endured the torments and anguish from Gethsemane, “My heart is sorrowful, even to death,”(Mt 26:38) to His mortal anguish on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”(Mt 27:46)

The example of Jesus’ love for us shows us that to really love somebody is to freely will to pursue the true good of the person, always bearing in mind that the greatest good for a person is to know and love God more. True love places God, and not the human love or beloved, in the center. It is all about God and not about us. To truly love somebody is to wish the person to know and love God more through our presence, words, and actions.

Jesus loves us because He gave His life so that we can have the greatest good of knowing and loving God, “God showed His love for us by sending His only Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him.”(1Jn 4:9) In Jesus’ words, “This is eternal life – to know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”(Jn 17:3)

Because Jesus Christ is “the same, yesterday, today and forever,”(Heb 13:8) the love that the Eucharistic Jesus has for us is the very same love that He had for His disciples during His earthly sojourn. Jesus in the Eucharist remains the ultimate source and exemplar of true love. He gives us the pattern and the grace to freely sacrifice something dear to us so that others can have the greatest good, the greatest good being to know and love God more.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no way that we can really love others as Christ has loved us if we do not know what is the greatest good – growing in our knowledge and love of the true God – and if we are not ready to sacrifice anything for them to have this greatest good. It is very hard for us to know what the greatest good is in our secular culture today when we can be tempted to live as if pleasure, comfort, wealth, public acceptance, or fame were the greatest good.

All the talk about tolerance in the Church today gives one the impression that we  have lost the sense of what is the greatest good for us and for others. How can we truly love others if we tolerate all forms of deviant behaviors and teachings that are contrary to what God has revealed in Scripture and Tradition? Our fixation on tolerance places us and not God at the center and make it impossible for us to sacrifice anything for the sake of bringing others to know and love God more. We cannot even sacrifice our reputation, material gain, comfort or popularity, etc., for the sake of the true good for others. Little wonder we are plagued with endless painful scandals in the Church.

The Church is indeed hurting and grieving now as we see daily the painful scandals unfolding right in front of us. Many of our bishops, priests and religious have acted like Judas and wounded the heart of Jesus and the Church. Probably many of them succumbed to the climate of unreflecting tolerance of evil and error in their teaching and practice.

This time of hurt is a great opportunity for us to love like Christ has loved us. Jesus has prepared and gifted us with His love for moments like this. This is the time to love those who have lost their esteem in our eyes and those whom we feel cannot benefit us in any way. This is the time to love others when we do not feel good about our lives or what is going on in the Church. We should not wait for them to become good or attractive, or for them to meet our expectations or for us to feel good about loving them.

We can only maintain and deepen this Christ-like love if we recall that the Eucharistic Lord we receive today is the greatest good, who loves us even in our sins and poverty. He is the one who gratuitously pours God-centered love into our hearts by the gift of His Holy Spirit, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through His Spirit given to us.”(Rom 5:5) By the power of this Spirit of love, we can surrender all things – hurt feelings, prejudices, disappointments, regrets, bitterness, etc., and choose to love others so that they too may come to have the greatest good – a deeper knowledge and love of God.

We have Jesus, the greatest good, now within us. Now let us bring Him to others, no matter the cost, so that we can indeed love others as Christ has loved us.

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

 

 

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The power of truly belonging to Christ: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter.

 

4th week of Easter. May 12, 2019

Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9,14-17; Jn 10:27-30

The power of truly belonging to Christ

This is one question about my vocation that I find difficult to answer: “When and how did you hear the voice of God calling you to be a religious priest?” I cannot really say exactly when I perceived my calling or how it came to be. But I am only certain that I sensed my vocation clearly when I made a conscious decision to belong completely to Jesus as His slave of love through Mary in the manner of Christian spirituality proposed by St. Louis de Montfort. I believe that this firm resolve to belong to Jesus completely and to live for Him with and through Mary prepared me to perceive my calling and to respond to it.

When Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice,” He indicates that we must first truly belong to Him, really become His sheep, if we are going to hear His voice and sense Him holding on to us in this life, “No one can take them out of my (Christ’s) hands.” This belonging to Jesus entails that we expect all things from Him, trusting and depending on Him alone, and that we do and endure all things for Him so as to please Him.

The apostolic ventures of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch yields mixed results. The Gentiles become believers in the Gospel but the Jews rejected and persecuted the apostles, and eventually expelled them from the city. But we are told that the Apostles left with deep joy, “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the source of our belonging to God even now in this world. The joy of the Apostles is the joy of belonging to God through the bond of the Holy Spirit. This inner joy of the Spirit endures because the rejection, persecution and expulsion they suffered do not prevent them from belonging to Jesus.

The saints in glory are described in the Book of Revelation as those who “have survived the time of great distress and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”(Rev 7:14) The great distress, that persecution they endured for belonging to Christ, did not prevent them from belonging to Christ. They remained His own through the blood that He shed for us on the cross. For them, Christ’s blood was not shed in vain. God surely rewards and consoles those who remain His own till the very end, “For the Lamb…will shepherd them and lead them to the spring of life-giving waters and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we already belong to God as His beloved children in Christ from the very moment of baptism. But do we consciously try to live as people who belong to Him? Do we see ourselves and all that we have as coming from Him and to be used for Him alone? Don’t we still live pretending we are owners and masters of our lives and all that we have? Does our way of life show that entire being and strength belongs to God? Do our relationships with family and friends show that God is the owner of all people in our lives or are we trying to manipulate and use them for our own purpose? The way we spend our time, does it show that every breath of ours comes from God for His purpose? Do we make use of all our financial and material resources to further the glory of God or for our selfish wants?

As long as we do not consciously live as people who belong to God completely, always and forever, we can never hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in our lives and we can never experience His loving presence and action in our lives even in the darkest moments. Not belonging to Him as we should, we begin to ask, “Where is God in my life?” as we lose hope and forfeit the deep inner joy of the Lord’s Spirit in our lives.

I mentioned at the beginning that I heard His voice only when I resolved to belong to Jesus completely through Mary as His slave of love. Why through Mary? What difference does Mary make? Mary makes all the difference first because it is through Mary that Jesus gave Himself completely to us in an irrevocable way. I am only following the example of Jesus.

Besides, no one ever belonged to God as radically and completely and forever like Mary did. She pronounced her fiat in the moment of the Annunciation when she did not completely grasp what God was asking for her and she did not take back an iota of that fiat even in the darkest and most painful moments of her life. By belonging completely and irrevocably to Jesus, she listened to the voice of God constantly in her life, “Mary pondered all these things in her heart.”

I don’t know about you but I know that I need help in belonging to Jesus completely and forever like Mary did. It is so easy for our sinfulness, selfishness, and egoism to come in and make us take back what we have offered to Jesus. We take back what we have offered when it is difficult or when we lack visible results. We love to be in control of everything and we hardly truly surrender all to God. We surely need the example and help of the great Mother of God to offer ourselves to God and to leave ourselves and all things in God’s hands for His greater glory.

Giving ourselves to Jesus through Mary, we do not wait to become holy or good enough before we belong to Jesus. We do not wait to have great results and accomplishments before we can belong to Him. Mary moves us to give ourselves to God even if we are “unprofitable servants.” Mary lovingly moves us to choose to belong to Him completely and forever even as we sense our own unworthiness, infidelity, and weaknesses and when we feel completely useless in His service. With and through Mary, nothing can stop us from belonging to Jesus completely, always and forever.

The risen Christ is alive and He is with us now. We belong to Him and He is holding on to us at every moment and constantly speaking words of hope to us. We do not hear Him simply because we do not belong to Him as we should.

We can belong to Christ only because He has chosen to forever belong to us and to offer Himself for us on the cross. He shed His blood for us on the cross and rose from the grave so that we belong completely to Him, “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For this end Christ died and rose again, that He might be lord both of the dead and the living.”(Rom 14:9)

As we enter into communion with this blood in our Eucharist today, let us live so that His blood poured out on the cross for us would not be shed in vain. Like Mary and with Mary, let us belong to Jesus Christ completely and forever so that we will hear His voice in the midst of life’s distress and know the joy of His Spirit. This is when we shall cease from asking, “Where is God in my life?”

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

 

 

 

 

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