True worship and authentic joy: A homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. January 8th 2017.

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

True worship and authentic joy

It was my favorite rosary beads and I had had it for over fifteen years. It had great sentimental value, having been my constant companion in the joys and pains of my many life transitions. Now it was lost. I had just prayed this my beloved rosary on the first leg of my trip from Manila. Now I was desperately searching for it in my carry-on luggage in the airport in Singapore while waiting for my connecting flight to Rome. Then I noticed a hole in my breast pocket from where it must have fallen. My beloved rosary was lost for good. Most importantly, I lost my peace. Lifting my heart to God in a prayer of lament and help, Jesus’ response was direct and timely, “Am I not here in your heart and you are losing your peace over a set of rosary beads?”

We lose our peace and joy when we fail to realize that we are to use all God’s gifts faithfully and gratefully to draw closer to God but we worship God alone. God had used those rosary beads of mine all these years as His gift to draw me ever closer to Him through the constant contemplation of the mysteries of His life, passion, death and resurrection and the assisting prayers of His Mother Mary. But I cannot worship the rosary beads. It is time to let go. It has done its part and I can always get another one. I can do without those particular beads but I lose my peace when I let anything hinder me from worshiping God alone.

In today’s Gospel, the magi show us how to use everything to draw closer to the living and true God and find deep joy by doing so. They saw a mysterious star and allowed God to draw them to Him through the star. They did not seek to worship the star but the king to whom the star belonged, “We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.” Even though all of Jerusalem was disturbed by their presence and quest, the magi used the information from Herod to continue their journey in search of the infant king. They did not lose their goal of paying homage to the infant even when the star once disappeared from their view. Refusing to worship the star but letting God lead them to Him through the star, their journey was one of deep joy, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” Seeing the child with Mary, His mother, they worshipped the child alone and offered their gifts to the child, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage…They offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”  Because they used the gifts of God faithfully and gratefully in drawing closer to worship God, their joy remained and God began to guide them interiorly, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”

On the other hand, Herod and the entire Jerusalem were left “greatly disturbed” because, though they had the gift of divine revelation of the birth of the child and where He was to be born, they did not make a single effort to draw closer to the God who was revealing Himself. The added gift of the magi’s good example in searching for the new born king made no impression on them. Refusing to respond to divine promptings and leave their comfort zone and make any changes in their lives, they forfeited the peace that comes from the true worship of God that was being offered to them.

The message of today’s Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is clear – God reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we can give true worship to God alone. God reveals Himself completely in the child Jesus so that, no matter our past sins, future worries, or present trials, we do not have to hide any more or shy away from authentic worship of God alone, using His gifts to draw closer to Him. The more authentic our worship of God is, Jesus, the “author and perfect of our faith,” also “dwells in our hearts through faith.” By the presence of Jesus in us, He leads us away from false worship to that true worship of God alone that brings us deep abiding joy.

St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that all of us, by the grace of God, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, are now “co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” One thing that we inherit from Jesus is that authentic worship of the Father alone that we see in Jesus. He received all from the Father, “All that the Father has is mine.” He used it all for the worship of the Father, “I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you gave me to do.”(Jn 17:4)

If we are going to enter into the deep abiding joy of Jesus, then we must be ready to use all His gifts, not as we want to use them, but to draw ever closer to Him and refusing to worship those gifts by thinking we cannot do without them or we just cannot get enough of them. We must make discerned use of the gift of time in this New Year, the gift of our natural talents and abilities, our spiritual resources, our health, our knowledge, body, mind, heart, etc in this regard while worshipping the giver of gifts alone.

We must also be ready to let Jesus purify us in our worship. It is so easy for us to say we worship God while worshipping other things like money, fame, pleasure, self, etc. It is so easy for us to enter this false worship because we easily make creatures into the Creator and seek to possess and enjoy them for their own sake without asking if these are bringing us closer to the heart and mind of the giver. The Creator has taken the form of a creature today and revealed Himself to us freely so that we can worship Him alone.

One of Jesus’ special gifts to us is the gift of His own Mother Mary, a precious gift that He offered to us through the beloved disciple with His dying breath on the cross, “Son, behold your mother.” Like the magi, who “saw the child with Mary His mother,” but offered worship to the child alone, we must never forget that Mary is not to be worshipped as people accuse us Catholics of doing. Besides, Mary is all about leading us to give true worship to God, “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.” True devotion to Mary is a gift that lets us share in Mary’s own perfect worship of God. Mary’s worship of God is utterly unique because her son is also her God. She worshipped and surrendered to God with pain on the cross of Calvary the very same one that she had received and worshipped with joy as a gift from God from the day of the Annunciation. Because we become like what we love, loving Mary, depending on her prayers, imitating her example and having esteem for her simply because she is one of Jesus’ special gifts to us opens our hearts to share in her own intense and authentic worship that brings the God-man into our hearts. None of Jesus’ gifts to us is superfluous or unnecessary, most importantly, the gift of His Mother Mary.

Every Eucharist, like this one, is an epiphany, Jesus revealing Himself to us so that we can have true participation in His own perfect worship of the Father. The Eucharist is also where worship of God is guaranteed to lead to God dwelling in our hearts. The deep and abiding joy of the Lord will surely be ours when we use all His gifts in drawing ever closer to Him without worshipping His gifts but worshipping God and God alone.

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

 

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The Immaculate Conception: Why she is so beautiful

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. December 8th 2016

Gen 3:9-15,20; Eph 1:3-6,11-12; Lk 1:26-38

The Immaculate Conception: Why she is so beautiful

There is a story about a conversation between God and Adam shortly after the Fall and their banishment from Paradise. Adam asked God, “Why did you make Eve so beautiful? I cannot believe how beautiful she is.” God replied, “I made her so beautiful so that you would fall in love with her.” Adam pondered that reply for some moments and then said, “But I have one more question that really puzzles me a lot. Why did you make her so dumb? I mean she was so easily deceived by the serpent and then she led me to fall too.” God smiled and responded, “I made her so dumb so that she could fall in love with you.”

Why did God make Mary, the new Eve, so beautiful and immaculate by the foreseen merits of Christ?

The Annunciation gives us the first answer: God made her so beautiful so that He fall in love with her, give Himself to her, and thus fulfill His plan through her. Just as God takes delight in the good that He has placed in His own creatures, God made Mary sinless from the moment of her conception so that God would fall in love with her and give Himself to her completely. In the eternal decree, the mission of the Eternal Word and the Spirit will begin by their loving union with Mary after her free and generous consent to the divine plan, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name Him Jesus… The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” God began to fulfil the purpose of His eternal plan by first of all making Mary uniquely beautiful by preserving her from the stain of Original Sin before uniting Himself inseparably to her in a fruitful embrace.

Mary is first of all informed or her great privilege, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” She was “greatly disturbed and pondered what this greeting might be.” She is next informed that God loves her by virtue of His prevenient grace which has made her lovable before God from the moment of her conception, “Mary, you have found favor with God.” Next, she is told that this privilege is for a specific reason, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name Him Jesus.” She believed in the presence and action of this grace and God’s gratuitous love for her and thus gave her wholehearted and free consent to the divine plan, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” She thus fulfilled the purpose for which God gave her this unmerited gift of keeping her sinless from her conception.

Why did God make Mary so beautiful by the foreseen merits of Christ? We find a second reason in today’s Second Reading: God made Mary so beautiful so that we too can fall in love with her and also let God fulfil His own plan in us. St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,” and He has done so for a purpose – that we be “holy and without blemish before Him… for the praise and glory of His grace that he granted us in His beloved.” All the heavenly graces, the source of our beauty before God, comes to us in Christ Jesus alone and, in the divine plan, Jesus came to us by the power of the Spirit through Mary. By the grace merited for us by Christ Jesus, we too are made beautiful and called to “exist for the praise of God’s glory.”

Today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that every grace that we receive from God transforms us, making us beautiful before God, and moves us to live for a specific purpose in the divine plan. Whether it is the sanctifying grace from baptism that make us God’s adopted children or the actual graces that comes to us moment by moment through prayer and the sacraments, moving us to grow in holiness, every divine grace comes with a purpose and beatifying effect on us. These graces all come to us from Jesus through Mary, who is forever “full of grace,” made beautiful by God for Himself and for us too.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how firmly do we believe in the presence and action of divine grace in our lives? How firmly do we believe in our true beauty before God by His grace? How easily we ignore these graces or even begin to doubt them because of our sins, failures, and sufferings? The Evil One is doing to us the same thing that he did to our first parents, Adam and Eve – he is making us doubt that we are loved by God simply because of His grace. Can we honestly say that we make use of all the graces that we have received from God for the exact purpose that He has given them to us? Are we not reluctant to let go of our own plans and purposes in life? Don’t we sometimes seek for grace to our own ends? Don’t we need to humbly accept help from the woman whose beauty only attracts us to God and not to herself?

Mother Mary is given to us as our beautiful and sinless Mother to do for us what she did for the God-Man, Jesus Christ i.e. to help us believe in the graces we have received from God, to know that we too have found favor with God by His grace, and to allow His divine purpose to be fulfilled in us. By her sinlessness, she is the immaculate Temple of God and there is nothing in her that can remotely hinder our union with God. By loving Mary just like Jesus loved her and gave Himself to her, we share in that her invincible faith in God’s love for her and in her willingness to surrender her own plans to God so that His own purpose be fulfilled in our lives as it was in her own life.

We encounter Jesus, the author of all graces, in this Eucharist. His grace is given to us to change us, to make us beautiful before God, and to move us to fulfill a specific plan of God today. Jesus knows our weakness too and our need for help. His life of fidelity to the Father’s will began with Him giving Himself to Mary and ended with His entrusting us to Mary at the cross, “Woman, behold your son; son behold your mother.” He intends that we too love her just as He did and let the divine purpose prevail in our lives. That is why He has made His Mother Mary beautiful.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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The struggle for authentic righteousness: A homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 23rd 2016.

Sirach 35:12-14,16-18; 2Tim 4:6-8,16-18; LK 18:9-14

The struggle for authentic righteousness

“I am a sinner … I am sure of this. I am a sinner whom the Lord looked upon with mercy. I am, as I said to detainees in Bolivia, a forgiven man. … I still make mistakes and commit sins, and I confess every fifteen or twenty days. And if I confess it is because I need to feel that God’s mercy is still upon me.”

Pope Francis spoke these words when he was asked to describe himself during an interview with the Italian magazine, Credere, on December 2, 2015. This quote gives us three pillars of the struggle for authentic righteousness.

Firstly, there must be an honest acceptance and acknowledgement of our sinfulness by which we must personally say, “I am a sinner, I have sinned in the past and without the grace of God, I will sin more in the future.” Secondly, there must be a trusting openness to receive and believe in the gift of God’s merciful love and forgiveness by which we individually say, “God has shown me His merciful love and has forgiven me on the Cross. This love of God has freed me from my sin, transformed me and is moving me to love God and others.” Thirdly, there must be determination to bring this bring this merciful love to others by which we say, “I must be ready to do and endure anything so as to reflect this merciful love to others.”

The Pope accepted and acknowledged his own sinfulness, receives the mercy of God frequently in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reminds the Bolivian detainees and the whole world of the merciful face of the Father that has been turned on him. Authentic righteousness is not about what we do, what we feel, what people think of us or how we appear to others. It is about these three things – our sins, God’s undying merciful love for us, and our readiness to receive and reflect this love to others at any cost.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus condemns that false righteousness that is evident in self-righteousness and the despising of others who fail to measure to our standards. The Pharisee considers himself the only holy one in the midst of sinners whom he easily condemns, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” He does not see himself as a sinner. To him, righteousness is something that he does and not primarily what God does in him, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

But the tax collector does not see in himself the source of righteousness but looks to the mercy of God to justify him. He neither compares himself with others nor does he deny his own sinfulness, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus declares that he is the one who leaves the temple justified because righteousness comes from God; it is what God does. Nothing that we do or have by ourselves can make us truly righteous. We can only open ourselves to receive it from God as a gift and respond to it.

St. Paul writes to Timothy in today’s Second Reading, “I have competed well, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” Despite all that he had done and accomplished in his ministry, the crown of righteousness is not a right that is owed him but it is something that he has to wait for from God as a gift from Jesus, “From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day and to all who longed for His appearance.”

St. Paul also gives us four things that help us discern the authenticity of our righteousness. Firstly, authentic righteousness leaves us with a purity of heart that sees God acting in all the moments of our lives, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” St. Paul sees God acting in his life when he was abandoned by his trusted companions, “Everyone abandoned me but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.”

Secondly, authentic righteousness moves us to forgive those behind the hurts of our lives simply because we too have been forgiven. St. Paul forgives those who abandoned him and is not overcome by the disappointments of life, “May it not be held against them.” Thirdly, authentic righteousness conquers fear and instills hope. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to His heavenly kingdom.” Lastly, true righteousness does not turn one in self but breeds a generosity in loving and serving God and others. St. Paul is determined to bring the mercy of God to others at any cost, “The Lord…gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles may hear it.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so easy for us today to be fake or hypocritical Christians, looking to what we do or our outward appearance as the basis for our righteousness. It may be the prayers we pray, our talents or good reputations, our beautiful liturgies, our lofty vocations or our titles – all these good things can give us a false sense of righteousness. But the admirable qualities of authentic righteousness in our lives come only when we humbly accept our need for divine mercy, open ourselves trustingly and perseveringly to the transforming power of God’s merciful love in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and reflect to others the mercy we have received from God.

In this sacrament of Confession, we acknowledge and accept our sins, and confess them without making excuses or blaming others for our moral failures. God, by the merits of Christ, forgives and cleanses us of our sins and pours His love into our hearts. He enlightens our minds and strengthens our wills for the fight against sin and selfishness. We thus receive the divine impulse to bring to others this love that we have received and overcome the temptation to despise or compare ourselves with others. We cannot bring this love to others if we have not definitively received it from God first in this sacrament.

In today’s discussion about re-admitting the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, it appears that the sacrament of the Eucharist has been detached from the sacrament of Confession. Divine life in the soul begins at baptism; if lost through mortal sin, it is restored in the sacrament of Confession before the reception of the Eucharist. Divine life for the divorce and remarried, and indeed for any grave sin, does not and cannot begin in the Eucharist but in Confession. For its effectiveness, the Eucharist presumes that there is already divine life to be strengthened in the soul of a person.

Like Pope Francis, we all are sinners on whom the Father is always showing His merciful face. God’s merciful face became visible to us when the Virgin Mary brought forth the God-Man in the stable of Bethlehem. Jesus shed His last drop for us on the cross so that we could receive this mercy. He assures us that He will not reject anyone who comes to Him, (Cf. Jn 6:37) This merciful face is turned to us today in the sacrament of Confession, inviting us to be truly righteous and holy by the grace of His merciful love alone. Sacramental confession prepares us for the Eucharist where we acknowledge and confess our sins in the penitential rite, are transformed by word and sacrament, and sent forth into to bring this merciful love to others in the world.

We can approach today’s Eucharist with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, refusing to examine our consciences thoroughly with the truths of our faith and demands of Christian living,  pretending that we are immaculately conceived and without sin while despising those who do not measure to our standards. By so doing, our prayer will be dead on our lips and it will just be another Eucharist that has no effect on our lives.

Or we can approach our Eucharist today like the tax collector who has experienced the justifying action of God’s merciful love in the sacrament of Confession. We can come with a sense of our sins and need for divine mercy and a readiness to bring this to others. Our prayers will reach the heart of God, “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” And our Eucharist today will bring us deeper into the heart of the loving Father whose merciful face is always turned towards us sinners.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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The “Catholic Spring”: Old wine in new wine skin

The Catholic spring: Old wine in new wine skin

The leaked email between Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, and Voices for Progress’ Sandy Newman showed their intention to foment a revolution of the faithful from within the Catholic Church against the Church herself and her teachings. The suggested springboard for this “Catholic Spring” was the Catholic Church’s opposition to mandatory coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients in employers’ insurance plans on ethical grounds.

Newman had written in the leaked emails, “There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a Middle Ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church.”

What I found interesting was not the obvious disdain or hatred for the Church and her teaching or the evil plan to sow revolution from within the Church. What I found interesting and somewhat disappointing was the reaction of many Catholics to this attack on the Church. Some have approached it as a mere danger to American ideals. Some have begun a campaign asking for an apology from the Clinton camp. Some have called for the sacking of those involved in such anti-Catholicism. These responses are rather inadequate to say the least.

If only we reflect more on the word of God and let this word shed light on the experiences of the Catholic Church throughout her history, we will realize that that there is nothing new about this plan to foment a revolution from within the Church herself.

In the first place, Jesus spoke about such seeds of revolution from within the Church itself in the parable of the weeds among the wheat in Mt 13:24-30 and explained it in Mt 13:36-43. Jesus, the Son of Man, had “sowed good seed in His field (the Church).” The enemy came “while everyone was asleep.” In his malice, he sowed weeds “all through the wheat” because he did not know any way to stop the good seed from growing. The evil one did not stay long enough to claim responsibility for the damage, “He then went off.” When the servants wanted to uproot the weeds immediately, Jesus replied, “Let them grow together until harvest.” Yes, the ever-threatening weeds and the life-giving wheat will be together and grow together until harvest time.

Secondly, Jesus repeatedly reminds us of this truth about divisive and destructive forces from within in several passages: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.”(Mt 7:15) The Church will surely have wolves in her fold and she will surely encounter wolves in her mission of evangelization, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”(Mt 10:16) The Wikileaks emails only indicate that today the wolves outside are in league with those within the fold.

Thirdly, the early Church had its own share of opposition from within her own midst. St. John speaks of several “antichrists,” opponents or adversaries of Christ from within the flock itself whose teachings differ from that which Christ bequeathed to the Church. They neither belonged to the flock nor do they remain within the fold forever, “They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.”(1Jn 2:19)

Now to some personal experience of the “Catholic Spring” in the Church. It was at the height of the priest sexual abuse scandal in 2002 when I and a group of other seminarians met a retired auxiliary bishop in the New England area. In response to the scandal, he had spoken to us shocking and disappointing words: “Don’t worry, boys. Hang in there. This celibacy stuff will end soon. Times have changed and the Church must change with the time.” Talk about “seeds of revolution” from a prelate that we seminarians then did not need to hear.

No, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is nothing new about the call for a “Catholic Spring.” It is the same old wine in a new wineskin. The seeds of revolution have always been planted in the hearts of men within and outside the Church. Whether they are aware of it or not, the agents of revolution in the Church, either for political or financial gains, are instruments of the enemy to frustrate the desire for unity of faith and morals that burned in the heart of Jesus, “Father, may they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us.”(Jn 17:21)

What then are we to do in the face of the threats of a “Catholic Spring?” Simply strive to become the Church that Christ willed that we be and not a Church that is so focused on public acceptance that it forgets its divine heritage, attributes, and mission. We can be such in the following ways:

First, know well, appreciate, and value the deposit of the faith and the frequent the means of salvation that Christ brings to the Church. It is so easy for the devil to dispossess us of our heritage when we do not appreciate or understand our faith or experience the power of the sacraments to change our lives, “Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.”(Lk 8:12)

Second, guard this faith and share it with other courageously out of love. There is so much talk about accompanying others in the Church today without much clarity about the direction that we are heading in this accompaniment. Are we the blind who try to lead another blind? Are we ready to remove the log in our eyes first before we remove the splinter from the eyes of others? We cannot convince others to walk along the path of conversion and faith if we have not become experts in ongoing repentance and discipleship ourselves. Our teaching is not our own but Christ’s (Cf Jn 7:16) and there is no need to apologize to anybody for speaking the challenging and transforming truth in love. The days of slumbering, like the servants in the parable of the weeds and wheat, are over if we are going to faithful in the face of threats of a “Catholic Spring.”

Third, seek to be deeply grounded in the Good Shepherd. We are utterly helpless on our own against the wolves within and outside the Church. We need to be able to realize the voice of the Good Shepherd in the midst of all the noise and voices of false compassion that is ready to compromise and sacrifice the truth of our faith for earthly gains. The Church is more than the field hospital as many describe her today where the Good Shepherd meets us with His healing grace and mercy; the Church is also a training camp for saints where the Good Shepherd shares with us His own selfless suffering for the sake of revealing His Father’s love for us.

Lastly, we learn from Mother Mary to make sacrifices and pray for the conversion of the Church’s hidden and known enemies. Mary stood at the foot of the cross and heard the blasphemous words of both Jews and Gentiles as she watched her son Jesus die on the cross. In receiving the beloved disciple as her son in response to Jesus’ words, “Behold your son,” she received all of us, friends and enemies of her son alike. Her faith did not dwindle at all and her love for us all did not become less unconditional. In Mary we find that priceless combination of a mother’s passionate love for our suffering brethren combined with a courageous faith in the words and person of Jesus that we need today.

There is no novelty in the call for a “Catholic Spring” – it is just presented in a new wine skin. In this new wine skin, the weeds have become more strongly rooted and committed than the wheat. The wolves have shed their sheep’s disguise and defiantly bared their teeth. The sheep have been found confused and unprepared. The wolves have become bold enough to vehemently plot and declare their intention to destroy the Church from within her own fold. They have conceived their plan and they are seeking for ways to bring it to fruition. What about the sheep? The sheep have been sleeping, forgetting their nature and mission, and, wishing to accommodate themselves to the changing times, are mouthing such things as “I am personally opposed to abortion, “same-sex” marriage, etc but who am I to impose my views on others?” This is the form of Catholicism that has no chance whatsoever against the orchestrated anti-catholic climate of our times.

By divine guarantee, the wheat will never lack nourishment and strength even as the weeds grow in number and determination. The struggle continues until the end of time. This is the time to be uncompromisingly the wheat we are meant to be i.e. to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ willed His bride to be and for which He shed His last drop of blood and sent to us His own Spirit of truth and courage. This is the only appropriate and fruitful response to the age old call for a “Catholic Spring.”

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

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Faith without limits: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 2nd 2016.

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

Faith without limits

“Lord, increase our faith.”

A diocesan priest friend of mine was surprised a few months ago to see two men walking around the parish Church premises in the evening. He asked the security man if the men were looking for a priest. The guard replied, “No Father, they are looking for Pokémon.”

The Pokémon craze reached fever pitch worldwide a few months ago. But who is still hyped with searching for Pokémons today? Why are we tired of it now? Most likely, we have come to realize from experience that virtual creatures like Pokémon are useless, not important, and above all, we never develop the sense of a need for a deeper relationship with such things.

The most important and useful thing in this life that we always want more of is our faith in God. We cannot get enough of faith because faith brings us into a relationship with God and we just cannot exhaust the mystery of God.

Taking today’s Gospel in context, Jesus had earlier issued a strong warning about the certainty of things that will cause sin in the world and the great punishment for those who cause others to sin, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Then Jesus issued a command to correct and forgive others constantly, “If your brother sins, correct him… and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and returns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” This warning and command reflects how seriously God takes His relationship with us.

To fight temptations constantly, to be a good example and support to others in their own fight against sin, to forgive others constantly – all these demand such a great faith in God. Hearing Jesus’ warning and command, the disciples realize that faith is the most useful and important thing in this life and they have a sense of their need for a deeper faith in God, “Lord, increase our faith!” Their request shows that they have faith already, but they want more and more of it.

Jesus Christ responds to their request by calling them to act on the faith that they have already. By comparing it to a seed which has life within it and the potential to grow, faith is depicted as a gift from God that grows and is strengthened by actually acting on what is believed. Today’s Gospel shows us how we can grow in this faith relationship with God.

First, we must pray to God incessantly for the gift of faith, “Lord, increase our faith.” We must be convinced of the gratuitousness of faith – faith is a gift, to act by faith is a gift, and the reward of living our faith is itself a gift from God. As beggars without any right to reward, we should rightly say, “We are unprofitable servants.” Secondly, if faith must grow, then we must listen to God’s words to us with a readiness to act on it because “Faith comes from what is heard.”(Rom 10:17) We cannot grow in faith if we only listen to our own opinions, feelings or public opinions and maxims. Thirdly, faith grows when we speak words of faith because we allow our faith to influence our thoughts and speech. We must face the challenges of our lives by speaking in the spirit of faith, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Fourthly, faith grows when we humbly take the place of a servant who obeys and serves God in others because God deserves to be obeyed and served and not because we want to get something from God, “We have done what we were obliged to do.”

In the Second Reading, in the midst of all the challenges that the young bishop Timothy is facing, St. Paul calls on him to mature in what matters most – his relationship with God through the Spirit that God has given to Him, “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” By growing in this relationship, Timothy can imitate St. Paul and serve and obey God no matter what he gets, “So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for His sake.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our faith in God remains the most important and useful thing in this life. It is our faith that makes us pleasing to God, “Without faith, we cannot please God.” (Heb 11:6) By the gift of our faith, the Father exclaims over us as He did over Jesus in His baptism, “This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Things come and go in this world but our faith is what prevails, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” (1Jn 5:4) We received this gift of faith in baptism. But we cannot have enough of this faith because we want an ever greater relationship with God and we were made for this.

There are many opportunities that God is providing for us today to grow in our relationship with Him in this world of pain and suffering. Are we making use of the many invitations to pray for ourselves and others before the throne of grace as we see all the sin, human sufferings, and death in our world? Are we soaking in the message of social media without any form of discernment about the truth of God’s words? Are we so occupied with our feelings and being accepted by others that we block out the voice of God? Do we speak with faith when we face difficulties in life or are we so quick to resign ourselves to a life of defeat and failure as if the power of God is not enough to deliver us from our woes? Have we made a conscious decision to obey and serve God in whatever way that He wills no matter what we get in return? Praying for more faith is good but not enough; faith is strengthened when we consistently act in faith.

Things will be viral, fascinating, and trending today and completely forgotten in short time. We will get tired of them sooner or later just as we are tired of Pokémon now because they cannot satisfy our hunger for the God who made us for relationship with Him by faith. But we will realize our need for more and more faith if we resolve to bear faithful witness to God’s love in a world of constant temptation, sin and selfishness.

The Eucharist is further proof that God is passionate about His relationship with us and His intense desire to communicate this faith to us. In every Eucharist, our faith is renewed and deepened because we come into contact with “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” His gift of faith also whets our appetite for more faith until we too cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!”

In our struggles and weakness to grow in this faith, let us turn to Mother Mary. Her fiat at the Annunciation was an unconditional “Yes” to obey and serve God whatever may come. She was praised by the Spirit-filled Elizabeth above all for her faith, “Blessed is she who believed what was spoken to her would be fulfilled.” Mary believed and spoke words of faith for others at the difficult moments of the wedding of Cana, “They have no wine.” She requested and received nothing for herself by her intercessory prayer and example. She moves us to follow her example and serve and obey God no matter what we get, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” She can bring this influence into our own lives too if we have confident recourse to her.

May Mary, the woman of heroic and steadfast faith, help us to hold on to our faith in God and to grow in it because it is the most important and useful thing in this life and we just cannot get enough of it.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting God’s expectations: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 25th 2016.

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

Meeting God’s expectations

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

Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old when she was kidnapped from her family home in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States, on the night of June 5, 2002. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, took her to a hidden mountain site less than 2 miles from her home where he held her captive, repeatedly raped her, drugged her with alcohol and chained her to a post like. She called it the “9 months of hell” in her life. She was found after 9 months and her captor and abuser is now deservedly serving life sentence. Elizabeth is now 28 years and she is a public speaker, a passionate and effective advocate for abuse prevention, bringing hope and courage to those who are facing abuse. She said, “I love my life now and I cannot believe how beautiful it is.”

Her story evokes many “why?” questions: Why did this evil happen to Elizabeth? Why did God allow this to happen to this innocent child? Why did it take 9 months to find her if she was less than 2 miles from the house? Such questions cause us to miss out what makes this story beautiful – the ending and the lesson that it teaches us about God and our pains in life.

First, God knows her well and every single thing that she went through in that ordeal. Secondly, God knows the good that she can do with His grace. Thirdly, God knows well the evil that she can endure and overcome with His grace. Lastly, she did not disappoint God – she endured and overcame the evil that came her way and she did the good that God expected from her. From 9 months in a living hell she has become a public speaker and advocate for abuse prevention and support for those in recovery.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus also evokes many “why” questions. Why is Lazarus wretched, homeless, and pitiable and the rich man exceedingly rich and comfortable? Why is the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven? Did the rich man’s wealth condemn him to the netherworld? Did Lazarus’s poverty merit heaven for him?

We have to look at the story’s ending to find an answer in Abraham’s words to the rich man in his torments, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.” This means that God knows both of them very well as well as everything that they went through in life. God knows well the good that they could do with His grace as well as the evil that they could endure and overcome with His grace. The rich man disappointed God till the end of his life while Lazarus met God’s expectation.

The rich man failed to do the good that he could do with the blessings that God gave him. There is a reason why God blessed him with so much wealth and placed the pitiable Lazarus at his door step for him to practice charity in action. The chasm between the rich man and Lazarus in the afterlife is only a divine validation of the chasm that the rich man forged between himself and Lazarus in his earthly life. Lazarus however endured the hardship that God expected of him with patience till the very end. He is an example of complete resignation, trust in God, and refusal to harbor resentments towards the better privileged.

In Second Reading, St. Paul reminds the young Timothy that in good or bad times, he has the grace to do the good for which he has been called, “But you man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” By focusing on Christ, “who gave testimony under Pontus Pilate,” Timothy can “keep the commandments without stain or reproach until the appearance of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ gave witness to the Father throughout His earthly life. His faithful witness did not waver even when He came face to face with Pilate and his death sentence during the low moments of His Passion. He met His Father’s expectation by never doubting His Father’s knowledge of what He was going through and by His determination to please His Father alone, “He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” (Jn 8:29)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good and bad things happen to us in this life. How easily we ask, “Why do bad things happen to me?” but we never ask, “Why do good things happen to me?” We tend to focus exclusively on the “Why’s?” of the bad moment partly because we are trying to meet the expectations of everyone else but God’s.

God has made us in His image and likeness and for Himself, He has redeemed us in His Son Jesus Christ as His children, and has given us a participation in His Spirit of goodness. At every moment of our lives, good or bad, God has high expectations and great demands on the way that we respond to life’s events. In short, we are called to be saints in these events, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”(1Thes 4:3) God expects that we freely choose a way of life patterned after His Son by the power of the Spirit that He has given to us in Jesus Christ.

If we are to meet God’s expectations for us at every moment, we must have unshakable faith in these truths: “God knows me and all that I am going through now. He knows the good that I can do with His grace and the evil that I can endure and overcome with His grace.” Such a faith must be backed with a convicted resolution not to disappoint Him by the help of His grace.

Sometimes we will fail Him and not meet His expectations. Rather than despair, we return to those truths and beg God to stamp them deeper into our hearts. Moments of failure and trial call us to deeper faith that God know our strengths and weaknesses more than we do and He never rejects us but He is ever ready to forgive us and to give us the needed grace to do the good and overcome the evils of our lives. He is ever faithful, “God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1Cor 10:13) He knows well our desire to do good, to overcome evil, and to love Him because all these good things come from Him. Above all, He knows what His grace can do in us if in all the moments of our lives we are resolute to meet His expectations alone and not that of the world or our self-seeking goals.

There is a heaven and a hell because God has gifted us and has great expectations of us. We choose hell when we choose to ignore the power of God’s gift, to be uncaring about meeting God’s expectations of us in this life, to seek our own goals alone and to ignore the call to strive to do the good that He has gifted us to do and to endure and overcome the evil that we can.

God gave Mary the greatest good, the author of grace Himself, Jesus Christ. She too had her good and bad good moments in life. She fled into Egypt with Jesus, looked for Him for three days, and journeyed with Him to Calvary. But she met God’s expectations from her, even when He expected her to silently watch her Son die the most unjust death on the Cross and to consent in faith and love to His death for our salvation. She no longer asked the question she asked many years earlier in the Jerusalem temple, “Why have you done this to us?” but she lived with the conviction that God knew her well, “He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid.” She can teach us this lesson and impress it deep in our hearts if we look to her at those moments when life deals us its bad blow.

The Eucharist is an encounter with the God who knows us and all that we are going through in life today. He knows the good that we can do and the evil that we can endure and overcome by the grace that He pours into our hearts today. Our lives too can have a beautiful ending despite all the ups and downs of life if only we are firmly resolved to meet His expectations now and always by the grace that He offers to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

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

 

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Why relationships always matter: A homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 18th 2016.

Am 8:4-7; 1Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13

Why relationships always matter

 Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth

A female nurse told me about her terminally sick mother whom she was taken care of at her own home despite her own poor health. But her mother swore, insulted, and cursed her frequently. It was emotionally painful and draining for her and none of her other siblings wanted to take their mother into their home for the same reason. The woman took my advice to pray for her mother, continue to care for her, endure her insults, and maintain her relationship with her. When her mother eventually passed away, the woman said to me, “I am happy that I kept her at home with me. My main source of peace as I grieve now is that I can honestly say that I did all that I could do for her in life till the very end.”

Her story reminds us that nothing satisfies us in this life more than maintaining good relationship with God and with others.  We are made by a God of relationships (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) for the sake of entering gradually into perfect, fulfilling, and everlasting relationship with God and with others. Created in the image of the Triune God, we find satisfaction not in acquiring and enjoying more and more of the goods of this life but only when we use all that we have to know and love God more and serve Him better in others for His own sake.

Jesus tells a parable of a servant dismissed for “squandering his master’s property.” The master eventually commends the same wasteful servant when he acts dishonestly by reducing the amount of goods owed to the master. Why would you commend a wasteful servant who also acts dishonestly and reduces the amount of goods owed to you by falsifying the promissory note? Maybe for the first time the wasteful and dishonest steward learned that it is not more money or property that satisfies but enduring relationship with others, “I know what I shall do so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.” Instead of keeping the ill-gotten profit he had accumulated, he wanted to secure a home where he would be accepted and welcomed by his master’s debtors. He acted promptly in this regard with the only thing that he had with him – the promissory note, “Sit down quickly and write one for fifty.”

Jesus says, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” The children of this world are convinced about the source of worldly satisfaction and they use the right means to achieve it, even if it means entering into alliances of mutual manipulation. But we, the children of light, God’s own children, do we know what satisfies us most in life? When we know that only our relationship with God and with others is what satisfies us most, what are we ready to do, what are we ready to sacrifice, or to endure so as to grow in this one truly enduring and satisfying thing?

Jesus ends by calling us to use all that we have to nurture our relationships with others as best as we can, “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.” “Dishonest wealth” refers to all that we have, all the things we have received from God as stewards and not as absolute owners, things that we have to let go of one day whether we like to or not. We should not hesitate to lose these passing things for the sake of nurturing enduring relationships with God and others, “So that when it (wealth) fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

St. Paul says God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God desires that we enter into a deep saving relationship with Him and He did something to make it happen – He gave us His only begotten Son “so that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life.” Jesus Christ too desires that we too enter into that perfect, fulfilling and enduring relationship with the Father. He desires it and He did something – He offered Himself, “He gave Himself as a ransom for all.” We were made for this satisfying relationship and we desire it. But what are we ready to do to grow in this relationship?

We are in a loving relationship with God today not because we are suddenly good enough, feel good enough, have everything that we want in life, have no sins, sufferings, pains, or failures in life, etc. We are in a growing, fulfilling and enduring relationship with God not because of anything we have or do but because in Jesus Christ, “the one mediator between God and men,” we have been reconciled with God. We cannot judge our relationship with God by our physical, emotional, or spiritual conditions in life. We can only grow in it by faith that is shown in loving actions towards God and others.

We begin to grow in this relationship with God and others when our worship of God becomes authentic and life transforming. The worship of the Israelites in Samaria during the time of the Prophet Amos did not affect their way of life and how they related with the less privileged. They could hardly even wait for the Sabbath to be over for them to enrich themselves by exploiting the poor, “When will the new moon be over that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!” It was empty worship that affected neither their relationship with God nor their neighbors.

So how is our Eucharist today going to affect how we live in the future? How is our life-giving contact with our dependable mediator with the Father, Jesus Christ, going to affect our relationship with God and with others? Is it going to lead us to deepen our conversion from sin and selfishness? Is it going to intensify our life of prayer and make our prayer more and more selfless until we pray with sincere concern for all people like St. Paul asks of Timothy, “First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers and thanksgiving be offered for everyone?” Is it going to lead us to reconcile with others in life and to serve them better and more generously? Or is our Eucharist going to leave us wavering and lukewarm in our relationship with God, fixated on accumulating and enjoying the goods of the earth, and indifferent about the needs of others and the state of our relationship with them?

In and outside the Eucharist, our loving God desires and acts always to bring us into this relationship with Him and with others no matter the pains or hurts of life.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what then are we His children doing today to grow in this perfecting, fulfilling and everlasting relationship for which we were created and in which we alone find satisfaction?

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

 

 

 

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