Feeling abandoned by Jesus? Think again. – A homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent. April 2, 2017.

Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

 

Feeling abandoned by Jesus? Think again.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 

I can never forget that Sunday evening after Mass in our parish in Boston. I was a seminarian then and I was locking up the Church after evening Mass when I saw it: A white Communion host on the pew of the Church. Obviously, someone had received Holy Communion during Mass and then somehow left our Eucharistic Savior on the pew and walked away.

 

It was a painful reminder of how much risk Jesus has taken to become one like us and then to give Himself to us in Holy Communion. Many would reject Him and would not believe in His Real Presence. Many will question His ability to give Himself to us in such humble conditions. Many would stay away from the Eucharist because, in their opinion, they are not getting anything out of the Mass. Many would stay away because they think that they are not worthy to receive Him. Many would receive Him in Communion and then abandon Him in the pew. Many will make sacrilegious Communions and receive Him with little or no repentance for their sins. Our Eucharistic Savior never abandons us and nothing stops Him from coming to give us life.

 

In today’s Gospel passage, Lazarus’ two sisters seemed to have memorized the same song of lament, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They must have rehearsed and internalized those words at their moment of grief, just waiting to say it to Jesus. It was an endless mantra, a cry that accused Jesus of abandoning them at the moment of their brother’s sickness when they had sent Him a desperate message, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

 

Little did they realize that Jesus could never abandon anyone, much lest His friends. If only they realized the great risk that Jesus took to come and visit them at their moment of grief. His disciples thought that He was out of His mind when He spoke about leaving His safe haven in Galilee to return to Judea and risk being stoned to death by the irate Jews. They had responded in disbelieve, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” But nothing will deter Jesus from going to console his friends and to raise His friend Lazarus.

 

Despite Jesus’ deep love for Lazarus and His knowledge that Lazarus was dying, Jesus had remained where He was for two days because Jesus never does anything to please Himself but to please the Father no matter the pains that it would cause Jesus or others, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:30) This is why Jesus responds to the news of Lazarus’ sickness with these words, “This sickness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

 

To stay behind two more days when He had the power to heal Lazarus by a word of His command, to let His friend Lazarus die when He could easily have prevented it, to see Martha and Mary weep at the death of Lazarus when He could have prevented those tears – all these were painful for Jesus and He showed it by His deep tears at the grave of Lazarus, “And Jesus wept.” These are the tears of One who never abandons His own but who gives them life just as the Father wills that He should, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wills.”(Jn 5:21) Jesus assures that He would never abandon His own even in the grave, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me, even if He dies, will live.”

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Jesus never abandons His friends even in death, He will surely never abandon us who are now children of God because we have the Spirit of God in us. We are more than just friends of Jesus now; we are now children of God like Jesus, co-heirs with Him of His Father’s unfailing love, by the Spirit of adoption that we receive at Baptism.

 

St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading of the privilege and responsibility of having the Spirit of Jesus in us. First, by possessing the Spirit of God in us, we belong to God as His own children, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” Secondly, we are delivered from living “according to the flesh,” seeking always to please ourselves without any regard for the glory of God. Like Jesus, possessing the Spirit, we too can do and endure all things so as to please God and not just to please ourselves, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Lastly, we have the guarantee and divine assurance of future Resurrection i.e. God will not abandon His own people, even in the grave, “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.” We share with Jesus that assurance that, as the Father did not abandon Him in His suffering and death, He will surely never abandon us too in life and in death.

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Christ Jesus will not abandon us, in life and in death, even in the grave, then He will never abandon us even in our sins, trials, and sufferings. We only need to ask ourselves if we are living as God’s children today, seeking to please our loving Father in all that we think, say and do simply because we are His children. Jesus will never abandon us and it is not because of any good that we have done but simply because we have dwelling in us that Spirit that Christ merited for us by His passion, death and Resurrection.

 

On a practical level, one clear sign that we are living as God’s beloved children is that we are not slaves to fears in this life. Whether it is the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of losing our job, the fear of being abandoned and rejected, the fear of losing our health and strengths, the fear of ridicule, etc., when we live as God’s children by the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not fear anything, not even death, because we know that God will never abandon us, even in death.

 

Our divine guarantee that we will not be abandoned is renewed and made effective in every Eucharist where Jesus repeatedly pours His Spirit into our souls and assures of His continued abiding presence with us in life and in death. As we face life’s hurts and pains, losses and sorrows, there is no need to lament saying, “Lord, if only you were here.” He is with us always, risking everything just to give us His life even in our pains and moments of darkness. Let us be certain today that if we never abandon Jesus, if we continue to live as God’s own children, seeking to please the Father in all things and not ourselves by the power of His Spirit, Jesus will never abandon us but will surely risk all just to give us life, even from the grave.

 

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

 

 

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Passion for Jesus: How and why?

3rd Sunday of Lent. March 19th 2017.

Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; Jn 4:5-42

 Passion for Jesus: How and why?

 I saw in him many signs of a priestly vocation. He spoke enthusiastically about joining a religious community and becoming a priest. When I asked him why he was hesitating to do so, he gave me that response I have heard so many times, “I do not think I am worthy to be a priest. I have so many sins and weaknesses in my past.”

Whenever the sense of our past sins and failures begin to prevent us from following Jesus more closely or making him better known to others, we need to pause and ask ourselves this question, “How excited am I about Jesus? Is my excitement for Jesus greater than my sense of unworthiness or my struggles? What makes me really excited about Jesus?” Unless we are really excited and passionate about Jesus and know exactly why we are excited about Him, we cannot follow Him closely to the very end or make Him known to others because the sense of our past sins, weaknesses, and failures will surely make us discouraged and lose heart.

Many spiritual writers say that the woman at the well in today’s Gospel passage came to fetch water at noon because, due to her sinful life, she was avoiding making contact with other villagers who would come to fetch water at a much earlier time of the day when the sun’s heat was not at its peak. But after her conversation with Jesus, she left her water jar and went back to the village to face the same villagers now with excitement, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” She was filled with so much excitement from her conversation with Jesus that the thought of her sinfulness could not hinder her passionate message.

Most importantly, this woman knew exactly why she was excited about Jesus – Jesus knew her very well. Jesus knew her past with all her sins, struggles, weaknesses, and false hopes. Jesus knew that she had had five unsuccessful marriages and was currently in an adulterous relationship, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” Jesus knew her deepest desires at the present moment and the only thing that can satisfy it – the living water of divine grace, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst, but the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He knew her and her sinful past very well, yet He offered her grace for the present moment and a better and fulfilling future filled with hope.

Jesus is also passionate and excited about His mission and knows why, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work.” Jesus is passionate about us not because we are good in ourselves or holy but because we are the Father’s gift to Him, “Father, they are your gift to me.”(Jn 17:24) We should be excited about Jesus too because He knows us well and still offers to satisfy our hearts now and bring us into His glorious future. Jesus knows our past with all our shortfalls, yet He knows and loves us in the present and what we really desire, and He offers us His fulfilling love and a more fulfilling future with Him.

St. Paul emphasizes this point in today’s Second Reading in these powerful words, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly…But God proves His love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He knew our sinful past and present sins very well and He did not wait for us to become perfect before He laid down His life for us. With full knowledge of our unworthiness, He died for us so that today we might be “justified by faith,” enjoy a “hope that does not disappoint,” and have the love of God “poured into our hearts.” This is how passionate Jesus is for us. Why then do we let the thoughts of our sinful past and present struggles kill that excitement and passion that we should have for Him?

If we are not excited about Jesus and our relationship with God as His children in Christ, if we do not know why we should be excited about Jesus, if the weight of our sinfulness is deeper than the gift of our being adopted as God’s children, we face life grumbling and complaining like the Israelites in today’s First Reading, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst, with our children and our livestock?” They failed to realize that the God who brought them out of bondage knew very well their thirst for water and was ready to provide water from a rock in their journey and bring them to the Promised Land.

This Lenten season, the Lord Jesus is surely inviting us to follow Him more closely and to give more faithful witness to others about what He has done for us in our lives. The devil is surely working hard to discourage us by imprinting in our memories the pains and regrets from past sins and struggles. We too may be living in the past, becoming slaves of shame and guilt. We may even refuse to accept divine forgiveness and to forgive ourselves and others. We can never find the real reason to be passionate about Christ in ourselves or in our situation in life. We can follow Him closely to the end and bear witness to Him only if our passion for Him is rooted in the fact that He knows us more than anyone and He offers us a participation in His glorious life.

Just like he did to the Samaritan woman, Jesus, who knows us very well as well as all our past sins, awaits us in the Sacrament of Confession to cleanse us from these sins, strengthen us for the present and lead us to a better future. He who is so passionate for us that He did not hesitate to “die for us while we are still sinners,” cannot wait to nourish us with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist we celebrate today. What can hinder our own passion for Him?

By her words in the Magnificat, “He who is mighty has done great things for me… He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid,” Mary knew in her heart that God knew her and her past and was bringing her to the glorious life beyond the cross. This is how she could followed Jesus in her lowliness to the very end with a passion that never faded. With her help, we too can be passionate for Jesus till the end when we know with certainty that He knows us well and offers us at each moment a more fulfilling future with Him no matter what the past has been.

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

 

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The transforming power of grace today: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 12, 2017.

Gen 12:1-4; 2Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9

The transforming power of grace today

It is the Lenten season once again, the season of conversion and repentance and sincere turning back to God, aware of His undying love for us, His constantly straying sheep.  There may be lurking in our thoughts the idea that this is just going to be another Lenten season in which we will be left unchanged. We have had many of them, begged for God’s grace to change us and still we find ourselves struggling with the same sins and failures of the past years. Does grace still change us? What does that change look like?

I recently came across the interesting conversion story of Fr. Juan Jose Martinez. As a child and during his adolescence years, his heart was filled with hatred for priests and the Catholic Church. On Sunday mornings, he would look out of the balcony of his house at people going to Mass and spit at them, insult them, and tell them that the Church was just “a sect that wanted their money.” He blatantly refused to receive any religious upbringing and his parents were not believers. His friends relentlessly invited him to join them in their Catholic Charismatic Renewal prayer group sessions at their parish each Thursday. He went with them one day just to mock and make fun of them because he believed that they were stupid and dumb people. He described the devotion of this group to be Blessed Sacrament rather humorously, “They were all looking at a golden box at the back of the church. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it was where the parish priest kept the money.”

Strangely, he found himself coming back every Thursday to sit still in front of the Tabernacle. In his words, “Little by little, the love of God was penetrating my heart: I was 15 years old and I started to sing at Mass, which meant I would attend Mass on Saturdays. I liked being in front of the tabernacle and little by little, I realized that God existed and He loved me. I felt the love of God. The Charismatic Renewal group, which I had come to make fun of, helped me a lot.”

He would eventually receive the Sacraments of Initiation and begin to attend daily Mass. In the course of his slow conversion that led him to shed many of his earlier ideas about God and the Church, he made a commitment to God in these words, “Lord, I am yours for whatever you need.” God took him at his word.

He later sensed God inviting him to enter into the seminary at the age of 17 to become a priest. His father was infuriated at his request to become a priest and beat Juan severely. His father was more willing to pay for his studies in the United States than to let him become a Catholic priest. But Juan bid his time and patiently waited and continued to nurture his vocation till his father finally gave him permission to go to the seminary in May 1999. He was ordained a priest in 2006 and had the great privilege of administering the Sacrament of Holy Anointing to his father who passed away a few years later.

The young Juan who hated priests and the Church, who used to spit on worshippers and who came to Church just to mock worshippers is now Fr. Juan Jose Martinez of the diocese of Almeria, Spain. His story is a testament that the grace of God can and still changes us completely, heart, mind, body and soul, but only on one condition – that we are ready to belong to God completely and to do only what pleases Him. For grace to transform us completely from the inside out, we must have the same attitude and sentiments towards God that we find in the words of the young Juan, “Lord, I am yours for whatever you need.”

In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds St. Timothy that, in Jesus Christ, God offers us all the graces that we need, “The grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.” He also mentions how this grace can affect our lives. Divine grace transforms us from weaklings to persons with such inner strength that we can “bear our share of the hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Grace also enlightens and moves us away from sinful lives towards love of God and neighbor as His children and to participate in the very life and love of God, “He saved us (by grace) and called us to a holy life.”  The story of Fr. Juan, the sufferings that he was ready to endure for his vocation, and his readiness to embark on a new life in the service of God and neighbor are testaments to the transforming power of grace today.

The Transfiguration of Jesus in today’s Gospel is not Christ Jesus showing off His divine power or majesty; rather it is the Father revealing to us a brief glimpse of the abundance of grace that He has offered to us in Jesus Christ. This grace in Christ is the seed of glory. When the amazed disciples indicate their awe at the change of Jesus’ face and their desire to remain with Him on the mountain, the Father responds by pointing to Jesus as the way of transformation, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” To be transformed from the inside out, they must unite with Jesus and imitate Jesus who belongs completely to the Father and who always acts to please the Father; not Himself. As Jesus’ clothes and face are transformed, we are divinely assured that more deeply will we be transformed by divine grace if we are willing to belong to Him and to allow Him to use us and all that we are and have as He wills.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our desire to change for the better is a sign that we are made by God and for God. It is also a sign of God’s presence in our lives and our call to surrender to Him completely. We want to have strength in our battles and hardships, to be saved from our sinful addictions and to live holy lives and thus to enjoy the peace and joy that comes from such authentic interior change. Let us not be fooled – nothing from outside can change our hearts for the better if it is not inspired and infused with the grace of God and accompanied by our sincere desire to belong to Him for His good pleasure.

We see here in the Philippines a certain futile tendency to bring about change in drug addicts through threats, warnings, fear of death penalty, etc. Many of these our brothers and sisters desire to change for the better but they just cannot do so. True interior change comes about only through the grace of God and that willingness on our part not to live for ourselves alone but for Him who “for our sake died and was raised,”(2 Cor 5:15) and our willingness do only what pleases Him.

Yes, God’s grace will and can transform us completely when we are willing to say sincerely from our hearts, “Lord, I am yours for whatever you need.” Let us surrender all that we have and are to Him through Mary, the Mother and Mediatrix of all Grace. She through whom the Author of Grace, Jesus Christ, came to us, also obtains for us all the graces that we need from Jesus and helps us to open our hearts to the transforming power of God’s grace. Mother Mary had no greater desire than to belong to God and to be completely at His disposal for whatever He willed for her, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” Divine grace transformed her from a chaste virgin to the worthy Mother of God.

Fr. Juan looked intensely and continuously at the Tabernacle and he was transformed because he encountered the sole Author of grace, Jesus Christ, sacramentally present in the Tabernacle and he (Juan) was tired of living for himself. As we encounter Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today, let us remember that grace is given to us so that we belong to God as His children who are ready to do only what pleases Him. The grace of God always has the power to transform us and make us strong in our difficulties, save us from our sins and sinful tendencies, and make us holy like Jesus. Will the grace of this Eucharist change us completely today? It all depends on our willingness to say from our hearts, “Lord, I am yours for whatever you need.”

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

 

 

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Philippians 4 and distractions in prayer

We must all have had that experience before – we come to prayer intent on listening to God but our minds are running all over the place following distracting thoughts. Someone once said humorously, “If you want to remember the things that you easily forget or tend to ignore, start praying seriously.” Prayer time easily become time to remember the chores that must be done, all our unfinished business, our hurts, worries about the future, and regrets about the past.

How do we deal with these distracting thoughts, images or feelings? Some spiritual writers recommend that we merely ignore them. We can indeed ignore them when they are just fleeting thoughts or images that have little or no emotional effect on us. But we just cannot ignore them completely when they are persistent and have strong affective effects on us.

St. Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, unsure of how his life would end, but refusing to succumb to discouragement, regrets, or self-pity. Forgetting himself, he focuses instead on his Christian brethren to encourage them in their own sacrifices for Christ. Phil 4:4-9 shows us a way to focus on the Lord in the midst of countless thoughts that distract us in prayer.

First of all, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This calls us to rejoice in the Lord’s loving presence in our lives. Most of the time our distractions are an indication of the people and things that we tend to find our greatest source of joy in e.g. respect, wealth, comfort, success, etc. We must ask, “What am I rejoicing in today? Am I rejoicing in the Lord and His presence in my life or in something else?” We might even find ourselves rejoicing in our success at prayer! Remember the words of Jesus, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) To check distractions, we must ask ourselves if Jesus is indeed the sole treasure of our hearts.

We also open the door to distractions when we tend to rejoice in the Lord only when our life conditions are favorable. Our prayer becomes more distracted when we do not accept the realities of our life condition. Unlike St. Paul, we do not rejoice in the Lord always because we are far from accepting the truth of our situation. No matter the worries, we must enter into prayer first with gratitude to God above all for His loving presence in our lives without worrying about the solutions to our problems or worries. In all circumstances, we must echo Mary’s words in her Magnificat, “My soul rejoices in God, my Savior.”

Secondly, “Your kindness should be known to all.” This calls us to examine those distractions that are rooted in sour relationships with others in our lives. Have we let resentments into our hearts and are we trying to pray while nurturing these resentful thoughts in our hearts? Jesus reminds us that resentments jeopardize our prayer life, “If you bring your gifts to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gifts at the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.”(Mt 5:23-24) An act of kindness towards those who have hurt us, even if it is something as simple as praying for them, gives us power over many distractions in our prayer.

Thirdly, “The Lord is near.” This is a reminder to us that in Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to us, dwelling in our hearts by faith. We usually begin our prayer by becoming aware of the presence of God. But do we go to prayer with that certainty that we are in the presence of the God who is ever present to us in His unconditional love for us and not because we are good. We must come to prayer as people reconciled with God, without any shame, regrets, guilt or pretense, knowing that we have been reconciled with God through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Our pretensions and defenses only multiply and intensify our distractions.

In addition, our distractions may also point to areas of needed conversion or growth in holiness. True prayer leads to our purification and God will surely shed light on sinful areas of our lives for the sake of healing, setting us free and drawing us closer to Him. Since living with the certainty of being reconciled with God blocks many of our distractions in prayer, frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation greatly enhances our prayer life and minimizes our distractions.

Fourthly, “Have no anxiety at all.” How can we surrender all anxiety in our lives? One thing that can help is to enter into prayer with a sense of being in the presence of the one who is closer to us than those nagging thoughts and to know that we are not condemned to a life of perpetual fixation on our worries. Our anxieties increase and intensify when God appears distant from us or completely uncaring. The same God that was with St. Paul in prison is with us in all our circumstances too. This is the truth that liberates us from endless worries and anxieties.

Fifthly, “Whatever is true, what is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious…, think of these things.” Our anxieties are compounded by our unguarded imagination. This is a call to examine our self-talk and notice where the negative thoughts and feelings are coming from. Are these thoughts rooted in truth? Speaking to Jesus honestly about the deepest thoughts and desires of our hearts, no matter how embarrassing they may be for us, opens them to the light of truth and lets us see things more the way that He sees them.

Lastly, “In everything, by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God.” We do not make our requests known to God so that He fulfills them for us. But we “make our requests known to God,” so that He may conform them to His holy will which is to bring us deeper into relationship with Him no matter what we are experiencing in life. Our refusal or reluctance to submit to God’s will in prayer only exasperates our distractions in prayer.

Like Mary in the wedding at Cana we must make all our requests known to God with humble faith, “They have no wine.” But we must also be ready to do His will with love as she counsels us, “Do whatever He tells you.” Prayer is not about getting God to do our will but to bring us to submit to His will in all conditions and situations of our lives, especially in those situations that distract us in prayer. Submission to God’s will in all things focuses our attention on God and not on us and our problems and leaves us with that hope and peace that St. Paul speaks of, “Let the peace of God that surpasses all understand to guard your hearts and minds in Christ.”

Distractions will always be a part of our life of prayer as long as we are in this world. We cannot just ignore all of these distractions because they may be God’s invitations to look deeper into our hearts and learn something about Him, ourselves, and others. This is how we develop that self-knowledge that is indispensable for a deeper intimacy with God in life and in prayer. So, rather than letting this distractions hinder our prayer life, let our hope be rooted in the truth that the God who has given us this desire to pray and to be in a relationship with Him also permits us in His mysterious providence to have these nagging distractions in prayer.

The sufferings of the incarcerated St. Paul and his uncertain future did not take his focus away from Christ but spurred him on to encourage others to rejoice always in the Lord alone. Our distractions in prayer too cannot take away our focus from God if we begin today to face these distractions with that attitude of Mary that St. Paul calls us to, that attitude that says in all things, good or bad, success or failure, light or darkness, “My soul rejoices in God, my Savior…alone.”

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

 

 

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Dare to be different for God’s sake: A homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time. February 5th 2017.

Is 58:7-10; 1Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Dare to be different for God’s sake

Jesus uses two images in today’s Gospel to describe His disciples – salt and light, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”

Two things about these two images. First of all, salt is different from food and light is different from darkness, “God separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:4) Secondly, when these opposites are mixed or brought together, salt changes and transforms the food while light dispels darkness. It is not food that changes salt but salt that changes the taste of food. It is not darkness that chases light away but light that dispels darkness.

Called to be salt of the earth and light of the world, we Christians must be different from the world and aware of our power to transform the world we live in. As salt of the earth, we cannot afford to lose that which makes us what we are and different from others, “If salt loses its taste, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” As lit lamps, we cannot forget that we have been lit and set on a lampstand for a purpose beyond ourselves i.e. to “give light to all in the house.”

But what is it that makes us different and gives us this power to transform our world? Far from making us appear elitist to others, what makes us different and powerful is not what we have or do; it is nothing but the message and power of the Cross of Christ. Because Jesus Christ suffered and died for us while we were still sinners, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead to share with us His own divine life, because Jesus dwells in us now and has made us belong to God as His beloved child, our lives must be different because He thus empowers us to live for Him now and for no other, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth to remind them of that basic truth: they are different now because of the Paschal mystery. The Corinthian believers are living just like their non-Christian counterparts in the affluent Corinth of the time. The Christians were practicing the same depraved sexual immorality as non-Christians, they were also divided into bitter warring factions even in their communal Eucharist, and they were also having lawsuits among believers.

St. Paul did not come to them with “sublimity of words or of wisdom” but he came in “weakness and fear and much trembling” so that their faith “might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” It is not human wisdom but the gift of faith in the Crucified One that makes them unique and leads them to Christ, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Despite his weakness and lack of sublime words, God worked powerfully through St. Paul because he was not afraid to be different as one belonging to God, “He (God) who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace was pleased to reveal His Son to me.”(Gal 1:15-16)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the face of all the forces of darkness and evil in today’s world and in our Churches, families and communities, it is so easy to get sad, angry, discouraged or just become uncaring. We have been mixed inseparably with the world. Most of the time, we let the darkness in our world change us for the worse as if we are not the salt of the earth and light of the world with power to bring good out of darkness. Our world changes us because we are usually unwilling to be different. Nothing renders us more spiritually impotent than the desire to blend with the world, to be accepted and liked, to belong and to be just one of the crowd. If the good in us is going to triumph over evil in the world, we must then ask, “Am I ready and willing to be different from others because I belong to God? Am I ready to think, judge and act differently because the Cross of Jesus makes a difference in my life?”

We must never lose what makes us different and powerful i.e. the life of the risen One within us. We lose this life through unrepented mortal sin. He has giving us our saltiness and our light as well as the situations that demand the use of these gifts, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(Jn 9:5) We belong to Him now. Can we let Him use us by our generous response to His grace in a dark world? Can we let Him use us not for our selfish interests but for His own glory? Or are we going to let our fear of being different from others cripple His beautiful plan for us and our world?

This invitation to be different for the sake of transforming the world was offered to Mary at the Annunciation. She was not afraid to be radically different from all of humanity in an unprecedented and unrepeatable manner. She was not afraid to be the sinless Virgin Mother of God. Because of her willingness to be different from others for God’s greater glory, she became the means through which Jesus Christ has transformed us into God’s own children. May she help us to respond likewise and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Our Eucharist is an encounter with Jesus and the powerful transforming grace that He won for us on Calvary. The cross of Christ has the power to transform all things, including us, our dark world and painful experiences, if and only if we are not afraid to be different from others for God’s own sake.

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

 

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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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