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

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

The groaning of the Christian life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mar

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

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

Crippling our fears…for a change!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gripped by the Eucharist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do I really know the true God? – A homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. June 11, 2017.
Ex 34:4-6,8-9; 2Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

Do I really know the true God?

The Islamic Maute terrorist group besieged the Mindanao city of Marawi here in the Philippines for the last two weeks destroying lives and property of innocent citizens. A young man walked into a casino in Manila a few weeks ago and killed close to forty people. A few weeks ago, some men mowed down, killed and maim innocent pedestrians with a truck along London bridge before going on a stabbing spree that left many dead and wounded.

Whatever the reasons for this carnage in our world today, whether they are committed in the name of religion or ideologies, one thing is clear from such destruction of lives and property – the true God is not known as He should be known in our world today. We betray our wrong view of the true God by our actions. Jesus Himself linked senseless violence in the world with a wrong idea of the true God, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.”(Jn 16:3)

Today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity invites us to contemplate the true God as revealed to us by Jesus Christ. The true God is not a single person, loving Himself in an egotistic way and ruling over His creatures like a blood thirsty tyrant and dictator. Neither is the true God two persons in constant competition and fighting, compelled to settle and coexist for the sake of peace. The true God is communion of three equal divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, equal in dignity, power and majesty, loving each other in a way that is complete and life giving. The eternal and mutual love of the Father and the Son is the eternal source of the Spirit of Life and Love. This God of loving communion graciously goes out of Himself on a mission to share His own love and life with His creatures.

Today’s Gospel gives us a clear image of the true God. Our God loves His creatures so much that He is willing to give us His only begotten Son so that “everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The true God loves in a life-giving way, giving Himself to us not to get something from us but so that we might have not death but His life in us. The Son, Jesus Christ, accepts His Father’s mission and comes into the world “not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jesus Christ lived first and foremost for His Fathers glory: “Christ did not please Himself: ‘The reproaches they uttered against you fell on me.’” (Rom 15:3) Jesus also lived for our own benefit, praying for us and obtaining for us the Spirit of Life to be with us always, “It is better for you that I go, because if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you…I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”(Jn 16:7, Jn 14:16) The true God is a God of personal loving communion who is on a gracious mission of communicating to us nothing but His love and life, not death.

We are created in the very image and likeness of this true God and this call to communion and mission is stamped into our very being. Today’s Solemnity invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Do we truly know the true God as we should? How do we show that we really know the true God as we should?” We know the true God when we are also humbly living in communion with God and with others and ready to make sacrifices to bring this divine life to others whom we see as having equal dignity with us.

Moses’ encounter with God in today’s First Reading led him to humble worship and to beg for the grace to have God in their company, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.” He longed for a union with God that is deeper than what the Ten Commandments alone can give. Before the true God, Moses also realizes his own sinfulness as well as those of the others, “This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” Knowing the true God as we should, we realize our own sinfulness, our need to know and love God more, and our common bond with other sinners. We also realize our need to pray and sacrifice for others so that they too know and love God as they should.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do we know the true God as we should? Are we living in deep communion with God today? Do we know the true God to the point that we do not let our sins or sufferings separate us from God? Is our knowledge of God true enough to move us to grow in our knowledge, love and service of God? Do we live with that conviction that Jesus, who alone offers us communion with God, will never reject those who come to Him (Cf. Jn 6:37)? Are we on a mission to make others know and love the true God more? Knowing the true God, are we ready to make sacrifices to bring others to share in this life that we have received as a gift from God? How deep is our sense of solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world? How do we acknowledge our equal dignity with all people despite our religions, color, race, sex, education, wealth, etc.? Are we on a mission to bring life to others and not death? The answer to these questions will show how true we know the true God.

We cannot say we know the true God when our communion with God is shaky and our sense of mission to make Him known and loved by others is dead. We cannot claim to know the true God if we are not filled with His life and love, longing to grow in this communion, and ready to bring this life and love, and not death, to others. We cannot claim to know the true God when we choose to kill, destroy and condemn instead of building others up in the love and life of God.

The true God offers us deep joy, the joy of being in communion with the divine persons and with each other. Our joy cannot come from having things our way all the time because we are living out of our individualistic view of God. Neither can our joy come when we choose to merely coexist with others and tolerate evil in our lives and in our world. Our inner joy comes when we know God to the extent that we begin to imitate the mystery of the Triune God that we celebrate today, when we are determined to know, love and serve God more and ready to make sacrifices so as to build others up by our words, prayers and good examples.

Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, embodies this true knowledge of God because she is the beloved daughter of the Father, the admirable Mother of the Son, and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit who found her joy by receiving and bring Christ to us. She will be the cause of our joy too if we take her as our own model of truly knowing God and sharing His life to others even if it means sharing intimately in the suffering of Christ like she did at the foot of the cross.

Our communion with Christ today is a communion with the Triune God and a deeper participation in the very life and love of the Triune God. Christ has died and risen from the dead so that we may know Him and that His life will be in us. If our loving communion with the true God is as true and deep as it should be, our mission to bring this life into a world of death will be so strong and selfless, and our hearts will be filled with the joy of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and forever!!! Amen.

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Pentecost: The Church’s birthday – A homily for the solemnity of Pentecost

Solemnity of Pentecost. June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7. 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Pentecost: The Church’s birthday

Birthdays are times to do two things – offer thanks to God for the grace to turn one year older and reflect on the past year to see what we could do better in the future. Having offered thanks to God for past blessings, we “press on to what lies ahead – God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 3:13,14)

Allow me to wish you all Happy Birthday today as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day that the risen Christ fulfilled His promise and sent the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and brought the Church to life. This birthday of the Church calls us to deep gratitude for the abiding presence and guidance of the Spirit in the Church. It is also a time to reflect deeply on the past and ask ourselves the questions, “What are the signs of the new life of the Spirit in my own life? What signs show that I am really living the life of the Spirit?”

Let us reflect on four sure signs of the Spirit in our lives.

First, a life of ongoing conversion from sin and selfishness towards God as our loving Father. The Spirit of God will never let us become comfortable with sin or complacent in the struggle against sin. Our First Reading shows us the disciples united and boldly speaking of “the mighty acts of God.” They are no longer the self-seeking men who struggled for the first place or the timid men who could not witness to Jesus before a little maid during the Passion of Christ. They have learned to forget themselves and unite in giving bold witness to Jesus no matter the cost.

The Spirit moves us to conversion in our thoughts, words and actions. We begin to see God as our loving Father and His laws are no longer rules to kill our joy but paths to deep freedom. We are not afraid to return to God with confidence when we fall into sin and beg for forgiveness. This constant and ongoing conversion to God in love is the first sign of the Spirit in our lives.

Secondly, a live of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of all aspects of my life. St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” If Jesus Christ is truly our Lord, then we expect all things from Jesus with confidence and we do and endure all things for Jesus Christ alone. With the Spirit in our lives, we are not self-seeking but we serve Christ Jesus alone with all that we have, “There are different forms of service but the same Lord…To each individual is given the manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit.” With the Spirit, we share in Christ’s own attitude to the Father, ready to express our needs with trusting prayer but also with complete abandonment to His holy will as Jesus prayed in His agony in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt.”(Mk 14:36)

Thirdly, we become instruments of the Spirit in fostering unity between Christ Jesus and other souls. Jesus Christ is the vine and we are the attached branches only because we have a share in His own Spirit and we are ready to bring other souls to Jesus. In the words of St. Paul, “Though many, we are one body in Christ.” When the Spirit makes us His instruments of unity, we remain united with Christ no matter what and we are ready to sacrifice all for the sake of growing in this unity with Christ and to bring other souls to Christ by our words and actions.

Fourthly, we have deep peace in our hearts, a peace that comes from being reconciled with God and not just from our situation in this life. The Resurrected Christ in today’s Gospel gives His peace and Spirit to the disciples. He offers peace first, “Peace be with you,” before He offers them the means to this peace, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” as well as what they are to do with this forgiveness that they have received, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these signs of the Spirit’s presence exist together: we cannot pick and choose which we want and do not want. The Spirit in us will continuously move us to exhibit all these signs at different moments of our lives. We must ask how the Spirit is moving us today to ongoing conversion out of love for a God who has loved us first. How is the Spirit moving us to bring our lives completely under the lordship of Jesus Christ? How is the Spirit moving us to bring souls to Jesus Christ by our prayers, sufferings, actions and words? How is the Spirit moving us to keep the peace of heart that Christ won for us on the cross and bring it to others?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ, rich in Spirit, gives His Spirit generously and immediately to His disciples who abandoned Him. This Spirit is good and gentle in us and He will never force us to respond to His inspirations and movements. Let us respond promptly and generously to His promptings so that these signs may be visible in our lives.

It is hard for us to respond to the Spirit’s movements in our lives. Our affection for sin is so strong sometimes, our weakness is great, it is so hard for us to pray, “Jesus, your will be done,” our selfishness does not allow us to see others as brothers and sisters to be brought to Christ and inner peace remains elusive. We can then do what many of the saints have done before us with remarkable results – turn to Mary. Mama Mary is the faithful and sinless spouse of the Spirit who did not hesitate to give herself completely to God when the Angel Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord did not waver even when she stood under the cross with Him dying in agony. She was a faithful instrument of the Spirit in bringing Jesus to Elizabeth, she made Jesus known at the wedding of Cana through her prayers and example, she did not hesitate to take the beloved disciple as her son on the commands of the dying Jesus and she freely consented to the sacrifice of her own son Jesus so that we too may be one in Jesus.

Every Eucharist is a Pentecost experience because the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts and we experience His new life in us. It is a continuous birthday experience for us that demands that we thank God sincerely for this continuous gift of new life. It is also a time for us to reflect and strive with the help of the grace of the Spirit and the support of His faithful bride Mary to live lives of ongoing conversion and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, freely becoming the Spirit’s instruments of unity of all with Christ so that the peace of the Holy Spirit will be in us always.

Happy birthday!!!

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

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The language of the Spirit-filled: A homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter. May 21, 2017.
Acts 8:5-8,14-17; 1Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

The language of the Spirit-filled

We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. We have God’s Spirit being poured into our hearts in prayer and in the sacraments. But are we really thinking and speaking the language of those who are Spirit-filled? What does this language sound like?

First, are we people who say with conviction, “God, you are always with me and I am never alone?” The Spirit that Jesus offers and speaks to us about in today’s Gospel is One who “remains with us always,” who also “remains in us and will be in us” irrespective of how we are feeling or our conditions in life. God’s presence within us is a pure gift won for us by Christ on the cross and His prayer to the Father, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate.” Divine presence in us is neither earned by what we do nor is it dependent on how we feel or what others think about us. On a practical level, being Spirit-filled, we are ready and willing to lift up our eyes and heart to God in heartfelt and sincere prayer at any moment of our lives and we refuse to judge our closeness to God by our feelings or conditions in life.

Secondly, are we people who face all events and circumstances in life by asking, “God, what are you trying to teach me through this event or experience?” The Spirit is a “Spirit of Truth,” who also “guides us to all truth.”(Jn 16:13) In addition to begging God for the graces that we need to overcome obstacles and difficulties in life, being Spirit-filled, we also live with that conviction that, through our life experiences, God is constantly revealing to us truths about Himself, His mysterious ways of acting, who we are as God’s children, and how we are supposed to behave in our relationship with God and others.

In today’s First Reading, Philip, like other Greek speaking Christians of his time, were compelled to leave their homes in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen and the violent persecution of Christians. Even in that painful experience, there was a Spirit-message to spread the Gospel beyond Jerusalem and to reach out to the Samaritans, “Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them.” The result of his preaching was overwhelming and “there was great joy in that city,” because Philip was not deaf to the constant teaching of the Spirit even in his painful moments.

Thirdly, do we say with conviction, “Lord, I believe in your words to me more than in my own experiences or what the world may say or expect from me?” The Spirit of Truth guides us along paths that are not always the common way of judging, speaking and acting. Since it is a Spirit that “the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows Him,” we cannot judge the Spirit’s inspiration or truth by worldly standards or fall into easy compromises with the world. The greatest reality for us is God’s words, much more than public opinion, personal experience, or cultural expectations.

Fourthly, do we also ask, “How can I give God greater praise and glory in this situation or through this experience?” The Spirit is given to us to enable us to seek the glory of God by doing His holy will alone, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” The Spirit constantly moves us away from selfishness and self-will. Philip did not seek self-preservation in his trials but continuously used his gifts for the glory of God, “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip and saw the signs that he was doing.”

Fifthly, how ready are we to say, “God, I trust that you will always sustain me in all things as long as I am seeking to give you praise and glory.” The Spirit is an Advocate who helps us in all things. We cannot even pray without the assistance of the Spirit, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26) This means that we are ready to let go of all forms of self-reliance, self-dependence and self-seeking in our thoughts and actions.

Why is it important to think and speak as befits one who has the Spirit of Jesus? The Spirit and other gifts are given to us to make happy here on earth and to journey to heaven. We easily abuse or underuse our gifts when we do not speak the language of the Spirit-filled. Consequently, we lose that joy that the Spirit brings because our language does not reflect His abiding presence within us to teach and support us constantly.

I recently met a well-educated woman who once owned a lucrative real estate business. She had friends and family who looked up to her. She had lost everything through her gambling addiction. She is now living in a shelter for the homeless in Manila, blind and deserted by her loved ones. I was struck by her joyful demeanor and her words to me, “Maybe God has taken away all my wealth and my sight so that my heart can now be fixed on Him alone.” There is no self-pity here but honest acceptance God’s love for her even in her bad choices. Her joy was no longer in her material gifts or status but it is now a joy that comes from contact with the God who is ever present and active within her, constantly sustaining and teaching her about God’s mysterious and often painful ways and how she is to respond. She had learned from her painful experience that true joy does not come from more gifts but from having our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes shaped by the abiding presence and pedagogy of the Spirit within.

Mother Mary, the ever-faithful spouse of the Spirit, spoke the language of the Spirit-filled. Believing that God was always with her, she faced all life’s events by “keeping all these things and pondering them in her heart,”(Lk 2:19) to discern the voice of the Spirit within her. She let God alone to sustain her, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Through Mary and with Mary, we too can learn something about God, self, and others from the events and conditions of life. Experience is the best teacher and we never graduate from the school of the Holy Spirit’s instructions in life’s experiences. Mama Mary is a tested and trusted guide for us in this school of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, will never cease to pour His Spirit into our hearts as He does in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, we are never left orphans. God is ever with us, ever teaching and supporting us, to bring us to that unending joy that comes from our faithful use of God’s gifts to the very end and for His greater glory. All we need to do is to begin to think, speak, and act out the language of the Spirit-filled.

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

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Desiring what Christ desires for us: A homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

5th Sunday of Easter. May 14, 2017.
Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

Desiring what Christ desires for us

Happy Mothers’ day to you all here in the Philippines and around the world!

I had a memorable phone conversation with my mother while I was in the seminary in Boston in 2003. I was about to visit my native country of Nigeria for the very first time after over four years. I asked her what gift she wanted me to get for her from the United States. I asked this question boldly not because I was rich but because I was confident that in her simplicity she would not ask for anything too expensive for me! She replied, “Don’t bother about gifts. Just come back home. We need to be together again.” A typical mother’s deepest desire – the return of her children and their restored unity.

God constantly points to a mother’s love to express His own tender love for His children. In response to the Israelites’ insinuation that God had abandoned them in their exile, God responds, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she would have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will never forget you.” (Is 49:15) Jesus also expresses His desire to bring us all home when He lamented over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, and you would not.”(Mt 23:37)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares that God’s motherly love for us is shown in His unceasing desire for us now and always that we come back home to Him. God did not only “love the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son,” but “there are many dwelling places in our Father’s house.” Jesus Himself desires that we be united with Him for ever and ever that He did not only become one like us, die on the Cross and rise from the grave, but He has “prepared a place for us in His Father’s house,” and He is now leading us back to Him so that “where He is, we too might be.” In addition to desiring the end for us (life with God forever), Jesus also desires the means for us to attain this end i.e. all that we need to do the same things that Jesus did with the very same sentiments towards the Father and others, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these.”

Jesus, as true God and true man, offers us communion with the Father in and through Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Because He is “the author and perfecter of our faith,”(Heb 12:2) it is through our faith in Jesus that we begin to desire what Jesus desires for each and every one of us i.e. our unity here on earth with Him and with each other and our journey as a family back to God in the Church. We can only do what Christ has done with the same sentiments when we begin to share in that deepest desire that moved Jesus Himself.

The early Church reflects this same desire. They foster the unity of the community by promptly addressing the injustice against the Hellenist widows by appointing seven reputable men “filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” They meet the widows’ needs without getting distracted from what is essential – their journey back to God as a community and inviting others to join the community, “Select seven reputable men… whom we will appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Thus they did what Christ did – spread the word about His Father, gathered us into His community and leads us back home to the Father, “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.”

If God’s desire is for us all to be with Him for all eternity and if this same desire burns in the heart of His Son Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, can we truly say that the greatest desire we have in our hearts today as members of the Church is to come back to God and to invite others to journey home with us? Aren’t we instead bogged down with daily cares and responsibilities that our desire for eternal union with God is somewhat dwindling? Isn’t it much easier to ignore others rather than inviting them to journey with us and risk being labelled a bigot? How can we grow in our faith today to the point that we begin to share deeply and constantly in Christ’s own desire for us?

We celebrated yesterday the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Mother Mary appeared to the three recently canonized children a hundred years ago and asked them to do many things e.g. pray the rosary, fast, attend Mass and receive the Eucharist in reparation for sins, confess their sins regularly and warn the world not to offend God by sin, etc. Our Mother Mary shows us in Fatima that she has one desire burning in her heart: that we come back home to God and to do so as a community of faith united with her Son Jesus Christ.

By praying the Holy Rosary as she requested us to do, we begin to share in Mary’s invincible faith in Jesus Christ as well as her own desire that we be united with Jesus and with others. Mary’s desires were most perfectly conformed to that of Jesus Christ. Focusing on the mysteries of Christ’s life in the Rosary, we ponder what Christ has done in those mysteries and learn from Mary how to respond to God in our own daily lives. Besides, by our intimate conversation with Mary in the praying of the Rosary, we begin to hear her whisper to us the words she spoke at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.” The Rosary nurtures our faith; as we grow in faith, we shelve our own selfish and self-seeking desires and desire more what Jesus desires for us and for others; the more that we desire what Jesus desires for us, the more we have the strength to do what Christ did in our world today, especially worship of the Father and service of others.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has come back to us and is leading us to the Father’s home step by step. The road to heaven is not an easy road. It is so easy to get distracted or discouraged by our sins and sufferings. Our own desire for heaven is so small and inconstant. Let us never forget Christ’s desire that we be with Him wherever He is. We shall be with Him in His hidden life with Mama Mary and St. Joseph in Nazareth, in His temptations in the desert, in His ministry of gathering others to the Father, in His agony in the garden, in His abandonment by His disciples, in His passion and death, in His grave, and ultimately, in His Father’s house where He has prepared a place for us with so many dwelling places.

Our Eucharist today is another encounter with Jesus and an outpouring into our hearts of His own desires for us and for the entire world as well as the graces and virtues that we need to do what He has done just as He has done it. With our hearts ever open to Mother Mary, our loving Mother who never ceases to call us back home, if we let nothing trouble our hearts or weaken our faith in Jesus, our hearts will burn with that desire to do what Christ has done so as to be with Him and Mother Mary and all the heavenly court forever and ever. Amen!!!

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

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