Holding on to the promises of the glorified Christ: A homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

 

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. May 24, 2020.

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

Holding on to the promises of the glorified Christ

I had an interesting phone conversation with my niece in Maryland some months ago during my last visit to Los Angeles from the Philippines. She asked me point blank, “Uncle, when are you going to come and visit us?” I gave her many valid reasons why I could not really visit her during my brief stay in the country. Her unrelenting reply left me speechless, “But uncle it is not fair; you promised to visit us when next you come to the United States. You promised. You promised!”

She was right. I had indeed promised her a long time ago that I would visit her the next time I was in the country. Thanks be to God for providing the means and time for me to eventually fulfill my promise and visit with my niece and her family during that visit. I learned from this experience to be very careful about promising my niece anything from now on. She never forgets and she will surely hold me accountable for all my promises to her.

But I also learned a deeply spiritual lesson. When I reflected on how this little girl held on to her uncle’s promises all these years and how she prevailed on me to fulfill them at the opportune time, I had to ask myself how strongly I held on to God’s promises to me as His beloved son. Do I really believe and hold on to God’s promises to me with conviction till it affects all aspects of my life? Do I let those promises of God shape my self-image, my life of prayer, apostolate, actions, attitudes, relationships, plans, etc.?

The Ascension of Jesus Christ is Jesus fulfilling His promises to His disciples and us, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to your God and my God.”(Jn 20:17) The fact that the glorified Christ did not abandon His human nature after His resurrection but ascended in His glorified humanity gives our human nature a great dignity as God’s children, coheirs with Christ.

The Ascension of Jesus is also a renewal and updating of His promises to us. There are three promises from the Ascension that we must hold on to if we are going to live our lives according to the dignity that Christ has won for us.

First, there is the promise of God’s abiding presence with us always, “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.”(Mt 28:20) Even after Jesus fulfilled His promise to rise from the dead, the disciples still “doubted as they worshiped Him.” Jesus promises them that He would still be with them even when they persisted in doubting Him or His presence with them as the risen Savior.

Second, there is the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of witnessing to Jesus. Though Jesus had enjoined them to “wait for the promise of the Father about whom you have heard me speak,” the disciples still wanted to know the plan of God for their nation, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,6,7-8) The disciples may not know or understand God’s plan for them, their community, or their country but they are given divine power to witness to Christ in all places and in all circumstances.

Third, there is the promise of Christ’s glorious return to judge the living and the dead, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.”(Acts 1:11) Rather than live in fear of His glorious return, we wait in that joyful hope because we know that He died and rose so that “He may bring us to God.” (1Pet 3:18) The disciples are not just to wait for Jesus’ glorious return but give witness to Him by His own power and authority, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Ascension of Jesus into heavenly glory with our humanity also implies that we too will follow Him into His heavenly glory only if we also live according to the dignity that He has won for us as God’s children. We cannot live according to our dignity when we are not holding on to these three promises of the glorified Christ.

We are easily overcome by doubts when we are not holding on to His promise to be with us always. We doubt His abiding love for us because of our past sins and failures. We doubt our ability to face our uncertain futures with His grace. We doubt that He would adequately provide for our needs. We doubt the efficacy of prayer and the sacraments. We doubt our ability to triumph over evil in our lives. We lose our exalted dignity because we do not see the glorified Christ present with us always and sharing in all our dark and painful experiences.

We also have those questions that do not seem to have answers. We have so many things we do not understand and we just cannot accept. Why have we been locked up in quarantine for almost three months over a virus? When are things going to go back to normal again? When will God answer our deepest questions? When can we return to full public liturgical worship? Why is there so much scandalous behavior in the Church? We cannot understand many things but as Jesus told His disciples, though these are mysterious moments, we are empowered by the Spirit at these times, not to live for ourselves, but to bear witness to Him, making Him better known and loved by others.

What happens when we forget that Jesus is returning to judge every single one of us based on how we have made use of all His Spirit’s gifts? We make up our own convenient mission in life and ignore His mission. In the words of the Catechism, “The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.”(CCC 850) We ignore this primary mission and settle for things like protecting the environment or some purely sociological activities that has little or nothing to do with bringing other souls to know and love God more, live according to their dignity, and also long for His glorious return. We thus live for this world only, forfeit that joyful hope of God’s children, and consequently get overcome by fear of death and judgement to come.

The Preface of the Mass for the Ascension of Jesus has this beautiful line about the glorified Christ:

“Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state but that we, His members, might be confident in following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”

This succinctly states the great dignity that Ascended Christ has won for us as God’s children as well as the huge responsibility we have to bear faithful witness to Him before others.

Like Mama Mary, who held on to God’s promises to her and “believed that there would be a fulfillment of all that was spoken to her by the Lord,”(Lk 1:45) we too can only live up to our exalted dignity and fulfill this lofty vocation when we hold on tenaciously to the glorified Christ’s promises to us – to be with us always, to empower us with His Spirit for faithful witness, and to return in glory to judge each and every one of us.

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

 

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Are we really docile to the Holy Spirit?: A homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter 2020

6th Sunday of Easter. May 17, 2020

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

Are we really docile to the Holy Spirit?

The following words from Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s spiritual classic, The Spiritual Combat, merit some deep reflection:

It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our actions under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.

These words lay down the conditions for our actions to merit any supernatural reward. It implies that it is not enough for us to merely perform good acts! We must also be moved by divine grace and perform these acts, without any selfish motive, but for the greater glory of God.

This is a very high calling indeed, one that is utterly impossible for our unaided fallen human nature to even attempt. We need the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, a free participation in that gift of His divine love, and complete docility to the Spirit’s impulses.

Here are three concrete questions to help us ascertain the level of our docility to the Holy Spirit’s inspirations.

Firstly, does our love for God move us to seek what is most pleasing to God at each moment of our lives? By making us God’s beloved and loving children, the Spirit puts in us the very same desire that burned in the heart of Jesus, a desire that He expressed in these words about His Father, “The one who sent me is always with; He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) In the face of all the possible choices at hand at any given time, the Spirit constantly moves us to pursue what is most pleasing to God out of that filial love we have for God as our Father.

When we are not docile to the Spirit, we seek only what is pleasing to us and according to our taste. We then do things out of routine, human respect, self-satisfaction, or custom without that conscious intention of doing them to please the Lord. We settle for mediocrity, or we abandon those good acts when they become difficult or we do not see visible results. Hearts that seek to please others or self at any cost eventually neglect seeking the good pleasure of God and fall into the most depraved of sins.

Secondly, how deep is our desire to know the truth, to live according to that truth, and to proclaim that truth in word and action? The Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” reveals to us who we truly are before God, who God truly is, and the truth of what our relationship with God demands from us. The grace of the Holy Spirit moves us to know, love and act on the revealed truth; the Spirit of God will never let us settle for any of the comfortable lies of our times. We must be willing to let the Spirit guide us deeper into the truth as Jesus promised us, “The Spirit will guide us to all the truth.”(Jn 16:13)

If we ever think that know the truth so well now that we do not have need to know the truth better, then we have ceased being docile to the Holy Spirit. We become deaf to the Spirit’s inspiration when we ignore studying, reading, and meditating on the word of God or we disregard the infallible teachings of the Church and opt for the legion of innovative teachings that abound in our world today. We become obstinate to the Spirit too when we refuse to listen in prayer to what God is speaking in our hearts but focus only on what we want. We are stubborn to the Spirit when we do not take time to examine our consciences every day. We cannot be docile to the Spirit when we settle for picking and choosing only our comfortable truths and rejecting the rest.

Thirdly, how readily do we forget ourselves so as to do and endure things for the greater glory of God? The Holy Spirit gives us a share in that self-emptying of Christ for the Father’s glory so that we too forget ourselves and strive to act for the greater glory of God. When St. Peter exhorts his audience, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” he is pointing to our reception and docility to the Holy Spirit because “we cannot say ‘Jesus is lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”(1Cor 12:3)

When we are not docile to the Holy Spirit, we are so focused on self that it is impossible for us to believe the words of St. Peter, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” Lacking this docility to the Holy Spirit, we give up the inspired good that we are doing in the face of opposition, criticism, rejection, and personal suffering. Sometimes we even return evil for evil.

Speaking about the Holy Spirit Jesus said that “the world cannot accept it, because it (the world) neither sees nor knows it.” The world cannot accept the Spirit and it just cannot accept the Church that is filled with and led by the Spirit. The world looks at the Church and her hierarchical structure and labels the Church misogynist and sexist. The world looks at the Church’s sacraments as empty medieval magical rites. The world hears the Church’s moral teachings and considers it out of date and even bigotry. The world sees only rules and obligations in the Church, rules that we too fail to obey, and they label us hypocrites.

But the world cannot see the Spirit that sanctifies and animates us as God’s children, teaches us saving truths, and moves us to live by this truth and to do so for the greater glory of God. The world cannot see the many “reasons for our hope” as God’s children in His Church even as we face our sinfulness and weaknesses.

Our mission is not to make the Church acceptable to the world as many in the Church’s hierarchy are trying to do today. The spirit of the world, focused on pleasing self, seeking our own glory and self-exaltation, has an orientation diametrically opposed to and irreconcilable with the movement of the Spirit of Jesus.

Our mission is to bear fruit of personal holiness and faithful witness to Jesus before others for the greater glory of God. We are to use His grace and do His works for His glory, no matter what the world may think or say about us. We are to be the “unprofitable servants” who “do all that we are obliged to do,”(Lk 17:10) and leave the rest to God. We must leave the rest to God – our sins, struggles, oppositions, failures, criticisms, etc.

We cannot expect divine rewards when our good actions are prompted by self-love and self-interest. God will only reward us with heavenly merits for our graced actions performed for His own glory. The grace of the Spirit continuously moves us along this path and we will surely receive our heavenly reward if we remain truly docile to the Holy Spirit till the very end of our lives.

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

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How Christ prepares us for our dwelling places: A homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter 2020

5th Sunday of Easter. May 10, 2020.

Acts 6:1-7; 1Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

How Christ prepares us for our dwelling places

Jesus assured us that He has prepared for us numerous eternal dwelling places in His Father’s house, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

He also assures us that He is preparing us to enter into these eternal dwellings, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that were I am you may be also.” Jesus who has prepared a place for us is now preparing us too to enter these already prepared dwellings. It is not an “all are welcome” affair: only those who allow Christ prepare them adequately will enter the eternal dwelling places He has prepared for them.

Jesus prepares us for entrance into our eternal dwellings by giving us two things constantly – divine gifts and numerous opportunities. We are to make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the glory of God and growth of His body, the Church.

The early Church was experiencing a continuous growth in disciples, “The number of disciples continued to grow.” But they had to address the grievances of the Hellenist widows against their Hebrew companions because of the unjust distribution of resources. The Church did not choose just any person(s) to address these issue but those who had obviously received the necessary gifts, “Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” They all used their gifts to respond to the opportunity at hand.

The Church continued to grow and flourish only when those who had been gifted used their particular gift, no matter how insignificant the gift may be, to fulfill the tasks assigned to them at that moment and to do so in such a way that they also made it easier for others to use their own gifts and meet their own assigned tasks. The community bore spiritual fruit as they all used their gifts for their tasks for the sake of the body of the Church, “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large number of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

St. Peter calls the Church to be spiritually alive and fruitful because, in Jesus Christ, we have become “a spiritual house,” a collection of “living stones,” called to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our sacrifices are acceptable to Him only because we have come to share in the gift of His own priesthood through baptism, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” We all have been individually gifted with divine gifts and charisms to make divinely acceptable sacrifices in the opportunities of every place and time for the sake of His body the Church. This is how the Church grows and we too allow Jesus to prepare us for our eternal dwelling places.

The debate on the Catholic priesthood was raging in the Church shortly before the COVID-19 virus appeared and forced everyone to scamper to our homes, communities, and rectories and quarantine ourselves. There were many suggestions to solve the shortage of priestly vocation in the universal Church. Unfortunately many of these suggestions lacked deep biblical, theological, or traditional basis. The popular proffered solutions include the ordination of women as deacons or the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

The implied assumption in this clamor for women ordination and the ordination of married men is that the Church will somehow be stronger if only we had more Catholic priests. That is an illusion because what makes the Church strong and vibrant is not more ordained priests but our greater fidelity to the gifts of our baptismal priesthood. The Church grows and bears spiritual fruit only when every single one of us comes to discover and appreciate the particular gift or charism that Christ has given to us in baptism and make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the building up of the Church, and ultimately, for the greater glory of God.

As we celebrated Mothers’ day last weekend, I spent time reflecting and thanking God for all the mothers in my life whom He had used to bring me to this point in my life. I remember one of them in particular who helped me develop my public speaking skills in my early seminary days. She was obviously gifted and passionate about helping seminarians overcome their fears and speak boldly and clearly from the pulpit. I later on learnt that she was called “Dragon Lady.” She really lived up to that reputation. I am still thanking God I survived her intense one-on-one sessions with me! She was a devout wife, mother, grandmother, and university professor. Despite her deep Catholic faith, vast knowledge, zeal for the priesthood, and speaking skills, she did not have time or reason to clamor for priestly ordination. She knew who she was in the Church and her own gifts. She was focused more on using her particular teaching skills for the sake of the Church’s future priests.

This is an example of what the Church needs now more than ever – Catholic faithful who live their given charisms to the fullest at each moment and help others to do the same. We need married families and homes where the gift of new life is welcomed and accepted and not those in which the life of the unborn is threatened by abortion and artificial contraception. We need parents that are not indifferent but are so on fire with the faith that they passionately raise their children up in the faith by word and example. We need parents who are so about the mission of Christ in His Church that they create the necessary foundations for their children to hear and follow the call to religious life and priesthood in the future. We need parents who will teach their children to love and pray and to be chaste instead of those who unreflectingly cave in to the prevailing materialistic and consumeristic mentality. We need parents who will let the grace of baptism flourish in their children and not be fixated on imposing their own career choices on their children.

We also need the Catholic priests who will realize that they are not ordained for ourselves but to use their own office and unique gifts to help others discover and use their own gifts for the sake of the Church. The Church teaches us: “Through the sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are consecrated to be a holy priesthood…The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed to the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.”(CCC 1546, 1547)

The painful clergy sexual scandals of the past months have taught us the bitter lesson that we need not just more priests, but priests who will allow Christ to deepen in them the grace of their priestly ordination and so overcome all mediocrity and worldliness. We need the priests who will not succumb to public opinion in their preaching but speak the word of God with love, courage, and humility, reminding all of us of the graces and grave responsibility of our baptismal faith. We need the priests who will show our people that it is possible to joyfully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the very sacraments we make present and the helping grace and example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is how the Church will grow and be vibrant in each age and time.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus assured the disciples earlier when they wanted to have privileged places at His right and at His left, “It is not mine to give but it is for those for whom my Father has prepared them.”(Mk 10:40) The Father has prepared these places for us because “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.”(Lk 12:32) Jesus also tells us that these dwelling places are many to remind us that we are to labor to bring others to their heavenly dwellings too. We do try to enter heaven alone but also to help others on their own journey home too.

Jesus has fully prepared these places for us and He will never cease giving us gifts and opportunities to make use of them. If we have been unfaithful in the past in the use of these gifts, we must not panic or get discouraged but prepare ourselves for the next chance because the opportunities and the gifts will never cease as long as we are alive.

In the spirit of Mothers’ day, let us look to Mama Mary who was immensely gifted as the Mother of all the redeemed children of God. She was gifted with the power of intercessory prayer, “They have no wine.” She was gifted with the gift of counsel, “Do whatever He tells you.”(Jn 2:3,5) By using all her gifts to strengthen Jesus’ novice disciples, she too allowed Jesus to prepare her to enter into her own exalted eternal dwelling place as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

As faithful bride of the Holy Spirit who is the giver of all gifts and charisms, Mother Mary can also help us to recognize and appreciate our unique gift from baptism and make use of it for the sake of the Church all the days of our lives. This is how the Church will grow as we let Christ prepare us for the eternal dwellings that He has already prepared for us.

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

 

 

 

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The Good Shepherd’s call to repentance: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2020

4th Sunday of Easter. May 3, 2020.

Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1Pt 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10

The Good Shepherd’s call to repentance

Catholic lay evangelist Stella Davis in her book, Spiritual warfare: Lessons on deliverance from spiritual bondage to freedom in Christ, made the point that in her deliverance ministry, many of the people asking for deliverance from demonic influences usually had one thing in common – they had unconfessed or unrepented sins in their lives. The evil influences ceased the moment that they obeyed her instructions to actually confess these buried and hidden sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation first and began to live lives of ongoing repentance and conversion back to God.

It is not difficult to see why this is the case. Sin does not only rupture our relationship with God. It also consequently prevents us from perceiving and receiving the many signal graces that God offers. Though God continues to invite and move us to repentance, our unrepented sins prevent us from receiving the insight, power, and protection that God is offering us to resist and repel the forces of darkness in our lives. Failing to repent or confess these sins, we lack strength to resist and we find ourselves hopelessly susceptible to further demonic influences.

When St. Peter and the Eleven had proclaimed Christ after Pentecost and explained the presence of the Holy Spirit, the crowd had expectantly asked in response, “What are we to do, my brothers?” The first step was individual repentance if they were ever going to experience the Holy Spirit, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God has promised us all the gift of the Spirit and Christ has paid the price for the Spirit. The very first step for us to have this Spirit is to repent from our past sins and to constantly return to the grace of our baptism.

Jesus describes His mission in these beautiful words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He is our Shepherd, and with Him, “there is nothing that we shall lack.”(Ps 23:1) Though we usually easily focus on what He is asking us to give up for His sake, He has not come to take what is ours but to give us what is His alone to give. We must recognize His voice if we are going to receive what He is offering us, “The sheep follow Him, because they recognize His voice.”

But if we have unrepented sins in our lives, we cannot hear or recognize His voice as He “calls us by name.” Blinded by our unconfessed sins, we cannot sense the love behind His voice as He calls us, we cannot follow Him with that confident trust that He is leading us to “life-giving waters,”(Ps 23:2) and, most importantly, we cannot distinguish His voice from the voice of the “thieves” who come only to “kill, steal and destroy.” This explains why we easily abandon Him and unknowingly open ourselves instead to the devil, the one whom Jesus called “a murderer from the very beginning and who has nothing to do with the truth.”(Jn 8:44)

Despite all our sinfulness and failures in the Church, Christ still calls every single one of us to repentance and conversion through His Church. St. Paul puts it this way, “We are ambassadors of Christ, God making this appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2Cor 5:20-21) The Church remains an instrument in and through which Christ makes present the love of the Father, calls straying humanity to repentance, and makes His necessary graces present through the Church’s sacraments. We do not call others to repentance based on our personal righteousness or sinlessness.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we reflect on the sadness and disconcertedness in the Church when members of the Church’s hierarchy today ignore their grave obligation to exhort us all to conversion but choose rather to dispense us from the demands of constant repentance from our sins. One sad example is Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Germany, who recently called for a complete overhauling of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. He basically rejected the Church’s perennial scriptural teaching of the disordered nature of every homosexual act because, in his words, “This is something that many people no longer want or can understand.”

The arrogance and blindness in such a statement ignores the reality that it is Christ who calls each of us to repentance through the Church. The Church is an instrument and ambassador of the Good Shepherd first and foremost and, like Jesus, we too must say, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.”(Jn 7:16) The Church is not an ambassador of the society and it is definitely not an ambassador of nature or the environment! The message of conversion which the Church bears is Christ’s eternal summons addressed to every single person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender.

But this battle of ongoing conversion cannot be initiated on an ecclesial level but on a personal level. St. Peter explained that the call for repentance is directed to “every single one of you.”

People often ask me when and how I sensed a call to be a Catholic priest and religious. I cannot give an exact moment but I know that I perceived the gift of my priestly and religious vocation as I began to take seriously God’s call to personal repentance. The moment I responded to divine grace to turn away from those places, persons and things that led me to sin, I started sensing that God was calling me to more than a deep personal conversion but to also participate in the salvation of other souls through the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I strongly believe that I would not perceive or receive this gift of priesthood if I had chosen to hold on to my sinful past and pretend that I did not have sins or that it was okay to have them. I also cannot hold on to this gift today if I ever think that I am done with conversion to the Lord.

As many of us are still under lockdown because of this COVID-19 virus, let us use the ample time we have now to examine ourselves on the reasons we try to keep unrepented and unconfessed sins in our lives. Maybe there is trauma involved or deep shame and guilt. We may not even remember them because we have buried them so long ago. Maybe we justified them as something that everybody else is doing. We can take the following steps:

First, let us be courageous in facing these sins and owning them and our responsibility for them. Jesus knows us well with our sins, failures, strengths, good desires, and fears; and yet, He lovingly “calls us by name and leads us out.” He calls us to leave our places of comfort and safety and to follow Him and the first step in response is our sincere repentance for all our sins. Holding on to our sins only keeps us from journeying to a place where Christ wants to bless, heal, and transform us.

Secondly, we invoke the Holy Spirit and beg Him to show us the sins that we cannot see or do not even want to see. The Spirit is the one who convicts us of our sins, “When He (Holy Spirit) comes, He will convince the world of sin.”(Jn 16:8) We also beg Him to show us the root sins in our lives, that is those sinful actions and tendencies that lead to our repeated sins.

Thirdly, bring these sins to the cross and unite it to the body of Christ. St. Peter reminds us that “He (Christ) bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.” He bore all our sins on that immaculate body that He received from His immaculate mother, Mary, so that we do not have to hide them in our being. By surrendering these sins, we can then receive His amazing gifts – “freedom from sin,” “righteousness,” and “healing.”

These three steps will help us prepare for a worthy and fruitful celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation when the opportunity arises. The moment we let the mercy of God wash us clean of these sins and set us free from any bondage, our hearts will be open to perceive and to receive the abundant unfathomable gifts that the Good Shepherd never ceases to offer to us, especially the peace, joy and hope of His Holy Spirit.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing the relentless shepherd in our distress: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter. April 26, 2020.

Acts 2:14,22-33; 1Pet 1:17-21, Lk 24:13-35

 

Recognizing the relentless Shepherd in our distress

 

The fifteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel begins with Jesus describing Himself as the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine of His sheep in the wilderness and goes in search of the single lost sheep. He never abandons the single lost sheep but keeps searching for it until He finds it and brings it back home. He finds His joy only when the lost sheep returns to the fold.

St. Luke’s Gospel also ends with the story of risen Christ perfectly fulfilling this relentless shepherd image. The two disciples are discouraged, dejected, and disappointed with all that has taken place at Jerusalem. All their hopes and expectations in Christ had been crushed. So they do what we all like to do when things appear hopeless and distressing – look for something to distract us and argue with each other. The journey to Emmaus was probably to take their minds away from the painful and mysterious things that had taken place before and after the resurrection of Jesus had been announced.

The disguised risen Christ does not ignore them but goes in search of them, “Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” While keeping Himself unrecognizable to them, He conversed with them, pretended not knowing at all what they were talking about, rebuked them for their “slowness of heart to believe all that was spoken of Him by the prophets,” and then pretended to be going further than their destination of Emmaus. It was ultimately at the Eucharist that He revealed Himself to them.

The risen Christ is the Shepherd-in-disguise who goes searching for each and every one of us today. He comes to us in what St. Teresa of Calcutta called the “most distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” This “distressing disguise” means that He comes to us in the distressing circumstances of our lives and the lives of our all our close and distant companions in this world.

St. Peter states that the first reason why Jesus will never abandon us is because He has ransomed us with His blood and we belong to Him now, “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”(1Pet 1:18-19)

Another reason our risen Savior will never stop searching for us is because His Father never abandoned Him. King David had prophesied about the resurrection of the Christ in these words, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.”(Acts 2:27) Jesus Himself promised us, “As the Father has loved me, so do I love you.”(Jn 15:9) Just as the Father did not abandon Him in death, so too will He never abandon us but will search for us to bring us back to Him no matter how far we have strayed. In the risen Christ, we have access to that divine love that will pursue us all the days of our lives.

As we face the challenge of this COVID-19 virus, we find ourselves asking if things will ever be the same again. What will our lives, our families, our world, and our Church look like when this is over? Will we still be able to meet our expectations in life? We can find ourselves like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus with our shattered dreams and probably unmeetable expectations. Whatever the reason – personal sins and struggles, suffering, discouragement, fears about the future, brokenness, confusion, weakness, etc. – we find ourselves consciously or unconsciously drifting away from Jesus and the community of faith. His words make no impact on us anymore and His promises appear impossible.

We are not sure life will ever be the same again or if things will return to normal. We are also not sure that all our expectations will be met for ourselves, our families, our Church and our world. One thing that we do know for sure and should hold on to tenaciously is that even in these distressing moments, the shepherd never abandons us but continues His search for every single one of us.

What deep and abiding joy will be ours when we begin to recognize His abiding presence with us and His search for us even in our distressing moments! The disciples’ experience in Emmaus shows us three ways in which we can begin to recognize the disguised shepherd as He searches for us.

First, we must reveal ourselves completely to Jesus Christ. The disciples opened their hearts completely to Him in their lowest moments. Without recognizing whom they were speaking with, they spoke to Him of their deepest thoughts, dreams. desires, core beliefs, expectations, and disillusionment. They spoke of how they felt about Him, His ministry, His unjust death, and the reports of His resurrection. In short, they hid nothing from Him. The first step in recognizing Christ with us in our distressing moments is to make sure that there is nothing we are hiding from Him in our interior and exterior lives.

Secondly, we must consciously invite Jesus into our lives. And we must invite Him not as a passing guest but as our Sovereign Lord, the one whom we depend upon and strive to please in all things. Jesus is always searching for each of us but He will not force Himself on us. The fact that Jesus is the one who took, blessed, and broke the bread in Emmaus shows us that the two disciples accorded Him the due dignity and honor of the house owner in their own place. Every single one of us too must invite Him consciously as our one and only Lord, “Stay with us, Lord,”

Lastly, we must be ready to give joyful witness to others about Him finding us in our dark moments. The same disciples who fled Jerusalem in fear and discouragement at daytime returned with boldness at the middle of the night to strengthen the witness of others in community after they encountered and recognized Him in the Eucharist, “The two recounted how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” We begin to recognize Jesus searching for us when we too share with others how He has found us and brought us back to Him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how aware are we that we can find joy and peace in these distressing moments? Yes, we can; but this joy cannot come from this world or from ourselves. Our joy is only the echo in our hearts of the joy in the heart of the Shepherd-in-disguise as He rejoices over his one lost sheep that He has found, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost.”(Lk 15:6) This deep inner joy, a joy that “will not be taken from us,”(Jn 16:22) is ours only when we hide nothing from Him, invite Him into our lives and receive Him as our Lord, and give witness to His Lordship in our lives before others.

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

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How divine mercy works all things for our good: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter. April 19, 2020.

Acts 2:42-47; 1Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

How divine mercy works all things for our good

One of the most striking passages of the New Testament, one that we tend to think is too good to be true, is this phrase from St. Paul to the Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”(Rom 8:28)

Why would God work all things out for our good? Is it because we are good and faithful or because we deserve only good things? Fat chance! God works all things for our good because He is unfathomably merciful. That is what divine mercy does: it works all things out ultimately for our eternal and temporal goods if only we never waver in our love for God and our trust in Him.

Recall how Cain had murdered Abel and then claimed to be innocent and ignorant when God asked him what he had done. God then said to him, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”(Gen 4:10-11)

The Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the blood of Jesus to that of Abel by saying to us, “You have come …to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”(Heb 12:22,24) Unlike the blood of Abel that pleaded for and obtained divine justice and vengeance, the sprinkled blood of Jesus has won for us things we could never deserve or merit – divine mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God.

God in His mercy has worked out and brought us the greatest good out of the greatest evil of the murder of His Son. The blood of His Son thus guarantees us that God in His mercy will surely work all things for our good to the extent that we show our trust in Him by word and loving action.

St. Peter writes to the Christians who are facing hostility and persecution from the pagan culture. They are being pressured to abandon their Christian beliefs and revert to paganism.  He reminds them of the mercy of God that has brought them the greatest good through the unjust death and glorious resurrection of Jesus, “God in His great mercy has given us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” By this same divine mercy, their present trials would bring them to have a genuine faith, one that is time-tested in this earth, and ultimately lead to “praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Divine mercy will surely work out their present trials for their eternal and temporal good if only they persevere in loving and trusting in God, “Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him.”

The risen Christ also worked all things out for good for His disciples who still remained with the early community after abandoning Him at the time of His Passion and death. Thomas doubted the resurrection and refused to believe, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Though he doubted, he remained connected to the community of faith. Christ repeated His earlier visit and also offered him the same peace He offered the others earlier, “Peace be with you.” By divine mercy, the same Thomas who had earlier doubted the witness of the community later on gave the boldest and clearest profession of faith not only in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but also of His divinity, “My Lord and my God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we need this celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday more than ever because we are becoming ever more trusting in ourselves and not in God and His mercy to us. We have forgotten that every grace received from God is a gift of His mercy to us. A good example of this is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo basically trying to put God out of the picture when he attributed the lull in coronavirus cases in his state to purely human effort. He said,

The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that…That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”

What happens when we begin to place trust in ourselves, efforts, and abilities and forget that we cannot desire, think, or do anything good without the sustaining power of divine grace and mercy? Evil and death will prevail when we have such attitudes. If you doubt this fact, simply reflect on the example of Judas in the Gospels and see the result of self-trust that has no room for God or His mercy. Only God knows the immense good that would have come to Judas after betraying the Lord Jesus if he had any trust in divine mercy to forgive Him and work out the good for him. But with a heart full of self-trust, he went and hanged himself in that despair born out of self-trust.

The blood of Jesus Christ, this same blood that flowed with water from the pierced side of the Savior, has this message for us today: Never stop trusting in the mercy of God and acting accordingly and God will surely work all things to our temporal and eternal good. This divine guarantee from the blood of Jesus covers everything, every single thing – good or bad, things that we do or things that are done to us.

By virtue of the blood of Christ, there is nothing in this life that Divine Mercy cannot and will not use to work for our good. By divine mercy, our sins, no matter how many or grievous they are, can make us more humble, more contrite, and give us greater self-knowledge. By divine mercy, our weaknesses and struggles can make us place our trust in God and not in ourselves. By divine mercy, the persecutions we experience from others can make us resilient and give us a purer motive for following Christ. By divine mercy, sickness can make us seek Jesus as our healer, appreciate our loved ones more, and then long for the unending life with Him. By divine mercy, even COVID-19 can teach us the frailty of human life and make us long for our eternal home with God. By divine mercy, we begin to see death as more than the end of earthly life but a passage way to the God whose Son “died for our sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”(Pet 3:18)

We are living today in a great time of great need in our lives, in the Church, and in the world. The last thing that we need is more prideful self-trust. The Letter to the Hebrews again invites us at such moments to approach Jesus with confidence, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Heb 4:16)

Christ has been pierced on the cross and His blood has been poured out for us. He has risen and has won mercy and grace for us. He is sitting on His heavenly throne now with mercy beyond our imagination for us and for our own good. What we need in times like this is complete and unwavering trust in God. This is the only thing that allows Divine Mercy to work all things, every single thing, no matter how dark and painful it may be, for our own good, here on earth and in the life to come.

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

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Sharing in Mary’s Easter faith: A homily for the solemnity of Easter 2020

 

Solemnity of Easter. April 12, 2020.

Acts 10:34,37-43; Jn 20:1-18

Sharing in Mary’s Easter faith

“He saw and believed.”

Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary conspicuously absent in all the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection even though she is the one who is must intimately connected to the body of Jesus? He was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and she bore Him in her womb for nine months. She gave birth to Him in a manger, lived with Him for thirty years in Nazareth, journeyed with Him to Calvary, witnessed His brutal death and received His dead body for burial. Why isn’t she among the women and disciples who go in search for the dead body of Jesus?

The answer is simple: She believed in her son’s bodily resurrection, and she does so based on His divine person and the words that He spoke to her. She does not go into a frantic search for her son’s dead body but, having done all that she should by acting on His words and promises, she patiently waited in confident faith of her son’s resurrection in fulfillment of His promises to her.

Mary believed the words of the Angel at the Annunciation about her son’s eternal reign, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…and of His kingdom there will be no end.”(Lk 1:32,33) She believed the divine words of promise as Elizabeth attested, “Blessed is she who believed that was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”(Lk 1:45) Jesus Himself affirmed her for her invincible faith, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mk 12:50) She listened attentively as God spoke directly and indirectly to her through persons and events, “She treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”(Lk 2:19) That is how she cultivated that invincible faith that St. Paul tells us only comes from hearing God’s words, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”(Rom 10:17)

The beloved disciple saw many things before he believed in Jesus’ resurrection. It is only after seeing an empty tomb and burial clothes that “he saw and believed.” Mama Mary does not need to see an empty tomb or burial clothes as evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. She does not need to see angels or hear them tell her that her crucified son is alive again. And she definitely does not need to hear from the other women that her son is risen from the grave. No person or life experience could separate God’s words from her heart because she lovingly acted on this word as she waited patiently for God to fulfill His promises to her and to all humanity, especially His promise to rise from the grave after dying on Calvary.

Our risen Savior Jesus Christ invites and challenges us to enter into a unique beatitude by believing in His resurrection based on His words to us and not based on what we see or experience. He called us to this beatitude when He said to Thomas after His resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”(Jn 20:29) We glorify Him more by believing in Him, His resurrection, and presence with us based on His words alone.

There are so many things that we believe exist today that we have never seen or may never see. Believing these things also affect the way that we live. For example, how many of us have ever seen a Corona-19 virus? What does it look or feel like? How is it constituted? We have no idea but we believe that it is real and present. That believe moves us to take all necessary precautions to avoid contagion and spreading this disease. We willingly obey lockdowns, quarantines, and all sorts of things because of this belief.

But why it is that when it comes to God’s words and His promises to us, we begin to doubt and question His words to us based on what we see or do not see, what we experience or do not experience? In raising Jesus from the dead, God has fulfilled all His promises to us, “What God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus from the dead.”(Acts 13:32-33) By the resurrection  of Jesus, God has proven Himself and His words to us to be true and reliable beyond doubt. As Easter people, the resurrection of Jesus demands that we must now listen to His words with complete trust and confidence and not judge His words and promises based on our past or present experiences in life. We cultivate that Easter faith that Jesus is alive and risen from the grave by listening to His words and acting on them with full confidence that He will surely keep His promises to us.

Mary Magdalene sits at the tomb in a graveyard weeping. The disciples are all gone and she feels all alone and distraught because the man whom she trusted and followed all these years is now dead and she cannot even find his dead body. She has seen the stone moved away from the tomb and  she has spoken to the disciples and expressed the worst possible scenario she could think about, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have put Him.” She has unknowingly spoken and replied to angels in the same words. Nothing she heard or experienced brought her to believe in the resurrection until Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” She came to faith and received her own commission, “Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father.”(Jn 20:17)

Who among us will not freak out if we heard someone calling our names when we are all alone in a graveyard? But our faith in the risen Christ is enkindled when that voice is that of Jesus. The risen Christ is alive and speaking to us, calling us by name always and in all conditions and places, even in the graveyard! He wants to commission us to others too.

Hasn’t the Covid-19 virus rendered our lives and our world like a graveyard? We feel so isolated and disconnected from others because of social distancing. We are hearing and experiencing so many things in our world through the mass media that it is hard for us to sense the presence of the risen Christ. We try to avoid the inner silence by our non-stop conversation with everyone else about things that we feel helpless about. We rehash the worst case scenarios that can happen to us and share them with others.

But how much time do we have to commune with the God who is alive and who dwells within us? How sincerely do we listen to His words in scripture and in prayer? How firmly do we hold on to His promises to us? How are we responding to the risen Christ’s gentle voice calling each of us by name and inviting us to deep intimacy with Him? We used to excuse ourselves from deep prayer life by claiming that we did not have the time. Now that we have more than ample time in our lockdowns, how many of us are spending quality time with Christ in prayer? Are we not still busy speaking to everyone else but Jesus that we are losing our faith in His living presence with us? Are we still in touch with the mission that He has in store for us even in these moments?

Mama Mary shows us the right way to respond in times like ours with her own Easter faith: Listen and act on God’s words with faith and then wait on Him to fulfill His promises. We want to learn from her how to ponder every single thing, person and events in our hearts until we hear the voice of God beneath all the noise inside and outside of us. We want to learn from her how to act on His words in loving obedience. We want to learn from her how to wait on Him to fulfill His promises to us.

Jesus is with us, even if we may feel like we are all alone in a graveyard. He is watching us as we appear fixated on an empty tomb with our minds filled with the bleakest possible scenarios we can imagine. He also wants to recommission us with the hope of the Gospel to others.

United with and molded into Mary’s heart of faith, we too can hear His voice calling us to a true live-giving communion with Him who is truly risen from the grave and alive. It is this communion with our resurrected Lord that unfailingly gives rise to us being on hope-filled mission for Him in our world today, even when it feels like we are in a graveyard.

Happy Easter!!!

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

 

 

 

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