How can we really repay God? A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 18, 2020

Is 45:1,4-6; 1Thes 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21

How can we really repay God?

The disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians in Mt 22:15-21 remind us of how dishonesty can easily enter into our hearts and control our actions and attitudes towards God and others. The Evangelist tells us that they were sent to Jesus after they had “plotted how they might entrap Him in speech.” They clearly were on a deceptive mission. Before asking Jesus if it was right to pay the census tax to Caesar or not, they began by treacherously flattering Him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man…and you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.” Their praise did not come from sincere hearts at all.

Jesus, seeing through their malice and deception, did not give them a “Yes” or “No” answer in response to their question about paying taxes to Caesar. But He brings in the more important question i.e. the question about first giving God His due, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” His answer is to teach them that their dishonesty in relating with Him was rooted in their dishonesty in their relationship with God.

We too are dishonest in our relationship with others, not giving them their due or taking from them what is not ours to take, because we are dishonest in our relationship with God first i.e., we are not striving to give Him what is His due. We are trying to deny Him or take from Him what belongs to Him and to Him alone. It is only when we are honest in our relationship with God and constantly striving to give Him what is His due, that we can be honest in our relationship with others.

But is it possible for us to give God what is due to Him? On our own, it is impossible for us to do so because God owns it all, including our very selves. There is nothing that we can give to God that He does not already own and direct by His providence.

The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God anointing the Persian king, Cyrus, and using him to liberate His people from Babylon and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple even though Cyrus did not know God. Hear God’s words to Cyrus through the prophet, “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not.” What could we possibly give to a God as His due when He has power and control over all creation that He could use a powerful pagan king to set His own people free?

It is only Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, who gives to the Father what is due to Him. He is the only one true to the Father and also true to us. When John the Baptist tried to dissuade Him from receiving baptism from him at the Jordan, Jesus had replied, “Let it be so for now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”(Mt 3:15) He does not just fulfill the justice due His Father but He also allows us to do the same through Him. Even His treacherous rivals who ask about paying taxes to Caesar rightly affirmed His honesty and integrity before God and man.

The only way we can hope to repay God with what is His due is to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ. Jesus put it this way, “Remain in me. Apart from me you can do nothing.”(Jn 15:5) We unite ourselves to Him by living an intense life of faith, hope, and love.

St. Paul affirms the Thessalonians for their continuous striving to grow in these theological virtues, “We give thanks to God always for all of you…, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith, and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These virtues, infused at baptism, unite us with Christ Jesus and allow Him to work in us and through us by the power of His Spirit.

Ps 12:1-2 accurately captures the state of dishonesty that we find in our world and in the Church today when it says, “Help, O Lord, for good men have vanished; truth has gone from the sons of men. Falsehood they speak one to another, with lying lips, with a false heart.” The lingering financial and sexual scandals in the Church, the wicked cover-up of prelates, the false teaching of many of the clergy, and the abuse and corruption of people in public office testify to this dishonesty in human relationships.

It is so easy for us to point to authority figures, civil and religious leaders and condemn them for their dishonesty in word and action. We are usually right in doing so. But we hardly stop to remind ourselves that these people did not come down directly from heaven. No; they came from a culture that is also similarly dishonest or one that condones dishonesty. The corruption and dishonesty we find in the Church, politics, and government began in the society, more specifically in the family. We too have contributed in one way or another to the climate of dishonesty that we find in the Church and in society.

We only have to ask ourselves if our level of faith, hope and love for God is truly worthy of the living God? Is our faith in God lively enough to obey Him in all His commands and to entrust ourselves completely to Him? How open are we to believe what God reveals to us, act on it, and honestly reveal ourselves to Him? Are we not more prone to deny the painful and challenging truth that alone can save us?

How firm is our hope in Him? Are we really expecting all things from Him or don’t we have our idolatrous substitutes always ready at hand? Are we not still putting our trust in our own abilities and talents? Are we honest enough in bringing all our needs to Him in prayer? Are we living in that trust that He would never abandon us like others do?

Then how ardent is our love for God? How firm is our desire to please Him alone in all that we think, say and do? Is our love for Him deep enough that we can be truthful and honest in all things, even about our most shameful sins and failures? Do we love God enough to dread offending Him through sin? How much of our worship of God is prompted by this love for God and not love for gain?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are not growing and maturing in these virtues, there is no way that we can hope to give God what is His due and to do likewise to others. Then we begin to take from God what is rightfully His. We begin to take from Him the right to decide good and evil. We begin to take from Him the right to take human life at will, even if it is the life of the unborn. We refuse to give Him the praise, glory and thanks that is His due. We worship created things and ignore the true and living God. Our failure to give to God and to others their due kills our inner peace and destroys any peace that we could have in society and in the Church.

God remains faithful to us, even when we are not faithful. That is why Jesus never ceases to come to us as He does today and to unite Himself to us in the Eucharist we celebrate. He wants to act in us and through us and to give the Father the glory that is due to Him in all circumstances of our lives. He also wants to move us from within to give to others their due too.

In our times when we tend to place so much emphasis on our relationship with God and ignore giving Him His rightful due, let our faith in Him be truly alive, our hope enduring, and our love ardent. This is the only way we can have that inner peace that only comes from living in honest and truthful relationship with God and with others.

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

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Let Mass prepare us for heaven: A homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 11, 2020

Is 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-14,19-20; Mt 22:1-14

Let Mass prepare us for heaven

I remember how we spent many of our Saturdays in my family back in Nigeria. We would go as a family to choir practice in the parish church to learn and rehearse the hymns for the Mass on Sunday. Then my mother would usually seize that opportunity and ask each of us to go for the Sacrament of Confession too. I used to think she could somehow read our souls. I guess she only had to observe our bad behaviors! Then later back home she would also make sure that the clothes we chose to wear on Sunday were decent for Mass. I remember her saying to me once about the shirt I wanted to wear to Mass, “Are you going to the disco or what?” Then, she would later find a way to ascertain if we really paid attention to the priest’s homily at Mass.

What did all this impress on me then and more so now? It imprinted in my head and heart that the Mass is such a serious event I could not just show up for Mass. I have to come to Mass as prepared as I possibly can so as to receive and respond to all that God was offering to me at Mass.

The parable in Mt 22:1-14 shows the many possible dispositions of the invitees to the wedding banquet the king was giving for his son. There was simple refusal without any excuses and complete indifference, “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” There was also violence against the king’s servants, “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Then there is the case of the man who simply showed up after the king’s invitation was extended to all people. He was completely lacking the necessary dispositions to remain in the banquet. When he was asked how he entered the banquet without the garment, he could not explain why he lacked this necessary disposition, “But he was reduced to silence.”

The king had invited all people to the banquet. He told his servants, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” The king had also prepared everything needed for the feast, including the wedding garments for all the guests, “Everything is read; come to the feast.” Lastly, the king judges everyone based on his or her disposition. The man who was thrown out of the banquet had no reason at all for not having put on the already provided wedding garments. He just chose to simply show up to the banquet.

Jesus uses this parable to teach us about the kingdom of God. Our Catholic faith teaches us that the Holy Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. But because the Eucharist is also a making present today of the paschal mystery, the Mass is also our preparation for heaven. It is because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again that the Father invites all to His banquet, provides for us all that we need for a new and better life in Christ, and will judge each and every one of us at the end of time. Our disposition at Mass must reflect our free and responsible participation in this paschal mystery. We cannot just show up!

Christ has died

The Father continuously gathers us all together because Christ has died for every single one of us. His death gathers us all together, good and bad, saints and sinners, “Jesus died to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”(Jn 11:52). The blood of Jesus, this blood that “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel,”(Heb 12:24) calls out for nothing but divine mercy to cleanse us of our sins and to gather us together as one body of Christ. So we have no excuse not to attend the Mass. We cannot excuse ourselves because of our past sins, unworthiness, or present struggles in life. We also cannot take this invitation for granted considering the death of the Son of God that makes it possible.

Christ is risen

The Father provides for us all that we need for a new life in Christ because His Son Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. We are equipped to live for Him now, “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”(2Cor 5:15) The right dispositions, the needed wedding garments, are all provided already because of the Son’s triumph over sin and death, “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” We have full and complete access to the grace of the Holy Spirit, divine mercy, solid faith, saving truth, unfailing hope, a love that impels us towards full communion with God and others in heaven, etc. We have no excuse to remain slaves to sin and our old ways of life.

Christ will come again

We pray thus in the Creed, “He (Christ) will come again to judge the living and the dead.” He will judge each of us because, through the Mass, He inserts us into His own paschal mystery and thus clothes us with His own dispositions towards the Father and towards others. This is how the Mass shapes our lives and gives us that joyful hope and strength in the journey towards heaven.

St. Paul shows us a good example of one who has fully entered into the paschal mystery. Writing from his prison cell to the Philippians, he expresses his content in “every circumstance and in all things.” He can accept all adversities and blessings in life because the risen Christ provides all and sustains him, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” He lives for Christ and nothing distract him from his heavenly destiny.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Father is still inviting all to Him today, not because we are good or faithful, but simply because of the blood of His Son Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us. This blood is the source of all that we need for a faithful life in Christ. In the words of St. Paul, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?”(1Cor 10:16) Isn’t this blood of Christ our spiritual drink in each Eucharist? Are we aware of the Father’s longing for deeper communion with us in His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

Many still refuse this invitation to the Eucharist for a myriad of reasons. Many are indifferent and go about their business. Many become violent and would do anything to prevent the Mass from being celebrated today as we see in so many cities in the world today in which Masses are particularly prohibited in the guise of preventing the spread of Covid19 virus.

Some attend the Mass without the necessary disposition to have a change of lifestyle, to begin a new and deeper life in Christ. The divorced and remarried want to receive communion without repentance while pro-abortion politicians think they have a right to the Eucharist while being responsible for the slaughter of millions of infants. Indeed, because we refuse to put on Christ’s disposition through our participation in His paschal mystery in the Mass, many of us will be put to utter silence on the day that He appears to judge us all. We will have no excuse then for our lack of correspondence with His grace at each Mass.

We who have the gift of faith in the Eucharist, who attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, must guard against a laissez faire attitude towards the Mass. Jesus lamented, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” He who lovingly invites us all to His Eucharistic banquet also desires that we be the eternally chosen ones in His heavenly banquet. But how can we hope to worship the Father eternally in heaven when we are not entering into His own Son’s perfect worship here on earth through the Eucharist? How can we hope to enter into paradise with an attitude completely different from that of the Son?

We need to allow Christ make us more and more like Himself in every way possible. That is why the Mass is the first place to begin this perfect worship and to live accordingly. The Mass is that place where we are both prepared and oriented towards our heavenly home by Jesus who will judge each of us at the end of time. All we need to do is to attend Mass and do so always with the right disposition to receive and respond to all that God offers to us. We cannot just show up!

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

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Cultivating the mind of Christ: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. October 4, 2020.

Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

Cultivating the mind of Christ

Talk about bearing fruit in adverse conditions! St. Paul writes this beautiful letter of thanksgiving, joy, and encouragement to the Christians of Philippi from his prison cell in Rome. He exhorts them to “have this mind among them which was in Christ Jesus.” He meant the mindset by which Jesus bore the fruit of our salvation on the painful cross by “emptying Himself, taking the form of a slave, humbling Himself and being obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Because Christ bore fruit on the cross, they too will bear fruit in all conditions of life only if they cultivated this mind of Christ.  

St. Paul also gave them the steps to cultivate this mind of Christ.

The first step is a trusting prayer, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In and through this prayer dialogue with Jesus, they are also to be open to receive the thoughts of Christ and think His thoughts, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and gracious…, think about these things.” Thirdly, they are to act on what Christ reveals to them and not just think about it, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and seen in me.” Pray, think, act, and they will bear fruit always, especially the fruit of peace, “Then the peace of God will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus…Then the God of peace will be with you.”

The tenants in the parable of Mt 21:33-43 had mindsets completely different from those of the landowner. They did not know his mind and they did not care to know his mind about anything – his well-furnished vineyard, the time he gave them to bear fruit, the servants he sent, and the son he sent at the end. In short, they hated the landowner and all who were close to him.

The presence of the son leads them to reveal their true evil intentions towards the landowner and his son, “This is the heir. Come let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” They really intended to have and enjoy this vineyard and produce for themselves without a relationship with the son or landowner and without bearing appropriate fruit.

While the landowner sent servants to obtain the produce of the vineyard, he sent his son to reconcile the rebellious tenants with him. He assumed, “They will respect my son.” The son made present to them the father’s offer of reconciliation. Rejecting the reconciliation offered by the landowner through his son, they experienced the wrath of the landowner and lost everything – the vineyard, their peace, and their lives.

This parable applies to every single Christian who has been baptized, incorporated into Christ, and brought into the Lord’s vineyard to labor for the salvation of souls. God the Father bestows on us all that we need to bear fruit in righteousness and holy witness in this world no matter the conditions that we find ourselves in. Because we are His vineyard, God can rightly lament to us all, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?”

But we abuse and misuse God’s great riches because we have not cultivated in us the very mind of God that He offers us only in Jesus Christ. Hence, we do not live fully according to the divine purpose regarding everything in our lives. We even reject the reconciliation and mercy that God offers us in His Son despite our rebellion. Like the wicked tenants, we choose to experience the wrath of God when we spurn His mercy offered to us.

In his impactful little book, Prayer for beginners, Peter Kreeft had this to say about prayer, “Prayer gives truth to our mind, goodness to the will, and beauty to our heart.” He reminds us that we love and need these three attributes of God the most – truth, goodness and beauty. Prayer, he said, “puts us in the presence of Truth itself, the divine Mind who designed our minds and our lives and our whole universe.” This allows us to know unchanging truth, love only what is truly good for us, and to be enamored and attracted by only what is truly beautiful. This is how we can develop the mind of Christ in this world and bear fruit in all conditions of our life without succumbing to the many temptations and false teachings of our times.

What happens when our minds are devoid of truth, our wills fail to love goodness, and our emotions are insensitive to real beauty? We become so wimpy that we cannot stand steadfastly for anything true, good, and beautiful in the public domain. Our priests and bishops do not seek for and speak the difficult saving truths of the Gospel but give in to popular opinion and current fads. We sacrifice truth for tone of speech. The faithful lose that repulsion that they should have towards sin to the point that they cannot see any difference between God’s unchanging plan for marriage between a man and a woman and the so-called “same-sex” marriage. We even become apathetic and unmoved as millions of babies are slaughtered inside and outside the womb. Little wonder why many Catholics can’t just see why they should not vote for political parties that endorse, promote, and perform the most wicked act of abortion of infants and their murder after birth. I fear that we have not even began to cultivate the mind of Jesus.   

Our conditions have changed in this world as we continue to struggle with the reality of Covid-19 and they will continue to change. But the demands of God as we labor in His vineyard and bear fruit in souls for His kingdom do not and will not change, no matter what some people may think or say. The consequences of not bearing fruit and rejecting His mercy are still the same – the flames of hell. The reward for bearing fruit and accepting His mercy remains eternal life with Him. For us to bear fruit in all these conditions, we must cultivate this mind of Christ, and this begins with our living contact with Jesus in prayer as St. Paul reminds us. 

Our homes and Churches must become schools of contemplation where we learn to pray and listen to God in prayer with the word of God. Gone are the days when we limit our prayer to mere petitions and novenas while worshipping ourselves and our ideologies. We must begin to contemplate Jesus Christ like never before because in Him we make contact with the mind of God and our own deepest thoughts and motives. We must gaze on Him with faith, hope and love. Secondly, we must be ready to reveal to Him all our own thoughts, feelings, and desires in life and receive from Him all His thoughts that He offers to us. He will never reveal Himself and His saving truths to us when we are not honestly and trustingly revealing ourselves to Him. Lastly, we beg from Him the grace needed to act on what has been revealed to us in our moments of prayer.

Speaking of Mary’s Magnificat in his apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has these beautiful words to speak about the prayer of Mary with the word of God:

“Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.”

Mary bore fruit always in all conditions of her life, even during those dark moments under the cross of her Son. Her fruit is always and everywhere Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She bore fruit always because she shared perfectly in the very mind of God by her own life of prayer, thought, and action on God’s words by faith. She also asks us and helps us to the same today, “Do whatever He tells you,” because God is still speaking to us always through Jesus Christ. If we heed her voice, praying, thinking, and acting like she did, we too will bear fruit in all conditions of our lives, especially the fruit of peace.

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

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Why we must choose contrition and reject regrets: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 27, 2020.

Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

Why we must choose contrition and reject regrets

“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” 

I was having a conversation with a childhood friend of mine back in my native country of Nigeria a few weeks after I was ordained a priest. He said to me, “We have known each other very well all these years. Looking back now at your life before becoming a religious priest, do you have any regrets about your past?” I managed to stutter this reply to him then, “Having sorrow and contrition for my sins? Yes! Nurturing regrets about my past? No way!”

I would still give the same reply today but more emphatically because holding on to the past through regrets by dwelling on what should or could have been is a complete waste of time and energy. Most importantly, I have come to see that regretting the past make us blind to the graces and opportunities that God in His goodness is offering to us at the present moment for a new beginning and a deepening of His life in us through our free choices.

The Israelites had lost their country, independence, and temple. They are looking back in regret and blaming God for their condition and even accusing Him of being unfair to them, “Thus said the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’” They probably erroneously believed that, since they were in a tradition of collective responsibility where personal responsibility did not count, they could easily blame their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, or even God, for their pitiable condition. That is what happens when we live in regret – we spend all our time and energy looking for someone else to blame for our own choices.   

God responds by reminding them of their individual personal responsibilities for their actions and the consequences of their free choices. He also points them to the new beginning and deeper life with Him that He offers each one of them despite their past rebellion, “If one turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.” Divine goodness will provide for them opportunities for a deeper life with God through their free choices in accord with His will.

The psalmist in Ps 25:4-9 looks back at his sins and pleads for mercy, “The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not.” He does not wallow in past regrets but looks forward to the new life that God offers to him, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior…Good and upright is the Lord, thus He shows sinners the way.” We see that divine mercy does not just forgive sins but also continuously teaches us and bestows strength for a deeper life with God. Why would anyone choose to live in regrets in the face of such divine goodness?

In Mt 21:28-32, our Lord Jesus Christ uses the example of repentant sinners to warn the chief priests and elders. The tax collectors and prostitutes did not give into regrets about their sinful past or the social stigma from their ignoble trade. They did not blame anyone but themselves for their moral failures and their subsequent rejection by others. They pressed on and accepted the teaching and baptism of John the Baptist and thus were properly disposed to receive Christ and the new and deeper life of His kingdom. Unlike the chief priests and scribes who chose to remain in their past failures, refusing to “later change and believe in John the Baptist,” the tax collectors and sinners were advancing into the kingdom of God despite their past, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”  

We are tempted to live in regrets because we do not know the mind of Jesus Christ. For our sake, He “emptied himself,” “took on the form of slave” in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, became “obedient unto death, even death on the cross.” If He did all this to bring us into the Father’s kingdom, would He now cease to provide us with the graces and opportunities that we need to journey into that kingdom? By His unconditional obedience to the Father, hasn’t He won for us the opportunities for new beginnings as well as the grace to bend our own knees before Him, do His will, and enter into His kingdom? Do we realize that the life of Jesus by which we were saved is a life lived with complete openness to the Father’s love and without regrets? Why then are we slaves of our past sins and hurts?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are those tax collectors and prostitutes commended by Jesus when we also cast off the chains of past regrets, choose humble repentance, and embrace the opportunity and grace for a new beginning that Jesus Christ offers to us continuously. We all have our past failures and mistakes. We all have been hurt by the sins and failures of others. We have all experienced injustice. The good news is that, no matter the past, we are still the undeserving recipients of that “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 3:14)

We must continuously examine our consciences thoroughly, be truly sorry for our sins, receive divine mercy in the sacrament of confession, and resolve to amend our lives. Like Mama Mary who “pondered all these things in her heart,”(Lk2:19) we too must look back to gain better self-knowledge from our all our past experiences and to understand God’s unique ways in our lives. This will dispose us to perceive the many concrete ways in which God is inviting us at each moment to a deeper life with Him.

We cannot enter the kingdom of God without doing His will, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”(Mt 7:21) Divine mercy will never cease recalibrating our wandering steps towards heaven by our fidelity to God’s will if only we do not become slaves of past regrets. 

This is the message that the Catholic Church should proclaim boldly in these times. In Jesus Christ and in Him alone, we all are invited to a new beginning and a deeper life with God at every moment of our lives. No matter how many or how grievous or depraved our past sins may be, by divine goodness, we can still learn how to bend our knees in humble obedience to God again. Because of Christ’s unconditional obedience, our lives have the possibility of a new direction towards God by the graced choices we make.

It is useless to hold on to past sorrows and failures. It is equally useless to blame others for the consequences of our free choices. It is useless for us to pretend evil is good and good is evil as we are doing in our world today. Jesus Christ has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. His will for us remains the same and unchangeable, “This is the will of God for you: your sanctification.”(1Thes 4:3) He has come to liberate us from all bondages and regrets in this life, and more importantly, from the eternal regrets of hell.

Actually, the devil is the only one who is happy when we are living in past regrets. Let us not bring our wrathful enemy any delight or make his job easy for him by castigating ourselves or blaming others for our past failures!

Let our Eucharist bring us to participate in the mind of Christ and realize that the opportunities for us to begin again in this life are abundant. The grace to enter into a deeper life with Jesus Christ are likewise superabundant because they are all the fruits of His passion, death and resurrection. No matter the past, we can begin to obey Him today in love if only we grasp these opportunities and engage the grace of this moment. But to do so, to begin our new walk with Christ daily and to persevere to the end in ever deeper communion with Him, we must also say emphatically, “Contrition? Yes. Amen! Regrets? No way!”

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

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Why Jesus’ disciples must be grateful: A homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 20, 2020

Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16

Why Jesus’ disciples must be grateful

“And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner.”

What did the laborers receive that made them grumble? They received the exact amount that the landowner had agreed to pay them at the very beginning, “After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he (landowner) sent them into his vineyard.”

They grumbled not because the landowner was unjust in any way but simply because they had lost the sense of the gift of being called in the very first place. They grumbled about their predetermined wage because they had first become ungrateful for being called to labor in his vineyard and being sustained in their labors all the day long.

What a gift they had received from the landowner! The landowner incessantly left the comfort of his home at all hours of the day to invite laborers into his vineyard. He did not interview them to find out how qualified they were. He did not ask them for application or reference letters from their last jobs. He did not ask them about their past history to see if they were worthy or good enough to be employed in his vineyard.

He simply called them to belong to him and to labor in his vineyard, “You too go into my vineyard.” If the landowner had not called them, no one would have called them as they themselves attested when he asked why they were idle all day, “Because no one has hired us.” Their invitation into his vineyards was indeed a gift of goodness on the landowner’s part.  

The landowner also sustained them with all that they needed to labor till the end of the day. It was his vineyard and they found there all that they needed. Without his provisions there is no way that they could “bear the day’s burden and the heat” as they complained that they did. That sustenance was another gift to them for which they also proved ungrateful.

Lastly, the landowner offered them all a wage that did not depend on how much work they had done or how many hours that they had labored. That too was a gift that the grumbling laborers were blind to see. The faithful and joyful laborers among them were those who responded promptly and generously to their call with deep gratitude to the landowner and labored to the very end of the day.

This parable reminds us of why we find ourselves grumbling and complaining even as we serve Jesus Christ in His kingdom of joy.

First, we grumble and complain mainly because we have lost that gratitude of being called to belong to God and to serve Him in His vineyard as His beloved children. No single one of us is worthy to be His servants. Like St. John the Baptist, we too should be saying, “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals.”(Mk 1:7)

Second, we grumble because we are not grateful for the grace of God that has sustained us in His service all these years despite our weaknesses and challenges in life. We complain about the difficult circumstances and poor results of our service while we ignore the grace of God that has sustained us in those moments. We lack that conviction that without Christ Jesus we can do nothing. (Cf Jn 15:5)

Third, we grumble because we are ungrateful for the life with Christ that we have now and glorious life with Him that awaits us in the life to come. We insist on being paid as we think we deserve because we do not realize that God gives gifts to us His children and not payments. In His mercy, He rewards us over and beyond what we truly deserve. God’s reward system is as mysterious as He is generous, “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor? Or who has given Him anything that he may be repaid?” (Rom 11:34-35)

Everything is indeed a gift from God’s generous love for us. Our calling to be His servants from baptism is a gift, the grace that sustains us is a gift, and the reward offered to us is a gift and not really a payment. We can only merit life with God in heaven because God offers it to us as a gift in and through Jesus Christ and sustains us with His grace.  

St. Paul writes to the Philippians must likely from his prison cell in Rome. He has every reason to complain to God about his imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel. He does not complain or whine about his fate but rather relishes the great gift of being called to belong to Christ and to bear Christ’s life within him, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” He so appreciates the fullness of Christ’s life to come that he is ready to accept death, “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” He is not daydreaming about heaven but, appreciating his call to serve the Gospel, he perseveres in serving Christ even in prison because he is convinced that to live in the flesh “means fruitful labor for him.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how would we describe ourselves today: God’s beloved children called to be faithful and joyful servants in His vineyard or hired workers who work for pay and prone to grumble and complain against God when things do not go our way? Our call to work in His vineyard is to labor for the salvation of souls, a task that demands both our fidelity and our joyfulness. Our joyful fidelity more than anything else draws souls to Christ in His Church. Our grumbling and complaining about our life of service turns people away from Christ.

But today we are seeing a climate of grumbling and complaining against God all around us and in each vocation in the Church. Catholic priests are grumbling about mandatory celibacy. Dissident theologians are complaining that the Church’s teaching need to be changed to accommodate those of gravely immoral behaviors. Parents are reluctant to be open to the gift of new life and to educate their children in the faith. Religious are grumbling because the secular climate makes it difficult for them to be faithful to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Such grumbling shows our ingratitude to God for calling us and this kills any generosity that we should have.

Jesus who comes to us in today’s Eucharist is calling us to know Him better, love Him more, and serve Him more faithfully in His vineyard here on earth so that we can rejoice with Him in His heavenly kingdom. He offers us grace that sustains us and hope of heavenly glory in the future. We will never know true joy until we take His invitation seriously and respond appropriately.

If we are still unable to joyfully answer His call, let us look to Mama Mary. She was the first to say “Yes” to God’s call to her to become His Mother. She served Elizabeth with a joy that was contagious because she was a soul truly grateful for God choosing and gracing her with immense privileges appropriate for His own Mother, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Even the unborn infant John the Baptist could not withstand the Spirit-filled joy of Mary. She did not utter a single word of grumbling against God, His plan for her, or her rewards even in the darkest moments under the cross on Calvary, that moment of greatest injustice in human history.

We only have to beg her to help us say these three things always:

“Lord, thank you for calling me to belong to you and to serve you in your kingdom.”

“Lord, thank you for your grace that sustains me always in your service.”

“Lord, thank you for the fullness of life with you that awaits me in heaven.”

Once we can say these from our hearts and do so with heartfelt conviction, then we are grateful souls ready to serve God faithfully and joyfully all our lives.

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

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How reconciliation prepares us for death: A homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 13, 2020.

Sir 27:30 – 28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:7-9

How reconciliation prepares us for death

Ben Sira has this to say about how our thoughts of death should impact us: “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the most High’s covenant, and overlook faults”

This biblical writer is recommending that the best way to prepare for death – our death and the death of our loved ones – is to accept the reconciliation that God offers us and offer this same reconciliation to others. We are to be first reconciled with God, breaking from sin, obeying His commandments, and being faithful to His covenant. Secondly and simultaneously, we are to reconcile with others, refusing to nurture conflicts with them and overlooking their faults and offenses against us.

If someone like Ben Sira who had no idea of the resurrection of the dead reminds us that our preparation for death demands our reconciliation with God and with others, how much more imperative is this reconciliation for those of us who believe in and look forward in hope for the resurrection of the dead? Do we realize that, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are constantly invited throughout our lives to reconcile with Him and with all those for whom He has shed His blood?  

This explains why Jesus is not satisfied with Peter’s offer to forgive his brother only seven times in Mt 8:21-35. Jesus ends His teaching about the unforgiving servant with these words, “So will my heavenly Father to do you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” The unforgiving servant “had no way of paying back his master.” But he received from the king-master a reconciliation that he could never merit, “The master let him go and forgave him the debt.” This can be seen as a non-final judgement moment for the servant because he was now given the chance to grow in that freedom he had received or to abuse it.

Having been reconciled with the king, he was to offer this same reconciliation to his fellow servant from his heart in preparation for his own final judgement. His failure to offer this reconciliation caused him to lose the freedom that was initially offered to him, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the last penny.” Maybe he did so many other good things to others but he simply failed to communicate to others the unmeritable reconciliation he had graciously received from the master.

Jesus asks us to forgive our brothers from our hearts because He has first reconciled us to the Father by His death and resurrection. St. Paul put it this way, “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Once we are reconciled with Jesus and belong to Him as our Lord, “whether we live or die,” then we must also offer reconciliation to all other persons, and do so in preparation for our own death.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot postpone or avoid death in this life. I hope we realize that every single moment of our lives brings us closer to our death, our particular judgements and the final destinies of heaven or hell. But how are we preparing for this death today even as Covid-19 presents us with this reality of death in our world? I pray and hope that we are not only adopting a purely secular idea that tries to prevent death by wearing face masks and face shields, quarantining ourselves, washing our hands countless times, practicing social distancing, etc.

We must seek to receive more than ever the reconciliation with God that Jesus offers us and we must do so without any pretense of meriting it by our sorrows or feelings of contrition. We must realize that there is no such thing as a small sin because of the majesty of the God whom we offend. We must realize that we could never pay God back or give Him something else as a substitute for His forgiveness and mercy.

No matter the gravity or the number of our sins, let us prepare for death by constantly approaching the throne of mercy in the sacrament of confession with confidence because “as far as the east is from the west, so far as He put our transgressions from us.”

This is also not the time to make excuses for our obstinacy. This is not the time to justify ourselves or blame others for our sinful actions. This is not the time to hide behind our political parties and ideologies and pretend that we have not done or contributed to sinful behaviors and policies in the society. We cannot be preparing for death if we estranged from God today for any reason.

This is also the time to offer this reconciliation to others who have offended us or whom we have offended. We cannot wait for them to come to us because our hearts have been reconciled to God in and through Jesus Christ. Unlike Peter who puts a limit and condition to forgiveness, we are to offer forgiveness from the heart because the precious Blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all that estranges us from God so that we can reflect His love to others. Let our forgiveness also extend to the dead who have hurt us too because we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of both the living and the dead.

Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, prepared for His moment of death on the cross by offering reconciliation to others who were far from deserving it, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” He will not always preserve us and our loved ones from temporal death but He never ceases to prepare our hearts for that inevitable death by offering us a forgiveness we cannot merit and giving us numerous chances to communicate this forgiveness to others. He does this because there is no way that we can enter into heaven while being willfully estranged from God or neighbors.

Yes, death continuously stares us all in the face. Some people will foolishly try to ignore the thoughts of death and hope that they can distract themselves forever. Some will choose to be obstinate in their sins and reject the mercy of God being offered to them. Some will choose to only receive the mercy and reconciliation that Jesus offers and then continue to nurture hostility towards others in their hearts. Let us be the ones who go all the way and prepare for death by receiving the gift of divine mercy always and offering this same reconciliation to others, living and dead.

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

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The forgotten malady of self-love: A homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2020.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 6, 2020

Ez. 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

The forgotten malady of self-love

There are many reasons why we are reluctant and often petrified to even think of giving fraternal correction today. Maybe we are facing the guilt and shame from our own sinful lives. Maybe we have become inebriated with the Kool-Aid of “Who am I to judge?” Maybe we are afraid that our erring brethren would not heed our words. Maybe we are just afraid of offending others and losing their love and affection. 

The bottom-line reason for our refusal or reluctance to offer fraternal correction is our excessive self-love i.e. we love ourselves more than we love God. We ought to love God above all things and persons and seek His own glory above and beyond all things. It is only when we have appropriately moderated our self-love that we can offer and even receive fraternal correction because such correction is first and foremost all about loving God appropriately. It is not primarily about our holiness or the holiness of others or their acceptance of our correction.  

God spoke to the Prophet Ezekiel words for His people in exile. They had lost their land and sense of nationalism and were now focusing more on their individual personal relationships with God. The prophet is told, “You, son of man, I have appointed my watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” Ezekiel must warn and correct the people from their evil ways for God’s own sake and not because he is holy himself or because they would appreciate and respond to his message to them. If the prophet has excessive self-love, loving himself above God and craving the affection of his rebellious compatriots, there is no way that he could ever offer them fraternal correction.

For us to appropriately give and receive fraternal correction we must be ready to check and mortify our love of self. Mt 18:15-20 shows us some deadly effects of that self-love that tends to exaggerate our own worth before our eyes and makes us blind to seeing God as the source and end of any goodness we may possess.  

First of all, unbridled self-love harms the individual person by making the person obstinate, incapable of admitting wrong done, and accepting full responsibility for it. The person is unable to hear and to respond to God’s call and the promptings of divine grace. Jesus said, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church,” because such a person cannot listen to others or to the Church through whom God speaks to him or her. Because of their illusory personal sanctity, such persons cannot realize their need for the mercy of God or repentance from their sin.

Secondly, self-love wounds the Christian community at every level, be it in the family, Church, society or world. Self-love does not allow one to reconcile differences with others or to forgive others. It makes resentful and intolerant persons and deeply divided communities. That is why Jesus said that such persons should be cast outside the community to preserve the community’s unity, “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This is how much Jesus warned us of the effects of unchecked self-love in the Christian community.

Lastly, self-love makes the Church and her members spiritually weak. The unity of the Church is the source of her powerful prayer, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father.” How can the members of the Church agree on anything when they are all so enamored of themselves and their own excellence? Even God’s gifts are abused and employed in self-promotion instead of selfless service to others. Nothing makes the Church and her members spiritually impotent as self-love.

When self-love is left unchecked, no fraternal correction is possible. When no fraternal correction is given and received out of love for God, there is no authentic Christian community. Because “a house divided against itself cannot stand,”(Mk 3:25) no spiritual power is present in a community where authentic fraternal correction is lacking.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is clear that there is little or no fraternal correction in the Church today because self-love reigns in our hearts. Are we not loving our own reputation, comfort, pleasure, career, affection from others, etc. more than we are loving God and His glory? How else can one explain the lingering clergy sexual and financial scandals engulfing the Church today? Clergy who repeatedly sexually abused young boys and seminarians are promoted in the Church’s hierarchy, other bishops cover for their abominable crimes, and then the scandal is blamed on clericalism while ignoring the prevalence of homosexuality in these abominable crimes. How convenient to blame everything on the attitude of clericalism and then ignore the individual human perpetrators who deserve severe corrective and even punitive actions.

Then we also have the faithful who have such an exaggerated view of themselves that everything and everybody else should change but themselves. In the crassest form of self-love possible, they think of themselves so special that they need a new theology and morality to suit their deviant lifestyles. They also need their own “special” genders because the binary set of male and female are not good enough for them. In their eyes, there is no need for them to change or mature but they must be revered and accepted by all. For them, it is other people, the Church and her teachings, and sometimes, even God and His revealed will that should change instead. Such self-love surely makes the Church a scandalous and spiritually impotent community.  

Every single one of us have a great duty to check and battle with our self-love every single day of our lives. We can begin to do this today by begging God continuously for this love and letting it enter into our hearts to reign therein. This divine love is a light that brings to us God’s own truth about ourselves as loved by God even in our sinfulness and weakness. Self-love begins to wither when we experience and treasure God’s unconditional love for us. We put self-love to death when we see that all the good in us is from God and that we need God at every single moment of our lives to maintain that good in us. This truth will surely make us strive to grow and mature spiritually.  

We must also let the words of Christ to enter into our hearts and challenge us. It is difficult for us to have an excessive love for ourselves when we have come to face and humbly accept our own personal struggles in living God’s words. We have to let Christ challenge us first so that we can die to self and then give and receive fraternal correction from others. We will surely be patient with others once we have experienced God’s patient but challenging love

Mama Mary instructed the servants at the wedding feast, “Do whatever He tells you,” because she has acted on the words of God first. Hers was a motherly correction that rightly put Christ at the very center and allowed Him to reveal His power. By accepting the personal challenge of Christ first, we too can avoid the hypocritical correction of others that stems from our unbridled self-love. We can then offer true fraternal correction that allows God’s power to be come manifest in our lives and communities.

The Church guides people and she is also guided by the Holy Spirit through others. The power of this spirit is needed in the Church for conversion and sanctification of souls, for the thriving of all the vocations in the Church, for the evangelizing mission of the Church, etc. Jesus, the Head of the Church, also assures us, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” He is with us always!

If the Church is not the spiritual powerhouse that she was meant to be through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus and Mama Mary, it is probably so because we have not unleashed this power that is within us. To unleash this spiritual power, we must become a living community wherein fraternal correction is given and received by all because we love God above self and all other things and persons.  But to have such fraternal correction in our communities, we must all begin to die to self-love today and always.

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

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Living a truly surrendered life: A homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2020

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. August 30, 2020.

Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

Living a truly surrendered life

I injured my knee a few years ago while playing soccer in a Manila college campus. I sat at the sidelines, looking at my hurting knee, seeing it swell up so fast, and feeling that throbbing sensation. The words that came out of my mind was typical, “Why this now, Lord Jesus? Why me? This is the last thing that I need right now.” My response showed that I was far from that complete surrender that Jesus asks of us as His disciples. I may have given myself to Him but I was now reluctant to accept the painful and disappointing things that He was offering to me.

We are not fully surrendered to God when we are busy picking and choosing what we like in life and rejecting what is not according to our preference or taste. On the other hand, a fully surrendered soul is one who lovingly accepts everything that comes his way out of love for God.

Mt. 16:21-27 shows us Jesus as the perfectly surrendered person and the one whom the Father has sent to lead us into this complete surrender. He readily gives Himself lovingly to the Father for our salvation and He also lovingly accepts all that the Father offers Him, “He began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” He accepted lovingly the unjust and brutal death as well as the glorious resurrection that His Father offered Him.

Peter had earlier accepted the power of the keys and a new identity as the rock on which Jesus will build His Church. But, like many of us, he is not fully surrendered to Jesus. He is busy picking and choosing what he would accept from God. He would not accept the full plan that the Father was offering to Jesus and to all His disciples because it does not align with his taste and preference for a messiah, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

Peter thus rightly earned Jesus’ strong rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus even had to repeat this lesson of complete surrender to the Father when Peter tried to save Him by force from being captured in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus freely accepted arrested then even as He had twelve legions of angels at His disposal, “Shall I not drink the cup that my Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11) He accepted every single thing that the Father willed and permitted in His life.

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” We know that to see Jesus is to see the Father (Cf. Jn 14:9). Hence to “think as God does” means sharing in Christ’s own complete surrender to the Father, i.e. to offer ourselves in love to Him and to also accept all that He offers us in return. Because we tend to accept only what is pleasurable to our taste, Jesus asks us, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” This implies that it is supernaturally useless for us to choose and accept only what we like in life.

St. Paul reminds us that it is by the mercy of God made present in Jesus Christ that we can actually hope to offer ourselves to God and receive all that He offers to us, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” We must refuse to be “conformed to this age” because this world accepts only what is pleasurable and easy to it, judging all things from its own worldly point of view and preferences.

On the contrary, lovingly accepting all that God offers us allows God to embrace us, act in our lives, and fulfill His mysterious purpose in us. This is what fills us with that joy of the Lord that we are made for. This is so because such a life of complete surrender helps us to discern “what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” We cannot grasp what is truly pleasing to God and truly beneficial to us when we are lacking in complete surrender to God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have given ourselves to God in Holy Baptism. Why is our surrender to Him incomplete? Why are we settling for earthly joys from only what appeals to our taste when He is inviting us to the eternal satisfying joy of the Lord from accepting all that He offers to us? Didn’t Jesus assure us that we receive Him just by receiving one needy little child in His name (Cf Mk 9:37)? Why then are we petrified to receive all that He offers us in life? Shouldn’t we echo the sentiments of Job, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”(Job 2:10)

We see in our world today this refusal to accept all that God offers us. We accept only what is pleasurable, easy, and comfortable and reject what is not any of these things. How many of us have consciously chosen to accept the Covid-19 virus with all its discomforts and inconveniences out of love for God? Are we not more caught up in debating whether the virus is a punishment from God or nature throwing a tantrum? Are we not accepting only the teachings and Commandments of God that we find appealing and blatantly violating the ones that we find uncomfortable and against our taste?

Many Catholics today even pick and choose among the sacraments, trooping out to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist on Sundays but having little or no love or appreciation for the sacrament of Reconciliation because it goes against our wounded pride. We love to advocate for migrants while we ignore the unborn infants being murdered in their mothers’ womb because it is less fashionable to defend innocent life of the unborn today. We futilely try to be satisfied by passing joy and forsake the joyful hope of full surrender to God by which we belong to Him and accept all that He offers to us.

Jesus Christ, the king of mercy, shares with us in this Eucharist His own attitude of self-offering to the Father and acceptance of all that the Father offers to Him. We can only offer ourselves to the Father and receive all that the Father offers us because Jesus has done so first and invites us to do the same in Him and through Him by His mercy. We can only deny ourselves and accept our crosses in life because, in Him, we too can accept all that the Father offers us in love knowing that it is the path to our own glory too.

Let us look to Mama Mary who offered herself completely to God at the Annunciation, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” She also lovingly accepted all that God offered to her in life – giving birth to Jesus in a manger, fleeing with Him into Egypt to escape the murderous Herod, looking for Him for three days, walking with Him to Calvary, watching Him die on the cross, and patiently waiting for His glorious resurrection.

The womb of Mary and the home at Nazareth are the schools were Jesus learned and was prepared for a life of complete surrender to the Father. We too can enter into Mary’s spiritual womb and learn complete surrender from her so that we can accept all that God offers to us and allow God to embrace and surprise us with His own unending joy.

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

 

 

 

 

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What every Christian must anticipate today: A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

 

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020. August 23, 2020.

Is 22:19-23; Rom 11:33-36, Mt 16:13-20

 

What every Christian must anticipate today

We must have experienced this before: you are speaking to someone and they are constantly looking at their cellphones every other minute. They seem to be anticipating a call or a text or a Facebook post or a notice from Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or any of the many other apps in our time. I just cannot help but wonder what it is exactly they are anticipating.

Anticipations also play a very prominent role in the Christian life. They energize and determine the direction and purpose of our lives. We thus need to ask ourselves what is it that we expect or anticipate as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world of mass confusion today. Expecting the right things, the things that are rooted in the promises of Jesus, will determine our ability to do the right thing and respond appropriately to Him in our world today.

Mt 16:13-20 shows us four things that we should anticipate as disciples of Jesus today.

Firstly, we must anticipate that the Father will speak and reveal His Son, Jesus Christ, to us always, especially in confusing times like ours. The crowds are all confused about the identity of Jesus and Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, instructed by the Father, answered correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus immediately affirms his answer as coming from the Father, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” The Father does not keep malice with us His beloved children and He would not live us hopelessly confused. He speaks to us constantly, pointing us to His Son, Jesus Christ, as the only answer to all the confusion and darkness in our lives and in the world.

Secondly, we must anticipate that Jesus will act to build up His Church, individually in her members and collectively as a whole, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It is not Peter, the rock, but Jesus Christ who gathers and builds up His Church by His sacrifice on the cross and by the Eucharist today. Jesus Christ is the one who becomes one with his Church so as to build up the members and the entire body of the Church through Peter and his successors down through the ages.

Thirdly, we must anticipate a fierce and unceasing conflict with the forces of darkness. There is the “gate of the Netherworld,” a conglomerate of forces that would fight to resist the growth and spread of God’s kingdom. The Church will always have her sworn enemies from within and outside the visible Church. Her enemies hate the Church just as they hate Jesus, the Head of the Church as Jesus attested, “If they world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”(Jn 15:18)

Lastly, we must also anticipate the final victory of Christ and His Church over all the forces of darkness, “The gates of the Netherworld would not prevail against it.” There would be many defeats on the side of the Church but ultimately, just like the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the struggle will end in ultimate triumph of the Church after many defeats. Jesus assures her of this too, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…and no one will take your joy from you.”(Jn 16:20,22)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we also live today in a world of mass confusion in which we are no longer sure about anything. We are witnessing the spread of a mysterious Covid-19 virus that has killed thousands and paralyzed millions more with fear. We are not sure how it began or how it will end. We see Catholic Churches and statues being vandalized and destroyed in many places and we are clueless why this is happening. The Church too is ripped with numerous sexual and financial scandals, doctrinal errors and heretical teachings that bewilder the faithful. It is obvious that many are not even sure about what it means to be male and female anymore and what true sexuality is all about. Most importantly, we are even confused about the person and teaching of Jesus Christ today.

One good side about all this confusion is that it reveals our true anticipations in life. Those who have purely worldly and self-centered expectations in this life, expectations that are not in any way related to their relationship with Christ or rooted in His promises to us, find themselves both confused and weak in these times. Focused on Utopian ideals and self-preservation alone, they are the ones who will panic and even become angry and depressed, blaming one person or another for the crises that they cannot overcome.

This will happen because such people fail to listen for the Father’s reassuring voice. They also fail to realize the hidden actions of Christ in these times to build up His Church. They so desire to be loved and accepted by others that they cannot face up to the fact that the Church will have enemies that she must confront with love and truth. They have no sense of final victory because they just cannot see how the Church can escape complete annihilation in this conflict with the forces of darkness. They would likely leave the Church eventually or just remain as detached bystanders.

Then there are those who will thrive and grow strong in these times because their anticipations were properly aligned with the will of God for His Church. These are the ones who listen for the voice of the Father and who let His word remain in their hearts just like Mama Mary who “pondered God’s words in her heart.”(Lk 2:19) They will also wait patiently and anticipate the saving action of Jesus in their lives. They will have a Marian attitude of openness that allows Jesus to act in them and through them in the world. They are not overwhelmed by the forces of evil within and outside the Church too, but oppose them vehemently till the very end. They are not discouraged by their temporary defeats in this battle but they fight on, knowing that the final victory belongs to Christ and His Church.

So, what are we anticipating in this life as disciples of Jesus? Let us examine our hearts well and choose our anticipations very well because what we anticipate will determine our strength and direction in life. Let us listen to the Father and hear Him point out His Son to us in these times. The more we know Jesus Christ, the more we will receive His own will for us and for our world, and thus allow Him to change the deepest expectations and anticipations of our hearts.

Once we begin to anticipate the right things based on our relationship with Him, and not based on wishful thinking or the numerous Utopian ideals of our times, we can hope to do the right things in this world and follow Christ faithfully to the end even in the midst of confusions.

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

 

 

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Why our perseverance impresses Jesus the most: A homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2020.

 

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 16, 2020

Is 56:1,6-7; Rom 11:13-15,29-32; Mt 15:21-28

 

Why our perseverance impresses Jesus the most

The Gospel account of the Canaanite woman in Mt 15:21-28 gives us hope that we can actually impress Jesus and do something to merit His praise and commendation.

Jesus is not impressed with the fact that she is a Gentile woman who is courageous enough to come into Jewish territory to ask Him, a Jew, to deliver her daughter from a demon. He is also not impressed with what she says to Him, calling Him “Lord,” and even giving Him the messianic title, “Son of David.” He is not impressed with how, despite the rebuke of the disciples, “Send her away, she keeps calling out after us,” she still reverences Him, “But the woman came and did Him homage.” Neither her status, nor her origin, nor her words, nor her reverent actions visibly impressed Jesus.

It was her humble perseverance in asking Him that impressed Jesus the most. In response to Jesus’ initial dismissive response to her request, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs, ” she responded with a truly self-effacing humble persistence, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her response impressed Jesus so much and merited Him praising her, “O woman, great is your faith.” It also merited her heart’s desire, “Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Such humble perseverance means doing the inspired good even when there are no visible results, when we do not have good feelings, when we are not appreciated by others, and when we face ridicules and insurmountable struggles. It means doing the good and calling out to Jesus even when we feel as if He is uncaring, completed detached, and distant from us. It means rising up from our humiliating defeats and failures and recommitting ourselves to Him.

St. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that it is by the gift of divine mercy that they are God’s people in Christ, “You have received mercy because of their (Jew’s) disobedience.” They are to humbly persevere in this calling because God does not take back His election and gifts, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” It is also through our humble perseverance that God’s mercy will flow to all persons, Jews and Gentiles alike, “For God delivered all to disobedience that He might have mercy upon all.”

It is the mercy of God that continuously calls us and offers us gifts, inspires us to do good unceasingly, brings us to heaven, and then rewards us for making use of these gifts to the very end. If this mercy of God never ceases, why then do we fail to persevere, ceasing to do the good that He inspires in us? Why do we stop praying to Him, repenting of our sins, striving for greater holiness, witnessing to Him, serving others selflessly, worshipping Him, etc.? It is our faithful response to the mercy of God to the very end that impresses Jesus. We cannot hope to enter into His kingdom if we have all things but lack this perseverance, “Only those who persevere to the end will be saved.”(Mt 24:13)

The Canaanite woman shows us two ways in which we can cultivate this humble perseverance. The first step is to trust in the abundance goodness of God and not in ourselves. She has no sense of entitlement or any claim to personal goodness that would warrant Jesus’ favorable response to her prayer. She approached Him perseveringly based on His own goodness alone. We too must approach Jesus with this conviction that He alone is good, He alone is the source of all good that we need, and He alone will reward us for all good we do for His sake. We cannot persevere when we operate out of a sense of entitlement based on our own goodness.

The second step is to let love reign in our hearts. This woman persevered in asking because she was asking for the sake of her daughter whom she loved so much to the point of identifying with her, “Lord, please help me.” We cannot persevere in any true good when our hearts are lacking in real love for God and for others.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are seeing today many signs of failures in many vocations in the Church today. We have many departures from the priesthood and consecrated life, infidelity to the marriage commitment between spouses and breakdown of many marriages, violation of the vows and promises of clerical celibacy, and the abandonment of the Catholic faith by thousands. I was shocked to hear Cardinal Christoph Schonborn state that a whopping 67,583 people officially left the Church in Austria in 2019, while 58,807 had left in 2018.

Surely there are so many valid reasons why all these sad things happen and weaken the witness of the Church. But it also indicates a failure in humble perseverance in our vocations. We seem to have lost the sense of divine mercy that has brought us into the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church, called us to our holy vocations, and sustained us with divine gifts. Maybe we have failed to let love for others like the unborn infants prevail in our hearts. Maybe we have doubted the goodness of God or His laws for us and have chosen to just do our own thing and make up our own rules. Maybe we need to be reminded that our eternal destiny depends on our humble perseverance in our God-given vocations to the very end.

Jesus is not so impressed with our status or vocations in life. He is not impressed with the words that we say to Him in moments of fervor. He is not impressed with the praise we give Him when we feel His loving presence so close to us. He is definitively not impressed when we worship Him because we feel good or we see visible results. It is nothing but our humble perseverance in doing these things that impresses Him, scares the heck out of the devil and his demons, and opens the gates of heaven for us.

Jesus makes His unrelenting mercy present to us as He makes a gift of Himself in this Eucharist. He will never stop inspiring us to do good for His sake. By the grace of this Eucharist, let us humbly persevere to the end so that we will earn His eternal praise and commendation, “Great is your faith!” and also gain the greatest desire of our hearts – life with God in heaven for ever and ever.

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

 

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