When discouragement strikes: A homily for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 10, 2018.

Gen 3:9-15; 2Cor 4:13-5:1; Mk 3:20-35.

When discouragement strikes

St. Paul had every reason to be discouraged by the situation in the Corinth Church. Things only seemed to get worse after his first letter to them. He was now the victim of  the merciless criticism and personal attacks by those who wanted to discredit him and his missionary style. His reputation was being ruined and ridiculed and the community was turning against him despite his love and care for them.

Yet he says emphatically, “We are not discouraged.” He wards off all discouragement by choosing carefully what he focuses on, “We look not to what is seen, but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” He does not focus on “what is seen,” i.e. the “momentary light affliction” from his wicked adversaries; but he chooses to focus on “what is unseen” i.e. God acting in the depth of his soul in a hidden way to “produce for him and eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” He does not focus on “the outer (visible) self that is wasting away” but on the “(invisible) inner self that is being renewed day by day.”

The Gospel shows us that Jesus Christ remains the only way for us to gain any insight into and communion with “what is unseen.” His relatives in His native place see Him attending to the crowd without time to eat. Focusing only on the visible, they conclude, “He is out of His mind.” The scribes from Jerusalem condemn Him as being “possessed by Beelzebub.” Jesus does not get discouraged with them but highlights and leads them to be aware of the “things that are unseen,” which includes His victorious struggle and triumph over Satan and our liberation from Satan’s dominion, “No man can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.” What is unseen is that the one who was unjustly condemned as a crazy possessed rabbi is actually the one who entered into combat with Satan for our liberation and prevailed.

Our struggle against discouragement and despair demands that we too be particularly aware of and focused on the enduring “what is unseen” while engaged with the transitory “what is seen” and perceptible to the human senses and faculties. There are some things that we want to focus on if we are going to overcome the many forms of discouragement.

  1. God’s loving presence and action in us. Discouragement is usually accompanied by the sense of being alone and unable to face the struggles of life. We remedy discouragement by connecting to the Triune God within us and cooperating with the eternal divine plan to bring us to glory through the royal road of suffering and pain. Our “momentary light afflictions” become preludes to an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” when we choose to focus on the divine presence and action within us rather than being fixated on our agendas, wounded egos, and painful life experiences.
  2. Our immortal soul and the need to feed the soul with truth and grace. Our consumeristic and materialistic age can easily lead us to forget to feed our souls with revealed truth and divine grace and just focus on the needs of the body, a body that would eventually be the food of worms in the grave. We pamper and beautify the body while the soul languishes. A soul that is devoid of the love of God and His grace cannot but succumb easily to discouragement and despair in the face of life’s struggles. It is genuine love of God that moves us to resist discouragement at all cost because we want to give ourselves to God completely.
  3. The reality of heaven and hell. We can only face discouragement and its attendant confusion when we know where we are heading to: heaven or hell. A life without a sense of direction or purpose is a futile existence that does not have a chance against discouragement. We must live with that conviction that we are children of God now, that Christ has prepared a place in heaven for us, that He is leading us home to Him now and that hell still remains a possibility for us while on this earth if we reject divine love and mercy.
  4. The existence of the devil and the reality of spiritual warfare. The evil one will do anything to separate us from Jesus and to lose the new life and hope that we have in Christ. He tempts us chiefly to discouragement and despair by reminding us of our sins, exaggerating the struggles ahead for us, and making us doubt the power, love, and wisdom of God to bring us to heaven. How can we overcome discouragement when we fail to realize that “our adversary the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We have no choice but to “resist him, solid in our faith,” (1Pet 5:8,9) by engaging in spiritual warfare through prayer, meditation on the Word of God, fasting, sacraments, and due vigilance.
  5. The power of doing the divine will. St. John reminds us that, “The world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God endures forever.”(1Jn 2:17) The will of God, when done with love, unites us to Jesus Christ and makes us intimate with Him to the point that we begin to share in His power over discouragement. He who said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” is the same one who “gives those who believe in Him power to become sons of God.”(Jn 1:12) Because the divine will endures forever, the darkness of discouragement is dispelled the moment we find and do the divine will, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”(Mt 24:35)
  6. The hidden consequences of sin in our lives. Sin is not just an offense against God who is ever ready to forgive us. The Fall of Adam and Eve show us the grave consequences of sin in our personal lives and relationships, consequences which we can never tell beforehand, especially the divisions that sins create. Sin creates inner conflict and division in us, making us afraid and dishonest, hiding from God and ourselves like guilty Adam and Eve. Sin divides us from those we should love, breeds bitter rivalry and mistrust, and fosters the blame game we see in our first parents. We lose the battle against discouragement when we try to compromise with sin, downplay its consequences, or pretend we can predict its consequences.
  7. The reality of the communion of saints. Jesus said that those who do the will of God are His brothers, sisters and mother. How powerfully is our hope renewed in the face of discouragement when we know that there is a “cloud of witnesses,” including Mary, the Mother of God, praying for us and cheering us to victory in our earthly struggle. Mary did the will of God as faithfully as anyone did and she is obtaining for us all the graces and support that we need to do the same always. There is no way that we can give in to discouragement when we know that we are not alone in this struggle but are in living communion with those our brothers and sisters who have walked the same path and done so victoriously.

I am pained and saddened by the death of American chef, author, and popular television personality, Mr. Michael Bourdain, who is reported to have taken his own life a few hours ago in Strasbourg, France. It is painful to see many of our brothers and sisters within and outside the Church giving in to the discouragements of life through suicide. No one of us is immune from struggles to keep on doing the right thing in life in the face of discouraging realities.

If we are going to overcome these discouragements, then we need to honestly ask ourselves, “What am I focusing on in my life today: the transitory and momentary “seen” or the enduring “unseen”?” If we choose to focus our hearts and minds on “what is unseen,” while engaged with “what is seen,” we will surely share in Christ’s power and victory over all discouragement.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Presence that makes all the difference: A homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Solemnity of Corpus Christi. June 3, 2018.

Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26.

The Presence that makes all the difference

We will do everything that the Lord has told us…All that the Lord has said we will do.”

These are the words of the Israelites in today’s First Reading as Moses related to them “all the ordinances of the Lord” and as he read to them from the book of the covenant at the foot of Mt Sanai. All the people, “with one voice,” promised to keep every word of the covenant. These promises were off course not kept as soon as they entered the Promised Land. Their unqualified and collective “Yes” to God at Sanai changed into national rebellion in the Promised Land where they worshipped the pagan gods of their neighbors and became exiles in Babylon.

Aren’t we just like the Israelites? Don’t we make grand promises to God that we fail to keep for several reasons? How faithful are we to the promises that we made to God on the day our baptism when we promised to reject Satan and all his works and to give ourselves to God in the community of the Church, faithfully obeying Him and giving Him due worship and service? How many of us today keep the promises that we made to God to be married to our spouses for life in a faithful, exclusive, life-giving union? How many of us priests and religious break our vows and promises and abandon our vocations?

We need more than good intentions or fervor in our promises to God. We also need to connect with the divine presence and participate in His own faithful self-giving. This is why we need the Eucharist more than ever in times like ours. In the Eucharist God gives us an opportunity to connect with His presence and enter into His own faithful and self-giving love.

Our Catholic faith teaches us of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine at Mass and in the tabernacle of our Churches. But Jesus is never idle but ever active in each of the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, He is both present and making present His own complete self-offering to the Father. Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ must include the belief that He is present in this sacrament to draw us into participating in His own continuous self-sacrifice to the Father. Once we connect with the hidden divine presence, we share in His own attitude of self-offering to the Father for the good of others.

 The author of the letter to the Hebrews teaches us that Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary once and for all “not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Our contact with this blood in each Eucharist cannot leave us indifferent but will lead us to make a continuous offering of ourselves to God, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” It is through our contact with the body and blood of Christ in each Eucharist that we allow the Holy Spirit to “make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God.”(CCC 1109)

St. Mark reminds us that Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist ended with Jesus and His disciples’ journey into Gethsemane, “Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” This ending to the Eucharist is significant because the Mount of Olives was the place of Agony for Jesus when His resolve to die for us on the cross was put to the test and He proved Himself faithful. Even as He sweat blood during His agony, He cried out the words of complete self-offering to the Father, “Father, take this cup away from me, but not my will but yours be done.” Jesus Christ is the only one who is faithful to His promises to the Father and our communion with His body and blood in the Eucharist allows us to make a complete self-offering to God and be faithful to our promises to God.

The Eucharist always end with us being led into our own “Mount of Olives,” where our promises to God will be put to the test. Our “Amen” when we received Jesus in word and sacrament during the Mass will be tested in several ways. We can be faithful in these tests if we connect with Jesus with a strong faith in His Real Presence rooted in His words to us, with an ardent love that moves us to repentance and loving obedience of God’s will, and with a firm and certain hope that looks beyond earthly things for our strength and satisfaction. This living contact with Jesus Christ in turn leads us into Christ’s own self-offering so that we make a complete gift of self to God for the good of others.

The shocking and disappointing legalization of abortion in Ireland a few weeks ago demands some reflection. Ireland was no doubt a country that said “Yes” to the Catholic faith and was instrumental in the spread of the faith all around the world. I cannot forget the many zealous Irish priests and religious who endured so much suffering and pain, and even death, just to bring this Catholic faith to my native country of Nigeria many years ago. We are more than grateful for these priests and religious for the passionate witness to the Catholic faith that we inherited from them. This makes it more painful to see Ireland go from a Catholic country that gave legal protection to both mother and infant in the womb by approving the Eight Amendment to the constitution 67%-33% in 1983 to a country that said “No” to God and legalized abortion by repealing the same amendment by 66% to 34% on May 2018. More troubling is that Ireland has become the first nation in the world to choose abortion by popular vote and not by the usual acts of the parliament or judiciary.

One possible reason for this drastic shift in attitude to the sanctity and dignity of human life is the apparent loss of Eucharistic faith in Ireland. A poll showed that the percentage of Irish Catholics who attend Mass on Sunday dropped from 91% in 1971-1972 to less than 25% in 2016. With such a poor attitude to the Real Presence in the Eucharist, how can they be expected to be faithful to their baptismal promises, and give themselves to God in faithful witness to the sanctity of every human life in the face of a hedonistic secularized society? How can they have light and strength to reject the lie that abortion will somehow lead to that joy and peace of heart that we all desire if the Eucharist makes no difference to the majority of the faithful? Without fervent Eucharistic lives, the majority became deaf to the silent cries of the unborn and the pains of their mothers. At the end, they chose to sacrifice the unborn so that they could live as they wished, an attitude in total contrast to that of Jesus Christ.

Let this be a painful warning to us when we are tempted to ignore our Eucharistic faith and the unique participation in Christ’s self-offering that is offered to us therein through communion with His body and blood. Our Protestant brethren have long ago abandoned faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist for a legion of reasons. We Catholics often approach the Eucharist out of routine or duty but without that faith, hope, and love that can bring us into the power of Christ’s self-giving love for the salvation of souls. The result is that we lose that strength that comes from our common unity with the abiding presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we abandon our promises to God so easily, and are swept away by the culture of death and its warped values that are spreading wide and far today.

We need the Eucharist today more than ever in our age of infidelity, when our collective and individual “Yes” to God quickly becomes “No.” We need Eucharistic adoration and fervent attendance at Mass today if we are going to maintain our “Yes” to God and bring divine graces and hope to others.

We turn with confidence to Mary, the woman whose “Yes” to God in faith gave us the divine presence in human form. In the eternal divine plan, Mary freely gave Jesus the blood and body that won our salvation and made the Eucharist possible. “No Mary, no Jesus and no Eucharist!” She alone by the grace of God kept her promise from the moment of the Annunciation, through the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, to her glorious Assumption. She kept her promises to God because she shared as fully as any human person could share in Christ’s own self-offering to the end.

May Mary help us to connect with the divine presence of her Son in today’s Eucharist so that, no matter the tests that we face in our “Mount of Olives,” we can face them by participating in Christ’s attitude of continuous self-offering to the Father for the spiritual and temporal good of others. This is the only way that we can ever hope to keep our promises to Jesus Christ who is ever fully present and active in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

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

 

 

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Created, called, and graced for divine communion: A homily for the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity

 

Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. May 27, 2018.

Dt 4:32-34,39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20

Created, called and graced for divine communion

“Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you that way and that is the way He wants you to be and I do not care.”

These are the words reported by the Spanish newspaper El Pias to have been said by Pope Francis in a recent private audience with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean clergy sexual abuse victim and a self-described homosexual. Right now these words remain only an unverified account of Cruz about his private audience with the Pope. More troubling is the silence of the Vatican about these words, a refusal to either clarify or to deny it. Meanwhile the reported words of the Pontiff has caught the headlines and has become the topic of many discussions, with many asking the question, “Can God really make someone gay?”

In the midst of all this confusion, today’s Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity is an invitation for us to reflect on the true nature of God and so gain an insight into what God can really do and not do. Because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, there are deep anthropological implications from the doctrine of the three divine Persons in the one true God. That the true God is not one single person implies that God is not a dictator or a tyrant, who makes laws arbitrarily and who creates whatever He wills without reason or just for His kicks. That the true God is not two persons either implies that God is not focused on competition or domination of the other but acts always in truth and love. That the true God is three equally divine persons implies a communion of divine persons with infinite love, holiness, and happiness within them. Hence the true God is a God of loving communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally knowing and loving each other perfectly in a life-giving way.

The true God is not only a God of communion, but also a God who lovingly labors to bring all of creation into communion with the divine persons. All of creation is stamped in their very being with that vocation and divinely bestowed movement to full communion with the Triune God by sharing in the divine life of love, holiness, and happiness.

We then need to ask the question: If the true God is a God of loving communion, who constantly labors to bring us sinful creatures who are nothing to intimate communion with the divine persons, is it possible that this same true God will also create some of His creatures gay and others not gay? Is it possible that this God of communion will desire that some of His creatures, whom He made for full communion with Him, experience an insurmountable inclination to something evil, not life-giving, contradictory to His commandments for us, and contrary to the selfless love of God? Can a God who longs for perfect communion with us at the same time create some of us totally condemned to the cruel slavery of our basest desires for sexual pleasure? It is just not possible that the true God, the God of communion, who labors to bring us all to communion, will create some people gay and allow them to be defined, impelled, and determined solely by their sexual orientation. It is not just possible!  

Today’s Readings show us how the Triune God, true to the divine character, labors continuously to bring us into deeper communion with Him. The Readings also attest that those called to communion with God must struggle to overcome the sinful tendencies that lead them away from God. Our divine call to communion with God demands this freely embraced struggle on our part.  

The First Reading shows us how God labors to bring the Jews into communion with Him from their slavery in Egypt. God does the previously unthinkable thing, taking a nation for Himself by “testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with His strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors,” just to make them His own people. The only response that they are to make to this divine invitation to communion is to remain in this communion by their loving obedience, “You must keep His statutes and commandments which I (Moses) enjoin on you today.”

The risen Christ says to His disciples in today’s Gospel, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This divine power is not used to torment, subdue or dominate us, but to bring us into communion with the Father in the Spirit from the moment of baptism, “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.” Jesus promises to always be with us, “I am with you always, until the end of the age,” because He will labor unceasingly to bring us to full communion with the Father.  Again communion with God demands that those called to communion also learn to obey Him, “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

St. Paul reminds us that the Spirit of Jesus is also laboring to bring us to deeper communion with God, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” We are no longer slaves to anything, including our disordered sexual inclinations, so that we live in fear but we are now adopted children of God, “heirs of God and coheirs with Christ.” Again, for the full communion with God, we must “suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ.” Christ, the only begotten Son of God “had to suffer to as to enter into His glory.”(Lk 24:26) We too, wretched sinners called to communion with the trice-holy God, must be ready to suffer with Him on the path to full communion with God, and this suffering with Christ begins with our unceasing struggle with those tendencies that lead us astray from full communion with God.  

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our God is a God of loving communion, constantly laboring to bring us and to keep us in communion with Him and growing in this communion. But we must labor to persevere and mature in our communion with Him. Our first and fundamental vocation is to full communion with God, and to participate in His life of love, holiness, and happiness. This demands that we all struggle against those things within and outside us that lead us astray from divine love. We cannot pretend to dispense ourselves from the struggle for deeper communion with God by saying such things as, “God made me gay.”

Come to think of it, to whom among us did God ever give His blueprint plan about how He created us so that we can definitely say that God made us this way or that way? Whether we label ourselves as gay or straight or whatever label we accept for ourselves, we are all called to full communion with God. Nothing on earth can ever satisfy us as long as we ignore that vocation to participate in divine love, holiness, and happiness. We all have to suffer many interior struggles but these are our ways of suffering with Christ within us whose grace is never lacking. There are numerous things that we struggle with interiorly – same-sex attraction, attraction to the opposite sex, gambling, pornography, alcoholism, masturbation, bestiality, etc. We deceive ourselves when we try to excuse ourselves by saying, “God made me gay or so-and-so.”

We also owe the truth and hope to our dear brothers and sisters who are struggling with same-sex attraction. But first we too must learn to struggle with and master our own evil inclinations, striving to live and grow in inner freedom before we can lead others to freedom too, “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” How can we teach them what we do not observe ourselves? How can we lead them to freedom when we too are in inner bondage to our sinful tendencies and inclinations?

Jesus Christ who assured us that He is with us always until the end of the age is no stranger to inner struggles. Isn’t He the Sinless One who cried out to His disciples in the moment of His agony, “My soul is troubled even unto death?” He is the Good Shepherd who searches and carries the single lost and found sheep all the way to His home and place of rejoicing. He is not afraid or put off by our sinful tendencies but calls us to trust Him to carry us home to perfect communion with God. We remain in His communion by our loving obedience alone, “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”(Jn 15:9) We frustrate His loving plan for our deeper communion with Him when we are self-deceiving and reluctant to suffer with Him because we are convinced that “God has made us gay.”  

The divine call to communion was first answered by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who became the faithful daughter of the Father, the admirable mother of the Son and the faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit. She too will suffer with Christ throughout her life and especially at the foot of the cross so that we, sinful children of God, may be brought into communion with God. The words of the Angel Gabriel never left her heart, “With God all things are possible.” If our hearts are close to Mary’s heart, she will help us realize that with God all things are possible, and that we can strive for deeper participation in divine love, holiness and happiness today no matter the sinful tendencies that we are struggling with.

The Eucharist we partake in is also called Holy Communion, an encounter with the God of communion and His undying labor to bring us deeper into communion with Him. Here is our communion with God deepened and we are offered the grace and the hope that we all need to suffer with Christ till the very end and thus deepen our communion with Him. Let us not deceive ourselves by saying “God made me gay or so-and-so” because none of us is created to be a hopeless slave of our base passion. We all are created, called, and constantly graced by the God of communion for full and perfect communion with God. This full and beatifying communion with God will be ours in this life and in the life to come if and only if we willingly suffer with Christ to the very end.

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

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The power of the Spirit-filled heart: A homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost

Solemnity of Pentecost. May 20, 2018.

Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The power of the Spirit-filled heart

St. Luke’s depiction of the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles shows us something about the preaching of the Spirit-filled disciples – their words could not be ignored. The crowd that heard them speak showed different reactions. They were first “confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” They were also astounded and amazed. The Apostles’ words seized their hearts and brought them together to listen to the mysterious speech of illiterate Galileans. They would eventually mock and ridicule the Apostles saying, “They are filled with new wine.” No matter the response of the crowd they could not ignore the proclamation of the Spirit-filled Apostles. They just could not resist the power of their words to pull them together to listen to the saving words of God proclaimed by the Apostles.  

This is a good image of the Gospel we preach and witness to in our world today. The words of the Gospel leave many confused and amazed for various reasons. The heralds of the Gospel are often maligned and insulted, partly because of their own shortfalls, failings, and inconsistencies, or just out of hatred for the Gospel that they preach and witness to. But the world just cannot ignore the Gospel if it is preached and proclaimed from Spirit-filled hearts.

What does it mean to have a Spirit-filled heart? How can we judge if the Spirit of Jesus abides in us and has complete control of our hearts?

First, we preach with the conviction that Jesus alone is the Lord, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Because Jesus is Lord, we do not preach our opinions or feelings but we preach in a manner that makes us say like Jesus, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.”(Jn 7:16). If Jesus is our Lord, then we do not preach human ideologies but the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not preach for the sake of human approval or because we are morally impeccable but we preach because we live under the lordship of Jesus Christ who has commissioned us to preach in His name and has given us “a manifestation of His Spirit for some benefit” to the body of Christ. In the words of St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”(1Cor 9:16) We also do not preach ourselves but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and the response that we should make. The devout Jews could not ignore the words of the Apostles because they heard them “speaking in their own tongue of the mighty acts of God.” Let us preach what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ today in and through His Church and her members and see if the Gospel can be ignored. 

Secondly, we preach the Gospel because we have experienced the effects of sin in our lives as well as the forgiveness and new beginning that Jesus offers us in His Resurrection. The disciples abandoned Jesus at His hour of need during His Passion and they had received divine forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit offered by the risen Christ, “Peace be with you…Receive the Holy Spirit.” From our forgiven hearts, we proclaim and make present the forgiveness that we have received, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” Our preaching should reflect the merciful love that God offers us in Jesus Christ. Our preaching lacks the power to capture hearts as long as we are not experiencing divine forgiveness, repenting of our own infidelities towards Christ, and communicating divine forgiveness to others by our words and actions.

Thirdly, we are Spirit-filled if we are people of community, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, the disciples were all in one place together.” If we are Spirit-filled, then we make sacrifices to preserve the unity of the community and we are fully engaged in the life and mission of the community. Our preaching become impotent when it does violence to the perennial and unchanging truths that unite us as a community of Christ and fails to strengthen our bond with Christ and with each other. Likewise, we lack the power to seize the hearts and minds in the world when we preach from families, communities, parishes, churches that are divided because of our actions or inaction. We must speak and act in ways that unite, strengthen and energize the Church instead of weakening, fragmenting, and paralyzing the Church for which Christ died that we may be one.

Fourthly, we proclaim the word of God from hearts that are steeped in the living waters of prayer. In the words of Jesus, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”(Lk 6:45) Our hearts need to be filled first with the light and strength of divine grace before our words can have the power to pierce through the hardened and indifferent hearts of our contemporaries. If Jesus is our Lord, we depend on Him for the grace to preach His word and we offer the result of our preaching to Him. The grace to preach and the result belong to Jesus alone, “Without me (Jesus), you can do nothing.”(Jn 15:5) It is through Spirit-inspired prayer that we receive this grace to preach and offer to Jesus whatever may result from our preaching and witnessing to the Gospel.

Fifthly, we preach as Spirit-filled believers when we place Mary, the Mother of God, at the center of our lives and our communities like the Apostles did, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.” What has Mary got to do with Spirit-filled preaching? Mary is the first human person to receive the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation by believing the words of the Angel Gabriel. By her presence, example and prayers, Mary likewise prepared the Apostles to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary also communicates to her children today the true spirit of faith that filled her own heart so that they can receive the truth of the Spirit and believe and communicate saving truths in the Church. Mary helps us open our hearts to the saving power of the Gospel and close our hearts to the deadly poison of many of the innocently sounding heresies of our time.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gospel still has the same power to change hearts and minds of the audience. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI constantly reminded us of the beauty and power of the Gospel and that we only have to unleash it on the world by our words and actions. There is a temptation in today’s secular world to make the Gospel “relevant and acceptable” as if it was never relevant before. There is also a tendency to distort or water down the demands of the Gospel in the name of a false compassion and mercy that gives the impression that God can demand of human nature something that His grace cannot achieve in us. All these only leave the Church weak and disunited, making our preaching of the Gospel dead and boring to our world.

By the power of the Spirit who fills our hearts in today’s Solemnity of Pentecost, let us preach the Gospel by our words. There will be many possible reactions to the Gospel as Jesus taught us, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept me word, they will keep yours too.”(Jn 15:20) Some people will accept the saving words and embrace Jesus as their Lord and enter into the Church community of faith. Some will reject the Gospel all together and even call us names and denounce us as hypocrites for whatever reasons. But if the world ignores us as we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we must pause and ask ourselves if our hearts are really filled with the Holy Spirit as we preach the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

 

 

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The Ascension and our struggle of faith: A homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus

Solemnity of the Ascension. May 13, 2018.

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20

The Ascension and our struggle of faith

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Many of our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith today are losing their faith for so many reasons. The faith may be lost because of tragedies in life, lack of practice of the faith over time, grave and strong temptations, scandals in the Church, unrepented sins, casual drifting away, broken relationships and divorce, sickness, etc. The rampant loss of faith in our times makes it appear that it is a much greater struggle to maintain and grow in the faith than to begin to believe in the first place.

In today’s Gospel, the risen Christ reminds His disciples who already believed in Him of the need to maintain their faith in Him in this world, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” No matter what we are experiencing in this life or the struggles we are facing, we cannot afford to lose our faith in the risen Christ that we received at the moment of our baptism. As long as we maintain our faith in Him, we would never stray from the path of salvation.

Today’s First Reading shows us two ways in which we can lose our faith in the risen Christ and His presence and action in our lives despite having His Spirit in us.

Firstly, our faith dwindles to the extent that we are moved in our lives by anything and everything except the instructions of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus “gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.” We know that “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”(Rom 10:17) When we live by faith in the risen Christ always, ready to act on His instructions without excuses or compromise, the light of faith is intensified in us and we are not left guessing about what to do in this life, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”(Rom 8:12) Through the gift of His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, our risen Lord continues to give faith-enkindling instructions in our hearts today. The question is if we are being moved by these divine instructions or by something else.

Secondly, we lose our faith when we have no intention at all to give witness to Jesus constantly before others. We begin to experience the power of the risen Christ in our lives when we are determined to be His witnesses before others in every time and place. Jesus assured His disciples in today’s First Reading, “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.” When the disciples took up His challenge to be His witnesses who “proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” they experienced the power of the risen Christ with them, “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”

St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that we lose out on the amazing gifts that are ours from the glorious Ascension of Jesus Christ when we lose our faith in the risen Christ for whatever reason. We have access to firm hope, heavenly riches, and His invincible power in us only because Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and the Father has “put all things beneath His feet and given Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way,”

When our faith is lost, we also lose that “hope that belongs to His call,” we feel alone, heaven becomes a impossible pie in the sky for us, we become unsure that we will receive from Him all that we need to enter into heaven, our desire for heaven dwindles too and we become discouraged and despairing. When we lose our faith in the risen Christ, we lose a sense of the “riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones” and we forget that we are pilgrims in this world, accumulating and enjoying the things and pleasures of this world without thought or desire for the things of heaven. With our faith lost, we fail to experience the “surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe,” and we think and feel helpless and abandoned, completely unable to overcome the many struggles, trials, and temptations of this life.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must never let our painful earthly experiences, sins or moral failures, or assault of the evil one quench the faith in the risen Christ that we received at baptism. This is our struggle of faith. Losing our faith in Jesus because of our condition or experiences in this world make us deserving of the gentle rebuke of St. Paul, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied,”(1Cor 15:19)

The Ascension of Jesus, apart from being a source of joy and hope to us, reminds us of the imminent return of Christ in glory and challenges us to keep our faith in Jesus alive and growing till the very end. In the words of the angelic persons to the disciples at the moment of the Ascension, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? 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.” The Catechism put it this way: “Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent.”(CCC 673) He is coming soon to judge all of us based on how our faith received in baptism has matured in this life through all the trials and difficulties.

This is definitely not the time to lose our faith in Jesus but to struggle to grow in our faith in Jesus. This is the time to make sure that we are being moved more than anything else by His instructions received in prayer or in the Scriptures or in the Church and her infallible teaching. This is the time to let His words find room in our minds and hearts and change our ways of thinking and acting. This is the time to ensure that we are not being moved by public opinion, blind passions, human respect, mere sentiments or feelings, or desire for worldly gain.

This is also a time for us to examine the quality of our witness to Jesus before others. Are we willing to speak the saving truth of Jesus and show His love to others by our words and actions or are we crippled by the fear of being rejected, misunderstood, or labeled as bigots? Are we going to show the humble face of Jesus to others by our live of selfless service to all? Are we communicating to others the merciful face of Jesus who forgave others constantly? Are we going to be the good examples of Jesus’ redeeming love to our world that alone brings hope to others?

Our Eucharist is always a communion with Jesus Christ, the “Author and perfecter of our faith.”(Heb 12:2) No matter our condition or experiences in life today, Jesus comes silently to strengthen in us that baptismal faith by continuously instructing and empowering us for witness to Him through His Spirit. He once lamented to His followers, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth?”(Lk 18:8) If Jesus returns in glory now, will He find faith in our hearts or will He find us faithless because of our life’s experiences? Our answer to this question will determine our salvation because “whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

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The cost of friendship with Christ: A homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter. May 6, 2018

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17

The cost of friendship with Christ

Have you ever had that experience on Facebook when you accept an invitation from someone to become your friend and then you begin to receive invitations from unknown people? You begin to see recommended pages on your Facebook feed page that you have no idea where they come from? Whether you want to or not, whether you agree with their views or lifestyle, you become somehow exposed to all the friends and activities of all those who are friends of your newly chosen friend. Becoming friends with someone on social media, we readily expose ourselves to some extent to the favorable or unfavorable friends of the person and their acceptable or unacceptable activities.

This does not spook us out but we are willing and ready to pay this price for our friendship on social media. But are we ready and willing to pay the same price for our friendship with Jesus Christ? Are we ready to become closely related to all those whom Jesus loved and died for without distinctions? Are we ready to be exposed to the same activities that Jesus is interested in and which really matter to Him?

What is this price to be paid for our friendship with Jesus Christ? In the first place, strictly speaking, there is nothing that we can do to earn our friendship with Jesus Christ or to repay Him for this friendship with us. He reminds us of this in today’s Gospel, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything that I have heard from my Father.” We are not friends with Him because of something good and lovable in us or any of our great achievements. We are friends of Jesus simply because of His love that has freely chosen us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” The price of our friendship with Christ is not a burden to be borne or a debt to be settled but our loving and free response to the friendship that Jesus offers us.

On our part, this price of friendship with Christ involves the following:

  1. We journey relentlessly towards intimacy with the Father through a life of loving obedience and rejection of the spirit of rebellion in all its forms. Authentic friendship with Jesus leads to friendship with His Father, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” We strive for that intimacy with the Father by denying self and keeping His commandments, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Our friendship with Christ is illusory if we are compromising with sin in any form or if we are picking and choosing which of His commandments to keep and which to discard or to reinterpret according to our taste. Our firm choice to live in loving obedience to God always is the action that is pleasing to Jesus.
  2. We are ready to reflect to others the same self-sacrificing love of Christ that we have experienced, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We do not love others for what we can get or obtain from them but to bring divine goodness to others through our sacrifices. In the words of St. John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loves us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” We too love others first, always, and in a way that allows us to make sacrifices for their eternal and temporal good.
  3. We do not pick and choose whom we should love and sacrifice for. This is the lesson that St. Peter learned in today’s First Reading when he sees the sincere spirit of religion in the pagan Cornelius’ family and their openness to Jesus and His Spirit. Our God is not choosy or discriminating in His love for His people, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Our God pours the gifts of His Spirit to those who embrace friendship with His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died for all of humanity and desires that His Spirit fills all hearts and make all His friends. As friends of Jesus who possess His Spirit in us from the moment of Baptism, we cannot discriminate or be partial in our love but we must reflect to all that universal and constant love that we have received from Jesus.
  4. Lastly, as friends of Jesus, we find our joy in Jesus and in following His own way of loving, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in your and your joy might be complete.” Friends find joy in the same things and in the same manner. Like Jesus who found His joy in His loving obedience to the Father and in laying down His life for us, we too find our true joy by loving the Father and in making sacrifices for the eternal good of others. We cannot be friends of Jesus if our hope for joy is apart from Him and in the things and pleasures of this world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to reveal Himself gratuitously to us today to make us His intimate friends. But are we willing to pay the price of friendship with Christ? How seriously do we take our pilgrimage of intimacy with the Father? How are we striving to overcome the spirit of rebellion in us and in the world today? How are we loving others in a life-giving way without being fixated on what is in it for us? Where is the spirit of discrimination and partiality sneaking into our relationships so that we only love those who are likeable or beneficial to us? How are we searching for joys in the world outside Christ and our participation in His selfless love for others?

To be friends of Jesus is to be friends of those whom He loves, including His own Mother, Mary. We cannot claim to be friends of Jesus while having nothing but contempt or indifference to Mary His Mother who gave birth to Him, nourished Him and brought Him to matured manhood so that He can die for us and make us friends of God.

“As the Father has loved me, so I love you.” The Father loved Jesus by sending Him into this world through the womb of the Virgin Mary and her faith-filled response to the divine will at the Annunciation. Jesus loves us by giving us the same Mary as our Mother as He was dying on the cross, “Behold your mother.” Taking Mary as our Mother too, loving her, depending on her prayers and support, and obeying her is part of the joyful price of being Jesus’ friends.

On her part, Mary leads us to deeper friendship with Jesus Christ and helps us to readily accept and respond to His friendship. As the beloved daughter of the Father, she leads us to intimacy with God by doing His will always. As the faithful disciple who concurred with the divine plan of the crucifixion of her only son for the world’s salvation, she will help us too to lay down our lives for others. As mother of all the redeemed who have the life-blood of her Son in their hearts, Mary helps us to love others with a universal and constant love. As the one who loved selflessly and proclaimed, “My soul rejoices in God my savior,” who else but Mary can better lead us to seek for the joy of the Lord through selfless love for others?

Jesus reveals Himself again to us through His own flesh and blood in today’s Eucharist, the flesh and blood that He willed to take from no other person but the Blessed Virgin Mary. With Mary and through her, we can surely be true friends with Christ, willingly pay the price of our friendship with Him by reflecting His universal and constant love to all who are dear to Him. This is how the joy of Christ will be in us and our joy will be complete.

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

 

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The good flock of the Good Shepherd: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

The good flock of the Good Shepherd

Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn 3:1-2, Jn 10:11-18

I recently heard the interesting vocation story of a Filipina religious sister, a professed religious for over 30 years. She was about 8 years old when she witnessed the labor pains of her elder sister. The pains and shouts of her sister in labor that day caused her to make a silent vow never to get pregnant in life. Her childhood friend convinced her that she could avoid the pains of child-bearing if she got “married” to Jesus instead as a religious sister because, in her words, “Jesus will not make you pregnant like that!” Thus began her desire to become a religious.

Still dreading the prospect of painful child-birth, she entered the religious convent in her late teens. But on entering the convent her motive for the religious life changed and she started to love the life of prayer, silence, religious habits, apostolate, community, etc. After her first profession of vows, she said that her motive for being a consecrated sister changed radically and become Christ-centered. She now wanted to live like Jesus, to belong completely to Jesus, to imitate Jesus more closely, and to follow Him to the very end in poverty, chastity and obedience. She said that this last motive, the Christ-like motive, is what has sustained her all these years as a religious sister through all the ups and downs of the past years.

What is it that moves us to embrace a particular vocation in the Church? Do these motives become more Christ-like and Christ-centered over time? Our fears, likes, or preferences alone cannot sustain us in our vocations in life. What gives life and strength to our particular vocations is our being rooted in our fundamental vocation from baptism to be children of God, filled with the life of God and determined to act and become more and more like Jesus Christ, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”(Rom 8:29)

St. John reminds us of this in today’s Second Reading, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” Our first calling is to grow into the image of Jesus Christ more and more, “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” If the final revelation of Jesus in glory will find us as perfectly similar to Christ, then our fundamental vocation is to become the loving and trusting children of God who are being conformed more and more to Jesus Christ in and through our given vocations in life.

Today’s Gospel tells us what we are to imitate in Christ – His willingness to lay down His life for others. In the words of Jesus, “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus Christ knows us very well – our good, bad and ugly. He knows our past, present and future, our strengths and weaknesses, and our joys and pains. Nothing that we do can surprise Him or dissuade Him from laying down His life for us, “I know mine and mine know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In addition, He does not sacrifice Himself reluctantly but freely, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” No matter our knowledge or lack of knowledge about others, we cannot make excuses to sacrifice self for others.

As children of God today, our first vocation is not to the priesthood, religious life, married life, single consecrated life or any of that. Our first vocation is to be filled with the life of Jesus and to imitate Him, the Good Shepherd, by freely laying down our own lives for others just as He did. Our marriages, priesthood, religious lives and single consecrated lives are enlivened, energized and renewed to the extent that we see in all of these vocations concrete divine invitations to imitate the self-sacrificing goodness of Jesus the Good Shepherd more closely.

We need authentic Christian vocations in our world today, a world in which the idea of self-sacrificing love is almost lost and replaced by the drive to use others for one’s selfish purpose. The poor are exploited for financial gains. The infant in the womb is murdered so that we can face our careers and live as we want. Even their body parts are sold by organizations like Planned Parenthood as we all turn a blind eye. Women and children are abused and sold as sex slaves. The contraceptive culture prods spouses to use each other for pleasure. The mutual objectification of the person in our hookup culture only leaves individuals deeply wounded.

When we choose to use any person for our selfish needs, we lack the energy to give of ourselves to the others and we become confused about our deepest identity and vocation. We are unable to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, the only voice that leads us to life-giving waters and our true identity as God’s children. In short, we become conformed to this culture of death and share in its confusion and hopelessness when we lose the sense of our identity in Christ as God’s children called first and foremost to become more like Christ Jesus.

The Shepherd is good but the sheep appears to be content with being completely different from Him. When we fail to become more and more like the Good Shepherd and sacrifice ourselves for others, we never know who we truly and our particular vocations suffer and even end in pain and shame. In the words of John Paul the Great, “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere gift of himself.”

The journey to becoming more like Christ in and through our specific vocations is the work of divine grace and human cooperation. The Third Eucharistic Prayer ends with this prayer,

“There (kingdom of God) we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”

In the Incarnation of the Word, the Good Shepherd has freely taken on the very nature of the flock so that He can bestow on the flock that same goodness that is found in His heart alone, that self-sacrificing goodness that alone makes His flock more and more like the Him. In Holy Eucharist, Jesus makes present and effective His “laying down His own life for us.” His self-sacrifice has the power to mold us into His own image by the power of His life in us.

On our part, we can never practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of others without our readiness to imitate Jesus Christ closely to the very end. We seek to do the Christ-like thing, allowing the example of Christ to guide us in all things. We surrender our self-seeking and self-preserving attitudes to Him and beg for His own attitudes instead. We do all these for the Christ-like motive of love that moved Him, “This command I have received from my Father.”

Let us embrace our particular vocations with the help of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, who imitated Christ Jesus so perfectly that she even went with Him to the Cross in humble faith and loving obedience to the salvific will of God for all humanity. She never wavered in her difficult and demanding vocation as Mother of our God and Redeemer and our Mother because she never ceased to imitate Jesus more closely as God’s beloved daughter.

The love that we experience in the Eucharist is never idle but moves us to the imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice, “The love of Christ impels us.” Our particular vocations will have life and energy when we too respond to this love and become more truly the good flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

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

 

 

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