Forgiveness from the heart: why and how? – A homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 17, 2017.

Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Forgiveness from the heart: why and how?

“So will my heavenly do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.”

I thought that I had forgiven a lay faithful many years ago for some slanderous comment that he had made about me. I know for sure that I had even prayed for him fervently and sincerely. Well, I saw him a few years later as I was offering Mass and he was standing in line for Holy Communion. For a moment the memory of his wicked words shot through my mind as I placed Jesus into his hands and he said, “Amen.” The only thing that took the sting out of that painful memory there and then was another prayer for him again and a prayer to Jesus, “Lord, help me to see him through your eyes.”

We may have heard that cliché that definitely does not help any of us struggling with constantly forgiving others: “Forgive and forget!” Can we really forgive and just forget as if nothing ever happened? Is God asking us to pretend that we have amnesia? Doesn’t our painful memories keep coming back with all its hurtful images whether we like it or not? Isn’t it more painful when the offending party never shows any remorse but continue to be a source of pain?

St Peter seems to have the same struggle too with forgiveness. He asks Jesus in today’s Gospel how many times he was to forgive someone who sinned against him. Jesus replies with a parable about a forgiven but unforgiving servant and ends with this warning, “So will my heavenly do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.” The heart is the seat of our choices and decisions, the place where constancy is formed and nurtured. To forgive from the heart means that our forgiveness has to be a well thought out and deliberate decision that must be renewed frequently. Forgiveness from the heart is both unconditional and without limit, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy-seven times.” If our forgiveness is truly from the heart, it just cannot be a one-time thing but an ongoing decision to forgive continuously no matter what.

Today’s Gospel parable also shows us why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart as Jesus implies. The first reason why our forgiveness must come from the heart is that we are sinners who have been forgiven by God. Because God places no limits or conditions to His forgiveness, we have gratuitously received and still continue to receive today divine forgiveness of sins in our hearts. We forgive first out of gratitude to God for forgiving us so graciously.

The wicked servant in today’s parable experienced something of this divine forgiveness that cancels a debt that he could never pay, “Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.” He was set free from his debt without any condition or limit.

The second reason why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart is that we want to remain free and to grow in that freedom that we have received from God’s forgiving love. When we are growing in that freedom that Christ has won, we can recognize and pursue the good freely and avoid all forms of evil in all situations. We slowly lose our freedom and become enslaved to many things and attitudes when we do not forgive others as we have been forgiven.

The servant who experienced the forgiveness of a debt that he could not pay lost his precious freedom the very moment he refused to be patient with a fellow servant who owed him a trifle, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers (jailers) until he should pay back the whole debt.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make a decision to forgive from the heart over and over again no matter the magnitude or frequency of the offenses and regardless of the lack of remorse of the offending party. We must do so simply because we have been forgiven by God in Jesus Christ and because we want to keep growing in that freedom. In Our Lord Jesus Christ, the divine choice to forgive us is made present to us and God will never go back on that decision. When we put conditions or limits on our forgiveness of others, we show ingratitude and we slowly lose our freedom and become slaves of what we should be masters. We become slaves of addictive behaviors like pornography, alcoholism, gambling, sex, drugs, etc. We cannot seem to get enough of material things, pleasures and possessions. We are slaves of human respect, praise, appreciation, affirmation, etc. By our lack of forgiveness, it becomes difficult for us to choose virtues and reject vices and we unknowingly and easily “hand our hearts over to torturers.”

The journey to forgive others from the heart begins with frequent and fervent celebrations of the Sacrament of Confession. For us to forgive from the heart, we must first experience divine forgiveness for our sins in the heart. In and through this sacrament, we acknowledge our past sins, confess that we have sinful tendencies now and open our hearts to that grace to overcome sin in the future. Having experienced this diving forgiveness, the only forgiveness that has no conditions or limits, we are then set free and enabled to reflect this same forgiveness to others.

God became man and came to this world to make us His own children and to share with us the freedom of His own divine life, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) We are called to that “glorious freedom of the children of God.”(Rom 8:21) It is definitely not the will of God that we lose our freedom, live as slaves of things, people and their judgement, and lose our power to choose the good and avoid evil. The only path to this freedom is through experiencing divine forgiveness and making an unwavering decision to reflect the same forgiveness to others from our hearts.

In this world where we are hurt frequently by our fellow sinners and “Forgive and Forget” just doesn’t do justice to our painful memories, the Eucharist we celebrate makes present the paschal mystery of Christ and reminds us why Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Jesus Christ has offered His spotless body to the Father, shed His last drop of blood for us, and gave His own Spirit to us so that we become free like He is as God’s own children and not slaves of hurt feelings, resentments and all the slavery that they bring. He definitely does not ask us to pretend to have amnesia but to open our hearts to His grace and forgive others continuously from the heart. If we experience His liberating forgiveness and still choose to put limits or conditions to our forgiveness of others for whatever reason, we will surely lose our freedom.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Discerning true love: A homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 10, 2017.

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

Discerning true love

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Here are some common pastoral scenarios that involve relationships: A young man claims to love his girlfriend so much and they are living together and raising a family without getting married in the Church and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. A single woman claims to love her boyfriend who happens to be a married man with his own wife and children. A man opts to euthanize his sick father because he claims to love his father so much that he cannot bear to see him suffer any longer. A young lady in a same-sex relationship with her classmate who strongly claim that they both love each other.

I am usually left wondering, “How can these be called love?” Can cohabitation, sexual relations outside marriage and living in sinful situations be called love? Can adultery and its attendant covetousness and injustice against a spouse be called love? Can we call it love when we terminate the life of another to avoid witnessing their pains? Can sexual relations between people of the same-sex, something that is contrary to both Natural Law and God’s plan for marriage between a man and woman in faithful, exclusive and life-giving union be called love?

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading about the importance of proper loving relationships, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” But he also gives the first and fundamental tool to discern how to love: Is this relationship in agreement with or contrary to God’s laws? “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Because God has made us out of love and for the sake of love, God alone sets the standards for true love, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” In short, we can never call anything love if God’s laws or Commandments are being broken in any way.

The second tool to discern true love is to ask if we are loving the other in a way that leads the person away from sin, the greatest harm to the soul, towards the fullness of life in Christ. Our love for others is true if we cannot be silent or idle as our loved ones choose sin and self-destructive habits. Hence Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our love is true when we have first received the truths of God and let these truths illumine our hearts and minds. Knowing and loving these truths and striving to live them out, we are also willing to risk the ire of our loved ones by telling them the painful truth so as to bring them from sinful lives and to “win over our brothers.” Realizing Christ’s love for each and every one of us, we just cannot stand about idle and quite, watching souls that we claim to love, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ perish in their sins.

The third tool to discern true love is to ask if we are reflecting to the other the forgiveness that we have received from God. Jesus assures us in His mystical body of the Church, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We receive forgiveness for ours sin from God through the sacrament of Reconciliation and reflect these forgiveness to others in relationships bearing in mind how we all fall short of loving in the right way. True love chooses to mediate to others God’s own forgiveness of sins instead of making them public or making the sinner guilty.

Lastly, true love for the other seeks for their temporal and eternal good by prayer and by sacrifice. Our prayers are powerful when we gather together to pray for a single purpose according to the divine will, “Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” We love and we pray for each other, obtaining for others the grace to journey into heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us to love Him and to love others according to His own laws and commandments. No matter how strongly we may feel or how attractive our worldly ways of loving others may appear, we do not and cannot invent the standards of love. In our woundedness, we easily turn away from the ways of true love and allow pleasure and emotions to dictate our way of loving.

God, who has called us to love, knows our sinful tendencies and has united Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ who alone brings to us that true love. Our Lord Jesus is the only one who shows us the love that obeys. He obeyed His Father perfectly, “He has done all things well,” (Mk 7:37) obeying His Father even till death on the cross. Jesus Christ loved us so much to take the risk and become man to tell us the whole truth about our true sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and His Father’s unconditional saving love for each and every one of us. We thanked Him by nailing Him to the cross! Jesus alone shows us that love that forgives even in pain as He cried out on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk23:34) Jesus shows us that love that continues to pray and to sacrifice for us, “He lives to make intercession for us.”(Heb 7:25)

Jesus has also instituted a Church, His own mystical body, where we can participate in His own true love and avoid the temptations to love others in worldly ways. In the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s laws are taught and written in our hearts and we are interiorly moved by His grace to speak and witness to this changeless truth to others in love by virtue of the bond we have with others in Christ. In the Church we receive both forgiveness of sins and divine guarantee of forgiveness in the sacrament of confession and we can reflect this forgiveness to others. Our prayers are powerful in the Church because of our union with Christ and our participation in His powerful prayers at every Eucharist.

Today, as we encounter Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist and participate deeply in the true love that He brings to us, let us discern and choose carefully how we love others. Because we have been made for love, we cannot love anyhow and hope to have His life growing in us and His joy in our hearts. The way that we choose to love will determine the quality of our lives and our joy in this life and in the life to come.

Our hearts will throb with His life and His joy will be ours if only we strive to obey all God’s commandments out of love for Him, speak and witness to the difficult saving truth to others out of love for them, forgive others for their transgressions and are ready to pray and make sacrifices for others simply because Jesus Christ has died and risen for all of us to love others just like He has loved us.

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

 

 

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The path to true contentment: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 3, 2017.

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

The path to true contentment

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When God invited Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah demurred and lamented his lack of experience and his young age, “Ah, Lord God! Behold I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”(Jer 1:6) God responded by assuring him of His abiding presence and help against his adversaries, “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” God also touched his lips and assured him that he would never lack the words to speak, “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”(v.8,9)

Jeremiah received divine assurance of God’s presence, God touched his lips and assured him that he will have the right words to speak at the proper time, and God assured him that his adversaries will surely not prevail against him.

In today’s First Reading we hear the same Prophet Jeremiah lamenting and regretting that he is called to preach God’s words to the rebellious Israelites. He is unhappy with his calling, his message is hard for the people to accept, he is being mocked by all, and he cannot keep silent about the messages from God, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped…All day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me…Violence and outrage is my message…It (God’s message) becomes like fire burning in my heart…I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

It is clear that God’s gifts alone are not enough to guarantee our true happiness. We need something else in addition to receiving God’s gifts – we must strive to make use of these gifts to please God and not ourselves. The Prophet laments the difficulty of the message and the insults that he has experienced in the hands of his countrymen because of this message, “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” He loses his happiness the moment that he begins to deliver God’s message for his own sake, seeking to please himself by the results of the message and not serving God and others for God’s sake.

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of that timeless truth of our intense hunger for God, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Nothing can satisfy this hunger for God no matter how much we have of that thing. We will always be wanting more; but the more we get, the more we want and the less content we are. It is not more of God’s gifts that makes us happy but our striving to use that which we have to know, love, and serve God more for His own sake. God, who desires our happiness more than we desire it, will always give us gifts and invite us to use them all for His sake if our happiness is going to be authentic and deep.

How can we both receive the fullness of divine gift and use it all for God’s own sake? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer because He alone has lived His life perfectly for the sake of the Father and it is by His grace alone that we can also receive the divine gifts and live for the sake of the Father. He did not become man, embark on His ministry or go to Calvary for His own sake but for the Father’s, “Jesus 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.” Peter tries to dissuade Him by appealing to the Father, “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking as human beings and not as God thinks. Man thinks of happiness as having and preserving all that he wants; God’s path of happiness is that shown by Jesus – using all that He has for the greater glory of God, to please the Father alone and not Himself, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.” (Jn 8:29) Hence the words of Jesus that point us to the path of true happiness in this life and in the next, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s world, how easily we try to find happiness by getting more natural and supernatural gifts? We hardly ask if the more we seek is pleasing to God or not. We have more pleasure, power and possessions and we are still left unhappy because we want more. We never seem to be satisfied. If our striving in the spiritual life for more spiritual gifts have left us unhappy and discontented, then we must ask ourselves one question: for whose sake am I striving? Is this for my sake or for God’s greater glory?

St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that we can indeed go against the direction of the world and, following in Christ’s footsteps, make an offering of ourselves to God so as to please God, “I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” By offering ourselves to God for God’s own sake, we can “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” The path to authentic happiness is in our complete self-offering to God through, with, and in Christ Jesus with the sole purpose of pleasing God and not ourselves.

Jesus had only one human life to live in the one body that He received from the most Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the same life that He gave on the cross and the same body that was raised from the grave. He shares with us all His own cross so that, like Him, we never follow and serve Christ for our own sake. By participating in His own suffering, we also participate in that love and grace that seeks only the Father’s greater pleasure, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

When we feel weak and unable to seek to please God, when we are so focused on getting more in this life and to please ourselves, we can turn with confidence to Mother Mary. The one and only desire in her Immaculate hearts was to please God in all things with all that she had and not to please herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She never thought about what it would cost her or what was in it for her at the moment of the Annunciation, during Jesus’s infancy and ministry, during his prediction of His passion and death, on Calvary and in her days with the early Church. A confident prayer, “Mary, please help me to do (or endure) this for you,” surely kills the breath of self-seeking tendencies in us and places Jesus Christ in the center of our hearts because Mary was and is all about God and not herself.

The God-Man who shows us the way to true contentment and who alone makes it possible for us to do all for the sake of the Father comes to us in our Eucharistic celebration today. He alone can make us truly happy. He wants to make us truly happy. He comes to us with many gifts. Let us beg of Him all that we need in life for ourselves and for others. Remembering that having more gifts does not guarantee deep happiness, let us use these gifts by His grace to love and serve Him for His sake alone. This is how that deep abiding happiness will be ours in this life and in the life to come.

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

 

 

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Witnessing to The Truth and to truth: A homily for the Passion of St. John the Baptist

Witnessing to The Truth and to truth. The feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist

August 29th 2017

Catholic lay coordinator and activist, Domingo Edo, was working with the Social Action Center of the diocese of Marbel in the South Cotabato province of the southern Philippines. He was found shot dead by unknown attackers on August 22, 2017 and his companion, an altar boy, Ramil Piang, was seriously wounded. They both were on their way to conduct a bible service at the mining town of Tampakan that had been at the center of long-standing disputes between the Church-backed indigenous local communities opposing copper and gold mines in their devastated land and the government and mining companies.

Speaking of the deceased Edo, the diocese’s social action head, Father Ariel Destura, said, “Edo had been handling the diocese’s anti-mining advocacy using dialogue, and was not known to agitate tribal members against the mining company… We are saddened by the death of ‘Doming’ [Edo]. He was well-loved in the mountains and had no known enemies.”

Why was this peaceful young man murdered? He was clearly not advocating violence but seeking a path of peaceful dialogue between the warring parties that would bring justice and peace to the region. The reason is simple: he was bringing the truth of the Church’s social teaching to a world that is intolerant of truth.

Why was the fiery St. John the Baptist beheaded? He did not have troubles calling the Jewish leaders names, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee before the wrath to come?”(Mt 4:7) He was not shy to give stern warnings to conversion, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Any tree that does not bare good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”(Mt 4:10) He surely had many enemies among the Jewish hierarchy during his ministry. He was beheaded because he refused to be silent about justice and truth of marriage. He had boldly said to Herod about Herodias, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

St. Bede the Venerable brilliantly comments on the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist in today’s Office of Reading:

His persecutor (Herod) had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that He should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say, “I am the truth?” Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

Isn’t this the story of our time? We are allowed to profess and worship Christ publicly. We are allowed to speak freely of our relationship with Jesus Christ and His love for us. We are not asked outright to deny Christ. What our world simply requires of us is that we keep quiet about His truth and His teaching as found in the Holy Scriptures and as interpreted in the Church’s tradition and magisterium. It is so comfortable to speak of Jesus Christ, The Truth, and to simply ignore or dismiss His teaching on certain hot-button issues like the sanctity of every human life, sacred marriage between a man and a woman, the evil of premarital sex and artificial contraceptives, etc. Is the Eternal Truth that we profess to be Christ Jesus impotent to also teach us unchanging truths about all the aspects of our lives?

The Gospel Reading of mass on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary time this last Sunday from Mt 16:13-20 has our Lord Jesus Christ say to Peter after his (Peter’s) confession, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This reminds us of three things about being members of the Catholic Church.

First of all, Jesus Christ remains the invisible Head of the Church made of weak men and women and He is constantly building it up individually and collectively. He continuously fills His mystical body of the Church with His truth and sanctifies it with His grace and thus continuously moves us to bear witness to His divine person as well as the truths that He has revealed to us, “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”(Jn 17:19)

Secondly, this Church will always face fierce and often violent opposition no matter how mercifully we present the truth of our faith, “Because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, thee world hates you.”(Jn 15:19). Being sent into this world like “lambs amongst wolves,” (Mt 10:16), we must be ready for violent oppositions, outright contradiction and threats against us and the Church community.

Thirdly, we are assured of final victory if we never cease bearing witness to Christ, the Truth, and His saving truths, “The gates of the netherworld will not prevail.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our witness to Jesus Christ is baseless when we ignore His truths because we are afraid of confrontation with our world. No matter how we present the truths of our faith and morals, whether we are fiery or we tow the way of mercy and dialogue (much better way), we must be ready for rejection and opposition that can come in the form of violence and threats. The solution is not compromise or a cowardly appeal to so-called gray areas where we can make up our convenient “truths” that have no saving power. The solution is to follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist who consistently bore witness to both the person and words of Jesus.

As we encounter Jesus in our Eucharist today, let us put all our trust in Jesus Christ, the Truth, who was no stranger to opposition and threats from men who had hardened their hearts to His truths. When Mother Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, the aged Simeon said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Mary would also participate in the pains of this contradiction and opposition to Jesus, “And you yourself a sword will pierce.”(Lk 2:34,35) King Herod’s murderous plan, a plan to snuff out the Truth before He spoke saving words of truth, forced the Holy Family to flee for Egypt even before Jesus spoke a single word.

We bear the ever active Christ within us in this Holy Mass and have His truths written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus never ceases to build up His Church. We shall surely be victorious and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail over the Church of Christ if we give witness to both the Truth Incarnate and His saving truths even in the face of opposition and confrontation from this world.

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

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When Christ becomes real to us: A homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 13, 2017.

1Kings 19:9, 11-13; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

When Christ becomes real to us

“Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus.”

She had grown up among many siblings in her poor Bangladeshi family. She was the only one that her parents could afford to send to school with the hope that she would help the family out financially. She sensed a call to leave her job and all things to follow Jesus as a religious sister in an international community of sisters here in the Philippines. With great pains to her and to her loved ones, she received the blessing of her parents and prepared to begin her formation process. She had a motor accident on the day of her departure while on the way to the airport with her family that left her mother crippled. She still boarded the plane the next day and left for the Philippines to begin her formation for the religious life.

She narrates her vocation story with deep pains but always ends with these words, “I know that Jesus is here with me and that He will take care of my mother and family in His own way and time and more than I could ever do for them.”  How can Jesus be so real for her despite all that she had gone through in doing what she perceived as His will for her? How can Jesus be so real for us that we know with that certainty that we are never alone in the moments of life? Her story shows us that Jesus Christ becomes real for us when we are willing to take a risk or to sacrifice something dear to us just to be close to Jesus or to imitate Jesus more closely. We give God a chance to act and to reveal His veiled presence in our lives when we are willing and ready to risk something to be close to Jesus or to speak and act like Jesus has done.

Today’s Gospel passage begins with the disciples seeing Jesus Christ as a ghost walking on the troubled sea, “When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said.” But the Gospel passage ends with Jesus being so real to them that they acknowledged His divinity, “Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

But how did the disciples move from seeing Jesus as a phantom, a ghost, to Jesus being so real with them that they affirmed His own divinity? This is possible because one man, Peter, chose to take a risk and come out of the safety of his boat to journey to Jesus, to be with Him on the troubled waters and to do what Jesus was doing, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Upon Jesus’ command, “Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus.” Yes, Peter did not persevere long in walking on water but began to drown soon. He may look like a failure, one who lost his faith and succumbed to fear; but at least he gave Jesus a chance to act and to show him that He (Jesus) is so close to us and can save us in the storms, “Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” They thus ceased seeing Jesus as a ghost but Jesus became so real to them.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how real is the living Christ to each of us today? Is Jesus just a memory, like a hero of the past who has moved on and all we have are stories of Him and His saving actions? Is our Eucharist just a brief encounter with the living Christ who we think abandons us in our life situations? Are our life experiences more real to us than the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst? In short, is Jesus Christ a mere phantom or ghost to us or is He the Son of God who holds all of reality in His hands and for whom all things exist?

What are we willing to risk or to sacrifice to be more united with Christ today and to imitate Him more faithfully? Jesus Christ is inviting us out of our own comfort zone and situations to take a risk and draw closer to Him in readiness to imitate His words and actions. What are we willing to risk so as to love selflessly like Jesus? Are we ready to speak the truth in world that is ready to condemn us as bigots just like Jesus, the Truth, who suffered death at the hands of His countrymen because He revealed the Father’s love for us? Are we willing to risk losing our reputation, the approval of our acquaintances, our comforts, pleasures, etc just to be with Christ and to follow more closely in His footsteps? Jesus Christ becomes real for us only when we risk or sacrifice anything for the sake of greater unity with Christ and closer imitation of Him. This is how we allow God to act and reveal Himself to us in our daily lives.

We must never be afraid of failures when we sense Jesus inviting us to take a risk for His sake. A relative of mine once asked me this question shortly before I went to the seminary, “What would you do if you did not make it and become a priest at the end after giving up your job and all that you had achieved in life? How would you integrate back into society and continue your life after so many wasted years?” I look back now and I know that through the good and the bad moments of priestly and religious formation and ministry, I have seen that hand of Jesus reaching out to draw me out of the waters of failures, sin and sufferings. I have heard His voice booming louder over the loud winds and storms and calling me to courage and perseverance in my vocation. Like Peter, I have seen and experienced Jesus acting in my life. He is definitely no ghost to me. I thank God for the grace to take a risk to follow Him.

The Blessed Virgin Mary took a great risk when she said yes to the request of St. Gabriel at the Annunciation. She almost got herself stoned to death if St. Joseph had disowned the child Jesus. She risked and sacrificed her comfort by giving birth to Him in a manger and fleeing to Egypt with Him. She risked her life to journey with her condemned Son to Calvary and to stand with Him on Calvary, associating with Him to the very end in the face of such hatred from her own people. In all these, she waited patiently for the Resurrection of her Son because Jesus and His promise to her of the Resurrection were more real than anything she could experience. May we learn from Mary to be ready to risk and sacrifice all for the sake of Christ so that Jesus may not remain a ghost to us.

The risen Christ whom we encounter in today’s Eucharist says to each of us, “Come.” He invites us out of our comfort zones to draw closer to Him and to imitate Him closely in our world today. He invites us to pray, love God and others, serve all people, forgive all, worship God alone, bear witness to the Father etc just as He has done. It is risky and there will surely be failures on our part. But if we never cease taking risks for His sake, ready to sacrifice all just to be more united and conformed to Jesus, Jesus will never be a ghost to us but He will be so real to us that no matter what we are going through in life, we shall say to Him, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

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

 

 

 

 

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The Transfiguration and our Christian Identity: A homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of the Lord. August 6, 2017

Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pet 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

The Transfiguration and our Christian identity

I was initially confused about what to do with my life shortly after I arrived in the United States from my native country of Nigeria. I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Geophysics. My dad suggested that I go into Information Technology instead. My uncle was of the opinion that I should get an MBA and pursue a business career. My childhood friends suggested that I ignored my dad and uncle and play soccer instead because it was both profitable and more fun! They were all good options but what was I to do?

Clarity came only when I came to realize that God loved me as His Son in Jesus Christ just as I was no matter what my past has been and He had a mission for me despite my weakness. I came to embrace my priestly and religious vocation only after I realized that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, has won for me the right to be a son of God with great privileges and responsibilities. In Christ Jesus and through Christ Jesus, I have access to divine grace, mercy, forgiveness, faith, hope, love, etc., a gratuitous share in the mission of Christ as well as all that I needed to fulfill this mission.

We are usually confused about what we are to do in life because we easily focus on the issue of what to do without first answering the fundamental question, “Who am I?” Unless we first grasp our true identity in Christ, i.e. knowing who we truly are in the eyes of God, we can never know what we are called to do. When our true identity is blurred, faulty or built on shaky ground, we find ourselves both confused and weakened to act as we should act in this world.

Jesus fulfilled the mission for which the Father sent Him because He never forgot that His fundamental identity was as His Father’s only begotten Son. Being fully aware and conscious of both His rights and responsibilities as the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus knew exactly what to do at each moment of His life no matter what it cost Him or His loved ones.

When He was found in the temple at the age of twelve by His parents He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” He had no doubts about His Father’s love for Him and His union with the Father, “I and the Father are one.” He resolutely embraced the responsibilities that come with being the Father’s beloved Son, “I must complete the work of Him who sent me.” In addition, Jesus “did not seek to please Himself but the Father,” submitting to His Father’s will in His agony in the Garden, “Father, take this chalice away from me but not my will but yours be done.” On the cross, He never doubted that He was the Father’s beloved Son as He gave His last breath as an offering to the Father, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The Father repeatedly affirmed this fundamental identity of Jesus throughout His earthly life. When Jesus began His public ministry at His baptism in the Jordan, the Father exclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In today’s Gospel passage the Father again exclaimed about the transfigured Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” In both instances, the voice of the Father is not to remind Jesus that He is first and foremost the Father’s beloved Son. But this voice is primarily for us, to point us to Jesus as the source of our true identity as children of God. It is Jesus Christ alone who reveals to us our true identity as God’s beloved children, makes us truly God’s children and gives us the grace to truly live as such. Unless we learn to look at and listen to Jesus alone, we will never know our true identity as God’s beloved children, we will live our lives without faith in the rights that Christ has won for us and we will be helpless to fulfill our duties as God’s beloved children, “To those who believe in His (Jesus’) name, He has given power to become sons of God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, where do we get our sense of identity from today? Is our identity rooted in our wealth, job, achievement, fame, success, popularity, or our acceptability by others? How would each of us answer the question, “Who am I?” Are we looking to the world or to others to tell us who we really are? How sad to see many people today who would reduce their fundamental identity to their sexual orientation or to current ideologies or movements within our outside the Church. Whether we call ourselves liberals or conservatives, homosexual or straight, pro-life or pro-abortion, we must never forget our fundamental identity as God’s beloved Children in Christ. In Christ Jesus, we have access to God as His beloved children and the grace that triumphs over the devil, all sin and the grave. It is in Christ Jesus alone that we can also fulfill our responsibilities to live lives of ongoing conversion, loving God and others selflessly, seeking to please God in all things and fulfill the mission for which we were created.

One clear sign that we are truly rooted in our identity as God’s children is that we become like Jesus, constantly in touch with the continuously affirming words of the Father, “You are my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.” When we are firmly grounded on this truth as our fundamental identity, our predominant desire will be to do all things to please the Father and not ourselves. This way, nothing can stop us from fulfilling our mission in life.

If we are going to live our Christian life with conviction and overcome all confusion and weakness, we must look to Jesus Christ and Him alone and listen to His words as He speaks to us in prayer, in the Sacraments, in His written words to us, in our well-formed consciences and in the Catholic Church. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of Man takes on light.” St. Paul echoes this same message when he says to us in today’s Second Reading, “You will do well to be attentive to it (prophetic message) as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Our world is indeed a dark place because it offers us so many tempting suggestions about who we are. Our fallen human nature and the devil are constantly proposing for us false images of who are. The light continues to shine in the dark world because, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, never ceases to come to us as in today’s Eucharist to reveal Himself to us and to reveal to us who we truly are. Mary, the Mother of God, is also reminding us of our rights and duties as God’s children as she whispers in our hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”

Let us fix our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ so that we grasp deeply who we truly are as God’s beloved children even in our sins and struggles. Doing so we will find both light and strength to be and to do what God wants for us in this world and please Him by fulfilling our mission in life so that for all eternity, we will echo the words of St. Peter before the face of the transfigured Christ in today’s Gospel, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How all things can work for good: A homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 30th 2017.

1Kings 3:5,7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

 

How all things can work for our good

No one knew how a particular religious sister could connect so deeply with the abused young women in the women’s shelter being run by her religious congregation here in the Philippines. This sister could speak and act in ways that easily won the trust and openness of the wounded women in ways that not even the trained social workers could do. She was once abused physically and emotionally as a child and she had gone through a healing process that saw her experience God’s unconditional love for her so deeply. She got rid of her deep anger, forgave those who hurt her, and begged God to make her an instrument of healing to other abused women. This religious sister had allowed divine love to prevail in her heart and she had consciously chosen to live for the healing of others. Now she is an effective instrument for God’s healing to the abused and wounded women in the women’s shelter.

St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading may sound too good to be true, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” St. Paul assures us that as long as our hearts are filled with the love of God and we are ready to live for the divine purpose alone, all things, no matter how painful or difficult they may be, will surely and eventually work for our own good.

Let us reflect on the life of Jesus.  He was hounded by Herod even as an infant and forced to flee to Egypt, tempted by the devil, opposed by the religious and civil leaders, considered an enemy of the state, maligned by his enemies despite all His miracles and good deeds, denied by His close friends, betrayed by one of 12 apostles, and finally murdered in front of His Mother Mary, crucified between two thieves and buried in another person’s tomb. All these eventually worked for His good because “God raised Him up, having freed Him from death.” (Acts 2:24) All these worked for His good because Jesus’ heart was filled with the love of His Father and His only desire was to fulfill the divine purpose for which He was sent. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete His work.”(Jn 4:34)

Jesus uses parables in today’s Gospel to describe the Kingdom in today’s Gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” What type of treasure can elicit this type of radically generous response if not God’s unconditional and personal love for each and every one of us just as we are? The kingdom that Jesus proclaims and makes present is one in which we experience that love of God that we cannot merit or earn, we experience the joy of being loved just as we are and we receive the grace to respond to this love no matter the cost. We can only sell all that we have joyfully only when we are certain that all things will work for our good.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of God’s kingdom now, how firm is our faith in God’s unconditional and personal love for each of us? How easily we doubt God’s personal love for us because of our sins or our sufferings in life. We may even universalize God’s love without making it personal and concrete. When we doubt His love for us for whatever reason, we hinder that grace to respond to His love for us in the concrete moment and situation and thus we forfeit that joy that comes when all things work for our own good.

No matter what we have gone through or are going through in life today, believing in God’s love for us in those concrete moments and responding to this love for His own pleasure prepares us for that joy of seeing how all things work for our good. Let our petition for divine grace be rooted in our faith in God’s unconditional love for us and we will see how things work for our good.

This is very important especially in dealing with sins against purity. The shame that comes after such sins makes us feel unlovable and dirty. The persistent temptations and painful memories that plague us can make us doubt the efficacy of divine grace. If only we faced such temptations and painful memories with a firm faith in God’s unconditional love for each one of us, a love that we cannot merit or earn, a divine love that is ready to forgive and strengthen us for further battle, and if only we strive to respond to this love without respite no matter the number or the gravity of our failures, we open our hearts to divine grace and God will surely make our sins and failures work for our own good.

The current movement to normalize homosexual unions and to trivialize sexual relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman is a clear sign that we have lost sense of the power and meaning of the love of God offered to us in Jesus Christ. It is not a love that we can receive without making a conscious response of a complete gift of ourselves to God through others for divine purpose. It is a love that cost Him all – His entire life. He died so that our hearts may be filled with that love. It is likewise a love that moves us to sell all for the sake of belonging to Him alone i.e. it moves us to place all things under His own purpose and not for our selfish needs. How can we today be stressing divine love and mercy and ignore the wholehearted gift of self in conscious response for His purpose that this divine love demands?

As we encounter the greatest treasure i.e. the love of God offered us in Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist, let our hearts be like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary who received God’s unconditional love for her with all her being, believed in this love always and responded to this love with a complete gift of herself to God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She waited patiently as Jesus died on the Cross because she knew that all things will work for her good as long as His love reigned in her heart and His will was all that mattered to her, “Blessed is she who believed that what was promised to her would be fulfilled.”

If by the grace of this Eucharist we follow in Mary’s footsteps as she followed in Christ’s own footsteps, always believing in God’s personal and unconditional love for us and striving to respond to this love in actions that are rooted in divine purpose, all things will surely work for our good and the joy of the Lord will surely be in our hearts.

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

 

 

 

 

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