Eucharistic adoration: An open invitation to a Transfiguration experience

 

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 17, 2019

Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

 

Eucharistic adoration: An open invitation to a Transfiguration experience

I was at a weekend retreat gathering of priests and religious some years ago. One of the elderly priest- attendees remarked how times had changed. He said that many years ago when priests and religious gathered in a place, the first thing that they would ask is where the chapel was located in the building so that they could spend some moments of Eucharistic adoration. But now, when priests and religious gather together in a place, they first ask for the Wi-Fi password and the place in the house with the strongest Wi-Fi connection!

His words reminded me of how we have lost the sense of the powerful effects of Eucharistic adoration today. Eucharistic adoration remains its potency today because what happens to the disciples on the Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration of Jesus also happens to us whenever we approach the Eucharist for adoration.

The disciples followed Jesus up the high mountain unquestioningly. They did not ask, “Where are you leading us, Jesus?” In Eucharistic adoration, we approach Jesus too with that humble unquestioning faith that says, “Jesus I don’t completely understand but I believe that you are here present simply because of your word to me. I believe that you are the one drawing me into your presence. I have come to simply worship you. Please help my unbelief.”

The disciples also gazed on Christ’s humanity until the divinity of Christ pierced through that humanity for a brief moment, “His (Jesus’) face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white.” Likewise, in Eucharistic adoration, we gaze with faith continuously on the visible element of bread until the divinity pierces through that bread and gives us an inner experience of Jesus’ divinity.

This breaking out of the divinity of Christ through the visible elements during Eucharistic adoration and our inner experience of the divinity of Christ affects us in so many ways.

First, we grasp deeply God’s graciousness to us in calling us to belong to Him. We become grateful for this priceless faith that allows us to worship Him in His utter abasement in the Eucharist. We are so grateful for His choosing us to follow and to serve Him. St. Peter put it this way, “Master, it is good that we are here.” Eucharistic adoration moves us to focus more on the goodness of God that calls us rather than on the difficulties and great demands of discipleship in our world today.

Second, we are blessed with a greater zeal in serving God. St. Peter is moved to do something that truly endures for Jesus, “Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Eucharistic adoration makes us want to serve God more faithfully no matter the cost.

Thirdly, we realize our nothingness and the awe that we should have for God, “They (disciples) became frightened when they entered the cloud.” Eucharistic adoration makes us humble before God, self and others and moves us to ongoing conversion in love for God.

Fourthly, Eucharistic adoration delivers us from slavery to the things of this world, inflames our desire for the eternal life of heaven, and fills us with the certainty of hope that we will receive from God all that we need to attain eternal life. We long for the fullness of communion with Christ for all eternity.

St. Paul’s words to the Philippians could rightly be addressed to us Christians living in this age of an aggressive secularism that makes us live for this world alone, “Many conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ… Their glory is their stomach. Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like the imprisoned St. Paul, our waiting for the Savior can be painful, long, and difficult. We are not alone in this waiting because the Savior is here with us now – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, hidden behind the veils of our Church tabernacles. He is the actually the one who waits for us and draws us there to give us a glimpse of His heavenly glory and to intensify our desire for the fullness of this glory in heaven.

This intense desire for heaven helps us to overcome all fear of suffering for the sake of Christ. We cease to be “enemies of the cross of Christ” i.e. people who live only for earthly pleasure and gain. We consciously choose to live selflessly like Christ who, “For the sake of the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame.”(Heb 12:2)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, many of the pains and sufferings in our Church and world today are connected with this lack of authentic adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We are living for the here and now without serious reflection or even desire for the life to come. The clergy sexual abuse scandals is a painful example of this loss of the heavenly vision among those who have been called and consecrated to proclaim and make present the kingdom of God. Losing that impetus for ongoing conversion that comes from Eucharistic adoration, we are now moved more by materialism, careerism, and consumerism than our desire to be conformed and united to Christ here and in the life to come.

In our crass individualism, we live exclusively for ourselves. We have little or no fear for God as we willingly break His Commandments and even justify and celebrate it. We become so uncaring towards others that we have no qualms denying the unborn infants even the chance to live. Ultimately, we become slaves of things and people, addicted to created things and pleasures and losing that glorious freedom and joy that should fill our hearts as God’s children.

There is hope for each of us. We are not just waiting for the Savior. In truth, the Savior is here with us now, waiting for us in every tabernacle and exposed monstrance in our Catholic Churches. There is no need for a password and the connection is strong in every place where He is sacramentally present! He only asks us to exercise that adoring faith that we received in holy baptism and adore Him here now so that we may adore Him eternally in heaven. He is truly waiting for us now and drawing us to Himself as He did with the disciples on Mt Tabor. Let us continuously gaze on Him in the Blessed Sacrament till His divinity breaks out and touches us so that we can exclaim here now, and forever in the life to come, “Master, it is indeed good that we are here!”

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

 

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The fight of the beloved: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

 

1st Sunday of Lent. March 10, 2019.

Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

The fight of the beloved

I met John many years ago when he was hospitalized in the terminal stage of his cancer. He proudly told me how that was his fourth bout with the disease and how he had fought and won the previous battles. He vowed to fight the disease again and beat it as he had done before. When I asked how what gave him so much hope and determination to fight the cancer, he replied to me, “I do not fight for myself. I fight for my lovely young wife and two beautiful kids. I want to be there for them. It is for them that I will fight this cancer till my very last breath.”

John passed away about three months after this conversation with him but I will never forget what he thought me. He thought me that only true lovers fight to the very end and they do so for the sake of the beloved. He knew he was loved by his family and he loved them too and that mutual love gave him both hope and energy to fight a deadly disease to the very end.

Only true lovers fight till the very end. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Only true lovers – i.e. those who know they are loved by God and who are likewise truly committed to respond to that divine love in action and continuously growing in it – would fight sin and temptation to the very end of their lives. We easily lose the battle against sin when our faith in God’s love for us or our commitment to love Him back and to mature continuously in His love begin to fade.

The way that Satan tempts Jesus in today’s Gospel is exactly the same way that he tempts us into choosing sin. His first move is to make us focus exclusively on our needs or desires at the present moment. He approaches Jesus when he senses Jesus’ need for food, “Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were over He was hungry.” His second move is to make us doubt or question our relationship with God, doubt God’s goodness to us and His willingness and ability to meet all our needs and desires. He phrases his temptation thus, “If you are the son of God…” This is the devil’s two-move tactic that has always succeeded in bringing us down.

Jesus fought these temptations to the very end because He was a Lover. He knows that He is loved and accepted by the Father even in His temptations and trials. The affirming words of His Father to Him at the baptism of the Jordan is forever alive and fresh in His heart, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He knows He is hungry but His greatest hunger is to respond to the Father’s love and to prove His love for Him in action in the moments of temptation and thus grow in this love. Jesus was not contented to just receive baptism in the Jordan and send His Father into ecstatic joy over Him; He was also ready to advance in His love to the point of receiving the “baptism” of His crucifixion and death to please the Father greatly by bringing salvation to us.

St. Paul states that if we truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then God has brought into a saving relationship with Him in Christ Jesus and we have the divine assurance that “no one who believes in Him will be put to shame.” Jesus Christ fought and conquered sin and death for us. So if the devil is putting us to shame today over and over again by leading us into every possible sin and leaving us completely hopeless in the struggle, then we need to stop and ask ourselves how deep is our commitment to love God back and to grow continuously in this love. It is only when we become true lovers who are committed to growing in our love for God that we can become the fighters who will fight sin and temptation to the very end no matter the wounds and failures of the past.

So how firm is our faith in God’s love for us even as we face intense and unremitting temptations? Is our commitment to love God back and to grow in this love evident in our willingness to listen to God alone and to believe in His words and promises? Are we committed to trust God to supply our needs and desires according to His will? How ready are we to put aside our own will and desires for the moment and to obey His will knowing that He always wills the best for us? Are we ready to pay the price of following Jesus wherever He leads us and to do all to please Him and not ourselves? It all begins in experiencing that divine love and remaining in it because we will only listen to, trust, obey, follow, and strive to please the one that we know truly loves us.

One concrete way that we can experience, respond and grow in our love for God is to mature first of all in our prayer life. Many of us approach prayer in a very childish way, simply seeking to meet our desires and wants in life. We reduce prayer to merely petitioning God for all our spiritual and material needs for ourselves and for others. We judge the efficacy of our prayers by the visible results forgetting that prayer is first of all a love relationship. We should pray because we know that we are loved by God and we have a desire to deepen our communion with Him and to grow in that love because that is the only thing that will ever satisfy us.

The devil is leading us astray by making us fixate only on our real and imaginary needs and by doubting God’s love for us and His desire and power to fulfill us completely. How can we reply to the Devil’s temptation like Jesus, “One does not live on bread alone,” when our prayer life is completely focused on attaining what we want and desire without any movement towards greater fidelity to God’s love for us? Like Jesus, we too must learn to pray always because we are loved and we want to respond to that love whether our needs and desires are met or not.

Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” and He was “led by the Spirit into the desert.” This is the Spirit of love and prayer, the One who “helps us in our prayer because we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) When our prayer goes beyond merely seeking to meet our needs, this Spirit is awakened in us, we grasp the reality of divine love for us, and we know we can depend on this love even if our needs are met or not. This is what makes us true lovers of God, intent in maturing in our love for God.

Divine love is once again made present to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Spirit of prayer is infused in us as Jesus offers us His own body and blood, soul and divinity. We are indeed the beloved of God even as we face the devil’s fiercest and most unrelenting temptations of our lives as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ. Let us strive to respond to this love in action and grow in it and we will become true lovers of God and do what lovers do best – fight sins and temptations till our very last breath for the sake of the Beloved Son who fought, died, and rose for us.

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

 

 

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Embracing Christ’s mission today: A homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. January 27, 2019.
Neh 8:2-4,5-6,8-10; 1Cor 12:12-14, 27; Lk 1:1-4, 14-21

Embracing Christ’s mission today
I was staying with a group of religious nuns in their convent in the Philippines while guiding them on an 8 days silent retreat. Taking a walk one evening I had a conversion with a lady who happened to be living close to the convent. When I told her that I was guiding the sisters on a retreat, she responded, “Stay away from those sisters. They are no good.” She then proceeded to speak of all the negative things she had heard about the sisters.
I asked her if she had ever approached any of the sisters to hear their own side of these negative stories. I asked if she had at least written them an anonymous letter to inform them of what she had heard and how disturbed she was about it. I asked if she had ever offered to the sisters a hint to remedy the evil that she had heard about them. Her response to all these my questions was, “No.” She claimed that she did not want to get involved in their affairs but she had knowingly or unknowingly become a propagator of the evil that she heard.
We can easily do something similar when we hear, see or experience evil in our world today. We accuse, blame, condemn, or castigate others without even asking ourselves what is the good that we must do in the face of such evils. We thus allow ourselves to be overcome by evil and become its propagators.
Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us a different attitude towards evil. He is the Eternal Word who willingly “leapt down from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed.”(Wis 18:15) Today’s Gospel shows Him “returning to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,” the Spirit of divine goodness that stoops low into human mystery so as to bring good to humanity for the greater glory of God. He is anointed by this Spirit not for Himself but for the good of humanity in the throes of an evil world, “To bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” He does all this for the sake of the Father’s glory, “To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Was the goodness of Jesus appreciated by the recipients? Did He receive appropriate recompense for the good that He did and the evils that He endured. No; even His Nazareth folk, after hearing these gracious words of divine goodness from His lips, would eventually reject Him and “lead Him to the brow of the hill to hurl Him down headlong.”(Lk 4:29) But Jesus would remain faithful to His mission to the very end, until He would experience the greatest evil of deicide on the cross so that He may win for us forgiveness from sin and adoption as children of God. In both life and death, evil stopped with Christ and divine goodness triumphed and overflowed to bring divine benefit towards those who were completely unworthy of it.
Before we attempt to excuse ourselves from following in Christ’s footsteps because we are not Christ, let us ponder the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”(1Cor 12:14) We too have that Spirit of divine goodness by which evil is to end with us and we are to overcome evil by doing good for others for the greater glory of God. This means that we are called and gifted to make present Christ’s own mission in this world.
We become propagators of evil in this world because this Spirit of goodness that we received in baptism is dormant in us. We have failed to do what St. Paul exhorted St. Timothy to do i.e. to “stir into flame the gift of God (Spirit)… For God did not give us a Spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”(2Tim 1:6-7) We can stir up the Spirit of God in two ways:
First, let us read, reflect, and meditate deeply on the word of God as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We are told that the priest Ezra “read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.” The response of the returning exiles to this authoritative reading and interpretation of the God’s laws was not just sentimental, “weeping as they heard the words of the law.” They also responded by recommitting themselves to the follow the law of God.
Likewise if we too are going to allow the Spirit of goodness overcome the evils of our times, we must know the truth and believe in the truth alone and wholeheartedly, refusing to succumb to the many deviant personal interpretations of scriptures that we have in our day and time. Partly due to our fallen nature that moves us to believe only what is according to our taste and lifestyle, everyone can read the Scriptures but not everyone can give an authoritative faithful interpretation. We need to be guided by the Church’s Magisterium in this regard so that the truths believed can awaken the Spirit of goodness within us.
Secondly, we must foster a deep and true devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. It is in Mary and through her faithful and loving response to the Angel Gabriel that the Spirit of goodness formed the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in her womb and thus initiated God’s definitive defeat of evil in our times. She believed and responded to the Angel’s words, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
By the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in her womb, Mary teaches us that our first response to the evil of our times is neither silence nor activism but complete openness to the Spirit of God within us and a recommitment to Jesus Christ, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord be it be done to me according to your word.” By being truly devoted to Mary, she helps us today to be completely open and docile to the Spirit of goodness within us and to constantly renew and live out our commitment to Jesus Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too face the reality of evil and sin in our times. A few days ago, the governor and law makers of the state of New York decided to extend abortion right to even after birth, denying the infant the right to life even after surviving an abortion. This weekend, Islamic terrorists blew up faithful Catholics worshipping in a Cathedral during Sunday Mass in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. In the Catholic Church, we have revered clergy and ministers being credibly accused of sexually abusing children and seminarians for many years and covering up their abominable crimes.
What should we do? It is easy to paddle the stories. It is easy to call names. It is easy to vent on social media. It is even easy to lose our faith and to refuse to embrace the challenges of the time because we feel that we cannot make a difference. Let us remember that we are called and gifted to perpetuate Christ’s mission on earth: to overcome evil by the Spirit of goodness in us and bring true benefit to others for God’s own sake.
More than ever, let us embrace Jesus most closely as we encounter Him in our Eucharist today so that we will share more fully in His Spirit of divine goodness. With this Spirit present and alive in us, we can perpetuate His mission in our world and refuse to be propagators of evil. This is the way that evil will end with us and divine goodness will overflow to others through us for the sake of the God who has lovingly bestowed on His own Spirit of goodness.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Let the magi teach us true worship of Jesus – A homily for the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany

Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany. January 6, 2019.

Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Let the magi teach us true worship of Jesus

“We have come to do Him homage.”

From my days in the seminary up to this very day I have heard a myriad of questions in debates about the magi in today’s Gospel. The debates have been phrased in statements and questions like these: “Are the magi really kings? Are they astrologers? Maybe they were merely interpreters of dreams. Were there really only three of them? Is it possible that there were two or maybe four of them who brought three gifts? Maybe they were just some cultic personalities or magicians who practiced occult magic. Are they Persian priests? Maybe they were scientists and thus were called wise men. What are their real names?” The debate is endless.

All these unnecessary discussions about the magi can blur the beautiful invitation behind the reality of the manifestation of the Word made flesh. The message of the Lord’s epiphany is this: The birth of Jesus signifies that this is the time for all people to worship God alone with all that we have.

All people, from all times and places, saints and sinners, Jews and non-Jews, can now worship God in and through Jesus Christ. All that God promises all of humanity in every place and time is fulfilled in Jesus Christ because in Him, God has made Himself accessible to all people, non-Jews included, “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The magi, sensing this accessibility of the divine to all in the newborn Christ, were undeterred by their being foreigners or non-Jews and came searching for the “newborn king of the Jews,” even as Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled by their mission. We can learn from the magi to draw closer to the heart of Jesus even when we feel so distant from Him and unworthy of His love for us. We do not need to pretend to be different from who we really are but we come to Him as we are. In Jesus Christ, all people can belong to God and worship Him today.

The magi followed the star till they came to worship the newborn king alone. They did not worship the unique star but followed the star. Neither did they worship the troubled king Herod, but they kept their special gift of homage intact till they met the infant Jesus, “They opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” We can learn from the magi not to worship God’s gifts but to use them to draw closer to God, the giver of all gifts. We can also learn from the magi not to offer to other persons or creatures the worship and adoration that we owe to God alone.

We can also learn from the magi to keep our treasures intact, offer them in sincere worship to God and then leave them at His feet. The magi offered and left their precious gifts before the crib. Don’t we offer ourselves to God and then begin to take it back little by little? Don’t we offer ourselves to God and then still continue to worry about our lives? I was reminded of this tendency of ours in my cousin’s Christmas text message: “Why do we give our lives to Jesus and then spend our lives worrying about the same life that we have offered to Him?” The magi teach us to offer all that we have to God and leave it in His hands.

Lastly, the magi, after paying homage to the infant, “departed for their country by another way.” Their return route was different from their arrival route. The magi teach us that our lives will be changed if we approach Jesus in worship with the right attitude. Authentic worship will surely change us, instilling in us God’s desires for us and a complete change in our priorities. As we allow Jesus to draw us to Him through His gifts without us worshiping His gifts, He will surely begin to lead us in life along the path of His own thinking and acting.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we face a very fierce challenge in our secular world today to worship God alone and to draw closer to Him through the gifts that He offers to us. It is so easy for us to worship the gifts that we have received from Him, inordinately pursuing and accumulating them, futilely depending on them to bring us fulfillment and happiness. We begin to feel alienated from God because of our sins or struggles in life. We claim to offer our lives to God but we consciously or unconsciously take back our self-offering to God, living in endless worry as if God never claimed us for His own in baptism through the precious blood of Jesus.

The magi will always remain mysterious to us. We will surely never know who they are. But we can learn from them the way to approach Jesus in our Eucharistic worship today with the right attitude. Jesus is present so that we all have access to God for the sake of that authentic worship of God that changes us from within. He is the One “through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing in glory of God.”(Rom 5:2) If our attitude is anything like that of the enigmatic magi, Jesus will surely begin to lead us interiorly in this dark world and our lives will never be the same again.

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

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Becoming Jesus’ beloved disciples today: A homily for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist

Feast of St. John the Evangelist. December 27, 2018.

1Jn 1:1-4; Jn 20:1,2-8

Becoming Jesus’ beloved disciples today

St. John the Evangelist refers to himself in his Gospel and Epistles as the “beloved disciple” or the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” His way of self-reference and his very way of life gives us valuable insights into how we too can rightly take our place as Jesus’ beloved disciple today.

Here are some ways in which we can learn from him and become beloved disciples of Jesus today:

First, be more focused on God’s love for us rather than our fidelity to God. For St. John, God is the Lover, and he is the beloved who experiences and receives divine love; he saw God as the one who loves first and initiates the love relationship, “For God is love… In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”(1Jn 4:8,10)” We cannot be Jesus’ beloved disciples when we have not fully accepted His love for us as something that we can neither merit nor earn. We also cannot be His beloved disciples when our focus is on our personal sanctity, achievements, or successes in the spiritual life or apostolate instead of being grounded first and foremost on His constant love for us irrespective of our faithfulness or lack thereof.

Secondly, Jesus’ beloved disciples trust in Him completely that they are ready to detach themselves from everything and person for His sake. The beloved disciple trusted Jesus completely even before he saw any miracle; he was ready and willing to leave all things to follow Him, “They (James and John) left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed Him.”(Mk 1:20) As His beloved disciples, we must have radical trust in Him and not in ourselves, persons or created things.

Thirdly, we become Jesus’ beloved disciple when we strive to make Christ known to others even at great personal risks. Saints John and Peter were not cowed by the threats of the Jewish elders and scribes who warned them not to speak about Jesus. They Apostles replied, “For we cannot but speak of what we have heard and seen.”(Acts 4:20) The beloved disciple was willing to be exiled by Emperor Domitian to Patmos as the price for proclaiming Christ. We too as beloved disciples cannot be satisfied with a “me-and-my-personal-Jesus-alone” spirituality that completely neglects others who do not know Jesus or His teaching.

Fourthly, we are Jesus’ beloved disciples when we strive to bring others into communion with Him without any form of discrimination against them. St. John writes, “What we have heard and seen we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” With deep conviction that Jesus has loved and accepted them just as they are, Jesus’ beloved disciples have no time for rivalry or to exclude others from participating in that communion with God in Jesus Christ. On the contrary, they are moved by that gift of divine love to invite all people to communion with God in their community of faith by their words and actions. Truly beloved disciples find their joy primarily in pursuing deeper communion with God for themselves and for others, “We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.”

Fifthly, Jesus’ beloved disciples know that His love for them is often mediated to them mysteriously through people. The beloved disciple saw divine love being offered to him through the mediation of Mary as Jesus was dying on the cross on Calvary and spoke to him, “Son, Behold your mother.” He saw in Mary another gift of divine love to Him. What a blessing of divine love to be given the Mother of God as your own mother? On her part, Mary will share with the beloved disciple her own victorious faith that never doubted what the Angel Gabriel said to her at the Annunciation, “Mary, you have found favor with God.”

Lastly, beloved disciples of Jesus are quick to believe what is revealed to them by God in and through life events. Seeing an empty tomb with burial clothes, St. John “saw and believed.” Love was mediated to him through this event just as it was offered to him through Mary at Calvary. As beloved disciples of Jesus, we know that we can trust Him not to deceive us or lead us astray, but to reveal Himself and His will to us. This allows us to quickly embrace and hold on to His words and promises.

Why is it important that we become Jesus’ beloved disciples today? We look at ourselves and we see our own sins, the scandalous sins of our clergy and hierarchy in the Church and we wonder if we are truly Jesus’ beloved disciples today. We easily place our trust in creatures. We become so attached to persons and things that we become reluctant to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. We see many forms of Christian persecution today that compel us to keep our faith in Jesus as a purely private affair and inadmissible in public discourse. We see so many cases of discrimination and violence against the most vulnerable and helpless infants in the womb of their mothers as they are denied the right to life. We need hearts that are filled with love enough to recognize the gift of divine love that is being offered to us through people and events, often unlikely and difficult people and painful events. We see around us a tendency to doubt or question God’s revealed will and plan for us. It is so easy for us to seek for joy in earthly things and not in that fullness of communion with God that we are called to.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are already the beloved disciples for whom Christ died on the cross. We are already His beloved disciples through baptism that makes us God’s own children, beneficiaries of His unconditional love. We are already the beloved disciples who have the great privilege of resting our heads close to the heart of Jesus in the Eucharist that we celebrate today just as St. John did at the Last Supper. We are already the beloved disciples who have also received Mary as our own mother too. All that we need to do is to follow the example of St. John the Evangelist and take Mary as our mother too and allow her to help us live our lives today as Jesus’ truly beloved disciples so that our joy too may be complete.

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

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Entering into the true Christmas joy: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent. December 16, 2018.

Zeph 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

Entering into the true Christmas joy

“Teacher, what should we do?”

It is that time of the year when we are easily focused on receiving and giving gifts from others that we easily fall for the oldest lie in the books: The more we get, the more joy that we will have in life. Knowingly or unknowingly, we believe and live by this lie, constantly searching for more, and convincing ourselves that we must have better, more beautiful, more efficient, and more up-to-date things. We lose all our inner peace and joy because the more we get, the more we want. We say to ourselves, “One more thing… one more pleasure…one more relationship,” but we never really pause and ask ourselves, “How much is truly enough?”

The words of St. Paul in the season of Advent serves to bring us back to our senses about the true source of joy. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He is exhorting his brethren to find their joy in the Lord always even as he himself is suffering in his prison cell. The prison chains cannot quench his inner joy in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. He reminds them and us that our joy cannot be found in acquiring and enjoying more and more things in this life but in the Lord Jesus.

But what does he mean by “rejoice in the Lord always?” We rejoice in the first place because “the Lord is near.” Our reconciliation with God is the very first step to enter into this joy. Secondly, we have this joy when our lives show that we have been reconciled with God, “Your kindness should be known to all.” Our path to deep abiding joy is reconciliation with God received and reconciliation with God evident in constant action.

St. John the Baptist is asked by those who had received his baptism, “Teacher, what should we do?” They are not satisfied with being only reconciled with God but they are moved from within to ask how they are to show that they have been reconciled with God. St. John proceeds to teach them to show their reconciliation with God by concrete actions and not by accumulating and enjoying the things of this world, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none…Stop collecting more than what is prescribed…Do not practice extortion but be satisfied with your wages.”

St. John at this point is very famous and successful as he gathers a large crowd to himself. The people even mistake him for the messiah! He does not seek for joy by becoming more famous or successful but he points to Jesus Christ as the one who “baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit reconciles us with God, cleanses us of our sins and makes us God’s own children; the Spirit’s fire of divine love serves to move us to show this reconciliation with God by constant action that seeks only the greater glory of God and the good of souls. We thus can rejoice in the Lord always because we have the joy of the Spirit of Jesus in us.

For a moment this Christmas season, let us look closely at any Nativity set or picture with the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph in the manger. Look closely at the baby Jesus. I have never seen a figure of the infant Jesus laying down on his back with His arms crossed or on his sides. No, the baby Jesus is always portrayed with arms wide open and lifted up to us with a smile on His face, beckoning us to come to Him and to be completely reconciled with Him. These arms remained wide open to us throughout His earthly life. They remained painfully open to us as He endured those excruciating dying pains on the cross.  His arms still remain open silently to us today in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we are truly reconciled with Him no matter our past sins or failings. The constant message of His open arms to us are summed up in His words, “No one who comes to me will I ever reject.”(Jn 6:37) This is the reality behind the true Christmas joy – we can and should be reconciled with God today and receive the grace to show it by our actions.

Once we are reconciled with Christ, we know that we can depend on His love for us in all our needs. We begin to be set free from the desire to accumulate and possess the things of this world for ourselves. We begin to place all our hope in Jesus and we are no longer slaves of that desire for one more thing, one more pleasure, one more success, one more fame, etc. The Spirit that reconciles us with God also moves us out of ourselves in loving service of God and neighbors.

But receiving this reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ is not enough. We must be willing to ask Him also, “Teacher, what must I do?” We ask Him, “How can I show by my actions that I have truly been reconciled with you?” Maybe He will move us to forgive someone who has hurt us this Christmas, or pray more, or be more patient, or serve others, or trust Him more in some circumstances of our lives, etc. We will enter into His own joy the moment that we choose to respond to His invitation.

Let us turn to our Mother Mary. Praying the Rosary with devotion this Advent allows Mary to teach us how to live as people reconciled with God. She who sang in her Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” will lovingly and patiently teach and help us to seek for joy in the Lord always and not in endlessly pursuing created things or pleasures. She who said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” will readily teach us how to respond in action to the movement of divine grace in our hearts at each moment no matter what it will cost us. She who said to the servants at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you,” will surely help us to live under the Lordship of Christ and not as hopeless slaves of creatures.

Jesus Christ comes with the Holy Spirit and with fire in today’s Eucharist to deepen our reconciliation with Him and to give us what we need to live reconciled with Him. Let us receive this reconciliation often. Let us not forget to ask Him honestly, “Teacher, what must I do?” He will surely answer us and enlighten us on how we are to live as His children reconciled to Him by His precious blood. With the help of Mary, the Cause of our joy, we can accept and respond to His invitation so that His peace and joy remains in our hearts always.

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

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Gifted to be Christ’s witnesses today: A homilyfor the 2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent. December 9, 2018.

Baruch 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6,8-11; Lk 3:1-6

Gifted to be Christ’s witnesses today

 Here are three separate scenarios I encountered recently: A devout Filipina Catholic lamented to me, “I am really troubled because Philippines’ President Duterte’s does not like us Catholics and Catholicism. His recent rants show that he has nothing but hatred and contempt for the Catholic Church, its bishops and priests, and its teachings.” Secondly, an elderly man who was active in his parish chose to abandon his parish for another one close by because he felt that his parish priest and his pastoral council did not like him or appreciate his hard work for the parish all these years. Lastly, a newly ordained religious priest is about to abandon his community because he believes that the other brother-priests dislike him.

I felt their pain at not being liked or appreciated. It is natural to want to be liked and accepted by others. But are we not setting up ourselves for unnecessary and useless suffering when we expect all people to like us and to accept us all the time? Is it part of our mission as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ to win the acceptance and esteem of others? More importantly, does Jesus give us His gifts so that all people accept and like us all the time? Aren’t we today taking lightly Jesus’ assurance that “we will be hated by all because of His name?”(Mt 10:22)

Jesus Himself shows us that He bestows gifts on us so that we belong to Him and that we give witness to Him whether others like us or not, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good work and give glory to your heavenly Father.”(Mt 5:16) St Paul adds, “It is not ourselves that we preach but Christ Jesus as Lord.”(2Cor 4:5) We cannot have His gifts and then be contending with Him for the glory that is due to Him alone from all people.

We are told that “the word of God came to John the son of Zachariah in the desert,” and he “went throughout the region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “all flesh may see the salvation of God.” John did not use the gift of the divine word he received to win the esteem and affection of the people but He used this powerful word to help them recognize the coming Messiah. He called them to repentance by the power of this word because sin blinds us to the presence and action of God in our lives. Those who received his baptism of repentance were disposed to recognize Jesus when He began His public ministry but those who refused John’s baptism or received it with the wrong disposition could not recognize Jesus despite His own powerful words and miracles.

Clearly John the Baptist, his message, and his style were despised and hated by many. He was clearly not a fashionable figure. The Pharisees and religious leaders questioned his authority, accusing him of being “possessed by a demon”(Lk 7:33) Herodias hated him and wanted to kill him because he had the courage to tell King Herod the truth that it was wrong for Herod to have her as his wife while her husband, his brother, Philip, was still alive. Herod was willing to murder John in prison to save his own face.

John’s fidelity in proclaiming Christ no matter the cost and in the face of so much dislike from others towards him disposed him to recognize Christ, His exalted dignity, and his (John’s) own unworthiness when Jesus came to receive baptism from Him, “It is I who should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.”(Mt 3:14) We too can recognize Christ and His grandeur in our lives to the extent that we make use of all His gifts to give Him glory and make Him better known and loved, instead of trying to win the liking and acceptance of others all the time.

From the moment of baptism, we are the lamps which Christ has lit with His grace and truth and placed in this world for His own glory alone. It is not possible that, bearing this light into the world, we will be liked and accepted by all people always. If we are liked by everyone all the time, and all people speak only glowingly about us, then there is something seriously wrong with us! Jesus put it this way, “What is of human esteem is abominable before God.”(Lk 16:15)

As God’s people gifted by Him to be His witnesses in this world, we owe this world only three things whether we are liked or not. Trying to go beyond these three things so as to win the liking of others is a waste of time and energy.

First, we owe all people our undying love. We love them and desire their good, praying intensely for them and readily making any sacrifice for their eternal and temporal good. Our prayers and sacrifices obtain for them the divine grace that alone can open their hearts to the transforming power of divine love.

Secondly, we owe them good examples of Christian life and the joy that it brings. We are to show them what it means to really live a life of ongoing conversion, holiness, service, selfless charity towards all, and fidelity to God’s commandments and our commitments to each other. This is making present the ever liberating example of Jesus in every age and time.

Thirdly, we owe them the truth of God’s word. We do not proclaim our convenient opinion because it has no power at all to enlighten minds or to change hearts. We speak the words that Jesus has spoken to us in the Church and in the silence of our hearts, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.”(Mt 10:27)

St. Paul was not a stranger to being disliked but he still offered this beautiful prayer for the Philippians from his prison cell, I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you…And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” What an example of universal undying love that prays for all people that they may know and love God more? What an example of fidelity to Christ and joyful living even in the midst of suffering and pain? What an example of one who speaks the truth that He has received from God whether he is liked or not? Can we ever doubt that the Apostle Paul was deeply conscious of Christ’s abiding presence with him even in prison?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare for the coming of Christ in this Advent season, may we not be blind to His abiding presence with us in the present moment. Despite His presence with us, we feel abandoned by Him when we fail to use His gifts to give witness to Him. We question and doubt His loving presence with us because we are so fixated on winning the esteem and acceptance of others with His gifts. We can recognize His abiding presence when we are rooted in our mission to be His witnesses in the world today, helping others to recognize His hidden presence with us now, love Him more, and thus long intensely for His glorious return.

Our Eucharist is always an encounter with the grace of Christ through communion with His blood. What are we going to do with this gift of His blood today? Are we going to still try and win the liking of others? Or are we going to use this gift to become ever more faithful witnesses of His who love all people, show them good examples and courageously share with them the saving truths of the gospel? Whether we are liked or not, our choice to be Jesus’ faithful witnesses will surely open our eyes to see that the God who always comes to save us is truly with us today.

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

 

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