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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Our striving for holiness in the Advent Season: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent. December 2, 2018.

Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36

Our striving for holiness in the Advent Season

St. Teresa of Calcutta was once asked about her sanctity and how she attained such heights of holiness. She replied, “Holiness is not the privilege of a few but a calling to all.”

Reflecting on all our past sins and failures, our inability to rise above some spiritual or personal problems in our lives, our repeated failures, our dread of the challenges ahead for us, and the feeling of discouragement that constantly knocks on our hearts, the words of this saint about us all being called to holiness may appear as something impossible for us. We ask ourselves doubtfully, “Can I be holy after all my sins and failures in life?”

The truth remains that we are all called to holiness, holiness is not impossible, and we all can be holy no matter our sins and failings of the past, the challenges ahead for us, or the painful memories of our failures. We can still be holy because holiness is not something that we do or achieve or what others confer on us. Holiness is first and foremost what God does in us and how we freely respond to the effects of God’s actions in our lives.

 As we begin this holy season of Advent, we read how St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians to prepare for the “coming our Lord with all His holy ones” by their striving for holiness. But this holiness is not something that they are to achieve by their own effort but primarily it is allowing the love of God to take root first in their hearts. It is this love of God that strengthens our hearts for holiness, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father.” Holiness becomes a reality for us when we allow this divine love to strengthen our hearts to the point that we respond by “conducting ourselves to please God in all things.”

We are all destined by God to reach a certain degree of holiness in this life based on our gifts that God has bestowed on us. By divine grace, all our circumstances in life, all our life experiences, and, of course, God’s enduring love for each and every  one of us at each and every moment of our lives, are the means by which God brings us to the degree of holiness that we are created for. The more we are faithful in striving and attaining the degree of sanctity that God has willed for each of us, receiving and responding to divine love with actions aimed at pleasing God alone, the more that we experience that inner strength that comes from an invincible hope in the life to come.

Jesus describes in today’s Gospel the two responses to the distressing and troubling signs that will accompany His return in glory. There will be those who, seeing these signs, will “die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” These are those who, during their earthly life, took divine love for granted, who did not respond in consistent action to the movement of divine grace and thus whose hearts lacked the spiritual strength needed to face those dreadful moments. Ignoring the call to holiness and settling for mediocrity and even sin, rejecting or being complacent towards the divine love that makes holiness possible, they are hopelessly paralyzed by fear.

Then there will be those who have let divine love strengthen and purify their heart for holiness. Constantly striving for holiness, they are filled with so much hope that they will look beyond the signs of the coming disasters, and they will “stand erect and raise their heads because their redemption is at hand.” They are so filled with divine love and so intent on continuously responding to this love to the point that “this perfect love has cast out all fear.”(1Jn 4:18)

My dear brothers and sisters, which of these two groups are we going to belong to? If we are living in fear of the glorious return of Christ, then we must stop and ask ourselves if we are striving for the degree of holiness that God is calling us today. Are we receiving and treasuring the gift of divine love for us all or are we doubting or questioning this love for us based on our past sins and failures, present struggles, or future challenges? Are we constantly receiving the merciful love of Jesus that heals us of our sins in the Sacrament of Confession? Are we receiving the love of Jesus that transforms and strengthens us in the Eucharist?

Secondly, how consistently are we striving to respond to this love? Responding to divine love means seeking to do and endure all things so as to please Him and not ourselves. All things – our live of prayer, relationships, work, service, worship, and even our striving for holiness – should be done primarily to please God. Our holiness demands our striving to please God alone because “God is (truly) at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”(Phil 2:13)

Jesus warns us that His return in glory will be a day that will “assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” He does not want us to live in fear of that day but to be courageous through a life of vigilance and prayer, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength … to stand before the Son of Man?” Our reception of divine love and our own response begins with an intense life of prayer, a prayer in which we encounter the only Holy One, listen to His words, experience His love for us, repent of our sins, and begin again the journey to holiness no matter the past failures.

Jesus is the God who remains with us always, the God of the continuous Advent, who always comes to us with the gift of His love to prepare us for His second and glorious return when He will come to judge both the living and the dead. He offers us in today’s Eucharist the only thing that makes us holy – His love for us so that we begin again and persevere in personal holiness. Let us renew in this Advent season our journey to holiness so that our hearts are strong enough – strong enough to overcome all things in this life and, at the end of time, strong enough to also “stand before the Son of Man.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Giving all from our poverty: A homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 11, 2018.

1Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44

 

Giving all from our poverty

“But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

 I was asked some years ago to give a 3-days retreat to some priests and religious of a religious community. I arrived at the venue only to realize that they had been on retreat already for two days earlier and their retreat director for those two days was a prominent Bishop here in the Philippines. I experienced that familiar feeling of being insufficient and unqualified to complete a retreat began by this other renowned and revered Bishop, theologian, and retreat master.

The only thing that gave me hope and strength at that time was this story of the widow’s mite of today’s Gospel (Mk 12:38-44). As she observed the many who “put in large sums,” she rejected all feelings of insufficiency but confidently and silently gave her “two small coins worth a few cents.” Her offering was obviously unnoticed to everyone else except to Jesus who commended her and held her up as an example for all His disciples, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” I knew for sure that I too would win Jesus’ commendation if I gave all that I had no matter how little it may be or what may result from it.

But why does this widow draw such praise from Jesus? She wins Jesus’ commendation because Jesus does not look so much at how much is given but He focuses on the heart behind the giving. Jesus is more interested in the generosity of her heart, her heartfelt trust in God to provide for her in her poverty, and the silent giving that the widow exhibits more than the actual money that she put into the treasury, “But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Nothing can stop her from giving to God – not the death of her husband, her poverty, her home that may have been devoured by the scribes or her lack of status in the society of her time. Jesus could not help but notice such decisive and generous giving on her part.

Contrast this commendation of the widow with the condemnation that the scribes received from Jesus. The scribes are not condemned because they liked “long robes,” “seats of honor in synagogues,” and “places of honor at banquets.” They are deserving of a “severe condemnation” because, in pursuing these things, their hearts became far from what God expected from them. They had no problem taking what belonged to others to the point of “devouring the houses of (helpless) widows,” and their prayer lacked any authentic relationship with God, “As a pretext, they recite empty prayers.”

The widow in 1Kgs 17:10-16 shows us how God notices and rewards the little things that we do from our hearts that are aligned with His will for us. The widow uses the little that she had left, “a handful of flour in her jar and a little oil in her jug,” to make a little cake for Elijah the prophet. She had a heart obedient to God and trusting in His promises, “For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” By her generous obedience to the stranger’s request from God, she gained more than she could ever imagine.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have in us things that remind us of our poverty, things that cause us to think of ourselves as insignificant or incapable of making an impact in the Church and in the world today. Our sense of poverty becomes magnified when we compare our little talents and efforts with all the good that others have and are achieving in life.

The moments when our poverty become evident, making us feel insufficient, inadequate or incompetent, are moments when Jesus is inviting us to give all out of our poverty for His own sake and take whatever may result from giving all. These are not moments to become discouraged or despondent, simply wishing that we had all things together first. It is also not a time to pretend that we are self-sufficient and perfectly suited to the tasks. But these are moments when Jesus is inviting us to show Him the faith, hope, and love that He has poured into our hearts by the gift of His Spirit. He would surely commend us for our positive response to His invitation to give all for His sake no matter how little we have.

The Gospel message calls us to offer our whole selves to God and trust God to repay us. St. Paul states it this way: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well that you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.”(Col 3:23-24)

Mama Mary was the first person to receive and respond to the Gospel’s invitation to give all for the sake of Jesus from her own poverty. Asked to be the Virgin-Mother of the God-Man Jesus Christ, she humbly acknowledged her poverty before the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be since I am have no husband?” But she showed her faith-filled heart by giving all of herself to God in a way that we could never even fathom, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” God greatly delighted in her offering to the point that He became man and came to us in and through Mary’s complete self-offering in faith.

Jesus chose to show us how to embrace our own poverty by becoming a slave of love in the womb of Mary, completely depending on Mary for everything that He needed. Mary on her part learned from Jesus to offer all of herself to Jesus from her own poverty, a poverty that would lead her to stand at the foot of the cross on Calvary, completely unable to change the course of those painful events. Not many appreciated her offering then and many today do not even acknowledge her; but Jesus notices and rewards her for everything that she did and endured for Him.

When the sense of our poverty seems to overwhelm us, when we feel that we do not have what it takes to respond to God’s call, when we feel like others are more gifted than we are, when we feel insignificant and useless, when we feel that we cannot make any difference with what we have, when we feel like nobody notices our appreciates our efforts, we should also do what Jesus did – enter into the womb of Mary and depend on her as her slaves of love. She will surely help us to do what she did so perfectly – offer all from our poverty for the sake of Christ alone, knowing that He looks more at the heart behind the giving rather than the gift itself. He notices all and He will surely reward us with His words of eternal commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy.”(Mt 25:23)

 

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

 

 

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Why we must drink the cup of Jesus today: A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 21, 2018.

Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45

Why we must drink the cup of Jesus today

Have you ever had the thought of quitting on some inspired goal? Maybe you have been trying to practice a particular virtue or overcome a vice? Maybe you have been trying to meet some set spiritual goal or accomplish a project that you sense God has inspired in you. Maybe you have been trying to reach out to a loved one who never seems to reciprocate your love? The desire to quit becomes stronger when the effort just seems too much, the obstacles appear insurmountable, and the results inadequate.

The truth is that if we quit doing something truly good for whatever reason, then it is all about us and has nothing to do with the love that we should have for God. Quitting such activities shows that we never had God as the origin and center of such activities. In short, we were never acting to please God.

The Zebedee brothers approached Jesus in Mk 10:35-45 with this request, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”  The simply wanted to gain instant glory without any reference to living a life that was Christ-centered and pleasing to God. It was all about them securing the highest places in the kingdom.

Jesus responds to them by telling them that they must first drink His cup, “The cup that I drink, you will drink.” They must share in the cup of Jesus, doing what He did, enduring all that He endured, and most importantly, they are to do and endure all these so as to please the Father and not for their own selfish goals. Likewise, the cup of Jesus’s suffering is present in our lives so that we act like Christ in all circumstances and to do so for the greater glory of the Father.

Divine providence places this cup of Christ’s suffering before us in many ways even as we embrace what we truly believe is the will of God for us. It may be persistent failures or poor results in our lives. We may be facing endless obstacles and challenges as we seek to do His will. We may feel put down by others. We may even experience strong temptations or become discouraged by the lack of visible results. Things like these are to guarantee that we are not using our God-given gifts to build our own ego-temples. One way that we can show that we are doing it for God and not for ourselves is to endure all these and refuse to quit doing the true, good and beautiful thing.

How does the cup of Jesus help us to purify our intentions so that the things that we do are not about us but God-centered and God-directed?

Firstly, the cup of suffering is our intimate sharing in the Christ’ suffering and joy. We share in His suffering both interiorly and exteriorly, personally and communally. Didn’t Jesus assure us that “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn into joy.”(Jn 16:20) Didn’t Jesus also assure us that “One’s enemies will be those of his household?”(Mt 10:36) Our interior trials and the insults and persecutions from others, especially loved ones, mysteriously ensure that our activities are not self-centered.

Secondly the cup of Jesus’ suffering is also a source of grace and mercy because it is an encounter with Jesus Christ, “the high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.” In such difficult moments, instead of seeking confidence in ourselves, we must “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” This is how the cup of suffering brings about deep ongoing conversion from self-centered living to Christ-centered living.

Thirdly, the cup of Christ’s suffering helps us to reject worldly values and closely follow the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus spoke thus to the indignant ten, “Those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them…But it shall not be so among you.” They are rather to be conformed to Christ who served all at great personal cost, “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Fourthly, the cup of Christ’s suffering helps us to serve and give like Jesus who served and gave His life. Don’t we tend more to serve and take? We claim to be serving God but do not hesitate to take from others what is our due and even more than our due if possible? We can easily serve for the sake of what we can get from others e.g. remuneration, praise, acceptance, patronage, etc. Like Jesus, we must be ready to serve and to give up our legitimate rights to certain things and rewards from those whom we serve.

Lastly, the cup of suffering nurtures in us selfless compassion for others who are in deep spiritual need. There are many people living today without the true knowledge and love for Jesus, His saving truth, or the teaching of His Church. We can offer to Jesus all the difficulties and pains of our activities for the salvation of souls. Jesus’ suffering was definitely not in vain, “Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt He shall bear.”(Is 53:11) Likewise, our own sufferings as we seek to follow Christ – prayer, service, witness, charity, etc. – are all useful for the salvation of souls if we unite it to the suffering of Christ.

How are we responding to the ongoing scandal on homosexuality in the clergy? Do we see it as a time to quit or to cower as Catholics before a ruthless secular culture or do we look deeper and see a divine invitation to be truly Catholics for the sake of Jesus and not for our selfish ends? Can we perceive Jesus offering us to drink from His cup of suffering as Holy Mother Church goes through a great trial today?

We are indeed sharing in the suffering of Christ as the Catholic Church and faith is being mocked and ridiculed because of the heartless sexual perversity of some of her clergy and the cover up of the hierarchy over the years. Because Jesus is not surprised or shocked by our weakness and sinfulness, we are certain that this is also a time of mercy for our repentance and grace for heroic living. This is also a time to vehemently reject all worldly values like homosexuality that is being presented as something good, true, and beautiful. This is the time to be conformed more closely to Christ and to imitate His own purity. This is not a time to serve and to take but to serve and to give up what is even dear to us like our comfort and approval from others. This is a time to labor for those souls who are trying to quench their hunger and thirst for God in the filth of our secular world.

We must not be deceived: Jesus will reward only what is done for love for Him and inspired by His grace, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” (Mt 5:46) This is why we must embrace and drink His cup to the dregs today if we are going to do and endure all things just like He did and for His Father through Him, and thus gain eternal merit.

Our Eucharistic cup is truly our sacramental participation in Christ’s life and suffering. It is here that Jesus pours His grace and mercy into our hearts so that we can courageously share in His cup of suffering in our daily life despite our weaknesses. But we just cannot receive His grace and then build our own kingdom.

Our Lord has also given us His own Mother to help us do all for Him. It was all about God always for Mary. She did not glory in her works but offered praise to God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She did not quit from her vocation as Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of all the redeemed even if she had to stand at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus die.

With divine grace in our hearts and with Mary as our Mother, we can embrace the cup of Christ’s suffering today and do and endure what Christ did and endured for the glory of the Father. If we still choose to quit, then it is all about us and has nothing to do with God.

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

 

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