Recognizing the relentless shepherd in our distress: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter. April 26, 2020.

Acts 2:14,22-33; 1Pet 1:17-21, Lk 24:13-35

 

Recognizing the relentless Shepherd in our distress

 

The fifteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel begins with Jesus describing Himself as the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine of His sheep in the wilderness and goes in search of the single lost sheep. He never abandons the single lost sheep but keeps searching for it until He finds it and brings it back home. He finds His joy only when the lost sheep returns to the fold.

St. Luke’s Gospel also ends with the story of risen Christ perfectly fulfilling this relentless shepherd image. The two disciples are discouraged, dejected, and disappointed with all that has taken place at Jerusalem. All their hopes and expectations in Christ had been crushed. So they do what we all like to do when things appear hopeless and distressing – look for something to distract us and argue with each other. The journey to Emmaus was probably to take their minds away from the painful and mysterious things that had taken place before and after the resurrection of Jesus had been announced.

The disguised risen Christ does not ignore them but goes in search of them, “Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” While keeping Himself unrecognizable to them, He conversed with them, pretended not knowing at all what they were talking about, rebuked them for their “slowness of heart to believe all that was spoken of Him by the prophets,” and then pretended to be going further than their destination of Emmaus. It was ultimately at the Eucharist that He revealed Himself to them.

The risen Christ is the Shepherd-in-disguise who goes searching for each and every one of us today. He comes to us in what St. Teresa of Calcutta called the “most distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” This “distressing disguise” means that He comes to us in the distressing circumstances of our lives and the lives of our all our close and distant companions in this world.

St. Peter states that the first reason why Jesus will never abandon us is because He has ransomed us with His blood and we belong to Him now, “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”(1Pet 1:18-19)

Another reason our risen Savior will never stop searching for us is because His Father never abandoned Him. King David had prophesied about the resurrection of the Christ in these words, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.”(Acts 2:27) Jesus Himself promised us, “As the Father has loved me, so do I love you.”(Jn 15:9) Just as the Father did not abandon Him in death, so too will He never abandon us but will search for us to bring us back to Him no matter how far we have strayed. In the risen Christ, we have access to that divine love that will pursue us all the days of our lives.

As we face the challenge of this COVID-19 virus, we find ourselves asking if things will ever be the same again. What will our lives, our families, our world, and our Church look like when this is over? Will we still be able to meet our expectations in life? We can find ourselves like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus with our shattered dreams and probably unmeetable expectations. Whatever the reason – personal sins and struggles, suffering, discouragement, fears about the future, brokenness, confusion, weakness, etc. – we find ourselves consciously or unconsciously drifting away from Jesus and the community of faith. His words make no impact on us anymore and His promises appear impossible.

We are not sure life will ever be the same again or if things will return to normal. We are also not sure that all our expectations will be met for ourselves, our families, our Church and our world. One thing that we do know for sure and should hold on to tenaciously is that even in these distressing moments, the shepherd never abandons us but continues His search for every single one of us.

What deep and abiding joy will be ours when we begin to recognize His abiding presence with us and His search for us even in our distressing moments! The disciples’ experience in Emmaus shows us three ways in which we can begin to recognize the disguised shepherd as He searches for us.

First, we must reveal ourselves completely to Jesus Christ. The disciples opened their hearts completely to Him in their lowest moments. Without recognizing whom they were speaking with, they spoke to Him of their deepest thoughts, dreams. desires, core beliefs, expectations, and disillusionment. They spoke of how they felt about Him, His ministry, His unjust death, and the reports of His resurrection. In short, they hid nothing from Him. The first step in recognizing Christ with us in our distressing moments is to make sure that there is nothing we are hiding from Him in our interior and exterior lives.

Secondly, we must consciously invite Jesus into our lives. And we must invite Him not as a passing guest but as our Sovereign Lord, the one whom we depend upon and strive to please in all things. Jesus is always searching for each of us but He will not force Himself on us. The fact that Jesus is the one who took, blessed, and broke the bread in Emmaus shows us that the two disciples accorded Him the due dignity and honor of the house owner in their own place. Every single one of us too must invite Him consciously as our one and only Lord, “Stay with us, Lord,”

Lastly, we must be ready to give joyful witness to others about Him finding us in our dark moments. The same disciples who fled Jerusalem in fear and discouragement at daytime returned with boldness at the middle of the night to strengthen the witness of others in community after they encountered and recognized Him in the Eucharist, “The two recounted how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” We begin to recognize Jesus searching for us when we too share with others how He has found us and brought us back to Him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how aware are we that we can find joy and peace in these distressing moments? Yes, we can; but this joy cannot come from this world or from ourselves. Our joy is only the echo in our hearts of the joy in the heart of the Shepherd-in-disguise as He rejoices over his one lost sheep that He has found, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost.”(Lk 15:6) This deep inner joy, a joy that “will not be taken from us,”(Jn 16:22) is ours only when we hide nothing from Him, invite Him into our lives and receive Him as our Lord, and give witness to His Lordship in our lives before others.

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

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How divine mercy works all things for our good: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter. April 19, 2020.

Acts 2:42-47; 1Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

How divine mercy works all things for our good

One of the most striking passages of the New Testament, one that we tend to think is too good to be true, is this phrase from St. Paul to the Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”(Rom 8:28)

Why would God work all things out for our good? Is it because we are good and faithful or because we deserve only good things? Fat chance! God works all things for our good because He is unfathomably merciful. That is what divine mercy does: it works all things out ultimately for our eternal and temporal goods if only we never waver in our love for God and our trust in Him.

Recall how Cain had murdered Abel and then claimed to be innocent and ignorant when God asked him what he had done. God then said to him, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”(Gen 4:10-11)

The Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the blood of Jesus to that of Abel by saying to us, “You have come …to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”(Heb 12:22,24) Unlike the blood of Abel that pleaded for and obtained divine justice and vengeance, the sprinkled blood of Jesus has won for us things we could never deserve or merit – divine mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God.

God in His mercy has worked out and brought us the greatest good out of the greatest evil of the murder of His Son. The blood of His Son thus guarantees us that God in His mercy will surely work all things for our good to the extent that we show our trust in Him by word and loving action.

St. Peter writes to the Christians who are facing hostility and persecution from the pagan culture. They are being pressured to abandon their Christian beliefs and revert to paganism.  He reminds them of the mercy of God that has brought them the greatest good through the unjust death and glorious resurrection of Jesus, “God in His great mercy has given us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” By this same divine mercy, their present trials would bring them to have a genuine faith, one that is time-tested in this earth, and ultimately lead to “praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Divine mercy will surely work out their present trials for their eternal and temporal good if only they persevere in loving and trusting in God, “Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him.”

The risen Christ also worked all things out for good for His disciples who still remained with the early community after abandoning Him at the time of His Passion and death. Thomas doubted the resurrection and refused to believe, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Though he doubted, he remained connected to the community of faith. Christ repeated His earlier visit and also offered him the same peace He offered the others earlier, “Peace be with you.” By divine mercy, the same Thomas who had earlier doubted the witness of the community later on gave the boldest and clearest profession of faith not only in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but also of His divinity, “My Lord and my God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we need this celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday more than ever because we are becoming ever more trusting in ourselves and not in God and His mercy to us. We have forgotten that every grace received from God is a gift of His mercy to us. A good example of this is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo basically trying to put God out of the picture when he attributed the lull in coronavirus cases in his state to purely human effort. He said,

The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that…That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”

What happens when we begin to place trust in ourselves, efforts, and abilities and forget that we cannot desire, think, or do anything good without the sustaining power of divine grace and mercy? Evil and death will prevail when we have such attitudes. If you doubt this fact, simply reflect on the example of Judas in the Gospels and see the result of self-trust that has no room for God or His mercy. Only God knows the immense good that would have come to Judas after betraying the Lord Jesus if he had any trust in divine mercy to forgive Him and work out the good for him. But with a heart full of self-trust, he went and hanged himself in that despair born out of self-trust.

The blood of Jesus Christ, this same blood that flowed with water from the pierced side of the Savior, has this message for us today: Never stop trusting in the mercy of God and acting accordingly and God will surely work all things to our temporal and eternal good. This divine guarantee from the blood of Jesus covers everything, every single thing – good or bad, things that we do or things that are done to us.

By virtue of the blood of Christ, there is nothing in this life that Divine Mercy cannot and will not use to work for our good. By divine mercy, our sins, no matter how many or grievous they are, can make us more humble, more contrite, and give us greater self-knowledge. By divine mercy, our weaknesses and struggles can make us place our trust in God and not in ourselves. By divine mercy, the persecutions we experience from others can make us resilient and give us a purer motive for following Christ. By divine mercy, sickness can make us seek Jesus as our healer, appreciate our loved ones more, and then long for the unending life with Him. By divine mercy, even COVID-19 can teach us the frailty of human life and make us long for our eternal home with God. By divine mercy, we begin to see death as more than the end of earthly life but a passage way to the God whose Son “died for our sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”(Pet 3:18)

We are living today in a great time of great need in our lives, in the Church, and in the world. The last thing that we need is more prideful self-trust. The Letter to the Hebrews again invites us at such moments to approach Jesus with confidence, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Heb 4:16)

Christ has been pierced on the cross and His blood has been poured out for us. He has risen and has won mercy and grace for us. He is sitting on His heavenly throne now with mercy beyond our imagination for us and for our own good. What we need in times like this is complete and unwavering trust in God. This is the only thing that allows Divine Mercy to work all things, every single thing, no matter how dark and painful it may be, for our own good, here on earth and in the life to come.

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

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Sharing in Mary’s Easter faith: A homily for the solemnity of Easter 2020

 

Solemnity of Easter. April 12, 2020.

Acts 10:34,37-43; Jn 20:1-18

Sharing in Mary’s Easter faith

“He saw and believed.”

Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary conspicuously absent in all the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection even though she is the one who is must intimately connected to the body of Jesus? He was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and she bore Him in her womb for nine months. She gave birth to Him in a manger, lived with Him for thirty years in Nazareth, journeyed with Him to Calvary, witnessed His brutal death and received His dead body for burial. Why isn’t she among the women and disciples who go in search for the dead body of Jesus?

The answer is simple: She believed in her son’s bodily resurrection, and she does so based on His divine person and the words that He spoke to her. She does not go into a frantic search for her son’s dead body but, having done all that she should by acting on His words and promises, she patiently waited in confident faith of her son’s resurrection in fulfillment of His promises to her.

Mary believed the words of the Angel at the Annunciation about her son’s eternal reign, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…and of His kingdom there will be no end.”(Lk 1:32,33) She believed the divine words of promise as Elizabeth attested, “Blessed is she who believed that was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”(Lk 1:45) Jesus Himself affirmed her for her invincible faith, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”(Mk 12:50) She listened attentively as God spoke directly and indirectly to her through persons and events, “She treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”(Lk 2:19) That is how she cultivated that invincible faith that St. Paul tells us only comes from hearing God’s words, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”(Rom 10:17)

The beloved disciple saw many things before he believed in Jesus’ resurrection. It is only after seeing an empty tomb and burial clothes that “he saw and believed.” Mama Mary does not need to see an empty tomb or burial clothes as evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. She does not need to see angels or hear them tell her that her crucified son is alive again. And she definitely does not need to hear from the other women that her son is risen from the grave. No person or life experience could separate God’s words from her heart because she lovingly acted on this word as she waited patiently for God to fulfill His promises to her and to all humanity, especially His promise to rise from the grave after dying on Calvary.

Our risen Savior Jesus Christ invites and challenges us to enter into a unique beatitude by believing in His resurrection based on His words to us and not based on what we see or experience. He called us to this beatitude when He said to Thomas after His resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”(Jn 20:29) We glorify Him more by believing in Him, His resurrection, and presence with us based on His words alone.

There are so many things that we believe exist today that we have never seen or may never see. Believing these things also affect the way that we live. For example, how many of us have ever seen a Corona-19 virus? What does it look or feel like? How is it constituted? We have no idea but we believe that it is real and present. That believe moves us to take all necessary precautions to avoid contagion and spreading this disease. We willingly obey lockdowns, quarantines, and all sorts of things because of this belief.

But why it is that when it comes to God’s words and His promises to us, we begin to doubt and question His words to us based on what we see or do not see, what we experience or do not experience? In raising Jesus from the dead, God has fulfilled all His promises to us, “What God promised to the fathers, this He has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus from the dead.”(Acts 13:32-33) By the resurrection  of Jesus, God has proven Himself and His words to us to be true and reliable beyond doubt. As Easter people, the resurrection of Jesus demands that we must now listen to His words with complete trust and confidence and not judge His words and promises based on our past or present experiences in life. We cultivate that Easter faith that Jesus is alive and risen from the grave by listening to His words and acting on them with full confidence that He will surely keep His promises to us.

Mary Magdalene sits at the tomb in a graveyard weeping. The disciples are all gone and she feels all alone and distraught because the man whom she trusted and followed all these years is now dead and she cannot even find his dead body. She has seen the stone moved away from the tomb and  she has spoken to the disciples and expressed the worst possible scenario she could think about, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have put Him.” She has unknowingly spoken and replied to angels in the same words. Nothing she heard or experienced brought her to believe in the resurrection until Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” She came to faith and received her own commission, “Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father.”(Jn 20:17)

Who among us will not freak out if we heard someone calling our names when we are all alone in a graveyard? But our faith in the risen Christ is enkindled when that voice is that of Jesus. The risen Christ is alive and speaking to us, calling us by name always and in all conditions and places, even in the graveyard! He wants to commission us to others too.

Hasn’t the Covid-19 virus rendered our lives and our world like a graveyard? We feel so isolated and disconnected from others because of social distancing. We are hearing and experiencing so many things in our world through the mass media that it is hard for us to sense the presence of the risen Christ. We try to avoid the inner silence by our non-stop conversation with everyone else about things that we feel helpless about. We rehash the worst case scenarios that can happen to us and share them with others.

But how much time do we have to commune with the God who is alive and who dwells within us? How sincerely do we listen to His words in scripture and in prayer? How firmly do we hold on to His promises to us? How are we responding to the risen Christ’s gentle voice calling each of us by name and inviting us to deep intimacy with Him? We used to excuse ourselves from deep prayer life by claiming that we did not have the time. Now that we have more than ample time in our lockdowns, how many of us are spending quality time with Christ in prayer? Are we not still busy speaking to everyone else but Jesus that we are losing our faith in His living presence with us? Are we still in touch with the mission that He has in store for us even in these moments?

Mama Mary shows us the right way to respond in times like ours with her own Easter faith: Listen and act on God’s words with faith and then wait on Him to fulfill His promises. We want to learn from her how to ponder every single thing, person and events in our hearts until we hear the voice of God beneath all the noise inside and outside of us. We want to learn from her how to act on His words in loving obedience. We want to learn from her how to wait on Him to fulfill His promises to us.

Jesus is with us, even if we may feel like we are all alone in a graveyard. He is watching us as we appear fixated on an empty tomb with our minds filled with the bleakest possible scenarios we can imagine. He also wants to recommission us with the hope of the Gospel to others.

United with and molded into Mary’s heart of faith, we too can hear His voice calling us to a true live-giving communion with Him who is truly risen from the grave and alive. It is this communion with our resurrected Lord that unfailingly gives rise to us being on hope-filled mission for Him in our world today, even when it feels like we are in a graveyard.

Happy Easter!!!

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

 

 

 

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Why we must be covered by the blood of Jesus: A homily for Palm Sunday 2020

Palm Sunday of the Lord. April 5, 2020.

Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 27:11-54

Why we must be covered by the blood of Jesus

 “His blood be on us and upon our children”

Pontus Pilate, obviously exasperated by the Jewish leaders’ insistence on killing Jesus despite His innocence, tried to absolve himself by these words: “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” The Jewish leaders and people, filled with rage and determination to have Jesus crucified at all cost replied, “His blood be on us and on our children.” That was the last straw as Pilate gave in to their murderous demands.

“His blood be on us and on our children.” Those who spoke these words did not realize then its deep meaning and implication. They failed to see it as an acceptance of their guilt, the guilt of their children for all ages, and the guilt of all humanity in all times and places for the death of the innocent Savior.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes some very important points that shed light on this statement.

Firstly, we Christians are also implicated by this act of deicide and, by the blood of Jesus on us, we too share in the guilt of the Jews, “Sinners are the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” No single person in human history, Christian or non-Christian, can claim any innocence because of this blood of the God-man that has been shed for us all.

Secondly, we Christians have a graver responsibility, “The Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibilities for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone.”(CCC#598) In short, it would be the greatest absurdity for us Christians to try to act innocent like Pilate, washing our hands and saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood.”

But why do we Christians have a graver responsibility than all of humanity for the death of Jesus and His blood on all humanity? What is that grave responsibility?

First, being covered by the blood of Jesus, we have been forgiven for our sins and brought back to belong to God as His own children. The blood of Christ obtains forgiveness and mercy that makes us God’s children. Herein lies our exalted dignity and calling as God’s children.

“You know that you have been ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”(1Pet 1:18-19)

Secondly, being covered by the blood of Jesus, we also have divine protection from many unforeseeable evils that would otherwise overcome us. The blood of the Passover lamb, when placed on the doorposts and lintels of the Jewish homes, prevented their first-born sons from being struck dead by the rampaging angel of death in their last night in Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”(Ex 12:13)

Likewise the blood of Christ on us protects us from many evils that we may never be aware of. How we easily notice the evils that befall us but are blind to those that God prevents us from. St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us of how the devils dread and flee from a soul covered with the blood of Jesus when he said, “The Eucharist repels all the assaults of the devil.” How much more powerful is the Eucharist over evils in our lives when received in a state of grace?

Thirdly, because we are covered with the blood of Jesus, we also share in Christ’s faithfulness to the Father in the face of all the struggles and persecutions on this earth and in His own glory in the life to come. The victorious souls in heaven are described in these words: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”(Rev 7:14)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus came into this world and took flesh and blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary for one reason – to set us on fire of divine love by covering us with His own blood, “I came to cast fire on this earth; and would that it were already kindled.”(Lk 12:49) He freely entered Jerusalem and went all the way to Calvary to die for us because His sacred body had to be pierced so that His blood could flow out to us, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”(Jn 19:34)

By this blood and water on us and the indwelling Spirit, Christ has forever founded a Church with a sacramental system. It is through our communion with the Eucharistic Christ that His blood overflows into our hearts. The blood of Christ on us is much more than something that we only invoke in faith; but it is the fruit of a sacramental encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist.

Today as Covid-19 ravages our world, our fears show that we have lost the deep sense of our belonging to God as His children by virtue of the blood of Christ. We are in desperate need of the blood of Christ to protect us from this virus and to calm our fears. If the blood of the Paschal lamb that prefigured Jesus effectively protected the Israelites from the plagues in Egypt, how much more can the blood of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, protect us from this Covid-19 virus? We also need this blood to strengthen us for faithful witness to Christ and His hope in our world today.

This explains why it is so painful to see our Churches closed, Masses being cancelled, and sacraments denied to the faithful. We must first of all invoke this blood of Christ on us by multiplying our devout Acts of spiritual Communion at this time as we wait for the resumption of Masses. Then we must also pray fervently for the immediate resumption of Masses in our parishes. We can also pray that we all – priests, clergy, religious and laity – come to see and appreciate the power of the blood of Christ in times like this. We can also petition our bishops to allow the public celebration of the Mass again as soon as possible. What we truly need now are clear guidelines for safe and full celebration and reception of the Eucharist not just streamlined Masses and closed Churches.

Outside the Eucharist, where can we ever hope to find the accepting love of God, the divine protection from evil, and the power of faithful witness to Jesus in such times? None. We cannot find such divine protection and strength by just huddling in our homes in the name of social distancing. Jesus has shed this blood for us for a time like ours today and He is waiting to pour this blood on us and set us on fire with divine love.

To continue to keep away from the Eucharist out of fear of a virus is to abandon our grave responsibility to Him and to others who are in need of His hope and strength. We have done so for too long now! It is high time we simply returned to the Eucharistic table and let His blood be on us and on our children.

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

 

 

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Why Jesus will surely act in this time of Covid-19: A homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent. March 29, 2020.

Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Why Jesus will surely act in this time of Covid-19  

 

Sr. Henrietta Alokha, a religious sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (SSH) and the administrator of a Girls College in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, lost her life on March 15, 2020 in a ghastly fire from a gas explosion that consumed her school building. She had rushed into the burning building to rescue her students trapped inside the inferno. She managed to save them but the building collapsed on her before she could escape.

Why did she risk her life to save her students? Where they all good students, who had excellent grades, kept the rules, and respected her? Probably not. She willingly risked her life for them because she had a deep sense of their belonging to her as their administrator. Archbishop Martins of Lagos had this to say about the late reverend sister, “She paid the supreme price of her offer to ensure the safety of over three hundred students under her responsibility.” We willingly act and take risks out of this sense of belonging. 

Jesus resolutely determined to risk His life and go into Judea again just to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples tried to dissuade Him from taking this risk based on their past experience, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” They too decided to risk their lives too in following Him when they could not dissuade Him, “Let us also go to die with Him.”

Why did Jesus take this risk and go back to a region of proven hostility towards Him? He did so because Lazarus belonged to Him as a friend. Lazarus’ sisters had expressed this in their words to Him, “Master, the one you love is ill.” Jesus will not abandon those who belonged to Him because He is the only shepherd who “leaves the ninety-nine to search for the single lost sheep.”(Mt 18:12)

The dead man’s sisters believe that Jesus could act to save the life of their brother from death, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus invites them to also believe that, because Lazarus belonged to Him, He would act even in the death of Lazarus to raise Him from the dead, “Your brother will rise.”

Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is an assurance that He will surely act in the life and in the death of those who belong to Him. We belong to Him and He will surely act to bring life from death, good from evil, light from darkness, victory from defeat, etc. In short, He will act that evil never triumphs over good ultimately in our lives. He proved this by raising Lazarus from the dead, “Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound.”

Our personal struggles in life and our own sinfulness can make us forget that we belong radically to Jesus through baptism. The Christians in Rome were experiencing that strong pull of sin and temptation that made them begin to doubt the power of the baptism that they had received. St. Paul reminds them that the Holy Spirit that they received in baptism assures them that they belong to Jesus now, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.”

By possessing this Spirit of Jesus and belonging to Him, we are also guaranteed that Jesus will surely act both in our lives and even after our deaths. He will surely act in our earthly life so that “our spirits can be alive because of righteousness.” He will also certainly act at our death to raise us up, “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.”

The Covid-19 virus has clearly dominated the headlines in the last few weeks. In the midst of all the scary news about the latest death toll, the number of new infections, the projected deaths, there is also a debate over whether God is using this virus to punish us for our sins.

Some say that God is punishing the world for the liturgical abuses and sexual and financial scandals in the Church. For sure, our actions do have grave consequences and God can use these consequences to call us back to Him. But what about the words of the psalmist, “If you O Lord should mark our iniquity, who can stand?” Can we stand if God holds us strictly accountable for every single sin we commit? I don’t think so. Why then do we try to separate the justice of God from His mercy in all His actions?

Then Pope Francis opined that we have the virus because nature is “throwing a fit so that we will take care of nature.” This left me aghast and wondering if nature had now become sovereign, able to act as it pleases, to the extent that it can now punish us for environmental pollution and our ignoring its demands for care. Isn’t God the only sovereign being who acts through all of creation? Doesn’t the divine will have a limitless rule over all things, even over nature and human suffering, even to the extent that “not even a single bird falls to the ground without the Father willing it?”(Mt 10:29) It is a deadly illusion to attribute any sort of sovereignty to any creature, even nature itself.

In the midst of all these depressing information fest and confusing theologizing, we easily forget the truth of our belonging to God from our baptism and His assurance to act during our lives and even at our death to raise us up. Most importantly, we forget that God wants to act and He wants to act through us; He needs our free cooperation. Remember that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by His own power, but He chose to use human hands to move the stone first and untie the Lazarus after being raised from the dead, “Take away the stone…Untie him and let him go.” By our actions, we create the necessary conditions for God to act in our world through us.

Ps 130 gives us four concrete actions that we can do to dispose us to see God’s actions in these our troubling times?

First, humble prayer from the depths of our hearts, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice.” This is time for prayer more than anything else, imploring mercy for all in our world, saints and sinners alike. Rather than apportion blame on one group of persons or on nature itself, we must realize that we all are sick to certain degrees and so we must embrace the ministry of intercession for all the world just like the sisters of Lazarus, “Lord, him whom you love is sick.”

Second, sincere repentance from our sins, “If you O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?” This is the time of divine mercy and God inviting us to personal conversion and return to God. It is time to turn away from our selfishness and to begin to seek and do the will of God in all things. God acts in our world through us to the extent that we do His will in words and actions. We have been pretty much standing idle and quiet while over 60 million babies have been killed through abortion. Who knows, God may have already sent us many years ago the person who would discover and develop a cure for this virus but the particular person was among those tragically offered on the altar of abortion while we turned the blind eye and deaf ear in utter selfishness.

Third, this is the time for complete and radical trust in God alone, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.” Most of the remedies we have taken in response to this virus have not reflected our trust in God at all: closed Churches, masses cancelled, the faithful denied the sacraments, etc. We need to take appropriate precautions but our trust in God must be visible in the precautions that we choose to take in response to this virus. Our responses must give allowance for God to act in and through us, even if we have to embrace risks in doing so for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

Lastly, after we have done all that we should do, we must learn to wait on the Lord to act and fulfill His purpose in our lives and in our world, “More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord.” Jesus had an unfathomable purpose in waiting for Lazarus to die – He intended to raise him from the dead. But Lazarus also had to wait for four days to be raised from the dead! We must be patient and wait for the Lord because we know we belong to Him and He will surely act in life and in death to fulfill His purpose for us. How many sins, suicides, depressions, addictions, etc. abound in our times because we have not learned to wait on the Lord to act in our lives?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us live our lives today with the deep sense of our baptismal consecration by which we belong to God as His children. We must imitate Mother Mary in her complete belonging to God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” We must also do His will and so allow Him to act through us like Mary did, “Be it done to me according to your word.” When we belong to Him and put no obstacles to His actions in our live, Jesus will surely act in our lives and even in death. We need neither fear death nor suffering in this time of Covid-19 because He will surely act so that goodness ultimately prevail over evil. He will surely act, no matter the risk or the consequences, not because we are good or virtuous, but simply because we belong to Him.

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

 

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Is the Lord still our Shepherd? A homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent 2020

 

4th Sunday of Lent. March 22, 2020.

1Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

 

Is the Lord still our Shepherd?

 

I was recently preaching a retreat on Ps 23 when I stressed the point that if God is truly our shepherd as we say He is in this psalm, then we should really see ourselves as helpless and weak sheep, completely dependent on Him for everything. This is in contrast with seeing ourselves as independent and powerful lions who have no need of a shepherd and who can actually eat the shepherd. I then asked the participants which of these images spoke to them most about themselves: a weak, dependent sheep or a strong self-sufficient lion. One of them replied honestly, “I see myself as a sheep but with the power, teeth, and claws of a lion!”

We are so reluctant to face and accept weakness in our lives. We want to be strong, flawless, and independent. We claim that God is our shepherd but we are reluctant to take the place of the weak and vulnerable sheep before Him. How can He, the Good Shepherd, lead us when we pretend to be lions, invulnerable beasts dreaded by any shepherd?

We fail to realize that God uses our human weakness to create space for Himself and His gifts in our hearts. God is looking for a specific type of heart in us – a heart with space for Him and His gifts, a heart open to Him and willing to reflect to others God’s presence and gifts present within. God cannot give Himself or His gifts to us when we are self-sufficient and self-satisfied.

God rejected Jesse’s son, Eliab, when Samuel wanted to anoint him because he lacked the type of heart that God desired, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty statue, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” David is chosen and anointed instead because, despite his lowly status and profession, his heart has space for God and His gifts, “Samuel anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

To bring us to have this disposition of heart with space necessary to receive Him and His gifts, God permits us to experience human weaknesses i.e. good things that we want to do, have, or become, that we just cannot do, have, or become. Or the evil things we want to overcome but cannot overcome or avoid.

The blind man in Jn 9:1-41 longed in vain for a single chance to see this beautiful world. He seemed so cursed and abandoned by God that the disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Unknown to them, his blindness had also created a space in him to receive and to respond to Christ and His healing touch. Rather than debate whose sin was responsible for this lifelong blindness, Jesus affirms this necessary disposition in this particular man’s heart and exclaimed, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God may be might be made visible through him.”

The man received all that Jesus offered him: healing touch of clay made with saliva and plastered on his eyes and Jesus’ specific words of command, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” He did not just receive healing but he also responds with courageous, consistent, and faithful witness to Jesus before all the Jews, his terrified family, and the wrathful Pharisees.  He reiterated, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes…so I went there (Siloam) and washed and was able to see.” He willingly suffered rejection because of his politically incorrect witness to Jesus, “Then they threw him out.” He became a bold and faithful witness of Christ, a light of hope reflecting to others the gift of new life and vision that He had received.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Jesus is indeed our Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for His sheep,”(Jn 10:11) then we must willingly be His weak and vulnerable sheep. There are two extreme and unhealthy ways in which we can respond to our weaknesses. We can choose to canonize them and make them gods in our lives, things that define us completely. An example of this approach is when our identity is so consumed by our weakness that we call ourselves things like alcoholic or LGBT or whatever. The other unhealthy extreme is to completely deny, reject, or neglect our weaknesses and pretend that we do not have them or that they are no big deal.

The right approach is to humbly accept our weakness and listen to how God is using it to make space and room for Himself in our hearts. How is this weakness making us more God-centered and not self-focused and self-dependent? We invite Him into this weakness and beg Him to touch us with His healing love where we are experiencing this weakness most. We resolve to live for Him alone and to give witness to Him despite any lingering weakness. His grace will surely flood our souls as we do this, just as it did for St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2Cor 12:9)

The global onslaught of the Corona virus has brought us to face our own weakness individually, communally, and ecclesiastically. This deadly sickness seems to defy the most technologically advanced medical facilities around the world. Our churches and schools are closed. We are all huddled in our homes while we hear of the spread of this disease and its growing death toll. There is tangible fear in our world today because of the spread of this virus.

But, have we really been living like sheep that belongs to and depends on the shepherd? Haven’t we been living more like lions who do not need a shepherd? Are we not the self-sufficient lions who see worshipping, obeying, and serving God constantly as unnecessary and useless? Are we not like crafty lions who choose to be politically correct instead of giving faithful witness to Christ? Aren’t we acting like lions when we consume our own children in abortion? When we choose to change traditional moral laws, aren’t we acting like lions who do not need the light of the shepherd to illumine our ways in this life?

Living like lions with our exaggerated sense of self-fulfillment and self-sufficiency, our hearts have no space for God but have become closed to God and His amazing graces of healing and strength in our fearful times. We are like the Pharisees who claim, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Like them, we too condemn ourselves to hopeless fear and darkness because we have no room for divine light and strength and thus rightly merit the rebuke of Jesus, “But now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”

This virus and the death it brings beckons on us to individually face and accept our utter weakness so that God can find space in our hearts. We can no longer hide in the crowd at our churches and pretend that Jesus is our shepherd when He is not. There is no longer that daily noise, activities, and businesses that hide our weakness and conceals our need for a shepherd. We can no longer have all those things that distract us from our weakness and make us feel like we are lions. This is a time to welcome the Good Shepherd as He comes to us in our weakness.

There is only one Eternal Lion in this world, Jesus, the “Lion of Judah.”(Rev 5:5) But this lion has freely chosen the way of weakness and become a lamb like us just to save us, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”(Jn 1:29) Because He lives with us always, and shares in all our experiences, we can say like the psalmist, “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side.”

This Corona virus has indeed made our world a “dark valley” today. The Shepherd is always on our side to lead us through it all. But He definitely will not try to shepherd lions! He is looking at each one of us, looking for lamb-like hearts with space for Him and His gifts, hearts ready to receive and reflect His goodness in these dark times despite our weaknesses.

What type of heart does He find in me now? My answer will determine if He is truly my shepherd or not and if I will share in His own light and strength in these frightening times.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Listening to the God that we worship: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

 

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 8, 2020.

Gen 12:1-4; 2Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9

Listening to the God that we worship

A Catholic couple had put off their wedding because they feared that they would not stay married for long. Even after they eventually got married they put off having children because they feared that they would have children with disabilities.

A parish priest in the Manila area lamented that some worshippers at his parish also visit a group of fortune tellers down the street. They worshipped God too but were so afraid of their future that they patronized palm readers to know what the future had in store for them.

Why do we claim to be worshipping the living God though we easily succumb to fear about our future? Why are we so afraid of what the future will be for us health-wise, financially, relationally, career-wise, emotionally, and even spiritually, that we are paralyzed by this fear?

Let us reflect on the story of Abram. He was a rich and elderly man who was the head of his clan. He had inherited the property of his kin and was comfortable with his life. He was not afraid at all of his future when God asked him leave all that he owned and attained and go to a “land that He (God) would show him.” He was not overcome by fear of the unknown or what it would cost him, “Abraham went as the Lord directed him.”

One thing that we know about the disposition of Abram was that he made constant effort to prove his love for God and to grow in that love. He would not even refuse to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, the son of the promise, if God asked him to do so.  He was not overcome by any fear because, as he worshipped God, he ensured that he never missed an opportunity to prove his love for God and to grow in that love through trusting obedience. Because “Perfect love casts out fear,”(1Jn 4:18) we too triumph over fear as long as we are experiencing the perfect love of God and letting our own love for Him tend to its perfection.

Jesus Christ on the mount of the Transfiguration knows very well the brutal death that awaited Him in Jerusalem. He is not overcome by the fear of imminent death because He is on His way to Calvary as His greatest act of loving obedience to the Father. After a moment of intimacy with His Father in which His face is transfigured, Jesus is fully certain that the Father who He lovingly served “until death on a cross,”(Phil 2:8) will raise Him up. He expressed His certainty of victory over death in these words to His disciples, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This is the same Jesus who is also leading us up the mountain of our spiritual lives and constantly speaking to us. It took the disciples constant effort to climb the mountain in obedience to Jesus, “He led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Climbing to the very top and witnessing the transfiguration is not enough. God rejects the disciples’ personal project of building three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. God wants them to continue to listen to Jesus in good and bad times because He is the one who points out to us and enable us to express our love for God in concrete actions that render us pleasing to God too, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we reflect on the current hype over the Corona virus and the response of the Church and her members, surely we must admit that fear about our future is crippling us so easily even as we claim to be worshipping God. We quickly close our Churches and cancel masses and Church services because of the Corona virus while public parks and shopping malls remain open and functioning. Some people are now so afraid of contacting the Corona virus that they avoid drinking the Mexican beer, Corona, because they falsely believed that this beer is the cause of the Corona virus.

Of course, we should take personal precaution in the face of such epidemics. But should fear of a virus cause us to put worshipping God on hold? Out of love for us, God took a great risk and became vulnerable to the point of becoming one like us for our salvation and to dwell as our Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacles of our Churches. Haven’t we forgotten or ignored this courageous love of God when we become so paralyzed by fear that we cancel Masses and close Churches because of a virus? What is a better and safer place to seek refuge and peace than in worshipping Him and being in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence in times like our own? Shouldn’t we be crying out to the Lord in times like this, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life?”(Jn 6:68) He is definitely speaking to us these life-giving words in these our troubled times but our paralyzing fears show that we have become deaf to His words.

We are so fixated on preventing the contagion and spreading of this Corona virus. But how careful and diligent are we to avoid and resist the spread of the deadliest virus – the virus of sin, falsehood, and error in our lives, in the Church, and in the world? How determined are we to avoid occasions of sin that wound our love for God? Where is the promptness in refuting error and falsehood that spread and defile consciences? Where is that boldness that corrects dissident clerics who go around spewing poisonous opinions that threaten the faith and morals of many innocent souls? Where is the loud outrage over the innocent millions sacrificed to the god of sexual deviance and abortion?

How can we ever hope to overcome fear when we tolerate and even abate the spread of sin and falsehood? The bottom line is that we are easily overcome by fear of the future today even as we claim to be worshipping God because we are worshipping without listening to the concrete ways in which Jesus is inviting us to know and love God more by our actions and make that love visible to others. We are to scared to take a risk for Him to make Him better known and loved by others.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy from prison when he knew that his own death was near. He is not overcome by fears of his future. He exhorted Timothy not to give in in the face of all the persecutions but to make effort for the sake of the Gospel, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Timothy is called to do so because of what Jesus has done for us, “He saved us and called us to a holy life.” In addition, Jesus has “destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Do we who succumb to fear so easily today still believe in this same gospel and its power over death? Do we realize that by striving to live and spread this gospel more faithfully we are sharing in that same courageous love of the transfigured Christ in the face of imminent death?

We worship Jesus Christ always in every holy sacrifice of the Mass even as our world is crippled by fears. The Father again exclaims to us, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.” Jesus Himself continuously instructs us on concrete ways to manifest our love for Him. As we share in His Spirit, we do well to remember that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.”(2Tim 1:7) Our Mother Mary constantly exhorts us too, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” If we still choose to worship God without listening attentively to His Son, Jesus Christ, we will surely be overcome by all sorts of fears about our future.

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

 

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Rejecting the devil’s grand plan for us: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

 

1st Sunday of Lent. March 1, 2020.

Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12,17-19; Mt 4:1-11

Rejecting the devil’s grand plan for us

We promise God that we will be faithful to Him always as we experience His blessings and mercy in the face of all our infidelities to Him. We firmly resolve and plan to avoid a particular sin in our lives. We feel so close to God and then suddenly, “Wham!” Out of the blues we get tempted again and we give in. We experience a humiliating fall despite our good intentions.

We all have been there before. Some of us find ourselves there more often than we want to. Sadly, we tend to focus on the defeats of the present moment to the point of discouragement because we fail to realize that the devil’s temptation is not so much about the present temporary defeats that we experience in the moments of temptations. The ultimate aim of the devil’s temptation is to separate us from God eternally, to keep us from persevering in our journey back to God with confidence. Period.

Let us reflect on the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Was the devil’s ultimate purpose in tempting them to make them sin by disobeying God and eating of the forbidden tree? Not at all. His grand design was that through that fall, through their deliberate act of disobedience, they would find themselves estranged from God and doubting His love for them or their ability to love Him again. The aim of all his temptations is to wound our trusting relationship with God.

The devil’s grand plan had worked well for Adam and Eve. They had received everything from God. The Lord God had “formed man out of clay of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” The Lord God provided for all their needs too without their asking Him, “He planted a garden in Eden and placed there the man that He had formed…Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food.”

The moment they sinned, they lost that trusting confidence that they had in God to provide for them all their needs and they now began to provide for themselves, “They sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves.” They could not imagine God still providing for them after they had broken His only commandment to them. They could not imagine that God could still be a faithful and loving Father after their act of ingratitude and disobedience to Him.

Even the path to the fall began with the devil tempting them to distrust God. He first moved them to doubt God’s truthfulness, “You certainly will not die.” Then he moved them to doubt God’s goodness to them and His power by making them see God as so impotent that He is insecure and competitive with His creatures, “God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods knowing what is good and what is evil.”

The ultimate aim of the devil in tempting Christ is also to derail Him from His journey back to the Father, a journey that would be consummated by His cross and Resurrection. Jesus did not succumb to any of these temptations because He saw Himself as being on a journey back to the Father and the Father would provide for Him all that He needed on this journey, “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God…You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” He definitely would not give any worship to a creature on His journey home but save His worship for the Father alone, “Get away Satan…The Lord alone shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.” This explains why Peter is also called Satan in Mt 16:23 when he tried to prevent Jesus from His journey back to the Father through the Passion in Jerusalem.

In Jesus Christ, by the power of His Holy Spirit, we have become children of God and God is drawing us back to Him in and through Jesus Christ, “God’s plan in the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth.”(Eph 1:10) In Him, we also have all that we need for this journey back to God despite our repeated failures and our good intentions and resolutions.

Because Jesus never stops drawing us to Himself, we must simply begin again and again when we prove unfaithful to Him in our temptations. We must not give up. Return to the Lord, humbly repent from our sins, learn from our past failures, resolve for the future, and start again. We may lose some individual battles on the way but Jesus assures us that we will ultimately win the war if we do not give up, “Those who persevere till the end will be saved.”(Mt 24:13)

In our moments of failure and discouragement we must remember that Jesus rejoices exultantly along the heavenly cloud of witnesses when we begin again after our spiritual defeats, “There is so much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous person who have no need of repentance.”(Lk 15:7) This same joy of Jesus echoes in us when we choose to restart after our falls, rise and continue our journey with confidence.

The devil on his part is constantly tempting us to quit the journey back home because of our temporary sins and failures. He rejoices when we quit this journey back to God or when we embark on it with regrets about the past and discouragement about the future. This is the ultimate goal of all his temptations that he works through the fallen world and our weak flesh. Our ultimate victory over him is when we persevere and enter into the heavenly kingdom despite the many spiritual battles that we may have lost here on earth.

What the devil did to our First Parents, he is doing to us today – tempting us to be estranged from God by doubting His goodness, truthfulness and power. We are tempted to doubt and question the truths of His word to us today. We ignore His warnings to us and pretend that we can predict beforehand all the consequences of our evil actions. We are tempted to doubt the power of His grace to live truly holy lives in our decadent world. Isn’t this why heterodox and cleverly skewed teaching on sexuality and sanctity of human life are so well received and tolerated today even in the Church? We are futilely trying to provide truth, power, and goodness for ourselves only to find ourselves more pathetic, ashamed, and discouraged in our relationship with God than our leaves-clothed First Parents.

Jesus has been lifted up, on the cross and in glory, and He is fulfilling His promise to us, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.”(Jn 12;32) He is indeed always drawing us back to Him no matter the frequency and severeness of our moral and spiritual failures. This is why we have in Him full access to that grace by which we can “resist sin to the point of shedding our blood.”(Heb 12:4)

But if we should still fail Him despite all these graces, we must not linger in defeat and discouragement or wallow in self-pity. But we must rise from our falls and return to Him confidently through the beautiful sacrament of reconciliation where we are forgiven, renewed, drawn deeper into His merciful love for us, and graced for our journey back to God. This is the only way that we can reject the devil’s plan for us and persevere in our journey back into the waiting arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who never ceases drawing us to Himself.

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

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Our identity in Christ and the call to forgive others: A homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time. February 22, 2020
Lv 19:1-2,17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Our identity in Christ and the call to forgive others

It is not easy to forgive. It is more difficult to forgive when the offender(s) does not apologize. It is much more difficult to keep on forgiving and praying for the offending party when they keep on knowingly offending us without any sense of repentance or remorse.

One reason why we find it difficult to forgive others, and to do so repeatedly no matter the cost or the results of our forgiveness, is because we focus on our own weak human nature and forget our new identity in Christ. We say to ourselves, “It is impossible for me to forgive like Christ is asking me to do because I am only human. How can God demand from me such unconditional love when I am so weak?”

Yes indeed, we are human and will always remain so, but we also have a new identity in Christ, the identity of one loved, forgiven, reconciled with God, and united with Him to the point that we share in His own unconditional love. We forget and ignore our new identity without realizing that we can only forgive when we live out of our new identity in Christ, irrespective of the weakness of our humanity.

Jesus doesn’t just ask us to be stoically passive by turning the other cheek in the face of unjust aggression, “When they slap you on one cheek, turn the other one to them as well.” He also does not just to act in denial and just love and pray for those who hurt and persecute us. We set ourselves up for frustration and hopelessness when we try to respond to His call to unconditional love simply by our will power.

On a deeper level, Jesus is asking us to live out of our true identity, that identity that we have in Him as children of God, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” Our loving others unconditionally despite how they treat us proves who we truly are in Christ and it also makes us who we truly are in Him – children of God.

St. Paul also reminds the Corinthian Christians of who they really are in Christ, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Being temples of God in Christ means that God dwells in us with His unconditional love, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5) It also means that God reigns in us irrespective of our strengths and weaknesses and He desires to act in us and through us and communicate to others His own love despite our weak human nature. This is the full reality of our being new creatures in Christ.

We live in a world that is actually steeped in the revenge mentality. The Irish poet Oscar Wilde once said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” Even forgiveness can be used to get back at those who hurt us! We may not do evil directly to one who harms us, but we can easily respond to evil with evil acts or intentions when we live purely on our human level without any regard to our new identity in Christ. A painful example of this is when the life of the innocent child in the womb is taken to avenge the evil of rape against the mother.

What does it mean to live out of our identity in Christ?

First, we live out of our true identity in Christ when we believe deeply in God’s unconditional love for us. We refuse to doubt or question this love, no matter our sins and failures in life or the sufferings that we experience in the hands of other. This unconditional love is what allows us to be our true selves. We cannot love others unconditionally when we are rejecting our true selves.

Second, we constantly seek to experience and deepen this unconditional love of God for us. The sacraments of the Church, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, allows us to experience the merciful love of God that heals us and sets us free to love like Christ. We cannot communicate this unconditional love of God to others when we are not experiencing this love ourselves. Unrepentantly living in sin and doubting the merciful love of God for us leaves us with no hope to forgive.

Third, we begin to forgive ourselves for our past sins and failings. We cannot forgive others when we have not forgiven ourselves. We feel utterly powerless to love others unconditionally when we are full of regrets, blaming and condemning ourselves even after God has forgiven us. Difficulty or refusal to forgive ourselves makes it impossible for us to forgive others. In His name, we must forgive ourselves and let go of all regrets if we are ever going to communicate this selfless love to others.

Fourth, we strive to bring this love to others. The unconditional love that Christ asks us to reflect to others is the very same love that He alone offers to us. We are overcome by our human weakness because we think that this our pathetic, self-seeking, self-gratifying, self-indulging love is what Christ wants us to love others with. Nothing can be further from the truth. The one who calls us to love others unconditionally expects us to look to Him alone for this type of gratuitous and selfless love.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, human as we always are, Jesus has also offered us a new identity in Himself and He also wants us to experience the immense rewards of loving others unconditionally. We get absolutely nothing of supernatural value when we love in purely human ways based on our likes and preferences, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?”

But what is the recompense of loving others unconditionally, of choosing to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? We begin to share in the “glorious freedom of the children of God.”(Rom 8:21) We experience that deep inner joy that “this world cannot give or take away from us,”(Jn 14:27) and “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”(Phil 4:7) This our vengeful world of wicked addictions, endless fears, and troubled hearts cannot imagine or fathom such rewards that come from loving others unconditionally from our new identity in Christ.

It is sure hard to forgive because it calls for a dying to ourselves. But it is possible and supernaturally rewarding. Our only hope is that the One who calls us to such radical love has first made us new creation in Himself by dying for us on the cross while praying for His executioners, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”(Lk 23:34) We do share in that pain of His on the cross as He won forgiveness for us; but we also share in His power to forgive others and pray for them because we are new creation in Him. Jesus alone can rightly demand such radical love from us because He alone can and has loved us so unconditionally and made us new creation by this love.

Jesus offers us this same unconditional love in this Eucharist. He does not take away our humanity or our weakness. We are human and we will remain human. But Jesus lovingly brings us to share in what He truly is in Himself – child of God and temple of God. May He abide, reign, and act in us and through us as His temples, so that we can radiate His merciful love to others no matter our human weaknesses. This is the only way that we can hope to share abundantly in His own freedom, joy, and peace in this vengeful world.

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

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Encountering Christ in the sacraments today: A homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. February 2, 2020.
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 12:14-18; Lk 2:22-38

Encountering Christ in the sacraments today

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.”

Two things happened during the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

First, Jesus came to the temple, a little baby boy in the arms of His Mother, Mary. He came in silence and in complete obscurity and without any ostentation, “Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.” It just seemed like any other family bringing up their first-born son for the presentation rites.

Second, the aged Simeon comes into the temple led by the Spirit, “He came in the Spirit into the temple.” He did not come there by chance but he was being prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit revealed to him the true identity and mission of this baby in the arms of His parents.

These two things – the God-man present in obscurity and His constant drawing us to Himself – happen in every sacramental action in the Church. In and through the seemingly ordinary rites and sacramental elements, Jesus Christ is truly present and active in every sacramental action in the Church, enlightening our minds and inflaming our wills in ways that we can never understand. Catechism #1084 puts it this way:

“Seated at the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit on His Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments He instituted to communicate His grace.”

It is also Jesus Christ who draws us to Himself in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him to me.”(Jn 6:44) In short, we cannot believe in, approach, or truly appreciate the sacramental presence and action of Jesus Christ without the action of the Spirit in our lives. Human reason alone just cannot lead us to the full encounter with Christ in the sacraments of the Church.

What happens when we respond to the promptings of the Spirit and seek out Christ in the sacraments? What happens when we truly encounter Christ sacramentally with the right dispositions?

First of all, our eyes are opened and we begin to see and value things the way that Jesus sees them. Simeon’s encounter with Christ filled him with so much contentment that for him death was no longer something to be dreaded at all cost, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Second, we experience hope that comes from true solidarity with Christ, our “merciful and faithful high priest before God.” By the grace of the sacraments, we experience deeply that Jesus “likewise shared in our blood and flesh so that He might destroy the one who has the power over death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” We experience that Jesus is truly able to “help those who are being tested.” Sacramental grace enables us to respond in hopeful and Christ-like ways in the face of all the things that test our faith in Him.

Indeed we are being tested today in many ways. Our faith is put to the test at every moment. The Church is plagued with outrageous sexual and financial scandals. Heretical views are being propagated and accepted in a vague “spirit of dialogue.” Families are falling apart and priestly and religious vocations are dwindling. Talks of wars, natural disasters, and diseases are rampant.

More disturbing is the clamor today to begin to redefine the forms of the sacraments. There are talks of women ordination, ordination of married men, admission of divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, the abolition of celibacy, blessings of homosexual unions, etc. Those who champion and propagate such ideas fail to realize that the sacraments are first and foremost actions of the risen Christ in the Church and not a property of the Church to be modified or altered at will, not even under the guise of being “pastoral.” It is also obvious that proponents of such ideas neither value these things as Christ does nor do they believe that Jesus, who perfectly knows our weaknesses and struggles, also offers us sufficient helps to fulfill them.

It is still Christ who acts in the sacraments and who draws us to Him. It is Christ who calls a man and woman to the married state and blesses them with the necessary disposition for this. It is likewise Christ who calls a single man to give up the good and beautiful vocation of married love and embrace the discipline of celibacy for the priesthood. It is naïve and deadly to think that the Church can somehow alter this reality without grave unforeseeable consequences.

I was reminded of these two dynamic movements in each sacrament many years ago at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston in the winter of 2001. I met a young lady in the Church vestibule after her Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration who told me that she was in the RCIA program that year in preparation for full membership in the Church. I asked her why she was choosing to come into the Church at a moment when the Church looked like a beehive of pedophile clergy and complicit bishops. She pointed to the tabernacle and said, “He (Jesus) wants me to fully encounter Him in His Church.” Our Eucharistic Lord, hidden under the form of ordinary bread, was beckoning on this young lady to full communion with Him in His Church which was being torn asunder by unimaginable scandals. But the pains of the scandals could not withstand her God-given desire for full communion with Him in His Catholic Church.

Our Eucharistic Lord, present and active under each humble sacramental sign, is doing the same thing today even in the midst of all the scandals and false teachings of our times. He is drawing all of humanity to Him and He is doing so through our encounter with Him in the sacraments. As we encounter Him more and more with the right disposition, He will open our eyes to see and value all things as He does and help us to respond in Christ-like ways. This is the only way we can ever hope to proclaim Christ faithfully to the world as we repeatedly echo the words of Simeon to our hidden Savior, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.”

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

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