Loving God and neighbor: Why and How? A homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 29, 2017.

Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thes 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40

Loving God and neighbor: Why and how?

I can still remember his face and the passionate tone of his voice when he spoke those words to me and other seminarians. It was at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal of 2002 in the United States. Some priests in a diocese had recommended to their bishop that one way to deal with the low morale and burnout of the clergy was to allow them more days-off during the week. Our priest-professor in the seminary, obviously enraged by such a request, said to us:

When you become priests, I don’t care how many days-off you may have during the week, or how long a vacation you have yearly or what exotic places you go to for your vacation; as long as you are not growing in you love for God and for His flock entrusted to you as priests, you will never know true joy.

Why is it imperative for us to keep the two inseparable Commandments to love God and neighbor that Jesus gives in today’s Gospel? Some of us may have asked our parents or other authority figures why we should obey their instructions only to receive that familiar answer, “Because I say so.” Can we and do we keep the two-fold Commandment of love simply because God says so? What then is the deeper reason that sustains our striving to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves?

The newly liberated Israelites are warned by Moses in today’s First Reading not to molest or oppress the aliens because they themselves have experienced God’s liberating power that freed them from oppressive slavery, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” Having experienced the compassionate love of God that liberates, they must extend a liberating and compassionate love to the widows, aliens and orphans.

This is the very first reason why we must keep the commandment of love: we have received this love as a gift. We are not the origin of this love but we have this love simply because God has loved us first, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” (1Jn 4:7) In addition, this love is a gift from God, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us first.”(1 Jn 4:10) This gift of divine love is received through the person of the Holy Spirit, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

The Second Reading points us to the second reason why we must keep the Commandment to love God and neighbor. The Christians in Thessalonica had received the Gospel wholeheartedly and had experienced persecution because of their new faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Moved by the Holy Spirit, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven,” thus becoming “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Though they “received the word with great affliction,” they experienced “joy from the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit moved them to concrete acts of love for God even in their affliction and, once they responded positively to the promptings of the Spirit, they experienced a joy that could not be quenched by their earthly travails. We too strive to keep the commandment to love God and neighbor because we want to have the unquenchable joy of the Lord in our hearts.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the Spirit of love and joy from the moment of our baptism. This Spirit is always moving us to love God and neighbor more and more with all that we have. When we respond to the Spirit’s call to love God and others more, we have the deep joy of the Lord that abides even in the midst of the trials of life. This is why we must strive to keep the greatest Commandment of love in all that we do, think and say.

God desires our deepest joy always and He does all things so that this joy becomes ours. God, “who is love,”(1 Jn 4:8) made us through love and calls us to love Him in others for His own sake. God so desires that we live in this love that He “gave us His only begotten Son so that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life.”(Jn 3:16) Jesus Himself came that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) The Father and the Son never cease to send forth the Spirit of Love into our hearts to move us to deeper spiritual joy along the path of greater love for God and neighbor.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for God and how are we responding? Maybe the Spirit is moving us to go deeper in our prayer life or to confess a particular sinful habit and amend our lives. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to end a sinful relationship or to serve Him more selflessly in our apostolate. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to participate more actively in liturgical celebrations or to attend the sacraments more frequently or spend time in delving into His word in Scripture.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for our neighbor? Maybe we are being moved to reach out to someone whom we have written off in life or to reconcile with one who has hurt us. Maybe we are being inspired to speak kind words to someone we always put down or to spend time with someone that we would rather avoid. Maybe we are being moved to intercede for those who lack faith and strength to pray or to instruct the ignorant in faith and morals. A deep and unquenchable joy awaits us as we pursue the will of God and His greater glory and strive to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of others.

The example of Mama Mary shines out so brightly in this regard. Mary’s act of charity is exceptional because, in her love for God and for us her sinful children, she received and responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you,” with a complete gift of herself to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Filled with this Holy Spirit, Mary was so powerfully moved by the Spirit that she “arose and went in haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth,” serving Elizabeth’s needs for three good months. Can we think of a more profound hymn of joy than Mary’s Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior?” With and through Mary, the ever-faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit, we too can believe in the gift of love received through the Holy Spirit and let this Spirit move us to seek for that deep and lasting joy which remains the sure reward of a growing love for God and neighbor.

Having all that we need to love God and neighbors more in this world of selfishness and greed, a world where individualism and egoism is rampant, where consumerism and hedonism dictates life choices, where it is so easy to use others as means to our selfish goals, the words of my seminary professor ring out as true as ever: “No matter what we have or do or enjoy, if we are not loving God and others more and more, we will never have deep and lasting joy.”

In our Eucharist today, Jesus renews in us the outpouring of His Spirit because He wants us to be truly joyful even in this world as we await the perfect joy of heaven. We have the gift of the Spirit of love that never ceases us to inspire us to greater love for God and others no matter the cost. Let us love God and neighbors just as He is moving us and we will also have the joy of the Lord in our hearts, a joy that nothing in this world can take away from us.

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

 

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Freedom from self-deception: A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 22nd 2017

Is 45:1, 4-6; 1Thes 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21

Freedom from self-deception

In his interview with Alastair Campbell in GQ last week, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby was pointedly asked about his view on the morality of homosexual activity. He was asked, “Is gay sex sinful?” Welby had responded, “You know very well that is a question I can’t give a straight answer to. Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through.” After a mildly embarrassed pause, he then continued his response on why he could not give a straight answer:

Because I do not do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.

His answer reminded me of then presidential aspirant Barack Obama’s response in 2008 to the question about when human life began. He had responded, Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.” He would later admit the inadequacy of his response but the damage had already been done.

Self-deception has become the order of the day when faced with difficult questions about faith and morals. We hear the voice of our conscience appealing to the truth but we do not want to offend others and we surely do not want to be called bigots or accused of being intolerant or insensitive. So we feign either ignorance of the truth or uncertainty of what the truth is and demands from us.

An episode in Mt 21:23-28 sheds light on the nature and consequences of self-deception. The Jewish temple leaders had asked Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus promised to reveal this to them if only they would first answer his question about the origin of John the Baptist’s baptism. He asked them, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” They weighed out in private their answers as well as the consequences, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they replied with those familiar words of self-deception, “We do not know.” Consequently, they did not receive an answer from Jesus, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Some pointers from this Gospel event above: It is so easy for us to deceive ourselves and others when faced with difficult questions; but we cannot deceive God. We cannot deceive God because God made us and He knows everything about us. God also knows what benefits we have received from Him and from others and what we can do with them. Continuing in self-deception blocks our hearts from true revelation of Jesus Christ. Only true knowledge and love of Jesus Christ delivers us from the bondage of self-deception and reveals to us our true selves by revealing the true God to us.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Sadducees try to deceive Jesus by flattering words and then by asking, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus cannot be deceived. He knows the evil intent of their hearts behind their nice words, “Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites.” Jesus also knows the benefits that they have received from the Emperor Caesars’ coin which they had on their person, “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Jesus also knows what they can and should do with the coin, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Finally, Jesus also know what benefits they have received from God and what they can and should do with it, “Repay to God what belongs to God.”

In today’s First Reading, God called, named and gifted Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, for a particular purpose – to set the Israelites free from Babylon and to bring them home to Jerusalem and grant them religious freedom. Cyrus does not know who God is and is still worshipping his pagan god, Bel Marduk. But God knows King Cyrus and all the benefits that He has given to him and what Cyrus can do with these, “For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.” Cyrus, who lacks knowledge of the God who has blessed him with amazing benefits, still unknowingly fulfills the purpose of God. How much more can we who know and love God as our heavenly Father fulfill the divine purpose today without excuses?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us and gifted us with many blessings and benefits for a divine purpose. God knows us well and what we can do with the spiritual and material benefits we have received from Him. He has given us an intellect to grasp His truth and a will that moves us towards what is good, true and beautiful. We just cannot deceive Him. God has absolute rights over us and over all that we own. While giving back to the society and others for the benefits we have received from them, we must also give to God what is His own due from His own benefits bestowed on us without trying to be deceptive in any way.

There are many ways in which we fall into self-deception today. We make excuses for our failures in loving and serving God instead of taking full responsibility for our own failures. We try to hide the evil in our hearts and the evil that we do, pretending that we do not need to repent or to confess our sins and receive divine forgiveness and mercy. We try to bribe God by doing good things to win blessings from Him. We try to get blessings from God but we do not care to be faithful in our relationship with Him. Then we easily pretend that we do not know what God’s will is for us or we pretend that it is just beyond our ability to fulfill it.

In this age of self-deception, let us heed the warning of St. Paul, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…So they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-19,20) Indeed, God has done more than show us the truth about Himself in Creation. The Truth has become Incarnate in Jesus Christ, revealing Himself in Scripture and Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by His Church and speaking to us in our consciences today. He has done all this so that in Him we find both “truth and grace,”(Jn 1:17) the truth that sets us free from self-deception and the grace to live by this truth.

The Christians in Thessalonica “received the word of God in great affliction” but they did not try to make any excuses for not bearing fruit. Despite the persecutions that they faced, they made use of the gifts of faith, hope and love that God has given to them to fulfill His divine purpose for them. St. Paul commends them for their “Work of faith” by which they willingly showed that Christ alone was their ultimate Lord to be obeyed and depended upon. St. Paul commends them for their “Labor of love” by which they love their neighbors and others out of love for Christ their Lord. Lastly, they are commended for their “Endurance of hope” by which they endured every suffering at the hands of their fellow citizens for the sake of Christ as they looked forward to their heavenly home. God knows the good that they could and endure with His gifts of faith, hope and love.

The greatest of gifts from God – faith, hope and love – are all that we too need to give to others what is due to them without taking anything away from what is God’s. God knows also what we can do with these gifts by the help of His grace if only we resist the temptation to try to deceive Him, others or ourselves.

Our Eucharist is an encounter with the Author of Grace, the one whom we can never deceive because He made us and knows us well, and who knows what we can do and endure with His grace. Let us receive Him with honesty and humility, without any form of deception on our part so that we will know the true God-man, Jesus Christ, and the power of His grace in us to do what He, Mother Mary, and all the saints have done throughout the ages – give to God what is due to God without any form of deception.

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

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The secret of the chosen ones: A homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 15, 2017

Is 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14

The Secret of the chosen ones

St. Paul is incarcerated probably in Ephesus after drawing the ire of both Jews and Gentiles for his proclamation of the Gospel. He writes to the Philippians about discovering the secret of “being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” He states what this secret is, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” After many years of achievements and successes in a difficult and trying ministry, St. Paul affirms that he does not place any iota of trust in himself, anything or person but in Jesus Christ alone. Placing all his trust in Jesus alone, St. Paul has such vision and inner strength to do, overcome, and endure anything. We become confused, weakened, and disillusioned when we place any trust in something or someone else apart from God.

This is not a new secret that St. Paul just happened to discover. Jesus gave us the secret earlier when He said at the Sermon of the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”(Mt 5:3) It is the poor in spirit, those who refuse to place any trust in anything or person that is not God, that will have the insight to recognize the overwhelming beauty and glory of the Kingdom and have the strength to enter into it.

Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel about the Kingdom of God shows a king graciously inviting all people to his son’s wedding banquet, “They gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.” The man who tried to remain in the banquet without a wedding garment is an example of a person who places his trust in himself. He thinks that he is okay just the way that he is with his old garment. He does not accept the wedding garment that such a rich host would typically provide free of charge to his wedding guests so that they identify themselves with the wedding party and share their joy. He thinks that it is good enough to just show up as if he is doing the king a favor. He ends up being thrown out losing his freedom, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Here are some signs that indicate that we are placing only partial trust in Jesus and knowingly or unknowingly placing trust in ourselves, others or in other things:  We become selfish because we want to please ourselves in all things and always. We are easily and frequently overcome by sin because we become discouraged by our weakness and failures or we have an exaggerated sense of our strength that we rashly meddle into occasions of sin. We find ourselves in wishful thinking that God’s Commandments will change instead of trying to obey His Commandments with the help of His grace. We feel so special that we take exemptions to the Commandments. We are not open to a deep conversion and repentance from our sins because we do not place our trust in God’s grace and we trust in our own self-righteousness. We do not persevere in prayer because, depending on our own strength alone, prayer will appear superfluous and unnecessary. We lose our desire to serve God and do His will because the most important thing in life becomes us and our wants, feelings and desires. We hardly forgive others who offend us because we cannot acknowledge or accept our own sinfulness and need for divine mercy too and we are excessively attached to our hurt feelings and moods. We cannot forgive ourselves for our failures even if we claim to have accepted God’s forgiveness. We worry so much about the future that we begin to accumulate and horde material things selfishly. We walk away from the Sacraments because we say to ourselves, “I can do without these Sacraments,” “I don’t feel I get anything from these Sacraments.” “Why should I confess to a Catholic priest when I can just confess to God directly and receive forgiveness?” It is difficult for us to accept that God can bless and lead us through human persons like the saints because we think, “I do not need to pray to Mary or the saints. I can go directly to Jesus.” Most importantly, we cannot persevere in the spiritual life without complete trust in God but we will give up and lose the prize of eternal life, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”(Lk 21:19) Though we have been graciously invited into God’s Kingdom, we cannot hope to be in communion with Christ and the saints in the eternal kingdom if this is our attitude, “Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”(Ps 1:5)

I heard recently of a young high-school student here in the Manila area who was a gifted and attractive student, doing brilliantly in school, and excelling in sports and other extracurricular activities. She was the star of her class, the one who brought joy to all in the class. It was sad to discover recently that she always wore long sleeve coats and shirts because she was hiding the deep self-inflicted scars on her arms. She had been cutting herself for many years and had attempted suicide many times. I regret to say that I have heard numerous such stories.

Why are many of us, especially our young people, depressed and suicidal today? Why do we lose the strength to keep fighting in this life? Why do we get so confused and disillusioned about life that we want to terminate the gift of life that God has given to us? Maybe we need to examine how complete our trust in Jesus is today and ask, “Do I trust in Jesus completely and in Him alone?” How firmly grounded are we on the secret of the chosen, “I can do all things in Him (alone) who strengthens me?”

We can easily say that we trust in Jesus. But let us ask ourselves honestly, “Do I have complete trust in Jesus and in Him alone?” Is there something or someone else in whom I am depending on to provide strength and light to me in this painful journey of life? Am I also placing part of my trust in wealth, fame, popularity, success, power, relationships, careers, pleasure, etc.? Confusion, darkness, weakness and loss of hope come about when we place any trust in creatures and not on the Creator alone who has become man for us in Jesus Christ.

Our God cannot be accused of being wicked in any way. If He has created us for Himself and has prepared a banquet for us with Him for all eternity, if He has willed the death of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ for our own salvation, how then can He refuse us anything that we need to be with Him in Paradise? Jesus Himself calls us to have this complete trust in Him, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”(Lk 12:32) We only have to have 100% trust in Jesus alone, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.”(Jn 14:1)

Let Mary accompany us to Calvary where we will learn from her how to place all our trust in Jesus and in Him alone. Authentic devotion to Mary leads us to place our trust completely in Jesus Christ because Mary always and unfailingly leads us not to herself but to Jesus alone. She teaches us to always trust in Jesus alone as her voice echoes in our hearts, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary is our prime teacher of the secrets of the chosen ones because it is in Jesus alone that she found strength and vision to stand on Calvary even as she watched Jesus her Son die on the Cross and to wait in unshakable hope for His Resurrection in those darkest hours.

Christ is in us and we are in Him through our Eucharist today. “Many are invited but few are chosen.” Good or bad, we are now the invited ones in His kingdom and our garment is complete trust in Jesus alone. We now know the secret of the chosen ones. Let us live out this secret always no matter what life may bring our way with the conviction that we can do, endure, and overcome all things, definitely not in ourselves or in anything or anybody else, but in Him and in Him alone, Jesus Christ, who always strengthens us.

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

 

 

 

 

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An unexplainable peace in a chaotic world: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 8, 2017.

1s 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

An unexplainable peace in a chaotic world

Have you tried to understand the gruesome killing of concert attendees last week in Las Vegas? So many unanswerable questions: What was the motive for the taking innocent lives? Why didn’t someone notice something about the killer in time? How in the world did the killer get so many sophisticated guns and ammo into a hotel room undetected? What did he gain by unleashing such terror on others? Did their death and anguish bring any relief to his own pains?

There are so many things that we cannot explain or understand about such evil in our times. The fact that we cannot also predict these evils or avoid them adds to our fears. Our future appears both uncertain and scary. How can we ever find peace in such a chaotic world with violence that we cannot predict, avoid, or understand?

St. Paul writes to the conflict-ridden Philippian community about a mysteriously unique peace that “surpasses all understanding” even in the tense community. There are three things that lead to such a peace.

First, there is constant and honest prayer that establishes a living contact with God and draws us deeper into relationship with Him, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”  Our external condition may not be changed by such prayer but the love and confidence that such honest and persistent prayer engenders in us opens our hearts to the God of peace, “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Secondly, this peace must be guarded by the thoughts that we let into our minds and hearts. We must be vigilant about our thoughts if we are going to preserve that unexplainable peace of God that comes from our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. In the words of St. Paul, “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of any excellence, and worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Lastly, relationship with God and good, true and beautiful thoughts must lead to action that is in accord with the divine will. St. Paul ends by saying, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” We must choose carefully whom we decide to imitate in this life if our peace is going to be deep and abiding in today’s chaotic world. Our personal models in life will determine our peace of mind.

There is a strong temptation today to seek for our peace from having and enjoying everything we want and having things the way that we want them without any fear of losing it all. We futilely search for peace by trying to protect ourselves from all forms of evil. The bitter truth is that we are always vulnerable to one form of evil or another whether they are natural or man-made. No matter how much we have or achieve or enjoy in this life, we can never find deep, lasting peace because the world’s evils are unavoidable, unpredictable, and unexplainable.

We enter into that mysterious inner peace when we do not allow anything or person come between us and our relationship with God. This peace is ours when not even our sins or our sufferings in this life can quench our relationship with God in the slightest degree. In addition, our relationship with God so “guards our minds and hearts in Christ” that we constantly examine our thoughts and “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”(2Cor 10:5) Lastly, we choose to imitate Jesus Christ alone with the help and example of those who followed Him perfectly like the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.

Today’s Gospel tells of the tenants who receive everything that they needed from the landowner to bear fruit – an already planted vineyard with a hedge around it, a dug winepress and a tower. We just cannot explain their ingratitude to the landowner and their violent behavior towards the servants sent by the landowner to get the produce, “They seized the servants, one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.” The landowner eventually sent his son, not to receive the produce as other servants were sent to do, but to bring the wicked tenants to some form of reverence and to re-start their relationship with him, “He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’” In killing the son, the tenants reject any relationship with the landowner and thus they lose everything, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.”

The tenants had everything that they could ever want even in their infidelity but they lost it all the moment that they refused to be reconciled to the landowner in and though his son and to renew their relationship with him.  A similar things happens to us: no matter how much we have we can never find deep and lasting peace in this unpredictable world without being in a relationship with God and allowing that relationship to change the way that we think and act.

Jesus comes to us first and foremost to bring us into relationship with the Father by His grace. He alone transforms our minds and moves us to act in a new way that is patterned on His way of acting. This is how He offers us a mysterious inner peace in a chaotic world, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves?”(Mt 11:29)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are letting the unpredictable, unexplainable and unpreventable events of our chaotic world deprive us of the unexplainable peace of God from within, we need to ask ourselves some questions:

  1. How deep and true is my relationship with God today? What am I letting to get between me and God? What sin am I clinging to today because I am ashamed or reluctant to let go of it? What person or thing am I depending on and letting to control my life as if it were a god? What suffering is killing my hope today? Is my relationship with God on His own terms and standards or by mine own terms and standards?
  2. How honest is my prayer life? Do I hide things from God in prayer because I think that He does not care or cannot do anything about it? What hurtful memories of my past have I refused to bring to my prayer? What desires and imaginations am I too ashamed to bring to prayer? How does my fear of being condemned block my openness to God and His love for me?
  3. Can I speak to Jesus with all honesty about my deepest thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, dreams, fantasies, imaginations, etc.? How are my thoughts? Do I give room to and entertain every thought that enters my mind? Are my thoughts about God rooted in His revelation to me or are they based on my feelings alone or my wishful thinking? Do I think evil of others? Do I let impure and judgmental thoughts to remain in my mind?
  4. Who am I imitating today? Do I have a patron saint with whom I connect with and try to imitate?

In a world of senseless and inexplicable violence that tends to kill our peace, our God is offering us a peace that is beyond explanation in His Son Jesus Christ. It all begins with a new relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a new way of thinking, desiring and valuing things and life patterned on that of Jesus in our words and actions.

Our Eucharistic Lord, the Prince of Peace, comes to us today in this world where our inner peace is constantly threatened by violence that we just cannot explain, avoid or predict. We are like tenants who cannot claim to have produced fruit abundantly despite all that we have been given. But Jesus comes not to demand fruit from us but first and foremost to renew and strengthen our relationship with God, to reconcile us with the Father and shape our ways of thinking and acting. If we begin to pray honestly and sincerely, thinking only what is true, good and beautiful, and acting as Jesus did, we shall always have an abiding peace in this world that we just cannot explain because the God of peace will truly be with us.

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

 

 

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The Marian path to Christ-like attitude: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 1, 2017.

Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

The Marian path to Christ-like attitude

I pulled out my Rosary beads to pray during a plane flight some years ago.  The passenger next to me asked me that all too familiar question, “Why do you still pray to Mary? Why all these Rosaries and devotion to Mary?” Off course, I had many reasons for my devotion to Mary but the reason that came out of my mouth that day could only be the voice of the Spirit of Jesus. I replied, “I depend on and I pray to Mary because I want to imitate and be like Jesus.”

What? Did Jesus pray to Mary? Off course not. Then why does praying to Mary make us imitate and be like Jesus?

Everything that Jesus Christ said, did and endured in His humanity and still does today are essentially acts of deepest love for His Father. In Jesus Christ, we find the prime and perfect model of love for the Father and for others. Every act of Jesus was also an act of loving obedience of His Father, “I came down from heaven not to do my will but the will of the One who sent me.”(Jn 6:38) It is out of this loving obedience to His Father’s will that Jesus freely chose to depend on Mary as His beloved Mother, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.”(Lk 2:51) Hence we cannot separate the Most Blessed Virgin Mary from Jesus’ act of loving obedience to the Father for our salvation.

St. Paul says to the Philippians in today’s Second Reading, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.” It is not just enough to do the good but we must have a right inner disposition that does not seek gain for self. We must do it all out of love for God by imitating the attitude of Jesus Christ, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

We cannot speak of any of these elements of Jesus’ attitude of loving obedience without bringing in His loving relationship with Mary and His dependence on her. If we are going to imitate Jesus’ attitude, we must reflect on how these His attitudes were present through, in and with Mary.

In the divine plan, it is in and through Mary that Jesus “who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.” In Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ did not hold on to His divine status but grasped the humanity willed by His Father. Mary responded by holding on only to what God offers to her and nothing more, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” It is also in our life of devotion to Mary that we die to our status in this world so as to embrace only what God wills for us and let go of all others.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus Christ freely “emptied Himself.” To “empty self” is to live with an attitude that says, “It is really not about me.” Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, chose the way of loving dependence on Mary to empty Himself. Can we claim to be wiser and choose another path? We also begin to die to self when we enter into this life of dependence on Mary. Mary will teach us how to act like she did and let go of our own plans, timetables, and agendas in life so as to embrace God’s own plan for us. In Mary’s spiritual womb, we do not get discouraged with our spiritual lives because it is really not about us.

It was with and in the womb of Mary that Jesus Christ “took on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found human in appearance.” Slave denotes utter submission and dependence and lack of any rights at all. Jesus chose to be a slave of love in Mary and Mary responded by choosing in love to be His slave too. We cannot obey God when we are too focused on what is our rights or we are slaves of this world or public opinions. With and through Mary we begin to put aside our own rights for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus “humbled Himself.” Jesus’ first act of humble obedience was to choose to be conceived in the chaste womb of Mary. He would depend on Mary for every nourishment and movement. He will depend on Mary to clothe Him, present Him in the temple and to lead Him to safety in Egypt when Herod wanted to kill Him. We begin to put our pride to death by depending on this awesome creature of God called Mary just like Jesus did.

It was in the womb of Mary that Jesus began His attitude of being “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Speaking of the immaculate body that He received from Mary, Jesus would say, “A body you have prepared for me…I come to do your will, O God.”(Heb 10:5) It is also with Mary that Jesus would consummate His own act of loving obedience of the Father when He gave His life for us on the Cross as Mary united herself inseparably from Him and His sacrifice. She saw Jesus bend His knees in loving obedience from the moment of His conception in her womb to His interment in the tomb. She can surely help us to obey God out of love for Him and wait patiently for God to act in our lives.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus’ loving obedience of the Father did not leave Him disappointed. The Father “greatly exalted Him and gave Him the name above other names so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Jesus has bent His knees in loving obedience and He was not disappointed. Part of His reward is that, since He has bent His own knees in love, we too will not be disappointed if we bend our knees in loving obedience.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in an age when we find it difficult to obey God in our daily lives. Obeying God does not guarantee us good feeling. We do not have visible rewards always for our obedience. We may even face mockery from others for our obedience. Then we are tempted to make those deadly excuses for our disobedience like, “What can I do? Everyone is doing it.” “My disobedience cannot be that bad. God will understand. Isn’t God merciful?”

Even when we choose to obey, we easily say Yes to God one moment and No the next moment. Like the two sons in today’s Gospel parable, we can be inconsistent in our live with God. Our words do not always match our actions. We begin our life-long commitments to marriage, priesthood or religious life with a fervor that only wears off with time as we begin to slowly take back the Yes we said to God. It is in Mary that we find today a guide and help to pronounce our own Fiat and to be faithful to it till the very end out of pure love for God.

As we encounter Christ today, it is in Him that we find that obedience that comes from knowing that we are loved by God just as we are and we respond to the love of the Father by acts of obedience. Jesus’ life of loving obedience on this earth began in, with, and through Mary; it continued with Mary and ended with Mary at the Cross. If we choose to imitate Jesus today by loving and depending on Mary as our Mother too, we will obey God always with love like Jesus did and we too will never be disappointed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Forgiveness from the heart: why and how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Discerning true love

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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