The good flock of the Good Shepherd: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

The good flock of the Good Shepherd

Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn 3:1-2, Jn 10:11-18

I recently heard the interesting vocation story of a Filipina religious sister, a professed religious for over 30 years. She was about 8 years old when she witnessed the labor pains of her elder sister. The pains and shouts of her sister in labor that day caused her to make a silent vow never to get pregnant in life. Her childhood friend convinced her that she could avoid the pains of child-bearing if she got “married” to Jesus instead as a religious sister because, in her words, “Jesus will not make you pregnant like that!” Thus began her desire to become a religious.

Still dreading the prospect of painful child-birth, she entered the religious convent in her late teens. But on entering the convent her motive for the religious life changed and she started to love the life of prayer, silence, religious habits, apostolate, community, etc. After her first profession of vows, she said that her motive for being a consecrated sister changed radically and become Christ-centered. She now wanted to live like Jesus, to belong completely to Jesus, to imitate Jesus more closely, and to follow Him to the very end in poverty, chastity and obedience. She said that this last motive, the Christ-like motive, is what has sustained her all these years as a religious sister through all the ups and downs of the past years.

What is it that moves us to embrace a particular vocation in the Church? Do these motives become more Christ-like and Christ-centered over time? Our fears, likes, or preferences alone cannot sustain us in our vocations in life. What gives life and strength to our particular vocations is our being rooted in our fundamental vocation from baptism to be children of God, filled with the life of God and determined to act and become more and more like Jesus Christ, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”(Rom 8:29)

St. John reminds us of this in today’s Second Reading, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” Our first calling is to grow into the image of Jesus Christ more and more, “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” If the final revelation of Jesus in glory will find us as perfectly similar to Christ, then our fundamental vocation is to become the loving and trusting children of God who are being conformed more and more to Jesus Christ in and through our given vocations in life.

Today’s Gospel tells us what we are to imitate in Christ – His willingness to lay down His life for others. In the words of Jesus, “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus Christ knows us very well – our good, bad and ugly. He knows our past, present and future, our strengths and weaknesses, and our joys and pains. Nothing that we do can surprise Him or dissuade Him from laying down His life for us, “I know mine and mine know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In addition, He does not sacrifice Himself reluctantly but freely, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” No matter our knowledge or lack of knowledge about others, we cannot make excuses to sacrifice self for others.

As children of God today, our first vocation is not to the priesthood, religious life, married life, single consecrated life or any of that. Our first vocation is to be filled with the life of Jesus and to imitate Him, the Good Shepherd, by freely laying down our own lives for others just as He did. Our marriages, priesthood, religious lives and single consecrated lives are enlivened, energized and renewed to the extent that we see in all of these vocations concrete divine invitations to imitate the self-sacrificing goodness of Jesus the Good Shepherd more closely.

We need authentic Christian vocations in our world today, a world in which the idea of self-sacrificing love is almost lost and replaced by the drive to use others for one’s selfish purpose. The poor are exploited for financial gains. The infant in the womb is murdered so that we can face our careers and live as we want. Even their body parts are sold by organizations like Planned Parenthood as we all turn a blind eye. Women and children are abused and sold as sex slaves. The contraceptive culture prods spouses to use each other for pleasure. The mutual objectification of the person in our hookup culture only leaves individuals deeply wounded.

When we choose to use any person for our selfish needs, we lack the energy to give of ourselves to the others and we become confused about our deepest identity and vocation. We are unable to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, the only voice that leads us to life-giving waters and our true identity as God’s children. In short, we become conformed to this culture of death and share in its confusion and hopelessness when we lose the sense of our identity in Christ as God’s children called first and foremost to become more like Christ Jesus.

The Shepherd is good but the sheep appears to be content with being completely different from Him. When we fail to become more and more like the Good Shepherd and sacrifice ourselves for others, we never know who we truly and our particular vocations suffer and even end in pain and shame. In the words of John Paul the Great, “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere gift of himself.”

The journey to becoming more like Christ in and through our specific vocations is the work of divine grace and human cooperation. The Third Eucharistic Prayer ends with this prayer,

“There (kingdom of God) we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”

In the Incarnation of the Word, the Good Shepherd has freely taken on the very nature of the flock so that He can bestow on the flock that same goodness that is found in His heart alone, that self-sacrificing goodness that alone makes His flock more and more like the Him. In Holy Eucharist, Jesus makes present and effective His “laying down His own life for us.” His self-sacrifice has the power to mold us into His own image by the power of His life in us.

On our part, we can never practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of others without our readiness to imitate Jesus Christ closely to the very end. We seek to do the Christ-like thing, allowing the example of Christ to guide us in all things. We surrender our self-seeking and self-preserving attitudes to Him and beg for His own attitudes instead. We do all these for the Christ-like motive of love that moved Him, “This command I have received from my Father.”

Let us embrace our particular vocations with the help of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, who imitated Christ Jesus so perfectly that she even went with Him to the Cross in humble faith and loving obedience to the salvific will of God for all humanity. She never wavered in her difficult and demanding vocation as Mother of our God and Redeemer and our Mother because she never ceased to imitate Jesus more closely as God’s beloved daughter.

The love that we experience in the Eucharist is never idle but moves us to the imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice, “The love of Christ impels us.” Our particular vocations will have life and energy when we too respond to this love and become more truly the good flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

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

 

 

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Easter: The divine response to our regrets : A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

 

3rd Sunday of Easter. April 15, 2018

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48

Easter: The divine response to our regrets

The Mariam-Webster’s dictionary defines regret as “sorrow caused by something beyond one’s power to remedy.” If we value the love of God for us and the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, then there must be a healthy and appropriate regretful sorrow that we must have for our past sins and failures in our Christian life.

But sometimes our regrets crosses the line into that sorrow that is rooted in our utter inability to remedy the evils that we have done or the evils that we have experienced from others. We show our regrets about the past that we cannot remedy when we say or think such things as:

“How could that happen to me…? What was I thinking? I cannot believe I just did that thing which I vowed never to do again…What did I do to deserve being treated that way…? I only wished that I had said or done something different then… I will never be the same again… I wish I never met or knew that person… How could they do that to me…?”

God responds to the painful regrets of our hearts by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and by raising Him from the dead on the third day. We could never remedy our sins or its consequences but in and through our faith in the Resurrection, we can overcome our regrets by true repentance, re-commit ourselves to Jesus, and journey into the new beginning that Jesus Christ constantly offers to us irrespective of what the past has been.

St. Peter had every reason to have regrets.  He had promised to die for Jesus even if all others abandoned Him only to deny Jesus three times shortly afterwards when questioned in the courtyard of the high priest during the Passion of Christ. He wept bitterly in regret of his actions. But he did something more: He believed in the Resurrection and he made use of the opportunity to re-commit himself to Christ and enter into the new beginning that Jesus offered to him on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. The risen Christ had asked him thrice, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter re-committed himself, “Yes Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus gave him a new beginning, “Feed my sheep.”

In today’s Second Reading, St Peter reminds the audience of their regrettable past actions as well as how the Resurrection delivers them from all past regrets, “The God of our Fathers has glorified His servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised Him from the dead, of this we are witnesses.” The divine calling now is not to live in irremediable regrets but to commit their lives to God, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

The risen Christ has every reason humanly speaking to have regrets about the past. He had come down from heaven, chosen to be born of the Virgin Mary in a manger, taught powerfully and worked many miracles for the benefit of others, opposed and maligned by those He came to save, accused of being possessed by demons, ignored by many, abandoned by His disciples, and finally crucified. Many of His disciples would not even believe in His resurrection.

But Jesus never lived with regrets about anything because He knew every single thing that would happen to Him from the moment of the Incarnation, culminating in the Resurrection. He affirms this in today’s Gospel, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled…Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” Jesus Christ is not subject to regrets about the past because He is the “Resurrection and the Life.” He lived, suffered, died with that certainty that His Father will raise Him from the grave.

The risen Christ does not highlight the regrettable actions of the apostles but calls them to realize that, because of His Resurrection, they can journey from past regrets into the new beginning that He constantly offers them. Because He is alive today, “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to all nations.” As believers of the Resurrection, instead of dwelling on the past that we cannot change, we disciples are to re-commit ourselves constantly to the Lord Jesus, “You are witnesses of these things.”

In the Second Reading, St. John reminds us that we should not live in regrets of our past sins once we have asked for forgiveness and repented of the sin, “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the world.” Our risen Lord remains committed to the Father and to us as our Advocate and expiation for our sins, making it possible for us to firmly commit to the Lord and His holy commandments no matter how we have failed in the past, “The way we may be sure that we know Him is to keep His commandments.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in Holy Baptism, we have been branded by the Resurrection event and power in Jesus Christ. We are fallen creatures with this Resurrection power within us. In our weakness, we will do and experience regrettable things, things that we just cannot remedy because, in the first place, we can never really know their full consequences. As we regret and repent for our personal failures, we must never let our inability to remedy our failures now to blind or make us deaf to God’s constant call to recommit our lives to Him and to bear witness to others about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our Eucharist is a communion with the risen Jesus Christ who longs to take away our sins. He offers us a new beginning today as well as the only thing that can remedy our sinful past – our communion in His own precious blood. He longs to remedy the effects of sin in our world and He wants to do so through us, His witnesses in the world, who are inebriated with His atoning blood in today’s Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. All that He requires of us is that we have an unshakable faith in His Resurrection and a readiness to re-commit ourselves to Him and embrace this new beginning no matter our past regrets.

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

 

 

 

 

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Divine mercy in our souls: A homily for Divine mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday. April 8, 2018.

Acts 4:32-35, 1Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

Divine mercy in our souls

I had the opportunity some years ago to speak to some seminarians who were losing their faith in their religious and priestly vocation and dropping out of their seminary in great numbers. I discovered one major factor for their departures from the seminary – they were rather dismissive of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In short, they had a rather insufficient grasp of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Confession, being the sacrament of divine mercy, involves much more than the forgiveness of sins and a divine assurance of this forgiveness in a community of faith as we believe. We must see in divine mercy that unmerited and utterly gratuitous love that God has for us His sinful creatures by which He willingly stoops down to supply all our needs no matter how sinful or unworthy we may be.

Thus through the sacrament of divine mercy, the human soul is ennobled with all that it needs to be and to act as God desires it to do. In the words of Jesus to St. Faustina kowalska, “When you go to Confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My heart always flow down upon your soul and ennobles it.” (Divine Mercy in my soul, #1448)

The Collect in today’s Mass shows how our faith is rooted in the ennobling power of divine mercy, “God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own.” This sacrament of Confession, in addition to freeing us from our sins, enkindles and renews our faith, making that faith permeate our thoughts, words and actions.

In the Gospel, the risen Christ does not abandon His unfaithful disciples who abandoned Him in His hour of need. He had begged them to “watch with Him” during His agony in the garden of Gethsemane because “His heart was sorrowful unto death.” But they chose to sleep and eventually abandoned Him. Upon rising from the dead, Jesus, the Mercy of God incarnate, goes searching for His disciples to bring them that which they so desperately needed. To those who huddled behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews,” Jesus repeatedly offered the peace of heart that they so desperately needed, “Peace be with you.” Sensing their guilt from abandoning Him, Jesus offered them the needed forgiveness and reconciliation with God in His Spirit, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Knowing that they would need the power to forgive themselves and those who hurt their communion in the Church community, He gave them the sacrament of divine mercy, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and, whose sins you retain are retained.” Then to the doubting Thomas who was struggling to believe, Jesus gave Him the much needed gift of faith through His sacred wounds and elicited the act of faith from Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in addition to cleansing our sins, divine Mercy is all about the divine love ennobling our souls no matter how sinful we have been or the struggles that we are facing in life. In Jesus Christ, we have access to every single grace and blessing that we need, whether it is spiritual, emotional, psychological, etc. But for divine mercy to supply all our needs and ennoble our souls, we must do the following:

  1. Experience divine mercy as often as possible, especially in the sacrament of Confession. We must not wait for the sinful actions to take root before seeking for mercy; but even confessing our sinful thoughts, desires and fantasies prepare us to act with strong faith in dealing with the temptations before they take root in our souls.
  2. Trust completely in divine mercy, that God’s merciful love will surely bend over all our miseries and bring us all that we need. We do not place our trust in our selves or in anything or in any person but in Jesus Christ alone for all our needs. In all things, our mantra should be, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
  3. Act on this mercy and let others experience the mercy that we have received from God by our striving to meet all their needs to the best of our ability.

The First Reading shows us how the early Church became a community whose faith was so powerful that “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Having experienced the mercy of God through the risen Christ, they placed all their trust in God to the extent that “those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, put them at the feet of the apostles so that they were distributed to each according to need.” They acted on the mercy that they had experienced to the point that they met the needs of others in community, “There was no needy person among them.” They received a strong and vibrant faith that was active in love despite their poverty.

St. John reminds us in the Second Reading that “the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” It is not our money, resources, experience, knowledge, number, or anything that can withstand the onslaught of our secular world but our faith. Without faith, we cannot “love the children of God, love God and obey His commandments.” Without faith, we will see in God’s commandments only the dictates of a tyrant whose commandments are nothing but useless burdens to be discarded or, at least, meliorated. Without faith we cannot grasp the mercy of God behind His commandments, we cannot repent from our sins and wage war against the forces of darkness, we cannot keep our commitments in our vocations, we cannot pray, serve, love, forgive, etc.

This unconquerable faith that we need cannot be self-manufactured. The path to this type of faith is through the continuous experience of divine mercy, beginning from the font of baptism, through complete trust in this mercy of God in all our needs and through our willingness to meet the needs of others as best we can. How are we constantly experiencing divine mercy today? Our masses, prayers, meditations, encounters with others – are they experiences of divine mercy? What aspects of our lives today are we refusing to place under the banner of complete trust in God? Where are we trying to be in control? How attentive and responsive are we to the spiritual, emotional, physical needs of others? Our response to these questions will determine the quality of our faith.

Let us turn to Mary, our Mother in faith, who never wavered in faith even at the cross of Calvary as she suffered with Jesus for our salvation. It is divine mercy that ennobled her with such heroic faith. She experienced the mercy of God in a singularly unique way having been prevented from all original sin by the foreseen merits of Christ while we all are delivered from original sin. She placed all her trust in divine mercy for all her needs as she shows us in the wedding of Cana, “They have no wine.” She shows us how to meet the needs of others as she traveled in haste to visit and strengthen her aged cousin Elizabeth at her time of need. Mary, our Mother of mercy, is also willing to bend over us today as always to share with us her unquenchable faith if only we would draw close to her and learn from her how to experience deeply, trust completely, and reflect divine mercy to others.

Our Eucharist is always an encounter with merciful Savior who never ceases to hunt for us no matter how sinful we may be. Our risen Lord comes to us to show us His wounds not to make us feel bad or guilty but as a guarantee that He would always ennoble our souls and supply all our needs, beginning with that unconquerable faith that cries out even in the darkest moments, “My Lord and my God!”

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

 

 

 

 

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The humble and silent path to glory: A homily for Passion/Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday. March 25th 2015.

Mk 11:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47

The humble and silent path to glory

We begin our Palm Sunday liturgy outside the Church reading about Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt and the crowd proclaiming, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The triumphant tone changes inside the Church as we listen to the Passion narrative during the Mass in which the same crowd now shouts, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

This transition in our liturgy reflects our life of discipleship too. We easily betray Jesus after we have professed our love for Him. We pledge to follow Him faithfully in favorable moments and then deny and betray Him in our thoughts, words, and actions in unfavorable moments.

One reason why we easily betray Jesus is that we are trying to follow Jesus without sharing deeply in His attitudes. Two attitudes of Jesus shine out in today’s Readings that we can easily ignore as disciples of Jesus Christ: Humility and silence.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,” but chose to “empty Himself and take the form of a slave.” He humbled Himself throughout His life from the moment that He chose to be conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to be completely dependent on her like any other infant in the mother’s womb. As God, He could have come to this world as a thirty-three year old man and walked right to Calvary. But in His humility He chose to be “born of a woman.”(Gal 4:4)

In His humility, He shows and manifests His own need for the Father, for the help of others, and for created things. The Creator of all things affirms His need for a donkey to ride on His journey into Jerusalem, “The Master has need of it (colt) and will send it back here at once.” The King of glory chose to need the anointing of the woman in the house of Simon the Leper, “She has done a good thing for me…She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” The One through whom all things are created gave thanks to the Father for a tiny piece of bread at the Last Supper, “Then He took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to them.” The all-powerful One did not pretend or hide the pains and fears of His heart to His disciples at the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He who had the ready command of 12 legions of angels asked for the company of frail men, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here with me.”

He faced His passion with silence. He rode in complete silence even as the crowd proclaimed Him during His entry into Jerusalem, “Those who preceding Him as well as those following kept crying out: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He definitely did not glorify Himself. He was silent before the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, “But He was silent and answered nothing.” His silence in the midst of all the accusations against Him unnerved Pilate, “Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.”

Why should silence and humility matter for us as it did for Jesus? By humbling Himself, Jesus in His humanity was completely dependent on the Father for everything, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing on His own accord but only what He sees the Father doing.”(Jn 5:19) By His silence, He allowed the Father to act and to bring out His greater glory. Likewise, our own humility, our sense of our complete nothingness, should lead us to a radical trust in God alone. After we have done all that we can do and say, our silence in the face of trials and temptations allows God to act in unique ways and bring about His greater glory in all things.

The glory of God does not imply that we do not face challenging and difficult situations. But God is certainly glorified when we bear fruit and remain faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in all circumstances, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my (Jesus’) disciples.”(Jn 15:8)

It is not easy for us to cultivate these virtues of humility and silence in our world today. Consumerism makes us live today with that entitlement mentality by which we think and feel that we are entitled to all that we want, how we want it, and when we want it. In our pride, we feel that God, others, and society must bend to our whims. Mass media kills our outer silence by constantly bombarding us with news, information, and opinions that are often contrary to what we believe. But we lose our inner silence when we become frustrated because we cannot have all that we desire. This frustration sets off an endless self-talk within us that shows our grumbling and discontent with life. Losing that inner silence, we vent on social media, endlessly complaining and whining about all that is not going our way. Humility and silence are lost and we cannot be faithful to Jesus Christ in the circumstances of our lives.

Humility begins when we realize that all the truly good things that we desire, have, and do comes from God and He alone maintains this good in us. We distrust ourselves and put our hope in God alone. Humility allows us to accept our need for God and for others. We accept ourselves with our strengths and limitations while striving to become what God is calling us to be. We accept our failures and are patient and compassionate with others.

We cultivate inner silence by refusing to live on the level of the visible and sense-perceptible things and events. But we journey inside ourselves to connect with the God who dwells and acts from within us. Connecting with Him, we grasp His plan for us in those moments for His greater glory and we can make a faith-filled response to Him in all circumstances.

How do we know that we have cultivated this humility and silence in our lives? We do more than just seek deliverance from difficulties and trials. In times of troubles and temptations, we can, like Jesus, choose not to pray, “Father, save me from this hour,” but we shall like Him say, “Father, glorify your name.”(Jn 12:27-29) This is the attitude that allows God to act in us and through us for His greater glory and our constant fidelity to Him in all circumstances.

The King of glory comes to us today in the humility and silence of the Eucharist so that we bear fruit always to the glory of His Father. May Mother Mary, who suffered with Jesus on Calvary by sharing in His own humility and silence, teach us to share in these attitudes of Jesus so that we are faithful to Jesus today, tomorrow, and forever, no matter the circumstances of our lives.

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

 

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Divine love and our addictions: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

 

4th Sunday of Lent. March 11th 2018.

2 Chr 36:14-16,19-21; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

 

Divine love and our addictions

I was deeply moved some years ago as I watched an episode of the reality TV show Hoarders: buried alive. The show is about people struggling to overcome their compulsive hoarding of things. My first response was, “They need to pray hard to be free from this addiction.” But is prayer the only thing that they need? Prayer is necessary but a lot more is needed.

I recall the story of man who prayed to God persistently for the very same thing. His prayer went something like this, “Lord God, please help me to win the lottery. I really want to win the lottery.” He persisted in this prayer until God gave him this answer, “Why don’t you go out and buy a lottery ticket first?” How silly! He had never bought a single lottery ticket yet he expected God to help him win the lottery.

We too may be like that man, begging God constantly, “Lord, please save me. I really want to be saved from this addiction.” But what have we done to be saved in response to God’s saving grace?

Today’s readings make it clear that God alone saves us out of His love for us and there is absolutely nothing that we can do to save ourselves from sin and its devastating effects. St. Paul makes it clear in these words of today’s Second Reading, “By grace you have been saved.”

The Gospel shows God’s eternal and ultimate saving plan of love for His people and the refusal of many to accept His love for them, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus, the Son of God, also loved us so much that He chose to be “lifted up” on the Cross so that “everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” How did many respond to this loving act of the Triune God to save us from eternal death? We are told that “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works are evil.” Many hardened their heart and refused the saving love being offered to them in Jesus Christ.

For us to be saved from sin and its devastating effects, we must respond to God’s love for us. But what does this response to divine love look like?

To respond to divine love, we must first personally receive this divine love as a gift from God. There is nothing that we can do or become to merit or deserve this love of God. In the words of St. Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your doing; it is the gift of God.” When we see God’s love as a gift to us and not based on our spiritual, emotional, or physical conditions in life, we know that this love will endure and be active in our lives even in our sinfulness, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” We cannot experience the life-giving and saving power of God’s love when we fail to see it as a pure gift to us.

To respond to divine love, we must also believe in this love as the fundamental reality of our lives. The Second Reading shows God loving plan to save His exiled people who in their infidelity have “added infidelity to infidelity, practiced all the abominations of the nations and polluted the Lord’s temple.” They suffered the loss of everything, “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects.” Out of His love for them, God makes use of the Persian king Cyrus to free His beloved rebellious people from Babylon and help them return home to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

We too must likewise never doubt God’s love for us in the sufferings and trials of our lives. We experience the saving power of God when we face suffering with the conviction that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39) In His love for us, God can even make use of our struggles to draw us closer to Him and experience His saving love for us.

Lastly, we respond to God’s love by concrete action in obedience to His will for us. In the words of St. Paul, “We are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” Receiving divine love as a gift and believing in this love even in the face of suffering and pain fills our hearts with a hope that moves us to act with love for God. In the words of St. Paul, “The love of Christ impels us, because we are convinced that one has died for all.”(2Cor 5:14) This love of God alone moves us to take concrete steps in our unrelenting fight against sin and its consequences.

How does this three-pronged response to God’s love play out when we face sin and our sinful addictions? Receiving God’s love as a gift, we know that we are loved just as we are and that His love for us endures even in our moral failures. Believing in God’s love for us, we know that His love for us possesses saving power even in the midst of our struggles and failures. Our struggles does not imply that His saving action is suspended in our lives. In addition, we refuse to succumb to self-condemnation because we are grounded in the truth that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” Nothing fuels addictions more than this self-condemnation.

Responding to God’s love in action, we do not stop making use of all the necessary means to conquer the sinful addictions. We never stop praying, receiving the sacraments regularly (especially Eucharist and Confession), knowing ourselves better through self-examination, facing the difficult truths about ourselves, going for counseling, avoiding the occasions and conditions that trigger our addictive behaviors, meditating on the word of God, etc. We do all these not just because we want to be healed of our addictions but because we know that we have been loved and this is our way of responding to that love in action. We will never give up the fight if our focus is on responding to God’s love rather than on overcoming addictions.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a world of numerous addictions. We seem to be losing our freedom so easily, becoming enslaved by things that God has given us to be used in His loving service. We have addictions to pornography, drugs, alcohol, gambling, masturbation, sex, internet, and whatever else may come in the future. Prayer alone is never enough to overcome and break free from these addictions. We must do something else: receive divine love as a gift, believe in it as the fundamental reality of our lives and respond to it with concrete action.

This Sunday of Lent the Church calls us to rejoice. How can we rejoice when we are experiencing the bondage of our sinful addictions? We can rejoice because we are experiencing the saving love of Jesus even as we face the struggles with sin our lives. We rejoice because we have this unmerited gift of His love, we firmly believe in it, and we are not taking it for granted but responding with loving action.

Let us beg Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother too, who received divine love so completely that the God-Man was formed in her womb, to help us do the same. Let us beg her to help us believe as she believed in God’s love for her even in the painful moments of the death of Jesus on the Cross. Let us beg her to help us respond to divine love as she responded to this divine love in complete gift of herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

Jesus, our Savior, pursues us with His saving love in this Eucharist because He wants to save us and bring us into the joy of salvation. Let us believe in this His love, receive it as the most precious gift of our lives and respond to it in concrete action. This is how we can enter into the joy of salvation even as we declare war on our addictions.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian zeal in an era of “paradigm shift”: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent. March 4, 2018.

Ex 20:1-17; 1Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

Christian zeal in an era of “paradigm shift.”

One phrase that has been thrown around recently in the Church regarding her moral teaching on life, sex, and marriage is “paradigm shift.” Blaise Cardinal Cupich of Chicago used this phrase when he described the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia as a “paradigm shift in moral teaching” in the light of the new situation facing the family today. He opined that, by this document, “The core goal of formal teaching on marriage is accompaniment, not the pursuit of an abstract, isolated set of truths…This represents a major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary.”

These words left me scratching my head in confusion.  If we take paradigm shift to mean a change in a person’s fundamental perspective or framework through which everything is viewed and interpreted, is a paradigm shift really what we need today? Can we have endless and random paradigm shifts in Church teaching, sacramental discipline, and pastoral care regarding married and civilly divorced, homosexuality, etc.? Besides, who supplies the new paradigm in the first place? When does the paradigm cease to shift or does it continue to shift endlessly? Who determines the direction and duration of the shift in paradigm? What is the direction of this “accompaniment” when moral truth is considered “abstract and disjointed”? Isn’t such “accompaniment” without the guidance of objective truth the case of a blind guide leading the clueless blind into mutual destruction, something that Jesus warned us about, “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”(Mt 15:14)

Today’s scripture readings point us to the right attitude that we should have today in a world of ever shifting perspectives – zealous love for God. In this zealous love, we are so filled with love for God that we are ready to risk anything to make Him better known and loved by others. We allow the revealed truth to sink so deeply into our minds and hearts that we cannot but express and give witness to others about that truth with a self-sacrificing love in a way that is attentive to the signs of the times.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ cleanses the temple because “zeal for His Father’s house has consumed Him.” He does not cleanse the temple simply because of His personal taste but to make them see the temple the way that God has always intended it to be seen and cherished, “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.” This action will be the basis for some of the hateful speech that Jesus would hear as He hung on the cross on Calvary, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”(Mt 27:40)

Why didn’t Jesus buy into their own perspective of messiahship and just come down from the cross? He remained on that cross because of His desire to communicate to us that same zealous love for the Father that filled His own heart even in the time of suffering. Jesus Christ came into this world, suffered, died, rose from the dead, founded a Church and imbued it with the Holy Spirit so that He can make present to us the divine perspective in every aspect of human life and relationships and help us to live accordingly. He assured us that His words will triumph over the world’s constantly changing perspectives, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”(Lk 21:33) He has so enabled us to respond with the same zealous love for the Father before others that we would be judged by how zealous our love is: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He come in His glory and the glory of the Father and the angels.”(LK 9:26)

How do we begin to show this zealous love for God? The first sign of our zeal is our obedience to His commandments out of love for God. In Today’s First Reading, God offers His people the commandments only after He has showed them His love for them in setting them free from the bondage of Egypt, “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” Likewise, our obedience to all the commandments is our first and primary response to God’s love, “He has mercy…on those who love Him and keep His commandments.” To see the truths of the commandments as “abstract and isolated,” or unattainable, is a failure to grasp that the God of love cannot demand from us that which remains impossible for us with the help of His grace.

Jesus’ zealous love for the Father did not begin with His cleansing of the temple. No, His zeal began in His loving obedience to the Father, from His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary and throughout His entire life, “He was obedient even to death on the cross.” We resist the temptation to appeal to a shift in paradigm regarding the commandments or Church teaching based on scripture and tradition when we realize that the divine law-giver has freely chosen to love us and to be one of us so that we too lovingly obey His Father’s commandments. Jesus has come not to “abolish but to fulfill the law,”(Mt 5:17) and He does so in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As attested to in today’s Gospel, Jesus “knows them (and us) well…He himself understood it (human nature) well.” As our Creator, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our courage and our cowardice, and our ability to be faithful and to be self-deceptive. And yes, He knows our ability to appeal to a paradigm shift regarding His teaching.

Jesus restored the divine perspective on marriage and divorce which the Jews had lost because of the hardness of their hearts, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8) Jesus alone heals and transforms our hearts so that we can act with zealous love for the Father no matter the prevailing perspectives in our world today.

St. Paul lived in a time when people of Corinth had different perspectives on what matters most in life. The Jews endlessly longed for signs while the Greeks sought for wisdom. The Christians rather steadfastly “proclaimed Christ crucified,” because He is the “power of God and the wisdom of God.” The Christian life and worship was viewed through the lens (another word for paradigm) of the Crucified and Risen Savior. They saw in His commandments the power, wisdom, and love of God and they depended on His grace alone to live just like He intended them to live. They kept the divine perspective intact and gave witness to it without surrendering to the prevailing numerous perspectives of their time.

About four years ago, Japanese Olympian skater, Miki Ando, was at the peak of her preparation for the Sochi games. She became pregnant out of wedlock just a few weeks before the games began. She had to deal with the cultural shame of having a child outside wedlock. Her thoughts, the expectations of others, and everything else seemed to point her in the direction of having an abortion to preserve her figure skating career in a culture where figure skating is very popular. In her words, “I could not make up my mind all the way, but I hate[d] to make a decision to say goodbye to the baby.” But she chose to have the baby. She now has a 5 year old daughter and she is a two-time Olympic gold medalist today!

She felt the pressure to abort her child in our world where there were many perspectives about human life, sex, and marriage. In the midst of all those contrary and contradicting perspectives, she chose to follow the divine perspective on the inviolable sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death as expressed in the commandment, “You shall not kill.” She narrated her final decision, “I have chosen the baby’s life over skating.” She shows us that we can respect and defend the life of others at great costs to us no matter how strong the contrary perspectives may be.

Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel that if we choose to live by the divine perspective in all things, nothing will ever destroy us. He was speaking of His body when He said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Filled with a zealous love for the Father, He knew that death and the grave will not have the final say but that the Father will raise Him up.

We have received His own zealous love in our hearts in baptism along with the truth that sets us free. What we need is a divine overhauling of our hearts and its priorities and not a paradigm shift. Rather than appeal to a vague and nebulous shift in paradigm in the Church’s teaching regarding faith and morals, let us show our zeal by adhering to God’s commandments faithfully and seeking to proclaim the power and the wisdom of God behind these commandments. Even as we struggle with our own sinfulness, let our striving for loving obedience to God bear witness to the freedom that Jesus has won for us as well as the power of His grace in us today.

There is also a price to be paid too if we are zealous for the Lord too, filled with His love and striving to make Him better known and loved by others. We will be called names, ostracized, and even persecuted. We will be labelled “judgmental,” “rigid,” “bookish,” “haters,” “bigots,” “insensitive,” etc. But let us be rest assured that, like Jesus, nothing will destroy us if we maintain our zeal for the Lord in such moments.

Our Eucharist is a communion with the body of Jesus Christ, that body that cannot be destroyed, that body that is the power of God and the wisdom of God. We are brought into the divine perspective – the only perspective that matters and endures forever – by His wisdom and strengthened by His power to be zealous for God in a world of endlessly changing perspectives. There is a world out there in need of our zealous witness to God’s love for us all in Jesus Christ even if they do not realize it. Let us not disappoint or betray them by claiming a paradigm shift in how we interpret what Christ and His Church teaches today.

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

 

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Why God tests our hearts: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent. February 25, 2018.

Gen 22:1-2,9,10-13,15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10

Why God tests our hearts.

Abraham had shown his love for God in so many ways. He had abandoned the comfort of his rich and fertile land so as to travel as a pilgrim to a land that God promised him. He had waited for over a hundred years for the birth of Isaac, the child of promise. Why then does God put him to the test? Hasn’t he given enough proofs of his faithful love for God?

We should also why God puts His loved ones to the test. These divine tests are to help us cultivate and manifest hearts worthy of God’s children – truly devoted hearts. Abraham manifested his own devoted heart by his readiness to sacrifice his only son Isaac, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

Abraham showed the qualities of a truly devoted heart: a heart that gave all, always, and for God’s sake. He was willing to give all, “Take your son Isaac, your only one whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.” He was willing to give always, letting go of his only son just as he was willing to let go of his land and property. He gave for God’s sake and not for what he would get from God, “There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

God responds to Abraham’s devotedness by offering him divine consolations that cannot be matched by earthly gains, “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants countless as the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore.” When we slowly cultivate and manifest truly devoted hearts through the trials and tests that God ordains in our lives, we also dispose ourselves to experience the deeper consolation of God that persons or created things cannot give.

But how can we begin to cultivate this devoted hearts through the tests and trials of this life? How can we come to the point where we hold nothing back from God, surrender all things to God always and do so for His own sake and not for our own selfish needs?

The way to a devoted heart is to grasp God’s own devoted love for each and every one of us. We can only hope to be devoted to God when we live with the conviction that indeed God is devoted to us i.e. He gives us all, always, and for our own eternal good. God is indeed devoted to us!

In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul consoles the persecuted Christians in Rome by reminding them of God’s devoted love for them in Jesus Christ, “He who did not spare His own son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” In God’s devoted love, He gave us all in giving us His own Son; He never ceases to offer us His Son Jesus Christ, and He does so not for what He can get from us but out of His devoted love for us. In Jesus Christ, we find embodied God’s own devoted love for us as well as the spiritual consolations that are ours when we too show our devoted hearts in times of testing and trials.

St. Peter in the moment of the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel is moved by love to serve Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” We all know that Peter at this point lacks that devoted heart. He who showed such enthusiasm and generosity before the Transfigured Christ would repeat later before a mere maid during the Passion of Christ, “I never knew Him (Jesus).” The Father responds to Peter’s impetuousness by asking him to first see in Jesus Christ God’s own devoted love for us and the means to respond to God with devoted hearts, “This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him.” We cannot hope to be truly devoted to God apart from our communion with Christ and our dependence on His love and grace.

Jesus, the devoted Son of the Father, gave all, always and for the sake of the Father. His momentary visible glory during the Transfiguration is a foretaste of that divine consolation that we experience when devoted hearts are formed in the crucible of the trials of life. The transfigured Christ offers us a participation in His own devoted heart as well as the divine consolations that come from living as God’s devoted children even in our trials and difficulties, “To those who accepted Him He gave power to become children of God.”(Jn 1:12)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we neither understand nor accept the sufferings, trials, and difficulties that come our way in this life. It is not enough to say that God is testing us without grasping that these tests are the way that God trains our hearts in devotedness. They are trials that also dispose us to receive the deep and enduring consolations that created things cannot give us in this world.

There are so many personal and communal trials and difficulties today that it is so easy for us to feel as if God is unable to help us or He doesn’t just care. We can even begin to question our love for God. It is also so easy for us to settle for earthly consolations that never satisfy us. It may be riches, pleasures, achievements, relationships, pastimes, etc. We are futilely trying to numb the pains of life.

Rather than questioning God’s love for us or trying to numb the pains of life, maybe we need to ask how God is inviting us to become more devoted in these moments of testing. What are we holding back from God at this moment? What are we unwilling to surrender to God? How is our relationship with God being determined primarily by our condition in life? How are we seeking to love for God’s sake and not for our own sake? Questions like these in trying moments help us to mature in our devotedness to Christ.

No matter how close we are to God, God will never cease testing His loved ones. He tested His own Mother Mary too several times. When He was found in the temple, He asked His Mother Mary, “Why are you looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” When Mary told Him about the wine running out at the wedding of Cana, He asked, “How does this concern of yours concern me. My hour has not yet come.” All these were tests aimed at Mary manifesting her devotion to Him. Mama Mary continued to respond, offering all of herself, always and in different situations of her life, and doing so purely for the sake of God alone.

Our Eucharist is an encounter with Jesus, our ever devoted eternal High Priest, “who is at the right hand of God to intercede for us.” He will never cease to test our hearts, making them like His own devoted heart, and making them able to receive the Father’s consolations in this world of trials. All that we need to do is to respond to His undying devotion to us by showing Him our own devoted hearts, hearts ready to give all, always, and for God’s own sake alone.

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

 

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