The language of the heaven-bound: A homily for the feast of the Santo Niño

Feast of the Santo Niño.  January 21, 2018.

Is 9:1-6; Eph 1:3-6,15-18; Mk 10:13-16

The language of the heaven-bound

Jesus confirms that the only way to heaven is to become like a little child, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” So it is possible for us to do all that we are doing now supposedly for the sake of the kingdom but still miss out on this kingdom because we do not have that fundamental disposition of becoming like little children.

So we must ask what it means to become like little children on our way to the Father’s kingdom. How do we know that we are doing and enduring all things with a childlike disposition as we strive for the kingdom of God?

Our language in our relationship with God and with ourselves will show how childlike we are. There are five ways that we can know if our language reflects that of God’s children bound for heaven or not.

  1. “Thank you, Lord.” To enter into the kingdom of God, we must see it as first and foremost a gift from God and not something that we can merit or earn in anyway. It is Jesus Christ alone who reveals the kingdom to us, makes it present in Himself, and affords us entry into this kingdom. We can neither believe in this kingdom nor lay claim to it apart from the merits of Christ won for us on the Cross and disposed to us in the sacraments of the Church, beginning with holy baptism. Though we are sinners with the potential to sin again, we must embrace the kingdom of God with gratitude because “Christ died for us while we were still sinners,”(Rom 5:8), His grace is “sufficient for us,”(2Cor 12:9) and He has come “not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Lk 5:32) The kingdom of God remains a gift no matter what we have to do or suffer to possess it.
  2. “I cannot do anything on my own.” We must humbly admit that on our own, we cannot do anything worthy of the kingdom. We need the light and strength of divine grace to enlighten us to the beauty and glory of this mysterious kingdom, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.”(Lk 17:20) On our own, we cannot turn away from sin and all that is contrary to the divine will, love like Christ Jesus, cooperate with the His grace, and follow Him till the end of our lives. It is by the grace of God alone that we can embrace the mystery of the cross and suffering in our lives and be faithful to His divine will even at great costs. As Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing,”(Jn 15:5); in addition, “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”(Phil 4:13)
  3. “Jesus, I trust in you.” Lest we fall into discouragement after admitting our inability to do anything without the grace of God, we place all our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and we depend on Him alone for everything. We trust in Jesus’ words to us and His promises to us and in the redemption that He has already won for us. We trust not only in the person of Jesus, but in the mysterious ways that He brings us into His kingdom. We trust that He chooses to communicate His own divine life to us through the sacramental signs of bread and wine in the Eucharist, “This is my body… this is my blood.”(Mt 26:26,28) We trust that the seed of the kingdom is growing mysteriously in this weak and sinful Catholic Church. We trust that He offers us in His kingdom communion with His own mother too, “Behold, your mother.”(Jn 19:27) We do not just trust in Jesus and His words and promises to us also, but also in the mysterious ways that He chooses to bring us into His kingdom.
  4. “Lord Jesus, please help me.” If our trust in Jesus is as it should be, then we shall approach Jesus in all our needs with confidence as He invites us to do, “Ask and you shall receive… whoever asks receives.”(Mt 7:7) We can make all our requests and needs known to Him without any shame or fear of our prayers not being granted. As God’s children, we pray with the certainty that our prayers will be answered according to God’s mysterious holy will for our good and for the good of others.
  5. “Lord, I come to do your will.” Having expressed our prayers sincerely and confidently from the heart, we will seek the will of God above all things. Filled with the sense of God’s goodness, we know that what God wills is the very best for us. We do not seek to please ourselves but to please God in all that we do. We would not be content in claiming that He is our Lord and master, but we will seek to do His will above all things, “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of God, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”(Mt 7:21)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Readings on the Feast of the Santo Niño fill us with this hope that is ours as God’s children. We now have access to God because “a child is born to us, a son is given us.” In this son, Jesus Christ, God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavens.” In this son, God has “destined us for adoption to Himself.”

In today’s Gospel, we see this same Jesus Christ becoming indignant at His disciples who try to prevent the children from being brought to Him, “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to us all. Yet the children in today’s Gospel cannot approach Him on their own but they depend on others to bring them to Jesus. They have a sense of their need for the blessings of Jesus as well as their need for help to approach Him.

What prevents us from approaching Jesus like the children of God that we are? Has the sins and sufferings of our lives made us take the gift of His kingdom for granted? Are we trying to enter His kingdom by our own efforts and wisdom? Can we humbly admit our need for His help? Are we trusting in Him to the point that we accept the often mysterious ways that He chooses to guide us to His kingdom? Does our prayer life show that we depend on Him alone for all our needs? Where are we placing our trust today? Are we bent on doing our own will because we think we know what is best for us?

The image of the Santo Niño reminds us that Jesus has come to us in the form of an infant born of the Virgin so that we too may approach God as His beloved children. He comes to us hidden under the form of bread and wine in today’s Eucharist because He desires to treat us like He treated the children in today’s gospel, “He embraced the children and blessed them, placing His hands on them.” We have access to the embrace, blessings, and touch of Jesus that we need in this life to remain faithful to Him and to enter into His heavenly kingdom. All we have to do is always speak from the depths of our hearts the language of the heaven-bound children of God: “Thank you, Lord… I cannot do anything on my own….I trust in you, Lord…Please help me, Lord…Lord, I come to do your will.”

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

 

 

 

 

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Responding to Jesus’ invitation: A homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary time.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary time. January 14, 2018

1Sam 3:3-10, 19; 1Cor 6:13-15, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

Responding to Jesus’ invitation

Two characters catch our attention in today’s Readings. There is Eli who helped the young Samuel respond to God’s calling. Then there is Andrew in the Gospel who invited his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus. These two characters were divine instruments in the vocation of Samuel and Peter. But these two characters differed in their relationship with God.

The aged Eli had known the evil of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, but had failed to correct them. He had condoned evil and thus incurred the wrath of God. God revealed this to Samuel in these words, “And I tell him (Eli) that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of his (Eli’s) house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”(1Sam 3:13-14)

It was this same Eli who helped Samuel respond to God’s mysterious voice in today’s First Reading. The inexperienced Samuel heard God’s voice several times but repeatedly presented himself to Eli. Eli eventually recognized that it was God calling Samuel. He then instructed Samuel exactly what to do and say when he heard the same voice, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening.’” When Samuel did that, God revealed Himself to Samuel making him one of the greatest prophets in Israel.

Then, we have Andrew, who was privileged to hear John the Baptist’s words about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” He followed Jesus and had an intimate encounter with Jesus for a whole day, “They stayed with Him (Jesus) that day.” Filled with love for Jesus and desiring to communicate this joy to others, Andrew “first found his own brother Simon,” and then “brought him to Jesus.” This was the beginning of the vocation of Peter, the Prince of Apostles, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” – which is translated Peter.”

Jesus offers each and every one of us the same invitation that He offered in today’s Gospel, “Come, and you will see.” He is inviting us daily through the people that we meet and live with, whether they are themselves faithful to Christ or not.

Why is Jesus Christ inviting us to Him through all the people that we meet irrespective of their own moral or spiritual life? We are constantly invited to draw nearer to Jesus because we belong to Him and He paid a huge price to make us His own. In the words of St. Paul, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? You are not your own. For you have been purchased at a great price.”(1Cor 6:15,19-20) Jesus, the Good Shepherd who is ready to risk the safety of ninety-nine for the sake of the lost sheep, is ready to seek for the lost sheep by all means, even if He has to use flawed messengers.

I remember an experience in my first year in the seminary. I was attending a priestly ordination liturgy at the Boston Cathedral in the early part of 2002 at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. The ordaining prelate was the late Bernard Cardinal Law. There were news crews outside the cathedral. There were protesters calling for the resignation of the cardinal for his handling of the several abuse cases. The morale among the clergy was very low. There was justifiable anger and disappointment inside and outside the Church. We seminarians were trying to grasp the magnitude of the scandal and the effect it would have on the faithful for a long time to come.

The late cardinal reminded us in his homily that God continues to invite all of us through a Church that is never a stranger to weakness and failure. He asked the newly ordained not to doubt their vocations because of their weakness but to place their trust in Jesus who never ceases to invite us to Him. I would never forget his words that day in the painful history of the Church in Boston.

Off course his words did not heal the wounds of the abuse of many. It did not remove our anger or disappointment or make him more trustworthy. But I saw in his words an invitation to look beyond the weak channels of the Gospel and to focus on the power of divine grace being offered in the Gospel. It is so easy for us to lose our faith in Jesus and a sense of His loving invitation to us because of the flaws and failures of the messengers of the Gospel. By recalling the words of St. Paul, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,”(2Cor 4:7) we must not allow the weakness of the Gospel’s messengers blind us to the beauty and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus’ invitation to us today is continuously being mediated through human channels who usually fall short of all expectations. The channels of this invitation may be poor or rich, faithful or faithless, sinful or holy, educated or not, wise or foolish. Jesus does not discriminate in the channels that He uses to draw us to Him and to embrace our vocations in life. The challenge is for us to look beyond the human messenger to embrace the transforming invitation from God. We cannot judge the authenticity of the invitation from Jesus by the spiritual or moral life of the messenger.

We encounter the blood of Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the huge price that Jesus has paid so that we belong to Him and to Him alone. This is why He would never cease to invite each of us, saying, “Come, and you will see.” Jesus is in our midst and His invitation will continue to come to us through many human messengers in our lives. We will not be disappointed if we choose to look beyond the human messengers and embrace this loving invitation with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who has purchased us at a great price.

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

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Sin, Grace, and the waiting of the Advent Season: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent.

 

1st Sunday of Advent. December 3, 2017.

Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:-9; Mk 13:33-37

 

Sin, Grace, and the waiting of the Advent Season

There are many possible reasons why many people participate in the Eucharistic liturgy today but few of them come to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. Whatever the reasons may be, it is safe to say that many of us today do not receive Holy Communion because we do not desire God as we really should. If we really believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion and His love for us, and if we desired Him as we really should, nothing would stop us from receiving Him sacramentally. The truth is that our hearts have found contentment in something less than God or even contrary to His will for us. That is how sin kills our desire for God and our energy for God and the things of God.

Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel to watch, “Be watchful! Be alert…What I say to you, I say to all: watch!” How can we watch for the Lord with expectation for His glorious return and labor faithfully for Him till the end when we do not desire Him above all things as we should? How can we wait for Jesus when we have found contentment in some creaturely thing? The first step to watch for Jesus is to close our hearts to sin completely without compromise because sin will surely snuff out our desire for God and we take away our strength for serving, loving and worshipping God till the end.

In the First Reading, the exiled Israelites return to their country only to find it devastated. They have a desire for God to come into their midst again, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” This desire for God is fueled and accompanied by a humble acknowledgement and acceptance of their own sins and sinfulness, “Behold, you are angry and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags…our guilt carries us away like the wind.” They appeal for God’s continuing saving action in their lives as they pledge complete dependence on God henceforth, “Yet, Oh Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” Having admitted their sins and affirmed the continuous goodness of God, they show a truly humble and contrite heart that desires God and is ready to be found ever more faithful to Him and dependent on Him alone.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds us of God’s response to our sins – grace won for us by Jesus Christ. This grace supplies all our need and makes our waiting for Jesus till the very end possible, “The grace bestowed on you in Christ Jesus…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is this grace that heals our wounds, forgives our sins, sets us free as God’s children and strengthens us to be faithful till Jesus’ glorious return. Our second step to watch for Jesus’ return is to open our hearts completely to His grace.

We must make use of all the means that Jesus has given to us to overcome sin and receive His grace. The waiting of Advent points us to the Sacrament of confession where, seeing sin for what it really is according to God’s standards, we surrender our sins without any pretense, and receive the healing and liberating grace of God in sacramental absolution. The more thorough and sincere our Confessions are, the more that sacramental grace acts to enkindle ever more our hunger for God even as we struggle with sinful tendencies.

There is a tendency today to take sin lightly. We even try to “sanitize” sin by giving it more socially acceptable names. Pornography, the great sin of lust, is called Adult entertainment. The murder of the unborn infant is called abortion. Stealing is called corruption. Homosexual action is called same-sex relationships. Adultery is now referred to as irregular unions. We here in the Philippines call gossip and slander “chismis.” We also blame every other person but ourselves for our sinful choices. Even God is not spared the blame as we hear many say today, “I am this and that because I was born that way.” We sadly justify and rationalize our sins, denying personal responsibility and claiming that there is nothing that we can do to overcome sin in our lives.

The truth is that no matter what our response to sin is, no matter how we try to give it a new name or push the blame for sin away from us, sin still has the same effect on us – it kills our desire for God and takes away our energy for God and the things of God so that we cannot watch for the Lord Jesus Christ. The only way to keep our desire for God alive and growing is to close our hearts to sin and open them to divine grace.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul reminds us that “God is faithful, and by Him we are called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is no accidental saint in heaven. Only those who consciously live and nurture their desire for full communion with God eternally will enter heaven. This is because Jesus gives Himself and introduces into beatifying fellowship with Him only those who desire Him ardently. He will never force Himself on those who do not desire Him as they should.

This explains why Jesus gave Himself to us only through Mary, an immaculately conceived virgin who was filled with grace, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Mama Mary desired God more than any person that ever lived on this earth because her Immaculate Heart is forever closed to any form of sin and completely opened to receive all graces, even the Author of Grace Himself. The Second Eucharistic Preface of Advent captures the uniqueness of Mary’s desire for God in these lovely words: “For all the oracles of the prophets foretold Him (Jesus), the Virgin Mother longed for Him with love beyond all telling.” Nothing could quench or diminish Mary’s desire for Jesus; not even the anguish of her dying Son could quench her desire to receive and bury His dead body after the Crucifixion. She watched for His glorious return and was ready to receive Him at the end of her earthly life and to have Him assume her body and soul into heaven.

Mary remains the woman of Advent who helps us to watch for Christ’s coming. She is so because she is the New Eve who helps us to close our hearts to sin, and she is the Mother of divine grace who helps us to open our hearts completely to the mysterious workings of divine grace so that we desire God ever more deeply as we watch for Him.

Jesus, the Author of grace, comes to us in today’s Eucharist with all the graces that we need. He will surely come in glory on a day and time that we do not know or expect. His grace alone intensifies our hunger for God, strengthens us for the things of God and makes our watching for His glorious return possible. All we have to do is to let this desire for Jesus grow continuously by closing our hearts to all sin and opening them completely to the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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

 

 

 

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Letting love prepare us for heaven: A homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. November 26, 2017.

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

Letting Love prepare us for heaven.

 

I was at the Philippines Bureau of Immigration office in Intramuros a few months ago to renew my two year missionary visa. I was sort of discouraged when I was handed what I considered a pretty long list of requirements for the visa renewal. A Filipino faithful told me a few days later that those my requirements for a Filipino visa were nothing compared to the list of requirements he needed to secure a tourist visa to the United States! I found some consolation by putting things in perspective.

How readily we go to great lengths to secure visas to remain in or to visit other countries? We do not question the requirements, their number or the rationale behind many of the outrageous requirements for visas. We simply take them as facts and dutifully try to meet these all these requirements at all cost.

But we must ask, “Do we know what the requirements for entering the kingdom of heaven are? How ready are we to obediently meet these requirements? Do we willingly try to meet these requirements or do we do so grudgingly and with complaints?”

The good news is that there is one and only one requirement to enter the kingdom of heaven and that is loving action i.e. action that shows our love for God and love for our neighbors for God’s own sake.

Loving action remains the only requirement to enter into heaven for three reasons:

First of all, Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe is the King of love. All things belong to Him by nature, “All things were created through Him and for him; in Him everything continues in being.” (Col 1:16) Yet He chose to make us His own by His loving self-sacrifice for us on the cross, “He died for us, that all of us, whether awake or asleep, together might live with Him.”(1Thes 5:10) He conquered all by love, uniting, associating and identifying Himself with us sinners as the Son of Man so that “by means of Him, God reconciles everything in His person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of His cross.”(Col 1:19-20) Despite all that He did and endured out of love for us, Jesus never forces or threatens us but always invites us with a love and gentleness that recognizes our weakness, “He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.”(Mt 12:20) We must resemble the King of love if we hope to enter into His kingdom.

Secondly, the Crucified and risen Christ has already prepared heaven, the Kingdom of love, for us, “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”(Jn 14:3) The King of love has a burning desire to have us sinners with Him for all eternity in the kingdom that He has won with His precious blood. We can only enter into His kingdom by showing love in action.

Thirdly, Jesus has given us His love and is preparing us for heaven by calling us to show loving action to those in need. Whenever we encounter someone in need, Jesus is indeed willing to “take us to Himself” along the same path of loving action that He has walked. Every time we meet someone in need, Jesus is preparing us to enter into heaven by our showing the person love in action. We must let love prepare us if we are going to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

That is the message of today’s Gospel in which all the nations are divided into two camps based solely on their loving actions or inaction towards others. The blessed enter a kingdom already prepared for them by Jesus’ death and resurrection, “Come, O blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The Blessed ones allowed love to prepare them for heaven as they showed love in action towards those that they providentially meet. The cursed ones are those who refuse to be prepared by love for heaven as they do not show love in action.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be judged by love alone because loving action towards God and neighbor remains the one and only requirement to enter into heaven.

This message challenges us to reflect on how we look at those who are in physical, material, spiritual or emotional needs. We may look at them as useless burdens to be endured in our lives. We may see some as competitors to beat in the race of life. We may see them as obstacles to our peace of heart. We may even complain and grumbling about trying to meet their needs, even thinking that they have nothing to offer us. But we hardly see them as God’s signs to us along the road to the kingdom of God and as channels through which the King of Love invites and prepares us for our heavenly home. We cannot solve all their problems but let us do the little that we can, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”

The King of the Universe comes to us in today’s Eucharist because He is also the King of love who gently moves us to follow His footsteps in loving others and meeting their needs out of love for God. He is never idle in us but He never ceases to prepare us for heaven. As He gives us His love in the Eucharist He will also make available to us numerous opportunities to show loving action to others in need.

Jesus, the King of the Universe and the King of Love has already prepared heaven for us by His own self-sacrifice. We have one and only one requirement to enter heaven – loving action that submits to God and serves the needs of others for God’s sake. We must not grumble or complain about this single requirement of love to enter heaven. Let love received today prepare us so that we too enter into His kingdom, the Kingdom of Jesus, the King of love.

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

 

 

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Devotion to Our Lady of “no excuses”: A homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary time

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 19, 2017.

Prov 31:10-13, 19-20,30-1; 1Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30

Devotion to Our Lady of “no excuses”

“She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.”

 The woman of Proverbs 31 in today’s First Reading is an example of a worthy wife and mother, working hard in serving her husband constantly, “She brings him (her husband) good, and not evil, all the days of her life.” She serves her family, providing them clothing and food, “She obtains wool and flax and makes clothes with skillful hands. She puts her hand to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle.” Her labor of love also extends to the poor, “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” She works hard in serving her husband, family, and the poor constantly and with all that she has without making excuses because she knows that she is loved by her husband, “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.”

As I reflect on this ideal wife and mother, I cannot help but think of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, believing that she was loved by God, never made excuses for not obeying and serving God and others faithfully throughout her life. Mary received the most precious gift of divine love in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, at the Annunciation without making any excuses simply because she was loved by God as the Angel Gabriel had attested, “Mary, you have found favor with God.” With this firm faith in God’s love for her, nothing stops Mary from faithfully receiving love from God and bringing it to others in loving service.

At the words of the Angel Gabriel during the Annunciation, Mary did not excuse herself that she was too young or that being a Virgin-Mother would be rather counter-cultural or that St. Joseph would be offended by her submission to God. She did not make excuses for not visiting and supporting her pregnant relative Elizabeth at the mere prompting of the Angel Gabriel. Whether it is making the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while in the last days of her pregnancy, or having to give birth to the Savior in a manger, or having to flee suddenly to Egypt for an undisclosed amount of time, or having to come to the assistance of the distressed married couple and guests at the wedding of Cana by interceding for them, or having to journey with Jesus along the lonely and painful way to Calvary when all others abandoned Him, or having to stand at the Cross and share in the pains and insults that Jesus received, Mary never made excuses for not receiving love in the most difficult of moments and responding in serving God and others. Mary always responded to the material and spiritual needs of others as she did in the wedding of Cana, “They have no wine,” a request that yielded the best wine as well as faith in the servants, “His disciples began to believe in Him.” Mary is truly Our Lady of “no excuses.”

The Baltimore Catechism reminds us that we are created to know, love and serve God and to be happy with Him in eternity. The more we have loving knowledge of God, the more that we can serve God in others faithfully without making all the excuses that we make in our world today for not serving and obeying God as we should. When we are lacking in this loving knowledge of God, our excuses simply multiply.

The master in today’s Gospel parable did not call expert investors to manage his possessions, but, out of love for his servants, he “called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.” He gave them his own possession as well as a lot of time to make faithful use of it simply because he wanted to share his joy with them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master’s joy.”

The servant who received the one talent in today’s Gospel does not realize the love that the master has for him in calling him and giving him that talent and the time to make faithful use of it. Lacking this sense of love, this servant made so many excuses on the day of accounting, “Master, I knew that you are a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.” The is a silly excuse because he could have securely placed it in bank and gained interest without any risk on his part as the master replied, “Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?” The bottom line is that he is both wicked and lazy; he is wicked because he lacks love for his master and no sense of the master’s love for him. The wickedness that this lack of love produces is in turn manifested in a laziness that he tries to explain with his silly excuses.

The servants may not know the master well but the master knows them well and what they can do with the gifts that he gave them “according to their ability.”  In the same way, Jesus knows us very well as well as our abilities and what we can do with His gifts. He also invites us to know Him and His love for us very well too, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and mine know me.” (Jn 10:14) He gives us great gifts and lots of time to make use of the gifts in serving Him in many situations and conditions in life so that we can share in His own happiness. Sadly we often respond only with our usually baseless excuses.

I recall the moment that I first sensed a call to the priesthood and religious life and all the many excuses that ran through my mind like, “I have many sins and moral failures in life…I am not sure that I want to make a career shift in life now…Will I be disciplined enough for this vocation?…This is not the right time for such a thing…I have many expectations to meet in this life and priesthood and religious life was definitely not one of them…I am also a little bit too old to go to the seminary now…I am not sure I would fit into this way of life…What if this is all a mistake?” Talk about excuses, I had them all. But bringing those excuses to prayer one by one and asking Mama Mary for light and strength, I started to let go of each of the excuses slowly and began to see how silly many of them really were. Bringing all these my excuses to the light of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart dispelled my excuses and left me with an abiding sense of divine love behind my vocation. Now I know what do with all those excuses – bring them to Our Lady of “no excuses” and let her impress on my heart that love that led Jesus to the cross for me that alone moves me to serve God with all that I have even in my own weaknesses.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what excuses are we making today for not serving and obeying Jesus more faithfully? Maybe we are reluctant to respond because of our past failures or the fear of making mistakes. Maybe we feel that this is not the best time to respond so we keep on putting it off indefinitely. Maybe we fear the cost of serving or we have been hurt by others whom we served in the past. Our excuses only show that our sense of being loved by God just as we are is still not planted in our hearts. Let us bring these excuses one by one to Mary and let her imprint on our hearts her own attitude towards serving God and others that flows from God’s love for her.

We all will stand before Jesus one day and answer for all the talents and time that He has given to us out of His love for us. Our excuses will count for nothing then. Jesus never made excuses when it came to dying on the cross to set us free from our bondage to the devil, sin and death simply because He was firmly grounded in His Father’s love for Him. Why should we make excuses now? No matter what the past has been, let us make use of the precious gift of time and begin anew today to know, love and serve Him more faithfully with all that we have and to the end of our lives so that we can share in His own happiness forever.

This Eucharist is another precious gift of Jesus’ His love for us, a love that moves us to serve Him in others without excuses. With the help of Our Lady of “no excuses,” let surrender our myriad of excuses, allow His love to fill our hearts so that we set out to serve others till the very end till we hear those welcoming and consoling words of Jesus at the end of our lives, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Catholicism and the call to humility: A homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 5, 2017.

Mal 1:14-2:2,8-10; Ps 131; 1 Thes 2:7-9,13; Mt 23:1-12

Catholicism and the call to humility

When Jesus was presented in the temple by Mary and St. Joseph, the aged Simeon described Jesus’ mission: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”(Lk 2:34) Faced with Jesus and the demands of the Gospel, some people will be humbled while some will be exalted. In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes those who would be humbled and those who would be exalted, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The choice before each of us boils down to this: self-exaltation or God-exaltation? Are we going to try to exalt ourselves and risk divine humiliation or humble ourselves so that God can exalt us?

If Jesus and His kingdom demands from us a choice between self-exaltation and God-exaltation, then there must be present in the Church founded by Jesus many invitations to this indispensable virtue of humility. Let us reflect on a few of them:

  1. The nature of the Church: The very nature of the Church herself calls us to humble ourselves. The humble soul realizes and believe that, despite our sinfulness, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, unites Himself so intimately with the visible Church that the Church becomes His own mystically Body and He remains forever her invisible Head. The proud cannot accept this truth of the faith and would see the Church as only a human institution composed of pathetic sinners that must change with the times so as to remain relevant. Aware of our sinfulness even in our union with the risen Christ, the humble soul begs, “Remain with us, Lord,”(Lk 24:29) while the proud soul adamantly exclaims, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”(Lk 5:8)
  2. The Eucharist: Ever wondered about the depth of humility required to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs of bread and wine? It takes a very humble soul to kneel in faith in hours of Eucharistic adoration before what appears like a piece of bread simply because they believe in the words of Jesus, “This is my body, which will be given up for you…This is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”(Lk 22:19,20) The humble soul sees divine life and presence being mediated through the ordinary elements of the Eucharist while the proud person cannot see beyond the senses. The humble soul approaches this mystery with faith in the words of Jesus while the proud, succumbing to the dictates of emotions and the logic of human reason, exclaims, “How can this be? Besides, I do not feel the presence of Jesus in this sacrament.”
  3. The ordained priesthood: It takes humility to accept that God has given to a few men the power to forgive sins and to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in His name and person. The proud person is so focused on egalitarianism that he cannot accept any distinction between the priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood. The humble soul, aware of his own baptismal consecration, makes use of the gifts of the Spirit to worship and give witness to God according to his vocation. The proud soul cannot accept that he is not the beneficiary of such power which a few have received and he can even accuse the Church of being unjust or denying him his “right” to the ordained priesthood. The ordained priest also faces the temptation to exalt himself, forgetting that he is ordained not for his own glory but for the service to God in His people and for the sanctification of the Church.
  4. The Church’s Magisterium: That Christ has a vicar and collaborators in the Pope and bishops through whom He acts to teach, govern and sanctify His Church today is another stumbling block to the proud. The proud will focus on the weakness and failures of such men and ponder what good the teaching of a group of celibate men can be in our modern world. Jesus addresses such proud thoughts in the minds of his listeners about the hypocritical Jewish leaders in today’s Gospel, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” Despite the sins and shortfalls of the visible leaders of the Church, the humble soul accepts their definitive teaching with the conviction that God can and does speak to us infallibly about faith and morals through these men today.
  5. Confession: Only truly humble souls can approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and humbly confess their sins with sincerity to Jesus through the ministry of the ordained priest. The proud person will find this rather unnecessary and beneath him and would choose to only confess sins directly to God. The humble soul reasons that if God can become present sacramentally on the altar through the ministry of the priests, then He can also definitively forgive all sins through this same priestly ministry. The sinfulness of the priest or what he may think of the penitent does not hinder the humble from approaching this sacrament. unlike the humble, the proud person is scandalized by both the humanity and sinfulness of the priest and would easily give up this sacrament in the face of his repeated sins.
  6. Mary and the saints: It takes a humble person to ask for the prayers of others and to depend on others. The proud person is self-confident and dismissive of the truth of faith that God helps us through our brothers and sisters saints who have walked the path of Christian faith heroically. The humble person, rejecting any form of individualism, looks to the saints for example, encouragement and help in his journey of faith.
  7. The mission of the Church: The mission of the Church as the Universal sacrament of salvation demands that we humble ourselves, serve God for His own sake, and strive to make others know and love God more. The proud soul, reluctant to see himself in mission to others while struggling with sin himself, either abandons this call to mission or begins to water down the demands of the Gospel in a false sense of mercy. The humble soul embraces this mission to evangelize simply because he has encountered the gift of God’s love and he cannot but bring the fullness of the Gospel and the accompanying power of diving grace to others despite his own failures.
  8. The Church’s liturgy and prayer: That liturgy in the Catholic Church is a participation in the very prayer of Christ implies that we cannot measure our prayer by visible results. This is not easy for the proud soul to accept because the focus is not on our performance at worship or the eloquence of the preacher of the word. The humble soul is satisfied to know that it is the prayer of Christ, His own thanksgiving, reparation, adoration and petition to the Father that matters. The humble soul is content to participate in this liturgical prayer without trying to take the center stage and to know that the temporal and eternal fruits of his prayer united with that of Christ is not in question even if it is not visible to him.
  9. Suffering: Jesus warns us we would be humbled if we continue to exalt ourselves in our infidelity. God permits sufferings like painful scandals in the Church to bring us to humble repentance. Time of scandal reminds us that we are all sinners in need of repentance and renewal individually and communally. The proud person cannot see in the scandals in the Church a painful purification and an invitation to humble and contrite hearts. Then there are persecutions that the Church faces from within and without in which our humility is put to the test. Only a humble soul will persevere in his faith even in the face of scandals and persecutions because he is not seeking himself. The proud soul, always seeking self, will be discouraged and devastated by scandals, rejections, misunderstandings, and persecutions. The humble knows that his suffering united with that of Christ is redemptive while the proud rejects any value in suffering and would abandon the Church in the moments of pains and suffering in his life or in the Church.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Catholic faith is imbued with numerous invitations to humble ourselves so that God will exalt us. The nature, composition, mission and experiences of the Church are invitations to humble ourselves in several ways so that God will exalt us. Our response to this invitation will determine the depth and endurance of our inner peace as the Responsorial psalm’s refrain attests: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace,” and the psalmist reminds us that peace is ours because of our humility: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty.” Only the one who humbles himself allows God to exalt him and finds his peace in God alone.

Mary, the Mother of the Church, responded to this invitation to humility first among all the children of God as she exclaimed, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble.”(Lk 1:52) St. John the Baptist expressed his own self-humbling and God-exaltation in these words, “He must increase; and I must decrease.”(Jn 3:30) The enduring peace of Mary and the saints call us to imitate their resoluteness to humble themselves.

Our Eucharistic Lord comes to us today with the same challenge for each and every one of us: self-exaltation or God-exaltation? Our response will determine our inner peace as members of Christ’s own mystical body of the Catholic Church.

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

 

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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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