Passionate about Jesus, The Ultimate Hero: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

2nd Sunday of Easter. April 28, 2019

Acts 5:12-16, Rev 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19, Jn 20:19-31

Passionate about Jesus, The Ultimate Hero

Whether we are interested in watching it or not, we cannot help but notice that the movie, Avengers: Endgame, is showing now in theaters around the world. It is also raking in millions of dollars and generating lots of reviews on social media.

It is obvious that we truly love our comic super-heroes, characters who are victorious in their struggle with evil. We are passionate about them and we gladly want to identify with them, even if all we can do is to dress like them and pretend we are like them. We speak of their victories with glee and we wait in expectant hope for the new episodes and the eventual triumph of our super-heroes over their evil enemies.

This is all fine and good as innocent entertainment. But we should ask ourselves if we can really know and enter into relationship with these super-heroes. I mean, can we really know Iron Man or Captain Marvel personally? Can we share in their victory over evil and enjoy their reward? Not at all. These are only exciting stories of fictional characters in imaginary battles with vague evil forces. But we do not mind this fact as we remain passionate about our super-heroes.

But how passionate are we about the risen Christ, the ultimate hero of all time and all people? Are we even aware of why Jesus Christ remains our ultimate hero who alone deserves all the passion of our hearts? Let us consider four good reasons why Jesus Christ is the ultimate hero and the only one who deserves our passionate love and discipleship.

Firstly, because of the uniqueness of His victory over the formidable foes of death and the powers of darkness. By His rising from the grave, Jesus Christ has achieved what no human being has ever had the nerve or ability to attempt. He conquered for us in a battle in which we do not have a single chance on our own apart from Him, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. “(Eph 6:12)

Secondly, the unique manner of His victory puts Him in a completely unique class of His own among all heroes. Human heroes, and by extension our fictional comic heroes, try to avoid death at all cost. Death would be the ultimate defeat for them. Who among us can be forever passionate about a dead hero, a hero who can only be merely remembered?

But Jesus attained this victory over death by experiencing suffering and death in His own human nature. The risen Christ emphasized this unique victory over death through His own death when He triumphantly introduced Himself to awe-struck St. John in the Book of Revelation, “Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, the One who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” This means that by His death and resurrection, He has gained power over death and forces of evil.

Thirdly, He fought and died for us while we were His foes. He did not wait for us to become worthy of His heroic self-sacrifice, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8) He fought, was wounded, and died for us so that we become the prime beneficiaries of His triumph, “For Christ also died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”(1Pet 3:18)

Fourthly, through His wounds, the risen Christ invites us to know Him now, share in His victory, and enjoy His rewards from His conquest over death. Jesus is the only hero that we can indeed know intimately now and participate in His own life and heavenly rewards. Because “Christ, once raised from the dead, will never die again and death has no more power over Him,” we too can live a life of victory over sin in which we “consider ourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.”(Rom 6:9,11)

We see this in today’s Gospel where the risen Christ clearly shows His wounds to His unfaithful disciples, not to mock them or make them feel guilty for their infidelity, but to invite them, despite their past failures, to know Him better and share in what He has gained by His death and resurrection. It is because of these His wounds for us that we have access to that abiding peace that comes from being reconciled with God, “Peace be with you.” Through His wounds, we can now become intimate with Him by our sharing in His Spirit-life, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Through His wounds, we can also receive and give forgiveness to others individually and sacramentally in the Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sin you retain are retained.” Through His wounds, we also have access to that living faith that alone “conquers the world.”(1Jn 5:4) The testimony of the early Church could not bring the unbelieving St. Thomas to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. It was only when Jesus graciously appeared again and showed him His own sacred wounds that the unbelieving disciple exclaimed in faith, “My Lord and my God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we venerate today the image of the risen Christ on this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us look at Jesus anew as our Ultimate Hero. Let us gaze closely on those wounds and reflect on His own passionate love for us and how He pursues us to give us a share in His own victory and to bring us to enjoy His own rewards. But are we passionate enough to know Him better, identify with Him, and make His victories and rewards our own?

Don’t we need the abiding inner peace of Christ today in our world riddled by senseless violence against each other? Aren’t we in great need of a renewed relationship with Him as we feel ourselves becoming more and more estranged and isolated even in our technologically advanced world? Aren’t we in desperate need of forgiveness ourselves and to forgive others who have hurt us? Surely we are in need of a strong and lively faith at times like this when many are losing their Christian faith and the Church is plagued by scandals. We need a truly vibrant faith if we are going to overcome the aggressive secular mentality of our world today. These are the precious rewards that Christ, the Ultimate Hero, has won for us by His death and resurrection and which we have access to only through His sacred wounds borne for us on the cross.

Our Eucharist today is another living contact with the Ultimate Hero who has won the greatest victory for us and He is constantly inviting us through His sacred wounds to know and love Him with intensity now no matter our sins and struggles in life. We must think deeply today and choose our heroes carefully by faith because our heroes will ultimately determine our victories and rewards! If we choose well and remain faithful to our choice, we will become truly passionate for Jesus as our Ultimate Hero and only then can we share deeply in His victory over death and the forces of darkness and fully enjoy His precious rewards in this life and in the life to come.

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

 

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Finding strength for the storms of life: A homily for the Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. April 14, 2019.

Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; LK 23:1-49

Finding strength for the storms of life

Talk about disconnect and you have the greatest example in Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He knows every single thing that awaited Him in Jerusalem – His betrayal by Judas, Peter denying Him, the Twelve deserting Him, the enthusiastic crowd eventually turning on Him, His being handed over to the Jewish leaders, His mock trial and sentence, His being scourged and mocked and eventually nailed on the cross.

On the other hand, His disciples and the accompanying crowd were jubilant and celebrating, “The whole multitude of His disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus courageously entered Jerusalem despite the full knowledge of the pains and sufferings that awaited Him there and the complete disconnect with His disciples. How could He do this? How can we learn from Him when we too face the storms of life and our companions in life appear completely disconnected from us, unable or unwilling to share in our pains?

The Prophet Isaiah shows us three ways in which we too can act like Christ and find inner strength to face the storms of life even if we have to face them alone.

First, we must learn how to listen to God alone in the storms of life. The Prophet Isaiah prophecies of a mysterious Servant of God who listens to God even as he is derided and persecuted by others, “Morning after morning He (God) opens my ear that I may hear.” God always speaks and trains His servants, in good and in bad times, and the servant is always ready to be taught by God in all circumstances first before he can speak God’s words to others with fidelity.

Secondly, we must listen with an attitude of readiness to obey God without conditions or compromise. Nothing makes God’s servant take back his commitment to obey God, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” God will not reveal His will for us and train us appropriately if we lack this commitment to act on His word and obey Him unconditionally.

Thirdly, we must obey with the intention of pleasing God alone no matter the pains or gains that may come with our act of obedience. God’s servant seeks to please God and is ready to be despised and rejected by others, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked at my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spiting.”

These qualities of Isaiah’s Servant of God are fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who freely chose to “empty Himself and take the form of a slave.” Jesus saw beyond what people said and did to Him; He rather chose to listen to the Father’s invitation to Him through all the people and events of His life. This is why He is not crushed by the rejection of the crowd, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” or by the mockery of His executioners, “He saved others; let Him save Himself.” He is also not swayed or deterred by the tears of the women of Jerusalem, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus is the one who embodies this unconditional obedience to the Father, obeying “even to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He did this not for personal gain but to please the Father who responded by “greatly exalting Him (Jesus) and bestowing on Him the name above every name.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we face imminent storms and trials in our personal lives, families, societies, or Church, we may even feel alone and abandoned by others. We lose inner strength when we simply believe what others are saying whether it is true or not or when we become fixated on the numerous acts of evil and injustice of our times without asking what God is conveying to us in these moments. We forget the discernment question, “What is God teaching me about Himself, myself, and my life with Him at this particular moment?”

Secondly, we forfeit inner strength when our obedience is conditional or lacking in universality. We see this when many today are passionate about immigration and climate control issues but do not see anything wrong with the slaughter of millions of children through abortion or what is called “same-sex” marriage. We settle for a convenient and risk-free obedience that shies away from anything that may be demanding for us or considered politically incorrect.

Thirdly, we become spiritually impotent when our obedience to God becomes self-serving. This occurs when we obey God for the sake of some temporal gain and to avoid some painful things. We want to obey God and still be accepted and approved by others who care nothing about God and His will for us.

St. Peter teaches us: “Jesus Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”(1Pet 3:18) Jesus brings us back to God along the same path that He has taken Himself – the path of suffering and loneliness. There is no other path to the glorious life of God but the path of the cross in our lives and the feeling of being alone in our suffering. Jesus also put it this way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”(Jn 16:20)

Our Eucharistic Lord comes to us in our pains and sense of isolation to bring us back to God. Our sorrows will become joy when we begin to travel with Him back to our Heavenly Father along the way of suffering and painful isolation. There are three requirements for us if we are going to have strength for this long, difficult, and painful journey. First, we do just not listen to the world but we listen to God speaking life-giving words to us through all events and persons in this world. Second, we seek to do God’s will unconditionally and not our own wills. Lastly, we choose to obey Him for the sake of pleasing Him alone. This is how we will find strength to face and overcome the storms and trials of life even if we feel disconnected from others.

 

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

 

 

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Before casting the stone at others: A homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent 2019. April 7, 2019.
Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11

Before casting the stone at others

When I once asked a congregation the first thing that came to their mind when I mentioned the name King David, someone answered, “David and Bathsheba.”

David did so many good and great things in his life. He slaughtered lions and bears when he was a shepherd. As a young boy, he single-handedly saved the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines when he slew the giant Goliath with only a sling and a stone. He spared the life of the murderous King Saul when he had the golden opportunity to kill him. As a commander of the army, he successfully conquered all his enemies in battle. As king, he united the Jewish nation and wrote many beautiful psalms. But what we easily remember about David was his one transgression – his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his orchestration of the killing of her husband Uriah.
Why is it that we easily notice and focus on the one single evil thing in our lives and in the lives of others and then forget all the good that we and others have and do in our lives? We are so easily fixated on the evil and sinful things and ignore the beautiful and the good things. This tendency – to notice and focus exclusively on the evil things – is a consequence of our own sins and sinfulness. Sin blinds us to the good and beautiful in ourselves and others because as we live, so we shall see. Our lifestyles truly determine our spiritual vision!
How does the Holy God look at His sinful children? Surely He sees our sins but He also sees the good that He has placed in us and our potential to grow and to mature in our love for Him and for others. God speaks to His exiled people in today’s First Reading, promising to do greater things for them in a way that even the things of the past would not be worth remembering, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new.” But blinded by sin and the guilt of sin, God’s people cannot perceive the good that God is offering to them. This causes God to lament, “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” How can they perceive the goodness of God when they are in bondage to sin?
In today’s Gospel, the self-righteous Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking Him what He thought about Moses’ law to stone such women. This woman most probably did many good and pious things for God and others. Maybe she was a devoted wife who sacrificed a lot for her children, husband, and relatives. Maybe she was generous to the poor. Maybe she sincerely prayed as she struggled with the sins of lust and then, in a moment of weakness, succumbed to an adulterous act for the very first time and was caught. But the Pharisees, blinded by their own sins, do not and cannot see anything good in her. As they too lived evil lives cloaked in false righteousness, they only saw evil in her and thus were quick to condemn her and heartlessly use her as a tool to trap Jesus in their questioning.
Jesus, the only Holy One, asked the Pharisees to look into their own hearts for the very first time and face their own sinfulness so that could see enough good in the woman to grant her a second chance, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus, who has placed in us all goodness, sees the good in both the adulterous woman and her heartless accusers. In His holy person and life, Jesus sees the hidden goodness and beauty in them all. He sees that they all can be saints one day and that it is possible for them to grow out of their sinful attitudes.
We are so ready and quick to cast stones at others in our world today. The government of Brunei recently passed a law that homosexual acts are to be punished by stoning to death. To be clear, homosexual acts remain forever intrinsically evil, no matter what public opinion or sentiments may suggest today. But those who engage in such acts retain their inherent goodness from God and thus there is still a strong hope for their repentance, greater holiness, and selfless love for God and for others. The same goodness and hope is present in the drug addicts and pushers in the Philippines who are summarily executed. Even the infants in the womb are not safe from the murderous stones that are hauled at them by modern society.
Such murderous acts only reveal the evil in the hearts of their perpetrators and advocates and their blindness to the good in others. In addition, we too sometimes turn those stones on ourselves through acts of self-condemnation because of our sins. We behave like the demoniac in Mk 5:5 who cried out night and day, “bruising himself with stones.”
How can we begin to see the good in others and allow that goodness to flourish in the face of evil? We begin with ourselves, focusing not so much on our own sins, but on the good things that God is doing in our lives by His grace. Focusing exclusively on our sins, we become discouraged with our failures and the devil cannot wait to steal our hope. Once hope is lost, then the other person becomes our enemy, one to be stoned to death for the slightest sin.
But when we consciously focus on Jesus, He reveals to us our inner goodness and the undying love that He has for us even in our sins. This sense of divine goodness moves us to surrender our sins to Him completely and to receive His own merciful love that makes our own holiness possible. Then we can look with compassion on others and recognize their own goodness too. We can then begin to live with conviction these words of Pope John Paul the Great, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”
The adulterous woman in today’s Gospel stood one-on-one with Jesus – a very privileged encounter. She heard the voices of her accusers all around her. Most likely her conscience troubled her. But in all these, she allowed Jesus to show her the good that was in her despite her own sins. She did not pretend or justify herself or argue that she was really holy. Jesus’ merciful love forgave her and cleansed her of her sins and set her free to live a holy life. That is why Jesus ends by saying, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
God loves us enough to die for us on the cross and to make that sacrifice present to us in this Eucharist. If we are ever going to put down our stones, we must focus on Jesus this Lenten season, constantly seeking for a one-on-one encounter with Him. He will reveal to us both our deepest dark sinful secrets and the goodness He has buried in each of us. Let us speak to Him about the voices that constantly condemn us and then surrender all our sins to Him without trying to excuse or justify ourselves. Jesus will cleanse us of our sins and give us His own holy love so that we too can struggle and prevail against sin in our lives. Struggling with and overcoming sin by His grace, our eyes will be opened and we will begin to perceive the good that God is doing in ourselves and in others. This is when we can truly cast our stones, not on others, but cast them down at the feet of Jesus.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Why Reconciliation must precede the Feast: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

 

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time. March 31st 2019.

Jos 5:9,10-12; 2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Why Reconciliation must precede the Feast

The Prodigal Son in today’s Gospel parable deeply wounded his father’s heart when he asked to have the part of the inheritance that was due to him. He basically could not wait for his father’s death for him to receive his inheritance. He took all that he had and went far away from his father’s presence and influence. He then found himself starving in a foreign land after squandering his father’s wealth and facing a famine in which no one gave him anything, not even a share in the pigs’ trough.

Coming to his senses, he knew well that for him to get that much desired meal meant for the servants, he must first of all reconcile with his father. He knew that he could not just show up in the father’s house, walk into the kitchen, and proclaim, “Hey dad, I am home. I am starving. What’s for supper?” So he prepares a long speech that was meant to make his father allow him to at least get some food like the father’s servants, “I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as one of your hired workers.”

The father too reconciles with the prodigal son fully before he declares the beginning of the feast. He does not treat the prodigal son as a second class son or as a super – privileged servant but as a true son that he is. It is only when full reconciliation has been achieved and the rights of the son restored in the form of a ring, sandals, and robe, that the father declared the feast open, “Let us celebrate with a feast because this son of man was dead, and has come to life again…Then the celebration began.”

The elder son too has to learn the same lesson. He thinks that he has right to the feast simply because he is a good son who never left home but who has been working hard for the father. The father informs him that the feast is not just for those who work hard but for those who have reconciled with the father and with others who have been hurt by their sinful actions. The sole reason and condition for the joyful celebration is the full reconciliation of the prodigal son, “Let us celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to live again.”

This parable illustrates for us one of the facts that we seem to have forgotten today – full reconciliation with God and with others is necessary before we can enter into the feast of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the greatest of feasts because it is the feast of Christ the King, who offers Himself to sinners who have been reconciled with the Father and with others. The Eucharistic feast is neither a reward for the righteous nor is it a meal for those who choose to persist in grave sin and to take for granted the reconciliation that God offers to them through the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. In the case of mortal sins, especially those that are public in nature, there is need for full sacramental reconciliation with God and with those whom we have hurt by our sinful and scandalous acts. This full reconciliation is achieved in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament that prepares us for the full and fruitful reception of Jesus in the Eucharist meal.

One sign that we have lost this sense of reconciliation preceding the meal is the ongoing unfortunate debate in the Church on the issue of the civilly divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Holy Communion. The rather unclear and confusing wording and different possible interpretations of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia seem to have worsened the debate and created more confusion on this matter.

One side of the debate, based on scripture and Church tradition, holds that people in such unions cannot receive the Eucharist because, living with another person who is not their spouse, they are in mortal sin. Thus, they cannot be admitted to receive the Eucharist without repentance, reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and regularization of their marriage. This is respecting the inner logic that reconciliation must precede the meal. Amoris Laetitia seems to reject this view when it states: “It can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” (Amoris Laetitia #301)

The other side argues that, on the grounds of being merciful, the civilly re-married spouses’ intense desire for the Eucharist, their personal discernment, pastoral considerations, and our inability to judge for certain the true validity of their marital bond with their rightful living spouses at the present moment, they  can be allowed to receive the Eucharist. This other side also argues that, since nobody is worthy in the first place to receive the Eucharist, the civilly re-married could not be definitely denied the reception of the Eucharist. This argument appears to be becoming more acceptable today amongst many of the faithful.

This debate has also deeply divided members of the Church’s hierarchy. Cardinal Muller rightly and clearly emphasized the view that reconciliation must precede the Eucharistic feast when he used both Scriptures and the Catechism to support this view in his Manifesto of the faith:

Therefore, the Holy Scripture admonishes with regard to the reception of the Holy Communion: “Whoever eats unworthily of the bread and drinks from the Lord’s cup makes himself guilty of profaning the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385).

This clear teaching backed with scripture and the magisterium earned him the rebuke of some prelates, including his compatriot, Cardinal Walter Kasper.

What are faithful Catholics to do in the face of such confusion about the Eucharist for married and civilly divorced? We can glean a few points from this parable of the Prodigal Son from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself who truly reveals the Father’s love for us.

First of all, our God is a God who loves to feast. He offers us full communion with Him in the feast of the precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. But our God does not feast alone, but He invites His children constantly to draw closer and attend the feast of eternal life and experience the joyful hope of God’s beloved children in Christ.

Secondly, God puts the feasting on hold till we truly reconcile with Him. The same God who offers us full communion with Him in the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist first of all offers us full reconciliation with Him and with others in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He will surely not feast with obstinate rebels who take for granted the mercy and grace purchased for us by the blood that was shed on the cross by Jesus Christ and made present in these sacraments. These sacraments are both channels of divine mercy and we must not separate them but reverently and humbly accept the inner logic in these sacraments.

Holy Mother Church pauses in her Lenten journey to celebrate Laetare Sunday, emphasizing that, despite the penitential nature of Lent, we must be joyful because we are truly on a journey to full reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ at Easter. St. Paul asserts this in his letter to the Corinthians, “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us a ministry of reconciliation…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” The Church is a community that has been reconciled with God, finds its joy in being reconciled with God, and joyfully calls others to this same reconciliation.

Unlike the older brother in the parable, we cannot be indifferent about the plight of our brethren who have strayed from the faith or the pain of our Father who waits for their full reconciliation with Him. Having first been reconciled with Him, we too must go out with joyful hope in search of them, leading them first, not to the Eucharistic feast as if their reconciliation with God is automatic or merely assumed, but to the tribunal of divine mercy where they are reconciled with God as His sons and daughters in preparation for the feast. When we individually and communally seek for full reconciliation before the feast, our joy will surely be complete as we hear our feast-loving Father exclaim, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

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

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Time and Grace: God’s most precious gifts – A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent. March 24, 2019.

Ex 3:1-8, 13-15; 1Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9

Time and Grace: God’s most precious gifts

What is the very first thing that we think of when we face the numerous tragic deaths of our times. It may be the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight some weeks ago and the death of the entire crew and passengers. It may be the massacre of Catholic faithful at Mass by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It may be the tragic death of school pupils in a collapsed building in Nigeria or the shooting victims of the mosque killings in New Zealand.

Our first response is usually to ask who is to blame for the tragedies. We may ponder what the motive for the taking of innocent human life is. We may even think about the best way to prevent such a thing in the future. These are very positive and laudable responses but Jesus demands from us Christians a much deeper reflection when we are faced with the reality of human tragedies.

He is informed in today’s Gospel of some Galileans whom Pilate had slayed when they were offering sacrifice. Jesus, the truly compassionate one who is most sensitive to our sufferings, did not focus on who was to blame or the motive for the violent act. He replied, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?” He rather chose to remind His audience to make good use of the grace of the present moment, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Rather than theorize about who is holy and who is not, Jesus calls His audience to repent now because, by His presence with them, this is the time of God’s grace.

When we hear of others’ death, no matter the circumstances, we too must also remember God’s greatest gifts to us in this life – the gift of time and divine grace. Every second of our lives is a precious gift from God. Every second of our lives also comes with the grace of God to help us to repent of our sins now, do good and overcome all evil now.

Jesus’ parable about the barren fig tree planted in the garden leads us to see Jesus as the gardener in this parable who wins for the tree both time and needed nourishment, “Sir, leave it for this year also and I shall cultivate the ground around it fertilize it.” This is how Jesus wins for us time and grace. He is surely praying and laboring for us so that we too bear fruit worthy of eternal life, “He (Jesus) is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”(Heb 7:25) He has not given up on us; we too must not give up on Him but make use of His gifts of grace and time very well.

One person who makes use of the gift of time and grace is Moses in today’s First Reading. He had witnessed an Egyptian slave driver maltreating an Israelite. He tried to save his kinsman by slaying the Egyptian and concealing his body. His fellow kinsmen accused him of a hidden motive of trying to become their ruler. He eventually fled Egypt when he sensed that Pharaoh had heard of his evil deed. Moses acted like a cowardly murderer then.

Now God gives him a second chance, a chance to act with courage and return to Egypt and to bring freedom to His people. This time Moses is going to act in God’s own time, in God’s own name, with God’s own grace and in God’s own way. God has an intense desire and readiness to save His people and He wants to do it through a converted Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt …So I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians… Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is the moment of saving grace for both Moses and God’s people.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we look at the numerous clergy scandals plaguing the Church, we must realize that we too have failed to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel to others. Day after day, we are bombarded with the shameful sins of our clergy and the wicked cover-up of their colleagues in the Church hierarchy. We are brokenhearted to see even the promotion of such men to positions of great influence in the Church. This has no doubt led to many the tragic spiritual death of many in the Church today as faith is lost and hope dwindles.

This is too is a moment of grace for us all. God still desires and is ready to save the world through those who are going to be humble enough to be converted now by opening their hearts completely to His grace. We are to strive to be instruments of His truth and grace in the world today. We cannot do it on our own but by deepening our union with Christ who has assured us that “Without Him (Christ) we can do nothing.”

We enter into this deep saving union with Christ for our sake and for the sake of others by receiving His divine grace regularly. This can be in form of the Eucharist or in regular reception of the sacrament of Confession. This will bring us both repentance as well as the grace to strive for the good and to overcome evil in ourselves and in the world. We can also intensify our prayer life because it is only through prayer that we obtain the grace that can change our hearts and the hearts of others. This will then lead us to bearing witness to others by words and examples. This is how we can be channels of God’s saving love in our world today.

Venerable Bruno Lanteri (1759-1830), the founder of our Congregation, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, was a man who suffered the devastation of the French Revolution in his native country of Italy. He witnessed the secular mentality that puts God out of our personal and social life. He saw the waning hope of many of the faithful of his time. He saw many of his fellow priests fall into heresies and scandalous behaviors. He would say, “Even if I fall a thousand times a day, I would still rise and say to God, ‘Nunc Coepi,’ (Now I begin).” He puts aside the past gains and pains and begins his spiritual journey as if it were the very first time. His words and attitudes brought great hope and strength to many of lay faithful, priests and religious. He is a man who understood well God’s precious gifts of time and grace and who did not give up because of past failures in the Church or in his own life.

Today, this second, is another gift from God that bears with it the grace of the present moment. This Eucharist is also another gift from God that gives us His grace. Remember the words of St. Paul, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain…Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”(2Cor 6:1-2) No matter the tragedies and painful failures of our past, let us make good use of these gifts of time and grace today, constantly beginning again and again, and doing so for the sake of our salvation and that of the whole world.

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

 

 

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Eucharistic adoration: An open invitation to a Transfiguration experience

 

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 17, 2019

Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

 

Eucharistic adoration: An open invitation to a Transfiguration experience

I was at a weekend retreat gathering of priests and religious some years ago. One of the elderly priest- attendees remarked how times had changed. He said that many years ago when priests and religious gathered in a place, the first thing that they would ask is where the chapel was located in the building so that they could spend some moments of Eucharistic adoration. But now, when priests and religious gather together in a place, they first ask for the Wi-Fi password and the place in the house with the strongest Wi-Fi connection!

His words reminded me of how we have lost the sense of the powerful effects of Eucharistic adoration today. Eucharistic adoration remains its potency today because what happens to the disciples on the Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration of Jesus also happens to us whenever we approach the Eucharist for adoration.

The disciples followed Jesus up the high mountain unquestioningly. They did not ask, “Where are you leading us, Jesus?” In Eucharistic adoration, we approach Jesus too with that humble unquestioning faith that says, “Jesus I don’t completely understand but I believe that you are here present simply because of your word to me. I believe that you are the one drawing me into your presence. I have come to simply worship you. Please help my unbelief.”

The disciples also gazed on Christ’s humanity until the divinity of Christ pierced through that humanity for a brief moment, “His (Jesus’) face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white.” Likewise, in Eucharistic adoration, we gaze with faith continuously on the visible element of bread until the divinity pierces through that bread and gives us an inner experience of Jesus’ divinity.

This breaking out of the divinity of Christ through the visible elements during Eucharistic adoration and our inner experience of the divinity of Christ affects us in so many ways.

First, we grasp deeply God’s graciousness to us in calling us to belong to Him. We become grateful for this priceless faith that allows us to worship Him in His utter abasement in the Eucharist. We are so grateful for His choosing us to follow and to serve Him. St. Peter put it this way, “Master, it is good that we are here.” Eucharistic adoration moves us to focus more on the goodness of God that calls us rather than on the difficulties and great demands of discipleship in our world today.

Second, we are blessed with a greater zeal in serving God. St. Peter is moved to do something that truly endures for Jesus, “Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Eucharistic adoration makes us want to serve God more faithfully no matter the cost.

Thirdly, we realize our nothingness and the awe that we should have for God, “They (disciples) became frightened when they entered the cloud.” Eucharistic adoration makes us humble before God, self and others and moves us to ongoing conversion in love for God.

Fourthly, Eucharistic adoration delivers us from slavery to the things of this world, inflames our desire for the eternal life of heaven, and fills us with the certainty of hope that we will receive from God all that we need to attain eternal life. We long for the fullness of communion with Christ for all eternity.

St. Paul’s words to the Philippians could rightly be addressed to us Christians living in this age of an aggressive secularism that makes us live for this world alone, “Many conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ… Their glory is their stomach. Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like the imprisoned St. Paul, our waiting for the Savior can be painful, long, and difficult. We are not alone in this waiting because the Savior is here with us now – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, hidden behind the veils of our Church tabernacles. He is the actually the one who waits for us and draws us there to give us a glimpse of His heavenly glory and to intensify our desire for the fullness of this glory in heaven.

This intense desire for heaven helps us to overcome all fear of suffering for the sake of Christ. We cease to be “enemies of the cross of Christ” i.e. people who live only for earthly pleasure and gain. We consciously choose to live selflessly like Christ who, “For the sake of the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame.”(Heb 12:2)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, many of the pains and sufferings in our Church and world today are connected with this lack of authentic adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We are living for the here and now without serious reflection or even desire for the life to come. The clergy sexual abuse scandals is a painful example of this loss of the heavenly vision among those who have been called and consecrated to proclaim and make present the kingdom of God. Losing that impetus for ongoing conversion that comes from Eucharistic adoration, we are now moved more by materialism, careerism, and consumerism than our desire to be conformed and united to Christ here and in the life to come.

In our crass individualism, we live exclusively for ourselves. We have little or no fear for God as we willingly break His Commandments and even justify and celebrate it. We become so uncaring towards others that we have no qualms denying the unborn infants even the chance to live. Ultimately, we become slaves of things and people, addicted to created things and pleasures and losing that glorious freedom and joy that should fill our hearts as God’s children.

There is hope for each of us. We are not just waiting for the Savior. In truth, the Savior is here with us now, waiting for us in every tabernacle and exposed monstrance in our Catholic Churches. There is no need for a password and the connection is strong in every place where He is sacramentally present! He only asks us to exercise that adoring faith that we received in holy baptism and adore Him here now so that we may adore Him eternally in heaven. He is truly waiting for us now and drawing us to Himself as He did with the disciples on Mt Tabor. Let us continuously gaze on Him in the Blessed Sacrament till His divinity breaks out and touches us so that we can exclaim here now, and forever in the life to come, “Master, it is indeed good that we are here!”

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

 

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The fight of the beloved: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

 

1st Sunday of Lent. March 10, 2019.

Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

The fight of the beloved

I met John many years ago when he was hospitalized in the terminal stage of his cancer. He proudly told me how that was his fourth bout with the disease and how he had fought and won the previous battles. He vowed to fight the disease again and beat it as he had done before. When I asked how what gave him so much hope and determination to fight the cancer, he replied to me, “I do not fight for myself. I fight for my lovely young wife and two beautiful kids. I want to be there for them. It is for them that I will fight this cancer till my very last breath.”

John passed away about three months after this conversation with him but I will never forget what he thought me. He thought me that only true lovers fight to the very end and they do so for the sake of the beloved. He knew he was loved by his family and he loved them too and that mutual love gave him both hope and energy to fight a deadly disease to the very end.

Only true lovers fight till the very end. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Only true lovers – i.e. those who know they are loved by God and who are likewise truly committed to respond to that divine love in action and continuously growing in it – would fight sin and temptation to the very end of their lives. We easily lose the battle against sin when our faith in God’s love for us or our commitment to love Him back and to mature continuously in His love begin to fade.

The way that Satan tempts Jesus in today’s Gospel is exactly the same way that he tempts us into choosing sin. His first move is to make us focus exclusively on our needs or desires at the present moment. He approaches Jesus when he senses Jesus’ need for food, “Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were over He was hungry.” His second move is to make us doubt or question our relationship with God, doubt God’s goodness to us and His willingness and ability to meet all our needs and desires. He phrases his temptation thus, “If you are the son of God…” This is the devil’s two-move tactic that has always succeeded in bringing us down.

Jesus fought these temptations to the very end because He was a Lover. He knows that He is loved and accepted by the Father even in His temptations and trials. The affirming words of His Father to Him at the baptism of the Jordan is forever alive and fresh in His heart, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He knows He is hungry but His greatest hunger is to respond to the Father’s love and to prove His love for Him in action in the moments of temptation and thus grow in this love. Jesus was not contented to just receive baptism in the Jordan and send His Father into ecstatic joy over Him; He was also ready to advance in His love to the point of receiving the “baptism” of His crucifixion and death to please the Father greatly by bringing salvation to us.

St. Paul states that if we truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then God has brought into a saving relationship with Him in Christ Jesus and we have the divine assurance that “no one who believes in Him will be put to shame.” Jesus Christ fought and conquered sin and death for us. So if the devil is putting us to shame today over and over again by leading us into every possible sin and leaving us completely hopeless in the struggle, then we need to stop and ask ourselves how deep is our commitment to love God back and to grow continuously in this love. It is only when we become true lovers who are committed to growing in our love for God that we can become the fighters who will fight sin and temptation to the very end no matter the wounds and failures of the past.

So how firm is our faith in God’s love for us even as we face intense and unremitting temptations? Is our commitment to love God back and to grow in this love evident in our willingness to listen to God alone and to believe in His words and promises? Are we committed to trust God to supply our needs and desires according to His will? How ready are we to put aside our own will and desires for the moment and to obey His will knowing that He always wills the best for us? Are we ready to pay the price of following Jesus wherever He leads us and to do all to please Him and not ourselves? It all begins in experiencing that divine love and remaining in it because we will only listen to, trust, obey, follow, and strive to please the one that we know truly loves us.

One concrete way that we can experience, respond and grow in our love for God is to mature first of all in our prayer life. Many of us approach prayer in a very childish way, simply seeking to meet our desires and wants in life. We reduce prayer to merely petitioning God for all our spiritual and material needs for ourselves and for others. We judge the efficacy of our prayers by the visible results forgetting that prayer is first of all a love relationship. We should pray because we know that we are loved by God and we have a desire to deepen our communion with Him and to grow in that love because that is the only thing that will ever satisfy us.

The devil is leading us astray by making us fixate only on our real and imaginary needs and by doubting God’s love for us and His desire and power to fulfill us completely. How can we reply to the Devil’s temptation like Jesus, “One does not live on bread alone,” when our prayer life is completely focused on attaining what we want and desire without any movement towards greater fidelity to God’s love for us? Like Jesus, we too must learn to pray always because we are loved and we want to respond to that love whether our needs and desires are met or not.

Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” and He was “led by the Spirit into the desert.” This is the Spirit of love and prayer, the One who “helps us in our prayer because we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) When our prayer goes beyond merely seeking to meet our needs, this Spirit is awakened in us, we grasp the reality of divine love for us, and we know we can depend on this love even if our needs are met or not. This is what makes us true lovers of God, intent in maturing in our love for God.

Divine love is once again made present to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Spirit of prayer is infused in us as Jesus offers us His own body and blood, soul and divinity. We are indeed the beloved of God even as we face the devil’s fiercest and most unrelenting temptations of our lives as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ. Let us strive to respond to this love in action and grow in it and we will become true lovers of God and do what lovers do best – fight sins and temptations till our very last breath for the sake of the Beloved Son who fought, died, and rose for us.

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

 

 

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