Sunday, February 18, 2018

Into the Solitude and Barrenness of the Desert

FEBRUARY 18, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you.

The 40 days of Lent imitate the 40 days spent by Jesus in the desert. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. The barrenness of the desert is a true contrast to the abundance of the garden where Adam and Eve were also tempted by the devil. In the garden where Adam and Eve had everything, they fell to the seduction of the devil. However, in the desert where Jesus had nothing, he triumphed over the devil’s temptation. Is it not ironic that when the body is pampered, the soul is weak in the presence of temptations while when the body is weakened by suffering, the soul is strong enough to withstand temptations?
Lent calls us to the solitude and the barrenness of the desert. The Spirit leads us to the desert as He did to Jesus. Lent is a call to solitude. It is like a 40 day spiritual retreat where through fasting and mortification, we experience the barrenness of the desert. It is when we are alone and when we have nothing that we begin to be sensitive to the interior voices that we usually do not hear when we are busy and preoccupied with so many concerns. The external silence of the desert becomes conducive to interior listening. The sounds of the urban jungle oftentimes drown interior voices. This is why during Lent, it would do us good to tone down external sounds and slow down our usual pace so that we can engage in spiritual introspection.

In the desert lived wild beasts and the Lord Jesus was among them. But it really looks strange that the wild beasts seemed tame as they surrounded Jesus. It was like paradise before the fall where Adam and Eve lived in harmony with the beasts.  Unlike the fallen angels who refused to serve God the Son in his humanity, the angels ministered to Jesus whose divinity remained unchanged in his incarnation. The original harmony between man and the natural and supernatural world was seen no longer in the garden but in the desert. This is because being true man while remaining to be true God, the Lord Jesus has restored to humanity what the devil stole through his seduction and temptation. Inasmuch as temptation always appeals to the “animal” in man, Lent becomes for us the occasion to tame the beasts within. It is the time for us to control inordinate passions that liken us to the beasts and draws us away from our likeness to God. We control our animal instincts (sinusupil natin ang ating kahayupan) through fasting, mortification, and prayer. Lent is the time to regain the humanity that sin has compromised in us. When we control ourselves (nilalabanan ang sarili), we become less beasts and more human which was created in the image and likeness of God.

Thus, Lent is a time of real spiritual renewal. It is the time to recover our lost humanity, our likeness unto the Lord. It is a time of silence and solitude. It is a time of taming the beasts within. It is a time to be like Christ who was “put to death in the flesh and brought to life in the Spirit.” Let us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to the desert. With his help, let us confront our demons. Let us take care to resist the temptation of the devil. Instead, like the angels, let us minister to the Lord. Let us listen to the voice of God who draws us through the desert unto himself.    

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Coming From the Heart

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are an odd combination. One speaks of fasting and the other speaks of indulgence. That is why for most people, a choice must be made: will you celebrate Ash Wednesday by going into a fast or will you celebrate Valentine’s Day by going on a date?
However, when we listen to the Word of God, we realize that both of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day meet at a certain point. They meet in the heart. Today, we are summoned to penance. “Blow a trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly!” But this is not supposed to be simply an external show. Christ our Lord warned us today against “performing religious acts for people to see.” Our deeds of mercy and piety must be done in secret: “Keep you deeds of mercy secret…pray to your Father in private…let no one see that you are fasting…and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

What does “keeping deeds of mercy secret” mean? Where is that private room where we are to pray? How is that hidden fasting done? The answer simply is: do these from the heart! The heart is that secret place where we encounter the Father. The Lord does not look at external appearances but at the heart! The Lord is not impressed by externals. He wants things done with the sincerity of the heart. That is why the word of God tells us: Rend your hearts and not your garments! Our acts of piety and mercy are supposed to come from the heart because unless we do so, these will remain to be empty shows like a clanging gong. Without love, all these count for nothing.

The call for penance today starts what St. Paul calls the acceptable time…the day of salvation. The trumpets blown today tell us: We implore you, in Christ’s name: Be reconciled with God! We seek that reconciliation by detaching ourselves from the enemies of the soul, namely the self, the world, and the devil. These prevent us from forming authentic relationships of love with God. And so, if we want to truly love God, we must struggle against these enemies by using the instruments given to us: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. We use fasting to fight against our own self. By depriving ourselves of food, we struggle against our excessive love for the self. We use almsgiving to fight against the world. The world teaches us to accumulate. Sharing with the poor, we give a counter witness to the world. We use prayer in our struggle against the devil. We refuse to kneel before him because we worship God and only God. And all these struggles take place in the heart. We fast, we give alms, we pray with all our heart. We want to offer God a contrite and humble heart. We beg him: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

And so we enter the holy season of Lent. Let us take the Lenten discipline seriously. Be sincere in doing works of piety and mercy. Let our repentance come from our hearts. Let us not weep crocodile tears but authentic tears of compunction. “Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…’” We are not here to entertain people. Our desire is to please the Lord. He wants our hearts. Therefore, return to him with all your heart! 

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ours Were The Sufferings He Bore

February 4, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

We know that Christmas has really ended because the readings today confront us with the reality of human misery. Job in the first reading, having been afflicted by Satan, confesses that man’s life on earth is a drudgery (mahirap o nakababagot na gawain). He lived in misery and spent restless nights for a long time. He concluded     with the statement: “I shall not see happiness again.”

This reality of human suffering is acknowledged by all religions. “All life is suffering” so would the Buddha say. However, while Buddhism would teach their believers to strive to escape suffering by the annihilation of all desires, the Lord Jesus teaches otherwise. He does not escape suffering. Rather, he faced suffering. When he was told that Peter’s mother in law was sick, Jesus approached her, grasped her hand and helped her up. He did not run away from human suffering. Instead, he approached it. In his Incarnation, the Lord came down from heaven to meet man where he suffers the most.  At evening, “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons” to the point that “the whole town was gathered at the door.” This portrays the universality of suffering. Every human being experiences pain. We all have a share in the misery that afflicts all humanity.

Jesus did not only cure illnesses and exorcise demons. He did not only relieve people of their sufferings. He embraced our sufferings and made it his own. “To the weak I became weak.” These words of St. Paul may rightfully be said by Jesus himself. He, the Almighty Son of God, came down to earth and humbly shared in our misery. He went hungry and thirsty and also got so tired that once, he slept in the middle of a storm. He took upon himself our suffering and experienced the terrible pain of isolation. That is why on the Cross, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He went through the desolation of the Cross so that none of us may never go through it alone. He went before us in the experience of desolation and waits for us there so that when our time comes, we do not have to suffer alone. He will be there to accompany us. He will be there to help us carry that cross. By this we know that we shall pass through the pain and it is not because of our own effort but because he will be there to see us through.

“Ours were the sufferings he bore. By his wounds, we were healed.” “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up all their wounds.” Therefore, let us go to him and cast all our burdens upon him. Let us bring to him our sufferings and ask him to help us endure it. Having been assisted by his grace, let us help others carry their burdens. While having our own miseries to bear, let us help others go to him. He will not help us escape suffering but rather, he will help us go through it. He will give value to our suffering by making it making it redemptive. He gives redemptive value to our patient endurance of suffering. He gives suffering the power to atone for sins. By patiently enduring our suffering out of love for him, we are able to atone for our own sins and bring about the conversion of others. Patient endurance of suffering purifies us and makes us worthy of the rewards of eternal life.

Knowing that the Lord will be there in our most trying moments, let us courageously carry our cross. Let us say to him, “Lord, it is for love of you that I embrace this cross.”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Christ's Authority over Evil

January 28, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Who is the prophet? Many of us mistakenly think that a prophet is a man who predicts the future, a clairvoyant of sorts. But the word of God today tells us otherwise. The first reading speaks of a prophet as one on whose mouth God puts his words, a man who shall tell people what the Lord commands him. He speaks in the name of the Lord. He is called to be faithful to the word that he had received, and transmit it as such to God’s people.

Called to be the faithful communicator of God’s word (and not his own), his ministry would lead him to primarily denounce evil in all its forms, and call to conversion. The prophets of the Old Testament were men who denounced evil and constantly called people to conversion.

However, these are nothing in comparison with Jesus. The Lord told his people that he shall raise up a prophet like Moses among their kinsmen. This refers to Jesus himself. While the prophets of old spoke in the name of the Lord, the Lord Jesus spoke with authority. “A completely new teaching with a spirit of authority,” so people exclaimed about Jesus. This authority is his own because Jesus is the only Begotten Son of God. This authority cannot be denied even by the evil spirits who said to him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Not only did Jesus come to call of us to conversion as did all the prophets of old. “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” He commanded the evil spirit to be quiet because evil has no authority as it pretends to have. The real authority over evil is found in Jesus. He is the only one who can command the evil spirit: “Come out of the man!” This is why the people who saw this exorcism were so amazed that they said: “He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him.” They obey him not because they want to but because they have to. No one can resist the authority of Jesus because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him by the Father. This is why conversion from evil is really possible for us because Jesus liberated us from the evil one. On our own we cannot free ourselves from the devil. Our human nature is too inferior as compared to the fallen angelic nature. But Christ, the Son of God, is superior to the devil. Therefore, he destroys the power of the devil over us so that we can freely “devote ourselves entirely to the Lord.” The Lord does not simply command us to return to him and change our ways. He destroys the power of the devil and gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can do what is right and avoid what is evil. “He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him.” We should obey him as well because he has given us the power to do so.

Conversion is possible not because we have the power of the will to do so. Conversion is possible because Christ enables our will to do it. We cannot tell the Lord: Lord, all you do is command us. Not only did he call us to conversion. He gave us the means to do it. Let us not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit he has given to us. Christ is the powerful Word of God. He gives us a completely new teaching in a spirit of authority. Let us devote ourselves entirely to the Lord and thereby be free of all worries. 

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sto. Nino: Let the children come to me

JANUARY 21, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

People were bringing children to Jesus so that he may bless them. But the disciples rebuked them. After all, Jesus has become a celebrity of sorts. His healing power made him very popular. And so, a celebrity like him should not be bothered by trivial matters like children. Is this not what we do when we receive important visitors at home? Do we not order our children to go and play outside so as not to bother important guests? Do we not dismiss children in the presence of celebrities? Apparently, we are no different from the disciples of the Lord.

However, when the Lord saw this, he became indignant and said to them: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them.” The Lord challenges the worldly paradigm that great people, celebrities, must be inaccessible and so remain mysterious. He associates greatness to accessibility. A great person must be accessible to others. In other words, “dapat madali siyang lapitan.” And who is the truly accessible/approachable one? He is the one who easily accommodates the little children. If little children can approach that person, anyone can approach him. And this is what the Lord reveals to us today: God is an approachable God. The Lord tells us: “Let the little children come to me. Do not prevent them.” No one is to be prevented from approaching him…not even the little children. In fact, in order to encourage children to approach him, he himself became a little child. Is it not true that children are not intimidated by other children like themselves? While they may shy away from adults, children will never be afraid of approaching other children like themselves. And so God became a little child. And never will he forget that he was once a little child. Adults like us can become very cranky towards little children. And when we do so, others reprimand us by saying: “Have you never been a child before?” Unlike our cranky selves, the Lord Jesus has never forgotten that he was once a child. Thus, he tells us that we should never prevent children from approaching him. He understands children because he was once a child.

And so, we must never prevent children from approaching the Lord. At a very early age, we should accustom them to go to Church so that they may be familiar with the Lord. Sometimes, we encounter priests who get upset with the crying of a baby in Church. They easily dismiss parents by telling them not to bring their noisy children to church. But when will you bring your children to church? When they are teenagers? Do you seriously think that if you do not bring your children to church while they are young and impressionable, you can successfully bring them to church as independent-minded teenagers? I don’t think so. If you are unable to bring them to church while they are young, you may never be able to successfully bring them when they get older. This is why we must start them young. Their relationship with the Lord must begin at an early stage. At a very young age, they must learn to develop a friendship with the Lord because a relationship is not created overnight. By bringing our children to church, we provide for them the opportunity to know and befriend the Lord. This is the kind of friendship that will benefit them for a lifetime.

The Santo NiÑo invites us all to draw close to him. Do not hesitate. If little children should not be prevented from approaching him, no one should be prevented from drawing close to him. To God who made himself little for us, we should hasten without hesitation. After all, he said, “Let the children come to me. Do not prevent them for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!   

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary time: Come and See

JANUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Behold the Lamb of God
Jesus begins gathering people to himself. This is the beginning of the Kingdom of God which is the gathering of people around Jesus so that he may give them access to the Divine Life. John the Baptist tells his 2 disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And so, they followed Jesus. They were asked by the Lord: What are you looking for? To this, they replied: Rabbi, where are you staying? Jesus invited them: Come and see.

The Lord called Samuel as he slept in the Temple. Twice, Samuel thought that the high priest Eli was calling for him because he was not yet familiar with the Lord. Eli taught Samuel that the next time the Lord calls him, he should say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

John the Baptist taught his disciples. Eli taught Samuel, The disciples followed Jesus and Samuel responded to the Lord. We have here the beginnings of priestly and religious vocations. Vocation is a call coming from the Lord. It is a call to live a life the Lord which the Lord offers a person. Some are called to the married life. Others are called to single blessedness. Others are called to follow the Lord more closely in the priesthood and in the consecrated life. In all these vocations, the Lord begins by asking the person: What are you looking for? The question addresses the deepest desire of the human heart. What do you want to do with your life? Where do you think life is leading you? What will satisfy you?

The answer of the disciples was a simple question: Lord, where are you staying? We want to stay close to you. We want to follow you because perhaps, you are the one we seek. Perhaps, you are the one answer to all our longings. And the Lord responds: Come and see. Come and see for yourself where I live. Come and see for yourself who am I. Come and see for yourself where true happiness comes from.

The disciples were not mistaken when they stayed with the Lord. In fact, Andrew returned home and joyfully said to Simon his brother: We have found the Messiah! This is the joyful affirmation of everyone who ventured to follow the Lord: We have found him! There is joy in following the Lord! People who have taken courage to follow the Lord will testify with great joy: We have found the Messiah!

“Many people, including many of the young, have lost sight of the meaning of their lives and are anxiously searching for the contemplative dimension of their being. They do not realize that Christ, through his Church, can respond to their expectations.” (Evangelica Testificatio, 45.) Christ can respond to the emptiness in the lives of many people. This is why we must teach our young people how to listen for the Lord’s call. We must teach them about Jesus so that they can be familiar with his ways. Interiority is important in discerning the Lord’s call. “The interior man is aware that times of silence are demanded by love of God. As a rule, he needs a certain solitude so that he may hear God ‘speaking to his heart.’” (ET, 46.) The reason why so many people live empty lives is because they were never taught how to pray. They try pursuing fulfillment by burying their interior emptiness through the noise of shallow entertainment. And yet, the emptiness is not filled. Authentic joy seems always evasive.

The only solution to this emptiness is by developing an interior life. We should ask the Lord: Lord, where are you staying. I wish to spend some time with you. I wish to stay in your house. Please speak to me, Lord. Tell me what you want. Your servant is listening. In you alone, Lord, will my heart find rest.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno

January 9 in Manila is a great feast. It is the Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Although it is not a liturgical feast, millions flock to venerate the image and also to join that immense procession that reenacts the transfer of the image to Quiapo Church/

The official name of the image is Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno. I have always been intrigued by this title. Why is the Black Nazarene called "Nuestro Padre?" He is God the Son and not the Father. So why should he be called "Padre"?

I think that we can explain this by affirming that the Lord Jesus is the First-born Son. Not only is he the first-born of the blessed Virgin Mary. St. Paul calls Jesus "the first-born of all creation" and "the first-born of the dead."

In the family, the first-born exercises some fatherly authority over the household. Parents entrust some parental responsibilities to the first-born over the younger sons and daughters. Thus, the first-born is "father" to his siblings. Not that he replaces the Father. Rather, the authority of the Father resides in him.

Thus, it is right to address him as "Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno" In fact, the title itself tells us that the Nazareno is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Before the priesthood was entrusted to the sons of Levi, it was first the work of the head of the household...a role which was entrusted to the first-born Son. Christ is the head of the Church. He is the first-born of creation. He is first-born of the dead. We see him carrying the heavy load of the Cross as Isaac carried the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Victim who will be laid on the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Priest who enters the Holy of holies not with the blood of animals but with his own Blood. Here is the Priest who walks towards the mountain of sacrifice. And the entire multitude follow him to the Altar.

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, Priest and Victim, offer now your sacrifice for us!