Friday, June 23, 2017

Pentecost Meditation: The face of the world renewed

Renew the face of the earth!
Jesus, I trust in you!

On the night of Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to his disciples. By his crucifixion and death, he entered into the glory of his Father. Returning from the Father, he rose from the dead. Behind the locked doors, Jesus came to meet his disciples. Coming from the other side of the grave, Jesus gave them his precious gift. He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is the Risen Christ’s gift to his disciples. The sending of the Holy Spirit is the very fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection. He died on the cross so that he could give us the Holy Spirit: “If I do not leave you, the Paraclete will never come.” We say that the Lord died on the cross so that our sins may be forgiven. The forgiveness of sins is made possible by the Holy Spirit. That is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” By giving them the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins.

By sending the Holy Spirit to his disciples, Jesus completes the Easter mysteries. The sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is the beginning of a new era in the history of the world. At the Responsorial Psalm we said: “Lord send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Indeed, through Pentecost, Jesus is renewing the face of the earth. And the Church is the renewed face of the earth. We say this because the Church is the new family of God. It is the family of the redeemed. It is made up of people whose sins are forgiven. It is composed of people who have been transformed into children of God. The Church is the new creation.

And this world which is constantly in fear is truly passing away. It is tired and old. It is to this world that we are sent by Jesus: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we may go forth into the world and preach the Gospel. The Church is founded by Jesus and Christ’s Holy Spirit, given to the Church in a permanent manner, acts in her as a powerful force; the Holy Spirit inspires and directs the Church in the preaching of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit enables the Church to carry out in the world to the end of time the redemptive and sanctifying work of Christ. The only way for the world to be renewed is by receiving the Gospel and by receiving the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who can heal the wounds of sin. Only he can renew our strength. Only the Holy Spirit can wash away the stains of sin. Only he can melt the stubborn heart and will. Only he can melt the frozen heart. Only the Holy Spirit can warm our cold and hardened hearts. What the world needs is the Holy Spirit. And we are sent to the world to offer it the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

Let the world burn…not with the fires of terrorism, but with the fire of love coming from the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to embolden us with the Holy Spirit so that we may spread the fire of his love to all the earth. The fires of terrorism are spreading rapidly. We have to work more aggressively to fight fire with fire: the fire of terrorism, we must fight with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Let us spread the gospel of love and forgiveness. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to transform us and the world. Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth! 

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

Real Food, Real Drink

My Flesh is real Food, my Blood is real Drink
JESUS, I trust in you!

The other day, our parish operations manager called my attention to the fact that our fried rice left on the table during the entire day did not spoil. Apparently, it was fake or plastic rice. The issue of fake rice is trending in the social media. Considering the fact that rice is our staple food, anything about it will turn out to be a great concern for all of us. Fake rice does not give nourishment. It does not deliver the nutrients it promises. And because it is plastic, it is even dangerous to our health.

In the Holy Gospel, the Lord Jesus tells us that what he gives us is not fake but true: “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” The Feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. In other words, the entire Person of Jesus is present in a real way in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. We can rely on this because the one who said “This is my Body” and “This is the chalice of my Blood” is the one who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Being the Truth, Jesus cannot and will not lie. And his resurrection from the dead is the very affirmation of the truth of all that he taught us.

Because Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, we can offer the Father true worship. The Mass is the only genuine sacrifice that is accepted by God. Here, we offer to the Father his only begotten Son, his Beloved in whom he is well pleased. In the Mass, Christ’s humble obedience unto death is made present – the same humble obedience that pleases the Father. We do not offer the Father a symbol or a token of Christ’s obedience. Rather, we offer to him Jesus himself, the obedient One, the humble One, the Father’s Beloved One.

Because Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, our communion with him is genuine. We remain in him and he remains in us. In Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are united to the Father and also among ourselves. The Eucharist perfects our communion with God the Father by identification with his only Son through the working of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, “the mystery (of communion) is so perfect that it bring us to the heights of every good thing: here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” (Nicolas Cabisilas in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 34.)

Because Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, we are assured of eternal life: “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day…Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” He who has risen as he promised will be true to his promise: “The man who feeds on this bread shall live forever.”

Because the Eucharist is real and not fake, “it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist.” (EDE, 34.) Let us not be indifferent to this great gift of Christ to us. Let us prepare ourselves for every Mass we assist in and for every Communion we receive. Remember what the Eucharist is: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. The Eucharist is truly Jesus. There is this pop song whose lyrics I remember: "I did not know I was starving till I tasted you." Let us taste and see the goodness of the Lord!

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

The God of Love and Peace

God is Love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Jesus, I trust in you!

It is disturbing to know that many acts of terrorism today are done in the name of God. Apparently, terrorists think that if they burn churches and kill unbelievers, they are doing the will of God. But this deception comes from a false notion of who God is. On this Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, the word of God proclaims to us that the one true God is the God of love. On Mt. Sinai, God revealed himself to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This revelation runs contrary to our common perception of a God who is always angry and relentless in his cruelty. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that God is the “God of love and peace” who commands us to “encourage one another, agree with one another, and live in peace.” God does not hate the earth. He does not want it condemned nor destroyed. Instead, “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Take note that he does not threaten: “Believe or be killed.” Rather, the peril of death is already present on account of our sin. “This is indeed a stiff-necked people.” Our stubbornness in sin is the real culprit…it is the reason we die. Violence does not come from God. Hatred does not come from God. Terrorism does not come from God. War does not come from God. It comes from sin. Our Lady said at Fatima: “War is a punishment for sins.” Contrary to what pagans believe, there is no god of war. The only true God is the God of love and peace.

God does not want us to perish. He wants us to have eternal life because he loves us. This is why he sent his Son. He did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. God sent his Son to offer us a way out of the condemnation that the world has brought upon itself. All we have to do is to believe in his Son so that we may not be condemned. He who does not believe in Jesus remains in his sins. He remains condemned.

There will be war as long as people do not know the Blessed Trinity. Violence and hatred will remain so long as the world does not know the God of love and peace. The God of love is the Blessed Trinity. “God is Love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (CCC, 257.) In the inner life of God is a great mystery of communion in love: the Father loves the Son in that Fount of Love who is the Holy Spirit. And this Love is so great and powerful that the Blessed Trinity reveals himself wherever there is love. St. Augustine said: “Where there is love, there is a Trinity: a Lover, a Beloved, and a Fountain of Love.” St. Francis of Assisi used to lament: “Love is not known. Love is not loved.” The world continues to live under the threat of violence because Love is not known and loved. The world will not be at peace until it knows and loves the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, let us make Love known. “Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you…The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Primacy of God

Jesus, I trust in you!

Wanting to rescue us from the slavery to the devil, the Lord Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Pope Benedict explained that the fasting of Jesus in the desert is “a descent into the perils besetting mankind, for there is no other way to lift up fallen humanity…He must recapitulate the whole of human history from its beginnings – from Adam on; he must go through, suffer through the whole of it, in order to transform it.” (Jesus of Nazareth, 26.) The slavery of the whole world to sin and death was brought about by the disobedience of one man (Adam). Adam’s disobedience came when he fell for the temptation of the serpent. Temptation is a seduction to sin. Satan enticed Adam and Eve to look at, take, try and taste what is forbidden. He wanted Adam and Eve to disregard God’s decrees and commands and instead, appropriate for themselves the right and the power to determine what is good and evil. It was a costly decision which Adam and Eve made because “a single offense brought condemnation to all men…through one man’s disobedience, all became sinners…”

The Lord Jesus wanted to return to man whatever was stolen from him by the devil. Adam was successfully tempted to disobey God. Jesus had to undergo the same temptation in order to undo Adam’s disobedience by his obedience. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to the desert. The devil challenges Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. The devil “seeks to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan, that is, from the way of sacrifice, of love that offers itself in expiation, to make him take an easier path, one of success and power…The devil, to divert Jesus from the way of the cross, sets before him false messianic hopes: economic well-being (indicated by the ability to turn stones into bread); a dramatic and miraculous style (with the idea of throwing himself down from the highest point of the Temple and being saved by angels); and lastly, a shortcut to power and dominion, in exchange for an act of adoration to Satan.” (Pope Francis, Angelus, March 9, 2014) “At the heart of all temptations is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives. Constructing a world by our own lights, without reference to God, building our own foundation; refusing to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion - that is the temptation that threatens us in many forms.” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 28) 

Satan puts the question of relevance into the mission of Jesus as Messiah: What kind of Messiah are you if you do not bring universal prosperity, or world peace, or a better world? The Church, because she is the Mystical Body of Christ, is constantly confronted by the temptation to be relevant. Disregarding the Church’s record of charity, politicians constantly repeat what Satan said: “Why don’t you turn stones into bread? Why don’t you just impress us by your miracles? Why don’t you conquer all mankind and force them to live in peace?” If you do not solve the problems of humanity and establish a perfect drug and crime-free world, you are not the Messiah we need!

And so, Jesus came and until now, there is still hunger and poverty. Until now, the world is not at peace. Until now, there is no universal prosperity. The world is not yet a better world. And so, what has Jesus done? What has he given us? “The answer is very simple: God. He has brought us God…He has brought God and now we know his face. Now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of the hardness of our heart that we think this is too little. Yes, indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again, it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have all passed away. Their glory has proven to be a mere semblance (illusion). But the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of his love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.

“Jesus has emerged victorious from his battle with Satan. To the tempter’s lying divinization of power and prosperity, to his lying promise of a future that offers all things to all men through power and through wealth – he responds with the fact that God is God, that God is man’s true Good. To the invitation to worship power, the Lord answers with a passage from Deuteronomy (the same book the devil himself had cited): ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone will you serve.’ God alone is to be worshipped…this unconditional Yes to the first tablet of the 10 commandments also includes the Yes to the 2nd tablet – reverence for man, love of neighbor.” At the end, “angels came and ministered to him.” Psalm 91:11 now comes to fulfillment: The angels serve him, he has proven himself to be the Son, and heaven therefore stands open above him, the new Jacob, the Patriarch of a new universalized Israel.” (Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, 44 - 45.)

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

Declaring our Sinfulness

Jesus, I trust in you!

The bishop, in one homily, told us to look at our palms and asked: “What letter do you see?” Of course, we replied, “2 Ms.” “Do you know what MM means? It means: Madaling mamatay.” For a joke, I found it to be very funny and yet, nothing could be closer to the truth. Mortality is our destiny. It is written on the palms of our hands.
This is the meaning of the ashes we receive today. They remind us of our humble origin and our tragic destiny. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground,” so said the Book of Genesis. But to this piece of clay, the Lord gave his Divine Spirit. “God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”  This breath of life, God’s Spirit in man, is a pledge of immortality. “Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator, and entered the world as a consequence of sin.” (CCC, 1008)

The ashes we receive were last year’s palm branches we waved in acclaiming Christ as King. Last year, these were fresh and green. These were used to glorify God. In a way, last year’s palm branches are a fitting symbol of man, for “the glory of God is man fully alive,” so said St. Ireneus. But as the Catechism said, death entered the world as a consequence of sin. Last year’s palm branches are now ashes and they are now to mark our heads to remind us of what we have become: from bearers of the breath of life, we have become subjects of death. We would have been immune from bodily death had we not sinned. Therefore, today, we are marked with a sign that reminds us of what we are: we are dust and to dust we shall return. If I may use a contemporary image, we are ash tagged today.

The ashes on our heads are not a trophy of holiness. They are rather a badge of shame. We bear them on our heads today as a confession of sinfulness and a reminder of the punishment of death that we shall later endure on account of our sins. Today, we declare a fast. We gather and weep. We say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach!” As Christ our Lord began his saving work with fasting, so we imitate him. The restoration of the Divine likeness in man begins with fasting and mortification. Indeed, the Lord’s death obtained for us the forgiveness of sins. But by self-abnegation, by fasting and penance, we struggle to be liberated from sinful and worldly attachment so as to be restored in the Divine likeness which we lost on account of sin. We fast and mortify ourselves in reparation for sins and also for the conversion of sinners. The sinners we wish to convert would first of all be our own selves.

At Fatima, our Lady asked the children: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings he wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” When the children said that they were willing to suffer, Our Lady responded, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions, Ash Wednesday addresses to us the same question: “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all sufferings?” Let us say, “Yes!” Let us receive the ashes and confess the shame of our sins. And yet, let us keep our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving secret. Secretly, let us struggle and work out our salvation. By prayer, let us deepen our love for God. By fasting and self-denial, let us purify our self-love and struggle to be freed from slavery to the flesh. By almsgiving, let us put into practice our love of neighbor. Guarding against doing things merely for others to see, let us focus on what only God can see: our hearts. In this time of grace, let us beg God for what we really need: his mercy. Let us say to him: Spare your people, O Lord. Be merciful, O Lord for we have sinned!

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

Faith in the Father


Today, the Lord says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” The Lord Jesus assures us that God loves us and that we are important to him. Because of this, he will take care of us. The Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field with splendid colors. “Are you not more important than they?”

Because God’s love assures us that he will take care of us, he asks us to trust him. The reason for trusting God is the certitude of his love and care. The Lord sets before us both worry and trust. Choose only one because they cannot go together. If you worry, then you do not trust. If you trust, you do not worry.

People who worry about what to eat and what to wear do not trust the Father. “All these pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” People who worry about tomorrow forget that the Lord has gone there ahead of us. And that Father who has gone ahead of us anticipates all our needs. People who worry too much about the future deprive themselves of the joy of the present.

The Father assures us of his tender love. The prophet Isaiah asks, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she forgets, I will never forget you.” I have carved your name in the palm of my hand. We write on our palms to avoid forgetting what we need to do. God did not simply write our names on the palm of his hand. He carved them to make sure that we will not be erased from his memory. The Lord does not forget us. All he asks of us is to trust in him.

Padre Pio said, “Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety, and anguish. Only one thing is necessary: lift up your spirit and love God…Don’t worry to the point of losing your inner peace. Pray with perseverance, with faith, with calmness and serenity…Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

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

The Perfection of the Father

Jesus, I trust in you!

Last Sunday, the Lord Jesus said, “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” We might have biased opinions about scribes and Pharisees because we have heard our Lord call them hypocrites. But during his time, these groups of people were the icons of religiosity because of their expertise and minute or detailed observance of the law. If there was anyone who would most likely enter the Kingdom of God, it would most probably be the scribes and Pharisees. No one could be deemed worthier than them.

But to the mind of the Lord, the meticulous observance of the law was not enough. If a person wanted to belong to the Kingdom of heaven, he had to surpass this high Pharisaic standard. In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus raised the standard of holiness. No longer are the scribes and Pharisees the standards of holiness. Instead, the standard would be the Father himself: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the first reading, the Lord said to Moses: “Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.”

What does the holiness of the Lord mean? The holiness of the Lord means that he is not like his creatures. His ways are different. His thoughts are different. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways, for I am God and not man.” That is why to be holy as God is holy means living according to the paradigms of God and not of man. This is difficult because of the immense difference between the ways of God and the ways of the created world.

For example, it is but natural for us to love our neighbor and hate our enemies. It is but natural to love those who love us, those who like us, those with whom we share common interests. It is but natural for us to love those who are good and kind to us. But the Lord tells us that our holiness must be greater than mere natural goodness. Our love must be supernatural. Thus, as the Lord is good to all the good and bad alike, so also our love must not be limited to the lovable but also must extend to the unlovable. “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” While it is natural to feel hatred for the enemy, loving them and praying for those who make life difficult for us is supernatural. This is because God is love. He is kind and merciful. Thus, the Lord admonishes us: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of them. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of them.” This is why “an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth” does not work for us. “Kapag buhay ang inutang, buhay rin ang kabayaran,” likewise does not work for the Christian. Rather, the Christian response to evil is goodness: “Offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. Hand over your cloak to the one who sues you for your tunic. Should anyone press you into service for 1 mile, go for 2 miles. Give to the one who asks of you, do not turn your back on the borrower.”

This is why it is so difficult to propose the way of Christ to the world. The resistance of many to the bishops’ opposition to death penalty and also to extrajudicial killing comes from the fact that the standards of God are way above the natural standards of the world. It is easy to understand why people are more inclined to Duterte’s argument: “Masama sila kaya dapat lang sila mamatay.” Killing the enemy sounds so natural because this is the way the world thinks. Many people cannot comprehend the concept of supernatural mercy and patience. “God does not delight in the death of the sinner. He desires that the sinner should repent and live.”  It takes a lot of faith and a lot of grace to comprehend God’s wisdom in his mercy and patience. And yet, if we want to go to heaven, we must make this great effort to leap from natural logic to Divine wisdom. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God,” so said St. Paul. If our holiness does not surpass natural goodness (that is, the holiness of the scribes and Pharisees), then we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. No less than the perfection of the Father is what it takes in order to enter heaven. We cannot afford to lower the standards of Christian living because Jesus elevated them.

Christian life is indeed challenging because it beckons us to go beyond the limits of natural goodness. We must aim high – aim for the height of supernatural holiness. Goodness is not good enough. We must be holy as God is holy if we want to enter heaven. Pope John Paul II said: “The standards of Christianity are high. They do not admit mediocre morality nor shallow spirituality.”

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