Sunday, July 29, 2018

The First Fruits of the Resurrection

JULY 29, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

A man offered to Elisha 20 barley (sebada) loaves made from the first fruits which the prophet ordered to be given to feed 100 people. Elisha was the successor of Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, who multiplied the flour and made it enough to sustain a woman and her child until the end of the famine. Jesus was offered 5 barley loaves and 2 fish which he multiplied to feed 5,000 men. Both the offerings given to Elisha and Jesus were held when the feast of the Passover was near. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was the time when Barley was offered as first fruits of spring.
Clearly, the story of the multiplication of the loaves is a Eucharistic story. Here we see Jesus who is greater than the prophets Elijah and Elisha because he fed more people with less number of loaves than the 2 prophets previously did. Thus, the people who were fed by the Lord would acclaim him: “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Greater than the prophets, Jesus is The Prophet, the one who comes to fulfill all the prophets of all said.

In this miracle, Jesus is also shown as the Good Shepherd who brings and feeds his flock in verdant pastures. He lets the people recline on the grass in order to feed them. They ate as much as they wanted with leftovers to be gathered into 12 baskets. “You have prepared a table for me in the sight of my foes. My head you have anointed with oil and my cup is overflowing.”

A man brought to Elisha 20 barley loaves. A boy offered to Jesus 5 barley loaves. The barley is the first grain to be harvested in spring. It is the first fruit offered to God in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread is a 7 day feast immediately after the Passover. As the barley is the first fruit offered to God on the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, so is Christ the first fruits of the Resurrection (1 Cor 15:23). Christ offered himself on the Cross at the very hour when the lambs were offered in the temple in preparation for the Passover. Christ resurrected from the dead on the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. He is the first fruits of the Resurrection. On the Feast of the unleavened bread, all yeast (which is the symbol of sin) is cast away. Therefore, Jesus who is the first fruits of the Resurrection offers us himself, the Unleavened Bread so that we might partake of his new life. However, we are also to cast away the leaven of sin so as to share most fully in the eternal life which he offers us at our own resurrection from the dead. “Just as in Adam, all die, so in Christ all will come to life. But each in his own turn: Christ the first fruits, and at his coming, all those who belong to him. And then will come the end when Christ will hand over his kingdom to God the Father.” “Therefore, let us cast out the old leaven, that you may be a new unleavened batch as you really are. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the festival not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor 5:7-8) It is only by renouncing the leaven of sin that we can repose in the verdant pastures of the Good Shepherd where he will prepare a table for us, anoint us with oil, and make our cup overflow.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Anak, ba't ka nagkaganyan?

JULY 8, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you.

The Selfie of God
“Rebels who rebelled against me,” so did God speak about the Israelites when he sent the prophet Ezekiel to them. From the beginning, the Lord never kept the difficulty of the challenge a secret to the prophet: “Hard of face and obstinate of heart (matigas ang ulo at walang pitagan) are they to whom I am sending you.” Even Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. They always have a reason to refuse to believe in what the prophet has to say. Instead of listening intently to the Word of God, they are on the look-out for some flaw in argument or in the person of the prophet. In the case of Jesus, they complained: Is he not the carpenter, the Son of Mary? They could not find fault in what the Lord said: What kind of wisdom has been given him? They could not deny the greatness of his work: What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! They could not even find fault in his person so that they found fault in the fact that they knew his family and his origins. They simply had to find fault in something in order to justify their unbelief. (The president who called God “stupid” is now asking for a selfie as proof that God exists.) There can only be one reason for their unbelief and that would be their hardness of face and obstinacy of heart. Knowing the number and gravity of their sins, they would rather choose not to believe than choose to repent and change their ways. (Even if we produce that selfie, still he will not believe.) “For the believer, no proof is necessary. For the unbeliever, no proof will be sufficient.” So said St. Thomas Aquinas.

If this were so, then why does God still insist on sending prophets to a rebellious house? If Jesus knew that no prophet is accepted in his own native place, then why did he still insist to go there? The stubbornness of God’s love can be the only answer. The stubbornness of God’s love is his response to the stubbornness of the human heart. While God’s love remains constant, man’s obstinacy of heart may change. That is why again and again he sends prophets to that rebellious house. “Whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” (Sa making sila o hindi – dahil matigas nga ang kanilang ulo – malalaman nilang may isang propeta sa gitna nila.)

Hindi siya nagkulang ng paalala. Isn’t this so typical of a loving father? The parent does not tire of advising his children because he wants to keep them from danger. But if his child is obstinate, no amount of parental advice can protect him from danger. Whatever happens to him is not the fault of his parents but it is the result of his own doing. I remember Freddie Aguilar’s song. He sang of how parents love their child so much: “Minamasdan pati pagtulog mo.” But in spite of such love and care, the child goes wayward: “Nagdaan pa ang mga araw at ang landas mo’y naligaw. Ikaw ay nalulong sa masamang bisyo.” And the parents could do nothing but ask: “Anak, ba’t ka nagkaganyan?”

God keeps sending prophets because he does not tire of warning his children of the dire consequences of their wayward ways. Remember the Book of Wisdom from last Sunday’s Mass? The Word of God said: “God does not rejoice in the destruction of the living.” Therefore, let us heed the prophets whom God sends us. Let us not detest what they say.  If ever we discover that our lives are not in accordance to the ways of the Lord, let us not hesitate to repent and change our ways. Instead of calling God “stupid,” let us abandon our own stupidity. Let us not wait for God to ask us, “Anak, ba’t ka nagkaganyan.” “For out of compassion for the waywardness that is ours, he humbled himself…by the passion of the Cross, he freed us from unending death, and by rising from the dead, he gave us eternal life.” Let us not be obstinate of heart. If today, you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Answering the President's Blasphemy

JULY 1, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

The President blasphemed the Lord by calling God “stupid.” He gave this statement when he tried to show the “absurdity” of the biblical story of creation. According to him, God created a perfect world and placed Adam and Eve in it. Then, he sent a serpent to test Eve and therefore he destroyed the perfect creation that he made. This absurdity made him remark that the God we worship is stupid.

I think it is my obligation to preach about this in order to correct false notions that the president was trying to insinuate. First of all, God did not desire to destroy what he created. The Book of Wisdom today tells us: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are WHOLESOME…God formed man to be imperishable, the image of his own nature he made him.” Death did not have a place in the original plan of God for creation. Man was meant to be imperishable.

If this were so, then why is there death? Did death come from God? Is it true that God desired to destroy what he created? The Book of Wisdom tells us that death did not come from God. Rather, “by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who belong to his company experience it.” God created all the angels but some of them chose to rebel against God. These fallen angels refused to serve God and therefore, they appointed themselves as enemies of God. Because man was made in the image of God, the devil envied him. The devil hated the fact that God created man in his image and likeness and therefore, he sought to destroy man by seducing him to sin. Contrary to the claim of the president, God did not send the serpent to destroy man. But rather, the devil took the form of a serpent and on his own accord, he went to Adam and Eve in order to tempt them. Temptation is a seduction to sin. By successfully seducing them to disobey God, the devil destroyed man by bringing death into the world. The author of sin is the devil. The same devil is the author of death.

In fact, sickness and death are all the effects of sin. Man, whom God intended to be imperishable, became vulnerable to sickness and death because he fell into the devil’s trap. “Death entered the world and they who belong to (the devil’s) company experience it. God did not bring sickness and death to man. It was the devil who authored these.

Look at the Gospel. Jairus went to the Lord to ask him to heal his daughter. The woman who was afflicted with hemorrhage for 12 years sought to touch the cloak of Jesus in order to be healed. Jesus raised up the dead daughter of Jairus. Before Jesus came, both Jairus’ daughter and woman were sick. The Lord did not bring them illness. People went to him to have themselves delivered from sickness and from death. God is not the destroyer but the healer. Death did not come from God. It came from the envy of the devil. God raises us from illness. He rescues us from death. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did this by dying on the Cross. Indeed, he defeated the devil in his own game. He defeated the devil in his own home court. Death was the devil’s domain. Jesus entered it to defeat the devil in his own domain.

And so, God is not stupid because he does not destroy what he created. Instead, he saves those who call on him. He rescues us from death that came from the envy of the devil. It is the devil who is stupid because he dares to challenge the One whom he cannot defeat. The devil fighting God is like a fool who rams his head against a concrete wall. The devil destroys himself by rejecting the God who gives life. Those who chose to belong to the devil’s company will also experience the devil’s self-destruction. The self-exclusion from the communion of the saints with God is what we call hell. Hell is the ultimate self-destruction.

This is why it is wiser to hold on to this God whom they consider stupid. The seeming foolishness of God is even greater than the wisdom of men. “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed… The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (Psalm 2: 1-5) Have confidence: ‘Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” (2 Tim 1: 10)

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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter: Life with the Vine

APRIL 29, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

The Easter Season celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Here, we honor Christ, the Lamb who was slain but now, who lives forever. The risen Jesus is the Lord of life. He is not just living. He is Life itself.

This is what he means when he says: “I am the Vine and you are the branches.” He is the source of the life of all those who are in communion with him. A branch, as long as it is attached to the vine, is alive. It grows and bears fruit. But a branch that is severed from the vine is dead. It withers and is thrown into the fire. The Lord said: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

And so, each of us must ask himself: Am I alive or dead? The sign of the death of the body is the cessation of the lung and heart function (that is, breathing and beating of the heart). On the other hand, the death of the soul is the cessation of communion with God. That is why we should ask: Am I attached to the vine or am I severed from it? St. John Climacus said: “A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is the avoidance of church services.” It may seem to be too simple for a complicated matter but it is really true. Father, hindi lang nagsisimba, patay na agad ang kaluluwa? Hindi ba pwedeng tinatamad lang o busy lang? How is the avoidance of church services related to the dying of the soul?
The Lord Jesus said: “Remain in me as I remain in you.” How do we remain in the Lord? We remain in him by communion in mind, will, and body. Communion of mind means that I believe in Christ and in his teachings. Faith is the assent of the mind to the revelation of God. Communion of the will means that I obey the teachings and commandments of Christ. St. John said in the 2nd reading: “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandment remain in him, and he in them,” Communion of the body means that I receive regularly the sacraments of Christ which are visible signs of his invisible grace. Sacraments are related to the body because we cannot perceive what does not pass through the senses. The Holy Spirit is invisible. Grace is invisible. Therefore, the coming of grace has to be done through the perceptible or sensible signs of the sacraments. Through the sacraments, Christ continues to bestow on us the Holy Spirit. The sacraments help us remain in Christ and in his grace. We receive these sacraments when we attend church services. This is why by attending Church services, we continue to receive life from the Lord. Can the mind say something and the body do the opposite? Can the heart say something and the body do differently? How can you say, “I believe in Christ and I obey his will” if my body avoids going to Mass? Surely, the body will do what the mind and the heart dictate.

The life of Christ in us will definitely show in the fruits that we bear. Charity, generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness, and chastity are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are the signs that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us. They are signs of life of the soul. We will bear such fruits only if we remain in communion with Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps us in Christ. It is only in Christ that we can do all things. Only in Christ are we alive!

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

4th Sunday of Easter: Christ lays down his life

APRIL 22, 2017

Jesus, I trust in you!

I saw this very disturbing picture on the internet last night. It was a picture that won the award of photo of the decade. It was a photograph of a doe (a female deer) that was surrounded by 3 Cheetas. The cheetas were chasing this doe and her 2 fawns (baby deers). The mother deer could easily outrun the cheetas but she offered herself as their prey so that her fawns could run to safety. In the picture, the mother deer is shown looking at her babies running to safety as she is about to be torn to pieces.
I was so disturbed by that photograph that until now I cannot take it off my mind. I could just imagine how the doe was cruelly torn to pieces by the savage beasts. What savagery! What noble sacrifice! The doe stood looking at her babies running to safety. It was probably the last thing she saw before she died. She must have thought that the safety of her fawns was worth dying for.

Looking at this picture, I remembered our Lord who said today, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” The Lord spoke of the hired man who sees danger and abandons the flock. And then he spoke of the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. What spells the difference between a hired man and a shepherd? The word is “concern” (malasakit). This concern comes from the fact that the sheep the shepherd dies for are his own, just as the doe was willing to die because the fawns she protected were her own: “I know my sheep and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” The Lord Jesus died for me because he knows me and considers me his own. Because of this, Jesus willingly laid down his life for us. “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” Thus, St. John said in the 2nd reading: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” To belong to Jesus means that we are children of God. We became God’s children at the cost of such great sacrifice. He knows us but do we know him? We should know him because he reveals himself to us. The world does not know Jesus but we know him. This much we know: Christ loved us and gave up his life for us! As the doe could easily outrun the cheetas but refused to do so in order to save her fawns, so also is this true with Jesus. As he hung on the Cross, the high priests were taunting him: Come down from that Cross and save yourself! Jesus could have easily done this because he is God. Nothing is impossible for him. But he remained on the Cross until he died. He remained there to save us. He remained on the Cross because he knows that nobody can save us but him. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are saved.”

Knowing what he did for us increases our love for him. Loving him more increases our desire to serve him. This is the only motive for genuine priestly and religious vocations. Every priest, every consecrated person wishes to serve the Lord because he knows the Lord and loves him. At least this is the way I see it. The moment I realized how much I am loved by Jesus and how he suffered and died for me, I felt compelled to love him and serve him in return. The only reason why I decided to follow Jesus is his love for me. He loves me and died for me. And this is my prayer: that we may know him more so that we may love him and serve him more. I will never forget that doe who died for her fawns. I will never forget the Lord who willingly died for me and now is risen from the dead.

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

The devotion to the Sacred Heart

If we have devotion to the Sacred Heart, we will wish to find It, to adore It, to love It, and where shall we look for It but in the Blessed Eucharist where It is found, eternally living?...The devotion to the Divine Heart infallibly brings souls to the Blessed Eucharist; and faith in and devotion to the Blessed Eucharist necessarily lead souls to discover the mysteries of Infinite love of which the Divine Heart is the organ and the symbol.

extract from the Book of Inifinite Love
by Mother Louise Margaret

The Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament

The devotion to the Blessed Eucharist and the devotion to the Sacred Heart are not only two sister devotions. In reality, they are only one and the same devotion. They complete each other and develop each other; they blend so perfectly together that one cannot go on without the other and their union is absolute. Not only can one of these devotions not be prejudicial to the other, but because they complete each other and perfect each other, they also reciprocally increase each other.

Fr. John Croiset, SJ
Spiritual Director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque