Sunday, November 27, 2016

The End Is Sure To Come

And He shall come to judge the living and the dead
1st Sunday of Advent A (November 27, 2016)

Jesus, I trust in you!

There is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. And yet, the people who did these things perished at the time of Noah when they were swept away by the great flood. Why did they perish? Eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage are affairs that concern the present moment. We eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage in order to satisfy biological needs. Without eating and drinking, we will not survive. Without marriage, the human species will not survive. Both are necessary in order to preserve present human existence. And there is nothing wrong with concern for survival. There is nothing wrong with being concerned with the present. However, in doing so, we should not forget about preparing for the inevitable future. This future goes beyond our retirement. The future which the Lord wants us to prepare for is the coming of the Son of Man: “Stay awake! You must be prepared for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

We usually do not want to talk about the end. We refuse to talk about death. We refuse to talk about the end of the world. Thinking of these things scares us. We would rather concern ourselves with present needs than think of what will happen at the end of both our lives and of the history of the world. And yet, we must think of the end because it is inevitable. All movies press towards an ending. In like manner, all history presses towards the end which is the 2nd coming of Christ. He will surely come and therefore we must be prepared both spiritually and morally for his coming. If we do not prepare for him, we will lose everything as people lose what they have to the thief that comes in the middle of the night or to the flood that rages unexpectedly. Because we do not know the day nor the hour of Christ’s inevitable coming, we must not postpone our conversion. We must not procrastinate our repentance.

St. Paul tells us that there is a sense of urgency in preparing for the 2nd coming of the Lord because “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced and the day is near.” He means that time is slowly advancing and drawing close towards that inevitable end. Therefore, time is running out. The new liturgical year that we are entering into this day brings us one year closer towards that day and hour when the Lord will come. Therefore, we do not have much time left. The night is advancing towards the day when all shall be revealed before the Son of Man, the judge of the living and the dead. Therefore, we should cast off the works of darkness because these will be revealed to all at the coming of Christ: our orgies and drunkenness, our promiscuity and lust, our rivalry and jealousy. The desires of the flesh will simply shame us on judgment day. Therefore, “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.” Let us be engaged in things that we will not be ashamed of on the day of judgment. “In the presence of Christ, who is the Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person had done or failed to do during his earthly life.” (CCC, 1039)

And so, “let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” Let us spend the remaining time left doing what is right and just. “The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory…through his Son Jesus, (the Father) will pronounce the final word on all history…The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.”(CCC, 1040) “The lesson of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them ‘the acceptable time…the day of salvation.’ It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims ‘the blessed hope’ of the Lord’s return, when he will come ‘to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled in all who have believed.’” (CCC, 1041) Therefore, let us not waste time. Let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord. Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Joy of the Gospel

Jesus, I trust in you!

There is a sense of urgency in the sending of the disciples to preach about the coming of the Kingdom of God: Go on your way, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. By commanding the disciples to bring neither money bag, nor sack, nor sandals, the Lord wanted them to travel light. “Greet no one along the way” so that nothing can delay them from fulfilling their task. Perhaps you have seen those trucks that bore the signs “Government project: do not delay.” The mission to evangelize is something like that. Each of us is sent to evangelize: God’s project: do not delay.”

I suppose that this sense of urgency springs from the importance of the message we are supposed to bring to others: “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” The coming of the Kingdom of God is indeed important because it is the means by which God gives all men access to his divine life. The Father wants all of us to share in his divine life. That is why he gathers men around his Son and this gathering is the Church which on earth is the beginning of the Kingdom of God. The Lord wants to gather us all in the Church so that we might have life: “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts! For thus says the Lord: Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.” The Lord uses the tender image of a mother nursing her child in order to reveal to us the tenderness of his love which desires nothing but goodness for all of us. The Lord comforts us through the Church which is the new Jerusalem. We should always consider the Church as our mother.  (Because of the popularity of receiving communion by the hand, the reception of communion on the tongue is unappreciated by many. I find this unfortunate because receiving Communion on the tongue reminds us of the time when as little children, we were fed by the hand of our mothers. This manner of receiving Communion expresses the motherly gesture of the Church.)

The tenderness of a mother’s love always brings delight. It brings joy because it is life giving. A person who experienced a mother’s love grows and finds fulfillment. In the same way, we who experienced the love of God through the Church grow to maturity and eventually we seek means to fulfillment. The challenge to go and evangelize gives us the opportunity to find real fulfillment. “The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane: ‘Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life the most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.’ When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic fulfillment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.’” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 10.) A loving mother gives life to loving children. Eventually her children become parents themselves. They who have been given life by their mother eventually desire to give life to others. This is precisely what evangelization is all about: it is about the passing on of a life-giving tradition. I have been given life. Now, I want to give life to others. I have been given joy. Now, I want to pass on this joy to others. “Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow…And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes in anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.’” (Ibid.)

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

Nothing more important than this

Jesus, I trust in you!

“Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem…” These words of St. Luke fittingly describe the life and mission of Jesus on earth. The very purpose of his coming to earth is proclaimed by the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven…” And in the life of Jesus, this is exactly what Jerusalem stood for: our Salvation. Jerusalem was the place where prophets were killed. Jerusalem was where Jesus would be crucified and be offered as a sacrifice in atonement for our sins. This is why his life on earth was a journey, a resolute journey towards Jerusalem. The adverb used is “resolutely”…desididong desidido. His mind was made up. His will is sure. This is the reason why he was sent. This was the reason why he came. If he did not go up to Jerusalem, his incarnation would be rendered useless. (Sometimes, I go to the mall with the clear intent of buying an item but eventually I get distracted by other things and end up going home with some other items without the original intent of the mall trip. Then the trip becomes useless.) He simply had to go to do his Father’s will.

Not even the rejection by a Samaritan town dissuaded him from his purpose. Of course, James and John felt insulted for him. They even wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus was not sent into the world to condemn the world. He was sent to save it. And so, he rebuked them. The fire and brimstone will come at the end of time. But for now, it will be a time of mercy. His journey to Jerusalem was a journey of mercy. He journeys to the Cross where he shall obtain mercy for all. On the Cross, he will not exclude the inhospitable Samaritan town from his prayer for mercy. He will not exclude anyone…not even his persecutors. He will open wide the gates of mercy and invite all to enter. In fact, he did not even wait to reach Jerusalem. As they journeyed, he invited people to follow him. Many of us limit this passage as an invitation to priestly and religious vocation. We miss the fact that the invitation to follow him is actually an invitation to accept grace and mercy. It is an invitation to holiness. (St. Jose Maria Escriva said that not all of us can become rich, wise, and famous. But all of us can become Saints. In fact, we do not even have to leave our work and enter the monastery to become holy. Even the most common tasks of everyday can be an instrument for sanctification.) It is an invitation to salvation. And none can be more important than what he has to offer. Worldly security cannot measure up to the of the Father’s love (foxes have lairs, birds of the sky of nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head). During a storm, foxes are afraid that their lairs will be flooded. During a hurricane, birds are afraid that their nests will fall to the ground. But even in the midst of a storm, Jesus is able to sleep tightly, to rest secure because he knows he rests in his Father’s embrace. No earthly relationship should even hinder us from a mission as great as the proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God). Notice that once you have accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you have found life. They who have rejected the invitation remain dead. So let the dead bury their dead. But you have found life. You have found joy. Share now to others what you have found. Give them a chance to possess what you now have. Proclaim the kingdom of God. Nothing can be deemed as more valuable than the Kingdom of God (No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God). I remember that story in Genesis when God set the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. He sent angels to rescue Lot and his family from the impending doom. Lot’s family was told to flee as fast as they can to the next town and not to look back. But Lot’s wife looked back. Perhaps, she looked back at the property she left behind. Perhaps, she looked back at her friends and neighbors. She looked back and became a pillar of salt. As St. Ignatius said:

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity. Teach me to serve you as you deserve. To give without counting the cost, To fight heedless of wounds, To labor without seeking rest, To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward Save the knowledge that I have done your will. Amen.”

Sr. Cecilia OCD of Argentina at the moment of death
Let us willingly accept Christ’s offer of grace and mercy. It is an offer given right now. (TV shopping networks advertise with a sense of urgency: Call now. If you buy now, we will add this item and another item more. But wait, there’s more… there’s a discount. The same is true with Jesus. He gives the offer right now.) Let us not delay our response. It is so good an offer that accepting it is its own reward. God himself, his love, is the reward which no one can offer us but Christ himself. “You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Last night, over facebook was a picture of Sr. Cecilia of the Carmel of Santa Fe in Argentina. She suffered lung cancer, an extremely painful disease. But at the moment of her death, she had a very sweet smile on her face. In the photograph, she looks like a lover who has arrived to the encounter she has long been yearning for. This Carmelite nun shows us what we mean when we say: You will show me fullness of joys in your presence.) In Jesus is found fullness of joy. It is worth everything. We need not count the cost.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Imitating Papal Altars: Why Not???

Candles on the Altar
I have heard some liturgists argue against putting candles on the altar (that is in spite of the fact that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal allows this). They say that candles should not be placed on the altar because our altars are not Papa Altars. To this reason, I say that if we were not to imitate Papal altars, then we should have our altars pushed back to the walls. According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who late became Pope Benedict XVI), 

"The controversy in our own century was triggered by another innovation. Because of topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter's (basilica) faced west. Thus, if the celebrating priest wanted - as the Christian tradition of prayer demands - to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look - this is the logical conclusion - toward the people. For whatever reason it was done, one can also see this arrangement in a whole series of church buildings within St. Peter's direct sphere of influence. The liturgical renewal in our own century took up this alleged model and developed from it a new idea for the form of the liturgy. The Eucharist - so it was said - had to be celebrated versus populum (toward the people). The altar - as can be seen in the normative model of St. Peter's - had to be positioned in such a way that the priest and people looked at each other and formed the circle of the celebrating community. This alone - so it was said - was compatible with  the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation. This alone conformed to the primordial model of the Last Supper. These arguments seemed in the end so persuasive that after the Council (which says nothing about "turning toward the people") new altars were set everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really looks like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II's liturgical renewal. In fact, it is the most conspicuous consequence of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy - the liturgy as a communal meal.

"This is, of course, a misunderstanding of the significance of the Roman basilica and of the positioning of the altar..." (J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 77-78.)

My argument is this: the repositioning of the altar so that the liturgy may be celebrated facing the people was based on the imitation of the position of the Papal altars in Rome. If this were so, why are we now arguing that we should not put candles on the altar because we should not imitate the arrangement of candles on Papal Altars? I simply could not see the consistency of the arguments. We allow a change (positioning of the altar) in imitation of Papal altars and then disallow another practice (putting candles on the altar) because doing such would be applying to non-papal altars what is allowed on Papal altars. How can the standards change from one argument to another. This, to me, is simply whimsical preferences of some being imposed to all.

The Scandalous Mercy of God

The Magdalene who loved much because she was forgiven much
Jesus, I trust in you!

Simon the Pharisee underestimated Jesus for seemingly not knowing the kind of woman who was touching him: “If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Apparently, many people today are like Simon who thinks that God does not want to be touched by sinners. While it is true that God finds sin repulsive, Jesus today shows us how he allows himself to be touched by the repentance of sinners.

In the first reading, the prophet Nathan reproved David for very grievous sins: adultery with Uriah’s wife and then plotting the same man’s murder. “Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight ...You have despised me!” The evil nature of David’s sins was enough to separate him from the Lord and yet, when David realized the gravity of his sins, he confessed: “I have sinned against the Lord.” That was all Nathan had to hear in order to assure David of Divine absolution: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

We often do not understand how God could easily forgive David when in fact his sins were so grave. How could the Lord Jesus allow the woman to touch him in spite of her many sins: “… her many sins have been forgiven.” We do not realize that the mercy of the Lord is really very scandalous. It offends our sense of justice, or rather, our desire for retribution. Shouldn’t David be punished? Shouldn’t the sinful woman be publicly humiliated? Shouldn’t that criminal be hanged? What about the victims? Do we not care that they get justice? Pope John Paul cautioned us about how justice is easily distorted by spite, hate, and cruelty. “In such cases, the desire to annihilate the enemy, limit his freedom, or even force him into total dependence, becomes the fundamental motive for action…It is obvious, in fact, that in the name of (an alleged) justice, the neighbor is sometimes destroyed, killed, deprived of liberty or stripped of fundamental human rights.” (Dives in Misericordia, 7.) Pope John Paul concludes: “The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.” (Ibid.)

Mercy defines the love of God. “All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord’s mercy for those who are his own.” (DM, 4.) God’s mercy is more powerful and more profound than his justice. “Love is ‘greater’ than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love conditions justice and justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice are revealed through mercy.” (Ibid.) Jesus himself said to St. Faustina: “Let the sinner not be afraid to approach me. The flames of mercy are burning me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon souls.” (Diary, 50.) Thus, those who were at table with Jesus rightfully asked themselves about Jesus: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” This, indeed, is Jesus: he is the One who forgives sins. He was sent by the Father as expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

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

The Fountain that Cleanses Sins

Blood and Water from the Pierced Heart of Jesus
Jesus, I trust in you!

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must endure many sufferings.” I say, “So what?” So what if he has to suffer? Do we not all have to endure suffering? Even Gautama Buddha acknowledged this and made it one of the central truths of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.”

Jesus also said, “He must be put to death.” I say, “So what?” All of us have to die one day. This is the way of all flesh, so the Bible says. And so if he dies, we also will die.

What makes the suffering of Jesus so unique? What makes his death so different? The prophet Zechariah gives us beautiful words for our first reading: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one who mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first born.” Who is this only son? Zechariah is definitely referring to the Lord Jesus. At the River Jordan and at the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God the Father introduced Jesus to all: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God and our Lord.

Who is this first-born? Again, the prophet is definitely referring to Jesus. St. Paul said that Jesus is the first-born of all creation. He is also the first-born of the dead. It is ion knowing that the prophet was referring to Jesus that we appreciate the prophecy even more: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” When our Lord Jesus died on the Cross, a soldier pierced his side with a lance. And out of that wounded side flowed Blood and Water. From the pierced Heart of the Savior came forth in abundance Blood and Water. Thus, the prophet said, “On that day, there shall be open to the house of David and to the other inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” That fountain that purifies sin and uncleanness is that opened side of Jesus, his pierced heart from which flowed Blood and Water. This fountain of Blood and Water purifies us from sin. This fountain of Blood and Water empowers the Sacraments so that they may have the capacity to bring about the forgiveness of sins. This is why we go to Church. We acknowledge that we are sinners and we wish to draw close to the purifying fountain of our Savior’s heart. This is why I simply scratch my head at people who accuse churchgoers of self-righteousness: “Pasimba-simba pa kayo. Akala mo kung sinong malilinis, eh panay makasalanan naman pala.” “Yang pari ninyo, pamisa-misa pa. akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh makasalanan din naman pala.” Excuse me? They are badly mistaken. The reason why we go to church, the reason why I offer mass is not because we feel righteous but because we acknowledge our sinfulness and so we need to draw close to the fountain of mercy which is the Savior’s heart. To accuse us of self-righteousness is like saying to a person who takes a bath: “Paligo-ligo ka pa. Akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh marumi naman pala.” The reason why we bathe is because we are soiled. When I tell someone to take a bath, the person oftentimes smell his armpits and say, “Father, I don’t smell bad.” Thos who refuse to take a bath are those who think that they are clean. Those who refuse to take a bath are those who think they don’t stink. In like manner, those who refuse to go to church are those who think that they are righteous enough that they don’t need to go.

And so we ask, “Why does the suffering of Jesus forgive sins? Why does his death take away sins? Why do the Blood and Water flowing from his wounded heart wash away sins?” The answer is given by the Gospel reading: Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Lord asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “The Messiah of God!” 

Indeed, You, O Lord Jesus are the Messiah of God. That is why your sufferings bring to us forgiveness of sins. Even if we were to endure all the sufferings that the world can offer, none of us could obtain for the world forgiveness of sins.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why your death takes away the sins of the world. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Even if we were to die a million times, none of them could take away the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why the Blood and Water flowing from your opened heart wash away our sins and purify us from uncleanness. Even if we were to wound ourselves and bring out all the blood and water that would bodies can give, none of us can purify the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the only Begotten Son of the Father. You are the first-born of all creation. You are the first-born of the dead. You are the Messiah of God. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

O Fountain of life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us. O Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!   

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Celebrating amdist the Desecration of the Blessed Sacrament???

I was saddened with the news that yesterday, the Blessed Sacrament was stolen from the Adoration Chapel of my former parish. It happened on the eve of the parish fiesta. I could not understand how the theft took place. There was a security guard on duty and the Blessed Sacrament was kept in a glass case which was under lock and key. Apparently, the one who had custody of the blessed Sacrament forgot to lock the case. During my pastorate, I was the only one who held the key to this glass case. Nobody could open nor close the case except me. I felt that as the pastor, I was the one responsible for the security of the Blessed Sacrament.

Throughout the day, there was nothing in the social networks about the theft. Instead, I found the pastor posting picture of the parish community eating a banquet during the parish fiesta. He even posted that the bands kept playing and the food kept coming. It was as if nothing happened. The fiesta had to go on.

I told this story to the priest who is a guest of our parish. He looked at me intently as I told the story. Then, he said: "It is like a birthday celebrant being kidnapped and yet the party has to  push through because the preparations were already made."

For the life of me, I could not understand how a parish community could still celebrate the parish fiesta on the day immediately after the desecration took place. Should not an atmosphere of sorrow and penitence take over the festivities? "The Lord has been taken away. We do not know where they have placed him." "When the Bridegroom is taken from them, it is then that they will fast."

I am sad also about the fact that the International Eucharistic Congress has just taken place and we were part of it. I thought that the International Eucharistic Congress was supposed to ignite fervor in our Eucharistic devotion. Then, why this indifference to the desecration? Why is it that it seems that the theft never took place?

In one of my former assignments, I was called to anoint a dying person during Christmas time. I had barely finished the confection of the sacrament when the relatives around the death bed started to wil. She died at that moment. Then, I saw two toddlers approaching the Christmas Tree. They turned off the Christmas lights and started taking down the decorations. The children understood. Grandma just passed away. It was definitely not time to rejoice over the holidays.

If these children were sensitive enough over the impropriety of merrymaking during a time of grief, why can't we have that same sensitivity? Have we lost our faith in the Real Presence? Do we no longer believe that the one that got desecrated was the Body of our Lord?

To me, the issue is very simple: The Lord has been taken away! Let us be sad because we do not know where they have placed him!