Sunday, March 22, 2015

Christ's Glory is his Cross


The Sanctuary at Passiontide
The sanctuary looks gloomier today on account of the veiling of the crucifixes and sacred images. Once more we are reminded of the proximity of Holy Week. In the old calendar, we used to say that we have entered Passiontide. This means that we begin commemorating the sufferings of our Savior. Therefore, we mourn over his suffering and death. We also mourn for our sins which brought him to suffering.

But for our Lord, the approach of the days of his suffering is not an occasion for sadness. He said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What to the world seem to be days of pain and sorrow, to the Lord, these are days of glory. Again, the Lord upsets the thinking of the world. “Glory” means honor, public praise, and fame. Thus, to the world, it would mean popularity and public adulation. But to the Lord, it would mean humiliation and suffering. In other words, the glory of Christ is the Cross.

The Cross is the glory of Christ. It is the way by which he glorifies the Father. it is the way by which he is glorified by the Father. “Son though he was, he learned obedience by what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The Son of God glorified his Father by obediently accepting even death, death on the Cross. Every living being values its survival.  But when the Lord obeyed his Father unto death, he gave greater importance to his Father than to his own life. He surrendered his will to the will of his Father. He offered his life because he loves the Father. In this way, his death becomes lifegiving. Losing his life, Jesus gave life to the world. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit. And he challenges us to imitate him: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world preserves it for eternal life.” St. Teresa of Jesus takes the image of the worm which weaves a cocoon of silk around itself. In this cocoon, the worm dies in order to be transformed into a butterfly. So it is which anyone whose life is hidden in Christ. He dies to his own will and in doing so, he conforms himself to the will of God. He dies to his own self and in doing so, he is transformed into the likeness of Jesus. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my Father be. The Fath
er will honor whoever serves me.”

The Father honored Jesus by declaring that he is well pleased with the Son whom he loves. Because Jesus humbled himself and obediently accepted death on the Cross, God highly exalted him and gave him a Name which is above all other names. He draws all people to his Son who was lifted up on the wood of the Cross.  If we are to follow Jesus, we are to follow him along the same way of the Cross. If we are to serve him, we will serve him by our self denial. “Therefore, take courage,” says St. Teresa, “Let us…weave this little cocoon by getting rid of our self-love and self-will, our attachment to any earthly thing, and by performing deeds of penance, prayer, mortification, obedience…Let it die; let this silkworm die…And you will see how we see God, as well as ourselves placed in his greatness, as is this little silkworm within its cocoon…When the soul is truly dead to the world, a little white butterfly comes forth.” Jesus was made perfect by what he suffered. In like manner shall we be transformed if we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

He came to save

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity…” this description of the escalating amount and degree of sins might every well describe our times. This rapid spread of evil is a very disturbing reality as such is definitely an invitation to tragedy. It simply seems to be a reason for us to call the Divine Wrath upon ourselves. God must be very angry with us. He must just be waiting for the right time to condemn and to punish us for our sins.

That is why today’s reading must come to us as a surprise: “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is so far from the image of a vengeful God that we try to draw for ourselves. “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ. By grace you have been saved.” This image of God who is rich in mercy is a very consistent image of the Lord in Divine Revelation. Even in the Old Testament, God reveals himself as a God who is slow to anger, rich in kindness. His patience is just so that he gave us his Son so that we may have an access to his mercy and forgiveness. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.”

Surprising enough is the fact that we tend to project to God the cruelty which we have inflicted to ourselves. It is not God who condemns us but our sins. “Whoever does not believe has already been condemned because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Our sins have become our undoing. Sin has brought death into the world and persisting in sin will just keep us under the shadow of our condemnation. “And this is the verdict, that light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil…” Our sins condemn us.

But God does not desire our condemnation. In his love for us, He desires our salvation. In the diary of St. Faustina are written the words of the Merciful Lord: “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy…Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to my compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy…before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice.” (Diary 1146.)

And so, let us believe in God’s only begotten Son. Let us trust in the love which God has for us. Let us trust his mercy in order to be saved. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…(this) is a gift from God.” Let us believe in him so that we might “not perish but might have eternal life.”

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cleansing by a whip of cords

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The Lord Jesus was truly upset with how the Temple, which was his Father’s house, was transformed into a marketplace. He therefore proceeded to cleanse the Temple by making a whip out of cords and by driving away whatsoever defiled the holiness of the Temple. However, when asked to justify what he had done, he challenged the Jews to destroy the Temple and he will build it up in 3 days. But John was quick to comment: Jesus was speaking about the Temple of his Body. How could Jesus refer to his Body as the Temple? Perhaps, we should first clarify: What is a Temple? Simply put, the Temple is the house of God. Although God dwells everywhere, he designated the Temple as his dwelling place so that people may easily find him when they search for him. If a person is looking for a king, he should go to the palace. If a person is looking for a priest, he should go to the rectory. If a person is looking for God, he should go to the Temple. In this way, the body of the Lord Jesus is most appropriately called the Temple of God because in that body of his dwells the fullness of the Divinity. In his sacred Body dwells the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Indeed, his human Body is the glorious Temple of God because it is radiant in its purity and glory. This was what we saw in last Sunday’s Transfiguration: Christ’s Body was transfigured before his disciples. In Christ’s human Body, the disciples saw his Glory, the glory of God’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

By virtue of Baptism, our bodies are also Temples because we have received the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are Temples of the Holy Spirit. However, our temples are not as radiant as that of the Lord Jesus. Because we have fallen for the seduction of Satan, we have also made a marketplace out of the Father’s house. Therefore, in order to be truly worthy Temples of the Holy Spirit, we have to purify ourselves of everything that defiles the Temple. This we can do by imitating what the Lord did in today’s reading: He made a whip out of cords and drove them out of the temple area. The whip of cords would refer to our acts of mortification: fasting and abstinence. It would refer to our acts of self-denial, to the mortification not just of our bodies but also of our wills. When we obey the commandments of God instead of pursuing our own will, we mortify our will in favor of the will of God. We purify ourselves when we carry our Cross everyday in order to proclaim Christ Crucified. We are cleansed when in our flesh we take up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.

It is important that we cleanse ourselves with mortification and penance if we wish our bodies to bear resemblance with Christ’s glorified body on the day of the resurrection. The Lord Jesus allowed his body to be whipped, to be scourged, to be crowned with thorns, to bear the heavy weight of the Cross and to it be nailed. Although he was sinless, Son though he was, Jesus was made perfect by suffering. If we wish to be glorified with Jesus, we must suffer with Jesus, be buried with Jesus so that if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in us. (Rom 8:11). The Lord will also raise our lowly bodies and  will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…(Phil 3:21) Let us always keep in mind that the Temple of God is holy and you are that Temple!

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

From the Height of Glory to the Depth of Humiliation

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Abraham did not hesitate to offer Isaac to God when the Lord asked for him. It must have pained him to bring his son to the mountain in order to kill the boy and offer him as a sacrifice. But it was all a test, which Abraham passed. As he took the knife to slaughter the boy, an angel of the Lord prevented him from doing so: “Do not do the least to harm the boy. I know now how you are devoted to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” If by what he did, Abraham showed how devoted he was to God, so much more do we realize how God was devoted to us: “God did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all…” said St. Paul to the Romans. God spared Isaac from being killed in sacrifice, but he did not do the same for his own beloved Son Jesus.

Jesus was transfigured before his disciples Peter, James, and John. His face was resplendent like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Such was the glory of Jesus which the disciples saw. It was the glory of God’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. The Father declared: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And yet, when the Father hands his Son over to us, there would be no trace of that glory. That resplendent face of his, in a few days, will be bruised beyond recognition: “so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of men.” That dazzling white garment will be soiled with blood. That voice which declares Jesus as his “beloved Son” will remain silent when that Son cries out to him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No angel will be sent to intervene, to prevent people from harming God’s Son.

Why, we may ask…Why would God allow this to happen to his Son? Why would God not spare his Son? Why would God hand his Son over to us? The answer of St. Paul would be very simple: it is because God is for us. It is God who acquits us. It is he who gives us everything else along with his Son. God sent not his Son to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. In handing his Son over to us, the Father did not abandon his Son. Indeed, there was no angel to prevent people from harming his Son. Indeed, he was silent when his Son cried out to him in anguish. But he raised up his Son who obediently accepted death on the Cross. He raised his Son and sits him at his right hand. And from his heavenly throne, Christ Jesus intercedes for us.

Such is the mystery of God’s love. In his great love, he hands over to us his own beloved Son. No one could have loved Jesus more than the way the Father loves him. And yet, for our sake, he hands over to us his Son, his glorious Son, his resplendent Son, his beloved Son. It is this mystery that makes the Church sing in great wonder: “O wonder of your humble care for us! O Love, O Charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!” We will never truly appreciate what God has done for us unless we keep clearly in our minds the resplendent beauty which the disciples beheld today with their own eyes. When we remember how the Son looks like in the splendor of his glory and then behold him bruised and desecrated…when we remember how high he was and behold the depths of humiliation to which he descended…and then we think that all these he did for you…for me…for us…then we could not help but say: Truly he loves me. Truly he loves us. God is truly for us…therefore, who can be against us? He gave us his Son…is there anything else he will not be willing to give? Indeed, God so loved the world, he gave his only Son.

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Visit of the Weeping Madonna to Holy Family Parish

The Lenten Fast


When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in the middle of a beautiful garden. They were given for food the fruits of all the trees in the garden. They named the animals there and such showed that these were tame and not wild. In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. There he was hungry…there was nothing to eat in the desert’s barrenness. Furthermore, the beasts were wild. In both cases, Satan came. Satan came into the garden and successfully seduced Eve and Adam into eating the forbidden fruit. Satan went into the desert and also tempted the Lord Jesus…he tempted the Lord and failed. The Lord Jesus did not fall into the trap of his seductions.

Is it not strange that when Adam and Eve were in comfortably living in the middle of the garden, when they were completely satisfied with so much fruits to eat…it was then that they fell for the temptations of Satan? Is it not strange that when our Lord was living in the harsh conditions of a desert, when he was so hungry on account of his 40 day fast…it was he who triumphed over the temptations of the devil? There seems to be an inverted correlation between the body and the spirit. When the body is pampered and satisfied, the spirit within it seems weak. However, when the body is suffering and weakened, the spirit within it seems strong. While it may be easy to attribute Christ’s victory over Satan’s temptation to his divine nature, let us not forget what St. Peter said: Christ suffered… His victory over the seductions of the devil came from the fact that he fasted and prayed. Adam and Eve on the other hand, fell for the temptation because they did not fast, that is, they did not take heed of the command of the Creator: of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will not eat. God commanded them not to eat of this particular food. He commanded them to fast from this particular fruit and they did not keep the fast. So, they failed.

Lent is a privileged season of fasting. Apparently, many of us have forgotten this on account of the relaxation of the laws of the Lenten fast. The obligation to fast is presently limited to 2 days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On account of this, many of us no longer fast during Lent apart from these days of obligatory fasting. Because of this, to the eyes of many, Lent has lost its intensity. Lent has lost its teeth. After all, if Lent were no longer a season of fasting, then what is it for? Are not the 40 days of Lent a commemoration of the 40 day fast of the Lord in the desert? How can we call Lent a commemoration of the 40 day fast of Christ if we no longer fast? Muslims take the Ramadan seriously because it is a month-long time of fasting. If Ramadan is no longer observed as a month of fasting, then what would it be for? The same logic applies to Lent: if Lent were no longer observed as a season of fasting, what would it be for? Remember that all the spiritual exercises of Lent (all those retreats and meditations, all those stations of the Cross and processions, all those ceremonies) will lose their intensity and perhaps, even their relevance, if we do not fast during Lent.

Therefore, allow me to remind you that while the Church has obligated us to fast only on 2 particular days, the Church has not prohibited us from fasting on the other weekdays of Lent. I even suspect that the relaxed laws of fasting provide us the opportunity to spiritually benefit more from fasting. I say this because when we fast even when not obligated by any Church law, then our fasting becomes more meritorious than doing it because we are obliged by the law.   By keeping the Lenten fast (even though we are no longer obligated by law to do it), we strengthen our spirits so that we may stand undaunted by the seductions of Satan. Remember that when the body is weak, it is then that our spirit becomes more open to the graces of God. Did not our Lord tell St. Paul: It is when you are weak, it is then that I am strong? Considering the difficult spiritual battle we have to face in the future, we need to be strong in spirit. Therefore, let us keep our Lenten fast. Let us keep in mind that Christ suffered for us so that he might lead us to God. Let us follow his lead by mortifying our flesh through fasting. “Put to death in the flesh, Jesus was brought to life in the Spirit.” In like manner, putting our flesh to death through fasting and self-denial, we know that we will also be raised to life in the Spirit. Therefore, let us seriously keep the Lenten fast. Together with the Lord Jesus, let us fast and pray so that we may not fall into temptation. “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our Identity as People of the Cross

Thanks to Arte Bautista for this picture of the Crucifix in our parish

Last Sunday, the ISIS released a new video this time showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian men who were all Coptic Christians. In the video, these Egyptians were called “people of the Cross.” In fact, as the camera took a close up shot of each of the men, some of them were seen with their lips moving in prayer to the Lord Jesus. These 21 men were definitely victorious martyrs of the Faith because they all died for being Christians.

A friend of mine posted this status on his Facebook account. I did not ask permission from him but I think (and hope) that he would not mind. He wrote: “The Coptic Orthodox Christians of Egypt, who are now in the news.... they fast 210 days a year, they stand 5-6 hours in their Sunday liturgies, they guard the oldest Christian monasteries and the sacred sites that mark the journey of the Holy Family into Egypt, they have crosses tattooed into their arms or wrists (which means they can't hide their Christian identity), they have a 9-hour fast before communion, their clergy are always required to hold a cross in their right hand (essentially marking them out as targets), they have endured 1,400 years of unrelenting discrimination with bouts of bloody persecution. And they have survived, comprising 10 - 20% of the Egyptian population despite all of that. Sure, they have very real problems in their community too, but whenever I read of my fellow Catholics wailing at the 2 days of fasting we have, the 1-hour Eucharistic fast, the scant few minutes of kneeling we have to do on Sundays, and other very light obligations we have, I always, always think of them.”

Today, we begin our Lenten journey with a day of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The unusually large number of all of you here present speaks of how Ash Wednesday is very close to our hearts. Although it is not a holyday of obligation, many of us want to be here just do that we could have our foreheads signed with ashes. (Well, some might cheat their way out of the fasting part by saying that they have Chinese ancestry or that they forgot to fast – even though they have the ashes to remind them of it) The strange part of it all is that the Lord repeatedly warned us: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people might see them.” We are supposed to give alms, fast, and pray in secret because our religious acts are not for public entertainment but are simply for the appreciation of the Father who sees everything in secret. And this is true: we keep our fasting, our prayer, and our almsgiving secret. However, there is one thing we could not keep hidden: the mark of the cross made out of ashes on our forehead. First, we wear ashes on our foreheads not as a sign of humility…but rather as a sign of humiliation. Embarrassing as it may, we publicly admit who we were: We are dust and to dust we shall return. If I may use the words of Pope Francis himself: Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are not God. Second, we are marked with the sign of the Cross on our foreheads. Such undeniably identifies us as a people of the Cross. If the Copts have the Cross tattooed on their wrists and so find difficulty in hiding their Christian identity, so also the Cross on our foreheads this day will undeniably identify us as people of the Cross. And is it not true that we would rather keep our Christian identity to ourselves. We have gotten it all wrong. The Lord Jesus himself said that we should keep our righteous deeds secret but not our Christian identity. If we acknowledge him before men, he will acknowledge us before his Father. and this Christian identity is strengthened by the 3 acts that we should secretly perform: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Fasting decreases our attachment to sin and fortifies our love for the Cross. Almsgiving increases in us the virtue of charity. Prayer deepens our communion with the Lord. By these righteous acts, we become what we truly are: People of the Cross. “In my flesh,” said St. Paul, “I endure the sufferings which Christ has still to endure for the sake of his body, the Church.” 

Let us keep this day of penance in solidarity with those who endure immense sufferings from the hands of their persecutors. Let us keep this season of penance. Let us not neglect to fast, pray, and love. By doing so, our faith becomes firmer, our hope increases, and our love becomes more ardent. In communion with the persecuted Christians, we implore the Lord: “Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!