Friday, December 19, 2014

The Lowliness of God


The angel was sent to Mary and greeted her: Hail! Full of grace! The Lord is with you! He did not greet her with the usual Shalom – peace be with you – but with the Greek word “chaire” which literally means “rejoice!” Pope Benedict says: “This exclamation from the angel marks the true beginning of the New Testament.” The New Testament begins with this word: Rejoice!
Gabriel’s greeting to Mary reminds us of the prophecy of Zephaniah 3:14-17: “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” In this prophecy, the reason for the rejoicing of the daughter of Zion is that “the Lord is in your midst.” Literally, it means “the Lord is in your womb” alluding to a passage in the Book of Exodus which speaks of God dwelling in the ark of the Covenant as dwelling “in Israel’s womb” (Ex 33:3 and 34:9)

Thus, Mary appears as the Daughter of Zion in person. The prophecies are fulfilled in her as she becomes the Ark of the Covenant in which the Lord takes up his dwelling. “The Holy Spirit will come down upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The words of the angel reminds us of the Shekinah, the thick cloud which descended on the Temple in order to hide and point out the presence of the Lord at the same time. it is with such terms that the Incarnation is described. As the presence of the Lord descended upon the temple, so does the Spirit of God descends upon Mary. As the Lord takes up his dwelling in the Temple, so does the Son of God take up his dwelling in the womb of the Virgin. This is the reason why we must rejoice. Never has God been closer to man. He literally pitched his tent among us by assuming human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mother. He chose to come down from heaven. He chose to become man. He chose to dwell in Mary’s womb. He chose to do all these “for us men and for our salvation.” The Incarnation is definitely the manifestation of God’s tender love for us. Now we definitely know that God loves us. He sent us his Son to save us. In the Incarnation, God says “yes” to man.

However, the Incarnation is definitely God’s gift which he offers and which Mary must accept. It was a tremendous gift that placed itself at the disposal of human freedom. He did not force himself. He had to knock at Mary’s door. He had to wait for Mary to open that door and welcome him in. His power is tied to the “yes” of a human being. Here God humbles himself before a humble Virgin. Mary becomes mother through her “yes.” She declares: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” She said “yes” to the “yes” of God. She accepts the Word. She opens the door to him and welcomes him. Through her obedience, the Word entered into her and became fruitful in her. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. The all-powerful Word, through whom everything was created and by whom everything exists, makes himself so small in order to dwell in Mary’s womb. He emptied himself and took upon himself the form of a human slave, the form of a little child in Mary’s womb. The Creator dwells in his creature. Mary declared her lowliness. God made himself ever lowlier. And so began the work for our salvation.

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

Consecrated to the Lord

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

John the Baptist, who is to be born of Zechariah, a priest from the division of Abijah, and to Elizabeth his wife who is from the tribe of Aaron, is himself born into a priestly clan. Thus, like Samson of the Old Testament, “this boy is to be consecrated to the Lord from the womb.” To be sanctified by the Holy Spirit in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, John will perpetually live “in the tent of meeting”, that is, he is a priest not only at certain moments, but with his whole existence. Consecrated to the Lord, John the Baptist belongs to the Lord and only to him.

This year is the Year of Consecrated Life for the whole Church. This is a year of thanksgiving for the countless men and women who have decided to follow Christ more closely by living out the evangelical counsels of Poverty, chastity, and obedience. Like John the Baptist, religious men and women are consecrated to the Lord. When we talk about consecrated people, we often have the impression that we are dealing with very serious, long faced people.  And yet, Pope Francis tries to change this false impression by emphasizing that the beauty of consecrated life is joy. “There is no holiness in sadness.” He reiterates that consecrated people must always be seen as happy people. Their lives must radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full. “We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment.” (Apostolic Letter to all Consecrated Persons on the occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life, II, 1)

John the Baptist was a prophet. Like him, consecrated persons are also called to be prophets “since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy.” (Letter, III, 2.) “’Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.’ This is the priority that is needed right now: ‘to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth… a religious must never abandon prophecy’ (29 November 2013).” Thus, the Pope calls on the religious to “wake up the world.”

Who are the prophets? “Prophets (are people who) receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.” (Ibid.)

To be prophets of joy: this is our task. Our joy is to bring God’s consolation to a world where there is a lack of joy: “We are not called to accomplish epic feats or to proclaim high-sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing we are loved, from the confidence that we are saved.” Bearers of the consolations of God, we speak of his Divine Tenderness. “Every Christian, and especially you and I, we are called to be bearers of this message of hope giving serenity and joy, God’s consolation, his tenderness towards all. But if we first experience the joy of being consoled by him, of being loved by him, then we can bring that joy to others.”

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

The Virginity of Mary and the Initiative of God

As Moses took off his shoes before the Burning Bush so did Joseph...
Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The genealogy of the Lord yesterday ended with a strange note. It started by saying that Abraham was the father of Isaac but it ended with Joseph, the husband of Mary. It was of her that Jesus was born. Everybody else was father of somebody except Joseph who was not called father of Jesus. He was simply called the husband of Mary. Why is this so? Today’s gospel explains why: When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary without any help from Joseph. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the prophecy: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call his name “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” This is absolutely a defiance of nature which dictates that the woman is a fertile soil on which the man plants his seed. Joseph did not plant his seed on Mary. The gospel writer was very clear: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her…”

The virginal conception of the Lord Jesus is very important because it tells us that our salvation is completely the initiative of God. Salvation comes from God and not from man. The Savior is not the son of Joseph but of God. In fact, original sin is transmitted by man: “it is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all humankind, that is, by transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice.” (CCC, 404) Man cannot save himself. We could not save ourselves. Salvation can come from God alone.

And this is the reason for our joy: God saves us because he loves us. He sent us his Son to be born of the Virgin because he loves us: God so loved the world that he gave his only Begotten Son. Salvation comes from God. Salvation is motivated by his love for us. If he did not love, he would just have left us on our own. If he did not love us, he would have abandoned us. And no matter how much we try, we cannot save ourselves. We would not have been saved had the Lord not loved us.
And this is the joyful message of the child-bearing of the Virgin Mary. The Lord loves us that he sent His Son. He did not designate some other person’s son to die on the cross to save us. He sent us his OWN SON, his only begotten Son.

“By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.’ God ‘shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’” (CCC, 604.)

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

God Faithfully Guides History to His Son

Names…a whole list of names: if there were anything that we would remember about the 2nd Simbang Gabi, it would be the list of names in the family record of the Lord Jesus. What may seem to be a roll call of ancestors of the Lord is actually a brief survey of the Old Testament which was God’s preparation of history for the incarnation of his only Begotten Son. As we have been meditating about joy, the family tree of Jesus gives us the occasion to consider how Christian joy was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Blessed Paul VI, in his encyclical “Gaudete in Domino,” said: “Christian joy is the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy, both divine and human, which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified. As soon as God the Father begins to manifest in history the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time,(12) this joy is mysteriously announced in the midst of the People of God, before its identity has been unveiled.” (Gaudete in Domino, 1)

The joy of Abraham over the birth of Isaac, his only begotten son, was a prophecy of the joy at the birth of God’s only Begotten Son into the world. When Abraham was subjected to a test that demanded of him to sacrifice to God his beloved son Isaac, he received back his son alive – such was the prophecy of the resurrection of the Christ who was to come in order to complete the sacrifice. Abraham looked forward to the day of the Lord which he longed to see. “Abraham saw that day and rejoiced.”

“The joy of salvation then increases and is transmitted throughout the prophetic history of ancient Israel. It persists and is unfailingly reborn in the course of tragic trials due to the culpable infidelities of the chosen people and to the external persecutions which try to detach them from their God. This joy, ever threatened and springing up again, is proper to the people born of Abraham.”

Thus, when we look at the family tree of the Lord, we see the constant highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies and in all of them, we discover how the joy of salvation persists and is always reborn. And what accounts for this persistence of joy? It comes from the fact that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his faithfulness never comes to an end. God faithfully guided this history towards Christ his Son. Through thick and thin, through hell and high water, God was always there. When all seemed lost during the time of the exile, God surprised us by keeping the lineage of David intact. His promise endured even when in spite of the threat of external enemies and even the infidelities of God’s own people. The “uplifting experience of liberation and restoration (at least foretold),” has “its origin in the merciful love of God for His beloved people, on whose behalf He accomplishes, by pure grace and miraculous power, the promises of the Covenant.” Joy is born of knowing that in spite of the harmful things which we have afflicted ourselves, God’s love remains constant. He guides all the movements of history towards the fulfillment of his plan of salvation in Christ.

It was when Jesus resurrected from the dead that the entire story of salvation really made sense. From this point of view, we are able to look back at everything that happened and thereby say to ourselves: Now I understand…everything would really come to this great victory over sin. Looking back at everything, we recognize the hand of the Lord lovingly guiding all this towards the new creation in Christ. Then we become thankful for God’s fidelity. When it happens, we shall be filled with joy. “For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Not Excluded

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Today we begin our journey to Bethlehem. Our eyes are fixed on the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph as they journey towards the city of David in order to fulfill the prophecies. Our hearts journey with them as we rise at dawn to stand ready to welcome the coming of the Light of the world. While much of the world is still fast asleep, we hasten our steps to Church in order to encounter the Lord who comes.

We hasten to meet the Lord…or is it really the Lord drawing us to meet him? The prophet Isaiah definitely speaks about us: “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants…them will I bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Definitely, we are the foreigners, for none of us here belong to a Jewish lineage. We are foreigners…therefore, we do not really belong to the House of David. If Joseph and Mary had the right to journey to Bethlehem because they were of the House of David, we, on the other hand, do not have that right because we do not belong to that family. And yet, the Lord allows us to make the journey for he said: “Let not the foreigner say, when he would join himself to the Lord, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’”

The Lord does not exclude us. He does not reject us. In fact, he brings us to his holy mountain. He brings us here. He makes us joyful in his house of prayer. He accepts our offerings. Pope Francis said: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’.[Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3.)  

Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. How wonderful is it to know that the Lord is already there, waiting for us with open arms. He stands at the end of the finish line with the crown of victory in his hands. He waits for us here…and that is why we hasten to come here to Church. We hurry because we know he waits for us. We hurry to church because we know we will find him here waiting for us. He waits to make us joyful in his house of prayer.

Therefore let us take the Simbang Gabi as an opportunity for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus. On the last 9 days of the Advent Season, let us pay him more attention. If we have been distracted by the trappings of the holidays, we have 9 more days to make up for our inattention. Let us make resolute steps, not towards the bazaars, the markets, and malls, but towards the Church, the Lord’s holy mountain, to his house of prayer for all people. Let the last 9 days of Advent be more prayerfully spent. “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.”

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

The Joy of Belonging to the Lord

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Simbang gabi begins on Tuesday and we could almost feel Christmas. We may be excited over the increasing level of the celebrative mood and this may distract us from the true essence of the joy which the 3rd Sunday of Advent speaks of. We are given today the prophecy of Isaiah which was read by the Lord Jesus when he went to preach in the synagogue of Nazareth. The prophecy says: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. Obviously, Isaiah was prophesying about Jesus who is the Christ, the one anointed by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit sends Jesus to the poor, the brokenhearted, to captives and prisoners. Why the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners? What do they have in common? For one, these people are sad because they feel neglected and forgotten. These are the people who have lost everything, (the poor) they have nothing, (the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners) they have no one. (And so, if you are brokenhearted this Christmas, know that Jesus was sent to you. If you are poor this Christmas, Jesus was sent to you. If you are captive of anything, if you are imprisoned by any addiction, know that Jesus was sent to you.) To them and to us, Jesus was sent to bring glad tidings, healing, and liberty. In other words, Jesus was anointed to bring Joy. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Joy and he anoints Jesus to bring joy.

But what joy does the Lord bring to us? It is the joy of belonging to God. It is the joy of knowing that God has not forgotten us and has not abandoned us. The proof that he has not forgotten nor abandoned us is that he sent his Son – his Son who is the manifestation of God’s tenderness, of his mercy and compassion. Jesus was sent to announce a year of favor from the Lord. The Lord favors us. The Lord remembers us. Because of this, we can sing: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” This joy is not the happiness of winning a million dollars which eventually will be spent and exhausted. It is the joy of being presented in marriage (the joy of a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, the joy of a bride bedecked with her jewels) – this is the joy of knowing that I am loved, the joy of knowing that I belong to someone. I am loved not just by anyone. I am loved by someone who is great, one whose greatness John the Baptist recognized: the one who is coming after me whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. This great God is in haste to come to me. This great God is in haste to bring me glad tidings. Nothing will prevent him from coming. St. Paul said: Do not stifle the Spirit (Huwag ninyo hadlangan ang Espiritu Santo). Let us not prevent God from bringing us his consolation. Let us not be afraid of his consolation. I have met a woman who was constantly tormented by the devil. She was in constant fear of happiness because the devil tormented her with the thought that if she experiences the slightest happiness, sadness would not be far behind. She was enslaved by this obsessive thought. Pope Francis tells us that we should never be afraid of the tenderness of God. We should not prevent him from giving us his consolations: “Do not be afraid because the Lord is the Lord of consolation, the Lord of tenderness. The Lord is a Father and he says that he will be for us like a mother with her baby, with a mother’s tenderness. Do not be afraid of the consolations of the Lord.” (Francis, Homily for MASS with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 7 July 2013.) Let us never hesitate to meet the Lord Jesus for “the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Jesus Christ joy is constantly born anew.) (Evangelii Gaudium, 1.)

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immaculate Conception as God's response to Original Sin

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

As we speak, our country is beset by the slowly moving powerful typhoon rightfully named “Hagupit.” We have yet to see the full extent of the damage this typhoon caused our country. However, the experts tell us that slowly moving typhoons leave more damage than those which strike quickly. Thus, we should pray to the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the Philippines, to help our people weather and overcome the storm.

The name “Hagupit” is very appropriate for a typhoon of this magnitude. Hagupit means “scourge”. I do not like to imply that this typhoon is a punishment coming from God. Rather, we should see this typhoon as part of the consequences of the sin of Adam: “The harmony in which they found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. HARMONY WITH CREATION IS BROKEN: VISIBLE CREATION HAS BECOME ALIEN AND HOSTILE TO MAN. Because of man, creation is now subject to its ‘bondage to decay.’ Finally,…death makes its entrance into human history.” (CCC. 400) Indeed, we are witnessing not only an effect of climate change and global warming. We are seeing the effect of sin in action.

By his sin, Adam lost original holiness and justice not only for himself but for all human beings. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants a human nature that is deprived of original holiness and justice. This deprivation, called “original sin,” subjected the entire created world to the domination of death. (CCC, 416-419) Before this reality of original sin, we are helpless. No one has the power to save himself from this slavery to sin and death. Such is the poverty of our human nature.
Only the Lord can redeem us from original sin. Seeing our helplessness in face of sin, God decided to send his Son to save us. In preparation of the Incarnation, God created his most perfect creature: the Blessed Virgin Mary, who will be the Mother of his Incarnate Son. In Mary, we find the restoration of original justice and holiness. She was untouched by original sin, never deprived of the glory of God, always full of grace. The Immaculate Conception is God’s masterpiece. Mary was conceived without sin not only in anticipation of the Incarnation and Redemption, but also to provide for us the image of what God wants to accomplish in us by redeeming us: a human nature in which the likeness of God is truly restored. In the Immaculate Conception, we have the evidence of the victory of Christ. God has wonderfully created man but even more wonderfully restored him in grace. “The world has been established and kept in being by the Creator’s love; has fallen into slavery to sin but has been set free by Christ, crucified and risen to break the power of the evil one.” (CCC, 421) In Mary, we see the new creation: creation set free from the power of the evil one, creation restored in the loveliness of innocence and grace. “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.” (CCC, 411)

And so, we still find ourselves within the harsh combat with the powers of evil. We continue to struggle to do what is right. We continue to suffer the consequences of original sin. By looking up to the Immaculate Conception, our weary hearts are strengthened by the assurance that God will never abandon us to the evil one. If only we cooperate with his grace, we will also succeed in achieving our own inner integrity. Only by God’s grace…only with God’s grace will we be saved.

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