Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Faith in God and Feng Shui?

Mother of God

Feng Shui masters are the stars of the moment. I have always said that New Year’s Eve is perhaps the most superstitious night of the year because people are so obsessed with appropriating for themselves the power that does not belong to them, that is, the power to influence the elements of nature to their own advantage. But be careful of harnessing these so-called “powers” for these are not simple energies. Rather, they are what St. Paul calls the “principalities and powers, rulers of the world of this darkness, the spirits of wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12) In other words, these are demons who will do all they can to deceive you into believing that they can assure you of a good future only if you do their bidding. Remember that our Lord himself was promised by Satan all the kingdoms of the earth if only he bows down to worship the devil. Many say that there is no harm in trying what to them seem to be innocent rituals. “Wala namang mawawala,” we always say. But we are wrong. Mayroong mawawala at iyan ay ang pananampalataya natin at pagtitiwala sa Diyos.

In fact, superstition steals away freedom and joy. Underneath the noise and merry making is fear and slavery. We are enslaved to the performance of these rituals because failure to do them might cause bad luck in the coming year. We are not conscious of it but we are actually compelled to have the 12 fruits on the table, to light firecrackers, to wear polkadots…all by the fear of ill luck. Father, you might says, hindi totoo yan…hindi kami napipilitan ng takot. Talaga? Sige nga, hinahamon ko kayo, kung talagang hindi kayo takot, pagsapit ng hatinggabi, huwag ninyo gawin ang lahat ng iyan at maglakas loob lang kayo na magtiwala sa Diyos. Magagawa ninyo? I challenge you to be truly Catholic tonight…to put your faith in action…to trust God’s love for you.

I found these tips for feng shui in the home and honestly, I think they are all a load of crap. But I will share them with you to point out what is the more Catholic way of doing it.

Clean it up!

Instead of just cleaning your house, why don’t you come clean before the Lord? Confess your sins and reconcile with your enemies. Start the year with a clean slate.

Be colorful!

I do not see how Red brings power, and green brings in wealth. Ano naman ang kinalaman ng kulay sa kapalaran? Instead of putting your trust in colors that have no powers at all to bring in fortune, why don’t you just allow God, family, and friends to put color into your life? Allow their friendship to bring meaning to your life.

Serve a spread!

How will a media noche feast, composed of meat, fish, and vegetable dishes and different types of fruits and cakes on the dining table, bring in prosperity and good luck? How can making sure that having leftovers of each will assure you will not run out of food the rest of the year? Go instead to Mass and receive Communion worthily. The Body of Christ is the Feast that God prepares for his people.

Go fruity!

At ano naman talaga ang kinalaman ng 12 different fruits: Pineapples, oranges, apples, grapes, bananas, mangoes, lemons, watermelons, papaya, lychees, avocadoes, and pomelosa kapalaran? How will the combination of these fruits bring about good fortune, harmony, happiness, prosperity, happiness, good fortune, and good health? Instead of being preoccupied with these 12 fruits, why not be preoccupied with bearing the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Check it!

Leaky faucets will not bring about leaks in your finances; nor will burned out bulbs bring poor “chi” flow. There is simply no relationship between them. Instead, engage in an examination of conscience tonight. Measure your life
against the 10 commandments and the 8 beatitudes. Examine the leakages in your relationship with God, meaning, those graces which you did not put into use for your salvation and those of others.

See red!

How can giving ampao, those red envelopes with gold Chinese characters, with some money inside bring protection and good luck? Instead, give to the poor. Donate to charities. Instead, think of those who are hungry tonight. Think of those who have suffered because of the storm. Share your food with the hungry. Charity covers a multitude of sins.

Make noise!

Blowing on your torotot and whistles, banging on those pot covers will not drive away evil spirits. Believe me, it does not work this way. I know what I am talking about. Evil spirits are driven away by prayer and fasting. That is why, tonight, it is better to pray. Sing hymns and canticles to God. Make joyful noise unto the Lord.

In the end will always be a disclaimer: kailangang samahan ito ng panalangin, pananampalataya, sipag at tiyaga in order to give a senseless report on geomancy some credibility to modern observers. I always say: if there is faith, effort, and patience, what do you need geomancy for? Feng shui compromises faith. It is an expression of lack of trust in the providence of God.

Tonight, let us imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary who kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. New Year’s Eve need not be expensive and dangerous. Libre at ligtas ang manalangin. Ang pagkakawanggawa ay nagdudulot ng kapatawaran ng kasalanan. Ang Panginoon lang ang nagdudulot ng kaligtasan.

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

Consecrated to the Father, Hated by the world

At the Main Altar of Holy Family Church
Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The reason for the ritual of the presentation of the child Jesus to God is a law that requires every firstborn son to be consecrated to the Lord. This goes back to the night of the exodus when God sent the angel of death to take the life of every first-born male throughout the land of Egypt with the exemption of those who were behind the doors marked by the blood of the slaughtered lamb. Every first-born  son belongs to the Lord and he had to be redeemed from the Lord at the price of an animal sacrifice…in the case of Mary and Joseph, a pair of turtle doves which were the offering of the poor.
Obedient to the law, Mary and Joseph brought the 40-day old Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Even without the ritual, the Lord Jesus already belongs to God. After all, God is his Father. Remember our meditation on Christmas night? We said that Jesus was born in one of the caves outside Bethlehem because there was no room in the inn. This also signified that Jesus did not belong to the world. He belongs to the Father. He is consecrated to the Father. He who is Mary’s first-born Son is the Only Begotten Son of the Father. “And we have seen his glory: the glory of the only begotten Son coming from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And because he is consecrated to the Father, he will be a sign that will be contradicted by many. He came to his own and his own did not accept him. Contradicted will he be because he does not belong to the world. His teachings will directly contradict the teachings of the world. The values of the Kingdom are directly contradictory to everything that the world holds dear: wealth, power, influence, pleasure… His consecration to the Father was the reason for his life of obedience. He obediently accepted death, death on a Cross.

Abraham was promised a son even in his old age. When the promise was fulfilled, Abraham was put to the test. He was asked to offer his son in a sacrifice…something which, though difficult, Abraham was willing to do: “he who had received the promise was ready to offer his son.” Of course we know that before the sacrifice was consummated, an angel of the Lord kept Abraham from harming his boy. Isaac, Abraham’s son, became an image of Jesus, the only Begotten Son of the Father. Like Abraham, the Father was willing to offer his Son in the sacrifice on the Cross. But in his case, there was no angel who came to abort the sacrifice. The sacrifice was consummated. Christ obediently accepted death on the Cross. In the temple, Mary brought in the Lamb of sacrifice, Jesus her Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Simeon foresaw that Jesus would have to suffer deeply from those who rejected him and as a consequence, Mary would herself suffer with him in her heart: “A sword will pierce your heart.” Mary, being the first of the disciples, would be the very first to experience the hatred of the world on account of her association with Jesus: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me first. Like Mary, the disciple would have to suffer because he belongs to Jesus, and belonging to Jesus, he belongs not to the world but to the Father. Therefore, “Let us approach God who is thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, both personally and as a community of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God. Let us make this inner gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary. As we contemplate her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, let us venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by the God whom she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because she belongs totally to God. At her school and with her motherly help let us renew our ‘here I am’ and our ‘fiat’." (Benedict XVI, Homily on the Presentation of the Lord, 2010.)

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Word was abbreviated



Saint Peter's Basilica
Our Parish Belen for 2014
Sunday, 24 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

Also we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". The shepherds were told that they would find the child in a manger for animals, who were the rightful occupants of the stable. Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child. Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labour. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how he became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, he gives us himself.

All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!

Dayuhan sa mga Makamundong Bagay


Isang pagpapatala ng buong mundo ang iniutos ng Emperador Augusto kaya naglakbay si Jose, kasama ang kanyang maybahay na si Maria, patungong Bethlehem dahil si Jose ay mula sa lipi ni Haring David. Dahil sa pagpapatalang nagaganap, lubhang napakaraming tao noon sa bayan kaya nga walang lugar para sa mag-asawa sa panuluyang bayan. Wala nang lugar para sa kanila sa panuluyang bayan: makahulugan ito dahil ito’y lalong naglarawan ng sinabi ni San Juan sa pasimula ng kanyang sinulat na Mabuting Balita: Nasa sanlibutan ang Salita. Nilikha ang sanlibutan sa pamamagitan niya ngunit hindi siya nakilala ng sanlibutan. Naparito siya sa kanyang bayan ngunit hindi siya tinanggap ng kanyang mga kababayan (Jn. 1:11). Walang lugar para sa Manunubos ng sanlibutan. Ang lahat ng bagay ay nilikha sa kanya (Col 1:16), ngunit walang lugar para sa kanya. “May lungga ang asong gubat, may pugad ang mga ibon, subalit ang Anak ng tao ay wala man lamang mapagpahigaan at mapagpahingahan.” (Mt. 8:20) Siya ay sumilang sa labas ng lunsod at ipinako rin siya sa krus sa labas ng lunsod (Heb 13:12). 

Itinuring siyang tagalabas, isang dayuhan sa sanlibutan. Mula pa sa kanyang pagsilang, naging dayuhan siya, tagalabas sa larangan ng mga itinuturing na mahalaga at makapangyarihan sa pamatayan ng sanlibutan. Subalit ang tila walang halaga at hindi makapangyarihang sanggol na ito ay mapatutunayang siyang nagtataglay ng tunay na kapangyarihan, nakasalalay sa kanya ang lahat ng bagay. Ang santinakpan ay nilikha sa pamamagitan niya at para sa kanya. Niloob niyang sumilang sa labas ng lunsod dahil ang lahat ng mga itinuturo niya ay sumasalungat sa mga pinahahalagahan ng sanlibutan. Sa pagparito niya sa ating kasaysayan, iniwaksi niya ang lahat ng makamundong kayamanan at kapangyarihan. Sumilang siyang wala ni anuman maliban sa lamping ipinambalot sa kanya ng kanyang ina. Hindi siya humiga sa malambot na kama. Bagkus ang dayami ng isang sabsaban ang naging pahingahan niya. Hindi siya sumilang sa isang sikat na angkan ng mga maykapangyarihan sa panahong iyon. Bagkus, sumilang siya sa isang angkan na pinaglipasan na ng panahon, ang lipi ni David. Dati, sila ang makapangyarihan, ngunit hindi na ngayon. Ang naghahari ay isang dayuhang emperador na nagtalaga ng isang tau-tauhan sa pagkatao ni Herodes. Ginawa ito ng Panginoon upang ipakita na ang lahat ng mga pinahahalagahan ng mundo ay mga huwad na kayamanan at huwad na kapangyarihan. Siya ang tunay na liwanag ng mundo at pinapasok niya ang sanlibutan upang punitin ang kadilimang nagkukunwaring liwanag.  

Kaya nga ang sinumang nagnanais na sumampalataya at sumunod sa kanya ay kailangang tumalikod at iwanan ang lahat ng mga bagay na inaakala ng sanlibutan na mahalaga upang makilala niya ang katotohanan ng ating pagkatao at sa liwanag niya ay matagpuan natin ang tamang landas.

Upang makita natin siya, kailangang lumabas tayo sa lunsod. Kailangang sadyain natin siya na sumilang sa labas ng bayan. Hindi natin siya makikita sa gitna ng mga nagniningning at kumukutitap na ilaw ng lunsod. Hindi natin siya mapapansin hanggat hindi natin inilalayo ang ating sarili sa mga mapanlinlang at pansamantalang mga kaligayahan ng mundong ito. Hanggat hindi natin tinatalikuran ang lahat, hindi tayo magiging karapat dapat sa kanya. Kaya nga sa gabing ito, magtungo tayo sa Belen. Huwag tayong palilinlang sa mga huwad na liwanag. Ang gabing ito ay pinagningning ng liwanag ng mga anghel. Pakinggan natin ang kanilang sinasabi: Sa gabing ito sumilang sa inyo ang inyong Tagapagligtas, si Kristong Panginoon. Ito ang Mabuting Balitang magdudulot ng kagalakan sa lahat ng tao. Ito ang Mabuting Balitang magdudulot ng tunay na kagalakan. Wala ito sa kayamanan. Wala ito sa kapangyarihan. Wala ito sa makamundong kaaliwan. Bagkus, ito’y matatagpuan lamang sa kanya na sumilang ngayon bilang isang abang sanggol. Naparito siya upang bigyan tayo ng buhay, ng tunay na buhay, ng buhay na walang hanggan. Halina sa Belen. Halina at siya’y ating sambahin. 

Hesus, nananalig ako sa iyo. Ave Maria purisima, sin pecado consebida. 

Mysterium Lunae

PRAISED BE Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

When the angel spoke to Zechariah about his son John, he said “You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.” And so, in today’s gospel, those words were fulfilled. At the birth of John, many neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy towards Elizabeth, and they rejoiced with her. In spite of her old age, Elizabeth gave birth to him. And so, the newborn child was indeed a sign of mercy…that kind of sign that gives joy. When the mouth of Zechariah was opened and his tongue was freed, all the more did the people wonder about this child: “What will this child be, for surely the hand of the Lord was with him?”

What will this child be? The prophet Malachi responds: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…” When John the Baptist was confronted by the priests who asked him “who are you?”, John replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” Pope Francis said that John is the voice, but "it is a voice without the Word, because the Word is not him, it is an Other." Here then is the mystery of John: "He never takes over the Word," John "is the one who indicates, who marks". The "meaning of John's life - he added - is to indicate another." And John really "was the man of light, he brought light, but it was not his own light, it was a reflected light." John is "like a moon" and when Jesus began to preach, the light of John "began to decline, to set". "Voice not Word - the Pope said - light, but not his own" "John seems to be nothing. That is John’s vocation: he negates himself. And when we contemplate the life of this man, so great, so powerful - all believed that he was the Messiah - when we contemplate this life, how it is nullified to the point of the darkness of a prison, we behold a great mystery. We do not know what John’s last days were like. We do not know. We only know that he was killed, his head was put on a platter, as a great gift from a dancer to an adulteress. I don’t think you can lower yourself much more than this, negate yourself much more. That was the end that John met".

And here we see the greatness of this child. He will be great because he negates himself; he keeps pointing to the one who comes after him as someone so great that he himself is not worthy to untie his sandal straps. It is this kind of greatness that the Church must aspire for. The Church is a Church of the poor, a Church that always diminishes. Francis continues: "The Church must hear the Word of Jesus and raise her voice, proclaim it boldly. 'That' - he said - 'is the Church without ideologies, without a life of its own: the Church which is the mysterium lunae which has light from her Bridegroom and diminish herself so that He may grow.'

"This is the model that John offers us today, for us and for the Church.” Imitating John, we must be “a Church that is always at the service of the Word, a Church that never takes anything for herself. Today in prayer we asked for the grace of joy, we asked the Lord to cheer this Church in her service to the Word, to be the voice of this Word, preach this Word. We ask for the grace, the dignity of John, with no ideas of our own, without a Gospel taken as property, only one Church that indicates the Word, and this even to martyrdom.“

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

God's Preference for the Poor


Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary breaks into song. She glorifies God for the wonderful things the He has done for her – such wonderful things that will identify her as blessed and loved by God. Her song is one of gratitude for God looked with favor upon her lowliness. She recognized the fact that even her election as God’s Mother is sheer grace coming from God.

Recognizing the wonderful things God has done for her, Mary begins singing about the wonderful things that God is about to do for the world. She sings about the inversion of the social order. She sings of how God constantly sides with the poor, the hungry, and the humble. She sings of how God will bring down the proud, the mighty, and the rich. “God shows the poor ‘his first mercy’. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have ‘this mind…which was in Jesus Christ. Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a ‘special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity…” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198.)

Because God sides with the poor, we have to be, at all times, in the side of God. Thus, Pope Francis says: “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us…In their difficulties, they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them, and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” Pope Francis speaks of a loving attentiveness which we must give to the poor. This loving attentiveness entails “appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative , and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but because he or she is beautiful above  and beyond mere appearances…The poor person, when loved, ‘is esteemed as of great value.’…only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that in every Christian community, the poor feel at home. This approach (would be) the greatest and the most effective presentation of the good news of the Kingdom.” (EG, 199.)

This preferential option for the poor would demand from ourselves, as a parish, the need to address the lack of spiritual care which the poor suffer. “The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.” (EG, 200)

“None of us can think that we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone.” (EG, 201.)  Therefore, in Christ, we are to find our anointing to bring glad tidings to the poor, to announce to them the year of favor coming from the Lord.

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

Visited by the Lord

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

It would be very tempting to simply regard the story of the Visitation as the journey of Mary to come to the aid of her cousin Elizabeth. After all, the gospel tells us that Mary went in haste into the hill country to enter into the house of Zechariah. But the first reading taken from the Song of Songs tells us that there is something more that our eyes do not immediately appreciate. The Song of Songs describes how God, who is the soul’s lover, is likened to a young stag (usa) which springs across the mountains and leaps across the hills in order to get to the one he loves to whom he says: “Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!”

With this prophecy in mind, when we look at Mary as she traveled in haste across the hill country to the house of Zechariah, we should also consider the One we do not see: Jesus who was in Mary’s womb. Jesus made Mary go in haste to Elizabeth. Through Mary, Jesus springs across the hills in order to bless with the Holy Spirit both Elizabeth and the baby in her womb. That is why at the sound of Mary’s greeting, the baby John the Baptist leaped
in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and John the Baptist was sanctified in Elizabeth’s womb in accord with what the angel said to Zechariah. It was indeed a joyful encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, between Jesus and John the Baptist who were still in the respective wombs of their mothers. This joy is brought about by the Holy Spirit whom the nascent Christ shared with Elizabeth and John. The Holy Spirit enabled John to proclaim the presence of the hidden Savior. The Holy Spirit enabled Elizabeth to recognize the fact that God has honored Mary with Divine Motherhood. The Holy Spirit enabled Elizabeth to recognize the greatness of Mary’s faith. In other words, because they were filled by Jesus with the Holy Spirit, both Elizabeth and John were drawn out of themselves so that they may recognize the blessedness of the one who comes to meet them.

Christ is in haste to meet us. Like the young stag, he stands and gazes through the window and says to us: Arise, my beloved, and come! He “gets us moving, urges us to leave aside self-absorption. He tells us: Arise and come; leave our pre-occupation with our selves. Pope Francis said: “Because when we put Christ at the center of our life, we ourselves do not become the center! The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the center of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you from making yourself the center and opens you to others.” “We are not at the center; we are, so to speak ‘relocated.’ We are at the service of Christ and of the Church.”

When we are drawn by Christ out of ourselves, it will be then that we will recognize the blessedness of others. It will be then an opportunity to find joy in others.

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

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.

Leveling Mountains to fill Valleys

St. John the Baptist of Quiapo Church
Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The 2nd Sunday of Advent leads us into the desert to see St. John the Baptist, who was sent as a messenger ahead of the Lord in order to prepare his way. The message of the Baptist is clearly an invitation to conversion, an invitation to repentance: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. This sounds very much like an infrastructure project for the DPWH but seriously, it is a serious, no nonsense demand for conversion.

Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his path: in geometry, we have a principle that says “the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.” Thus, we have the call to make straight a highway for God. How to we make a straight highway? First, we level everything: valleys are filled in and mountains and hills are made low. Valleys are depressions of land between 2 mountains or hills. Mountains and hills, on the other hand, are excesses of land. There are valleys because mountains and hills have taken more land than they should. Therefore, how do we make a straight highway for the Lord? We have to level the excess land of mountains and hills and use it to fill in the valleys. In other words, the excesses of some should be given to augment what others lack. This is obviously a demand for conversion that goes beyond sentimental devotions. This conversion brings about social change.

Again, there are valleys because mountains and hills have taken more than they should. In other words, there is poverty because some of us have taken more of the share of the goods of the earth. When the Lord created the world for man, he intended that each individual should have an equal share of the goods of the earth. But when some take more than their allotted share, this would mean that the others would have to be deprived of what should have been theirs. When only a privileged few enjoy the bigger share of the goods of the earth, the greater majority are left to fight over the smaller share that is left. Therefore, if we want to build a straight highway for the Lord, then we must trim our excesses so that we could give the necessities to those who in need. Remember, the Lord blesses you not to increase your wealth. Rather, he blesses you to increase your generosity. I really think that this is the conversion that the Lord desires: trim our excesses in order to address the hunger of others. Pope Francis himself criticizes our culture of waste which is the very reason for the phenomenon of world hunger. Executives have hefty bonuses while many rank and file workers are not even paid what is fair. Some take more than what they can consume and by doing so, they deprive many others of their bare necessities. Perhaps, the strong typhoon in the middle of the holidays should be an invitation, or better yet, a challenge to increase in generosity by cutting down on luxuries. We should level the mountains of our excesses in order to fill the valleys. This is the more meaningful conversion demanded of us in the Year of the Poor.

St. Peter tells us in the 2nd reading: the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found out. Our old prayers used to say: the Lord will judge everything with fire. This means that on judgment day, everything that does not belong to Christ will be burned. And what are the elements that do not belong to Christ? They are our excesses. Di ba we are always told to burn our fats? Fats are our excesses. Therefore, if we want to withstand the fire on judgment day, we should trim our “fats,” trim our excesses. How? By sharing with those who have none. Ibigay ang hindi kailangan. Ibigay ang hindi ginagamit. Conversion is a call to simplicity. Conversion is a challenge to frugality. Level the mountains and fill in the valleys. Prepare a straight highway for our God!

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Turning 21 on the New Year of the Church


I find it significant that my 21st anniversary as priest coincides this year with the 1st Sunday of Advent. To me, 21 is the number of adulthood. In the ordinary reckoning of years, a boy becomes a man on the age 21. This tells me today that I am no longer a “teenager” priest. As a priest, I enter today into a new phase of the ministry: one that is definitely past the honeymoon stage but hopefully, a ministry that is more mature.

In the holy gospel, the Lord speaks of himself as “a man traveling abroad” who “leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.” These works spoke particularly to me. They reminded me of who I am as a priest: a servant of the Master who has left home to travel abroad. He left me home with a charge, a responsibility to fulfill. The tendency of servants is to take things lightly when the master is away: when the cat is away, the mice go out to play. And so, the prophet Isaiah laments in the 1st reading: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” There is always the temptation to be complacent, to think that the master is taking too long in returning…and complacency leads to that kind of tepidity that the Lord detests: You are neither hot nor cold…and therefore I shall spit you out of my mouth!

The Lord warns us today: “Watch, therefore, you do not know when the lord of the house is coming…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” How I fear to be caught sleeping by the Lord on his return! Does this mean that I must keep myself busy with activities…to drown myself in work?  The prophet Isaiah prays: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” The Lord expects to meet me doing right and to be mindful of him in all my ways. I may be very busy with a lot of concerns but “all our good deeds (can be) like polluted rags and we (can be) withered like leaves, and our guilt (can) carry us away like the wind.” All these because I fail to be mindful of him in my ways. “There is none who calls upon you, who rouses himself to cling to you.”

As I write this homily, my dog Fifi sits on my lap and she looks intently at me. Suddenly, she becomes to me a sign of what the Lord expects me to do: to labor for him with my eyes fixed intently on him. He rouses me today to cling to him. The Lord reminds me that wishes me to be mindful of him in all my ways…to keep him as the very object of every labor I undertake. In other words, the Lord wants me to labor for him and for nobody else. Today, I recognize the fact that the Lord has indeed enriched me “in every  way, with all discourse and all knowledge.” I recognize in my life what St. Paul said: “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I am truly grateful for this. I pray that St. Paul’s words may be a prayer for myself: “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes, even in spite of my sins and complacency the Lord has sustained me for the sheer reason that he is merciful and faithful. I stand here in spite of my sins. I stand here in spite of my complacency. I stand here for only one reason: “God is faithful, and by him (I was) called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thank you Lord for calling me in spite of who I am. Thank you, Lord, for choosing me in spite of my sins. Thank you, Lord, for calling me to fellowship with your Son. Thank you Lord because even if sometimes I am not faithful, You remain faithful. “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Temple of God is Holy

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The Lord Jesus was greatly displeased when he saw the merchants who sold animals for sacrifice and the money changers in the temple area. So displeased was he that he made a whip out of cords and drove away the merchants with their animals and overturned the tables of the money changers. This part of the life of Christ is called the cleansing of the temple. The Lord cleansed the temple of everything which does not belong to it. Consumed by zeal for the house of God, Jesus cleansed the temple of the things that hid its real identity. For many people, the temple was the place they fulfilled their religious obligations. For others, it was a venue for trade and profit, literally a marketplace. But for Christ, the temple was the House of his Father: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Jesus loved the temple on account of the One who dwelt there: his heavenly Father. When he was a young 12 year old boy, unknown to Mary and Joseph, Jesus remained in the temple because “I have to go about doing my Father’s business.” Thus, by cleansing the temple of the merchants and moneychangers, Jesus showed all people that the real splendor of the temple is not in the precious stones that adorned its walls. The real splendor of the temple is its holiness which is derived from the One who dwells in it: God himself. “The temple of God is holy,” said St. Paul in the 2nd reading.

This is what it means when we celebrate the consecration of a temple. When a temple is consecrated, it becomes a building set apart exclusively for divine service. To consecrate a temple is to offer a building to the Lord. Thus, the temple becomes holy because the God who dwells in it is holy. When we say that God is holy, we mean that God is unlike any of his creatures. Thus, when we say that the temple of God is holy, we mean that this building is unlike any other buildings. This is not a place for socials. We do not come here to meet people. We do not come here to meet the priest. We come here to meet the Lord and to enter into communion with him. Thus, at the beginning of the Mass, we are greeted with: the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you!

In this temple, the center of everybody’s attention is the Lord. The object of worship done in this place is the Lord. The orientation of this building and everyone who enters here is the presence of the Lord. Here, we cease looking at ourselves. Here, we cease looking at one another. Here, we look at the Lord who in turn, looks at us. Here, we do not talk to ourselves. Here, we do not converse with each other. Here, we engage in a loving conversation with the Lord. This loving conversation is called “prayer.” Thus, as the Lord Jesus purified the temple of everything that does not belong to God, so also we must purify this temple of everything that hinders us from being absolutely oriented to the presence of God. We must rid ourselves of everything that defiles the holiness of this house of God: all thoughts, conversations, and behaviors that do not speak of God nor reflect the holiness of the Lord. Unfortunately, we behave only between the start of the Mass and its end. Outside the Mass, we move about in this church as if it were an ordinary building. If the priest is not looking, we act as if we ignore the abiding presence of the Lord in this place. We talk and talk and talk as if the owner of this house were not here. And remember, the owner of this house is not the priest. Nor are the people who built this temple. Because this place is consecrated to the Lord, it now belongs to the Lord. Let us keep it this way. Perhaps, we should always listen to the word of the Lord as being addressed to us: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Let us be consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord. The temple of God us holy! 

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

No Longer a Commandment but our Response

Charity at the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The Lord Jesus was asked: Which commandment in the law is the greatest? He was asked for a commandment but the Lord responded with two: the commandment to love God with all one’s being and the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In this way, the Lord tells us in very clear terms what charity or love really is. In a world where love is a much abused word, the teaching of the Lord on the two greatest commandments is very important.

First of all, we have to say that the commandments to love God and neighbor are based on the reality that God is love. It is God who can reveal to us what love is because He is love. We learn how to love because God loved us first. Love is authentic only if it imitates the love of God for us. How does God love us? He loves us by giving us himself: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…True love is self-giving. It is self sacrificing. ”Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1.)

Love is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us. God loved us first. We did not love him so that we may be loved by him. He loved us first and because of this, we learn to love him in return. He loved us by giving himself to us. Thus, we can only love him by giving ourselves to him: all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. Everything we have and everything we are comes from him. Therefore, we love him with everything we have and everything we are.

Because of this, it is only God whom we should love above all. It is only God whom we should love for his own sake. All other loves are motivated by this response to God’s love for us. I am able to love my neighbor because God loves him in the way he loves me. I love myself because God loves me: “It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend.” (Deus Caritas Est, 8.)

My relationship with God enables me to see others in the way God sees them. My relationship with Him helps me see the image of God in every man. On the other hand, my love for God becomes real when I love my neighbor. For how can I love the God whom I do not see if I do not love the neighbor I see? “Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).” (Deus Caritas Est, 8.) 

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

The Final Purification of the Elect


These past two days have forced us to confront a reality which we normally avoid: the reality of death. By visiting cemeteries, we remember those who have gone before us. But remembering them, we also are reminded of the fact that we shall later be wherever they are now. Death for us inevitable because “through the disobedience of one man, sin entered into the world and together with sin entered death.” “Even though man’s nature is mortal, God has destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator, and entered the world as a consequence of sin.” (CCC, 1008.) Therefore, had Adam and Eve not sinned, we would not die. Had we not sinned, we would not die. “Death entered the world as a consequence of sin.”

How can death be a consequence of sin? God is the Creator and Source of life. In him, we live. In him, we move. In him, we have our being. In as much as sin separates us from the Lord, it separates us from him who is Life itself. And when we separate ourselves from Life, we have nothing but death. It is only in the Lord that we shall have life. Only in him do we live. In fact, this is what God desires for all of us. He does not want us to die because if he did, then why did he give us life? He wants us to live and that is why he calls us to turn back to him. So long as we are afflicted with sin, so long as we stay away from him, we shall never have life. It is only by living with him in heaven shall we have life to its fullest.

Therefore, in order to have life which is full and eternal, we have to be purified from sins. If Heaven is the communion of life and love between God and the angels and saints, sin has no place in it for in God there is no sin. The only way to enter into this communion of life and love is to be purified from everything that separates us from God. “Everyone who has this hope based on him (God) makes himself pure, as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3) Thus, we strive to be purified from sin by repenting to the Lord and by acts of penance that make reparation for our sins. We cannot enter heaven unless we are totally purified of sin.

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect…” (CCC, 1030-1031) “This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: ‘Therefore (Judas Maccabeus) made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.’  From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: ‘Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.’ (St. John Chrysostom)” (CCC, 1032.) The teaching of the Church is very clear: “Not by weeping, but by prayer and almsgiving are the dead relieved." (St. John Chrysostom)

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