Sunday, February 22, 2015

Visit of the Weeping Madonna to Holy Family Parish

The Lenten Fast


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our Identity as People of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Evil should be silenced and expelled

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Be quiet! Come out of him!
“A new teaching with authority!” This is how amazed people described the teachings of our Lord which was accompanied by great signs, among them is an exorcism. “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 2 things they said about Jesus’ teaching: first, it was new and second, it had authority. The newness and the authority of our Lord’s teachings come from who he is. The demons themselves could not deny it: “We know who you are – the Holy One of God.” It is from who he is that Jesus of Nazareth has power to destroy evil spirits. In a world that was dominated by Satan, something new was breaking that dominion and this is none other than the Kingdom of God. In a world enveloped by the darkness of sin and the shadow of death, a new light was appearing. Behold, the Holy One comes: Jesus of Nazareth. He comes to destroy the reign of the evil one.

“The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s: ‘If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.’ Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over the ‘ruler of this world.’ The Kingdom of God will be definitely established through Christ’s Cross: ‘God reigned from the wood.’” (CCC, 550)

Sometimes it is difficult to believe that the Kingdom of God has already come because when we look around us, we continue to see evidences of the reign of Satan. The cruel fate of the fallen 44 at the hands of their enemies provokes us to ask: “Where is justice? Is the Kingdom of God truly upon us? If Christ has conquered sin, then why do evil men continue to afflict us? Why do good men fall?” Evil men strike us with impunity. They threaten us with violence and oftentimes, they succeed in pushing us into silence. They threaten us with bomb attacks, explosion everywhere in order to get our silence. And the silence of good men is all they need to let evil triumph. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men say nothing, and do nothing.”

And yet, in the gospel we hear: “Jesus rebuked (the evil spirit) and said: ‘Quiet! Come out of him!’” It is not good men who should be silenced. It is evil that should be silenced. Evil should not maim us in fear. Rather, evil should be driven out. We should not be intimidated by the power of evil. The power of the evil one is great indeed, but it is not unlimited. It will come to an end and Satan is well aware of this. He knows that his days are numbered. He knows that his kingdom is collapsing. That is why he kicks and bites. Knowing that he is already condemned, Satan struggles to create as much damage as he can. But kick and bite as much as he wants, Satan is going down! This is what I have seen again and again with every case of exorcism I witness. Demons try to intimidate with loud cries and manifestations of power.  But all of these are tricks to deceive us into thinking that nothing can be done to make them fall. My eyes have seen again and again the power of Jesus’ Holy Name. I have seen again and again how the evil spirits flee at the Name of Jesus. I have seen again and again how the love of the Lord Jesus always triumphs over the hatred of the evil one. And this is what we have to believe: we have to believe in the power of the Lord’s love. We must never forget that Jesus is God and Satan is only a creature. It is useless for Satan to fight against the Lord. It is a mismatch. The victory belongs to Christ. His love in the end will always triumph. That is why evil should not silence us. Instead, we should silence evil with the proclamation of the Gospel. Violence should not oppress us into submission. Rather, we should overcome it with love. I remember that 1945 song: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.” Jesus said, “Do not fear…I have overcome the world.”

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