Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Christ's Authority over Evil

January 28, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Who is the prophet? Many of us mistakenly think that a prophet is a man who predicts the future, a clairvoyant of sorts. But the word of God today tells us otherwise. The first reading speaks of a prophet as one on whose mouth God puts his words, a man who shall tell people what the Lord commands him. He speaks in the name of the Lord. He is called to be faithful to the word that he had received, and transmit it as such to God’s people.

Called to be the faithful communicator of God’s word (and not his own), his ministry would lead him to primarily denounce evil in all its forms, and call to conversion. The prophets of the Old Testament were men who denounced evil and constantly called people to conversion.

However, these are nothing in comparison with Jesus. The Lord told his people that he shall raise up a prophet like Moses among their kinsmen. This refers to Jesus himself. While the prophets of old spoke in the name of the Lord, the Lord Jesus spoke with authority. “A completely new teaching with a spirit of authority,” so people exclaimed about Jesus. This authority is his own because Jesus is the only Begotten Son of God. This authority cannot be denied even by the evil spirits who said to him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Not only did Jesus come to call of us to conversion as did all the prophets of old. “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” He commanded the evil spirit to be quiet because evil has no authority as it pretends to have. The real authority over evil is found in Jesus. He is the only one who can command the evil spirit: “Come out of the man!” This is why the people who saw this exorcism were so amazed that they said: “He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him.” They obey him not because they want to but because they have to. No one can resist the authority of Jesus because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him by the Father. This is why conversion from evil is really possible for us because Jesus liberated us from the evil one. On our own we cannot free ourselves from the devil. Our human nature is too inferior as compared to the fallen angelic nature. But Christ, the Son of God, is superior to the devil. Therefore, he destroys the power of the devil over us so that we can freely “devote ourselves entirely to the Lord.” The Lord does not simply command us to return to him and change our ways. He destroys the power of the devil and gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can do what is right and avoid what is evil. “He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him.” We should obey him as well because he has given us the power to do so.

Conversion is possible not because we have the power of the will to do so. Conversion is possible because Christ enables our will to do it. We cannot tell the Lord: Lord, all you do is command us. Not only did he call us to conversion. He gave us the means to do it. Let us not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit he has given to us. Christ is the powerful Word of God. He gives us a completely new teaching in a spirit of authority. Let us devote ourselves entirely to the Lord and thereby be free of all worries. 

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sto. Nino: Let the children come to me

JANUARY 21, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

People were bringing children to Jesus so that he may bless them. But the disciples rebuked them. After all, Jesus has become a celebrity of sorts. His healing power made him very popular. And so, a celebrity like him should not be bothered by trivial matters like children. Is this not what we do when we receive important visitors at home? Do we not order our children to go and play outside so as not to bother important guests? Do we not dismiss children in the presence of celebrities? Apparently, we are no different from the disciples of the Lord.

However, when the Lord saw this, he became indignant and said to them: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them.” The Lord challenges the worldly paradigm that great people, celebrities, must be inaccessible and so remain mysterious. He associates greatness to accessibility. A great person must be accessible to others. In other words, “dapat madali siyang lapitan.” And who is the truly accessible/approachable one? He is the one who easily accommodates the little children. If little children can approach that person, anyone can approach him. And this is what the Lord reveals to us today: God is an approachable God. The Lord tells us: “Let the little children come to me. Do not prevent them.” No one is to be prevented from approaching him…not even the little children. In fact, in order to encourage children to approach him, he himself became a little child. Is it not true that children are not intimidated by other children like themselves? While they may shy away from adults, children will never be afraid of approaching other children like themselves. And so God became a little child. And never will he forget that he was once a little child. Adults like us can become very cranky towards little children. And when we do so, others reprimand us by saying: “Have you never been a child before?” Unlike our cranky selves, the Lord Jesus has never forgotten that he was once a child. Thus, he tells us that we should never prevent children from approaching him. He understands children because he was once a child.

And so, we must never prevent children from approaching the Lord. At a very early age, we should accustom them to go to Church so that they may be familiar with the Lord. Sometimes, we encounter priests who get upset with the crying of a baby in Church. They easily dismiss parents by telling them not to bring their noisy children to church. But when will you bring your children to church? When they are teenagers? Do you seriously think that if you do not bring your children to church while they are young and impressionable, you can successfully bring them to church as independent-minded teenagers? I don’t think so. If you are unable to bring them to church while they are young, you may never be able to successfully bring them when they get older. This is why we must start them young. Their relationship with the Lord must begin at an early stage. At a very young age, they must learn to develop a friendship with the Lord because a relationship is not created overnight. By bringing our children to church, we provide for them the opportunity to know and befriend the Lord. This is the kind of friendship that will benefit them for a lifetime.

The Santo NiÑo invites us all to draw close to him. Do not hesitate. If little children should not be prevented from approaching him, no one should be prevented from drawing close to him. To God who made himself little for us, we should hasten without hesitation. After all, he said, “Let the children come to me. Do not prevent them for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary time: Come and See

JANUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Behold the Lamb of God
Jesus begins gathering people to himself. This is the beginning of the Kingdom of God which is the gathering of people around Jesus so that he may give them access to the Divine Life. John the Baptist tells his 2 disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And so, they followed Jesus. They were asked by the Lord: What are you looking for? To this, they replied: Rabbi, where are you staying? Jesus invited them: Come and see.

The Lord called Samuel as he slept in the Temple. Twice, Samuel thought that the high priest Eli was calling for him because he was not yet familiar with the Lord. Eli taught Samuel that the next time the Lord calls him, he should say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

John the Baptist taught his disciples. Eli taught Samuel, The disciples followed Jesus and Samuel responded to the Lord. We have here the beginnings of priestly and religious vocations. Vocation is a call coming from the Lord. It is a call to live a life the Lord which the Lord offers a person. Some are called to the married life. Others are called to single blessedness. Others are called to follow the Lord more closely in the priesthood and in the consecrated life. In all these vocations, the Lord begins by asking the person: What are you looking for? The question addresses the deepest desire of the human heart. What do you want to do with your life? Where do you think life is leading you? What will satisfy you?

The answer of the disciples was a simple question: Lord, where are you staying? We want to stay close to you. We want to follow you because perhaps, you are the one we seek. Perhaps, you are the one answer to all our longings. And the Lord responds: Come and see. Come and see for yourself where I live. Come and see for yourself who am I. Come and see for yourself where true happiness comes from.

The disciples were not mistaken when they stayed with the Lord. In fact, Andrew returned home and joyfully said to Simon his brother: We have found the Messiah! This is the joyful affirmation of everyone who ventured to follow the Lord: We have found him! There is joy in following the Lord! People who have taken courage to follow the Lord will testify with great joy: We have found the Messiah!

“Many people, including many of the young, have lost sight of the meaning of their lives and are anxiously searching for the contemplative dimension of their being. They do not realize that Christ, through his Church, can respond to their expectations.” (Evangelica Testificatio, 45.) Christ can respond to the emptiness in the lives of many people. This is why we must teach our young people how to listen for the Lord’s call. We must teach them about Jesus so that they can be familiar with his ways. Interiority is important in discerning the Lord’s call. “The interior man is aware that times of silence are demanded by love of God. As a rule, he needs a certain solitude so that he may hear God ‘speaking to his heart.’” (ET, 46.) The reason why so many people live empty lives is because they were never taught how to pray. They try pursuing fulfillment by burying their interior emptiness through the noise of shallow entertainment. And yet, the emptiness is not filled. Authentic joy seems always evasive.

The only solution to this emptiness is by developing an interior life. We should ask the Lord: Lord, where are you staying. I wish to spend some time with you. I wish to stay in your house. Please speak to me, Lord. Tell me what you want. Your servant is listening. In you alone, Lord, will my heart find rest.

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno

January 9 in Manila is a great feast. It is the Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Although it is not a liturgical feast, millions flock to venerate the image and also to join that immense procession that reenacts the transfer of the image to Quiapo Church/

The official name of the image is Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno. I have always been intrigued by this title. Why is the Black Nazarene called "Nuestro Padre?" He is God the Son and not the Father. So why should he be called "Padre"?

I think that we can explain this by affirming that the Lord Jesus is the First-born Son. Not only is he the first-born of the blessed Virgin Mary. St. Paul calls Jesus "the first-born of all creation" and "the first-born of the dead."

In the family, the first-born exercises some fatherly authority over the household. Parents entrust some parental responsibilities to the first-born over the younger sons and daughters. Thus, the first-born is "father" to his siblings. Not that he replaces the Father. Rather, the authority of the Father resides in him.

Thus, it is right to address him as "Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno" In fact, the title itself tells us that the Nazareno is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Before the priesthood was entrusted to the sons of Levi, it was first the work of the head of the household...a role which was entrusted to the first-born Son. Christ is the head of the Church. He is the first-born of creation. He is first-born of the dead. We see him carrying the heavy load of the Cross as Isaac carried the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Victim who will be laid on the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Priest who enters the Holy of holies not with the blood of animals but with his own Blood. Here is the Priest who walks towards the mountain of sacrifice. And the entire multitude follow him to the Altar.

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, Priest and Victim, offer now your sacrifice for us!

King, God and Victim for all

JANUARY 7, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you.

Wise men coming from the East came searching for the new-born King of the Jews. Finding the Child with Mary his mother, they prostrated before him and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is about this day that we sing: May 3 haring nagsidalaw at ang bawa’t isa ay nagsipaghandog ng tanging alay. Today should be the gift giving day. Gift giving, which has become an essential part of the Christmas, derives its meaning from the story of the magi.

The magi offered gifts because they understood that the baby before them was the primary gift of that day. The Child Jesus is the Father’s gift to all humankind. Being gentiles, these wise men were not Jews. They did not belong to the chosen people of God. And yet, they recognized the fact that the Child Jesus was also given by God to them. They offered gold because Jesus is King not only of the Jews but of the whole world. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had an inscription placed on the Lord’s head which read: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It was written in 3 languages – Hebrew, Latin, and Greek – not only for purpose of wider intelligibility but also to symbolically point to the universality of Christ’s kingship. He is King of all nations. “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”

They offered frankincense because Jesus is God not only of the Jews but of the whole world. They prostrated before him and worshiped him because every nation on earth will adore him. They offered myrrh because Jesus is the Paschal Victim who will die for all humanity. Myrrh is used to anoint the dead in preparation for their burial.

Jesus is the Father’s gift not only to the Jews, but to all of us. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Because he is given to us, we should offer him the gift of ourselves. “He wanted the pure gold of a heart detached from all earthly goods; the myrrh of a renunciation of all the happiness of this world in exchange for participation in the life and suffering of Jesus; the frankincense of a will that surrenders itself and strains upward to lose itself in the divine will. In return for these gifts, the divine Child gave us himself.” (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) Such gift can come only from a sincere conversion of heart. The Magi returned to their country by another way. This does not only mean that they did not return to Herod. It also means that their encounter with the Baby Jesus was a life-changing encounter. They were never the same after this encounter. Detachment, renunciation, and surrender were the response they gave to this wondrous gift of God’s only Son. Today, God’s love is revealed…his love for all of us. We can only respond to this by turning away from our worldly lives and by setting our hearts on the true gold which is the treasure of eternal life. We burn our own will and surrender so that it may rise up to God as a pleasing spiritual offering. We anoint ourselves with the myrrh of self-denial. Dying to ourselves, we unite ourselves with the sufferings and death of Jesus. It is only then that we shall be overcome with joy because such a conversion of heart will clarify our vision and lead us like a star to Jesus. There, we shall prostrate before him. We shall open to him our hearts. “For in sacrifices you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn.”

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

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Circumcision of the Lord

JANUARY 1, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

When 8 days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus…
Our obsession with the new civil year usually deviates our attention from the liturgical significance of the 8th day of Christmas. What do we really celebrate on this 8th day? The Gospel tells us that on the 8th day, the Son of Mary was circumcised and was given the name Jesus.

What is circumcision? It is the cutting off of the foreskin of a boy’s reproductive organ. In the Jewish religion, this ritual is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. An Israelite man bears in his body the permanent mark of his belonging not only to the chosen people but also of his belonging to God. And this mark of the covenant is found in the most intimate part of a man’s anatomy because his relationship with God is the most intimate of all human relations. The cutting off of the foreskin signified the purgation of sin. On account of the fragility of our human nature and our inclination to sin, “the circumcision on the 8th day prefigures the complete purgation of sin on the age of the resurrection.” (Gregory Dippipo)  

Born of a woman, born under the Law
Even though Jesus was like us in all things except in sin, nevertheless he subjected himself to the circumcision. He was born of a woman and born under the law so that he may redeem those who were enslaved by the law. His name means “God saves.” He is God who saves us by taking up our human nature and by subjecting himself to the law. In his human nature, God the Son received the permanent mark of belonging to the Father. He had no sin. He is the unblemished Paschal Lamb who “ransoms those under the law so that we may receive adoption as sons.” The blood he shed in this circumcision is the “first blood” – the first of the blood that shall be shed as a ransom for us from sin. His Blood buys us from the slavery of sin so that he may adopt us as children for God. “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son, then also an heir, through God.”

This is the newness that he brings to us by his Incarnation. It is the newness of Divine Filiation. To those who accept him, he gave the power to be sons of God. We gave him a Mother. He gave us a Father. He assumed our humanity so that he may raise us into his Divinity. And this is depth of the new covenant in his Blood. He received the ancient mark of the circumcision so that you and I may receive the Holy Spirit’s indelible mark, the character, at Baptism. Now, we do not need to be bodily circumcised because we have received a spiritual circumcision when we were baptized. It was not only a foreskin that was cut off. The Holy Spirit abolished the misery of our fallen human nature by dwelling in us. We are no longer poor. We are rich heirs of God. This inheritance that we received is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us – the Spirit who enables us to call God: Abba!

We walk in this newness of creation. The New Year reminds us of this newness – our newness as sons and daughters of God. May we not hold on to our former slavery to sin. May we walk in the newness of the freedom of the children of God. He loved the Mother we gave him. May we love the Father he has given us.

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