Sunday, February 18, 2018

Into the Solitude and Barrenness of the Desert

FEBRUARY 18, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you.

The 40 days of Lent imitate the 40 days spent by Jesus in the desert. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. The barrenness of the desert is a true contrast to the abundance of the garden where Adam and Eve were also tempted by the devil. In the garden where Adam and Eve had everything, they fell to the seduction of the devil. However, in the desert where Jesus had nothing, he triumphed over the devil’s temptation. Is it not ironic that when the body is pampered, the soul is weak in the presence of temptations while when the body is weakened by suffering, the soul is strong enough to withstand temptations?
Lent calls us to the solitude and the barrenness of the desert. The Spirit leads us to the desert as He did to Jesus. Lent is a call to solitude. It is like a 40 day spiritual retreat where through fasting and mortification, we experience the barrenness of the desert. It is when we are alone and when we have nothing that we begin to be sensitive to the interior voices that we usually do not hear when we are busy and preoccupied with so many concerns. The external silence of the desert becomes conducive to interior listening. The sounds of the urban jungle oftentimes drown interior voices. This is why during Lent, it would do us good to tone down external sounds and slow down our usual pace so that we can engage in spiritual introspection.

In the desert lived wild beasts and the Lord Jesus was among them. But it really looks strange that the wild beasts seemed tame as they surrounded Jesus. It was like paradise before the fall where Adam and Eve lived in harmony with the beasts.  Unlike the fallen angels who refused to serve God the Son in his humanity, the angels ministered to Jesus whose divinity remained unchanged in his incarnation. The original harmony between man and the natural and supernatural world was seen no longer in the garden but in the desert. This is because being true man while remaining to be true God, the Lord Jesus has restored to humanity what the devil stole through his seduction and temptation. Inasmuch as temptation always appeals to the “animal” in man, Lent becomes for us the occasion to tame the beasts within. It is the time for us to control inordinate passions that liken us to the beasts and draws us away from our likeness to God. We control our animal instincts (sinusupil natin ang ating kahayupan) through fasting, mortification, and prayer. Lent is the time to regain the humanity that sin has compromised in us. When we control ourselves (nilalabanan ang sarili), we become less beasts and more human which was created in the image and likeness of God.

Thus, Lent is a time of real spiritual renewal. It is the time to recover our lost humanity, our likeness unto the Lord. It is a time of silence and solitude. It is a time of taming the beasts within. It is a time to be like Christ who was “put to death in the flesh and brought to life in the Spirit.” Let us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to the desert. With his help, let us confront our demons. Let us take care to resist the temptation of the devil. Instead, like the angels, let us minister to the Lord. Let us listen to the voice of God who draws us through the desert unto himself.    

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

Coming From the Heart

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are an odd combination. One speaks of fasting and the other speaks of indulgence. That is why for most people, a choice must be made: will you celebrate Ash Wednesday by going into a fast or will you celebrate Valentine’s Day by going on a date?
However, when we listen to the Word of God, we realize that both of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day meet at a certain point. They meet in the heart. Today, we are summoned to penance. “Blow a trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly!” But this is not supposed to be simply an external show. Christ our Lord warned us today against “performing religious acts for people to see.” Our deeds of mercy and piety must be done in secret: “Keep you deeds of mercy secret…pray to your Father in private…let no one see that you are fasting…and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

What does “keeping deeds of mercy secret” mean? Where is that private room where we are to pray? How is that hidden fasting done? The answer simply is: do these from the heart! The heart is that secret place where we encounter the Father. The Lord does not look at external appearances but at the heart! The Lord is not impressed by externals. He wants things done with the sincerity of the heart. That is why the word of God tells us: Rend your hearts and not your garments! Our acts of piety and mercy are supposed to come from the heart because unless we do so, these will remain to be empty shows like a clanging gong. Without love, all these count for nothing.

The call for penance today starts what St. Paul calls the acceptable time…the day of salvation. The trumpets blown today tell us: We implore you, in Christ’s name: Be reconciled with God! We seek that reconciliation by detaching ourselves from the enemies of the soul, namely the self, the world, and the devil. These prevent us from forming authentic relationships of love with God. And so, if we want to truly love God, we must struggle against these enemies by using the instruments given to us: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. We use fasting to fight against our own self. By depriving ourselves of food, we struggle against our excessive love for the self. We use almsgiving to fight against the world. The world teaches us to accumulate. Sharing with the poor, we give a counter witness to the world. We use prayer in our struggle against the devil. We refuse to kneel before him because we worship God and only God. And all these struggles take place in the heart. We fast, we give alms, we pray with all our heart. We want to offer God a contrite and humble heart. We beg him: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

And so we enter the holy season of Lent. Let us take the Lenten discipline seriously. Be sincere in doing works of piety and mercy. Let our repentance come from our hearts. Let us not weep crocodile tears but authentic tears of compunction. “Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…’” We are not here to entertain people. Our desire is to please the Lord. He wants our hearts. Therefore, return to him with all your heart! 

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ours Were The Sufferings He Bore

February 4, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

We know that Christmas has really ended because the readings today confront us with the reality of human misery. Job in the first reading, having been afflicted by Satan, confesses that man’s life on earth is a drudgery (mahirap o nakababagot na gawain). He lived in misery and spent restless nights for a long time. He concluded     with the statement: “I shall not see happiness again.”

This reality of human suffering is acknowledged by all religions. “All life is suffering” so would the Buddha say. However, while Buddhism would teach their believers to strive to escape suffering by the annihilation of all desires, the Lord Jesus teaches otherwise. He does not escape suffering. Rather, he faced suffering. When he was told that Peter’s mother in law was sick, Jesus approached her, grasped her hand and helped her up. He did not run away from human suffering. Instead, he approached it. In his Incarnation, the Lord came down from heaven to meet man where he suffers the most.  At evening, “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons” to the point that “the whole town was gathered at the door.” This portrays the universality of suffering. Every human being experiences pain. We all have a share in the misery that afflicts all humanity.

Jesus did not only cure illnesses and exorcise demons. He did not only relieve people of their sufferings. He embraced our sufferings and made it his own. “To the weak I became weak.” These words of St. Paul may rightfully be said by Jesus himself. He, the Almighty Son of God, came down to earth and humbly shared in our misery. He went hungry and thirsty and also got so tired that once, he slept in the middle of a storm. He took upon himself our suffering and experienced the terrible pain of isolation. That is why on the Cross, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He went through the desolation of the Cross so that none of us may never go through it alone. He went before us in the experience of desolation and waits for us there so that when our time comes, we do not have to suffer alone. He will be there to accompany us. He will be there to help us carry that cross. By this we know that we shall pass through the pain and it is not because of our own effort but because he will be there to see us through.

“Ours were the sufferings he bore. By his wounds, we were healed.” “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up all their wounds.” Therefore, let us go to him and cast all our burdens upon him. Let us bring to him our sufferings and ask him to help us endure it. Having been assisted by his grace, let us help others carry their burdens. While having our own miseries to bear, let us help others go to him. He will not help us escape suffering but rather, he will help us go through it. He will give value to our suffering by making it making it redemptive. He gives redemptive value to our patient endurance of suffering. He gives suffering the power to atone for sins. By patiently enduring our suffering out of love for him, we are able to atone for our own sins and bring about the conversion of others. Patient endurance of suffering purifies us and makes us worthy of the rewards of eternal life.

Knowing that the Lord will be there in our most trying moments, let us courageously carry our cross. Let us say to him, “Lord, it is for love of you that I embrace this cross.”

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