Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fixing our gaze on Jesus

Homily: New Year 2014

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.

As we end the year 2013 and begin the 2014, we behold before us the image of Mary, the Mother of God, reflecting on all the marvelous events that happened in her life lately: the Anunciation by the angel that she would become the Mother of God, the conception and the birth of John, and now, the birth of Jesus. Mary kept all these things in her heart.

The Church, on this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, invites us to imitate Mary in her silent and contemplative disposition. As we start the New Year, we, too, must reflect on all the marvelous deeds that God has done in our lives during the year that now ends. Like Mary, we shall keep all these things. Like Mary, our soul shall also proclaim the greatness of the Lord.

Taking indication from the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome, the revised liturgy of Vatican II has restored the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and placed it on January 1, the first day of the year. Mary has been venerated as Theotokos, the Mother of God, since ancient times. In 431, the Council of Ephesus declared decisively that the divine motherhood of Mary is a dogma of faith. It is a singular dignity from which all other privileges of Mary flow: the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption and other titles of Mary that we find in the Litany.

They say that the moment a woman gives birth to her child, she ceases to think of herself and begins to focus all her life on her child. Mary is Theotokos, that is, “the Bearer of God”. The moment she became Theotokos, she ceased to think of herself. From now on, all her life is focused on Jesus, her Son. Jesus became the center of her existence. Every breath she takes was for Jesus.

That is why, Mary is an excellent model for us to imitate as we start this New Year. With Mary, we should also make Jesus the center of our lives this year 2014. With Mary, let us fix our gaze on Jesus. When we fix our eyes on the Lord all throughout the year, we are assured of two consequences.

First, when we fix our gaze on Jesus, slowly but surely, we become more identified with Him, as we should be. And if we are identified with the Son of God, we will also become children of God. This is what St. Paul told the Galatians (Second Reading): “God sent His Son… so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children (of God), God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ You are no longer a slave but a child of God”.

If we are no longer slaves, but children of God, then we should strive to act as God’s children. Let us not remain slaves to sin and vices. The best way to greet 2014 is not to gather round fruits but to gather sound virtues like charity, generosity, humility and sincerity. If you are a son or a daughter of God, then there’s no need to worry of what 2014 would bring you. “We may not know what our future holds. But we know who holds our future”. And that is enough. So why consult the horoscopes instead of the Gospels for guidance on what to do and how to behave this 2014?

The second consequence when we fix our gaze on Jesus this year is that we will certainly receive numerous blessings from the Lord. Our First Reading (Book of Numbers) assures us that if we invoke the name of the Lord, He will bless us. “The Lord said, ‘This is how you shall bless the Israelites (and us). The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

Three specific blessings are promised to us this New Year: (1) the Lord will keep us – He will keep us in good health, if we don’t need purification through bodily or spiritual sickness. He will keep us in joy, if we cooperate in His grace by avoiding sin, the only cause of moral sadness; (2) the Lord’s face will shine upon us and will be gracious to us – He will keep an eye on us always, guarding and protecting us from every kind of evil. But He cannot do anything if we deliberately misuse our freedom and choose the evil of sin rather than the grace of God; (3) the Lord will give us peace – Peace, says Mother Teresa, is not the absence of war – of inner conflict, of suffering, of pain – but the presence of Christ, amidst these things. 2014 will be peaceful in the measure that each of us will fight to keep the presence of God alive every day in our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, let us begin the year 2014 with Mary, meditating in silence on the marvels the Lord has done for us. Beginning this New Year, let us fix our gaze on Jesus so that we may become true children of God. With the words of the Responsorial Psalm, “may God bless us in His mercy”. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Call on Him! Believe in Him! Proclaim Him!

Homily: Friday, December 6, 2013

“When He was about to enter the house, the blind men caught up with Him”. Haven’t you wondered: how could the blind men catch up with Jesus unless Jesus slowed down for their sake? Most probably, Jesus heard their shouting; He knew what they needed; He tested their faith and trust in Him. Then, He healed them. The Gospel today, somehow, describes also our own story of blindness, our own struggles of faith and our own experience of healing.

Our stories of blindness. What kind of blindness do we suffer from in life? Ignorance of God’s love for us? Such ignorance is caused by our excessive and disordered love of self. We cannot see how much God loves us because we see only ourselves. Mafalda, a comic strip written and drawn by Argentine cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado, which depicts the Latin American middle class and progressive youth, once exclaimed: “Do not be so selfish. Think also of me!” The reason we become blind to the love of God is that we excessively and disorderly love ourselves.

Lack of forgiveness also blinds us from seeing the inherent good in people around us. Our biases and prejudices prevent us from discovering something new, something good in the events, places and people we meet each day. We need also to call on Jesus and say: “Jesus, Son of David, help us!”

Our struggles of faith. When we are blind, we move very slowly for fear of bumping into something. Blindness makes us become insecure in our movement. Every move is a struggle. Faith also becomes a struggle because we don’t clearly see what we believe in. We accept as true what is told us not because we have discovered this truth by ourselves, but simply because we trust in Him who reveals this truth to us. He will not deceive us. Nor will He deceive Himself.

Blind persons are the most trustful people. They just entrust their movements – indeed, their lives – to their guides. That is why, we can easily identify ourselves with the two blind men in the Gospel today. In our faith, we are likened to these blind men. We struggle to believe. That is why, we can hear Jesus asking us every day: “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?”

Every time we encounter difficulties and trials in life, doubts and big problems, let us recall the words of Jesus: “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” When we are jobless, loveless, and hopeless; when we are doubtful, revengeful, and resentful, let us hear Jesus say: “Do you believe that I am able to do change you?” Then, we respond Him saying, “Yes, Lord. You can do it. I trust in you. But don’t trust me”.

Indeed, believing becomes a real struggle because we tend to trust more in our own efforts rather than in Jesus. We trust more on our own understanding of reality rather than on what Jesus tells us. We trust more in our own opinion, in our own judgment, in our own decision rather than in the truth proclaimed by the Church, or the moral judgment and decision of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Our experience of healing. No weakness, no defects, no handicap of ours can prevent us from reaching Christ. The blind men were able to catch up, not because they were simply able to do so, but because Jesus waited on them. Our Lord adjusts to our limitations and waits for us to catch up with Him.

Our awareness of our defects can sometimes slow down our pace, our steps towards Jesus. But we should never stop walking because we know that Jesus will initiate the encounter. He will wait for us because He is as interested as we are of our healing. We know that Jesus is very interested to heal us because He promised it in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, in the First Reading: “On that day the deaf will hear the words of the book, and out of the dark and obscurity the eyes of the blind will see”.

Jesus does even more than just simply waiting for us: when we are struck down by discouragement and fear, or are being paralyzed by life’s tragedies (like the Yolanda), He walks toward us to meet us. When we are down, He comes to us. He accompanies us. He heals us!

But in order to be healed, we have to let Jesus heal us. He is very willing to forgive our sins but we need to go to the Sacrament of Confession. Have you see a picture of Jesus knocking on a door without a knob? Traditional interpretation says that Jesus cannot open the door of our hearts from the outside. We must open it from the inside.

Although this is true, we must say that even with doors without knobs, Jesus makes the initiative of reaching out to us. He even broke into the closed doors of the room where His disciples were gathered just to be with them.

Now, after having been healed by our Lord, we must spread the news about Him to all the people we meet every day. Why? Because as Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (EG, 1).

My dear friends, we want to be set free from the blindness of sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. Hence, we call out to Him: “Lord, help us!” We want to rediscover the joy of believing. That is why we say to Him: “Yes, Lord, we believe that you can heal us”. We want to share the joyful experience of God’s healing touch. So we spread the Good News of Jesus to the people around us. Call out to Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Live and share Jesus.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Seek Christ; find Christ; love Christ

Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some psychologists say that “first impressions last”. If this is true, then, we may say that today’s Gospel can be a proof to that. Zaccheus was curious to see “what Jesus was like”. Because he was small in stature, he had to climb a sycamore tree so he would be able to see Jesus who had to pass by that way. Jesus surprised Zaccheus by inviting Himself to the tax collector’s house for the meal. Such surprise made a lasting impression on Zaccheus – a very intense impression that made him willing even to give half of his possessions to the poor. Indeed, meeting Jesus may change our lives!

St. Josemaría Escrivá once wrote a three-line dedication on the title page of a book he gave as a gift to a young architect named Ricardo Fernández Vallespín in 1933. The dedication reads: “May you seek Christ. May you find Christ. May you love Christ”. I would like us to reflect on these three distinctive steps in our relationship with Jesus – our Christian life.

May you seek Christ. Do you think it was only mere curiosity that moved Zaccheus to climb the sycamore tree to see Jesus? Perhaps, yes. But even God had to make use of Zaccheus’ curiosity to teach us a lesson today: that our desire to seek the face of God, to seek Christ, is first of all, God’s grace – His initiative to meet us.

Our decision to attend Mass today, for instance, is actually a manifestation of God’s grace working in our hearts. We let ourselves be drawn by God’s promptings. We let the Holy Spirit work in us. The First Reading attests to this. The Book of Wisdom notes: “How could anything endure if you did not will it? And how could anything last that you had not willed? You have compassion on all because all is yours, O Lord, lover of life”.

Does this mean we are not free anymore to make our own decisions? Does it mean God has predestined everything, even our going to Mass? Of course not! St. Augustine, in his book Grace and Human Freedom, explains that God, in His providence, inclines or attracts the human will by showing it what is good. The human will, upon perceiving the good, tends towards it. Here, we find God’s grace and human freedom harmoniously working together.

When we seek Christ, this is proof that God has already attracted our hearts towards Him. Despite his many possessions, Zaccheus still did not find the happiness he was searching for. If you could relate with Zaccheus, why don’t you try to seek Christ by striving to establish a personal encounter and an intimate relationship with Him in prayer and the sacraments?

May you find Christ. “When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, come down quickly for I mean to stay at your house today’”. What a pleasant surprise it must have been for Zaccheus! He only wanted to see Jesus. Now, Jesus rewarded him not only by granting his desire but even more than that: by staying in his house. Those who think that God does not give importance to our petitions may find in this Gospel passage the truth: that God hears all our prayers and listens to all our petitions. If He had not granted yet what we are asking Him, it is because He is preparing something better – in fact, the best for us!

Jesus knows our needs even before we ask Him. We may ask: “Then, why the need to pray?” According to St. Augustine, though God already knows our needs, we ought to pray to increase our desire for God and our capacity to receive the gift God is preparing to give us. St. Augustine said: “The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed. .... The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruits. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him alone who is able to give it” (Letter 130).

St. Paul, in the Second Reading, assures the Thessalonians: “This is why we constantly pray for you; may our God make you worthy of His calling. May He, by His power, fulfill your good purposes and your work prompted by faith”. St. Paul is praying for us today too: “May God fulfill your heart’s desire. If you seek Christ, may you find Him”. Jesus is easy to find for those who seek Him. “If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me” (Deut 4: 29). Whenever you want to find His presence, just come and visit Him anytime at the Blessed Sacrament, in the Tabernacle of any church. There, Jesus waits for you! There, you will find Jesus because, first of all, there, Jesus will find you!

May you love Christ. When Zaccheus heard of the people’s grumbling that Jesus had gone to a sinner’s house, was he upset having been insulted? Did he complain to Jesus saying “You see, Lord, how difficult it is for us sinners to come to you? Once we decide to be near you, people around us become so critical and judgmental. So what’s the point of going back to the Church if even the people inside it cannot welcome us with open arms?”

No. Zaccheus did not think or say these things. Instead, he said, “Half of my goods, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much”. Kindness begets kindness. Jesus’ kindness begets Zaccheus’ act of love. Love begets love. When we seek and encounter Christ, we will discover that He loves us unconditionally. Our experience of God’s love begets in us the love for God, the love for Christ and His Church. This love becomes manifest in our love for our neighbors and for the people in need.

After his encounter with Christ, Zaccheus was willing to examine his conscience and to make amends for his past failures and sins. What about us? Are we willing to change our ways, to put aside our vices, and to avoid sins after we experience the love of Jesus?

Brothers and sisters, may we learn to establish an intimate relationship with Christ. May we find Christ in the most ordinary events of our lives. May we grow in our love for Christ by avoiding sins and doing only what pleases Him. May the Blessed Mother help us to seek Christ, to find Christ and to love Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“Faith in the midst of ruins”

“Faith in the midst of ruins” was how The Philippine Daily Inquirer put its headline the day after a 7.2-magnitude hit Central Visayas and left severe damages in Bohol and Cebu. The news focused on two statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stood “without any blemish—amid the ruins of two churches in Maribojoc and Loon towns”.

“It was enough for residents to raise their hopes that life will get better”, the news said. It could not be better said!

Truly, God can write straight with crooked lines! God is so powerful and so wise, He could even allow natural calamities to happen knowing He can get some good out of them.

Just as in the Book of Genesis, when the first devastation in human history took place – the moral devastation of sin – and everything that God gave man seemed ruined (preternatural gifts, original holiness and justice), God did not abandon man. Instead, He promised redemption and restoration through a woman – the Woman (See CCC, no. 385-412).

So it is in Bohol and Cebu today! God does not abandon His children. He promises them restoration of their livelihood, rebuilding of their homes, and reestablishment of their lives. And, I believe, God does it through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I also saw on TV one image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus unscathed despite the rubbles. Immediately, what dawned on me was the message that despite the fact that everything around us collapses, God remains our refuge and strength. At times, God allows the downfall of the things that we consider our security and shelter in life so that we may trust in Him alone.

Indeed, “Faith in the midst of ruins” is not only a fitting description of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Central Visayas. It could also be an appropriate call for Filipinos all over the country and abroad. The earthquake and ruins in Bohol and Cebu can also be figurative of the political and moral “earthquakes” and “ruins” that our country is experiencing today with the “pork barrel” scam and other corrupt practices.

Amidst all these, let us raise the eyes of our faith and look for the image of Our Lady, our Blessed Mother. Her motherly assistance and intercession would be enough hope for us that life will get better.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gratefulness makes us happy

A certain Brother David Steindl-Rast once said, “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but (it is) gratefulness that makes us happy”. Today’s liturgical readings put more emphasis on the importance of gratitude. Being grateful is so essential for human beings that even Jesus expects it from us and is even close to demanding it.

In the First Reading, we see Naaman, the general of Syrian army, returning to the Prophet Elisha to thank him personally for the miraculous healing from leprosy, and offering the prophet lavish tokens of thanksgiving. When a person realizes the greatness of the blessings received, he becomes grateful and more generous. When we realize that we have received lots of blessings from the Lord, we become more generous to Him and His Church. Those who are stringent in giving are those who recognize very little God’s gifts.

St. Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds us that even if we are unfaithful to Jesus, our Lord “remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself”. Even if we are less generous to God with our time, talent and treasure, God continues to show us His abundant generosity by giving us what we need every day. Even more! Even if we are sometimes ungrateful to God, He remains faithful in bestowing His unconditional love for us. We see this in the Story of Ten Lepers in the Gospel.

Ten lepers came to meet Jesus and asked Him to cure them. Perhaps, Jesus knew that most of them would be ungrateful. Yet, He still cured them all. Only one, a Samaritan, came to thank Jesus. St. Luke emphasized that “this man was a Samaritan”. Perhaps, the Evangelist wanted to highlight the fact that in life, oftentimes we get good things from unexpected people. Hence, we should put aside any bias and all the prejudices we have with the people we meet every day.

Why would God want us to be grateful? Seneca said: “Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart”. He even observed that “A man is ungrateful who denies that he has received a benefit; more ungrateful is he who pretends that he has not received it. But the most ungrateful man of all is he who forgets it”. Three reasons, perhaps, why we must be grateful would be worth-pondering.

First, to give thanks is a sign of wisdom. According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “There are three things that show whether or not your mouth is full of wisdom: one, if you acknowledge and profess your own sinfulness; two, if from your mouth come acts of thanksgiving and praises; and, three, if from your mouth come words that edify others”  (Various Sermons, 15). You see, to be grateful is to be wise because in recognizing the good things received, you also recognize the Giver. In gratitude, we see the truth about God and about ourselves. We recognize that everything is meaningful because everything is a gift. For this reason, Melody Beattie observes that “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend”.

 Secondly, acts of thanksgiving to God are an anticipation of the praises that we shall sing to Him in heaven. To give thanks, therefore, is to practice our life in heaven. What does heaven consist in? Of course, it consists in loving God and our fellow citizens in heaven. But it also consists in eternal and non-stop acts of praise and thanksgiving. If you want to enter heaven, then, you must rehearse that life here on earth. St. Augustine once wrote: “The subject of our meditation in this present life should be the praises of God; for the everlasting exaltation of our life hereafter will be the praise of God, and none can become fit for the life hereafter, who has not practiced himself for it now” (Expositions on the Psalm 148, 1).

Lastly, he who recognizes the benefits received shall receive more. Our human experience tells us that we love to give more to people who are grateful for our gifts. To the ungrateful, we never give them anymore. God, who remains generous even to the ungrateful, multiplies the gifts for those who are grateful. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: “To whoever recognizes humbly the benefits received and is grateful for it, reasonably will receive more benefits. To him who is faithful in what is small more will be given. But who is ungrateful in what he received is unworthy of new favors” (On Psalm 50).

Commenting on today’s Gospel, St. Bernard observed that “What causes God not to grant our prayers is His finding us lacking in gratitude. After all, perhaps it is even an act of mercy on His part to hold back from the ungrateful what they are asking for so that they may not be judged all the more rigorously on account of their ingratitude… [Thus] it is sometimes out of mercy that God holds back His mercy…” If you think God is not granting you your heart’s desire, perhaps He sees that you lack enough gratitude. Wallace D. Wattles has a point when he wrote: “The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best. Therefore it tends to become the best. It takes the form or character of the best and will receive the best”.

My dear friends, if we are grateful to God and to each other by being generous in sharing our time, talent and treasure, we will grow in wisdom, we anticipate our life in heaven and we shall receive more blessings. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary the graces we need to be more grateful so that we may become happier in life, for indeed, it is not happiness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy.

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.