Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Catholic Church: Sacrament of Good News and Healing

“So they set out and went through the villages, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Lk 9: 6).

Today, lots of young people are not so familiar with the Church anymore: they see the Church as an institution with sets of rules: “Do this, don’t do that”, a court that judges people: “You’re immoral”, an old-fashioned organization that still clings to traditional way of looking at and doing things: napag-iwanan na ng panahon! Oftentimes, our perception and understanding of the Church determines our attitude and behavior towards Her, Her ministers and Her mission.

Yet, Luke tells us what the real Church is and what Her mission is according to the will of God. God, when He wants to save us, established a Church, the people of God, as the sacrament and instrument of salvation. “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (Outside the Church there’s no salvation). It means that if someone is saved, he/she is saved through the Church. The Church is, therefore, the depository of Good News and the instrument of God’s healing.

Depository of Good News: we hardly read and hear good news today in the media. What is news today is what is sensational and shocking, which, in turn, may not necessarily be true. But what truly is good news? When someone tells you “I love you”, isn’t that good news? (Ew!) What if that person tells you “You are important to me!”, will you not be glad? Then, it’s good news. How much more if that someone informs you that your utang is already cancelled, how will you react? That’s exactly what the Church is telling us: God loves us; we are important to God; God cancels our debts when Jesus died for us!

This is why the Church must always talk about God’s love for the whole humanity. The Church must always preach that what is important is that we strive hard to love God, no matter how many times we fail. The Church assures us that we can now approach God because He already cancels our debts. Because Jesus died for us, we can now be saved. We only have to trust God once more, even though we see ourselves as sinful and unworthy, and God will slowly but surely heal us of our wounds of pride and sinfulness!

Instrument of God’s healing: In order to heal us, God employs the sacraments of the Church, especially the Sacrament of Confession. Inside the confessional, Jesus Himself comes down to listen to our repentance and to bring us back to the embrace of the Father. Whenever we say to the priest, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned”, we can hear the words of God, the Father, to His servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate”. You see: once you say to God, “Forgive me”, the Father will say “Let’s have a party!”

My dear friends, the Church is never judgmental to any person. But She is very firm and clear in pointing out what actions are evil and should be avoided, and what actions are good and should be done. Recently, Pope Francis was interviewed and was misquoted when he said: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods…. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context”.

Then, Congressman Lagman commented: “Pope Francis enjoins Bishops to temper religious dogma with a merciful and compassionate understanding of the differing attitudes of Catholics on issues like contraceptive use, lest the moral ascendancy of the Church 'crumble like a house of cards'”. This is a clear misunderstanding of the Pope’s words. What the Pope really wanted to say is that he wants the Church to talk more about what She’s for rather than what She’s against. The Pope wants the Church to be more positive in Her approach: to preach more about the Good News, rather than about the things that She is against. But that doesn’t mean that the Church won’t still be against those things that contradict Her teachings and traditions.

The Pope states: “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds....”

If you will be asked by your friends what is the Catholic Church and Her mission, you must say “The Catholic Church is the depository of Good News of my salvation and She heals my wounds”. She tells me that I should not be sad because God loves me. Then, She forgives my sins in the Sacrament of Confession.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why God pursues sinners?

Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine upright who do not need to repent”.

In a family of five, seven or nine children, they say that there is always a black sheep, one who consistently gives headache to the parents; one who always causes troubles among the siblings. When parents talk about achievements in the family among their children, the mention of the black sheep would hardly cause a smile in their faces. Frown is easier to evoke. But today, Jesus presents to us a Father who does not frown on the black sheep of the family. On the contrary, “there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner”.

The parables in the Gospel picture God’s desire to find sinners and bring them back into the fold. God is willing to leave the ninety-nine just to find the lost sheep. When a sinner turns to God, heaven throws a party. Recovering a lost sinner is God’s priority. This was perhaps the reason why God gave in to Moses’ intercession for mercy, in the First Reading, and did not punish the Israelites after they offended the Lord by making a molten calf as their god. God, who never takes joy in the death of sinners but that they repent, forgave the Israelites because they repented. St. Paul, in the Second Reading, also claimed to be a recipient of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He said, “Christ Jesus wanted to display his utmost patience in me so that I might be an example for all who are to believe and obtain eternal life”.

That God is constantly on a search and rescue operations for sinners should be a source of great hope for all of us, sinners. In one way or another, we too can identify ourselves with the lost sheep or the lost coin. Oftentimes, when we are lost, we get the feeling or the sensation that nobody cares to find us. Today, we are assured that we are loved. And that despite our being lost – I would say, precisely because we are lost – God searches for us and assures us that when He finds us, there’s a party. But what is more tragic is when some sheep refuse to be found. They know the shepherd is searching for them. Yet, they prefer to be lost and would hide from the shepherd. They think there’s more fun in being lost than being in the fold.

Why would God pursue sinners? Why would God pursue me, a sinner? First reason we can give perhaps is that because we are sinners. Sinners need God even though many times we don’t admit it or aware of it. When you ask a mother why she would still pursue her son despite the son’s rejection of her help or of her presence in many occasions, I’m sure the mother would say, “He is my son and he needs me”. God, who is also a mother to us, would surely think the same way when He pursues sinners.

The second reason, perhaps, why God pursues sinners is that because He is God and God is Infinite Goodness. St. Thomas Aquinas said that it is proper to God to forgive sins. Hence, it is fitting that God pursues sinners. It fits the Infinite Goodness of God to be concerned not only with the righteous but also with the sinners. A God who’s interested only with the righteous is not really an infinitely good God. We often claim that God is good, all the time! Well, here is the reason why God is good all the time: He pursues sinners as well!

However, the fact that God pursues sinners does not give us permission to commit sins so that God may search for us. No! But, yes, it gives us great hope that despite the many sins we may have committed, God is still interested in us. Isn’t that reason enough to go to the Sacrament of Confession more often?

God’s attitude to search for the lost sinners should give us also a lesson. Disciples like us, Christians, Catholics, should also diligently engage in the search and rescue operations for sinners on behalf of the Master. Jesus provides a clear example for us to follow. Finding lost “sheep” and missing “coins” must also be a disciple’s priority. Jesus involved himself with sinners; so should we.

But how do we react when we find the lost sheep? Nowadays, we are confronted with a nationwide search for big public sinners related to the pork barrel scam. How should we react in a Christian way upon finding out the names and faces of the lost sheep and the missing coins in our society? Will there be more rejoicing in the Senate or Congress? Will the government throw a party?

St. Josemaria Escriva said: “Consider what depths of mercy lie in the justice of God! For, according to human justice, he who pleads guilty is punished, but in the divine court, he is pardoned”. If “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine upright who do not need to repent”, then, we’d better repent every time we commit sins. And we should rather choose to plead guilty before the divine court, the Confessional.

May our Blessed Mother, the Refuge of sinners, intercede for us!

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Homily: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was a man who went strolling by the woods one afternoon. Without knowing that he was already approaching a high precipice, the man suddenly slipped and slowly glided into the cliff. Fortunately, he was able to grasp a small trunk of a plant and was hanging on to it for some time. He cried to the Lord, “Lord, save me from here!” He was repeating this prayer desperately until midnight.

At around 3 A. M. he heard a voice telling him, “Let go of the trunk… Let loose!” The man did not heed the voice. He thought this could be coming from the devil. God would not command him to let loose and let go of the trunk. Again and again, the man kept praying, “Lord, help me. The devil is tempting me. Save me, Lord”. But again, the voice said, “Let go… let loose”. The man continued to hang on. He thought that to let go would be to commit suicide.

So, he remained hanging on the cliff until the first streaks of dawn. When the sun was up, the man was able to see where he was and as he looked down, he realized that he was only one foot from the ground.

My dear sisters and brothers, oftentimes we don’t understand why God would ask us to detach ourselves from the things that offer us security and certainty in life. Our human understanding is so limited and we fail to grasp God’s designs. Indeed, the Book of Wisdom, in the First Reading, has already hinted it: “Who can know the intentions of God? Who can discern the plan of the Lord? For human reasoning is timid, and unsure are our plans”.

Perhaps, Paul’s request to Philemon, in the Second Reading, to consider Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, as his own brother, might not have been quite intelligible to the people of those times when slavery was so prevalent, or even to Philemon himself. Paul tried to make Philemon understand God’s plans saying “Perhaps Onesimus has been parted from you for a while so that you may have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but as a brother”.

Even Jesus’ words in the Gospel appear intimidating to us because we can’t fully grasp His intentions. He said: “If you come to me, without being ready to give up your love for your father and mother, your spouse and children, your brothers and sisters, and indeed yourself, you cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not follow me carrying his own cross cannot be my disciple”. Perhaps, God wants us to be detached from what we consider our security and comfort so that we may learn only to rely on Him and nothing else. Our attachments to material possessions, to people, and even to ourselves can be hindrances to our union with God.

In order to correspond to God’s grace, if we are to imitate Jesus Christ, our hearts need to be entirely free from attachments from earthly goods. Although the world is created good, our hearts tend to be disorderly attached to creatures and things. A Christian, therefore, needs to be vigilant throughout his life so that these goods could not hinder his union with God. On the contrary, he should make use of these goods as means to love and serve the Lord.

The Second Vatican Council teaches: “Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love. Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world; let them not come to terms with this world; for this world, as we see it, is passing away”.

One way, perhaps, to detach ourselves from material possessions is to avoid creating false necessities and to evade from acquiring superfluous things. St. Augustine once wrote: “Man looks for things to satisfy his necessities, and when he finds them in abundance, his heart begins to be filled with pride (Questions about the Gospel, 2, 29). What is superfluous to rich people is a necessity to the poor (Commentary on Psalm 147).

 It is also necessary to purify our hearts of disordered love, oftentimes manifested in our love of self: we are so excessively attached to our own opinion and creative ideas. When we perceive that others do not agree with them, we take it as an offense against our person. Our disordered self-love and self-centeredness often cause us lots of troubles. Conflicts between husbands and wives, between friends and colleagues often proceed from an unbridled selfishness.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his book Friends of God: “if we really want to follow our Lord closely and be of real service to God and the whole of mankind, then we must be thoroughly detached from ourselves, our intellectual talents, our health, our good name, our noble ambitions, our triumphs and successes... We can ensure our detachment by tailoring our will to this clear and precise rule: ‘Lord, I want this or that only if it pleases you, because, if not, I’m not the slightest bit interested’. By acting in this way, we are dealing a mortal blow to the selfishness and vanity that lurk in every conscience. At the same time we will find true peace of soul through this selfless conduct that leads to an ever more intimate and intense possession of God” (no. 114).

My brothers and sisters, like that king in Jesus’ parable in the Gospel who, upon waging war against another king, first sits down to consider whether his ten thousand can stand against the twenty thousand of his opponent, we too must begin to examine ourselves: Am I too attached to people, material possessions and myself to the extent that these attachments prevent me from following the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind? Do I still surrender my life to God even though oftentimes I don’t understand His will for me?

With the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today, September 8, let us all say to the Jesus: “Lord, free me from all my earthly attachments so that I can attach myself totally to you and to you alone. Amen!”

"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.