The Procession Continues

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (B)

1. The March to Jerusalem

a) When horses were used in battles, military commanders used their strongest and fastest horses. Accordingly, when they returned triumphant, they would march around the city on donkeys. Of course they moved at a slower pace and people would applaud for them. Jesus has conquered; and He has conquered the world of evil. He just had the right to mount the donkey as a triumphant king towards Jerusalem. And sure enough, people applauded Him as their King.

 b) Big nations can conquer smaller nations, stronger leaders can overpower weaker ones, and more influential persons can subdue the voiceless, the weak and the less influential ones, but we know that as human leaders, they can fail. But Jesus is not only a man. He is also God. He suffered death, but He also gained glory in His resurrection. He conquered the devil and sin. He can also conquer our sins of selfishness and pride that make us rebel against Him and His commands. He can conquer our sin of vanity that makes us gods of temporal things. He can conquer our sin of indifference that keeps us apart from our neighbor and our community. He can conquer our little favorite sins that make us callous to His call to holiness and perfection. Shall we march with Jesus into the Jerusalem of our hearts, and recognize Him as our King and Lord?

2. The procession continues till Good Friday

a) In the house of Simon the leper, a woman poured perfume on Jesus, who declared that she was getting Him ready for His burial. This made the Jews jealous of Him. But the more important thing was what Jesus said to them as contention to their comment that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. The Jews, and the Pharisees, had the poor, but they made the life of the poor and the weak miserably heavy with their laws, and they would not even lift their fingers to help.

Many times we promise to help the poor. We promise to be kind. How many times have we raised our voices against them because of our impatience and arrogance? We will always have the poor. Do we really see them as part of us and our way to the Father?

b) When Peter disowned Jesus, Peter was not only acting alone. He was already representing us in our sins, in our disregard for the needy, and in not living out the love of our Creator in thought and deed.

c) Jesus asked the Father’s forgiveness for His persecutors. He was also asking forgiveness for our sins and our failures. He knows that we fall. He also knows that the Father will hear Him. Can we make this week an opportunity to walk with Jesus in His suffering and death in our relationships, and rise with Him in His resurrection?

3. The fruit of the suffering of Jesus will reflect in us only when we keep in mind the humanity and divinity of Jesus in our lives. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, would say,

At the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday night in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II spoke these moving and powerful words: “Who, if not the condemned Savior, can fully understand the pain of those unjustly condemned? Who, if not the King scorned and humiliated, can meet the expectations of the countless men and women who live without hope or dignity? Who, if not the crucified Son of God, can know the sorrow and loneliness of so many lives shattered and without a future? (Biblical Reflection for Palm Sunday; 2009).

4. We still continue the procession: in our responsibilities, in our attitude, in our relationships. We are processing towards eternal life with palms in our hands to proclaim Him as our King. Jesus understands our human condition and walks with us always, with Mary, His Mother and our Mother. He continues to fill us and strengthen us in the Eucharist. He continues to be our way to the Father in every situation of life. He continues to be the answer to our questions about life here on earth and in eternity.

May this Holy week, in our efforts to be reconciled to Jesus in our acts of piety and charity, lead us to the joys of His Resurrection and His continuous presence among us.

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Opposites and Inversions

Fifth Sunday of Lent (B)

In this world of stiff competition to survive, we always want to win, and we tend to separate, divide and alienate. We separate the body from the spirit, and we see others as if they are just walking dolls or hovering spirits. We separate the mind from the heart, and so we find people who may be emotionally disturbed or mentally disoriented. We see people as categories, and we are not one with them. We see the world as separate continents, so each one does not have to be responsible for another’s problems. We alienate the poor from the rich, and we see them as affluent or needy. We alienate the “less educated” from the “educated,” and we seem to be comfortable with discrimination in workplaces, in applying for work and in the delivery of benefits.

We believe that the order of the concept of living is life and death. We treat the infamy of suffering as independent from the splendor of glory. We prefer to be served than to serve. We work hard to receive rather than to give. We seek happiness in material things now as if there is no other life, rather than seek the joy of human and divine values so that we can be happy here and in the life to come. We tend to care for our bodies as if we hold the reins of life, rather than seek the ways leading to eternity. We want to separate the love of God from the love of neighbor, so that we won’t be accountable for our neglect and indifference.

In Jesus we see the combination of opposites and inversion. For Jesus the order of the concept of living is death-life. The grain must die in order to have life and bear fruit. The death of Jesus is not only for Him to have life, but that we may have life and have it to the full. He carried the cross so that all who are weary and tired may come to Him and find rest. He saw glory in suffering, life in death, and resurrection in being buried. For Jesus, His death is fruitfulness. His loss is gain for us. He taught that to go up to the Father is to go down deep into the self, to repent and be converted. He is the integration of the person: that man cannot be separated from himself, that mind and heart are one, that man cannot be alienated from his neighbor. Only Jesus is the answer to the difficult questions of life and seeming contradictions between suffering and glory, division and unity, alienation and friendship.

Despite His people’s sinfulness, God did not forsake them. He renewed His covenant with them when He said through the prophet Jeremiah:

I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD (31:33-34).

According to circumstances and judgments of the mind, if we base our relationships on reason alone, we become cold. According to changes in emotion and moods, if we base our relationship on feelings alone, we can become sentimental. However, in Jesus we make the decision to make our relationships meaningful. We exercise the power of our mind to choose and meet our feelings and emotions to make a reasonable and loving decision for something, for somebody or for a cause. This encounter happens in the heart where God has placed His law so that we no longer look for God outside of us. It is also in our hearts that we meet God and our neighbor.

This season of Lent allows us to go deeper into our hearts and reflect on the ways we relate with God. It also allows us to go deep into the heart of Jesus so that we can go into the heart of the Church.

We may do these in many ways: a) pray the rosary for peace and for respect for life; b) visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray for the intentions of the parish and the needy; c) visit the sick or do some works of mercy; d) avoid harsh or discouraging words, and decide to say only encouraging words; e) fast, not only from food, but also from pride, envy and from your favorites sins; f) go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a sincere heart; g) be faithful to your family and to the Church; h) and others. Holy Scripture tells us that God wants mercy more than sacrifice, for mercy is a loving relationship with others for the Glory of God.

In the Eucharist that we celebrate we encounter the humility of God and become open to His Word, and we hope to participate fully in the blessings of Holy Week and reap the fruits of our redemption at Easter.

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Saved Through Faith

Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)

We have learned that to have healthy self-confidence and emotional maturity, we must have a healthy self-esteem. Many try to build up their confidence by simply reacting to situations and events in their lives. They wear expensive clothing and jewelry, buy flashy cars, go into politics, take unusual courses, seek to win awards, work to earn big money, work hard to get the promotion everybody aspires for, and many others. With these they want to prove that they are valuable. They keep seeking the things of this world that prove undependable anyway, and in the end, they realize that someone achieves more, and someone is actually better than they are, so they feel more inferior and seek to possess more. They miss the person who can really be their peace and self-esteem, Jesus Christ, and miss the opportunity to grow in their potential of being worthy children of God.

The parable of the lost sheep (Lk 15:1-7) tells us about the wandering, directionless, careless sheep. While lost and maybe hurt, he is able to make a lot of noise, so that the shepherd could hear him. When found, the shepherd carries him on his shoulders, takes him back to the fold, binds up his wounds and cares for him.

The parable of the prodigal son (actually, the parable of the merciful father) (Lk 15:11-32) tells us of the reckless, careless and irresponsible youth, who is able to recognize his foolishness and consciously returns to his father and asks for forgiveness. The father brings him back to the joy and peace of the family.

The parable of the lost coin (Lk 15:8-9) tells us of the coin that doesn’t even know that he is lost. It just remains where it is, in the dark, dusty area, probably under the couch or bed, or under the house, where nobody would see it, unless there has to be a good amount of cleaning and searching. When found the owner rejoices and calls her neighbors to rejoice with her for having found the lost coin.

The sheep may be the sinner who is lost and is able to cry for help. The prodigal son is the sinner who receives the gift of recognizing his fault and desires to return to God. The lost coin may be the sinner who does not know his situation and condition or the sinner who doesn’t even care where he is and what he does. Whichever situation, God sends instruments to lead the sinner back to Him: to be gently carried and brought back to the Church, to be lovingly forgiven and brought back to the family of believers, or to be picked up joyfully and celebrated for having been found. Remember then that each one becomes an instrument of salvation.

God loves us and does not want to lose us, except those who choose to be lost. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us:

by grace you have been saved through faith…. it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Eph 2:8-10).

In fact, He paid the price for our redemption by having Jesus die on the cross for us “that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

Lent is a season when the Church earnestly invites us to look deeply into our hearts and ask the questions: Do we work so hard to seek self-esteem from the things of the world that close doors to God? Do we realize that we are sinners who need to be lead or carried or picked up through the power of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist? Are we so self-centered that we need other instruments of the Church to show us that to be Christians, and Catholic at that, we have to anticipate and be open to the needs of others? Lent teaches us to be more open to God and to our neighbor through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

May our Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, our Mother, show us how to pray with Him, how to offer to others what they need and how to be loving and caring for the needy and the suffering. And let our good works shine brightly so that others may see the goodness that the Lord is doing for His people. The Lord Jesus showed His love and mercy for us His people on the cross and still gives us Himself in the Eucharist that we celebrate as His gift to us and food for eternal life.

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Temple Cleansing

Third Sunday of Lent (B)

Every institution, organization, home, or any group, has rules and regulations that members follow. Countries have laws to be followed by citizens. Kingdoms have directives for subjects to obey. The kingdom of God, through the Church, with promise of eternal life, has commands that people must abide by and obey.

Ordinarily the self finds its way to contentment, security and personal pleasure and glory. The world works on accumulation of wealth, love for power, and protection of its own interests. Kingdoms and governments work for success by protecting their territory and by developing projects, normally, for the citizens. Christians try to be more selfless for the good of others and for the glory God. Whose commands do we follow?

One of the devil’s ways is hypocrisy. It can involve the following:

a). Deceit. It is “the quality that prompts intentional concealment or perversion of truth for the purpose of misleading” (dictionary). The devil is a master of deceit. Many times deceit becomes a lifestyle in society. Noel Coward said, It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

b). Dishonesty. A person creates an unfair advantage over a situation usually at the expense of others and for his own benefit. Life may not necessarily be “fair,” but to take advantage of others for one’s own benefit is a sin against charity and human relationship.

c). Presumption. A person thinks, or, at least, likes to think, that he is better than everyone else. He presumes that many sins are not an offense against God. Adam and Eve presumed, and disobey God, because they thought they would become like God. They did not grow in their capacity to become faithful children of God. This is probably one of the greatest sins that people can commit: not growing as real children of God and not taking advantage of the blessings that God gives to develop their potentials and capabilities.

God leads us to Himself because:

a). He wants truth and transparency, because He is the truth. Where God is, the devil cannot exist; where the devil is entertained, God is driven away. We cannot walk with the devil and God side by side; neither can we rest with God and the devil at the same time. It’s God or the devil. The truth is: God loves us and wants us to be His.

b). He wants fidelity and openness, because He is faithful. To be open to God is to allow Him to work in us according to His plan, not according to our likes and convenience. We cannot be open to Him by putting up conditions. Conditions close the doors of our hearts for God to enter and make it more difficult for us to be faithful to Him.

c). He wants our obedience and reverence, because He is God, and He rewards the faithful. We are not worthy of Him, but God gives Himself to us anyway because He loves us. He gives us Jesus, His Son. Obedience may not necessarily be an easy virtue, but it is the best way to salvation. Jesus calls us to listen to Him and obey his commands, to be with Him, because we cannot stay in this world forever. Obedience is wisdom for the faithful and leads to eternal life.

When Jesus cleansed the Temple, He was not only getting rid of the vendors and animals, but was also cleansing the people of their hypocrisy and purifying their motives. We can clean the temple of our hearts of our hypocrisy and selfish motives in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, in prayer, and in service to others. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is God’s gift to us so He can cleanse us of our sins committed consciously, and obtain His mercy. Confession of our sins puts back to order our noisy and confused lives and allows peace to reign again in our hearts. In Prayer we allow God to work in our disordered life and consecrate to Him all that we have, all that we are and all that we are capable of doing. In our service to others we move out of our comforts zones and become one with the suffering of Jesus in His people. The Eucharist fills us with the food of life and strengthens us on our journey to the second life. It brings us together as one family in the Lord and keeps us open to one another as brothers and sisters and citizens of God’s kingdom.

This Lent, let us then be more open to God, purely motivated to cleanse the temples of God that we are and reverently obey His commands, so that His peace may be ours. Like Mary and with Mary, our Mother, may we always remain worthy temples of the Holy Spirit.

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The Voice

Second Sunday of Lent (B)

A voice has several characteristics depending on the criteria. A voice can be audible, like spoken words and other vocal expressions; or it can be inaudible, like the voice of the unborn, the dying, the needy and the uncomplaining. According to purpose (and according to the spelling, as I recall from a book):

a) a voice has a vision that a person may achieve;

b) a voice is an opportunity to express oneself or creates an opportunity for others to be or to do something;

c) a voice expresses an insight on something;

d) a voice calls to action or seeks commitment to do something;

e) A voice has expectation or brings out expectation from others to achieve or see things happen.

A voice without one or more or all of these characteristics comes from a non-thinking person or from a disoriented mind. Have you wasted much of your voice? Whose voice do you constantly listen to?

The world brings out the following voices:

a) The voice of the proud self. You are the ultimate power in life. You are the center of the universe and the future depends on you. You are first, and God comes next, that is, if you do not eliminate God in your life.

b) The voice of wealth, security and contentment. Whatever you do or have should make you secure and content now and in the future. Let others take care of themselves. If you don’t accumulate wealth today and work for your security, you and your family will suffer in the future, especially in old age.

c) The voice of technology, power, fame. The more you know the more powerful you are; the more you have power the more famous you are; the more famous you are the higher you stand on your pedestal.

Our Liturgy today brings us the following voices and tries to transfigure us:

a) The voice of conscience and of faith. God is the center of our life, and our neighbor is the reference of our faith. We are an instrument for the good of the world. We need a formed conscience so that our faith will have meaning and effect in us and in others, for “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Ja 2:17).

b) The voice of the needy and of hope. As the center of the universe is our neighbor, at the end of time, God will only ask what we did or what we did not do to our neighbors (Mt 25:40 & 45). Our neighbor and our relationship with him are our hope for eternal life.

c) The voice of relationships and of love. A fulfilled life depends on loving relationships. Technology alone cannot save because it crashes; power alone cannot save because it corrupts; fame alone cannot save because it fades. St. Peter tells us:

be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1Pt 3:8-9).

Only in a relationship where God is present and adored, can we be saved, because He is the source and direction of our life.

After having received a son in old age, Abraham would have to kill and offer his only son. Abraham would not only have lost a son, and according to the law, he would also have to leave all his property to his servant. Had God allowed Abraham to kill and offer Isaac, his son, God would have aborted His promise that Abraham would have children as many as the stars in the sky. But Abraham was faithful and obedient to God, whom he knew was a faithful and loving God; and Abraham was greatly blessed.

The season of Lent invites us to listen to Him more at all times. Let the Eucharist transfigure us into the life of Jesus, the Beloved of the Father, as we seek Him in the Scriptures, in our relationships, in creation, in the needy and in our formed conscience. Let the loving VOICE of our Good Shepherd lead us to the Father now and through eternity, as we hear His words resounding in our lives:

This is my Beloved Son. Listen to Him (Mk 9:7).

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The Time of Fulfillment

First Sunday of Lent (B)

The story of Noah’s Ark is one of the popular stories in the Bible regarding God’s intervention in human history. Generally, though, we focus our attention on the ark that Noah built and how it floated on water for 40 days. However, the story is not particularly about the ark. It is one of the stories of God’s merciful intervention in the life of people who were faithful to Him and God’s punishment on the people who were unfaithful to Him.

Noah, upon God’s instruction, built the ark, so that his family and all the animals that would go in the ark would be saved from destruction. And God created the heart of man, so that in love man can take into his heart God Himself and all that God created. Noah built a huge ark so that God’s creation would not be exterminated. God built man’s heart with great capacity to contain Him and His creation so that God’s life would be recognized in this world and peace may reign. God’s intervention in human history always fulfilled and will always fulfill His plan: man’s salvation.

At the start of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment.” Fulfillment can mean completion. This is significant for us because we can see the eternal God working in time; eternity has invaded the world. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote,

when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (4:4-7).

It was time for God to fulfill His promise of a Redeemer, not of a temporal nature only, like the previous kings and leaders of Israel, but also of a spiritual and eternal nature, for the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of life in a fallen world.

In Aesop’s Fables, “a man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it. Then, they thought, they could obtain the whole store of precious metal at once; however, upon cutting the goose open, they found its innards to be like that of any other goose.”

When man lives by greed, he wants everything for himself. He is not satisfied with what he has; he takes advantage of his neighbor and abuses what he has. Even the Pharisees and the enemies of Jesus were not satisfied with what they had and with what they knew that they had to abuse the little ones to build their own reputation.

Fulfillment also means satisfaction. When we go to a spring of water to drink, we quench our thirst, but we do not exhaust the spring. When we bathe in waterfalls or just enjoy the sight of it, we do not empty or exhaust the source. Yet we are satisfied and feel refreshed. God is the spring and source of all graces and virtues. He does not only give us graces, but he gives us His Son; He gives us Himself. Yet He is not consumed or exhausted, for He is the spring of living waters welling up to eternal life.

Lent is a season given to us by the Church to reform our lives and renew our relationship with God. In the English language, lent, as a descriptive adjective, can mean something that someone allowed us to use; as a verb, it means that someone had the capacity to allow us to use something. Our life is a gift. Our faith is a gift. The promise of inheriting the Kingdom of heaven is a gift to us. We must be grateful to our Master by obeying His commands and by living a life of holiness worthy of God. This world is lent to us so that we can prepare for the real home prepared for us by our Father.

We are now invited in this special season of Lent to “repent and believe in the Gospel,” to move over from our present condition of sinfulness to the holiness of God, and to trust that Jesus in His Words and in the Eucharist can really lead us to the Father. Let us fervently listen to Him everyday and ardently receive Him in the Eucharist with forgiven hearts worthy of the Father.

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No Discouraging Word

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

There is a very old song that I thought was very American (USA), but as I reviewed it, it is also very human. The title of the song is “Home on the Range,” and goes like this: Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, Where the deer and the antelope play, Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the sky is not cloudy all day [(Brewster Higley, 1876; Music: Daniel E. Kelly), (John A. Lomax (1910) ….And the skies are not cloudy all day.)]

A person can ruin his family and community when:

a) He thinks that everyone is no good for him or thinks that he is not good enough for anyone. He thinks that he has no good qualities and no potential. So, he looks for places where people do not know him and hopes not to hear a discouraging word.

b) Every word that he says and hears is defective and discouraging. So every situation is gloomy, and the sky is always cloudy all day.

c) He lies, cheats, and manipulates events and other people just to bring out a good image of himself. Having a good self-image does not necessarily mean that a person is honest or faithful to his family and the community. It can also mean that he is hiding his defects to avoid other people’s scrutiny.

What can you do?

a) Count your blessings. There’s only one “you,” one “me” and one “us” in the world. You cannot be duplicated, nor can anyone else duplicate families and communities. People are not like the plants or the animals or the fishes. Just as no fingerprints are the same, each one is one of a kind. You are God’s masterpiece. Thank the Lord and Creator for what you are and for all the gifts that you have. To discourage anyone or to say anything offensive to anyone is judging badly the Creator and Master of the world. In our second reading today, St. Paul says,

whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God (1Cor 10:31-32).

 b) Decide to say only encouraging words that bring hope, and that you see every situation as opportunity to learn and to grow in community. Remove any tendency that brings discouragement. Words can encourage, but they can also break persons and make a long list of dishonest and bitter citizens. So, if you have nothing good to say to your neighbor, don’t open your mouth. You will save a lot of friends. They are your treasure. St. Paul exhorts us:

encourage one another and build one another up…. respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you…. Be at peace among yourselves…. admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all…. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all (1 Thes 5:11-15).

 c) In humility share your blessings with others. Recognize your blessings, and be honest about them. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul says,

Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance (3:23-24).

So, read the Bible, and let it talk to you, for it carries only encouraging words. Pray, for it works. Be open to your community and to the Church, for it brings joy and encouragement.

Despite our littleness and our sinfulness, Jesus extends His hands to us and touches us. When we open ourselves to Him, especially in the Eucharist, we learn to love His Words, we learn to avoid discouraging words and we give hope to His people. We don’t have to sell our house to find a home on the range or to find kinder hearts somewhere, because people will come and build their homes beside ours, where no discouraging word is heard, and the sky is not cloudy all day, for we are the Temples of God.

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