The Way To Peace

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

In this world of competition people always talk about winning: being and doing better than the other; about their own glory: ecstatic that everyone talks about how good they are and that they are looked up to. They want to talk about their power: making things happen the way they want them to happen and how people follow or imitate them. They love to talk about what they know and boast about the places they’ve seen. But St. James says, the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace” (Jas 3:17-18).

Because there is no peace in us we justify ourselves even to our enjoyment:

    – When we eat too much, we say that we are just very hungry.

    – When we buy an expensive car, we say that it’s a necessity.

    – When we answer back our parents, we say they’re unfair.

    – When we show disrespect or shout at a neighbor, we say that he

        needs a jolt.

    – When we talk against a person, we say that it’s true and that he

        doesn’t hear it anyway.

     – When we fall asleep in prayer or easily get distracted, or when we  skip mass on a                    Sunday, we say that we were too tired and have been working hard.

    – When we spend so much time before a television, we say the show is

        nice and good for relaxation.

   – When we cannot visit a sick relative or friend, we say “we’re busy or

        his house is too far.”

    – When couples fall out of fidelity in marriage, they say “it’s normal” or

        “it just happened.”

   – When a married person is confronted that he/she has not told his/her spouse “I love            you,” for a long time, he/she says, “he/she knows that already.”

   – When we sin, we say, “everybody does it” or “we’re just human.”

    – When we fall or fail, we blame somebody else.

We presume too much. And it is in these little things that turmoil within ourselves and misunderstanding in the family and community start. We cannot look at ourselves in front of a mirror. We look for things, events and people to blame for our weaknesses and failures. But there is no justification for any excess, disrespect, indifference, lethargy, infidelity or disregard of time for God. We are mere servants, and we have to do what we have to do. We fully know that transgression against man and creation is transgression against God. St. James says: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice…. Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?  You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:1-3).

The disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. They could not understand that He would die and rise again on the third day. They could only talk about what they thought was important among themselves. They did not understand that for Jesus suffering would be their strength and His death would be their life and salvation. For Jesus, obedience to the Father was His way to set His people free, free from the slavery of oppression, of vices and of sin.

The way to wisdom and peace is to understand what Jesus is saying: a) to wage war against our own passions that stir trouble in our hearts, in our families and in our communities; and b) to seek the ways of Jesus, the way of humility and suffering, with full trust in God and confidence in His people, genuinely seeking the common good. This is God’s glory.

The Eucharist we celebrate is our strength in this world that offers only fleeting glory and momentary pleasures. The Eucharist is our life and our way to the fullness of the love of God and the joy of being able to serve as Jesus served.

Let us then renew our commitment to follow Jesus in prayer, in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, in our daily responsibilities and relationships, and especially in responding to the cry of the needy.

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Called To Be Faithful

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Man cannot be defined solely and simply according to his physical and temporal qualities simply because they are visible, but particularly and especially according to his origin, his purpose and his destiny. He is not merely a being of flesh and blood, but of spirit, intellect and will as well. In this sense, we learn from our readings today the following:

1. God opens man’s ears (1st reading) so that man may listen to Him, and man is also given the gift of speech that in gratitude he may proclaim the greatness of his creator. Deviation from this purpose and plan of God is abuse and rebellion against Him, the Creator.

2. Man is a created being who suffers, not to be defeated and die, but to mold his personality in fortitude and patience, and so be strong despite his weakness and conquer evil with the strength of Christ, who suffered and died for the salvation to all. Thus, suffering does not have to be a lonely and cruel consequence of man’s actions, but a human experience with others who are also suffering in many different ways and an experience with the whole Church whose head is Christ Himself who suffered and died to give life to all.

3. At all times God is the help of man in whom God always manifests His presence. God is man’s rock of salvation and light in darkness. God is the Shepherd who leads man, the sheep, to green pastures and heals man’s wounds that this world inflicts. God is man’s hope, for without hope man sinks into depression amid the world’s harsh and cruel situations.

The person and the Christian in man cannot walk different ways, and when it does, as many times it does, it causes problems in life. That is why in society we have the greedy (people) who simply satisfy themselves without regard for others. We have people who rob and kill to eliminate those who inconvenience them and who believe they have the right to have what they impulsively like. We have the proud and the arrogant who think they are better than others, and belittle them. We have those who do not respect the life and property of others, especially of the weak and the voiceless, people who hoard wealth without regard if what they do is moral or not, people who hide the truth to avoid reproach and for the sake of convenience. We have couples who cheat on each other for the sake of pleasure and adventure. We have people who drown themselves in prohibited substances and alcohol to run away from responsibilities and problems. We have businessmen who care only about steep profits and fancy properties, but care less about the importance of relationships and the family. And there are those who care less about the dignity of work, and so become a problem to society, and live indolently with disposables, including morality and the reality of God’s presence.

In Jesus we see man in perfection. He carried out His mission by constantly listening to God, by making His suffering the way of salvation for all, by making His presence the sign of God’s infinite love for all. In the face of death, Jesus continued to trust in God who assisted Him in the time of trial and made Him rise from the dead. In His teachings He always proclaimed the truth even if He had to face torture and death. In Jesus we see a consistency of His faith and His deeds.

We are called not only to be consistent, and God knows that we always fail and fall, but most especially to be faithful to Jesus, who was made perfect through suffering and who does not fail to assist anyone who approaches Him in his need. God’s call to fidelity is our way to holiness.

We listen to Jesus in Holy Scriptures and in the celebration of the Sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation for we seek God’s mercy and healing, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, because His Word is His work for our joy and for our salvation. We find Jesus in our families and in the Church, for He is the manifestation of the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as well as the reason and vision for the life of the Church and our community. We find Jesus in our respect for life, in our search for truth and in our expressions of love, for He is life, he is the truth and our way to the Father. We make alive the presence of Jesus in our responsibilities and in our relationships, for He is the reason for who we are and what we do. With Peter we proclaim, “You are the Christ.”

Let us be faithful to our families and conscientious of our responsibilities, and the Lord will be our ever faithful Companion. Let every action of ours be an expression of our faith and hope in Him for He is the Christ.

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Encounter With The Healer

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Ancient Egypt, represented particularly by its pyramids and the mummies, became a symbol of self-preservation. It was not surprising that at the beginning of their reign, the pharaohs started to plan their pyramids, on the belief that after death, their spirits would remain in their bodies in preparation for another life. They spent so much of their national treasure to design and build pyramids according to their plans, at the expense of the life of the citizens and development of the nation. The pharaohs have been compared to many world leaders who have sought to prioritize their self-preservation and of their families to remain in power so as to keep up with wealth and fame. Thus, they failed to allow their country to develop progressively and their citizens to prosper fully.

The Scribes and the Pharisees were, as they claim, a breed of educated people, who wanted to preserve to the letter the traditions of their forefathers, sacrificing the understanding of the Spirit of the law. The Scribes and Pharisees could not stand change; they could not stand Jesus. They stopped growing; they also stopped others from growing.

Jesus ministered in this oppressive situation. Many people followed Him though because they saw in Him the Messiah and because He taught them as one with authority, unlike the Pharisees.

Today in the Gospel we recognize several significant actions that Jesus did as He faced the dumb and mute:

  1. Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Jesus was prudent enough not to put up a scene, and He personally dealt with the situation. Jesus wants us to be personally associated with Him and to be with Him always. He wants us to be healed of our attachment to the busy crowd and to be uprooted from the busy world that takes us away from God. He wants us to be separated from the commotion of this world that glorifies our own achievements. God wants salvation to work in us and through us.
  1. “He put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, He touched his tongue…. and said to him, ‘Be opened!’” Jesus wants us to be aware that God’s hand is always working in us. At baptism, through the hands of the priest, God opens our senses to His life so that in whatever we do we give praise to Him. Baptism leads us to involvement in the Church so that others can also praise God, obey His commands and follow Him.
  1. Jesus “ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” This is pure joy. With the man’s encounter with Jesus, he received the gift and capacity of speech. For the man it was a capacity that he could not keep to himself. He had to thank and praise God. Only for the glory of God and for the good of His people can we use our capacity of speech responsibly. When we use this capacity for selfish interests, we abuse God’s gift meant to praise Him and to be used only for the good of His people.

We ourselves fall into the situation of self-preservation that oppresses others when we are:

  • proud of our achievements,
  • envious of others’ capabilities,
  • arrogant and judgmental of others’ weaknesses,
  • pretentious that we are better than others, and
  • indifferent to the plight of the needy and the voiceless,
  • and many others.

It is from this crowded and noisy road of our life that Jesus wants to take us out, and to heal us, so that we can give praise to Him affectively. Jesus wants us to encounter Him in our personal time of prayer and in the celebration of the Eucharist and Reconciliation and the other sacraments. He desires that we meet Him:

  • in our involvement with the needy,
  • in our care for the environment,
  • in the development of our talents,
  • in our responsibilities for our families and for the Church, and
  • in our efforts to grow in holiness.

He yearns for our encounter with Him by upholding the truth, by promoting the culture of life, by living up to our religious freedom, and by fostering wholesome relationships and entertainments.

Let us renew our hope in Jesus who can remove our deafness to His call and who can release our tongues to utter praises and thanks for all that He has done, for all that we are and all that we have, so that we can keep our friendship with Him and become heralds of His Word and His healing power.

God bless you, your families and your endeavors.

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True Worship Through Observance of Commandments

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The first reading tells us that the wisdom and intelligence of the Israelites would be made manifest only in their observance of the commandments of God. The proclamation by Moses also was the wisdom of God entrusted to His people so that they would live well in the land that God has given them and that the other nations would believe that the God of Israel was the true God. Thus the commandments of God are meant to be universal, unchangeable and eternal.

In the 2nd reading, St. James observes that religion does not consist only of our prayers or our preference to which church we go. Religion is the life that after our prayers and celebrations in Church, in gratitude we can do some practical service to the needy in terms of our time, talent and treasure.

Jesus, in the Gospel today, reprimands the Scribes and the Pharisees for their disregard of God’s commandments in favor of human tradition. Jesus declares that “from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mk 7:21-23).

Basically the following vices stain our hearts and our relationships:

  1. a) Pride, which makes a person forget that he is a creature and that God is his creator and his hope. Pride drives a person to seek dominance over another or to seek power for power’s sake;
  2. b) Lust, which is idolatry in itself, as it makes a person worship and desire another selfishly;
  3. c) Envy, which makes a person see the gifts and capacities of another as his lack and the other person’s gain. There is no gratitude for other’s situation and capacity.
  4. d) Greed, which makes a person acquire things that will only gratify himself. He is never satisfied with what he has, and therefore cannot be grateful enough. With ingratitude in his heart he is most likely to deceive others so that he can get what he wants.

In many US highways, we can see billboards that say, “adopt a highway,” but then America aborts babies. In many countries, they made abortion and artificial contraception legal, and also conveniently disregard unpopular promiscuous sexual behavior. Parents are upset when their children lie and cheat on small matters, but they don’t care about lying and cheating to their spouses, to their superiors and to their friends just to get what they want. People may not kill, but they don’t care about character assassination. We talk about big time environmental care, but we, personally, are not concerned about proper trash disposal; and many other inconsistent behaviors.

True and pure religion includes not only worshipping God in Church on Sundays, praying some novenas, following the 10 commandments of God or not doing what is bad. True religion, and being truly religious, also includes true worship from the heart, that is, being active in the Church, staying unstained by the sinful world, striving to grow in holiness for this is our calling, helping the needy and doing good to others. St. Peter tells us: “Become holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, after the likeness of the holy One who called you; remember, Scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1Pt 1:15-16).

God calls us to be authentic, genuine children. We cannot stay focused; we are mesmerized and caught up by commercials and advertisements, and by a life of consumerism. We are called to be involved in and to partake of the Body of Christ, our life and our food. St. James says, “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21). We share the meal that Jesus has prepared for us with our sins forgiven and hearts purified, so that we will be strengthened in our journey towards eternal life.

Let us make our life and that of our families the sign of the living wisdom and intelligence of God in this part of the world.

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Making Decisions Only For God

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

To be a human being is to make decisions regarding small and big things in life, and to make them always in relation to events, people, work, family, church and country. Making decisions make people distinct from other creatures. But people can make good or bad, right or wrong decisions, depending on their objectives in life, on who are involved and on their capacity to decide.

We always need to consider making responsible decisions. To make a decision is to leave something behind. If I decide to stay healthy, I have to quit smoking and give up uncontrolled drinking. If a married couple has to remain faithful to one another they have to give up the ways of a single state and unhealthy relationships. If I have to grow up spiritually I have to avoid ways that hinder me from being close to God. Likewise, to make a decision means to prefer something over the other: right over wrong, good over bad. Culture, education, formation and habits are factors that will determine a person’s capacity to make responsible decisions.

Making decisions permeate our readings today. At Shechem Joshua confronted the Israelites whether or not to serve the Lord. In faith, they proclaimed: “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods… For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He…protected us along our entire journey… Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God” (Jos 24:16-18).

When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other in marriage, they do so “in the Lord,” and in faith and hope in the power of God. They profess their decision to love each other for as long as they live, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. There is also a risk that this decision will be attacked as the years go by, but faith will keep that decision rooted in truth and in goodness, the immovable pillars against all attacks that the devil makes to destroy the family.

St. Paul did not only write this for husband and wife, but in relation to the Church, for each one of us, as we relate with one another. He said: “Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21). To be related and to be rooted in Jesus Christ is to be related and rooted in others, to be brothers and sisters. It is a decision that cannot be based on mere feelings, tastes, whims or personal convenience, but on our faith and on our total confidence in the faithfulness and power of God. To be subordinate then to one another is to abandon pride, arrogance, jealousy and domineering attitude, and to maintain a humble spirit, to live in solidarity with others and to be open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

The Jews were scandalized with Jesus’ words “to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And many of them found His words intolerable and unacceptable that they returned to their former way of life and left Him. So Jesus confronted the twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67-68). The disciples of Jesus had to make their decision in faith, in hope and in love for Him.

To make our decision to follow Jesus, we have to leave behind our life of sin and to be reconciled with Him and with others. We have to leave behind our comfort zones and the complexities of life, so that we can participate and get involved in the activities of the church and understand the plight of the needy and be able to serve them. We also have to keep our minds and hearts focused and formed in truth and in goodness and in the understanding of the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His words may be hard but we can also proclaim with Peter: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).

As Jesus renews His commitment to love us in the Eucharist, let us also renew our promise of fidelity to Him, and let our decision to follow Him and to be with Him be a lifetime act of faith and confidence in His providential protection. Jesus does not fail those who are faithful to Him.

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Wisdom and the Bread of Life

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Today, we hear again about the Bread of Life: Jesus come down from heaven; Jesus, the wisdom of God, who invites us to His banquet so that we may acquire knowledge of Him; Jesus, the Son of the Father, who wants us to share his divine life; and the same Jesus, who is the glorious Lord to whom our Christian community sings psalms, hymns and inspired songs in thanksgiving for everything we have received.

In the first reading we learn the following practical things:

  1. God calls and invites all to a share of His wisdom. God’s wisdom is a gift that we have to make use of for the good of all. It is a gift that we have to develop, not to abuse for our personal benefit only. It is the gift for us that we may be able to make the right decisions in life to follow Him.
  1. God wants his people to be simple and to avoid the complexities of life. God’s simplicity emanates from His love for His people. The Israelites abused this love by complaining much and by worshipping the man-made gods of their neighboring nations. We also fall into this kind of idolatry and life of complexity when we give in to the demands of consumerism to satisfy our physical and temporal desires, when we glorify the human body through fleeting and immoral pleasures and when we take advantage of others, especially the weak and unknowledgeable, only to gain power and fame.
  1. God admonishes his people to forsake foolishness. The foolishness of the Israelites came from their presumption that Moses has fooled them and God has forgotten them. They lost focus of the reward awaiting them. We ourselves presume that life is long and that we have all the time for ourselves, so we can do what we want. Our lack of common sense lies in the fact that we are selfish and we think so much of ourselves. So we need to take a little time to contemplate on our origin and God’s plan for us.

St. Paul, in the second reading, shows us a few insights:

  1. Make the most of the opportunities of life given us. We say that opportunity comes only once. It may come another time. But it will not always be there all the time. The time given us by God is an opportunity to be with Him, to proclaim His presence and to do His will. Time wasted is opportunity wasted. So, St. Paul tells us: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity…. do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:15-17).
  1. St Paul admonishes us to know and understand the will of the Lord. Eradicate ignorance of the ways of God. Read and study the Bible. It is the Word of God. Listen to the Word of God in the celebration of the Eucharist. Don’t just sit or stand there and let time pass. Participate. Interiorize what you hear and be filled with Jesus Himself so that you can live accordingly.
  1. Always give thanks for everything in Jesus Christ. Be joyful in your hearts, for gratitude makes a person seek the good of others. It brings out joy and peace. It avoids violence and does not have a domineering attitude. Gratitude tries to understand others and seeks the blessing of God for others. St. Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit…. giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:18-20).

So, learn from Jesus in your visits to the Blessed Sacrament in your chosen time of the day, in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, in your service to the needy. In the morning before you do anything and in the spirit of gratitude, reflect on what you will do during the day, and thank the Lord in the evening for what He has done through us.

Without a spirit of gratitude we become proud of our achievements and will seek to manipulate plans and other people. Only with the Lord can we live a grateful and peaceful life.

Let us then commit ourselves again to Jesus, who was laid in a manger to be our Bread of Life, who instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood to continue filling us with Himself, and who suffered, died and rose from the dead to assure us of the reality of eternal life. Eternal life starts now.

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Fully Alive In Jesus

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The first reading today tells us of Elijah who ran away to the desert, not to commune with nature or to get away from the crowd, but to avoid the death threat of Queen Jezebel. He was at a loss before the queen. So he asked for death. But God intervened and kept him alive with the bread brought to him by an angel. That bread changed him from a fearful person to an obedient and courageous messenger of God’s commands. He became a person with the new will to live and the enthusiasm to spread and defend the faith in God.

Our Gospel today is a continuation of St. John’s discourse on the bread of life that we heard the past two Sundays. The Jews were so incredulous. They asked: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? …. how can He say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:42). In another passage, Jesus says that He has come into the world that we may have life and have it to the full. St. Irenaeus said: the glory of God is man fully alive.

Biologically, life is short. It starts from conception and ends at death. Many people who get rooted in the pleasures of this life find death a frightening moment. We can understand this if we look at it just like the Israelites who found life burdensome in the desert, picking up manna everyday to survive till they reached the Promised Land. And today many are in the same situation, not only because of emphasis on temporal needs but also of spiritual poverty or aridity in faith.

Jesus is the living Bread, who came down from heaven. He was the power of the early Christians who gathered each week to break bread.  Strengthened by this heavenly food, they spread the Good News of Jesus, led moral lives and suffered persecutions, and even martyrdom. With Jesus in the heart of man he can proclaim with Saint Paul, “it is no longer I that live, it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Life is not just mere survival. Jesus wants us to be fully alive. So He is offering Himself to us. Even after feeding the crowd, there were baskets leftover. To be a follower of Jesus is to share the Bread of Life now. Just as God invited the Israelites to leave slavery in Egypt, Jesus is inviting us to a basic exodus from the selfishness and indifference growing in our hearts. To love God and to be with Him and with His people is not based on feeling, but on our faith and decision to follow His commands. As St. Paul writes in the 2nd Reading: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice (Eph 4:31). Yes, life is too short to nurture bitterness, anger and envy. It is too short so we can be “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (cf. Eph 4:32).

Remember, Jesus is not a grocery or a department store. He is not an employment agency. He is not a complain box. He is God who offers us Himself and His Kingdom. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you….? So do not worry and say, What are we to eat? or…. drink?’ or What are we to wear?…. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:30-33). One problem is we think more of and do more for ourselves than we think of and pray to God. Another problem is that we seek and pray for our needs first. We seldom, if ever we do, pray first for the needs and condition of our neighbor. If selfishness and indifference reign in our hearts, we cannot and will not understand the gift of the Eucharist that leads to eternal life.

In the Eucharist we already share in the eternal life God has prepared for us even in this life: a life of humility and compassion, a life of growing in the knowledge and understanding of His commands and a life in celebration of His suffering, death and resurrection. The Eucharist brings us closer to God as it helps us gain more strength in the face of sin and the devil. But it is not an automatic effect. We have to release ourselves from our slavery to sin, from our lethargy to grow in spiritual life and from our indifference to the plight of the needy.

The Eucharist can transform us because devotion to it is to allow God to work in us and change us from our selfish and fearful selves to grateful and courageous Christians. Let us commit ourselves to grow in holiness, for this is the life that God wants us to live in order to be one with Him in His Kingdom now and through eternity.

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