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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Soar High

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

I believe all of us have somehow experienced having privileges in relationship, in work, in the office or at least in the family. One of the meanings that the dictionary gives us for the word privilege is that it is “a special treat or honor.” Usually we are proud of being treated with some privilege because it is “an advantage, a right or benefit that is not available to everyone.”

On the other hand, I also believe that at some time we have felt some sense of obligation to return a favor that comes from a sense of indebtedness to a person, family, or institution. In other words it is “the state of being under a debt, as of gratitude, for a favor, service, or benefit.”

St. Paul had a unique experience of being called by the Lord. On his way to persecute the Christians of Damascus, Paul was met by the Lord Jesus and was called to become a preacher of the Gospel and be the Apostle to the Gentiles. For this, he was gratefully indebted to the Lord. He saw his ministry of preaching the Gospel as an obligation and a privilege; an obligation, because the Gospel is life for the Children of God and he was saved from damnation; a privilege, because he was particularly called to be an apostle and to preach the Gospel to the whole world, especially to the gentiles.

Moreover, Paul saw his ministry of preaching the Gospel not only as an obligation and privilege, but also as a stewardship. Stewardship begins and ends with the understanding of God’s ownership of all. The Psalm proclaims,

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (24:1).

While stewardship can refer to our care and development of the world we live in and our obligation to be responsible for the development and support of the Church for her apostolate and ministries, it also refers to the use and development of our God-given talents, virtues and responsibilities for the good of our families and communities. In our 2nd reading today St. Paul tells us:

If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel (1Cor 9:17-18)…. and woe to me if I do not preach it! (1Cor 9: 16).

There was a boy who put an eagle egg with the eggs of a chicken until all eggs hatched. The eaglet grew with the chickens but did not know he was an eagle. One day the eagle felt some power within himself and felt that he did not really belong to the group of chicken. Then he saw an eagle flying above. He felt he could fly; and with success he was able to fly to the mountains.

We all have a power within ourselves, the power of soaring high in this world, the power to become children of God. Do we recognize that power given to us at baptism? Do we develop that power within us so that the Giver of life will not be disappointed? Do we dedicate that power to Him who can strengthen us more?

St. Paul encourages us to recognize the power of the Word of God in ourselves. The Word of God helps us to recognize and develop all the potential that we have to be real apostles of the Gospel: a) with our words, so that we can lead others to the Lord; b) with our actions and in our relationships, so that we can proclaim that God is present in our lives; c) with our hope, so that we can make this world a happy and lively place to live in and anticipate the second life without fear. In the Gospel Jesus gives us a clear example that prayer leads us to recognize and develop that power within ourselves, so that our relationships and ministry will be full of life.

The Eucharist is the food that gives us the power to live in faith, hope and love for the Lord. As we do not belong to this world but are citizens of Heaven, let us joyfully soar high and live as worthy children of God and heirs of His Kingdom.

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Dying to . . .

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

A person wrote, “When I was a small boy, I was dying to finish high school and go to college. When I was in college I was dying to graduate and work. When I was working I was dying to get married and have children. Then I was dying to retire. Now that I am dying, I remember, I forgot to live.”

We’re always dying to do something. But when we’re actually dying, we realize that we cannot do anything more that we had been dying to do. St. Paul says,

I should like you to be free of anxieties…. not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction (1 Cor 7:32-35).

What St. Paul is referring to can also refer to anyone today who gets married deeply and many times to his work, his acquaintances, his property, or his favorite vices, to the detriment of his family and his spiritual life. We have not allowed God to work through us, for we forgot that there are many things that He can accomplish through us rather than we can accomplish through our own efforts. Yet we pray daily: “….Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The devil is also dying to beat us in the following and in many other ways:

a) In our laziness. Idle minds are the favorite playground of the devil. Lazy people are easy prey to the devil’s means to lead them away from the ways of God.

b) In loose families. A loose family doesn’t care much about growth in love and in spiritual life, as long as everyone survives. They usually are more concerned about their livelihood, accumulation of property, and convenience. The devil is an expert in presenting that accumulation of material things is very necessary to life, and he starts to work in breaking up the family that also leads to the breakdown of communities and nations.

c) In our lies. The devil is the master of deceit. He is even better with half truths. People who do not form themselves in the truth, or who do not earnestly seek the whole truth are very vulnerable targets of the work of the devil in bringing chaos and misunderstanding in families and communities.

How do we work against the devil?

a) Don’t settle for the mediocre or for an idle moment. Pray. Read the Scriptures or any valuable book. Work conscientiously. Don’t waste your precious time in gossip and useless media materials. Learn to listen actively to people who are more knowledgeable and wiser than you are, and visit people who are weak and suffering. God will not abandon you.

b) Be faithful to your family. It’s the only and best family that you can have and love intimately. If you think that grass is greener on the other side of your fence, then you have not worked on your lawn. So love your family. Pray with your family to Jesus as your daily Guest and Provider, and to Mary as your Mother and Protector. Jesus and Mary will never put you down.

c) Always seek and face the truth. The devil, who is the master of lies, hates Jesus, who is the Truth. Jesus shows us the truth, Himself. To seek the truth we need to have the humility to learn, to listen and to follow Jesus. With truth and real humility, the devil is defenseless. So speak only what is useful to your family and your neighbor, do what is right and forgive the faults of others. Do not carry the heavy burden of defending what is not true and what you have not verified. The devil will put you down, but Jesus, the Truth, will always lift you up.

The Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation are very clear examples of the power of Jesus to drive out the evil spirits in us, in our families and in our communities. They make us humble with the humility of Christ. So be humble in accepting Jesus in the Sacraments, for He came to destroy evil and bring us back to the Father. With Mother Mary on our side, let us be firm in our faith and hope in Jesus as the protector of our families and our way to peace. Our responsorial psalm today should resound to us daily:

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Ps 95).

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Conversion

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

What is conversion? If you want to convert your US dollar to Euro, you have to count. If you want to convert a right hand drive vehicle to left hand drive, you have to measure. If you want to instantly convert a car into an airplane, if you got the facility, you have to push buttons.

How about conversion of hearts? We do not count or measure distance or push buttons. We need to listen to the call of Jesus to repent, to believe the Gospel and to follow Him.

To repent is to turn around and to abandon sinful ways and tendencies, to change one’s mind in pursuing harmful relationships and to seek ways to amend the wrong done to another person or to creation. True repentance does not only mean being sorry for the consequences of sin, but hating sin itself. Sin, no matter how small, is still a sin, and carries the punishment of alienation from God. A person who listens to the call of Jesus and repents has to hate sin, amend his ways and seek ways to love God and His ways in loving people and the Church. There is no middle ground between sin and holiness. It’s either God or the devil.

However, God is merciful. He calls us to believe in the Gospel, to have the conviction that Jesus can really save us and lead us to the Father. To believe in the Gospel of Jesus is to avoid what is wrong and to do good to our neighbor, and to reflect the life of Jesus in our life.

We notice that conversion is both a call and a response. God’s call demands a response. When God called the Israelites out of Egypt, He demanded full response from them: to obey Him, to trust in Him and to worship Him, and Him alone. When they broke this relationship, God punished them, at times with instant death. But when they repented, God brought them back to His love.

Besides the call of Jesus to repent and to believe in the Gospel, He calls us to follow Him. To follow Him is to walk in His ways, to proclaim Him as our God and King and to trust in what He offers: peace on earth to people of good will and eternal life to all who remain faithful. And when everything seems to fail and to be hopeless, he calls, “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

To be with Jesus:

a) Pray, and pray with gratitude in your heart. Do not come to prayer with bitterness or anger or selfishness in your heart, for it is not worthy of the loving God, and He is slow to anger and full of mercy and compassion (Ps 103: 8). Many times we experience disappointment and frustration in prayer because we carry anger, bitterness and jealousy, or we are not really ready to listen to the Lord. All we want to do is tell Him what we want Him to do for us or how we want things to happen. Remember: He is greater than anything else in this world.

b) Be faithful to His commandments. Obedience is the way to holiness. There is no other reason why we cannot follow Jesus and learn from Him, for He is the way, the truth and the life.

c) Receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The sacraments are the greatest gifts that Jesus has given us, so that we can be nourished and be strengthened on our way to the Father.

d) Have concern for and help the needy, the weak and the suffering. At judgment day, Jesus will say,

 whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…. what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me (Mt 25: 40 & 45).

Service is a duty of each one of us that brings fulfillment and joy not only to oneself but most especially to the community.

In this Eucharist, we celebrate life, hope and love. Repent, believe in the Gospel, and follow Jesus, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

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Where Do You Live?

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

John, the Baptist, proclaimed: Behold, the Lamb of God. These are the very words we proclaim before we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. The two disciples of John felt the power of these words, and they left John and followed Jesus. Can we leave the things that we cling to, like our complacency, caprices, our sinful tendencies, arrogance, pride, or even the fashion of the day, just to follow Jesus? Or do we cling to them despite our understanding of the importance of Jesus in our life? The disciples of John asked Jesus: Teacher, where do you live? In the Gospel of John,

Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14: 5-6).

The subsequent verses of the same chapter may give us more light to our search for Jesus in His works and in His words. Jesus says,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him”…. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him (Jn 14: 15-23).

So, whoever seeks Jesus finds Him and Jesus lives in him. To be with Jesus is no longer a matter of being with Him in a place, but of obedience, of oneness with His Church and of opting for life.

Jesus is always the first to invite us to be with Him; and we will see Him and His glory because He shows Himself to us as He opens our eyes with His healing touch. Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas message (December 2007) that heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. When we find Jesus or Jesus finds us, He now lives in our hearts not just for a day, unless we turn our backs again on Him because of sin, but all the days of our life. St. Paul would say that whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him (1Cor 6: 17).

The immorality that Paul is referring to in our reading today is not only about the sins of sexual abuse and promiscuity, but encompasses many things, like divorce, abortion, pornography, euthanasia, artificial contraception, immodesty in dress and speech, excessive marking and piercing of the body, use and abuse of prohibited drugs and alcohol, and many others that ignore the presence of God and disregard the body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. These sins are a manifestation of the paganism of our time. Christian life is not just about avoiding sin. Christian life is a relationship with the Word of God who became man. He does not ask for only the minimum. God gave us the Ten Commandments so that we can avoid what is wrong and be free to worship Him. Jesus also commanded us to love others as we love ourselves, so that we just do not avoid what is wrong, but also do good to our neighbor. We are no longer our own property, for we have already been purchased at a price. Therefore we have to glorify God in our body (1Cor 6: 20), by retracing the paths of Jesus in the following and in many others:

– Take care of our health properly, dress up simply and take care of our hygiene.

– Exercise the virtues of chastity and of modesty in speech, in action and in dress.

– Exercise the virtue of industry and obedience so that we do not fall into laziness and become the playground of the devil.

– Serve the poor, the sick and the needy, so that we can be one with them in their suffering and in the suffering of Christ.

– Choose to become honest and law-abiding citizens so that God will always be made manifest in whatever we do.

The Eucharist that we celebrate, then, will not just be a ceremony, but a celebration and life. As we receive the Eucharist, let us approach the Lamb of God with the humility of Samuel, and say: Here I am, Lord. Speak, for your servant is listening. Then we will grow in the wisdom of listening to God, so that every word that comes out of our mouth and every action that emanates from our body will not be without effect for the glory of God and the good of His people.

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Change Your Conduct

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (B)

The voice of the Father at the baptism of Jesus confirms that He is God’s beloved Son in whom God is well pleased. While at Christmas God came to us as a fragile baby, at the scene of the Baptism of Jesus, He comes to us as a man so that we can face ourselves as adults and mature Christians, and decide to follow Him.

After His Baptism, Jesus was led to the desert and fasted for 40 days (Mk 1: 12-13) to prepare for His ministry. Immediately after that, He came to Galilee to proclaim the Gospel:

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk 1: 15).

It was at this time that He called His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1: 17).

Baptism carries several effects for us: a) it takes away original sin and sins that may have been committed; b) it incorporates us into the Body of Christ, the Church; c) it makes us Temples of the Holy Spirit; d) it makes us disciples of Jesus, the head of His Body, the Church; and e) it gives us a seal to God’s friendship and to eternal life. Our catechism teaches us that

Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…. We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship (CCC 1216).

The Baptism of Jesus is an act of love. For John, the evangelist, love is associated with obedience. Without obedience in any relationship, love is just a word that is said and disappears in the air. For John, in our second reading today, (a) love is obeying God’s commandments, and “His commandments are not burdensome” (1Jn 5: 3); (b) Love of God is to love His Son; (c) Love of God is to love His children that He has begotten. John proclaimed that if one says he loves God but hates his neighbor, he is a liar. As obedience is associated to the greatest of virtues, which is love, obedience then may be difficult but the most important to a Christian.

Alexander the Great, one of the most remarkable military leaders who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with a relatively small army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the camp. He came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – a serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death: the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it. The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier. “Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice. “Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded Alexander the Great. “Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?” “My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier repeated. A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is our name?” A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct” (Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, books.google.com).

At baptism, we become children of God and are called Christians. We need to be obedient to Him. Thus, we also need to change our conduct. The Eucharist fills us, strengthens us and gives us the direction to be faithful disciples of Jesus, and the first reading rightly proclaims, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life” (Is 55: 3).

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