The Star

Epiphany of the Lord

On the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord we see various characters we need to look into, the magi’s gifts we have to reflect on and our relationship with the Lord of our salvation:

1. The Magi and Herod. The magi from the East, when they saw the Star of the supposedly newborn King, travelled to Jerusalem in search of Him. They left their country to seek for someone greater. They allowed themselves to be led by that Star, until its light rested on the place of the One they were looking for. In humility, they prostrated themselves before the newborn baby in whom they recognized the power, the glory and the wisdom of the new King of the Jews and all people, and they laid down their gifts.

Herod was a king who did not want any opposition to his reign. When the magi arrived looking for the new King of the Jews, he was upset and he flared up in anger, and he looked for ways to eliminate the child, even trying to show kindness to the magi to use them for his own deceptive scheme. Herod in his selfishness and arrogance had to kill babies in that region to satisfy his anger and his desire to reign hopefully without fear of an opposing power.

2. The gifts. The magi offered gold, frankincense and myrrh. It was a custom that no one could approach a king without bringing a gift. So they offered gold, a gift fit for a king. The infant Jesus was to be reign as king, though not from a temporary throne but from the cross. They gave Him frankincense, a gift for a priest, to offer the prayers of the people. The baby Jesus was to be the Supreme High Priest, the mediator between God and His people. They offered him myrrh, a gift to someone who was to die, for his embalmment. The new born Jesus was to suffer and die for the salvation of all. Certainly the magi’s gifts were inspired by the One who led them to the Child Jesus through the Star. He was their Star.

3. Our relationship with Jesus. Who are we or what are we in relation to the Child Jesus? Are we the magi or Herod? When our decisions are opposed or our desires questioned, do we, like Herod, flare up and display our seeming superiority over others? Do we seek advice and help only from people who are on our side to reinforce our ego? Do we use other people to lead them into our deceptive schemes so that we can enrich ourselves and remain unopposed, thus remain on the throne of our selfishness, caprice and arrogance?

The magi did not stop looking for the Child even when the Star seemed to disappear in the sky. They looked for other ways; and they were led to Herod. They remained composed and eager. They listened to Herod; but obeyed the greater inner voice in their hearts, through a dream, that they should not take the same road back to Herod. Can we keep our calm when things don’t turn out the way we want them to? Can we calm our hearts so that we can listen to the inner voice talking to us for formed decisions? In our desire to be in control, many times we just keep going without seeking the guidance of the Supreme Being in our hearts. We tend to seek only the things that we want because they are attractive. So, how attractive is Jesus to us?

We all have the gold, the frankincense and the myrrh that we can offer to Jesus, in front of Mary and Joseph. To Jesus we can offer our talents and capabilities, the gold of our life. We can offer our adoration and worship of Him and prayers for others and for ourselves, the frankincense of our life. To our King we can offer our sorrows and the suffering of the world, the myrrh of our life. In humility, we can offer to God all our sins and the sins of the world through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, the King’s gift of healing and life to us, so that He can make us worthy of Him as our King.

Let us be a star that leads others to Jesus. We know that that star was always there. It never left the sky. We can be sure that our Star, Jesus, is always present. He never leaves us. Only when we become selfish and set our hearts on worldly things do we turn our backs on Him, so His light cannot shine on us. With Jesus, and through the intercession of Mary and Joseph, let us lead others to Him and allow them to offer the gift of themselves to Jesus.

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Courage and Resolve

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

New Year’s Day for many of us is a good time, at least a fashionable time, to make resolutions. Many resolve to exercise daily after all the food they have taken the past few days. Some resolve that they would be kinder to their families and to others. Others resolve to spend less because they spent so much already the past two months in preparation for Christmas. Still some resolve to take their medicines more religiously. And many others resolve to go to Church more faithfully. Are not these necessary?

Our experience, though, shows us that we are a people of flowery resolutions, at the same time we are also a people of unjustifiable postponements. We postpone many times our scheduled prayers because there are more attractive TV shows and movies. We postpone visiting sick relatives and friends because there are other exciting activities in town. We postpone saying “I love you” to the people who matter most in our life, or saying “I’m sorry” to the persons we have hurt for fear of not being accepted. We postpone helping the needy for fear of losing something we don’t like to give away. We postpone spending precious time with our families because of more pressing activities at work. We postpone receiving the sacraments because there are many more days ahead. We even postpone studying because we think we are still young and strong. We postpone many important things to do because of bashfulness, fear or pride.

Unnecessary postponement carries a judgment on ourselves that we have lost opportunities, time and energy. Of course, we do not disregard certain amount of fear in us when we have to do something, but the courage we need is also a gift from God. “Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” writes Dorothy Bernard.

Mary had fears. Joseph had fears. The shepherds were afraid. But they did not postpone their decision. They trusted in God’s providence and in His promise. And they were not disappointed. They had the courage to do what was asked of them because they had said their prayers.

We, too have fears: personal, economic, environmental, social, spiritual, and many others. What we should fear most of all is falling into the web of deception that we will fail in our endeavors, for the devil uses even our virtues, especially our fears. Postponing things that we have to do anyway or not doing them at all, only brings heavier remorse and a sense of waste of time and opportunity; and that is a heavy burden to carry.

If today we can resolve to do one little thing, like, avoiding harsh words, the day will be happier for everyone. If tomorrow we can resolve to act on important priorities and spend a little more time with the family, everyone will have a lighter day. If the next day we can resolve to eat healthy foods and do a little exercise for a certain amount of time, we will feel livelier. If the next day again we resolve to pray for 10 or 15 minutes a day, then our decisions will be guided by the Holy Spirit. If we just resolve daily to do some little good to somebody and show our good qualities, then we will reap the blessings of the past days and years lived in simple and attainable resolutions. Our families and our community will be peaceful, lively, and happy.

We can use Mary’s very powerful tool to come closer to Jesus: the Rosary. Amidst the distractions of life, the glittering things of the world and the cares of our hearts, we can get into the Heart of Mary by praying the Rosary. It is one of God’s favorite music. To those who pray the Rosary everyday Mother Mary promises that She will not abandon them in the present life and at the hour of their death. Their names will ever be written in Her loving Heart.

On this first day of the year, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, we listen to what she tells us: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). Having said our prayers, we gain the courage to do our responsibilities more faithfully, for we are no longer slaves but sons, and if a sons then also heirs of His Kingdom (Gal 4:7).

Pray, and pray for peace. Have courage to face a Blessed New Year.

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The Holy Family

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

This Feast of the Holy Family brings us many thoughts about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, about our own families and about families throughout the world.

1. The letter to the Hebrews describes to us how Abraham became the Father of our Faith and how he sustained his faith in God:

a) Not knowing what lies in the future, Abraham responded and obeyed God’s call, and he received his inheritance of the promise (Heb 11:8).

b) Despite his old age and Sarah’s sterility, Abraham received the power to generate for he believed that He who promised was trustworthy (Heb 11:11).

c) As a great act of faith Abraham was ready to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering for he thought that God would fulfill His promise of descendants for him, as God was capable of even raising the dead to life (Heb 11:17-19).

2. By faith Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, David and all the other prophets and leaders obeyed God to liberate His people not only from human oppressors but also from the deception of the devil. And

though approved because of their faith, (they) did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect (Heb 11:40).

Only through the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ are all redeemed and all promises fulfilled.

3. Joseph and Mary fulfilled their duties for Jesus in faith. In faith they accepted their responsibilities to be the parents of the Son of God. In faith they fled to Egypt to save Jesus from the wrath of Herod. In faith they looked for the boy Jesus in Jerusalem who they thought was lost. In faith they reared Jesus in the Jewish culture. In faith they had to accept the mission of Jesus, until His death on the cross. And their faith was rewarded.

4. We all live in faith, or rather, should be living in faith. We are born into a world where evil thrives. We live in families battered by worldly influence and disordered desires. Our relationships are influenced by technology that seems to disregard, or all together deny, the existence of God.

We, therefore, cannot but think and pray for the following:

– families living in the extreme side of suffering and oppression, because of poverty, wars and calamities;

– parents who carry in their wombs unwanted children;

– parents and individuals who abort their children or consent to abortion and live in a culture of death;

– parents and individuals who live promiscuous sexual lives and take advantage of others, especially the needy, and damage their families and the families of others;

– parents who badly desire to have children but are unable;

– parents who spend most of their time in work for money at the expense of love and their relationship with their families;

– children who are abused;

– youth and adults addicted to prohibited substances;

– mentally and emotionally disoriented persons due to lack or absence of love and care in their families; and many more. In these and many other situations, we need the help of the Holy family.

This feast of the Holy Family urges us to consecrate our families to Jesus, through Mary and Joseph, to be set apart from the world of sin and from the deception of the devil, to look up to the holy ones in heaven, and to be holy as God is holy. The Holy family always invites us to set aside times for silence in prayer and in adoration of God, to seek opportunities to serve others, to fill our relationships with hope, and to vest ourselves with courage to perform our responsibilities with joy and fear of the Lord. It is with joy that we celebrate the Eucharist and receive Jesus, just as it was with joy that Joseph and Mary had Jesus in their family.

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Contemplating Christmas

The Nativity of the Lord

The first Christmas, as Holy Scripture tells us, was around a manger, where Mary and Joseph laid the Child Jesus, contemplated and adored Him. There the Light, of whom Isaiah spoke, the light that has shone on the people who walked in darkness and in the valley of gloom, was born. This was also He whom John the Baptist gave testimony to, as the light of the world, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. For us Christmas has to be around Jesus, the Eucharist, around the people He loves, in our relationships and our responsibilities. Pope Benedict XVI would say:

Contemplating him in the manger, how can we not think of so many children who even today see the light from within a great poverty in many regions of the world? How can we not think of the newborns who are not welcomed and are rejected, of those who do not survive because of a lack of care and attention? How can we not think, too, of the families who desire the joy of a child and do not see this hope fulfilled? (On the Meaning and Value of Our Lives, Dec. 17, 2008).

How can we not also think of people in the Middle East who are persecuted because of their faith, or those who suffer discrimination elsewhere? How can we not think of people suffering from effects of calamities and disasters, suffering from cold and hunger? How can we not think of people suffering in prison and in situations of loneliness and alienation? How can we not think of husbands or wives who have to leave their families to find better jobs for their families far away from home?

The child Jesus that Mary laid in the manger would prefigure that He would be our food for eternal life; that in the simplicity of the manger Jesus would come to men in the simplicity of their hearts; and that in man’s sinful situation that brings death, Jesus would come to lift sinful man to His life.

Jesus Himself gives us the means to find Him. His examples of humility, sacrifice, honesty, integrity, kindness and all other virtues are our treasure map. He is always coming and at the same time present. It will be very frustrating to know that our treasure is just within reach, but we fail to find Him, because we have been worldly and materialistic, we have been self-seeking and proud, and we have not really sought Him and listened to Him.

Jesus comes to us, not in ways that we want to celebrate: decorations, food or noise. He comes to us in simplicity and quiet, in holiness and in love. He comes in our busy schedules so that we can stop and pray or help the needy. In our behaviors to become popular and fashionable, behaviors that are selfish and damaging to others, and behaviors that take advantage of the weak, He comes to us so that we can set our eyes on Him. He comes to us when we are tired, fed up or angry, and we need a little patience or we need to hold our tongue, so that we can learn from His humility. He comes to us when we are complacent, and He disturbs us so that we can realize that He was born in an uncomfortable situation, lived in an unwelcoming and uneasy culture, and died in a most cruel way for our sake. When we feel these disturbing situations, we know the Lord is near and wants us to see Him and to be with Him.

Christmas is God’s gift to us. Christmas is a divine celebration. Christmas is God’s grace, “saving us and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and…. to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people as His own, eager to do what is good (Ti 2: 11-14). Christmas is an opportunity to meditate on the meaning and value of our existence in relation with God and with others; for Christmas cannot be Christmas without Christ anyway.

Let us ask for the virtue of generosity that we may respond courageously to His Coming in every situation of life. Let us celebrate Christmas worthy of Jesus in lively faith, in joyful hope and in prayerful love for Him and His Church. With Joseph and Mary, we contemplate Jesus in our families and in our relationships. Above all, fear not for a savior is born for you (Lk 2:10-11).

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Eternity Invades Time

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

How wise is God? Is His wisdom measurable in tests? Should we rather ask: how wise are we when even in tests we fail and in life we crumble? What kind of wisdom do we possess?

1. Many people are so proud of what they know that when they say something they think it is the only right thing or the only right way to say it. When they see something nice in somebody or in some place, they should get something better. Whatever people have or whatever others say, they always have something better.

When God came into the world, He came into a place, into a human culture and learned the language of a people. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote,

though he was in the form of God, (He) did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (2: 6-8).

In the same passage, St. Paul continues, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).

When we come to a place, we need to learn and live the culture of the people living there. When we come into a friend’s house, we don’t just do what we like to do. We try to learn what the family does. When we come to God, we need to learn God’s culture, the culture of life and holiness. We need to obey His commands. We need to seek Him, and only Him, in all things and in all peoples. Then, we will never be wanting. As the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23: 1).

2. When God created man in His image and likeness, eternity invaded time. God came into a world of time. And in time, because of man’s sinfulness, man had to be redeemed. So God became man.

Amazing! And so we ask: what in the world is God doing? There’s only one reason, and the reason is on the side of God. St. John tells us the reason:

For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (3: 17).

And this is what St. Paul is telling us today:

To him who can strengthen you…. according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings…. to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever” (Rom 16: 25-27).

3. Our salvation will only be based on obedience to the Word of God, Jesus. It is not obedience because of absolute submission or because we don’t have free will; in fact, we were created with intellect and free will. This obedience will only have its saving effect when done in a relationship of love. Outside this relationship of love, it becomes abusive, selfish and senseless. Jesus said to His disciples:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete (Jn 15: 9-11).

Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Because He loves us. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15: 13).

4. Life is not an easy situation, but never too difficult in Jesus. So we come to the Eucharist: to be nourished, to be strengthened, and to be loved, so that we can also love and strengthen our families and our community. To the faithful, the Angel will also proclaim: “Do not be afraid…. for you have found favor with God” (Lk 1: 30).

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Rejoice And Be Grateful

Third Sunday of Advent (B)

On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, has beautiful statements for us:

 1. “Rejoice always” (1Thes 5:16). People who celebrate Christmas in the Spirit of the Incarnation of God cannot but rejoice because the time of peace and reconciliation has come, and the promise of salvation is fulfilled. People of the Resurrection cannot but rejoice because Jesus has risen from the dead and death is overcome. He buried all the sins of men and brought light to the world’s darkness due to sin. Human endeavors have gained new meaning and direction, and all men will rise with Him at the end of time. People who celebrate Pentecost cannot but rejoice because the Holy Spirit links again God’s Spirit with man’s spirit, and man’s spirit with his neighbor’s, so that man can be one with God again.

One miserable situation is that man is so addicted to what he does and is so content with what he has that he cannot rejoice in what others do, in what others have and in what others are. He does what he wills at the expense of others, hoping to be happy. So he remains in his favorite sins, also goes to church, meets other people and says he is happy. How can a person in his sinful ways rejoice in the Lord? And how can a person in his evil ways expect the help of the Lord?

 2. “Pray without ceasing” (1Thes 5:17). God wants us to be one with Him at all times. To be connected with Him is an opportunity to pray always, in whatever we do, in whatever situation we are. One miserable situation is that man today is so addicted to television and other electronic gadgets that he consumes his time in them, and makes other times suffer, especially the time for prayer and other interactive activities with his family and his community.

Many of the things that the world has to offer lead to insufficiency and emptiness. When we pray we become a people of hope. Every family is a little church. If the family doesn’t pray, it will always feel the insufficiency and emptiness of the world. “The family that prays together stays together,” and stays together in hope. Our Church is of divine origin. That is why we pray as an assembly, so that we will have life, a life of hope. The liturgies of the Catholic Church, especially the Liturgy of the Eucharist, are the heart of the Church. If we do not pray as a Church, nor celebrate the Eucharist, nor the Sacraments, we will remain just a temporal institution, and will not last. We pray, so we have hope.

 3. “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thes 5:18). Thankfulness is the joyful appreciation of a good thing or good act received. Man has received everything. There is nothing that man has not received. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7).

Gratitude makes us other-centered, and psychologically sound. To be grateful is to be socially and emotionally healthy persons. Gratitude improves our relationship with others and with God. We gain strength from our own gratitude and from the gratitude of others. If we see everything as gift, we will always have something to be grateful for. Thus, our relationships will have more energy and liveliness.

John the Baptist is a great example of a grateful person. He did not claim what others thought he was. He just said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord” (Jn 1:23)…. the One who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1: 27). John, the voice, gave way to the Word, the Savior of the world. John was happy and grateful to be a mere instrument to prepare the way of the Lord.

As we receive the Eucharist, let us promise to be grateful instruments of God to point Jesus to others. Let this Advent season, then, urge us to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing and in all circumstances to give thanks to God for our hope in His Word.

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Time in the Kingdom

Second Sunday of Advent (B)

Do we treasure time? How do we manage our time? Should time be taken away from us, what would happen to us? It’s probably the same as asking the question: if breath is taken away from us, what will happen to us?

We were born in time, we live in time, and we will die in time. Is time really important? Does time belong to us? If so, fine. If not, why is it that some think time is all theirs? Why is it that some make others suffer because they are not concerned about time? Why is it that people think time is so important for them, but disregard the importance of time for others? We know full well that time lost is lost forever and never regained.

Time is equivalent to opportunity. It is associated with potential. It is connected with anticipation and expectation. If we disregard the importance of time in any situation and condition, we lose lots of opportunity and potential, we lose all sense of anticipation and expectation for blessings, and we also lose any sense of wonder and awe. It can also be a matter of life or death.

In the second reading, St. Peter has admonitions for us regarding the importance of time given to us by God:

1. If God allow us to live a little longer, it is because He is patient with us and He does not want anyone to perish but to come to repentance and live. Every new day is a gift of the mercy from God. It is an opportunity to develop our talents. We saw in the Gospel a couple of Sundays ago that servants are rewarded for talents invested or developed and are punished or alienated for talents uselessly wasted. Every day is an opportunity to open our hearts to the service of others. It is another chance and occasion to come nearer to God. A new day is another privilege to receive Him in the Sacraments, to be united with Him in prayer and to be close to His people.

2. We should be persons conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion waiting for the coming of the day of the Lord. “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy,” Jesus says. Everyday we pray the very prayer Jesus taught us: “Our Father…. hollowed be Thy name….” We pray that in our words and in our actions we will make God’s name holy. We promise that we will not put His name in vain. We declare that our relationships will always be in His name, and whatever we do we offer everything to Him for the glory of His Name.

We also pray: “Thy Kingdom come….” We pray that He reigns in our hearts now, in our community and in the life to come. We know that without God, our world will be a place without hope. Without God our words are empty and our actions meaningless. Without God our plans are only selfish endeavors and proud attempts to show that we can do something by our own capacities, as we use our talents only for our own interests and whims. Yet, only with Him and in His people can we find the joy and peace of being His children and heirs of His Kingdom

3. Let us always be eager to be found spotless or without blemish before the Lord. Self-centeredness is the beginning of pride. It points out to a person that he is always right, that he is better than everyone else, and that he has always the right to be heard and therefore has the right to talk. Sure enough he can talk for hours. To remedy this situation, that person has to learn to think of and listen to others. To listen can start the process of forgiveness; and to forgive is to end that pride in oneself. Then only will there be quiet and joy in his heart.

Jesus focused His life on the will of God the Father, and on the salvation of all. Now He nourishes us at this Eucharistic Banquet to strengthen us and guide us on the way to the Father. Let us be faithful to our Lord and King. Let us ask Mother Mary and St. Michael the Archangel to help us make this Advent season a special time of grace to make good use of the time God gives us, and to welcome Him in our hearts, in our daily endeavors and in our relationships. God does not fail those who honestly seek Him in all ways and abide by His commands.

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