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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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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