FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT: ISAIAH 43:16-21; PSALMS 126; PHILIPPIANS 3:8-14; JOHN 8:1-11
THEME: “BE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE LORD’S FORGIVENESS AND TENDER COMPASSION”
We encounter everyday in our lives both optimists and pessimists and traits of both are part of our own selves. Pessimists think negative and take the gloomiest possible view of the human condition. They tend to become captives of “good old days’’ of things of the past that are not of any value any longer, only doomed and not creative. Optimists on the other hand look to the bright side of things, very creative, dynamic, and confident in life. Today’s Liturgy invites us to be optimistic, and that we should look into the future other than the past. Christians must be optimistic, believing in the merciful God who forgives the penitent sinner, and aware and conscious that they will overcome all misery and evil and build a better future because of their faith in God. Life is a constant challenge with families, jobs, business, and even personal growth but with confidence in God, and just like Paul’s philosophy Christians accept this challenge and give no thought to the past but only push on to what lies ahead with complete faith, hope and trust in Christ Jesus. With an unshakable faith in Christ Paul is full of optimism for the future. As a city guy having watched the games, the races and the fights from the amphitheaters he could equate life with a race course. “I am racing to grasp the prize if possible because I have been grasped by Christ.” He encourages us to also pray for faith in Christ so that we can “push on to what is ahead” no matter what comes.
The exiles in Babylon were depressed as the only displaced persons with no hope of ever returning home could be. Their thoughts focused on the past in which God was with his people and not of the present suffering condition. The prophet warns against this kind of useless daydreaming; “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not, have faith in the future! See I (God) am doing something new! “Yes life can be depressing sometimes due to our own faults causing some mess, yet escapism into alcohol and dope have not and can’t be the best antidote except heeding the voice of God. However weak our faith we can be strengthened by God for a brighter hope in the future. The Psalmist tells us, “those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing because God is capable and opens a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, puts water in the desert and rivers in the wastelands for his chosen people to drink but the enemies and their chariots he drowns. Nothing is too hard for the Lord to do, keep trusting him for he forgives the past iniquities.
God’s forgiveness and tender compassion is clearly manifested in the Gospel of today. We see the dishonesty, the injustice, the unfairness, and hypocrisy of the pharisees who drag the adulteress woman to Jesus. Knowing who they are Jesus bends down to trace on the ground with his finger indicating that he is bored and not interested in their hypocritical nonsense. Eventually they leave in shame, leaving the accused rather happy and hopeful. If the saying that “It Takes Two to Tango” is true then one wonders why this woman is caught committing the act alone, yet nothing has changed much. Thus inequality, discrimination and dishonesty continue to predominate in society against women and the less privileged. Jesus in separating the sinner from the sin teaches a valuable lesson in effective correction. That no matter the offence, self-worth and dignity must be accorded every person, yet he does not fail to enlighten the sinner concerning the bad ways leading to the offence. That no sin or mistakes renders one as less human or evil but with guidance and compassion the sinner gets a second chance to amend his or her ways. Therefore, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast or throw a stone at her.” Let’s be weary of how we rush to criticize or condemn people while ignoring our own behavior. Examine yourself first before pointing an accusing finger at another person. We may in fact be worse than those we hastily condemn. May God be merciful to us all and come to deliver us from our adversaries and accusers.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT: GENESIS 15:5-12,17-18; PSALMS 27; PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1 ; LUKE 9:28b-36
THEME: “LIFT UP YOUR HEARTS TO GOD, LISTEN TO AND FOLLOW JESUS THE CHOSEN ONE OF GOD”
One always wonders why his or her spouse wants to be sure whether he/she loves him/her. The truth is that every good lover values and cherishes such love affirmation; so it is with our relationship with God as a sacred partnership (covenant). God does not desire our direct contact with him in prayer or our expression of love and appreciation for all that he has been doing for us like expected between spouses, we still need to do so otherwise we drift and eventually fall from his love. Prayer runs paramount in today’s liturgy helping us to examine ourselves to draw closer to God and drink deeper from his spring of overflowing love.
A living faith in God is the prerequisite for prayer. Abraham, in the first reading, expressed deep and true faith in God as he waited a whole day in prayer after the sacrifice till the Lord sealed it with a covenant with the smoking brazier and a flaming torch. Great faith is always expected of us as Christians whenever we pray just as Abraham did. Firm faith and strong belief that God keeps his covenant forever and will not fail and in so doing he can indeed become our light and salvation. Paul invites the Philippians to follow him as he follows Christ. He invites those who are set upon the things of the world to look up to heaven where our citizenship is. God will give a new form to our lowly bodies, something to hope for in trust.
Luke tries to emphasize the point and fact that conversing with God in prayer changes us, it widens our vision, and with God’s grace, it often makes us feel and experience the transcendent that makes us desire something more and greater than what we have encountered at the prayer period as Peter indicated. The imitation of Jesus that Paul expresses is Jesus’ prayer life. Luke portrays Jesus’ regular conversation with God just like Moses and Elijah did, hence their presence to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus revealed the transfiguration experience to his disciples to imitate. Thus in a trance of mixed feelings of fear, trembling and amazement of joy Peter said: “how good it for us to be here?” Prayer is something all of us must learn and practice regularly to enable us to feel the bliss of God’s presence. So now as the voice from the clouds echoed, it is only by listening to Jesus, imitate him in a constant and regular encounter and conversation with the Lord, and by deep-rooted faith and trust in God’s promises because of his covenant with the son that we can truly appreciate who God really is. Today let us truly lift up our hearts and voices and give thanks to the Lord Our God, for it is truly right and just.
FROM THE DESK OF FR. SETH
BEING ALONE WITH GOD :
We just began the journey to the Holiness and equipping ourselves for battle against the Devil. The church has given us three major steps to stand firm for such battle namely; Alms-Giving, Prayer & Fasting. The Temptation of Jesus last week warns us to be Alert and Awake. Such alertness and awakening involves and entails “Desert state’’ meaning setting aside some time to be” Alone With God” I believe you have some prayer times or hours, yet a short or brief time to visit the Blessed Sacrament in church at least once a week aside normal weekend masses is just wonderful experience. Try to be part of the evening masses, as well as the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. We don’t have to be in need before we establish that personal and private contact with God. We all need that and the best time is here. Yes we may fast, generously donate and pray, yet being in solitude and in silence meditating on life as a precious gift from God is more than self-sacrifice, just try it. Meanwhile you can do it better with some directives and counselling from your priest. Let’s help each other in engaging in spiritual talks seeking spiritual direction and doing confessions. Visit the Blessed sacrament. Happy Lenten Observance and Journey.
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalms 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
THEME: “WITH FAITH WE CAN DEFEAT SATAN WHEN TEMPTATIONS COME “
The Responsorial Psalm gives us a way to always rely on God absolutely and cry out for help in times of trouble and difficult moments. God is our refuge and fortress, God has sent His angels to guard and protect us, to deliver us from falling and treading upon vipers, assurance that whenever the faithful ones of God cry out he will answer promptly. During lent the Christian is thus expected to develop a strong faith in God. Moses traces the journey of faith of the ancestors of the Jews to the people so that they could remember God and continue to serve him faithfully. He describes the offering of praise for God’s deliverance of Israel. God indeed is their help and shield. The theme of confession again runs through the second reading that the Christian is saved through the profession of faith in God. God raised Jesus from the dead as Lord for us, therefore when we believe we shall be saved.
Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Temptation confronts every Christian every moment of our calling and therefore we need the grace of God and protection from Jesus to be able to resist and conquer Satan in the face of temptation. Each temptation that Jesus faces offers insight into the spirituality we hope to develop as we keep the forty days of the season of Lent. We can first trust God to provide our material needs. We worship God because he alone has dominion over us and our world, and we can trust God to be faithful to his promises. Jesus defeated Satan because he would not put God to the test. Thus anything that leads us to reject our dependency on God and to distrust its sufficiency is a temptation from the devil. We again learn from Jesus to trust God fully by rebuking the devil to depart and be ready to suffer. We also learn from Jesus’ temptation that God’s word alone will suffice, God’s promise of protection can be trusted and, God alone is God and no other. Satan used food, mistrust in God, and presumption to tempt Jesus. When the devil was not able to have his way, he left to return another opportune time, probably at the garden of Gethsemane, to tempt Jesus again. Satan never gives up, he has so many faces, and can be found in those things we love best, but in all his twists and turns Jesus still defeated him because of Jesus’ complete trust in God and submission of his will to the Father. Jesus has shown us how to overcome our temptations through mortification of the flesh, doing penance, through intensive prayer, through almsgiving, through detachment, through giving extra attention to the word of God, through the use of sacraments and sacramental, especially the sacrament of reconciliation and the reception of the Holy Eucharist. The recitation of the Holy Rosary to be closer to our Lady fleeing from the occasions of sin and continuous prayer to our Lord, also save us from being defeated by the devil. Therefore let’s pray repeatedly and petition God saying “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all evil.”
EIGHTh SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
THEME: “HONESTY IN CHRISTIAN WITNESS: THE POWER OF THE TONGUE”
The character and stuff of a man are determined only when he is tested because the way we appear is not what we are internally. It is only when we are tried and tested under difficult situations and circumstances that we manifest our true colors. The first reading makes it clear that our true character shows up when we are tested. “When the sieve is shaken, the wheat is separated from the chaff. The fire of a kiln brings out any weakness that may be in the clay.” It goes further to say that the people’s faults appear when they speak, especially when they speak and are not considering their words. We often hide behind masks but our conversation reveals our inner thoughts, no matter how careful we try to be. What comes out in the speech betrays what is in the heart. “For from inside, from a person’s heart, come the evil ideas which lead him to do immoral things …” ( Mark 7: 21-23 ) Our language shows and determines a lot about us. It tells about our age and sex, our temperament, our profession, our honesty, our moral values, and our outlook in life as a whole. However, not all language is honest and reflects our real person. All Christians are called to witness to Jesus Christ and what he stands for. But Christian witness is credible only if it can stand the test of time in honesty. The Responsorial Psalm says only just people are planted in the house of the Lord, they shall bear fruit.
In their language of preaching, the disciples must check whether their words are genuinely inspired by the standards of the Lord Jesus. His light should shine through their rhetoric, otherwise, the preacher is like a blind person. A preacher cannot correct sinners when he is not honest with himself and credible. All Christians are also called to this task of honesty and credibility towards one another. By our good deeds and actions will people accept our words as credible and honest. The unavoidable test for all Christians is death, the inevitable test. It is a common destiny for all created beings. St. Paul in the second reading assures all of us through his exultation to the people of Corinth that when the risen and glorious body clothes itself in immortality, death will be conquered, and be swallowed up in victory. That our efforts, feeble as they may seem, are never in vain, for through Jesus Christ we can all pass the acid tests of life. Let us pray that the Lord will help us reflect his grace and love towards people around us, to be true to ourselves, to live what we profess, and to put into practice what the Gospel says. May our God remove the spirit of hypocrisy and inconsistencies in our lives so that our words will carry much weight before the unbelieving world,
THEME: “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES; FOR THE LORD WILL REWARD EACH MAN FOR HIS JUSTICE AND FAITHFULNESS”
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the sermon on the plain according to St. Luke. Jesus makes a radical, troublesome, and embarrassing demand on his followers – the Christians:
“I say this to you who are listening; love your enemies, be good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too” ….this is Christianity for you. How simple and easy is it for Christ’s followers at the time and Christians today to follow such challenging precept or command. Let’s imagine a person who horribly hurt you in the past, is it possible to love the person who killed a relative of yours, or raped your wife and little daughter in your presence, or an armed robber? How can we love a person through whom we became jobless or lost our position? Can we laugh with a person through whose negligence of duty you became barren, or lost our dear one? What type of love is Jesus prescribing to us? It is certainly not the romantic type of love. This does not necessarily suggest that we should like everyone but it is a demand to love everyone. Every person as a human being no matter the character, or behavior he or she may have is an image of God hence we cannot hate in return. Jesus himself was tested by being betrayed, rejected, disgraced, falsely accused, condemned, and killed without a just cause, yet he still died for the ungrateful disciples and humanity. On the cross, he prayed for them who could have been his enemies.
David, before Jesus practiced this noble and sublime law of non-retaliation in the first reading spared King Saul who was after his life. When the opportunity came, David’s nephew and servant Abishai wanted to take advantage of the golden opportunity to thrust a spear into the sleeping Saul after all, which would not have been a sin, but because of David’s fear for the Lord and his respect for the king, he refused to kill Saul. Rather David took the spear and the water jug of Saul and standing a distance afar from him called out and said: “although the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed.” This awesome sign of forgiveness won great admiration, respect and love from the people for David. He had a great heart indeed. This won him the friendship of God.
It is never a waste of time or any shameful thing to do good to our enemies. Each time we do good to our enemy it is like pouring red charcoal on the person, and we increase while the person decreases. In forgiving our enemies, we learn easily to be like God. Not forgiving them is like drinking poison and expecting others to die. St. John Chrysostom said, “Nothing makes us like unto God so much as being always ready to forgive.” Forgiveness is healing and helpful to our own souls other than the forgiven. There is a great treasure in this Golden Rule of Jesus, let us therefore plan, decide and be ready to forgive no matter the hurting feelings for our own good and sanctification, otherwise the OUR FATHER we pray every day will be meaningless. Though practically difficult, looking up to Jesus on the cross and counting our own faults will help us to obey. May Christ look graciously on us and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us. AMEN
February 17th – SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
THEME: “THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS “
Happiness implies that certain human desires are being met and being satisfied. Every human being on earth desires to be happy according to differences in opinion about what happiness is and how to attain it. No human being’s desires for happiness are ever fully satisfied since even the happiest person trusts and hopes for more to come. Since no person is happy alone our hope for present and future happiness has to do with others who will not disappoint us. There are people who want instant happiness; others search for happiness in an affluent way of life; many also want happiness if necessary at the cost of destroying the well-being of others. It requires a sound philosophy of life to obtain happiness that fully satisfies the human heart, which goes on searching restlessly.
Guided by God, Jeremiah in the first reading offers his ideas on lasting happiness for which human beings are restlessly searching. He observes that “unhappy is the person who trusts in humans alone, cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart is turned from the Lord.” He compares such a person with a shrub in the desert clearly expressing the reason why there can be no lasting happiness. On the contrary, “happy the person who trusts in the Lord‘’, such a person is like a fruitful tree planted beside the water. The same idea is contained in the Responsorial Psalm, “Happy are they who hope in the Lord, who delight in the law of the Lord, and does not follow the counsel of the wicked, nor walk in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent.”
St. Paul in the second reading also deals with our restless desires for more that reaches even beyond the grave; “If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men.” His point indicates that Christianity is that philosophy of life which offers hope to our RESTLESS HEART till it rests in God.” (St. Augustine)
In the Gospel, the Sermon of Jesus is a challenge to perfection directed to all who seriously search for true happiness. Luke seems to continue the theme of Jeremiah in the first reading and compares the trust in God as against the trust in man. “Blest are you poor …… woe to you rich; Blest are you who hunger ……. Woe to you who are full; Blest are you who are weeping …… woe to you who laugh now; Blest are you when men hate you …… woe to you when all men speak well of you“. It is true and natural that the poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the abused feel insufficient, inadequate, lonely, rejected or persecuted in the physical sense yet their faith and hope in the righteousness of God’s justice gives some inner strength and fulfillment for their souls. However, worldly riches, happiness, satisfaction and fame or power don’t guarantee lasting happiness, but woes and unnecessary tensions, troubles, insecurity and over anxiety. It is enough, therefore, for human beings, especially Christians to be content and continue to count and rely on God. It is far more important to be generous to those less privileged in society. May God strengthen our Faith. SHALOM.
February 3rd – FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
THEME: “FULFILLING THE ROLE OF PROPHET IN STIFF OPPOSITION AND REJECTION”
Last week we learned how Jesus amazed his own townsfolk after the reading of the scroll in the synagogue when all eyes gazed intently upon him. Today is a continuation of the same story when we notice a clear and stiff opposition from the leaders of the Jewish tradition attempting to discredit him as a mere small boy who lacks the adequate wisdom to be able to interpret scriptures the way he did, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Jesus likewise confronts them squarely with the truth of his compassion and miracles towards the poor and the needy stemming from the Old Testament’s narrative of God’s unending love for humanity, citing the time of two great prophets Elijah and Elisha. This response infuriated the people who intended to throw him down to kill him but he slipped from their hands and went his way. This became a complete and total rejection of Judaism to Jesus’ way of operation out of jealousy, lack of wisdom, mediocrity, and hatred. Yet Jesus would not renounce anything but insisted on the truth whether they would believe and accept it or not.
The call of Jeremiah, the servant, and prophet of God, brings out the real work and challenges facing the servant of God. The task of the prophet of God entails listening and obeying only the commands of God. The prophet does not foretell the people’s future or what is to befall a nation as is perceived by all today. Rather the prophet speaks in the name of God and states exactly what God commands his people to do. However, the prophet runs into the opposition of evil as Jesus faced, thus prefiguring the real prophet Jesus. The prophet of God is seen as a sincere, honest and courageous person who is never afraid of opposition or rejection. God, in a special way, made Jeremiah, who never had any dream of becoming a prophet, a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of brass for firm resistance against his opponents, the kings, princes, priests and the people in general.
Unlike the first reading and the Gospel, the second reading sings the great hymn of love. Paul gave us the list of what love is and subordinates even prophecy to love, which endures all things. All the attributes of what love is and what love is not, points to support the fact that love indeed never ends as Paul said. Such is the love expected of the prophet and servant of God to serve people genuinely even in front of hatred and rejection, made clear to us in Jesus Christ. This love is sacrificial. Society today is littered with broken relationships, empty and broken love promises, broken hearts, broken homes, broken marriages, broken lives, and often broken health and everything is broken all because people use others to satisfy their personal and selfish needs in the name of love. Love must be genuine and real like that of Jesus for indeed God is love itself. Let us pray that God will teach us how to love and be loved, in Jesus’ name.
January 27th – THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
THEME: “THE PROCLAMATION OF GOD’S LIVING WORD”
The Bible as the word of God is the powerful mouthpiece and authority of the church. The Christian is expected to read and listen to the bible always in Faith, prayerfully, and meditatively. The first reading from the book of Nehemiah captivates the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and the reconstruction of the City and the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The people had totally lost their connection to their Faith, hence the need for Ezra the priest-scribe to proclaim the Torah that is God’s Law to remind them. Thus, from morning to noon the people stood in an open square to listen to Ezra without being tired, after which Nehemiah and the Levites joined Ezra to further instruct the people who affirmed with gestures and signs of deep Reverence by bowing, prostrating and exclaiming Amen to the instructions. They were therefore encouraged never to be sad but joyful in hope and celebrate their rebirth of faith with rejoicing for the Lord was their strength.
Similarly to the first reading Jesus in the Gospel stood to proclaim the scripture passage of the Prophet Isaiah to the hearing of the people in the Temple, affirming Him as the true anointed one of God. He ended saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” as all eyes were sternly gazed on him. Jesus entered the synagogue on a Sabbath as he was accustomed to doing. He loved to worship the Lord so after reading the passage he sat down and with the application to himself explained clearly the meaning of scriptures to them. Jesus has been sent to bring glad tidings to us and to heal our blindness of mind and heart which requires our great assent of Amen as the people of Nehemiah did after hearing Ezra.
Thus we Christians and in fact all humanity form and constitute the true and perfect body of Christ. All of us are not the same yet one in substance of faith because we believe in Christ as our savior. In Christ no one is greater and none is less, we need one another for spiritual growth and progress. Our lives and hearts must unite and move together like the Jews affirming the law of the lord as read to them. According to St. Paul we form the mystical body of Christ, using and applying the different parts of the body to the church as the mystical body of Christ, where a variety of talents and functions do not detract or divide but form a unity. St. Paul wrote this letter to the community of Corinth where certain people prided themselves on their talents and gifts to counter them by saying that all parts of the body, even the less presentable parts are essential, for God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another, hence listing the host of gifts and ministries including administration, without which the body of Christ cannot function. The church today by extension of Christ’s mission must be a union of people like all of us with different gifts, to be able to preach the good news to the poor and liberation to captives. This mission of the church therefore is Mutuality and Interdependence, and not Subordination and Privilege. This is what must characterize Christ’s body, the church, and we are the church.