19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WHERE IS GOD IN THE PANDEMIC?

Where can we find God in the midst of the pandemic and all the sufferings from the trials and tribulations today?

Today’s readings of the 19th Sunday in ordinary time can enlighten us in responding to this question.

In the first reading, the prophet Elijah was running away from Jezebel who wanted to kill him. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah because Elijah denounced her evil ways. Elijah feared for his life so he hid in a cave. He was exhausted, frustrated, and ready to quit. In the midst of the fear and woeful situation of Elijah, God appeared to Elijah not in the strong wind, earthquake, and fire but in a tiny whispering sound.

In the Gospel, the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water whom they thought to be a ghost. Then, Peter asked Jesus if he could walk on the water too and come to him. Jesus said, come. But Peter became terrified at the strong winds and big waves and he began to sink. Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

From these readings, the answer we can give to our question at the beginning is that God is at the center of all the sufferings and hardships we are experiencing amidst the pandemic and the many ills of our society today. The gospel taught us that as Jesus walked in the water amidst the big waves and raging sea, Jesus is walking at the center of the pandemic, the racial conflict and tension, environmental crisis and the many problems that the world faces today.

On the other hand, the story of Elijah taught us that God cannot be found in the mighty, extraordinary and powerful. We need to lower our sights, so to speak, from the powerful to the powerless, from the rich to the poor, from the satisfied to the suffering, from the oppressors to the oppressed. We have to listen carefully to the tiny whispering sound of God’s presence in the midst of our powerlessness, fears and failures.

If God is right at the center of the pandemic especially among the weak, the poor and the lowly what response is required of us? The readings calls us to a response of faith. The gospel showed us that faith is a kind of walking on water; faith is following Jesus who walks on the rough waters of our lives. Peter was the first to show us the example. The example of Peter, however, also showed us how not to walk on the water with Jesus. For as long as Peter doesn’t look down and keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus he does not sink in the water. When he looks away from Jesus and focus on the frightening wind and waves, he begins to sink. 

In the midst of the pandemic and the many ills we face in the world, we tend to focus on the immensity of the hardship and suffering we are experiencing. The enormous difficulties makes us think that God is far away from us, that God has abandoned us and God is just watching us from a distance. Jesus, however, showed us in the gospel that God is walking with us as we face the pandemic. This gooid news challenges us to find God right in the heart of our suffering and hardships.

Amidst all the gigantic problems we face, however, we tend to ask the Lord to intervene and do extra-ordinary things for us. But God’s response is often not through spectacular ways (like in a strong wind, earthquake and fire) but in the small and ordinary, which can be often found in unexpected moments and places.

In the midst of our fears, God’s gives us encouragement; God gives us courage. Jesus told Peter, “Courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Courage comes from the root word in French cor which means heart, core or being. In giving courage, Jesus is telling us to bravely accept the truest reality of our lives; the courage to be. The truest reality of our lives is that we are created by God and destined to live with God in his Kingdom.

By inviting us to walk in the water, Jesus challenges us to leave behind our securities. Jesus wants us to step out of the boat of our comfort zones and securities.  Jesus invites us to take the plunge with him. Jesus wants us to let go of our worldly anchors. Instead, Jesus wants us to anchor on his life and good news.

Lord, help us to see you walking on our sea–raging with an out of control pandemic, racial injustice, environmental crisis and the many ills in our world today. Let us listen to your voice calling us to come to you.

18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: GOD’S ABUNDANCE AND HUMANITY’S HUNGER

Laging Saklolo kitchen in Baclaran church to feed the hungry during the pandemic

Despite the abundant riches and resources that mother nature can give, many still go hungry and/or are malnourished. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. Almost all the hungry people live in lower-middle-income countries.

In the Philippines, the number of Filipino families who experienced involuntary hunger at least once rose in the third quarter of 2017, the latest poll from Social Weather Stations showed. An estimated 2.7 million families or 11.8 percent experienced hunger in the past three months, a 2.3 percentage point increase from 9.5 percent in June 2017.

Our readings for today’s 18th Sunday in ordinary time proclaims God’s abundance bestowed upon all of God’s creation. God invites all to partake of his abundance.

In the first reading, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.

In the gospel, we read about the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The disciples came to Jesus with the request to dismiss the people to go find food after a whole day listening to Jesus’ preaching. But Jesus challenged them with the question: “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Jesus’ summon or question to his disciples more than 2,000 years ago, continues to haunts us today.

  • There is more than enough food that is grown to feed everyone on this planet. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”
  • Nearly one in five people worldwide is chronically malnourished—too hungry to lead a productive, active life. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”
  • One-third of the world’s children are significantly underweight for their age. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”
  • The amount of money the world spends on weapons in one minute could feed 2,000 malnourished children for a year. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

Pope Francis highlighted the radical demand of this gospel passage. The gospel challenges us to place our whole lives and resources, how little or small they are, to feed the hungry and those who have lesser in life.

In the face of the crowd’s needs, this is the disciples’ solution: everyone takes care of himself; dismiss the crowd. Many times we Christians have that same temptation; we don’t take on the needs of others, but dismiss them with a compassionate “May God help you” or a not-so-compassionate “Good luck.” …

What Jesus encouraged the disciples to do was an act of “solidarity”… placing at God’s disposal what little we have, our humble abilities, because only in sharing and giving will our lives be fruitful. …

At the same time, in receiving the Eucharist faithfully the Lord leads us to follow his path —that of service, sharing and giving; the little that we have, the little that we are, if shared, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.

Corpus Christi Homily, May 31, 2013

Our planet has more than enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people all over the world. God has given blessings to the world: if only we could learn to use those blessings for the benefit of all. As Vatican II’s, Gaudium et Spes: Constitution on the Church in the Modern World urges us all,

Since there are so many people in this world afflicted with hunger, this sacred Council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the saying of the Fathers: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him” (Gaudium et Spes, #69).

Today’s reading serves as an indictment of the present world order. Jesus wants us to take a stock of our lifestyles. Jesus offers us an alternative lifestyle that is counter-cultural to the present world order. Jesus wants us to believe that a world of abundance is possible. But this will demand change in the social system and our attitudes. There is more than enough for everyone if we would believe that everyone deserves a share in the abundant food from nature that God has given us.

Christ comes among us today proclaiming God’s abundant blessings, in his Word, in our community life, and in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an invitation for us to participate in the miracle of multiplication of food that Jesus has first shown us.

The Legacy of St. Alphonsus Ma. de Ligouri in Baclaran Church

The paradise of God, so to say, is the heart of wo/man. – St. Alphonsus de Ligouri

The official name of the Baclaran church is the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Many, however, call the shrine simply as the Redemptorist Church in reference to the Redemptorist missionaries who run the shrine. The Redemptorist whose official title is Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Latin: Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris – C.Ss.R.) was founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori at Scala, Italy, in 1732. Tomorrow, August 1, we will celebrate his feast day, the day he passed on to heaven.

St. Alphonsus is one of the most prolific Marian saints. I remember when I was a kid; I always saw the book Glories of Mary on the table of my father. My father was a very active leader of the Legion of Mary at our diocese in Bicol. He used to read the Glories of Mary a lot and used it a lot in his talks to fellow legionaries. I knew that the author was St. Alphonsus but it was only when I entered the Redemptorist seminary that I came to know more about St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, the founder of the Redemptorists.

St. Alphonsus’ devotion to Mary is profound and profuse. When Saint Alphonsus left the world of wealth and fame as a lawyer, he dedicated his whole life to God in front of the image of Our Lady of Ransom. Later, he consecrated himself to Our Lady “de la Merced” in an act of total conversion in front of the image of S. Maria dei Monti (Scala, Italy).  Alphonsus maintains that all graces of conversion and salvation are given us through Mary. For Alphonus, Mary is our perpetual helper.

Alphonsus wrote numerous books, paintings, and hymns, not to mention all the prayers, dedicated to Mary. Among his most popular works about Mary are:[1] Prayers to the Blessed Virgin for every day of the week, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Glories of Mary. Alphonsus also wrote many other smaller treatises, sermons, letters, and articles in larger works. Likewise, he often writes a thought about Mary or a prayer to her in his works such as the Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ.

Because of the founder’s fondness for Mary, Mary has always been at the heart of Redemptorist life. From the foundation of the Redemptorists, there have been many popular images of Mary, each one significant at a particular time in the life of Alphonsus and history of the congregation. In sequence, they were:[2] Our Lady of Ransom – at whose shrine Alphonsus dedicated his life, Our Lady of Good Counsel- whose picture Alphonsus kept on his desk and the Immaculate Conception – patroness of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Mary became the helper not only for Alphonsus but also for his congregation, the Redemptorists, and through them to millions of people all over the world. Because of this Marian roots, an essential part of the Redemptorist mission is the propagation of the devotion to Mary. This was given a significant boost when in April 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon of OMPH to the Redemptorists, for public veneration with the command to “make her known” throughout the world.

The rich Marian tradition and spirituality of St. Alphonsus became a rich wellspring and inspiration for the Redemptorist in the propagation of Marian devotion in Baclaran.  Redemptorists in Baclaran promoted a healthy devotion to Mary which not only remain on the level of affection and devoutness to Mary but contain an aspiration to emulate the life and example of Mary.

Redemptorists in Baclaran did not just accept the common image of devotees as people who are focused on their own individual needs with their prayers mostly petitionary. They also believe that many devotees profoundly want to reach out to the saints, Mary and Jesus. Ultimately, through their devotion, devotees want to reach out to heaven where Mary and the saints reside with God. A great majority of devotee wants to experience a sense of transcendence to their lives. They seek to understand the mystery. They want to reach out to heaven from their mundane situation. This profound aspiration is deeply ingrained within the devotee planted there by God. As St. Alphonsus expressed it several centuries ago: “The paradise of God, so to say, is the heart of wo/man.”[3] St. Alphonsus’ motto reflects the deepest aspiration of the devotees—to experience and feel the sacred, the divine, and the reign of God in their daily lives. Inspired by this legacy of St. Alphonsus, Redemptorist tried to develop this deep religiosity among the devotees in Baclaran through the years.

St. Alphonsus, pray for us, that we may continue to have profound faith in God’s grace especially during these times of the pandemic.

Happy feast day of St. Alphonsus de Ligouri!


[1] Fr. Michael Brehl CSsR, St. Alphonsus and Mary, the Mother of God, Scala News, February 14, 2017, http://www.cssr.news/2017/02/st-alphonsus-and-mary-the-mother-of-god/.

[2] Redemptorist and Mary, http://www.cssr.org.au/about_us/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=101

[3] From the “Ascetical Works” of St Alphonsus of Liguori (1696-1787) http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010717_alfonso-liguori_en.html

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST TREASURE

If you could ask God only one thing, what is it that you would ask of God?

In today’s 17th Sunday in ordinary time 1st reading in the 1st book of Kings, God told Solomon, “Ask what you would like me to give you.”  Solomon asked God for wisdom: “Give your servant … an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. ”

Wisdom is much more than knowing a lot of things or having prestigious university degrees or the knowledge to live a morally good life. Wisdom is the insight into what is the most important in life, an awareness of the meaning and purpose of living, of what really matters. It is an understanding of where our real wellbeing and happiness lies.

In the Gospel today, Jesus offers an answer to the question of what is the greatest thing that we could ask of God, the greatest thing in the world that we could give up everything for. Jesus said it is the Kingdom of Heaven. What is “the kingdom of heaven”? The kingdom of heaven is a biblical expression which simply means “what happens when God is truly king of our world and of our lives.”

Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven in 3 parable stories in the gospel today: The parable of a treasure buried in a field, the parable of a pearl of great price, and the parable of a net thrown into the sea, which collected fish of every kind.

St. Paul affirms Jesus’ statement about the Kingdom of Heaven as the greatest treasure we can ever seek and find in life.  In the 2nd reading in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul said,

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” 

The real treasure is the treasure that we find in aligning our meaning and purpose to God’s greatest treasure—the Kingdom of God.  It is a bounty where all can share not just for few selected ones.

Many people are looking for treasures in our world today.  Unfortunately, for many, the kingdom of heaven is not one of them.  Have you met a person looking for a life or for a world where God is king? Most people look for treasures that could give instant and tremendous comfort, security, prestige, power and status for one’s own life. Let us admit it, in one time or another, we dreamed of winning the lotto or marrying an old rich man/woman or hitting it big in business.

Yet, the kingdom of heaven remains untapped for many of us today. The kingdom of God remain buried deep down in the mundane affairs of our lives. Why have we not discovered the kingdom of God? Because the kingdom of God has serious implications for all of us. Many do not want to tap the treasure of God’s kingdom because it will grant true happiness and prosperity not just for the lucky 1% but for the rest of the 99%. The kingdom of God will usher us into a world with true justice, freedom, truth and peace for all people regardless of race, gender, culture and religion.

But Jesus set out to be the greatest revealer of the kingdom of God. Through parables, Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven is present even in the messiness and chaos of our everyday lives in the world. It is the greatest treasure that God can give us if only we ask and seek it. It is the greatest treasure that can give us joy and fulfillment in life. God’s kingdom is unconditional and open to all. But one can only experience it if all his/her being is properly disposed to it. All can experience the kingdom of God if one’s words and actions seek and participate in it.

In other words, the Kingdom of God implies a change of perspective and thinking (metanoia) different from the thinking of many in the world today.  Jesus announced a new way of life that is compatible with the kingdom of God. Jesus drummed up the excitement of the people about God’s kingdom by further proclaiming that the kingdom of God is “already here but not yet.”  We can already experience the initial joy, peace and well-being of God’s kingdom now but its fulfillment which would bring unimaginable bliss and contentment is yet to come in the fullness of time.

Like Solomon let us ask God to grant us the wisdom to find and experience the real treasure of the Kingdom of God hidden yet already actively transforming us in our everyday life.

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY REDEEMER: THE CRAZY LOVE OF GOD

mostholyredeemer

Every third Sunday of July, Redemptorists all over the world celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. Thus today, all churches, parishes and shrines all over the world under the care of Redemptorist has for its Sunday mass the solemnity of the Most Holy Redeemer in place of the 16th Sunday in ordinary time. This is with special permission from Rome.

All Redemptorists have four letters after their names – C.Ss.R. This stands for
Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris. This is the official Latin title given to its Religious
Order. It can be translated into English as “Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,” more commonly called “Redemptorists.” On their coat of arms is written: Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio – With Him There Is Plentiful Redemption.

Indeed, the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer is an expression of joy and gratitude for the great gift of the Redemption. Consider the opening antiphon for this feast, which is taken from Isaiah 61:10 and Psalm 88:2.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God.
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
and with the robe of justice He has covered me.

The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever:
I will show forth your truth with my mouth to generation and generation.

The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in the gospel today reveals to us the beautiful truth of God’s redemption:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. …
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3: 16-17).

God’s redemption shows that how God relates to us is simple: God loves everyone, even those who are not lovable, God welcomes everyone as they are.

I remembeer a quote from St Alphonsus Liguori, in his book, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ:

“Yes, my gentle Redeemer, let me say it, You are crazy with love! Is it not foolish for you to have wanted to die for me? But if You, my God, have become crazy with love for me, how can I not become crazy with love for you?”

God’s love for humankind is intense, indeed, crazy; in human standards, judging the way God loves us, one could easily say that God is a fool. God’s love is welcoming, always offering forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy despite humanity’s unworthiness, sinfulness, pride, belligerence and recalcitrance. In the infamous words of President Duterte, God is stupid.

God’s love and mercy is beyond human capacity.  It is manifested in the Crucified One, the One who ask God’s forgiveness for all those who maligned, scourged, crowned him with thorns and crucified him.

God’s crazy love shows us the way in which we have to reach out to others. To the extent that we ourselves will be called crazy and fools, we need to love others in abundance, unconditionally and beyond imagination. We are called to be God’s fools for God’s love and redemption.

What does it mean to live the crazy love of God in the face of the urgencies of our  contemporary world which is a deeply imbalanced world? On the one hand, there is a secure, sheltered, wealthy humanity, on the other hand, a humanity who is hungry and homeless, a humanity at the mercy of autocratic regimes, wars, powerful rulers, traffickers, a humanity at mercy of climate change – for which entire previously habitable zones are subject to rapid desertification, deforestation, devastating flood and typhoons.

Pope Francis insists that the political, economic and financial strategic choices in our times are the result of decisions that come from the heart of human beings who always have need of repentance and of being sensitized to a more supportive sense of justice and mercy. In other words, there is a need for a radical transformation of our socio-economic structures based on God’s crazy love for humanity. We need to transform our socio-political structures which benefits most of all thouse who are lost, weak, abandoned, deprived and least advantaged.

The redemption of God, however, ultimately concerns eternal life. God redeemed us not just for the brief span of our earthly life, but have marked us out for eternity. Thus, living God’s crazy love goes beyond our finite life here on earth. This also implies that our corporal works and spiritual works of mercy form a whole; they are distinctive and not separate; Jesus redemption is for the whole person.

Happy Feast Day of Most Holy Redeemer!

15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE PRODIGAL SOWER

sower

Jesus taught mainly through parables. Parables are stories or analogies drawn from everyday life. The parable of the sower is one of the greatest parables of Jesus.

From a farmer’s point of view, however, there is something wrong with the parable of the sower. Not that I am a farmer but I’ve seen many times, especially during my exposure to farmers during my seminary days, how a farmer would meticulously prepare the field before sowing the seeds. He would plow and rake through the soil to remove the grass and stones until it becomes clean and clear so that all the seeds will fall on good soil. Once these are done, there is no way a seed could fall on thorny soil, rocky soil, not to mention, a pathway, as told in the parable by Jesus. From all indications, the sower in the parable is not our typical farmer; he is either a foolish or wasteful farmer. In Tagalog, we call this kind of farmer, “waldas na magsasaka”.

What could explain for the different types of soil where the seeds fell? It’s either that agriculture was so crude during Jesus’ time or this is deliberate on the part of Jesus. I think the latter is more appropriate as Jesus wanted to emphasize the utter generosity, even to the point of extravagance, of the sower.  After all, the very purpose of the parables is to show a God who is utterly benevolent.  God’s benevolence overturns our greed stricken world, forces us to re-examine our mindset and offers us a fresh perspective in life.

The parable has strong links with today’s First Reading from Isaiah. God’s word is compared to rain and snow falling on the earth and not returning until it has made the soil “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats”. “So,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We all know now that the Word of God is Jesus. The abundant goodwill of Jesus the Word of God will bear fruit no matter what and will serve the purpose of his coming—the plentiful redemption of God’s creation.

The extravagance of the sower is highlighted by the fact that the sower never discriminate in his act of sowing. Whether the soil was pathway soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or good soil, the sower generously sowed his seed equally on all types of soil. Jesus himself explained that these different types of soil symbolizes the different dispositions which hearers receive the word of God. Jesus elaborates,

“The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The question we always ask ourselves in this parable is “What kind of soil am I?” Honestly, I think I have been all the four types of soil. There were times in my life that I was the rocky soil during those times when some tribulation made me to fall away from the word. At other times I was the thorny soil when  worldly anxiety and the lure of worldly honor and comfort choke the word in me and I became unproductive. Sometimes I was the pathway soil when I heard the word of the kingdom without understanding it. These weaknesses and failures, however, have taught me to become the good soil. Sometimes it can be said that the different types of soil represents stages in a process of our truly becoming the good soil.

The good news is despite all our shortcomings and infidelity, God will continue to sow generously his  word upon us. He will not give up sowing his seeds on each one of us. This is clearly a message of hope for all of us which may at times be discouraged by our and of our fellow believer’s failures and limitations.

Having experienced God’s generous lavish sowing upon ourselves, we now are also called to be prodigal sowers of the abundant love of the word of God. This is doubly challenging given today’s inhospitable environment.  We are not to keep the word of God, however, in our own privatized religion. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus to our brothers and sisters.

May we all continue to become the good soil hearing and making the word of God fruitful in our lives. At the same time, may we share in the generous sowing of the word of God by the prodigal sower even to those who fail and refuse to hear it.

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RESTING IN JESUS

Ron-resting

For many of us, our idea of rest and recreation is taking few days off from work, chilling out, having fun, hanging out and enjoying the company of friends and family.  It can also involve longer days for holidays going to other places or enjoying nature, swimming in the sea, lake or rivers or hiking into mountains and forests. After a well spent rest, we feel rejuvenated and refreshed, become more inspired and ready to once again face and continue our work and projects.

That is why rest and recreation are essentially connected. A truly good rest results in a recreation. After a good rest, we become a new creation. A good rest helps us to review our lives in order that we may know where we are going to next. Thus, rest can sometimes result in a new idea, an inspiration that can bring life-changing event, a new lifestyle. It may also call for going back, a return to our roots, a return to nature.  In other words, rest is being attentive to our body, emotions and soul.

What is the most profound thing that your body and soul is telling you now?

Unfortunately, many people in our country today are deprived of this idea of rest. Many people has to work even up to Sundays to just barely get by.  Because of the lack of local work opportunities, many parents go overseas to work leaving behind their children. This distorts the experience of rest as how can one enjoy the company of family when one’s parents are not here. The urban environment generates lots of  situation which affect the quality of rest – air pollution, traffic and noise, let alone, the chaos, trash and hustle and bustle of city life. Technology has also made it harder for genuine rest. As we get wrapped up more and more in mobile phones, texting, email, Facebook, and the internet, we are constantly distracted by texts, emails, phone messages which rob us of the simple capacity to stop, shut off the machines, and rest.

Perhaps, this is the reason why for many people the idea of rest is just to escape from the daily humdrum, pains and problems of our daily life like drinking with friends all day Sunday. We “thank God it’s Friday” so we can go out ‘gimmicking’—partying and bar hopping until early Saturday morning.  Many times, this kind of rest leave us more tired than before, not to mention, the hangover. No wonder, the rest we do sometimes makes us feel more tired that after our ‘rest’ we want to take a rest again.

If rest is essential to our well-being, restlessness is a constant itch of our human existence.  We are essentially restless, even if we have taken a good rest. In Tagalog, we call this existential restless itch, “Hindi mapakali”. We long for a more profound and complete rest.  Restlessness is not just physical and emotional but also spiritual. It involves our soul. All throughout our lives we look for that thing that will ultimately give us true rest.

As Christians we believe that we cannot truly rest until we can rest in Jesus and learn from him about the fundamental meaning of life. As St. Augustine said in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

In the Gospel today, Jesus comforts us:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And how can we have rest in Jesus, Jesus tells us:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Wait a minute, I thought Jesus will give us rest but why is he giving us his yoke? Is it not that yoke and rest are contradiction in terms?

Jesus’ yoke is to learn from him for as he says, “I am gentle and humble of heart.” Jesus’ yoke is the yoke of humility and service. It praises God for contradicting the wisdom of the world: “for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”

Jesus also challenges us that perhaps we should learn from the meek and humble, the little people, the sick and dying, the poor and hungry. For it is among them that we find Jesus and learn to become humble and meek of heart.

Jesus wants to address a more profound and fundamental rest—the ultimate rest. Most of our rest only involves pleasure and enjoyment. Rest without wholeness of being and spiritual rest is not enough. True rest involves rest for the soul.  Jesus’ rest gives us rest for our souls but it does not exclude the element of joy. As Pope Francis has said, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”[2]


[1] Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

[2] Evangelii Gaudium, 1.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: CHRISTIANITY AS DISCIPLESHIP

 Christianity is much more than religion. It is a discipleship, an apprenticeship if you like–an apprenticeship with Jesus. What kind of apprenticeship does Jesus leads us to?

In the Gospel Reading today, Jesus said to his apostles:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is shocking! Jesus is asking us to leave behind the greatest resource of our lives—our family—in order to follow him. Not just our family, Jesus asks us to lose our own lives so we can gain our lives in him. And what kind of life is he offering—the way of the cross. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans in the second reading calls this life, baptism into Christ’s death.

This is too much for us to accept, let alone, understand. No wonder, many of us have turned to religion. Christianity as a religion is easier to understand and to practice: Going to mass, receiving the sacraments, following the 10 commandments, and many other religious things. It also became a lot easier for the church to preach about religious matters like observing correct rubrics and moral issues like contraception, abortion, etc.

Jesus certainly did talk about religion. But he did so to challenge and critique the religious ways of his time which have actually alienated human beings from God and one another. Jesus instead talked more about God and how God’s kingdom is breaking out into the world.

To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus called us to join a new family, a family beyond blood, race, culture, gender and yes, even religion. When we are members of this family, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters with Jesus our older brother. To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus ushered us into an apprenticeship that not only taught us new values, ways of doing and living but sought the purpose of why we live. It is an apprenticeship fulfilling the meaning of life. In seeking the purpose of life, however, Jesus proposes an apprenticeship that goes against the popular routes that the world gives. Jesus’ apprenticeship is to trek the road less travelled. Unfortunately, it also implies going beyond what many people hold dear about their religion.

For Jesus the most important things are greater than matters of religion. Sometimes we talk more about religious liberty, catechism and the code of canon law than about Jesus’ gospel. It’s time once again to talk about Christ and his gospel values not just about a list of do’s and don’ts, doctrines, commandments, canon law, and obligation. We need to recover Jesus’ way of talking about faith—that faith is a change of thinking (metanoia) in accordance with God’s  ways and thoughts.

This calls us to repropose the message of Jesus in our times today. Our world today is hostile and cold to the Christian message especially in secularized countries. This is worsened by the scandals in the church like child abuse and dubious lifestyle of some of the hierarchy. This should not deter us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We need to proclaim the gospel in the way Jesus proclaimed it more than 2,000 years ago, bold and daring but also compassionate and hopeful. In word and in deed, we need to proclaim, what Pope Francis has proposed, the joy of the Gospel.

The purpose of the church is more than just calling people to the church to attend mass, liturgy and the sacraments. The church’s main purpose is to support and encourage people in their apprenticeship with Jesus. After all, the church is the members of the one body of Christ following, and many times stumbling, in their journey of apprenticeship with Jesus.

Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: The Meaning of the Title

Icona dopo il restauro senza corone
On this feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of the title, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH).
The title OMPH has profound meaning that can help us develop a meaningful and fruitful devotion to Mother Mary. The title originated in the text itself accompanying the original icon in Rome. The Blessed Virgin herself chose this name to serve as an encouragement to us all to have recourse to her with complete confidence in all our needs.[1]
Let us now reflect on each of the word of the title.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper corners of the icon). OMPH is one of the few titles that call Mary, mother (the only other titles that I am aware of are Mother of God and Mother of Mercy). Other titles are mostly called our Lady of _______________ which is oftentimes connected to a particular place. Thus, other times, OMPH is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While others are called by their local names, OMPH transcends the local. Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. Ulysses da Silva expounds,

It is not a title bound to a location (such as Aparecida, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.), nor to a privilege or accolade of Mary (like Assumption, Mystical Rose, etc.), nor to the Passion event, as would be the original characterization of the Icon. It is an invocation that identifies the maternal attitude of Mary in relation to her Son and to all of us. It is a universal title in relation to time as well as space, whenever or wherever someone is found in need or in danger.[2]

Moreover, Our Lady expresses a more Western sentiment. Mother is a more universal title as it appeals to us all, of our universal experience with our own mothers. Along this line, Pope Francis expressed in his homily on the celebration of the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the 21st of May, 2018 in the Vatican, that Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.” He further affirmed that Mary’s motherhood is emphasized throughout the Gospels, from the Annunciation to the foot of the cross.[3]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) conveys an attitude that is always active rather than passive. Mary is not just waiting for us to call upon the help of God but she is always accompanying and encouraging us to come to Jesus. Likewise, this also emphasizes the perpetual quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of OMPH is forever helping us in all our predicaments.

The ever active nature of perpetual can also be seen in the context of how we, the devotees, continue the help of God, through the intercession of OMPH, by helping others. We accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it does not stop within ourselves. Having freely received blessings from God, we are inspired to freely help others even as those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask.

Help

Saklolo (help) is almost a desperate cry in distress. This is the plea of many of us who are her devotees: help me, saklolo! Many of us are desperate, we have no one to turn to and thus, any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (OMPH) appeals to the very situation that we find ourselves in real life.

The word Help appeals to all of us, as we are all creatures in need. We constantly seek the help of God and of one another through prayer and action. Consequently, the word Help is also a calling for us to respond always to all those who cry for help. Those who have freely received blessings are called to freely help others and those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask. By expressing our devotion and praying the novena to OMPH, we accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it should never stop and disconnect us from others.

The word help also contains a profound theological truth about the role of Mary in God’s mission. Mary is, first and foremost, a helper of God, (katulong ng Diyos). When the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s son, Mary’s response was: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). Mary saw her profound identity as a helper and follower of God’s mission. Vatican Council II affirms this, “Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and ‘devoted herself totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son’ (Lumen Gentium, #56).” Mary’s “yes” of serving as the mother of the Messiah did not end in her death. She became mother and helper to the whole Church in the name of God’s mission.

In this light, the word Help is not just a call to bring our personal needs to God through Mary’s intercession but like Mary to become God’s helpers in God’s mission.

Jesus is the Perpetual Help

Whenever we show the Icon and ask the people: Who is the perpetual help? Most of them immediately answer: Mary is the perpetual help. Most devotees think that the source of help and blessings is Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, then Jesus is the source of perpetual help.

The perpetual help of OMPH ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. Mary, OMPH, is the greatest epitome of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. So when we look at Mary we can learn to look at our own lives more profoundly in the spirit of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God.

Thus, perpetual help can help us to understand the most profound message of the icon. In the context of the whole icon, perpetual help means the perpetual showing by Mary to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, OMPH can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way.

Let us now pray,

O Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help,
I come before your Sacred Icon,
And with childlike confidence,
invoke your aid.

Show yourself a Mother to me now,
And have pity on me.

O Mother of Perpetual Help,
For the love you bear to Jesus,
Help me in this my necessity.

I leave it all to you in the name of the Father.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Son.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Happy fiesta everyone!

Mary-birthday


[1] “Give this message to your mother and to your grandfather: Holy Mary of Perpetual Help requires that you remove her from your house, if not, you will all soon die”. Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 133.

[2] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., ““Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety,”” #43.

[3] Pope Francis, “The Church, like Mary, is woman and mother,” Vatican News, 21 May 2018. Accessed at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-05/pope-francis-mass-santa-marta-mary-church-woman-mother.html

12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FEAR OF THE LORD

no-fear

Every day our world is becoming a fear-driven society. Anxiety has become the new normal. As we open the newspapers and watch TV, we read and hear news of the worsening pandemic. We are terrified by news of impending disasters–earthquake, typhoons, flood, climate change. We are afraid of continuous criminality in our neighborhood despite the government’s tough stance. We continue to be anxious of the economy, we are uncertain about the future, we worry about our personal problems.

It’s perfectly normal to be afraid. Fear is a natural and primitive human emotion. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers.

Unfortunately, fear is also a very powerful weapon to cow the people to submission. Fear is after all the main goal of terrorists, dictators and autoritarian leaders who want to remain in power permanently. Autoritarian leaders takes advantage of the uncertainty of the situation combined with the perception of an escalating threat. In this age of existential anxiety, many embrace a cultural worldview that provides an artificial semblance of order and toughness. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of Duterte and Trump who for many people represents order and stability in a fear-driven world. Unfortunately, we hand over our responsibilty to their authority because of our own failure and laziness to confront our chaotic and messy situation.

There’s also a lot of power and money involved in perpetuating the fears of ordinary citizens. For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, fear can be worth billions. And fortunately for them, our fears are very easy to manipulate.

In the midst of the most fearmongering time in human history, we hear comforting words of Jesus in the gospel today:

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”

In this age of fake news and alternative facts, truth will prevail no matter how much people will try to bury it. In this fear-driven and manipulative society, Jesus calls us to continue his mission of truth, justice and love. Like the disciples we are sent out on mission. We are to proclaim in the marketplace or from the “housetops” the gospel.

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

We can expect rejection and humiliation but these should not deter us from our mission. We are not to give up the struggle or capitulate in the face of persecution. If Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus’ mission will prevail in spite of our weaknesses. They may kill our bodies but they cannot kill our spirit and soul.

“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body.”

This kind of fear that Jesus tells us to practice more, is the fear of the Lord. This type of fear does not necessarily mean to be afraid of something. Rather, it is a reverential awe of God, a reverence for His power and glory. However, it is also a proper respect for His wrath and anger. In other words, the fear of the Lord is a total acknowledgement of all that God is, which comes through knowing Him and His attributes.

Fear of the Lord brings with it many blessings and benefits. It is the beginning of wisdom and leads to good understanding (Psalm 111:10). Only fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). Furthermore, fear of the Lord leads to life, rest, peace, and contentment (Proverbs 19:23). It is the fountain and life (Proverbs 14:27) and provides a security and a place of safety for us (Proverbs 14:26). It is this fear that leads us to acknowledge the power of God just as Jeremiah proclaimed in the first reading today:

Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!”