33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE END IS NEAR

Yolanda Tacloban 2013-30
Photo courtesy of Bro. Jun Santiago, CSsR

The news in most TV and newspapers throughout the week reads, earthquakes in the Philippines, flood in Venice, catasthropic bush fires in NSW, Australia, volcanic eruptions in Russia, melting glaciers in Iceland, deforestation in the Amazon, haze in Indonesia …

Jesus, in the gospel of today’s 33rd Sunday in ordinary time, also depicts the future events from one catastrophe to another, both human-made and natural:

Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

Today, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, war and violence that continue to kill thousands of people. A fifth of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. About three billion people lack adequate nutrition. There are somewhere between one billion and two billion unemployed adults in the world. More than half of the countries of the world have used violence against their own citizens in the form of torture, brutality, and summary executions.

In the midst of all these crises and tribulations, those with power, wealth and position continue to reign. Their power and influence continued to grow stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao remain poorer and powerless every day.

This will be reversed at the end of times. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi warns that the day of the Lord is coming which will spell doom for all the arrogant and evildoers. But for those who fear the name of God, that day will mean vindication and salvation, beautifully described as the rising of the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings.

But before this glorious salvation and vindication from the Lord, there will be hardships even persecution for Jesus’ disciples.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.”

The Lord, however, will give us the strenght and the courage to  pass through these trials and difficulties. We only need to hold on to God’s power and guidance.

It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Each generation has witnessed the signs of the end times. Instead of obsessing about the end, however, the message of the readings today calls us to turn our attention to the present. We need to heed the message the biblical prophets in the scriptures has unceasingly proclaimed:  “Repent!” It is a message that is very present-oriented; it is God’s will for the here and now.

The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).

Being attentive to the present means that we cannot just remain idle and passively wait for eternity.  There is no need to stop fulfilling our daily duties, which is what some Christians in Thessalonica, in the second reading, were doing.  They had stopped working, waiting for the end of the world, and preaching the same to others, confusing them and causing a lot of disturbance. Paul had to intervene and warn them in very strong words:

We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.

The final days of the world are always right in front of us. The end is always near. This means that we must always be ready, be present to the signs and challenges of the times. There is never any time to waste. If we need to repent, now is the time. If we want to thank God, now is the time. If we need to forgive, now is the time.

Scriptures tell us, now is the day of salvation. Now is the time when the Lord is with us, bringing compassion and love. Every Sunday, in the Eucharist, we celebrate, the coming of the future fulfillment of the kingdom of God now.

32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: IMAGINE THERE’S HEAVEN

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Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

The opening lines to one of the most popular songs of John Lennon, Imagine, says, “Imagine there’s no heaven.”

Lennon invites us to imagine a world without a heaven or hell wherein he suggests that we make the best world we can here and now, since this is all this is or will be.

Indeed, many people in the ordinariness and busyness of everyday living, rarely think about either the end times or the existence of another world beyond death. For many, this is the only world and everything about life ends in the grave.

We Christians, however, imagine there is heaven which is a radically different world from which we live in. God will rise us all from the dead at the end of times to live in heaven. This is most profoundly the basis of our Christian hope and what gives purpose to our lives here on earth.

All categories and standards of this world will not apply in heaven as only God’s standards and values will apply in heaven. In the Gospel of today’s 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus describes the radical difference between life in this world and in heaven:

The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.

Jesus is saying that heaven is not a prolongation of our present earthly life but an entirely new mode of existence, in which marriage and giving in marriage are unknown. Since in the new life there is no more death, there is no need for provision to perpetuate the human race.

In a profound way, Jesus invites the people of his time and all people of all times to imagine heaven which is the world that God has prepared and destined each one of us. It is a world where we shall all live again after death, in fact, there will no longer death, for we shall have eternal life. This is what we proclaim in our creed every Sunday:

I believe in …
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

We recite these words every Sunday but do we truly understand what these words mean?

I must confess that I don’t exactly and fully understand what these words mean. But Jesus’ call here is not so much to understand heaven and eternal life exactly and fully but more to hope and imagine. Jesus calls us to trust, hope and imagine a whole new world where all creation will be reunited with God. This calling is expressed beautifully in the penultimate chapter of the last book of the Bible, the book of revelation, chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Despite all the pains and suffering, despite all the sadness and despair, despite all the wars and conflicts, despite all the evils in our world today, God invites us to imagine and hope of a place and time where and when there will be true peace, joy and prosperity for all forever.

Heaven is God’s pure gift; it will only come through the power and grace of God. Thus, heaven cannot come through our human efforts and abilities. Despite all the advances in science and technology, we cannot bring about heaven. We can, however, prepare ourselves to live in heaven by our life, our behaviours, our actions and attitudes here on earth. We can also prepare the world for the ultimate arrival of heaven by making the world a better place to reflect the values in heaven. As the song goes, “to make a little heaven down here”.

In other words, our readings today, calls us to re-imagine our lives with heaven on our minds. Imagine our lives that there is heaven. This calls for radical changes in our outlook, attitude and lifestyle. We cannot bring wealth, power and fame in heaven. We can, however, bring love, peace, gratitude, humility and joy in heaven. This also implies that we need to change our mindset that we are just pilgrims on earth, we are not permanent residents here on earth, we are just passing through. All of our lives is a preparation for eternal life.

 

31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OUR SHORTNESS

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When I was a kid, one of the biggest struggles I had was the difficulty of accepting the fact that I was short. I felt so insecure about my shortness that even if my friends and classmates were just playfully teasing me, often times, I got mad or super sensitive.

But then I realized that I cannot forever balk at the fact that I am short. I came to realize that there are both advantages and disadvantages in being short. The important thing to know is how to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of being short. This shortcoming also inspired me to try to excel in other things which does not involve height like academics and arts. Looking at my childhood now, one of my regrets is that I should have taken more advantage of my being short rather than delving into my insecurity of it.

In the gospel of today’s 31st Sunday in ordinary time we hear the story of Zacchaeus who, among his many shortcoming, is being small and short in stature. But his greater shortcoming is that he assumed a despised and resented occupation. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and he got rich by exploiting his own people through collecting taxes for the hated Romans.

But instead of delving into his misdeeds, he probably for a long time, sought redemption. The biggest opening came when he came to know about Jesus. He wanted to meet Jesus and he saw his biggest chance when Jesus was passing by his town of Jericho. But because he was physically short and because people resented him, no one would possibly let him through to the front. Thus, he did something creative, he climbed a sycamore tree which provided him with the greatest vantage point to see Jesus and for Jesus to see him.

True enough, Jesus, and the crowd, saw him. And to the biggest surprise of the crowd, Jesus told Zacchaeus,

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”

What follows was a miracle of conversion. Zacchaues repented from his old ways and gave half of all his possessions to the poor.

“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”

To appreciate more the meaning of this story, we need to go back to the previous chapter in the gospel–Luke 18. Luke 18 is full of talk about the kingdom of God and who gets to enter it. “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Lk 18:17). This is immediately illustrated by the counterexample of the rich official who refuses Jesus’ invitation because of his attachment to his wealth. This is followed by the famous sayings about the near impossibility of the wealthy entering the kingdom, followed by the hopeful hint that “what is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” There follows the third prediction of the passion to the Twelve, who fail to comprehend. Then comes the curing of a blind man who knows exactly what ails him: “Lord, please let me see.” To which Jesus replies, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”

With these episodes in the immediate background, we can recognize that Zacchaeus has what the rich ruler (blinded by his wealth) lacked. However ill-gotten his wealth, Zacchaeus has retained a childlike ability to keep seeking the truth. He really wants to see who Jesus is. Most significantly, Zacchaeus was able to rise above the challenge of Jesus’ saying on the difficulty of rich men entering the kingdom:

“How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Indeed, Zacchaeus is a sign of hope for redemption, especially for rich people. Rich people can enter the kingdom of God, if they repent and surrender their wealth through the grace of God. The grace of Jesus unveiled the truth about Zacchaeus, who in reality was concerned for the welfare of others. What changed in Zacchaeus was his concern for those whom he had defrauded. He had always been generous with the poor, but now he cared about all the oppressed. His conversion was not only in charity but justice to the poor and the oppressed.

Zacchaeus is a prime example for all of us on how to convert our shortcomings and wrongdoings into greater good by seeking salvation through the power and love of Jesus. By accepting our flaws and seeking to amend our lives through Jesus, we can experience the utter joy and peace Zacchaeus felt when Jesus entered his house,

“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Death Gives Meaning to Our Lives: Celebrating All Saints and All Souls Day

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November begins with the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls. We pay tribute to the lives of the many saints in heaven and we remember our dearly departed loved ones.  By contemplating about death and the saints we can learn more about the true meaning and purpose of our lives.

While many of us head to the cemetery all day and all night on November 1 – 2 to celebrate and commemorate our departed loved ones beside their graves, there is a very real feeling within us that we actually fear and abhor death.  Every year, as we approach these dates, many horror movies are being shown on TV’s and cinemas–about ghosts of dead people, or dead people coming out of their graves, and other gory images of the dead. The fear and bastardization of death is also very much promoted in the celebration of halloween which has become more and more popular in the country, thanks to Western media and commercial establishments cashing in on lucrative halloween products. The commercial appropriation and secular co-optation of halloween from its original Christian meaning portrays children wearing costumes of vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils playing trick or treat.  Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve is originally dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows),  martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Perhaps the most innate reason why we fear death is because it confronts us about our own mortality.  We abhor the idea that our life will end tomorrow, next week, next year or several years from now especially if we are at the height of our career, if we are enjoying the success of our endeavors or if we have plenty of dreams yet unfulfilled.  We hate the thought that our once beautiful bodies will someday turn to dust.

With the vast technology and advances in science, life has immensely improved on earth.  Because of this, many see life here on earth as the ultimate and only reality.  Compared to previous generations, there are lesser people today who believe in eternity.  With death life has ended, nothing more.

mass-grave

On the other hand, death confronts us with the question of  what lies beyond death.  There is somehow the conviction from the deepest core of our being, that death is not the end.  The closest thing we may have experienced this is at the death of our loved ones.  We refuse to believe that when our loved ones die, they are gone forever.  We continue to feel their presence even in spirit or whatever, albeit constantly close to us and continue to hope that someday we will be reunited once again.

This is precisely the meaning of this twin celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Through these celebrations, we bravely proclaim that our life is eternal and “with death life is not ended only changed” (Preface to the Mass for the dead).   Death is the passing over to immortality.  As St. Francis said:  “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Death is not the end but the bridge to eternity.  This carries plenty of practical implications on how we ought to live our lives here and now.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has constantly reminded us about these especially in the Gospel readings for this month: We need to be wise, we need to plan ahead, we need to be ready, prepared, vigilant always.  In other words we need to make the most out of our lives at all times by doing a good turn daily in loving service of God and neighbor. We need to live everyday as if it is the last day of our life. As the song goes:

Minsan lamang ako daraan sa daigdig na ito (Only once will I pass through this world).
Kaya anuman ang mabuting maa’ring gawin ko ngayon (So whatever good I can do now) .
O anumang kabutihan ang maari kong ipadama? (O whatever kindness I may express).
Itulot ninyong magawa ko ngayon ang mga bagay na ‘to (Allow me to do these now).

As we battle through life making the most out of the gifts that God has given us, our faithful departed is constantly on our side.  This is what the belief of the Church as a communion of saints tells us. By this, we mean that the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and we Christians still living on earth form the Church. All are saints because as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be holy, to be saints. We are a communion because in the Church, there is unity and sharing. By our unity, we stand in loving relationship with the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and those still here on earth. Because of this unity among Christ’s followers, there is sharing of goods and graces. The saints in heaven pray for those in purgatory and those on earth. And we who are on earth ask the intercession of the saints in heaven and also pray for the faithful departed in purgatory.

Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, continue to bring us to your Son Jesus who is our constant guide and our hope in our journey towards eternal life!

30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE CHURCH AS FIELD HOSPITAL

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Redemptorist Church in Tacloban after supetyphoon Yolanda

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”
― St. Augustine

In August 2013, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, conducted one of the earliest interviews of Pope Francis after he was elected as Pope.  The very first question Spadaro asked Pope Francis was,

“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” (Pope Francis’ real name)

After a few seconds of silence, Pope Francis answered,

“I do not know what might be the most fitting description …. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

This humble admission of being a sinner is nothing new for Pope Francis. In his general audience at St Peter’s Square on 13 April, 2016, just a month after his election as pope, Pope Francis describes the church as not a

“a community of perfect people, but disciples on a path who follow the Lord because they recognise themselves as sinners and in need of his forgiveness,”

In the same interview with Spadaro, Pope Francis describes what the church needs be today. The church today demands that it need not be a magnificent building secure on itself but a field hospital after a battle.

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.

In the gospel of today’s 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus told a parable about two people who prayed in the temple in Jerusalem, one was  a religious person and the other a notorious sinner. In an unexpected twist of fate, the sinner went home from the temple justified rather than the religious person:

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ verdict favoring the tax collector must have been outrageous to his hearers. Jesus did not mean, however, that the Pharisee was wrong in his deeds of morality and piety, or that the tax collector was right in being a swindler and extortioner.

The Pharisee was quite right in performing his religious and moral duties. He was not like other people—extortioners, unjust, adulterers. He practiced strict observances of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and tithing. The tax collector, on the other hand, had nothing to commend him. He was no better than the rest of his kind. There was no question but that he was the “bad guy.”

But being “justified” means being in right relationship with God, faithful to the covenant relationships. Luke says pointedly that Jesus addressed this parable to those “who trusted in themselves” that they were righteous (or justified). In other words, the target of the story is those who foolishly thought their righteousness was based on their own action rather than the grace of God. They placed their faith more in themselves than in God, thereby undermining the foundation of their covenant connections with God and the community.

The greatest enemy of religious belief today are not the atheists or agnostics but self-righteous people from within a certain religion or church. They give religion or church a bad name.  They repel others from the church, especially those who are struggling to rectify their relationship with God and others, because they impose their moral compass which they think is above all others.

On the other hand, one cannot justify the statement, “Why go to church if the church are full of hypocrites and self-righteous people, anyway.” The reason we go to church is not because we are perfect but because we want to seek God’s mercy out of our imperfections.

Jesus’ parable today, as every parable, is Jesus’ way of teaching us about divine reversal. God’s ways and values are, more often than not, a reversal of the ways and values of the world. This is true in prayer, God hears not the rich and sufficient in themselves but the poor and the oppressed, as the first reading today from the book of Sirach says:

Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint …
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.

In prayer, we can discover in our failures and sinfulness, examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture. What may initially look as a set-back can be an opportunity for course correction. Thus, Jesus parable today, as every parable, is an open-ended story. We’re supposed to end the parable in our own lives and apply what this parable means to us and make the changes that it demand from our lives today.

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER

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The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque, Philippines is the biggest shrine in the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Every Wednesday throughout the year, up to 150,000 devotees flock to the shrine. What draws thousands of people to the shrine?

Many who flock to the shrine are hungry, thirsty, alienated, depressed, excluded, abandoned and deprived in multiple ways and variety of experiences. Despite their poverty, they persistently turn to God and Our Mother of Perpetual Help. For many of them, the only strategy available is persistence in prayer. The plight of the poor devotees in Baclaran is, indeed, a present day retelling of the parable by Jesus in the gospel about the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).

Today’s readings for the 29th Sunday in ordinary time is about the “necessity of praying always without becoming weary.”

In the gospel, Jesus told a parable about a widow who kept badgering the judge to vindicate her cause. As Fr. Dennis Hamm, emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha, USA, explains, a widow in the Ancient Near East is without resources. Since the court of law was entirely a male realm, we are to picture her as a lone woman amidst a noisy crowd of men. An oft-quoted description of Near Eastern litigation describes a raucous crowd of clients competing for the attention of a judge, who is surrounded by an array of personal clerks. Some clients gain access to the judge by supplying “fees” (bribes) to a particular clerk. The rest simply clamor. The fact that the woman is alone suggests that there is no male available in her extended family to plead her case. She is very much alone in an intimidating situation.[1]

The judge is described as one who neither fears God nor is capable of shame before men. Presumably, he is moved only by bribery (the sort of judge implied by Amos 5:10-13), and this woman is either unwilling or unable to use that means. The only strategy available to her is persistence—which finally gets through to the irreverent and shameless judge.

The First Reading also talks about persistence in prayer but with the help and support of others. Moses stands on the top of a hill where he can see Israel battle it out with Amalek.  To inspire his general, Joshua,  Moses holds out “the staff of God” over the battle. He has to continue holding it out, straight-armed, until the combat is completely done because whenever he lowers his arms the enemy starts to win. This goes on for a long time and Moses’ arms do grow exceedingly weary. Moses was able to keep his hands raised (or “prayed constantly”) with the help of his companions, Aaron and Hur. They even found a rock for him to sit on.

St. Paul too, recommends persistence for Timothy—and us all—in our living and giving of the faith. Paul advises Timothy to “preach the word, to stay with the task whether convenient or inconvenient, correcting, reproving, appealing, constantly teaching and never losing patience.”

Persistence in prayer implies that prayer is a discipline. We tend to be most persistent about what is most important to us. For example, we are persistent in exercise routines, athletic training, musical practice. In the same way, we need to maintain discipline in prayer.

How can we maintain and sustain the discipline of prayer?

Regular

In the first reading, whenever Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight. In the same way, we need constantly to lift up our hands to God. This implies regularity in prayer. We do not just pray in times of need but also in times of joy. We do not only pray when we feel like praying but especially in times when we dont feel like praying. Prayer is an essential part of our daily life. This implies the necessity of forming the habit of prayer. We make prayer a habit, by setting aside a regular time for prayer in our daily routine.

Prayer with action and action with prayer

Moses prayed while Israel was engaged in battle. The persistent widow was banging at the gate of the corrupt judge while doing everything to get the justice she deserves. Indeed, prayer must be accompanied by action and action complemented by prayer. In fact, prayer and action should never be separate from each other.  As the saying goes, “When you pray for rain, take an umbrella.” We also have a Filipino saying which goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is in God, action is in people). Action without prayer is shallow and prayer without action is empty.

Praying with others

When the devotee goes to the shrine, she/he joins the thousand others who has their own individual petitions. Each one is inspired to not only pray for his/her own but for and with the others. When one hear the thousands sing and pray the novena in unison one cannot help but experience courage and hope, which provide the strength to go on amidst the struggles in life.

We become more persistent in prayer when we pray with others. Prayer makes us stronger in solidarity with others not isolate ourselves from others. Prayer builds communities and communities become more united in prayer.

In our daily lives, we are at a battle. We need both collective action and prayer. Our success in battling the evils and confronting the challenges in our world today depend upon our unity in action and  prayer. Most importantly, through prayer we experience that God is ever near, God is with us in our struggles and aspirations. As Pope Francis said,

In our daily journey, especially in difficulties, in the fight against evil outside of ourselves and within us, the Lord is not far away, he is at our side; we fight, with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer, which makes us feel his presence alongside of us, his mercy, even his help.

Pope Francis, Angelus, October 20, 2013

 


 

[1] Dennis Hamm, SJ, “Let the Scriptures Speak” 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, The Sunday Website at Saint Louis University, October 20, 2019, accessed at https://liturgy.slu.edu/29OrdC102019/theword_hamm.html

 

 

St. Gerard Majella, Patron of Pregnant Mothers and Children

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Today, October 16th is a special day for the shrine. We celebrate today the feast of St. Gerard Majella. All masses and novena today will remember the life and example of St. Gerard. There will also be a distribution of free medals of St. Gerard as well as the blessing of children, mothers and expectant mothers.

St. Gerard was an Italian lay brother of the Redemptorists. He was born in Muro Lucano, Basilicata, Italy in April 6, 1726. Despite being always frail in health, Gerard was very passionate in giving all his time and talents to the poor and in prayer to God.

St. Gerard Majella is the patron saint of pregnant mothers and children. He is popularly known as “the saint of mothers.” Many devotee couples who have not conceived for many years have testified that after they asked the intercession of St. Gerard they were blessed with the gift of a child.

The life of St. Gerard is one of the inspirations for the shrine to establish the St. Gerard Family Life Ministry. Another inspiration is the needs and issues that the devotees bring to the shrine regarding their family life. As the shrine has daily confession, many devotees take the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. But there are also times that the devotees share inside the confessional issues and problems in their family like marital infidelity, couple differences, parent-children gap, birth control, abortion, drug addiction, homosexuality, and many others. Because these are serious cases needing more time and attention beyond the confessional, we usually suggest counseling. From this experience, came the need for establishing a counseling center at the shrine. Thus, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry became an extension of Sacrament of Reconciliation thru consultation and counselling.

The shrine formally established St. Gerard Family Life Ministry on Oct 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard. Through consultation, advisory, and referral services, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry seeks to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life. St. Gerard Family Life Ministry offers FREE consultation services: Marriage and Family, Parenting, Human Relationships, Youth, Spirituality, Natural Family Planning, Same Sex Attraction (LGBT) Various Addictions (cyber, gambling, alcoholism, sex, pornography, etc.) Legal Matters, HIV, Migrants and OFWs concerns

Those who avail of the services of the center are church goers, devotees, walk-in clients and referrals from confession, by phone and face to face consultation/counselling. Many devotees who came to the center benefited from the center through the experience of comfort and compassion, healing of broken relationships, healing of broken homes, spiritual nourishment and enhancing of their faith and hope. The ten most common problems devotees bring to the center are:

1) Personal Concerns
2) Marital Problem
3) Family matters
4) Legal matters
5) Man/Woman relationship
6) Job/Financial
7) NFP/Pregnancy
8)Psychological
9) Same Sex Attraction (homosexuality)
10) Spiritual

At the beginning, 5 married couples were selected from volunteers to undergo a series of trainings and seminars to the family life commission archdiocese of manila, Pro-Life Phils, Simbahayan Commission and also which the Diocese of Paranaque. Most of the Mentors are Wounded Healers. Different life experienced stories. In order to enhance their capabilities in counselling, the shrine sponsor their training and study courses about family in UGAT foundation Ateneo de Manila and De la Salle University. There are also practicumers from CEFAM, one priest and one deacon

The  St. Gerard Family Life center also networks closely with the Social Services of the Social Mission of the Shrine, other Family Centers especially those located in Metro Manila, ProLife Phils, of which the center is one of its Pregnancy Crisis Intervention Centers, Government and non-governmental agencies for referral purposes. The center also sponsors from time to time seminars and/or symposia on topics related to family life.

Do you have any problems in the family, marriage, relationships and sexuality? Come to St. Gerard Family Life Center of the shrine and avail of its free services. The schedule of FREE consultation services of the center are from Mon-Tue-Thurs-Fri-Sat: 9am to 12noon / 2pm-5pm, Wed: 9am to 12noon 2pm-7pm, and Sunday: 9am to 12noon. Every 1st Monday of the month there is a novena mass of St.Gerard at 930am. After the mass a there is a blessing for all mothers and children especially for expectant mothers and pregnant woman.

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For more information please visit our website.

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RETURN TO GRATITUDE

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Ever since the novena began in the Baclaran shrine, devotees have been writing letters of petitions and thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

On any given year, the letters of petitions outnumber the letters of thanksgiving by a huge margin. Of the total letters received every year, 85% to 90% are letters of petitions while 10% to 15% are letters of thanksgiving. In 2016, for example, 136,819 letters of petitions were received which represents 87.83% of the total letters received while only 18,954 letters of thanksgiving were received which represents 12.17% of the total letters received.

In the gospel of today’s 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10 lepers petitioned Jesus to cure them and Jesus cured them all. Only one of them, however, returned to give thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. When he prostrated himself before Jesus and thanked him, Jesus remarked on the absence of the other nine. 

“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

In our lives today, despite the many ills and difficulties we experience everyday, there are so many wonderful things that we we can give thanks for. But we do not.

Why? Because, giving thanks is like slowing down or taking a step back in order to appreciate the good things in our lives. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered to pause from our hectic schedules. We are always busy with so many things. We are busy with, of course, the basic necessities of life–earning a living, doing our daily chores, fulfilling our role as parents, wife, husband, children, and the duties and responsibilities we hold at work, organizations, church and society. But we are also busy with getting rich, with saving money to get a brand new car, with getting to the top of the ladder, with getting an award, with advancing our career.

I am not saying that these aren’t worthy aspirations. But our attention has been drawn more and more to things that we should accomplish, we should earn, we should accumulate. We become preoccupied with success, accomplishments that sometimes we fail to smell the flowers as it were. More is better and there can never be a moment when it is enough. 

In a world driven by profit, there is a price tag for almost all good things. Even love, happiness and peace have become commodities that we have to earn or buy. The saying that “the best things in life are free!” seems to be just an illusion. 

This commodified mindset is also present in our spiritual lives, unfortunately. The nine lepers who were cured by Jesus were more concerned with fulfilling the religious rituals of cleansing rather than  giving thanks to God. In the same way, many of us are more concerned with fulfilling and doing our religious duties and obligations but fail to give thanks to unconditional love of God.

Ever wondered why despite the affluence and comfort, the suicide rate is very high in wealthy countries. Ever wondered why in first world countries many are suffering from depression and loneliness. It seemed that in today’s existential reality, there is a profound alienation from the original goodness and giftedness of life. This has led to seeing life and the meaning of one’s identity in a materialistic way; every aspect of life is attached to commodity.

Today’s gospel calls for radical change not just simply a call to give thanks and become more mindful of the virtue of gratitude. Today’s gospel call us to confront the social structures and system that has alienated us from the original giftedness of life and the original blessing of God’s creation. It is a calling to truly live out the saying, “the best things in life are free” and to add to this “because we were created in the free and gratuitous love of God.”

God has blessed us with a wonderful earth and filled it with a beautiful family of brothers and sisters. As Christians, we are called to have thankful worship of God, expressed in care for the lepers and blind people of our day—the poor, hungry, and homeless, the victims of war and oppression, the suffering and dying.

This is what we celebrate every Sunday in the eucharist.  Every eucharist is a call to return to gratitude. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia, εὐχαριστία, which means thanksgiving. Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving to God for the original and gratuitous goodness that God has bestowed upon all life. In this way it is a counter-symbol to the prevalent culture of profit and greed which has led to the commodification of everyday life. The eucharist calls us to partake of the body and blood of Jesus by worshipping and returning to God and like Jesus, sharing our lives in service to others.

 

27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIMES: FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS

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Greta Thunberg Poster designed by machasgear, https://www.redbubble.com/people/machasgear/works/38452049-greta-thunberg?p=poster

One of the hottest figures on the news all around the globe during the past two weeks was not a head of state, nor a famous actor nor a sports star nor even an adult but a 16 year old girl by the name of Greta Thunberg. Greta is a Swedish environmental activist fighting for immediate action to address what she describes as the climate crisis.

A very tall order, indeed. After all, who would listen to a small high school autistic girl? Ordinarily, adults will just ignore such a seemingly childish babble coming from a girl who does not yet have much experience and knowledge about life and the world. And soon everything will be forgotten.

No, this didn’t happen to Greta. On the contrary, it was the adults who behaved like children babbling about her message and Greta behaving like an adult brushing aside every insult and bashing hurled upon her. After she addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York last September 23, conservatives and other critics attacked her demeanor, her looks, her mental health, and above all her autonomy, claiming she is “brainwashed” or a victim of child abuse. Some even compared her speeches to Nazi propaganda. Never mind if she had a valid and urgent message.

Yet Greta is not just a girl with a loud mouth; she has demonstrated concrete, even if small, actions to back her words. At home, she convinced her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat. She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to New York in a 60 ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines.

In May 2019, Greta published a collection of her climate action speeches which she titled, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

In the Gospel of today’s 27th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus said to his disciples,

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Jesus tells the disciples that even the tiniest faith can achieve great things. Indeed, faith is a tiny force, yet it can transform our lives and the world. We don’t need to have superpowers to change the world. We don’t need strong men like Trump or Duterte or Putin to solve our problem for us. As Greta have showed us, we only need to have faith in our small efforts and the will to act to tackle this impending disaster that we now call climate change.

This is the kind of faith that Jesus has imparted to us, as St. Paul in the second reading told Timothy. Paul reminded Timothy to constantly enflame the faith he has received from Jesus–a faith that is not a spirit of cowardice but of power and love.

Beloved:
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.

Indeed, faced with the insurmountable challenges of our lives in our world today, the temptation is to sulk into cowardice and summon an outside extra-ordinary force that will magically solve all our problems. Just like Habakkuk in the first reading who could no longer endure the violence, abuse and oppression in the world, became impatient with God and called upon God to intervene.

How long, O LORD?  I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.

Surprisingly, God answers, in a lengthy, encouraging but challenging reply.

For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

God assures Habakkuk that God will make things better, “For the vision still has its time.” But not yet, “if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” Perhaps like Habakkuk, we have, at one time or another, screamed at God: “Why don’t you help me right now? Why are you delaying and letting us suffer more?”

Faith! When you go to the churches on Sunday, you see a lot of faith. Yet, still a lot of people today re-echo the apostles’ plea to Jesus: “Increase our faith!” Jesus tells us, it’s not the size of faith that matters, but the character of our faith.  True faith is borne not out of the quantity of religious work we do but out of a constant trust and faithfulness in the power and goodness of God over our lives and our world. Furthermore, the parable, which forms the second half of the gospel reading, warns the disciples against supposing that faith, and the obedient service of the Lord in which faith is expressed, establishes a claim for reward.

When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

faith-can-move-mountains

I end with a prayer by Anne Osdieck [1]

Lord,
make us your true servants
trusting that whatever
faith you give us
will surely
be enough.

 


 

[1] Anne Osdieck, “Praying toward Sunday,”  The Sunday Website
at Saint Louis University,  27th Sunday of Ordinary Time C, October 6, 2019 accessed at https://liturgy.slu.edu/27OrdC100619/prayerpathmain.html

A Day for Animals at the Shrine

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Catholics all over the world celebrates October 4 as the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. The secular world celebrates October 4 as World Animal Day, an international day of action for animal rights and welfare.

The shrine celebrates both events. Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. It was On October 4th, 2005, that a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine.

Saint Francis is associated with the patronage of animals. Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.

Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis not just with a blessing of animals but also with prayers for creation. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

The shrine in recent years has become sanctuary to many animals. Stray dogs and cats  hang around the shrine and the convent every day not to mention the rats, bats, and the birds which has made the shrine their home ever since the shrine was built. The presence in the shrine of skinny and smelly dogs and cats abandoned by their human owners is a sad reminder of human’s cruelty to animals and of the abdication of our sacred duty as stewards of creation.

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Outside the shrine, however, animals of various kinds enjoy the security and food that nature provides. The various hardwood and fruit trees in the shrine compound provide sanctuary for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

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In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[1] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

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On this feast of St. Francis, we are reminded that care for animals and the promotion of the integrity of creation is an essential expression of our devotion and faith.  In the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena, the shrine incorporated into the novena a petition that expresses this:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.


[1] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narcissus_flycatcher.