5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE NEWNESS OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION

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Photo by Cerqueira on Unsplash

The resurrection of Jesus brought about a profound sense of newness. It inaugurated new ways, new lifestyles, new vision, new values and attitudes. At the same time, the resurrection of Jesus, entailed a different path, a different lifestyle, a different community, a different religion from the one that people have become used to. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the very reason for the birth of Christianity. If not for the resurrection, Christianity would not have been born as a new religion separate from Judaism.

In the first reading of today’s 5th Sunday of Easter, from the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after they proclaimed the good news to many cities and made a considerable number of disciples. When they came home to the community of Antioch in Syria, they were “commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished.”

Tradition holds that the first gentile (non-Jews) church was founded in Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). It was from Antioch that St. Paul started on his missionary journeys. More significantly, it is in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).

Why were they called Christians? They were called Christians because they were different. At the same time, they lived their faith in a new way. Unlike the traditional Jews who were mainly legalistic and exclusive, the disciples of Jesus Christ embraced and welcome everyone, Jews and gentiles alike, not just the rich but most especially the poor and ordinary people. They proclaimed not only in word but much more in deed, practising what they preach and living as communities which became models of communion and fellowship.

The second reading, from the book of Revelation, proclaims the radical newness of the world that God will established at the end of times. This is the fulfillment of the new world which is contained in the promise of the resurrection of Jesus. “See, I make all things new,” says the One who sat on the throne. The second reading is about a vision of a new earth, a new Jerusalem, in which “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”

The new Jerusalem will be made up of people who love one another. People will not watch in this holy city as their brothers and sisters languish in poverty and hunger, nor will they attack each other in various forms of inhumane treatment, torture, and war. This whole new world – “a new heaven and a new earth,” “new Jerusalem,” – is the ultimate fruit of living the resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel reading from John’s account of the Last Supper represents the heart of what is going on in the Christian mission flowing from Easter. Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus’ love for them and their imitation of Jesus’ love for each other will be the deepest form of evangelization: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34).

The “newness” of this command is difficult to specify. The command to love is found everywhere in the Bible, not just in the New Testament but Old Testament as well. In his farewell address to Esau and Jacob, for example, Isaac commanded: “Be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him . . . loving each other as themselves” (The Book of Jubilees 36:4-5). Similar sentiments are also found in the New Testament (1 Th 4:9; Rm 13:9; Gal 5:14; Mk 12:31).

What is evident in all these passages, however, is that love is extended only to other members of the inner circle, the community, and not to those outside. Whereas, God’s love that Jesus commanded to the disciples to imitate is spontaneous, unmotivated, directed to sinners and others unworthy of love. Israel experienced this love of old (Dt 7:6-8). In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s love is known in a totally new dimension.

Jesus’ new commandment to love calls us to love to the extent and in the manner Jesus loved us. Our love is to be the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. It is a love that embraces all, those who are different from us, even our enemies. It is this kind of love which brings Jesus glory. It is this kind of love which brings God glory. It is this kind of love which enables us to share in that same glory.

As Jesus commanded his disciples, he commands us now, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

How do we measure up to Jesus’ commandment today?

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Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

While some authors have answered this question from a strictly spiritual point of view, the original Greek text of the Gospel provides further insights.

via Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: LIVING THE RESURRECTION – TENDING GOD’S SHEEP

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Do you love me?

The resurrection of Jesus is also about our own resurrection, when we rise up from our weaknesses, failures and sinfulness to embrace a new and victorious life. This is not much truer than in the case of Jesus’ apostles. From weak, fearful and insecure, the resurrection propelled the apostles to become bold, daring and zealous in proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are arrested, hauled before the Sanhedrin, and ordered to cease preaching in the name of Jesus. The “Sanhedrin” said to Peter and the apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”?  In response to this expression of the highest authority in their Jewish lives, they assert boldly, “We must obey God rather than men.” Ever faithful to Jesus’ command to follow him, they even rejoiced that they were able to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This is a tremendous gesture of defiance that has become an inspiration for the Church especially during the times of persecution.

The resurrection of Jesus provided the greatest opportunity for the apostles to abandon their immature ways and atone for the betrayal they committed to Jesus. This is most especially prominent in Peter’s life.

In the Gospel, the last of the resurrection appearance of Jesus in the gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples while they were catching fish–their old livelihood.  The Gospel scene hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish and Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Indeed, faithful discipleship is not measured by absence of failure, but by openness to casting one’s lot on Jesus’ commands, a recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.

John’s Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. The first, in chapter 18, warms Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard when, as predicted, he denies his master three times. Today’s Gospel presents the other charcoal fire, near which Jesus invites the denier to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Peter’s profession of love for Jesus three times is Peter’s atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.

Jesus, however, asks Peter to demonstrate his love for him by service to his people: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Loving Jesus is not just a personal relationship with Jesus but essentially overflows into loving and serving others–God’s flock. The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.

Jesus then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Peter truly became the kind of man exactly what Jesus envisioned him to be. Love transformed Peter to become the rock of the early church, a fearless proclaimer of the good news and glorifier of God up to his death.

A final paragraph of the gospel contains a prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. This is the earliest reference to that event and its only mention in the New Testament.

Jesus asks us today, like when he asked Peter: “Do you Love me?” Despite our sinfulness, like Peter, may we take the risk to say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But not just in words but more importantly in action, let us prove our love for Jesus by helping to feed God’s lambs.

 

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE COMMUNITY OF RESURRECTION

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The second Sunday of Easter is called by many names. First, it is called the Octave Day of Easter since it is the eight day after Easter. It is also called Thomas Sunday because of the story of Thomas in the gospel today. It also called Quasimodo Sunday and Quasimodogeniti.[1] On 30 April 2000, it was also designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II.

Eight days have passed since Easter and we have 40 more days to go to celebrate and ponder on the meaning of Jesus’ and our resurrection. Are we living as a community of the resurrection?

The readings for today’s second Sunday of Easter reflect on the qualities of a living community of the resurrection. Our readings today give a lot of clues.

First clue: The Community as Signs and Wonders of God

In the first reading we hear about how the early Christian communities witnessed the resurrection. Let’s hear it directly from Luke in his book the Acts of the Apostles

Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.

The early church after the resurrection of Jesus performed many signs and wonders through the leadership of the apostles. The apostles continued the divinely empowered ministry of Jesus (soon to be illustrated by the healing of the lame man through Peter and John [Acts 3ff]).

Because of this, new converts were “added.” It was God who added them; it was not the Church that added new members. The new converts did not become members on their own, but God brought them into the redeemed community.

Second Clue: Living the Resurrection not as Individuals but as a Community 

It is always heartwarming to hear that Jesus died and resurrected for me. But Jesus died and resurrected not for you and me alone or exclusively for you and me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed not as private individuals but as an individuals interconnected with one another, in other words, as a community.

The apostles after the resurrection, did not go on their own but gathered and lived together as a community. After the resurrection, they were able to regain their strength because they came out of isolation and regroup. Although each of them had their own mission territory to go to, they never saw their mission as individual mission but the mission of the whole body of Christ.

Our faith, the Judeo-Christian faith has always been a community affair. At the Exodus from Egypt it was not an individual, nor a group of individuals, but a community, a people, which was delivered from slavery and led to the promised land. The Old Testament is not primarily concerned with the relationships between YHWH and individual Israelites, but with the relationship between YHWH and Israel. The very work ekklesia which the New Testament uses for ‘church’ comes from the Greek Old Testament where it is used to describe the whole ‘assembly’ of Israel.

Third Clue: A community forgiven and redeemed by Jesus also forgives and redeem others in Jesus’ name.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were still living in fear and despair. In the evening of Easter, the disciples were huddled in the cenacle afraid to go out because they are terrified of the Jews (John 20:19). The disciples were perhaps thinking that, if they had done this to our beloved master, how much more to us, his ordinary disciples.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…

Then suddenly,

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
‘Peace be with you’ ” (Jn 20:19).

The first words of the risen Jesus was “Shalom”–peace! The disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied Jesus during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death.  Despite their cowardice and disloyalty, Jesus unconditionally forgave them. He does not complain or demand an apology. He simply offers peace, no vengeance and holding of grudges. What an act of unconditional forgiveness and unwavering friendship!

The risen Jesus passed through the walls and doors of the locked cenacle. This shows that Jesus’ love and forgiveness will traverse any walls of apathy, betrayal and fear. The resurrection will triumph over any hatred and animosity.

This is the reason why St. John Paul II declared this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday.  God’s mercy is infinitely rich and no amount of human transgressions and obstinacy can stop it from being given to all humanity and God’s creation. The responsorial psalm of today’s liturgy proclaims this theme of mercy. In Psalm 118 we sing, “His mercy endures forever.”

As Jesus has forgiven the disciples, he empowered his disciples to pass on the gift of peace to others. The community of resurrection must be a community of healing and forgiveness. He said to them,

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Fourth Clue: Faith amidst Doubt

This Sunday is unfortunately remembered as the the story of doubting Thomas. This is in reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

While Thomas expressed doubt, when confronted with the resurrected Jesus, he was one of the apostles who proclaimed the strongest expression of faith with his statement “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). He was also one of the apostles who travelled the most in proclaiming the gospel. Tradition maintains that he founded churches in Mesopotamia, Ethiopia and even in India. Tradition also maintained that he died a martyred death there. Perhaps, the doubt of Thomas has made him a stronger and more passionate apostle.

Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration of faith was a recognition of the faith of the thousands of generation after the apostles who have come to believe despite not seeing Jesus.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’ (Jn 20:29)

We have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but we are blessed because we all have believe!  Walking by faith and not by sight is an important mark of the community of the Risen One. This does not mean, however, that we have not experienced doubt in our faith. It rather means that despite our doubts and lack of faith, we continue to follow the Risen Lord and live the new life that he has bestowed upon us.

The heightening of doubt pretty much reflects today’s ethos. There is proliferation of fake news which make us skeptical about the truth across all topics – culture, politics, science and religion. We live in a time of skepticism and doubt that like the apostles of the the early church, believing entails sacrifice of time, talent and even of our very life.  The community of the Risen Lord continue to uphold God’s love, life and goodness despite all the doubt and despair in the world today.

Fifth Clue: A Community Transformed and Sent

The risen Lord having forgiven his disciples, empowered them to spread God’s mercy to others and immediately sent them.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the disciples from a bunch of cowards to a band of brave men who preached the Gospel all over the Mediterranean and confidently faced death, some by crucifixion also. Peter, Paul and most of the Apostles suffered the same fate as Jesus. They were persecuted and martyred because they were continuing what Jesus had started – going against a heartless culture and caring for those in need.

As we continue our journey in Easter, let us continue to receive strength from the Risen Lord so that we may continue to be an Easter people.

Let me end with the opening prayer in the mass today:

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen. Alleluiah, Alleluiah, Alleluiah.

 


 

[1] The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Introit for this day, which begins “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” from 1 Peter 2:2, roughly translated as “As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile…”. from Catholic Encyclopedia listing for Low Sunday.

Easter: The Heart of Christian Faith

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Easter is the heart of our Christian life. That is why Easter is celebrated not just during the 50 days of Easter season. Every Sunday is, in fact, the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord.

At creation, God set apart the 7th day of the week, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Yet, when the early Christian church began gathering together for corporate worship, they chose the 1st day of the week, Sunday, as the regular day of their gathering. Sunday was set apart because the Lord Jesus Christ defeated sin and death, leaving his borrowed tomb empty, on a Sunday morning. That was the first Easter. Since then, the church has set apart every Sunday as a celebration of the resurrection.

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday. In the midst of our daily struggles and difficulties – poverty, despair, war, violence, sickness – we gather for the Eucharist to proclaim Jesus’ victory.  We, the people of God, who have received the new life in Christ in baptism, is fundamentally, a freed, redeemed people.

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ the future kingdom is present. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning and promise of that which is yet to come.  Christian life and salvation are first fruits, living in the promise of the future of God in Christ.

The sublime dignity of being a victorious people, however, comes with great responsibility. Sadly, many of us choose to suffer than to live out the demands and responsibility of a freed and redeemed people.  Just like many of the Israelites who was freed from slavery in Egypt, wanting to get back to Egypt and remain as slaves because it has been the life they have become comfortable with. Sometimes being free is harder than being a slave.

Indeed, many of us would just accept what is happening around us without a fight, as if already regarding ourselves as losers and victims.  Centuries of being colonized, both by foreign colonizers and local powerful politicians, have led us to deeply imbibe a defeatist attitude.  Fr. Emmanuel Santos, a Filipino professor in Rhode Island, USA said: “Even our religion which is often regarded as a source of strength and hope, is the same religion which create a weakening mentality of victimhood.  ‘Learned victimhood’ is the greatest tragedy of Filipino religiosity.”

Yet, in order to have genuine change, if we are to truly live out being redeemed people, we have to overcome this defeatist and loser attitude.  Christ’s victory over death smacks off any defeatist attitude.

Jesus Christ our Savior’s going through suffering, death and the effects of sin showed us back to the goodness of all creation and that all will be well.  Easter empowers us to believe that no matter how much evil is taking place around the world, good will triumph over evil.   In the midst of suffering and death, of injustice and oppression, of violence and war around the world, there is a way which leads us to the reign of God where justice, love and peace will prevail in the end.  It is this greatest event which propel us Christians to give hope and meaning to a chaotic world filled with meaninglessness and helplessness.

Gladly, there are growing signs of resurrection in our country today. There is an increasing realization among our people that real transformation will not come from the self-appointed messiahs vying for the highest post of the land promising the illusion of change in our county.  Little by little many of us are claiming responsibility for the mess where we find our country today and that true change can only come if each one takes responsibility for one another.

This is the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  We are to proclaim the Easter message with courage and zeal. Remember the zeal and passion Mary and the apostles, and the early Christians showed in proclaiming Jesus resurrection after they experience the all-powerful event of Jesus rising from the dead.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that we may no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of our lives.   From the waters of death and sin may we rise with Him to renew our lives and the face of the earth.

Easter Sunday: Witnessing to the Resurrection

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On Easter morning, while the men were sleeping, the women went to the tomb very early in the morning and witnessed the first appearance of the risen Jesus. This is perhaps the first surprise of the resurrection of Jesus—the first witnesses of the resurrection were women.

All four gospels recount that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Mark narrates that “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16: 1). Matthew relates that “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matthew 28: 1). Luke presents us with a number of women at the empty tomb: “The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James,” as well as the unnamed “others who accompanied them” (Luke 24:10). While John tells us that the risen Jesus appeared only to Mary of Magdala (John 20: 14 – 17). In all four gospels, the name Mary Magdalene was mentioned which gives credence to the belief that Mary Magdalene was one of the first persons to whom the risen Jesus appeared.

For centuries, Mary Magdalene was imputed with a bad reputation and sometimes called a demon-possessed whore. Not until the last century that the Church’s cease to identify her with the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet in Scripture. The church later gave Mary Magdalene her due, calling her the Apostle of the Apostles because she was the first to witness the resurrected Jesus.

Why would Jesus first appear to women at a time when women were not considered credible witnesses? This difficulty may have confronted the early Church. For the apostles, at least, this was a problem as Luke writes, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24: 10 – 11).

What does this overlooked detail about Jesus’ resurrection tells us about how to live the Easter spirit?

The first lesson of the resurrection of Jesus is that we are all called to witness the resurrection. This is what the women sought when they went to the tomb very early on that Easter morning. True, we have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but as the risen Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John: 20: 29). This is us–we are the blessed ones, we all have not seen and yet we believe!

But believing is not enough. We need to give witness and live out the resurrection. As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song! We are the children of Easter morn. We need to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus with our feet. We need to walk the resurrection and resurrect the walk.

The second lesson concerns the fact that it was to women that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection. There must be a very good reason why God made his risen Son known first to women and only later to the Apostles. This challenges us to take a hard look once again at women’s place in the church. Even as Pope Francis asks us to develop a deeper theology of women, the Church still struggles today to give women their due voice as witnesses to our risen life in Christ.

The attitude of Mary of Magdala and the other women may teach us something about witnessing to the resurrection. The women witnesses had no status, power, and wealth. This may actually made them more open and receptive to the magnificent surprise of Jesus’ resurrection. After all it has been shown in God’s story of salvation that it is to the weak and humble, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, that God first reveals and acts out God’s mission. Witnessing to the resurrection does not involve status, power and wealth. It calls us to embrace the women witnesses’ disposition of humility and willingness to God’s intervention in our lives.

The third lesson has got to do with the difficulty that the women encountered in testifying to the risen Lord—they were met with scepticism and rejection even by the apostles themselves. The difficulties of the women in giving witness to Jesus resurrection are also experienced today by many Christians who are persecuted because of their faith. They are experienced by Christians who stand up for truth, justice and peace in the midst of complacency, violence, falsehood and injustice. They are also experienced by Christians who lead simple, selfless and authentic connections in the midst of the consumerist, selfie and shallow connections of digital culture. They are also experienced by Christians who demonstrate their Christian identities and values in the midst of the secularized and capitalist world. They are also experienced by Christians who sacrificed their lives for their loved ones, friends and even to strangers without receiving any reward in return.

Witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus will always be challenging. But like the women in the gospel today, we do not need power, position and status. We just need to be constantly open to God’s surprise every day of our lives.

Happy Easter to you all!

Easter Vigil: Living out our Liberation

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Tonight is the final day of our triduum which we celebrate through the liturgy of Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil, the mother of all liturgies, is the most beautiful and the longest liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church.

This is the most blessed and most joyful night of the year as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This is the night when Jesus redeemed us from the slavery of sin and all the destructive elements of our life to a life of freedom. This is the night when the light of God encompasses over the darkness of sin. As proclaimed in the Exultet or Easter Proclamation sung just after we took our places following processing in from the Easter fire.

This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth,
and we are reconciled to you!

At Easter vigil, we do not just look up to Jesus and proclaim, He is risen! On Easter vigil, we will also proclaim to ourselves: I am resurrection, you are resurrection, and we are resurrection. As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song! We are the children of Easter morn. We are redeemed by Christ from death and sin. This is our deepest and truest identity as a people. We celebrate and proclaim this most solemn truth in the Easter Vigil through the renewal of our baptism.

Indeed, Jesus wants to raise all of us into new life but sometimes we don’t want to be raised up. We stay imprisoned within ourselves, and entombed in our old ways which gives us false security. Or perhaps, we have allowed people to continue to pull us down to the pit of hell with them. We have created many tombs in our lives. We have allowed many things in our lives which kills our spirit, hardens our hearts and freezes our will so we remain dead. We have chosen this part—to remain in hell and remain dead. The saddest thing is when we have become comfortable in hell. And we don’t want to get out of hell anymore.

Thus, even though Jesus has risen, sometimes the world does not want so much to believe as many of us do not live as victorious and resurrected people. The German atheist philosopher, Frederich Nietszhe, once said, “I might have been able to believe in the message of Christ if Christians looked  resurrected.”

Ours is an Easter religion. We do not deny our own frailties and failures. We do not deny the evils that surround us: the wars that have killed some 100 million people in our (last) century; the poverty that grips more than half of the human race; the hunger that kills millions every year and ruins the lives of millions more; the discrimination that divides the human family into contending parties.

We do not deny these miseries, but we refuse to surrender to their power because of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sinfulness will be transformed; suffering will be vindicated; death will be overcome; a new life will arise: that is the Easter message of the paschal mystery.

Tonight, the most important of all nights for our faith, we call upon Jesus to open and break the gates of hell in our lives. Let us ask Jesus to “harvest” our spirits deadened by  the shackles of hell we have made for ourselves. Let us call Jesus who has risen to arouse us out of the tomb of our selfishness, apathy, pride, insecurity, fear, anxiety, and many other death-giving and pathetic mindsets. Like Jesus may we rise up to start anew and recreate our lives and our world under the blessings of God’s abundant grace.

“Let us feast with joy in the Lord.” Just as Christ passed through death to resurrection, so too will we and the whole world pass through its suffering to the glory of a new life.

So now, let us rise up with Jesus, and live out our liberation!

Happy Easter to you all!

 

Black Saturday: Jesus’ Descent into Hell

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We usually associate Black Saturday as the day when God did nothing because God is dead. And so in the church, there is no Eucharist. Today is mostly a day of silence, sitting, and waiting. That’s how it is the morning after the burial.

But far from doing nothing, God is doing a very important mission.

Holy Saturday is when Christ descended into hell. In hell, Jesus was busy rescuing people from death and sharing with them the victory of his resurrection. We always recite in the creed every Sunday mass that after Jesus died on the cross “he descended into hell”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this:

By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14) [#636]. In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him [#637].

Even in death, Jesus was at work. Death did not stop the mission of Jesus’ redemption. On the contrary, death unleash the final act of Jesus’ redemption–Jesus destroying death not just for himself but for all humanity.

Jesus’ mission in hell is wonderfully depicted in an icon more popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is the icon of Harrowing of Hell.[1] Although this icon is not popular in the Western tradition today, the message of this icon was commonly proclaimed in the ancient and medieval period of Western Christianity by many church fathers like Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and many others. Harrowing is an old English word which means harvesting. Thus, we can also call this icon as the harvesting of souls in hell.

In the icon, we see Jesus standing on the broken gate of hell. Hell is the dark pit at the bottom of the icon. In some icons, we can even see angels binding Satan in hell. Then we see Jesus pulling two figures up out of hell. This is Adam and Eve, imprisoned in hell since their deaths; imprisoned, along with all humanity, due to sin. Eve is generally depicted in a red robe. On both sides of the icon are figures from the Old Testament like Abel, King David, Moses, prophets and many others waiting for Jesus to rescue them from hell. We can also see broken locks and keys used by Jesus to unlock the tombs of those souls living in hell.

The message of the icon is also beautifully expressed in an ancient homily, of unknown authorship, usually entitled The Lord’s Descent into the Underworld that is the second reading at Office of Readings on Holy Saturday .

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

As we prepare for the great commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection at Easter Vigil tonight, let us continue to prepare ourselves to rise up with Jesus in victory.

Here’s a video explanation of the Icon of Christ’s Resurrection


 

[1]Joel J. Miller, “The harrowing of hell and the victory of Christ,” Patheos, March 30, 2013. Accessed 25/03.2018 at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/03/the-victory-of-christ-and-the-harrowing-of-hell/

Holy Week Ends in Resurrection, not in Crucifixion

at-the-foot-of-the-cross

In the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Holy Week is the biggest week of the year. Throughout the Holy Week celebrations thousands of devotees will flock to the shrine every day of the Holy Week. Many devotees will attend the liturgical services of the Holy Week at the shrine. The lines at the confessional will be the longest in the whole year. Many will do the stations of the cross inside and outside of the church.

The highlight of the Holy Week activities is the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion and the Holy Saturday evening of Easter Vigil. Among these most important liturgies,  Good Friday is the most well-attended. The church is packed and crowds overflow to the outside of the church. But the same big crowd is nowhere to be found during the Easter Vigil. In my almost ten years at the shrine, Easter Vigil crowd could hardly fill the church.

This somehow reflects the Filipino’s penchant for identifying more with Christ’s suffering and pain.  Filipinos have suffered for so long time that the ordinary Filipino is called Juan de la Cruz (John of the cross). No wonder, two of the most popular icons of Christ amongst Filipinos are the Poong Jesus Nazareno and the Santo Entierro – both icons depict Christ’s suffering and death.

Fr. Ferdinand R. Santos once commented that the Philippine Holy Week is world-famous, not for its piety, but for its bloody flagellants and actual crucifixions that identify with pain in its most literal and physical extreme. Filipino religiosity can make suffering appear as an end in itself. This is a far cry from the liturgy of the triduum which conveys that the passion of Jesus doesn’t end in suffering but leads inexorably to the resurrection.

Santos warns us that detached from the resurrection, the suffering and death of Christ becomes a tragedy. Worse, it does tremendous violence to the innate human capacity to rise above defeat.

Jesus, indeed, experienced the most brutal physical pain and death any human being can ever endure. Jesus, in his own humanity, however, did not want to go through his suffering and death. In the end, Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death on the cross not because he took pleasure from pain or humiliation but to fulfill the Father’s will; “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Consequently, God does not want to inflict pain on us nor does God want us to suffer foolishly and die a senseless death. Injustice, poverty, war and hunger are social evils that are not acceptable to God, and never have been. This goes without saying that God does not want us to inflict pain on ourselves even if it is to commemorate God’s own suffering and death on Good Friday. God willingly suffered and died because it was God’s way of leading us to the true meaning of glory and new life. 

The divine perspective on suffering and death challenges our perspective of glory and victory.  Glory and triumph in human standards is to bask in fame, power, wealth, honor and influence. Seen through this standard, Jesus’ suffering and death was a massive failure. But God’s glory and victory is different from ours. God’s glory and victory is expressed in various times and places in the Gospel, like in the Beatitudes, in Jesus’ parables and Mary, representing the human response–Magnificat. In these proclamations, God’s glory and victory represents the reversal of fortune: In God’s Kingdom those who struggle in life now—those who are at the bottom or on the edges of human society—will suddenly find themselves at the top and in the center. On the other hand, those who now enjoy the greatest human security and social advantage will experience the opposite of their lives on earth.

Seen through God’s standard of glory and triumph, Jesus’ suffering and death, therefore, was a powerful protest against all forms of oppression and domination. Jesus’ resistance to the cruel and inhuman acts by his captors represents the strongest protest against evil and subjugation.    

Holy Week is not the time to try to replicate Jesus’ physical suffering. No human reenactment of Jesus crucifixion, though how brutal it can be, can ever repeat Jesus’ pain and suffering. Instead, Holy Week is the time for the deepest examination of our lives, our values, our attitudes vis-a-vis Jesus’ gospel values and standards. This Holy Week all of us will stand trial before Jesus. How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by our sinful embrace of the world’s standards and values? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by the pursuit of our own glory? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by inflicting humiliation, pain and suffering to others especially the weak?

Our responses to these self-examination represents the crosses that we shall carry to our own Calvary with Jesus. These are the crosses that we need to willfully be crucified to.  These are the crosses that we need to willingly die to. 

By dying to these crosses, we will allow the new life that we receive at our baptism to rise up again. At the end of Holy Week, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at the Easter Vigil of the Holy Night of Easter, we can truly renew our faith and proclaim our allegiance to God’s power of love and goodness and at the same time proclaim our fundamental opposition to evil. 

May you have a blessed Holy Week.