Hail Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Last Christmas evening, Alma’s niece and husband came over with their three-month old baby. They shared that their baby awakes and cries every time she is put down after being carried to sleep. Like being equipped with a sensing device, most babies know the moment when they’re being separated from their mothers. They just know it. The bond is so strong and goes beyond infancy, even up to adulthood. This isn’t mostly true in other cultures, unlike in the Philippines and in most Asian countries. What differentiates us from say a typical American family is the values we put on family relationships. While we stick to home for as long as we can, this isn’t true in other cultures, who separate earlier from their families. And the Filipino father isn’t far from the mother as well. Marriages last longer here than in other countries across the seas. We usually look up to our fathers as the pillar of strength in our homes.

In today’s Feast of the Holy Family, we are being reminded of this family in Nazareth, who modeled simplicity and absolute obedience to God. They’re not the perfect family according to earthly standards: they lived in poverty, didn’t have a flock of sheep which was a measure of wealth in those times, nor were they endowed with high status in Jewish society. They were nothing in man’s eyes then. However, while they were simply that, they certainly modeled a joyful attitude overshadowed only by a complete and abiding faith in God and towards matters eternal. Though the angel foretold the baby Jesus’ coming, most women may still wonder how come God would allow them to live in difficult and abject poverty. Yet Mary trusted absolutely in God, and just “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Lk. 2: 19)

Joseph is the model of fathers and husbands everywhere. In some ways he might be like most of us fathers, generally quiet especially when our spouses are with us, yet he is beyond that: courageous, humble and loving. Imagine this: Joseph must have gained God’s absolute trust, such that God entrusted him with two of the most important persons in salvation history, right? He must be such a great and awesome gentleman!

As we continue with this festive season, may we always realize the importance of modeling our lives after this simple yet amazing family of Nazareth: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

May the Holy Family guide us safely through this earthly sojourn with full faith and confidence in God’s will for our lives.

God’s Love!

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.” Lk. 2: 10-12)

After the Advent preparations including the nine novena Misa de Gallo masses, we savor and immerse ourselves in the birth of our Lord, reflecting on the authentic beauty and immense love of God for us. Imagine the Savior coming down from Heaven, who humbled Himself in a manger fit only for farm animals, lived in extreme poverty, and eventually dying on the Cross for us and for our salvation!

In this season of love, we exchange gifts with family, friends, and colleagues. While we labor in the searching, buying, wrapping and giving, we remember the most important gift that the Father gave us: His only begotten Son Jesus.

What struck me most in the Christmas Mass homily are the words of Fr. Ely,

“In the first Christmas, there was no exchange of gifts. God didn’t expect us to give Him anything in return, because we can never give what we don’t have; all that we have He has given first. And most importantly His greatest gift to us: the most precious gift of His Son Jesus.”

Everything comes from God, and so we don’t really give anything to Him except that we are just giving back, when we give to Him through our giving to others. While we give messages and gifts to strengthen our relationships with our loved ones and friends, let us not forget that the same Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus who died on the Cross for our sins and our salvation. He is the same Jesus who walks with us daily, in our sorrows, joys, victories and challenges. What makes God’s love so amazing and beautiful is that He didn’t need to humble himself, but that’s just how His redeeming love is! Let us then view the baby in the manger as the extent and greatness of the Father’s mercy and compassion.

The season is still long: but may we not fail to treasure every moment and remember how God loved us immensely: so pure, so faithful, so authentic.

My Child, I Will Come and Meet You!

The Misa de Gallo kicks off the nine-day novena beginning December 16 and ends on December 24. While the Mass usually begins at four o’clock, there are cities that have masses starting as early as three. The Misa de Gallo was started by Pope Sixtus V who ordered that Mass be heard before sunrise since it was the harvest season, and the farmers needed to be in the fields right after the celebration. White is the liturgical color authorized solely for Masses celebrated within the context of the novena; violet is used for any other Masses said during the day, as these are still considered part of the Advent season.

In the Gospel, John is in prison and has an important question for Jesus. While he was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan and knows His Lordship, John wasn’t sure about the connection of our Lord’s preaching and His establishing with power and glory. So as the Jews asked him “who are you?” it is now John’s turn to ask Jesus, “who are you?”

Then Jesus answered,

“Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Lk. 7: 22-23)

When confronted with earthly challenges and problems, our natural tendency is to pray to our Savior for help. We burn the wires to Heaven in order to be heard. In fact, a well-known folk belief among Filipinos is that if a devotee completed all nine days of the Misa de Gallo, a request made as part of the novena may be granted. However, when our prayers aren’t granted yet, we wonder where the Lord is. We want to look for Him! And if we were in Jesus time, where would we be looking for Him, in Bethlehem or in Jerusalem?

In those times, Bethlehem was an insignificant place. Nobody would even want to talk about where it is, considering how underdeveloped it was then, an equivalent of our barrio to a Jerusalem city. Instead, maybe most of the Jewish people would cite Jerusalem, being a large city in those days, a most likely place for a “King” to be born.

One insight is that we only have to look at the Belen, the most important decoration during the Yuletide season. In the Belen, we can see the infant Jesus in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds and their flock, the Magi and some stable animals and angels. So it’s really not a likely place to find the Messiah, right? And yet the simplest people of all, the shepherds found that place to find Him. They were guided by the angels who led them to the manger, where the Christ Child is.

Do you remember the times when your prayers were answered, and how you felt so much joy and happiness that you say, “you’re close to Heaven”. And then when experiencing trials and sufferings, you again ask, “where is God?” When experiencing such feelings of dryness and loneliness, we easily get discouraged so that at times we think God is playing games with us. Of course, God doesn’t play dice with us! God is not giving us a problem to solve, but rather it is our stubbornness that makes us understand Him less!

The Scriptures tell us that we shouldn’t lose hope. God will fulfill His promise of sending the Savior to us!

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” (Jer. 33: 14 – 15).

We must believe, we must have faith! “God writes straight in crooked lines” (Archbishop Romulo Valles, D.D., Archbishop of Davao). Because of our fickle-mindedness, we need many Advents and Christmases to experience and to learn to love Him more. Are we the ones looking first for the Lord? It is actually the opposite: God want to see us more, before we even want to see Him! In the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, while Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was passing by, it was the Lord who called him saying,

“Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (Lk. 19: 5b)

Take it to heart: Jesus will come and meet us. This is the experience of Christmas.

It is the Lord!

There are people who love doing and serving others. One example is my friend Kath who doesn’t seem tired of doing things for others, especially her family. She is an obedient daughter to her parents, looks after her close friends who are having difficulties, and does her work quietly without complaint and fanfare.

In the Gospel, we see our Blessed Mother unmindful of her own difficult situation and went in haste to the hill country of Judah, to assist her older cousin Elizabeth. That she was joyful and enthusiastic even without the luxury of a good transportation system, made her effort more precious. What made it more admirable is that she wasn’t carrying herself, or her ego. On her womb is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even when Jesus was older, Mary wasn’t carrying herself, but was always pointing to our Lord Jesus.

When Elizabeth saw Mary and heard her greeting, she was grateful and filled with the Holy Spirit sings a praise to Mary because she is bearing the Lord. We often repeat this praise when we recite the Hail Mary. Even the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, recognized our Savior and leaped for joy! Reading beyond St. Luke’s Gospel we read Mary reply with her song of praise, the Magnificat.

In this Advent Season if we can, it may be a good idea to visit a loved one or a friend whom we haven’t seen in a while. Let’s try to bring a gift, no matter how simple it is. Most importantly, let’s bring our Lord Jesus with us, the most important person this Christmas and beyond.

Just like the Blessed Mother, may we be selfless in our service to others, most especially to our own families and friends. In so doing, may we be bearers of Jesus when we visit others. Like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, may the people we meet leap for joy, and see Our Lord in us.

Game of balance

A lot of things are important and each concern demands our attention. To develop a sense of balance in our multi dimensional lives, we avoid the single track mentality of specialization. We touch areas of our lives knowing fully well what needs to be attended to and what should be denied at the moment. Pause for a while and think: has our idea of success and happiness been defined for us by someone else? Will it add value to what we hold dear?

My Lord, Yours Alone is the Glory!

The people were so touched by the message of John that they started asking him “What then should we do?” His response to them was simple, that is “continue in your current livelihood but do things differently: share with the needy, be honest, be kind, be content.”

This message is timely, especially that Pope Francis has declared in his April 2015 papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (Latin: “The Face of Mercy”) The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (also called the Year of Mercy), from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), 2015 to the Feast of Christ the King (November 20), 2016. It is a major event in the Catholic Church, a special, holy year of remission of sins and universal pardon, in this occasion focusing particularly on God’s forgiveness and mercy. It is an extraordinary Jubilee because it had not been predetermined long before; usually ordinary jubilees take place every 25 years. Since God has gifted us with mercy, it means we also have to be merciful to others.

Because the people believed so much in John, they entertained the thought that he must be the Messiah. He could have taken the opportunity to grab the spotlight and give all the credit to himself. Instead, he answered,

“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Lk. 3: 16 – 17)

This response could have excited a lot of people then. His message was so attractive and powerful, especially in those times.

John was the signpost that pointed the way to Jesus. The authentic among the prophets and even the good people among us, also show the way to Jesus, rather than point attention to their own. Just like John, they also teach us to be generous and share with the needy, to be honest, to be kind to all, and be content with what we have. By their own nature, born out of genuine love for others, they follow the same message that John shared. And to cap it all, they don’t show the need for attention, they just go about ordinary things in the extraordinary ways of humility and compassion.

Like John, may we consistently point to Jesus, rather than let selfish pride make us seek attention to ourselves. May the example of humility that he showed make us do our role as God intended us to do in sharing the Good News to the people around us.

My Lord, Yours Alone is the Glory!

The people were so touched by the message of John that they started asking him “What then should we do?” His response to them was simple, that is “continue in your current livelihood but do things differently: share with the needy, be honest, be kind, be content.”

This message is timely, especially that Pope Francis has declared in his April 2015 papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (Latin: “The Face of Mercy”) The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (also called the Year of Mercy), from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), 2015 to the Feast of Christ the King (November 20), 2016. It is a major event in the Catholic Church, a special, holy year of remission of sins and universal pardon, in this occasion focusing particularly on God’s forgiveness and mercy. It is an extraordinary Jubilee because it had not been predetermined long before; usually ordinary jubilees take place every 25 years. Since God has gifted us with mercy, it means we also have to be merciful to others.

Because the people believed so much in John, they entertained the thought that he must be the Messiah. He could have taken the opportunity to grab the spotlight and give all the credit to himself. Instead, he answered,

“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Lk. 3: 16 – 17)

This response could have excited a lot of people then. His message was so attractive and powerful, especially in those times.

John was the signpost that pointed the way to Jesus. The authentic among the prophets and even the good people among us, also show the way to Jesus, rather than point attention to their own. Just like John, they also teach us to be generous and share with the needy, to be honest, to be kind to all, and be content with what we have. By their own nature, born out of genuine love for others, they follow the same message that John shared. And to cap it all, they don’t show the need for attention, they just go about ordinary things in the extraordinary ways of humility and compassion.

Like John, may we consistently point to Jesus, rather than let selfish pride make us seek attention to ourselves. May the example of humility that he showed make us do our role as God intended us to do in sharing the Good News to the people around us.

Pray On

Ninety-nine percent of praying ends with God throwing the ball back to us. It is your life. You decide. Then move on. Take courage. God gives clues; seldom will he give a clear-cut answer. Why? The answers are already in our hearts. Experienced prayers confirm that God reserves crystal clear directions for landmark decisions. You don’t make those choices every day, do you? God will never rob us of the joys of handling the manageable stuff. That’s the ninety-nine percent. Go for it. If you are simple enough, truly humble, and genuinely loving, fear will have no place in your heart. God already sits on your heart as his throne. It is I. Do not be afraid. Move on gratefully, gracefully and graciously. That is peace. It comes from within and no one can take it away from you.