Call. Conversion. Change.

When I was a young graduate in my first full-time career job, a colleague asked me to join his Catholic community. While I was already serving God in my own little way during those times, I didn’t respond to the invitation. I ignored and made excuses not to attend the community’s orientation meetings. I was uncommitted and chose to stay out of the way. Years passed then I transferred to a new job and got married soon after. And then the call again. My wife and I ignored it for some time, but out of respect for my friend, we attended the Orientation. Then the next meeting, we returned and attended the first talk. Then we came back for the next meeting. And the next meeting. Without realizing it, we were already in the deeper sessions of the Christian Life Program (CLP) when we decided to re-dedicate ourselves to God.

Something much deeper than curiosity drove us to join the CLP, or simply put, seek a deeper relationship with Jesus. It was as if we were drawn into Him, and a strong sense that this opportunity to see Him, just like Zacchaeus, must not be missed. I made the commitment and then the Lord made me listen to His Mother’s voice during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was a totally different experience such that it moved me to tears and life was never the same again. And for good!

At some point in our lives, whether we like it or not, the Spirit will move us to respond to God’s calling. When Zacchaeus got the call, he had to climb the sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, the person from Nazareth that others were talking about. He has to give up all inhibitions, fear, and pride in order to meet his Savior. And this gave him the impetus to translate his conversion into action when he declared, ‘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.’ (Lk. 19: 8)

All the time, God is calling, inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him. The problem is that like Zacchaeus, there are people who block our view of Jesus, distracting and filling us with noise to drown out the call. These ‘noise’ may be the people close to us, the Internet and social media, television, and many others who compete for our attention. If these aren’t enough, count the crowd who make us feel very small and inadequate to get Jesus’ attention.

Giving time for others is part of service but we have to realize that time for Jesus should be given top priority, as it is the core of our discipleship. We need nourishment and spiritual strength in order to sustain our beings amidst the chaos and challenges that others may bring on us. We need a platform, a ‘Zacchaeus tree’, which enables us to rise and focus on Jesus, so that we can listen to His instructions and will for our lives. Prayer time for the Lord should be a dedicated period each day, just like a daily walk to give the focused attention that our Lord and Master rightfully deserves. We might need to re-visit our priorities, turning off our distractions when immersed in prayer with Him. We must learn to be comfortable in prayerful silence.

Our sycamore tree requires constant effort as by our nature we haven’t overcome sin completely, but the call of Jesus will change our lives completely and radically, as it did for Zacchaeus — and for me.

‘I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.’ (Ps. 145: 1)

INVITATION TO ATTEND

You are invited to attend a one-day seminar about building the soul of the workplace. Best for decision makers, HR / training practitioners or anybody who might wish to bring this seminar to their own workplace, school and organization.

December 10, 2016 / Saturday / 830am-5pm
Fee: Php2,500 per person inclusive of am/pm snacks and materials.
Venue: CYM Conference Room, 3rd Floor St. John Bosco Parish, Arnaiz St., Makati City

For inquiries: please call/text 09175034378 (Madz)
Email: soulbydesign@yahoo.com

Pride vs. Humility

Most people have the innate tendency to boast of themselves, whether about their wealth, position in society, intelligence, career, or fame. This is one of the seven basic character flaws or ‘dark’ personality traits. There are several reasons for this. However, the most common cause is that it is a coping mechanism in people with a strong fear of showing extraordinary vulnerability. In these cases, arrogance can become a defining pattern. They possess the tendency of trying to manipulate others’ perceptions — to ensure that they get approval and be spared of criticism.

There are also those who, despite their status in life, remain humble and chose to be low-key. One such couple is my friend Lando and Linda. We’ve been close friends for more than twenty years now and all these time, even if they are extremely wealthy, they have preferred to stay out of the limelight, in fact they shunned away inclusion in a listing of the country’s wealthiest families. And I know they are. While we are nothing compared to their state in life, they have chosen to keep me and my wife as close friends — a testament of how they value their relationships. In fact, they invite me to their speaking engagements, or consult me when they need advice. I look on these gestures as symbols of true friendship and deep humility. To this day, we still maintain and keep this intimacy amidst the busy nature and clutter of our lives.

And yet, we also have acquaintances who have become arrogant after thinking they have become powerful and can do without God in their lives.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, our Lord tells of two contrasting personalities on pride and humility. The Pharisee had his life in what is like nowadays as ‘Excel format’: wonderfully in order, carefully planned, such that he thought his objective of going to Heaven was ensured by the way he lead his life. He surmised that since he did that, he had felt justified in considering himself above others who didn’t have that same level of control. He saw himself as morally superior to the tax collector.

Just like his present day counterparts, the tax collector’s job meant that he was often stereotyped as corrupt and thus subject to ridicule. He has encountered all kinds of people in society, and was more familiar with the intricacies and clutter of life than the Pharisee. It also meant he knew himself too well, and in humility, he was able to see God’s mercy and compassion.

Our Lord warns against self-righteousness as a threat to one’s character and soul. The thinking that one is in ‘control’ now becomes the root of the problem. Instead of recognizing that everything still depends on God, one can now look at himself as superior and therefore having difficulties in inviting God into his life. Trusting God becomes hard, failing to remember that we have an infinitely loving and merciful God who only means the best for us.

Let us therefore pray to the Lord, that we may be granted the discernment to acknowledge our lowliness in front of God, and that we may be able to see the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Unlike the Pharisee, may we not forget and recognize that we need God all the more.

‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Lk. 18: 13b)

Persistence in Prayer

The woman’s persistence paid off, as the unjust judge gave in to her repeated requests. She was tenacious in her pleas and had become a nuisance. While it took a lot of effort on the widow, the judge’s response is one that was borne out of his own selfishness and concern for safety. In contrast, we don’t have to wear out God as our prayers are heard even before we mention these to Him. ‘I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Lk. 18: 8)

We often misunderstand this, that God will answer our prayers very quickly. When there seems to be a delay in God’s response, we find it difficult to accept why there seems to be no answer forthcoming.

Being patient and persistent in prayer are expressions of faith. Thus, when we start to wear out, we should be cautious as it may already be selfishness creeping in on us, such that we may even be putting God in a box and trying to impose our own will on Him. When we do this, we are putting our own limited view of the situation on God, who is omnipotent and omniscient. We forget that He understands all the issues infinitely more deeply than we can ever imagine. In fact, the answer we have in mind may not even be the best solution to our supplications!

Our prayer should therefore be an expression of our faith in Him. When we pray, we should allow His power to dictate the solution and the timing. We should be humble enough to surrender what we want in order to allow God to enter more deeply into our lives.

‘Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ (Ps. 121: 2)

Being Grateful to the Lord

This Sunday’s readings tell stories of people undergoing crisis in their lives. Naaman, the army commander of the King of Aram, was a leper. Interestingly, one of those that the Arameans had captured from Israel became the servant of Naaman’s wife who suggested that her master see and present himself to the prophet Elisha in Samaria. When Naaman told the King of Aram about this, the king told him to go. Upon reaching Elisha’s place, the prophet told him to ‘Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.’ (2 Kgs. 5: 10). Naaman responded, ‘What, you expect me to do that?’ He was prevailed by his servants to follow the prophet’s prescription. Reluctantly obeyed, and said to himself, ‘What have I to lose?’ and he washed himself in the Jordan seven times and was healed. ‘His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.’ (2 Kgs. 5: 14b)

In the Gospel, Our Lord met ten lepers as he was passing through Samaria and Galilee on the journey to Jerusalem. They shouted to Him, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And only one of them, a Samaritan; realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The nine didn’t return to thank the Lord.

All of us have to go through our own difficulties in life, it can be an affliction like cancer; or through constant struggle where we just can’t seem to catch the solution. It can also be losing someone close to us where the heartache seemed endless. There are also times when we encounter failures that simply don’t make sense. “Why would God let this happen to me?” So many things in this world don’t seem to make sense. Which makes the reasonable proposition to be like Naaman, doubting at first. In situations like these, we don’t have anyone to turn to except God. In these darkest moments, the only real recourse is to trust the Lord, who will bring us through. When our loved ones are passing through the same trials, what we can do is show them that the Lord’s grace will deliver them through, amidst the shroud of darkness in their lives. We ask Him to give us the strength, and to use our struggles to make us stronger and in the process gain more wisdom.

Even when we aren’t faithful, God is always faithful. In times where we fail Him, we simply believe and trust. This is the world we live in. But Christ comes to us in these moments, and helps us to see He is in control. We shouldn’t lose the opportunity to see God in these. Just like the one who is grateful, who realized that he wasn’t only healed, but that he has encountered the Majesty of God in the process! The worst thing we can do is to be like the other nine, who were ungrateful and didn’t even realize that they encountered God. They weren’t able to make sense of their experience, and they missed the true encounter with God.

Needless to say, the readings today also teach us that with humility and expectant faith, we should all the more be grateful to the Lord for helping us through our ‘leprosy’ experiences. We pray for the wisdom of recognizing Him amidst our hopelessness and difficulties.

Faith is Doing, Not Feeling

Many times in our life journey we’ve felt alone, helpless, and thought God is very far away. In those moments, we felt the desperation, and thought of giving up on our faith. In the First Reading, the people through the Prophet Habakkuk gave a desperate prayer for help, asking God, ‘How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen!’ God’s response is very re-assuring then, as it is now, ‘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’. (Hab. 1:2-3, 2:2-4)

St. Teresa of Calcutta modelled this persevering faith day by day throughout her life. Her day starts in communion with Jesus in the Eucharist and then went out, rosary in hand, to find and serve Him in ‘the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.’ Unknown to many, this great woman also experienced a deep, painful and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with an ‘ever-increasing longing for His love.’ She called her inner experience, ‘the darkness.’ While she was feeling desperate and lonely, Mother Teresa continued her work for the poor, undisturbed by the feeling of ‘darkness’ she was experiencing. This experience led her into an ever more profound union with God. (Vatican.va)

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks about the servant doing his duty after ‘plowing or tending sheep in the field’. The Lord reminds us that discipleship has obligations. It demands our obedience. St. Paul’s tells in his Letter to Timothy to ‘… bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.’

Let our feelings drive us more to pursue what we are tasked to accomplish for God. Let us remember that ‘God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.’ (2 Tim. 1: 7)

Faith then is not about feeling, it is about doing.

‘If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ (Ps. 95: 7)