The Last and the First

A family friend just had their third child a few months ago, a cute baby girl. The first two are boys, 10 and 8; and when they first brought the baby from the hospital, I asked how did the boys react. My friend said “the little boys gave the baby a cold-shoulder”. They must have been thinking “What is this baby girl doing here?” “Is she taking attention away from us? Weeks later though, the boys started to accept that the newcomer is a member of the family and deserves their love and affection.

In the Gospel, it must have been difficult for the disciples to understand the meaning of this parable (Mt. 20: 1-16); they must have thought how unfair the landowner was. Certainly it wasn’t easy, and it may have taken a long time for the message to sink in. God just doesn’t think the way we people do. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” (Is. 55: 8) God’s love is just so deep and patient as it can possibly be. His desire for us to come to Him doesn’t fade with time, such that He’ll wait when we finally decide to return back to Him. He is patient for as long as it takes.

When we’re growing up, our generation handled a different set of expectations especially when parents almost always dictate our careers and the obedient children that we are, we obliged. It is good that we have a deeper capacity to adjust and to adapt to the realities, minimizing stress and frustrations encountered along the way. Enter the millennials, our children, and the world is entirely different. This time as elders we have to be realistic and our expectations have to take the form of love, support and encouragement rather than demands from them which they reluctantly do. We should be cautious in our expectations as these may push them differently or suppress the blooming of their talents.

At home, I try not to be remiss in my reminders and encouragements and I don’t impose too much expectations, so there’s not much disappointment. We have to be patient in providing the opportunities so our family and friends are inspired and encouraged to fulfill their own calling and respond generously to God’s invitation. Most often the problem of misunderstanding the Gospel message is because of our high expectations. When expectations are higher, we may put unnecessary pressure on ourselves or others which often leads to deterioration in relationships, mental strain, and lowering of self-esteem. While having high aspirations may result to putting more effort on our careers, it may prove unhealthier in the long run. Studies show that we always rank highly of ourselves, unable to put a reality check of the dynamics in the corporate and business world. We should be able to customize our expectations with what’s happening so that there’s a balance in the way we pursue our potential. We have to learn to understand how the world works, understand ourselves better, and an openness to the leadings of the Spirit.

God’s call to follow Him in life is relentless, and so the earlier we can, the earlier we experience the joy of His love. And be His example to others needing His light. Yet, even if we are stubborn, for as long as we’re alive and we have the grace of being invited to the faith, He’ll keep patiently waiting.

Let us therefore, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call Him while He is near.” (Is. 55: 6)

A Forgiving Heart: The Way to Loving Unconditionally

Being grateful changes our outlook in life. It changes the way we look at problems and the way we look at storms that come our way. We aren’t shaken whenever things don’t happen as planned. Our thoughts process these matters differently and we always see the good in everything, despite everything.

When we are full of gratitude, life becomes easier as we always have the tendency to view the brighter side of things. In fact, humility becomes second nature, and as if by program default, we set aside pride and jealousy. This is because we are always counting our blessings so much so that when confronted with sad events the mindset is always about being grateful for God’s infinite goodness and blessings. When bad things happen, we still have that capacity to absorb pain and suffering instead of whining and complaining. We persevere, we bear the difficulty, we are hopeful that brighter times come after the storms.

In the Gospel, the debtor-servant who owed the king a huge amount was ordered to be sold along with his wife, his children, and all his property in payment of the debt. After the servant fell down and paid homage, the master was moved with compassion and let him go and forgave the loan. However, when he left and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he started to choke him, and refused mercy to his fellow servant. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. After their master knew what happened, he summoned the servant and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18: 21-35)

This is indeed a tragic story because while he was able to get forgiveness from the king, he wasn’t able to show it to his fellow servant. His behavior speaks of being ungrateful, bitter and full of resentment. Jesus took the example to the extreme to prove the point. Being unforgiving can happen even in a subtle and minute way. For example, ignoring somebody for a long time, maybe because of jealousy, envious of their success, can reflect an unforgiving heart. Even driving on the offensive (rather than being defensive, as my wife Alma reminds when behaving like that in stressful traffic situations) can be an unforgiving behavior.

Being forgiving is admittedly difficult to do consistently, yet it is an attribute that is worth taking as a habit. Love is the whole message of the Gospel, and is God’s reason for sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

It is important to be always truly grateful, because when you are, you become mindful of every event and challenge in your life. You’ll find yourself living with greater purpose and passion; life becomes more meaningful. Being grateful will give you meaning because it allows you to capture the beauty of life’s moments, no matter the circumstances. When you are in a difficult situation, it takes the burden out of life while adding a dimension of wonder and awe of what might be. It also allows you to find contentment amidst the darkness, serenity even in the loud noise of crisis.

Being grateful will empower you to change your life for the better, it will enable you to love more and to love better.

Love unconditionally.
Love your enemies.
Love until it hurts.

Despite the pain, despite the hurts, despite the circumstances.

“I give you a new commandment, says the Lord; love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13: 34)

Our Prayer

This week I have made significant changes in my daily routines, such that I’ve already succeeded in doing my physical exercises early in the morning, instead of the comfortable evening schedule, when there’s no more work and no more pressure coming. This has always been my weakness: mornings I still like to extend my time in bed, and be lazy before rising up. Yet I’ve found out that doing exercises in the morning is more effective, healthier and boosts our productivity throughout the day. So after fixing this, and coupled with my daily morning prayers, I think I’m in for better times ahead.

When our schedules are looking fine and well, we also have to look at other aspects that need to be fixed. A more disciplined approach on our prayer time should also be given attention, so that our relationship with God will be enhanced and developed. The “powers” that He gives the apostles and their successors depends on their communion with Him. As in the First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel is only to teach what he hears God saying, the disciples are to gather in His name and to pray and seek the will of our heavenly Father. Similarly, as followers of the Lord, we should ensure that we are devoting enough time for Him. When we wake up in the morning, the first thoughts that come to mind should be one of gratitude and thanksgiving. We should express our gratitude for the opportunity to wake up and make up for the shortcomings we’ve committed before. At the end of the day, we should also take a moment to pray, to reflect and be thankful before we retire for the night. Every week the Lord just asks of us an hour or two to worship; we do this by going to Sunday Mass. Many haven’t realized that we need these moments with God for us to become more effective in whatever we are doing. A strong relationship with the Lord through prayer is needed for us to discern His will for our lives.

Prayer is one of the most powerful forces in the entire universe. Said from a pure heart, it can unlock miracles to happen. There is however, a misconception about it. We always expect our prayers to be answered. And if we don’t get an answer, we wonder where God is. We have to realize that God answers our prayers with a “Yes”, a “No”, or “Later”. Personally, as long as it will be something good for us, it’ll be answered positively. However, our attitude should be one of trust and obedient humility. We have to understand what He wants us to do. We have to learn to trust in His timing. Remember, it is not about us, but it is about Him!

In today’s Gospel, the Lord assures us of His presence in our midst, whenever we pray as a community. (Mt. 18: 20) Aside from centering our prayers on knowing His will for us, we should also pray for others. The Responsorial Psalm today, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” is essentially telling us we can be His voice to others, especially those who are in a state of serious sin.

Let us pray then, that we become more effective disciples for the Lord, by submitting to and knowing His will, which will only be possible if we regularly commune with Him in prayer.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5: 19)

Our Cross: Our Only Hope for Our Salvation

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I’ve been asked this question many times and it always feel awkward to answer it, as one may feel that I may sound like I haven’t experienced pain and suffering in my life. Yes, I’ve been through a lot; admittedly it’s difficult and always bring in a waterfall of emotions especially when a loved one is in pain and suffering. These thoughts occupy me as this Sunday’s Gospel speaks of Jesus telling His disciples,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16: 24-25)

Fact: All of the Apostles except St. John the Beloved died violent deaths. Yes, it’s true, and they died happily for Jesus.

Yet most of us think that being devoted Catholic Christians would bring us a life of comfort, prosperity and good health, that is spared from difficulties, trials and sickness. In his homily last Tuesday, the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist; Fr. Armand said that we shouldn’t be praying that our problems will disappear, but rather that “we will have the courage to handle these with joy and humility.” Truly, it makes sense considering that life on earth is temporal and fleeting. If you’re jubilant now, it isn’t guaranteed to last till eternity; likewise, when you’re in pain, it won’t be for long either. A reminder lest we be led into thinking that everything ends right here, right now. No, we’re on a journey and the way we travel this pilgrimage will determine how we will be in our final destination. Meanwhile, we have to love and care for our fellow travelers who experience difficulties, in a way helping them carry their crosses too.

One of the saints I admire most is St. Anthony of the Desert. Research noted that he was born in Coma, Egypt in AD 251, to wealthy parents. His parents died when he was about 18 years old, and left him to care for his unmarried sister. Touched by the advice of Jesus which reads, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven” (Mt. 19: 21), the young Anthony gave away some of his family’s lands to his neighbors, sold the remaining property, and gave away the proceeds to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life, placing his sister in a sort-of convent. Even after a time of simplicity, he again lived in the desert in a far mountain, strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for about two decades. There he was fought by the devil in the form of wolves, snakes, scorpions and other wild animals. He was able to fight them off through sheer faith in God, such that they just disappeared as though in smoke. While he stayed there, his only communication with the outside world was through a crevice through which food would be passed by the people and he would bless them with a few words. He did not allow anyone to enter his abode; whoever came to him stood outside and listened to his advice. Anthony would prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months (!)

He chose to live a life of prayer and sacrifice to follow the Lord, and thus, denying himself, giving up his life for God.

Sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, bearing our daily crosses, and offering all of it to God for the merits of others – not our own merit; this is surely a blessing that Jesus would bestow on us His followers. The perfect role model that He is, Jesus tells the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed. He emphasizes that this must be done for the world, for humanity. This must be done to right the wrongs, to correct all our mistakes.

Just like Jesus, we should be willing to embrace these pains and sufferings — we shouldn’t be upset like what Peter did. At that time, possibly in a spur of the moment comment, he hasn’t appreciated yet that the Lord also said, “…and on the third day be raised.”

There’s a reason and a purpose for suffering and pain, just like what Jesus experienced, which eventually became a joy and a gift to us — our salvation and the gift of everlasting life. Imagine that for eternity! We rejoice therefore that the Lord wants us to remember: the crosses we have to carry can improve our attitudes for the better, define our souls and achieve our purpose even if its meaning and significance may still remain unclear. Denying earthly desires and comforts to help others will allow us to experience deep joy and grace if we look at it as opportunities to show our love and obedience to Jesus.

And so, we shouldn’t ask God why is this happening to us – rather be guided by what Fr. Armand has said, “What is God telling me from this experience?”

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12: 2)