The One and Only Authority

In my family’s last visit to the United States, we visited a “beautiful” church in Orange County, California; clad entirely in glass (designed by a renowned architect) which was quite the landmark in that county for many years. What made me more curious about its history was the fact that its founder was one of my favorite motivational authors growing up. I know he was Protestant, but what made me realize the impact of that was in knowing that his church became bankrupt and had to sell this to the Catholic Church.

This generation as well as future generations have to be discerning in the congregations they attend for worship. They should realize that it is not only how a church starts, but also on how it is sustained and how it manages to stay for the long term. What adds to the confusion in the world today is that there are a bunch of false prophets claiming to speak in behalf of God. You can hear and see them easily, aside from being the loudest, these well-advertised pastors proclaim a message taken from the Holy Book, yet without the authority bestowed by God. They usually profess a faith that is geared more towards convenience, glamour and marketing. You only need to look around and see them proclaiming the presence of show business personalities attending their events for added glamour and worldly prestige. Ironically in what could be said as pure hypocrisy, these self-appointed pastors live in elegance and indulgence while their congregations wallow in need and poverty. What is disturbing though is the fact that there are people attracted for the wrong reasons and for the wrong motivations. Our Lord Jesus has warned us strongly that “…many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.” (Mt. 24: 5)

This is where the problem with churches made by man: Yahweh God has warned strongly against prophets professing to speak in His name: “he shall die.” (Dt. 18: 20) God is telling His anger against those who claim to speak for Him without being commanded to do so. This authority comes not from one’s self, but should only from God alone. And God’s warning also applies to us in that we should be discerning who we should follow and look up to. We should know who are speaking to us, for we might be misled. We should be faithful and persevere in faith, as this is the only way we can be saved. (Mt. 24: 13)

In the Gospel, the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, “for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mk. 1: 22) Unclean spirits even recognized and submitted to Him as the Holy One of God. The lesson then is that it is only Jesus that this authority has been given. This authority has been passed on by Jesus to the Apostles, down to the bishops and priests, in a long unbroken line of successors who have been anointed by God through the power of His Holy Spirit. Thus, it should come simpler for us in discerning God’s presence because we have only to look at the anointed authorities here on earth.

In following them, we can be ensured that we only follow the real and the “Anointed One” of God: Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”(Ps. 95: 8)

Viva Sr. Sto. Niño!

There are reasons why we experience certain events in our lives. At this stage, I can safely say that my life dots have been made long before I even tread on them. While it’s still a choice which way to go in our life journey, we can be assured we are pursuing the right path provided we are humble, prayerful and discerning. There may be instances that we feel we took the wrong trail but in the end, we’ll realize those were learning experiences that made us better, stronger, and tougher.

So far, there are three major instances that the Lord has called me to Cebu: first when I studied college; second, when I moved to my current employer, and third, when I was again posted there to manage a part of our operations. In each of these stages, my love affair with the Christ Child resembled something romantic that reflected God’s love for His children. On the first stage, I met and made great brothers and sisters in the faith who “introduced” me to the devotion to Santo Niño, which also affirmed in me my Mom’s ardent love for the Baby Jesus. She always reminded me back then to find time to visit the Basilica where the miraculous icon holds court and venerated by millions of devotees. When I came back on successive assignments, there were always some details to know about the Child. There was always a learning and an insight every time; the more we humble ourselves like Him, the more the Spirit gives us the understanding and discernment needed to decode and see the dots before us.

Being a child speaks of innocence, simplicity and unconditional love. We can relate with that so to speak as we have been small children way back. Relating with a child is to recognize our nothingness, our smallness and our shortcomings in front of our Almighty Father.

Our human weaknesses reveal our need for God, thus, our love for the Santo Niño shows our recognition of His mercy, gentleness and compassion. In a country that is still beset with problems, the presence of the Santo Niño provides a sense of assurance and a refuge of families who are in search of better futures: an OFW parent longing to be back home, a child praying to hurdle the board examinations and others praying for better jobs, among others. Thus, we can safely say, the reason of the big number of devotees. But that’s just half of the story: the other part also tells of the great multitude of those who are being grateful for receiving favors and answered prayers from Baby Jesus. I know because I am one of them!

On this feast of the Santo Niño, let us again discover the child in us and imitate Jesus’ child-like qualities of innocence, simplicity and total dependence on God. As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18: 4), we can grow deeper in faith. In a world continually in a state of confusion, we need to be children, trekking on this earthly journey with the Lord Jesus Christ and totally dependent on God.

Señior Santo Niño, have mercy on us!

Lord, listen to the prayers of your children! (cf. the Prayers of the Faithful)

What Are You Looking For?

I’m sure you know someone experiencing or grappling with depression. One of the surprises I had during the past year is the increase in number of my younger friends experiencing some form of depression. According to the World Health Organization, the global rate of this disorder has risen by more than 18% in the period 2005 – 2015. It was estimated that 322 million people are living with depression (about 3.29 million of them are in the Philippines), making it the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

In my conversations with some of them, they’ve mentioned a recurring answer: their feeling of sadness persists, and suddenly they felt a loss of interest in the things that they normally like. (While not yet reaching critical phases, they’ve agreed to consider seeking professional help.)

Why are they experiencing that?

Unknown to most, there are hurts that people experienced especially during the early years of life. This is kept in our beings in what Fr. Armand Robleza calls, “The Wounded Self”. This is the part of the self that is “ugly and embarrassing”, so most people deny this and even distance themselves from, thus it is an area where most are generally unconscious of. It results into poor self-image, anger, and even fear of life!

In the Gospel today, after hearing what John the Baptist said, the two disciples started to follow Jesus, who turned and saw them, and said, “What are you looking for?” (Jn. 1: 38) This is a telling question and certainly the answer we give can indeed be a life-changing event, as proven by the disciples who eventually became the Lord’s disciples and found a fulfilling life beyond.

Instinctively, there is always something great about life. That is why we dream. That is why we leave our comfort zones in search of fulfillment to the meaning of our lives. It is an exciting journey towards our Real Home. Life is inspired about hitting the target and achieving the mission we have set for ourselves. With the grace provided as a gift by God.

Yet finding our place in the grand scheme of things isn’t easy. One must know the difficulties and how to overcome these. Just like the wounded self, these obstacles are also hidden and can’t be seen unless pointed to us by our mentors and our teachers.

How about you? Have you found what you are looking for? (If you haven’t yet, you may need a guide in your life’s journey. Attend the Code of Champions Seminar; it will change your life!)

“We have found the Messiah: Jesus Christ, who brings us truth and grace.” (Jn. 1: 41, 17B)

Be Guided by Jesus

Way back in High School, I played the lead role of the play “Artaban, The Other Wise Man”, a story written in 1895 by Henry van Dyke. It was a beautiful experience in the sense that the practices made me realize the deeper meaning of the search and presence of Jesus in our daily lives. It was an epiphany for me, an insight into the reality or essential meaning of Jesus coming into the world. The fact that the play was performed in an audience which was largely non-Catholic also tells that the mystery and significance of Christ’s coming is meant not only for a few chosen ones but to include everyone as well.

It tells about a “fourth” wise man, who, like the other Magi, saw the sign in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he went on the journey to see the newborn king, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price”. However, it was told that our hero missed the appointment with the other Magi. He was late to get into Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus, but he was on time to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier with one of his gifts intended for Jesus. For 33 long years, he searched, tailing but without finding the Savior. In his journey though, he helped the poor and the hungry. The last scene I remembered was Artaban, now already old, near the Christ at the crucifixion. He was preparing to offer a pearl as ransom (the last of his gifts), but when he saw a young woman being sold into slavery to pay for family debts, he gave his pearl to obtain the girl’s freedom. All of a sudden there was an earthquake as Jesus died on the cross and a stone fatally struck our hero. In his dying moments he heard a Voice saying, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”(Mt. 25:40)

Today’s Gospel speaks about the inclusion of all creation into the mystery of salvation as part of the body of Christ. All of us have to pay homage to Christ as the Master who leads us all to Him. If you are a fan of astrology, you must discard those beliefs and give way to Jesus, the Real Star of the universe. This is the Star that the Three Wise Men follow. Like them, we should refuse to be tangled in the manipulation of the evil one. The Wise Men’s pilgrimage is a long awaited sign – that the prophecies made long ago in today’s First Reading (Is. 60: 1-6) and Psalm (Ps. 72) are being fulfilled. They come from nations far away, guided by God’s light, bearing gifts and wealth, to praise and pay homage to the God of Israel.

Similarly, our own search for God will be guided by His light for as long as we are discerning and wise to the leadings of the Spirit. There will be detours and threats along the way but despite these, we have to go without being distracted to find Him in the places least expected, and on the appointed time. Just like Artaban, we have to persevere and in the process make His love be felt in the world around by our acts of love and kindness.

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt. 2: 2)

The Holy Family: The Perfect Model

In a few hours, the year 2017 will be gone and a new year will have ushered in, filled with hope and promise. Surely, the year going past is one filled with events both sad and happy. On the eve of the New Year, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, a reflection on their perfect example of faith and love as essential elements of our nature as children of God. The Holy Family though living in simplicity and even poverty, is the “prototype and example for all Christian families,” as Blessed John Paul said.

In this simplicity God reveals our true identity as St. Paul exhorts in the Second Reading to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” (Col. 3: 12) But what made the Holy Family of Nazareth holy?

Essentially, there are several elements we see on how they lived and loved.

Firstly, their lives were fixed on Jesus, according to Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Bernadette’s parish in Fall River, Massachusetts and host of EWTN’s series on the theology of the body. Joseph and Mary had their lives focused on Jesus as they accepted, loved, and took care of him. Every family is called to put Jesus at the center of their lives. Every family who does this will grow in holiness. Those who doesn’t, will not.

Secondly, they were obedient to God. The Holy Family was holy because they strive to do God’s will. Every family who strives to be holy is called to be obedient to God.

“Thirdly,” notes Father Landry, “the Holy Family was holy because they prayed. I can imagine that they must have brought Jesus regularly to the temple to pray and celebrate the major religious feasts. His parents must have taught Jesus Hebrew, like all Jews, by reading and learning the sacred Scriptures.”

Fourthly, they were simplicity personified. They didn’t strive to gain material wealth but were content with simplicity and patience. They didn’t call attention to the fact that they were chosen to take care of the Son of God but rather they remained joyful and gentle even amidst suffering.

Thus, there are many ways by which we can imitate the Holy Family. In fact, aside from the earlier notes, today’s readings are filled with practical advice – for fathers, mothers and children. In the First Reading (Sir. 3: 2-6, 12-14) the prophet tells us how “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” The implications of honoring one’s father and mother are laid out well by God. In the Psalms, we are called to be obedient to the Lord, so that we may be blessed and favored (Ps. 128: 1-2). But the Lord is inviting us to do more, through the life we live and through how we live our family obligations and relationships, so that we become messengers of the family of God.

As we celebrate the New Year, let us spend some time to reflect on this great mystery of the Holy Family’s undying love for Jesus. May we imitate Joseph and Mary in fixing our eyes on Jesus, so that one day we may truly be blessed with the invitation to behold His Majesty’s presence until Eternity.

“Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Col. 3: 15A, 16A)