Listen to Him!

There will always be ups and downs in life. We can be happy one time but we can also be afraid and worried the next day. It’s how we manage fear that can make us feel at peace despite the gloom. One can rest in the fact that who we are and how strong we become is a result of the many challenges that we have experienced in life. We become sharpened, we becomes tougher, but that is not a guarantee. It will depend on how we handle each situation. We can respond in fear or we can take it as another test, therefore, handle it as best as we can.

The readings this Second Sunday of Lent show us another case, this time it’s about Abraham being out to a very challenging test. Yahweh asked him,

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” (Gn. 22: 2)

(Last Sunday, it was Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert.) Arguably this test of faith is really very difficult considering the life of one’s only child is at stake. How difficult (or easy) is it to decide to give up one’s son as a holocaust? And yet it was something that Abraham passed without resistance; his devotion to Yahweh was firm as it was faithful. God assures that we are never tested beyond what we can handle. In the Second Reading, St. Paul made this revelation in the Letter to the Romans,

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” (Rom. 8: 31b – 32)

Aside from giving His only begotten Son, God also gave us everything else, so how can we fail if we have faith? Being subjected to the test is one difficult point in one’s life that can make or unmake a person. We can read a lot of failures and successes based on one single decision which changed lives forever. But as long as one has that faith that perseveres, one can sustain and fortify himself to avoid falling into the trap that the devil puts up. One sure defense that one can do is pray. Regularly. Not only during times of distress, but in all times. Besides, how can you say you love God when you don’t even pray to Him regularly? Isn’t that being unfaithful? Or being a hypocrite? Praying to God regularly is not one that will make God greater (He is perfect and so needs nothing more!) but it is for our own development and growth. We become more humble, more faithful and more discerning to the leadings of the Spirit in our life.

In this time of Lent, let us again renew our commitment to pray. It can give strength when one feels weakened and it also gives flesh and blood to our declaration that we love God. When one prays regularly, a beautiful world is opened and experienced. You can feel peace and serenity that knows no limits, despite the evil around. You can be assured of that. After all, praying allows you to listen to Him.

“I shall walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” (Ps. 116: 9)

Refreshing Our Love for God

The story of Noah is one that is ingrained early in my life as a young boy studying at the Immaculate Heart Academy of Tanjay (now a City) where I grew up. Run then by the Sisters of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), that school formed a critical role in molding me to who I am today. In school, the scene wherein people were laughing at Noah and then later on drowning in the flood is so vivid that I dread the idea of dying in water. That’s why I learned how to swim, but then again, knowing how to swim doesn’t guarantee one will be saved.

Ironically, the waters that destroyed every living creature also saved Noah and his family (eight in all). (1 Pt. 3: 21) In the First Reading, St. Peter said, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience…” (v. 21)

Last Thursday, as I entered the Chapel, I heard through the sound system people talking and conversing loudly. I thought then that there was a video being shown before Mass. However, as I genuflect in front of the Tabernacle before making my way to the Sacristy, I realized there was no video showing. The sound was coming from outside, entering via the frequency of the wireless sound transmitters. The voices were so clear to be heard: women and children were talking and laughing like a crowd in a noisy street. And I imagined things. Before the Mass, Fr. Armand instructed Lawrence (the assistant) to ask the people in the passages and offices surrounding the chapel to refrain from talking aloud while the Mass is going on. As the Mass started and progressed, the sound outside was no longer a disturbance. It was a big relief.

Those sounds intruding into the system frequency is something that doesn’t happen regularly. As far as I can recall, it happened only once before and then last Thursday (which was the day after Ash Wednesday). Was the sound the work of the evil one and his minions in order to frighten and disturb the Mass? Maybe. I don’t discount the possibility.

As this Lent unfolds, let us be mindful of our own “desert” experiences, wherein the evil one will try (and hopefully fail) to bring us to the test. It’ll be on us whether we fail or we triumph against these forces of the dark. We’ll have to watch out carefully and be mindful of our surroundings for tell-tale signs of the enemy. Today the Lord Jesus is asking us to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. (Mk. 1: 15) We are being reminded to refresh our faith, and ask ourselves, “Do I really love God?”

Doing the activities of the Church will not be meaningful if your motivation is only just to do the “routine” ceremonies. Love should be the only motivation as it is only in loving that we become faithful to Him and then join to celebrate victory over death come His Glorious Resurrection. Now is the time to reflect whether you’ve been faithful to the promises you made to the Lord in times of supplication and need. Yes, we are fond of making promises when asking God for favors and blessings. But when the times are good, you forget what you committed to Him. You easily forget. And yet you said, “I love God.”

In this season, if you are experiencing a backslide in your prayer time, try harder to rebuild the habit of regular prayer. Doing it regularly and repeatedly for a long period of time will make it to become a habit. Once it becomes a habit, it is easier to sustain. Your conscience will ensure that you will get back to the habit when you fail.

Prayers will give you blessings so abundant and bountiful you can ever imagine possible.

May the Heavenly Father grant us the grace to become more faithful and obedient to His Son now and forever.

“One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4: 4b)

Are You Lovable?

After Mass today, I dropped by the flower shop to ensure I’ll have flowers delivered for Alma on Valentine’s Day. The shop was running out of flowers, as new stocks will be coming in tomorrow. Surely the flowers business is brisk these days, and I’m just thankful that the local shop in the village is flourishing.

Curiously Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, which ushers the long season of Lent.

Fr. Barrios, a visiting priest this Sunday told a story of one parishioner suggesting that instead of marking the Cross on her forehead, she wanted a heart, to which the priest replied, “It sounds a good idea, but remember that while the heart dies with the person, the Cross lasts forever.”

In the Gospel, a leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. (Mk. 1: 40-42) The faith of the leper is taken from knowing how powerful Jesus is.

Note that in those times as it was in the time of Moses (First Reading), lepers were sent to live away from other people,

“As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” (Lv. 13: 46)

Yet the Lord’s reply shows how God’s love is so amazing and unconditional. His mercy is beyond compare, His patience unfathomable. As St. Paul says, “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2: 13).

Many friends tell me how tired they’ve been of helping others that for once, they’d want to take a break. To them I said, “Just hang on and persevere, you’ll still feel better when others are happy because of you.” Indeed. Actually the point is that instead of thinking of making ourselves happy, why not focus instead on making others happy? As Fr. Armand proposes, being happy means making others happy. Have you noticed that when others are happy, you feel better? When you do that, the fruit is not only making others happy, but also making yourself more lovable. And inspiring! That is the essence of servant leadership.

As we move closer to Ash Wednesday, let us pray to the Father that we be inspired to serve more, to persevere more and to love more. It is only then that we not only give our hearts, but also make the Holy Cross of Christ becoming authentic in our lives.

“Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.” (Ps. 32: 11)

Our Other Priorities

I finally got to find a schedule to see my Mom soon, aside from a quick visit to Dad’s grave too. In this world where people rush and check-off anything that needs to be done as fast as one could, journeys to one’s roots are what makes one rejuvenate from all the rigors of life. Here, time is so precious that one wonders how others cope with all the challenges that Manila offers: traffic, pollution, noise; not to mention the endless queues at every payment shop. For example, when settling utility bills, it takes almost an hour to get past payment of telecom bills. Yes, one can do online payment but what about the rest of humanity, is there no other way that the two biggest telco companies can improve service? I’m just blessed to reside in a place that’s so near the office and yet so quiet that I sometimes think it’s just Amlan relocated in the capital. It’s a blessing indeed.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.” (Gospel Reading: Mk. 1: 29-39) After Simon and the others found and told him “Everyone is looking for you”, Jesus told them that they have to go on to the nearby villages “that I may preach there also.” Jesus was telling them that others need to see and hear him too.

Similarly, we are told by the Lord not to forget the others who have been entrusted to us, they be our parents, our siblings, our extended families, and even the families of those who help us at home or in our businesses.

During the past week Emman, a senior chemist, dropped by to bid farewell in order to focus attention in attending to the family business as his father-in-law needs someone to run it, as the old man is already retiring very soon. Considering the number of employees that their construction business is blessed with, it was really a tough decision leaving a great job (and a rewarding environment) to fulfill God’s call to take care of the business and of course the other people helping the enterprise. It’s a big deal by earthly standards but to God’s faithful servants it isn’t. It’s also a leap of faith to pursue the family vocation. (I confirmed this in our conversation yesterday, that the couple Emman and Jop consulted Fr. Armand prior to making the decision to leave.)

Yes, while one has the right to say “no”, it’s quite a noble decision to think of others before one’s self. It is in doing this what one seeks to fulfill other commitments and responsibilities entrusted to by God. Maintain balance, so to speak. As St. Paul says in the Second Reading, “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.” (1 Cor. 9: 19) One can show to the world that witnessing for the Lord can be done in so many ways and in the many other duties one is called to serve.

“Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”(Mt. 8: 17)