Remain in Christ!

Having worries and anxieties are almost normal for the faithful one, these despite trying hard to put up with a prayerful spirit and a heart full of faith. Although we are taught to fully trust the Lord at all times, we also fear that God will subject us to the test. That is why one of the most important part of the Our Father is the line “Do not bring us to the test.” We dread being tested, because we also know how difficult it is to thrive unscathed in this troubled world.

As I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation last week, the Priest Confessor was telling me, “…when one is pressured, one’s strength shines through.” Indeed, it is the Lord’s way of telling me, “Don’t worry, I have your back.”

Today’s Gospel is one of the most re-assuring of the Lord’s messages. To put it in context, this discourse was made just the night before His passion. Jesus knew that the disciples, and as well as we, are filled with worries and anxieties. He uses the imagery of the vineyard as this will enhance their and our understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission as set by God the Father. He encourages them and us to stay with Him and persevere till the end,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.”

In these verses and in the surrounding chapters, the Lord comforts and encourages both the community of disciples and as well as the faithful today with the promise that they and we as well are not abandoned or left alone, but can be confident of the Lord’s continuing presence with us in the world. He is telling us that we can never obtain the power to create unless we remain attached to Him. We can only be effective for as long as we are connected to the Power from on High. It is clear that these words are intended not as a command or judgment, but as invitation and as a promise: apart from Jesus, “you can do nothing.”

This beautiful imagery of the vineyard portrays the intimacy of the Father, Jesus, and the faithful followers of Christ. It is a challenge for the community of believers to change their and our mindset of keeping God at a distance. It is not something that is abstract, rather, it is something that is real and authentic. Jesus wants us to invite Him into our lives, not as a silent witness to what we do, but as someone who influences our thoughts, words and actions. In other words, Jesus opinion should matter to us more than anyone else and who directs and leads our lives. His thoughts and actions should provide us the template of Christian living,

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” (v. 7)

The Lord is telling us that reading, memorizing, meditating, or listening to the Scriptures being read and preached, isn’t enough; rather it means that we consider Jesus’ words as those coming from a living Person whom we love more than any other in the world.

Now, isn’t it a very re-assuring promise, coming from Someone infinitely powerful?

Let us pray therefore, that we love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3: 18)

He Is With Us

The Gospel today again illustrates the depth of the Father’s love for His people. It is in fact, a lesson for leaders who ought to model their lives to Jesus, who describes His relationship with His followers like the relationship between a good shepherd and His sheep. As the Good Shepherd risks and is prepared to give up His life to protect the sheep, Jesus willingly allowed Himself to suffer and be crucified for the sake of His sheep. On the other hand, a hired shepherd abandons the flock in the face of danger.

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not His own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because He works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” (Jn. 10: 11-13)

Leaders ought to be brave, courageous and possess the attitude of unselfish service. Reading further the verses following Jesus teaching, we learn that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders understand that the Lord is referring to them when He describes the hired shepherds. They were so angry that they resisted the Lord all the more and “again picked up rocks to stone him.” (v. 31) This anger continued until Jesus’ death.

The actions of a good shepherd for the flock is part of the shepherd’s job. However, the actions of the good shepherd are based upon the relationship that develops between the shepherd and the sheep. While the hired shepherd leaves the sheep when confronted with danger, the good shepherd stays with the sheep and is ready to give up His life for them. This is at the core of the difference between the good shepherd and the hired shepherd. The good shepherd knows the sheep and therefore acts out of love. This is not just a job, but His love for them is part of who He is to them. Thus, leaders should emulate such caring attitude to their followers as a good shepherd cares for his sheep.

Jesus also emphasizes that His flock also include other sheep, far more than the dispersed children of Israel,

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (v. 16)

And He gave His Church the mission of shepherding all peoples to the Father. This is seen in the First Reading, in the testimony of St. Peter, whom the Lord appointed shepherd of the early Church. Peter quoted the Psalms and tells Israel’s leaders of their rejection and eventual crucifixion and death of Christ. Through the ministry of the Church, this mission continues until all the world is one flock under the One Good Shepherd. As to when that happens, only God knows.

Let us pray that we continue to grow in faith and pledge again to be more faithful and grateful to Him for all the blessings we have and will continue to receive from Him.

“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” (Ps. 118: 22)

God is in Control

Yesterday we attended lunch hosted by close friends, a couple who came home from the United States for a short visit. The meal was fun and lively, as we get to hear how they’re coping with life in New Jersey, aside from reminiscing the moments our group has experienced since way back. There are relationships that despite the distance, remain as strong as ever. This is one of those.

However, one of these friends (an elderly couple) who came, had a daughter who passed away many years ago. Their daughter was in fact active in God’s service at the time of her passing (at one of the parishes in Mandaluyong). Her demise was sudden such that even up to now, her mother is still grieving over the loss and hasn’t moved on. She is sad especially with the thought that two young children are left behind. Now the children are growing up well, and their grandmother are actively involved in rearing them up. We are praying that she’ll be able to finally accept what happened, knowing that the Lord is in control of what’s happening.

There are times that situations have really sunk deep into us, such that when certain events happen in our life, we are indifferent and continue in a state of unbelief. In the Gospel, the risen Lord has to ask the disciples,

“Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” (Lk. 24: 38-39)

He felt the grief and told them that “everything written in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” (v. 44b) Jesus conquered death, and the Scriptures has said it all, with more explanations including the readings this Sunday. The story of suffering, which all of us have experienced one way or the other; is always something unpleasant, whether it’s a happy, or a violent death. Yet, there is something beautiful in it. The Lord demonstrated such beauty in His Passion and His death, culminating in His Glorious Resurrection, and it’s the same in people’s lives. While Jesus doesn’t need to suffer, His great love for the Father and for us all drove Him to obey the will of God the Father. When we question why we have challenges to overcome, and why bad things have to happen, we just have to think about the Lord’s own suffering. Given His passion and His death on the Cross, think about it: who has suffered a more violent death? Every time we sin, we contribute to that burden and pain. So, if Jesus had to sacrifice and suffer for us, why shouldn’t we have to? Through His suffering and death, Jesus conquered death and saved us all; such beauty of God’s deep love for us, isn’t it? More importantly, it is through pain and suffering that we sharpen our faith, trust the Lord’s ways more, and essentially become better and wiser in the ways of God.

We have to remember though that redemption isn’t automatic, we have to do our part by repenting our sins and going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God has been so understanding and considerate with us, His goodness overflows. As the First Reading shows how St. Peter exhorted the new believers to “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away”, we all have the obligation to respond to God’s invitation — if we like to go and meet Him in His Eternal Glory. We just have to trust that the Lord is in control — in total control of everything.

Are you ready to respond to the challenge?

“Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us; make our hearts burn while you speak to us.” (Lk. 24: 32)

Be Witness of God’s Love and Mercy!

A question was asked, “Which child is more privileged, Child A, whose father is working in the same city and is staying with the family, or Child B, whose father is working abroad?”

What would your answer be, A or B?

The answer: It depends. If Child A has a father who is physically present, but is mentally absent in the family, while Child B’s father, though physically absent, but is talking to the Family often and regularly, is caring, is expressive, then Child B is more privileged. It doesn’t need for one to be physically present in order to manifest his presence in the life of others. This is also Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel.

This Sunday, also called the Divine Mercy Sunday, is best remembered for the story of Thomas, who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (Jn. 20: 25b) A week later, the disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas was gentle. Would you imagine if Jesus responded angrily or sarcastically? Instead, the Lord’s loving and caring words made Thomas felt the real presence of Jesus in the way the situation was handled: merciful and compassionate. The face of love and mercy that only Jesus’ real presence could reveal. The love that Thomas for all his impulsiveness and seeming doubt doesn’t deserve. The same love that we also don’t deserve. But it is this love that only Jesus — who is loving, merciful and compassionate — can give. The Lord says that we don’t need His physical presence to experience His love and mercy,

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Thomas response, “My Lord and my God!” was a strong declaration of faith and is not only about doubt but also means that as followers of Jesus, we must not separate the Resurrection from the Cross. His story also teaches that we cannot live the life of grace, the “risen life”, authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross.

Thomas was a dedicated but impetuous follower of Christ. His inquiring attitude led to the many responses of Jesus who show best who the Savior is. Thomas passion to serve was such that he was sent to evangelize to the Parthians, Medes, and Persians. He ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to a large native population whose pride in proclaiming themselves as having the Faith “with a direct connection to the Savior” is well-known. In my past assignment in Nepal, I’ve met a missionary priest who came from Kerala, along the Malabar Coast in South India, who told me the same thing. I saw in him the pride and gratitude of obtaining the Faith through the missionary efforts of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Earlier in the Gospel, we see Jesus telling them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is a command, not only for the disciples, but also for us to be witnesses to the Word. We are called to be the love, the mercy and the compassion of God to others.

As a form of gratitude to the Lord for his mercy and compassion, may we take to heart his command to be witnesses to Christ and to the Faith. Like what St. Thomas has taught us, may we realize that we cannot expect to rise with Christ, unless we also share in the wounds of the Cross.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.” (Ps. 118: 1)

Decide To Be Happy!

The Lord is Risen, as He said! Alleluia!

It’s the happiest moment in all of creation. Listening to that is like drinking a glass of ice-cold water after being in the hot summer sun for many days. Jesus’ Passion and Death is over, and it’s the time to celebrate!

Last night, the ceremonies started with the congregation outside the Church where it was dark and the Easter fire is kindled, the Paschal candle blessed and then lit. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, reminding us all that Christ is the “Light of the World.” This means that everyone ought to set aside all the frustrations, sadness and fears, as Easter is the time when we must do just that. We ought to stick close to our resurrected Lord! We must cling to His Resurrection and strive to share in it.

One way of clinging to the Lord is by being grateful. Despite the burdens you carry; whatever makes you depressed, sad or angry, take joy in everything. Have you thought that despite the brutality and inhumanity of Jesus’ Passion and Death on the Cross, it turned out to be necessary as a prelude to the greatest event ever told, the Resurrection. Thus, your pain and suffering can very much become a source of happiness as long as you let God transform it into part of His Resurrection. Be grateful!

Easter means that God wants the best for us, nothing less. Thus, today is the day when you should decide to be happy. No one can keep you from the joy that Jesus wants to give. Sure, there’ll be times that we will struggle just as Jesus did, but those sufferings won’t win against God. The Resurrection won with Christ and it will win with us when we cling to Him. Jesus persevered, and in the end rose in victory. Know that God wants you to be an Easter Person, that means He wants you to experience the joy of Easter in your life. Let Him fill you with hope and with the joy that only Jesus can bring. God wants Easter to begin now in your life! Be happy!

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” (Ps. 30: 2a)