Be Bold, Be Brave!

When Alexa was still a baby, we would often wonder how she will be when she’ll be going to school. As a child she was very inquisitive, was into a lot of things, and had that eyes full of wonder and awe about what’s around her. As work would require me to be out of home for long periods, Alma and myself have decided to adapt to the concept of school, from the traditional four-walled classroom into the spherical world and beyond. Our daughter’s curiosity and frequent questions would often set me thinking what will she be like in the future?

In the verses before the Gospel reading this Sunday, the birth of John the Baptist has been announced by the Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah, who was performing his duties as priest in the Temple of Jerusalem. At this time, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are an old couple who have never had children. Then, six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary in her home in Nazareth. Mary, while being engaged to Joseph, have not yet come to live together.

When the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, her neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her because God has shown her mercy in the birth of a son. When the time came for the child to be given a name, they became confused when she tells them that his name is to be John, which means “God has been gracious.” Zechariah became mute since the time Gabriel appeared, because, unlike Mary, he doubted the angel’s word. The people are now all amazed but fearful at the same time. In the reading, everyone who heard these things took them to heart saying, “What, then, will this child be?” Taking them to heart means, “meditating in your heart”, unlike when thought is being processed in your mind. When you do that, you are bringing the process of thought, prayer, and applied consideration into your heart.

But this question has already been answered by the angel. “He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” (v.15, 16) Today, the importance of St. John the Baptist is such because 1) His message is calling for repentance as the precursor of Jesus Christ, the Savior, 2) He is the prophet considered as the bridge between the Old and the New Testament, and 3) He is the voice of one calling in the desert. Indeed, his importance is of such magnitude that in the Catholic Church, there are only three personalities with their birthdays celebrated in the Liturgical Calendar namely, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist. (All other feast days of saints refer to the time they died.)

In perspective, do we really know what a prophet is? When people are asked, “What is a prophet?”, most will likely say “he is a person who can predict or tell what will happen in the future”. But that is not what God calls a person to be a prophet for, rather, a prophet is one who “speaks in behalf of God.”

At times in our life we are asked to speak up to our families, friends, or community about what should be the appropriate response. However, it will take more than courage to be a prophet. People demand credibility and good example before one is taken seriously. This is one that requires spiritual maturity and mental toughness. While one can be hesitant, it is a call from God that one can’t resist. It can’t just be a call by another spirit, it has to be the Spirit of God. Many prophets though try to evade the call but you can’t say ‘no’ to God. Even if you feel unworthy of the task, God will equip you for the mission at hand. Take the example of Moses, Jonah, and many others. Even some of the disciples felt unworthy but God can’t be denied.

On this Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, let us reflect on his life which he offered unselfishly to God. Will the answer to the question asked by your parents on the day of your birth, “What, then, will this child be?”, be one that they can be proud of? May we draw inspiration to become bold and brave in proclaiming God’s message to His people.

“Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.” (Ps. 71: 6)

Our Purpose

My Aunt Ciony likes to share pictures of the colorful and beautiful flowers she’s raising in her garden. Her photos include also those that are yet to bloom and you can imagine how she feels if one plant doesn’t flower well or is late in blooming. Patience, care and hard work are among the traits needed to raise seeds into great plants.

Our Gospel today speaks about the kingdom of God,

“It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk. 4: 26-34)

It is a parable that is quite easy for us to relate to, as farming is a common occupation many years back around this beautiful country. We understand that planting and raising a great tree is a slow process and is without shortcut. Starting from a tiny seed, great potential is realized after much watering, caring and shielding from the threats to its life.

Just like the tiny seeds, we also consider ourselves so small compared to the vast universe, or even our own earth. Looking at it we can even look at ourselves as so insignificant to be even counted! Yet, we are also endowed with so much potential.

Each of us can grow into something much larger throughout the course of our lives. Look at your own self, how you have done a great job so far, considering the difficulties and challenges that you’ve went through. This has nothing to do with the degree you’ve achieved, but it’s more on what you do with what you have or what is given you. More often than not, people who feel that they are part of the least actually end up with accomplishing some of the greatest achievements just like the mustard seed. Yet the most important element in this success is not of our own making, but it’s really allowing God to fulfill His plan for us. Letting go of our own selfish desires and leaving all to God to grow us into the majestic tree that He meant us to be.

Once in a while the Master Gardner will trim us of our pride and selfishness just as even the biggest trees in the world need to be cut of its leaves from time to time, so the younger trees can rise up and grow as well. Trees with the most abundant foliage even have to lose their leaves during winter so that they can bloom brighter in the next season. At times we need to go through different challenges and trials in order to gain a new mindset though at other times the seasons are brighter. The Lord is telling us that it’s not really about how tall and lush or pretty the tree is, that defines whether it is a good one. It’s about its roots, and how deep these go down the earth and what they are capable of doing.

Similarly, it’s not about how important we think we are – but it’s about our intentions and reasons behind everything we do. How deeply are we rooted in Christ, and in our faith so we can handle those challenges and those blessings that come to us in life. Yes, blessings are included. Sometimes the Lord endows us with material wealth to test us how we handle life’s good moments. What is our purpose in what we do? Do we relish hard work and all that it can provide and doing the best job we possibly can and experiencing our full potential in everything we do? This applies not only in our service to others, but in our own spiritual growth, the ultimate determinant of what defines us, because it brings us closer in intimacy with the Lord.

However, many times we get so caught up in what we do and our careers that we fail to see and hear from God what our true calling may be and what He expects from us. Only God knows our fullest potential, and yet so often we fail to simply ask Him to show it to us. Our pride will prevent us from asking God in prayer what are His plans for us.

We all can choose our paths. We can all discern about what Jesus would do in any situation we are in, and how we should be treating others, and how we should embrace everything in life as a blessing. The attitude of being grateful in all circumstances. At its best, we all have so much God-given potential in our life. We just need to realize it, get out of the way and let the seed grow.

“The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower. All who come to Him will live forever.”

Beware of Pride and Arrogance

When you deviate from the norm, you are oftentimes called out differently and people label you as “out of his mind.” Our Lord wasn’t spared either. In today’s Gospel, when Jesus and His disciples are not even able to eat their bread, his relatives come to take him away because they think “He is out of his mind.” And the scribes think he is possessed by the devil. Jesus points out to them the absurdity of their thinking that He “uses the devil to cast out demons”.

The scribes judging that Jesus’ work was done by the devil was actually a grievous mistake that they committed, which resulted into blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Awful pride and arrogance did them out of God’s grace.

As Jesus said,

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Gospel: Mk. 3: 20-35)

Just thinking that the Lord mentioned about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit as a sin that will NEVER have forgiveness, but “is guilty of an everlasting sin”, makes me shiver with fear! The shocking closed-mindedness of the church leaders at that time showed classic stubbornness! The root cause? Pride and arrogance.

Pride and arrogance cause division and disunity. Even in the news, we can read of personalities continued fighting over wealth, possessions and whatever. In our national life, the continued division by figures of the political spectrum is a daily spectacle. Without unity, progress will be slow and difficult.

The warning is also for us. Without our knowing it, if we become proud and protective of ourselves, we can be judgmental and self-righteous, two potent ingredients of pride. We may be fighting against a war that we can’t win, as we may be trading our souls for material possessions. Beware!

In His infinite wisdom and mercy, Jesus gives us the cure to pride and arrogance in the final verses: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Obeying the Lord is the requirement to become family with Him. We can’t continue to live in sin (thus staying away from the Lord) and expect to be truly happy. Separating from Him isn’t the solution to our problems and concerns. We have to be obedient, humble and faithful to Him. There will be challenges and trials to overcome, that’s why we have to trust and persevere while doing His work.

In humility, let us listen and discern to His leading in doing our share in building the Kingdom of God. When you feel becoming proud and arrogant, immediately seek the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These are the only ways to be in unity with Him.

“Now the ruler of the world will be driven out, says the Lord; and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (Jn. 12:31B-32)

The Best Gift Ever

The past four Sundays we celebrated several important solemnities and today, it is Corpus Christi Sunday. We’ve come full circle as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our Faith. Have you imagined, what would it be like, without the Holy Eucharist? Obviously, our Church and our Faith would crumble, it would be totally devoid of meaning and significance.

Today, we celebrate the very gift that God gave us, the Best One He had planned after the Fall (of Adam and Eve). In those days, life was perfect, and our first parents had everything they wished for. God was talking with them until that moment when they succumb to the snake. There’s a saying that goes, “The best way to a man’s heart is through the stomach” and the devil knows that. He tempted Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit and lo and behold, mankind’s relationship with God was broken. Because of disobedience, we were separated from God and sin became second nature to us. We were no longer perfect and could no longer be in perfect unity with Him. It would take the Perfect Sacrifice to regain that unity with God so He could be truly become part of us again.

The readings today show how God initiated winning His people back, in the First Reading (Ex. 24: 3-8), Moses related to the Israelites the prescriptions of the Lord and the people all answered with one voice, “We will do everything that the LORD has told us.” But the animal sacrifices won’t be enough and God has to send the ultimate sacrifice — His Only Son, Jesus Christ.

As St. Paul said in the Second Reading,

“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” (Heb. 9: 11-15)

Yet, Jesus sacrificial death on the Cross wasn’t enough. While it may seem weird that we have to consume Him through His Most Holy Body and Blood instituted in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, it is actually the ONLY way to be reunited with Him. The Lord transformed ordinary bread and wine into His Most Holy Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We are to partake of it, as He commanded in the Gospel, “Take it; this is my Body.” (Mk. 14: 12-16, 22-26)

Jesus redeeming and inspiring presence is always there in the Holy Tabernacle, constantly renewing His undying love for us. Yes, we are always struggling with our lives but God’s goodness through Christ’s Holy Body and Blood can help us get through. We have to persevere and in humility recognize that without Him, we can do nothing.

Thus, we have to give glory and respect to God by preparing ourselves to be worthy in receiving Him during Holy Communion. We have to be spiritually prepared by cleansing ourselves through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He deserves no less, since the Holy Eucharist is Him, we must see IT with the eyes of faith and trust. We can’t be perfect but He knows our desires of reuniting with Him. Our worship must be very deep and profound, just as the Saints and Angels do in Heaven. And He will understand.

So the next time we approach Him in Holy Communion, let us bow down before Him in total reverence and respect, calling upon His name in thanksgiving and gratitude, for giving us the Best Gift Ever.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn. 6: 51)