Seeking Wisdom

Last week, I had a discussion with one my colleagues about one of the Churches in the city I haven’t visited yet, the one of San Antonio Abad Parish. My curiosity about the location of the Church was actually piqued when I took a ride to the Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine, and the driver asked me if I have attended Mass at the San Antonio Abad Church. (I haven’t yet!) During that discussion, we both realized the closest meaning of Abad, which is “Abbot”, to distinguish it from the Saint of Padua.

In today’s Gospel, the story of St. Anthony the Great foremost among others, come to mind. I have become a devotee of this great saint, after getting to read on his life and on knowing that he was an inspiration of my patron, Saint Anthony of Padua. Not only was he influential on the life of the Saint of Padua, it was also after having heard, inspired and moved by the story of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert that the famous St. Augustine of Hippo converted to Christianity.

Anthony was born in Coma in Lower Egypt in A.D. 251 to wealthy landowner parents. At age 18, shortly after his parents’ death and leaving him to care for his unmarried sister, he decided to follow the Evangelical counsel of Jesus to the rich man in today’s Gospel which reads,

“You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mk. 10: 21)

Anthony gave away some of his family’s wealth, sold the remaining property, and donated the funds thus raised to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life, placing his sister with a group of Christian virgins, a sort of proto-convent. (en.wikipedia.org)

Clearly the testimonies of these great men are the ones that inspire and create interest in the “Pearl of Great Price” that they’ve found in their search for God. Jesus taught us about the importance of the Word, Heaven and Eternal Life over earthly material possessions. All the great saints like St. Anthony the Great, St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Anthony of Padua had the gift of Wisdom to choose the Gospel over wealth.

In today’s First Reading, the prayer of King Solomon for the gift of Wisdom was granted. He preferred her “over scepter and throne”, “beyond health and comeliness”, and “chose to have her rather than the light”.

It cannot be denied that most if not all of us want to be happy. Aside from the happiness that holy men and women feel in serving the Lord, most people want to live a comfortable life, go on vacation, dine in fancy restaurants, and drive that fast car in the luxury dealership. Regardless of your definition of happiness, Jesus wants you to be happy in the right perspective. He wants you to live comfortably, but not necessarily ignoring His will for you and in pursuing the greater good for others. But isn’t it true that when you make a sacrifice for a loved one or family member, you become happy? Ask many of our OFWs and you get the idea. So, isn’t it then a way of telling, that it is not really about you, but about others: making others happy that you become truly happy.

God has commanded, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” He must be first and the top priority in our lives and anything that stands before us and God, must be relegated to the background.

Putting it lightly, when you want Heaven more, it is then about you giving up temporal things so that you’ll win it in the end. Things that blind you, things that cloud your focus and things that distract you from the more important matters deserving more attention, should be the ones that we worry about. These block our sights on Jesus and Heavenly Treasures. The great saints were given that ability to see the most important aspects and thus they were able to focus intently on Heaven. Many even gave the greatest sacrifice of offering their lives so that in return they gain Eternal Life. It is not easy choosing, especially when you are concerned with a lot of temporal things. However, when you desire something really the most, it’s easy to give up and sacrifice over things you desire the least.

Jesus wants us to discern what are more important, what things that have to be left behind especially when those things are what’s keeping us from following Him. There are also times we want to give something for Him but it’s just that this “something” is not what is being asked of us. Again, the importance of prayer, discernment and wisdom.

Let us therefore ask the Lord to grant us the gift of Wisdom, so that we learn to set our priorities straight. This Wisdom is one that can have positive impact and inspire others and is only possible when you have an intimate relationship with Christ.

May we be granted the strength to pursue the love of Jesus, who is the True Wisdom.

‘Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!’ (cf. Ps. 90:14)

AZS 10.14.2018

Faithfulness, Love and Trust

Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to St. Mark (Mk. 10: 2-16); in the past three Sundays, St. Mark wrote of the private conversations between the Lord and His disciples. Now the opening verse of Chap. 10 mentions that Jesus returns to Judea and resumes his public appearances. Our Priests have given notes that in St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus uses these moments with his disciples to share insights about the Kingdom of God.

The main item is the Pharisees questioning Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. During the time of Jesus under certain conditions, divorce was an accepted practice among the Jewish people. The Pharisees use the commandment of Moses to justify the question they asked the Lord.

In his answer, Jesus quoted the Book of Genesis and counters,

“Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Jesus describes that Moses made a concession to God’s original intention because of man’s hardheadedness. Even his disciples seek more clarity when they question him further about this teaching. It is in the presence of his disciples that Jesus explains that remarriage after divorce is adultery. This teaching was even more stringent than the teaching of the Pharisees, which permitted remarriage. Further, Jesus further distinguished his teaching by saying this applies equally to both men and women since Jewish culture permitted that only a husband may divorce his wife, and doesn’t allow the other way around.

As always, the readings connect smoothly with the First Reading (Gen. 2: 18-24), wherein we are taken to the story of Creation, particularly on the Creation of Man:

“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”

At the start, God has already intimated His intentions of our nature and our sexuality. This natural design is part of God’s Infinite Wisdom and must be understood and respected fully. It goes without saying that with these innate qualities come the attributes, desires and tendencies that are by nature associated with being male or female.

In the light of the challenges, distortions and confusions, we should still understand deep inside us that our being masculine and feminine is part of who we are. It can’t be denied that as His creation we should embrace God’s intentions so as to fully understand our very own selves. When we have made that life-turning decision to enter married life, we have to note the nobility of God’s designs. One initial step you can do that effectively is by becoming more open and honest with your spouse. It is noted that this Sunday’s Gospel stopped a verse short of verse 26, which is also relevant,

“Now, both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame before each other.” (v. 26)

This was before sin entered into our first parents Adam and Eve, thus there was no malice, no shame and only oneness. The whole of creation was created for them to see in all its beauty and splendor, themselves included. In their bareness, no clothing, nothing to hide, and from one flesh they became two individuals; in the Sacrament of Marriage, a man and a woman become one flesh. Because we are one, we need to share everything that we have to our spouse and with no secrets hidden.

When you keep some burdens and things from your spouse, that’s when you start isolating yourself from him or her. That’s when you build walls and without your knowing it, these walls create the darkness that slowly separate you from your spouse and your marriage. The family suffers, the children are affected.

The latter part of the Gospel completes the importance of family as Jesus again brings attention to children, one of the intentions of getting married. By welcoming and raising children and introducing them to building a relationship with God, parents and families do their role as the first domestic Church bearing witness to the Kingdom of God.

Finally, the Gospel ends with people bringing their children to Jesus, and again the disciples rebuked them for this. It can be recalled that in the last two Sundays the Lord taught the value of the “little ones” in the Kingdom of God. However, the disciples showed they still couldn’t quite get it and so it made the Lord angry. Again Jesus welcomes the little children and offers them as an example of the kind of mindset that believers ought to have: complete trust and dependence on God.

Let us therefore ask the Lord to make us look deeper at our marriage to make us see whether we are faithful to His intentions. Are we open and honest to our spouse? As Christ’s faithful followers, do we have complete trust and dependence on Him?

‘If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is brought to perfection in us.’ (cf. 1 Jn. 4:12)

AZS 10.07.2018

Bringing Others With Us

In these times of change, crisis and challenges, there seem to be division and hatred prevailing. It seems we haven’t moved on; politics is quite a dividing factor in how we go about our day-to-day lives.

The past isn’t different either, in the First Reading, Joshua was asking Moses to stop the two elders Eldad and Medad, feeling that they should be excluded from prophesying (Num. 11: 25-29). The same situation arose when the Apostle John saw someone who drove out demons and called upon Jesus’ name (Mk. 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48). He tried to forbid him because he “does not belong to our group.” John made the mistake of assuming that only a few are entrusted by God. You should guard this kind of thinking because even if you say this as your intention, you may unknowingly be just protecting your privilege and standing as God’s servant. God thinks differently from us and will work mighty deeds even through the most unlikely of people. So, it goes to say that you should never judge others because for all you know, instead of hurting that person alone, you are hurting God too. All of us are called to holiness and to perform even the humblest work for the sake of pleasing God and His Kingdom.

Thus, Jesus answered, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My Name can soon after speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This attitude of excluding others because he “does not belong to our group” are the stances that perpetuate discrimination, poverty, misery and hatred. One religious publication even cited that “If religion has a bad name today and people walk away in disgust, it is because we have used religion to build walls and fences based on presumed differences, and not bridges and roads linking people up.” While it is man’s nature to cluster and group, there should be opening up and extending our acceptance of people we consider as outsiders. All it takes is for leaders to lead the way in imitating Moses and Jesus Christ who exemplify that love for others in bringing people together in love and joy. Otherwise, hatred, violence and disunity will continue to scourge our world.

As St. Paul referred to the faithful being the Body of Christ, then we can discern the Lord’s instruction in today’s Gospel, of cutting off the hand, the foot or the eye, that those who persist in sin should be set apart from the community as they are a threat to the faith and they weaken the faith of others. It is quite strict but while the Lord calls us to live a life of faith, we are also called to build up the faith in others and in the bigger community. Sin is not just a personal matter but has that aspect of affecting the Church as well. Thus, sin should be repeatedly avoided so as to keep the integrity of the community and the bigger Church. The Lord repeatedly mentions the idea of hell to bring home the point.

In this weary world, there’s hope, the light beckons, we can still fix the situation. But we need God’s grace to help us through. We are challenged to not only proclaim God’s word, but also be models for others to follow. We should be warned about thinking only of our own luxuries while excluding and neglecting others. Through this, we need the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment.

Let us therefore pray to God that we may lead lives worthy of our calling as Christ followers.
We need to pray for the grace to detect our shortcomings and be conscious of it to overcome these distractions in our journey to Eternity.

‘The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.’ (cf Ps. 19)