Courage and Faithfulness

In the Gospel today (Mk. 10: 46-52), we can surmise that there are two types of people based on their reaction to others asking or shouting for help: the first type are those who have accepted that his “predestined place is to remain at the side of the road.” They are those who ridicule or heckle or even become angry that one of their members would want anything else for himself, as shown by the rebuke the beggar got when he cried out, telling him to be silent.

The second type are the opposite, they sort of comforted the blind man, as if knowing how difficult it must be at the side of the road for a long time to beg for alms and food. They empathize with the beggar knowing how he must have endured the ridicule and the shouts in the sidelines.

In our life journey, we can choose to be the heckler or the comforter. We can unknowingly stop others from reaching out to God by our own bad example. Or we can be God’s messenger and lead others to God by our own loving and caring ways.

This Gospel also exemplifies the extraordinary depth of the Lord’s compassion and mercy. The Lord hears the cry of desperation shown by the beggar, knowing that it might be his only chance at being healed by Christ. But with it, Jesus recognized the beggar’s deep faith, as shown by his calling Jesus the royal title “Son of David”, a revelation that the blind beggar knows that this Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus responded in a way that shows us how He loves those who are in need:

Jesus stopped.

Jesus saidcall him.”

Jesus saidWhat do you want me to do?”

Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

This powerful “formula” of faith as a way to getting healed can be read throughout Scriptures and as shown all over St. Mark’s Gospel. For example, it is because of her faith that the woman with the hemorrhage is healed. When there is no faith, Jesus can’t heal; we see this after his rejection in Nazareth. In each of these stages we can see the compassionate love of Jesus and which we also know from our own faith experience as well. It is this aspect of God’s love that works miracles.

The First Reading (Jer. 31: 7-9) tells us that Yahweh promised to bring people who are lost, “including the blind and the lame”, the “mothers and those with child”. He promised to “console them and guide them”. He claims His children as a “father to Israel”.

Finally, we are reminded that it is our duty to bring others to God and become the messengers of the Gospel to others. These “other people” are our children, families and those entrusted to our care and guidance. There are challenges in carrying out these directions but like the blind beggar, we have to stand ridicule and to persevere in His love.

Let us pray that when there are people asking for help, we stop what we are doing to hear what they want to say.

When we’ve been on the road for long without help coming our way, may we hear God’s angels tell us “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Let us pray that we remember the day when through God’s grace, our “sight” was restored.
May we not go astray, may we continue to be faithful till the end.

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.’ (cf. Ps. 126: 3)

Like A Missionary

During my assignment in Nepal many years ago, I discovered how their religion (Hinduism) played a major role in how the locals see expatriates. One time during a heavy downpour, I can’t help it but feel pity on a young man who was dripping wet doing his job at moving bottles from one section of the factory line to another area. He was practically trembling in the cold and so I went back to the Staff House to get one of my shirts to give to him. Since it didn’t have impact on the production, I also asked that the work be suspended for a short while until the water coming through were corrected or contained. When the young man received the shirt, to my surprise, he knelt in front of me to kiss my feet. I pulled out, backed off and told him he shouldn’t do that. His supervisor, who was nearby, told me that it is alright as the man was expressing his gratitude for my kind gesture. The act of kissing my feet is a way of telling that I’m like a god to him, thus the gesture of worship. To which I replied that there is but one God in Heaven. The supervisor just nodded his head as he has already heard about Jesus from Filipinos posted in previous years. While it may not have challenged him to know more about Jesus, it is through our example that we can show to them who Christ is by the example of who we are. What I did is an expression of Christian faith that while I’m their leader, I’m also there to serve others, regardless of social standing in life. With the centuries-old caste system, this concept of a leader being a “servant” is quite a strange concept in Hinduism.

 

In the Gospel (Mk. 10: 35-45) James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus explained that they don’t really know what they were asking. Eventually Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

 

After this lesson on humility and obedience to the will of God, the Gospel continued with underlying themes on leadership and service orientation, “… whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

Servant Leadership is one philosophy that’s been talked often though not practiced that much. There are several interplaying factors facing a leader’s plate that’s why it is often set aside. Yet, it is actually about character, consistency and courage. When one sets it as a model, he will practice doing it regardless of the circumstance. He will be attuned to the details such that his work is always meant to serve others. He is confident of himself and knows that what he’s doing will always bring out the best in people. Regardless, he is not afraid to speak out for his members and the organization. He steers his team to calmer waters when the going gets stormy.

 

Last week candidates seeking public office have already filed their certificates of candidacy, indicating that elections are just around the corner. During the campaign period, they will be telling and promising the electorate of what they will do if elected. The people’s experience will surely play a role in their choice of candidates. Hopefully, they won’t sell their votes but in a country like ours where patronage politics is common, there’ll also be a need to educate and remind them of their sacred duty to elect only those candidates who are truly deserving.

 

Looking back at the man from Nepal, I feel sadness because such a beautiful country doesn’t even know who the real God is. There is that kind of challenge that in our own small way, we can be missionaries at the circumstances we find ourselves. For example, after that experience, I organized secret sessions with two managers there. It’s secret because Christian activities are strictly forbidden in that country. What I did was on weekend nights, I invited them to the Staff House and introduced them to Jesus, just like a Christian Life Program (CLP). While there was curiosity among them given the circumstance; I managed my expectations. My objective was just to plant those tiny seeds with the hope that someday the Holy Spirit will touch their hearts and bring them to join the Faith.

 

This Sunday, let us pray that we be more service-like in our dealings with others. Let us pray that our leaders be like Jesus who came to serve and to give His life as ransom for many. Let us pray that we be open to the leadings of the Spirit and become like missionaries to those needing to see the light.

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)