Staying the Course, Pleasing God

Many job assignments back, I had a staff member who was always complaining (just like the Pharisees and the scribes in the past days Gospel readings) with just anything. He complains about his workmates, his relationships with friends, and some other departments in the company. You almost can’t hear anything positive from him. He’s one person who you avoid because you worry to be enveloped by the negativity in his attitude. The difficulty for me then was that he was already advance in age and I knew I have little influence in him. He retired years after that and the last time I know is that he has settled back in the province and hopefully, with age (and maturity) he has become wiser and better of having a life of positivity and good vibes.

The Gospel (Lk. 13: 1-9) in this Third Sunday Lent, the people were quite fixed on the appropriate Jewish way of preparing the sacrifices for Yahweh. They had the notion that people die gruesome deaths because of their sins. And so, they complained that Pilate mixed the blood of those people with the blood of their sacrifices so that they thought these offerings were tainted with sins of those people.

Jesus said to them in reply,

Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!”

Jesus used it as an opportunity to tell them about the importance of repenting and reforming their lives. He warned that 

But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

The Lord’s message is now clearer and more stern in His warning, that death will come to those who remain to wallow in sin and indifference to the faith. Jesus feels that people are still hardheaded and choose darkness over the light. The present over Heaven. And the same attitude is prevailing in the world today. Some politicians remain corrupt and crooked, some people choose the easier life, some take detours to enjoy the dazzling ways of the world, as if there’s no tomorrow and thinking that life here on earth is permanent. The risks and the anxieties surrounding that kind of life is real. Who can even tell that the unexpected happens and you suddenly die and for sure you will go to a place nobody-likes-to-go and suffer eternal damnation! It’s real and it’s true! Hell is terrifying and just the thought of it makes me tremble in fear.

If you follow and please God in your life, you can be at peace and ready at any time without big time worrying. You will be calmer and trustful of how the Lord will judge you because you have tried consistently to stay the course. But it is not a reason to rejoice and be complacent because you still need to remain humble and grounded. Actually, the more you think and reflect on this, you will realize that you aren’t worthy even of being in the Lord’s presence. You will feel the filth, the garbage, and the smell that your sins bring to your soul. So again, the Lord is inviting all of us to take His message to heart: 

“…if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

St. Paul wrote aptly in the Second Reading (1 Cor. 10: 1-6, 10-12):

These things happened as examples for us, 
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. 
Do not grumble as some of them did, 
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example, 
and they have been written down as a warning to us, 
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure 
should take care not to fall

Our mission then is to live our lives in ways that please God and not man. Stay the course. In doing so, we avoid getting into the fates of those who perished before us.

Let us pray that we be mindful that our lives be pleasing to God not only in these Lenten season but at all times. Let us pray that the Lord pardon us of our repented sins, and that we remain steadfast in our faith.

Repent, says the Lord; the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4: 17)

Listening to Jesus

When I was young boy one of the lessons I learned from my elders is to hear and to listen. Every time I fail to listen they would ask me, “Didn’t you listen to what I told you? Alan, remember this: always pay attention to what we are saying.” Now it’s my turn to remind my people to listen to what I’m saying. I also tell them that whenever our superiors ask us something, we sort of “drop” (figuratively) what we are doing and do what has been requested of us. What our superiors ask us to do is important, so it makes sense to re-arrange priorities and do it. 

In the Gospel (Lk. 9: 28b-36), “Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray…” While he was praying, the Transfiguration happened: His face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white. Two men (prophets actually) were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. He suggested to the Lord for them to make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”

I could imagine the way the voice of God the Father echoed and reverberated in the mountains that day. Forceful and directing to the Apostles and to us today, “This is my chosen Son, listen to Him.”  We have been “ordered” by the Creator to listen, and not to ignore. In living as an “ordinary” human in those times, Jesus healed the sick from various illnesses, drove off evil spirits and performed other miracles. Most of them were looking at the Messiah as one who will come in majesty and splendor. They wanted Him to be coming to liberate them from oppression in the literal sense of the word. But it’s not meant by the Father to be that way. As it was before, so it is now: He speaks to us in ways that our human eyes can’t see.

I know this because when we become mindful of what’s happening around us, we can actually feel the hand and movements of God. Sometimes the events that are happening are telling us things that we only have to be thankful for the lessons and grateful for the insights these bring to us. At times, He speaks through ordinary people that we encounter: the security guard at the mall, the cleaner at the yard, or the attendant at the gas station.

A few months back I watched Noah in Netflix, the adaptation of the biblical story. Many were disappointed that it veered away from the biblical version but what struck me the most in the movie was how the Creator gave instructions to Noah. To avoid being anticlimactic to those who haven’t seen it yet, suffice it to say that the way the Creator gave the instructions was different from how it was described in the Holy Book such that if Noah wasn’t spiritual he wouldn’t have recognized God’s message to him. It’s the same with us, God wouldn’t appear to us just like how He did to His chosen ones, but if we are to read, see and listen to Him, we have to build on the faith that we have. He speaks in ordinary ways but which aren’t obvious to those who are blind to the ways of faith. God wants us to gaze deeply despite the seeming “ordinariness” of each day. Each person we meet and each event that happens should enable us to see the hand of God. It shouldn’t matter to the faithful if that event is something positive, as it could also be negative. In the low moments of life, as faithful followers of Christ, we have to rise above the challenges and work with faith in addressing these. We do what we can, and trust that the Lord will bless our efforts with Divine approval and success.

As we observe this Second Sunday of Lent, let us work on improving how we walk our faith. Do you listen to what God is saying in the “ordinariness” of each passing day? Are you patient and persevering despite challenges coming your way? Rise above these concerns, because the Lord is with you all the way. Have faith!

From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard: This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” (Mt. 17: 5)

Dealing with Temptation

When saying the Lord’s Prayer, I always feel the importance of the phrase “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Such fear is founded on the realization that we are weak and need strength and courage from the Spirit to resist temptations and avoid falling into sin. That is why we should always reserve judgment on other people as Jesus has emphasized, because we may also fall into the same situation. It is also important to realize that the evil one has also adjusted the way he lures people into sin: he allows them to be in their comfort zones, pamper them with wealth and comfort in order for them to become complacent and unmindful of others in the community who are in need of help and support. They become lukewarm, they are only concerned on their own welfare and security. “Never mind the neighbors and others, we have our own lives to live”, they say. Without realizing it you may be in such a situation. You may never know that in exchange for the comfort and seemingly safe conditions you are in, your soul is already on the verge of decay and death.

In the Gospel today (Lk. 4: 1-13), Jesus proved His strength over evil when He was able to resist all the kinds of temptations that the devil offered to Him. He uttered the famous phrases “One does not live on bread alone“, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve” and to prove that God reigns above all, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” The Lord wants you to realize that the things the devil offered Him or will be offering you are not the most important or the most relevant in life. The evil one will be sugarcoating it with attractive options too hard for you to resist.

The Scriptures offer us a glimpse of the Spirituality that we have to develop if we are to grow in faith. We are reminded on what things matter the most and that God will provide for our material needs. In our faith response, we trust that God will be faithful (He always is) and thus we worship Him alone and no other.

The challenge though is you will find it really difficult to discern which events in life are important in your life journey and not lead you elsewhere. Just very recently a brother in the faith shared with me the struggles in his new assignment, as health and anxieties came along with it. The job may look better but there is certainly an exchange for something that he loves or cares about. Looking at it in the context of today, it may be a subtle temptation that has to be dealt with. But then again, we never know, so we have to “pray without ceasing”. He’s contemplating of leaving and as I offered prayers told him, “… God is working on it now. He’ll answer these (your) prayers.” Praying will enable you to see clearly beyond the cloudiness in the horizon.

As we observe this First Sunday of Lent, let us pray fervently the Lord’s prayer, so that the Almighty God grant us the grace to see temptation in its cunning forms. May His Spirit give us the wisdom to discern on things that matter the most, that God provides for all our needs, and He’s faithful on His promises. This should be more than enough for us to believe and trust in Him.  

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

Avoiding Self-Righteousness

The Gospel this Sunday (Lk. 6: 39-45) continues from the previous week where Jesus now talks about self-righteousness and humility:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye

The Lord is reminding us to look at ourselves first before making judgments on others. This is because we don’t even know what’s going on with the other person’s life thus we ought to exercise self-restraint. The best thing to do is to pray for the other person’s ability to see his weakness while looking inwards to see our own shortcomings.

Looking at our own faults require humility and discernment as there are times we fail in looking at ourselves clearly that’s why we have to listen to others’ feedbacks and comments. It takes a lot of humility and courage to listen to what is being said of us. The value of family and real friends — people who only have our best interests at heart — come into focus as we engage them to be the sounding board of inner reflection. On the other hand, whenever you ignore constructive feedback and react to it negatively, you show something that tells of this pride and arrogance, as said by the prophet Sirach in the First Reading (Sir. 27: 4-7):

When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.”

When you choose to ignore your family and friends’ comments, you fail to acknowledge your own defects and instead show your readiness to see the defects of others. That’s what is being a hypocrite as Jesus said in today’s Word. Thus, it takes humility and courage because it also takes strength to accept and face the need to change, sometimes painfully as there is a need to imbibe new habits and even choking back your pride.

If you are spiritual and prayerful, there’s always ease in discerning what’s close to Jesus as you already feel how He would want you to handle the situation. Developing that prayerful attitude allows you to become one with nature and with God, thus in sync with what is Divine. Sometimes His message just comes from the least expected of persons: the parking lot security guard, the front desk clerk, the office cleaner and anybody you don’t notice easily. Being mindful of what’s happening around helps you to identify what nature and events are saying at that particular moment.

It isn’t easy but St. Paul in the Second Reading (1 Cor. 15: 54-58) is encouraging and reminding of God’s promise that what you’re doing for the Lord will not be useless:

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters,
be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain

Let us pray that the Lord grant us the grace to be humble to see our own weaknesses and ask Him for courage and strength to change to become better versions of our own selves.

May the Lamb who willingly obeyed the Father bless us as we do His will here on earth.

Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” (Phil. 2: 15d, 16a)