Strengthening Our Faith

When I was in Nepal, I met a missionary priest who is from Kerala in South India. After Sunday Masses, we would have conversations over a cup of milk tea (yes, the first milk tea I tasted was in 1998 in Nepal). We would talk about a variety of topics including our respective countries, current events, beer, and eventually would end up about how our faith has influenced the way we look at life. And jokingly he told me one time, “Alan, our Catholicism is a direct connection with Jesus, unlike yours (the Philippines) which was influenced by Spanish missionaries, St. Thomas one of the Twelve, preached in South India.”

Yes, Thomas, the one we fondly call the “doubting” apostle. He was one of the more outspoken and courageous among the disciples. There’s this account in the Gospel of John, when Lazarus had recently died “the apostles do not wish to go back to Judea, where some Jews had attempted to stone Jesus” (en.wikipedia.org). Thomas says: “Let us also go to die with him.” (Jn. 11: 16). Also, some of the most famous words that the Lord uttered were answers to Thomas questions.

In the Gospel (Jn. 20: 19-31), St. John tells how doubting Thomas was skeptical at first when he heard that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the other apostles, saying, “Except I shall see on his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas saw Jesus a week later when he joined the disciples assembled together and then the Lord told him,

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.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Thomas responded radically after that. When he saw the Lord up front, his conversion was total and complete. Tradition states that he travelled outside of the Roman Empire to as far as South India to preach the Gospel. What appears to be the challenge for most of us regarding our faith in the Risen Lord is being affirmed by St. Thomas. He provides us with the evidence that the Lord is truly risen! The Lord has assured us further that “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

In this Divine Mercy Sunday, we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit that our faith be strengthened and fortified despite “not seeing” Jesus physically. Our life, the peace of mind and the graces that we receive in abundance are more than proof of His presence in our lives. His guidance and discernment direct our paths as we seek to follow His will. Despite our weaknesses and sins, His mercy continuously overflows and is in fact more important than all the material wealth that He has bestowed on us. With fervent prayer and abundant hope, we are confident that His Divine Mercy grant us the gift of Eternal Life with Him someday.

May this assurance strengthen us more and more that despite our weaknesses, His Grace and Divine Mercy are enough to nourish and sustain us till the end of time.

You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord; blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!” (Jn. 20: 29)

He is Risen! Alleluia!

A friend informed me that she was supposed to attend a Golden Wedding Anniversary only to cut it short as the mother of the male celebrant died on Black Saturday. Her anticipation of a celebration was turned into grief as a wedding anniversary celebration turned into a wake for the dead. Such a wave of emotions happening just before Easter!

That is also how our life and our faith appears to be like. There are times we are in jubilee and there are times we are also in sadness. In this Easter moment, we see the rise, fall and rise of emotions over the past week from a triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the deep sorrow over the Passion and Death of Jesus to the victorious Resurrection over death and sin.

The Gospel (Jn. 20: 1-9) tells us the devoted women came to visit the tomb of Jesus early at dawn on the first day of the week. Mary of Magdala saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”

Mary is telling them that she “doesn’t know where they put him”, not because the tomb of Jesus is unknown, but because the Lord is risen and is present amongst us.

The two disciples ran to the tomb, saw the burial cloths there, “but the other disciple didn’t go in first; it was Simon Peter who arrived after him, went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

Look closely: what is important here is that the burial cloths are left neatly in the tomb. This suggests that the body hadn’t been stolen because if it were, the cloths would have been taken with the body as well. Their arrangement suggests something else has happened. It is clear that John the Beloved Disciple is the first to understand what has happened and that at that moment, he believed, and that he understood the Lord’s teachings that Jesus would rise from the dead.

The message this Easter is simple, as we take it from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 55: 1-11) read during the Easter vigil:

Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy
?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare
.”

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts
;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts
,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth
,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts
.”

We’ve read these verses over and over again as we attend to the Easter vigil ceremonies. Yet, it is time to renew our commitment to the Lord. May we be like the Beloved Disciple, who, upon seeing the burial cloths neatly placed, believed. We will say, yes we believe, but our faith hasn’t really taken the depth just like how the Beloved Disciple did. This is the beauty of the Liturgical Year, as we are led into the different seasons we get refreshed, renewed, revitalized. And hopefully, a deeper, more vibrant and stronger faith.

The most important moments in our life are those moments that we realize the significant aspects of living. This is when we begin to realize the identity of Jesus: The Bread of Life, and when we see what the saints have seen: The Pearl of Great Price.

Listen to this Easter moment: Jesus wants us to be happy. Even our own burdens, our own challenges can potentially be our source of joy and happiness. And most importantly a source of grace from God. The Savior suffered and died a gruesome death and yet these happenings turned out to be the greatest events of our faith. Thus, if we let God transform us into becoming His own, then we can surely be part of His Resurrection!

This is what Easter should mean for you. Nothing should keep you from experiencing the deepest joys and happiness that God wants to give you. Don’t allow anyone to steal that happiness away from you. There will be difficulties but for as long as you cling to the Lord, He can show you how to persevere amidst suffering, and win despite the challenges. This is the promise that the Easter journey can bring.

Have faith!

Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5: 7B-8A)

Repent, Renew, Revitalize

One of the characters that we don’t like to be compared with is Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve but who betrayed the Lord. Sadly, if we look at our own selves, there have been many times we’ve also committed betrayal through the sins and offenses we commit. Every time we offend the Lord, when we commit wrongdoing, there is betrayal, there is treachery.

In today’s readings we are treated to a rundown of the Palm Sunday (Lk. 19: 28-40) and up to the events leading to the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ. A mix of emotions fill the readings, starting with the Procession of the Palms. In this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, it is described that prior to the event, Jesus sent two of His disciples into the village to find a colt tethered “on which no one has ever sat, to untie it and bring it here.” The power of His word was illustrated further when even the owners of the colt didn’t stop them when the disciples told them, “The Master has need of it.”

As He rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as He was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of His disciples
began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed
: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

In those days the Jews were expecting Jesus to liberate them from the oppression of the Romans, thus their eagerness to proclaim the Lord as King.

Then the Gospel reading (Lk. 22: 14-23: 56) brings us into the Upper Room where the Lord is commemorating the Passover with His disciples, the Master saying an emotional goodbye to them,

I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

It was during these moments that Jesus tells them (and us) about true discipleship. Despite being beaten, scourged, crucified and dying on the Cross, Jesus did not condemn but prays for and forgives those who have rejected Him. We are participants in this events because by Jesus’ Passion and Death He saved us from the chains of sin and death. Thus, we are being invited to “repent” from our sins, “renew” our commitment to the Lord, and “revitalize” our faith by sharing in the proclamation of the Kingdom, not only by sharing His Word, but by how we live the Gospel message. It is not meant to be seen, but rather to be lived!

The Lord didn’t use strength and might but rather showed that suffering and dying a grossly painful death is the way to save His people from the oppression of the evil one. He taught us that the best way to lead is to serve.

Let us therefore pray for the humility, the courage and the strength to repent from our sins, renew our commitment, and revitalize our faith in God.

Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2: 8-9)

Sincere Repentance

There are many reasons why one should be humble and obedient. Among these is that you are also a sinner and while it may appear on the outside that you are good, there’s the dark side of your personality that you think only you know — you forgot that God in Heaven knows everything about you. That is why, it is so downright awful for people to judge others when they themselves are guilty of being sinners too. We can see so many examples of people who show themselves praying in Church and pictures taken for publicity’s sake. Yet on the side are guilty of being hypocrites. They just paint something about themselves to fool others into thinking that they are as good as seen on the pictures when in fact they are not. On the other side, there are times you know too well a person that outright you tend to be judgmental on him. You judge him to be such because that’s what you perceived him to be. However, it’s just not right and it’s not what the Lord desires of us. He wants us to look into ourselves first before judging others. He wants us to be compassionate as we don’t know why things and events happen in the first place. He tells us that we don’t really know the whole story so there’s no basis for our biased judgment. The Lord Himself experienced that indifference by His townmates early in His ministry.

In this Fifth Sunday of Lent the Gospel (Jn.8: 1-11) tells us that while Jesus was in the temple area where people started coming to Him, the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him,

Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say
?”

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We are being reminded that what the Lord answered to the scribes and the Pharisees apply to us as well:

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Deep into Lent Jesus is inviting us to look deep into our beings and attitudes. After the crowd and the elders left, and when no one has condemned the woman, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

He exhorts us to “not sin any more” and thus we should be “fasting and weeping and mourning.”And that we “Rend (y)our hearts and not (y)our garments.” (Jl. 2: 12-13) The message is urgent and the time is now for us to make one final act of amending our lives in preparation for the coming Holy Week. This is the kind of repentance – sincere repentance – that God wants from us.

Let us pray for the humility to acknowledge our own weaknesses and confess these to the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. May the Holy Spirit grant us the wisdom and discernment to know the snares of the evil one as we go deeper into Lent. May the Lord take possession of us as we continue to pursue with our lives the nod and approval of our Jesus Christ.

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

The Father’s Love

There were many times in the past that I have failed my father. Once, when he and Mom visited me in Cebu, I wasn’t at my aunt’s home but found out that I was with my cousins in Fuente Osmena passing the night away, as it was the eve of the Sinulog. They actually expected me to be home and not elsewhere. I didn’t expect them to be visiting us at that time so that when my cousins got word that they arrived early that evening, out of fear I attempted to go by the back door but lo and behold, my Dad was there waiting for me. What followed next were words that I expected him to tell me: firm but still loving in a tough kind of way. He told me that being the eldest I should be able to control myself in avoiding partying and focusing instead on my studies. He was telling me that the family expects me to be responsible and conscientious of everything that I do while I’m still in school. I was so embarassed that that thing happened, and I promised my parents that it won’t happen again and that they can trust my word.

In this Fourth Sunday of Lent the Gospel (Lk. 15: 1-3, 11-32) tells us of the overflowing love of the father for his “prodigal” son. We know in the parable that after squandering his share of the inheritance, the son found himself “in dire need.” He worked as a tender of swine and he “longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.” He realized that the workers of his father have more than enough food to eat, as compared with him who is “dying from hunger.” After thinking about it, he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was “filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” Ignoring the norms and practices of the Jewish culture, the father moved out to meet his son. He even caught sight of him while the son was still a long way off, meaning he was waiting and longing for that moment to happen. This scene tells us of the overflowing love of his father towards his son.

In the Gospel, as the usual complaining people, the Pharisees and scribes were saying referring to Jesus, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”. Though this parable, Jesus tried to explain to them how the Heavenly Father’s love made the Lord look at tax collectors and sinners with compassion and mercy. This story perfectly illustrates the Father’s love for His people, regardless of their state of sin. As St. Paul said in the Second Reading (2 Cor. 5: 17-21):

…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

This is a very timely message addressed to us not only in this holy season of Lent, but at all times. We are reminded to go into the Sacrament of Reconciliation as He is waiting for our repentance and seeking of forgiveness from Him. His love is immeasurable, a love beyond imagination and understanding. We don’t have to fear, as His mercy knows no limits, His compassion knows no boundaries.

As the Holy Week draws near, may we be like the son and tell our Heavenly Father,

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

Let us pray for the humility to bow down before Him, knowing fully well that He created us, and therefore we have to obey and trust Him with our lives. We have nothing to fear because He is a loving, gracious and caring God who looks not at our shortcomings but considers us as sons and daughters who are worthy of being heirs to His Kingdom.

May we take His invitation to heart while we still have time, while we still can.    

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” (Ps. 34: 9a)