Spirited Involvement

Gaining Heaven will not be a breeze especially for those who are lazy, uncommitted, lukewarm, and indifferent. In today’s Sunday Gospel (Lk. 13: 22-30), the Lord reminds us,

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

This part of the Scriptures emphasizes the need to be actively involved in God’s plan of salvation for our own good. Not lukewarm, not passive, but spirited involvement.

The Gospel continues,

After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, “Lord, open the door for us.” He will say to you in reply, “I do not know where you are from.” And you will say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” Then he will say to you, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”

It is sad to be complacent or confident of “automatic” salvation especially when you are a member of organized religion or community. Many may expect that being in church, being in an organized religion will be enough to bring one automatically to Heaven, citing other Scripture readings as basis. But what is missing in this belief is that it’s never automatic. There is a response needed to God’s calling. Even the Jews at that time may have been hurt by what Jesus has said. Yet, this is the reality of the Gospel that the Lord has brought into the world. To gain access to eternal life demands that we be mindful of the need to give up personal gains for the good of others, like living our lives with helping others and glorifying God at all times. We have to be the messenger and the hands of God for others. Our ability to discern His will requires attuning ourselves with the spirit of God. When we are in harmony with Him, we become selfless and in fear of God, not the fear we ordinarily know, but the fear which is a “sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by sin.” It is about reverence and filial submission to our Heavenly Father. (cf. Novena to the Holy Spirit). This fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9: 10).

We have to be careful not to offend God amidst the idea that He can’t be affected, but He ought to be loved and adored above all. We should be aware of things that separate us away from God. Grace is also about being given the wisdom to discern God’s will and the strength to persevere. It requires faith that is unwavering and committed. To stay the course, from time to time God will correct us, if necessary. In the Second Reading, the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 12: 5-7, 11-13) says,

My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”

When we pray for patience, He will subject us to trials that will enable us to exercise our faith and the patience to wait. When we are in a state of grace, we will see better and above our current situations, joyful even amidst suffering and challenges. It is because we know our faith is being strengthened and fortified and that we trust the Lord that “all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28).

The Lord reveals the yield of faithfulness,

At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The humility to acknowledge Him will bear good fruit. This will make us understand the need to be joyful when God calls our attention. Isn’t it then a great gift by the Author of Life?

Today, let us pray for the gift of holy fear of the Lord. That we may be able to see beyond the present, and the peace in the knowledge that we are on the right path to meet Him someday. Even if the road is difficult. Even if the door is narrow.

I am the way, the truth and the life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through me.” (Jn. 14: 6)

Listen to His Voice

Reading today’s Gospel may give the impression that what Jesus says contradicts His other pronouncements. In the Gospel of St. John, the Lord says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn. 14: 27), yet this is the opposite of what He proclaims today.

In today’s Sunday Gospel (Lk. 12: 49-53), which is a continuation of last Sunday’s; the Lord said,

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

The Lord is actually saying that not everyone will accept or practice what He preached. In fact, just after Jesus’ time, the Jewish religion was divided and separated. The Jews have always referred to themselves as the “chosen people” and have expected the Messiah to be a future leader or king from the line of King David.

So it was then, so it is now. There will be misunderstandings amidst false prophets continuing to have their own ways of interpreting the Gospel that they borrowed from the Church, causing further division. Religions and sects are sprouting here and there falsely claiming divine origin as a way to attract followers. Yet God’s message isn’t something one picks in the Scriptures to suit his particular agenda but is Divine Revelation chosen by Him at an appropriate time and place. It isn’t based on human understanding but an inspiration given by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel will be preached until the end, and so it’s up to those who refused to acknowledge “The Way” how the Lord wants it to be. The prophet Isaiah said,

“…for my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh.” (Is. 55: 8)

The Lord speaks to us in many ways and we just have to prepare ourselves to discern correctly. It is a gift of grace to understand the leading of the Holy Spirit and it depends on our openness and humility to listen and as well as the readiness of our souls to receive Him. In His unlimited love for us, Yahweh has always wanted to be intimate and bring us closer to Him. In his latest book “Intimacy Brews”, prolific writer and spiritual adviser Fr. Armand Robleza shares that,

We did not ask for Jesus; the Father gave Him to us. Intimacy is and will always be His initiative. Discipleship then is welcoming and surrendering to His love.”

Knowing that, then it goes without saying that we must respond to this intimacy request just like we respond to some long-lost friend asking for a friend request in Facebook. It will not be smooth though, for God will comfort the lonely, the broken-hearted, the poor and the oppressed, but He will also disrupt those in their comfort zones in order for them to listen and change their attitude of passive indifference.

Last night while I was eating my routine dinner, a young girl in High School approached me saying that she is selling a set of colored pens in her spare time in order to support her studies. While I haven’t verified if she’s really a student or not (she actually looks like one), I parted some of the money I have at that time to help her. I thought she was delighted and I prayed she will be blessed with her struggles to go to school. We cannot be single-minded about helping others knowing that God will use these moments to bless others just as He blesses us as we willingly become His instruments of goodness and cheer. You just have to take the view of God to act like His messenger.

Looking at the more challenging situations, there will be times you will be oppressed for voicing out your objections to injustice and suffering. In the First Reading, the Prophet Jeremiah was sentenced to suffering and possible death and was thrown into the cistern of Prince Malchiah. The prophet was later rescued by the king upon the intercession of Ebed-melech, a court official. When encountering the same trials and challenges, let us be comforted by the thought that the Lord will hear our cry, as He did to the Prophet Jeremiah,

The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.” (Ps. 40: 2-3)

Today, let us pray for the strength and courage to stand our ground against injustice and suffering. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to lead us through in these confusing and difficult times. We pray that we be wise and discerning to listen to His voice in the scheme of everyday life.

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn. 10: 27)

What Is Your Life’s Greatest Treasure?

Knowing what is essential and important in life isn’t easy. Sometimes in the midst of difficulties, you wonder why others seem to get it so easily. Then you begin to realize that they are not doing their stuff fairly. They illegally and immorally accumulate and gain wealth. They resort to all sorts of unlawful activities just to get what they want and without thinking of the consequences of their actions. They employ criminal and illicit activities just so they achieve their earthly desires. These activities are done beyond the public eye to protect themselves and deceive others by appearing proper and good. Their outside appearance is completely the opposite of what they really are and thus their deception is something people have to be wary about. Unfortunately, this hypocrisy can mislead and even influence others badly. These contradictions can make people confused and wanting. Thus, we need a reminder, an alternative, sort of a checklist of what to be cautious about and how to know we are on the right path.

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 12: 32-48), Jesus said to his disciples:

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom. 
Sell your belongings and give alms. 
Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out,
an inexhaustible treasure in heaven
that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. 
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be

The Lord is reminding us of our life objective. Of our life’s “real” purpose, the raison d’ etre. There are so many distractions that this world brings us such that the road to Heaven can get blurry and hazy. Being our Creator, God is reminding us to persevere the challenges and trials, to share to the needy and the poor, thereby “investing” spiritually for Eternity.

Also, He reminds us of the need to be ready at all times. Doing other things that do not conform to God’s will can be fatal as our time is one thing we don’t have control of. We don’t know the time or the hour death will strike, it can come in an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.

Finally, Jesus is asking us to become stewards and evangelizers of the Kingdom. We are called to serve Him well, as doing the opposite will spell disaster. The Lord’s reminders include a stern warning that He “will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful”. Therefore, you need to be alert since your time is limited and anything you do, you have to be accountable for it in the end. Considering you have received the Word of God and yet you choose to disobey Him, you will be doomed:

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely.”

For some who are more gifted and more provided, more will be required by God:

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

To overcome these challenges, we are reminded to obey God and to exercise our faith. In the Second Reading (Heb. 11: 1-2, 8-19) the writer tells us of Abraham, one of the perfect examples of obedience. His obedience was total as he went out to a place directed by Yahweh, without even knowing where his destination is,

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” 

This Sunday, ask yourself, “What is my life’s greatest treasure?”

Let us pray for the gift of wisdom so that we will be able to see life’s challenges from the eyes of faith, as Abraham did. Let us pray to be constantly ready and not waver. Let us pray to remain faithful to God, no matter the cost.

Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Mt. 24: 42a, 44)

Seek What Is Above

Without ever realizing it, handling material wealth is one of the most difficult challenges one can ever have. It can be a temptation and a distraction to the more important aspirations of life. Indulging and mishandling it can bring us farther from God and can destroy our relationships with family and friends. It can result to greed, avarice and envy.

Just recently there’s this news of corporate squabble among members of a wealthy family who owns a prominent bus company in the Philippines. It is sad because it splits the family and opens their what used to be private life into the public eye. Truly it is difficult as each family member would demand what is legally and rightfully theirs. Communication may not be quite good while growing up hence there may be some deeply-rooted division early on. It is then a warning for other parents to ensure that these matters are prepared properly and effort must be exerted for better understanding early on. Also, bringing up the children well with regards the values of respect, fairness, justice and love among family members is crucial. It involves role modeling, leadership-by-example and regular discussions when similar situations arise at home. Parents and elders should be quick to take the moment to educate when opportunities to do present itself.

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 12: 13-21), someone was asking Jesus to help by telling his “brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied rather sarcastically telling him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then the Lord warned the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

When you’ve been through difficulties and challenges, you may without realizing it be truly blessed. You are more prayerful, more conscious of helping others, and more grateful of the blessings you receive. Compare this with somebody who is rich but isn’t gifted with wisdom and discernment and so is prone to greed and arrogance. He is more conscious of gaining more wealth and possessions as he isn’t contented with what he has. So it becomes a vicious cycle of gaining more and keeping it by himself rather than sharing with others.

Our society today admires the rich and disregards the poor. The drive to be richer becomes a sickness rather than an instrument for goodness and sharing. Until you realize at the sunset of your life that you can’t bring the wealth with you to the grave. You realize your foolishness when it’s almost late. It’s good if circumstances allow you to make corrections, but when life takes a sudden cut, there goes the opportunity to reform and make amends with God. There will be (late) regrets over lost and wasted opportunities to help others in need. It’ll be the classic line in the Gospel,

“God said to him,

You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

The temptation for temporal things is big. It’s difficult to resist comfort, enjoyment, power, prestige and possessions. These are desirable but the conscience to help the poor and the suffering in our midst must not be ignored. In the First Reading (Ecc. 1:2; 2:21-23), the author gives us the hint on how to know when you’ve been “eaten” by your possessions. It’s when,

All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.” 

Thus, we must be mindful and sensitive of who we’ve become. We need to be prayerful and allow the Spirit to move us to help and share. As St. Paul said in the Second Reading (Col. 3: 1-5, 9-11),

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”

This Sunday, let us pray that God will grant us the grace to be loving and caring for others. May we “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt. 5: 3)