God First

The Church is rich with stories of persons who gave up everything for God. Many of them gave up wealth, sacrificed their careers, and even their parents’ wishes in order to follow Christ. 

In the Gospel during this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt. 10: 37-42), Jesus says, 

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

At first, this sounds difficult but think this way: When you love God above all, you can easily love your parents, family, friends and others even more than yourself. You even go out of your way to help them. You are willing to sacrifice for them. Others give their lives for their loved ones and friends. When one loves God first, you can trust that person easily. For the single gentleman courting a lady who loves God first, you can be sure that this person is worth spending time the rest of your life. Similarly, if you are a parent with a daughter being courted by a gentleman who is devoted to the Lord, surely you are blessed having that person for a future son-in-law. He’ll build up a family who is loving, caring, and devoted to God above all.

However, when you say you love others without loving God first, your intentions may be inconsistent and superficial. Your profession of love may not be real and authentic. It is something that is shallow and temporary, even unwilling to sacrifice at a slight hint of difficulty. When tempted you can succumb to greed and selfishness. He is a person who doesn’t trust God enough to help him go through the difficult stages of life.

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a  righteous man’s reward

When Mom and Dad were still here on earth, they were always finding time to look after the needs of our priests. They always initiated to visit, attend to what the Church needs and sacrifice their time in the service of God. They put God first and so while there were times we sort of missed them, we find comfort in knowing that they were in Church helping out. We understood that they were doing all these for the Lord, and we love them more for their fine example. There are lots of people silently helping God through His ordained ministers. They provide for His priests, supporting them with what they can in order to make their ministries succeed.

Putting God first involves listening to Him through prayer and reflection. He also talks to us through the people around us. Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said, “He who really listens because of love will hear even what is not being said. Only a loving heart will be able to hear what is not being said.” 

How can we develop that ability to hear God so that we will be obedient and faithful to Him? Fr. Armand prescribes three disciplines:

  1. Discipline of Prayer. It isn’t enough to just pray. It must be a disciplined prayer, meaning it is consistent and is always on time. It isn’t seasonal. The true intention of prayer is not what you want, but what God wants for you. In that way, we become honest, sincere and open to the leadings of the Spirit.
  2. Discipline of Loving. It is about one’s readiness to give up everything for God. He is committed, focused, and willing to stand up for God. 
  3. Discipline of Action or Effort.You can prove the sincerity of your prayer when you put it into action. Your love is real when you show and demonstrate that love with consistent and conscious effort.

Today, let us reflect on how God is in the order of things. Are we putting Him first above others? Are we listening to Him by creating and giving time for prayer and thanksgiving? Are we putting the discipline so that this becomes consistent and second nature?

Let us pray for wisdom for us to attune ourselves more to God and put Him first and at the center of our lives. Only then can we become committed followers of Christ and in so doing, become more loving, helping and caring persons for others.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation;announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Pt. 2: 9)

Choose To Be Happy!

On my way home last Friday evening while waiting for the traffic light to turn green, a young man in the street wiped my car’s side’s window using a squeegee, a microfiber and a water sprayer. It felt just like in a car wash! Initially I thought of asking him to stop since there was a slight drizzle earlier, and it may be useless to clean at this point. However, being filled with pity I thought that while the money I’ll give him may look small for many of you, for him and family it may be a dinner for the night. He was grateful and expressed it in a thankful and prayerful kind of way.

The past few months have been characterized as fearful, anxious and worrisome. Many are catching up with lost opportunities, lost employment, and lost income. Some of you may not feel it but for a lot of people in the country and around the world, it’s as real as day and night. It is during these desperately urgent moments that actually we have no one else to turn to except to Somebody who is All-Powerful, Perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient Originator and Ruler of the Universe, our Almighty God.

Through the Sacred Scriptures, God has assured us many times that we should “not be afraid”. Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB  mentioned in his homily today that for 386 times (that is more than the days in a year!), God has told us through the Sacred Scriptures: “Do not be afraid!”. In an optimistic note, it is about God telling us to “Choose to be happy!”

In the Gospel during this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt. 10: 26-3), Christ reminds us of how important we are to God the Father, 

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid;you are worth more than many sparrows.

Fr. Armand quoted Pope Francis’ Encyclical Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), telling us that “Joy is the new holiness” (expressed in Filipino: “Ang pagiging masaya ay tanda ng tunay na kabanalan.”). “The joyful person sees the love of God in his day-to-day living. He feels it, he is illuminated that God doesn’t forget, that God doesn’t deprive, that God isn’t quick-tempered. That God is always around, you can rely upon Him. That’s why you are confident, you have no reason to fear!” (“Nakikita niya ang pagmamahal ng Diyos sa araw-araw na buhay niya. Naramdaman niya, nababanaagan niya na ng Diyos ay hindi lumilimot, na ang Diyos hindi nagdaramot, na ang Diyos ay hindi pikon. Na ang Diyos ay laging nandiyan, maasahan mo. Kaya malakas ang loob mo. Wala kang dahilan na matakot.”)

In the First Reading (Jer. 20: 10-13), we read about the apparent misfortunes of the prophet Jeremiah,

All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trappedthen we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’But the LORD is with me, like a mighty championmy persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”

Like in the current crisis, some of us may feel so lost, so downtrodden, so hopeless. It is an event that seems endless at this time. Anyone can feel helpless just thinking about it. Yet it isn’t time to sulk and cry. We have to do our share in helping bring joy and hope to others. In a Viber post, it is suggested that if we have some money to spend now, 

“Let’s buy that “walis” (broom) being sold by peddlers near your village gates, even if you don’t need it. Buy those flowers being sold by “kuya” and “ate” in the streets and give it to your loved one — that usually leads to pleasant surprises. Buy that “trapo” (cloth rags) from the kids in the street, even if you have cannisters or microfiber cloths at home. Don’t bargain too hard, they have 3 months of catching up.”

Today, let us be thankful and grateful for the love Jesus has given us. God loved us first, even going to the extent of dying for us. It is a gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ “overflow for the many”. (Second Reading Rom. 5: 12-15).

Let us pray for the gift of faith, hope and love. That we choose to be happy, hopeful and love others as Jesus loves us all. It will be our testimony so that we can be the face of Jesus to the least of our brothers and sisters. 

The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord;and you also will testify.” (Jn. 15: 26b, 27a)

The Living Bread

It’s been three months since I’ve last experienced Him in the flesh. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve taken Holy Communion and that was just before the start of the community quarantine period. And I really miss doing that, in fact my eyes are moistas I write this. There are times that you just feel tired and exhausted and missed those times when you can freely visit the Blessed Sacrament and attend Holy Mass. For as long as you’ve been to Confession, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is a proven refuge during moments of confusion and source of strength when one’s weary and exhausted. (For now, while the Churches are still closed, most of us have to be content in doing the Act of Spiritual Communion.)

Many today are most  likely tired and sad, but we take consolation in God telling us these past week that, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt. 5: 1-12) Despite the sorrow that you are experiencing, take note that “You are the salt of the earth”and, “You are the light of the world.” (Mt. 5: 13-16). When Jesus calls you such, you have that special calling to tell the world about Him and live in a way that is pleasing to God the Father.We have to be living examples of being His followers, that in so doing we may be able to proclaim His Good News of Salvation, not only by the words we preach, but most importantly by how we live. When we obey and teach others His commandments, we will be called “greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the Gospel during this Solemnity of the Corpus Christi (Jn. 6: 51-58), Christ reminds us that every part of His being is offered for us, 

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live foreverand the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 

Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, shared a beautiful story in his homily highlighting the importance of the Holy Mass to God’s people in sustaining their energy and zeal in working for the Kingdom. The Holy Mass nourishes us with spiritual food that sustains our love for God through the day-to-day activities as His followers and evangelizers. He emphasized that “…we need to live it, practice it and share it”. 

Let us take note that God Himself wants to share His life with us.  He wants to get involved in “flesh and blood” with us,

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drinkWhoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from Heaven.”

These passages allowed me to reflect on the people who have been like Jesus in my life: my family, my parents, priests who have been family to me, my aunties and uncles, my cousins, and special friends, who have cared and made me feel how it is to be loved. It is important therefore to be like Jesus to others too. No one though can love us better than Christ, who has shown us what it takes to love others.

These insights lead us back again to the appreciation of the Holy Eucharist. Christ’s deep love will make us realize why He chose to be present in the Tabernacles under the form of bread and wine.

Today, let us be thankful and grateful for the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us pray that there’ll be return to normalcy soon so that we can again partake of the Holy Eucharist.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord;whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn. 6: 51)

Lord, I Believe

One of the very first prayers that we learn as a child then is the Sign of the Cross. In sports competitions, we see athletes do it before doing their routines, like before making a free throw in a basketball game, before a diver takes the platform, or before preparing to run a race. Most of us also do it before leaving home for the office, or before doing something we consider important. Even without realizing it, whenever we do the Sign of the Cross, we explicitly proclaim our faith in the Most Holy Trinity. 

After many weeks of various events and celebrations, this week the Church Liturgical Calendar returns back to the season of Ordinary Time. This Sunday and next, however, are designated as solemnities—special days that call our attention to the central mysteries of our Catholic faith. Today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, One God in Three Divine Persons. As Christians, we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the First Reading (Ex. 34: 4b-6, 8-9), we are brought back to the time in the Old Testament when God the Father, revealed Himself as LORD. His revelation is one that tells us He is the “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Moses pleaded with Yahweh God for pardon from wickedness and sins, and receiving them as His own, even with the realization that they are a “stiff-necked people”.

God, the Father, out of His deep love for Mankind, sent His Son into the world in order to save it (Jn. 3: 16-18). My High School Religious Education teacher calls these verses as the “Gospel in a Nutshell”, for this truly summarizes what the Good News of salvation is all about. Through the death and resurrection of the Son, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As three persons, God acts always as a God of love; He does not condemn the world but acts to save it. When you get the inspiration, try to imagine the most beautiful relationship that you can ever have. That love and beautiful relationship exists and is a reality. It is the love and relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today, let us reflect on the response that we should give back to God. We don’t need to solve the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity for it is a truth so deep for us to even make a scratch. Suffice it to say that it is enough to say “Lord, I believe”. This profession of faith is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working silently but effectively in our lives.

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;to God who is, who was, and who is to come.” (Rv. 1: 8)