The Transfiguration: Strengthening Our Faith

Yesterday I was conversing with Jerson (not his real name), my service advisor of many years, on the state of employment in the service company and he told me where his other colleagues are at this time. Of the eight, only four of them remained as the others were terminated on the same day that the announcement was made. He felt so sad because aside from the service advisors, about half of their technicians also had to go. Most, if not all of them are breadwinners and have families to support. 

In the First Reading (Gn. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18), the test that Abraham went through was so tough, he was asked to offer his son Isaac as a “holocaust”. What mental torture and agony he must have went through during those moments. Certainly, not everyone can pass it (with flying colors!) as Abraham did. It’ll take a lot of faith (tons of faith, actually!)

Our challenges can be likened to the tests that Abraham went through. During this pandemic, there are many Abrahams going through different difficulties and hardships. Be it the loss of job like Jerson’s colleagues, the loss of a loved one, or even being away from family for long periods owing to safety and health protocols and the need to provide for the family. These are times when you feel why such are happening given the so many people affected. In yesterday’s Gospel (Mt. 5: 43-48), Jesus tells us to “Love your enemy”, a challenge so difficult for many to embrace. These aren’t the only teachings that the Lord gave us that are really hard for many to accept. It’s not only questionable and logic defying, but that is what the Lord said. In order for all of us to follow His teachings, Christ gave us a foretaste of Heaven and His glory (today’s Gospel Mk. 9: 2-10). This experience have really left an imprint on His disciples such that they were able to overcome discouragement and hardships. They went on to fulfill their mission and chose to give their lives fully for God.

Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, shared in his homily today, that one of their classmates in Theology while they were discussing Ancient History asked their professor, who was a History expert, 

“Father, how many Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus?”

“A conservative estimate is two million Christians offered their lives for Christ in a span of three hundred years.”

Fr. Armand added, “Bigyan ‘nyo ako ng iba pang simbahan, na ang kanilang simbahan ay dinilig ng dugo ng kanilang mga kasamahan. Wala. Tayo lang.” (Give me a church that their church is watered by the blood of their martyrs. None. Only the Catholic Church.)

What these stories tell us is that discouragement and challenges are moments when you can’t give up on God, no matter how trying the situation is. Be assured that God would want us to have our basic needs in life. If we ask for it, He will always want to give us the strength to overcome temptations even for those as heavy as Abraham’s. If we pray for our salvation, which would need forgiveness of our sins, I’m pretty sure God would want these to be granted to us provided there is sincerity in our actions. It doesn’t mean God will grant all our prayers, because there is also the aspect of what God’s will is for our lives. He will always want the best for us and will grant those prayers that will keep us with Him for eternity.

Surely, when we give Him the top priority in our lives, He would tell us, like what God said to Abraham,

I swear by myself, declares the LORDthat because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved sonI will bless you abundantly” 

Today, reflect on who Jesus really is. Let us pray for the wisdom, the strength, and the courage to stay with Him and resist falling to the temptations and hardships we are faced with.

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

Repentance and Faith

In 2019, Alma and I had the privilege of flying across the desert via a famous Middle Eastern airline with plane-installed cameras that allowed us to view the ground below. As we were flying from Dubai on the way to Vienna, we saw the desert below: stretches of barren land with very few traces of vegetation and foliage. I can imagine how the elements bring it to movements and life every now and then. Thinking about it made me recall what Jesus went through before He engaged in His public ministry.

The Gospel (Mk. 1: 12-15) tells us during this First Sunday of Lent that the Spirit brought Jesus into the desert and remained there for forty days. Going there wasn’t forced on Him and it tells us His singular focus of total obedience to the will of God the Father. He was ministered by angels and the Heavenly Father must have seen it fit to be with Jesus as He was preparing for His ministry. The same is true with us in our “desert experiences”; we don’t have to go through it alone. When we invoke God’s help, surely, Heaven would be delighted and exuberant to “send angels to minister to our needs”. It is so consoling to know that as sons and daughters of God, we can “switch on” the power of Christ when we need it. 

Like Jesus, we can also defeat the enemy for as long as we prepare ourselves spiritually. Surely though, we cannot defeat this vicious foe on our own. We need the protection and power of the Almighty God if we want to emerge victorious. These spiritual “battles” come to us through the temptations we face, our difficulties, and the bad habits that bruise us every now and then. These are challenges that will continue to haunt us if we insist on our own strengths and limited power. We cannot solve and cure these ills unless we turn on the power of God in us. Note that during this period Jesus went through all temptations imaginable just after He was baptized by John. The Lord is therefore telling us that as we go through our Lenten journey, we recall our promises at Baptism. We have to renounce evil and proclaim our faith in the Holy Trinity, the Holy Catholic Church, and its sacred teachings. Jesus is telling us the importance of repentance and faith that will enable us to avail of the mighty power of God,  

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

In my life experience, the times that I feel weak and down, I found out that the only way to overcome these and restore the power of God in me is when I prepare spiritually by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a way of giving honor and gratitude to God, whose Son Jesus came to save us,

Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that He might lead you to God.” (Second Reading, 1 Pt 3: 18-22) 

It is proven and it is not only effective in my personal life but also at work and in business relationships as well.

Reflect on the bad habits you have, and how you can resolve to eliminate these precursors of sin during this season of Lent.  

Lord God, I bow before you. Help me fight my weaknesses as I prepare during this Season of Lent. Strengthen me, guide me and protect me and my family from all evil and dangers of the body and the soul. Amen.

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

The Greatest Act of Love

For a long time, leprosy was a feared and misunderstood disease. It was thought to be hereditary, a curse, or even a punishment for one’s sins. Thus, for quite a time lepers were stigmatized and shunned. In the First Reading (Lv. 13: 1-2, 44-46), Yahweh God gave instructions to Moses and Aaron on how lepers are to be handled. It was the priest who shall declare him unclean, and rules applied on what garments he should wear and by his having a bare head. He shall also cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ and shall live apart, outside the camp where the Israelites were. 

In today’s Gospel (Mk. 1: 40-45) shows us how Jesus forgives. In his homily today, Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB said, “Sa kanilang pag-iisip, yung pagpapagaling mo sa ketongin na yun ay pagpapatawad ng kasalanan sapagkat sa kanila, ang kasalanan, lalo na kung malubha ay bunga yan ng pagkakasala. (In their thinking, the cure to a leper is forgiveness of sins because for them, sin, especially those grave sins, are the effects of sinning.)” 

Fr. Armand also emphasized two important points: 

  1. Jesus touched the leper even if it wasn’t acceptable during those times. He risked being tagged as an outcast like the leper. And, 
  2. Jesus healed the leper not by the power of others, but by His own power! Christ stood by His claim that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Lord’s love for the leper is total, complete and without reservations. 

Let us reflect on the power of the Lord to heal us of our afflictions. Leprosy, like sin, is a sign of our weakness and frailty as human beings. Yet despite the gravity of our sins, Jesus forgives. When we forgive, do we forgive others, as Jesus did? 

Let us pray to learn how to forgive, because Jesus Christ is about forgiveness; He is merciful and compassionate. “Forgiveness is the greatest act of love. If you don’t know how to forgive, you don’t know how to love!” (Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB).

A great prophet has arisen in our midst, God has visited his people.” (Lk. 7:16)

Coping With Life’s Challenges

Nobody in this world is perfect. Everyone has weaknesses and defects. That is why, we complement with others. Whatever strengths we have will help those who are weak at. Other than weaknesses, there are also times when we feel down and anxious, tested, and challenged such that we feel pushed to the limit. An inspiring friend or family member will help us see beyond our problems and anxieties. A person who acts as a “sounding board” is vital to our sanity and stability. 

The classic story of Job in the First Reading (Jb. 7: 1-4, 6-7) tells us of his frustrations and feelings, considering what has happened to his family, possessions and even his dignity. Yet, despite all these he remained steadfast in his faith in Yahweh God. 

Last December before my mother-in-law passed away, I was telling Alma that we have to exert effort to make sure she won’t give up her faith as her pain brought about by the big C increased in intensity. What I fear the most is when the soul gives up on God at the last minute. During the last moments of life, the devil is on the prowl and ready to pounce on our sickness, our troubles, and anxieties so that we may start questioning and even risk of giving up our faith in God. Thus, in her last days, Alma and I would pray with her every night before she sleeps. I think that even when our own time comes for us to go and leave this world, we should resist the temptation to give up on God for what we’re going through. If due to the feelings of insurmountable pain one gives up on faith and hope at the last minute, it would be the most unfortunate event that happens to one’s soul. Heaven can be within reach and yet eternal punishment can also result due to one’s loss of faith. That is why we have to persevere until the end. Note what Job did in Chapter 2 verse 10, as his wife asked him to “Curse God and die!”,

But he said to her, “You speak as foolish women do. We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” Through all thisJob did not sin in what he said

In the Gospel (Mk. 1: 29-29), Jesus was healing Simon’s mother-in-law from fever, other people from various illnesses, and driving out demons. He didn’t allow the demons to speak because “they knew him.” It wasn’t only there that the Lord preached, as He also ensured that they “go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there alsoFor this purpose have I come.”

As it was before, so it is today: Jesus Christ brings hope amidst tragedy, despair, and misery; challenges that we all face at one time or the other. During these times of the pandemic, the difficulties are real. People are losing jobs, the company of friends and family loved ones, or even losing loved ones due to Covid-19. The story of Job inspires us to hold on to Yahweh, as he was one who persevered and believed that God ought to be thanked for everything, problems and all included. 

As St. Paul said in the Second Reading, 

All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” (1 Cor. 9:16-19, 22-23)

Let us reflect on the life of Job today. Let his life inspire us to love life and be grateful to God for all that we experience, good or bad. Let his life fill our own with hope, faith and love so that we persevere and hopefully with God’s awesome grace, mercy and compassion, triumph in the end.

Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.” (Ps. 147:3a)