Answering God’s Call

Much like last year’s Palm Sunday, this is another one that’s much different to the ones we’ve been accustomed to. Due to the pandemic, attendance to Church activities is severely limited and online Masses and ceremonies are encouraged. I miss getting the palms for sale at the church yard and so we have to be creative preparing substitutes while attending the Online Mass. I have to select some ornamental plants resembling palms and cut some branches for our “palaspas”. 

In today’s Gospel proclamation at the Procession with Palms (Mk.11:1-10) the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem is greeted with cheers, 

HosannaBlessed is he who comes in the name of the LordBlessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to comeHosanna in the highest!”

Later on the First Good Friday, before Pilate the crowd shouted in mockery “Crucify him, crucify him! 

This week is always one associated with deep sorrow and it’s normal to be sad like that. The mood is somber and coupled with the heat of the summer sun, we can imagine the very difficult situation that our Lord Jesus went through. During my childhood I fondly remember my Lola telling us during those past Holy Weeks to stop playing loud music, avoid laughing boisterously, and instead pray. As children we liked to play and play, especially during the summer but on her command, we have no recourse but to obey, as we’ve been taught to. Today, her command is still something that I heed and follow. 

Yet, in the perspective of God, these events are both glorious ones in the sense that Good Friday’s happening is the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission here in this world. He has fulfilled the purpose for which He became like us, in obedience to the Father, 

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 (Second Reading)

As we enter the Holy Week, it is important we appreciate that Jesus’ journey is also our own. The road that Our Lord traversed during His Passion and Death is also the same path that will bring us salvation and enter into His Glory one day.

Reflect on your own vocation in life. How are you responding to the Father’s call in imitating His only beloved Son?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps. 22:2a)

Letting Go

When you ask people “Who wants to go to Heaven?” most if not everybody will likely answer, “Me!” And when you follow-up with a “Who wants to die?” many will answer, “No”, or a reluctant “Not yet.” This is despite knowing that one can only go to Heaven by dying first, as death is a necessary step. 

Facing death is one of the most terrifying moments that one can ever imagine, especially for those who haven’t meditated and thought well about it. Admittedly, anyone can be scared, for who can say with confidence that he or she is ready to die? Life despite its challenges is still worth living, we would say. You are far more comfortable in your present situation than going through a phase that is unknown and full of uncertainties.

In the Gospel (Jn. 12: 20-33), Jesus said,

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheatbut if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

The Lord is talking about dying to one’s self, to selfishness and to pride. He is referring to everything in the world that you hold on to, because you want it for your own. We should remember that everything that we have is not ours, but are only lent to us. God lends, He takes back. These include even the possessions that you say is yours because you’ve worked hard for it. It’s not bad to have things but when you cling to such as if your life depends on these, your intention becomes selfish. These include even our loved ones, who are lent to us for a time. When we are good stewards, we know that we are only temporary owners and should be ready to submit these up when the Lord calls for it. God also has intentions for them that we must not deprive others to experience His goodness nor take these away. We are meant to be the hands of God to other people. When we are inspired by the Spirit to have this attitude of self-denial, our heart becomes pure such that God enters and possesses our lives completely and yield an abundance of good fruits.

Our lives are meant to be like Jesus: empty of self, obedient, and submissive to the Father’s will. Take what our Lord said at that moment, but in the end He was still obedient to God the Father,

I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

The mood is somber as we go deeper into Lent. The Scriptures (First Reading) assures the faithful that God desires for us to instill these values in our hearts,

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31: 31-34)

We are no longer to be dependent on the “stone tablets” but God desires the law to be written in our hearts. We are called to obedience and submission to the Father, like His Son Jesus, whose suffering and death on the Cross was a fulfillment of His total reverence to God, out of love for the Father (read Second Reading, Heb. 5: 7-9).

Today, as we approach nearer the Holy Week, let us reflect on the challenge of letting go of all selfishness in our lives. Let us reflect on our own death that we will one day experience. 

Lord God, grant me the wisdom to be more giving of myself, obedient and becoming submissive to Your will for my lifeAmen.

Whoever serves me must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will my servant be.” (Jn. 12:26)

John 3:16: The Totality of God’s Love

A few years ago I brought some food for my office staff and we had hearty snacks later in the afternoon. As we were all preparing to end the day, I noticed my assistant holding something in a paper bag “I didn’t take mine because I’m bringing it home for my children”, she said. It was so touching, a gesture that’s something close to my heart, as bringing gifts, food, or toys, is something parents like to do for their children. 

Oh, I’ll give something for them too”, I told her in reply.

It’s something common among parents, mothers especially; to bring something when they return home at the end of the day. At least that’s how we were brought up. In their prime, Mom and Dad always had something when they return home from work. Those were things that we didn’t even ask, but they would do out of their love and thoughtfulness. There are situations that most parents even do more than that, they even sacrifice their own personal plans just to make their children happy. 

The Gospel (Jn. 3: 14-21) today contains one of the most popular verses in the Scriptures, one that my high school religious education teacher referred to as the “Gospel in a nutshell”. John 3:16 is so popular that you can even see it printed inside tricycles (Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB has observed it too), a popular mode of transport in our country.   

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

In today’s Mass at the St. John Bosco Church broadcast online, Fr. Armand gave an extended description of the verse,

God loved us so much that He finds ways to show His love. And He did it by sending His Son on purpose, to die for us. So that we will be happy. So that we will find the meaning of everything that happens to us. So that those who believed in Him, may have eternal life

Eternal life means ‘always new’, ‘always fresh’, so when I talk of eternal it means ‘never ending’, it’ll be true forever and ever, but it is also true today, in the presentSo when we talk of the joy of eternal life, it is the joy that is given to us not only after we die when we go to Heaven, but it is the joy of light that we experience now, no matter what we go through. So Jesus died for us, not only to give us happiness after death, but to make sure that we will have happiness in our life, here on earth, today. That is eternalever fresh, ever new. You can experience it any time. It can be in the future, it can be in the present.

Those who put their trust in the Lord, those who believe in what He says, and I who believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, do it because He paid the biggest price ever. (I will believe what you say, because you are an honorable, honest man. In other words, I believe what you say, because of your honesty.) Jesus is more than what He saidI believe in what Jesus said because He died for itHe offered His life for it. So those (of uswho believe in Jesus (and He taught us how to live life, loving our neighbor, carrying our cross, etc.) the teachings of Jesus give us the joy of living. Surely, because He died for us in order to prove that what He said is true.”

Fr. Armand finds proof in the First Reading (2 Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23) that “God finds ways”, when, despite infidelity after infidelity, resulting to the Israelites taken into exile in Babylon for a long time, God showed He didn’t forget them. Yahweh loved them so much that “He finds ways”, when He inspired King Cyrus of Persia to allow them to be freed from exile and allowed to go back to Jerusalem. “God is so rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions.” (Second Reading, Eph. 2: 4-10) 

Today, reflect on God’s love for you and on the “Gospel in a nutshell”.  Memorize it even.  Delight in every word and know that in embracing this verse, you are embracing the entire truth and totality of God’s love.

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)

Changing to Become New for Christ

A few weeks ago, we decided to give up Alexa’s car which was used during her undergraduate years in driving to and from Katipunan, Quezon City. We were able to sell it easily because it had been maintained and serviced well. This car though is already somewhat old and have been already replaced by newer models. 

In the Gospel (Jn. 2:13-25), Jesus saw the temple area in Jerusalem became a marketplace, 

“…where there were people selling and buying oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there, He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Such was His anger that He also gave a mouthful to those who sold doves. At this the Jews answered and said to him, 

What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

When we were baptized, we became new creations. We became Christians, followers of Christ. The old one becomes new; you became a child of God by your profession of faith during Baptism.

In his homily today, Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said,

 “Baptism involves a commitment to God, to Jesus. When you commit to something, you set aside other things.” Sineseryoso ba natin ang ating commitment kay Jesus? (Are you taking your commitment to Jesus seriously?) At ano ang nakakasira sa commitment? (And what destroys your commitment?) When we compromise, when we say, Pwede na.  

Fr. Armand cautions,

“If you are not careful, living a comfortable life can be a poison to the spirit. It kills our commitment. May mga bagay-bagay na sa ating mananampalataya ay hindi bagay, hindi angkop. May mga style ng pagsasalita, pagkilos, hindi bagay, sa isang mananampalataya.” (There are things that don’t fit to our being people of faith. There are styles of speaking, doing, that aren’t matched with someone who is a faithful follower of Christ.)

Today, as we go deeper into Lent, let us take the time to reflect on our promises at Baptism: 

Are you taking your commitment to God seriously? 

Do your language and actions align with God’s teachings and commandments? (Please see First Reading, Ex. 20: 1-17)

Are you ready to immerse yourself into repentance during this Holy Season?

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)