God’s Endless Love

As we go deeper into Lent, we see Jesus calmly awaiting His Passion despite being troubled. He emphasizes that we should be willing to lose our life in order to preserve it for all eternity. Jesus was fully human, that is why He understands our fickleness (and even stupidity!) in responding to God’s love and initiative.

When Abraham successfully proved his faith, Yahweh promised abundant blessings aside from promising Abraham’s “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” He even further assured that his descendants will “take possession of the gates of their enemies.” Such great love!

As Christians we are required to be faithful, and that we should listen to the Father’s voice telling us “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him. (Mt. 17: 5) In the early days, God revealed His laws which Moses casted in stone. Man’s shortsightedness leads him to the vanities of this world thus blinding him deeper into sin. Man continued to mock God’s messengers and “added infidelity to infidelity, despised His warnings and scoffed at His prophets. Such disrespect for the Creator inflamed the anger of the Lord against His people. He allowed them to be subjected to exile and suffering. Similarly, Jesus zeal for the Father’s House led Him to be angry at the way the House of God was corrupted by traders and the public doing business in the Temple Area. Despite the general hopelessness of His people, even “dead in our transgressions”, He still brought us to life with Christ – “by grace you were saved — raises us up with Him.”

God’s love prevails over anger such that “He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have Eternal Life.” God love us despite the fact that we don’t deserve such patience and understanding, plainly because of His awesomeness; He who is rich in mercy, compassion and is slow to anger.

In today’s readings, the Prophet Jeremiah told that the Lord will place His “law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be My people”. God created the Perfect Savior in Jesus so that by His faithfulness and obedience demonstrated by His patient suffering, showed His perfection which “became the source of salvation for all who obey Him.”

The Old Covenant was a failure, but God created a new covenant in Jesus, which we recognize and accept as the Perfect Savior every time we partake of Holy Communion at Mass.

As Holy Week draws near, may we all realize how sin leads us farther and away from God, our source of life and salvation. Despite the struggles and challenges we face every single day, may we see the purpose for it all, and inspire us to obedience and intimacy with Him. Admittedly, life is often a struggle, because there is a dream to be pursued, a vision to be attained. It is a journey of countless steps, countless meaningful steps, but each one leading to another.

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

Becoming Truly Ready for Him!

One of the most defining aspects of our homecoming journey as emphasized in the Code of Champions Seminar is our accountability towards the Creator. As Fr. Armand said, “Logically God does not deserve a corner of our lives or just a piece of our hearts. For us to enter the depths of His heart, we must give Him topmost priority over and above everything else in life.” This is the appropriate response to Yahweh who beckons and who desires that we seek and desire His love. While we are given the freedom to choose, God’s passionate love for us also ensures that we grow in obedience and intimacy with Him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus found the temple area, the core symbol of God’s presence becoming a market place where people sold animals and birds, as well as the money changers doing business 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, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” At that time what really angered the Lord was the perversion of the Temple by making what was intended to be a place of communion into a business enterprise. Such was its effect that His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
“Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Ps. 69: 9)

Jesus’ purification of the Temple is a herald of another kind of purification, the sanctification of our hearts. It was actually His first proclamation about who He really is and what His mission would embrace. Such mood of Jesus is not commonly read in the Gospel, but is a clear reminder of the need to purify ourselves not only at this season, but at all times. And if we do not experience this purification, then everything that we do is a total waste of time. Until our hearts are rid of that which produces our death and destruction, we will never be truly ready for Him and becoming fully happy. He sees our dark side, the pain we are capable of inflicting. Despite that, He sees the beauty and what is beyond: our possibilities, what we are truly capable of, the goodness that we are capable of radiating. His passionate love for us sometimes makes Him turn the tables upside down and cracks the whip to get our attention. He wants to unravel the beauty that is within us, but which is being covered by what is dark and ugly. Case of loving the sinner, but hating the sin!

What makes it deeply comforting is that the Lord understands our human nature because He is fully human. He understands our fickleness and our weaknesses. He also knows we can get distracted from what is pure and authentic into something that’s bright and dazzling. But as long as we truly desire to get better and do better, He is there patiently waiting for us to get up and seek forgiveness from the Father.

This Lenten Season, let us prepare ourselves to be truly ready for Him. As we continue to reflect on this Gospel and the readings that follow, we are asked to choose where we stand in the course of our day-to-day lives. Do we take the side of what is good, true, and faithful to God? Or continue our pursuit of worldly goods that defile our hearts from what is true, pure and lasting?

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” (Jn. 6:68c)

Listen to Him!

There will always be ups and downs in life. We can be happy one time but we can also be afraid and worried the next day. It’s how we manage fear that can make us feel at peace despite the gloom. One can rest in the fact that who we are and how strong we become is a result of the many challenges that we have experienced in life. We become sharpened, we becomes tougher, but that is not a guarantee. It will depend on how we handle each situation. We can respond in fear or we can take it as another test, therefore, handle it as best as we can.

The readings this Second Sunday of Lent show us another case, this time it’s about Abraham being out to a very challenging test. Yahweh asked him,

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” (Gn. 22: 2)

(Last Sunday, it was Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert.) Arguably this test of faith is really very difficult considering the life of one’s only child is at stake. How difficult (or easy) is it to decide to give up one’s son as a holocaust? And yet it was something that Abraham passed without resistance; his devotion to Yahweh was firm as it was faithful. God assures that we are never tested beyond what we can handle. In the Second Reading, St. Paul made this revelation in the Letter to the Romans,

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” (Rom. 8: 31b – 32)

Aside from giving His only begotten Son, God also gave us everything else, so how can we fail if we have faith? Being subjected to the test is one difficult point in one’s life that can make or unmake a person. We can read a lot of failures and successes based on one single decision which changed lives forever. But as long as one has that faith that perseveres, one can sustain and fortify himself to avoid falling into the trap that the devil puts up. One sure defense that one can do is pray. Regularly. Not only during times of distress, but in all times. Besides, how can you say you love God when you don’t even pray to Him regularly? Isn’t that being unfaithful? Or being a hypocrite? Praying to God regularly is not one that will make God greater (He is perfect and so needs nothing more!) but it is for our own development and growth. We become more humble, more faithful and more discerning to the leadings of the Spirit in our life.

In this time of Lent, let us again renew our commitment to pray. It can give strength when one feels weakened and it also gives flesh and blood to our declaration that we love God. When one prays regularly, a beautiful world is opened and experienced. You can feel peace and serenity that knows no limits, despite the evil around. You can be assured of that. After all, praying allows you to listen to Him.

“I shall walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” (Ps. 116: 9)

Refreshing Our Love for God

The story of Noah is one that is ingrained early in my life as a young boy studying at the Immaculate Heart Academy of Tanjay (now a City) where I grew up. Run then by the Sisters of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), that school formed a critical role in molding me to who I am today. In school, the scene wherein people were laughing at Noah and then later on drowning in the flood is so vivid that I dread the idea of dying in water. That’s why I learned how to swim, but then again, knowing how to swim doesn’t guarantee one will be saved.

Ironically, the waters that destroyed every living creature also saved Noah and his family (eight in all). (1 Pt. 3: 21) In the First Reading, St. Peter said, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience…” (v. 21)

Last Thursday, as I entered the Chapel, I heard through the sound system people talking and conversing loudly. I thought then that there was a video being shown before Mass. However, as I genuflect in front of the Tabernacle before making my way to the Sacristy, I realized there was no video showing. The sound was coming from outside, entering via the frequency of the wireless sound transmitters. The voices were so clear to be heard: women and children were talking and laughing like a crowd in a noisy street. And I imagined things. Before the Mass, Fr. Armand instructed Lawrence (the assistant) to ask the people in the passages and offices surrounding the chapel to refrain from talking aloud while the Mass is going on. As the Mass started and progressed, the sound outside was no longer a disturbance. It was a big relief.

Those sounds intruding into the system frequency is something that doesn’t happen regularly. As far as I can recall, it happened only once before and then last Thursday (which was the day after Ash Wednesday). Was the sound the work of the evil one and his minions in order to frighten and disturb the Mass? Maybe. I don’t discount the possibility.

As this Lent unfolds, let us be mindful of our own “desert” experiences, wherein the evil one will try (and hopefully fail) to bring us to the test. It’ll be on us whether we fail or we triumph against these forces of the dark. We’ll have to watch out carefully and be mindful of our surroundings for tell-tale signs of the enemy. Today the Lord Jesus is asking us to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. (Mk. 1: 15) We are being reminded to refresh our faith, and ask ourselves, “Do I really love God?”

Doing the activities of the Church will not be meaningful if your motivation is only just to do the “routine” ceremonies. Love should be the only motivation as it is only in loving that we become faithful to Him and then join to celebrate victory over death come His Glorious Resurrection. Now is the time to reflect whether you’ve been faithful to the promises you made to the Lord in times of supplication and need. Yes, we are fond of making promises when asking God for favors and blessings. But when the times are good, you forget what you committed to Him. You easily forget. And yet you said, “I love God.”

In this season, if you are experiencing a backslide in your prayer time, try harder to rebuild the habit of regular prayer. Doing it regularly and repeatedly for a long period of time will make it to become a habit. Once it becomes a habit, it is easier to sustain. Your conscience will ensure that you will get back to the habit when you fail.

Prayers will give you blessings so abundant and bountiful you can ever imagine possible.

May the Heavenly Father grant us the grace to become more faithful and obedient to His Son now and forever.

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

Are You Lovable?

After Mass today, I dropped by the flower shop to ensure I’ll have flowers delivered for Alma on Valentine’s Day. The shop was running out of flowers, as new stocks will be coming in tomorrow. Surely the flowers business is brisk these days, and I’m just thankful that the local shop in the village is flourishing.

Curiously Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, which ushers the long season of Lent.

Fr. Barrios, a visiting priest this Sunday told a story of one parishioner suggesting that instead of marking the Cross on her forehead, she wanted a heart, to which the priest replied, “It sounds a good idea, but remember that while the heart dies with the person, the Cross lasts forever.”

In the Gospel, a leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. (Mk. 1: 40-42) The faith of the leper is taken from knowing how powerful Jesus is.

Note that in those times as it was in the time of Moses (First Reading), lepers were sent to live away from other people,

“As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” (Lv. 13: 46)

Yet the Lord’s reply shows how God’s love is so amazing and unconditional. His mercy is beyond compare, His patience unfathomable. As St. Paul says, “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2: 13).

Many friends tell me how tired they’ve been of helping others that for once, they’d want to take a break. To them I said, “Just hang on and persevere, you’ll still feel better when others are happy because of you.” Indeed. Actually the point is that instead of thinking of making ourselves happy, why not focus instead on making others happy? As Fr. Armand proposes, being happy means making others happy. Have you noticed that when others are happy, you feel better? When you do that, the fruit is not only making others happy, but also making yourself more lovable. And inspiring! That is the essence of servant leadership.

As we move closer to Ash Wednesday, let us pray to the Father that we be inspired to serve more, to persevere more and to love more. It is only then that we not only give our hearts, but also make the Holy Cross of Christ becoming authentic in our lives.

“Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.” (Ps. 32: 11)

Our Other Priorities

I finally got to find a schedule to see my Mom soon, aside from a quick visit to Dad’s grave too. In this world where people rush and check-off anything that needs to be done as fast as one could, journeys to one’s roots are what makes one rejuvenate from all the rigors of life. Here, time is so precious that one wonders how others cope with all the challenges that Manila offers: traffic, pollution, noise; not to mention the endless queues at every payment shop. For example, when settling utility bills, it takes almost an hour to get past payment of telecom bills. Yes, one can do online payment but what about the rest of humanity, is there no other way that the two biggest telco companies can improve service? I’m just blessed to reside in a place that’s so near the office and yet so quiet that I sometimes think it’s just Amlan relocated in the capital. It’s a blessing indeed.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.” (Gospel Reading: Mk. 1: 29-39) After Simon and the others found and told him “Everyone is looking for you”, Jesus told them that they have to go on to the nearby villages “that I may preach there also.” Jesus was telling them that others need to see and hear him too.

Similarly, we are told by the Lord not to forget the others who have been entrusted to us, they be our parents, our siblings, our extended families, and even the families of those who help us at home or in our businesses.

During the past week Emman, a senior chemist, dropped by to bid farewell in order to focus attention in attending to the family business as his father-in-law needs someone to run it, as the old man is already retiring very soon. Considering the number of employees that their construction business is blessed with, it was really a tough decision leaving a great job (and a rewarding environment) to fulfill God’s call to take care of the business and of course the other people helping the enterprise. It’s a big deal by earthly standards but to God’s faithful servants it isn’t. It’s also a leap of faith to pursue the family vocation. (I confirmed this in our conversation yesterday, that the couple Emman and Jop consulted Fr. Armand prior to making the decision to leave.)

Yes, while one has the right to say “no”, it’s quite a noble decision to think of others before one’s self. It is in doing this what one seeks to fulfill other commitments and responsibilities entrusted to by God. Maintain balance, so to speak. As St. Paul says in the Second Reading, “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.” (1 Cor. 9: 19) One can show to the world that witnessing for the Lord can be done in so many ways and in the many other duties one is called to serve.

“Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”(Mt. 8: 17)

The One and Only Authority

In my family’s last visit to the United States, we visited a “beautiful” church in Orange County, California; clad entirely in glass (designed by a renowned architect) which was quite the landmark in that county for many years. What made me more curious about its history was the fact that its founder was one of my favorite motivational authors growing up. I know he was Protestant, but what made me realize the impact of that was in knowing that his church became bankrupt and had to sell this to the Catholic Church.

This generation as well as future generations have to be discerning in the congregations they attend for worship. They should realize that it is not only how a church starts, but also on how it is sustained and how it manages to stay for the long term. What adds to the confusion in the world today is that there are a bunch of false prophets claiming to speak in behalf of God. You can hear and see them easily, aside from being the loudest, these well-advertised pastors proclaim a message taken from the Holy Book, yet without the authority bestowed by God. They usually profess a faith that is geared more towards convenience, glamour and marketing. You only need to look around and see them proclaiming the presence of show business personalities attending their events for added glamour and worldly prestige. Ironically in what could be said as pure hypocrisy, these self-appointed pastors live in elegance and indulgence while their congregations wallow in need and poverty. What is disturbing though is the fact that there are people attracted for the wrong reasons and for the wrong motivations. Our Lord Jesus has warned us strongly that “…many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.” (Mt. 24: 5)

This is where the problem with churches made by man: Yahweh God has warned strongly against prophets professing to speak in His name: “he shall die.” (Dt. 18: 20) God is telling His anger against those who claim to speak for Him without being commanded to do so. This authority comes not from one’s self, but should only from God alone. And God’s warning also applies to us in that we should be discerning who we should follow and look up to. We should know who are speaking to us, for we might be misled. We should be faithful and persevere in faith, as this is the only way we can be saved. (Mt. 24: 13)

In the Gospel, the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, “for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mk. 1: 22) Unclean spirits even recognized and submitted to Him as the Holy One of God. The lesson then is that it is only Jesus that this authority has been given. This authority has been passed on by Jesus to the Apostles, down to the bishops and priests, in a long unbroken line of successors who have been anointed by God through the power of His Holy Spirit. Thus, it should come simpler for us in discerning God’s presence because we have only to look at the anointed authorities here on earth.

In following them, we can be ensured that we only follow the real and the “Anointed One” of God: Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”(Ps. 95: 8)

Viva Sr. Sto. Niño!

There are reasons why we experience certain events in our lives. At this stage, I can safely say that my life dots have been made long before I even tread on them. While it’s still a choice which way to go in our life journey, we can be assured we are pursuing the right path provided we are humble, prayerful and discerning. There may be instances that we feel we took the wrong trail but in the end, we’ll realize those were learning experiences that made us better, stronger, and tougher.

So far, there are three major instances that the Lord has called me to Cebu: first when I studied college; second, when I moved to my current employer, and third, when I was again posted there to manage a part of our operations. In each of these stages, my love affair with the Christ Child resembled something romantic that reflected God’s love for His children. On the first stage, I met and made great brothers and sisters in the faith who “introduced” me to the devotion to Santo Niño, which also affirmed in me my Mom’s ardent love for the Baby Jesus. She always reminded me back then to find time to visit the Basilica where the miraculous icon holds court and venerated by millions of devotees. When I came back on successive assignments, there were always some details to know about the Child. There was always a learning and an insight every time; the more we humble ourselves like Him, the more the Spirit gives us the understanding and discernment needed to decode and see the dots before us.

Being a child speaks of innocence, simplicity and unconditional love. We can relate with that so to speak as we have been small children way back. Relating with a child is to recognize our nothingness, our smallness and our shortcomings in front of our Almighty Father.

Our human weaknesses reveal our need for God, thus, our love for the Santo Niño shows our recognition of His mercy, gentleness and compassion. In a country that is still beset with problems, the presence of the Santo Niño provides a sense of assurance and a refuge of families who are in search of better futures: an OFW parent longing to be back home, a child praying to hurdle the board examinations and others praying for better jobs, among others. Thus, we can safely say, the reason of the big number of devotees. But that’s just half of the story: the other part also tells of the great multitude of those who are being grateful for receiving favors and answered prayers from Baby Jesus. I know because I am one of them!

On this feast of the Santo Niño, let us again discover the child in us and imitate Jesus’ child-like qualities of innocence, simplicity and total dependence on God. As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18: 4), we can grow deeper in faith. In a world continually in a state of confusion, we need to be children, trekking on this earthly journey with the Lord Jesus Christ and totally dependent on God.

Señior Santo Niño, have mercy on us!

Lord, listen to the prayers of your children! (cf. the Prayers of the Faithful)

What Are You Looking For?

I’m sure you know someone experiencing or grappling with depression. One of the surprises I had during the past year is the increase in number of my younger friends experiencing some form of depression. According to the World Health Organization, the global rate of this disorder has risen by more than 18% in the period 2005 – 2015. It was estimated that 322 million people are living with depression (about 3.29 million of them are in the Philippines), making it the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

In my conversations with some of them, they’ve mentioned a recurring answer: their feeling of sadness persists, and suddenly they felt a loss of interest in the things that they normally like. (While not yet reaching critical phases, they’ve agreed to consider seeking professional help.)

Why are they experiencing that?

Unknown to most, there are hurts that people experienced especially during the early years of life. This is kept in our beings in what Fr. Armand Robleza calls, “The Wounded Self”. This is the part of the self that is “ugly and embarrassing”, so most people deny this and even distance themselves from, thus it is an area where most are generally unconscious of. It results into poor self-image, anger, and even fear of life!

In the Gospel today, after hearing what John the Baptist said, the two disciples started to follow Jesus, who turned and saw them, and said, “What are you looking for?” (Jn. 1: 38) This is a telling question and certainly the answer we give can indeed be a life-changing event, as proven by the disciples who eventually became the Lord’s disciples and found a fulfilling life beyond.

Instinctively, there is always something great about life. That is why we dream. That is why we leave our comfort zones in search of fulfillment to the meaning of our lives. It is an exciting journey towards our Real Home. Life is inspired about hitting the target and achieving the mission we have set for ourselves. With the grace provided as a gift by God.

Yet finding our place in the grand scheme of things isn’t easy. One must know the difficulties and how to overcome these. Just like the wounded self, these obstacles are also hidden and can’t be seen unless pointed to us by our mentors and our teachers.

How about you? Have you found what you are looking for? (If you haven’t yet, you may need a guide in your life’s journey. Attend the Code of Champions Seminar; it will change your life!)

“We have found the Messiah: Jesus Christ, who brings us truth and grace.” (Jn. 1: 41, 17B)

Be Guided by Jesus

Way back in High School, I played the lead role of the play “Artaban, The Other Wise Man”, a story written in 1895 by Henry van Dyke. It was a beautiful experience in the sense that the practices made me realize the deeper meaning of the search and presence of Jesus in our daily lives. It was an epiphany for me, an insight into the reality or essential meaning of Jesus coming into the world. The fact that the play was performed in an audience which was largely non-Catholic also tells that the mystery and significance of Christ’s coming is meant not only for a few chosen ones but to include everyone as well.

It tells about a “fourth” wise man, who, like the other Magi, saw the sign in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he went on the journey to see the newborn king, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price”. However, it was told that our hero missed the appointment with the other Magi. He was late to get into Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus, but he was on time to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier with one of his gifts intended for Jesus. For 33 long years, he searched, tailing but without finding the Savior. In his journey though, he helped the poor and the hungry. The last scene I remembered was Artaban, now already old, near the Christ at the crucifixion. He was preparing to offer a pearl as ransom (the last of his gifts), but when he saw a young woman being sold into slavery to pay for family debts, he gave his pearl to obtain the girl’s freedom. All of a sudden there was an earthquake as Jesus died on the cross and a stone fatally struck our hero. In his dying moments he heard a Voice saying, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”(Mt. 25:40)

Today’s Gospel speaks about the inclusion of all creation into the mystery of salvation as part of the body of Christ. All of us have to pay homage to Christ as the Master who leads us all to Him. If you are a fan of astrology, you must discard those beliefs and give way to Jesus, the Real Star of the universe. This is the Star that the Three Wise Men follow. Like them, we should refuse to be tangled in the manipulation of the evil one. The Wise Men’s pilgrimage is a long awaited sign – that the prophecies made long ago in today’s First Reading (Is. 60: 1-6) and Psalm (Ps. 72) are being fulfilled. They come from nations far away, guided by God’s light, bearing gifts and wealth, to praise and pay homage to the God of Israel.

Similarly, our own search for God will be guided by His light for as long as we are discerning and wise to the leadings of the Spirit. There will be detours and threats along the way but despite these, we have to go without being distracted to find Him in the places least expected, and on the appointed time. Just like Artaban, we have to persevere and in the process make His love be felt in the world around by our acts of love and kindness.

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt. 2: 2)

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