This pandemic disrupted everything that people have embraced in life: work, business, travel, reunions, celebrations, norms, etc., name it and everything that we accepted as normal and routine suddenly changed. By the look of things, the change looks far-reaching and may not return to pre-pandemic times anymore. The “new normal” seems to stay on for a long, long time. 

Some people that we know were gone, although not all were due to the disease. But their passing came at so bad a time that revered customs and traditions weren’t done anymore due to health and safety protocols being enforced to prevent risks that come when people congregate. The memories and scars remain but we have to move on, without losing sight that someday it is inevitable that it’ll be our turn to leave this earth which we call our “temporary” home.

The readings in today’s Gospel remind us to hope, to appreciate God who loves us through and through, and to prepare the way for His coming birth. In the First Reading (Bar. 5: 1-9) the Prophet Baruch tells us that God will save His people and splendor will be restored in the city Jerusalem. His people who have been dispersed abroad will return triumphant and with great rejoicing. This is a promise of hope for those who live in fear and misery. God assures that He will remember anyone who trust and are faithful to Him.

In the Second Reading (Phil. 1: 4-6, 8-11) St. Paul tells his gratitude to the Philippians for all that they have done in helping him to spread the Word of God. He prays that God will bless those who remain faithful and that your love for each other and for Godwill be blessed more and more. This love for God helps us to develop that discernment to know what is essential and important to the Lord as we prepare for the day of His coming.

In the Psalms (Ps. 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6) today we proclaim: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy! However, it isn’t easy to experience joy when one is facing challenges and difficulties. It takes faith that the Lord has done great things for us that we experience joy, not that we deserve it, but because of God’s loving mercy and compassion. We can’t appreciate and be aware of these unless we repent from our sins. This season, take the time to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore the lines broken by our indifference and arrogance.

Thus in the Gospel (Lk. 3: 1-6) St. John the Baptist exhorts us to “prepare the way” for Jesus Christ. The prophecy of Isaiah who said that there would be a forerunner to the Messiah is fulfilled as St. John preached baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This is a reminder to us that now is the time to make our preparations for the Lord’s coming, now is the time to make a straight and open path into our hearts for the Savior who will come to us this Christmas.

This season, we are invited to prepare not just for this Christmas but also for our own salvation. We are encouraged to respond as St. John prescribed: repentance for the forgiveness of our sins. 

As you go on this Advent journey ask yourself,

What “crooked” ways do you need to straighten and what “mountains” do you need to level down in anticipation of the Lord’s coming? 

Have you ever thought about preparing for the day when you pass on to the next? 

Are you meaning your life to be a preparation for eternity? 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. (Ps. 126: 3)

The Strength to Endure

Today is the start of the Church’s Liturgical Year. With the improvements in vaccination rates and the loosening of the previously tight health and safety protocols’ restrictions, the sights and sounds of Christmas appear to be getting brighter and louder. During these Sundays of Advent, we are invited to meditate on the mysteries of waiting in joyful and hopeful anticipation. It is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.

In our waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, the Gospel tells us (Lk. 21: 25-28, 34-36) that there will be chaos, death and fear. The Son of Man will come with power and great glory, yet the Lord also gave us hope and encouragement so that “when these things happen, we stand erect and raise our heads because redemption is at hand”.

We are cautioned about “becoming drowsy from excessive drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life”, lest that day may catch us by surprise. That day will affect everyone who lives, thus the need to be vigilant at all times. The Lord encourages us to pray that we have the “strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and the courage to stand before the Son of Man.”

It’s almost two years since the first lockdown and most likely everyone is with mixed emotions about the future. And this is what makes Advent so special, especially in these times of the pandemic. It provides us hope with the thought that Christ’s love makes Him come to us. Thus, preparing ourselves is something we have to do this season. Let us take the opportunity to create a new beginning, a new chapter in our life journey. Let us tear down the walls of indifference and begin to reach out to family members, neighbors and others who in one way or the other have drifted away from us. Let us bring ourselves back closer to Jesus by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to bring our hearts worthy of becoming His home again. In doing so, we renew our relationship with God so that we experience the depth of His love where we’ll be touched, healed and transformed.

When we open our hearts to allow His grace to do these, we allow Him to bring His love into the world. “Let us expect the Lord. Claim Jesus!”, Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said in his homily today. 

Back when we were younger and when my parents were still alive, mom and dad would prepare everything at home for their children coming back for the break. They would prepare our rooms, clear the home to give way for Christmas decorations and those thoughts would give us the joy in anticipation of the celebration.  Those times were long gone but those are one of the best memories of family that we love to remember. Today, we like to replicate those moments with our own respective families, ensuring tradition is passed on to the next generations. This is indeed one of the most wonderful times of the year.

Let us pray that we find strength and consolation in Jesus’ words and in His redeeming presence with us to endure all our trials and to witness Christ’s love to the world.

Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation.’ (Ps. 85: 8)

Hail to Jesus Christ, The King!

In his homily today, Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, delivered a beautiful reflection:

“Jesus is my King, the King of obedient love. We allow Jesus to reign in our hearts, we welcome Him in our lives, because He died for us. This is my King, hanging on the Cross. He died on the Cross. He died out of love, unselfishly, to the end. He did not get anything for Himself. He gave everything, even His life. Can you ask for more? But He died, not because He wanted to, but because the Father asked Him to die. He died because He obeyed. 

This is my King: the King of obedient love. He was willing to give everything, even His heart did not belong to Him, it belonged to His Father. Not only the act of dying but even the reason why I should die, did not even come from Him, but from the Father. Even the very motivation of dying was something that the Father asked from Him. So unselfish, genuine love. That’s why He will say, greater love than thisno man has, that He lays down His life for His friends. Not only because He laid down His life, but because He laid it down, out of obedience to His Father. That makes Him King.”

Today, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In the Gospel (Jn. 18: 33b-37), St. John brings us to the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. Caiaphas and the high priests have charged Jesus with a political crime, one that if proven guilty would get a punishment of death. 

So Pilate said to him, Then you are a king? Jesus answered, You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

People whose faith are deep believe in the truth that Jesus Christ is King and Savior. His might and power is hidden from many especially during His time. Only those chosen and have the eyes of faith were and are able to see this truth. As followers of Christ, we are not perfect though as we also struggle at times to recognize Jesus as King whenever we sin and fail Him. 

I remembered in one of the homilies about the dual nature of the Kingdom of God: 1) Something yet to come (eschatological), and 2) “Now”, “already but not yet”. 

I am the Alpha and the Omega, ” says the Lord God,
the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rv. 1: 5-8)

It is deep and thought-provoking but for me it isn’t a mystery that needs to be solved, but to be believed.

In his book, “Kim.2”, Fr. Armand mentioned that in our search for happiness, the question is not “Are you a happy person?”, but “Are your people happy with you?” The search for happiness and meaning is not really about how we become fulfilled but in our ability to make other people feel about what might be possible when one lives a life of faith in the Lord. 

When we become men and women for others, we make the Kingdom of God felt in the present. We have to make others experience God’s love that in doing so, we bring to others God’s Kingdom in the now.

Let us pray that the Lord grant us the ability to increase our faith, that we proclaim more strongly with the life we live that Jesus through His Crucifixion and Death, is indeed the King of the Universe. 

The LORD is King; He is robed in majesty.’ (Ps. 93: 1a)

Only God’s Love

Plants take some time before these can be harvested. Fruits take time to ripen and flowers to bloom. It takes many months before grains are mature and ready to be harvested. We cannot rush them to produce as it will only damage the yield. Take the case of mangoes added with fruit inducers, these are not as sweet and juicy as the naturally-ripened ones. 

People are generally impatient and always in a rush. We want things to happen fast and at times even do things to shorten the process. We ask questions like, “When is Jesus coming?” Some try to answer, some take advantage of this curiosity that sects were organized, with false prophets predicting the date and even the hour. And yet, the Lord said in the Gospel (Mk. 13: 24-32),

But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

As we draw close to the end of the liturgical year, the Lord tells us,

Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that He is near, at the gates. 

It is important that in all these, we remain patient and persevere in the faith. As Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said in his homily today, 

“Everything in life, takes time. It takes time for the fruit to ripen. It takes time for life to flourish, it takes time for questions to be answered. It takes time for love to mature. It takes time for the Cross to be embraced. It takes time for faith to be lived. Life takes time.” 

Further, he said,

“Our hearts are restless, so we rush through life. Restless means we don’t want to accept the difficulty of life, we don’t want to stay long and we want an immediate answer to what we’re doing. 

Our hearts are restless, and they can rest only in God. Because it is only God who is permanent. It is only the embrace and love of God that will stay with us no matter what. At the end of the day, it is only God, and His love, that we can fully and truly trust.”

Today, let us reflect that everything in life is temporary and will pass away. Let us accept that it is only the embrace and love of God that stays forever. Let us pray for the grace to listen to God’s Word, every day, for as long as we live.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man.’ (cf. Lk. 21:36)

Make Me Be Your Heart, O Lord

God will never be outdone in generosity. He pays you back and with much more — always.

Way back in college, one of my best friends introduced me to devotions that I still carry on today. He introduced me to the devotion to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Señor Santo Niño de Cebú. He isn’t only generous in sharing on matters of faith, but also in giving time and material things. He comes from a rich Chinese family and was one of the few classmates blessed with a car while we were still studying, which he used willingly and graciously to serve others. Whenever our going home from school coincided, he would always offer to bring me home, no matter how out of the way it was. Knowing the burden of doing this, there were many times that I pretended to stay in the library even if it was already time to go, just so that he won’t be inconvenienced. That’s how this friend is so generous with everything he has, even while we were struggling students with futures still uncertain. Up to now, he remains a loyal, trustworthy and great friend to me and to our other brothers in the community.

In the Gospel (Mk. 12: 38-44), Jesus made a commentary to His disciples on the generosity of the poor widow, who gave everything that she had, compared to the rich people who gave from their excess wealth: 

Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

The poor widow’s gesture is a fine example of how deep her faith was. She gave up everything she had, without counting the costs to her tomorrow and livelihood. She was somebody who presumably lived “by the day” and fully trusted that God will provide for her every need day in and day out. We may not be told about her life, but we will likely infer that it was full of hardships.  

The path to discipleship always entails lots of challenges, trials and difficulties. Many times we question “why” we experienced certain happenings that required sacrifices and discomfort. Yet we know Jesus has told us that if we love Him, we have to carry our cross and follow Him. Following the Lord requires a tremendous amount of trust because the journey takes us into a lot of uncertainties and problems. These will require us to yield our comfort zones.  The fact is, we cannot say with certainty that we love God with everything that we are unless we trust Him — fully — just like the poor widow.

When we trust Him fully, there’s no more limit to our loving and caring because this is what God is: absolutely loving and genuinely caring. The difficulty may be that Jesus doesn’t set limits to how we love others. It is inclusive: it means loving including those who are difficult to love. There is no other perfect example than Christ Himself, who embraced suffering remarkably and absolutely in Calvary. He did this out of genuine love and obedience to the Father’s will. 

If it is so heavy to do, just be consoled that your dependence on God will help you, comfort you, and fix your brokenness. Just like the widow of Zarephath in the First Reading (1 Kgs. 17: 10-16), you can be assured that whatever kindness you share to others out of love, God will make sure that your “jar of flour will not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”.

I’m grateful to the Lord for blessing me with great friends who are fellow pilgrims sharing themselves unselfishly in this life journey. While I don’t think I deserve God’s awesome generosity, He just won’t allow Himself to be outdone. I am also grateful to the humility and virtuousness of my parents and their families for God’s blessings and graces to flow through to us. Surely God isn’t outdone even up to now and still flowing!  

Let us pray that the Lord grant us the grace to be His heart in loving and caring for others. 

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

A Crucified Love, A Peaceful Love

In the Gospel today (Mk. 12: 28b-34), one of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,

“Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Loving God, who is the Supreme Being, is something difficult to do, especially when you can’t see Him. It’ll take faith, knowledge, and a growing intimacy with Him. As you grow in faith and love guided by the Spirit of God, you get the idea that to be closer to the Lord, you do the things that will please Him. It is like what you do to make that someone you love, feel your faithfulness and authenticity. You want to know Jesus better each and every day, by reading Sacred Scriptures, by attending Holy Mass, by praying to Him, and many other acts that will make you endear to Christ more. You do these, not because these will make God better, no, that is not the intention. You do these because these devotions are for your own good in becoming a better follower of Jesus. 

“The love of Jesus is a crucified love. It is a peaceful love. When we look at the Cross what we first see is blood, hardship, and pain; we don’t see the innermost motivations of the Lord that brought Him to the Cross:  obedience to the will of God. It is His strong and lasting love for the Father. You know when your love is real when you are faithful to the end.” Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said in his homily today.

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Those who are in Christ are distinguished from unbelievers in that they have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, enabling them to bear fruit. In other words, their works demonstrate the change of sanctification that is at work in their hearts.

What are the “fruits” of loving God? According to St. Paul,

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

You realize then that the fruits of your efforts will make you act in the way Jesus would, in any given situation. You will grow in charity of family and neighbor. You will begin to recognize the face of the God in your fellowmen, especially the least, the last and the lost. Slowly but steadily you will grow in love, because then you realize you won’t be able to prove your love for God, without loving your neighbor. More than that, we ought to bear in mind that Jesus’ love for us is total; He didn’t hold back, He gave His all. His total submission to the Father’s will is the perfect model in loving God.

Fr. Armand said that we can be true and faithful followers of Christ in sharing this love of God by being,

  1. Grateful
  2. Generous
  3. Gracious

Today, let us reflect on how we can be real and authentic followers of Christ. Let us pray to the Lord to grant us the wisdom to be more grateful, more generous, and more gracious, every moment, for as long as we live.

Whoever loves Me will keep My word, says the Lord; and my Father will love him and We will come to him.’ (cf. Jn.14:23)

Prayers Answered

Some weeks ago, one of our former assistants in our shop in the South sent me a request, a cry for help. The message mentioned that the spouse was in need of medicine and treatment, and only one of the couple is employed at the moment. Work is limited because of the number of active CoVid19 cases in the city they’re in. A picture was even sent of how the spouse looked like, and it revealed significant weight loss. I felt God telling me to do something to help.

In the Gospel (Mk. 10: 46-52), Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and the son of Timaeus said on hearing that Jesus was passing by, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’

In life’s deepest moments, man’s last resort is to ask for God’s mercy. When one’s hopes seem lost, one humbles himself and cries out to God for His mercy and compassion. There is no other light in that moment of darkness, except that of the Lord, beckoning us to humble ourselves before Him. That is what Bartimaeus saw in Jesus, who he believed can make him see and free of blindness. He clearly knew what he wanted. And Bartimaeus trusted fully that only God has the power to heal him of suffering. His prayer is one that is full of simplicity and humility.

As the prophet Jeremiah said in the First Reading (Jer. 31: 7-9),

They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide themI will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

This Sunday, let us reflect on the need to empty ourselves, to be humble to accept our weaknesses and shortcomings before Him. Let us reflect on the need to be clear and fervent in our prayers, deep enough that we are at the point of longing for His love. We pray and hope that amidst suffering and pain, our prayers will be answered with God’s mercy and compassion.

Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.’ (cf. Tm.1:10)

Humility in Service

During my assignment in Nepal many years ago, I discovered how their religion (Hinduism) played a major role in how the locals see expatriates. One time during a heavy downpour, I can’t help it but feel pity on a young man who was dripping wet doing his job at moving bottles manually from one section of the factory line to another. He was practically trembling in the cold and so I went back to the Staff House to give him a shirt. Since it didn’t have impact on production, I also asked that work be suspended for a short while until the water coming through was contained. When the young man received the shirt, to my surprise, he knelt in front of me to kiss my feet. I backed off and told him he shouldn’t do that. His local supervisor, who was nearby, told me that it is alright as the man was expressing his gratitude for my kind gesture. (In their culture, the act of kissing feet is a way of telling that I’m like a god to him, thus the gesture of worship.) To which I replied that there is but one God in Heaven. The supervisor just nodded his head as he has already heard about Jesus from Filipinos posted in previous years. With the centuries-old caste system, this concept of a leader being a “servant” is quite strange for them.

In the Gospel (Mk. 10: 35-45) James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus explained that they don’t really know what they were asking. Eventually Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptizedbut to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 

After this lesson on humility and obedience to the will of God, the Gospel continued with underlying themes on leadership and service orientation, “… whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servantwhoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Servant Leadership is one philosophy that’s been talked often though not practiced that much. There are several interplaying factors facing a leader’s plate that’s why it is often set aside. Yet, it is actually about humility, passion and enthusiasm (Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, in his homily today). When one sets it as a model, he will practice doing it regardless of the circumstance. He will be attuned to the details such that his work is always meant to serve others. 

He is humble in service, confident of himself and knows that what he’s doing will always bring out the best in people. Regardless, he is not afraid to speak out for the people he serves. He steers his team to calmer waters when the going gets stormy.

Last week candidates seeking public office have already filed their certificates of candidacy, indicating that elections are just around the corner. During the campaign period, they will be telling and promising the electorate of what they will do if elected. The people’s experience will surely play a role in their choice of candidates. Hopefully, they won’t sell their votes but in a country like ours where patronage politics is common, there’ll also the need to educate and remind them of their sacred duty to elect only those candidates who are truly deserving. 

This Sunday, let us pray for humility in service. Let us pray that our leaders be like Jesus who came to serve and to give His life as ransom for many. 

The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (cf. Mk. 10:45)

Seeking Wisdom

Words do not mean anything unless matched with action. This is what the rich man learned from Jesus. In today’s Gospel (Mk. 10: 17-30), what started like a good conversation with the man asking the Lord how to inherit eternal life. Christ answered him with the commandments, the “minimum requirements”, of which the man replied to Jesus,

Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, 

You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (v. 30)

The man may have been surprised and didn’t expect the Lord’s answer like that as his face fell, and went away sad, for he had many possessions. Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said the question was like,

“Good teacher, what should I do to be happy in my life?”

This question is deeper than it looks. Fr. Armand dissected it, as seen from the perspective of Christ,

“You’re looking for a serious kind of happiness. You’re looking for happiness that will not be easily taken away from you. You’re looking for happiness that will give you peace, when life is comfortable and when life is painful.”

Maybe Jesus asked further,

“You know what happiness is? Happiness is being sure you are in a place in life where God wants you to be. You want to be happy? Then, do the will of God.”

All of us want to be happy. Regardless of your definition of happiness, Jesus wants you to be happy, in the right perspective. He wants you to live comfortably, but not ignoring His will for you and in pursuing the greater good for others. Happiness is not about yourself. Isn’t it true that when you make a sacrifice for a loved one, or others, you become happy? Ask many of our OFWs and you get the idea.  So, isn’t it then a way of telling that it is not really about you, but about others? Only when you make others happy that you become truly happy.  

In today’s First Reading (Wis 7: 7-11), the prayer of King Solomon for the gift of Wisdom was granted. He preferred her “over scepter and throne”, “beyond health and comeliness”, and “chose to have her rather than the light”. 

Reflect then on this question: “Am I living my life, the way God wants me to live it?”

Let us pray that we be granted the strength to pursue the love of Jesus, who is the True Wisdom.

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

Respecting God’s Creation

When you study astronomy, you will surely realize how vast the Milky Way is, the galaxy that includes the Solar System, which our own planet Earth is part of. This galaxy is estimated to be 100,000 light years across. This surely is daunting, if not difficult to imagine. Now, talk about the size of the Universe, which is estimated to be composed of 140 billion galaxies. Can you even conceive the enormity of the Universe?

Now, taking this into perspective, we may think we are not significant then. In size we are surely minute, tiny specks in the Universe, so much so that we might ask, are we really important?  Of course, to God our Creator, yes we are much loved, that is why He created us in His image and likeness: 

God created mankind in His image; in the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1: 27-28)

Infinite is God’s faithfulness, and He hasn’t changed His immense love for us despite our sinfulness and shortcomings.

In the Gospel (Mk 10: 2-12), when the Pharisees approached to test Jesus and asked Him a question about divorce, they cited that “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them,

“Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” 

This design of God’s creation is part of Divine Wisdom that we, His creatures do not have even the slightest right to change or alter. Being male and female is something we are born with, thus obviously innate in us. Individually we are created unique from each other, even despite coming from the same family, background, and environment. Each of us grew up into distinct persons, gifted with attributes, talents and personalities. The times are changing though. Man is trying to disintegrate what God has carefully created. 

Today, let us reflect on being male and female. Consider that this design of God is severely under assault in the world today. Challenge yourself to let that uniqueness shine through, in fulfillment of what God has laid out for you.

If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is brought to perfection in us.” 

1 Jn 4:12 

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