All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

Make Me Be Your Heart

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

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, he is also in giving time and material things. He comes from a rich Chinese family and was one of those classmates blessed with a car while still in school, which he more than willingly and graciously shared with us then. Whenever our going home time coincided, he would always offer to drive me, no matter how out of the way it was. So much so that there were several times that I pretended to stay in the library even if it’s already time to go, just so that he not 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 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 what were their excesses:

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 path to discipleship will also entail a lot of challenges, trials and difficulties. Sometimes we even question “why” we experience certain events that require 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 unexpected places. This requires 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.

Actually, 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. If this is difficult to do, there is no other perfect example than the Lord Himself, who handled these remarkably in His time. He did this out of genuine love and obedience for the Heavenly Father. The Scriptures is rich with stories of love that Jesus showed to others, including those who persecuted Him.

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 who share themselves unselfishly in this life journey. While I don’t think I deserve God’s awesome goodness, He just won’t allow Himself to be outdone. I credit it also to the goodness of my parents and their respective families for God’s blessings and graces to flow through to me. Surely God isn’t outdone even up to now and still counting!

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)

Short Note

In all my life, I always keep a short note of the important details whenever I travel, read books, watch real life movies or the like. These notes are particularly useful whenever I share insights with others, or simply when giving a talk or speech. The short notes give a quick memory aid in recalling important details that I want to remember.

A similar instance is read in today’s Gospel (Mk. 12: 28B-34), when 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.

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

This Gospel takes prime importance in the fact that loving God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength is the greatest commandment. But Jesus didn’t stop at that, and goes on with the second most important, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

Jesus summed up the commandments simply and yet the impact is huge and complex as well. It is important to point out that unless you love God first, you cannot love your neighbor. When you love God with all that you are, this love translates into a closer communion with God, which allows us to freely flow His love to others. Only when you love God can that love overflow into other relationships. And, you can’t say that you love God, who is invisible, without loving others who you can see, touch and feel!

When we look at the love of neighbor as an effect of the overflow of your love for God, this second Commandment takes on a clearer meaning.  The Lord doesn’t only say to love your neighbor, He further says to love “as yourself.” How do we love oneself? Simply by loving God! We just have to remember that we are made to love God and be with Him in our Heavenly home someday. Loving God is not for God, who is already perfect, but for us so that we become one with Him and achieve our deepest purpose and meaning in life. Thus, loving God is the best way to love oneself. There’s no other way.

Loving your neighbor comes naturally when you love God. That love just flows naturally without our noticing it. As said earlier, when you love yourself, this love manifests in how you care and love others. Indeed, other than it is the easiest way to prove that you love God, it is also the best manifestation of your inner love for God.

Then there’s no better way of loving our neighbor than bringing them to God. Thus, enabling our neighbor to have an intimate relationship with the Lord by becoming their link to Him is one of those noble achievements that we can ever have in this life. The reward will be like no other as God has promised.

Finally, let us reflect on the times that we have been the image of God’s love to others. If our love for God consumes our life, this love will surely overflow to others like the abundant waterfalls of the mountains. Love for God is contagious, it will reflect and show in how we relate with others in our day-to-day living. When our zeal for the Lord is total, there’s simply no way to contain this.

Let us pray then that we don’t forget this short but relevant note that we received through the Gospel today.

Let us pray that we become effective links of God to others: that we become better messengers of God’s infinite love to others in the simple things that we do every day.

Let us pray that God will bless us with the strength and the joy to show and tell the world of His love all the days of our life.

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)

Courage and Faithfulness

In the Gospel today (Mk. 10: 46-52), we can surmise that there are two types of people based on their reaction to others asking or shouting for help: the first type are those who have accepted that his “predestined place is to remain at the side of the road.” They are those who ridicule or heckle or even become angry that one of their members would want anything else for himself, as shown by the rebuke the beggar got when he cried out, telling him to be silent.

The second type are the opposite, they sort of comforted the blind man, as if knowing how difficult it must be at the side of the road for a long time to beg for alms and food. They empathize with the beggar knowing how he must have endured the ridicule and the shouts in the sidelines.

In our life journey, we can choose to be the heckler or the comforter. We can unknowingly stop others from reaching out to God by our own bad example. Or we can be God’s messenger and lead others to God by our own loving and caring ways.

This Gospel also exemplifies the extraordinary depth of the Lord’s compassion and mercy. The Lord hears the cry of desperation shown by the beggar, knowing that it might be his only chance at being healed by Christ. But with it, Jesus recognized the beggar’s deep faith, as shown by his calling Jesus the royal title “Son of David”, a revelation that the blind beggar knows that this Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus responded in a way that shows us how He loves those who are in need:

Jesus stopped.

Jesus saidcall him.”

Jesus saidWhat do you want me to do?”

Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

This powerful “formula” of faith as a way to getting healed can be read throughout Scriptures and as shown all over St. Mark’s Gospel. For example, it is because of her faith that the woman with the hemorrhage is healed. When there is no faith, Jesus can’t heal; we see this after his rejection in Nazareth. In each of these stages we can see the compassionate love of Jesus and which we also know from our own faith experience as well. It is this aspect of God’s love that works miracles.

The First Reading (Jer. 31: 7-9) tells us that Yahweh promised to bring people who are lost, “including the blind and the lame”, the “mothers and those with child”. He promised to “console them and guide them”. He claims His children as a “father to Israel”.

Finally, we are reminded that it is our duty to bring others to God and become the messengers of the Gospel to others. These “other people” are our children, families and those entrusted to our care and guidance. There are challenges in carrying out these directions but like the blind beggar, we have to stand ridicule and to persevere in His love.

Let us pray that when there are people asking for help, we stop what we are doing to hear what they want to say.

When we’ve been on the road for long without help coming our way, may we hear God’s angels tell us “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Let us pray that we remember the day when through God’s grace, our “sight” was restored.
May we not go astray, may we continue to be faithful till the end.

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

Like A Missionary

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 from one section of the factory line to another area. He was practically trembling in the cold and so I went back to the Staff House to get one of my shirts to give to him. Since it didn’t have impact on the production, I also asked that the work be suspended for a short while until the water coming through were corrected or contained. When the young man received the shirt, to my surprise, he knelt in front of me to kiss my feet. I pulled out, backed off and told him he shouldn’t do that. His supervisor, who was nearby, told me that it is alright as the man was expressing his gratitude for my kind gesture. The act of kissing my 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. While it may not have challenged him to know more about Jesus, it is through our example that we can show to them who Christ is by the example of who we are. What I did is an expression of Christian faith that while I’m their leader, I’m also there to serve others, regardless of social standing in life. With the centuries-old caste system, this concept of a leader being a “servant” is quite a strange concept in Hinduism.

 

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 baptized; but 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 servant; whoever 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 character, consistency and courage. 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 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 his members and the organization. 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 be a need to educate and remind them of their sacred duty to elect only those candidates who are truly deserving.

 

Looking back at the man from Nepal, I feel sadness because such a beautiful country doesn’t even know who the real God is. There is that kind of challenge that in our own small way, we can be missionaries at the circumstances we find ourselves. For example, after that experience, I organized secret sessions with two managers there. It’s secret because Christian activities are strictly forbidden in that country. What I did was on weekend nights, I invited them to the Staff House and introduced them to Jesus, just like a Christian Life Program (CLP). While there was curiosity among them given the circumstance; I managed my expectations. My objective was just to plant those tiny seeds with the hope that someday the Holy Spirit will touch their hearts and bring them to join the Faith.

 

This Sunday, let us pray that we be more service-like in our dealings with others. Let us pray that our leaders be like Jesus who came to serve and to give His life as ransom for many. Let us pray that we be open to the leadings of the Spirit and become like missionaries to those needing to see the light.

Seeking Wisdom

Last week, I had a discussion with one my colleagues about one of the Churches in the city I haven’t visited yet, the one of San Antonio Abad Parish. My curiosity about the location of the Church was actually piqued when I took a ride to the Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine, and the driver asked me if I have attended Mass at the San Antonio Abad Church. (I haven’t yet!) During that discussion, we both realized the closest meaning of Abad, which is “Abbot”, to distinguish it from the Saint of Padua.

In today’s Gospel, the story of St. Anthony the Great foremost among others, come to mind. I have become a devotee of this great saint, after getting to read on his life and on knowing that he was an inspiration of my patron, Saint Anthony of Padua. Not only was he influential on the life of the Saint of Padua, it was also after having heard, inspired and moved by the story of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert that the famous St. Augustine of Hippo converted to Christianity.

Anthony was born in Coma in Lower Egypt in A.D. 251 to wealthy landowner parents. At age 18, shortly after his parents’ death and leaving him to care for his unmarried sister, he decided to follow the Evangelical counsel of Jesus to the rich man in today’s Gospel which reads,

“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.” (Mk. 10: 21)

Anthony gave away some of his family’s wealth, sold the remaining property, and donated the funds thus raised to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life, placing his sister with a group of Christian virgins, a sort of proto-convent. (en.wikipedia.org)

Clearly the testimonies of these great men are the ones that inspire and create interest in the “Pearl of Great Price” that they’ve found in their search for God. Jesus taught us about the importance of the Word, Heaven and Eternal Life over earthly material possessions. All the great saints like St. Anthony the Great, St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Anthony of Padua had the gift of Wisdom to choose the Gospel over wealth.

In today’s First Reading, 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”.

It cannot be denied that most if not all of us want to be happy. Aside from the happiness that holy men and women feel in serving the Lord, most people want to live a comfortable life, go on vacation, dine in fancy restaurants, and drive that fast car in the luxury dealership. Regardless of your definition of happiness, Jesus wants you to be happy in the right perspective. He wants you to live comfortably, but not necessarily ignoring His will for you and in pursuing the greater good for others. But isn’t it true that when you make a sacrifice for a loved one or family member, 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: making others happy that you become truly happy.

God has commanded, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” He must be first and the top priority in our lives and anything that stands before us and God, must be relegated to the background.

Putting it lightly, when you want Heaven more, it is then about you giving up temporal things so that you’ll win it in the end. Things that blind you, things that cloud your focus and things that distract you from the more important matters deserving more attention, should be the ones that we worry about. These block our sights on Jesus and Heavenly Treasures. The great saints were given that ability to see the most important aspects and thus they were able to focus intently on Heaven. Many even gave the greatest sacrifice of offering their lives so that in return they gain Eternal Life. It is not easy choosing, especially when you are concerned with a lot of temporal things. However, when you desire something really the most, it’s easy to give up and sacrifice over things you desire the least.

Jesus wants us to discern what are more important, what things that have to be left behind especially when those things are what’s keeping us from following Him. There are also times we want to give something for Him but it’s just that this “something” is not what is being asked of us. Again, the importance of prayer, discernment and wisdom.

Let us therefore ask the Lord to grant us the gift of Wisdom, so that we learn to set our priorities straight. This Wisdom is one that can have positive impact and inspire others and is only possible when you have an intimate relationship with Christ.

May we be granted the strength to pursue the love of Jesus, who is the True Wisdom.

‘Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!’ (cf. Ps. 90:14)

AZS 10.14.2018

Faithfulness, Love and Trust

Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to St. Mark (Mk. 10: 2-16); in the past three Sundays, St. Mark wrote of the private conversations between the Lord and His disciples. Now the opening verse of Chap. 10 mentions that Jesus returns to Judea and resumes his public appearances. Our Priests have given notes that in St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus uses these moments with his disciples to share insights about the Kingdom of God.

The main item is the Pharisees questioning Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. During the time of Jesus under certain conditions, divorce was an accepted practice among the Jewish people. The Pharisees use the commandment of Moses to justify the question they asked the Lord.

In his answer, Jesus quoted the Book of Genesis and counters,

“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.”

Jesus describes that Moses made a concession to God’s original intention because of man’s hardheadedness. Even his disciples seek more clarity when they question him further about this teaching. It is in the presence of his disciples that Jesus explains that remarriage after divorce is adultery. This teaching was even more stringent than the teaching of the Pharisees, which permitted remarriage. Further, Jesus further distinguished his teaching by saying this applies equally to both men and women since Jewish culture permitted that only a husband may divorce his wife, and doesn’t allow the other way around.

As always, the readings connect smoothly with the First Reading (Gen. 2: 18-24), wherein we are taken to the story of Creation, particularly on the Creation of Man:

“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”

At the start, God has already intimated His intentions of our nature and our sexuality. This natural design is part of God’s Infinite Wisdom and must be understood and respected fully. It goes without saying that with these innate qualities come the attributes, desires and tendencies that are by nature associated with being male or female.

In the light of the challenges, distortions and confusions, we should still understand deep inside us that our being masculine and feminine is part of who we are. It can’t be denied that as His creation we should embrace God’s intentions so as to fully understand our very own selves. When we have made that life-turning decision to enter married life, we have to note the nobility of God’s designs. One initial step you can do that effectively is by becoming more open and honest with your spouse. It is noted that this Sunday’s Gospel stopped a verse short of verse 26, which is also relevant,

“Now, both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame before each other.” (v. 26)

This was before sin entered into our first parents Adam and Eve, thus there was no malice, no shame and only oneness. The whole of creation was created for them to see in all its beauty and splendor, themselves included. In their bareness, no clothing, nothing to hide, and from one flesh they became two individuals; in the Sacrament of Marriage, a man and a woman become one flesh. Because we are one, we need to share everything that we have to our spouse and with no secrets hidden.

When you keep some burdens and things from your spouse, that’s when you start isolating yourself from him or her. That’s when you build walls and without your knowing it, these walls create the darkness that slowly separate you from your spouse and your marriage. The family suffers, the children are affected.

The latter part of the Gospel completes the importance of family as Jesus again brings attention to children, one of the intentions of getting married. By welcoming and raising children and introducing them to building a relationship with God, parents and families do their role as the first domestic Church bearing witness to the Kingdom of God.

Finally, the Gospel ends with people bringing their children to Jesus, and again the disciples rebuked them for this. It can be recalled that in the last two Sundays the Lord taught the value of the “little ones” in the Kingdom of God. However, the disciples showed they still couldn’t quite get it and so it made the Lord angry. Again Jesus welcomes the little children and offers them as an example of the kind of mindset that believers ought to have: complete trust and dependence on God.

Let us therefore ask the Lord to make us look deeper at our marriage to make us see whether we are faithful to His intentions. Are we open and honest to our spouse? As Christ’s faithful followers, do we have complete trust and dependence on Him?

‘If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is brought to perfection in us.’ (cf. 1 Jn. 4:12)

AZS 10.07.2018

Bringing Others With Us

In these times of change, crisis and challenges, there seem to be division and hatred prevailing. It seems we haven’t moved on; politics is quite a dividing factor in how we go about our day-to-day lives.

The past isn’t different either, in the First Reading, Joshua was asking Moses to stop the two elders Eldad and Medad, feeling that they should be excluded from prophesying (Num. 11: 25-29). The same situation arose when the Apostle John saw someone who drove out demons and called upon Jesus’ name (Mk. 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48). He tried to forbid him because he “does not belong to our group.” John made the mistake of assuming that only a few are entrusted by God. You should guard this kind of thinking because even if you say this as your intention, you may unknowingly be just protecting your privilege and standing as God’s servant. God thinks differently from us and will work mighty deeds even through the most unlikely of people. So, it goes to say that you should never judge others because for all you know, instead of hurting that person alone, you are hurting God too. All of us are called to holiness and to perform even the humblest work for the sake of pleasing God and His Kingdom.

Thus, Jesus answered, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My Name can soon after speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This attitude of excluding others because he “does not belong to our group” are the stances that perpetuate discrimination, poverty, misery and hatred. One religious publication even cited that “If religion has a bad name today and people walk away in disgust, it is because we have used religion to build walls and fences based on presumed differences, and not bridges and roads linking people up.” While it is man’s nature to cluster and group, there should be opening up and extending our acceptance of people we consider as outsiders. All it takes is for leaders to lead the way in imitating Moses and Jesus Christ who exemplify that love for others in bringing people together in love and joy. Otherwise, hatred, violence and disunity will continue to scourge our world.

As St. Paul referred to the faithful being the Body of Christ, then we can discern the Lord’s instruction in today’s Gospel, of cutting off the hand, the foot or the eye, that those who persist in sin should be set apart from the community as they are a threat to the faith and they weaken the faith of others. It is quite strict but while the Lord calls us to live a life of faith, we are also called to build up the faith in others and in the bigger community. Sin is not just a personal matter but has that aspect of affecting the Church as well. Thus, sin should be repeatedly avoided so as to keep the integrity of the community and the bigger Church. The Lord repeatedly mentions the idea of hell to bring home the point.

In this weary world, there’s hope, the light beckons, we can still fix the situation. But we need God’s grace to help us through. We are challenged to not only proclaim God’s word, but also be models for others to follow. We should be warned about thinking only of our own luxuries while excluding and neglecting others. Through this, we need the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment.

Let us therefore pray to God that we may lead lives worthy of our calling as Christ followers.
We need to pray for the grace to detect our shortcomings and be conscious of it to overcome these distractions in our journey to Eternity.

‘The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.’ (cf Ps. 19)

Humility and Greatness

My late Dad was one of those who lived a life of humility. He didn’t brag around about himself, he was one who moved around work quietly. His day was always about service to others. He was a town councilor for several terms, a leader in Church organizations, a teacher and school administrator, but hardly can you feel any air of arrogance in how he worked with others. He never talks to us about what he did; all his life was about listening to his children’s stories and achievements. In fact, we didn’t know what he achieved for our town until the day he was honored during the necrological services.

In today’s Gospel (Mk. 9: 30-37), Jesus and His disciples were coming from Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them,

“What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who is the greatest.

When asked who is the greatest among them, Peter will probably be the expected answer, considering him as the spokesman of the group.

Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child in their midst, and putting his arms around it and said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”

What is it about a child that Jesus used to illustrate an important point? The answer to this question must be taken from between one who is like a child and one who holds a certain worldly view of greatness. A child is one who is powerless, is not being listened to as much, is simple, ordinary and is innocent. Our Lord re-defines the meaning of greatness, showing different criteria from what the world is familiar with.

In the First Reading, the greatest is one who differentiates himself from the wicked and reproaches them for their “transgressions of the law”. He is brave and fearless, that’s why evildoers try to destroy him but God protects him (Wis. 2: 12, 17-20). In the Second Reading (Jas. 3:16 – 4:3), St. James describes the greatest as “pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” His personal mastery enables him to go beyond passion, greed and envy.

The world looks at greatness as one who is strong, powerful, moneyed, successful, politically-connected, well-respected, etc. Yet Jesus looks at greatness as one who serves the community, does not compromise with evil, and does not look highly of himself. The humble person knows the innate goodness and likeness of God in each person he meets. He knows that when confronted with a choice, he chooses to follow Jesus than the ways of the world; he comes not to be served, but shall be “the last of all and the servant of all”.

As we reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel, let us pray that we embrace wholeheartedly and in deep humility our place as His beloved child. Doing that is when He does extraordinary things through us, despite how ordinary we are. All we have to do is love Him and let Him in. Also, loving Jesus enables us to match our thoughts with action by our readiness and willingness to reach out to the last, the lost and the least amongst us. Doing this is what will make us truly great in the eyes of God.

‘Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice; I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.’ (Ps. 54: 8)

Faith in Action

One of the most challenging realities of life is to encourage people to do what is required, even in the most difficult situations. Meaning, no shortcuts allowed. While in a meeting preparing for an external audit, one of the attendees made comment that let’s ensure we do these protocols when the auditor is around, to which I further added, “let us do this at all times, even when the auditor isn’t around.”

To be consistent is to be remarkably different, to be consistent is to be honest and reliable.

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus was asking the disciples how he is to others by inquiring what others say about him. He then turns the question directly to them and asks what they believe. Peter, the spokesperson that he was, told him that they believe Jesus is the Christ. Now that they acknowledged him as the Christ, Jesus shared with them what his ministry is all about: the rejection, the passion, death and resurrection after three days. Peter reacted to this, and the Lord rebuked him strongly. (At that time, the image of the Messiah was someone like a political leader who would free the Jewish people from Roman occupation. Jesus comments about his ministry appeared to be misaligned with how the disciples expected him to be.)

Jesus then summoned the crowd with his disciples and taught them the path of discipleship:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mk. 8: 27-35)

This is quite a dreadful revelation. While the St. Mark didn’t mention how the disciples reacted, we can assume that this must have evoked fear among them. During the time of the Roman occupation, death by crucifixion on the cross was a method of execution. Thus, our Lord was inviting them to potentially share in tremendous suffering and death. This is really scary and those who were afraid then and now, will easily abandon Jesus.

How about us, will our faith be strong enough for us to be ready to commit to the Lord, as he says in the Gospel today?

Let us pray that God grant us the grace to have our thoughts and deeds aligned with those of God. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grant us the strength to match our faith with action, so that we will gain Eternal Life.

‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’ (Gal. 6: 14)

Opening the Eyes and Ears

The lady protagonist in the Netflix series Homeland appears to be stubborn and “deaf” to the realities of the world. While being a spy allows her to know certain aspects in their operations unknown to the rest of the world, because of her bipolar disability and affection for the Marine-turned-suspected terrorist; she is portrayed to be hard-headed, blinded to the truth, and never listens to reason. Her character in the series often elicits reaction and catches the viewer’s frustration.

The readings for this Sunday show us God’s love and concern for the disabled in our communities. Do we share in His concern for them?

In the Gospel, Jesus healed the deaf man with a speech impediment and ordered the people around not to tell anyone. But the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mk. 7: 31-37)

In the First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah presents God as one who comes with vindication, with divine recompense, and He comes to save. Then will the “eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Is. 35: 4-7a) For Isaiah, the “deaf” was the people of Israel. The deaf person is unable to hear what is being said to him and, therefore, cannot even communicate what he did not hear; he lives in isolation, alone in his own world. While this is an image of someone who has never had the opportunity to meet and listen to the Gospel of Jesus, it is also one who refuses to open his ears and not allows the word of salvation to penetrate his heart.

In reality, we all have disabilities in one way or the other. There are times that we ignore those who are poor while we give attention to those who are rich and influential in society. We look at how they appear on the surface while ignoring their gifts and talents, yes, we can have eyes that see and still be blind. We can be judgmental.

Yet God looks at a person differently. He sees all the goodness in a person’s being, and yet, people make judgments about others as if they’re like God. They rush into making conclusion while failing to understand why others are like what they are. Only God has the ability to see and look at a person deeply and yet people judge others easily as if they know exactly the circumstances people are in. As if they’re God!

Today, so that you can receive this healing, it is important that you slow down and stop reacting immediately to what’s happening around. You need to take time to prayerfully pause for wisdom and discernment. This is why Jesus gave us His Holy Spirit, so that God’s Spirit will aid us in interpreting, and instead of reacting, we will act the way the Lord wants us to. Thus, we will act with faith and compassion; we will be tuned in to God’s will in our life.

In this fractured world, let us pray that the Lord opens the ears and loosens the tongue even in our families, in the Church communities that we go into, in the social settings where people often insist on their own issues more than listening to others. We pray that Jesus open the eyes of those that want to be blind, and ears that open to hear the words of everlasting life.

‘Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom and cured every disease among the people.’ (Mt.4: 23)