All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

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)

Faith In Action

A few weeks ago in the run-up to the annual technical review, I led my team in conducting a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis and the most common weakness that came out is Inconsistency. The team realized that this is the most common reason for the problems that came in the way of achieving excellence and high results. While I had known this already, I made sure that it was a realization among the team members, for only then can we accept and tackle actions towards achieving our goal of becoming better and better at what we do.

In the Gospel (Mk. 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), the Lord reacted to the Pharisees and scribes with strong remarks for over-emphasizing the letter of the Law rather than the intention for which the Law was made. The Pharisees observed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. The Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the ‘tradition of the elders’. So they questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ Jesus responded strongly, even quoting Scriptures, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

The fault of the priestly class at that time was on placing the emphasis on the action rather than on the reason for the action. Jesus was not saying that washing was bad but that the emphasis was wrong, and not in a way that is consistent with the intention. The Lord’s words about the food people ate didn’t necessarily dismiss the idea of cleanliness but again highlighted an incorrect interpretation and application of the law. He clarified that,

‘Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.’

That is, the evil thoughts and actions of the people come from within themselves, from within their hearts, rather than through the food they consume. As we look at the daily news, we read bad things happening, we see people reach breaking point and mess up, we see people fall in different ways. When encountering challenges and difficulties, people often give in to the easiest way out, which are more often than not straying away from the Lord. People do give in easily to the desire to seek vices to fill those voids in the soul thinking that this will cure the sickness. Once you’ve started the wrong habit it may be harder to get out.

In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we see that Moses has given the people the Ten Commandments and the various other Laws and he encourages the Israelites to be faithful to them. They are not to add or subtract but are to live them as the Lord gave and intended them, to see the wisdom that they contain. By observing them carefully, it will give evidence of wisdom and intelligence to the other nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’

In the Second Reading, St. James exhorts us to ‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’

And so the readings remind us that the Commandments of God are meant not to make it difficult for us but to give us life, and to improve the quality of life which we are open for the taking.

Heaven can only be reached by keeping the Commandments of God, which is possible only by His grace. God’s awesome grace is what we need to look for every day, because it is in doing so that we become better, make others happier, and be an inspiration to others as well. God’s grace makes the world better, because without it, the world would have been worse than what it is today. People mess up, but God’s grace does more good infinitely than the evil that is happening every single time.

May these teachings today make us appreciate more the Sacraments for the graces that can heal our hearts and get us closer to God. As Cardinal Chito Tagle said in one of his talks, ‘You can choose to be peace-seeking, rather than add to the divisiveness prevailing in the world today’; so we can become an inspiration, not just to those that share what we believe in. May we become consistent in our faith, putting into action what we believe in, so that others may appreciate more God’s grace and wisdom in our lives.

‘The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.’ (Jas. 1: 18)

The Most Important Choice

The Gospels these past Sundays continued to unravel the beautiful teachings of Jesus on the Holy Eucharist. It is probably the most profound and the deepest that the Lord has given, and so, because they can’t handle it anymore, many left Him. Only those who have authentic and genuine faith stayed, showing the beauty and depth of their conversion, especially Peter and the Apostles.

Jesus was relentless and does not back down in any way from His beautiful and very deep teachings on the Holy Eucharist. What He said He stands behind, for example; He spoke about the condition to following Him, that is: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you’ (Jn. 6:53).

What is good about this is that Our Lord gives the disciples the freedom to accept or reject what He has taught. Similarly, we are given the choice to accept or reject His teachings; this freedom is important for us to discern entering into authentic and genuine faith. We’re not being forced or manipulated into believing. More importantly, Jesus offers Himself and invites us to believe.

In the First Reading, Joshua boldly proclaimed to the tribes of Israel, ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’ (Jos. 24: 15). In the Second Reading, St. Paul proclaims the responsibilities of married couples and exhorts us to be faithful to the vows we make, finding an analogy in the relationship of Christ and the Church. In the Gospel, Jesus asks the Twelve, and is also asking us, ‘Do you also want to leave?’

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’

May we realize that only Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the best ‘option’ to choose. This is true no matter how popular that choice is and no matter if people we know are making it too.

‘As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’ (Jos. 24: 15)

Consuming Jesus!

The weekend was one great experience in that I experienced two major events: the tree-planting event at the mountains, and the family reunion of my Mother’s side. During the Sunday Mass offered during the reunion, our Celebrant shared with us the one prayer that priests say during the time they mix the wine and water, just before the Consecration,

‘As You share in our humanity, may we also share in your Divinity.’

This prayer is very meaningful because it tells of responding to Jesus’ generous love of sharing Himself as flesh and blood in order to raise us up on the last day. It speaks much because certainly our relationship with Him is life-giving. His love is nourishment for the soul and the spirit. He knows that our life is full of trials and challenges thus, we need strength and healing of the wounds, the bruises and the pains we experience while here on Earth.

As His faithful followers, we also share Jesus to others. However, unless we have Jesus, we can’t give what we don’t have. We have to be in a state of grace to be able to transmit that love to those in need of Jesus’ presence. When we give our time and talents for the sake of the Gospel, we are being the Eucharist to others. We are one in the Body and Blood with Jesus. We can only be such when we take seriously our Lord’s instruction to make the Eucharist as the true source of our nourishment.

As we continue reflecting on the Bread of Life, may we take heart in consuming Jesus in the Holy Eucharist — so that we may be transformed. Changing our own selves should be the ultimate driver and motivation of following Him till the end.

‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.’ (Jn. 6: 51-58)

Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord!

A few days ago, a January 15, 1995 video appeared in my FB page, showing then Pope now Saint John Paul II in Manila for the World Youth Day. The video showed about 4 million people attending the closing Mass, singing together, “Tell the World of His Love”. It was such a beautiful sight: the millions of people in attendance, while so many others still watching in their own homes all over the country and the world. Try singing the song with that crowd and I’m sure your eyes will be moist and your heart glowing with inspiration. If we can be touched that deeply, how much more the realization of Jesus’ love for us, the theme of that music, as manifested in His offering of His Body and Blood as nourishment of our souls.

As the past Sundays talk about the miracle in the desert, where God provided the manna for the Israelites, and then the Gospel about the miracle where Jesus fed the five thousand; yet all of these pale in comparison to the number of miracles happening every day, when the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the countless Masses celebrated all over the world. It is a treasure we all should know and cherish as the Church reveals to us the real worth and value of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus is the Living Bread who came down from Heaven, and He has promised us Eternal Life if we partake of it.

Yes, while reading through the Gospel today, the discourse of St. John seems to be the emphasis in the past weeks and for a couple more of Sundays to come, telling us the importance of the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is a not-so-easy topic considering that John talks about what is Eternal, Heaven, and God the Father, among others. These are topics that are difficult to explain, more so understand. But for one who has faith in God, there’s no need for an explanation, believing in it is enough.

Thus, given all these, now is the perfect time to ask ourselves, whether we are allowing God to draw us in, and do we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and let Him feed our souls? Or do we neglect it, get lost in the anxieties and worries of everyday life, so that He just gets pass us unnoticed? Maybe we should take heart in the advice to slow down, being mindful of what’s happening around us, so that as the Psalmist says, we can ‘Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!

‘I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.’ (cf. Jn. 6: 51)

Enduring Faith

In our organizations, there is at least one team member who likes to complain. An example is the person who answers your every concern with a corresponding statement that is more often than not, a complaint rather than an explanation for his failure.

In the First Reading, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The Israelites said to them, ‘Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!’ They were ungrateful despite their delivery from slavery and were short in memory for what Yahweh has done for them. Yet God remained faithful to them despite their hardheadedness. So that the Israelites know that ‘I, the LORD, am your God’, in the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread,’ said the Lord to Moses.

We are in many ways like that, we always forget how the Lord’s goodness has sustained us throughout. In our journey, the road can get rough and tough, and when it does get worse, we can be tempted to complain like the Israelites do. When we encounter this situation, we have to look at it differently. We have to see these times of difficulties as a test of how dedicated we are in our mission, and see what is really the motivation in our hearts, and a reminder to endure hardships as a good soldier of Christ. (2 Tim.2: 3) Yesterday, when we were discussing about the purpose of the Barista Academy, we talked about the difficulties we can encounter, about how we can get tired and fatigued. Yet someone said, that ‘for as long as we are focused on our purpose, it’ll not matter.’

In the Gospel (Jn. 6: 24-35), after realizing that the people were looking for Him not because they saw signs but because they ate the loaves and were filled, Jesus tells His listeners ‘not to work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ Jesus as Man knows that life is filled with much work, but He also knows the need to remind us that the work we do today will soon be forgotten. He knows that what He offers will last forever. After Jesus tells the crowd that ‘the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world,’ they say to him ‘Lord, give us this bread always’. Somehow in their hearts at that moment they knew that there is something about Jesus that drew them closer to Him. They knew in their hearts that He was telling something deeper about the gift that He will give them, the Gift of Himself.

In our evangelization efforts, there will be times that people will abandon the faith after finding it to be just too hard to accept and to understand. But some will believe and stay close to the Lord.

Let’s hope and pray that we will be like the people who stayed with the Lord. May we remain steadfast in our faith that His Body and Blood, the real and authentic ‘Bread of Life’, will nourish every part of us as we continuously prepare to be worthy in receiving Him at Holy Communion. May this nourishment make our faith endure the difficulties we meet along the way. Finally, may we always remain grateful to the Lord for this awesome gift!

“The Lord gave them bread from Heaven.” (cf. Ps. 78: 24b)

Multiplying What Little We Have

There are times in our life that the circumstances we are facing are so daunting that we feel giving up and hopeless. We throw our hands and say, ‘Ayoko na, wala na ako magawa diyan’. However, this is a response of a non-believer, and the Church isn’t the place for the so-called ‘faithful’ who respond ordinarily. As a devoted follower of Jesus, we always speak about what is impossible given the situation, but pray and trust for the extraordinary to happen. Even in our missionary work, if we only think about our own strengths, we will not have enough to succeed. We need to leave space for God to work His power and might. Remember, the things that we do for the Church isn’t our work, it’s His’ and we are just His hands.

In the Gospel (Jn. 6: 1-15), when the Jewish feast of Passover was near, Jesus asked Philip, ‘Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?’ He said this to test him, because He himself knew what He was going to do. Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.’ One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to Him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?’

From these five barley loaves and two fish, everyone had their fill, and Jesus instructed His disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’
So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. This clearly was a sign of Jesus’ Authority and Divinity. The Lord interprets the meaning and significance of this miracle as a sharing of His Body and Blood. John uses this Gospel story of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to teach about the Holy Eucharist. This miracle, just like the Last Supper, is not by mere coincidence that both are occurring near the time of the Jewish feast of Passover.

In both stories about the Eucharist—the washing of the disciples’ feet and the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes — St. John teaches us that the Eucharist is an action. In fact, the Holy Eucharist is both a sacrament and a sacrifice. Under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received. It is stressed by the Church that the whole of Christ is really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. We use the words “really, truly, and substantially” to describe Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in order to distinguish Our Lord’s teaching from that of mere men who falsely teach that the Holy Eucharist is only a sign or figure of Christ, or that He is present only by His power (EWTN Website). The word Eucharist is taken from the Greek language and describes an action: ‘To give thanks’. In the Eucharist we are fed by Jesus Himself, and we are sent to serve others.

Thus, this initiative of feeding us, and then sending us to serve others is a continuous flow of action. Everything that we do: our family life, Church work, career, advocacies, etc. will remain short and almost worthless if we keep these in our own hands. If we want to make these better and worthy to succeed, we need Our Lord who will offer to God the Father our own ‘five loaves and two fishes.’ We have to learn to let go and let God. This is the only way to multiply what little that we have into something abundant and meaningful. Small things these may be to us, but God will open the floodgates of blessings to make these enough to feed thousands of others.