All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

Inspiring Faith, Inspiring Lives

It took some time to put the first words into this reflection, but what finally got me starting was when the CD played “Love never fails” (lyrics based on St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians), by Jim Brickman. Maybe the tune helped, but the lyrics are so moving, especially that part which sings: “Love never fails, never fails I promise you, my love will never fail, And I will give to you, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I give you love. “ Every time this music is played, my heart moves, because it tells of how God loves me so much, so much so that He promised, “ my love will never fail.

One of the most beautiful and inspiring stories of our faith is that one of the Annunciation of the Lord. The Gospel of St. Luke tells us of the angel Gabriel being sent by God to “…a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph… “ And said to her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” The Scriptures tells us that the Blessed Mother Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, that the angel has to assure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Lk. 1: 26ff). Fr. Armand aptly describes how difficult it must be for Mary, because in those days, and even up to now, how will others react when she answers that she became pregnant as “the Holy Spirit came” upon her! It must really be so difficult, and yet, Mary believed. “Full of grace” is a very meaningful statement that the angel Gabriel used, indeed it’s so deep but Fr. Armand was able to simplify it: “…means, not lacking in grace; grace here means God’s grace.” Mary’s simplicity and purity allowed God to fill her with grace. This only happens when one is open and humble to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. The early Church fathers speak of Mary’s immaculate nature. With our cooperation in God’s plan of salvation, we will all eventually be rendered immaculate (sinless), but Mary as the prototypical Christian, “received this grace early”. God granted her freedom from sin to make her a  “fitting mother for His Son.“ (

It must be difficult for Mary and Joseph to live in those times, amidst persecution and poverty, but because they were filled and possessed with love for God, they overcame those challenges. Mary’s humility and meekness made it easy for her to accept God’s will for her life. When love becomes the driver, problems and difficulties become bearable, just like parents who work very hard to put their children to school. Some even have to work abroad to do that, in order to create better opportunities for loved ones back home in the Philippines. They sacrifice time in order to ensure that their families live comfortable lives, despite working away in lonely conditions, despite continuously missing birthdays, and regular bonding time with family. Yes, when one is in love, one is inspired. It’s easier to serve; love inspires you to work harder, to put effort into your passions, to achieve your dreams. Love inspires faith, love inspires lives!

In this season of Lent, let us show our love for Jesus by sharing more of ourselves to other people in need.  Aside from praying and fasting, almsgiving is also being asked of us. Let us heed the call to love others as we love ourselves. I suggest that if we haven’t done yet, we share in efforts to alleviate the lives of people affected by calamities. For example, in support of San Miguel Corporation’s efforts to help rebuild the lives of typhoon Yolanda victims, with the initiative of Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, Chaplain; all Mass collections this Lenten season in the San Miguel Chapel, are intended for the fishermen-victims of Northern Cebu. To date, collections have already allowed for several boats to be committed. A few pesos each day, put together, will go a long way in helping our least fortunate brothers and sisters rebuild their lives.

Let us share ourselves and delight in the fact that Jesus has said, “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me” (Mt. 25:40). 

Practicing our Faith

As a brewmaster who loves his brew, I am trained to distinguish beer from other types. Beer styles more or less, can be discriminated from each other. Beer is meant for enjoyment and is in fact healthy when taken in moderation (yes, two bottles are healthier than none). We also train our consumers to chill the golden liquid (though there are dark beers too) before partaking of it, and avoid placing ice into the beer, as it waters down the taste (once it does, you lose the aromas and flavors each time it is savored). We take it seriously, as it means a threat to consistency of every bottle, can, or keg that gets out of the brewery. If one is very familiar with his favorite brew, he can easily distinguish whenever there is adulteration, or dilution with water. The consistency becomes different, and the quality changes.

One of the most difficult challenges posed in practicing our faith is consistency. We always fall into the trap of “watering” down our faith. We select what is convenient. Whenever the season reminds us to renew our faith, we are “in”, as we see others do the same. However, once the ordinary days of the year come, we are back to our “cold” selves. We then wait for Advent or the Lenten season, to be reminded again to come back into the faith. We have the tendency to be impatient because we think that it’s so difficult to be consistent.

This is the challenge for all of us in the practice of our faith — consistency. We need to be patient and to persevere. We also need to be humble. We console in the fact that, God is patient, always waiting for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to forgive us. He knows our weaknesses and is always there to welcome us back. He is always faithful and “His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:1).

This past week we commemorated the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, the patron saint and protector of the Catholic Church. St. Joseph was never quoted in the Holy Bible but Sacred Tradition tells us he was a picture of humility and serenity. God the Father entrusted to him the two most important persons in history, Jesus and Mary. He lived a very humble, simple lifestyle and was obedient to the Father’s will. He accepted his role in the Divine plan of salvation without doubting. He was patient, faithful and persevered throughout his life.

Let us pray for the strength to persevere, to persist, and to be faithful in the practice of our faith. As Fr. Armand has said in his book, the Code of Champions,

You will know a champion. People find him reliable. When he says he’ll be there for you, sleep tight, he’ll be there…persistence is one of his consistent traits. 364 out of 365 days a year are ordinary days, nothing big or unusual is happening, still he never lets his guard down.” 

Majesty of God

There are moments in our lives that we feel jubilant, on cloud nine, and extremely happy, that we’d like to say, “it feels like heaven”. Fr. Ramil Marcos shared that after Cardinal Sin announced that the pope granted his (Fr. Ramil) wish for an audience with Pope John Paul II, he was “ebullient, thrilled, and awed by the prospect of a face-to-face meeting.” (“Sown on Rich Soil”, Fr. Ramil Marcos).
Continue reading Majesty of God

Availability Of Service

Being of service to others is one fine opportunity that many of us would like to experience. There’s no question most of us have the innate ability to render service to others. In fact, when we hear of calamities, we immediately commiserate and feel pity of the misfortunes of others. We even feel like crying and wanting to comfort and console them. However, for most of us too, it just stops there: we just think, we just feel, but we don’t act.

As one who leads people, one of my special joys is the privilege of helping young people believe in themselves. I’ve always loved to coach and mentor individuals who have the willingness to learn and the passion to act on improving themselves. It’s a joy seeing people grow and develop into confident persons, helping them believe in themselves.

The past week started with the Gospel story about the rich, young man, who asked Jesus about what must be done “to share in everlasting life”. Jesus answered by telling him the commandments, and then the young man replied that he “has kept all these since my childhood.” Then Jesus looked at him with love and told him, to: “Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me” (Mk. 10: 17–21). We know the rest of the parable that the young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk. 10: 22-23).

We may have already heard of this parable so many times in our lives and yet, we may not have fully thought of what this really means. This is God calling us to action. This is a call to faith. We are being challenged to give up our own possessions and then follow Jesus. It is difficult for the rich to enter heaven because the rich, being endowed with more, have more responsibilities. Jesus has used an expression, denoting a difficulty altogether by man, but can be made possible only by the grace of God. The poor, while not being so much exposed to sins related to greed, also face other forms like pride and lust, and therefore, also risk heaven.

The call to faith is about serving and loving others who are beyond our friends and families. It means a genuine concern for people because of our love for the Lord and therefore would want to please and obey Him. This love for Christ results in us seeing the Lord in others, regardless of who they are in life. While loving our family and friends is easy, loving our enemies (or people we consider unlovable) is difficult for us, and we need to remind ourselves that loving only our families and friends will not make us any different from others. “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Mt: 5:46 – 47).

In serving others, Champions don’t distinguish people from one another. They don’t distinguish their concern for others by the class of people they serve. Their love for others is authentic and real, because they see that life becomes more meaningful that way. They consider this as an essential ingredient for happiness and inner peace.

Champions see themselves as servants of life (Fr. Robleza, Code of Champions):

“Champions come across as an inspiring personae not because of their perceived nobility or sharpness. Greatness is not about one’s self. It is not how and what we have shaped our selves to be. Champions stand as the epitome of what life is all about.

His value is perhaps measured more by his influence on the lives of other people. They sense that such a life could also be a great experience for others. Champions seem not to be mindful of their own value to the community, rather, they look at the tasks that need to be done, and do them without further analysis other than how it will benefit their cause or their neighbor.”

Thus, the desire to serve is an inner quality that Champions develop in themselves, eventually putting into action and becoming a fruitful reality as they go on their life journeys.

This is our challenge. As Fr. Armand has said, “Genuine faith is never comfortable. Faith demands that we leave something behind.” To answer the call to expressing our faith through genuine action we need the saving power of God to give us the strength and courage to be holy and acceptable to Him. We don’t have to worry about our inadequacies and weaknesses, because we just have to trust in the Lord’s infinite grace and mercy. After all, it isn’t just about being able to; it is about being available for service. As St. Paul has said, “Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Humbling Ourselves Like Little Children

These past few days, the Gospels have emphasized the need for us to become like little children. We hear of the story wherein after so much arguing by the Apostles on who is the greatest, Jesus sat down and called the Twelve around Him and said, “If anyone wishes to rank first, he must remain the last one of all and the servant of all” (St. Mark 9: 35, the New American Bible). Continue reading Humbling Ourselves Like Little Children

Courage Without Regrets

While preparing for this reflection, my Aunt Ciony (Mom’s youngest sister) posted a table on Facebook showing how the Apostles died. The table showed the name of the apostles, and on the opposite side, the manner of their deaths. It’s interesting to note that, except for St. John the Beloved, all of them died by execution and hence, martyrdom. From St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down, in respect to the Savior’s crucifixion, up to St. Thaddeus, who was stoned, all of them gladly gave up their lives for the faith. Their deaths were brutal, characteristic of the times they lived. They were not alone: many followed their footsteps, including our very own Filipino saints, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod. Even up to now, my hair always stand on end, recalling the intense love our honored saints have for our Savior Jesus Christ, that their lives are worth giving up, to gain eternity. Moments after I shared that table on my wall, my nephew Ariel commented:

Continue reading Courage Without Regrets