All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

Thankful and Grateful

“Where are the other nine?” (Lk 17: 11 – 19)

Jesus asked this question when after cleansing ten lepers, only one came back to give thanks. It’s sad indeed that only one was grateful. The rest didn’t feel the need to say ‘thank you’. Maybe they’re eager to tell their friends that they’re already well? Or do they have short memories? Does the Miracle Healer not deserving a short ‘thank you’? Why is being thankful important?

We should always be grateful for anything as it is for our own good. We should realize that God’s love is unending and forever flowing. When we are grateful, we pass on the blessings and the mercies that God has given and will give to us. Thus, if we don’t, we disconnect ourselves from being in communion with God’s family.

A person with a grateful attitude will always be a happy person. Whenever tragedy strikes, people usually panic and turn to put blame on others without taking responsibility. The grateful person though will always use his deep and abiding faith as a source of strength and power. He knows that these trials will only make him sharper and stronger.

This Sunday’s Gospel, the Parable of the Talents, teaches us a lot of insights, one of which is the graciousness of God. This parable tells us about God actually taking the risks on each one of us. God takes the risks, with the hope that we will respond and use the gifts and talents He gave us to help our fellowmen and make this world a better place to live in. Imagine entrusting to us our talents, without a hint of guarantee that we would eventually use these for His greater honor and glory? A gamble, a big risk, because He loves us so dearly!

Despite experiencing pain, a grateful person always looks at life with bright-colored glasses. He knows that pain is a part of life, and his experiences will make him better like gold in fire. On the whole, while he believes that life is good, life doesn’t happen according to plan as he knows The Superior Being is the one in control. He also knows that life isn’t fair, yet he also takes each blow as a gift into making him become better and better. He is at peace, he is joyful. Eventually, he understands that everything has a beginning and an end.

Grateful people are happy people. Because they know they are loved.

Equipped To Fight

I was at the airport last weekend and saw the huge mass of people moving out from Manila into their respective home provinces. Looking at their faces one can say, that despite the tough situation everyone’s going through — EDSA traffic, crowds, flight delays — including the personal problems that each one is possibly battling on at that moment — we can still see people happy and grateful. This happen despite the troubles and anxieties that people are undergoing. We still find the time to visit the graveyards and still persist in doing these rituals because this is a norm, a practice that we have been doing ever since. Even if sometimes we go beyond our comfort zones and far from the confines of home. Given this, it shows that the spirit of the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls are felt deeply and strongly. The connection with our departed loved ones remains strong.

It must take perseverance to do this thing of travelling to visit our departed loved ones year in and year out. I say this after enduring three hours of flight delay on my flight to Dumaguete, and then having my return flight to Manila cancelled for no clear reason. To ensure I get back to Manila on the same day of the cancellation, I agreed to be booked in another flight in another island, took the ro-ro vessel in a van provided by the airline, endured travel for five hours (after getting caught in traffic for two hours added to the normal three hours travel) to catch an alternative flight via Mactan, Cebu. Yet, for all the difficulties, others will say that this is a just a simple time delay, unlike other incidents that others have to endure. Still this speaks of perseverance and patience, especially when you do routines every year, in spite of the unpredictable situations that you have to go through each time.

In comforting our families and loved ones we remember the fact that this is the perfect time to talk about the end of our lives. These are times that we discuss about the end. We talk about our departed loved ones in reverence and honor. The day before, Fr. Armand talked about being steadfast, that attribute which speaks about unwavering commitment, firmness, courage in adversity, or truth in charity.

Steadfastness is the ability to stay the course. This is also called fortitude, the courage in pain, or adversity. In our spiritual journey, trials and difficulties are part of the package. However, to strengthen us, it is also proper that we pray for the Holy Spirit to endow us with the Gift of Fortitude. Among the great examples of God’s chosen children endowed with this gift is St. Agnes of Rome.

According to the Catholic Online: “St. Agnes was a Roman girl who was only thirteen years old when she suffered martyrdom for her Faith. Agnes had made a promise, a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was very great and she hated sin even more than death! Since she was very beautiful, many young men wished to marry Agnes, but she would always say, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.”

Procop, the Governor’s son, became very angry when she refused him. He had tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!” In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wealth if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy. Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. “I would offend my Spouse,” she said, “if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!” Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.”

She is one of seven women, who along with the Blessed Virgin, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

To be able to stay the course, we must make a conscious decision to follow Him. Our ability to withstand pains and challenges tells of our level of spiritual maturity and commitment to Him.

In this year’s commemoration of the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, we are reminded of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. It exists in Purgatory, and is called the Church suffering. The Church triumphant is the Church in Heaven, where the Saints are in the majestic presence of God. The Church on this earth is called the Church militant, because its members (we, the living) struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven is also called the Communion of Saints. To be successful in this pilgrimage, or to succinctly say, to avoid hell, we must therefore equip ourselves with the weapons to fight the forces of evil. We need the courage to staythe course.We need the Gift of Fortitude to succeed in persevering our faith journey. We need not worry about this, as God is gracious and merciful. For as long, as we pray, and for as long as we deserve it, He’ll equip us with the armor we need to be successful. After all, the good fight, is always worth the fight.

Victory Over Greed

Our economy is doing very well nowadays. We read and see the developments going on, and the signs are good. There are investors coming in, though not yet that much. All indicators augur well for our country, however; our people still have to feel the bounties of development. Poverty is still widespread; unemployment is still a problem. Investments must be such that jobs are created to spread the wealth and opportunities. There are also other disruptions that are derailing these developments. Allegations of graft and corruption continue to hog the headlines. These are bad examples for our young people, who are themselves grappling with identity and insecurity issues. Come to think about it, we can clearly see that the root of all these is man’s desire to have more than what he needs.

Why is that so? Greed. Simply greed.

Greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs. The degree of greed is related to the inability to control the reformulation of “wants” once the desired “needs” are eliminated. Erich Fromm described greed as “a bottomless pit, which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”

Unfortunately, this characterizes a lot of our political leaders today. They are so engrossed with enriching themselves at the expense of their constituents. We are thirsty for genuine leaders that care for people.

Greed, while typically used to criticize those who seek excessive material wealth, may also apply to the need to feel more excessively moral, social, or otherwise better than someone else. Thus, when one feels the need to be better than others, one is also guilty of greed in another form. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote “Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things“.

Man’s greed leads him to a low level of trust for God’s goodness and generosity. Man thinks that he must take matters into his own hands instead of trusting for abundance to result out of his own seeds of goodness. He doesn’t want to wait, he wants to do it on his own. His faith is doubting, not genuine. He chooses to forget God’s goodness.

Yet, the Psalms tells us,

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33).

The fact is, there are some blessings that can’t be received unless we have the patience to wait for them. True, these times of waiting are very uncomfortable. At times, these could be painful. However, if we intervene, if we become greedy, we will miss God’s gifts to us.

When we finally are showered with blessings and gifts from God, we should wholeheartedly be grateful and thankful. We then have to share these with the people we love and with others. Graces aren’t meant to be kept, but rather to be shared. This requires us to open our hearts when we give, for unless we do it with love, it is empty and doesn’t mean anything. Also, material gifts are a poor substitute for love. People don’t need more possessions, they actually need more love and understanding. As St. Paul says, “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

It is therefore our challenge to share and care. There’s a lot of lonely and desperate people out there, waiting for our attention and love. Start with your own family and friends. For it is only in sharing ourselves with others that we have truly lived.

Champions package generosity in big boxes and small sachets. Caring opportunities come without load limits, no schedules.

Our Mission

This week, Fr. Armand shared about the Gospel of St. Luke’s account of how the Scribes and the Pharisees showed their hypocrisy in the way they acted. Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to dine at his home, and then was criticized for not following the Jewish cleansing customs. Jesus told the Pharisee, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools!” (Lk. 11: 39) They were rule-oriented and without going into the essence and meaning behind the law.

In our spiritual life, this can happen when we are so ticked with rules and yet do not understand the reason behind it. Jesus preached the Gospel of Love, which was mostly misunderstood by the Jews. I often feel how sad it is that they’re missing the point, and missing the Messiah passing by! There’s more to the rules than just what the Jews follow. If we are to be Christ’s disciples, there’s the need for us to be compassionate, to be more loving. It’s easier said than done, right?

Believing in Jesus wasn’t and isn’t always easy to do. Yes it’s easy to believe, to love, but following Him is an entirely different story. What does it take then to be a faithful follower of Christ?

It’ll take commitment. History tells us a lot of stories about people who were advised to quit just short of a great accomplishment. Abraham Lincoln failed a lot of times before succeeding. He ran for state legislature and lost. He entered business and failed, spending 17 years paying off his debts. He ran for Congress and was defeated. He ran for the United States Senate and was defeated. He finally became president of the United States. He didn’t give up! He was committed!

Benjamin Franklin was told it was foolish experimenting with lightning. Luckily, he didn’t give up. He was committed! Thomas Edison performed nearly a thousand experiments before discovering the proper material for the filament in the light bulb. Edison wouldn’t quit. He was committed!

The key that unlocks our faith in the Lord is our commitment.

Commitment is the motivator that keeps us moving towards our mission. It propels us, it drives us, it energizes. Commitment lets other people know where we stand and lets our hearts feel the thrill of pursuing our mission. Commitment keeps us going while others quit.

Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” (Lk. 10: 3)

Our Brand

Brand is the personality that differentiates a product, service or company and how it relates to its various stakeholders. The brand experience is the action that we perceive when using or feeling the brand. It creates a very powerful pull in the way people make purchase decisions. Marketers engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique. These qualities create powerful images that pull customers to purchase and acquire the brand of choice. Where two products or services resemble each other, but one of the products has no associated branding (such as a generic,  store branded  product); people may often select the more expensive branded product on the basis of the perceived quality of the brand or on the basis of the reputation of the brand owner.

It’s not easy though to build brands. Companies spend vast amounts of money and resources to grow and nurture it. However, only a very few eventually succeed and survive the test of time. For the successful brands even with its accomplishments, it’ll only take a simple mistake to destroy what has been patiently built over the years.

Similarly, the names given to us are our personal brands. How we create it over time, how we nurture it, how we maintain it, tells how we are now in the present. We were given names during Baptism and its either we have lived by it, or have deviated from it. This name is not ordinary, as God gave it to us,

I have called you by name; you are mine.”(Is. 43: 1).

The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels was celebrated last September 29. St. Michael as we know is the Leader of God’s Army, and is also the patron of San Miguel Corporation, which celebrates its 124th this year. San Miguel Beer, among the Philippines most endearing icons, was founded in 1890, when the country was still under Spanish rule, truly a testament to its strength and endurance as a brand.

St. Gabriel is known as the Angel of Humanity, trusted messenger of God. Gabriel means “man of God,” or “God has shown himself mighty.” The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. He was the angel who appeared to Zechariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptist. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Savior of the world.

St. Raphael is known as the Arrow of Love, and the Doctor of God’s Love. His name means “God heals.” This identity came about because of the biblical story, which claims that he “healed” the earth when it was defiled by the sins of the fallen angels in the apocryphal book of Enoch.

In the Book of Revelations, St. John the Beloved was shown in a vision the deadly war that broke out in Heaven. He wrote about it while in exile in the island of Patmos in Greece. We’ve been told stories about Lucifer (name as used by early Christian tradition) or Satan, formerly the prince of angels, who was once so handsome, but in his pride and conceit became an ugly spirit after plotting against God and Heaven. Pride transformed a once beautiful being into an ugly beast. This can happen then to anyone that rebels against the Almighty Father.

The victory of St. Michael and His Angels predicts what will happen at the end of time. It is also a rich imagery of what happens everyday of our lives, when we are confronted with options between right and wrong, where the battle of good and evil is constantly raging. Hence, everyday consciousness of this battle being waged is important for us to realize how victory for our souls can be achieved. Whenever a crossroad is reached, we have to be alert in discerning the effect of what we think, say or do.

Your name is your brand. Take very good care of it. It doesn’t only represent you, but also your family, your community, and even your company”, Fr. Armand says.

Let us pray that St. Michael and the Holy Archangels, together with our Guardian Angel, guide and protect us in our life’s pilgrimage. It’s a tough journey but let us be comforted in the Father’s awesome promise,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in return for you. Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I Love You.” (Is. 43: 2 – 4a).

Seeing Through Faith

One of my favorite stories is about the little boy Matt riding a speeding bus. While all the others were very apprehensive and afraid, Matt was but excited and enjoying it. One of the passengers asked him why he was unmindful of the risk and danger that they were in, Matt just answered coolly: “I’m not afraid, as the driver is my father!

Many times in our younger lives we were also like Matt. We were confident and not worried because we trust them — I remember when I was still a little child, we were in the beach for a swim with my father and when he asked me to swim towards him, I did it because “he’s my Dad.” Our parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and close friends — these are people who we’re sure will take care of us even when the going gets tough. They are so to say, “our pillars of strength”.

The Gospel proclaims,

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ they said in reply, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen,’ Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said in reply, ‘The Messiah of God.’ He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.” (Lk.9: 18-22)

Peter’s answer was firm and without hesitation. It tells about his deep faith in the Lord. We notice that among the disciples, he was the one courageous and firm enough to affirm Jesus Christ as the Messiah. If we are going to do something substantial for God, we must step out in faith to Him. It means to leave our comforts behind and begin trusting Him.

This past week, Fr. Armand came back after a three-week absence, leading a retreat for priests in neighboring Malaysia. The homily he gave last Friday was particularly one of the most inspiring sermons I’ve heard so far. Upon reflection, we realize that Peter’s faith was such that he knew Jesus as “The” Lord and Savior. He knew faith requires that he will go anywhere the Lord will take him. While there were so many times that Peter failed the Lord, he persevered, so much so that he eventually gave up his life in martyrdom for Jesus. Just like the other disciples, who also died martyrs for Christ (with the exception of St. John the Beloved, who died of old age while in exile). It’s about “seeing through the joy despite the suffering”. The man of faith is one who sees. He knows that there is a reason for suffering, for pain, for dying. He in fact, sees more! This capability of seeing through, makes him even have that sense of humor about life!

In the end, the man of faith is a happy man. He realizes that there’s a lot more to life. Our faith therefore should lead us to enjoy and celebrate life! Knowing this, we realize that in our families, in our parishes, in our communities, in our companies as well, we are not just an organization but a group of people put together by God.

Dedication to Our Mission

When we were children, we would always compare with our siblings and friends the toys we got during Christmas, the clothes that our aunts and uncles gave us, or anything that we receive. As we grow older, we would compare how we’re treated by our teachers, superiors, and even by our friends. We want to be treated equally and fairly. In the Gospel, the laborers complained that the landowner paid the same wage to all the workers, whether they started at dawn, midmorning, noon, midafternoon, or even late afternoon. Even our sense of justice is troubled by this development. However, the landowner said,

“My friend’, he said to one in reply, ‘I do you no injustice. You agreed on the usual wage, did you not? Take your pay and go home. I intend to give this man who was hired last the same pay as you. I am free to do as I please with my money, am I not?’ Thus the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Mt. 20: 13-16).

We’re only looking at it from that angle. There is another side to it, however. God’s goodness transcends justice. He reminds us that, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Is. 55: 6-9). We should look at it from the point of view of love and generosity. It should remind us that when we are unfaithful and sinning, He still loves us as much as He loves the Saints and Martyrs who served and suffered much more than us.

It is important then that we should not be envious of others successes, else we become selfish. We become greedy — that feeling that what we have is not enough. We desire for more. We don’t realize that the more we have this attitude, the more we become so materialistic and forget God. As always, our focus should be on God and not on earthly treasures. We should always count our blessings!

Champions believe that everyday is a singular opportunity to create a priceless pearl from the grime. Choice and cross go together. As far as your spirit can carry you, do not run away from pain. It is the only potion of life that can strengthen you for your battles. Welcome it, but don’t ask for it.

In sports and as well as in life, it is not how we start, but how we end. I remember a basketball team in a popular sports league who would always look strong during the pre-season. The team would always seem to start a game strong, and yet, collapse in the end game. If a game were only up to three quarters, the team would have been a champion many times already. However, a game is played not only for three quarters but four. Hence, for the team to win, it should play a consistent game for a full four quarters. Playing it inconsistently would be a disaster and the game would be lost.

The Lord welcomes us all into His banquet. Some of us may heed the call earlier, but some may be able to see the light much later. His love is so great that He invites and accepts sinners “right up to quitting time”. Yet He doesn’t set demands, the only deadline being that we should do it before death claims us. So we shouldn’t wait till that time comes because nobody knows the hour or the day. And that would be too late!

Similarly, the Lord wants us to be consistent. We don’t need to dash to the finish line as we are still a work in progress. We have to be steady, to stay the course. God knows the perfect time for the harvest. He would want us to continue and be patient. Just to trust Him and not be afraid.

A champion is no sore loser. Winning is in his DNA. A champion remains faithful; he focuses on his roots not the fruits. Some things really matter as in really. And the champion allows them to matter indeed. He adheres to his principles, and keeps his passion alive. He could be disconcerting to live with at times because he is so focused in his goals in life. He does not allow himself to be blinded by startling achievements. As Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers once said, “Being in the cover of Fortune magazine doesn’t guarantee you anything,” (Code of Champions).

Let us pray to the Lord that we may persevere in our life journey with gladness and gratitude.

Other-ness

In our lives, we experience two kinds of people with regards giving: the one who gives to live, and the one who lives to give. The one who gives to live vacillatesevery time he gives; he tries to know how much he will get back in return.His motivation is the reward he gets. On the other hand, the person who lives to give expects neither reward nor recognition and is in fact offended if compensated. This type of individual looks at a situation in terms of “what is needed?” He is the type of person who always asks, “How much more is needed?”

 

In the Gospel, God the Father “gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die, but may have eternal life. God did not send His Son to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him” (Jn. 3: 13 – 17).

 

The attitude that the Lord wants us to develop is the one of caring for our neighbor and those in need. We should be looking at others more rather than ourselves. It’s about being in an attitude of abundance, knowing that God provides, and He “loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9: 7). Good times should be viewed as opportunities to be thankful and grow in love for God, while when times are hard and difficult it should help us grow in our faith and hope in God to provide us what we truly need. As St. Paul has said, “…I tell you brothers, the time is short …those who weep should live as though they were not weeping and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing… for the world as we know is passing away”(1 Cor. 7: 25-31).

 

Sharing allows us to focus on the other person, to be “other-ness”. It gives us the attitude of thinking less of ourselves, and more of others. The motivation for living to give is not about recognition. Some of the time there will be recognition for anyone who gives but yet this isn’t the main reason for giving.I have a couple – friend, whose wealth is vast and yet shies away from getting the recognition. I even have to tell that there are times they have to allow that in order to inspire others. When helping, they never turn their heads to see who is looking and never wait to find out what the reward will be. They do most of their sharing in a quiet and personal way.

 

Jesus himself showed the ultimate example of that attitude of sharing when He emptied himself and took our human form. “He humbled himself even unto death on the cross! Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name, so that at Jesus name, every knee must bend in the heavens and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father”(Phil. 2: 6-11).

 

In our lives, we’ll soon realize that we become happiest when we give. Especially when we sacrifice something of ourselves since it tells us that only in doing so that we’ve given enough. It means we’ve passed that point wherein we only think of ourselves — short of selfishness and greed. A smile, a pat on the back, a ray of hope, or a sigh of relief is enough reward. Then we begin to live and become persons for others. The inner joy and peace that we’ve long desired will become finally ours. Because sharing and giving will make us feel really good!

 

When you give, what is your motivation? Are you a person who gives to live? or, a person who lives to give?

 

God’s Call

Jesus returned to His hometown Nazareth, went to the synagogue, as He was in the habit of doing. He read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, where it was written,

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore He has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives,
Recovery of sight to the blind
And release to prisoners.
To announce a year of favor from the Lord.” (Lk. 4: 18-19)

Then He said further, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He then delivered a beautiful homily and people “spoke favorably of Him”.

In many ways, most of us are like Jesus’ town mates. We like to read beautiful texts and postcards of God’s wonderful promises that “do not ask us to do anything, but just wait and receive”. In our excitement to share it with others, we even post it in our Facebook page. However, when called to action, we retreat and like to hide behind in our comfort zones. Whenever we are warned, when priests and ministers correct us, we hate them for that.

I remember when I was still a child, there was this politician who was sort of a bully. He was always doing some injustice to some ordinary people, and the parish priest would always caution him. Everytime the priest hears something bad that the politician did, he would always warn the politician. Until it reached a point that the politician got so angry and he hurled words at the priest. You know what, after a week, the politician died of a heart attack. Coincidence? I don’t know. But one thing is certain. The politician didn’t like correction from God’s priest. He flirted with angering God! And I was told there were strange things that happened during his funeral that made me think why it happened.

In His infinite love, God continuously sends help to correct us when we are wrong, to strengthen us in our weakness, and to affirm us when we are down.

We should be able to discern the messages God has sent us through our loved ones, friends and even the happenings around us.

However, for those who don’t listen to correction, Jesus has taught His disciples to treat them as “you would a Gentile or a tax collector”. Jesus assures His disciples that “whatever you bound on earth, shall be held bound in Heaven, and whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be held loosed in Heaven” (Mt. 18: 15-20). These are strong words coming from our Lord, which others do not like to even talk about it. In His time, Jesus spoke with authority and everything that He said can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. This same can be said now, as He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:9). Responding to Jesus is important for our salvation. Else we’re just like the people mentioned earlier.

One of the beautiful paintings I’ve seen in childhood is the one wherein Jesus with the staff of a shepherd is shown knocking at the door. However, one can notice in the painting that there’s no doorknob. The explanation is that there is no knob as the homeowner is the one that can open the door. If he doesn’t, Jesus can’t enter it. Similarly, if we don’t open our hearts to God’s calling, He won’t force Himself on us. We are free to accept Him or not.

Fr. Armand, in his book Code of Champions says,

“If there is no destination, there is no journey to speak of. If there is no finish line, why run the race?

Purpose colors everything. For a champion, no experience is wasted. One single step may be insignificant when taken by itself, but considered as part of a long journey, it becomes necessarily valuable. The goal bestows value on the details of life, that is, the purpose shapes and constructs the entire structure of life.”

Are you ready to respond to God’s call? Will you open the door of your heart to Him?

Rejoicing in Christ

When Jesus “told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly there at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be put to death, and raised up on the third day,“ Peter tried to convince Him not to do it. Jesus told Peter he was a stumbling block to His mission (Mt. 16: 21-27). While Peter had good intentions in saying that, his spiritual maturity at that time made him think that following Jesus meant a life of comfort and ease. He didn’t realize yet that Jesus had a mission to fulfill, in obedience to the Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and come follow me.” Many years later, Peter followed Jesus and was also crucified, but upside down.

What Jesus demonstrated was total focus to the will of the Father. In fact, in all the references to His mission, Jesus was amazingly focused, even while he was tempted many times to do the contrary. Many saints gave up themselves and their lives for Jesus. The past week can’t be complete without remembering St. John the Baptist, whose beheading we commemorated, and the mother-and-son saints, St. Monica and St. Augustine, whose feast days we celebrated. Their lives are fine examples of what real and authentic discipleship of Christ is all about.

(We will not emphasize St. John the Baptist as we already have devoted writing on his life in an earlier reflection. He is one of the very few personalities in the Bible whose birthday and death are both commemorated by the Church. Let’s instead focus our attention on St. Monica and St. Augustine.)

The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. While having some redeeming features, he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.

Monica was distressed to learn that her son Augustine, who was 17 at the time of his father’s death, had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil) and was living an immoral life. However, she persisted in staying close to her son, praying and fasting for him. It was on Easter Sunday, Year 387, that St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his group left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.

St. Augustine, on the other hand, spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was reputed to be “one of the most intelligent men who ever lived” and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony of Egypt, and he felt terrible ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!” (American Catholic.Org)

Denying ourselves. Taking up our Cross. Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul says to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life. Another example of humility and courage at its finest.

Following Jesus means imitating Christ. He was baptized, became a priest, a bishop, a famous Catholic writer, founder of religious priests, and one of the greatest saints that ever lived. He became very devout and charitable, too. On the wall of his room he had the following sentence written in large letters: “Here we do not speak evil of anyone.” St. Augustine overcame strong heresies, practiced great poverty and supported the poor, preached very often and prayed with great fervor right up until his death. “Too late have I loved You!” he once cried to God, but with his holy life he certainly made up for the sins he committed before his conversion.

The Catholic Church has numerous examples of what authentic discipleship is all about. The number doesn’t stop there as everyday, many more have decided to live their lives for God.

Champions get engaged with life. Always. Champions are committed to the common good over narrow self-interests. Champions believe that greatness was never meant to be a personal agenda. Champions stay the course. The good fight is always worth the fight.

Champions, despite life’s mysteries and challenges, rejoice and stay joyful.