All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

Having the Light and Power of Christ

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your Heavenly Father. ”(Mt. 5: 14-16)

We have heard this part of the Gospel many times already I’m sure. And we would always consider it as an inspiration to be called the “light.” We’d probably rejoice and take pride in that fact. If we’re not careful however, we can easily fall into the trap, which Fr. Armand would call “holy pride”. As it gets into our head, we could lose focus on the real source of our “power” that is God. This will eventually lead us into the sin of pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins, the others being wrath, avarice, sloth, lust, envy and gluttony. Eventually, our “power” loses strength, until ultimately, we self-destruct. We become powerless and we become frustrated.

Alma would always remind everyone at home to unplug appliances when not in use. She has this big, handwritten reminder posted on strategic locations, to remind us of the same. Even power savers are constantly connected to ensure that no power is wasted. She would always tell us, “don’t waste limited resources”. We know for a fact that fossil fuels (our primary source of energy) are exhaustible and are good only for the next fifty or so years. Lately, rotating brownouts are back in some parts of the Visayas and Mindanao. And not only that, in some areas these brownouts reach up to eight hours. Yes, eight hours!

Imagine: what if you try to take a bath in pitch darkness? Or even eating your meal, without a ray of light? Or looking for your favorite socks inside the cabinet? I’m sure everybody can relate to the fact that it’s so difficult, if not impossible to achieve these tasks, no matter how basic these are. But have we even thought about it?

Connectedness to God is like the way a light bulb is connected to the power source. Unplug it, and the light goes out. Remove our connection from God (by our pride and selfish thoughts that we are the source of power) we become powerless, we become helpless. Have we realized that this is a major reason why people are frustrated, why people feel hopeless? They keep trying, not realizing that their efforts can be futile and useless.

There was a time in my life that I relied on my own power and strength. I struggled hard, thinking that I can be what I want to become, with my own effort and hard work. Even though I already served in the Altar early on, my youth was my disadvantage because back then, my service was more out of duty rather than out of love. Then with God’s Spirit, I realized that we become who God created us to be, by His grace alone, and not on our own power and strength. God has gifted us with talents and capabilities but when we have fallen out of grace, blessings can’t reach us anymore because sin is blocking these graces from reaching us, and leads us away from Him.

Let us pray that the God of Light continue to enlighten our minds, that we may not fall into thinking that we can do it all alone.

The champion has no extraordinary powers; he only has God who knows, and who cares. The embrace of God around his soul is never the object of doubting questions. He senses the presence of the Divine around which he organizes his life. He never walks alone. And he knows it.

Choosing Obedience

It took time to start the iMac keypad moving on these reflections but on the last hour, the inspiration focused on the events happening at the Vatican residence of Pope Francis last Sunday, who hosted two warring leaders, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, in an appeal for peace in the Middle East. The meeting was both real and providential, as the appeal for peace wasn’t made through traditional means, like a summit, or a high-level meeting, but through prayer. Yes, PRAYER!

A prayer for peace.

This Sunday, is Pentecost Sunday, one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated as early as the time of the Apostles (Acts 20:16 and 1 Cor. 16:8). It is the 50th day after Easter and it superseded the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after the Passover and celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.

On that first Pentecost, the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary were gathered in the Upper Room, where they met Our Lord after His Resurrection:

“Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise like a strong, driving wind which was heard all through the house they were seated. Tongues as of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them. ” (Acts 2:2-4)

As Christ had promised His Apostles, He would send His Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day. This is why Pentecost is often called the “birthday of Holy Mother Church.” It must be such a brilliant and awesome display of the powers of the Holy Spirit, on Her birthday! Despite the challenges that the Church have encountered and is continuously facing, the mighty hand of the Spirit has guided and protected the bark of St. Peter from the waves of destruction. Jesus was fully aware of this, and one of his most touching prayers said during the Last Supper was the prayer for unity among his followers in the Church:

“O Father most holy, protect them with your name which you have given me (that they may be one, even as we are one). ” (Jn. 17: 11)

A prayer for unity.

He must have foreseen the breaking out of some of them from the Church later on. Jesus always preached of obedience. Throughout his life, Jesus always prayed for guidance from the Father. He submitted himself to the Father’s authority, and wanted his Apostles to remain the same. He exhorted them to “live on in my love.” He told them further, “You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, and live in his love.” (Jn. 15: 10) Thus, the only way of being in Jesus love, is in obeying and loving him, manifested in obedience to authority, loving God and our fellowmen.

Despite the seeming difficulties of obtaining peace, may we also join in the call for peace and unity, starting here in our land, and trust that the Lord’s hand will be blessing our efforts with success. So that His name may be glorified.

The champion has no extraordinary powers. The embrace of God around his soul is never the object of doubting questions. He senses the presence of the Divine around which he organizes his life. He never walks alone. And he knows it.

Spiritual Life

The talk of Fr. Armand made me realize my shortcomings in life. It helped me become conscious on what is  really happening in our everyday lives. Most especially it enlightened me to develop a more spiritual life.

Rinalyn Quijano, Don Bosco Technical Institute-Tarlac

S for Sharing

One of the most beautiful traits a Christian should have is the capacity to share oneself. In itself, sharing is a manifestation of love, an expression of one’s godliness. Even people we label as “bad” also have the capacity to share. The only thing that probably separates “authentic” from “by-name-only” Christians is the capacity to share even to those who are not relatives, not friends, but even those considered as “enemies”. When one becomes more mature in his faith, his authenticity tends to show itself all the more. He tries and outwardly manifests love, and sees the soul rather than just the physical body of the other person. Thus, mercy and compassion become more prevalent, even when one is hurt and in pain. He is more concerned with helping others. To him, it is more than just serving and sharing one’s self. To him, it is about seeing Jesus in the other person. It is about obedience to the Lord who came not to be served, but “…to serve — to give his life in ransom for the many ”. (Mk. 10: 45)

This Sunday, the Church commemorated the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. A great event in the Church, the Ascension is one of the five major milestones in the Gospel narrative of the life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the others being baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, and resurrection.

And Jesus came forward and addressed them in these words, “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything that I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt. 28: 18 – 20)

Jesus instructed his apostles to carry on the mission and share it with the rest of the world. He didn’t ask them to keep the Gospel messages to themselves, but he asked them to share it.

Last Saturday, we commemorated another great feast in the Church, which is in itself is a showcase of a life of love and dedication to service: the Feast of the Visitation, when Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Even if the Blessed Mother was already pregnant, she still took the pain of traveling more than a hundred kilometers over mountains and hills in order to serve her older cousin, who was having a difficult pregnancy. She was doing this just like what Jesus would do later in life: serving others who need help. Our Mother is modeling how we should be, and telling us that witnessing to Jesus is when we bring his love and compassion to others.

Knowingly or unknowingly, when we dedicate our lives to helping others in need, we witness Jesus to the world. Let us continue to ponder on St. John’s Gospel about becoming witnesses,

“You will bear witness as well, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn. 15: 27)

Jesus also tells the apostles about their sadness because he will be gone from them, and yet,

“…your grief will be turned into joy. “ (Jn. 16: 20)

He was preparing them for the sadness that they will experience at the Crucifixion, but also ensuring them the joy of reunion at the Resurrection.

We also experience this in our own way of the Cross. Especially when we are in God’s service. We sometimes feel alone and deserted. But if we hang on in faith, we unite our sufferings with Jesus, who did it out of love to a world that abandoned him.

“In the same way you are sad for a time, but I shall see you again; then your hearts will rejoice with a joy that no one can take away from you.“ (Jn. 16: 22)

Our Lord is speaking about the difficulties of service. However, if we persevere, our faithfulness to Jesus will create in us a new life, full of vigor in love and in faith. Let us take this to heart and experience the inner peace that only Jesus can give.

Champions celebrate and share their life with others. Alone, it does not make sense.

Yearning for Our Love

The Gospel of St. John is often referred to as the “Gospel of Love”, because his views are so much identified with the words of Jesus Christ, to whom he stood “more closely related than any other disciple, that it is difficult to separate them.” St. John speaks from personal experiences and testifies of that which his eyes have seen, his ears have heard and his hands have handled, of the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. His Gospel can be summed up in the words: God first loved us. He exhorts us therefore to love Him and our fellowmen.

The past week’s Gospel readings continue to speak of God’s love for us. It started with the Lord telling us that,

He who obeys the commandments he has from me, is the one who loves me, and he who loves me, will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him.” (Jn. 14: 21)

Further he said, “He who does not love me, does not keep my words.” (Jn. 14: 24)

The Lord is telling us that the proof of loving him is obedience to his commandments. We can’t say we love him and yet do the contrary. This is difficult in the light of the challenges that we encounter in this earthly pilgrimage. But Jesus tells us not “…to be distressed or fearful.” He offers us his peace and assures us of the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us.

Christ’s life is the perfect example of a life lived in absolute love. We don’t need to look far, we only have to look at the Cross. He did everything for love and obedience to the Father. “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13) He set the example and yearns for us to do the same.

Do everything with love” is one of my favorite verses. (1 Cor. 16: 14) Anything we do in life should be done out of love, whether it is work or play. Doing service or even going to Church shouldn’t be seen as an obligation, but one that’s done out of love for Jesus. While yes, it is an obligation, as a practicing Catholic, we should view Sunday Mass as a love offering for God. We can never repay His goodness but we should try to show our gratitude for his blessings, protection and mercy. There is a lot of beauty and benefit in doing all things with love. Try it, I’ve experienced it myself!

Finally, let us remember that there is a “twist” to all that we’ve been told all along: love is not an option, but a commandment:

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15: 12)

In my life, Jesus matters much. Despite my weaknesses, I will continue trying to love and obey Him. I am grateful to him, for his kindness and mercy knows no limits. 

Authentic Followers of Christ

St. John’s Gospels of the 4th going into the 5th Week of Easter continued on Jesus discourse at the Last Supper.

The scene is intimate: the Passover is drawing near and as practiced by the Jews, the Passover meal is an occasion for family and close friends only. You can imagine the closeness and intimacy in Jesus and his Apostles’ relationships with each other. Such a solemn and somber moment, as Jesus talked to comfort them, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (Jn. 14: 1-4)

This is so beautiful because imagine the idea of Jesus preparing a place for them! (and also for us, our Eternal Home!)

There are questions in faith, that prompt us to ask, just like what Thomas asked Our Lord,

“Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father also. From this point on you know him; you have seen him.” (Jn. 14:5-7)

True to Thomas personality, he prompted some of the most famous sayings of Jesus.

Moments before that, the Lord was talking sad (he must have been so hurt!), knowing that someone among his “close” friends, is going to turn him over:

What I say is not said of all, for I know the kind of men I chose. My purpose here is the fulfillment of Scripture: `He who partook of bread with me has raised his heel against me.’ I tell you this now, before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may believe that I AM. (Jn. 13:18-19)

The Lord is talking about Judas impending betrayal. We also know that another among them, Peter, will deny him three times before the night is over. Yet despite that, because of Jesus great love for his friends, he is still there, dining with them. In many instances at the present day, this scene is repeated again and again. In our relationships with Jesus, he must be as hurt as he was on that Last Supper evening, when we chose to be stupid than to be faithful to him. Many times we’ve hurt him, but the Lord is steadfast in his love. He knows our fickleness. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our struggles.

Last Wednesday, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle. The homily was beautifully fitted into the readings. St. Peter exhorted the need to replace Judas, who betrayed Jesus:

It is entirely fitting, therefore, that one of those who was of our company while the Lord Jesus moved among us, from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us, should be named as witness with us to his  resurrection.” (Acts 1:21 – 22)

So in the days, the years, the centuries that followed, and even up to now, if one follower of Jesus abandons, another one is chosen to replace him. This is so that the apostolic succession is always continued. No other Church today can trace its roots back to the Apostles, other than the Catholic Church. Various storms has challenged, and will continue to rock it, but the Church will survive like a “ship in a stormy sea”. Jesus prophetic words rings loud and clear: “even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Just like in the time of the Apostles, whenever it is necessary, the Church will replace those servants who have abandoned the faith. It’s just as simple as that. God in His infinite goodness, will allow us to decide whatever we like to do with our lives. He never forces himself on us. We are given the power to choose. Whether with us or without us aboard, the Church that Jesus founded will just continue to sail on, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord knows our struggles. He understands. He showed us the way to faithfulness. Let us choose to be faithful.

He also showed us to be compassionate to those who betray us, “especially those who we share bed and plate with.” Only God, as Creator, has that unique right to judge and deal with them. Given that, Jesus wants us to be compassionate too. “There is still such thing as healing, resilience, breakthroughs… and forgiveness. We don’t have to give up on them at the first sign of weakness.” (Code of Champions)

Difficult to forgive and heal?

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 truly strengthen you for your battles. Welcome it, but don’t ask for it. 


Walking With The Lord

The Gospel readings of the past week centered on the Lord’s discourse on the Bread of Life. Thoughts and reflections on this is something very deep and meaningful. The scenes bring to mind people who are in need of food and drink. On a deeper level, however, the imagery must be taken in the context of the Easter Season. Jesus is risen and His message is quick to warn us “you are not looking for me because you have seen signs, but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves. You should not be working for perishable food, but for food that remains to life eternal, food which the Son of Man will give you; it is on him that God the Father has set His seal.” (Jn. 6: 26-27)

Early in our faith experience, we came to Mass mostly to ask the Lord for a new job, a girlfriend (or boyfriend), a new house or car, a gadget, or even solutions to our problems, etc.  Those were times when we asked the Lord for favors, requests, and petitions of whatever we could think about. This actually went on and on. However, as we come to maturity in our journey with the Lord, it should stop being about the “material” bread; it should already be about being into the bread that endures, the Bread of Life. Jesus exhorted us “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst” (Jn. 6: 35).  This means that at some point, even how difficult it is at times, we learn to embrace our cross, rather than carry it, as it may just result in us feeling it “too heavy a burden to carry”. Embracing our cross will make our life journey more meaningful and enduring till the end. Embracing the cross means submission to Christ and enduring the pains and sufferings, fully content with the thought that all the while, the Lord is walking with us, is journeying with us, and therefore sharing our difficulties. How sweet it would be then, when we have reached that point, when we’d be attending Mass, not because we’re asking for favors from God, but because we’re already at that level where, it is because we love the Lord, because we want to be intimate with Him.

This is the message of Easter! As St. John Paul II captured it beautifully, “This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word, which became flesh two thousand years ago, is present today in the Eucharist.

Among the sacraments, there are those which we can only have once, like Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, or Holy Orders, while there are those which can be repeated many times like Reconciliation. The Anointing of the Sick may also be done a few times, depending on the circumstances. Unlike the rest though, it is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which can be repeated more often, even on a daily basis!

Imagine that? Daily! Did you notice the symbolism this brings? This means, that when we join in the celebration of the Holy Mass (and thus the Holy Eucharist), we allow the Lord to nurture us, to make us grow in faith. St. John Bosco said, “Do you want the Lord to give you many graces? Visit Him often. Do you want Him to give you few graces? Visit Him rarely.

We celebrate God’s presence, we stay in the presence of God.

Life finds Meaning

Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us? ”   (Lk. 24:32)

My first memory of the road to Emmaus story was in my childhood years, when I was serving the 6 am Mass in St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, in my hometown in Amlan, Negros Oriental. In this Gospel story, we are told of the two disciples travelling to Emmaus and didn’t realize the man who joined them was Jesus. After the breaking of the bread, he disappeared and upon realizing it was the Lord, the disciples’ reaction was about remembering feeling their “hearts burning inside”! This is another of those stories about the disciples failing to recognize Jesus!

This past week was special, in the sense that our beloved San Miguel Chaplain, Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, celebrated his birthday. Homilies were so beautiful, because it spoke of themes about life, about meaning, about purpose. One of his stories shared was about the Hebrews’ ancient beliefs of God, living in the majestic mountain, above the clouds. Of a place called “Sheol”, the “netherworld”, the place in the bowels of the earth, a place where they believed the dead to be congregated. Jacob refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph exclaims, “I will go down mourning to my son in the netherworld.” (Gen. 37:35) Reading the origins of this concept of Sheol made my hair stood on end! Imagine that place they say, “where souls go after dying?” Yet, with the Risen Jesus, we are hopeful that He will deliver us to our eternal home. We take refuge in the thought that with the Lord, we shouldn’t fear what happens. Life finds meaning as an effect. We realize that all the while, with life’s ups and downs, the Lord is journeying with us. Only that we didn’t recognize Him, just like the two disciples, or the others who didn’t. While early in life we are excited, later on once we realize whatever our purpose is, we become composed and quiet, knowing that we are journeying with God. The company of the Divine helps remove all fears in our hearts. It’s not how much we’ve accomplished, but how much we have loved.

Champions sense the presence of the Divine around which he organizes his life. He never walks alone. He feels his heart burning inside. And he knows it, he knows why.


Are You Still Weeping?

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher)”   (Jn. 20 : 15 -16)

Are you still weeping? You shouldn’t be. You should be rejoicing. As Easter people, we have many reasons to be happy! The King has risen from the dead! Do you doubt His resurrection?  You shouldn’t! Have faith!  Believe before you doubt!

In the days of the Easter week, the homilies at the San Miguel Chapel preached of the many reasons to be happy. People who live in faith are at peace, not because they don’t have problems but because they know the Lord is alive and is amongst them. They are joyful and happy. Fr. Greg Bicomo shared about two people he met during the Holy Week, one who was crying to death over a relatively simple problem, and another one, who had a much, much bigger problem but is still peaceful and hopeful, because, as she said, “I am hopeful because I have the Lord”.  Yes, when we have the Lord with us, we can handle any problem, no matter how difficult. And we don’t worry because we believe it to be true 100%!

This Sunday the Catholic Church celebrated the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as the Divine Mercy Sunday. On this date, Pope Francis canonized St. John XIII and St. John Paul II.  Two popes who led the Church in difficult times. One a “liberal” and one a “conservative”. While I was a young student in Cebu, I had the privilege of seeing then Pope John Paul II during his motorcade. Just like many of us who had that opportunity, I was in awe, seeing the face of the Vicar of Christ.  Yet, we don’t need a life-changing experience to witness for God. Every day, we have many encounters with the Lord, but it’s only that we don’t recognize him in these events. Just like Mary Magdalene, who thought he was the gardener (Jn. 20: 15), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24: 16), or the appearance to the disciples, when they thought he was a ghost (Lk. 24: 37).  Many come to us for help, and yet we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. We haven’t remembered or we choose to forget what He said, “as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me” (Mt. 25:40). Encountering the sick in the hospital or the beggar down the road is also an encounter with the Lord. Just like Mary Magdalene who said, “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn. 20: 18), may we also recognize Jesus in the poor and the needy of our society.

Let us not wait for the Lord to appear for us to believe in Him. He has shown himself to us many times and yet our unbelief disabled our eyes to recognize him. As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Blest are those who have not seen and yet believed.  (Jn. 20: 29). Champions are believers. We believe, before we doubt.