All posts by Alan Sienes

Reflections by Alan Sienes on the Sunday's Gospel

Everyone is Welcome, Nobody to be Excluded

Last week the world celebrated Valentine’s. Days leading into it, we were bombarded with advertisements pushing for the different commercial events scheduled to happen. All sorts of gifts are being peddled: musicals, concerts, flowers, teddy bears, chocolates, and everything. But is there something more than the world’s version of Valentine’s Day?

In the first reading, the Jews defined the lepers as unclean and must live away from everyone in the community. In the Gospel, we were told that Jesus freed a leper from sickness and made him clean.

In perspective, while being unclean, leprosy also symbolizes sinfulness, which by nature separates us from the love of God. Due to sin, we are excluded from being God’s children, from His table of grace. This means we lose the power accorded to us as His Sons and Daughters. We become weaker, more susceptible to further sickness, and easily succumbing to temptation.

As the Lenten season draws near, we are being called to renew our relationship with the Lord. We can do this by penance, works of mercy, and personal preparation for the renewal of our baptism during the Easter vigil.

Jesus is telling us that we are welcome into His banquet and that because of His great love for us, nobody is to be excluded. However, His love for us can only do so much. We have to act, reciprocate and show Him our love as well. For our love to be authentic and real, we have to endure challenges and trials. We have to learn how to sacrifice for the atonement of sins and for our development as well. In fact even before we could do that, our Lord has showed His own by dying on the cross to save us from sin. He showed us how great a Valentine He is!

We don’t need to be a genius to recognize God’s love for us happening in the events of our daily lives. We only need a pure heart, not a naïve and undiscerning mind, for us to understand how deeply Jesus loves us. Let this coming Lenten season therefore, be an opportunity for us to discern and reflect on the meaning of God’s love in our lives.

Teaching with Authority

Most of us have a favorite teacher at every level of school. In my elementary years, my favorite was then my Grade 1 teacher, who while she was a disciplinarian way back, was also well-loved by everyone and that really made a lasting mark in me. Her style always commanded respect from all her students. If you failed to live up to expectations, you would always hear it first from her, in private of course. For helping mold what I am today, I owe a lot to her advice, her kindness, and her loving discipline.

In the Old Testament, Moses was a figure that stood out among the many prophets and elders of Israel. His greatness wasn’t in the marvelous things he did or accomplished while leading the chosen people out of Egypt into the Promised Land, but more because among them, he was the one whom the Lord conversed a lot, just like talking to a friend. Yes, while Moses is a great mediator between God and His people, there were also limitations because Moses wasn’t allowed to see God face to face (Ex. 33: 23). The “new” Moses though is different: Jesus spoke with authority, which is based on the fact that He lives in the presence of God, not as a friend, but as His only Son! He lives in intimacy with God the Father!

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we read about the man speaking about Jesus. Possessed by an unclean spirit, he identified Jesus as the Holy One of God! Jesus speaking with authority is also matched with great deeds and miracles. It isn’t born out of ordinary learning, but out of being in the presence of God.

As teachers in our own ways, whether with our children, peers, colleagues, subordinates, or even as leaders in our communities, it is important that we have credibility to impart knowledge. This credibility and the genuine sincerity in sharing ourselves aren’t easy to acquire. These are borne out of years of lifelong learning and experience. Aside from that, it also involves practically “living” what we teach. The best teacher is one who bequeaths knowledge without trying much what to say, as he is the message itself.

Becoming a great teacher involves sharing with your students what you know. It also involves demonstrating in order for them to assimilate the learning easily. Most importantly, becoming a great teacher is a gift that only God can give. It makes one speak with conviction, such that his audience is moved to act accordingly.

One good example of a teacher-par-excellence is St. Anthony of Padua. When he preached to the people in Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days. He reasoned out with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They resisted his words and refused to listen to him. 
At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the seashore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them. No sooner had he spoke then suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully.

Meanwhile, the people whom he had earlier preached, upon hearing of the miracle taking place, went to the seashore and upon witnessing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched, and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ. The rest of the faithful also were filled with joy, and with their faith strengthened.

The story of St. Anthony is an example of God using men to deliver His words. And as teachers, it must be a great privilege being used by God for His work here on earth.

While it may seem far out to think of being like St. Anthony, champions spend time for quiet reflection in awe of God. Spending time in prayer allows us to discover God’s directions for our lives. These moments are “life defining insights”, as Fr. Armand calls it. These insights are tools by which we can share ourselves, and God’s love to others. It sounds difficult, but as long as we open ourselves to His calling, God will reveal Himself to us in ways we can never imagine. That will make us teach His word, with confidence, and with authority that only the Lord can give.

Action Required!

This Sunday’s Gospel narrative tells us,

 

After John has been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1: 14-15)

 

Jesus then started the call of the first disciples, inviting Simon and Andrew, and then James and John to join him and make them fishers of men.

 

It’s still barely a week since the Holy Father ended his apostolic visit. We are still reeling from the euphoria and the emotions of his presence. One writer said that the scarcity of real models of “authentic goodness”, made us so emotional in our encounters with the Holy Father, in an attempt to explain the “Pope Francis Effect”. At the present time, everyone’s back in their daily lives and emotions have seemingly died down, if we are to look at updates and writings on Facebook and other social sites. However, it is worth telling that genuine goodness will only be felt, if we live and act the faith insights of the Pope’s visit.Unless we act on the challenges that the Holy Father gave us, we will be inconsistent, unfaithful and irrelevant. We have to act, to preserve the gains of this holy man’s visit, one long weekend in January.

 

The champion walks with a purpose. He aims for a mission that involves or benefits others. Decidedly.

 

We can start with some few steps, if I may suggest:

 

  1. Pray more. The Holy Father has inspired us to be prayerful amidst the chaos and challenges of life. We knew about the threat to his life and we prayed for protection. We’ve followed him in his itinerary across Manila and up to Tacloban and back. In the midst of the typhoon, we prayed that he arrive safely and be safe from harm. During the Masses that he concelebrated, we can see the quiet meditation of the faithful. Everyone is so immersed in the Masses that we wish it’d never end. He taught us to be prayerful, without even telling us to do so. His example is enough to inspire our fellow countrymen to pray unceasingly. Now let us continue doing this.

 

  1. Share more of ourselves. Be more merciful and compassionate with the less fortunate. Pope Francis showed us the way to love and care for the least of our brothers and sisters. He showed us the model of mercy and compassion in how he made everyone feel important. Even knowing this, there is so much work that needs to be done. What’s good is that there are already many organizations up and running and we can simply support these groups to do our share. One good example is the Happy Tummies project of Fr. Armand for the benefit of the poor children in Calauan, Laguna. We can easily sustain the group’s efforts of ensuring that the children there get full meals for six months or even a year. We can get in touch with them and contribute to the fund to sustain the children’s needs.

 

Practicing charity is the best way to evangelize, Pope Francis said.

 

  1. Care for Mother Earth. Climate change remains an important issue, what with stronger typhoons, violent snowstorms in the Midwest, and rising ocean levels. As I write this, a CNN report said that The National Weather Service, which isn’t prone to exaggeration, is using terms like “life-threatening” and “historic” to describe the weather system taking aim at the Northeast in the US— with the worst to expected hit Monday night into Tuesday. Climate change needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency as the effects are readily felt by the poor and the homeless. This is not to mention the devastation that tropical super typhoons have brought into our country.

 

  1. Stop corruption. We should be actively involved in eliminating graft and corruption among government officials. We should voice out against stealing in government without fear of reprisal. We should help ensure that honest and good leaders are elected into office. His Eminence Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle challenged us to be in the “peripheries”, to be heroes of the faith. We are called to be brave!

 

There are lots of things that we can do in order to become instruments of His love. The Pope’s visit is just a catalyst for us to start showing mercy and compassion to others. There are so many beautiful and creative ways of showing God’s love especially to those who are lonely and feel helpless in society. For God so loved that world, that He gave us His only Son, is the Pope visit’s favorite theme, and it’s a summary of what God’s love is all about.

 

It is therefore providential that the Gospel narrative pointed out that now is the time of fulfillment. We are called to repent and believe in the Gospel. Let us therefore act on this challenge. The saddest thing that can happen is when we allow the “Pope Francis Effect” to just simply vanish into oblivion and watch our fellow countrymen becoming more insensitive towards ourselves and others.

Hail Pope Francis!

I know that at this time, we still can’t get enough of our beloved Pope Francis. We were all in suspended animation throughout his visit. Now we wanted him to come back soon. In expressing the gratitude of the Filipino Catholic faithful, His Eminence Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle gave a very powerful, moving, and stirring words of gratitude during the final Mass at the Quirino Grandstand. His speech was so inspiring, in that we felt it reflected what every Filipino wanted to say:

 

“Every Filipino wants to go with you. Don’t be afraid. Every Filipino wants to go with you – not to Rome – but to the peripheries. We want to go with you to the shanties, to the prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, the sciences, culture, education, and social communication. We will go to those worlds with you to bring the light of Christ. Jesus is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the visit. We will go, Holy Father, with you where the light of Jesus is needed.”

 

The Cardinal captured what the Filipino faithful needs to tell and affirm to the Holy Father. It was the kind of speech we’d like our leader to tell Pope Francis. It brought a ray of sunshine into our weary souls. Like any Filipino watching the TV live coverage of the Pope’s visit, there were several, in fact many moments of being in awe of the power of the Holy Spirit moving each one of the faithful during his days in the Philippines.

 

Throughout the 5-day visit, we are reminded of our Catholic faith. We realize the richness of our life with faith, knowing that Jesus is with us in our earthly pilgrimage. “We are poor but when I saw Pope Francis, I realized we are rich after all. We are rich in God’s love,” says street child Jason Reyes. We get the assurance that despite our difficulties, we have Our Lord who journeys with us all the way. Columnist Sara Soliven De Guzman aptly said, “The Pope’s visit also tells us of our thirst for Jesus. It seems like we can’t get enough of it”. He gave each of us a boost to be good spiritual leaders. He reactivated our wits, energized our spirits and encouraged us to become better.

 

No doubt we are all refreshed: a new beginning, a new dawn, a new sunrise. From the moment the Pope arrived, we are all energized, inspired and excited. We can see people who followed the Pope wherever he went or expected to pass by. Never mind the raging typhoon in Tacloban, the small space in UST, or the rainy Quirino Grandstand, as the mere sight of the Pope moved us deeply! People waited overnight to secure their spots along the route that the Holy Father will take. While everyone was in “Pope Francis” mood, this adrenaline rush enabled many of our brothers and sisters to be on the go to follow him. The Pope said he also felt the same every time he sees the crowd. Amazing indeed!

 

We are inspired to move into action, to be the light to others and the world. The effect of Pope Francis’ presence is beyond description. What he gave this nation is something only a Holy Man of God can give. He really gave a big boost to our weary souls. His trademark smile and natural charm touched our hearts. He isn’t just a figure of the Catholic Church, he showed us the “Way” to Jesus. One priest said, “These are great times to be a priest”. As Cardinal Tagle said at the Manila Cathedral, “Our melodies make our spirits soar above the tragedies of life. Our faith makes us stand up again and again after deadly fires, earthquakes, typhoons and wars. And now, as many of our poor people are just beginning to rise from recent natural and human-made calamities, you, Holy Father came to us. You bring fire, not to destroy but to purify. You bring an earthquake, not to shatter but to awaken. You bring weapons, not to kill but to assure. Indeed, “you are Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus builds His Church” (Matthew 16:18). You are Peter who comes “to strengthen your brothers and sisters in faith” (Luke 22:32). We welcome you, successor of Peter, to this blessed land of untiring hope, of infinite music and of joyful faith. With your visit we know Jesus will renew and rebuild His Church in the Philippines”.

 

Indeed, one can confidently say that the Pope’s visit renewed us deeply and will inspire everyone to rebuild Jesus within. Just like his model, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis is rebuilding His Church in this part of the world.

 

In response, we must emulate his actions and proclaim his message to the world. As promised, let us offer prayers for him and help spread the light of Jesus. Like Pope Francis, may we also reflect Jesus, whose light we need in our earthly journey.

 

The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone” (Is. 9: 1).

To all the World, Go Forth!

When I was a young boy, my favorite visits were to my godfather, who was a close friend of my Dad, because every time I went to his shop, he’d always give me a gift. It was always pleasant because I’d see and feel his excitement every time I see him. He’d always ask me about how I’m doing and is always proud of my achievements in school. I could also see the closeness between him, his wife and my parents and so it made me think of their closeness as a possible standard for which godparents must be measured. Aside from that, my godfather was a religious person who I would also see in Church during Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. He was a model worth emulating.

It is said that the first major event in a Christian’s life is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Parents usually prepare well considering that this event initiates a child or an individual’s life with God. A godfather and godmother are selected, and a party, whether grand or simple, is prepared where the family and friends gather after the ceremony is done. Normally, this is done shortly after birth, in order to ensure that the child obtains the priceless grace of becoming a child of God. Neglecting this function denies the child such grace. Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children need the new birth in Baptism “to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called”. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door that which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism,

  1. We are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God;
  2. We become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and
  3. Made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

All the Old Covenant prefigurations find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

 

This Sunday the Gospel tells us that Our Lord, in beginning his public ministry, voluntarily submitted himself to the baptism of St. John, intended for sinners, in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ gesture is a manifestation of his deep humility and self-emptying. The Spirit of God who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed Jesus as His “beloved Son.” This passage in the Gospel tells us how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. His public ministry was about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. He is the Man-God. He is the God-Man.

 

After his resurrection Christ gives this mission to his apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is a testament to the need for Baptism in the quest for salvation and redemption from sin.

 

From the very day of Pentecost, the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles and other disciples offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans. Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer “was baptized at once, with all his family.

 

All believers must understand that Baptism is the sacrament of faith.But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to maturity and development.

 

For all of us baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason Holy Mother Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. It is a ritual that is awaited every Lenten season. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.

 

In a few days, Pope Francis, the leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world, will be making his apostolic visit to the Philippines after Sri Lanka, as part of his Asian visit. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the life that Jesus lived is precisely what our beloved Pope Francis is determined to follow. To begin with, he decided not to live in the papal palace. The very symbolism of palace is un-Christlike. His program of governance will be focused on “a poor church for the poor.” He chose his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi who renounced his wealth, and lived and died for the sake of the poor. What a blessing for our country that he will be here!

 

In the days to come, let us offer prayers that may Jesus baptism remind us to follow His example of deep faith and total obedience to God. May our own baptism remind us of our rich heritage and dignity as sons and daughters of the Father.May Pope Francis continue to inspire, not only Catholics and Christians, but all peoples of a weary world.

Divine Beauty in Mary!

On the first day of the calendar year we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Among Mother Mary’s many titles, this is the most important, the most compelling, the most awesome. The others, while not really ordinary, are just not as important as this one.

A few days ago while visiting Washington D.C., I had the blessing and opportunity of visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a majestic church that is not only renowned for its beautiful sacred art, but also for its unique architecture and richness in Catholic and American culture. (Prior to the idea of building this Shrine, it was in 1847, that, at the petition of the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius IX named the Blessed Virgin Mary as the patroness of the United States, under her title of the Immaculate Conception.) The edifice is a huge and an awesome work of art and took (from idea conception to almost completion) almost half a century to build, being interrupted by World War II. Today it is the Patronal Church of the United States Catholics and America’s preeminent Marian Shrine, boasting of more than 70 chapels and oratories.

Just across the city, a new exhibit of masterpieces at the U.S. National Museum of Women in the Arts is ongoing. Too bad we didn’t have the time to visit, but the feedback was that the collection of Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary are “stunningly beautiful!” It is “not only captivating and spiritually uplifting”, it is also a serious look at how artists’ conceptions of our Lady evolved over a period of almost five centuries.

Think about it: while different artists at various periods have portrayed Mary in different ways, one thing is certain; they have pictured the Blessed Mother as a “loving young mother aware of the tragic fate awaiting her son.” Msgr. Timothy Verdon, an American priest serving in Italy who curated the exhibit commented that, “artists of the past showed Mary as a woman of faith, deeply thoughtful, deeply sensitive, capable of great courage and willing to risk.” Mary, while loving, was also conscious of the risks of her son’s life, and remained with her Son, even in His darkest hours.

Despite the variety of ways by which art has depicted Mary, the message is still the same: Mary is the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, and she is our mother!

It goes without saying that all generations have always admired the Blessed Mother for her deep humility. Mary is the model of what our faith should be; she is the ultimate example of what we mean by faith, true profound faith. Mary was “God’s first human teacher. And when God, who defines Himself as love — became man, He learned love from a woman.” This is really beyond human understanding and it brings us into the depth of God’s wisdom. Mary’s true beauty is in the way she submitted to God’s will in her life. This obedience resulted into an innate reflection of the awesome beauty of God.

This early 2015, it is certain that most of us have our New Year’s resolutions. There are problems with the usual way we make these so-called “resolutions”, in that after a while we tend to forget it. “Till next New Year, we just sigh. To be real and authentic, these resolutions should be based on love. Like Mary, we should be men and women of faith, deeply sensitive, capable of great courage, and willing to risk. More than New Year’s resolutions, we should answer the call after the end of each Mass we celebrate, to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Light the World

All of us love Christmas; in fact, year in and year out, we look forward to this event. We take great effort in prepping up our homes as early as November to prepare for the Lord’s coming birth. Immediately after, the Sunday after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; a liturgical celebration in the Catholic Church in honor of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family. The primary purpose of this feast is to present the Holy Family as a model for Christian families.

 

Today’s Christian family is a challenged family. Poverty, work employment, decent living and health, are some of the current issues affecting every Christian family. We see the same challenges that the Holy Family had during their time. In the Gospel account, we read that Joseph and Mary brought the Child Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”.

 

The Holy Family lived in poverty, despite their being “highly privileged” in the eyes of God. According to the Law, the prescribed offerings are usually lamb or goats, however; two young pigeons were accepted as sin offerings from the “poorer people”, and as purification offerings. Why can God allow the Holy Family to be poor? Many of us find it hard to imagine the Holy Family living in abject poverty. Yet in God’s infinite wisdom, He shows us that the Holy Family is a “human family”.

 

Being poor, they were a “challenged” family, a very much human family. They handled all sorts of difficulties and challenges that life has to offer, to share our human experience that we may share in His divine life. Despite being challenged, the Holy Family was a very pious family. Joseph and Mary were apparently observant Jews, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year with other Jewish families. They showed us that even in poverty, one can handle life’s daily challenges. That despite these issues, it is possible for one to be holy and obedient to God.

 

We celebrate Christmas because we are reminded as the Church proclaims, “Your Son shares our weakness: may we share His glory.” We celebrate the Season lest we forget that God loves us so much, that He sent His only Son to save us from sin. And this feast of the Holy Family we are reminded we can always strive to be holy, in our own humanly way. Let us be like the Holy Family to the world!

 

To be like the Holy Family, we must find time to read the Word. We must pray regularly to God. Doing so will make us better families, holy families. Only then can we become light of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to the world!

 

Have a blessed Season!

Omnibus Gratias Agite

During moments of reflection, the question of why certain things happen often comes to mind. When we hear bad things happen to good people, we often wonder, “Why is it like that?” This question comes with the corollary, “Why, is it that bad people seem to be having their way?” People become frustrated when these questions aren’t answered satisfactorily. They become hopeless and resigned to fate. Out of frustration, they sometimes even say the extreme, “That it would be better to be bad rather than to be good”.

 

Joy. Life in the Lord shouldn’t be like that. While some seemingly bad things occur, there are reasons why those events happened. Maybe there are some issues that need to be settled, some lessons that need to be learned. Despite the difficulties, the champion tries to make sense of what’s happening, knowing that the Master Conductor is in control. The music remains a symphony waiting to be heard and appreciated. Will till you hear the finale!

 

In this Sunday’s reading, the Apostle Paul tells us to,

 

Rejoice always, Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5: 16-18).

 

The champ remains joyful, because he believes that life is meant to be a happy experience. Being joyful doesn’t mean the absence of pain. He knows that to stay the course, he chooses to remain faithful. He knows that despite the incompleteness, “life blooms over and over again”.

 

Prayer. One of the most important lessons that my beloved Mommy Charing has given us is the importance of prayer. She has always stressed the importance of attending Mass, especially on Sundays and other Holy Days. She and my late Dad made it a point to hear daily Masses, even travelling to other places to attend special feast days of the Church. We were strictly not allowed to be absent from family Sunday Mass, since the time we started going to Church with them. It was a rule which we cannot change, and which we also try to bring into our respective families. Our home visits-cum-vacation would always end the day with the recitation of the Holy Rosary and these always conjures memories of constant communication with our God. Prayer ensures that our connectedness to God is maintained and nurtured, despite the threats of the enemy’s efforts to cut off this vital source of power.

 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” (Is. 61: 1-2).

 

Gaudete Sunday is a counterpart to the Laetare Sunday (during Lent) and provides a similar break about midway through a season which is otherwise of a penitential character, and signifies the nearness of the Lord’s coming.

 

The spirit of the Liturgy all throughout Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the feast of Christmas as well as for the second coming of Christ, and the penitential exercises suitable to that spirit are thus suspended, as were, for a while in order to symbolize that joy and gladness in the promised Redemption. Symbolically, rose-colored vestments may be worn instead of violet, which is otherwise prescribed for every day in the season of Advent. Despite the otherwise somber readings of the season of Advent, which has as a secondary theme theneed for penitence, the readings on the third Sunday emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

 

Gratitude. In this eager anticipation we have talked in the previous reflections, we are again reminded to be always grateful. To be thankful in all circumstances, even in sorrow and even in pain. The champion knows that this is part of creative development, of eternal preparation. He expects no less than cleansing and forming, trusting the Lord knows best for him.

 

As I write these thoughts, the Church prepares for the first of the nine-day Novena Masses heralding the final preparation of the Christ Child’s coming. It always sends shivers up the spine as it also floods childhood memories of Christmas carols and loved ones, of home-made lanterns and the baby crib, of gifts and cool mornings, of chocolate and suman excellently prepared by my beloved Lola Andang. Yes, we continue to make memories and in so doing, we ensure we bring in the right messages to the young and the learning, that in all things be thankful to the Lord.

 

Gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord always!

Waiting in Eager Anticipation

While “waiting” for super typhoon Ruby, some of our kababayans said over social networks that they feel a sort of “eerie silence”, “something weird”. Indeed I can imagine that. Living in a country in which storms and natural disasters are frequent occurrences, the anxieties associated with these types of uncertainties are bound to be limitless, if not, sometimes bounding on insanity. When the waiting is for something awfully bad, the waiting is not one of eager anticipation, but one of anxiety and worry.

Waiting for the Lord’s coming is something different though. This weekend we’re on the Second Sunday of Advent, when the second candle — called the candle of Bethlehem — is lit. The theme is one of hope, preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus while commemorating His forthcoming birth. Hope, according to the Holy Book, has two meanings: the first, “tiqvah”, is eager anticipation or waiting; the second, “elpis”, is confident expectation based on certainty. Biblical hope is anchored on God’s faithfulness to His promises. God is never short on His promises, in fact He always overdelivers.

During this season, Holy Mother Church exhorts us to prepare ourselves worthily for the Coming of Jesus. We have to cleanse ourselves spiritually, in order to make our hearts fit and ready to receive our Savior. We can achieve this by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, receiving Our Lord through Holy Communion, being in a state of grace, and doing charitable acts to the least of our brothers and sisters. This is providential, as by this time, the effects of the typhoon will have been felt already. Yahweh God speaks timely through the Prophet Isaiah “Comfort, give comfort to my people!” (Is. 40: 1). The order is being given for us to give and share what we have to the poor and the needy.

For us, Advent is a reminder of the real reason for Christ’s coming: Emmanuel, God is with us! Meaning He came to be with us, to hear our sorrows, to console, to guide and strengthen us in our trials and challenges. Jesus said in the Gospel, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give” (Mt. 10: 8). Thus, as Christ’s disciples, we are tasked to share, give and offer what we can to others. Aside from sharing, St. John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This event was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah,

A voice cries out: in the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Is. 40: 3).

Advent calls us to reflect on the Lord’s birth. Let us consider the gift of God’s love more priceless than products: giving of one’s self, the practice of being present to our God, to our families and to whom the Lord will allow us to meet. God loves us like there’s no one else left in this world to love. Such great love! Surely the best way to prepare for Jesus birth is to share ourselves with others, that we may be able to reflect Jesus love for them through us! As authentic and true Christians, let us then not take Christ out of Christmas!

Each of us is a part of a human community empowered to take care for and heal the earth. That is not a career job that you choose; it is a fact. Period. (Fr. A)

Engaging and Watching with Intensity

My siblings and I studied away from our hometown and so every time Christmas comes, my Dad and Mom would always tell us then that they’re already preparing our home and our rooms for our coming. They’d ensure that every nook and corner of the house is cleaned, the grass in the lawn is trimmed, and all sorts of food prepared. It’s always exciting to come home during the holidays, and being with our own families now, homecoming is still always being looked forward to.

 

Waiting could be a mix of emotions; it can be interesting but it could be also be a restless experience watching,

 

  • for the coming of the newborn baby
  • for the arrival of family members coming to visit us
  • for the release of examination results
  • for the departure and arrival of the plane
  • for the recovery of sickness
  • for the coming home of a lover

 

Henry van Dyke captured it saying, “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”

 

Like our families who wait when we go home, thus we should be in constant state of preparation for the coming of the Lord. This wait should be characterized by an intense desire for the coming of the Savior, even though we’re aware of our brokenness. It shouldn’t be a lazy wait, or something that makes us decay and eventually die. This waiting should be active and creative, even transformative. Being active means continuing engagement with the Spirit, for us to be continuously discerning His will. We should be involved in our Church activities, because as Champions, we should be waiting with an expectant faith. A faith that translates our love and obedience to the Father by sharing our time, talent and treasure. Something that transforms us into radiating His soon-to-be-revealed Glory. One SMS I received today aptly captured this thought,

 

“…when God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living. Raise your standard of giving.

 

Reminding us of the coming of Jesus, this Sunday the Church celebrated the First Sunday of Advent. While we await His coming, our Lord has advised us:

 

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise” (Lk. 21:34).

 

Within these, God has given us this wonderful world that feeds us throughout the year, the Bible to instruct us, the Sacraments to nourish and heal us, the Holy Spirit to guide us, Mama Mary to love and pray for us, and a constant river of Grace to refresh us (Rv. 22: 1-2). Yes, the Lord equips us to fight the enemy. In His generosity and compassion for the sinner, the Lord has given the community enough resources, both material and psychological, that it may fulfill its destiny, which resources we put at the disposal of the leader. (The Code of Champions)

 

May we always respond with love and gratitude in all our ways as we wait for Christ our King to return and take us to our Heavenly Home to live with Him, the angels and the saints, forever and until eternity.

Champions commit to do their best. There is no other way.