The Need to be Watchful

Driving one morning on the way to the office, I saw the aftermath of an accident which happened a few minutes before. I saw the dead body of a tricycle passenger who was seated on the back of the driver. What I saw was graphically terrible, and my knees was shaking the rest of the way. Various thoughts hounded me: “When the person left home that morning, was he able to say goodbye to his family?” Did the loved ones have any inkling that that would be the last time they saw their loved one alive?”

How fleeting life is, that in an instant it can be extinguished just like that! In the Gospel today, Jesus said to his disciples:

“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.” (Mk. 13: 33)

The Lord emphasizes the need for watchfulness. Just last year, a religious sect warned that
America and Europe will be plunged into darkness by a solar eclipse in 2017 – and then the world will end. When the appointed time came, nothing happened. As Jesus has repeatedly said that only the Father knows the exact hour, the Son of Man will come without warning. The disciples must not be caught unprepared when this time comes. So, in this Advent Season, a season of preparation and repentance, we should heed the warning – repeated three times by our Lord in today’s Gospel – to be watchful, for we know not the hour when the Lord of the Universe will come. As Christians, we too must be alert and be ready for the Savior’s return. Our life must be dedicated to preparing and staying alert by living a life of faithfulness and readiness.

A good way to prepare and being ready is to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5: 17). Our first thoughts in the morning should be to pray to give thanks and express our gratitude to the Father. We should pray before leaving home and then pray before work. There are many moments during the day that we can give time for prayer: before making a decision, during moments of stress, temptation, in times of problems with health, and even when we realize that we’ve done something wrong. If it is serious, we have to seek forgiveness from God and the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As we begin the Liturgical Year, it is a time of waiting, a time of the expectant coming of the Lord. During this season, let our waiting times be spent in prayer. While waiting to drive or ride public transport, while waiting to attend a meeting, or while waiting for somebody, take the time to pray. Wait for the Lord, pray always. Only then can we say we are watchful and being faithful to the real meaning of Advent.

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (Ps. 80: 4)

Sheep on the Right

With the Gospel readings the past weeks talking about the end of days, we’ve reached the culmination of the Liturgical Year, and what a fitting way to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King! The Gospel readings today provide insights into what’s important for the Lord Jesus and on how we live our lives. The judgments made by the Son of Man will be based on the acts of mercy and compassion that we’ve shown to the least ones — the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned. Indeed, Jesus, who suffered on the Cross, identifies Himself with the least, the lost and the last.

In the previous week’s the Parable of the Talents, the Gospel taught us that the gifts and abilities that God has bestowed on us have been given with the intention to be used for the service of others, especially the least in society. Jesus is telling us that whenever we have served these least ones, we have served Christ himself.

In my own experience, God is real and has always exceeded my own generosity; He gives cheerfully, abundantly and lovingly. This is all because He loves us unconditionally and never abandons us. He is our constant companion, always ready to assist us whenever we are in trouble. Likewise, this necessitates for us to be mindful and sensitive to the leadings of the Lord in our lives. We have to be sensitive to the Spirit to allow Him to move us, so that we can be His hands in helping others. Have you noticed it that when you pray for help and guidance, the Lord sends Angels to our aid? In a way, when we allow the Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment we can share ourselves with others because we are fully in tune with what the Lord wants us to do in particular moments. Besides unless we share ourselves with others, we can never be fully happier, right?

There’s a lot to be grateful for especially the richness of our family life, the blessings He has given us, and the peace of mind that we have, regardless of the challenges and problems that come our way. God’s abundance in giving and blessing us only shows how He loves us and that He wants us to be happy. This happiness will be complete whenever we reflect His generosity, cheerfulness, and love towards others — especially strangers. We have to demonstrate that what we have are meant to be shared whenever necessary. We have to realize that when we have that attitude of giving, we allow the Lord to use us to be His hands.

Giving generously. When we give, the Lord wants us to include those people outside our family and friends; He wants us to be generous as well to those who are most in need of help as these verses clarify,

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt. 25: 40)

Being generous doesn’t exactly mean just simply giving, it means, in a way that shows a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is necessary or expected. When situations arise such that our generosity is required, as followers of Jesus it is our turn to demonstrate that kind of generosity to the least, the last and the lost.

Giving cheerfully. The King will reward us when we give cheerfully and without reservation. Way back in college I knew of this classmate who was so generous with others, and he was always looking for ways to help and to give. He wasn’t selfish, he was such a caring person. His attitude simply inspires! And what a way God returns the blessings to him: while spending more time to God’s work, his business has grown more than expectations!

Giving lovingly. We can’t give generously unless our intention is governed by love. When our motivation is Jesus, when we see Him in the face of the poor, there can be abundant love to share with others,

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.” (Mt. 25: 35-36)

Life is complete when we are selfless and loving with others. Doing this will make others happy and the fulfillment in doing comes back to us in the form of more happiness. Thus, when we want to be happy, we only have to give more of ourselves to others. It is then when we realize that acquiring more possessions and wealth don’t bring happiness; it is when we become mindful of the needs of others and share what we have in the name of Jesus that bring us deeper joy and fulfillment. Isn’t a giving, caring and loving life more wonderful?

As we close the year, let us reflect on how we’ve lived our lives:
Are we worthy to be in the company of the “sheep on the right”?
Are we ready to meet Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King?

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps. 23: 1)

Using Our Talents for God’s Purpose

I have a classmate from way back who never shared his talents, probably because of his very competitive nature. He was always aiming to get higher scores in examinations than the rest of us, but never cared about teaching or helping especially those who had difficulties catching on. Today, he’s just in a level above entry — when he could have been easily somewhere higher in his organization, if only he is more sensitive to others or have the inclination to teach and share.

Why is it that people keep their talents to themselves?

As we’re in the last week of the Liturgical Year, our Holy Mother Church again reminds us of sharing and not keeping to ourselves what God has given abundantly. The Parable of the Talents is one of the Gospel readings that is most often told especially about the day when we have to give an accounting of how we live our lives.

The third servant in question didn’t try to make more money on the amount he was given, he simply buried it in the ground until his master returned. When it was his turn to tell his master, he said,

‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ (Mt. 25: 24-25)

Obviously, he did not like his master. Or he could be envious and resentful. Remember he was only given one talent while the others were given more; five and two, respectively. Did he felt slighted that the others got more? Maybe he was even thinking that he is smarter, brighter, so why was he only given one talent? Of course, we read that they were given “each according to his ability.”

In our case how many times did we not do something or not use our talents, the gifts that God has blessed us with because of the anger, resentment, or jealousy that are within us? How many times did we not help our workmates just because he got a promotion that we thought we deserve more?

Or because we don’t like this person or government, rather than cooperate we simply are going to rant and attack the very situation we hate with more negativity!

How often do we do this? How many times did we say to God, “you’re being unfair and why others are getting more than us?”

These are issues that we have to search deep inside us and look at why, and ask the Lord to transform us and clear the anger, envy and resentment inside us if ever we want to make a difference in the lives of others.

What the Gospel is telling us is to make the best with what we’ve got, regardless of what we have. Whoever is in authority, we’ve got to set aside our feelings and selfishness and do the right thing even when no one is looking. The Champion in us has integrity, because we believe that God always has something good that’ll come out of any situation. Our talents and capacity for goodness can increase by twice, five or tenfold without our even realizing it. Then of course, the greater gift that is forever: the gift of Heaven.

As we prepare for the end times, may we remain steadfast and faithful to our true calling and the very purpose that we’re here for.

“Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” (Jn. 15: 4a, 5b)

Stay Awake and Be Ready!

Early on I always thought that there are people who are just so talented in what they do, that I thought they must be aliens from outer space. They just do their crafts so well that for me, they’re just so amazingly blessed and so damn lucky. The world is full of examples be it in sports (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, among others), business (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates), music (The Beatles) and in many other fields. Not until author Malcolm Gladwell came claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is to a large extent, a matter of practicing hard, so many times, in the correct and proper way. Yes, it’s about putting in effort, hard work and perseverance, that one achieves world-class excellence.

Similarly, going to Heaven also needs effort on our part. We can choose to be wise, like five of the ten virgins in the Gospel (Mt. 25: 1 – 13), or be foolish like the rest. The five foolish ones, when taking their lamps, “brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.” Since the bridegroom was delayed for a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight when the bridegroom came, it was time for them to come out to meet him. So all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps, however; the foolish ones were running out of oil and said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ There wasn’t enough oil for them so the wise replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ So they went off to buy it, but the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him and then the door was locked and they weren’t allowed to enter.

In this narrative, we are being exhorted to be always ready, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (v. 13) We cannot be unprepared as we always have to be on the lookout for the coming of the Lord, which can be anytime, worst; it can happen possibly on the day we are least prepared. Our lamps have to be continuously refilled with oil so that we’ll be able to spread light in time for the coming of the Savior. The lamp symbolizes our Baptism while the oil symbolizes the Sacraments and the blessings that nurture our faith. Thus, whenever we go astray, we are said to be running out of oil, so we must go back to the right path to correct whatever sin or wrongdoing is done. The Lord is telling us that while we are blessed with grace by His redeeming Passion and Death, we can only rise with Him with our lamps lighted, as St. Paul said in the Second Reading,

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thes. 4: 14)

While we cannot be perfect as only God is perfect, our obedience and submission to Him in deep humility and faith will enable His Holy Blood to cover our sins. In all our life’s struggles and challenges, we need wisdom and strength to discern what is good and what is bad for us. Not all bad is seen as it is for the enemy is deceiving and make us fall if we aren’t prayerful and careful enough. God assures us in the First Reading that,

“Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” (Wis. 6: 12)

Let us pray for wisdom, humility and grace so that we will be ready when the Lord comes in His Glory.

“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” (Ps. 63: 2b)

Christ, Our True Master

Whenever you feel down and disappointed especially when your elders failed you, how do you respond to it? When your faith is tested, do you remain steadfast in your service?

Last week, a close friend told me that he felt so bad after being humiliated by an elder in the community. I told him not to be affected much, but instead pray for strength and humility. I reassured him that God knows everything, and that God’s blessing is what matters most in these moments of disappointment.

The Gospel’s main theme this Sunday is about consistency and pride. The Pharisees perform their works in order to be seen. Thus, Jesus told His disciples and the crowd, to do and observe all things that they (Pharisees) tell them to do, but not to follow their example.

“For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’” (Mt. 23: 3-7)

Things aren’t different today either. There are people who talk and look good, project holiness in public, and yet their hearts are full of envy and hatred. Their actions speak of hypocrisy and inconsistency. How about us? Do we say this thing and then act differently? Do you realize that what you do is actually more revealing than what you say? It is said that who we are and what we are tell more about us than what we tell others about us. How we treat the restaurant waiter, the boy at the parking lot, the security guards manning our offices, and our helps at home tell more about who we are, than the façade we show to the world. Our actions are being observed by others without us knowing and realizing it.

When things get rough we are sometimes tempted to get back to those who have offended us. Yet, let us remember that living our faith requires us to understand that what is more important is how the Lord Jesus would want us to do, and that is live by His example of humility and meekness. We have to be patient with one another, with our neighbor so to speak.

In the world today, it’s a tough challenge to do this. But we have to stay the course. We have to let God come into our hearts and to view things from a different viewpoint — the Master’s point of view. The Spirit will tell us that the Lord is there, patiently forming us to become better versions of ourselves.

“You have but one Father in heaven and one master, the Christ.” (Mt. 23: 9B, 10B)

Loving God

During the time of Jesus, with so many laws being imposed by the religious leaders on the people, the question as to which commandment is the greatest was a very tricky question. Even the Pharisees and the Sadducees can’t agree on the answer, such that in order to trap him, a scholar of the law, a Pharisee; took it as an opportunity to ask Jesus the question:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22: 34-40)

If the Lord had answered differently, He would have taken sides for one group against the other. Jesus’ answer however, goes beyond this argument into a real life spent loving God and neighbor (in the same manner as loving one’s self). Also, He emphasizes that knowing the answer without living it is not enough and is not the way to holiness and obedience to God.

But can we love God without loving our neighbor?

In the Old Testament it was revealed that Israel knew that one cannot love God without loving other people, as they are created in His image and likeness. The love of God is to be manifested in love of neighbor. The neighbor in this context is a fellow Jew (Lv 19: 17-18), which Jesus abolished, in effect breaking down the shortsightedness and many other misunderstandings at that time. He defined neighbor as those who are in need (Lk. 10: 29-35). He emphasizes that love of God is foremost, but loving one’s neighbor has to be done as well for it to be real. One cannot be separated from the other. You cannot just say long prayers, hear Masses, and recite novenas without doing something for the poor and the needy in the community. Many of us feel comfortable with prayers only, while doing nothing for the last, the least and the lost.

Loving God therefore starts with letting Him fill our hearts and letting Him love us. Building a relationship with Him to allow Him to fill our thoughts, our hearts and our soul. In so doing, we will get out of our comfort zones, do the things we don’t even feel comfortable doing, but because of our love for Him, we will eagerly do.

Let us pray for the grace of knowing and thinking like Christ, and that we may be able to see God in others and acknowledge that we can’t love God genuinely without obeying the second commandment.

“I love you, Lord, my strength.” (Ps. 18: 2)

God Above All!

Being a big basketball fan make me watch games of my favorite teams (and their competition as well). When I was younger this was an issue, especially when I was still attending my first Christian Life Program. In fact, one of the reasons that made me miss sessions was when my favorite team was playing important games. These brought me guilt, such that it came to a point that I made that conscious decision to give priority to matters of the Spirit over that of this world.

The Gospel today reminds us to accept and acknowledge the dominion of God in our lives. While we are exhorted to recognize the authority of duly-constituted authorities, Jesus reminds us God comes first. Our Lord seemingly assures us that God has put everything in place, and to a certain extent where we have to obey those responsible for us whether government, workplace, community, or any other institution we become part of, that is because it’s just how things work. We all have a role to play and we just have to deal with it rightly.

In all these, we have to remember: Who is more important?

We must acknowledge therefore that everything we do is our service to God and that we live for a power that is far above and greater than anything in this universe. We’ve got to have humility that whatever we believe in our daily lives, the rewards we aspire for, the decisions we make, and the goodness we do — is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam — for God’s greater glory. In reality it’ll not be as simple as that though. There will come a time or in many instances in life where we have to take a stand. In these moments, we only have to remember that God is our only God, there is no other. (Is. 45: 5)

May all people know and remember that there is none besides God, He is the LORD, there is no other!

“Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” (cf Phil. 2: 15b-16a)

Enjoy Life’s Moments

When my daughter Alexa was invited by her school, the Ateneo, for a testimonial dinner to celebrate her passing the Ateneo College Entrance Test with flying colors, everyone in the family felt so excited. A special invitation card came together with the details of an afternoon program highlighting the different colleges of the University for her possible interest, since by virtue of her being one of those who topped the examinations she was also allowed to choose courses other than her original Health Sciences option. This culminated with the testimonial dinner, entertained by no less than one of their famous musical groups performing live.

When someone invites us for a meal it means we must be special to them. In ancient times, agreements were sealed over meals. Usually the norm is, you invite people whom you have established some friendly relationships already or when you wish to establish friendly relationships.

The readings today show how our Creator loves His children as only a Father can. We are a people who have real human needs for friendship, joy, and companionship. People who have no one loving, them feel deep sadness which could lead to loneliness and depression. We all need to be accepted, included and loved. These needs are what the Lord wants for us as well.

As we grew up, our lives became more complicated and after getting the businesses and the jobs we desired, we started to accumulate material possessions in the hope of being able to provide a sense of security for ourselves and our families. Why is it then that despite these, many of us still feel stressed, anxious, afraid, or depressed? What is it that is literally making us sad? Do you remember when you were still younger, you were happier even if you had lesser possessions? If you notice, later in life when you started your career, you worked, worked, and worked to be “successful” and accumulate gadgets, clothing, and other material possessions. Eventually, the new becomes old, the enthusiasm is sapped of its energy — and so you still end up sad and miserable. New set of anxieties creep in as your family grow, and so you continue to pursue earning more, acquiring more, and eventually before you know it, your lifestyle becomes more expensive. This can raise up the level of stress, depression, and unhappiness if you aren’t aware of it. When this happens, your sadness can become frequent and normal. You become unhappy.

In the Gospel, the king invited many guests to the wedding feast but they refused to come, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest even laid hold of his servants, mistreated and killed them. They failed in identifying what was important at that time. Similarly, this is how we miss on our life. We feel we need to work harder to provide for our families and so we just forget the more important matters in life. We miss living it, actually!

Our lifestyles require us to follow a strict schedule, so much so we hop from one activity to another without enjoying the moments of the more important matters. Among others, we fail to attend the graduation of our daughter, the championship game of our son, or even our spouse’s birthday.

Like the man in today’s Gospel who was not dressed in a wedding garment, without our realizing it, we come unprepared for the wedding feast; the important celebrations in our lives. It shows our lack of respect for God and other people, as we place them behind the “other” matters. What a miserable failure! What is sad is that once time is gone, it’s gone forever. You can’t get it back. How many of my friends just woke up one day and realized that all their children were already grown up and gone to their own families? As time is fleeting and indeed passes by quickly, so we have to enjoy the precious moments with family and friends.

The same thing can happen to our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We are thus, being reminded to not lose sight of the things that matter the most.

Take it from St. Paul who said,

“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4: 12-13)

“I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (cf Ps. 23: 6)

Handling the Pain of Rejection

The Gospel today tells us rejection is a part of life. Jesus knows from His experience with the religious leaders of Israel being hostile, to the point of plotting to kill Him. The Lord said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (Mt. 21: 42-43)

Being entrusted with something also brings in corresponding responsibility. It isn’t by coincidence that one is endowed with talent, wealth, or even an abundance of earthly looks; there are reasons why God has created you to be such. You are created for a purpose and thus, thoughtful conscience requires that you also pay back to God through others this goodness. You mustn’t lay all these to waste by neglecting to serve and help those in need. Have you noticed that you become more joyful when you share your happiness with others? Take note, when you share the joy, when you make others happy like you, you’ve started to become an inspiring person. And it brings more fulfillment in the end!

Otherwise when you don’t share, you’re actually rejecting God’s graciousness. You’re choosing to be selfish in sharing what gifts you have to others who are in need. You may even cause pain and suffering when you are proud and overprotective of yourself by denying others the graces of God. Especially when the ones we ignore are family and or our friends, rejection becomes more painful and will affect them more than we can imagine.

According to fMRI studies, the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking). According to Psychologist Guy Winch, in our ancestral history as a hunter/gatherer, “being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence, as we were unlikely to survive for long alone.” Evolutionary psychologists think that the brain must have developed an early warning system to alert us when we sense a risk for ostracism. Since people generally craved for attention, those who experienced rejection as more painful gained an evolutionary advantage, as they were more likely to learn and correct their behavior, and more likely to remain in the community.

As human beings, we all have a fundamental need to belong, thus; Jesus must have been hurt so much after feeling the pain of rejection. In this stage of His ministry, the Lord was telling the religious leaders at that time to change their attitude towards Him. He even portrayed correctly the extent of rejection — after killing the servants, even the heir being killed in the end. It must have felt dreadful and terrifying, considering that it’s His own death that is being planned by the Scribes and the Pharisees. Yet, He is so focused and faithful to the mission entrusted to Him by God the Father. He had to endure the disconnection and found solace in prayer to soothe the emotional pain. Imagine: How much pain and sadness Jesus endured (and is constantly enduring) for us in the Cross?

We’ll all have tears, pains and sorrows. When you’re happy now because everything is alright, be conscious that things will not always be like that. There will be painful experiences that life will still bring us. There will be anxieties and uncertainties. Yet, through it all, we can choose to be happy and positive. We can be certain that our Lord — who is gracious, all-good, and comforting — will be there for us in His splendor and majesty. He’ll be there cheering and comforting us in our moments of difficulties. He’s in with the people we encounter: our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues at work, and even more in the ordinary people we meet, every single day. Did He not tell us 386 times that we shouldn’t be afraid? Our God is here with us today, as He was yesterday, tomorrow, and forever will be.

Whenever we encounter a mournful experience, it’s our turn to prove we are faithful and won’t reject Him even in the most difficult moments of our lives. Let’s pray and reach out to Christ even more.

As St. Paul assures us,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4: 6-7)

“I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (cf Jn. 15:16)

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