Do Not be Afraid!

Life in this world is troubling, challenging and at times frustrating. We are constantly beset by broken promises, betrayals, and unfortunate turn of events. A business deal turned sour, a dream job not forthcoming, or someone betraying you. Due to our weaknesses and frailties as part of our nature arising from original sin, we commit errors and wrongdoing and fail in our promises to the Faith. As a result, you can be anxious and afraid of what might be. It’s a cycle that repeats day in and day out.

This is why we need the Lord more and more in our beings.

Throughout my life I have the privilege of guiding friends and people I met. They’ve shared with me their hardships, insecurities and fears. One of the things that come out is the fact that there are many young people today who are restless and insecure. For most of them, the Lord is someone that seems distant and remote. There is a difficulty in getting intimate with Him. This is also true even with most parents and adults. This loneliness is compounded by the stresses of life e.g. coping with the demands of family, peers and work. It has become a depressing battle for most of them.

However, there is hope! There is a brighter future ahead if you choose Jesus over the rest of the world.

In today’s Gospel (Jn. 14: 23-29), the Lord addresses us through the continuation of the farewell discourse. He assures the disciples while He is still physically with them that He will send the Holy Spirit,

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

What the Lord promises is that the Christian life is not shaped by Christ’s absence but by God’s abiding presence, He is Emmanuel, God with us! This pledge should bring about a change of attitude: His continuing presence overcomes the fears and the anxieties about the absence of Jesus when He finally leaves them physically. He is forever alive. He is everywhere. That is why we are encouraged to visit Him in the Tabernacle, veiled as He eagerly waits for our visits. Our present and future should be shaped by this assurance and confidence that through His love we are guided, and there should not be a trace of fear in our hearts,

Peace be with you! My peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not be troubled! Do not be afraid!”

Let us pray then that by the grace of God we’ll be given the strength, fortitude and wisdom to overcome difficulties and challenges. That by Jesus’ assurance we may become more confident and hopeful viewing these trials as necessary to fortify and deepen our faith in the Risen Lord.

O God, let all the nations praise you!” (Ps. 67: 4)

Joy in Suffering

We have been taught about Eternal Life since our Cathecism prior to First Communion. Not only that, we have been reminded in an application in corporate trainings to “Begin with the End in Mind”. In this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn. 13: 31-33a, 34-35) St. John brought us back to that point during the Last Supper where Judas just left them. The Lord was giving like a farewell address, preaching to them the coming time when He will leave them. The Lord is painting a beautiful picture of what He will be after His Passion and Suffering,

Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.
If God is glorified in Him,
God will also glorify Him in Himself,
and God will glorify Him at once.

Jesus reminded them of their identity as Christ’s followers,

My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.

Just a few days ago, my favorite team achieved a milestone in the history of the Philippine Basketball Association, its fifth straight championship in the Philippine Cup. No other team has achieved that in the conference previously called the All-Filipino Conference. It wasn’t easy as the team has to overcome severe trials and obstacles, going as far back to the second year, when they have to face a 0-3 deficit and convert it into a 4-3 series win. What they cited as one of the reasons for getting the trophy is because they “care and support each other” and that they “don’t blame each other for the mistakes that their teammates commit in the course of the game.” This team mentioned that the most recent championship series is by far the hardest among the five finals series they’ve played. When the boat is rocked your capability as a team is tested; teams that fold up are just ordinary ones, while those that survive become great teams. In the course of the game, even if the score you have to overcome is so huge, if you’re a great team, you’ll still find ways to win. You can do that because everyone sticks together as a team, no matter what.

Similarly, as Christians, we are to demonstrate that love, care and support amongst each other. It is to be our identity as followers of Christ. Take a look at what happened before these verses: “…Judas had left them.” He wasn’t simply leaving; he was going to fulfill his plan to betray his Master. For Jesus, it must have been so devastating and unfortunate that one of your followers gave you up for thirty pieces of silver. But Jesus responded differently, because He knew the result of that betrayal. Because of that treachery, Jesus will suffer, die on the cross, but will rise triumphantly. He didn’t just look at the pain that He will be going through, but looked up to Heaven and all that could be achieved through His saving passion and death. Jesus knew the end of the story!

For us then, it is a good reminder that if done with prayerful intention, there is joy in suffering. It is a means to purify and to prepare us for the rewards waiting in Heaven when we meet the Savior someday.

In the First Reading (Acts 14: 21-27), Paul and Barnabas strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

As we go on our loving and caring pilgrimage, there will be so many hardships and obstacles that it’ll be easier to give up rather than move onwards. But for as long as we see “the end of our story” we will endure to make that story happen. It’ll be worth going and continuing on. Loving one another will make life better; when we have the love of God in our hearts certainly suffering would make life a more joyful experience. For St. John has assured Christ’s followers,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Second Reading Rev. 21: 1-5a)

Let us pray then for humility to see through the difficulties we encounter as an opportunity to experience God’s love and mercy.

I give you a new commandment, says the Lord: love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13: 34)

Jesus is the Good Shepherd: We Are the Sheep of His Flock

This Sunday as we pay tribute to the loving, the caring, the enduring mothers that God has gifted us with, we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Easter which is also called the Good Shepherd Sunday. In the three lectionary cycles, the Gospel is always taken from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. If we recall, this chapter follows Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the Jewish leaders questioning the authority of Jesus to heal. So Jesus responds to this challenge to His authority by calling Himself the Good Shepherd:

Jesus said:

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Jn. 10: 27-30)

The imagery of a shepherd is a clear representation of Jesus’ desire to impress on us how He takes care of His flock. The sheep is one of the most fragile of animals and needs gentle caring. While at it, the shepherd looks at the safety and welfare of the flock. He will check on the grassland to ensure there are no poisonous plants and allow the sheep to graze while also on the lookout for other animals that may threaten the flock. Thus, Jesus emphasizes that the Good Shepherd’s intent is driven by love, care and authenticity. There’s no selfish motive, no hidden agenda, just the pure desire to ensure that the sheep is safe and secure. This is the same love that a mother, sibling, or friend offers us. This love is deep and when we have this support in our lives, we are really assured and comforted.     

In times of difficulties and struggle, let us remember Jesus commitment as the Good Shepherd. He will

“…shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7: 9, 14b-17)

What comforting words indeed!

Similarly, it is also our commitment to inspire people entrusted to us by God. As leaders in our families, communities and organizations, we have that duty to reflect the love of the Good Shepherd to others in our care.

He also tells us that He and the Father are one, thus, to know Jesus is to know the Father. By this, what He meant is that when we are intimate with Jesus, we are actually directly in contact with the Father.  

Let us pray then that we remain faithful shepherds just like Jesus, our model, our Good Shepherd. May we realize how beautiful it is to share intimacy with God. May we remain faithful to Jesus all the days of our lives, just as He is faithful to the Father.

I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” (Jn. 10: 14)

Looking After the Sheep

After all the happenings and events in Jerusalem, I can imagine the Lord’s followers going back to their former lives. The Lord is risen, but is gone again and so, what else are they going to do except to go back to where they came from. Seven of them, including Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two other disciples went to accompany Peter fishing (Gospel, Jn.21: 1-19). They must have tried and tried but caught nothing that night. Were they rusty having been away from this work? Or were there just no fish there in the Sea of Tiberias?

It was a long, tiring night and by dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore but they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus asked them if they have caught anything and they answered “No.” So Jesus said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and true enough, there was quite a number of fish. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved was the first who recognized that “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he jumped into the sea. All the other disciples climbed out of the boat on shore, and they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.

All of you are tired and then surprise, the Lord came by the beach who you don’t recognize at first. He pointed where to dip the net and harvest, grilled fish over charcoal and prepared bread too. Must be a quite a whiff of fresh air for the exhausted and weary disciples seeing the Lord with a bountiful meal at the seashore. It is in awesome moments like this that you feel like there’s a superhero coming to save your sagging fortunes and turn the tide over. Yes, aside from restoring their confidence and faith in the Lord through the several appearances before and then this moment, they now realize that the Lord is slowly but surely getting them back to their missions.

After breakfast, the Lord said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Then Jesus asked the same question again and again, and Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Three times the Lord asked Simon Peter, and Simon Peter answered Jesus three times, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” The slate is clean. After denying Jesus three times, Simon Peter was able to tell the Lord of his love three times. These commands indicate that Peter is to be the leader just doing the things that Jesus did, even to the extent of sacrificing for the flock. In the same manner as Jesus has fed Peter and the disciples in this breakfast meal and as Jesus feeds us in the Holy Eucharist, so He also asks us to respond to His calling so that He can send us to the world, that in our own way we offer our lives in service and sacrifice for His mission.

It’ll be challenging and at times will entail sacrifice and suffering, but like the disciples brought to the Sanhedrin (First Reading Acts 5: 27-32, 40b-41), may we rejoice to find ourselves worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus. May we be inspired by the Easter experience of the disciples, that their experience may also be ours. May we be confident of Jesus’ living presence in our ministries, for what we are doing is His, not ours. May we truly be living witnesses of Christ as we follow His calling to “tend” and “feed His sheep.”

I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.!” (Ps. 30: 2a)