Be On Guard

Enzo (not his real name) is a friend I met way back in the Church community. He has a beautiful family, a stable job, and was active in the ministry for so many years. Some years back, I started missing him in the Friday worship and meetings. It was a few years after that I heard there was a falling out with his spouse and they had chosen to live apart. It was sad because it was like a family made perfectly.

The journey to Heaven isn’t easy to complete especially in a world made materialistic, mad and passive. It takes a lot of focus, hard work and prayers (tons of them) to survive this spiritual battle as there’s a lot of distractions, challenges, and temptations. Our human weakness coupled with loss of commitment to fight the good fight of faith bring in the danger of falling out of the road. It is a threat so real that when you aren’t prepared and ready to do battle against complacency and earthly ambitions, you will surely fall on the wayside.

In the First Reading (Am. 6:1a, 4-7), the Lord warned the complacent in Zion, how they lie upon “beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!” The Lord declared that “they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”

The Gospel (Lk. 16: 19-31) tells about the rich man and Lazarus, who lived contrasting lifestyles while living on earth. The rich man was “dressed in purple garments and fine linen,
dined sumptuously each day
”. On the other hand, Lazarus was a poor man, “covered with sores, and who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” To most of us, we already know the rest of the parable, ending with the rich man begging Abraham, “to send him (Lazarus) to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” But Abraham replied, that they have Moses and the prophets, and for the five brothers to listen to them. The rich man insisted but Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

The rich man’s reaction is common for most of us. We want hard evidence to believe in Eternal Life even though we’ve been taught about it in school, in Church and in the family as well. While you may start well in your community, you may find yourself midway in your life journey and then the doubts start to creep in. You start to compare yourself with others and ask questions about why you aren’t this and why you aren’t that. The devil sees the opportunity and so you find yourself getting comfortable with your “new” lifestyle away from Church and then from the Lord. You forgot what you’ve learned in your life journey that like any competition, it is not how you start but it is how you finish.

Let us pray to listen and accept the challenge of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading (1 Tm. 6: 11-16),

But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 
Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ

May we be always faithful to Him, to be on guard, and to persevere.

Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8: 9)

Hope for Honesty

In today’s world, many people commit dishonesty in order to advance themselves in their careers, jobs and businesses. They live as if the world is the end of it all, maybe they’re not sure whether this one is a temporary journey, but maybe also blinded by the present’s BDOs (“bright, dazzling objects”). They’re supported by the prevailing culture of greed, covetousness and avarice. We praise the rich and stay away from the poor. We notice wealth but disregard simplicity. We applaud the loud and ignore the meek and the silent. In all, we encourage the display of wealth as the be-all and end-all in this world.

In this Sunday’s Gospel proclamation (Lk. 16: 1-13), Jesus tells about a rich man’s steward, who was squandering his property. The rich man summoned the hand to prepare a full account of his stewardship. The steward thought of doing something so that when he is removed from the stewardship, “they may welcome me into their homes”. He called in his master’s debtors one by one and lessened what the debtors owe to the master; for example, from one hundred measures of olive oil to fifty, from one hundred kors (an ancient Hebrew and Phoenician measure of capacity) of wheat, to eighty. While the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently, he didn’t approve of his dishonesty.

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. This is one principle that should be taught beginning at home and even before one goes to school. Once this value is taken in by a child, coupled with reminders and discussions by parents, most probably this will be carried on into adulthood. Sadly, this is not one of those consistently practiced, in fact this is one of the reasons for many of the world’s problems today.

Jesus said, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealthIf you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” 

Being a person of integrity requires internal strength and mindfulness. It is one that is fortified by continued practice, self-reminder and thoughtfulness. It involves fear “that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our Heavenly Father”. Committing dishonesty therefore is dreaded, knowing that God knows our every thought and deed, and so we give Him our priority in difficult situations, fearful that doing something else could separate us from God.

In the First Reading (Am. 8: 4-7), the prophet Amos lamented on the sins against the poor including cheating and dishonesty. As it was in those times, it still is in these present times. But there’s hope, if we live and model simplicity, hard work and giving quiet service to God and His people.

Let us pray to the Spirit for guidance, strength and perseverance in our earthly journey. We pray for sobriety, simplicity and serious-mindedness in our faith. We also pray for peace, healing, and protection.

Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8: 9)

Our God: Loving, Merciful and Compassionate

We hear in this Gospel proclamation (Lk. 15: 1-32) that the Pharisees and scribes were complaining when tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus. They said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So the Lord addressed them with three parables, the Parable of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. These stories show how God, represented by the shepherd, the woman, and the father, respectively; looks for the insignificant sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. In earthly language, it may not be worth it but for God, every soul is important. God loves you immensely that He will take great lengths to reach out and to wait for you. He will be patiently waiting despite your constant wavering and fickle-mindedness. This calls to mind Isaiah 49: 15, which says,

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

He just loves you so much, even more than a mother loves her infant.

In the First Reading (Ex. 32: 7-11, 13-14),

After Yahweh said,

I see how stiff-necked this people is, ” continued the LORD to Moses. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.”

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?” 

Moses was able to convince God, who, in His great mercy and compassion for His chosen people, relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on them. Similarly, what is also clear in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is that the son repented and asked for forgiveness,

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

Thus, before God can rescue you from sin and its effects, you have to in all humility ask pardon and forgiveness for your transgressions, so that the well of mercy and compassion will flow into you. When you do that, there is great rejoicing in Heaven! Note that in those times, a typical father wouldn’t do what the father in the parable did, that is, to run to his son, embrace him and kiss him. No, that isn’t how fathers in Jesus’ time behaved. And yet, to symbolize God’s deeply loving nature, Jesus illustrated Him that way in this parable.

This Sunday, let us pray that we’ll have the audacity to acknowledge our faults and failures before the Lord and with humility ask forgiveness from Him, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of Fear of the Lord, that we be filled with a sovereign respect for God, and make us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by sin.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” (Ps. 51: 3)

God Above All

In this chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks in parables, emphasizing the right way to become a follower and enter into the Kingdom of God. There was the question on the curing on the Sabbath, occupying places in the dinner table, which gave lessons on humility; and on answering the invitation to the Great Feast, to liken the invitation to dine in the Kingdom of God.

Following the Lord is a difficult and challenging path to follow such that many reject the invitation.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 14: 25-33), the Lord explains that when you’ve chosen to follow Him, nothing can get in the way. While Jesus mentioned about “hating” one’s loved ones, He actually refers to “loving them more” than God. It shouldn’t be, it is God above everything. One can’t be a disciple if he doesn’t carry his own cross and follow the Lord. When you’re making a decision to follow Him, you have to figure out what does it take to complete the journey. Finally, He says,

In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Making the decision to follow God involves a conscious choice and labor. It can’t be just a whim or a fad or a spur of the moment resolution. It involves a thorough and deliberate planning because it is something that involves a lifelong and conscious effort to overcome the difficulties along the way. It requires one to see beyond the worldly and into the prize at the end of the sorrows and challenges.

I think it is undoable to overcome these obstacles without the strength, fortitude and courage, among others. It is impossible especially without the Gift of Wisdom. According to the Novena to the Holy Spirit,

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is writtenall good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: Take up thy cross and follow me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

It is refreshing to know that it is indeed Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Unless we are prepared to put God above all else, following the Lord is really very difficult, or even impossible to do.

This Sunday, let us pray that we may strive to submit to His will in all we do. May He grant us the discernment to prioritize Him above all else. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to grant us this most perfect of all gifts: The Gift of Wisdom.

In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.” (Ps. 90: 1)

Staying Grounded

In a world where power, fame and wealth are the so-called “fruits of success”, people manipulate others in order to crave for attention and visibility. This becomes the norm in a world bereft of modesty and meekness.

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 14: 1, 7-14), the ever-observant Jesus noticed how those who were invited at a banquet were choosing the places of honor at the table. He advised them,

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say,My friend, move up to a higher position.Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

While Jesus wasn’t telling us to take the parable too literally, he was reminding us of the importance of humility. Among others, the place that a person sits while eating is significant. While the reading says Jesus is telling a parable, it really is a practical advice about how to find your place in the kingdom of God. In the First Reading (Sir.3: 17-18, 20, 28-29), the prophet Sirach said,

My child, conduct your affairs with humilityand you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
 Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

It is about a secret on how to find favor with God and finding your way to Heaven. God does not look at you favorably when you are arrogant and oozing with confidence such that you always blow your horn to announce your presence and capabilities. But this is also not going to the extent of telling your lowliness to others such that you already become clothed with false humility. Remember that the Blessed Mother also said,

Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.”

She was still perfect in humility because she said prior to that, “Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid”. 

Humble persons are meek and reserved but when called to the fore, they will not back down from any challenge thrown their way, for they know their inner power comes from God. In one of the finer examples of humility in action it is said that St. Anthony of Padua after his ordination,

“… sought out the humbler tasks that fell to the lot of the members of his community. He spent his days doing the menial work of washing dishes and helping in the kitchen. Here was the son of a wealthy family doing the labor that is so often despised. When about his work one day, Anthony was called upon to deliver an important sermon. He had been given little time to prepare, and yet, launched into an eloquent and brilliant speech that immediately stamped him as an orator of unusual ability. He had remained hidden, but when ordered to mount the pulpit, his speech was not only a treat to the eyes and ear, it appealed to the heart of the large crowd that listened to him. From that day on, his reputation as a preacher par excellence was established.”    

How about you, do you brag about your wealth, your talents, and your family background? Do you keep watch of your pride and stay grounded? Do you realize that when you brag, you make others feel inferior?

Today, let us pray for the gift of humility, the foundation of all virtues. May we remain grateful to the Lord with the thought that what we have are His and just entrusted to us in order to help others find their way to God.

Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. ”(Mt. 11: 29ab)