Understanding What Is Happening

There are lots of possible reasons that will prevent us from recognizing the Lord in our midst: lack of faith, indifference, pride and arrogance, conceit, etc. We can be in the middle of the Holy Mass, a prayer worship, a sacred activity and yet our minds aren’t tuned to God’s presence. Even when He’s near, we can lose the opportunity to feel Jesus’ presence with our lack of understanding and trust.

In the Gospel (Lk. 24: 13-35), two of Jesus’ disciples failed to recognize him, even as they were walking with him on the road to Emmaus. Their eyes “were prevented from recognizing Him.”They were in a way dazed, confused and couldn’t understand why the latest events in Jerusalem have come to pass. They couldn’t see the beauty of what’s happening and haven’t really moved on from the experience. Then Jesus tries to explain what happened, 

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”

At the end of their journey and after the blessing and breaking of bread, the two disciples out of their openness to Christ’s action in their lives, were given the unique gift of Understanding. They suddenly gained insight and realization of the Scriptures and the Kingdom of Heaven,

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

It’s really difficult to make sense of what’s happening without the Gift of Understanding, as we are left on our own to figure it out.  This is especially true when we are faced with suffering and intense challenges, just like what’s happening now in this pandemic.  We can be like the others who ask, “Why is it that an all-powerful and all-loving God can allow those who are good, the poor, and the suffering undergo this kind of sufferingWhere is God now?” 

God is truly here, as He has promised to be with us. He is Emmanuel! He is in control of everything that’s happening. What we need is to trust His Word. In the devotion to the Holy Spirit, it is written that the gift of Understanding 

“…helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion, by faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Companions of the Cross) 

It is then right and just for us to go through trials because there is no way to gain wisdom except by going through times when we cannot understand what has happened to us. Everything happens for a reason. Let us trust God with everything that we are. It’ll take humility and filial reverence to God in order for us to see through these challenges and difficulties. 

Are you then willing to believe, without seeing yet?

Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to usmake our hearts burn while you speak to us.” (Lk. 24: 32)

We Have Seen the Lord!

If we aren’t careful, these times will not only inflict physical pain, but also affect other aspects of our being including social, emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual. Our faith and beliefs are being put to a severe test. There will be moments when we doubt and ask, “Why did God allow these things to happen?” Others even say that “How can God, who is all good, allow bad things to happen?” We need to be better prepared, especially in our emotional and spiritual responses to these challenges.

For the faithful follower of Christ, this is a more opportune time to spend in reflection and prayer. With stay at home mode, there’s a lot of time to spare and consequently more time to spend in prayer.In my experience, devotions and prayers varied in past seasons of my life. There were prayers who came, and some prayers were substituted for more relevant and appropriate ones. Even in the time prior to this pandemic, I had a fewer set of prayers, than what I have now in this crisis period. It evolved over time and in the first few weeks of the Enhance Community Quarantine. With time becoming more available, I started to slowly revisit the devotions that I feel I need to re-connect with. It is something that came up, it is one that my heart longed for. Must be the Spirit moving me on. And then I realized that when you and the world are undergoing a crisis similar to what we’re going through right now, there are only fewer options left. Prayer becomes priority. 

We’ve come into a time that while others may have difficulties getting essentials into the home, everyone is like, equal, and experiencing the same restrictions. You may have some money but you can’t just buy easily what you want. You want to go leisure shopping but you can’t as these aren’t allowed and shops are closed. You begin to think of possibilities and scenarios. You worry about what life will be after this crisis. What will be the “new normal”?

The same thoughts may have been experienced by the disciples of Jesus after going through His Passion, Death and Resurrection (at that time of this Gospel reading: Jn. 20: 19-31). They weren’t sure of what to do, some of them were waiting for developments, while some were already planning to get back to their former lives. They were gathered in locked doors for fear of the Jews when,

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again
, “Peace be with you.” 

However, Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him
, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Many of us would start to doubt our faith in these times of uncertainties. We become like Thomas, doubtful, unsure, fearful of what’s happening. However, we can’t stay long being in this state of doubt, anxiety and fear. We have to accept what’s happening, and trust that God knows and is in control of what will be. We have to see through what’s happening. His “Peace be with you” should ring loud and clear to us.

Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, said in his homily today, “A man of peace, is a man who isn’t looking for anything more. He says, “I’m already OK.” For the man of peace, nothing is permanent in this world. He knows that the permanent thing we want we can get only from Jesus and no one else. He modelled that in the Cross, in perfect obedience to God the Father. He trusted fully because the Father is All-Knowing, All-Loving, and Almighty, and thus, what else is lacking?In the same way, after the Resurrection, we know that the Lord is the Savior, and the Son of God. There is nothing more to ask for!

The Lord is telling us to “Have faith!” We have to remove our fears, regain confidence and start to be calm again. You need to be at peace in order to start moving on. Instead of getting more confused, you have to get back to your faith and trust in God. Building up our faith will make us become more persevering and resilient in the midst of storms and challenges. We have to set aside fear, worry, insecurities, anxieties, and focus on Jesus. There’s no point worrying about the future; any moment spent in fear is a moment stolen from tomorrow. All things will eventually come to an end and so it is time to recollect and clear our thoughts to brighter aspects of God’s mercy and compassion. We should have that clarity of vision in seeing through the darkness and madness surrounding us and model confidently to others who are still in the pits, “We have seen the Lord!”

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday and we are so blessed with God’s assurance that His Love and Mercy will emerge triumphant over justice and death. May the words of St. Peter (1 Pt. 1: 3-9) be enough assurance for us to fully trust in the Lord,

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

We have to realize that whatever responses we have to this situation, we are not doing this only for ourselves but for others. They should be able to see us, not necessarily in what we tell them, but what our actions say, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Making Others See The Risen Lord

In this time of pandemic, the Easter Vigil is something different; the music played were not as loud and as grand, the candles were just the ones at home and we content ourselves with the Paschal Candle on the screen. The traditional ceremonies of the First Fire and Water weren’t real and as elaborate. There was no Easter Procession wherein the Risen Lord was paraded by the men while the Blessed Mother clad in black were followed by the women in the community. In “normal” times, upon arrival in the Church, a little girl dressed as an angel waiting in a platform usually lifts the black veil and scarf off, signaling the Resurrection of the Lord.

Instead, the faithful are glued to their desktops or for those with High-Definition Multimedia Interface wires, on their TV screens. Despite this situation, everyone tried to be immersed in the celebration, grateful and thankful for the good health, the provisions, and the miracles that come their way during this crisis. 

We’re all hanging in there, prayerful, persevering and hopeful that this will soon be over. This hope is tested, over and over again, especially for the medical frontliners, those with family members fighting the virus in the ICUs, and those personnel risking their lives so that others may live. 

In the Gospel (Jn. 20: 1-9), we can see this hope, 

On the first day of the weekMary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morningwhile it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”

Being a follower of the Lord for some time already, Mary of Magdala was hopeful that they’ll be able to get out of the challenges brought about by the suffering of Christ in the hands of His tormentors. It was an awfully devastating week for all of them but despite that, she was clinging to the Lord for whatever was left of hope, and her steadfast faith was willing to go through it all. And she was right, the Lord rose victorious from sin and death, brought out the flame of hope and joy, putting down the sorrow and misery that the Crucifixion weighed upon them.

The Resurrection is the most important event in the New Testament and in the history of Christendom. Without this event of events, there wouldn’t have been any Christian Faith today. 

In the First Reading (Acts 10: 34a, 37-43), St. Peter exhorts the first Christians,

We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

While we haven’t been around during those times, our faith in the Lord has made us His witnesses in the present time. We are called to be Easter People, His faithful followers who will make others see Christ by our examples and the lives we live. While we aren’t perfect, we try to be faithful by living His words. We are called upon to be people of hope; people who inspire others to live fully with faith and trust in God. Even with the trials and challenges we face on our own, we derive strength from our faith in Jesus Christ. 

May our faith in the Risen Lord give us more strength and courage, hopeful that we’ll survive through these difficult times as better Christians, stronger in faith and bolder in sharing the Gospel.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118: 24)

Choose to Love

It was a pleasant learning that in the Seven Last Words, only the Fourth, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is found in both St. Matthew’s (Mt. 27:46) and St. Mark’s (Mk. 15: 34) Gospels. It is also the only saying that appears in more than one Gospel. Yet it isn’t found in the other two Gospels, nor the other sayings found in St. Matthew’s and St. Mark’s Gospels.

What could be the reason for this unique attribute of the Fourth?

In Christian tradition St. Matthew, a former tax collector who was called by Jesus to be one of the Twelve Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel account. It starts with St. Joseph’s genealogy from Abraham; it represents Jesus’ Incarnation, and ends with the Commissioning of the Disciples.

Having said that, in today’s Gospel of the Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Mt. 26:14 – 27: 66), Fr. Armand Robleza mentioned that it could be due to the fact that being the first Gospel written, this saying of the Lord is one that was easily remembered by St. Matthew. There is no other feeling that could have taken Jesus at that time He was dying on the Cross. Accounts of people who have almost near-death experiences reveal that in those moments there’s no time to compose one’s self. Anything is possible, and when one is frustrated and helpless, the feeling of being abandoned takes precedence. There’s no other way, as you’re practically catching your breath and trying to stay alive. The Lord’s expressions at that time may have left an indelible mark on the Evangelist.

Despite that, you can see in today’s Gospel that Jesus was still calm and submissive to the Father. He’s actually giving it all up to God, 

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from meyetnot as I willbut as You will.” 

In those most difficult phase of the Lord’s human life, His obedience to the Holy Will of the Father takes priority over His own pains and suffering. There’s no other way to victory over death than in assuming the position of the Suffering Servant of God. And what drives Jesus during those dark moments? His undying love for the Father. The Lord choose to love!

Palm Sunday is a paradox: the people who acclaimed “Hosanna in the Highest”, were the same people who chanted later “Crucify him, crucify him”. Just like any of us who have been inconsistent in our faith (and we blame this on our human weakness and frailty), we almost always commit the same pattern of falling again and again. That is why every time we commit sin, even though we confess to be His followers; we again repeat Christ’s suffering. The pain that the Lord goes through every Holy Week isn’t something that is in vain. For Jesus, it is love that brings Him through. His love for the Father and His love for humanity. Fr. Armand says it aptly, “Jesus chose to love” knowing that “Love heals all wounds”. Despite the many times we fail Him, Jesus continues to be faithful.

As we go on the Holy Week in our quarantine conditions, let us pray fervently for healing and the ending of this pandemic. Let us prepare well for these solemn events, especially the Sacred Paschal Triduum, the period of three days that begins with the liturgy on the evening of Holy Thursday, reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday.

May the crisis we are experiencing bring us closer to the Lord, submit ourselves fully to God just like what Jesus did, and show more love for those affected the most in this turbulent times.

Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name.” (Phil.2: 8-9)

(Thanks to Internet technology we can now participatein the activities of the Holy Week through Facebook Live streaming. You may want to participate in the St. John Bosco Parish of Makati’s activities this Holy Week. Visit their Facebook page for the complete schedule of these events.)