Adhere to the Lord without Distraction

While growing up, me and my siblings heard many stories about spirits, some of them about “evil spirits lurking in the dark” and in “remote places” far from houses where people live. These stories instilled fear in us and so we were afraid of straying far from home. At night while waiting to fall asleep, when I heard dogs howling, I imagined them to be seeing spirits passing by. Those were childhood fears that I gradually outgrew and now it isn’t much of a bother even if I sleep alone. Prayers helped me manage these and eventually sleeping well is already easy and second nature. 

In the Gospel (Mk. 1: 21-28), a man with an unclean spirit cried out to Jesus and said, 

What have you to do with us, Jesus of NazarethHave you come to destroy usI know who you are—the Holy One of God!” The evil spirit recognized Jesus such that the Lord rebuked him and said, “Quiet!  Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.

In Jesus’ and as well as in present time, evil spirits manifested themselves on people in the forms of sickness, demonic possessions and the like. We can read many other stories of evil forces trying to disrupt the Lord’s ministry. Yet, today’s Scripture reading tells us of the infinite power of God, as manifested by how the Lord Jesus Christ drove out the unclean spirit. The Almighty Power of God is infinitely supreme over all of creation including evil spirits, regardless of how difficult the situation may seem. Evil creatures are real and have been around since Creation. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”. (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church) 

Early in Christ’s public life, the devil would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from His Father. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” The best that we can do is to continue preferring God over the devil, by the choices that we make every single minute, every single day. It is hard as these seduction sometimes comes in beautiful packages: fame, wealth, lust and the like. It is temporal but often difficult to resist. By our human nature, we become weak when we do it alone. We need God’s infinite power to overcome all these. We have to bring more prayer in our lives to sustain our strength and provide us the courage and fortitude to handle these challenges. We need Jesus to rebuke them by allowing God’s grace and mercy “to overshadow their evil influence”. Moses tells us in the First Reading (Dt. 18: 15-20), to listen to Him.

This Sunday is also the Feast of St. John Bosco, Priest, Father and Teacher of the Youth. In his homily today during the Concelebrated Mass at the St. John Bosco Parish Church, Makati, Most Reverend Bishop Broderick Pabillo, D.D. Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila said, referring to the youth who aren’t allowed to go out of their homes, 

“…we need to have special care over them, “kailangan silang kausapin (we need to talk to them), kailangan silang i-entertain (we need to entertain them), kailanga natin si Tatay maging creative (Tatay needs to be creative), so that they will not get bored, with all these online things, and we need also to guide them in how they use electronic media. Dito na po yung guidance na ibibigay natin sa kanila (This is where our guidance to them is needed). So let us ask our Patron Saint John Bosco that we may be kept away from sickness and especially that we may be guided in how we can guide our young people during this time of the lockdown and the pandemic. Let us learn from him on his zeal in order to bring people close to the Lord in whatever situation we find ourselves in.”

The Second Reading (1 Cor. 7: 32-35) exhorts us to “adhere to the Lord without distraction”. This is the only way that we can overcome evil in this world. Thus, despite how blurred and hazy these situations may look, we need to be more prayerful and mindful of stopping the bad influence and seduction of the devil in our lives. 

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grant us the gift of Fortitude, so that our souls be “strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of our earthly mission”. May this gift grant us the grace and the humility to acknowledge God’s power and authority over all Creation. May our faith and trust in God not falter despite the challenges and difficulties we face.

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps. 95:8)

Becoming Fishers of Men

My hometown is a fishing community and in fact, the town’s patron saint is Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter, who were both fishermen. Before the pandemic quarantine protocols were put in place, when you go to the beach early in the morning during the summers, most of the crowd that you see are engaged in fishing activities. You can see boats of all sizes moving around to catch fish. This is before the day crowd of beach bummers arrive to have fun. The town is blessed to have good and fertile fishing waters such that even vessels from other places come to share in the fish. 

Since fish and other sea creatures are quick, fast and sometimes even dangerous in water, Fr. Armand is right in his homily today when he said, “You don’t chase fish to catch themyou let them come to you.”

In the Gospel (Mk. 1: 14-20), 

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the seathey were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Fr. Armand succinctly described how the life of the follower of Christ should evolve, taking the Gospel accounts. At that time of the first apostles, Biblical scholars agree that before they became Jesus’ disciples, they were first His friends,

“…their conversion into the Faith doesn’t stop with being ‘Jesus and me’, but since the Lord is starting His public ministry, and John the Baptist has been imprisoned; it is time for Jesus to go out and preach. The Lord needed companions with Him, so Jesus called His friends, those people who are close to Him: Peter, Andrew, James and John, to become “fishers of men”. 

In our own personal conversion when we become close to God, we have to be ready to move up the next level; that is, sharing in His work. “In other words, it’s like Jesus telling us, ‘You just don’t become my friends, now you go and share our friendship, and share the Good News to people around you.’ Don’t just attach yourself to Me, but go (out) there and share your faith.”  (Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB) 

Citing the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of Pope Benedict XVI, on the Holy Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission, Fr. Armand said,

“A eucharistic Church is (one that celebrates the Eucharist) always a missionary Church. We cannot just end it up by praying to God, and then being “close” to God. The real purpose of our faith, is not to keep it for ourselves, but to share it to other people. To be fishers of men, to bring other people close to God.”

This is the attitude we have to adopt in our lives. For example, in our roles as parents or guardians, rather than telling our children that they become “a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer in the future” because this is a “good” plan for them, our roles should be in the way of supporting God’s plan for their lives. Even in our life experiences, whenever confronted with difficult challenges, our faith should be strong enough to make us realize that the Almighty has a plan for everyone and everything. It is God that directs our present and our future.

Today, reflect on these,

Are you understanding of your family and loved ones

Are you welcoming and patient in how you respond to the experiences of your family and loved ones?

Are you showing your openness to be of help to others such that they feel welcome and comforted in your presence?

Dear God, help me live my Faith so that others become attracted to my faith experiences and eventually inspire them to seek You. Help my life become a worthy example so that in doing so, it is not just me being sent by You to them, but rather, it will be You sending them to me, so that I will bring them closer to You. Amen. 

The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk. 1: 15)

Viva Sr. Sto. Niño

If there was no pandemic, this weekend would have been the start of colorful and fun festivals this merry month of January. The Sinulog in Cebu, the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan, and the Dinagyang in Iloilo; all these celebrate the Feast of the Sto. Niño. You can go around the Islands and you can still find a lot more other fiestas and celebrations honoring the Child Jesus. Without much thinking, you can easily say that the Sto. Niño is extremely popular in the Philippines. 

In today’s Gospel (Mk. 10: 13-16) we can see that Jesus warned that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like little children,

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Being a child speaks of innocence, simplicity and humility. We can relate with these as we have been small children ages past. Being “like a child” is to recognize our nothingness, smallness, and weaknesses in front of God. When we become “like little children”, we become obedient, submissive and humble before God. We follow His guidance, directions and will for our lives. We act like how He wants us to be. We become His arms and voice in this world. We do these not only because these glorify God, but becoming childlike will help us become better and faithful followers of Christ. We become more loving to others and help strengthen society by recognizing the various problems affecting our fellowmen. We may not be able to do it on a fabulous scale, but we can start at home by teaching our children the value of love, social justice, and peace. We build our families in the fear and love of God. 

On this feast of the Sto. Niño, let us again discover the child in us, and imitate Jesus’ childlike qualities of innocence, simplicity, and total dependence on God. These attitudes should make us grow in faith and action. 

Dear Lord, as we journey on, may we not forget to bring along with us childlike qualities of innocence, simplicity, and humility. Amen.  

The Lord is King, let the many islands be glad!” (Ps. 97:1)

Pleasing God

Many people are guilty of trying to please others above anything else in their life. They go to extra lengths to live up to the opinions of others, and their behaviors revolve around it. Sometimes the opinion of their families and loved ones take a backseat. 

In the Gospel (Mk. 1: 7-11), after Jesus was baptized by John,

On coming up out of the water He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him. And a voice came from the Heavens, “You are my beloved Sonwith you I am well pleased.”

Today’s Sunday is the last day of the Christmas Season and what follows is the Ordinary Time in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. It is also the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a transitioning moment from His hidden life in Nazareth to the beginning of His public ministry. This is significant because this is when Jesus revealed to the world who He is, an “epiphany”, a manifestation of His true identity as He prepares to begin His public ministry. It was through the simple and humble act of Baptism performed by John; not a grandiose event in the eyes of the world. The Lord didn’t have to go through it, but in His humility, He went through the experience. He waded through the Jordan in solidarity with sinful, struggling and dirty humanity. During His public ministry, He even dined with sinners, and as expected, it “scandalized” the religious leaders at that time. By these actions, Jesus embraced us as we are, so that we will understand His love for us as something even greater than our own selves. This opened up our lines to Heaven so that we will comprehend better His redeeming act of love for mankind’s salvation.

Even though Jesus is God, He shared our fragile and fickle-minded human nature. There was affirmation from the Heavens when God the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This perfect act of Jesus also opened up Heaven for us. With our own baptism, the appropriate response is the journey towards a deeper commitment to follow Christ and avoid sin and wrongdoing. 

This Sunday, reflect on your own life: Who are you giving your full attention and commitment to? Are you giving God the attention that He deserves, as your Creator, King and God? Will He say at the end of your life, that He is “Well pleased” with you?

Dear Lord, thank you for sharing your Baptism with us. May we respond through a deeper commitment to You every day as we journey towards fulfillment of our vows in Baptism, hoping to live fully in unity with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call Him while He is near.” (cf Is. 55: 6)

Saying Yes to God

God calls each one of us in so many different ways. In most instances, the Lord uses the situations close to us as means to connect with us. For example, the Lord used my parents to bring me closer to Him. They got me involved starting with what’s easier for me to do at a young age: serving as a Knight of the Altar. My parents woke me up early during summer so that I can catch up with the 6 o’clock daily Mass. Slowly, the practice of going to Mass became a habit, ingrained in my being that my elders didn’t have to wake me up anymore.  Aside from Masses in the Church, our Parish Priest also brought me when he celebrated Mass in the different communities. Baptisms, weddings, fiestas, and the like; those different experiences taught me more about the Faith, the Sacraments and the Holy Eucharist.

In today’s Gospel (Mt. 2: 1-12), we hear the proclamation,

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the JewsWe saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

The Magi were engaged in the study of the stars and were believed to come most likely from Persia, modern-day Iran. While they weren’t Jewish, they knew of the popular belief that a king would be born to save them. God used their interest — the study of the stars — to call them to search and meet the Lord. With a star, God guided them to follow this sign to pursue the search for the Savior. What was good about it is that the Magi responded to the call of God. They travelled a long and perilous way to meet the Child Jesus,

They saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

How about you, do you recognize the ways by which God is reaching out to you? Like the Magi, are you responding to His calls? Are you attentive to God’s invitation for a deeper relationship with Him? 

Dear God, as I face the New Year, continue to guide me to you. Make me be sensitive to the many ways You are reaching out. Grant me the wisdom and courage to respond and follow You. Protect me from the dangers of the journey and make me commit my life to You.

Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” (cf Ps. 72: 11)