Humility, Obedience and Charity

In a world full of anxiety and uncertainty, it is rare and difficult to see others in their real and genuine selves. While they can still do both, I have seen that people are more concerned about the need to protect themselves and their loved ones from sickness, harm and other risks, than by extending their hearts to others. Some use their appearances to deceive others into thinking they are what they say they are. They mislead others and lead them to the wrong paths. Despite these, there are others that shine like gems and rise above the challenges. They extend themselves despite the difficulties they face. These are those who don’t allow the pandemic to limit their generosity and good hearts.

In the Gospel (Mk. 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), the Pharisees and scribes questioned Jesus, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  

Christ responded to them,

“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

When people cling to human tradition without understanding God’s commandments, they become stiff and pretentious. They stick to rules and disregard God’s instructions. In the Gospel we see how their short-sightedness revealed the hypocrisy of their hearts. They showed their true colors to Christ in the way they asked their questions. Thus, there is a clear danger for people who are strictly regimented in the practice of their faith but haven’t grown spiritually in love of God and neighbor. Knowingly or unknowingly, they betray themselves by the arrogance of their actions. Sadly, there are those who are doing a lot of prayers and yet fail to practice the fruits of these devotions. These prayers are supposed to yield humility and therefore obedience to God and charity towards others.

In Matthew 5: 23-24, Jesus revealed the importance of sincerity and genuine love for God,

“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

You cannot pretend to be righteous, holy and yet have a grievance and unforgiving heart on others. You cannot appear to be repentant outside and yet deep in the recesses of your heart lie the dark abyss of hypocrisy. You cannot proclaim to be God’s followers in words and yet act in the opposite direction of His teachings.

The Lord warned,

“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Today, we are invited to humility, obedience and charity in order to save our souls (Second Reading, Jas. 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27).

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit guide us on the way to humility, obedience and charity.

The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. (Ps. 15: 1a)

Choosing God Above All Else

The Gospel today (Jn. 6: 60-69) speaks about what happened after the Bread of Life discourse. The disciples of Jesus were murmuring and said, “This saying is hardwho can accept it?” but the Lord was firm in His message despite the fact that “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  The teaching on the Holy Eucharist was “the deepest and most beautiful teaching Jesus had given them”, but for some it was too much and they couldn’t accept it anymore so many abandoned Him. 

This situation normally happens when times turn out bad. For example, when people feel that their “friends” are in dire straits, they quickly leave as they regard their so-called friends as no longer useful to them. It is a connection made by convenience and betrays the trust that others gave. Sometimes these actions turn out negative for them in the long run as the situation eventually become better for their former “friends”. 

During this pandemic, many may have been changed by the challenges they face. They may have lost faith and hope in God and were reckless just to survive. Actually, this is a situation when our faith is tested hard. It is not the time to give up on God, rather; it is the time to recognize Him walking beside us in our journey. It is the time to respond in a grateful and beautiful way to Jesus who is always with us, despite our fickle-mindedness. Many have responded well in this pandemic: we read and see brave souls put up community pantries to share what they have with neighbors and others. They see these times as opportunities to show their true and authentic faith in the Lord. They allowed themselves to be God’s hands in sharing and giving food and necessities to others in need.

Last night while watching Itaehon Class on Netflix, one of the characters said to the effect, “I’d prefer a father over hunger”. This was in response to the other character in the series, a father, who contemplated of committing suicide, due to his difficulties in providing food for his young son. That was a thoughtful reaction to the situation, and tells us that there is more to life than food. Similarly, the times are for us to respond and prove to God our deep love and faith in Him. Like Toni (the character in Itaehon Class), our action spell our trust in Christ, and tell Him that we “choose God” over the challenges we are facing.

In the First Reading (Jos. 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b) Joshua gathered and addressed all the people: 

If it does not please you to serve the LORD, 

decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. 
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD

The good leader that he was, Joshua was able to get a positive response from them,

“…Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

The Lord didn’t force His disciples to follow Him, instead, Jesus gave them the choice whether to accept or reject Him. But Peter responded in a faithful and profound way,

Master, to whom shall we goYou have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

The other Apostles responded like Peter. They believed that God is the best option. Peter showed us that in life, there is no better option than to follow Christ, no matter what. Nothing in life is worth more than Jesus Christ. If it hasn’t happened now, our faith should lead us to that realization very soon.

Today, let us reflect on Jesus asking us this, “Do you also want to leave?” 

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grant us the faith and the wisdom to choose God above all else.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” (Ps. 34: 9a)

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This morning two of my close friends in college told about the passing of her brother-in-law and the other, about his close friend, all due to CoVid19. It’s not only this day but these past weeks that several friends and colleagues experienced the passing of a loved one due to this virulent virus. Sometimes we hear others ask, “Why is God allowing this to happen

In his homily today, Rev. Fr. Armand Robleza, SDB, shared that in an Instagram Live event he hosted, one of the questions asked was,  “Where is God in this Covid19 pandemic?” Fr. Armand remembered his answer,

God is in the very mystery of Covid. God is in our helplessness. God is in our confusion. He did not send Covid to us, but the question is, ‘What do we do with the situation right now, to bring our best foot forward

When you’re in a difficult, mysterious situation, you ask a lot of questions to yourself, some over and over again. “Where is God? I believe it is the same question in the heart of Mary, after the Annunciation..You can imagine that in our human experience, Mary may have asked these questions over and over again, “How could this happen to me?” “What is happening?” “God, what is this?” 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of “seventeen different memorials, feasts and solemnities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary that are found on the Roman Liturgical Calendar” (Catholic Daily Reflections). Accordingly, today’s celebration is “one of the four great Solemnities by which our Blessed Mother is honored.” 

The Blessed Virgin Mary taught us how to persevere in faith. Yes the difficulties we are facing aren’t easy, but what the Blessed Mother went through were even more difficult. While she was going through all these sufferings in her pilgrimage of faith, she faithfully persevered, immersed in the mysteries of those moments, even declaring when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, 

My soul proclaimes the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His Name.” Luke 1: 46-49.

(Note that the journey to Elizabeth’s home was a long and tiring one, notwithstanding the slow pace of the travel during that time when there were no vehicles yet in existence.)

We may ask the same questions over and over again, but like Mary, we can still proclaim the greatness of God, who is just beside us in our most challenging moments. We can just immerse deeply in the experience, fully trusting in God’s wisdom and power over the situation. Mary chose to continue glorifying God, even in the midst of the mystery happening around her. She believed that “It is not about me, but it is about God”, choosing to accept with her whole heart, body and soul that Yahweh is in control. In facing our difficulties, we can be like Mary who felt God making a revelation in her life. 

It is God, making Himself felt in my life at the moment.” (Fr. Armand Robleza).

Today, amidst the despairing events surrounding us, let us reflect on the life of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary who was conceived without sin, remained sinless throughout her life, never experienced death, and was taken body and soul into Heaven. Mary suffered greatly especially during her Son Jesus’ Passion and Death, but immersed herself in the mystery of God throughout those moments, never asking why God allowed this to happen.

Let us pray for the strength of our faith, for us to submit our life completely to God so that in every trying time, instead of questioning Him, we embrace the mystery of the moment and feel His presence close to us.

Mary is taken up to Heaven; a chorus of angels exults. Alleluia, alleluia.

Get Closer to Him

In the past week the readings in the Old Testament talk about the children of Israel lamenting,

Would that we had meat for foodWe remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt,
and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famishedwe see nothing before us but this manna.” (Nm. 11: 4b-15)

Then Miriam and Aaron was complaining why the Lord was only speaking to Moses and not to them. (Nm. 12: 1-13) The Lord was so angry with them that when He departed, Miriam was suddenly afflicted with leprosy.

These accounts from the Sacred Scriptures tell us of a common nature of man: always complaining, always unsatisfied, always comparing his blessings with that of their neighbors. It is a murmur that mirrors what the Israelites did to Yahweh during their travel across the desert.

In today’s Gospel (Jn. 6: 41-51), we hear the Jews murmured about Jesus. They gossiped, ridiculed and talked about Him. What shortsightedness and stupidity! Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. Before these verses, the Lord was already into one of the deepest sermons about Himself, the Bread of Life. In verse 35, the Lord was telling them, “I am the bread of lifewhoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.”

Sadly, these murmurings didn’t stopped there as today, some if not many of us see the Mass as a waste of time, unnecessary, even unimportant. Many don’t appreciate or see its relevance in their faith journey. During this pandemic, if there is something beautiful that came out of it, is my deeper love for the Holy Eucharist. While before I was just listening to music while on the road, I have started listening to the Mass while driving to and from work. It has given me a feeling of power and confidence and in fact saved me from a lot of inconveniences and incidents on the road. It made me murmur less about the traffic, as there’s something else better to do than think about how slow the pace of travel in EDSA is during the day’s drive. I’m praying that sometime soon when this pandemic is over, I’ll be able to spend more time in the Blessed Sacrament. Without giving it much thought before, our life should be sustained by the countless miracles that happen every day, when the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the countless Masses celebrated all over the world. It is a treasure we all should know and cherish as the Church reveals to us the real worth and value of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus is the Living Bread who came down from Heaven, and He has promised us Eternal Life if we partake of it.

Reading through the Bread of Life discourse in St. John’s Gospel tells us of the importance of the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is a not-so-easy topic to comprehend considering that the Gospel talks about what is Eternal, Heaven, and God the Father, among others. These are topics that are difficult to explain, more so understand. But for one who has faith in God, there’s no need for an explanation, believing in it is enough. 

Now is the perfect time to ask yourself, 

Do you allow God to draw you closer to Him? 

Do you  embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and let Him feed your soul? 

Are you lost in the anxieties and worries of everyday life, such that Christ just gets pass you unnoticed? 

Pray that we take heart in the advice to slow down, being mindful of what’s happening around us, so that as the Psalmist says, we can “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!”

I am the living bread that came down from Heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jn. 6: 51

Focusing On the Lord

Man isn’t satisfied with what his status is and what he possesses. He continues to work at gaining more wealth or prestige. He doesn’t stop and the pursuit for these matters almost always consumes his time and energy. While this isn’t totally bad, it becomes a source of motivation that is temporary and ephemeral. What makes this bad and eventually devastating is when man uses unethical means to improve his stock as it becomes a perfect recipe for losing what is more important.  

In today’s Gospel (Jn. 6: 24-35), the crowd was looking for the Lord, obviously not for gaining spiritual wealth but for satisfying their hunger for food. Jesus said to them,

Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” 

The Lord knows that life is filled with work and distractions in our faith journey. There are times that we must re-focus our energies on the more important matters. Thus He cautioned not to work for food that perishes but for the food that endures. We need to recognize that the work we do today will soon be forgotten, unless it is aligned with God’s will for our life. It is surely a waste of time wandering in the world only to find out later that what you were pursuing isn’t of value in the Kingdom of God.

We should learn our lessons from the readings today to be unlike the Israelites who were grumbling against Moses and Aaron (First Reading: Ex. 16:2-4, 12-15). For them, food was more important and they already became ungrateful. They have forgotten easily that Yahweh delivered them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They had short memories and were filled with anxieties thinking about dying of hunger. They were focused on temporary matters and short-term gratification. They failed to see the power of God in providing them with anything as necessary in their journey towards the Promised Land.

Thus, we should work at enhancing and building our relationship with the Lord Jesus. We must not just continue with what we’re doing at the present, but rather give more time for reflection and attention to deepening our relationship with Him. 

Today, reflect on your own faith. Are you still failing to recognize the Lord despite the blessings you have received? Are you looking elsewhere for fulfillment, instead of focusing on Jesus, the Bread of Life? Do you still pursue your own plans without seeking to understand what God’s plan is for you?

Dear Lord, continue to bring me closer to You. Teach me to focus on You and not on things that are superficial and temporary. Direct me to matters that will make me understand Your Will for my life and in knowing so, enrich my relationship with You. Amen. 

One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Mt. 4:4b