Love connects people

Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary time A 2014

For those of you who have used or still using Nokia phones, you might remember that every time you switch it on, you’ll see its slogan ‘Connecting people.’ I really took this slogan quite seriously when I got my first mobile phone. I established contacts and made more friends. And of course even if I don’t have any important thing to say to my friends, I still tried to make them know I remember them by sending them quotes of any kind, good ones basically.

I liked sending love quotes, especially to those whom I was trying to impress.

I’ll share some with you.

‘Love is like a rosary full of mystery.’

‘Love is like a Rubix Cube, there are countless numbers of wrong twists and turns, but when you get it right, it looks perfect no matter what way you look at it.’

‘Don’t fall for someone who won’t be there to catch you.’

It’s amazing how many definitions and descriptions we have about ‘love’.  It’s no surprise because as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observes: ‘Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings.’[1]

Love indeed, can be defined, expressed and described in many ways.

Jesus in the gospel today (Mt 22:34-40) would describe love, particularly love of God and love of neighbour as we love ourselves as the greatest motivation, the force behind and the summary of all the commandments of the Law and of the Prophets.

Jesus in here answered the question posed by the Pharisees as to which of the commandments they have learned as a Jew is the greatest. The Jewish people were given 10 commandments by God through Moses. But perhaps for them, the commandments are so general and somehow vague that they’ve made particular and specific commandments or laws out of them. They came up with 613- 365 of which are prohibitions [the same as the numbers of days in a year] and 248 are ‘laws of direction’.

So obviously, it would really be confusing as to which of them has greater weight. They came to Jesus using this ‘confusion’ to set a trap for him, to find an evidence against him, to know if Jesus really takes all the commandments of Moses seriously which is an expectation of all the devout Jews.

But then again, and this is one  reason why I love Jesus so much. Just as he loved us first before we could love him, he would catch us first before we could catch him. In the gospel he caught the malice of the Pharisees before they could catch him.

 To sort out their ‘confusion’ Jesus reminded them of two things: First, the law is not the end in itself. It is only one way to God. Second, there is more to the law than what is being written- the spirit of the law- the motive behind the law, the deeper meaning of the law- that is ‘To love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.’ Here Jesus reveals to them the key to follow the commandments seriously and faithfully.

I hope Jesus would say this same thing to the extremists and the Jihadists creating havoc and terror in many parts of the world today. I hope Jesus would say to them and this is my prayer that they’d listen to God speaking: ‘If you really love your God and are doing his commandments, show it by your love of one another, not hate or murder, or persecute those who don’t share your faith and your sentiments.’

I hope, like St Paul, we would have the courage and the conviction to stand up and tell this extremists: “Love is the one thing  that cannot hurt your neighbours: that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.” (Romans 13:10).

I hope and pray they’d hear St James saying: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8)

But why do many people today fall short in loving God, more so in loving with our neighbours, and even fall short in loving ourselves?

Many reasons.

One is that we make God in our image and likeness, when it should have been the other way around. This could also be applied to our relationships with other people.

God is love, and we are supposed to be mirrors of his love, created in his loving image and likeness. I was caught up with this too. Years ago, I entered a raffle promising P1 million pesos as the grand prize. I was really hoping and praying I’d win. I even tried to make a bargain with God. I promised I would help the Church, give some money to the poor and needy, etc. In other words  I tried to control God. I tried to make God in my own image and likeness. Of course, I didn’t win, thanks be to God, otherwise, I would never have become a priest. Who would like to if you’re an instant millionaire?

Another reason is that we take God and others as a threat to our lifestyle, to our security, to our power. This is what happens to Jesus. His presence who is so loving, caring, understanding of the sinners, made the people who are supposed to be learned of the law, uneasy. So they tried to get rid of him.

This is evident in the Church today too. Pope Francis has been doing many wonderful things, very human way of doing things, soul-enriching yet very challenging to some leaders in the Church. Because what Pope Francis is doing opens up the eyes of the people and thus creating an expectation that ‘If the Pope could do that, why can’t we?’

Another reason why we fall short to loving God and our neighbour  is that we are too comfortable with where we are and what we do, and not taking the risks to love.Love is the greatest of all risks’ says Jean Vanier, the founder of L’arche community that was founded to help people with disabilities.

Of course, we can never love perfectly as human as we are. That’s why we still fall short in loving God and one another.

But this is not an excuse not to love at all.

Today we ask God, the God of love, to give us loving heart like his, a heart that loves by taking so much risk, a heart that beats for others and beats for the needs of others. We ask God to help us grow in love, and stay in love.

A way to grow in love is to keep these words of Mother Teresa in our minds and in our hearts. Mother Teresa said:

At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done.

We will be judged by: I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.

Hungry not only for bread— but hungry for love.

Naked not only for clothing—but naked of human dignity and respect.

Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks— but homeless because of rejection.

This is Christ in distressing disguise.”

Love is a thing that connects people. Jesus has shown us the way to love and he has commanded us to be loving ourselves. If we are serious of our Christian identity let’s love one another as Jesus loved us.

 

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est (On Christian Love) encyclical  # 2

Standing by Christ

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014

In 2001, in my first year in the seminary, our rector volunteered some of us seminarians to join  the nationwide prayer rally calling for the resignation of the then  reigning President of the country. The president was accused of plundering billions of pesos which  he allegedly used for his selfish whims and for self-gratification.

At first I had this unholy revulsion and urge not to go because I was feeling a bit uncomfortable of joining a gathering like that. Not that I don’t want to but because I thought then that the Church must not be caught up with  politics and besides there is a separation between the Church and the state. However, I decided to go still out of obedience,, otherwise I would have been red-marked to be not a good candidate for the priesthood.

I was glad I went because that was for me a great moment of grace.

It might be a disgrace for the president because that was one of the main forces that triggered his downfall. He was later on found guilty and sentenced to life in jail. Sad to say, he didn’t really spend so much of his sentence in jail because the president following him gave him pardon, and so he was released. And in our last Presidential election, we almost became a laughing stock for all the world when the deposed ex-President ran to the office again and almost won. Thankfully he didn’t.

Anyhow, being in  that rally was a great moment of grace for me because I saw how amazing it is to gather as one, no matter if you’re representing the Church or the state, one in the search for truth to be uncovered, for justice to be served, and to work for the common good. I realize that in terms of truth, of justice, and for the common good there should be no separation between the Church and the state. Rather we should be working together to uphold the truth, to serve justice and to work for the good of all. This is our responsibility as a citizen in the land.

It is a challenge for us especially for those of faith in God and for those of us in the Church, because we have seen some things the State favours that are not in accord with what the Church believes in or standing for. Thus, at times we may be  caught up with confusion as to where should our loyalty be. There are times in our life, when we really need to strike a balance between our responsibility to the State and our obedience to the Church and to the faith. ‘In more ideal circumstances, they should be complementary’ says Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the retired Archbishop of Cebu, in his answer to the question of young man being caught with the challenge to strike the balance between being a citizen of the State and as a person of faith.  The Cardinal continued: ‘The faith should teach us to be responsible citizens  and the State should enact laws that provide for the full development of the human person, which is also the goal of faith.’ But we know in many instances this is not the case.

However, this must not discourage us to work together to achieve the good, the truth, and that which is just, right and proper.

Jesus in the gospel today shows us that there is a way to strike a balance between our responsibility to the Sate and our adherence to our faith. Jesus said: ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.’ In other words we are to do the what is right and just, proper and true, and what is noble towards God and towards the State.

To be able to do this we need the Holy Spirit who would guide us and to help us see the truth (Jn 16:13). Let us ask the guidance of the same Holy Spirit that has been guiding the Church and has been giving the gifts of faith throughout the centuries. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the truth of who we really are, and what really is God calling us to  do.

We really need God because apart from him we are nothing (Is 45:6) and we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  

We need Jesus Christ because he is the way, the truth and the life. (Jn 14:6). This means then we need to take side on the truth who is Jesus. We are to follow him more closely to stay on the truth and to what is just and right. Certainly, the closer we are to Jesus, the heavier the cross or the more real suffering is, but we are to be consoled in the truth that in Christ, suffering has a salvific meaning.

To take side on Christ and to learn from him always poses  a challenge because as I said this many times before, he not only comforts the afflicted, he also afflicts the comfortable. But in staying with him no matter what, we come to know, learn and be courageous to stand up for the truth. In him we  see our true selves, our true humanity, our true calling in life.

Fr Flor McCarthy, SDB has an interesting comment on how beneficial it is for us to stand by Christ. Fr McCarthy said: ‘His (Christ) truth shows up our lies. His integrity shows up our falseness. His generosity shows up our selfishness. His peace shows up our conflicts. His openness shows how closed we are. Therefore, we should not be surprised if we sometimes feel uncomfortable in his presence.

Certainly, truth hurts and makes us uncomfortable at times, but the truth also heals. Let us just stay and stand by Christ and he’ll never let us down for sure, instead he would teach us to do what is right and just, good and true, proper and  what is noble.

Quotes from: Fr Flor McCarthy SDB, ‘Sunday & HolyDay Liturgies Cycle A and  Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, ‘You’re Still Young, I’m Old…A Conversation with the Youth of Cebu.’

God is inviting you- to spend time with Him

Homily for 28th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014

Our gospel today (Mt 22:1-14) reminds us of one important aspect of our Christian life- time with God. Having time with God and time for God form an essential part of our Christian journey in order to really grow in holiness and virtue and to hopefully enjoy eternal life. Thank God, for inviting us here today and for your response to his call by being part of this celebration of the Eucharist, because we are giving back one hour of our time, out of 168 hours that God gives us throughout the week.

Few years ago I read a poem about the importance of giving time with and for God and I just wanted to share it with you. The title is ‘No time’.

I knelt to pray but not for long,

I had too much to do.

I had to hurry and get to work

For bills would soon be due.

 So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,

And jumped up off my knees.

My Christian duty was now done

My soul could rest at ease.

 All day long I had no time

To spread a word of cheer.

No time to speak of Christ to friends,

They’d laugh at me I’d fear.

 No time, no time, too much to do,

That was my constant cry,

No time to give to souls in need

But at last the time, the time to die.

I went before the Lord,

I came, I stood with downcast eyes.

For in his hands God held a book;

It was the book of life.

 God looked into his book and said

“Your name I cannot find.

I once was going to write it down.

But never found the time.”

Time is one of the amazing and free gifts God has given us. And there is even more amazing thing about this gift of time- and that is- God often uses this ‘time’, this gift- as an opportunity for him  to encounter with us, and for us to know him, to be with him, and to work with him. But the problem is we tend to fill our time with many things that we think worthwhile or worth-doing, while we forget to give time to God who knows what’s best for our timetable and who knows what’s best for us.

To spare some time with God is one point that Jesus is hinting at in the parable (Mt 22:1-14) he told the chief priests and the elders of the people in the gospel today. As the parable suggests: ‘God is preparing a banquet for his son’s (Jesus Christ) wedding- our salvation. It is open for all, good and bad alike, but we need to give time for it. But as we heard, the ones invited made excuses not to come. They just didn’t have time with God. They just wanted to use their own time getting busy for their own gratification and selfish ambitions: e.g. going to the farm and minding their own business. They took the invitation for granted. They didn’t want to spare some of their personal time with God. And because they didn’t give time with God, they failed to understand the real intention of the host (i.e. king in the gospel) for inviting them. They even mistook the host’s intention  to be invading or disrupting their private business so to stop this interference in their lives, they ‘killed the messengers’ (the prophets). Because they didn’t give time, they missed the whole point of the invitation. How can one, in his/her right mind turn down a wedding invitation-when it would have been a joyous occasion, a break from all their works?

Today God is inviting us to spend some time with him and let him be part of our timetable not just out of obligation but out of love. If we do this, amazing things happen I assure you, either with us, in us, around us or through us. Furthermore, if we are generous with our time for God, we,  as the Prophet Isaiah tells us in the first Reading (Is 25:6-10), can really experience the amazing hospitality of our God, ‘the Lord of hosts who will prepare for us himself a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines.’ St Paul in our second reading today (Phil 4:12-14;19-20) also spoke of the times in his life when he experienced poverty and plenty. Paul experienced both worlds if you like but he could only say that after he has given so much of his time for Christ, after devoting all of his time to preach the gospel of Christ. Because Paul was so generous of his time and skill working for God and with God, he could only say and  this is my prayer too that like St Paul, I could really say with confidence: ‘There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the  One who gives me strength’, or in the other version of this says:  ‘I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.’

A way to spend time with God is through prayer- quality prayer (i.e. personal, genuine, humble, loving, and from the heart). This is not to discredit though of the formulaic prayers (e.g. rosary, chaplet of the Divine Mercy, etc.) we’re used to saying nor to discourage the use of aids to prayer such as (Bible, Breviary, Book of Devotions, etc.). Quality prayer means making the words or the formula our own, our own struggles, our own longings, our own words from our hearts, as we lift them up to God. In doing this, we can grow into a real and personal relationship with God, which is the main point in all our prayers. ‘Prayer is a relationship’, Fr Patrick O’Sullivan, a Jesuit priest would say. And Fr Pat would add: ‘‘No relationship can go very far if one of the parties is self-indulgent and has a whim of iron.’ Prayer must then be a two-way traffic- a speaking and a listening, a giving and a taking, a mutual relationship. We must take note of this too, as someone says: ‘Prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout.

A way to test if we are really spending a quality time with God in prayer to see how it bears fruit in our lives. Prayer doesn’t just mean communication with God, it also calls for a conversion in our part. It is not enough for us to say ‘I’ve said my prayers’ without being moved by it just as it is not enough for us to be called Christian without even striving to live as more Christ-like as we can be in our relationships with the world, with the Church and with one another.  We heard this in the gospel. It  wasn’t enough for a man to respond to the invitation, come to the wedding without even putting on  the proper wedding attire-  the garment of repentance and change of heart. Jesus has warned us this: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Mt 7:21). In other words, we are to live up to our name as a Christian by being the living presence of Christ in the world today, in what we say, in what we do, in how we live our lives, and in how we love, forgive, care and look after one another.

It is my hope and my prayer for myself and for all of you that we may use our time wisely and responsibly, that we may use it as an opportunity to do good, the strive for a better world, and to aim for the best of all rewards: eternal life with God. We still have the time to do it, let’s not waste it. Let us spend it well with God, with others especially those who are in need, and with a daily resolution to walk on the road to conversion. Otherwise, what a disappointment it would be if God would say to us in  the end “Your name I cannot find. I once was going to write it down. But never found the time.”