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.”

Remember this and follow me

Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014

An epitaph found in a cemetery has a caption that’s really interesting. I even now plan to have it in my tombstone too. I should add it as a post-script in my last will. It says:

Remember man, as you walk by,

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so shall you be,

Remember this and follow me.

 

It was a stark reminder of the reality of death. But someone noticed that  it lacks something. So a reply on these words was written underneath the caption saying:

To follow you I’ll not consent,

Until I know which way you went.

 I like this little comment because it points to us of the reality that death has not the final say on us. There is something on the other side of death- and we Christians, believe this to either be eternal life or death of our souls.

Our God though doesn’t will us to die forever because he loves us so much. We know this as our faith tells us that when we were on the brink of death because of our sins, God sent us his only Son to save us from eternal death.  But  this is not a licence for us to take God’s love for granted,  nor do whatever we want to do, and falsely assure ourselves that God’s love will save us in the end anyway. No. When St John tells us of this great love of God for us, the evangelist points out one important thing for us. St John says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). John notes ‘that everyone who believes in him’, so this calls us to re-affirm, and renew our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

So to believe in Jesus Christ is to follow him and we need to make it our daily decision because in him we find the way to life. Through him we find the way to salvation. In him, we’ll be saved from the way of eternal damnation.

It is a big call, because as Jesus says: ‘The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’ (Mt 7:13-14).

But here’s a good news for us, in Christ, we see that though the gate to life is narrow, or difficult to enter, it is not impossible.

To enter the narrow gate to life is respect life as Christ respects life himself. Respecting life means we promote life, value it, uphold the dignity of human life. In other words, let us celebrate the gift of life. Jesus has shown this in many instances in his human life. He cured the sick, he fed the hungry, he exorcised the possessed, he raised the dead back to life, he even died to save us from eternal death-to give us life. He didn’t discriminate. As Christians, this is our call too, to uphold the dignity of human life, no matter who we are, where we come from, whatever we do. Let us be reminded that if we don’t respect life, like those tenants in the parable in our gospel today, God will eventually take it away from us and everything that we have, and what a loss it would be.

To follow Christ is to be humble before God and to be grateful for God’s unconditional love for us. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less’, says C.S. Lewis. This is one strong point implicit in the gospel we heard today- because in there we heard of the tenants (the leaders of the Jewish people) who took pride of their being ‘God’s chosen people by taking this great privilege for granted. They only thought of themselves. They took matters into their hands. They killed the servants sent by the owner (i.e. the prophets). As the parable tells us, they wanted to own the vineyard themselves, by killing the son of the owner (i.e. Christ, the son of God). In other words, they wanted to take over the control from God himself. They thought they can take God out of the picture and make things work as they want. But no matter what we do, if God is out of the picture, the picture wouldn’t be as beautiful, wouldn’t be as wonderful, wouldn’t be complete, wouldn’t be as meaningful, wouldn’t be lasting, and wouldn’t be life-giving.

To follow Christ and to truly live a Christian life and to enter into life, is to bear fruit, and not just any fruit, it is to be a good one. To bear a good fruit is to do the good, to stand up for what is true in the eyes of God. St Paul in our second reading would offer us few tips here. ‘Brothers [and sisters],’ he says, ‘ fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, everything that can be though virtuous or worthy of praise.’

Abraham Lincoln sums this up very well saying: ‘Whatever you are, be a good one!’

Jesus has shown us that there is life after death, and it is also what God wishes all of us to get in the end. Like Christ, let us live our lives fully in humility, respect for our lives and lives of others, as well as striving to live a fruitful life- a good fruit for that matter.

To remind ourselves always to follow Jesus let us imagine Jesus saying to us:

Remember man [and woman], as you walk by,

As you are now [on earth], so once was I,

As I am now [in heaven], so shall you be,

Remember this [love God and one another as you love yourself] and follow me.