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“Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, Empowered.”

Kabataang Pilipino: Gihigugma, Gigasahan, Gitahasan ka

Fr Junjun Amaya (Diocese of Sandhurst, Victoria, Australia)

A Letter to the Filipino Youth: On this year of the Youth (2019) in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines come year 2021.

(Note: This has been published for the 2019 Fiesta Souvenir of my home parish (San Isidro Labrador Parish) in Mantalongon Dalaguete Cebu Philippines)

Two unforgettable moments of grace for me were the opportunities to be part of  two World Youth Day events- one in Sydney, Australia in 2008 and the other one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013.  Being part of the crowd of young people from all over the world celebrating and publicly declaring our Catholic faith, was not only amazing but it was a great moment of grace and a great manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit.

I can still remember the final Mass with Pope Francis in the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro with millions of young people listening intently to  the words of Pope Francis in his homily reminding the importance of the youth not just as the future of the Church but as the present as well. Pope Francis said: “The Church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you.” He also stressed: “Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!

I would echo these same words to the youth in the Philippines. The Church in the Philippines needs you. The Philippine Church is counting on you. Jesus Christ is counting on you. We are counting on you.

Though the Church in the Philippines is just two years short of 500 years old, she is forever young not only because of the many young people over the centuries to whom the Church is counting on but also because of the many youth of today who stood up to be counted and still do. Thank you, Filipino youth.

The theme to celebrate this year of youth is beautifully crafted: “Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, Empowered.”

Being youth has a mission and one important aspect of the mission is being youthful. As Pope Francis said, the Church needs your ‘enthusiasm and creativity’. The Church needs your youthful approach to life, your ideals and your new perspectives on things, especially on the faith.

Don’t worry if things would not be as clear as you would like to be. Life is not always in black and white let alone being a missionary of Christ’s love and presence among other young people.

Remember that when Christ walked on this earth proclaiming the most beautiful and assuring message from the Father to us, not everyone liked to hear what he had to say, not everyone liked to see what he had done, not even everyone liked his presence near them. For some, Jesus did not only comfort the afflicted, he also afflicted the comfortable. Even among his closest disciples, he didn’t get all their support and loyalty all the time.

But remember, my dear young people, you are among the 3G’s generation, and with God, you are the formidable 4G.

3G means you are beloved (Gihigugma ka), gifted (Gigasahan ka) and  empowered (Gitahasan ka).

You are beloved. Jesus loves you the way you are.

Pope St John Paul II in his homily at the 10th World Youth Day held in Manila Philippines in 1995, would remind you what it means to be loved by the risen Lord. St John Paul said: “Beloved ones, sisters and brothers: build your lives on the one model that will not deceive you! I invite you to open the Gospel and discover that Jesus Christ wants to be your “friend” (Cf. Jn. 15: 14). He wants to be your “companion” at every stage on the road of life (Cf. Lk. 24: 13-35). He wants to be the “way”, your path through the anxieties, doubts, hopes and dreams of happiness (Cf. Jn. 14: 6). He is the “truth” that gives meaning to your efforts and your struggles. He wants to give you “life”, as he gave new life to the young man of Nain (Cf. Lk. 7: 11-17), and gave a whole new future to Zacchaeus who was dead in spirit through ambition and greed (Cf. ibid. 19: 1-10). He is your “resurrection”, your victory over sin and death, the fulfilment of your desire to live forever (Cf. Jn. 11: 25). Because of this he will be your “joy”, the “rock” on which your weakness will be turned into strength and optimism. He is our salvation, our hope and happiness and peace.

My dear young people, even if you think you are not cute in the eyes of your crush, you are always CUTE (charming until the end) for Christ. Even if at times you feel you are not loved by the people you care about or even the Church you would have liked to be identified with, Jesus loves you to include him in your plans as he has included you in his own plans. So stay CUTE as well (Christlike until the end).

Second, you are Gifted.

Find that special gift in you. Find that purpose God has assigned for you. You have the chance to appreciate life and all the good things that may come with it as you go on living. Don’t take this for granted. You have the opportunity to invest your time and talents that not only make your life better but also that help better the lives of others. You have all the opportunity to not just dream of good things, but getting up and make those dreams a reality. Be a gift yourself (good influence to your friends all the time).

Third, you are Empowered.  

Christ not only loves you to be his friend. He also wants you to tell others about him. He wants you to bring your friends to him. He wants you to make him part  of your circle of friends. He wants you to be an active part of the process of establishing God’s kingdom. You are empowered to share in the values and principles that Christ is passionate about. Make good use of the WIFI connection within you.

W– your sense of Wonder. Strive to look for what is true, good and beautiful.

I-be a person of Integrity. ‘Do the right thing always even if no one is looking.’

F– grow in Faith. Faith is your direct connection to God. It is your direct link to Jesus.

I-uphold your Identity. Be who you are. Do not pretend to be someone you are not.

God bless you all, Filipino Youth.

Keep up and even if the going is tough, keep going.

When it is harder to pray, pray harder.

Homily All Saints Day 2019

lift up your hands to GodToday, the universal Church celebrates the solemnity of all the Saints.

All Saints’ Day is not about Halloween, but it means that the Holy wins—the holy people wins. It is a day of celebrating those who have gone before us and paved for us the way to God by their life of holiness and example of virtue.

Can we be SAINTS? visit this link

Historically this practice of honoring the saints started during and after the persecution of the early Christians.  Because of the many who were martyred then, it was quite difficult to remember all the dates of their martyrdom. Furthermore, some dates of their death could not be verifiable. Moreover, there were so many of them that their dates exceeded the number of days in the year. Therefore, today’s feast was created in the year 600 or so to cover all the saints in the Church.

So today we honor not just those who are formally and publicly canonized saints in the Church.

We honor and revere today those people great and simple, known and unknown, rich or poor, man or woman, those people whom we may have met and known personally, those whom we may even have worked with, whose lives are exemplary and whose lives are patterned after the life of Christ.

We honor them because we believe in the communion of saints and because in and through them, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the holiness of the Church shines through.

Every time we profess our faith, we say we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The holiness of the Church is visible through the saints.

We celebrate this day because we are sharing their joy. After the race in their lives called the Cup of Christian discipleship, after taking up their crosses and following Christ faithfully regardless of difficulties, trials and temptations, all of them got the crown of Christ’s glory- the glory of the saints, that glory that St Paul would assure us— “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Cor 2:9)

The saints were not perfect. They were not born saints. They were also sinners like all of us. Oscar Wilde would say: “The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future.

The saints were made holy because they freely and willingly responded to God’s call to be holy and they faithfully lived out their calling over and above all things. They became saints because they lived in hope that as St Paul would tell us in the second reading today, the hope of seeing God face to face, by purifying themselves, patterned after the purity of Christ.

The lives of these holy people, the saints, assure us that there is something greater, beautiful and rewarding experience God has prepared for us when we remain faithful to Christ.

Our Readings today remind us of the great things that await us if we go on walking on the right track heading towards God.

The first reading from the Book of Revelation tells us of the wonderful mixed of nations, races, colors, language, together as one in worshiping God in the heavenly liturgy.  

In our second reading, St John reminds us that we can’t exactly tell or know what really would become of us in heaven. But all we know is that we will see God as he is.

Isn’t it an exciting wait, to see God not only through our needy brothers and sisters, not only through the wonderful works of creation, but as HE really is? I’m looking forward to that moment.

We can get to that moment if we live out the virtues outlined in the Beatitudes that we heard read as our gospel today.  

The Beatitudes serve as our guidelines as we look forward to the fulfillment of every good thing that we hoped for.

A scripture scholar even said that the BEATITUDES is the summary of the whole Gospel. We can see the beatitudes in the very life of Jesus. We can also see that the saints really lived out the beatitudes in their lives, whoever they were, whatever they did, and whatever time they have lived in.

Mother Teresa is one great example many of us can imitate and learn from not only on what she had done, but on what she said as well.

She said: “We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now–to be happy with him at this very moment. But being happy with him now means: loving as he loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him for all the twenty-four hours, touching him in his distressing disguise.”

In other words, be let us be ‘Christ-like’ in all that we do and all that we are.

In terms of a game, we aim for the trophy and for the victory. If the players had to work hard in training to get the trophy, and must we.

Another way to attain that moment of seeing God face to face is to Stand up for Christ here and now as the saints did in their time.

Standing up for Christ is indeed very hard and challenging especially in our time and day. At times we may find the Jesus who not only comforts the afflicted but also afflicts the comfortable.

Yet we must not be afraid to stand up for him, because even if we are standing alone, we know that we are standing on the right ground.

Even if our knees are trembling, we know that we are standing on the firm and solid ground.  

So today, let us thank God for the gifts of saints, people who were once like us but have assured us that though sinners we still have the capacity and the opportunity to become saints.

Let us also ask the prayers of the Saints that like them the holiness of God and the holiness of the Church may shine through us.

Let us also ask the intercession of the saints that like them we may live in hope of the glory that God has prepared for us for all eternity. Amen.

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Homily for Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday 2019

Mass at Calvary Chapel
Church of the Holy Sepulchre Pilgrimage 2016

Friends, brothers and sisters, Happy Easter! Are you happy?

I am happy not because I can now rest from the busyness of many things that Lent and Easter involve or entails, but because Easter is a time of JOY. I am happy not because all this busyness of Lent and Easter do’s will soon be over but  especially because of all of you here tonight/today celebrating this wonderful celebration of our Christian faith and tradition.

Yes, there is so much detail in tonight’s liturgy as you would notice, but I loved every detail of it. 

I am so happy too to welcome into the Faith and into the Church 14 new members who would be baptised, confirmed and to receive their first Eucharist today. Welcome to the family.

Brothers and sisters, what DOES EASTER MEAN FOR YOU PERSONALLY?

For me, Easter is a celebration of God’s forgiveness, a celebration God’s faithfulness to his promise, and a celebration of Christian hope.  

First, Easter is a celebration of God’s forgiveness of our sins in the sense that not only God forgives us 70 times 7 times, but that he would even pay the punishment our sins himself not by any amount of money but by the very life of his only begotten Son.

Someone says: ‘The devil knows us by name, but he calls us by our sin. While God knows our sins, he calls us by our name.’

In Christ, God calls us now ‘redeemed’ by the blood of his Son, Jesus. St Paul would remind us in the letter to the Romans (Rom 6:3-11), “we must realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin.”

In the death of Jesus on the Cross, God is telling us a wonderful message: ‘We are to die for’.

Just look at the person sitting beside you and say: ‘You are to die for!’ That’s the Easter Message Jesus has for each of us today.

Second, Easter is a celebration of God’s faithfulness to his promise. One notable thing on Easter Vigil is the series of readings from Old Testament. Yes, it is long, or could be longer even. But when we reflect on those readings we realize that it is about the truth that God is always there for us and with us in our journey through life. It is not just about God’s personal concern for his people but also on his faithfulness to his promise.

God remains faithful to us even if at times, we don’t care about him. God never abandons us even if at times we tend to abandon him.

God never forgets us even if at times we tend to forget him.

God never prefers anything over us even if at times we prefer anything over him and that God loves us even if at times we are not lovely.

Third, Easter is a celebration of hope. We see in Jesus that though he went through unimaginable sufferings, mockery and humiliation, even these terrible things do not have the final say in his life- the resurrection does.

The risen Lord assures us now to remain in hope even if at times we have to face challenges, trials and difficulties in life. Christian hope means to Hold On, Problem Ends or Hang on Pain Ends.

We need hope more  today in the midst of the many things that may weigh us down. We have been bombarded by many negative events happening around us.

Just today, that news of attacks in Sri Lanka killing more than a hundred people and injuring many others, leaving families grieving and places of worship destroyed, safety in hotels compromised, is just one example of things that may weigh us down.

Christian hope would point to us the image of the Cross- Jesus may have died there but that wasn’t the end of him. It ushers in a new life not only for him but for us as well.

Because of Christ’s resurrection, the Cross ceases to become a sign of punishment and becomes a positive sign. As Christians therefore, we are to live as positive-minded people and surrounded by positive-minded people.

To grow in Christian hope we need to take in on ourselves the question of the Angels to the women in the tomb: “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he is risen”. (Cf Luke 24:1-12).

This means of course, we must not lose sight of Jesus in our lives. St Paul would mean this in his Letter to the Colossians to ‘look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is.’ (cf Col 3:1-4) This means also we are to focus our endeavours and aspirations on what is life-giving for us. I would call this, our Easter EGG: to devote our ENERGY to what is GOOD and GODLY.

One other source of hope for us is the evidence of the empty tomb.

Now this is a challenge because according to the gospel the tomb is empty. I don’t mean that we hope for nothing.

Let us however, look at  what’s left in the empty tomb. According to the other gospel narrative on the resurrection (John 20:1-9), when Peter and company arrived at the tomb they saw the linen cloths used to wrap Jesus before his burial, on the ground. And they saw also ‘the cloth that has been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in  a place by itself.’

Now the way it is being rolled up is significant.

It is told that in the Jewish custom at the time when the Master is eating, his servant would be standing near observing and always ready to clean the table when the master finished his meal.

If the master is finished with his meal, he would get up and after using the napkin to wipe his mouth, beard and fingers, he would get up and just leave the table ‘napkin’ crumpled on the table. This is a signal for the servant that he could now clean the table.

But if the master would need to leave the table before he finished his meal and would still come back, he would fold the napkin and place it beside his dishes. This would signal the servant that his master is coming back to the table.  ( visit: https://aleteia.org: Why-did-jesus-fold-the-linen-cloth-that-covered-his-face-in-the-tomb/)

So friends, Jesus not only rose from  the dead. He will come again. Let us prepare ourselves for his coming again then by the ABC of Easter: Adore the Risen Lord always, Be a living presence of Christ in the world, and C– care for one another. Amen.

I wish you all a meaningful and joy-filled Easter celebrations. Drive safely and drink moderately. Happy Easter Everyone.

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Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent year C

Three years ago, while I was still serving as the Spiritual director to the Legion of Mary in the Diocese, I was invited by the Legion of Mary Summer School in Melbourne to present one of the topics chosen for that year. The topic I was asked to present was ‘Can we be saints?’

Can we be saints? (asking the crowd) {weak response}

Yes, of course…we can, but we need more enthusiasm than that.

That’s exactly my comment to the Legionaries’ response to my question in that talk, because I was given the last topic for the whole Summer School. And you know when we attend a two-day conference, come the last presentation our feet would already be halfway through the door so to speak.

Anyhow, it is true we can be saints. We are all called to be holy, but we have to begin by acknowledging we are sinners, that we need God’s mercy, that we need Jesus. If we read the lives of the saints, they would always say: they are the most unworthy of all.

In our gospel today, Jesus would show us that his mercy is greater than our sins. And in showing us this beautiful aspect of our God, he also challenges us to be merciful to others especially to those who are caught up in sin—sinners like us.

But the Pharisees and the scribes in today’s gospel episode would have none of this. They were threatened by the presence of Jesus. Jesus’ presence made them uncomfortable. Yes, Jesus does not only comfort the afflicted, he would also afflict the comfortable.

They brought in a  woman whom they call ‘sinner’ (i.e. caught in adultery) to Jesus. But they were not really concerned so much on the woman’s welfare. They were concerned on how to bring Jesus down.

So they took advantage of the woman’s vulnerability and weakness in order to further their self-interest and their plot to get rid of Jesus.

In our modern experience, this act of taking advantage over the sins of others is evident in using the ‘sins’ of the Church as an excuse to say that the Church is not worthy to be believed in now, or to say: ‘I don’t really want all that God stuff now’, or to say ‘religion is the cause of war and conflict.’

The Good news for us is that Jesus knew better. He could see farther. He could see the bigger picture. Jesus could see beyond the horizon. He could read between the lines of what the Pharisees really wanted of him.

It’s funny because the Pharisees and the scribes thought that with their case about the woman Jesus would certainly be trapped.

For them, Jesus would have to give an answer either  YES or NO. And for both answer they already have an accusation against him.

If Jesus would say ‘NO’, they would accuse him of breaking the law of Moses which commanded that a woman committing the sin of adultery had to be stoned to death.

If he would say ‘YES, stone her to death’, then they would accuse him of not living out what he preached, such as forgiving 70 times 7 times, or that God is loving and forgiving God, waiting for his prodigal son to come back no matter how long he had to wait.

However, Jesus had an amazing response to their case. He didn’t SAY anything at first. He DID something though. He wrote something on the ground WITH HIS FINGER. For Jesus, ACTION speaks louder than WORDS. This reminds me of a quote attributed to St Francis that says: ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

We can always speculate what would Jesus have written. Some say, he must be writing the sins of the people around him. But I think the message Jesus wanted to express in there was not what he was writing about, but on what he was writing with—his finger.

Why didn’t he look for a stick or a twig to write something on the ground?

That’s the message. When we wrote something with our finger, our index finger/forefinger would be pointing outwards, the thumb would also be pointing outwards. The three other fingers would have been pointing towards us.

In doing this, Jesus conveys a message to the accusers (the Scribes and Pharisees) that before you condemn others of their sins, have a look at yourselves first at least THREE times and see if you have not done something worthy of condemnation as well.

In that gesture, Jesus reminded the audience that being holy is not feeling or thinking that we are better than others or that we can condemn others who have committed sinful acts. Being holy is helping others make things right and to help make others at right with God.

The Pharisees however, failed to see the message  Jesus expressed in his action. They persisted on what they believed to be the right thing that Jesus would need to do in that particular situation- to command that a woman be stoned to death- so that they would have something to accuse him with.

So Jesus had to express it himself in words saying: ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’

And that’s how amazing Jesus is. Just as we thought there would be no way out, he would show he is the Way. For Jesus, if the path ended, he would blaze a trail. The Pharisees left him, one by one. They wouldn’t accept his statement on the issue indicating to them that the real issue is not how faithful he is to the law of Moses or how forgiving he is to sinners. The real issue is their attitude towards sinners themselves.

Jesus also did something else amazing: He looked up at the woman. Jesus made himself even lower in status here- reminding us of himself taking up the punishment of our sins in order for us not die in sin.

He looked up. He didn’t look down the sinner. We are to do the same. To look up at the sinner not because of the sins they had done, but because they need us to help them correct the wrongs they had done. To ‘look up’ also means to ‘pray for the person’, to pray for God’s mercy for sinners’.

Friends, sinners we may be, but we have the capacity to become saints. St Paul in the second reading would attest that with and through Jesus we can achieve this potential. St Paul exclaimed: “I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.”

Let us be assured that as in St Paul’s life, every saint may have a past, but in Christ every sinner has a future. Let us also be assured that Jesus can transform our trials  into triumphs, our cross into crowns, our sinfulness into saintliness, only that we never lose sight of him. Amen.