Leave a comment

At the office with St Benedict

The 11th of July is the feast of St Benedict. Three years ago on this day, I had a chat  with him (in my prayer and reflection) and posted it in my Faithbook. I am re-posting this conversation today to remind us of this great saint in the 5th century, whose example, legacy and spirit, are still of great relevance for us in the 21st century.

Junjun Faithbook: St Benedict, it is indeed a great privilege for me to have this opportunity of chatting with you. It is always very affirming to my faith to be able to have a glimpse of someone who lived out the gospel in a more real, personal and practical way.  Could you please tell us something about yourself?

St Benedict: Certainly. Well, I was born around the year 480 at Norcia in Italy. My parents were in a manner of saying coming from a distinguished family. But enough of that. I was born just four years after Romulus Augustulus, the last of the emperors of the Western Roman Empire was deposed in 1976.

Junjun Faithbook: Wow! You are indeed  part of the great moments in our human history.

St Benedict: By the grace of God, yes.

Junjun Faithbook: Anyhow, could you tell us about your Educational background?

St Benedict: Well,  I was on my teenage years when I was sent to Rome to get ‘liberal education’, that included literature and law, and you won’t believe this, I was accompanied by my own ‘nurse’ or perhaps you would call it now ‘a housekeeper.’

Junjun Faithbook: Fancy that! You’re spoiled! And how is it like being in Rome?

St Benedict: It wasn’t really that consoling.

Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?

St Benedict: I don’t like the influences around me.  My companions were living in such a low moral standard, that I decided to leave Rome for good.

Junjun Faithbook: How did you get out of there?

St Benedict: With the help of my ‘housekeeper’ or ‘nurse’ I escaped without telling anyone.

Junjun Faithbook: And where did you go?

St Benedict: We went to the village of Affile, in the mountains about 30 miles from Rome.

Junjun Faithbook: Did you find peace there?

St Benedict: At first yes. Only because I thought then that if I could get away from the temptations of Rome, I would be alright. However, I realized  I was called to something deeper.

Junjun Faithbook: You felt you have discovered your vocation then?

St Benedict: Sort of. So I went alone to a much higher place, on the hills of Subiaco.

Junjun Faithbook: And did you found peace in that wild and rocky country at last?

St Benedict: Not that immediately, I would say. I met a monk there by the name of Romanus. I told him everything my heart desired. I also told him then that I wanted to live a life of a hermit.

Junjun Faithbook: Did he help you in discerning about it?

St Benedict: Absolutely! He assisted me. He even ‘clothed’ me with a sheepskin habit and led me to a cave in the mountain. There I lived on my own.

Junjun Faithbook: So the monk Romanus left you on your own since then?

St Benedict: Not really. For three years, he was the only one who knew my whereabouts. He kept it secret from anyone.

Junjun Faithbook: And how did you  get your daily sustenance?

St Benedict: The monk Romanus brought bread to me daily who drew it up in a basket let down by a rope over the rock.

Junjun Faithbook: That’s what I would call  fraternal dedication and concern.

St Benedict: Indeed! And I am always thankful to God for that.

Junjun Faithbook: And so, you must have enjoyed the solitude there?

St Benedict: At the beginning, yes. But people started coming to gather around me. Their reason was that as they confided to me,  they were attracted by my holiness and by miraculous powers.

Junjun Faithbook: Saints always shine indeed. And you just can’t deny yourself of that privilege so to speak. By the way, who were these people who came to you?

St Benedict: Some of them were just wanting to flee from the world. And some were solitaries who were living among the mountains.

Junjun Faithbook: Did you gather them then as one community?

St Benedict: I tested them if they would obey me. I asked them to settle in ‘twelves’ into a twelve wood-built monasteries, and assigned a prior to each of those monasteries.

Junjun Faithbook: So you didn’t really have to oversee all of them?

St Benedict: No, except those monks I have trained especially for something, so they were under my direction.

Junjun Faithbook: So in that way,  you’ve established your monastery there as a firm and stable community?

St Benedict: In a way, yes. But I actually just set things in order.

Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?

St Benedict: When I saw it certain that they could manage, I withdrew from Subiaco to Monte Cassino.

Junjun Faithbook: Why there?

St Benedict: It is a solitary elevation on the boundaries of the Campania, commanding on three sides, narrow valleys running up towards the mountains.

Junjun Faithbook: It really sounds very convenient for solitude.

St Benedict: Certainly! In fact, I initiated the building of the two chapels there, around which lay the foundation of a great Abbey.

 Junjun Faithbook: And what year was this built?

St Benedict: Around the year 530.

Junjun Faithbook: You must have been in your middle age by then? And you must have enjoyed being a hermit there?

St Benedict: For a certain time, yes, but then people who wanted to follow my lifestyle started coming to Monte Cassino too.

Junjun Faithbook: And you welcomed them?

St Benedict: I couldn’t turn them away. So I gathered them together in one community, appointed a prior over them and deans as well. Yet they still looked up to me for general supervision.

Junjun Faithbook: And besides your disciples, did you also take other people into your Monastery? As guests perhaps?

St Benedict: Yes,  hospitality is one of our major works. And indeed, it had become necessary for us to build more guest rooms to accommodate those people?

Junjun Faithbook: Are they basically lay people who were attracted to your simple and well-ordered lifestyle?

St Benedict: There were also dignitaries of the Church who would come and ask advice at times.

Junjun Faithbook: People would come to you because of your reputation of holiness, wisdom and even miracles.  Have you realized that?

St Benedict: I just did what God wants me to, and I was just being myself as a channel of God’s graces.

Junjun Faithbook: How about the famous Rule of St Benedict that is being followed now by Benedictines and Cistercians around the world, did you compose that  around your time in Monte Cassino?

St Benedict: Around that time yes.

Junjun Faithbook: It really had made such an impact to people. The people  in your time then, especially those who were living in the surrounding country would testify that you cured their sick, relieved their distress, distributed alms and food to the poor, and even said that you raised the dead on more than one occasion, did not all these make you proud of yourself?

St Benedict: It is God who made all those things to happen through me. So what am I to be proud of?

Junjun Faithbook: How about the story that you even told your disciples your imminent death six days before it actually happened to you, and thus you asked them to make a grave ready for you?

St Benedict: Again, it is God’s doing.

Junjun Faithbook:  Let’s praise God for his great love revealed in you St Benedict. Thank you so much for your life and example.  Through your famous Rule, we have learned so much how to balance prayer and work, charity and moderation, and how to make these basic elements of our life, a way for our sanctification. And please pray for us always that like you we may end up in heaven too.

On the last day of St Benedict’s life, he received the Body and Blood of the Lord. With the help of his brothers in the monastery, he was able to stand up in the chapel, with his hands uplifted towards heaven, and breathed his last on the year 547. In 1965, Pope Paul VI declared him Patron Saint of Europe.

St Benedict of Nurcia, pray for us.

 

 

Leave a comment

The beauty of God as a friend

Homily for Easter Vigil 2015

A priest friend of mine shared with me recently an amazing story about his friend, a priest in a certain missionary country. This priest went to a meeting one day. One of those who were there was a man who is blind and he had his guide dog with him sitting by his feet. Upon seeing the dog, the priest tried to pat it but the owner said: ‘No, don’t touch him, he’s working.’ If the priest would have touched the dog, he would have been attacked. Such was the loyalty of the dog to its owner that his attention is solely focused to master. After the meeting though, the owner patted the dog, and said: ‘You can relax now, your work is finished.’ And the dog began to roam around the room and would now allow other people there to touch him.

The priest was amazed of the dog’s dedication to his master. But what the owner said was even more amazing. The blind man said: ‘You know Father, if God would let me choose whether to have perfect eyesight or my dog, I would still choose the dog.’

It’s just an amazing thing that the master would rather still choose to have his personal defects than missing the company of his dog.

In a way, this is a kind of Easter story.

God, the master, the creator of all the universe, most holy, and the source of all perfections,  would rather be one like us through Jesus Christ- a subject to death, taking on our imperfect and sinful conditions, than leaving us die in our own sins and imperfections.

God has it all you know. In fact, God could have chosen not to have anything to do with us. Yet, when he found us in sin, abusing his goodness, disrespecting his creation, denying him at times, not believing him, or disappoint him at times, he didn’t abandon us. It’s not that He can’t. He just won’t abandon us forever.

If I were God, I would have decided: “Okay, it’s not my loss anyway. You people go on your own sinful ways. I don’t care about you anymore. I’ll focus now my attention to something else, somewhere.”

But no, God would even do much more that we can imagine. Through Jesus Christ, his own Son, He would rather take on the ultimate punishment of our sins- death, in order for us to live, in order to enjoy our company with him forever in heaven.

This is one message of Easter- that God enjoys our company so much so that he would break down the enormity of our sins, the gates of hell and the power of death- those things that would separate us from him.

Yes, God, as we have seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, enjoys our company, that he would never give up on us even if at times we try to give up on him in exchange of temporary happiness, greed, false security and worldly honour.

Furthermore, Jesus would never let us down even if at times we let him down. Jesus never came down from the cross even if his closest disciples, let him down. See, they had been with him for three years, seeing every wonderful thing he, did, hearing every comforting word he said, witnessed and experienced amazing events he was in, yet they left him on his own to face his imminent death- his death on the cross, all except John and his mother- Mary. How disappointing would it have been for Jesus not to see his disciples in his final moments.

But, no he didn’t back off. He loves us so much that not only he would take on himself the punishment due to us for our sins, he would also justify us before God the Father as he prayed while hanging on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ Wow! Amazing God!

This one of the final words of Jesus on the cross is one of the most comforting passages in the gospels, in fact in the whole of Scriptures. This just assures us that God, our God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a God of mercy. He is the kind of God- the father of the prodigal son, who was looking out the window day by day for the coming back of his son. This God is that father who would rather take on the ridiculous situation of running towards his son and threw his arms around his son, despite what his son had done to him previously.

As Pope Francis would say: “God never tires of forgiving us, never… The problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.”

Moreover, God enjoys our friendship that he would take all that it costs for this friendship to work out. As Jesus has shown, He lay down his life for his friends.

In addition, God never stops believing us, even if at times we stop believing in him. I just like this beautiful statement I found on our kitchen table this morning that says: ‘Though I’m not perfect, but Jesus thinks I am to die for.’ Wow!

That’s how much we meant for our God. That’s how much Jesus cares for us.

It is just right and fitting that we celebrate this Holy Week, more particularly the Easter triduum with such solemnity, with prayerful reflections, and with ceremonies full of symbolism.

As we just had it- we started the blessings of the fire outside. Then we lit the paschal candle. Then we lit our little candles from the Paschal candle- to remind ourselves of God’s intervention into the story of our salvation as the light of Christ that drives the darkness away. Then we heard the beautiful chant- the Exultet, a summary of the history of our journey with God from the slavery to freedom, inviting us Church to rejoice, because in Christ, God has assured us of our salvation. Then we re-called the history of our salvation through the many readings that tell us of God’s care for us and intervention into our human story. Then we blessed the water, the symbol of our Christian baptism, wherein we not only die with Christ but also rise with him in glory.

We do all these and we celebrate these holy days with such solemnity, because these days remind us that God enjoys our company and that he wants to be part of his circle of friends in heaven.

As we celebrate this Easter season with renewed heart and renewed life, let us also remember those people who courageously spoke up as friends of God- as Christians, especially the victims of the recent massacre in Kenya and in many parts of the world. As we pray for their eternal rest in God, let us learn from their courage in proclaiming the faith.

Let us always remember: In Jesus, we see God that enjoys our company and friendship that He would rather be not only in company with us sinners but really that He would pay the price of our sins in full- through his death on the cross- thus assuring us of eternal life, happiness, peace and friendship with him forever in heaven.

I hope and pray, you all have a holy and a happy Easter.

Amen.

Leave a comment

God, faith, tradition: keep the family grounded

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family 2014

A boy went to a priest and asked: ‘Father, what is a devil?’ The priest replied: ‘The devil is an evil spirit and comes from hell.’ The boy gasped: ‘Oh, so I must be from hell then?’ Surprised, the priests asked: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Well’, the boy explained, ‘my mum always calls meyou little devil.’

It is a sad fact, but true that though God has ordained a human family from which we all are born into, as good and thus for the good of all members, yet some of us would make ‘hell out of it.’ It is unfortunate that there are some of us who just can’t live out the ideals of family life as God has designed it to be from the beginning.

I  believe one reason why God has chosen not only to become ‘flesh’, human like us, but also he chose to be born in a human family is to help us see the importance, the value, the beauty, the real meaning of a human family. As God as he is, he could just have come out of the blue. As God as he is, he could have just appeared anywhere and wherever he wants, in whatever way and whatever form he likes to be. But, no, he chose rather to be born as human, and to be born into a human family, to be cared for, nurtured and raised by a human  father and mother, just like any of us.

Such is the dignity of the human family. Such is the significance of our families. So to remind us this, today the Church celebrates the feast  of the Holy Family in Nazareth. We are now broadening our perspective from just looking at the baby in the manger, we now are to look at the whole nativity scene- the image of a family.

We are to reflect on the Holy Family and as we have it in our opening prayer, we are to ‘imitate them, in practicing the virtues of family life. We can imitate the Holy Family not because they are the perfect family, but because they are the ideal family. I dare to say that the holy family is not the perfect family in terms of our human standards of perfection: i.e. they are poor (Joseph’s job was a carpenter); they could only afford a poor family’s offering for the sacrifice in the temple- a pair of turtledoves (Lk 2:22-40); Mary’s pregnancy is ‘unnatural’; they almost lost Jesus when they left him in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52); they had their ups and downs too as any human family would have.

Indeed, there is no perfect family in this world, but there could be an ideal family. As Pope Francis would say to the engaged couples at St Peter’s Square during the Valentines day this year: “We all know that the perfect family does not exist, nor a perfect husband or wife…(then he paused a moment) we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law.”

The Holy family though is an ideal family for at least three good reasons and in these they are worth imitating.

First, they were grounded in God. They opened their hearts to God and allowed God to be part of their life, of their day to day works and decisions. The last line of our gospel today can assure us this when Jesus “grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.” (Lk 22:40). If God wasn’t real and true, and not welcome in the family of Mary and Joseph, theirs wouldn’t have love in there too, because as St John would say: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love is absent, a family is impossible, that’s where ‘hell is made.

Second, they were grounded in faith. Such is their faith in God and in one another that even if things are not really that clear for Mary and Joseph, even scary and tedious, if you like, they remained firm, they remained grounded. If Mary’s faith is that shallow, she would have trembled in fear and would have done something to prevent what Simeon, the prophet in the temple has said about Jesus as: ‘destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce [her] own soul too.’ I can only imagine Mary’s reaction as I am reminded of  that news months ago about a baby with down syndrome, born in Thailand by a surrogate mother, not taken by the foster parents. If Mary had no faith of what God has done and would do still for her, she would have opted to do away  with Jesus if only later on He would only give her such pain, shame or disgrace so to speak. But no Mary, remained faithful to what God has willed for her. So with Joseph, they did their best to raise their child no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs them and no matter how much pain Mary had to bear later on.

Third, they remained grounded in their tradition. As we have heard in the gospel Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with the child to undergo the purification ritual to offer a sacrifice for the Lord. This is their tradition-

It was a tradition and belief of the Jewish people of old that God is the source of life, and He would channel that life to human beings through blood. So, if a person came in contact with blood, he/she would be deemed to be coming in contact with God’s creative power, and that set this person apart from the ordinary world. This person then would have to undergo a certain ritual bath to go back to his/her ordinary and everyday life. Mary, of course upon giving birth, came in contact with blood and so before she could offer sacrifices to God she would have to go purification first.

This is just a glimpse of how the Holy family observed their traditions. We can see this again, when Jesus reached 12 years old and he was presented in the temple.

There are many challenges that families faced. One challenge for the family today is to uphold the traditional and ancient way of understanding marriage, i.e. between man and woman. Another one is the rise of domestic violence that divides families that leaves a traumatic and sometimes deep psychological wounds for the children. Surely enough there are families today that have fallen short of the ideals of family life.

Let us pray for them, as we pray for our families: that we may all go back to the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn from them how they keep their family grounded in God, grounded in faith and grounded in  tradition. God, faith and tradition are the grounds that would prevent more families from collapsing, and effectively keeping our human society together.

As we pray for our families, I leave you with a recipe for a perfect family. I found this on a website called Tastebook. The ingredients are: 1 loving Father, 1 loving Mother, 4 wonderful children, 2 cute puppies preferably one much larger than the other one, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Directions: 1 Mix together:  (God, faith and tradition- my addition) 2 understanding  3 Patience  4 Laughter   5 Tears  6 Compassion 7 A dash of Humor   8 and a whole ’lotta love! 9 Blend well and serve generous portions, evenly to each and everyday

Source:Barbara: http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/839570-Recipe-for-a-Perfect-Family

 

Leave a comment

Christmas: Humility of God and a call to hospitality for us

Homily for Christmas Mass 2014

Exactly, a month ago, there was a news on the daily telegraph, that really made me cringe. According to the daily telegraph: ‘The malnourished baby boy was found abandoned at the bottom of a 2.4m drain, covered by a concrete slab, after a cyclist and his daughter heard the baby’s screams early Sunday morning.”  “A newborn baby”, the news goes on, “may have been trapped in a storm water drain on the side of a Sydney motorway for up to five days before he was found by passing cyclists…With temperatures tipped to peak above 40C in Western Sydney today there were concerns the child would have died if he had been found later in the day.”  (source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/)

Things like this really made me sick in the stomach.  It made me question how could a mother abandon such an innocent, vulnerable, helpless, defenceless, voiceless human being? How could someone do such a thing?

Friends, I know it is Christmas, a time of joy and a time of peace, a time of giving, a time of sharing, a time of caring, and you might say, I should have chosen a better story than the one I mentioned above. However, I can’t help it, because the story of that little child is a modern Christmas story.

The boy was left to die in the drain. He was abandoned, left to the elements. Somebody heard his cry and came to his rescue. And now I hope he is assured to live with a beautiful story of redemption to tell later on.

That is the story of Christmas. This is our story too. In a way, we are like that little child, helpless, vulnerable, and defenceless against the evil one, groping in the dark gutter of sin and death, thrown in the drain of damnation, Yet, God hears our cry for help. He came down not only to help us out from the gutter of sin and death and leave us on our own once again, but to assure us of a brighter and better future ahead of us. He has come to show us the life reserved for us for all eternity. He came to be the great light for us who walked in the darkness and in the shadow of death.

Christmas means that God has come to be with us-Emmanuel. He is here as one truly like us, in all  things except sin. He listens to our pleas for healing. He listens to our problems. He is sensitive to our needs. He cares for us. As St Paul would say in the Second Reading tonight: ‘He sacrificed himself for us order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people’ and called us to be his own.’

This is one, if not the main reason of all of our Christmas celebrations and Christmas Do’s.

Christ, has come to light our lives. Let us welcome him to be our light, to be at the centre of our lives.

To welcome him this Christmas and more importantly in our lives, is to visit him in the manger/ on the crib. We are to spend time in prayer and reflection before the nativity scene. We begin reflecting on Mary and how she would have felt having given birth not only in the foreign land, but also not in her house, or in the hospital, not even in a proper bed. She gave birth, with Joseph and no other, not even with close friends. She gave birth in the manger- the place to keep the animals at night.  Let us also reflect on Joseph, who stood by Mary, no matter how incomprehensible his situation is, no matter how much would it take him to be the human Father of Jesus.

Let us also reflect on the shepherds, humble, and simple people, loyal workers, no particular voice in the society, no privileged position in their community, just like many of us here tonight, yet readily went to pay a visit to the new-born child once they heard the good news of his birth.

Let us reflect on the lowliness, the poverty, the ordinariness, the simplicity of the manger, that hosted the most important, the most influential, the most powerful person not only in the whole world, but in all of creation, the richest person, the best of all philanthropists- God himself, who was made flesh for us.

To welcome Christ this Christmas also means we give him a place in our dining tables, in our Christmas parties, and celebrations. Even to say grace in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the  Holy Spirit, to acknowledge the presence of God in our homes, to give thanks to God for the blessings he gave us for the past year, would be pleasing to God and a way to give a birthday treat for the birthday boy- the child Jesus.

The question is: Do we even say grace still before or after meals/ Do we still make the sign of the Cross, or say the Trinitarian formula in the name of the Father, and of the Son when we sit down for meals? No matter how short or how simple a prayer of thanks would that be, it matters a lot, because it is a prayer of gratitude. I found some of this simple prayers and feel free to use this.  

Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food, and humbly request that you perform a miracle and remove the calories from dessert.

Lord, please bless this sumptuous feast, and bless the pizza guy who delivered these.

 Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this food we are about to receive…well, everything except the liver and maybe the cauliflower.

 Lord bless my family and may they be nice when they realize I dropped the food on the floor twice.

To welcome Christ this Christmas is to recognize him and welcome him when we meet him on the streets or in our workplaces, or even in our homes. He may be the homeless man looking for an accommodation or some change to get through  the night. He may be the old man in the nursing home with no family and friends to spend Christmas with. He may be the young woman who was looked down by her male colleagues at work. He may be a boy or a girl at home who are surrounded by beautiful toys and the like but never listened to, or seldom appreciated. He may be the person with disability next door living on his or her own, and often abused verbally, physically. He may be the old widow in the neighbourhood who had no one to talk to, or had nobody cared for him.

Christ has come for all of us and for each of these. The challenge for us is to recognise him and make him feel welcome.

Let us make Christ alive in our hearts…this is what Christmas is all about.

With peace and blessings from the Most High, I wish you all a Happy Christmas and Blessed New Year…

God bless!

Leave a comment

Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

Homily for the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

One thing that makes me love the Catholic Church more and more is the fact that our faith and our Catholic tradition have withstood the test of time, have braved through the centuries of persecutions, heresies, dark ages, and modernization. It is just an amazing thing to see that for two millennia  now, the Catholic Church is still standing on the Apostolic pillars laid down by  Jesus Christ himself. Yes, the ‘journey’ wasn’t really that smooth. There have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, trials and challenges. Yet the Church thrives on.  Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who inaugurated this Church at Pentecost and continually guides, sustains, and enlivens us all throughout. And thanks be to the Holy Spirit, the Church has produced  countless saints.

Not intending to sound too triumphalistic or un-ecumenical here, I just share my thoughts and my feelings on this because what and where we are now as a Church is a great testimony that our Lord indeed is true to his words when he ordained Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church and which even ‘the gates of hell’ shall not prevail (Mt 16:18).

The St John Lateran Basilica in Rome, dedicated on this day and which we celebrate is one great witness to the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise to Peter and to us as his Church. I say it is a great witness because this is the first public building constructed by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century. It is a notable thing because this was the first public place of worship for the Christians after 300 years of worshipping in homes, catacombs or in hiding due to terrible persecutions by the emperors in those times.

In the Roman Catholic tradition we honour this day of dedication because this basilica is the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis), the point or centre of unity in the Catholic Church. And because of this particular distinction we call this Church as ‘Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and the World’ and that it is the ‘first Christian basilica’ to borrow the words of Fr Francis J. Moloney, SDB.

We might ask: Why does the whole Catholic Church celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran Basilica?

Four reasons:

First, because the Church is the house of God and thus a holy ground, a place worthy of respect and honour. It is ‘my Father’s house’ Jesus would dare to say to the people in the temple as we heard in the gospel today. (Jn 2:13-22) It is also the place where we can experience and see for ourselves with the eyes of our faith, the meeting between the human and divine, the nourishing of the relationship between us and God. For us Catholics, it is the place, where we can a glimpse of the eternal banquet in heaven by sharing in the Eucharistic meal.

Second, because St John Lateran Basilica reminds us of the integrity and continuity of our Christian Catholic faith proclaimed by and handed on to us by the Apostles, through St Peter, the rock upon which Jesus Christ built his Church. How can a mere building preserve the integrity of faith, we may ask. Well, with this concrete point of reference we are able to trace our true heritage, i.e. our faith in Christ, that it is the same faith proclaimed by the Apostles, that faith which led many Christians to martyrdom, and that same faith proclaimed and handed on to us the early Church Fathers and to all who passed on the Christian faith faithfully through all generations.

Third, this feast also leads us to an appreciation of our own personal faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we are invited to re-examine, re-visit, re-affirm, and re-ignite our Catholic faith. And we can be aided by the knowledge, realization  and conviction that St John Lateran basilica has become a symbol of  the joys of our faith after terrible persecutions, as well as it is a symbol for us to see how the Catholic Church survived through and continued on with her mission in the world over the centuries of tempest, blows, trials, persecutions, modernizations, and even indifference. I call for an examination of our faith because as a Church we are not just a people gathered under a building we call Church. St Paul would say to us in the second reading (1 Cor 3:9-11, 16-17) that we are God’s building, God’s temple ourselves and that the Spirit of God is living among us.

Fourth, St John Lateran basilica is a symbol for us that indeed our faith is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. To understand these marks let us take heed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church  as it explains to us what these marks mean:

The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome. (CCC 866)

The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy. (CCC 867)

The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (AG 2) (CCC 868)

The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.( CCC 869)

So today as we celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran basilica let us thank God for the gift of our faith. Let us also thank God for the sacrifices of our fathers and mothers in the faith who passed on to us the same Christian  faith they had with such integrity, value and meaning. Let us also thank God for the Sacred place he founded and laid down for us wherein we can worship him more freely, more personally and more meaningfully. Finally, let us thank God for gathering us as a Church, as his worshipping assembly and for giving us the opportunity everyday to prepare ourselves for the eternal celebration and for the banquet he has prepared for us in his kingdom. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Praying for the dead- a noble thing to do

Homily for All Souls Day 2014

All Saints day and All Souls Day are two big days in the Philippines. Millions of Filipinos would take a break from our normal work, or studies and take time to go to the Church and to the cemeteries offering prayers for our departed loved ones. I remember the first time I went to the cemetery with my family on All Saints Day, I was really amazed. I was amazed to see many people gathering around the graves of their loved ones praying and lighting candles. It was just  fascinating to see people, young and old, boys and girls, gathering around the graves praying for the dead. Another thing I found amazing there was the way some people pay respect to their dead relatives. Some of them not only offer prayers or light candles or lay flowers. They would also put something on the tombstone or over the grave something that remind them of their loved ones, such as the favourite food of the deceased, favourite beverage or drink, etc. Seeing that, the kid in me kicked in. I just wanted to wander around the cemetery and satisfy my curiosity about the way people honour their dead relatives. However, I had to suppress my curiosity because my father would want us to go and visit each grave of our relatives, spend some 15- 20 minutes in prayer for each of the grave. And because I come from a big clan, I could still remember we literally spent the whole day just moving from one grave to another, praying and lighting candles. And I didn’t have so much fun in that. In fact, I thought then, this is one downside of having come from a big clan. And I could only ask myself: ‘Why bother praying for the dead? They’re dead anyway? I don’t think they really care!’

That was my childhood curiosity.

However looking back at it now, I realized I was being ignorant, because praying for the dead is indeed a big part of my being a Christian, and a Catholic at that. It is in fact part and parcel of our faith. Praying for the dead is one noble act that we can do to help our departed loved ones especially those who are in purgatory.

I’ll just insert in here a small Catechesis about this particular doctrine of Purgatory we Catholics believe in.

Purgatory or purification is a  “state [wherein lay those– my own word] who die in God’s friendship but who still need their  personal sins to be expiated (through the merits of Christ) and who should grow spiritually before enjoying the  beatific vision[1] It is to be admitted though that this doctrine of purgatory however has no clear biblical basis, as Richard McBrien would suggest,  but as McBrien would add “this is not to say that there is no basis at all for the doctrine.[2] There is rather a hint of this in Matthew’s  gospel when Jesus pointed out that there is no forgiveness of  those who sin against the Holy Spirit either in ‘this age or in the age to come’ ( Mt 12:32).  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict VXI) when asked about the doctrine on purgatory answered; “My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it… [because] he said, “few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread- at all times and in all cultures- as prayer for one’s own departed dear ones.”[3] This doctrine therefore is not just an invention of the Church. It is in the Church’s practice of prayer and penance therefore that we can trace  the real foundation of this doctrine.[4] This is affirmed by  the teaching of Lumen gentium in speaking of communion of the whole Mystical Body of Christ. The Council taught:

The Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins (2 Mac 12:46) she offers her suffrages for them.[5]

In saying this  the Council expresses the truth that even after death there is still a possibility for the forgiveness of sins. The purgatory then serves as the cleansing, purifying and sanctifying process for the dead ones who  have decided for God yet not very consistent in living out with their commitment to God.[6] It can also be said that purgatory is God himself purifying, cleansing  and sanctifying us with the fire of his love.[7] This doctrine is definitively taught by the Church in the Council of Trent asserting that  “there is purgatory and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”[8] (End of Catechesis)

This then lead us to one of the powerful ways we can offer in praying for the dead- i.e. Offering a Mass or Holy Masses for them. There is no other prayer that can benefit more to our departed loved ones in the state of purification  than the Holy Mass. If I can only share with you the beauty of the Mass and the benefits it has for us and for all the dead, that would be a great grace. But there’s no word that can best describe the mystery of the Holy Mass. All I can say is that it is so beautiful and that I am so humbled to be able to celebrate it. St Thomas Aquinas said: ‘The Mass, obtains for sinners in mortal sin the grace of repentance. For the just, it obtains remission of venial sins and the pardon of the pain due to sin. It obtains an increase of habitual (sanctifying) grace, as well as all the graces necessary for their special needs.’ This is only a glimpse of the beauty and the benefits of the Holy Mass. Pope St John Paul II even  called the Eucharist, and I can’t agree more, as the Church’s most valuable treasure. In his encyclical letter  Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#9), St John Paul II wrote: ‘The Eucharist, as Christ’s saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.’

So let us thank God for the gift of the Holy Mass. Let us thank God for his generosity to give us his life-giving and soul enriching love for us through the Eucharist. At the same time to observe this month of November as a month to remember in our prayers our departed loved ones, let us make the effort to attend Mass and offer Mass for them.

I invite you to pray with me for all our deceased friends and relatives.

Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brothers and sisters who have died, in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, they will rise with him on the last day.

We give thanks for your blessings which you bestowed upon them in this life: they are signs to us of your goodness and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ.

Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your sons and daughters and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brothers and sisters forever. Amen.

[1] Gerald O’Collins and Edward Farrugia, A Concise Dictionary of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 217.

[2] Richard McBrien, Catholicism (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994), 1143.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (San  Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985),146.

[4]German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Ed. Mark Jordan (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 347.

[5] Vatican Council II, Lumen gentium, n. 50.

[6] German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.

[7] German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.

[8] J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th  revised edition (New York: Alba House, 2001), 2310.

1 Comment

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