Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary time: Come and See

JANUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Behold the Lamb of God
Jesus begins gathering people to himself. This is the beginning of the Kingdom of God which is the gathering of people around Jesus so that he may give them access to the Divine Life. John the Baptist tells his 2 disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And so, they followed Jesus. They were asked by the Lord: What are you looking for? To this, they replied: Rabbi, where are you staying? Jesus invited them: Come and see.

The Lord called Samuel as he slept in the Temple. Twice, Samuel thought that the high priest Eli was calling for him because he was not yet familiar with the Lord. Eli taught Samuel that the next time the Lord calls him, he should say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

John the Baptist taught his disciples. Eli taught Samuel, The disciples followed Jesus and Samuel responded to the Lord. We have here the beginnings of priestly and religious vocations. Vocation is a call coming from the Lord. It is a call to live a life the Lord which the Lord offers a person. Some are called to the married life. Others are called to single blessedness. Others are called to follow the Lord more closely in the priesthood and in the consecrated life. In all these vocations, the Lord begins by asking the person: What are you looking for? The question addresses the deepest desire of the human heart. What do you want to do with your life? Where do you think life is leading you? What will satisfy you?

The answer of the disciples was a simple question: Lord, where are you staying? We want to stay close to you. We want to follow you because perhaps, you are the one we seek. Perhaps, you are the one answer to all our longings. And the Lord responds: Come and see. Come and see for yourself where I live. Come and see for yourself who am I. Come and see for yourself where true happiness comes from.

The disciples were not mistaken when they stayed with the Lord. In fact, Andrew returned home and joyfully said to Simon his brother: We have found the Messiah! This is the joyful affirmation of everyone who ventured to follow the Lord: We have found him! There is joy in following the Lord! People who have taken courage to follow the Lord will testify with great joy: We have found the Messiah!

“Many people, including many of the young, have lost sight of the meaning of their lives and are anxiously searching for the contemplative dimension of their being. They do not realize that Christ, through his Church, can respond to their expectations.” (Evangelica Testificatio, 45.) Christ can respond to the emptiness in the lives of many people. This is why we must teach our young people how to listen for the Lord’s call. We must teach them about Jesus so that they can be familiar with his ways. Interiority is important in discerning the Lord’s call. “The interior man is aware that times of silence are demanded by love of God. As a rule, he needs a certain solitude so that he may hear God ‘speaking to his heart.’” (ET, 46.) The reason why so many people live empty lives is because they were never taught how to pray. They try pursuing fulfillment by burying their interior emptiness through the noise of shallow entertainment. And yet, the emptiness is not filled. Authentic joy seems always evasive.

The only solution to this emptiness is by developing an interior life. We should ask the Lord: Lord, where are you staying. I wish to spend some time with you. I wish to stay in your house. Please speak to me, Lord. Tell me what you want. Your servant is listening. In you alone, Lord, will my heart find rest.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno

January 9 in Manila is a great feast. It is the Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Although it is not a liturgical feast, millions flock to venerate the image and also to join that immense procession that reenacts the transfer of the image to Quiapo Church/

The official name of the image is Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno. I have always been intrigued by this title. Why is the Black Nazarene called "Nuestro Padre?" He is God the Son and not the Father. So why should he be called "Padre"?

I think that we can explain this by affirming that the Lord Jesus is the First-born Son. Not only is he the first-born of the blessed Virgin Mary. St. Paul calls Jesus "the first-born of all creation" and "the first-born of the dead."

In the family, the first-born exercises some fatherly authority over the household. Parents entrust some parental responsibilities to the first-born over the younger sons and daughters. Thus, the first-born is "father" to his siblings. Not that he replaces the Father. Rather, the authority of the Father resides in him.

Thus, it is right to address him as "Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno" In fact, the title itself tells us that the Nazareno is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Before the priesthood was entrusted to the sons of Levi, it was first the work of the head of the household...a role which was entrusted to the first-born Son. Christ is the head of the Church. He is the first-born of creation. He is first-born of the dead. We see him carrying the heavy load of the Cross as Isaac carried the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Victim who will be laid on the wood of the sacrifice. He is the Priest who enters the Holy of holies not with the blood of animals but with his own Blood. Here is the Priest who walks towards the mountain of sacrifice. And the entire multitude follow him to the Altar.

Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, Priest and Victim, offer now your sacrifice for us!

King, God and Victim for all

JANUARY 7, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you.

Wise men coming from the East came searching for the new-born King of the Jews. Finding the Child with Mary his mother, they prostrated before him and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is about this day that we sing: May 3 haring nagsidalaw at ang bawa’t isa ay nagsipaghandog ng tanging alay. Today should be the gift giving day. Gift giving, which has become an essential part of the Christmas, derives its meaning from the story of the magi.

The magi offered gifts because they understood that the baby before them was the primary gift of that day. The Child Jesus is the Father’s gift to all humankind. Being gentiles, these wise men were not Jews. They did not belong to the chosen people of God. And yet, they recognized the fact that the Child Jesus was also given by God to them. They offered gold because Jesus is King not only of the Jews but of the whole world. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had an inscription placed on the Lord’s head which read: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It was written in 3 languages – Hebrew, Latin, and Greek – not only for purpose of wider intelligibility but also to symbolically point to the universality of Christ’s kingship. He is King of all nations. “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.”

They offered frankincense because Jesus is God not only of the Jews but of the whole world. They prostrated before him and worshiped him because every nation on earth will adore him. They offered myrrh because Jesus is the Paschal Victim who will die for all humanity. Myrrh is used to anoint the dead in preparation for their burial.

Jesus is the Father’s gift not only to the Jews, but to all of us. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Because he is given to us, we should offer him the gift of ourselves. “He wanted the pure gold of a heart detached from all earthly goods; the myrrh of a renunciation of all the happiness of this world in exchange for participation in the life and suffering of Jesus; the frankincense of a will that surrenders itself and strains upward to lose itself in the divine will. In return for these gifts, the divine Child gave us himself.” (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) Such gift can come only from a sincere conversion of heart. The Magi returned to their country by another way. This does not only mean that they did not return to Herod. It also means that their encounter with the Baby Jesus was a life-changing encounter. They were never the same after this encounter. Detachment, renunciation, and surrender were the response they gave to this wondrous gift of God’s only Son. Today, God’s love is revealed…his love for all of us. We can only respond to this by turning away from our worldly lives and by setting our hearts on the true gold which is the treasure of eternal life. We burn our own will and surrender so that it may rise up to God as a pleasing spiritual offering. We anoint ourselves with the myrrh of self-denial. Dying to ourselves, we unite ourselves with the sufferings and death of Jesus. It is only then that we shall be overcome with joy because such a conversion of heart will clarify our vision and lead us like a star to Jesus. There, we shall prostrate before him. We shall open to him our hearts. “For in sacrifices you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn.”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Circumcision of the Lord

JANUARY 1, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

When 8 days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus…
Our obsession with the new civil year usually deviates our attention from the liturgical significance of the 8th day of Christmas. What do we really celebrate on this 8th day? The Gospel tells us that on the 8th day, the Son of Mary was circumcised and was given the name Jesus.

What is circumcision? It is the cutting off of the foreskin of a boy’s reproductive organ. In the Jewish religion, this ritual is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. An Israelite man bears in his body the permanent mark of his belonging not only to the chosen people but also of his belonging to God. And this mark of the covenant is found in the most intimate part of a man’s anatomy because his relationship with God is the most intimate of all human relations. The cutting off of the foreskin signified the purgation of sin. On account of the fragility of our human nature and our inclination to sin, “the circumcision on the 8th day prefigures the complete purgation of sin on the age of the resurrection.” (Gregory Dippipo)  

Born of a woman, born under the Law
Even though Jesus was like us in all things except in sin, nevertheless he subjected himself to the circumcision. He was born of a woman and born under the law so that he may redeem those who were enslaved by the law. His name means “God saves.” He is God who saves us by taking up our human nature and by subjecting himself to the law. In his human nature, God the Son received the permanent mark of belonging to the Father. He had no sin. He is the unblemished Paschal Lamb who “ransoms those under the law so that we may receive adoption as sons.” The blood he shed in this circumcision is the “first blood” – the first of the blood that shall be shed as a ransom for us from sin. His Blood buys us from the slavery of sin so that he may adopt us as children for God. “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son, then also an heir, through God.”

This is the newness that he brings to us by his Incarnation. It is the newness of Divine Filiation. To those who accept him, he gave the power to be sons of God. We gave him a Mother. He gave us a Father. He assumed our humanity so that he may raise us into his Divinity. And this is depth of the new covenant in his Blood. He received the ancient mark of the circumcision so that you and I may receive the Holy Spirit’s indelible mark, the character, at Baptism. Now, we do not need to be bodily circumcised because we have received a spiritual circumcision when we were baptized. It was not only a foreskin that was cut off. The Holy Spirit abolished the misery of our fallen human nature by dwelling in us. We are no longer poor. We are rich heirs of God. This inheritance that we received is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us – the Spirit who enables us to call God: Abba!

We walk in this newness of creation. The New Year reminds us of this newness – our newness as sons and daughters of God. May we not hold on to our former slavery to sin. May we walk in the newness of the freedom of the children of God. He loved the Mother we gave him. May we love the Father he has given us.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tempus Fugit on New Year's Eve

December 31, 2017

Jesus, I trust in you!

To Mary we entrust the New Year
Of the many days of the year, we could not be more attentive to time than tonight, New Year’s Eve. People get very excited over the countdowns towards midnight. I had the privilege of being in Hong Kong last New Year’s Eve. It was my first time to be out of my parish at the end of the year and I noticed how the secular world gave much importance to every minute, every second that passes by. The excitement builds up towards the last 10 seconds of the passing year.

This New Year’s Eve is the occasion for us to consider seriously the reality of the passing of time. Time is running (Tempus fugit). It always has and it always will be. Time moves forward and we can never take back lost time. Once time has passed, it is gone forever. And we cannot claim that there is an infinite supply of time.  Time is limited. We move towards a specific and determined end of time. That end is set in the secrecy of the heart of God the Father. It is a deadline that will never be moved and so every moment that passes by brings us closer to that end. When we say that time is running out, we are literally saying the truth.

This is why time is valuable. We say that time is gold. It is worth more than gold. And we will make an accounting for it before the Lord Jesus when we stand before his judgment seat. At the end of our lives, we shall render an account to the Lord about how we used his graces and the time that he has given to us during life. That is why tonight is the best opportunity to make a year- end evaluation of our lives. Spend time to make a very personal year-end report. What were the graces I received during the year? How did I use them? How did I waste opportunities for goodness that the Lord gave me? What did I do with my time? Was every second well spent? Did I increase in holiness this year? Am I more loving or less loving? Have I become more generous now or have I become more selfish? Am I closer to God now or have we drifted apart this year? Write down your year-end report in a notebook. It would be good to read it time and again so that you may be aware of your progress or regress. This honest examination of conscience is necessary. Remember, we are moving toward the deadline and time is running out.

It sounds like this New Year’s Eve will be quieter than the previous ones because of existing laws on firecrackers. I think that this is better. Firecrackers will not scare off the demons anyway. It is best to confront our personal demons with prayer.  A sincere examination of conscience is the best way to confront the evil lurking within us. And after examining our conscience, let us beg the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. Many of us were busy cleaning our houses in time for the New Year. But have we cleaned our hearts? Have we gone to confession? Have we asked for forgiveness?  Have we settled our account with God? Have we paid our dues to him? Nakabawi na ba tayo sa kanya?

On this New Year’s Eve, our prayer must be: “Lord, teach us to number our days, so that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps. 90:12) Instead of counting the seconds backwards, it is better to ask: what we have done with this time given to us? Do not meet the New Year. The Year is not alive. It is just a measurement of time. Meet the Lord tonight instead. He is here in Church. He is alive and he wishes to engage in a heart-to-heart conversation with you. Spend an intimate date with the Lord tonight. The opportunity of the New Year’s Eve is just right. Time passes away. Why hold on something that eventually gets lost? Only God stays. He is eternal. He is forever!

 “My past to your mercy Lord; my present to your love; my future to your providence.” (Padre Pio) There is nothing else that I ask.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The silence of the Octave of Christmas

As the shepherds made known the message that had been told them about the child, "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."

As things have slowed down in church, I thought that Christmas had turned quieter elsewhere. I was mistaken. People have not yet finished their shopping. Mall have devised a scheme to keep customers coming back - they declared holiday sales. Not satisfied with commercialism encroaching into Advent, it now invades the Christmas Octave. Many take advantage of the holiday spirit and prefer to spend the octave in leisure. People are everywhere...except in Church. 

This makes me wonder: How many of our faithful have taken time to sit in silence before the Manger of the Lord? I suppose that with all the activities that vie for our attention during the holidays, so very few can honestly say that they have spent time in silent prayer before the Lord's manger. 

Our Lady wrapped her new-born Son in swaddling clothes and laid him on a manger...and then, she silently reflecting on this great mystery that unfolded before her very eyes. She teaches us the proper attitude that we must take before this great mystery of the Incarnation. It is the attitude of prayerful silence.

I chanced upon a Mister Bean Christmas episode. It showed Mr. Bean playing with the figures of a Belen. The cow "moooed" and St. Joseph told it: "Shhhh." The donkey "neighed" and Our Lady said to it: "Shhhh." One of the magi coughed and his companions told him: "Shhhh." It is funny and it may seem irreverent for the standards of the pious and the devout. But from this funny episode, I realized that for one to stand before the manger, he must heed the warning: "Shhhh! Be quiet!" Be still, my soul, because you stand in the presence of God.

I suppose that the carol "Silent Night" did not only refer to the silence of the night when the Savior was born. It also referred to the silence of the mouth that is needed so that the heart may recognize the Savior who quietly came down from heaven.  Silence is needed so that we may enter into the depth of the mystery of the Lord's kenosis.

The Octave provides for us this opportunity for silence. The crowds prefer to stay away from Church and spend their time in places of leisure. And we have the Baby Jesus all for ourselves. Together with Our Lady and St. Joseph, we kneel in silence before the new-born Son of God. We kneel in the silence of a cave. 

And we take advantage of the silence of the octave. We should savor this silence before the guests (magi) come on Epiphany. When he is revealed on the Jordan River and in the marriage feast of Cana, it will noisy from then on. People will want to take hold of him: "Everybody is looking for you." The public ministry which epiphany will usher in will definitely be busy.

This is the reason why we have to keep the silence of the Lord's nativity while the octave gives us the opportunity to do so. When Epiphany comes, it will be busy for us once again.  Thus, while Epiphany is not yet here, let us go to Bethlehem and see this new-born king. let us be like Mary who kept all these things and reflect on them in her heart!

Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Preparation of Altar Bread in the ciborium

I offered Mass in another parish and during communion, I discovered that there were a lot of broken pieces of the Sacred Species in the ciboria taken from the tabernacle. During the purification of the vessels, I decided to collect the broken pieces of the Sacred Species and all these filled one fourth of a ciborium (added to this would be the thick mound of Sacred Particles / "crumbs" for the uncatechized).

St. Therese as sacristan
I was saddened by this because such should show so much carelessness in the preparation of the gifts for the Mass. It seemed that the sacristan / some other minister in charge simply opened a plastic bag of altar bread and poured the contents into the ciboria without even bothering to check if the bread poured were broken or damaged. He might even have carelessly poured in the crumbs also.

Does the presence of the crumbs in the ciborium matter? So what if there were broken pieces of altar bread included in the gifts to be consecrated? I think proper attention should have been given to the preparation of the hosts not simply on account of some "pickiness" on my part but rather in the theology that goes with it.

I remember the Rev. Fr. Frederick Fermin, OP, our rector, once reprimanded me regarding the preparation of the altar bread. He insisted that the big host and the small hosts should be carefully selected. Care must be taken in the selection of the altar bread. The one in charge of this must make sure that there are no breakage in each piece.  This is because the lamb selected for the sacrifice must always be unblemished and uninjured. This is the reason why the shepherds kept watch during the night of the birthing season of the sheep. They have to make sure that each lamb born from the Temple flock would be wrapped in swaddling clothes to keep them from injuring themselves. The lambs born from the Temple flock had to be unblemished so that they can be offered in sacrifice during the Paschal feast.

If we keep in mind that the Mass is truly the Sacrifice of Christ, we will understand the necessity of carefully selecting the altar bread to be used. The "lamb" must be unblemished. The only time the Lamb is broken would be at the breaking of the bread. The ritual of the breaking of the bread is not done only to distribute and share the Body of Christ among those who take part in the sacrifice. The breaking of the bread is also the moment of destruction of the Sacred Victim. It is the moment when the Holy Sacrifice is consummated. Thus, the spotless, unblemished, uninjured Host is destroyed in an act of Sacrifice which renders God the highest act of worship.

Thus, the sacristans must be mindful of their job. I have offered Masses in convents of consecrated women and I truly appreciate how the altar bread are selected and neatly arranged in the ciborium. This care and attention for such details indicate true devotion and a real appreciation of what is about to transpire at Mass: the offering of the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.