Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On the 40th Day of Easter

In the Philippines and in some other countries, the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord will be transferred to Sunday and it will take the place of the 7th Sunday of Easter. The reason for this is that the Ascension Feast is not a Holy Day of Obligation here and so the Feast is transferred to Sunday when people are obliged to assist at Mass.

I have no objection to celebrating an External Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday so that more people can participate in it. However, I have issue with not celebrating this Feast on the ACTUAL 40TH DAY OF EASTER. In most parishes today, there is not even a hint that om this day, Christ ascended into heaven. It is as if nothing happened today. Why is that an issue for me?

First of all, the Acts of the Apostles is written: "After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. " (Acts 1:3) The Scriptures testify to the fact that the Ascension happened on the 40th day of the Resurrection. When we do not celebrate the Ascension today (the 40th day) because we will celebrate it on Sunday, then we are giving out the message that Christ our Lord ascended to heaven on the 43rd day of Easter.

Before the Vatican II liturgical reform, the celebration of the external solemnities on Sundays was already practiced. Its purpose was to enable more people to celebrate the mystery in as much as Sunday was an obligatory day for Mass. However, even if there was an external solemnity, still, the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated on Ascension Thursday, which is the actual 40th day. Perhaps, fewer people are able to assist at Mass but at least there was no liturgical denial that the Lord ascended to heaven on the 40th day.

In fact, in the new English Translation of the Roman Missal, the collect for the Vigil Mass of the Ascension reads: "O God, whose Son TODAY ascended to the heavens as the apostles looked on, grant, we pray, that in accordance with his promise, we may be worthy for him to live with us always on earth..." If the Vigil Mass were celebrated on Saturday evening (which would be the eve of the 43rd day), would he really be honest in the prayer if he said "Your Son TODAY ascended to the heavens..."? Of course, the liturgists would appeal to the argument that the prayer refers to the Liturgical Hodie (today) but these are distinctions in theology which the ordinary faithful are not familiar with. The same is said by the Preface of the Ascension: "The Lord Jesus,,,ascended TODAY to the highest heavens..." The same is said by the Solemn Blessing of the Feast: "May the almighty God bless you for ON THIS VERY DAY his only begotten Son pierced the heights of heaven."

I repeat that I do not have any objection to the celebration of an external feast on Sunday for the sake of the people who cannot go to Mass on Ascension Thursday. But let us not liturgically deny on the actual 40th day that Christ ascended to heaven. To my opinion, we have to keep the Feast on the actual 40th day itself.

Communion of will: the Maturity of Love

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Last Sunday, Jesus told us: “Remain in me as I remain in you.” And we heard that we will remain in him as long as we keep his commandments: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Today, the Lord Jesus gives us his new commandment: “Love one another as I love you.” The Lord does not simply command us to love one another in any way we would like. He was very specific. It had to follow a pattern: “As I love you.” The pattern of our love for one another is his love for us. What does this mean? It means that even before commanding us to love, he first loved us. He first loved us because God himself is love as St. John said in the 2nd reading: “Love us of God…God is love.” Pope Benedict said: “In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1.) here we find the novelty of Biblical revelation. The Bible reveals to us a new image of God: it is the image of one true God who loves man. God loves us with a personal love. It is comparable to the love of a husband for his wife. This love “is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives.” (Deus Caritas Est, 10) On account of our “adultery” against God, God’s love goes beyond gratuity. His love is a forgiving love. God’s love “is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” (ibid.)  “In Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the ‘stray sheep’, a suffering and lost humanity.” (Deus Caritas Est, 12) “His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand (what the 2nd reading told us): “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” “There can be no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

God, who is love, first loved us even in spite of our infidelity against him. “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son in expiation for our sins.” “Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1) “The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given.” (Deus Caritas Est, 14.) The experience of being loved by God changes us and makes our love mature to the point that we being to love what he loves and to reject what he rejects. Thus, we now learn to look at one another from the perspective of Jesus. “In God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know.” My communion with the will of Jesus affects even my feelings: “I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend.” I begin to look at my neighbors with that loving gaze of Jesus. I desire to lay down my life for my neighbor because he is my friend. And because I am willing to die for this neighbor, I will not deny him even the smallest act of service. How can I be expected to die for my neighbor if I am not even willing to serve him? If I cannot be faithful in little things, how can I be trustworthy of bigger things? Regardless of whomever it is who stands before me, I must be willing to look with loving eyes and extend my helping hand for I am loved by God and I desire to love like him.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Remain in Him

Remain in me as I remain in you.
Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

 “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” the Lord Jesus repeats these words again and again in today’s gospel reading. Using the image of the vine, the Lord demonstrates for us how he gives life to us and how he assures us of a fruitful life. The vine is the source of life of its branches. It is the vine which gets the nourishment from the soil and that nourishment is transmitted to its branches. Thus, so long as the branches are attached to the vine, they continue to live and thus bear fruit. Our relationship with the Lord Jesus is like that of the branches to the vine. We are alive and we bear fruit only so long as we are attached or connected to the vine. This relationship is called “communion”. So long as we are in communion with the Lord, so long as we remain in him as he remains in us, we are alive and the proof of life is the fact that we bear fruits. The Lord Jesus tells us: “Without me, you can do nothing.”

But this is really the question: How do we remain in him? St. John in the 2nd reading tells us: “Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” We remain in the Lord by keeping his commandments. It is easy to claim that we are in communion with the Lord because it is easy to deceive our own selves. It is easy to pretend that we are in communion with the Lord by saying that we get emotionally “high” during our prayers or claim that we feel “blessed na blessed ni Lord.” Just as it is easy to just say “I love you” to almost everyone as the artistas and politicians can easily say these words. But when can we say that we truly love the Lord? Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And so, St. John tells us: “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.” But what are these commandments? St. John tells us: “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”

We remain in Jesus if we believe in Jesus. “Whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.” But this faith is translated into action for “faith without works is dead.” The works that manifest a living faith are works of love…not just words of love but works of love. Words of affection are cheap. They are given worth only when put into action. Thus, St. John says: “Let us love not just in word or speech but in deed and truth.” The Lord Jesus left us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Therefore, our love for each other becomes the sign that we belong to Jesus. it is the sign that we are his disciples. Among the fruits that the Holy Spirit produces in us, it is love that is the first. Thus, a person who truly belongs to Jesus is a loving person.

We remain in Jesus if we believe in Jesus. faith in Jesus is nourished by the Sacraments, by prayer, and by meditation on the Words of the Lord. A cellphone has to be charged in order to stay connected. In like manner, in order to stay connected to Jesus, we have to be charged with the Spirit whom we receive in the sacraments and also in prayer and in listening to God’s word. Only then can we increase in our faith in the Lord. Only then can we keep on loving him by loving one another. Let us remain in him as he remains in us. By remaining in Jesus, we glorify the Father. by remaining in Jesus, we bear much fruit and become his disciples.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Priests Smelling like the Good Shepherd

The TV series ‘Parikoy” is creating a renewed interest in the Catholic priesthood. It casts a handsome actor to play the role of a young priest who definitely immerses himself into the lives of the flock he serves. Perhaps, the TV series would like to portray what Pope Francis said: that shepherds must acquire the smell of the sheep. Indeed, the Pope’s words are creating a great paradigm shift in the way we now see the priesthood. There is now a trend of expecting priests to descend from their exalted social pedestals in order to be more immersed in the lives of the ordinary people and this seems laudable. After all, this is the example that the Lord Jesus himself left us. He descended from his heavenly throne and became poor like us. He embraced the misery of the human condition. But we must not forget the reason for this self-emptying. He came down in order to lay down his life for his sheep. He came in order to battle the wolf that threatens his sheep. He engages in this battle by laying his life and in this way, he emerged as the victor: “I have power to lay (my life) down, and power to take it up again.” He descended into the depth of our human misery, which is death, so that rising from it, he may take us up with him. And it is this truth that many of us miss. Expecting the shepherd to smell like the sheep, we think that the priest should be like everybody else and thereby lose sight of the very purpose of his ministry, which is to be like Christ as told to us by the 1st letter of St. John.

Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and mine know me.” That Christ knows each of us is something that we are sure of. But do we, who consider ourselves as the sheep of Christ, know Christ? I think it is important to know Christ because unless we do so, we will never be like him. And this is the role of the priest. His role is to elevate the flock so that they may know and be like Christ. I remember my seminary rector who told us that when everybody is drowning in the mud, someone has to be on a higher place in order to pull up those who are drowning. If everybody is in the mud, who will be capable of pulling people out of their predicament? In a hospital, it is important that the doctor be well because if he were sick like everybody else, how can he treat and cure his patients? Christ who went down into the depth of human misery had the power to rise from it and to bring us with him. If the sheep want to pass through the valley of death, they have to listen carefully to the voice of the Good Shepherd  and follow him because “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

If we expect shepherds to acquire the smell of the sheep, we must not forget that the sheep must acquire the smell of Christ the Good Shepherd. The sheep must acquire the odor of holiness, the sweet odor of Christ, lest the shepherd fails to bring them to the green pastures and the restful waters of heaven. We simply cannot afford to remain in the world as if we were of the world. Remember that St. John tells us in the 2nd reading: “The world did not know him.” Being the alter Christus, the priest cannot smell like the world. He must be the first to exude the sweet odor of Christ. Kailangang mag amoy Diyos ang pari. Hindi mag astang Diyos kundi mag amoy Diyos. This is what we need: holy priests, not entertaining priests, not singing priests, not acting priests, not running priests, but holy priests, priests who pray, priests who really know the ways of God. If the sheep are to be led to holiness, they must be guided by holy priests. Look at how St. Margaret Mary was guided by a holy spiritual director in the person of St. Claude de la Columbiere. Look at how St. Faustina was guided by Blessed Michael Sopocko. Look at how St. Dominic Savio was guided by St. John Bosco. The list goes on and on and on…holy priests leading their flock to holiness. We need to pray for holy priests to serve God’s holy people…priests who do not smell like the world but who exude the sweet odor of Christ!

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

The Assurance of our Future Resurrection

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

It was quite natural for the apostles to think that they were seeing a ghost when Jesus stood among them. It is because ghostly apparitions prove to us that the soul survives the body after death. This is why Jesus showed them his hands and feet and even challenged them to touch him in order to prove that he is not a ghost but it is truly him risen from the dead: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and blood as you can see I have.” Here the disciples were confronted by an entirely new reality. Here they saw not just the soul which lives on beyond the death of the body. Rather, what they saw was the body of Jesus, who truly died, now risen and living because his soul was restored to it.
“By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion. Yet, at the same time, this authentic real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.” (CCC, 645)

“Christ’s Resurrection is the principle and the source of our future resurrection.” (CCC, 655) Because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that even though we die, we will surely resurrect from the dead also. And at our own resurrection, our bodies will be like unto the risen body of Jesus. Yes, it will be the same body but this time, it will be incorruptible and immortal: “This corruptible (body) must put on incorruption; and this mortal (body) must put on immortality.” Our resurrected bodies will not be like the walking dead…lifeless, soulless, in the state of decay. Rather, our risen bodies will be like that unto Christ’s risen body: youthful, beautiful, and immortal. Our bodies will rise with all the soundness of body which is natural to man. Our bodies will no longer bear physical defects. They will be totally free from the defects of the present life. All will rise in the condition of perfect age, that is, of 33 years, which is the age of Jesus when he died and resurrected from the dead. Those who died before reaching the perfect age will be given what they lack. Those who died old, who lost the perfect age, will have restored to them what they once had. In other words, we will all rise in the eternal youthfulness of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus tempers our sorrow over the death of a beloved. Yes, we grieve over the death of a loved one but not to the extent of losing all hope. Knowing that death is but temporary, we look forward when we shall meet each other again when we rise from our own graves. The resurrection of Jesus also takes away our fear of death. Thus, martyrs and saints can readily give up their lives for Jesus because they know fully well that what they lost for him, they will receive from him again. The resurrection of Jesus gives us the incentive to live uprightly and to avoid evil. Our lives are not regulated by brief and determined time. Instead, our lives are regulated by eternity. We strive to live uprightly because we know that we shall receive eternal rewards for whatsoever we do here on earth. The resurrection of Jesus invites us to repent and to be converted for the sake of what lies ahead: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!