One time three pastors were discussing about bat infestation in their churches. “I got so mad,” said one, “I took a shotgun and fired at them. Some got killed but the majority are still up there.” “I tried pesticide spray,” said the second pastor, “but those damn bats gave birth to new ones.” “I haven’t had any more problems,” said the third pastor.“What did you do?” asked the interested two. “I simply baptized them,” he replied. “I haven’t seen them in church since then!”
Indeed, like those bats, after baptism, many Christians are never seen in church again. This is what the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called “unchurched.” “Unchurched” has three categories:
First, the “nominal catholics.” These refer to the catholics in name only or the so-called KBL (Kasal, Binyag, Libing) Christians. Or, as one Bishop described it: Katolikong nakaalala lamang sa Dios tuwing panahon ng Kulog at kidlat, Baha at bagyo, Lahar at lindol. Or, as someone put it, Christians who come to church only three times in their whole lifetime – when they are “hatched, matched, dispatched” … to the cemetery or memorial garden, that is.
Second, the “uninformed and unformed faithful.” These refer to that many baptized Catholic Christians who grow up grossly ignorant of religious instructions and their obligations as Christians and were not formed by Christian values and virtues. There is a story said about candidates for marriage who were personally interviewed by the parish priest in a far flung area. “Do you know any dogma of the Church?” asked the priest. The girlfriend to save his boyfriend from embarrassment due to ignorance immediately answered, “The dogma of the Holy Trinity, Father!” Then the priest threw another question, “How many God do Christians have?” “Of course, one, Father,” answered the girlfriend. Then the priest gave a follow-up question, “How many divine persons in God?” “Obviously, its three divine persons, Father,” said the girlfriend. Finally, the priest turned his attention to the boyfriend and asked, “How about you? Do you have any idea what or who are the three persons in God?” The boyfriend, caught in his ignorance, responded, “Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar.” He confused the Holy Trinity with the Three Kings.
Third, the”uninterested parishioners.” These refer to the majority of Christian parishioners who are indifferent, lukewarm and uninvolved to the mission, mission and goals of the parish. In particular, uninterested to get involved with any program, project and activity of the parish. Examples of these are the Catholic parishioners who never go to Mass, who never confess their grave sins even at least once a year during Lenten season, who never receive communion, who never observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinent, who never keep holy Sunday and other holy days of obligation, and lastly, who never provide to the best of their ability for the material needs of the Church.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus is baptized not because he is a sinner but because he wants to be in solidarity with us especially in our journey towards the Kingdom of God. That he is with us and is one of us. Furthermore, the baptism of Jesus is more of a revelation of who he is and what his mission should be. As William Barclay writes: “So in the baptism there came to Jesus two certainties–the certainty that he was indeed the chosen One of God, and the certainty that the way in front of him was the way of the Cross.”
As we celebrate this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we are reminded of the necessity of baptism in relation to our salvation and the mission entrusted to us when we were baptized in the Lord. Is baptism really necessary? Yes, because baptism is or calls us to:
B – bath of rebirth. Original and actual sins are washed away and the baptized becomes a new creation
A – anointing with the Holy Spirit. The baptized, like Jesus, is anointed as priest, prophet and king.
P – erfection of Charity and Fullness of Christian life when it is no longer I who lives in me but Christ.
T – otal dedication and commitment to live the truth of faith in every moment and aspect of life.
I – nterior repentance and conversion toward new life in Christ.
S – eal of salvation. The baptized is sealed with indelible character that he belongs to Christ and marked to be saved.
M – ission to bear fruits of holiness and evangelization.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us that to glorify God is to be “in the church and in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:21). Hence, faith and baptism are joined as preconditions of salvation (Mark 16:16). It is, therefore, fitting and praiseworthy to renew our baptismal promises to love God above all and to reject Satan and all his wickedness.
In the Prologue of the Gospel according to John, the Evangelist solemnly declared: In the beginning was Word. And the Word was with God. The Word was God…He dwelt among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory that belongs only to God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.
How the glory of Jesus as the Christ was revealed, manifested and shown upon to the nations, to the Gentiles? The glory that belongs only to God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, is revealed to the Gentiles in many and various ways:
- In the Birth of Jesus which we commemorate every time we celebrate Christmas.
- In the person and visit of the “Magi” or the “Learned Men” from the East which we commemorate every time we celebrate the Solemnity of Epiphany, the climax of the Christmas Season.
- In the Baptism of the Lord which the Church commemorates every time we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, the conclusion of the Christmas Season.
- In the First Miracle of Jesus at Cana where he transformed jars of waters into jars of quality wine.
Today, the Christmas Season concludes with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Liturgy offers us, in St Luke’s account, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (cf. 3:15-16, 21-22).
The Evangelist narrates that, while Jesus was in prayer, after having received Baptism among the many who were drawn by the preaching of the Precursor, the heavens opened and under the form of a dove the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In that moment a voice from on high resounded: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favour rests” (Lk 3:22).
The Baptism of the Lord was held in great importance by the apostolic community, not only because in that circumstance, for the first time in history, there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads to Palestine.
The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the Cross, and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.
There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our Baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened (cf. Lk 3:21) to indicate that the Saviour has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5), accomplished in Baptism.
In it we are inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed with him, as the Apostle Paul often emphasized (cf. I Cor 12:13; Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:27). The commitment that springs from Baptism is, therefore, “to listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
In this way everyone can tend to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May Mary, the Mother of the beloved Son of God, help us to be faithful to our Baptism always.
There is a Latin maxim that says, “Tempus fugit!”, which means in English “Time flies!” Indeed time flies quickly. It seems like only yesterday when we were preparing with all excitement and joy for Christmas. Today it is already the Feast of Epiphany that we are celebrating which brings us to the last Sunday of the Christmas Season. Just a friendly reminder: In case you failed to give someone earlier a Christmas gift, you still have some time today to do it.
The Feast of Epiphany that we are celebrating today is popularly known also as the Feast of Three Kings. The Germans were the ones who “coined” and popularized this “Feast of Three Kings.” Based on the German tradition it was assumed that there were “three kings” because of the presence of the three gifts, namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh which were very expensive during that time that only a King can afford to give it as a gift.
If we go back, however, to the biblical texts of the Gospel According To Matthew we will discover that there was no mention of the word “king.” There was no mention also of the word “three.” What was being mentioned only was the term “magi” which literally means “wise men,” “learned men,” or “enlightened astrologers.” But they were not the “fortune tellers” or the “manghuhulas” that we have today.
What is something definite in the story is that there were wise men from the East who, under the guidance of the star, had searched and found the infant Jesus with Mary his mother. They knelt down and worshiped the new-born King, opened their gifts and offered him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have symbolical significance to the divine identify and mission of Jesus. Gold symbolizes the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus. Myrrh symbolizes the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross that brought about our salvation. Having warned not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
What is epiphany? “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance” of God in the person or humanity of Jesus. It is also a revealing scene and event when God was pleased to disclose His identity, mission and plan of salvation not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. Epiphany also means an illuminating discovery or realization that Jesus, indeed, is the “Immanuel” the “God-with-us.”
What are the significance or implications of Epiphany in relation with our sanctification and salvation?
First, epiphany tells us that in Jesus, God became visible and audible for us. Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God. In him the fullness of divinity dwells (see Col 1:15). St. John the Evangelist rightly describes the mystery of Incarnation in his Prologue when he wrote: “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God; And the Word was made flesh; and He dwelt among us” (see Jn 1:1-5, 9-14). For John, however, Jesus is not only the “Word Made Flesh’ but also the “Love Made Flesh” when he declared: Through him we have seen and believe in the Love of God for us (1 Jn 4:16).
Second, epiphany tell us that the in Jesus God once again became accessible to us. In Jesus we have once again access to the Father. In Jesus we have once again access to the Father’s Kingdom. In Jesus we have once again access to the fullness of truth and grace that God alone can give. As Jesus himself declared: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).
Third, epiphany tells us the God wants all men and women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the fulness of truth (1 Tim 2:3-4), that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). The kingdom of God is intended for all men and women of all generations. God does not want anyone to perish eternally in hell. Salvation, therefore, is inclusive not exclusive.
What are some of the challenges for all of us? Like the wise men let us keep on searching for the fullness of truth. Once we found the truth let us adhere to the truth. Like the wise men let us also acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior and do him homage. Like the wise men let us also open our gifts and offered them to Jesus which is the greatest gift of God the Father to His people. Of course, not gold, not frankincense, not myrrh but our body, our self, our whole life. As St Paul exhorted the first early Christians in Rome: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is the kind of spiritual worship God wants from you” (Rm 12:1).
Human beings have natural admiration for people who are so real, so true and so faithful to their words, promises, convictions and beliefs. On the other hand, we have that natural aversion against people who are pretentious, dishonest, and insincere. Why? Because deep within us we value truthfulness, sincerity, and faithfulness. In addition, experience teaches us that any form of hypocrisy, untruthfulness, and dishonesty can turn a person’s whole life into a “living lie”.
Truth as uprightness in human action and speech is called truthfulness, sincerity or candor. Truth or truthfulness is the virtue which consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation and hypocrisy” (CCC 2468).
As a people of God and followers of Jesus, we have the moral obligation to seek the truth. Once we come to the knowledge of truth we are bound to adhere to the truth and “to live in the truth” (Rm 3:4; cf. Ps 119:30) and speak the truth. For God is a God of truth and calls us to the fullness of truth. God is a God who will never deceive us nor can be deceived by us. Once God has given his word or promises, God will fulfill that word, God will fulfill His promise in His own time, in His own ways even in ways seems to be unthinkable, scandalous and impossible to human beings!
Remember the story of the birth of Isaac. When an angel announced to Abraham that her wife Sarah who is barren and in her old age already that she will conceive and bear a son and name him Isaac, Abraham bowed down to the ground and laughed to himself in disbelief and said: “Can a child be born to a man who a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth at ninety?
Sarah when she learned also that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am worn out and my husband is old, am I still to have sexual pleasure? But the Lord said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really bear a child, old as I am?”” “Is that thing too difficult for the Lord to do so? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was afraid. But God said, “Yes, you did.” As the Lord God has promised, the prophecy was fulfilled.
When angel Gabriel [Lk. 1:19] had appeared to Zachariah and told him that his wife would bear a son who must be named John. [Lk. 1:13] Zachariah, being of old age, did not believe Gabriel, he became mute and was to remain so until the fulfillment of this prophecy. [Lk. 1:20] When Zachariah wrote on the table that the name of the child must be John, three things became obvious: The prophecy that Elizabeth would bear a child was fulfilled. The prophecy that the child would be called John was fulfilled. And the prophecy that Zachariah would be able to speak again was fulfilled at that moment.
In view of all this, it is no wonder that “fear came over all the neighbors and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.” [Lk. 1:65] Those who heard of these things, they asked themselves in their heart, “What then will this child become?” [Lk. 1:66]
Like God let us strive to be sincere, truthful and faithful in every moment and every aspect of our lives. Let us always guard ourselves against the evil and the danger of hypocrisy, duplicity, and dissimulation. Let us not allow lies, deceits, and pretentions ruin our lives and other people. Let our lives be credible and trustworthy because of our consistency and our ”palabra de honor.” One we have given our word, once we have given our promises, we have to fulfill them wholeheartedly, freely and generously! Say what you mean! Mean what you say!
“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)
“Then Mary said: ‘My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord.’ ” —Luke 1:46
“The Magnificat is the crown of the Old Testament singing, the last canticle of the Old and the first of the New Testament. It was uttered (or, not improbably, chanted) by the Blessed Virgin, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth under the circumstances narrated by St. Luke in the first chapter of his Gospel. It is an ecstasy of praise for the inestimable favour bestowed by God on the Virgin, for the mercies shown to Israel, and for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and to the patriarchs.” [The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX, Copyright (C) 1910 by Robert Appleton Company]
Biblical scholars theorize that The Magnificat or Canticle of Mary was not a pure Lucan composition; he probably got it from the Jewish Christian Anawim, the “poor ones” who relied on the Lord for their salvation. These recognized that in Jesus God has raised them up and saved them according to His promise. Luke sees Mary as their representative and spokesperson and so lets her vocalize their sentiments, retouching the original song to suit Mary’s condition.
As it stands, the Magnificat echoes Old Testament traditions in which men and women sang praise to God for His mighty deeds in behalf of His people Israel. In style and in thematic parallels, it is similar to the Song of Hannah in 1 Sm 2:1-10. Both Mary and Hannah are called “handmaids of the Lord” and both acknowledge that God’s purpose will be achieved through the birth of their respective children. Other comparable songs are the Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-18), the Song of Asaph (1 Chr 16:7-36), and the songs of praise in the book of Psalms (Pss 33, 47, 136).
Structurally, the Magnificat has three parts: The introduction in which Mary proclaims the Lord’s greatness and recognizes Him as her Savior, the body which gives the motives of praise (God’s saving deeds), and the conclusion which recapitulates some of the motives and rehearses the availability of God’s mercy in every generation (see “365 Days with the Lord 2010,” ST PAULS).
With the Magnificat of Mary we are, once again, reminded of our Vocation of Praise. Praising God is a God-appointed calling. Indeed, God has formed for himself a people “that they may proclaim my [God’s] praise” ( Isa 43:21 ; cf. Jer 13:11 ). God’s actions, such as Israel’s restoration from the exile, are to result in God’s “righteousness and praise spring [ing] up before all nations” ( Isa 61:11 ). God has also predestined the church “to the praise of his [God’s] glorious grace” ( Eph 1:6 ; cf. Matt 5:16 ; Eph 1:14 ; Php 1:11 ; 1 Peter 2:9 ). The future vocation of the redeemed in glory is to sing praise to God and the Lamb ( Rev 4:11 ; 5:12-14 ; 7:12 ). Doxologies are fitting because they capture what God intends for people ( Psalm 33:1 ; 147:1 ).
Reasons for Praising God. In addition to being the fulfillment of a calling, praise is prompted by other considerations, chief of which is the unique nature of God ( 1 Chron 29:10-13 ). One genre of the psalms, the hymns, is characterized by an initial summons, such as “Praise the Lord, ” which is followed by a declaration of praise, introduced by the word “for, ” which lists the grounds for offering praise, often God’s majesty and mercy. The shortest psalm ( 117 ), a hymn, offers a double reason for praise: God’s merciful kindness (loyal love) is great, and his truth endures forever. Other hymns point out that God is good ( Ezra 3:10-11 ;Psalm 100:5 ; 135:3 ), or that his ordinances are just ( Psalm 119:164 ), that he remembers his covenant ( Psalm 105:7-8 ), that his love is enduring (Ps. 136), or that he is incomparable ( Psalm 71:19 ). A basic understanding in the hymns, if not in all the psalms, is captured in the theme “The Lord reigns.” God’s kingship is pronounced both in his majestic power displayed through the creation of the world ( Psalm 29 , 104 ) and in his royal rule, often as deliverer, over his people ( Psalm 47 , 68 , 98 , 114 ). As king, God is judge, warrior, and shepherd. Often too, praise is to the name of God ( Psalm 138:2 ; 145:2 ; Isa 25:1 ). That name, Yahweh, conveys the notion that God is present to act in salvation ( Exod 6:1-8 ).
The biblical examples of praise to God, apart from citing his attributes and role, point to God’s favors, usually those on a large scale in behalf of Israel. A hymn in the Isaiah collection exhorts, “Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement” ( Isa 12:5 ; nab ). Exhortations to praise are sometimes followed by a catalogue of God’s actions in Israel’s behalf ( Neh 9:5 ; Psalm 68:4-14 ). God’s most spectacular action involves the incarnation of Jesus, an event heralded in praises by angels in the heavens and shepherds returning to their fields: “Glory to God in the highest” ( Luke 2:14 Luke 2:20 ). Praise is the legitimate response to God’s self-revelation. Personal experiences of God’s deliverance and favor also elicit praise ( Psalm 34 ; 102:18 ; 107 ; cf. Dan 2:20-23 ; Rom 7:25 ; the healed paralytic, Luke 5:25 ; Zechariah, Luke 1:68 ; the response at Nain, Luke 7:16 ; and Jesus himself, Matt 11:25 and her mother Mary Lk 1:46). An intimate relationship of a person or a people with God is sufficient reason for praise. A psalmist, captivated by the reality of God’s choice of Jacob, exhorts, “Sing praise” ( Psalm 135 ; cf. Rev 19:5 ).
Praise means “to commend, to applaud or magnify.” For the Christian, praise to God is an expression of worship, lifting-up and glorifying the Lord. It is an expression of humbling ourselves and centering our attention upon the Lord with heart-felt expressions of love, adoration and thanksgiving. High praises bring our spirit into a pinnacle of fellowship and intimacy between ourselves and God — it magnifies our awareness of our spiritual union with the most high God. Praise transports us into the realm of the supernatural and into the power of God. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance” (Psalms 89:15).
There are many actions involved with praise to God — verbal expressions of adoration and thanksgiving, singing, playing instruments, shouting, dancing, lifting or clapping our hands. But true praise is not “merely” going through these motions. Jesus spoke about the hypocrisy of the pharisees, whose worship was only an outward show and not from the heart. “This people worship me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Genuine praise to God is a matter of humility and sincere devotion to the Lord from within. Unpretentious praise and worship pleases the Lord. The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him” (John 4:23).
Inspirational story about PRAISE.
An elderly lady was well-known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would stand on her front porch and shout “PRAISE THE LORD!”
Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout, “There ain’t no Lord!!”
Hard times set in on the elderly lady, and she prayed for GOD to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted “PRAISE THE LORD. GOD I NEED FOOD!! I AM HAVING A HARD TIME. PLEASE LORD, SEND ME SOME GROCERIES!!”
The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a large bag of groceries and shouted, “PRAISE THE LORD.”
The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn’t.”
The lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands and said, “PRAISE THE LORD. He not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!”
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Ps. 103:2-4
Mary, who, by her complete obedience and self-offering, pleased God all the days of her life, praised and thanked God for all the great things He has done for her and and because of this as she herself prophesied: “All generations will call me blessed.”
Mary gave flesh to God–
flesh to be visible to human eyes,
flesh to touch the leper’s sores.
Mary gave hands to God–
hands to bless the little children,
hands to break bread for the
Mary gave feet to God–
feet to walk among the sick,
feet to seek out the sinner.
Mary gave eyes to God–
eyes to weep at a friend’s grave,
eyes to look into the depths
of the human heart.
Jesus no longer walks in flesh
today; and if he to heal the sick,
and feed the hungry, it must be
through my hands and my feet.
What is one way I can give flesh
to God in our day?As Mary gave flesh to Jesus
in her day, so we must give flesh
to Jesus in our day.
And if we do as Mary did,
Jesus will walk our world once
more and make it new again.
Be Christ incarnate! Be bearers and reflections of Christ in the world! Be “another Christ” in the world! Be the light of Christ, who enlightens the whole world, as the light of the moon that reflects the light of the sun!
December 21, 2017: Insights on the SIXTH DAY OF SIMBANG GABI
There’s more to Christmas than merry-making, that is, drinking, eating and having fun. There is more to Christmas than giving and receiving of gifts. Christmas is recognizing the coming, the visit, and our encounter with Jesus in every event, place, and people that come our way! Christmas is welcoming Jesus and what He stands for into our heart, into our lives. Christmas is giving a special place, a HOME for JESUS in our HEART and to the One who carries Jesus into our lives! This is what Elizabeth and John the Baptist who was still in her womb did when Mary, the “bearer of God” visits her cousin Elizabeth! “Carry the “HEART OF GOD” and the “GOD OF YOUR HEART” everywhere!”
God is waiting eternally to be born in each one of us – Meister Eckhart