Archive for November, 2013

Luke 21:5-19 The Coming Persecution

Thomas Edison, a famous inventor, known for his extraordinary diligence, observes: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  

The theme of today’s Gospel narrative is perseverance. Jesus warns his disciples of the coming sufferings, persecutions and divisions as a result of their choice to follow Jesus as their teacher, lord and savior and promises salvation if and when they persevere in the face of trials to the very end: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22). 

Persecution for righteousness sake is a permanent feature of Christianity. It is indispensable consequence for following the Lord. The call to follow Jesus is the call to take up and carry the cross daily. This is understandable because the more we follow Jesus the more we become like Jesus. And the more we become Jesus, the more the world will hate us. As the Lord was persecuted and suffered in the hands of the Jews, so will his followers be. No disciple is greater than his Master.

Yes, suffering, trials and persecution cannot be avoided but “whoever perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22). Somebody once said that Christianity is not for starter but for finisher. Hence, James assures anyone who perseveres to the end of happiness and eternal life: “Happy is the man who holds out to the end through trial! Once he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life the Lord has promise to those who love him” (Jas 3:12).

What are some of the qualities of a persevering person or a person willing to persevere to the end for the faith he professed? Persevering person possesses a combination of three traits: energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trials.

“The call to discipleship is a call to continue. To carry on. To persist. To endure. To finish. The Lord needs finishers, those who make the commitment and then walk the road—no matter the difficulty or challenge—to the very end” (Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship). Hence, never give up, nor give in. Don’t quit. Take this similar reminder from General Douglas MacArthur: “Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

Faithful to the mission received, the Church today needs disciples who are ready and willing to persevere to the end even to the point of sacrifice and death. Be ready, therefore, to suffer and to die for the sake of Christ and his Gospel. Remember, “Christianity is not for the cowards”, said St. Athanasius.  In doing so, you will receive the crown of eternal life promised by the Lord at the same time proclaimed, built up and spread the Kingdom of God here on earth.  As St. Irenaeus beautifully puts it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”

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Luke 19:1-10 Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector and a Wealthy Man

The salvation of any is so very difficult (even the righteous scarcely are saved) while the salvation of the rich is seemingly impossible (Mt 19:24). Jesus explicitly teaches that the salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Mt 19:24).  Much more it such a rich man is a tax collector despised by the Jews as traitor and thief.  

Although it is a seeming impossibility for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, with God’s initiative and gift of salvation and man’s cooperation his salvation becomes possible. Indeed, with God what seems impossible becomes possible. 

In today’s gospel narrative, we heard a story about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector of a wealthy city of Jericho, center of commerce and exporter date palms and balsam. The story of Zacchaeus, is a story of a rich man who finds salvation. As Ryle noted, “Here we see the camel passing through the eye of the needle, and the rich man entering the kingdom of God” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 290)! Although it seem impossible for the rich people to be saved (see Mt 19:24), God can save them. For with God’s grace nothing is impossible. Along with the grace and initiative of God in Christ to seek out and to save what was lost, what saved Zacchaeus from sin and isolation?

First, his humility.  He humbled himself in acknowledging his sinfulness before God to the point of seeking to see Jesus who will save him from slavery to sin and misery caused by sin whose nature is to separate us from God and from one another. Humility is the sure evidence of Christian virtues. Without it, we retain all our faults still, and they are only covered over with pride, which hides them from other men’s observation, and sometimes from our own too (François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), French writer, moralist. repr. F.A. Stokes Co., New York (c. 1930). Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 358 (1665-1678), trans. London (1706)).

Second, his joyful welcome of Jesus and his gift of salvation and his response of repentance. Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4). 

“Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction” Roman Catechism II, V, 21; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1673). “Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds, and then to the Christian’s whole life” (RP, n. 4).

Third, his repentance led him to renewal of life in Christ. “Conversion is accomplished and manifested in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, just and equitable reparation of the damage and harm done to others, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right,[Cf. Am 5:24 ; Isa 1:17 .] by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance’ (Cf. Lk 9:23 ).

St. Paul exhorts Christian who repented and converted to Christ:

“I declare and solemnly attest in the Lord that you must no longer live as pagans do – their minds empty, their understanding darkened. They are estranged from a life in God because of their ignorance and their resistance without remorse they have abandoned themselves to lust and the indulgence of every sort of lewd conduct. That is not what you learned when you learned Christ! I am supposing, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus: namely, that you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth”  (Eph 4:17-24). 

It was not Zacchaeus’ giving money that saved him but his joyful reception of Jesus Christ and his invitation of salvation into his home and heart. Friends, Jesus has been knocking the door of our homes and hearts, be always ready in letting him in that you, like Zacchaeus, shall received the reward of Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10)

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All Souls’ Day

Yesterday, we celebrated the solemnity of “All Saints” day; today, we are celebrating the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” this feast also being known as “All Souls’ Day.”

Since both of these feasts concern the departed, some of you may ask yourselves, “What is the difference between these two feasts?” On All Saints’ Day, we commemorate those who are in heaven, those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. While the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed we remember those who are still in Purgatory, those who die in God’s grace and friendship that need to undergo purification after death so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.   

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000). The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pt 1:7) (cf. CCC 1031).

Why do we need to commemorate all the faithful departed especially our loved ones?

First, because we believe in the communion of saints. Otherwise stated, we believe in the communion of the Church of heaven and earth. Our catechism teaches us that there are three states of the Church. Those who are in heaven belong to the Triumphant Church; those who are in Purgatory belong to the Suffering Church; those who are still on earth belong to the Pilgrim or Militant Church.

The Church in her Cathechism (CCC 954) teaches: “When the Lord come in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (LG 49; cf Mt 25:31; 1 Cor 15:26-27; Council of Florence (1439): DS 1305).

All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and his neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together (LG 49; cf. Eph 4:16). Since we are community of saints in Christ who “died for all” what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all.

Hence, as community of saints of Jesus let us help one another and strive together for the sanctification of men and glorification of God that will lead us all to heaven, “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). This is always what we pray for, what we strive for, what we hope for.

Second, those souls in Purgatory have been in great need of us. They need badly our prayers. “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead and that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offer her suffrages for them” (LG 50; cf. 2 Macc 12:45). Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (CCC 958).

The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving undertaken on behalf of the dead. “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. Job 1:5).

Third, we remember them because we thank them for their goodness, love, good works, good example and beautiful memories. As Massieu once said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” Hence, let always remember them with our gratitude, appreciation, love and, above all, with our prayers, sacrifices and offerings.

 In this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, let us pause for a moment and remember all our loved ones and all the faithful departed with love. Then let us unite all our prayers, offering and sacrifices for the salvation of the elect who are still in Purgatory, that God the Father of mercies and consolation, will grant them eternal repose and happiness in heaven.

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Solemnity of All Souls’ Day

Sir Winston Churchill once said something beautiful about death. He said and I quote,  “Broadly speaking, human beings may be divided into three classes: those who are billed to death, those who are worried to death, and those who are bored to death. 

Fear of death is written deeply into every human being. Whether we like it or not death terrifies us, death horrifies us, death shakes our being to its very foundation. Even the mere thought of the possibility of  death may make  us cry out and bargain: not me, not now! 

This shows that deep within us we cannot accept the reality of death. It is not suprising, therefore, if we simply ignore it,  if we simply choose not to think about it,  if we pretend that it does not exist. If it exists it exists only for others, but not for ourselves. 

But the thought of death does not allow itself to be put aside so easily. There are many things around us that keep on reminding us of the reality of death. Sickness, disability, accident, catastrophy, misfortunes and old age are constant reminders of the universality and the inevitability of death.  So, all we can do is repress it or play down its seriousness. Men have never ceased to look for remedies to death. One of these is called procreation: surviving through one’s children. Another is fame. Another is perpetuating one’s  memory by planting trees, writing books and establishing monuments which serve as memorials and the like.   In our day a new pseudo-remedy is spreading: the doctrine of reincarnation.  

Christianity has something quite different to offer in regard to the problem of death. It proclaims that death is the making of the devil out envy for man who is created in the likeness of God and destined for immortality (see Wisdom 1:13-15, 24) . It also teaches that death, which is the last enemy to be conquered,  has been defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ who died for all us and for our salvation. As St. Paul wrote: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus to life, will also raise us up and take us up” (2 Corinthians 14:14). “If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him; if we hold out to the end we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tm 2:11-12). Death, therefore, is no longer a precipice over which all must plunge, but rather a bridge to the other shore — eternity. Nevertheless, reflecting on death is also good for believers. It helps us, above all, to live better. In today’s Gospel,  we are reminded that there is life after death, that there is resurrection of the body, that there is communion and fellowship with God in heaven. Once we rose from the dead death has no more power over all. We become sons and daughters of Resurrection. These are the articles of faith that we solemnly profess every time we recite the Credo when we attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Hence, there is nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing to worry about. On the other hand we have more than enough reasons to hope. All we need is to believe  and persevere to the end  in our faith in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For the Lord promised eternal life to those who believe in him and persevere in the faith to the end.  As  James the Apostles assures us:  “Happy is the man who holds out to the end through trial! Once he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life the Lord has promise to those who love him” (Jas 3:12).  

In today’s Mass let us remember with our prayers and sacrifices our our faithful departed especially those who are still in the purgatory.  The Bible tells us that  “praying for the dead is holy and deserving of praise.”  This is the reason why the Church from the time immemorial exhorts us to pray for the dead and offer Mass for the expiation of their sins. The Church reiterates this when she teaches that praying for dead and the living as well burying the dead are works of mercy that can merit us salvation (see Mt 25).  Let us also thank the Lord for the precious gift of life and live this life to the fullest. Then as a sign of our gratitude and appreaciation to the God of the living,  let us always respect, protect and promote the value of human life in all its stages and faces.

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Solemnity of All Saints’ Day

There is a story told about a Muslim priest and a Catholic cleric who were boasting about their religions. “I bet you we have more saints than yours,” said the Catholic to his Muslim friend. “Oh yes?” he retorted. “Let’s make a bet. You mention a saint and for every name, uproot a hair from each other’s head.” “Okay,” the Catholic priest said. “You begin.”

 “St. Mustapha,” the Muslim blurted out. He selected a long, thick hair from the head of the Catholic priest and pulled it out. The Catholic priest retaliated, saying: “Sts. Peter and Paul,” likewise, uprooting two big hairs from his friend’s head.

The Muslim paused then said: “Sts. Muhammad, Ali Baba and 40 companions.” A good 42 hairs! Smarting from the big “harvest,” the indignant Catholic priest grabbed all the remaining hairs of the Muslim and triumphantly declared: “Todos Los Santos!”

Today, 1 November, Solemnity of All Saints, the Church has “devoted this to the memory of the martyrs and the other saints. Raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God, and already in possession of eternal salvation, they sing God’s perfect praise in heaven and offer prayers for us. By celebrating the passage of these saints from earth to heaven the Church proclaims the paschal mystery achieved in the saints who have suffered and been glorified with Christ; she proposes them to the faithful as examples drawing all to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she pleads for God’s favors” (cf. SC 104).

Today’s feast thus helps us to be aware of the universal call to holiness. It is no accident that among the saints whom the Church venerates there are people of every age, nation and social condition. Moreover, it is not only those who are canonized who are “saints”, but all believers who live and die faithful to the divine will.

The Church is believed to be indefectibly holy. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as “uniquely holy,”  loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her. He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (see cf. LG 39).

The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect (LG 48 par. 3). Hence, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state-though each on his own way-are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect (cf. LG 11 par. 3).

Sanctity properly so-called consists in simple conformity to the Divine will expressed in the exact and constant fulfillment of the duties of one’s proper state. Seek, therefore, the will of God: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else (Pope Benedict XV). This is also re-affirmed by Blessed Henery Suson when he writes, “Our Sanctification consist entirely in conformity to the will of God. I would rather be the vilest man on Earth with the will of God, than be a seraph with my own will. He that gives his will to God, gives him all he has.”

The world has urgent need for a springtime of holiness to accompany the efforts of the new evangelization and to offer the people of our day, who are so often disappointed by empty promises and tempted to discouragement, an indication of the meaning and reason for renewed confidence.

The sons and daughters of the Church are called to respond to this challenge through a serious, daily commitment to becoming holy “in the conditions, duties and circumstances of their life . . ., showing forth in that temporal service the love with which God has loved the world” (Lumen Gentium, n. 41). 

Today’s Solemnity of All Saints invites us also to fix our gaze on the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage: paradise. “I go to prepare a place for you”, the Master says to his disciples in the Upper Room, “that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going” (Jn 14:2-4). Heaven is “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). This is always what we pray for, what we strive for, and what we hope for.

Thinking of heaven, following Christ, the Way, the Truth and the life, gives us that tranquillity and courage which are indispensable if we are to face our daily problems with the sure hope of sharing one day in the eternal joy of the Communion of Saints.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Mt 5:3-10). This is what the Church repeats to us today, holding up before us the saints, those “who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7:14), and have drawn in abundance from the treasure of Redemption. They now precede us in the joy of the heavenly liturgy; they are examples of Gospel virtue for us and help us with their constant intercession.

Yes, as we pursue the life of holiness after their examples and struggling to inherit the Kingdom of God prepared for those who love him, let us humbly ask for the intercession of the saints. “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…So by their fraternal concern our weakness is greatly helped (LG 49; cf. 1 Tim 2:5).

When St. Dominic was dying, he said this consoling words to his brothers: “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.” Similarly, St. Therese of Lisieux, in her dying moments, said, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth” (The Final Conversations, tr. John Clarke (Washington: ICS, 1977), 102). 

To the Blessed Virgin, who in her Assumption into heaven followed the destiny of the risen Christ and anticipated that of all men, we entrust the strong desire for life that the liturgy stirs up at this time in our hearts. Mary is the first fruit of the redeemed, the dawn of salvation for the human race. May contemplation of her, our heavenly Mother and the Queen of all saints, be for us a motive of “certain hope and comfort” (Lumen Gentium, n. 68).

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Points to Ponder on All Saints’ Day

SAINTS FROM BOTH EXTREMES

by Jojo Monis on Monday, November 1, 2010 at 9:33am

The diversity of ways by which the saints lived is a testament to the richness of the Church and splendor of Christian life.

 

Among the saints, we have St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the brightest minds that ever lived; we also have the Cure d’Ars who struggled in his seminary studies.

 

Among the saints, we have St. Vincent de Paul who ministered in the city; we also have St. Anthony who found sanctity in the desert.

 

We have St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a mystic, who practiced penance and mortification in a monastery; we also have St. Hildegard of Bingen, also a mystic, who was not shy about singing, and throwing flowers in praising God.

 

We have St. Augustine of Hippo who spent much of his youth in pursuit of worldly joys; we also have St. Dominic Savio, renowned in holiness though he only reached the age of 14.

 

We have St. Peter, a simple fisherman; and St. Edith Stein, a sophisticated intellectual working alongside Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, great philosophers of modern times.

 

We have St. Joan of Arc, who led an army; and St. Francis of Assissi, a man of peace.

 

We have the irascible St. Jerome (he was known to have not a few quarrels, even with some of his contemporary saints); and the almost too sweet St. Therese de Lisieux.

 

We have St. Catherine of Siena, who stood up to popes; and Pope St. Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy to go back to monastic solitude.

 

We have St. Bruno, grave and serious; and St. Philip Neri, who made a spirituality based on laughter.

 

(Borrowed liberally from Fr. Robert Barron)

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