Archive for category Sunday Gospels

Luke 12:49-53 Jesus: a cause of division

The new millennium has witnessed and continues to witness various and different faces of violence, division and situations of unpeace. Hardly any day passes that we do not hear the sad news of violent aggression and brutality unleashed against innocent people somewhere around the world. To make matters worse, perpetrators of these acts of violence often try to justify these atrocities by claiming that they are fighting a holy war in God’s name. Think of the crusades, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. And the latest is the ISIS or ISIL.

Today’s readings are indeed a call to war: not a war against other people but a war against sin and evil; not a war against people we perceive as evil, but a war against the evil one, the devil.

Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth.  This is a disturbing word knowing Jesus as the Prince of Peace who has come “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79) and to dispense peace “among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14) Here he makes it clear that he cast fire and brings division rather than peace.  In Matthew’s parallel verse (10:34), Jesus brings a sword.

Is Jesus contradicting himself on his teachings about love peace and unity? Is Jesus contradicting himself the fourth precept of the Decalogue or Ten Commandment which is, “Honor your father and mother!” Certainly not. Jesus, in saying those paradoxical words, did not intend to destroy family and other human relations, ties and institutions. Rather he was only telling his disciples, in a forceful language, the following:

First, to choose and to follow Jesus is a matter of personal choice. No can one can make decision for us. Not even the Church or the State. Not even our family. And when we choose, either we choose and follow Jesus or reject him. There is no middle way. There is no half-way. There is no other alternative. There is no other option. Please bear in mind that our sanctification and salvation depend on the kind of choice we make. Choose God and you choose life, happiness and peace.

Second, if we opted to choose and follow Jesus then our loyalty, obedience and faithfulness to him must be urgent, exclusive and unparalleled. When it comes to hierarchy of values and priorities in life, God always takes precedence over possessions and relations. To choose and follow Jesus only and always may  sometimes bring division and conflict. This is the necessary consequence and cost of following Jesus. This substantially explains the paradoxical words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Third, Jesus’ message of love, peace and unity does not necessarily mean that we compromise with evil and tolerates injustices and wrong-doings. Peace and unity that we rightly desire can be achieved not by compromise, force and violence but by doing the will of God for us and through us. Let this Christian moral principles always guide us: Do good and hate sin! Love sinner and hate evil!

In today’s Mass, Jesus invites all of us to examine who we love first and foremost.  Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)? A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ.  Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin because it is possible that family and friends can become our enemies when they prevent and hinder us from following  and serving the Lord.

Let our “faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him” (CCC 229).

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John 6:1-15 Multiplication of the Loaves

Today’s gospel narrates to us one of the greatest miracles of Jesus – the feeding of about five thousand people out of five barley loaves and two fish. This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.

“The location according to the text is in a “desert” region. There was green grass so it wasn’t too barren. The word “desert” means a remote place. Perhaps the gospel writers used the word “desert” because in the OT the desert was where God met, tested and blessed his people” (15 James A. Brooks, Mark, NAC. p. 107).

The miracle happened when John the Baptist had just been killed and Herod was seeking Jesus.  Jesus had withdrawn with the disciples to be alone to rest (according to Mark and John’s chronology the disciples had just returned from being sent out) and to give them some private instruction.  It was time to take a break, but the crowds followed Him and they have nothing to eat. There and then Jesus out of his compassion feed five thousand people in number. There were even 12 filled wicker baskets of fragments left-over.

There are three points to be considered here for our reflection and daily Christian living:

First, Jesus takes cares of us in all our needs: both body and soul. Hence, his love and care for us is integral, whole and complete. This is why in today’s account, Jesus does not want to dismiss the hungry crowd on empty stomach in a deserted place. Instead, out of compassion, he attends to his peoples’ hunger, both material and spiritual. This is the best reminder for all of us who are ministers of the word: “Never preach in an empty stomach,”  or “You cannot preach love on an empty stomach” as the popular saying goes.

Second, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us. Expectant faith, therefore, does not make us fold our hands doing nothing looking into heaven while waiting for miracles to come. Rather it spurs us on to make our best, if not greatest possible contributions, our efforts, cooperation, generosity, five loaves and two fish, knowing that without them, though how humble and inadequate they were, there would be no miracle.

Third, miracle aims conversion, faith and discipleship.  It would be somehow sound to infer that what really happened here was not just the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish that fed the five thousand of  hungry crowds but also a miracles of sharing as a fruit of conversion, faith and discipleship. It is said that “the world is so poor for everybody’s greed but so rich for everybody’s need.”

It is estimated that 840 millions out of 6.2 billon (August 16, 2002 estimate, US Census Bureau) in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition (World Hunger, Do you know the facts?). About 24,000 people die everyday from hunger or hunger-related causes. This is down from 35,000 ten years ago, and 41,000 twenty years ago. Three-fourth of the deaths are children under the age of five. Famine and wars cause about 10% of hunger deaths, although these tend to be the ones you hear about often. Majority of hunger deaths are caused by chronic malnutrition whose cause is poverty. And the root cause of poverty is sin in the forms of injustice, greed and selfishness.

Friend, we do not need Jesus to come and be crucified once again just to perform miracles for us so that we can eat and live. Rather, let the word, the person and the examples of Jesus do miracles for us by transforming us from being greedy to generous, from being selfish to selfless, from being close and indifferent to being sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people around us. This is what the world needs now. The miracle of sharing, giving, caring and love. With this, the world would be a better place to live in.

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Mt 13:44-52 Treasures New and Old

 The Parable of the Net has close similiarity with the two earlier parables, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Weed.

The Parable of the Net is closely similar to the Parable of the Mustard Seed in the sense that it describes the Kingdom of God as universal in scope and in nature. Hence, based on these two parables, the Kingdom of God here on earth is intended to accept men and women of all generations and of all nations and that include both the wicked and the righteous, the saint and the sinner, the good and the bad. In connection with this what is the challenge for us? To adopt an open, non discriminating and non judgmental and freewheeling approach to evangelization. A major problem which we will be encountering with this approach however would be: both the undesirables and desirables will enter and mixed in the Church. Some undesirables will be converted…Some undesirables who seemed promising in the beginning will betray God in the end. God does not make us responsible for this. But let us always be reminded to withold our judgment for judgment belongs, not to the disciples, but to God. This parable, however, is not a call to overlook grievous sin.  A few chapters hence, Jesus will establish procedures for reproving sinners and for excommunicating them if they fail to mend their ways (Mt 18:15-20).

The Parable of the Net is closely similar to the Parable of the Weed in the sense that these parable recognize the fact that the the Kingdom of God here on earth is composed of both sinners and saints. We cannot perfectly separate the two and eliminate the oter while the Kingdom of God is still on earth. Otherwise we will destroy the good together with the bad. We will uproot the weed while uprooting the weed whose roots were already entwined with the wheat. But when the day of the Final Judgment comes, the good and the bad will be totally and perfectly separated like what the fishermen did in the Parable. After having scooped up all sorts fish, both the good and bad the fishermen sorted their catch and discarded the unwanted or the usable fish.

Whether we like it or not the day of the final judgment will come. Matthew never tires in warning his readers of the reality of judgment and hence the importance of genuine discipleship.  It is a warning that both the world and the Church need” (Hagner).When that day comes the good and bad will finally and perfectly be separated. The wicked goes directly to hell to be punished eternally while the righteous will be rewarded in heaven and they “will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43).

“Mention of the final judgment reminds the hearers and readers of the parables that discipleship is not a game of ‘let’s pretend’; it is a matter of life and death” (Brueggemann, 424). The reality of the final judgment once again remind us that following Jesus is not a game of “let’s pretend.,” it is a matter of life and death, it is a matter of salvation and damnation, it is a matter of happiness and misery. Choose life and lasting happiness with God and with our loved ones in heaven.

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Mt 13:24-43 The Parables of the Weeds among the Wheat

Parables are comparisons in which spiritual truth is pictured in vivid terms (Blomberg 1990). In the story Jesus used the parable to explain the wise ways of the Kingdom of God concerning the mystery and problem of evil not only in the world but even in the Church which is the seed and the beginning of the Kingdom of God here on earth that will be fully and perfectly established in heaven.

The parable Jesus used is popularly known as the Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat.The type of weed referred to here is commonly recognized as the darnel (Greek zizania) which is troublesome poisonous plant in the grainfields, closely resembling the wheat in the first stages of its growth. By the time the grain appears and the difference becomes obvious, the roots of the weeds are entwined with those of the wheat. Thus uprooting the weeds would simultaneously cause uprooting of the wheat.

This parable reflects the wise ways of God’s kingdom (which already starts with the Church) concerning the problem of evil even among the believers. It is unwise to get rid of unworthy members which may have the unhappy consequence of driving out also some of the worthiest. Therefore, weeds and wheat must be allowed to grow together for the time being. The task of separating the evil from the good must be reserved for the last judgment.

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat teaches us several lessons:

  • First, there will always hostile power in the world (Satan, the world, concupiscence or evil inclination) seeking and waiting to destroy the good seeds that represent the children of the Kingdom who received with joy the word of God that will eventually bear fruits of good works, holiness and evangelization in their lives. Hence, this is an admonition to all the Children of God to be forever on their guard. This vigilance should be continuous and unflagging, because the devil is forever after us, prowling around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, and watch with good works” (cf. Augustine, “Sermon”, 93).
  • Second, the world including the Church is composed of both saints and sinners, good and evil. The world is a mixture of the children of God and the children of Satan. And how hard it is to distinguish between the good and evil, the saints and the sinners. Someone may appear to be good and may in fact bad; and someone may appear to bad and may in fact be good. Some call good evil and evil good. Sometimes people change too according to opportunities and graces. Hence, let us not too quick to condemn, to classify people and label them good or bad without knowing all the facts. Remember our human judgment is as good as our information, Limited information make us prone to error and mistakes in making judgment.
  • Third, in the end there comes the judgment of a just and all-knowing God. A God who will never deceive us nor can be deceived by us. He alone has the right to judge. He alone can discern the good and the bad. He alone can rightly administer the ultimate justice for humankind which seems to be impossible in the world governs by the law, judgment and wisdom of man. This is a warning to the evil doers who seem to be rewarded in life in this world and a consolation to the righteous who seem to be punished in life in this world.

In summary, Jesus calls us to patience and faith — patience with those who fail to meet the standard (this is the concern of the parable itself — vv. 24-30) and faith that God will deal with them at the right time (this is the concern of the interpretation — vv. 36-43).  Jesus calls us to withhold action lest we create more problems than we solve — lest we destroy the good with the bad — lest we “uproot the wheat along with (the weeds).”

Think about this! “First, do not fret over evildoers, for neither their present nor their future is your responsibility; and second, God will bring history to a close with justice, and the saints finally will be freed from abuse and oppression.  The parable…is therefore not a threatening but a comforting word” (Craddock, 372).

 

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Mt 11:25-30 The Praise of the Father

These are among the most beloved and quoted verses in the Bible, because all of us feel burdened and in need of rest.

Jesus is addressing the crowds who are following Him, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36): “Come to Me”. The Pharisees weighed them down with an endless series of petty regulations (cf. Acts 15:10), yet they brought no peace to their souls.

In their original context, these verses spoke specifically to those burdened by the Jewish law.  Rabbis often spoke of the yoke of the law (Aboth 3:5) or of the commandments (Berakoth 2:2), but always in praise.  To accept this yoke, they said, is to put off the yoke of earthly monarchies and worldly care” (Johnson, 390).  They have a point.  We cannot choose to serve no master at all, but can choose only which master we will serve.  The yoke of the law is better than the yoke of the world, because the yoke of the law is God-inspired.  In the hands of the scribes and Pharisees, however, the yoke of the law became almost as burdensome as the yoke of the world.

Jesus does not propose that we go yoke-less, but that we accept his yoke, which is chrestos — “manageable, i.e., mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp)” (Thayer, 671).  A well-made yoke distributes the load evenly, making the task easier.  A well-fitted yoke follows the contours of the oxen’s neck so that it does not rub or chaff.   “At certain points (Jesus’) interpretation [of the law] will be more lenient (Sabbath observance), at others more stringent (divorce) than that of the Pharisees, but law observance as a whole will be simplified by his emphasis on ‘the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faithfulness’ (23:23) and on the double commandment of love (22:37-40) (Hare, 128-129).

While the original context referred to the burden of the Jewish law, there is nothing in these words to suggest that they should not also extend to our weariness and burdens today.  We are weary today, even though we do not observe the Jewish law.  We are burdened by many things:

  • busyness
  • traffic
  • concerns about jobs — marriage — money — health — children — security — old age
  • tough choices
  • criticism or opposition
  • loneliness and emptiness
  • and a thousand other things
  • If you feel life is burdensome and tiresome “Jesus says now and always, `Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ His attitude towards us is one of invitation, knowledge and compassion; indeed, it is one of offering, promise, friendship, goodness, remedy of our ailments; He is our comforter; indeed, our nourishment, our bread, giving us energy and life” (Pope Paul VI, “Homily on Corpus Christi”, 13 June 1974).  Therefore, “All you who go about tormented, afflicted and burdened with the burden of your cares and desires, go forth from them, come to Me and I will refresh you and you shall find for your souls the rest which your desires take from you” (St. John of the Cross, “Ascent of Mount Carmel”, Book 1, Chapter 7, 4).

Jesus’ concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for law-burdened Jews of his day.  His promise is also as real. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”  (Mt 11:28) Jesus still does that!  Jesus still gives us rest

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Jn 6:51-58 Jesus, The Living Bread (Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Corpus Christi. “Corpus Christi” are two Latin words for “Body of Christ.”  This great feast is in honor of the Real Presence of the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine.

St. Bonaventure reminds us of its meritorious effect when we celebrate and explicitly confess our belief on the Eucharist: “There is no difficulty about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as in a sign, but that He is truly present in the Eucharist as He is in heaven, this is most difficult. Therefore to believe this is especially meritorious.”[ 7. In. IV Sent. Dist. X. P. I Art. Un. Qu. I, Oper. Omn. Tom. IV Ad Claras Acquas 1889, p. 217]

As we celebrate this Solemnity of the Corpus Christi we are reminded of the following:

First, the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligations. This is the first of the precepts of the Church in which every Catholic ought to fulfill to the least to be considered practicing Christian. The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation”) requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Christian community gathers on the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord” (Cf. CIC, cann. 1246-1248; CCEO, can. 881 par.1, par. 2, and 4).

In the Philippines the holy days of obligations are: Christmas Day (December 25), Motherhood of Mary (January 1), and Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8).

Essentially connected to this obligation is our active, full and conscious participation in the celebration of Eucharist. When we are absent-minded or our focus is disintegrated our participation is questionable. When we do not know what we say and what we do during the mass our participation is not conscious. When we do not participate in all the responses and community singing during Mass our participation is not active and full.  When we go to the Church for reasons other than to take part in the celebration of the Mass then our motivation and participation are questionable.

Second, to receive the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ every time we attend Mass or at least once a year especially during Easter. This is also one of the precepts of the Church. “The Mass is a sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood. And it is because of this that even the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us” (see cf. CCC 1382).

During the consecration where the bread and wine are transformed  into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, he invites and urges us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you ( see Jn 6:53). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (Jn 6:57).

 In the Eucharist “is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through his flesh – that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ …” (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 5). For the bread of life to sustain life, it must be sought, approached, taken, broken, and eaten. Likewise Jesus must be invited into our lives if we are to enjoy the well being he brings.

Third, to receive worthily the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul St. Paul urge us to examine our conscience before coming to communion to avoid the sin of sacrilege: ”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion when conscious of grave sin (cf. CCC 1385) by observing the fast required in the Church (cf. CIC, can. 919) and by bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) that convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

Before so great a sacrament, let us echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion:” Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed” (cf. Mt 8:8). And pray, that through Christ, the Mediator, we may be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other so that finally God may be all in all” (see cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48).

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John 3:16-18 God Sends His Son (Trinity Sunday)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, also called Trinity Sunday. It is celebrated in the Christian churches on the Sunday following Pentecost (the 50th day after Easter). It is known that the feast was celebrated on this day from as early as the 10th century. Celebration of the feast gradually spread in the churches of northern Europe, and in 1334 Pope John XXII approved it for the entire church.

As we celebrate today the Feast of the Holy Trinity we confess, adore and honor God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit the three divine persons, yet co-eternal, co-substantial, one and the same God. This celebration is not only a credal affirmation of our belief in the Trinity of Persons and Unity of Godhead but it is it also a remembrance of our origin and destiny: the God we personally believe from who we came is the same God who calls us back home.

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and the life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” (GCD 43). The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin” (GCD 47; CCC 234).

The trinity (from “trias” of which the Latin “trinitas” is a translation was first coined by Theophilus of Antioch (circa 180)) is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God” (Dei Filius 4: DS 3015). To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout Old Testament. But his inmost being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, a great philosopher and theologian. He was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the sea shore and reflecting on this matter. Suddenly, he saw a little child all alone on the shore. The child made a whole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and came and poured it into the hole. Augustine drew up and said to her, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” “How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.

The doctrine of the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one, cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. It is a mystery. A mystery is a truth which we are not merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which, even when revealed, remains “hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak, by a kind of darkness” (Const., “De fide. cath.”, iv). St. Jerome says, in a well-known phrase: “The true profession of the mystery of the Trinity is to own that we do not comprehend it” (De mysterio Trinitatus recta confessio est ignoratio scientiae — “Proem ad 1. xviii in Isai.”).

Though trinity is a mystery whose whole truth is unfathomable by human reason alone we can somehow comprehend a part of it when Jesus the Son of God made man (Jn 1:14) revealed God the Father (Mt 11:27) and sent his Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us into all the truth (Jn 14:17, 26 16:13). This is our dogma of the Holy Trinity:

  • The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the cosubstantial Trinity” (Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 421). The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire (cf. CCC 253).
  • The divine Unity is Triune. The divine persons are really distinct from one another in their relation of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds” Lateral Council IV (1215): DS 804; cf. CCC 254).
  • The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationship which relate them to one another…While they are called three persons in view of their relationships, we believe in one nature or substance (Council of Toledo XI (675) DS 528). “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son” (Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331).

As we profess our faith today in the mystery of the Holy Trinity may we also pray to them to help us become a true child of God our Father, a living image of Jesus his Son and a consecrated temple of the Holy Spirit. Let us also pray as Christ did that all may be one as God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are one and heed Christ command after he has risen from the dead: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:18).

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