Archive for category Witnessing

Matthew 6:17-29 The Death of John the Baptist

Herod the tetrarch is also known as Herod Antipas. The same Herod as appears later in the account of the Passion (cf. Lk 23:7ff). A son of Herod the Great. Antipas governed Galilee and Perea in the name of the Roman emperor; according to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian (“Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII, 5, 4). He was originally married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. However, while on an excursion to Rome, he stayed with his half-brother Philip and Herodias, his wife. Impetuously, he fell in love with his brother’s wife. Rather than suppress his inappropriate infatuation, he approached Herodias and convinced her to leave Philip. She agreed as long as he divorced his Arabian wife, which he did (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chap. V, v. 1-2).

John’s accusation was that Herod Antipas was a wife-stealer. And worse than that, he had stolen the wife of his own brother! His act was immoral and unlawful, for ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing’ (Lev. 20:21).

Herod, who divorced the daughter of Aretas without sufficient cause consummated an illegal and immoral marriage with Herodias, ignored the direct counsel of John the Baptist; held lascivious parties; made an oath to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to half of your kingdom, because he liked the way she danced…Well that one puts him in a bind. Though he was  left with an option of breaking an ill-advised oath or executing a prophet of God and he could have broken the oath Herod, pursuant to this grant (Mt 14:10); He sent and beheaded John in the prison.

Towards the end of the first century Flavius Josephus wrote of these same events. He gives additional information–specifying that it was in the fortress of Makeronte that John was imprisoned (this fortress was on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea, and was the scene of the banquet in question) and that Herodias’ daughter was called Salome.

There are three great lessons to learn from the life of Herod:

First, no man can rid himself of a sin by ridding himself off the man who confronts him with it. There is such a thing as conscience, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (cf. Gaudium et Spet, 16), and even if a man’s accuser is eliminated his guilty conscience is still not silenced.

Herod’s mind has been tortured by guilt from murdering a prophet of God. Herod’s actions were obviously haunting him. He knew it was wrong to kill John. He had been plagued with his own conscience and knew that he would be punished for his actions, ‘For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly’ (Mark 6:20).

“’Herod Antipas, to whom, on the death of Herod the Great, had fallen the tetrarchy of Galilee, was about as weak and miserable a prince as ever disgraced the throne of an afflicted country. Cruel, crafty, voluptuous, like his father, he was also, unlike him, weak in war and vacillating in peace. In him, as in so many characters which stand conspicuous on the stage of history, infidelity and superstition went hand in hand. But the morbid terrors of a guilty conscience did not save him from the criminal extravagances of a violent will.’” (Farrar, p. 295.)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 331.)

Vatican II reminds us: “For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spet, 16).

“Moral conscience (cf. Rom 2:14-16), present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges a particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil (cf. Rom 1:32) …When a man listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking” (cf. CCC 1777).

 “Return to your conscience, question it…Turn inward, brethren and in everything you do, see God as your witness “ (St. Augustine, In ep Jo. 8, 9: PL 35 2041.

Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

In order that conscience can make right judgment, “some rules apply in every case: (1) One may never do evil so that good may result from it; (2) the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do, do so to them” (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31; Tob 4:15); (3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8:12).Therefore “it is right not to…do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom 14:21) (CCC 1789).

You are guilty of sin when you do anything against your right and informed conscience. Your conscience will always be in state of guilt and fear and will keep on pestering you for the evil deeds done. What a troubled and a restless mind. Strive for a clear conscience. “There’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience,” says the French proverb.

Second, pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name although a person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it (see cf. 2152).

Bruce R. McConkie  comments: 

“Herod is stunned [at the request for John’s head]; he is plunged into sudden grief; his fawning friends are appalled…Antipas…feared to lose face with his nobles should he break his intemperate oath.

“’If a single touch of manliness had been left in him he would have repudiated the request as one which did not fall either under the letter or spirit of his oath, since the life of one cannot be made the gift to another; or he would have boldly declared that if such was her choice, his oath was more honoured by being broken than by being kept. But a despicable pride and fear of man prevailed over his better impulses. More afraid of the criticisms of his guests than of the future torment of such conscience as was left him, he immediately sent an executioner to the prison, and so at the bidding of a dissolute coward, and to please the loathly fancies of a shameless girl, the axe fell, and the head of the noblest of the prophets was shorn away.’ (Farrar)” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2: 334-5.)

St Augustine further comments: “Amid the excesses and sensuality of the guests, oaths are rashly made, which then are unjustly kept” (“Sermon 10”).

The rash and foolish promise confirmed with an oath,  (see Mt 14:7)  which Herod made to this wanton girl, to give her whatsoever she would ask and this promise was a very extravagant obligation that neither a prudent man that is afraid of being snared in the words of his mouth (Prove 6:2) nor a good man that fears an oath, Eccl 9:2 would dare. Oaths or promises are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly can be an occasion of many temptations and sins. Therefore, swear not so at all, lest thou have occasion to say, It was an erro, (Eccl. 5:6).  That’s just the reason the Savior said, Swear not at all; neither by heaven…Nor by the earth (Matt 5:34

It is a sin against the second commandment of God’s Law to make an oath to do something unjust; any such oath has no binding force. In fact, if one keeps it–as Herod did–one commits an additional sin. The Catechism also teaches that one offends against this precept if one swears something untrue, or swears needlessly (cf. “St Pius V
Catechism”, III, 3, 24). Cf. note on Mt 5:33-37.

Third, sin engenders other sins and vices, destruction and death. This results in perverse inclination which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root  (see cf. CCC 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869).

Herod’s action started first with a seduction of Herodias then followed by a divorce of his own wife Areta. Next, John was imprisoned and beheaded. Bitterly resented the insult perpetrated against his daughter, King Areta of Arabia Petrea, Aretas’ father who was the ruler of Nabateans made war against Herod that heavily defeated him.

Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as punishment for what he had done to John. What happened then and that what followed after simply proved that sin brings its own punishment. It was an omen when Herod first seduced Herodias. From that act of infidelity came the murder of John, and in the end disaster, in which he lost everything except Herodias who stayed with him to the end.

Lord, anticipate our needs and prevent us from falling. Help us to choose what is good and to reject what is contrary to your will.  And help us to strive for holiness that we may please you in all things (Hebrews 12:14).”

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Luke 21:12-19 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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Lk 21:12-19 The Coming Persecution

Sometimes in the past a friend of mine sent me this text message: “God never promised us an easy journey in life, only safe arrival.” I think this is true because Jesus in today’s gospel says that our life in this world is not an easy one. We should expect thorns in the forms of persecutions, sufferings and hardships; we should learn to bear our crosses and find more meanings in difficulties. But we should not worry because God will provide us the means.

He says: “By patient endurance you will save your lives.” Are we ready to suffer and to shed blood until the end, if necessary, for our faith? It is because Christianity is a religion of martyrdom. Christianity is a religion of the cross. Jesus willingly shed His blood for our sake and He calls us to be martyrs too. The word martyr in Greek means ‘witness.’ Some theologians in the past said something about being a witness like Tertullian and others. Tertullian said: “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” Cyprian also said: “When persecution comes, God’s soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict.” Augustine wrote: “The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered and they multiplied!”

God may call some of us to be martyrs. But for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord; to witness to the joy, truth and freedom of the gospel; by our life, and real-life testimony. What attracts others to the gospel? They are attracted to the Gospel and to Christianity when they see us: Christians love their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless.

What are the marks of a true witness of Christ? David Watson in his, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship (1982 pp. 142-143) said that the marks of a true witness are:

  • A witness must have a first-hand experience of Christ. Hearsay is not acceptable in a court of law as well as in the court of this world’s opinion. People will listen only to what we have personally seen and heard.
  • A witness must be able to express himself verbally. We may witness effectively through our lives, our work, our relationships, our attitudes, our suffering and even our death, yet we must still “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.” We must do so “with gentleness and respect,” and with the integrity of our lives demonstrating the truth of our words.
  • A witness will have confidence in the power of God. He relies on the power of the message of Christ and him crucified, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows that God can break through any defenses, and change any heart. This confidence will not be brash, but humble and sensitive, marked by much prayer. He knows that without God he can do nothing, but that with God all things are possible.
  • A witness will have compassion for the spiritually lost. He will care for them as individuals who matter deeply to God: made in his image, redeemed by his Son and to be indwelt by his Spirit.

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 OTHER HOMILY SOURCES:

One day I received a text message from a friend. The message is: “”God never promised us an easy journey in life, only safe arrival.” I did not know if my friend had any idea about the difficulties I was experiencing in my work but the message was very timely and it just struck me from the heart.

We know that everybody experiences difficulties in life. But can our faith make a difference? I believe that what we can offer is hope. We Christians are people of hope. I remember one of our professors saying that if there is no hope there is no future, then what is the point of life? Indeed our life has meaning because of our hope rooted in Jesus Christ.

Even though Jesus did not promise an easy journey, he assured us a safe arrival only if we hold on to Him. We should not wallow in the problems and trials of life. Rather we should focus our attention on the assurance of Jesus that not a single hair of our head will perish. St. Paul proved this when he said in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Trial of every sort come to us, will perish but we are not discouraged. We are left without answer, but do not despair, persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed.”

We hold on to our hope in Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand firm, steadfast and enduring amidst the tribulations of life. (Jerome S. Montesclaros, SVD Bible Diary 2002)

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“By patient endurance you will save your lives.” Are you ready to suffer and to shed your blood, of necessary, for your faith? Christianity is a religion of the cross; it is a religion of martyrdom. Jesus willingly shed his blood for our sake and he calls us to be martyrs. The word martyr in Greek means witness. The Book of Revelation says that, “Jesus was the faithful witness…who freed us from our sins by his blood,” (1:5). Tertullian, a 2nd century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die, exclaimed: “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the Church. The 3rd century Bishop, Cyprian, said: “when persecution comes, God’s soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict.”.” Saint Augustine wrote: “the martyrs are bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and the multiplied!” Why is this the case? The martyrs witnessed to the joy, truth and freedom of the gospel by their life, their testimony, and by their blood. Are you also eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel? Think about it. (Fr. Louie Punzalan, SVD Bible Diary 2004)

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It is said that “Christian life is not a bed of roses.” But come to think of it, the positive version is true as well. Christian life is a bed of roses. But not one that implies ease and comfort. Roses have thorns too signifying the possibilities of risk, blood-letting and pain. A rose is a rose because of its petaled beauty and its thorns. Both make it beautiful and complete.

Those who follow the Lord should expect thorns in the forms of persecutions, sufferings and hardships as He reveals in today’s gospel. But those exactly are the reasons why following Him is a “rosy” and wise decision, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that…adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” Following him is following a path secure and safe, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”

We are also asked to persevere because Christian life is not how you run fast but how you carry on the journey. For those who keep up the struggle, “perseverance will secure your lives.”

I may be laughed at but not discouraged, I may be persecuted but not disheartened and I may be beaten up but not surrender. (Fr. Ferdinand D. Resuena, SVD Bible Diary 2006)

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“Be thankful with what you have, rather than lose your job and be sent back to the Philippines.” This is what I often tell my countrymen when they complain of work fatigue.

Most Filipinos here in Korea are engaged in Triple D jobs which means: Dirt, Difficult and Dangerous. They have endured everything because of love for their family.

A story is told about a group of devout people who went on pilgrimage to heaven. While on pilgrimage they carried individual crosses along. The going was rough and there was much moaning and groaning. One of the pilgrims found his cross just too heavy to carry, so he cut off a part and shortened it.

After days of walking, the pilgrims approached the promised land of God’s presence. But they still had one obstacle to overcome. Between them and heaven was yawning abyss. How could they get to the other side? Someone thought that they could use their crosses as bridge. Indeed their crosses were just the right length to bridge the gap except the one who shortened his cross to make it lighter.

Life is difficult. The Lord Himself has said our life in this world is not easy, so we should learn to bear our crosses. No shortcuts!

There are times when we are tempted to do “dirty” work in order to have palatial houses, expensive cars, fashionable clothes. In high school, I recall the remarks of our school janitor: “I don’t mind being a janitor because the work is respectable. I may not smell good but I make the CR clean and sweet-smelling.”

Life is surely difficult but it does not need to be dirty. When you choose a dirty life, your next life is in danger. That is why Jesus gives us a very good advice, “By patient endurance you will save your lives.” (Fr. Emmanuel Ferrer, SVD Bible Diary 2007)

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“…And they will put some of you to death.” I write this reflection a few days after Fr. Fransiskus Madhu, a fellow SVD missionary, an Indonesian, was shot to death in a remote barangay in the hinterlands of Kalinga-Apayao. It was a brutal reminder that the danger of death is something a missionary should be prepared for. Taking risks to life and limb is, for the missionary, part of the territory.

For many of us, the death of Fr. Fransiskus was senseless. Some missionaries reacted by proposing that the SVD should abandon the particular place because of its history of violence, especially to missionaries. Yet to do so would be essentially surrendering to the forces of evil. We find ourselves with no choice but to keep on proclaiming the gospel, no matter what it takes. We could only remind ourselves of the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives because of the faith. Because of what they did, the Church flourished, as it were a plant nourished by the life-giving blood of the martyrs. To offer one’s life for the Kingdom is one very convincing act of faith that cannot be easily ignored. For many in the past, it was the one single act that became the turning point for conversion. It is truly an imitation of Christ –no greater love than there is when one lays down his life for his friends.

For me personally, it reminded me of the days when I was a parish priest of Santa Teresa in Occidental Mindoro. Many times we had to go by boat to the remote barangays. Along the way, we would suddenly encounter inclement weather and big waves. It can be a terrifying experience. I remember that in those times, I would sing to myself the song, ‘Be Not Afraid.’ I would also remind myself very often that I am just doing God’s work and that surely, God would not let his worker down. Hence, putting myself in dangerous situations of life-threatening circumstances is an act of faith in God who will take care of His own. Death would not be a frightful prospect. (Fr. Gil Alejandria, SVD Bible Diary 2008)

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To be persecuted in the name of Christ is a special grace. Persecution is a consequence of following Christ who was persecuted and put to death on the cross for our redemption. Persecution can be direct or indirect. Directly, worldly power and authority suppresses the practice of the Christian faith through many forms of expression, including torture and death. Indirectly, worldly values and criticisms compel Christians to abandon the practice of the faith. Where direct persecution is the most common, as in the martyrdom of many Christians during the time of early church, indirect persecution occurs every day in almost all areas of human life.

In a government office, an employer was criticized for taking his job too seriously. While he attends to his tasks with painstaking care, others merely waited for the bundy clock to strike at 5:00PM. For his honest and faithful work, he was isolated from the rest of the employees. Notwithstanding the harsh remarks and reactions of his co-employees, he kept on doing his work as best as he could. One employee challenged him: “What are you trying to prove?” in a humble tone, he replied, “If I maybe offending you, I’m so sorry. But this is who I am and I’m happy with my work.”

Jesus in the gospel tells us that persecution is an opportunity to give authentic witnessing to Christ Jesus. he tells us not to prepare any defense for He Himself will give a wisdom that adversaries cannot refute. Persecution, then, provides good Christians to experience the Lord’s wisdom. Jesus, in the final analysis, invites all Christians to embrace the difficulties of being challenged or persecuted for living their faith in Him. (Fr. Fred Saniel, SVD Bible Diary 2009)

Fr. Joseph Benitez
http://justmehomely.wordpress.com

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Reflection:

By your perseverance you will secure your lives. My parents, teachers, spiritual directors, and close friends have always advised me that, to succeed, I must persevere. Period. No excuses, no alibis, no other way, no way out but through perseverance.

The best things in life are bought with great pain and perseverance. No guts, no glory! No pain, no gain! No cross, no resurrection! These are all translated into one word: PERSEVERANCE.

Persevere!

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