St. Ignatius of Loyola

Mathew 13: 47-53
Jer 18: 1-6 / Ps 146: 1-6

The kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that is cast in the sea and brings in a haul of all kinds of fish.
(Matthew 13:47)

Help us not to fear, Lord Jesus
If we must lead a life of pain,
In working to spread Your Good News
We have hope of eternal gain.

Jesus said to the people: ‘Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that is cast in the sea and brings in a haul of all kinds of fish. When it is full, the fishermen bring it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in baskets and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the upright, to throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. ‘Have you understood all these?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old.’ When Jesus had finished these parables he left the district. (Matthew 13:47-53)

Reflection

Today’s Gospel passage is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. It has no parallel in any of the other three Gospels. It relates the last parable lesson that our Lord taught in this chapter 13 of St. Matthew’s account, which started with the Parable of the Sower. It was as if Jesus started His ‘lecture’ with planting, and ended it with a ‘harvesting’: “This is how it will be at the end of the age,” like a dragnet thrown into the sea, when the angels come to separate the evil from the righteous, and cast the wicked into the fiery furnace.

Jesus used this illustration of a fishing equipment for the benefit of His listeners, most of whom were probably fishermen living along the coast of the Lake of Galilee . A dragnet is similar to what trawl fishermen use, which is conical in shape, and dragged by a boat. It catches all kinds of fish along its path, including flotsam, seaweeds, etc. God’s kingdom, represented by the Church is like a dragnet, open to all regardless of persuasion or moral condition. It does not discriminate. It gives everyone a chance to believe, repent and be converted.

In this month of mission, we remember St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose life is currently being depicted in a locally produced movie picture. Without doubt this religious order known as the Jesuits ranks as one of the greatest “dragnets” of the Church since the 16th century, being one of the first to serve in the foreign missions. The pioneering work of Jesuits like St. Francis Xavier in the Far East inspired many others to evangelize Christian frontiers like India, China, Ethiopia, the Congo, South America, and Canada. By the time of St. Ignatius’ death on July 31, 1556, the Jesuits had already numbered more than 1,000 members in nine European provinces aside from those working in the Asian foreign missions. St. Ignatius’ youthful dreams consisted of becoming a high-ranking soldier in the service of the King of Spain. Instead, he became a soldier of Christ the King when, as a result of a broken leg in the battle of Pamplona, he turned to prayer and meditation while he was recuperating. He read books on the life of Jesus and the saints which inspired him to lead a life of labor and sacrifice, in imitation of the works of St. Francis of Assisi and other great monastic saints. His “dragnet” in his life’s mission started small, bringing in an initial following of six former schoolmates in the College de Montague of the University of Paris, where he attained his academic credentials. After Pope Paul III confirmed the Jesuit order in September 27, 1540 through a papal bull, Ignatius sent his companions as missionaries around Europe, creating schools and seminaries. A large number of great men like Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino were products of the Jesuit ‘dragnet’s institution in the Philippines, the Ateneo University, which, up to the present time, has been forming men and women who dedicate their lives for others. They are all the proud legacy of St. Ignatius de Loyola.

Dear God, we honor St. Ignatius de Loyola, whose short life on earth continues to bring in millions of souls into Your kingdom through the influence of the Society of Jesus, which he founded. May his example lead us to a life of prayer and meditation, in imitation of his extraordinary life, and be men and women for others in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Hidden Treasure

Matthew 13:44-46
Jer 15:10,16-21 / Psa 59

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
(Matthew 13:44)

Where is the wisdom of having
A life of wealth and vain pleasure
If the price for them is losing
God’s promised eternal treasure?

(Jesus said), “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Reflection

Two short parables contained in two short verses, but the common message that they bring to us is as crisp and clear as a bright early morning, and as magnificently illustrated like a great painter’s obra maestra, a masterpiece of inestimable worth.

Note how Jesus’ teaching here seems to convey a sense of urgency and haste – there is no time to waste – a decision must be made before it is too late. And why indeed should anyone hesitate when the one chance of a lifetime is at hand? As He said in another parable, one must not look back when he has set his hand on the plow. Nothing in this life can ever compare to the treasure of God’s kingdom. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36). Conversely, in the case of the foolish, overweight and oversexed middle-aged man, “Why be seduced by an alien woman, or fondle the breast of a stranger” (Prov.5), and put yourself in danger of a heart attack? For a few hours of pleasure, why risk an eternity in hell?

What is your “treasure hidden in a field?” What is your “pearl of great value?” What are we willing to sacrifice in this life to ensure its priceless possession? In His wisdom and compassion, Jesus is not really asking us to give up everything for it – like He did for our sake on the cross. He is simply emphasizing the “great bargain” that He is offering us. All the saints and martyrs who received God’s gift of wisdom willingly gave up everything for this treasure.

Of course God does not expect most of us to live like His saints and martyrs. It is enough that we live a life of purity, compassion and peace. Having discovered a renewed life is what “finding a treasure hidden in a field” means. This life in Christ is priceless, and “selling everything” only means that we are willing to give up the things that may only jeopardize our relationship with Him. Or give up a generous sum of money to help a sick brother in need, and so draw ourselves closer to the Source of our generosity and compassion.

Lord God, our hearts are filled with joy, and we rush to “sell everything we have” to secure our place in Your kingdom. Thank You for making us realize how infinitely valuable Your Gospel messages are to guide us and keep us away from sin. Nothing is more precious than knowing that we are under Your love and protection. Amen.

Seeing and Hearing the Word

Matthew 13:16-17
Sir 44:1, 10-15 / Psa 132:11-18

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
(Matthew 13:16)

We have received God’s grace of wisdom
To share the Gospel with our neighbor;
It’s but fitting to serve His kingdom
In thanking Him for this high favor.

(Jesus said), “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16-17)

Reflection

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel contains seven parables, the first of which (Parable of the Sower) may be considered as one of the most insightful and thought-provoking lessons that our Lord Jesus ever taught in the Gospel. After teaching this parable, He paused to give a short exposition, by which Jesus revealed a number of reasons why He spoke to the multitudes in parables.

First, He reminded His apostles how favored they were to hear and understand what many, even prophets and ‘righteous men’ never ‘saw’ (understood) or heard, or could only wonder about. At the same time, Jesus was also implying that His apostles would in time be filled with wisdom and understanding, and they would surely remember His words when the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost. Not so with the “righteous men”, whom Jesus was most likely referring to the religious leaders of the Jews, who “look but do not see, and hear but do not listen and understand,” quoting the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10). Finally, as we reflect on these two verses in today’s short Gospel passage, we come to understand that our Lord’s words are also directed at us, because we are enlightened and transformed by the power of His wisdom and His method of instruction (by parables).

Jesus was clearly going back to His parable of the sower to point out the difference between the unbelievers — the path where the birds snatched the first seeds sown – (Mt.13:4), and His followers – the rich soil where the seeds sown “reaped a hundred, sixty or thirtyfold” (Mt.13:8). The unbelievers will never be converted because their hardened hearts cannot comprehend the lessons imparted in the Bible. Or perhaps they simply refuse to believe in a God that they do not understand, and completely rely on the power of their own intelligence.

We need to have a servant’s heart, humble, patient, trusting and obedient in order to obtain God’s grace of wisdom and understanding. The kingdom of God is of such great value that it will only be given to people who care about the lessons that the Son of God is imparting to those who sincerely seek Him. We know that we care about His lessons when we are prodded by the Holy Spirit to serve Jesus by joining in the mission of spreading His Gospel values to others. Our Church tells us that July is the month of mission. Before this month ends, let us therefore pray that this spirit of mission will become the most important part of our life’s many concerns. After all, this is the reason why we have been so highly favored.

Eternal Father, we praise and thank You for blessing our inner eye with the wisdom to perceive the precious lessons of our savior Jesus Christ. May this privilege motivate us to share the Good News of salvation to others, especially to the “little ones” who hunger for Your Word. Amen.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Matthew 20: 20-28
2 Cor 4: 7-15 / Ps 126: 1-6

“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup…”
(Matthew 20: 22-23 )

Lord, take away all my ambition,
Desire for prominence, and my pride...
If serving You be my commission,
I leave it all for You to decide.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 20-28)

Reflection

It was obvious that the sons of Zebedee put up their mother to make this personal request from Jesus to give them special positions at the “seating arrangement” in His kingdom. Earlier, they had heard the Lord declare, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on 12 thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt.19:28). Being the closest companions of the Lord from the very start, they must have felt that they had the right of first priority. And indeed, St. James, whose feast we commemorate today, was given the first priority of martyrdom among the twelve apostles.

Interestingly, the ambition of James and John provided the opening for Jesus to prophesy their destiny. According to St. Luke’s account, St. James was the first apostle to die of martyrdom in the hands of King Herod, who had him beheaded (Acts 12:2). On the other hand (no pun intended), St. John’s cup of agony took a much longer period to consume. For the next 80 years, he travelled and founded churches in many pagan lands. He was imprisoned in Ephesus and sent to Rome, where he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, but miraculously survived without any injuries. In the end he was exiled by Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Unlike his brother James who was the first martyr, this apostle that Jesus loved the most was the only one among the twelve who was spared from suffering a violent death. He died in Ephesus at the age of ninety-five years, the last of the apostles.

Ambition is not wrong, provided it is focused in the right direction. The main motivation must be for a greater cause, and never merely for personal gain or reward. Billionaire Andrew Tan’s rags-to-riches life story serves as an example. His passion to succeed was driven by the desire to provide employment and decent housing to tens of thousands. He spent all his time working hard to realize that dream, saying, “spending money also takes time,” and instead plowed back all his revenues to more investments, building more residences and office buildings. The primary motivation of true leadership should be a strong desire to serve others. Those who give their most for the best causes deserve the greatest rewards.

Grant us the grace, Lord God, to see that the only way to prominence in Your sight is to give of ourselves in humble service. May this be our sole ambition in this short life that we live to be assured of an eternal place in Your kingdom. Amen.

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

John 20: 1-2, 11-18
2 Cor 5: 14-17 / Psa 63

‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:18)

Let us honor Mary Magdalene,
And pray for her intercession;
She was the first saint on the scene
At Jesus Christ’s Resurrection.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-2, 11-18)

Reflection

Today, July 22, is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. Her sainthood was an unofficial yet ecclesial canonization, in recognition of the privilege that God gave her as the first witness of Christ’s Resurrection. In fact, as the bearer of this good news to the disciples, she was even referred to in early Christian writings as “the apostle to the apostles.”

The 12th century saw a widespread devotion to St. Mary Magdalene in the Western Church. St. Theresa of Avila wrote in her personal journal that it was the story of Mary of Magdala which played an important role in her conversion from spiritual indifference. St. Bridget of Sweden wrote: “There are three saints I love above all: Mary the mother of Jesus, St.John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene.” We do not know how many saints and martyrs shared the same sentiments about the influence this mystical woman played in their lives, but we do know that she has become the most controversial female saint in the New Testament, and even up to the present time. Many Gnostics believe that she wrote the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” and even claim that she and Jesus were married. This became the basis for the controversial book of Dan Brown, the “Da Vinci Code”.

There seems to be some confusion in the Gospel accounts on whether the Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) was the same “sinful woman” who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:37-38), and the “Mary called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth” who was also one of the women of means who provided material help and assistance to the Lord and His apostles (Luke 8:2). But there is no question in all the four Gospel writers that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to Christ’s Resurrection. For this honor is she revered as one of the greatest saints.

Father God, we honor St. Mary Magdalene on her feast day today, and we pray that through her and our Blessed Mother’s intercession we may also draw nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ by serving those who serve You, and by complete devotion to Your Word. Amen.

Hidden from Hardened Hearts

Matthew 13: 10-17
Jer 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13 / Ps 36: 6-11

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
(Matthew 13:11)

Life will be hard to understand
Unless we seek God’s perfect plan,
Read His Word, obey His command,
This is His will for every man.

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13: 10-17)

Reflection

Why indeed did Jesus deliver His messages in parables? Well, first of all, our Lord was a great storyteller, and He knew that His listeners would easily retain the lessons they learned if they heard them in stories that they could relate to. Like the Parable of the Sower was as interesting as it was instructive, and one could glean fruits of wisdom in its illustrations. The other practical reason why Jesus spoke in parables was to avoid a direct confrontation with His critics, the religious authorities, who were always ready to pounce on Him if He so much as made a derogatory remark about their Mosaic laws and rituals. That was why Jesus told His apostles, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” They were favored because they were like innocent children, trusting in Jesus’ words even if they were confused at first. But not the Jewish authorities and their followers, who were constantly skeptical about the works and words of Jesus.

“To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt.13:12). These words referred to the fertile soil – it had the capacity to produce, so it yielded an abundant harvest. The other soils that had no nutrients, were rocky, or overgrown with weeds lost even the few seeds that were sown on them. These types of soil refer to people who reject the teachings of Jesus because they have little or no knowledge of Scriptures, and/or are more preoccupied with the pursuits and pleasures of this world.

What our Lord is telling us in today’s Gospel is that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who hear and live the Word of God in their lives, and those who never bother to listen, and so lose the opportunity to be transformed by God’s Word and be saved. In our community, after we end a bible sharing, we decide on what action word we could apply related to what we have learned in our Gospel sharing. Acting immediately on the Word of God is a sure way of retaining it in our hearts, never to be lost again. May we act on all the lessons that we learn daily from the Lord, as we read His Word in the Gospel.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the lessons You impart to us in the Bible. In it are hidden great and marvelous truths which so many have never grasped and which all mankind desperately need to know. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for helping us understand its secret treasures. Amen.