Neither Dancing Nor Mourning

Matthew 11:16-19
Isa 48:17-19 / Psa 1

But wisdom is vindicated by her works.
(Matthew 11:19)

Who judges by appearances
Will not see the fruits the wise discern;
Work to resolve our differences,s
And God’s wisdom is the prize we’ll earn.

Jesus said to the crowds, “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

Reflection

The Pharisees and their cohorts were always quick to find fault with Jesus and John the Baptist, who also condemned them (Mt.3:7). Both Jesus and the Baptist were preaching repentance, but the Jews’ religious leaders saw themselves as righteous. Jesus and John refused to conform to their structured forms of worship, and the Pharisees were too proud to abandon them and submit to Jesus’ wisdom. In spite of the many miracles that Jesus performed in their midst, and the irrefutable truth of His words, they still remained as stubborn as the undisciplined children in the marketplace, who only wanted others to follow them in their foolish charades.

At times we can be like foolish children too, when we refuse to trust the wisdom of God’s hand in the midst of difficult circumstances. We only believe after God has manifested His miracle. We still doubt, even if time and time again in biblical history, God has shown us that faith is more important than knowledge.

Why are we always sceptical about things done outside our conventional ways of doing things? Jesus exhorts us to be creative, to get out of our comfort zones, to be bold and look beyond our normal routine, be more dynamic in our outlook in life.

People who are creative and willing to face challenges everyday live longer and fuller lives than those who prefer to remain in the “safe side” of life. The latter eventually become lethargic or bored with their static lifestyle and fall victims to depression, stroke, cancer, or other maladies of the inactive.

The “Associates of the Missionaries of Charity” were helping the Sisters distribute foodstuffs to the poor residents of Babak in Samal Island one day. They were very impressed with the methodical way the Sisters were able to draw out the poorest to be served. They simply went house to house days before, distributing claim stubs to selected beneficiaries. More than six hundred people filled the church before the gift-giving. After celebrating holy Mass, the numbers were called, and the people queued up to receive the donations of mercy. The helpers were worried that the truckload of foodstuffs (rice, noodles, plastic water pails, soap, towels, and snacks would not be able to satisfy the big number who attended. As it turned out, they had such little faith. There was even enough left over for those who came without claim stubs!

Teach us, Lord, to be more discerning, instead of harbouring doubts; to be more trusting, rather than be sceptical in the face of trying circumstances. Let no negative feelings toss us in waves of uncertainty, so that our faith in Your promises will never falter, but will grow stronger and be useful in following Your holy will. Amen.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary

Luke 1: 26-38
Gn 3:9-15,20/Ps 98:1-4/ Eph 1:3-6,11-12

Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
(Luke 1:28)

Mary’s Immaculate Conception
Was designed for man’s salvation.
This doctrine may all Christians believe
That Christ’s Mother was sinless conceived.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1: 26-38)

Reflection

Today is one of the most celebrated special days in the Catholic liturgical calendar, because this day we commemorate the sinless conception of Mary, the Blessed Mother of our Lord. All faithful Catholics believe that aside from our Lord Jesus Christ, Mary was the only person exempted by God from the stain of original sin. Our Church enshrined this as dogma based on passages of the Holy Scriptures itself.

First of all, in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that God would visit His people and would be born of a virgin, and named Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14). In the New Testament, this prophecy was confirmed in Luke 1:27. Now, if Mary was indeed stained by the sin of Adam, what was God’s point of having Christ conceived in her womb as a virgin? As the first tabernacle of the Word made flesh, it was only fitting that she was pure, sinless and undefiled. That was why the Angel Gabriel addressed her as “full of grace”. That phrase would be a contradiction in terms if she had the slightest spot of sin in her soul. And besides, if God could create His angels sinless, why not the Mother of His only Son?

Thus it was that on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary, “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” (The Constitution of the Ineffabilis Deus). As Christians, we all believe that our Lord Jesus Christ was the founder of the one true Church; and as Catholics, we also believe that this papal proclamation is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is one of the reasons why the Blessed Virgin Mary is so venerated.

Father most loving, thank You for giving us Mary, our mother, whom You preserved from the sin of our first parents. Grant that by her example, we may strive to be holy, by Your graces, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and thru the love of Jesus. Amen.

Christ’s Yoke of Love

Matthew 11:28-30
Is 40: 25-31 / Ps 103: 1-4, 8,10

For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
(Matthew 11:30)

What burden could be too heavy,
When we are called to serve the Lord?
Our Lord makes the job seem easy
If with His will we’re in accord.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Reflection

Today’s Gospel passage may appear to be brief, but it is rich with the comforting words of compassion and wisdom that can only come from a divine Person Who sincerely desires our love and our well-being.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Who can resist such an invitation? He is the all-knowing God Who became mortal in order to identify Himself with us, so that He too could feel our pains, sadness, and hardships. Jesus knows our frailties and tendency to fall into sin, the very reason why He invites us to come to Him, so that we may be purified and strengthened in our struggle against trials and temptations. Once or twice a year, our Church encourages us to go on a week-end retreat or at least a one-day recollection, where we can find rest for our weary souls. Don’t we all feel that lightness of spirit after these spiritual encounters with the Lord? “My soul finds rest in God alone,” goes the song. We can always experience God’s daily dose of rest in prayers and meditation.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Jesus was telling the Jews to free themselves from the oppression of traditional Jewish customs, and instead take upon themselves the New Covenant of His love and the Good News of salvation. But His words are also telling us that we must be willing to take the yoke of service before we can begin to understand His words of wisdom. When we are sent out to spread His Gospel message, “You will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt.10:19b-20).

“I am meek and humble of heart…” Meekness is often regarded by the strong to be a form of weakness. But as we can see in the life of Jesus, He lived the humble life of a carpenter’s son, and never shunned the company of the poor and the sick; but He was anything but weak or indecisive. He castigated the religious authorities to their faces, singlehandedly drove the traders and moneychangers out of the temple area, and boldly submitted to torture and death to accomplish his earthly mission. He was meek and humble in order to attract and welcome all kinds of people to Himself, and at the same time to show us the example of a lifestyle pleasing to the Father.

“…you will find rest for your souls.” This is the paradox of being a true follower of Christ. Living the true Christian life was never meant to be easy. As St. Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1Cor.1:18). In Christian service, what is burdensome to the body is rest for the soul. Conversely, what is pleasurable (sinful) to the body is intolerable to the soul. Sin is such a heavy burden because it carries with it other loads like anxiety, guilt, fear and doubt. These are the side effects of being separated from God. Only by being reconciled to Him through repentance and a clear conscience can one find peace of mind and rest for his soul. And as we serve Him in His community and in His Church, our life will also be filled with joy. That is when we will realize that in serving Him, His “yoke is easy and (His) burden light.”

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:31) We thank You, Father God, for Your love that makes our workload light. Amen.

Seeking the Lost

Matthew 18: 12-14
Isa 40:1-11 / Psa 96

Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost.
(Matthew 18:14)

To save us did He count the cost?
Or ask only what we have received?
To seek and lead those who are lost,
Back to Christ in Whom they once believed.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

Reflection

Before our Lord gave this parable of ‘The Lost Sheep’, He was asked by His disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Placing a child in their midst, Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:4). Jesus presented the child as representative of those who are weak and helpless, dependent on others, and humbled by their poverty and social insignificance. He was in fact directing attention to the poor as the “little ones” with whom He identified in His life.

Jesus was referring to the marginalized wallowing in poverty as much as to the sinners as the “lost sheep” in our society. In most cases, the poor are regarded as sinners because of their need, their lack of education and values formation. That is why God is more forgiving of their transgressions, and warns us never to “despise one of these little ones” when they come to us for help. The book of Proverbs is full of such admonitions: “Refuse no one the good when it is in your power to do it for him. Say not to your neighbor, ‘Go and come again, tomorrow I will give,’ when you can give at once.” (Prov. 3:27-28). “He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy glorifies Him” (Prov. 14:31). “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard” (Prov.21:13). Our Lord Jesus Himself reminds us in the Gospel that “the poor will always be with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them” (Mark 14:7).

Our Lord chose His first apostles from poor, humble fishermen, who had little to offer in terms of resources, talents, abilities, or even moral support. All of His apostles were like innocent children who were totally dependent on Him for everything. Their dependence was all that He needed in order to form them into His greatest saints and leaders of His church.

Jesus was always seeking the “one that wanders off” – ostracized by the majority, like the demon-possessed, the lepers, the beggars, the paralytics and other handicapped persons, as well as the sinners, the tax collectors, and the Samaritans. By healing them and forgiving their sins, He restored them back to the “ninety-nine” (the community).

Today’s Gospel teaches us to seek out our brothers and sisters, who, because of their poverty or perceived sinfulness have left our fold. Jesus teaches us that they are the ones we should give our attention and compassion to, if we are to humble ourselves like a child. They need to know that God loves them, and they can realize this if we show them we care. This my wife Ollie did for Sis. Gill, who had left our community to join a cult. But on her deathbed, Ollie called a priest to give Gill the last sacrament of anointing before she died.

Father God, our Savior Jesus has shown us that it is the weak and the helpless who are greatest in Your eyes because You always favor the humble and the little ones. Forgive us for feeling proud in our strength and self-sufficiency, for in all things we will always be dependent on Your power and provisions as they are on us. Amen.

Bringing the Paralyzed to Jesus

Luke 5: 17-26
Is 35: 1-10/ Ps 85: 9-14

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
(Luke 5:20)

Repentance is what we must seek
If we are paralyzed by sin.
Pride keeps us bound, makes our faith weak
If what needs healing lies within.

One day, while Jesus was teaching inside a house where Pharisees and scribes sat listening, some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat to lay before Him for healing. Unable to get inside the house because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed the tiles, and lowered him on his mat through the hole into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to think, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Knowing what was in their minds, Jesus asked them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up, took his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. (Lk.5:17-26)

Reflection

We see two reasons why our Lord first forgave the paralytic’s sins before healing him. The first was to stir a controversy in the minds of the Pharisees and scribes who were present regarding His authority to forgive sins, and then proving it. Only God could give instant healing to a paralytic, just as easily as He could forgive sins. But the Pharisees and scribes were the ones so paralyzed by their sins of envy and pride that they failed to see Jesus as the promised Messiah.

The second reason was to emphasize to one and all that spiritual healing was far more important than the physical healing that the paralytic and his friends so desperately sought. And yet, both were freely given. They went to all the trouble to seek relief from a debilitating disease, but the paralytic never thought to ask for his freedom from a worse condition, the sins that would have paralyzed his soul forever. Jesus healed both his body and soul, all because of their perseverance and faith.

The same could not be said about the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who, for all their knowledge and intelligence suffered a greater disease because of their stubborn pride. Convinced of their own misplaced piety and righteousness, they refused to admit that they needed repentance, and so remained trapped in their wicked state.

Dear God, we were no different from that paralytic, helpless and bound, before You forgave our sins. But now You have empowered us with Your Holy Spirit, Lord, and so we must also go to all lengths to bring others who are still paralyzed by sin to our Lord Jesus, so that they too may find peace and health of both body and soul. Amen.

Seed and Sower Too

Matthew 9:35—10:1,5a,6-8
Is 30: 19-21,23-26 / Ps 147

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
(Matthew 9:37-38)

God came to heal and exorcize,
And proclaim pardon to sinners;
Then gave His life as sacrifice
That we may all come out winners.

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. At the sight of the crowds, He felt pity for them, because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.” (Matthew 9:35—10:1,5a,6-8)

Reflection

At the time when our Lord started His earthly ministry, He saw the negligence of the Jewish religious leaders in failing to lead the Chosen People of God according to the laws laid down by His Father through Moses and the prophets. Moved with pity for them, He cured all their infirmities, and taught them His values and the true way to righteousness. Then Jesus picked His leaders from among them, and sent them as His first laborers to the harvest. As the prophet Isaiah prophesied in our first reading today, “He will send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful.” (Isa 30:23) The ‘seed’ that Jesus sowed were the apostles, and they brought in a rich harvest for the early church.

Like the apostles, we are also called to be sown in the marketplace, and at the same time be God’s laborers at the time of the harvest. As seed we are to bear much fruit by spreading the Word of God; as laborers we are to serve the Lord in our renewal communities, and win the marketplace for Christ. Just as seeds cannot be planted until they are fully mature and prepared, neither can we serve as God’s laborers unless we have been properly initiated and trained for the job. This is one important reason why our spiritual formation is so emphasized in our Christian community.

In February, next year, we will be conducting another rich harvest of couples who will finish an important module in their membership formation, the week-end Christian Marriage Retreat at the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo retreat center. All the members of the service team will be treated to heart-warming expressions of deep gratitude from all the participants who will experience a unique brand of marriage vow renewal, which they will always treasure as cherished memories. They will be told to offer their thanks and appreciation to the Lord above, as all the members of the service team will likewise enjoy the three-day event as much as they will. Besides, without cost we received the same care from those who had come before us, so it follows that without cost, we also should give back to them the blessings that they will deserve.

Grant, O Lord, that we may never tire or grow lukewarm in our mission to bring others to Your fold, so that the laborers in Your vineyard may increase, and Your message of salvation spread throughout the land. Amen.