The Feast of the Sacred Heart

Matthew 11: 25-30
Dt 7: 6-11 / Ps 103: 1-4, 6-7, 8, 10 / 1 Jn 4: 7-16

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(Matthew 11:29)

No burden is too heavy,
No task too hard to serve the Lord,
Love always makes the job easy,
With God’s Kingdom as the reward.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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 gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 25-30)

Reflection

Jesus invites us to share in His yoke of the cross by willingly accepting the burden of Christian stewardship or ministry that we may find ourselves in. By submitting to His call we will learn from Him – how to be gentle and humble, like His Sacred Heart- and in the process grow in wisdom and love, live in harmony with other men, and find real peace in this life.

No man ever lived (and loved) without a cross to bear. This is the yoke of original sin that all of us, descendants of Adam, inherited from our first parents. But when we answer the invitation of Jesus to ‘take on His yoke’ – in the name of love, for His Sacred Heart – our own yoke actually becomes lighter. Like a pair of oxen bearing a common yoke, Christ becomes our partner in carrying our trials and difficulties in life. That is why those who are kind-hearted and generous have an easier time going through life even if they seem to have heavier crosses to bear. Love makes their load lighter and their journey in life becomes easier. St. Augustine wrote that in all instances, those who do not love feel their trials as “great severities”; whereas those who love others endure the same, but they do not seem to feel them as severe. “For love makes all, the hardest and most distressing things, altogether easy, and almost nothing.”

In today’s first reading, Moses said, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession. . . not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you. . . but because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you . . . Know therefore that the Lord your God is (a) faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. . .(Deut.7:6-9).

In the second reading, St. John gives a similar message: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8) May the Sacred Heart of Jesus increase our devotion to Him, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and inspire us to be more loving of others as well.

Lord, may our hearts be joined with Your Sacred Heart, so that they may also be filled with love, and the glory of the Father be revealed to us. In Your service we have found rest, and in Your cross we have the hope of eternal bliss. Amen.

The Perfect Prayer

Matthew 6: 7-15
2 Cor.11:1-11 97: 1-7

Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.
(Matthew 6: 8)

Pray the ‘Our Father’ every day,
That all the world’s conflicts may cease;
As Jesus has shown us the way,
Let’s pray it constantly for peace.

Jesus instructed His disciples on praying: “Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from evil.’ If you forgive others their wrongs, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either.” (Mt. 6: 8-15)

Reflection

The Our Father should not have been called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, but ‘The Disciples’ Prayer’ because Jesus taught His disciples to pray it. It was meant to be prayed as an intimate form of communication between a loving Father and his children. Jesus did not instruct us to pray it like a “formula prayer”, which we were supposed to memorize word for word. Instead, He said, “Pray, then, in this way . . .” (‘Pray like this, in your own words.’)

Jesus presented God to His disciples as a personal, loving Father, in contrast to the common perception of the Jews at that time, who viewed Yahweh God as a distant authority figure, awesome and severe, who only communicated with their prophets. This was how the pagan religions worshipped their gods, to whom some of them even sacrificed their own kind to win favors or answers to their prayers. To the Jews at that time, this teaching of Jesus must have seemed too radical, or even bordering on blasphemy. But Jesus taught with such authority that His disciples followed His example, and the whole Christian world is the better for it. Thus, when we pray to God, we should feel His presence like a father near his child.

At the same time, Jesus also taught us that we must acknowledge God as the King of all creation. He is the Ruler of our lives; thus we must submit our will to His will, and trust in all His plans for us. (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”) He is the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).

Standing or kneeling before such Majestic Power, how then can we allow our mind to wander, as we rattle off our memorized prayer before dozing off to sleep, or dashing off to work? It is with an attitude of deep reverence for His Holy Name that we should approach God in prayer. That is why Jesus taught us to say, “Hallowed be Thy Name” (or “May Your Name be holy forever”). In this respect we must place ourselves in His holy Presence.

Finally, Jesus taught us that we have to acknowledge God our Father as our Divine Provider, on Whom we depend for everything we need. In this way we are humbling ourselves, and putting our life totally under His care. For indeed our food and all our material needs come from Him; the forgiveness of our sins comes from Him (even our capacity to forgive others comes from Him); and our protection from the snares of the evil one comes from Him. If we can meditate on all of these lessons that Jesus has taught us while we are praying to the Father, then we have made it a perfect prayer.

Dear God, grant that we may honor Your Name in the words that we speak, and follow Your will in everything we set out to do, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has taught us the way to love and adore You as our Father. Amen.

True Acts of Piety

Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
2 Cor 9:6-11 / Psa 112

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:1)

Good deeds done in ostentation
Are soon exposed as hypocrisy;
God’s love comes as revelation
In acts performed in secrecy

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18)

Reflection

Almsgiving, prayers and fasting. These were the acts of piety that devout Jews practiced according to their tradition, and which are still relevant in the present age, even though they are hardly practiced by most Christians today. Almsgiving, or works of charity are the most explicit expressions of love towards our neighbors, especially the “little children” of God (the needy). Prayers draw us closer to God, keep us safe and hopeful, and are a means of interceding for the sake of others in need. Fasting is a healthy dietary practice of going hungry for a certain period of time as a form of sacrifice, and to be one with those “who hunger and thirst”, and thus be set apart from the excesses of this world. All of these acts of piety would be meaningless and false if done for others to see and admire.

Jesus knew only too well the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom He obviously was referring to here in His teaching about practicing false piety. Later He would condemn them: “Woe to you, Pharisees! You love the seats of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces” (Lk.11:43). Obviously, they had this deep-seated obsession for the praise of men.

Only men who have grown in wisdom through God’s grace do not seek the praise of others. Knowing that their good deeds are pleasing in the eyes of God is enough for them. The good that they do are the consequence of their gratitude to Divine Providence because they have already received their reward. On the other hand, those who seek human praise will become addicted to such adulation because they are feeding the voracious appetites of vanity and pride. They will never be satisfied, and will always be under the stress of craving for more attention and recognition to sustain their hungry egos. The humble man is content to do his best and nothing more, because he knows God will do the rest. He who does not seek the praises of men is happy and contented in silently doing God’s will, knowing that in the end he will receive his reward when he hears the Father tell him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and enjoy the fruits of your labor in My kingdom.”

Lord God, as You have given us the precious things in this life, and even humbled Yourself on the cross that we may be saved, so may we also humbly share with others. Amen.

The Difficulty of Loving

Matthew 5:43-48
2Cor 8:19 / Psa 146

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:44-45)

God loves even those whom we reject
For their perceived inequities;
He wants our love to be perfect
By praying for our enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Reflection

Yiu can just imagine how hard this teaching must have been to accept in our Lord’s time, just as it is still hardly acceptable in our own day and age. But the truthfulness of those words ha.ve endured through the thousands of years since they were first spoken.

Loving our enemies does not mean we have to love them the way we love the people who are close to us. Loving our enemies simply means forgiving them and praying for their conversion. When His apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray, one of the most important parts of the Lord’s Prayer was “… forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who do us wrong…” (Luke 11:4). Unless we forgive, our love can never be genuine..

Loving, as our Lord has taught us, also means giving of ourselves to another, regardless of his status, tribe or affiliation. When a teacher of the law asked our Lord who this “neighbor” was that he should love, Jesus told His listeners a parable about the good Samaritan, who was “moved with compassion” for a total stranger who was waylaid by thieves and left for dead. Such a kind of love was foreign to the Jews who hated the Samaritans. But our Lord’s subtle message was to build a loving relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.

Our Lord Jesus wants us to receive the grace to understand that all the people we come in contact with, regardless of position or affiliation deserve to be loved, because as He said, “The Father makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good.” (Matt.5:45)

Forgive me, Lord, if I am biased in my dealings with others just because they do not share my beliefs, or because of my prejudices. Help me to see You in the faces of all people, especially in those whom I consider my enemies, so that I may learn to forgive and love them. Amen.

Turning the Other Cheek

Matthew 5: 38-42
2 Cor 6:1-10 / Ps 98

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
(Matthew 5:39)

Revenge torments my soul and mind,
True peace and joy how can I seek?
Help me Lord in my heart to find
Your grace to turn the other cheek.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Reflection

The principle of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” had been a practice in much of ancient times, dating back more than 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It was meant to check the damages resulting from blood feuds between adversaries. Considered one of the oldest laws in the book, it was in fact even written in the Old Testament books of Exodus: “If injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…” (Ex.21:23-24); Leviticus: “Anyone who injures his neighbor shall receive the same in return, limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Lev. 24:19-20); and Deuteronomy: “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot” (Dt.19:21). This principle was not a “law of vengeance”, but rather one of justice, because it limited the retaliation to the amount of damage that was inflicted.

Jesus, however, teaches us that our response to an inflicted injury should go beyond the level of human justice. Instead of “getting even” with our enemies, He tells us to “get them forgiven”. He wants us to avail of His healing power of mercy. No amount of vengeance can heal the wounds of injustice as effectively as genuine mercy and forgiveness. “Offering the other cheek” means willing to endure the pain of an unrequited debt for the sake of a higher purpose: to manifest God’s love. Love means never to take revenge on your enemies. At the same time, Jesus is advocating a radical form of passive resistance that disarms one’s adversary with the use of a firm, peaceful resolve to establish peace as a better alternative. This was the tactic employed by great peacemakers like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who advanced the cause against prejudice and racism by active non-violence. “Offering the other cheek” also means taking an active role in mitigating if not eradicating the root causes of violence and injustice by acts of charity and selfless service. Some of the models who come to mind are Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who established hundreds of shelter centers for the poor and the dying all over the world, and Bob Geldof, a bandleader who was able to raise $150 million in 1985 to feed the starving people of Africa, and subsequently convinced the leaders of the G8 countries to pledge $150 Billion to end the aids epidemic and starvation. In lesser degrees of greatness, there are so many other heroes like them today all over the world who promote peace and love by contributing their talents and sacrifices without any personal benefit.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, asks each one of us who believe in Him to offer not only our tunic but our cloak as well, to go an extra mile, to be extra generous, and never to turn away anyone who comes to us to borrow. If he could give His own life for our sake, is it too much that he is asking from us to sacrifice to reflect the goodness of His Father?

Father God, Your Son Jesus Christ has shown us by His example that there is no alternative but to forgive our enemies if we want our sins to be forgiven, and to promote His peace by helping Your little children. But it is only by Your grace that we can accomplish this, Lord, and so we pray for Your blessing. Amen.

Swearing

Matthew 5: 33-37
2 Cor.5: 14-21 / Psa 103

I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
(Matthew 5:34-35)

Grant me grace, Lord, my tongue restrain
When I am mad and prone to swear.
Let me only praise and commend,
Or give hope to those in despair.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5: 33-37)

Reflection

In the ancient times, people took oaths to bind themselves to an agreement or undertaking. Thus, an oath was taken to seal a covenant that one entered into with his neighbor, or even with his adversary. We see an example of this in the vows exchanged between Abraham and Abimelech at Beersheba, (Gen.21:22-34) which served to end a dispute between them, and to establish a covenant. Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me, or with my offspring, or with my posterity; but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me, and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ And Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’ In the same book, we also read about the covenant between Jacob and Laban, his father-in-law, who had pursued him into the highlands of Gilead. Laban said, “Come, then, we will make a pact, you and I; the Lord shall be a witness between us” (Gen.31:44).

We read in the Bible how the patriarchs in the Old Testament always kept their oaths. But the history of Israel, however, is replete with God’s Chosen people constantly remiss in their covenants with Yahweh, their God, breaking their pledges of loyalty, turning to other gods, and indulging in debauchery and pagan rituals. Taking oaths had become meaningless, and because they were taken lightly, the people lost their integrity in the succession of so many broken promises. Worse, oath-taking deteriorated into swearing. This was the reason why our Lord forbade His disciples from taking oaths or swearing. A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice for an honest man.

We hear people who swear recklessly by their mother’s grave, or by their children or spouse, unaware that their swearing makes them vulnerable to the devil’s tricks. Then there are those who swear with expletives in every other sentence that they utter. These are the people Jesus referred to when He said, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of his mouth.” (Mt.15:11) In the Book of Proverbs, it says in chapter 10, verses 19 – 20: “He who restrains his lips does well. Like choice silver is the just man’s tongue.”

It is worth noting that our Lord Jesus included swearing as one of the sins He condemned, along with anger, adultery and divorce. Because it is usually a lying tongue that covers its deceit with an oath. And it is also taking the name of God in vain, because even if He is not mentioned, swearing by anything refers to Him Who is the Creator of everything.

“LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy mountain? He who walks with integrity, doing what is right, and speaks truth in his heart . . . Who keeps an oath despite the cost.” (Psalm 15: 1-2, 4) Lord, help us restrain our tongues when we are angry and prone to curse. Let our lips open only to give praise, commend others, or to spread Your Word. Amen.