The Folly of Worry

Matthew 6:24-34
2 Ch 24:17-25 / Ps 89

“Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”
(Matthew 6:34)

All the birds and the bees that we see
Are contented in God’s provision;
Without money they’re worry-free,
All happy in God’s creation.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. So, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Look at the flowers in the field. They do not toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, you men of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Only the pagans worry about such things; your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Reflection

Jesus taught His followers to stay focused in their new-found vocation – abandon the pursuit of money for a more important life of mission. But He assured them that in God’s service they would lack for nothing. God would take care of all their physical needs. After all, if God could show His concern for such short-lived wonders of His creation like the birds and the plants, surely His love for His greatest creation would far exceed man’s greatest expectations. All we have to do is set our hearts on God’s kingdom and righteousness, “and all these things will be given you as well.”

Worrying shortens life. No wonder our Lord advised His followers 5 times: “Do not worry.” According to Him, no man ever increased the span of his life by worrying. In fact, medical findings have proven that worrying shortens it. Because worrying can lead to stress, which is the greatest cause of high mortality rates all over the world. Stress can cause strokes, ulcers, cancers and heart attacks.

How do we counter our predisposition to worry? The answer is prayer. A regular habit of prayers strengthens our faith because constant communication with God draws us closer to Him. A stronger faith reduces our tendency to worry. Belief is a very powerful force. No longer does medical science take its efficacy for granted. Much research on the subject have shown that people who attend religious services more than once a week live, on average, seven years longer than those who do not. On the other hand, findings have also indicated that on the average, people who are more materialistic tend to have shorter lifespans. Quite obviously, people who put their trust in temporal possessions are more pessimistic in their long-term outlook of life, and are therefore more likely to make worrying a regular preoccupation. Jesus said, “It is the pagans who set their hearts on these things” (Mat. 6:32). People of faith definitely have an edge. They have the confidence of children who know they always have a loving Father to turn to when all the chips are down.

Lord, I am Your child, so why should I worry?

Sound Investment Advice

Matthew 6: 19-23
2 Kgs 11:1-4,9-18, 20 / Ps 132:11-14,17-18

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…
(Matthew 6:19)

I pray that you will discover
The true treasure that God has given;
Nothing on earth lasts forever,
Our best investment is in heaven.

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6: 19-23)

Reflection

Throughout history, the accumulation of wealth has always been considered as the primary barometer of one’s success in life. However, we find in today’s Gospel reading that our Lord Jesus gives an advice contrary to men’s aspirations and perception of happiness in this life. Being both God and man, naturally our Lord knows absolutely what He is talking about. The treasures of this world can never compare with the treasures in heaven; and a lifetime here on earth (even if one lives for 100 years) is just like a fleeting second compared to eternal life in God’s kingdom. Jesus is simply stating the obvious. Why hoard riches or material possessions in this life which can last no longer than rust or termites can destroy them, or thieves and robbers can take away? Or we can’t take with us when we die anyway?

Our Lord’s advice does not mean acquiring money is wrong, for there are wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who use their fortunes to benefit millions of people. The acquisition of money or property only becomes immoral when a rich man aggrandizes his wealth for its sake alone or for his own benefit without regard for others, (like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus). In the eyes of the Lord that rich man is a fool. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mk.8:36)

The inordinate love for material possessions affects the state of our spiritual health, which is the ‘eye of our soul’ – our conscience. Unfortunately, most people who are wealthy or successful in this world become short-sighted, or their fortunes blur their vision. Thus—“if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.” The rich man becomes so self-assured and independent that he wanders away from God’s light, and spends his free time enjoying the flickering lights of the night’s vices. Darkness envelops his whole being, and the lamp of his faith grows dim.

We need to keep our vision clear on where we want to spend the rest of eternity after our brief journey here on earth. In the earlier sections of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus showed us how we can keep this lamp of our body sound: by disciplining our passions, such as anger and lust (Mt.5:25,29); making peace with our enemies (Mt.5:44); being charitable to the poor (Mt.6:2); and above all, keeping regular communication with God, our Father through prayer (Mt.6:6). With His guidance, we will be more prudent in the stewardship of our financial resources, enjoying a stable life here on earth, and at the same time investing wisely on the real treasure, which is heaven.

We praise and thank You, Father in heaven, for the wisdom of managing well the resources You have entrusted to us, making us see that when others are also benefited by them, then we have invested wisely, laying up treasures for ourselves in Your kingdom. Amen.

God’s Gift of Prayer

Matthew 6:7-15
Sirach:48:1-14 / Psalm 97:1-7

This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
(Matthew 6:14-15)

The Lord’s Prayer is in every way
The most complete prayer there is.
As Jesus taught us how to pray,
Let’s pray it constantly for peace.

(Jesus): “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. 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.” (Matthew 6: 7-15)

Reflection

Fr. James Keller, the founder of The Cristophers, who wrote the credo, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” believed that “the most effective exterior action comes from a strong interior quality.” Developing a strong interior quality comes from a regular meditation on God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, and a deep communion with God in daily prayer. Prayer is a vital privilege– a gift that God has given us that we must constantly practice if we are to achieve peace in our land.

Jesus taught us that the proper way to pray is first to invoke the holy Name of God, and to express the belief that His plans will be fulfilled in all of His creation. Then we can ask for our needs, but we must also seek His forgiveness, pledging to forgive others their offenses against us as well. Lastly, we must ask for His protection against the evil forces of this world.

In our brotherhood, we are encouraged to pray at least fifteen minutes everyday. But does this amount of time reflect the homage and intimacy befitting the Maker of time? Instead, shouldn’t all our time and activities be forms of prayer to the Lord?

Every intimate conversation with God thru prayers and scripture reading fortifies the character within that is the soul of the human being. This divine encounter inspires and brings out the best in God’s creation, transforming the ordinariness of daily living into something new, creative and dynamic. Every thought, word and action becomes a prayer, goodwill, and benediction. Every moment lived by a prayerful person takes on a new meaning because it is an offering of love and thanksgiving for the goodness of his Creator.

Prayer is the most important activity of every child of God. As the former U.S. Presi-dent Eisenhower once wrote, “It is one of the simple necessities of life, as basic to the individual as sunshine, food and water, and of course, more so.” Simply because without prayer, life would be a meaningless existence that offers no hope, no wonder, and no reason for being. It would have been better for a man who does not know how to pray that he had never been born at all.

Come, Holy Spirit, teach us how to pray, that it may please the Father in everything we do, and in every word we say. Amen.

For God’s Eyes Only

Matthew 6:1-6;16-18
2 Kings 2:1,6-14 / Ps 31:20,21,24

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
(Matthew 6:1)

When we part with our possession
Our gift is but a fleeting token,
But given with humble intention,
By God ‘twill never be forgotten.

(Jesus said), “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 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

When one decides to become a full-time giver, the opportunity to be charitable will constantly knock at his door. And one does not get tired of being God’s instrument of generosity, because giving becomes its own reward. And it is actually one of the most basic principles in life’s natural order of things. Trees propagate their kind by giving freely of their fruits. So do flowers of their nectar to bees. As the famous poet, Khalil Gibran wrote, “They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.”

Like the trees, the flowers and the bees, there are individuals who give secretly and freely of themselves, not their money or material possessions, but a portion of their very life – their blood. They donate regularly to the Red Cross or D.O.H. Blood Center, because they know that this precious commodity is always in short supply, and at times very hard to come by, especially for patients with type AB blood. They save lives, but they make no fuss about it. They belong to that rare breed of givers called “galloners”, (only 8% of the population), who are happy with the thought that they are blessed in being given the opportunity to imitate our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who shed His Blood on the cross for the salvation of many.

Perfect giving, as our Lord teaches us, expects nothing in return, and must be done in secret. God loves a cheerful giver, and all the more so a humble one.

God has blessed us immensely in our loved ones, genuine friends in the Brotherhood, health, talents, wisdom, and other fruit of the Spirit, plus the gift of generosity. For all these, how can we not show our gratitude to God by giving fully of ourselves to others? It should only be the most natural thing to do.

We thank You, Lord God, for Your gift of generosity. Grant us also the grace of humility, so that all our works may be pleasing to You. Amen.

Strive for Perfection

Matthew 5:43-48
1Kings 21:17-29 / Ps 51

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:48)

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

(Jesus said,) “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 sons 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 brothers, 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

If we do not have heaven in mind, we cannot strive for perfection. The distractions of this world prevent us from thinking about and preparing for the life beyond. Man seems to become short-sighted when he is well-off and feeling self-sufficient. He loses the wisdom to consider the inevitability that all power, prestige, position, and possessions are temporary, and can easily be taken away. In fact, these are the things that prevent us from seeking the perfection that our Lord Jesus is talking about. These are the things that alienate us from the love of God and other men.

One of the things I have been struggling with myself is my prejudice against people whose lifestyle I perceive to clash with my own set of values. Even though I believe that love is universal, some pre-conditioned biases die hard, and stand as obstacles in my faith journey towards achieving the true essence of love. I once sent this text message: ‘There must be no limitation as far as loving is possible; love only comes to perfection when it includes the unlovable.’ That means although love involves a choice (to love or not), once we choose to love, we have no choice but to include those whose company we would rather avoid. Especially a few who are so full of themselves that you always have to defer to them, and take care not to offend their sensitive feelings all the time. And that always takes some effort.

In the first reading, we read about King Ahab, who, because of the influence of his evil wife, Jezebel, was one of the most corrupt and evil kings of Israel. When Elijah the prophet confronted him with his sins and he repented, God immediately forgave him, and held back the punishment that he deserved.

Jesus wants His disciples to be different from the rest of the pack. It is not an exaggeration to say that we can be perfect if we believe His words in Mat.5:48. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can reflect the qualities of God, and by His grace, in time “become a new creation.” (2 Cor.5:17) We can never approach the perfection of God, of course, but if we constantly aspire for His divine qualities, like tolerance, forgiveness, patience and long suffering, and obey all His teachings, He will make us shine like a mirror to reflect His goodness to others.

Have mercy on me, O God, in Your goodness; in the greatness of Your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always. (Psalm 51)

Forgiveness

Matthew 5:38-42
1 Kings 21:1-16 / Psalm 5

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him also.
(Matt. 5:39)

It doesn’t mean that we are weak
If we should turn the other cheek;
Remember when you feel aggrieved,
Your best revenge is to forgive.

(Jesus said), “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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for 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

As one always prepared and willing to serve in the ministry of evangelization, I have always followed this verse in today’s Gospel: “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (Mt.5:41) So when a dear friend who used to head the Divine Mercy Apostolate in Davao asked me to give a talk in their assembly on the topic of “Forgiveness” (with barely a few days to prepare), there was no hesitation to accept this privilege and opportunity to serve the Lord.

Forgiveness is an act of God’s grace that has both divine and human dimensions. In the divine dimension, it restores sinners back to their relationship with God when they repent. We cannot live in peace outside the sacrament of repentance; without it, our lives as Christians would be “out of synch” and tormented with guilt. In the human dimension, we are obliged to forgive those who have wronged us by acts and/or words of reconciliation and acceptance. We cannot expect to receive God’s forgiveness unless we in turn forgive those who have hurt us. Jesus teaches us that this is the primary condition for receiving God’s forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer and in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt.18:12-35) this is clearly qualified. Love is the essence of forgiveness. Jesus demonstrated this powerfully on the cross, when He asked forgiveness for His executioners. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

We have learned that genuine forgiveness also means complete forgetfulness. As the author, Robert Browning wrote, “It is good to forgive, but it is best to forget.” Many great men were noted for appreciating the value of forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” My favorite quote about forgiveness is from the famous author, poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once described the greatness of a man as one whose “heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong.”

By going an extra mile for another community, I realized that in a short period of time, I had grown wiser in learning about forgiveness from Scriptures and from the great minds of the past. God indeed rewards those who strive to know Him better.

You, o Lord, are the Source of all wisdom. Thank You for enlightening us about the values of service, repentance, and forgiveness. May these values remain with us all the days of our lives. Amen.