Dealing with Conflicts

Matthew 5: 20-26

Ezek 18: 21-28 / Psa 130:1-8

Go first and be reconciled with your brother, then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5:24)

For the sake of peace, may I be meek,

To yield what is right as Jesus would,

And even offer the other cheek,

And understand, than be understood.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20-26)

Reflection

The Pharisees and scribes projected their so-called righteousness by meticulously following the Mosaic laws in external practice. But Jesus knew they wanted to kill Him because of their extreme jealousy and prejudice. So Jesus pointed out that their pious posturing did not exempt them from the sin of murder, because their hearts were full of anger against Him. He reminded them that their festering hatred made them liable to God’s judgment, just as those who insulted others were liable to their own Sanhedrin as well as to the fires of hell. Then Jesus took this occasion to teach them and His followers about the importance of resolving personal conflicts. You cannot establish a loving relationship with the Father unless you are first reconciled with your own brother. And you must establish the same spirit of reconciliation with your enemy as well – if not for the sake of love, at least for the sake of your own peace of mind. Your debts to God may be forgiven, but no debts to men must remain unpaid. “You will not be released until you have paid the last penny” (Mt.5:26).

Human conflict is a natural occurrence in life which happens due to our different beliefs, values and concerns. It is more than a mere disagreement – it is a situation in which we perceive a threat to our personal or social well-being. If not managed carefully, conflicts can damage relationships. But more often, the causes of conflicts are much smaller than the perceived harm, and the wrong responses only manage to “turn molehills into mountains”. Properly addressed, however, as Jesus exemplified in His words and deeds, the resolution of conflicts can lead to spiritual growth, mutual respect, and even the transformation of the wrong attitudes of our adversaries.

The best behavior that one must have in the face of conflict is accommodation. “Put yourself in the other’s shoes,” is how a mediator would say it. Setting aside our position in order to understand the opposing party is a more constructive strategy in reaching a resolution than taking a more combative stand to gain the upper hand. “Yield to build” sounds like a better motto than “Compete to defeat.” Accommodation, respect, understanding and humility are essential tools in resolving conflicts, but just as important are honesty and courage. Jesus never held His punches when He condemned the Pharisees for their pride and hypocrisy. Dealing from a position of honesty and courage will earn the respect of our adversaries.

Father God, our Lord Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ for they shall be called Your children. Help us to offer first our hand before our thoughts, and seek first to understand before we try to be understood. Amen.

The Divine Appointment

Matthew 16:13-19

1 Pt 5:1-4 / Ps 23

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 16:19)

May the Lord grant us the wisdom

To ensure our soul’s salvation --

To use the keys of His kingdom

For love and reconciliation.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.’ (Matthew 16:13-19)

Reflection

St. Peter’s declaration of the messiahship and divinity of Jesus was the defining moment of his own destiny as the first head of the Church. But as Jesus pointed out to all present, it was God the Father Himself Who revealed this to Peter, thus appointing him as the “Rock” of His Church, and the icon of the faith. This divine appointment and grave responsibility to “carry Christ’s Church” as its foundation was emphasized when Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter, in the same way that God anointed Abraham (from Abram) and Israel (from Jacob) when they were sent out in God’s mission. After assuring him that the Church would always stand firm against “the gates of Hades”, Jesus promised to give him the “keys of heaven” – the power and privilege to bind or loosen – whatever needed to be bound by God’s laws, or released from man-made ones. The first time St. Peter used these “keys” was after Pentecost, when he stood up to speak about Jesus and repentance, and about three thousand Jews were converted and baptized (Acts 2:41).

Through the centuries, the legacy of St. Peter has been handed down to successions of Bishops of Rome, and the keys of the kingdom have opened heaven’s door of salvation to countless millions all over the world. And yet they had also closed the door on those who opposed the Church of Rome on matters of doctrine. We are all bound by God’s laws to obey the teachings of our Church according to our conscience. During this time of Lent, let us reflect on how we can participate in the Church’s mission of spreading the faith by practicing the Gospel values taught by our Lord. We can share in this divine appointment by acts of charity, especially almsgiving to those who are in need; by proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to the lukewarm of faith; by forgiving those who have done us some wrong; and by receiving the sacraments more than once a week during this period of Lent. We too can use St. Peter’s keys to unlock the door of love and reconciliation to others.

During this time of Lent, help us, Lord Jesus, to be more patient, tolerant, forgiving, understanding, generous and kind, as our way of atoning for past sins. Amen.

The Only Sign To Believe

Luke 11: 29-32

Jon 3:1-10/ Ps 51:3-4,12-13,18-19

This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
(Luke 11: 29)

Not even Solomon’s wisdom

Comes close to the Word of Jesus;

He is the Sign from God’s kingdom

Who came down to earth and freed us.

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Lk.11:29-32)

Reflection

Throughout the history of Israel, as far back as the time of Noah, the Jews were always seeking signs from God to guide them. After the great flood, God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Gen.9:12-13). And yet, despite all the signs that God showed, His Chosen People remained stubborn and disobedient. God said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” (Num.14:11) How easily they were swayed by false signs, prompting Moses to warn them: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods… and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut.13:1-3)

Jesus gave the same warning when he said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Mat. 24:24-25) Our Lord knew how stubborn His people were. After He had exorcised an evil spirit, instead of seeing this as a sign of God’s handiwork, the Jews attributed His power to Beelzebul, the prince of demons. They refused to believe what was happening right before their very eyes. Thus He called them “a wicked generation.”

Jesus used the story of Jonah to show the “wickedness” of the Jews. This reluctant prophet of God turned the hearts of the pagan Ninevites to repentance even without a sign from heaven. So why couldn’t the miracles performed by Jesus convince His own people? The Queen of Sheba, another pagan who visited King Solomon, acknowledged his wisdom as coming from the One True God (1 Kings 10). So what excuse could Jesus’ generation have after seeing the signs He performed in their midst, and still meet him with resistance instead of belief and repentance?

What about our present generation? What do you think Jesus would say about the way the wealthiest 1% have been putting their faith in their economic power and treating the rest of the 99%? We dread to think what sign will finally convince them that a disastrous reckoning for their pride and profligacy awaits them in the not-so-distant future. We do not need a sign from heaven. The signs of impending doom are already at the doorstep with the world-wide economic crisis threatening to become another Great Depression. I hope to God this is only a figment of my imagination.

Lord Jesus, you have taught us not to look for signs to prove Your love. It is enough that we see Your cross to make us believe and repent of our sins. We are the ones who still have so much to prove to be worthy of Your great sacrifice. Amen.

Lessons in the Perfect Prayer

Matthew 6: 7-15

Is 55:10-11/Ps 34:4-7,16-19

If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you either.
(Matthew 6:15)

God wants us to pray every day

The most complete prayer there is.

As Jesus taught us how to pray,

Pray it for love, mercy, and 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.” (Matthew 6:8-15)

Reflection

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 subjugate 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).

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”). After the first commandment in the “Decalogue”, where God demanded total fidelity (“Thou shall not have other gods besides me”), the second is: “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain” (Deut.5:11). People who do not take this commandment seriously are more likely to commit the unpardonable sin of blasphemy.

In this prayer, our Lord also taught us the value of forgiveness. “. . .forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How indeed can we expect God to forgive our sins if we cannot forgive those who have wronged us? We might be powerless in times of tests (temptations), but it is never beyond our power to forgive. To forgive is the way to “love our enemies”, as Jesus encourages us to do.

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 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. Lord Jesus, we thank You for teaching us how to pray to God, our Father, so that we may always be trusting in His mercy and learning the value of forgiveness. Amen.

Faith and Good Works

Matthew 25:31-46

Lv 19:1-2.11-18 / Ps 19

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.
(Matthew 25:40)

Take care that you are not deceived:

It’s not enough that we believe. . .

The measure that we will receive

From God depends on what we give.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Reflection

“Born again” Christians say good works are not necessary for one’s salvation. According to them, by faith alone, we are already saved. They cite St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, 3:26: “God justifies everyone who believes in Jesus.” And in Rom.4:6: “God credits his righteousness apart from good works.” So we don’t have to struggle because we are already saved by faith alone. Trust in the Lord, because He has already completed the work of our salvation. But if this is the case, why did St. Paul write to the Corinthians, “…each one of us will get what he deserves for the things he did, both good or evil.” (2Cor.5:10). In fact, if this apostle to the Gentiles really believed that faith in God was sufficient for our passage to heaven, why did he have to sacrifice so much to the point of torture and near-death several times, to “please his Savior”? St. James wrote that faith without good works is useless. (James 2:20). “A body dies when it is separated from the spirit, and in the same way faith is dead if it is separated from good works.” (James 2:26) The kind of faith that “born-again” Christians are espousing borders on presumption. Satan has deceived them into believing that God will erase all our sins because His Son had already paid for them on the cross. The evil one lulls them into complacency and unrepentance, (“no need for confession”). Our Lord never said faith in Him alone guarantees our salvation. He warned us that in the final judgment, “the Son of Man . . . will reward everyone according to His conduct.” (Mt. 16:27). And then He will separate men from one another, as the shepherd separates sheep from goats, and those who are thrown into eternal fire will ask: “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to Your help?” Then our Lord will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life (Mt. 25:44-46).

May all Your commands and decrees live in our hearts to guide us and keep us from sin, to spread goodwill to all men, to help us become Your worthy stewards. Amen.

Dining with Sinners

Luke 5: 27-32

Is 58: 9b-14/ Ps 86: 1-2. 3-4. 5-6

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
(Luke 5:32)

May you hear His call for you today,

That you may dine in God’s kingdom;

Like Levi when he heard Him say,

“Come”, and found life’s true freedom.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32)

Reflection

Levi prepared a big party to honor the Lord in his house. He wanted the whole world to know about his newfound life, and perhaps even invite his old friends to encounter the same experience. The only fly in the ointment was the presence of the Pharisees and their scribes who murmured against his guests, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” But Jesus turned the tables on them, saying, “I have not come to call the ‘righteous’ (Pharisees), but sinners to repentance.”

I’ve heard it said once that the two most effective tools of evangelization are a fork and a pen. The fork for breaking bread with your friend whom you would like to meet Jesus, and the pen (or email or SMS) for writing and spreading God’s Word. The image of a banquet or Jesus eating in the company of friends or followers is a very common scene in the Gospel narratives, and is even used by our Lord in many of His parables. An old saw, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” can probably apply here also. In fact, throughout the generations of man, in almost all cultures, issues are resolved, contracts are signed, partnerships are sealed, and many are converted on the dining table. It is no coincidence that the Holy Mass is about a supper. Our Lord certainly enjoyed being invited to all of those banquets.

Today (every Saturday) is a special day for every BCBP member, because it is the day when our brotherhood gets together for a fellowship breakfast. It is always a special breakfast for us, because it is the entry point for our guests to become acquainted with the BCBP, and hopefully encounter a more intimate fellowship with our Lord. We invite businessmen or professionals, doctors or tax collectors, and in many cases (like St. Matthew) the unlikeliest of guests turn out to be the committed evangelists. It is even more special for our community’s members who have been invited today to give witness to Christ in a chapter’s breakfast (or outreach) and share how Jesus came into their lives and told them to “Come, follow me.”

How true another adage that says, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Aside from the privilege of inviting a friend to the BCBP breakfast today, (I hope he comes) I thank the Holy Spirit for His inspiration and guidance, for having penned another Gospel reflection for the nourishment of other souls.

Lord Jesus, make us ambassadors of your selfless love by inviting those whose hearts are still hungry to Your dining table. Fill them with your Divine Presence, Lord, and nourish them with Your Word, as You have done in our lives. Amen.