The Power of His name

Mark 9: 38-40
James 4:13-17 / Psa 49

Whoever is not against us is for us.
(Mark 9:40)

We all have a special grace
That the Holy Spirit gives for free;
Guides us in the time and place
That God provides for our ministry

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)

Reflection

John must have earned the special privilege of being “the most beloved” among the closest circle of Jesus’ disciples because of his zealous devotion to the Lord. But this also made him jealous of other people exercising the authority or power delegated by his Master to His chosen leaders. Jesus had to remind him that since the exorcist was driving out demons in His name, then he also belonged to His flock, and was in fact doing the Father’s will by conquering evil with good in His name.

Today’s Gospel passage shows the efficacy of faith when applied in the power of the Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The “outsider” that John complained about must have seen the work of one or some of the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out who came back rejoicing, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (Luke 10:1,17). He saw and heard, and believed. Like the Roman centurion who believed in the power of Jesus’ word and saw his servant healed, God also rewarded the exorcist’s faith by making him cast out demons in His Son’s Name.

This Gospel reading also makes us reflect on how easily we make wrong judgments about the motives of others who do not belong to our church, community or religion. This reminds me of the time our community wanted to open an outreach in Southern Cotabato. Our mission director and his team tried to get the blessing of the bishop, but the good prelate would not even assign a priest to join our fellowships, much less favor us with the celebration of the holy mass, unless our community submitted to the jurisdiction of his diocese. Our leaders tried to explain to the bishop that we have our own charter, recognized and endorsed by the Church hierarchy, and our organization was in fact committed to serve the Catholic faith, encouraging our members to receive the sacraments regularly, and support their parish financially. It was to no avail. Submission to authority is one of the tenets of our organization, so it took a lot of discernment to proceed or not in opening that outreach in South Cotabato without the bishop’s support. Finally, we decided to go ahead with our plans, because we were submitting to a higher authority, that of the Holy Spirit, and we were opening the outreach there in Jesus’ Name. The outreach soon became a new chapter a few years later, we thanked the Lord.

Short though today’s Gospel passage may be, it exhorts us to give our best efforts to live in harmony with all men, regardless of our religious affiliation. This was the prayer of our Lord Jesus before His death when He prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).

All the good that we do, Lord God, we believe we do not do on our own, but in accordance with Your will, and by the power of our Lord Jesus’ Name. We therefore praise and thank You for the privilege of serving You and the Gospel, and may the Holy Spirit guide us always in our ministry, and strive to be one with all men. Amen.

Be Like Little Children

Mark 9: 30-37
James 4:1-10 / Psa 55

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me does not receive me but the One Who sent me.
(Mark 9:37)

Blessed are the poor and the meek,
Unlike the proud, God hears their call.
Those who serve the small and the weak
Are in God’s eyes greatest of all!

They left that place and traveled through Galilee. But He did not let anyone know where they were. He was teaching His disciples, telling them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. They came to Capernaum, and once inside the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom He placed in their midst. Then, taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me does not receive me but the One Who sent me.” (Mark 9: 30-37)

Reflection

There were three things that our Lord intended to accomplish in the three years of His ministry: to spread the Good News of salvation and the kingdom of heaven; to heal people from disease and the dominion of Satan; and to form the spiritual character of His followers, especially His apostles. This last was the most important as He was leaving the formation of His Church to them. This was the reason why there were times when our Lord did not want the crowds to know where they were, to give Him precious time He needed to teach them, especially about His mission.

The task of making the apostles understand His mission and vision was not going to be easy, as they seemed to have a different mindset about what being successful in life was really all about. In fact, their perspective of becoming a good leader was going in the opposite direction. They could not understand what Jesus was talking about when He said He was going to be killed by men, and “after three days will rise again.” They were afraid to ask, because His dying was a horrifying prospect for them, like a patient fearful of being told by his doctor that he had malignant cancer. Instead, they would rather discuss among themselves who would occupy the highest positions when the Messiah finally established His kingdom in Jerusalem. They were like little children, who were more concerned about what they wanted for themselves, but quite innocent about the real purpose that Jesus had called them to accomplish.

A short time ago, they were wondering why they could not drive out an evil spirit from a boy. Jesus had told them that they needed to be more prayerful (Mk.9:29). They had become so self-important about their power to heal and drive out demons that they had forgotten to attribute this power to God through prayers. Their taste of power had made them proud, and Jesus had to remind them about being humble and being “last, and the servant of all.” He showed them His love for the “little ones” by embracing a child in their midst, telling them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me,” and His Father as well.

Who are the “children” that Jesus is talking about? It is those who are helpless and vulnerable, who are weak and underprivileged, who are totally dependent on others for their very survival, even compromising their dignity as human beings. Our new pope, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said he chose the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, who was once a rich man, but embraced poverty to become a voice for the poor. At last we have a true servant of God who is opening the doors of the Church to welcome the child that our Lord Jesus is talking about in this Gospel. He said he wants the Church to be “of the poor, for the poor.” Pope Francis is known for his simple and humble lifestyle, and his call for us to minister to the poor may be the most important development in the Catholic Church in this second millennium. Let us heed his call. . . Who knows? Peace and justice may finally begin to reign on earth.

Father of love and mercy, thank You for Your message of receiving the little people into our lives, as our Lord Jesus has implied in today’s Gospel. Thank You also for giving us Pope Francis, whose leadership in our Church may finally herald the coming of Your kingdom here on earth. May it be so, in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

The Healing Power of Faith

Mark 9: 14-29
Jas 3: 13-18/ Ps 19: 8. 9. 10. 15

‘You faithless people! How long shall I put up with you?’
(Mark 9:19)

Should evil keep my soul in chains,
Where else to turn to for relief?
In You alone my hope remains,
Lord, help me with my unbelief.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. When the people saw Jesus, they were astonished, and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit, deaf and mute. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Jesus replied, “You faithless people! How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” He replied, “From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was gathering, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29)

Reflection

The apostles were unable to exorcise the deaf-mute spirit because they were more concerned in arguing with the scribes than praying to God, and showing compassion to the father and his distressed son. St. James wrote in the first reading: “Good deeds (are) done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Jas 3:13). Jesus showed them compassion by asking the father about the history of his son’s evil entrapment. He was also able to draw out what little faith the father possessed. Jesus shows us that having faith is more important than having a gift for healing. This gift from the Holy Spirit does not necessarily mean that we have a strong faith either. In humility, we must always turn to God in prayer, whether to ask for somebody’s healing or to be freed of an evil influence.

In many instances, pastors, priests and leaders of healing ministries have become obsessed by their God-given gift that they are possessed by the evil spirit of pride. St. James further said, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (Jas 3:14-15). As our Lord has shown in the Gospel, we must always be grounded in prayer. When we allow any kind of power, wealth, or “wisdom” to overwhelm us, vulnerable human beings that we are, we are like putty in the devil’s hands.

Come, Holy Spirit, fortify our faith when we are besieged by doubt. Remind us that we are totally dependent on God, our Father when we feel self-sufficient and powerful. Help us to remain focused on the values exemplified by our Lord, Jesus Christ. In His Name, we pray. Amen.

Each to His Own Mission

John 21:20-25
Acts 28:16-20.30-31 / Ps 11

If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?
(John 21:22)

When called, why look over your shoulder?
Accept the responsibility . . .
Don’t pass your mission to another
When you hear His Words, “Come follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
(John 21:20-25)

Reflection

John and James were the second set of brothers that Jesus called to be His apostles. The first were Peter and his brother Andrew, who were also fishermen. These brothers were Jesus’ closest friends. While Peter was the recognized leader, John was more intimate to Jesus, seated by his side during their meals. He was not only privy to all the affairs and activities of the Master, but even heard His most private conversations. Which is why the Gospel of St. John is the most personal among the four evangelists who wrote about the life and lessons of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

St. John the apostle and evangelist did remain as the longest surviving apostle of Jesus, but only because God’s primary purpose for him was to write down the intimate thoughts, teachings and prayers of His Beloved Son. One would think that St. John the Evangelist would have primacy over St. Peter among all the apostles. He was the only one among the Twelve who did not leave his Master at the time of His Passion, standing at the foot of the cross. He was made guardian of our Lady by Jesus. He was the first to reach the tomb at the resurrection; and he was the first to recognize the risen Lord at the lake of Tiberias. But in his wisdom and humility, St. John deferred to St. Peter as the leader of the early Church. He knew his role, and early on gave moral support and companionship to Peter, affirming his leadership. He knew that Peter needed that support for the sake of the early church. In spite of his firm faith in Jesus, Peter at first had only a vague understanding of the mission and the work that the Lord had planned for him. John, the closest to Jesus, provided him the guidance he needed, as we see him accompanying Peter after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Writing in the third person, John said, “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” (Jn.21:24)

Each one of us has a unique destiny to fulfill in God’s design. Let us not look behind us to see how others are doing, but look straight ahead to what the Lord is leading us to accomplish. Don’t worry, God will provide us with a companion or community to make sure that we will succeed in our life’s mission.

Grant me, Lord, a companion like St. John, resolute in mind and will, but gentle of heart. With such a friend to guide me, I will not be afraid to take on the tasks You have set for us to do, or places You send us to proclaim the Good News. Amen.

Love and Forgiveness

John 21: 15-19
Acts 25: 13b-21 / Ps 103

Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?
(John 21:15)

How much we love our Lord Jesus
Depends on how we care for His sheep;
From our sins His grace has freed us,
His forgiveness a treasure we'll keep.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)

Reflection

Jesus never admonished Peter for denying Him three times. And Peter did not have to ask Jesus to forgive him for his denials. All that was needed was for Peter to affirm his love for the Lord from the heart. And as Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee, whoever has been forgiven much loves as much —as the sinful woman’s great love for Jesus had shown. “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Eventually, Peter’s great love was manifested in tending the great flock of the Lord – His early Church.

Forgiveness is an act of God’s grace to forget and no longer hold the offender accountable for the sins he has committed. Real love “is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1Cor.13:5). Forgiveness has both divine and human dimensions. In the divine dimension, it is the gracious act of God by which we have been restored into a right relationship with Him and redeemed from spiritual death through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Without this grace from God, our lives as Christians would be “out of synch” and tormented with guilt. In the human dimension, forgiveness is the attitude towards one who has wronged us by which we restore the relationship by acts or words of acceptance and reconciliation.

“To err is human; to forgive is divine” (Alexander Pope). In the Book of Numbers, 14:18, we read: “The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God is all-forgiving because of His Divine Mercy. But does it mean our sins do not really matter, because God will forgive them anyway? Of course not. Sin is the opposite of God’s nature and it hurts Him deeply – it violates His principle of love and righteousness and God could never allow that! Does divine forgiveness mean that God will keep us from suffering the consequences of our sins? Perhaps that’s really what we want God’s forgiveness to do for us — to save us from the harm we’ve caused others and ourselves through our sin. But God’s forgiveness will not automatically cancel out sin’s harmful effects – there is also after all, Divine Justice that we will have to contend with. What is divine forgiveness, then? – it is God’s grace removing sin as the barrier between Himself and us – it brings us back once more into a loving relationship with God- and more importantly, it will keep us from the eternal consequence of our sin – total alienation from Him. We should only be so grateful that no sin is greater than God’s capacity to forgive!

Father God, our sins are a great disgrace to Your love and mercy. Thank You for the grace of keeping us away from sin, and Your forgiveness that has made us love You and Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit more and more each day. Amen.

Unity of God’s People

John 17: 20-26
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11 / Ps 16:1-2,5,7-11

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
(John 17:20-21)

As we strive to be good as we should,
We have found love, peace and unity;
Lord, You fill our hearts with gratitude
For giving us our community.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17: 20-26)

Reflection

Today’s reading from chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ prayer to the Father. But this time, His supplication included those who would believe in Him when the apostles are sent out to give their witness to others. Those who would come to believe their testimony (that Jesus really came from heaven for the salvation of man) would be united as one flock under His Lordship. However, convincing Jews and Gentiles alike about the divinity of Jesus and His incarnation would not be an easy task, especially when Jesus was no longer around to prove it. This was why Jesus prayed for the Father’s help that “they also be in us”, meaning they be enlightened by the Holy Spirit to receive the Good News of salvation.

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Love was the unifying factor, because without the power of God’s love, the efforts of the apostles would be futile. After the early Church had received the Holy Spirit, all the members became strongly united in love. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need” (Acts 4:32-35).

Jesus ended His prayer, saying, “I have made known to them your name, and will continue to make it known, that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn.17:26). As we strive to spread the Lord’s teachings to others (Christians and non-Christians alike), we also continue to deepen our understanding of our faith through study and interaction with members of our community, in the process strengthening our bonds of friendship, by drawing ourselves closer to the Lord. Our loving relationships with all the members of our “larger family” fill our hearts with joy and gratitude, as we exclaim, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psa 133:1)

Our life in the renewal is guided by the words of St. Paul, who said, “. . . live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph.4:1-4) This life of oneness in our community is already a taste of heaven.

We praise and thank You, Father God, for giving us our community, the BCBP, where we enjoy the bonds of friendship, and share the values of our Lord Jesus Christ, encouraging each other in our faith journey, and supporting each other in times of need. In Your flock we have found the true meaning of love, unity and peace. Amen.