His Most Precious Name

Matthew 1:18-25

Jer 23:5-8 / Psa 72

“You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:21)

Lord Jesus, we glorify Your Name

In every place and at every hour;

May we never mention it in vain,

But only for its saving power.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Reflection

The angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph in a dream, and told him not to proceed with his plan to divorce Mary for being pregnant before their marriage, because “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (Mt.1:20) This event had been prophesied through the mouth of Isaiah, who said, “”The virgin shall be with child, and shall name Him Emmanuel.” (Isa.7:14)

What’s in a name? Everything. My dear departed father used to tell us that one’s name is his most prized possession, not only because he is blessed by it (or cursed, depending on how it was valued by his predecessors), but because it is the most precious legacy that he can bequeath to his heirs or successors.

Who we are depends on how we value the name of Jesus. Whenever I close my eyes in meditation of that beloved Name, the power of its most gentle sound seems to wash away all tensions and anxieties of the day.

The oriental religions have their “mantras” when they meditate. We too can meditate like them to attain inner peace. But our one-word mantra is far more powerful than all their mantras combined. The Name of our Lord is just so wonderful because it signifies salvation.

“Blessed forever be His glorious Name; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.” (Psalm 72:19) Let us always honor His Name, never taking it in vain, but blessing each other by it.

Dear Lord Jesus, may Your Name be ever in my lips, in my mind and in my heart, so that my days and nights will always be filled with love, and my life be made holy. Amen.

Witness to the Light of Christ

John 5:33-36

Isa 56:1-3a,6-8 / Psa 67

. . . these works that I perform — testify that the Father has sent me.
(John 5:36)

Let good works witness to His love

And herald that Christmas is near;

May we learn the true message of

God’s Gift Who brings Yuletide cheer.

(Jesus spoke to the Jews): “You sent emissaries to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish — these works that I perform — testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:33-36)

Reflection

St. John, the evangelist (not the Baptist), who was the most beloved apostle was very fond of describing the Lord Jesus as the light. In the first chapter of his Gospel, he wrote of Jesus: “What came to be through Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn.1:4-5) He also wrote about John the Baptist: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (Jn.1:6-8) For a time, many of the Jews were following John the Baptist, because he baptized them, and they believed that he was a man of God, a prophet sent for the expiation of their sins. During the 400 years or so that they were in darkness (for God had not sent another prophet after Malachi), the coming of John was like the break of dawn, heralding the Messianic Age. John was the foremost witness of Jesus, addressing Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:29).

Like St. John the Baptist, we are all called to give witness to our fellowship with Jesus Christ, especially during this season that celebrates His birth. How do we make this Yuletide season meaningful as His witnesses? How do we testify to His love this Christmas? Never mind the gifts that we perfunctorily give to our loved ones and inaanaks every year. What is more important is: what do we give to our Lord Jesus, Who is after all, the Birthday Celebrant?

What we can give to Jesus this Christmas are our good works, that testify to the love of God, especially in giving gifts to the poorest of the poor in our city, and visiting the inmates in our city’s rehabilitation center. As Jesus Himself said, “When you give a feast, do not invite your friends or relatives, or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you have a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk.14:12-14). This morning, a group of brothers and sisters will be going to a hospital ward to feed the children and give them Christmas gifts (toys and school supplies). It is the good works that we perform for the least of His children that testify to our love for Jesus, and the best gift that we can give Him this Christmas. May you be His light of love, shining in the darkness of suffering souls.

You have showered us, Lord, with much blessings of love, friends, brotherhood, and material things. It is but fitting that we reciprocate Your care and goodness to others, especially the sick, the poor and the incarcerated. May we be Your light for them during this season of love. Amen.

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,

And God’s wisdom is the prize we’ll earn.

Jesus said to the crowds: “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another: ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we sang a dirge but 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 the box, 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 gifts 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.

Violence Against the Kingdom

Matthew 11:11-15

Isa 41:13-20 / Psa 145:1,9-13

… the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force.
(Matthew 11:12)

Our voices shall not be silenced,

For justice and truth we shall stand;

Peace must overcome violence,

And God’s love will reign in our land.

Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.” (Matthew 11:11-15)

Reflection

Jesus conferred on St. John the Baptist the honor of being the greatest because he was the first herald in the New Testament to give witness to the anointed Lamb of God. He was in fact the first martyr of the violence that Jesus was talking about. But what did our Lord mean when He said the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than St. John the Baptist? Jesus was simply stressing the point that the kingdom of heaven is impregnable to all the evil and violence that are trying to take it by force. If King Herod, the greatest tyrant in Israel at that time, was unable to break the spirit and principles of St. John the Baptist, who was the least among God’s soldiers, how could any force on earth or hell ever hope to conquer the kingdom of heaven?

As Jesus had predicted, a long line of evil empires throughout history, wielding their might and power, would attempt, but fail to subdue or suppress the kingdom of God here on earth. Ironically, it would be the seekers of peace, the vanguards of truth and justice, with their principle of active non-violence, who would in the end prevail. God became man in our Lord Jesus Christ as the greatest personification of that ideal, and He commissioned His cousin, St. John to presage it. The history of mankind is also enriched by the lives of many advocates who successfully followed the way of the cross. St. Thomas More, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jose Rizal, Mandela of South Africa are just some of the more notable heroes of peace and non-violence.

One most notable saint whose feast our Church celebrates today was St. John of the Cross. Born in the year 1542 in Avila, Spain, his life personified what our Lord prophesied as “the kingdom of heaven suffering violence, and men of violence taking it by force.” St. John became a priest in 1567 and met St. Theresa of Avila, a charismatic Carmelite nun who attracted him by her strict routine, devotion to prayer and simplicity. Her followers went barefoot, and were therefore known as the discalced Carmelites. Around 1575, a rift within the Carmelite order began to grow and created controversy between various monastic houses. There was disagreement between the Discalced Carmelites and the ordinary Carmelites over reform. In late 1577, John was ordered to leave the monastery in Avila and to return to his original house. However, John’s work to reform the order had already been approved by the Papal Nuncio, who was a higher authority. Based on that, John chose to ignore the lower order and stayed. On December 2, 1577, a group of Carmelites broke into John’s residence and kidnapped him. He was taken by force to Toledo and placed on trial for disobedience. He was imprisoned in a cell in the monastery that was so small he could barely lie on the floor. He was fed only bread and water, and occasional scraps of salted fish. Each week he was taken out and publicly lashed. His only luxuries were a prayer book and an oil lamp to read by. To pass the time, he wrote poems on paper that was smuggled to him by the friar charged with guarding him. John has been cited as an influence to many poets, mystics, and artists. Even in death the violence against his body continued. During his burial, there was a dispute over where he should be buried. The dispute was resolved by removing his legs and arms, and parts of his body buried in several places. Saint John of the Cross was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675, and Canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

Lord God, You gave us models like St. John the Baptist and St. John of the Cross. They lived to counter the myth that the power to change the world belongs to the mighty. Thank You for showing us that it is to the meek and the gentle, the persecuted, the humble of heart, and the peacemakers that Your kingdom truly belongs. 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 burdens light. Amen.

Seek 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

To Christ in Whom we have 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 well as to 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).

Perhaps today’s Gospel is teaching us to seek out our brothers and sisters, who, because of their poverty or perceived sinfulness feel excluded from 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, especially in this season of giving.

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.