Children of a Loving God

Mark 10: 13-16
Jas 5:13-20 / Psa 103

Those who will not receive God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.
(Mark 10:15)

Our children make us realize
The wonder of God’s creation;
Let’s look at life thru children’s eyes,
We may have a clearer vision.

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Reflection

This short narrative of St. Mark’s Gospel presents a poignant scene where Jesus showed how He felt for the little children. It is not only their innocence that endears the little ones to God. It is their total trust and dependence, and their capacity to believe that they have nothing to fear even in their powerlessness. In an atmosphere of love, children have a keen sense of trust that everything will be alright, and there is nothing to be afraid or be worried about. Unless their parents’ marriage breaks up in divorce. It is only when they experience an abnormal event contravening God’s plan that they begin to learn the meaning of fear, mistrust, doubt and confusion.

We have much to learn from children if we want to be assured of peace in this life, and hope in heaven. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. So what are the qualities of children that we need to learn again? The first is to have a trusting heart. Children have no anxieties or fears when their parents are near. As children of a loving Father, we should never entertain any fear, but must trust that He is always in our midst to protect us and provide for all our needs. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” (Prov.3:5-6)

Another endearing quality that we can observe in most children is their desire to please their parents. The sweetest thing for a child to hear are the words: “I’m so proud of you.” In order to be pleasing to our Father in heaven, it is not enough that we avoid wrongdoing; we must also show our sincere love for others, most especially the poor and underprivileged by works of charity and mercy. Only then can we also hear those cherished words, “Well done, My good and faithful child.” (Mt.25:21)

Finally, we also learn from the little guys the importance of a creative spirit, or the desire to discover and appreciate the wonders of creation. Children have a natural craving to learn new things every day, the reason why they are perpetually asking questions about many things. Parents who are wise and loving never tire to explain things and patiently answer the questions of their children. They know this is the way to develop their intelligence and quest for knowledge. God, our Father also wants us to attain wisdom in order to deepen our understanding of our faith. He does not want us to be like zombies, blindly following Church doctrines without grasping their biblical significance. The reason why our Brotherhood urges us to read the Bible and meditate on its passages every day. We are also encouraged to pray to God at least 15 minutes each day, to ask for His grace of wisdom and discernment, so that we may always appreciate everything in our life.

Jesus has shown us how precious the little ones are in life, needing our care and protection. Their innocence reflects the purity of God’s love, and their helplessness reminds us of our own need for God’s constant care and provision. We are mere children, so we must put our complete trust and faith in our loving Father. May we never cease to marvel at the beautiful little children, brimming with hope, full of life, reminding us of God’s goodness and compassion. And like them may we always be grateful for the wonders of His creation.

Lord God, keep our hearts full of trust in Your love and mercy, that we may also be loving and merciful. May all our words and works be pleasing to You, and may we never lose the gift of curiosity and wonder for all the miracles in our lives. Amen.

Fidelity in Marriage

Mark 10: 1-12
Jas 5:9-12/Ps 103:1-4,8-9,11-12

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
(Mark 10:8)

Thorns of divorce and adultery
Aim to destroy the family;
God gave marriage for man and wife,
Nothing must break this bond for life.

Jesus set out and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and dismiss her.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 1-12)

Reflection

The state of marriage is as much a vocation as choosing the priesthood, the religious life, or the single life dedicated to God. I believe it is the most important choice that a man and a woman can make in their entire life. In fact, of the three major milestones in a man’s life (birth, marriage and death), it is only in marriage that God gives him the privilege to make all the choices — who, when and where to marry — before he takes the ‘ultimate plunge’.

Unfortunately, in man’s desire to be in control of his life, and unwilling to surrender his cherished freedom of choice, divorce was invented (by man) as an escape hatch. Marriage, it is said, is made in heaven. True, because Christ Himself instituted this sacrament. But it is lived here on earth, and unless we make our pledge “for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death” not only to our spouse, but also to Jesus Christ, our commitment may only last as long as our infatuation, or until the fire of romance dies out. More than “ownership of each other’s heart”, or the “sealing of our love for all time,” the true purpose of marriage is to fulfill our life in God’s plan of procreation, and in the process to experience divine love in the purity of this bond. But this can only be attained if both husband and wife persevere in their pledge of fidelity, remaining chaste for each other as God willed it. God’s command in the book of Proverbs says it so beautifully: “Drink the water from your own cistern, fresh water from your own well. Don’t let your fountains flow to waste elsewhere, nor your streams in public streets or for strangers at the same time; and may your fountainhead may be blessed.” (Prov.5:15-17)

For our union to become “heaven on earth”, Jesus its High Priest must be in the center of our marriage, reflecting the image of the Holy Trinity in its love and bonding. Husbands must always keep the words of Jesus in mind: that it is often our “hardness of heart” that affects our loving relationship with our wife. We should be more considerate to our spouses, “realizing that the woman is of a more delicate nature” (1Pet.3:7). After almost 48 years in our marriage, I am convinced that our love for each other is not of our own making, but is a gift from God. It must be divine in nature, because it seems to grow stronger through the years. We constantly thank God, our Father for His gift of love.

We will serve You, Lord all the days of our lives, for You have blessed our marriage with Your love, and nothing we do can ever be enough to express our gratitude to You. Amen.

Take for Granted

Mark 9: 41-50
Jas 5:1-6 / Ps 49:14-20

I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
(Mark 9: 41)

Do not drive away from your door
The poor, the sick and unwanted;
Might be Christ we chose to ignore,
What if He takes us for granted?

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9: 41-50)

Reflection

In one homily of a noonday mass we attended, a visiting Nigerian priest asked the parishioners if they were aware that a miracle had happened that day. Answering his own question, he said simply, “You woke up this morning. That’s the miracle.” His point was that if not for the grace of God in our lives, we could well have been one of those lives snuffed out by a typhoon, an earthquake, a tsunami, a terrorist’s bomb, or by the number one killer in the world today, a heart attack. But we were all safe and healthy in that peaceful house of God, witnessing and partaking of another miracle, the transubstantiation of an ordinary bread into the living Body of our Savior. And we never gave it a thought; we just took it all for granted.

We are thankful for a glass of cold water offered on a hot afternoon, but just as easily take the favor for granted afterwards. But Jesus said He will not forget — that person “will certainly not lose his reward.” In the same manner, we may not give pause to the kind of example we show to the “little ones” — the insignificant people in our lives, like our servants in the house, the office janitor or lowly clerk, the fruit vendor at the corner street, the beggar knocking on our car window, or even our own children. But it is our very attitude towards these “little people” — whether we build up their hope in a loving God, or tear it down by our prejudice and indifference — that will determine our standing with God. We can never take their presence in our lives for granted, because Jesus is in every one of them. Heed the advice of St. James in today’s first reading which many uncaring wealthy people take for granted.

As Christian leaders, we have a grave responsibility to build up the faith of subordinates or people over whom we have influence, directing them towards the kingdom of God. We can do this by having a forgiving spirit, by honest business dealings (Be Honest Even if Others are Not!), by kind and encouraging words we speak, by being generous to those who seek our help, and by sharing the Word of God to the spiritually famished. These are the little things that matter, that we must never take for granted, because God can use them to make miracles in other peoples’ lives.

Last, but certainly not the least, we must never take the danger of sin lightly. In fact, Jesus tells us to treat it ruthlessly. Better to be maimed and blind in life, than be whole and end up in hell. Thus we must cut off all worldly practices in our life: what we do, where we go, and what we see (pornography?) How unfortunate for many, that these are the things they just take for granted.

Instill in us the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, dear God, so that we may see each day in our life as a miracle of Your loving grace, and strive to live according to the Gospel values of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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.