A Humbling Encounter

Luke 18:9-14

Hos 6:1-6 / Ps 51

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 18:14)

Be merciful to me, a sinner,

Heal me, Lord, of this affliction;

In Your compassion please deliver

This proud soul from its conviction.

To those confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9-14)


Today’s Gospel reminds me of the humbling experience that my wife and I had many years ago in one of our regular Friday trips to the Shrine of the Infant Jesus, situated on a hill overlooking Davao City. As we walked out of the shrine’s parking lot, we noticed a group of ten women and two men clad in white robes praying the rosary. We were surprised to see that they were all on their knees, painfully inching their way towards the main chapel, a good one hundred meters of rough road from where they had started. “Must be a bunch of fanatics, if not a cult of some kind,” I told Ollie, as we imagined bleeding knees negotiating the cracked asphalt and loose stones of the shrine’s pathway. After our 45-minute walk around the shrine, we entered the chapel, in time to see the group praying before the image of the Infant Jesus. The lower portions of their white robes were soiled, and they were all crying as they prayed. One of them was even pregnant! We asked one of the regular joggers at the back who they were, and he said, “They are devotees of the Nazarene. They do this every Lent in penitence for sins.”

How much have we sacrificed this Lent to show how sorry we are for our sins? How like that Pharisee in our Lord’s parable I must have seemed when I mocked that group of humble folks who were pleading for God’s mercy for our collective sins. Their humility and great sacrifice must be what Jesus meant in His first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3). God rejects the haughty and welcomes the humble. That scene at the Shrine of the Infant Jesus taught me that I must always guard against the sin of pride, and never again look down on others, especially the religious practices of the poor and humble.

Father God, thank You for showing me how easily we can fall to the sin of pride in our sense of superiority over others. Remind us always about the importance of being ‘poor in spirit’. In faith and humility we seek to follow Jesus, Your Son. Amen.

The Greatest Commandment

Mark 12: 28-34
Hos 14: 2-10/ Ps 81:6-11,14,17
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
(Mark 12:30,31)

It’s not hard to love one another

When we ponder this great mystery:

The sacrifice that God our Father

Made for His Son’s death in Calvary.
One of the scribes came and heard them debating. Seeing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus answered, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all our heart, with all our understanding and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as our self is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)


This passage is the only occasion in the Bible where a scribe agreed completely with Jesus, and their subject was about love. There can be no argument, no clash of opinions, as far as the subject of love is concerned. The scribe had in mind the Ten Commandments that Yahweh God gave to Moses (Deut.5:6-21) when he asked Jesus which was the first of all the commandments. But Jesus’ answer is not found in the Ten Commandments at all! Instead, our Lord quoted Moses in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:4-5), and added a passage from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus wanted His listeners to understand that the laws handed down to Moses were intended to serve God, by avoiding what was sinful, and performing the duties expected of His people. Loving God and neighbor are the greatest commandments because they are done not in obedience to laws, but in imitation of the Father’s nature, Who is Love. Love is the greatest commandment because it is not just a commandment, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit that God gives to His faithful children. It is not a task to perform, but a commitment to give of oneself without conditions, without limits.

Aside from the Christian Life Programs that our community holds every year, we also conduct weekend Marketplace Evangelization Seminars among police cadets and government officials in our mission areas. Conducting them can involve many hours of travel, and spending overnight stays to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. The members never tire in these missions, because they are driven by the spirit of love.

To love God with all our heart is to love Him above everything that we hold dear, including friends, family, and self, holding nothing back, even life itself. To love God with all our mind is to meditate constantly on His Word, and employ all the talents and abilities that we possess for the purpose that He has laid out for us to propagate His love. To love God with all our strength is to acknowledge our own weakness, and then to use the strength of the Holy Spirit to propagate the Good News of Jesus. And to love our neighbor as ourself is to love him as Jesus has shown us in the Gospel.

Father God, our Lord Jesus has taught us what pleases You most. Grant us the grace to love all the people in our life, including those we’d rather not, for Your sake. Amen.

One Kingdom Under One God

Luke 11:14-23

Jer 7:23-28/Ps 95:1-2,6-9
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
(Luke 11:23)

Our God Almighty does not reign

Over a divided kingdom;

All divisions in His domain

His Word and love shall overcome.
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon had left, the mute person spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested Him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor on which he relied, and distributes the spoils. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:14-23)


Jesus was not merely refuting the misguided argument of the Jews at that time that He was casting out demons by the power of Satan. (Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.) Being omniscient, our Lord could also be making a prophecy about His own kingdom here on earth, His Church, which He had foreseen would undergo its own division into so many denominations. This division has been the handiwork of the Prince of Lies. But instead of being ‘laid waste’ by differences of doctrines and teachings, the kingdom of God on earth has instead become stronger in spreading the Good News. It has multiplied out of its own divisions.

Yes, we have our differences, but aren’t we all subjects of the same King? Are we not all called by the same Spirit to proclaim His Word, and confess the same faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ? Whether we are Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals, or any other Protestant denomination, we are all members of the same Mystical Body of Christ. All of us are treading the same path that our Lord, the Way, the Truth and the Life has shown us to reach our Father in heaven. Jesus has established His kingdom in our hearts, and as God’s children, we must break the barriers of separation that divide us, to prove that the Kingdom of God was never divided. This delusion is Beelzebul’s handiwork that every believer must cast out of Christ’s Household.

Prayer is the common thread that binds all of us, and makes us pleasing to the Lord especially when we pray as one. My brother-in-law had already been admitted to his third hospital, and ten days in the intensive care unit until his doctors prescribed that he must have a triple bypass operation. My sister was almost out of her wits when we told her to be strong, and just believe in the power of prayers. Thank God for we asked for God’s miracle for my brother-in-law, who was already on the edge of death. The operation performed by a team of doctors was a complete success. Our family was indeed very grateful for all those who prayed for him. To God be the glory!

Father, Your Son, Jesus our King has established in our hearts His kingdom, making us a “royal priesthood” of believers. Grant us the grace to overcome our differences as You have united us in prayer. May Your Kingdom be realized on earth. Amen.

Teaching about the Law

Matthew 5: 17-19

Deut 4:1,5-9 / Psa 147

. . . whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:19)

It is not love to spare the rod,

Too much freedom, we’ll pay the price;

Obedience to the laws of God

Will assure us of Paradise.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter, or the smallest part of a letter, will by any means disappear from the Law until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 17-19)


The way Jesus constantly contradicted and even condemned the Pharisees and scribes must have given the Jews the impression that our Lord was about to abolish or change the Old Testament laws (Ten Commandments, the Pentateuch, etc.) and the teachings of the Prophets. But Jesus was in fact trying to rectify the wrong interpretations of God’s commandments by the Pharisees and scribes. For instance, He pointed out that healing the sick on the Sabbath would not violate it as much as saving one’s sheep that fell in a pit would (Mt.12:11). He told the Jews to obey their teachings, but not to imitate their example, for they burdened the people with their man-made laws which they themselves did not follow (Mt.23:4). Their laws put too much emphasis on rituals and matters of little importance, thus neglecting the more essential parts or spirit of the law (Mt.23:23).

Jesus was in fact the fulfillment of the laws and prophecies of the Old Testament. Obedient to the very end, He had spoken and carried out everything according to the plan and will of God, His Father. In every aspect of His life, His disciples remembered His faithful adherence to Scriptures. Even as an infant His life fulfilled what was spoken through the prophets (Jer. 26:21; Hos.11:1) His temptation in the desert was filled with quotations from Deuteronomy and Psalms. In His discourses with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus often quoted Scriptures. Until His last breath, in fact, we hear Him quote from Psalms: “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” (Psa. 22:1).

The books of the Old Testament will never become antiquated or insignificant even until the end of time. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33). Contrary to what unbelievers say, the laws of God, like the Ten Commandments are not obsolete. The laws of God are absolute, and will never change. Honoring our parents, the sanctity of life, sacredness of sex and marriage, the worship of One God, respecting the property of others, honesty in one’s dealings—these are all, like God Himself, timeless and unchanging. And if we disregard or violate them, then there will be a price to pay. Have you ever wondered why most if not many young people in America today have no respect for their parents, have one of the highest rates of pre-marital sex and abortion, and are more prone to substance abuse and self-destruction than at any other time in their history? Could it be because their Supreme Court had decided to ban the practice of prayers in school, and to remove the Ten Commandments from their institutions of learning? If God seems to have forgotten them, maybe it’s because they have neglected His laws and decrees. Thank God our country remains faithful to our Catholic traditions.

Let me never forget Your laws in my life, dear God, as long as I live. For they are the light that keeps me from stumbling, the discipline that I need in order to grow strong in my faith, and persevere in times of trials and suffering. Amen.

The Measure of Our Faith

Matthew 18: 21-35

Dn 3:25,34-43 / Ps 25:4-9

Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
(Matthew 18:33)

How we forgive is the measure of

The kind of faith that we proclaim;

By showing mercy we can prove

That God’s forgiveness we can claim.

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)


Many of us continue to struggle between our unwillingness to forgive a grave injustice done to us and the demand of Christ’s discipleship to follow His example. As fallen creatures, we try to reason that the wrong done to us must be rectified first, or at least the offender must show some remorse before we can be motivated to forgive. But our Lord Jesus never set any conditions when He forgave sinners, and even His torturers in Calvary, when He prayed to the Father, “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk.23:34). He even commanded that we should pray for those who persecute us if we truly desire to become children of God (Mat. 5:44-45). He wants us to rise above our human nature and childish imperfection: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat.5:48).

When Jesus taught us the perfect prayer, He showed us the direct correlation between being forgiven and our own willingness to forgive others in turn. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mat.6:12). How can we ask God to cancel our debts of sin when we cannot cancel the much smaller debt owed us by our sibling, neighbor or fellow servant in our community?

Our capacity to forgive is the measure of our faith in God. It defines our transformation and journey towards the Divine. Jesus was not exaggerating when He said we must forgive seventy-seven times. The great number simply implies that forgiveness has no limit, and in fact we are to practice and master it as a Christian’s way of life. Surely in our lifetime God has forgiven us for our sins more than seven hundred times! How then can we refuse to forgive a neighbor, a relative, an elder, a friend or even an enemy whenever the occasion calls for it? In God’s eyes, our bitterness and feelings of injustice must have seemed so childish and ridiculously exaggerated, compared to the torture and death that His own Son had to endure for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Thank You, Lord, for making us realize that we have no other option but to forgive. You told us to pray for those who have offended us so that they may be freed from the bondage of sin, and the enmity that the evil one wants to propagate may be destroyed. Take away whatever grudges we may still be harboring within. Amen.

In Our Own Native Place

Luke 4: 24-30

2 Kgs 5:1-15 / Ps 42, 43

No prophet is honored in his own native place.
(Luke 4:24)

Bringing God’s Word to a friend or kin

May seem such a great sacrifice,

Until we realize that our sin

Was forgiven at a greater price.

Jesus said, “No prophet is honored in his own native place. Truly I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way. (Luke 4:24-30)


Jesus cited two prophets in the Old Testament who were rejected by their own people (Elijah and Elisha), and therefore performed their miracles on Gentiles, like the Sidonian widow and the Syrian general, Naaman. But instead of believing His message that they had no monopoly of God’s salvation, the Jews took it as an insult to their tribe, and wanted to kill Him. How proud and hard-hearted God’s Chosen People had become. No wonder Jesus told them, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Mt.21:43) – the Gentiles.

“No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Many of us have experienced how friends and relatives become uneasy when we try to bring up the subject of Jesus and His message of salvation, or talk about some topics in the Bible which is related to the way we live. Jesus Himself was not accepted in His own town of Nazareth, and therefore performed little miracles of healing there. And yet when we reflect on today’s Gospel message, it seems to tell us that when God calls us to be His messenger, we must respond to that calling. Having received this gift of faith, we cannot help but spread God’s Word, particularly to those who are dear to us, especially during this Lenten season. Just as the early martyrs suffered persecution as God’s beacons of salvation, we who have received the fire from the Holy Spirit must in a smaller way suffer some humiliation from our relatives and friends for the sake of the Gospel. Speaking about Christ and His Gospel values may not be hot topics in today’s modern world, but being faithful to the Word of God was never meant to be an easy mission for the true followers of Jesus Christ.

It is easy for people to be cynical when they are familiar with us, especially when they know our sinful past. But our conversion and renewed life is precisely the kind of testimony that the Holy Spirit employs to bring others to repentance or conversion. As long as we persevere in our renewal, people close to us will forget or forgive our past, and will eventually listen and believe in our witnessing.

Father God, we know we were also guilty of rejecting Jesus, and not accepting Him in His native place, which is our heart, when we were in the state of sin. But You have helped us remain faithful to all Your commandments, so now may He always live within. Amen.