A Little Faith and Lots of Prayers

Matthew 17: 14-20
Deut 6:4-13 / Ps 18:2-4,47,51

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to that mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would obey you; and nothing would be impossible for you.
(Matthew 17: 20)

Believe nothing is impossible,
As long as we fervently pray;
With faith we “see” the invisible,
And improbable happen our way.

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt before Him and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is epileptic and is very ill. He has often fallen into the fire and at other times into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.” And Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the boy, and the boy was healed at once. Later, the disciples came to Jesus, and asked Him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive out the evil spirit?” And He said to them, “Because you have little faith. Truly, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to that mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would obey you; and nothing would be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17: 14-20)

Reflection

In the Gospel version of Mark, when the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit told Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” our Lord replied, probably with a slight rebuke, “’If you can’? Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ”I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk.9:22-24). But a stronger rebuke was directed to His companions: “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” One can sense the frustration our Lord felt with the lack of faith He found in His apostles; after all, He had empowered them much earlier, sending the twelve to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Mt.10:8).

So why couldn’t the apostles drive out an evil spirit this time around? It was simply because their faith had been weakened by their own self-importance, and possibly pride. After successfully casting out demons a few times, they had become complacent, and even presumptuous that God would back them up every time their services were needed. They had forgotten the most important item: to humbly call upon the Source of that power. In the version of St. Mark, when the apostles asked our Lord why they could not drive out the demon, He bluntly told them: “This kind can only come out through prayer.” Being God, Jesus knew that since they were not praying hard enough, their ‘delegated power’ vanished.

As Christians, we believe that everything comes from God. As we are fond of saying, we are merely His stewards. We have no power to accomplish miracles, only privileged to witness them, and even be used in their manifestation. However, we must have faith, even just a little, and pray fervently for God’s miracle to happen. A number of times we have witnessed the improbable happen, such as the colon cancer of a sister disappearing after our community bombarded heaven with prayers for her healing. This has given us so much hope. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) It is small wonder that Faith (or the word “believe”) is mentioned in the Bible more than five hundred times. The Word of God assures us that if only we believe, we will never “lose our life”. Abraham and all the patriarchs were favored by God because of their faith. All the apostles and the martyrs and saints who followed them were glorified by God because they were steadfast in faith. As St. Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58)

Dear Lord, help us to overcome our doubts whenever our prayers seem unanswered. Forgive us for doubting, and help us to accept those we cannot comprehend. Help us to trust in the power of faith; give us the grace to develop this gift, so that we may be able to perform the ministry You have laid out for us. Amen.

Losing to Gain

Matthew 16: 24-28
Dt 4:32-40/Ps 77:12-16,21

For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 16:25)

I will never regret the loss
Of the world’s acclaim, nor disdain
To welcome the pains of the cross
If it means my eternal gain.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If you want to follow me, deny yourself; take up your cross and follow me. For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. What will one gain by winning the whole world, if he destroys his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done. Truly, I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

Reflection

Can anything in this temporal life compare to the value of one’s soul? Unless one is an atheist, we all believe that our time in this world is so limited, while life in God’s kingdom is infinite. Losing it therefore for the wealth, fame or pleasures of this world would be life’s ultimate folly. The paradox of the Christian faith, however, is that we have to lose first what the world considers precious, before we can gain what the world disdains. Jesus could not be more explicit when He said, “If you want to follow Me, deny yourself; take up your cross and follow Me.” What does it mean to deny one’s self? Self here means the indulgent ego that only seeks the satisfaction of all its material and carnal desires. The more we give in to its cravings, the less concerned we will be about the problems and needs of others, and the weakened condition of our soul. God wants us to deny all our selfish inclinations in order to keep our focus on our eternal destination.

Our Lord Jesus told the parable of the rich fool in the Gospel of Luke, where a man’s land produced an abundant harvest. Instead of selling the crops for many to avail of the lower prices, he decided to build bigger barns to hoard his produce, and then, “He told himself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Speaking of storing up, we recall the words of our Lord in Matthew, 6:20-21: “. . . store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus is telling us that every time we give up something in this life for somebody else, or for the sake of the Gospel, we are gaining something in heaven. Somebody up there is keeping score. But gaining ‘pogi’ points with God should not be the main thing that defines our life as a Christian. Personally, I have come to love and serve Jesus because of gratitude; He sacrificed His own life for the salvation of my soul, which is my most precious possession. The least I can do, in the words of St. John the Baptist, is say: “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29b-30). If I have to lose quality time with loved ones, or precious time for hobbies or leisure, if I have to miss opportunities for self-advancement, or increasing my resources, or even lose sleep in composing Gospel reflections, if it means winning a single soul for Christ, I’ll never consider it a loss at all!

Thank You, Jesus, for Your love and for Your cross that have saved me from the snares of the world’s false treasures. Thank You, Father God, for Your Holy Spirit, and for Your Word, which has led me to the path of eternal life. Amen.

Dying for Eternal Life

John 12: 24-26
2 Cor 9: 6-10 / Psa 112

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
(John 12:25)

Teach me, Lord, what in me must die
That I may be Your faithful sheep. . .
What things in life must I deny,
That real treasures I may keep.

(Jesus said), “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:24-26)

Reflection

When a grain of wheat or corn is sown in the earth, its germination brings about a transformation, and its old form ceases to exist. But its death brings about a new life that eventually yields a harvest of “a hundred, sixty, or thirtyfold” (Mt.13:8). The same is true in a man’s life when he “turns a new leaf” and becomes a true follower of Jesus Christ. In order to become productive, he has to die to his old self before a new life in the renewal can evolve. He has to die to his passions (flesh) and desires (worldliness). Because, as Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (the world) (Mt.6:24). We have to die to this world and its pleasures in order to live for Christ alone. We can never have it both ways.

“The man who loves his life will lose it.” What our Lord meant was loving one’s life in this world will cause one to lose eternal life in His kingdom. It is not for our earthly existence that we are followers of Christ. As St. Paul put it so clearly, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor 15:19). As we read in another gospel, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, but forfeit his life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36,37) Life and soul therefore are one.

“The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” These words simply mean denying everything in this life for the sake of God’s love. Jesus even put it more bluntly in the Gospel of Luke: “If anyone comes to me without ‘hating’ his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be a disciple of mine. The man who will not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:25). To be a true Christian is to be willing to forsake everything in this world if we want to ensure our passage to eternal life.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” It is never easy to be a follower of Christ, but the prize of being honored by His Father in this life and in the next is a treasure beyond compare. To achieve this goal, we need to fall and die like that grain of wheat; and we need to be fervent in prayer, that the Holy Spirit may help us to “crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).

Help us, Father God, through the power of Your Holy Spirit to banish all forms of self-indulgence and worldliness in our lives, and to have courage to take up our cross daily to follow You, and serve You by spreading the Good News of salvation to others. We pray this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lesson in Perseverance

Matthew 15: 21-28
Num 13:1-2,25-14:1,26-29,34-35/Ps 106

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.
(Matthew 15:28)

Have faith in God when we implore
His help for those under our care,
We will receive what we ask for
When we persevere in prayer.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” But she replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Reflection

A little perseverance always pays. As Jesus taught in one of His parables about a similar situation, a man borrowing three loaves of bread from a friend was told, “Do not bother me, the door has already been locked, and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.” But Jesus said, “He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence” (Lk.11:5-8).

In today’s Gospel reading, it was not only the Canaanite woman’s persistence that moved Jesus to grant her wish, but her love for her demon-possessed daughter, her faith in Jesus’ power to heal with only a word, and her great humility. Jesus’ silence at first and His disciples’ derogatory words (“Send her away!”) should have hurt and dissuaded her, but instead she knelt and pleaded for His help. Even when her tribe was referred to as “dogs” she only replied humbly, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” What she meant by “crumbs” was that she was not asking Jesus to go with her and take His time away from His apostles; the only thing that was needed was for Jesus to say the word, and her daughter would be healed. And Jesus exclaimed, “Woman, you have great faith!”

Our Lord’s lessons on faith, compassion and perseverance easily apply to our own day-to-day experiences in our community. When our Programs and Services Director informed me that he had appointed me as Ways & Means Chairman to raise funds for our medical mission of mercy, which was barely two weeks away, it seemed like another case of “break the glass in case of emergency.” But instead of refusing this sudden, unexpected assignment, I just said OK, and prayed to God for help, trusting that He would guide me in preparing a plan in such a short period of time. Then it dawned on me that raising funds for this worthy cause was simply a matter of writing personal solicitation letters to selected members of our community, and appealing for their help for the sake of the impoverished families we were serving. The generous response of many members in our community was a manifestation of God’s boundless generosity and compassion in the hearts of His children. It also boosted my faith in His promise, “I answer everyone who invokes me” (Ps 91:15).

Dear God, You have shown Your kindness and compassion to all who persevere in prayer, especially when our prayers are for the benefit of the sick, the poor and the underprivileged in our midst. Grant that we may never lose sight of our duty to give care to the ‘little ones’, even to those who do not share our faith. Amen.

From Crossings to Crosses

Matthew 14: 22-36
Jer 30:1-2,12-15,18-22 / Ps 102

“You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”
(Matthew 14:31)

Whenever storms may come my way,
Or when I cross thru paths unknown,
To bear my cross I need but pray
To God, and I’m not left alone.

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat to go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. Then He went up on a mountainside alone to pray. When evening came, the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to Him begging Him to let the sick just touch the edge of His cloak, and all who touched Him were healed. (Matthew 14:22-36)

Reflection

There are many crossings in life that we are sent to make, and the major ones are usually not without opposing currents and going against turbulent winds. In the earliest history of the Israelite nation, we see the examples of many great leaders who obeyed the command of God to “cross over” to new territories. The first was Noah, the boat builder, who started a new generation after the great flood. Then followed the patriarch Abraham, who set out from Haran to the land of Canaan. His grandson Jacob travelled back to Haran to flee from his brother Esau, married Rachel, and grew prosperous there. From him sprung the twelve tribes of Israel. His favorite son Joseph made the most painful crossing to Egypt, sold to slavery by his own brothers, only to become the most powerful governor of that country, and savior of the whole tribe of Israel. Then from the tribe of Levi came Moses, who led the Israelite nation from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. From their stories we learn that an opportunity can come upon us when we are asked to leave our comfort zone and travel to a new land or a new life unknown.

Then again there may be crosses in life that we are made to bear. These can be in the form of harassments from the devil, who tries to subvert God’s will in our lives. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephes 6:12) Satan’s grand scheme is to get us too focused on our problems and anxieties that we no longer have time to pray, which is the most effective weapon against fear. Prayer gives us the assurance that we have the strength to overcome anything through Jesus Who empowers us (Phil.4:13). Prayer works for those who firmly believe and submit to God’s will. Submitting to His will means trusting that whatever comes is according to His love and divine purpose. The situation only becomes difficult when doubts arise to erode our faith and trust in Him. As long as we hold fast to a strong trust in the Lord, no harm can befall us; the cross will become lighter, the storm will eventually pass. And when we reach calm waters, we will realize that we have become stronger because of it.

We put our trust in Your strong arm, Lord, as we firmly believe You will never allow us to sink in any storm because we are your faithful fishers of men. Amen.

Breaking the Bread of Mercy

Matthew 14:13-21
Nm 11:4b-15 / Psa 81

. . . looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
(Matthew 14:19)

When we are troubled and depressed,
Let’s be more merciful instead,
For in His turn God will address
Our problems like the thousands fed.

When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” He said. And He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21)

Reflection

A careful study of the life of Jesus in the Gospels would reveal that there was always something symbolic in all His wondrous works and words; and if not linked to Old Testament scriptures, they prefigured a future event. In the case of today’s Gospel passage, some bible scholars have attributed the multiplication of the bread and fish as a parallel to the feeding of the Israelites in the desert with manna from heaven, signifying that it was God Himself Who was feeding the Jews. At the same time, this miracle was a prophetic sign of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life which would be “broken and shared” by millions of Catholics every day. As Jesus prophesied in another Gospel: “For the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Our Lord instituted this sacrament when He broke bread with His apostles in His Last Supper with them, saying, “This is my body which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). Two of His disciples also recognized Him when He broke bread with them as they were traveling to Emmaus (Luke 24:30-31).

What is our Lord’s message for us in today’s Gospel? It may well be that God will always take care of our needs, as He did for the Israelites for forty years in the desert. But more importantly, our Lord shows us the importance of having compassion for those in need. From the little that was available, Jesus gave the hungry masses more than they needed (perhaps as provision on their way back to their homes). Even though our Lord was in a state of grief and agitation at that time – His cousin John the Baptist had just been beheaded by King Herod— this did not prevent Him from addressing the problems of the multitudes following Him. His act of compassion for the hungry reflected the love of God for His people. When we are troubled and confused, bothered by problems or personal loss, Jesus shows us that this is the time when we become Christ-like if we can show mercy to those in need. St. Paul said, “Just as you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love — see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (2Cor.8:7).

Lord God, help us to see that the needs of most people are much greater than our own; that it is in showing compassion and mercy to the needy that we will also receive compassion and mercy from You, our loving Father. Thank You for all the blessings You have given to us, Your children. Amen.