The Deadly Sin of Adultery

Matthew 5: 27- 32
2 Cor 4:7-15 / Psa 116

He who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
(Matthew 5:28)

As metal is no match to rust,
The most corrosive sin is lust;
On your own conviction put no trust,
Avoid temptation, run if you must.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5: 27-32)

Reflection

After discussing the fifth commandment, Jesus expounded on the sixth commandment. Both of these commandments concern the grievous sin of murder. While the former is about killing the body, adultery is about killing the soul. While the former commits the sin against another, the latter inflicts the crime upon himself. That is why it is better to lose a sinful part of one’s body than to have his entire existence consigned to hell because of it. Note that even in the Old Testament scriptures, the commandment to avoid the sin of adultery is repeated in the ninth commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”). The book of Proverbs, verses 25 to 29 clearly states the dire consequences of this sin. Which probably is the reason our Lord made His point very dramatic in impressing the gravity of the carnal sin. And I doubt if He was merely exaggerating. He really meant what He said. One who degrades the body of another by leering looks and lascivious thoughts just as surely harms his own body far more than actually gouging out his eye or cutting off his hand.

It is the sanctity of marriage that Jesus is protecting here. This love relationship is what Satan wants to destroy ever since Christ instituted it. He employs the twin scourges of adultery and divorce to this end. Jesus knows how vulnerable we are to the devil’s tricks, and how desirable to the human eye the forbidden fruit of fornication is. That is why he wants us to nip the temptation in the bud when the occasion arises, and if need be, sacrifice an eye and a hand to preserve our eternal inheritance. St. Paul echoes this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10).

The sacrament of Matrimony is sealed during the celebration of the Holy Mass. Husbands and wives strengthen their marital bond every time they welcome the Author of their union into their hearts in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They are purifying their marriage in the Holy Mass, thus providing Him with a clean chamber, worthy of His pure nature. Every time they receive Him, they are assured that nothing impure can ever take up residence in their hearts and home. This is an important lesson that we can all teach our children about the sanctity of marriage and counter the evil of adultery.

Thank You, Jesus, for Your lessons in fidelity and chastity, and for Your grace that helps preserve our marriage. Keep us strong against the temptation of adultery, as we pray for all marriages to prevail against the evil of divorce. Amen.

All About Anger

Matthew 5: 20-26
2Cor 3:15–4:1,3-6 / Psa 85

. . . whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
(Matthew 5:22)

If it is peace that we must seek,
Then first curb temper for our good;
With hearts as tender as words meek,
Understand, than be understood.

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends with your opponent right away, while you are on the way with him to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20-26)

Reflection

Anger is one of the most difficult emotions that we have to contend with at every turn in our journey through life. As many of us have experienced, there are various degrees of anger that we have to deal with – from being irritated by a pesky child, to a mild frustration with the incompetence of others, up to the extreme hatred against a person who has injured us maliciously. Like other emotions, anger is a very human response to an unjustified, mindless, or uncaring act or situation. Getting angry then is not necessarily wrong, but how we react in proportion to the cause of our anger. Feeling angry at a driver who mindlessly cuts us is a natural reaction, but bumping his rear end is not. What our Lord Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel is giving vent to our aggression, after allowing hatred to build up inside our heart. And “flying into a rage” is not the only form of aggression. It can also be verbal, like name calling, foul language or insults hurled at another person who has offended us.

Anger can be a constructive emotion if our response to it is positive. Our Lord spoke of righteousness as the way to heaven, and He showed us righteous anger when He drove out the money changers and merchants who were desecrating the temple premises with their unholy trade (Lk.19:45-46). Anger can even be for good (Rom. 8:28) when it motivates us to correct an injustice, like reporting an offender to the authorities, or ferreting out the truth. A mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver gave vent to her anger by organizing Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization that has saved many lives by raising awareness of the dangerous mixture of alcohol intoxication and driving. Her loss was not in vain.

God our Creator equipped us with various emotions that keep us from harm — such as fear, to ward off danger; loneliness, to seek others’ company; and mercy, to be compassionate and forgiving of others’ mistakes, as God is with ours. Together with love, this emotion should be enough to counter anger. So do not be troubled if you are prone to anger, for even saints were not exempted from this emotion. It took St. Francis de Sales more than twenty years to conquer his temper and turn it into meekness, “an effect of his tremendous will power, constantly strengthened by his lively faith and the fires of divine love which burned within him” (Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical). God allows us to feel anger in order to build our character by employing it for good. Be angry with sin. According to St. Paul: “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good” (Rom.12:9). Let us imitate St. Francis de Sales in our struggle to control our temper, by using the will power that God has given us, and the power of prayer so that we can grow in the gentleness of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who reminds us, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt.5:5)

Lord God, You are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You do not always chide, nor do You keep Your anger forever.(Psa.103:8) May we always learn from Your Word how to control our anger, and be more forgiving of others, so that we may be worthy of being called Your children. Amen.

No Love Without Obedience

Matthew 5:17-19
2Cor 3:4-11 / Psa 99

Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:19)

Those who prefer not to obey
God’s laws forfeit heaven’s treasure,
Those who submit will find the way;
Obedience is love’s true measure.

(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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:17-19)

Reflection

Jesus always emphasized the sanctity and validity of Scripture. “Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mt.5:18) Obedience to God’s laws and love are the two recurring themes in His teachings, two vital keys that we need to enter the gates of heaven. His love has transformed us, but we still need God’s commandments and decrees in Scripture to guide us to His kingdom. Together with the strength, perseverance and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we constantly strive to learn and follow God’s Word assiduously, and in the process, earn the gifts of the Spirit in order that we can also teach His Good News to others. It becomes our major preoccupation, our mission, our joy and our life.

The love that our Lord Jesus teaches is our most potent tool for sanctification. It transforms our mediocrity into a passionate desire to keep God’s commandments. Love inspires humility and obedience to the law, and makes it easy to submit ourselves to authority, and be receptive to its teachings. Love for our community makes submission sweet and natural. We know the difference between obedience dictated by fear and obedience dictated by love. We submit to our elders not because we fear them, but because we love them.

Obedience also comes easy because in our community we experience our spiritual growth in the truths of the Gospel, and we credit this to our pastors. St. Peter wrote, “Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely with a pure heart.” (1 Pet 1:22)

Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments… He who has received My commandments, and keep them, is the one who loves me…If a man loves me, he will keep my words. He who loves me not keeps not my commandments.” (Jn.14:15-24)

Our greatest model of faith and total obedience in the Old Testament is Abraham. Out of His love, trust and obedience to God, He was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac whom he loved (Gen. 22). His love for God was far greater than his own life.

Lord God, we are inspired by Your words in Scripture: ‘Those who fear the Lord disobey not His words; those who love Him keep His ways.’ (Sirach 2:15) Keep us always faithful to all Your decrees, through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord

Matthew 5: 13-16
2Cor 1:18-22 / Ps 119

You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.
(Matthew 5:13,14)

God has chosen us from the fold
To bear His light and salt the earth;
When we witness for Christ be bold
To share our life for what it’s worth.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 13-16)

Reflection

Yesterday we learned the important lessons of repentance and conversion in the Beatitudes. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is now asking us if we are ready to influence the world around us with the Gospel values we have learned from Him. “Are we ‘worth our salt’ as Christians?” Have we been bringing the light of His Good News into the shadowy or mediocre lives of others? Or have we been taking His special gifts of conversion and faith for granted?

In one of the breakfast meetings of our brotherhood, a female member told me she could never imagine herself sharing her life testimony in front of an audience. “Why?” I asked her jokingly, “Is it too bland that you don’t want to share it, or so ‘dark’ that you’re afraid it will not enlighten those who hear it?” I reminded her that God, the Author of Life, “wrote” every life with a beautiful plot that must be revealed. Every renewed Christian has a responsibility to give witness to the goodness and creativity of God in his or her life. It is the least we can do (aside from charitable works) to show our great appreciation to God for His gift of life. St. Peter reminds us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wondrous deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

We are the salt of the earth. As His followers, Jesus wants us to help our Church preserve the culture and traditions that He and His martyrs and saints have handed down to us through the ages. Our Lord also expects us to make our witnessing of the Gospel a tasteful experience to those we are inviting to His banquet. In fact, if we must be like salt, we must be able to make others thirst for God’s nourishing Word. In a spiritual sense, the workplace is a bland environment, where people are only concerned with making money, day in and day out. We can flavor the business arena with a radical campaign for honesty in business dealings, punctuality in coming to work, scripture reading and prayers to start the day, etc.

If salt is an invisible substance that enhances our taste for food, light, on the other hand, brightens our surroundings. We are the light of the world if we can reflect in our life the ideals of Jesus Christ, Who said: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12) Ever since God “lighted my life” with His sacred Word, it has become a lifelong passion to share His message of love through Gospel reflections sent every day (except Sunday) through cyberspace. It is truly a special privilege from God to be able to reflect the light of Christ through the inspired messages of His Holy Spirit. Jesus calls us to counter the forces of darkness by being His light to make others see the follies of this world, and draw them back to His everlasting Light. Let us not be afraid nor be ashamed to kindle the light of Christ in our life for others to see.

Lord God, we cannot thank You enough for our life, which Your Word has saved from being tasteless, and enlightened by Your love. May it be pleasing to You, Lord, to use it as You will, to likewise flavor or brighten other people’s lives. Amen.

Lessons from the Beatitudes

Matthew 5: 1-12
2Cor 1: 1-7 / Psa 34

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .
(Matthew 5:12)

If we aspire to reach heaven,
We must take on Christ’s attitude;
Heed the lessons He has given:
Trust His Word in the Beatitudes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and He began to teach them saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:1-12)

Reflection

Most of the lessons that Jesus taught His followers then, as He is teaching us now, seem to be encapsulated in the Beatitudes. According to our Lord, it is the poor, the mourning, the humble, the hungry, and those who are persecuted who will eventually be the beneficiaries of the kingdom of God.

The 1st lesson in the Beatitudes is to realize how poor we are in spirit. It is acknowledging our sinfulness, and our total dependence on God’s mercy, as well as in His generosity. We can never achieve salvation on our own efforts, and must therefore put our complete faith in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, just as we put our trust in the Father for all our needs. Only by emptying ourselves of all earthly desires can we truly be filled with God’s blessings.

The 2nd lesson is closely related to the first, if only to emphasize the value of putting our trust in God. We mourn for the pains and death that our Lord Jesus suffered in Calvary to redeem us from our sins. But mourning is also followed by rejoicing, as in the Resurrection. We also mourn for our loss. When a brother in Christ shared that he lost a son with congenital defects at birth, I told him that he could still be grateful that his son was spared of the painful and complicated life that he would surely have faced if the baby had lived.
The 3rd lesson is about humility. Humble men are meek and compliant, submissive to God’s will. But that doesn’t mean they are weak. On the contrary, they are stronger than the proud, because submission means bending our will and passions to conform to the new life that God is calling us to follow. True humility requires great discipline. Great successful men never boast; they just go about their business doing their best.

The 4th lesson is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Once enlightened, we hunger for the holiness that only Christ can give in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We thirst for His Word in the Holy Bible. We crave for the ideal to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” In our community’s campaign for honesty, we employ the Gospel values that we have learned in order to transform the face of business.

The 5th lesson is about being merciful. Both in the Old and the New Testament, God said He did not care much for sacrifices or offerings as He did for mercy. Mercy is love in action. Mercy is forgiveness from the heart. Jesus is God’s Divine Mercy. If we are to obtain His mercy to forgive us for our sins, we should also show mercy to others who may have offended us.

The sixth and seventh lessons complete our transformation: we become pure of heart, and imitate Jesus as bearers of peace. And finally, if we are to follow our Lord perfectly, we must also take up our cross, and experience persecution for the sake of righteousness and the Gospel. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians: “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). Let us practice these eight lessons, or eight steps towards perfection taught by our Lord Jesus in the Beatitudes; it is our surest way to the kingdom of God.

We thank You, Jesus for the beautiful lessons that You have taught us in Your Beatitudes. May they all live in our hearts that we may reach the perfection that You promised. Amen.

Have Nothing, to Gain Everything

Mark 12: 38-44
Tb 12:1.5-15.20 / Tb 13:2.6

She, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.
(Mark 12:44)

With nothing of my own from birth,
With nothing but hope I aspire
To claim when I depart this earth,
Your kingdom as my sole desire.

As He taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market-places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.’ Then Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to Him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:38-44)

Reflection

It is not the amount that we give that makes our gift significant; it is how much that is left for ourselves that makes the difference. Jesus praised the poor widow, even though her gift was hardly of any value compared to the vast amounts donated by others to the temple treasury, because even if she knew she would have nothing left, she believed and trusted that God would take care of her needs. Like most widows in Palestine at that time, she had no one to depend on for survival, and her act was a total surrender to God’s mercy. And sure enough, she caught God’s attention.

God is not attracted to wealthy people in flowing robes, chanting long prayers, and making large donations to the church coffers. It is because in their self-sufficiency, they never feel any real sense of urgency for God. More likely, their going to church is all for show, if not for tradition’s expediency. This is probably the reason why our Lord Jesus, in His life and in His parables, always had a soft spot for the poor widows, because they usually had no money or status in life, and were totally dependent on God and/or others for their very survival.

And this is what our Lord’s message is in today’s Gospel. When we express our total dependence on God’s mercy, He will not only supply us our needs, but He will bless us even more abundantly in other good things as well. This was what happened to Tobit and his son Tobiah in the first reading (Tob.12:5-15). They put their total trust and dependence on the angel Raphael, and at the end of their journey, they were willing to give to him (not knowing his true identity) half of all the wealth that Tobiah had successfully brought home. Instead, Raphael revealed himself as God’s messenger and told them to “keep thanking God every day; praise Him with song.”

Never let us forget, Lord, that everything is Yours, and we are merely Your stewards. May we always depend on You, never holding back anything that You require us to give, emptying ourselves if need be, in order to receive Your bounty. Amen.