Signs for an Evil Generation

Luke 11: 29-32
Rom 1:1-7 / Psa 98

This is a wicked generation. It seeks a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
(Luke 11:29-30)

The Jews did not believe to their loss
All the wonders that Jesus did
As Christians all we have is the cross
As the only sign we will need.

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It seeks a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; now one greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:29-32)

Reflection

Jesus had just exorcized an evil spirit from a mute person, and the crowd had been amazed when the former mute person began to speak. But instead of hearing and observing the Word of God after witnessing this wondrous deed, most of the Jews and their leaders chose to reject Jesus, and even attributed His power to cast out demons to Satan. Indeed our Lord was justified in calling them “a wicked generation”. They were not interested in listening to the spiritual truths that the Son of God was teaching them; they only wanted to see Him perform signs and wonders for their entertainment, or for making out Jesus as a “magician” if not a representative of the prince of evil (Beelzebul).

Both Jesus and the prophet Jonah were God’s signs of repentance. Future generations of Jesus’ followers would also recall later their identical entombment for three days (Jonah’s in the belly of a fish). But if Jonah, the reluctant prophet who hated the Ninevites, could turn them to repentance even without a sign from heaven, why couldn’t the Jews believe the Son of God Himself Who was performing miracles in their midst?

Many would also recall the prophetic words of another prophet, old Simeon, when the child Jesus was presented in the temple, who said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk.2:34-35). And so it was that at every turn, Jesus, the Son of God was contradicted by His critics and detractors. And the greatest contradiction of all was His crucifixion, which became the crux of mankind’s salvation.

When Jesus said the prophet Jonah and the Queen of the South “will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn it”, He was signifying the Resurrection in the last days when all souls will stand before the Judgment Seat of God. What about our own generation? What would our Lord Jesus say about the way our religious, political and business leaders have put their faith in their positions of power and wealth? We can only wonder what signs could possibly convince these “leaders” (especially the politicians and bureaucrats with hidden wealth) to turn to repentance and finally believe the Word of God that justice awaits them in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps only a sign from heaven can save this blind and “evil generation”.

Lord Jesus, You have taught us in today’s Gospel not to look for signs to prove that You are really our Lord and Savior. It is enough for us to behold your cross to make us believe and repent of our sins. We know we are the ones who still have much to prove to be worthy of Your love and great sacrifice. Amen.

Our Model of Blessedness

Luke 11: 27-28
Jl 4:12-21 / Psa 97

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
(Luke 11:28)

We keep God’s Word to make us worthy
To earn God’s kingdom, and nothing less.
Let’s strive to be like Mother Mary,
Who is our model of holiness.

While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd called out, and said to Him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:27-28)

Reflection

Today’s short scriptural passage brings to the fore the age-old issue of why Catholics honor and venerate the Blessed Mother Mary. As voiced out by the woman in the crowd, we should indeed accord the Mother of our Savior the respect and high regard worthy of her station, not only because God Himself honored her to bring His Son into the world, but because she exemplified perfectly what our Lord Jesus was saying. From the very start of her mission call, she heard the Word of God, and without hesitation, obeyed and accepted the message of the angel Gabriel with complete faith in God. As the angel informed her, she would be with child by the Holy Spirit, and for a woman betrothed but not yet married, this was not merely a matter of shame on her family’s reputation, but a very dangerous situation at that time, when women accused of adultery were usually stoned to death. Her response to this was: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:38).

It may well be that Jesus was in fact referring to His mother when He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” He knew her to be obedient, humble, and without sin, and gifted by His Father with an unshakeable faith even in the face of many trials and tribulations. Simeon, the holy man in the temple, blessed them and told her that “You yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk.2:35). But she just “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk.2:51). She accepted the will of God even as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her beloved Son die a cruel form of death, probably wondering why this was happening to the Son of God.

During this month of October, let us venerate the Blessed Mother Mary by praying her holy rosary daily. By doing so, we will be keeping her values in our heart, as we strive to imitate her in her devotion to the will of God. She is our perfect model in “hearing and observing the Word of God.” Jesus said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. Yet the Word you hear is not mine, but from the Father who sent me” (Jn.14:23-24). More blessed are we indeed who look up to Mary as our ideal, and who pray with her so that the Word of God may always live in our hearts.

Lord Jesus, we thank You for giving us Mary, Your Mother when You were at the point of death in Calvary to be our Mother of Intercession. Especially during this month of the Holy Rosary, we venerate her as our model of faith, obedience, purity and compassion. May the devotion of our Church to Your Mother grow stronger even in the midst of the world’s tribulations. Dear Mother Mary, pray for us. Amen.

The Evil Eye

Luke 11: 15-26
Jl 1:13-15;2:1-2 / Psa 9

. . . Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
(Luke 11:23)

The evil Jesus exorcized
Are spirits we must recognize;
They are scattered by scheming lies
Who don’t gather with Jesus Christ.

(After our Lord had driven out a demon) some in the crowd 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 someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:15-26)

Reflection

The devil was clearly at work in the minds of the cynics who attributed the Lord’s power to drive out demons from the prince of darkness. But “If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” By their very words, the blasphemers showed that their “evil eyes” prevented them from seeing the truth. They chose to be in the dark than accept the power of Jesus as divine. They schemed and spread their lies that up to the present time have only served to scatter the Jews as a nation. Their lies have put a perpetual curse of conflicts and wars on the land of the “Chosen People” who had rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior.

The condition of Israel today is worse than the time when our Lord said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Lk.11:23). As Jesus had prophesied, history has shown that the Jews came to be known as the “scattered people”. Seven more spirits more wicked than the first have moved in and dwelled there, because the Jews chose to believe the lies of their spiritual leaders, rather than believe in the Good News of salvation that God had brought when He became man. But Jesus had proven that He was the stronger man who had taken away the armor of Satan and freed humanity from the shackles of sin through His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. By His example and sacrifice we have become united in our faith . . . as we have been witnessing in the meetings of our prayer groups, praising and thanking the Lord.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord teaches us that rather than being cynical and suspicious, we must learn to open our eyes to the good that we see around us. A “good eye” means a discerning mind that trusts, and a compassionate heart that believes. Good eyes are eyes of faith, trusting even when the ways of God are mysterious, and hard to accept. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

Let me praise You, Lord, with all my being; it is only proper that we declare all Your wondrous deeds. I take delight and rejoice in Your goodness, Lord; come, let us sing hymns to the holy Name of our God!” (Psalm 9:2-3.)

Perseverance in Prayer

Luke 11: 5-13
Mal 3: 13-20b / Psa 1

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
(Luke 11:13)

What supplication could be denied
When prayed in humble submission?
His Holy Spirit will provide
For God is full of compassion.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)

Reflection

Even up to the present time, the people in the Middle East, especially in Israel, have always been noted for their special brand of hospitality. When my brothers and I travelled to the holy city of Jerusalem as a graduation gift from our father, we befriended one of the local Palestinians who, (believe it or not), was selling rosaries (!). He invited us to his small home, and his wife served us strong black coffee in small cups. Of course each one of us bought a rosary, but it seemed to us that the sale was just a ruse for the man and his family to receive a greater blessing for opening their home to travelers from a foreign land.

Those who were listening to the story of Jesus understood the dire predicament of the man who was visited by his friend from a long journey. He had to find bread for his visitor at any cost, because failing to show hospitality to his weary visitor was tantamount to a great failing and a disgraceful reputation. That was why he was willing to go to shameless lengths – waking up his neighbor and his whole household at midnight – to beg for bread!

The message of our Lord in this parable is that when we need something, we must ask and seek for it with persistence, even without shame; knocking continuously until the one from whom we are seeking a favor surrenders to our will. And we can be so bold only because what we are asking or praying for is not for ourselves, but for the benefit of other people. Our Lord is saying that our prayers are more effective when they are petitions for the sake of others, because in such cases our prayers are acts of mercy.

In our perseverance, Jesus tells us that our Father in heaven will not refuse to answer our prayers. He is far more generous and compassionate than any father on earth can ever be. If ever we do not receive what we are praying for, it may be because our Father in heaven has something better to give us. In most cases, He will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” What gift can ever be better than the wisdom of the Holy Spirit? Finally, Jesus is telling us that whatever the situation we are in, we just have to trust in His Father’s mercy.

Almighty Father, grant us the grace to pray with a trusting heart, to believe that even before we ask in prayer, You already know what is good for us. Amen.

The Best Prayer

Luke 11: 1-4
Jon 4: 1-11 / Psa 86

Lord, teach us to pray . . .
(Luke 11:1)

For forgiveness and daily bread,
And for protection from harm’s way;
Since we don’t know what lies ahead,
So pray Our Father every day.

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us. And do not subject us to the final test.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

Reflection

With just a few short, simple sentences, our Lord Jesus gave us the complete formula not only for our essential needs, but more importantly for building a loving relationship with God, His Father. First of all, saying “Our Father” indicated that Jesus intended this prayer to be a personal as well as communal worship. First, God as our father cannot refuse the prayer of His children. “If you who are sinful can give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Mt.7:11) When a father overheard his daughter telling his wife about her financial difficulties, he immediately headed for a nearby ATM. Her face lighted up as he handed her an amount she never even asked for. Secondly, as Jesus reminded us, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt.18:20). We were at the airport flying home after our Leaders’ Retreat when we saw an elderly brother on a wheelchair. His wife said he had been ill for a few days, so I asked her if we could pray over him for God’s healing. Unmindful of the crowd in the airport, we fervently prayed together for her husband’s healing; in our compassion for him, we believed he would be healed because of the Father’s greater compassion.

Together in prayer, we make holy (hallowed be) the Name of our Father, so that we, His children may also be set apart from sin. By according Him the respect and honor that His holiness inspires, we are also made holy. (We note that many men in our prayer community no longer swear or profane the name of the Lord.) “Your kingdom come” is the part of the prayer where we ask God to manifest His reign in our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit, and of His Word in Scriptures, by which we strive to make the standard in our life. When we say, Give us each day our daily bread, we recall how God provided manna to the Israelites in the desert (Ex.16:15-21). Jesus wants us to receive Him daily as well in the Holy Eucharist. He also wants us to depend on His Father every day for all our needs. As He assures us, “Do not worry… your heavenly father knows that you need them all” (Mt.6:32).

I believe the most important part of the Lord’s Prayer is when we pray, “Forgive us our sins”, because from the very start of His ministry, Jesus had always preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Just as we need to ask for our needs on a daily basis, we also need to pray continually for God’s forgiveness in order to draw ourselves farther away from our former sinful ways. But the road to perfection is not only in receiving God’s forgiveness, but also in “forgiving everyone who sins against us.” Our forgiveness must surely depend on our forgiving. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt.6:14-15). And lastly, we ask God, “do not subject us to the final test.” Only our Lord Jesus passed the final test, but He knew that we must all persevere in life’s trials if we are to merit the Father’s kingdom. As we pray this beautiful prayer that our Lord taught us, let us meditate with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and grace.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for teaching us how to pray. Through Your prayer, we have been drawn into a more personal relationship with Your Father, our Father in heaven. Amen.

Listening At the Feet of Jesus

Luke 10:38-42
Jon 3: 1-10 / Psa 130

… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.
(Luke 10:42)

How much time do I spare for the Lord?
What do I value as my treasure?
It is by listening to His Word
That my spirit finds its good pleasure.

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Reflection

It confounds us at first why Jesus didn’t advise Mary to help Martha, who was burdened with preparing dinner all by herself for Jesus and His companions. After all, women during that time were not supposed to concern themselves with lessons from the Torah or the teachings of rabbis. Their place was in the kitchen, preparing dinner or refreshments for the guests. But our Lord had a more important lesson to impart to Martha and her other guests, as well as to future generations of His followers. “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” What Jesus was saying is this: we are so distracted about so many unimportant things in life (which we wrongly believe are more important) that we miss the things that really matter. What could be more important than the salvation of our soul? Remember, at that time Jesus had very little time left, so eating a meal was hardly more important than feeding His disciples’ souls with the wisdom of His words. Even when His mother and cousins came to see Him, He told the crowd, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.” (Lk.8:21)

“Only one thing is needed,” and that is to develop our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ by “listening” to His Word. Like Mary, we need to stop for a while from all the temporal things that we have been so concerned about, and step back to assess our life. We need to ask ourselves some important questions that impact our relationship with the ONE Whom we may have been neglecting for some time due to the selfish pursuits of a vacuous life. Where am I now? What do I plan to do with the rest of my life? How are my relationships with my spouse, my children, my in-laws and other relatives, my co-workers, and the members of my church or community? How am I doing in my relationship with God, my Creator?

These were the kind of questions that we asked ourselves when we took time out for an overnight “Leaders’ Recollection” at Eden Nature Park one week-end. Our retreat master, helped us to give precious time to listen to the Word of God, as we gave Him our time in that holy mountain, 3,000 feet above the city of Davao. In that short period we came to realize how much we need God in every moment of our life, and yet how little of our time we give to Him, much to our spiritual disadvantage and peace of mind. We all need to periodically take time out from our businesses or professions to commune with our God and His wonderful creation. I believe we owe it to ourselves as much as to our souls.

Father God, forgive us whenever we’re too busy to take time out to listen to Your Word. Many times we are so engrossed with “important” matters that we find it difficult to just sit still in Your presence. Forgive us for giving more importance to our own agenda rather than Yours. Grant us the grace to listen with a humble heart and an attentive mind to what You are teaching us every day. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.