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

Today our Church celebrates the feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr. Born in the year 225 AD during the reign of the cruel Emperor Valerian, St. Lawrence is credited for all of Rome being converted into Christianity. When the pagan emperor learned that Lawrence was giving away his wealth and those of many rich Christians in Rome to the poor, he promised him clemency if he would he would show him where the Church’s great gold and silver were located. St. Lawrence requested to be given three days “to gather the wealth of the Church,” to which the wicked emperor agreed. St. Lawrence then invited all the poor, the handicapped, and the misfortunate to come together in a central place, where he presented them to the emperor as “the gold and silver of the Church.” Valerian was so enraged that he ordered St. Lawrence to be burned alive, in public, on a griddle. Thousands who witnessed this martyr cheerfully offer himself to Jesus were converted to the faith.

The work and martyrdom of St. Lawrence is a vivid example of what our Lord is teaching in today’s Gospel. 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 becomes a 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.

The Founding of the Church in Caesaria Philippi

Matthew 16: 13- 23
Jer 31:31-34 / Psa 51:12-15,18-19

It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.
(Matthew 16:17)

Life is guided not by what we prize
But what we fully believe.
If we still have no faith in Christ,
We have not yet started to live.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Reflection

Why did Jesus choose to ask this question in Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city on the southwestern slope of Mt. Hebron? There were few areas with more religious significance than Caesarea Philippi, the site of worship for pagan gods since early Roman times. It was scattered with the temples of Syrian idols, a place beneath the shadow of ancient gods. Emperor Caesar Augustus gave this region to King Herod, who built a temple of white marble there in honor of his patron; but the city was built only later by his son King Herod Philip, thus the name.

With the sheer rock cliff of the worship site as backdrop, this was an ideal place for our Lord to make His historic pronouncements about Simon Peter, and the building of His Church. The rocky cliffs of Caesaria Philippi must have reverberated with the declaration of St. Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” His words seemed to challenge the “gods” in the niches of the cliffs and their devotees who worshiped there. It was perhaps no mere chance or semantics that in such surroundings our Lord would use the word “rock” metaphorically in christening Simon, the humble fisherman, “Peter” (Petros), on whose shoulders early Christianity would be carried (On this rock I will build My church).

In these critical times when our Church is being rocked (forgive the pun) with all kinds of trials and scandals, it is so reassuring to reflect on this fact that no matter what challenges we face, our Church was built by God on solid rock, “… the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt. 16:18)

Eternal Father, thank You for making us see that You are always with us in your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, Your Church, against all forces of evil. Grant us the grace and wisdom to be firm in our faith always, as You are our Rock and our Foundation.

The Canaanite Woman’s Faith

Matthew 15:21-28
Jer 31:1-7 / Jer 31:10-13

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

God always tests our fidelity
Before our prayers are granted;
Those who pray in all humility
Will never be disappointed.

Leaving that place, Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that place came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not answer her, not even a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered her, “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.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus told her, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Reflection

The Canaanite woman reminds me of the former housemaid of my parents, who was always coming to my office to seek financial help for her innumerable problems. She was now working as a streetsweeper, and her meager salary could not make ends meet. For me she had become a pest, putting my Christian values to the test. One trying Monday morning, after two people had come to ask for help (one could not be accommodated), she could not have come at the worst time. Coming through the door unannounced, I scolded her for the intrusion. She said it was only for a small favor. “But why does it always have to be me?!” I almost shouted at her. Crying now, she tried to explain she had no one else to turn to for P150.00 for notarial fees to help her wayward son who was detained. It was then that I realized how my prejudice had compromised my sense of charity for such a meager amount.

That incident with the persistent poor woman brought home a number of lessons: 1) Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, we must always be sensitive to the needs of others, whoever they are; 2) A mother’s love for her offspring will endure and overcome all tests and trials; 3) Prejudice or bias (like the apostles’ attitude to the woman) often gets in the way of helping others; and 4) In the end, perseverance always pays. Let us learn from the Canaanite woman. Four times her faith was tested: first, in Jesus’ silence; then the apostles’ remark to send her away; third, Jesus’ words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”; and finally, referring to Canaanites as dogs.

God’s primary plan in our life is the development of our faith, which would never mature under normal circumstances. Trials and troubles are part of its growth. God wants us to remove all doubts, prejudices, and negative attitudes in our hearts and minds; He wants us to trust Him, to believe that His plans are only for our own good.

Let our faith be like that of the Canaanite woman, Lord, full of perseverance and fortitude. For nothing is too great or too small for the miracle of your love. Amen.

Faith and Trust

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

Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.
(Matthew 14:27)

Whatever storms may come my way,
Lord, in Your Word I shall abide;
Though in the middle of the fray
I shall walk calmly by your side.

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After doing so, He went up on a mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat was already a a few miles offshore, buffeted by the waves for the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. At once Jesus said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” 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!” At once 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, and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Matthew 14:22-36)

Reflection

Storms in the lives of God’s stewards can at times come 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.” (Eph.6:12)
Sometimes we get so immersed in material concerns that we forget our spiritual nature. 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.

Fresh from college, and newly married, my father asked me to manage his struggling piggery farm. Not long after, I ran for barangay captain in the barrio where our piggery was located so that the road may be repaired. I won the barangay elections. Without any background in animal husbandry or experience in local governance, much less, fluency in the local dialect, the prospect of failing in these responsibilities became a frightening reality. Instead of celebrating my election victory, I went to my room, stricken with anxiety and paranoia. Fortunately, my wife reminded me that we could always turn to Jesus for help. And sure enough, when we got on our knees to pray, the fear and paranoia slowly faded away.

Prayer will give 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, trusting that whatever comes is according to His divine purpose. As we hold fast to this trust in the Lord, the storm will eventually pass, and then 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.

The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-10
Dn 7:9-10,13-14 / 2Ptr 1:16-19 / Ps 97

“This is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
(Mark 9 : 7)

It may feel good to just remain
In the safety of God’s mountain,
But if His grace we seek to gain,
God’s fields are waiting in the plain.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Sudden-ly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Reflection

I believe the main reason why I once loved to climb Mt. Apo every year was because of the sacred experience of meditating 10,000 feet above sea level. Alone in one of the peak’s nooks or ridges, one could almost feel His divine Presence, or hear God’s voice in the rustling wind. This is what I miss most in our club’s annual trek to the country’s highest peak, now that at 70 it is no longer physically possible.

Since the time of Abraham, the high places have always been considered sacred ground. Perhaps this is why monasteries and novitiates have always been built in high places like Tagaytay, or the monastery of the Benedictines in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, where the Church of the Transfiguration is located. Perhaps it is part of man’s “spiritual instinct” to seek closeness with his Creator, and the higher one reaches in his spiritual quest, the stronger he feels the Divine Presence. However, it is never an easy climb to tackle the spiritual heights of life without proper conditioning and preparation, and the right equipment to take along. Just as climbing Mt. Apo’s peak unprepared would be very ill-advised indeed.

As members of the BCBP, we are fortunate that we are getting here the training and preparation we need as well as the “tools of the trade” in our life’s “climb to Mt. Hebron”. “It is good that we are here!” That is how we feel in our brotherhood, safe and secure in the love of God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been called, as the privileged few to witness the power and love of God in our lives, and we have been transformed in this holy mountain we know as BCBP. But are we content to build our tents here, like St. Peter, and just stay here basking in the glory of our God? Or shouldn’t we go down from the mountain and proceed with the work that God has prepared us to do?

Gratefully, we are regularly fed and reinforced with the Word of God in our breakfasts, action group meetings, and our twice monthly assemblies and teaching nights. We need all of them to be able to face the formidable task of evangelization for which we have been commissioned.

Lord Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, You revealed to Your closest apostles Your Divine nature, and to us the message that the flesh has become one with the Divine through Your Transfiguration. You have given us everything, Lord, including Your divinity, if only to save us from depravity and corruption. How truly wondrous are Your mighty plans, o God, that even in our unworthiness, You have not given us up to sin, but have transformed us into a new creation. We ask for the grace to be constantly aware of Your great love for us, that we may never again fall into sin, but instead will always be in your service for spreading your Word and Your love to others. AMEN.

Faith Brings Forth Miracles

Matthew 13:54-58
Jer 26:1-9 / Ps 69:5,8-10,14

He did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.
(Mat.13:58)

Success seems like some kind of disease
To people with crab mentality;
The chains of envy and prejudice
Bind them in their mental poverty.

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters here with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own house.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matthew 13:54-58)

Reflection

For a time Jesus had made Capernaum His “base of operations”, its strategic location and prosperity ideal for drawing large crowds to Himself. His reputation as a miracle worker, ie., multiplying bread to feed thousands, changing water into wine, healing the sick, and exorcising evil spirits, etc. had preceded Him. When He paid a brief visit to His hometown of Nazareth, and taught the people in their synagogue, His words of wisdom surprised the people who had known Him since He was a child. “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?” When He saw the cynicism and prejudice of His own townsfolk, Jesus could only shake His head and say, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” Their lack of faith prevented Him from working miracles there.

The Holy Spirit cannot work wonders in the lives of those who lack faith in Jesus Christ, or who take a cynical view about matters beyond reason or deduction. But those who are still ‘in the dark’ about their faith but are willing to seek spiritual enlightenment will probably experience their own ‘Damascus encounter’ in formation seminars like the Life in the Spirit Seminars, or the Christian Life Programs.

We were witness once to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the talks, “Praising and Raising of Hands”, and “Vocal Prayers” in one Christian Life Program of our brotherhood. Words of praise and worship just flowed out of the mouths of the speakers spontaneously. Their strong faith in God allowed the Holy Spirit to work on their minds and feelings, which moved the participants to break out of their shells of doubt and inhibition and follow their lead. Those who suspended their doubts in humble acceptance and trust were the ones easily ‘slain’ in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some who resisted because of pride or prejudice went away empty.

“But my people did not listen to my words; Israel did not obey me. So I gave them over to hardness of heart; they followed their own designs.” (Psalm 81:12-13). Lord, fill my heart always with Your grace of humility and trust, so that it may be receptive in following all Your designs. Amen.