Glory Through Faith and Unity

John 17: 1-11a
Acts 20: 17-27 / Psa 68:10-11,20-21

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine.
(John 17:9)

Live what we preach, God’s Word proclaim,
By words and deeds that testify
Our unity in Jesus’ Name,
By Whom our God we glorify.

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began. I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You.” (John 17:1-11a)

Reflection

This was the prayer of Jesus after His last supper with the apostles before they proceeded to the garden of Gethsemane. He was praying this aloud for the benefit of the apostles. He was preparing them (“the hour has come”) but at the same time allaying their fears, because this was the time of His glorification, and that as the Son of God He had the power to give them eternal life. Our Lord knew that He would soon be facing His own crucifixion, but He regarded it as His and the Father’s glorification! Why? Because this was the divine plan by which eternal life would finally be given to all who believed in Him and the Father Who sent Him. This was the culmination of His mission on earth.

Jesus knew the importance of unity in His flock, and specifically asked the Father to protect the unity of his followers and guard it against division. The primary goal of the enemy is division – to separate us from God. We cannot claim unity with Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father if we are not one with each other. Our fellowship with God depends on our unity, as much as on our witnessing — to be one “so that the world may believe” that Jesus is from God (John 17:21). Indeed, in unity there is great power. Our unity as a people is defined by something greater than ourselves, which at times may even be worth dying for. This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel, as He prays to the Father for the unity of His disciples, on the eve of His impending death. But take note that our Lord specified only “those whom (God) gave to (Him) out of the world.” Jesus even said, “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (Jn.17:9). What defines our unity as followers of Jesus? And how do we glorify Him? First, it is our acceptance of and obedience to His Word, the Gospel, and our conversion to a more meaningful relationship with Him. Then it is committing ourselves to serve Him in our chosen community by living His values and ideals. Finally, it is by leading others to Him that we glorify Him and be one with Him.

Father God, help our Church achieve the unity of faith that all Christians sorely need. The forces of darkness draw strength from the division of Your people. Let our calling be not only to proclaim Your reconciliation but also to live it. Amen.

Love, Obedience and Joy

John 15: 9-17
Acts 1:15-17,20-26/Ps 113:1-8

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
(John 15:13)

Your law of love, Lord, we will obey,
Even if it’s hard to understand;
Because we trust all the words You say,
And what joy to follow Your command.

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for I have made known to you everything that I learned from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my commandment: Love one another.” (John 15: 9-17)

Reflection

Nine times in these 9 verses Jesus mentions the word ‘love’. He seems to be emphasizing that this is what life is all about: The Father’s love for Him, His love for His followers, and our love for one another. This Gospel passage in fact begins and ends with the commandment to love. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And He proved what he preached, dying on the cross for all of us, His friends. His point is this: Love is more important than life itself, simply because life here on earth is so fleeting, while love goes on forever in the eternal kingdom of God. St. Paul later cited this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Love will last forever… There are three things that will endure — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love” (1Cor.13:8a,13).

Obedience to the law of love follows out of our love for Jesus and His Father. This means we obey all of God’s commandments because we have experienced His love, and we want to reciprocate this love to others, not out of duty, but out of gratitude for all His blessings, and our desire to please God. In fact we should find it easy to obey His commands because we are doing it out of love. And even our tasks and burdens in serving God and community become light because of love. However, if we obey the commandment of love because we are anticipating some future blessing from the Lord, or we are praying for something from God, then our obedience is not based on genuine love. Fidelity to the law of love should be consistent whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” God gave us the law of love because He wants us to be His friends. It is in the constant practice of love, in the kind and gentle words that we speak, in the helping hands that we extend, in the time and sacrifice that we give to those who hunger for love or compassion that we become true friends of God.

Not everyone responds to God’s invitation to love. But those who are fortunate enough to hear and follow His call will bear fruit, fruit that will last. Earlier in this chapter of John, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn.15:5). Joy is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit. The second is peace. It is these fruits that our Lord Jesus wants us to have. He knows that when we have learned to love as He loved us, then we will truly be filled with “joy that is complete”. As the psalmist wrote, it is the man who delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law (of love) meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2) who is happiest.

Your law of love is perfect, Lord, for it has converted many souls. May our testimony of Your love bring others to Your fold. May Your commands be our constant source of joy. Amen.

By the Power of His Name

John 16: 23b-28
Acts 18: 23-28 / Psa 47

I tell you, anything you ask from the Father He will grant in my name.
(John 16:23)

To life’s trials we’re not exempted
Even if His mercy we can claim;
But all evils can be prevented
By trust in the power of His Name.

Jesus told His disciples: “In all truth I tell you, anything you ask from the Father He will grant in my name. Until now you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete. I have been telling you these things in veiled language. The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in veiled language but tell you about the Father in plain words. When that day comes you will ask in my name; and I do not say that I shall pray to the Father for you, because the Father Himself loves you for loving me, and believing that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world and now I am leaving the world to go to the Father.” (John 16:23b-28)

Reflection

In many instances, Jesus had always given this assurance to His followers, that whatever they asked from the Father in His name would be granted. Early on He had told them, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you… If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him” (Mt.7:7,11). He only asked of them to “Seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for the Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk.12:31-32).

“Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.” Jesus does not want us to ask for things of this world, but for what is really essential, what our spirit needs that will make our joy complete. He wants us to ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the tools that we need to find our way to His kingdom. These are wisdom, understanding, fortitude, discernment, patience, faith and tongues. (Understanding includes interpretation of tongues.) I believe the gift of faith is the most powerful, because through this gift we are able to evangelize, as in the case of St. Paul and all the saints who spread God’s Word throughout the world.

When we have realized the importance of asking for the “right things” from the Father, we are assured by the words of Jesus that we have complete access to God in heaven. This is because it is in communion with Jesus, the Son that we present our petitions. “In all truth I tell you, anything you ask from the Father He will grant in my name.” We must always pray to Jesus to increase our faith, because it is in complete trust in the power of His Name that our petitions will be answered. Recall the time when St. Peter employed his faith in the healing of the crippled beggar. He simply told him, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Then, taking him up by the hand, he raised him up, and his feet and ankles suddenly became strong, and he even jumped up praising God (Acts 3:6-8).

Those who belong to this world (the worldly) refuse to concern themselves with the next life beyond this temporal one. Only those who are not in fellowship with this world but belong to Christ are the ones who worship the Name of our Lord because “it is by His Name that we are saved.” It is by His Name that we have found true joy and peace that this modern world can never provide.

Lord Jesus, we are reminded in today’s Gospel that as long as we abide in Your Name, whatever we ask the Father will be granted. It is not for this world that we live, dear God, but for the hope of spending eternity in Your kingdom. Amen.

The Discipline of Pain

John 16:20-23
Acts 18: 9-18 / Ps 47: 2-7

Amen, Amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
(John 16:20)

Is your life now filled with sorrow?
Don’t dwell in anguish and complain;
Just be patient, for tomorrow
Joy and peace will be yours again.

(Jesus said,) “Truly I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in pain, because her hour has arrived. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the pain because of the joy of having brought a child into the world. So you also are in anguish now. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, andno one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” (John 16: 20-23)

Reflection

During breakfast yesterday, my wife and I were talking about the pain of separation when we got married some 48 years ago. She said her only sister, who was just 9 years old at the time, hated me for taking her big sister away from their home in Makati to live in a faraway city in Mindanao. It took a long time for her to forgive me for taking away her big sister. I realized then how all the more heartbreaking and greater sacrifice it must have been for my loving wife, who was taken from family and friends at the young age of 21. Her “calvary” grew even worse when we transferred to a distant farm for me to manage the family’s piggery, where we had no telephone, t.v., or regular electricity. Then I had to run for barangay captain, and won, leaving my poor wife all alone with our baby in the house most of the time. I never knew about her miseries, as she never cried or complained to me in all our years together.

Our bond of marriage was tested, and became stronger during times of deprivation and financial problems. Dividing my time and efforts in the barangay’s affairs, a piggery that was constantly running out of feeds, and the needs of my young family drove me to seek God’s help. In the end, the piggery went bankrupt, I resigned from my position as barangay head, and my wife and I became closer to each other, and to God who deepened our faith.

It is when we are begging for a miracle that we become closest to God, even if our prayers are not answered. When we find ourselves in dire straits, we remember to call on a greater power as our source of last resort. Our troubles and problems in life may be God’s way of bringing us to our senses. They could be God’s way of disciplining us for our own good. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” The same wisdom we find in the letter to the Hebrews, which says, “My son, do not disdain the Lord’s discipline, or lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and punishes every son He acknowledges. Endure hardship as discipline; for what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards…. We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. Should we not submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb.12:5-11). These words should be enough to make us rejoice in spirit even in the midst of our suffering.

Dear God, we believe that ultimately, all the pains and troubles that we experience in this life will be for our own eternal benefit, because we trust You fully as a loving Father Who only wants the best for His children. Sustain our faith, Father, that we may overcome all the trials that we face in our life. Amen.

Our Pains will Turn to Joy

John 16: 16-20
Acts 18: 1-8 / Psa 98

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
(John 16:20)

This life is merely passing by,
All things corrupt time will destroy;
Our hope in the eternal lie
Where Christ will turn our tears to joy.

(Jesus said to His disciples), “In a little while you will no longer see me, and then after a little while you will see me.” Some of His disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will no longer see me, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask Him about this, so He said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:16-20)

Reflection

At this critical moment in the upper room, our Lord seemed to be preparing His apostles to the inevitable fate that awaited Him in Calvary, and the two days that He would be in the tomb. Being omniscient, He knew that they would be inconsolable with grief, but only for a brief time, because His Resurrection would later bring them indescribable joy.

Life is a series of ups and downs, like mountains and valleys, with its high and low points, with moments of sadness and moments of joy. As we read in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens” (Ecc.3:1). We celebrate the birth of new life, and we mourn the death of another. There is merriment in victory, and we express our lament in defeat. And more often than not, we seek what is joyful and festive, and avoid the things that may bring us unhappiness and grief. But as our Lord Jesus often tells us in the Gospel, life here on earth was never meant to be a bed of roses. There will be trials, and there will be pains. We will all pass through the valley of darkness before we hope to reach the pearly gates of heaven.

Jesus once walked here on earth, our God incarnate who had a mission to fulfill. But He did not leave us on our own; He sent the Holy Spirit, Who moves within us in mysterious ways, inspiring us, giving us strength in times of crisis, peace in times of strife, and showing us how we can sustain a spirit of joy even when we are burdened by life’s troubles. Jesus wants us to have this spirit of joy, as He said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete” (Jn.15:11). We experience this joy in various ways. We find it first of all in our renewal community, where we are of “the same mind, have the same love, and being of one accord” (Phil. 2:2) with brothers and sisters in Christ. Here we have found true joy in giving ourselves in service to others, especially those who have less in life. Our joy is also sustained by propagating the Word of God, His Good News to others, especially in our workplace and community. There is also much joy in meditating on Scriptures, and realizing the treasures that can be had in its pages, which give us a clear perspective of the essential and the Infinite, as opposed to the fleeting pleasures of this world. And finally, the Holy Spirit infuses joy in our hearts every time we look up to God in praise and gratitude. It is always the grateful soul that is happiest. Praise and thank Him all our days!

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him… Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (Psa.98:1,7,8) Amen.

Guidance of the Holy Spirit

John 16: 12-15
Acts 17: 15, 22 — 18: 1 / Ps 148: 1-2, 11-14

…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
(John 16:13)

The Holy Spirit is our Guide
To learn God’s ways and share His Truth;
May Jesus’ Name be magnified
When we begin to bear much fruit.

(At the last supper, Jesus told the apostles), “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are coming. He will bring glory to me because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

Reflection

Jesus said the Spirit of Truth “will guide you to all truth. . . and will declare to you the things that are coming.” (Jn.16:13) We see this in one of His greatest evangelists, St. Paul, the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’. In the first reading, he boldly proclaimed to the pagan Greeks their “Unknown God” Who “gives to everyone life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:23,25) He also preached to them the Gospel of repentance and Christ’s resurrection, which were totally alien to most of them. But St. Paul’s boldness and wisdom converted a big number of people in Greece.

Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discernment are some of the most important gifts that the Holy Spirit provides to those who follow God’s biddings. However, it takes time to assimilate all that the Spirit teaches us. In our spiritual journey, He gradually unfolds the messages that God wants to impart to us at the proper seasons of our life. St. Paul’s spiritual formation did not take place overnight (as his transformation did). He probably went through many years studying the Scriptures as a Pharisee, and afterwards as Christ’s follower. That was why it was so easy for the Holy Spirit to work on him.

Whenever we are privileged to proclaim the Word of God in our Brotherhood’s Christian Life Program seminars, or in the ‘Days With The Lord’ sessions for young men, or share our life testimony in BCBP breakfast fellowships, the joy and power of the Holy Spirit always uplift us, leaving us invigorated afterwards. There is no joy greater than cooperating with His Spirit of Truth, Who gives us the words to speak, whether in English, Tagalog or Cebuano.

It is the same Spirit Who inspired the writing of all the books in the Holy Bible, which the Magisterium of our Church had acknowledged as the Word of God, the “Living Word”, or simply, the Truth, because it was inspired by the Spirit of Truth. All Christians are therefore urged to read the Bible, and meditate on God’s Word as often as we can, because, with the Spirit’s guidance, it is where we come to know all about our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Bible is rich with passages of life. Whenever we come across verses there that inspire us, let us memorize them so that they may live in our heart. Jesus said, “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn.16:15). His ‘Living Word’ will protect us from danger, shield us from temptation, and transform us into a new creation.

Holy Spirit, fill us with the desire to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and grant us the graces of courage and wisdom to help us in this endeavor. Amen.