Thursday, December 31, 2020
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Apple of God’s Eye
“I write to you, children, because you know the Father.” 1 John 2:14
The Apostle John is known as the Apostle of love, and in his first epistle he mentions love many times. He is known distinctively as the one Jesus loved. We should learn his secrets, then, should we not? Just as we should learn about David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), and Moses who was God’s friend (Exodus 33:11). But let us back up a minute. We only know John as Jesus’ beloved because John says so. The title appears in no other Gospel account. That’s interesting, is it not?
I think this reveals something very important. John was not calling attention to himself by labeling himself, “the disciple Jesus loved”, six times in his letter. I think this declares how overwhelmed he was that the Lord loved him, that he was made special by that love, that he was utterly, permanently transformed by it.
We too can call ourselves any label we want. We can just believe what people say about us, or we can believe what God says about us. It is so sad when many accept what a little voice in our head says sometimes, that we are a failure, worthless, so uncreative, a disaster in the making. I remember what my sister said of the street children she and her friends were tutoring. They had to teach THEIR parents first to encourage their children, NOT put them down, and belittle them, destroying their self-esteem. All the tutoring in the world was useless if the children believed they could not learn, that they were ‘tanga’, stupid.
What does God say about us? We were made in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), which means we have intrinsic worth, inherently valuable and we are precious to our Father. If we know this to be true, it will animate everything we do, and say and think. We will be confident, and not insecure. We are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8), and he who touches us, insults us, hurts us, hurts God’s favored son or daughter. Do we believe this? If we do not, we should continue to search the Bible for what God thinks of us. Then we should, like John, label ourselves with the titles God gives us.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Monday, December 28, 2020
Faith Gives Meaning to Everything
“Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” Matthew 2:14
I find it quite amazing that in the Bible, a book filled with the exploits of men, there is hardly anything said about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Only two of the Gospels mention him, Matthew and Luke.
Ever since Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines, the statue of the sleeping Saint Joseph has been quite popular. Pope Francis revealed that he had one, and that when he had difficulties, he would write them on a piece of paper and ask Saint Joseph to pray with him about it. In his Apostolic Letter “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis marks the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church by proclaiming December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021, the “Year of Saint Joseph”.
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Saint Joseph gets clear directions from God while he is asleep TWICE! In Matthew 1:20, Joseph is told by an angel in a dream, not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, as the child in her womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2, verse 13, he is directed by an angel, while dreaming, to flee to Egypt for their safety.
God speaks to us in different ways, but we need discernment to know what comes from Him, and what comes from our own desires. Geza Vermes, a British scholar and noted authority on ancient Aramaic writings on the life of Jesus, stated that the term for "carpenter" and "son of a carpenter", used in the Jewish Talmud, signifies a very learned man.
Learned man or not, what we know is Joseph was kind and compassionate, a man of faith who obeyed God wherever He led. How beautiful to be like St. Joseph, always willing to listen and obey God whether awake or asleep!!! We can imitate St. Joseph who embraced God’s role for him unconditionally, and set aside his own plans and ideas. Like St. Joseph there may be times when we do not understand why we are thrust into situations not of our own making.
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter, writes it is as if God were to repeat to us: “Do not be afraid!” because “faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad,” and makes us aware that “God can make flowers spring up from stony ground.” St. Joseph “did not look for shortcuts but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.” For this reason, “he encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak”. Yes, Father, teach us to be like St. Joseph!
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Blessing Upon Blessing
“My eyes have seen Your saving deed.” Luke 2:30
Simeon, in the 2nd chapter of Luke, awaited the promised Messiah and found Him in the temple one day when Jesus and Mary brought the child Jesus to present Him to the Lord. “You have fulfilled Your Word!” Simeon exulted, “You may let Your servant go in peace!”
Can we say to God today, at the closing of the year, “You have fulfilled Your promises to me. You may let me go in peace”? In the first place, do we know what God’s promises are? We can take Abraham as our example as he has been called our father in the faith. “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3).
Do we know why God chose Abraham out of all the people in the world at that time? There are so many names listed in Genesis 11. What if God spoke to some others but they did not believe and obey? After all, it would have been a big sacrifice for anyone to leave their hometown. Archaeological excavations in 1922 showed that in Ur, the house of a middle-class family would have 10-20 rooms, with the entire lower floor reserved for the servants. When God said, “Go away from your own country to a place I will show you,” Abraham obeyed. He is the ideal of everyone who overcomes the fear of the unknown, who wishes to go forward putting his trust in God. But Abraham did not leave empty handed. God promised him blessing upon blessing.
As we enter 2021, we can say we are entering a whole new world. We have no idea what this new year will hold for us. But as always, we can depend on God and His many promises to us. Like Simeon and Abraham, God journeys with us. Let us hold Him to His promises. If we believe and obey Him, there is blessing upon blessing in store for us!
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Feast Day of St. Stephen
Yesterday we celebrated the Immanuel, God with us, the baby born in a manger to a virgin, among animals, because there was no room for Him anywhere. Today in the Catholic Church's readings, the beautiful Christmas story is followed by St. Luke's account of Saint Stephen who was savagely dragged and stoned to death. It is his feast day today and he is venerated not only in the Roman Catholic but also the Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Why the contrast? Why veer the focus from the sweet Christ Child’s birth to the brutal stoning of the church’ first martyr? Perhaps because most of the world embraces the palatable, pleasant, engaging Christmas story of a mother and child. After all who doesn't love a story with myriads of angels singing, a sign in the night sky, shepherds, cute sheep, and magnificent kings bearing wondrous gifts? Everyone has adopted the holiday, giving gifts, wishing everyone goodwill, baking cookies, drinking, and eating. It is so sad however that usually the Christ Child is forgotten and forlorn amidst the tinsel!
How much more has the world forgotten that part and parcel of the beautiful Christmas story is the horrifying crucifixion? That the same baby born to an innocent virgin would be, after 33 years, beaten and bruised, his face unrecognizably swollen and bloodied, his back lacerated by whips with bone fragments? Jesus told his disciples that they too would be brought to trial, and flogged. They too would be called to witness on His account (Matthew 10). We may never be flogged, beaten, or stoned to death, but we should at least witness on His account! If we are brought to trial for being a Christian, will our words and actions find us guilty just as Saint Stephen was found guilty?
Friday, December 25, 2020
Light in the Darkness
In the liturgical year of the Catholic church, we begin the Christmas season today, which will continue until January 12, 2021, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
2020 has been a tough year, an extremely challenging one for many of us all around the world. We have been to some dark places, and for some of us, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It can be easy to give up, to lose hope, but the thing is, sometimes God does bring us to dark places because that is where growth occurs.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 12:24
If we leave seeds in the packet, it will remain seeds. But if we plant it in soil, it will grow. God is our gardener and we are His garden, it says in 1 Corinthians 3:9. Our gifts, talents, dreams and goals are just like seeds. Sometimes, we can only see the growth and blooming after it is planted in a time of darkness, of frustration, and even failure. Our resourcefulness, ingenuity, creativity, comes forth in new life.
Yes, if we stay in faith, trusting God, refusing to get bitter or pessimistic, God can bring new life out of darkness. Even where Jesus was born two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem, they are still deeply divided. In many places, there is still no room for Jesus to dwell. But just as He brought new life from Mary's dark womb on the first Christmas morning, and new life from Calvary's tomb, He can bring life and healing and restoration to every heart who welcomes Him.
So if we are seeing some darkness now, the message of Christmas is "the light shines in the darkness". It is not time to despair or feel defeated, but time to rejoice! New life is coming! Let us receive Him with joy!
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Shadow of Death
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
If we think about it, we all dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. We are born it is said with one foot in the grave. It is curious that in some classic paintings of the Nativity, Jesus is in a coffin and he is wrapped in strips of cloth. He is after all, the lamb of God, sacrificed to pay for our sins.
According to the laws in Jesus’ time, Levitical shepherds took care of flocks of sheep that were to be used for sacrifice in the Temple. These lambs had to be spotless, unblemished, and when born, they were wrapped in clean swaddling clothes to protect them from harm exactly like the baby Jesus was wrapped.
Last year in December, I underwent an open heart surgery, and when you are about to go under the knife, you always think of the possibility of death. But ever since my mother died, I lost my fear of death. To me, passing on means you will be more alive than you’ve ever been! God graciously gave me that revelation when I was dreading my mother’s death. Instead of being sad when she left us 7 years ago, I was truly excited for her. When my brother underwent a procedure last week, I again pondered about the shadow of death. I insisted to myself that if he should go I would be devastated, but I would also be happy for him. Thankfully, God heard our prayers, and he was able to go home last night and continue his recuperation in a more comfortable environment.
It may be morbid to reflect on death on the eve of Christmas. But the good news of Christmas is that because of Christ’s coming, we need never fear death if we live in His friendship. There is no death, or if we prefer, it is merely a door to something more beautiful, more wonderful, more amazing than we can ever dream of.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Stop the Killings
“What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” Luke 1:66
John the Baptist was the last of the great prophets. His coming was prophesied in the 3rd chapter of the book of Malachi. “Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” His birth was preceded by some unprecedented events. An angel came to his father Zechariah in the temple and Zechariah was struck dumb. His barren mother Elizabeth became pregnant in her old age as foretold by the angel in the temple. Mary, the mother of Jesus visited Elizabeth, and when she greeted Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. Then Zechariah, when asked what the baby boy would be called, wrote down the name John to the surprise of many, he suddenly could speak after many months of silence!
So yes indeed, many were marveling about this child and wondering, “What then will this child be? What will he become? What will be his destiny?” My niece gave birth to a precious baby boy four months ago and it is a delight to see him grow. We marvel at the new things he does. He can roll over now, and turn the pages of his plastic book. We ooh and ahh at his many antics. Yesterday I talked to him about Christmas, and he smiled. I love seeing the way his eyes become little moon shapes and he squeals when he is delighted. He is a precious wonderful little boy, and the bright spot during this pandemic. I too wonder what will be his destiny, what his future will bring.
All of us are precious and unique in the eyes of God even if our birth was not announced by an angel. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made as proclaimed in Psalm 139:14. Sadly others don’t believe that and seek to kill their own babies in their wombs, or enact legislations to make it legal to get rid of a baby even when he or she is fully formed in the image of likeness of God!
Recently a video has been circulating showing the dastardly killing of a mother and son by a policeman. I never saw it but Bishop Ambo talked about it in the dawn mass I virtually attended this morning. We know their names, Sonia and Frank Gregorio, but there are thousands and thousands of unnamed victims in this unjust war against drugs and so called communists. So many vicious elements and demons have been unleashed by this government by promoting unscrupulous acts against innocent people. Obviously, our President and his minions do not see how God loves each and every human being and puts value in each and every life. Like Zechariah who was dumb for a long time, we need to finally speak up about precious lives being taken, and families being torn asunder. #stopthekillings
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
All Generations Shall Call Her Blessed
“...all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.” Luke 1:48-49
When I was young, I was quite “allergic” to the Virgin Mary. My father was of the Protestant faith, and my mother a Catholic. I was actually baptized twice, first in the Methodist church, then in the Catholic. We used to go to the Methodist service, and then to attend mass every Sunday. But then I would compare, and I liked going to Sunday school at the Methodist church, where there were other kids, and lessons, and orange juice. My mother did not like that, and they stopped bringing me.
Growing up, I did not pray the Hail Mary, much less the rosary. I just talked to God without using any formula prayers, and ever since I can remember, I had a journal where I wrote my prayers of thanksgiving, petitions, and musings about my life. Thinking back I do not remember when Mary became a part of my prayer life. It was a gradual awakening, like I felt an envy of others who had a mother who would always bring her children closer to Jesus. At the wedding in Cana, when there was a lack of wine, Mary took it as her own burden, and asked Jesus to do something about it. At first He said it was not yet time, but He made the water into wine anyway. He could not resist her, she was His mother after all. Perhaps, I thought, I could approach her with my own petitions, and I started doing that. And then eventually I felt guilty, like I was ‘using’ her as I was piling up all my intercessions on her. I asked forgiveness for the heavy burden and I immediately felt her say in my heart, “I have infinite time.”
It was not the first instance she spoke to me. In 2009, we went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Assisi, San Giovanni Rotonda, and other holy places, when my mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer. We went to so many churches and one of them was the Basilia di San Francesco, which housed the tomb of St. Francis. I was asking for Mother Mary’s intercession for the healing of my own mother, and a feeling of comfort washed over me. She said, “Healing always comes.”
Others perhaps may not feel the need to ask for Mary’s intercession, but as I have gotten older, I have realized that the burden is lighter when many people are praying. Now that my brother is in the hospital, I have asked friends, and brothers and sisters in our covenant community for prayers. I have asked prayer groups on Facebook for prayers, and many have responded generously. Why cannot I ask the saints and our blessed mother to share the burden as well?
Every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we profess belief in the communion of saints, the ‘communio sanctorum’, the spiritual community of the faithful followers of Christ, living and those in heaven more fully alive than we are. When we gather in Christ’s name, we worship with believers we cannot see, those who came before us, and maybe even those that will come after us. God’s people after all are not bound by space and time. And so when I ask Mama Mary and the saints to intercede with me before the Father, I am assured that there are many voices chiming in with mine. Truly, I feel blessed to be one with a vast community, a body bound by the love of Christ.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Search the Scriptures
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45
These were the words uttered by Elizabeth to Mary when her cousin entered her home. Indeed, any one of us will be blessed if we just believe in God’s words, His promises. Today, it is so easy to search the Bible for “hidden treasure”. Some people use the ‘GoldHunter’ metal detector that uses smart phone virtual reality to find gold. We can use google search to find treasures far more valuable than gold!
We can discover promises for any challenge we are facing, any problem we need an answer for, any frustration we have to deal with. Because I still am in need of healing, I printed out healing verses and attached them to my wall, and I read and confess them several times a day. In Proverbs 4:20-22, we read, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life into those that find them and health to all their flesh.” God’s word is like medicine to our bodies! But it is not magic that we can expect results right away! We need to believe, we need faith.
Jesus gives us this secret: “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” (Mark 11:23) How do I believe and not doubt, we ask, if faith in God’s word is essential to receiving His promises?
The answer lies in Romans 10::17 “... Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God”. Like Mary, who treasured and pondered the word in her heart, as it says in Luke 2:19, we need to do the same. This is why I preach to myself daily, why I write these things down, and share it, so my faith will grow. I need my faith to grow, not only for myself, but for the many people and situations I pray for daily. The Lord is faithful, we will not be disappointed if we put our trust in Him!
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Saturday, December 19, 2020
“But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Luke 1:20
Was Zechariah being punished that he was made mute for nine months? When angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his barren wife would bear a son who will be named John, he did not believe it because as he said, both of them were very old already. This morning I attended the dawn mass of Bishop Ambo, and he talked of the gift of silence, that we have a difficulty hearing God when all around us is noisy. He recounted that in his place in Kalookan, it is usually so noisy. But during the lockdown, all the sounds from the factories and transportation was stilled, and he could hear the birds in his kawayan trees in the early mornings.
Bishop Ambo quoted the story of Elijah in 1 Kings chapter 19. The prophet went up to the mountain because, “the LORD is about to pass by.” A great and mighty wind tore into the mountains and shattered the rocks, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Sometimes God intervenes in our life so we can listen to him and hear him. Last year I was in the hospital from December 5 to 23. God stopped all my activity, he stripped me of my work, my busyness with wrapping gifts, attending Christmas parties, helping with the annual gift giving for inmates of QC jail, all the little and big things that preoccupied me. After my surgery, I was in the ICU for heart patients and did not even have my husband beside me. I did not have my cellphone. I was left mostly on my own with all my tubes, and monitors. But God was there. I had the time to listen and God did speak.
This year God stopped the world. He intervened. People mostly stayed home except for the doctors and caregivers who were busier than ever. Looking back on these months, did we take advantage of the space and time God gave us to listen, to ponder, to wait? I think many relished the many resources made available to hear God. Bishop Ambo said that he learned there were Filipinos in Africa “attending mass” in Kalookan! We too can hear mass, attend retreats, listen to talks from speakers all around the world. But most importantly, we need to make a space and time to be quiet, to be silent, and say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Thursday, December 17, 2020
"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ..." Matthew 1:1-17
Every December 17, this is the gospel reading we hear at the Simbang Gabi, “Night Mass”, the genealogy of Jesus from the time of Abraham!
Ever since I started reading the Bible, I've skipped this first part of Matthew. But it’s read by the priest every year, on December 17, a few days before Christmas. Why? It’s so boring, so tedious! All those names! But when you consider ALL THOSE NAMES, it's actually very good news! There are men and women there who, if I chose my family tree, I wouldn't want them! But God chose them!
There's Rahab the prostitute, Tamar who slept with her father-in-law, Abraham who lied, Terah who was an idolater. We all know about King David, who although he was a man after God's own heart, and was Israel's greatest king, he was a murderer and committed adultery with Bathsheba who is not even named in the list. Then there's Manasseh who became king at 12 years old and reigned as an evil king for 55 years ! And who were Azor, Zadok and Eliakim? Who in the world are they?
So why are all these sinners and nobodies good news to us? Just as they were chosen by God to be part of His family, so are we chosen by God to be part of His family! God chose these imperfect people, imperfect vessels, to bring His light and grace to a dysfunctional world!
Thank You Lord for choosing me, a nobody, a sinner, yet You chose me! Thank You for making me part of Your family, for showing me I am important in Your plan, that I have a place in Your Kingdom! May I bring light and grace to my corner of the world!
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
“John was a lamp that burned and gave light...” John 5:35
John the Baptist is one mysterious character! Imagine living as a hermit for years, wearing camel skin and eating locusts and wild honey. When he turned 30, he started preaching to call men to conversion 'for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand'.
I can imagine that the whole time John was living as a hermit, he was praying, fasting, trying to listen to God, really honing his connection to God. He said in the 1st chapter of John, verses 33 and 34 that, "the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God."
John had a clear sense of his mission. You can't get that without being close to the GIVER OF THE MISSION. We can't hear God's voice if we don't spend time with Him. For this new liturgical year, when the Philippine Catholic Church launches the Year of Mission, with the theme, “Gifted to Give”, let's resolve to be more sensitive to God's voice, in whatever way He chooses to speak!
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
A Humble Heart
“But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, Who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel.” Zephaniah 3:12
Before Christmas, we are often preoccupied with searching for the perfect Christmas gifts for our loved ones. We decorate our homes with wreaths of evergreens over the mantle, the curtains, the banisters. We have a tree laden with balls and ornaments. And on Christmas Eve, we have the table burdened for the “noche buena”, Spanish for night of goodness. Housewives and helpers, sometimes the whole family come together to prepare the cocido, fruit salad, paella, bibingka, puto bumbong, leche flan, etc.
But have we thought about the best gift for the birthday celebrant? The best preparation to receive Him? Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas, and Advent is supposed to be the time we prepare for Him. What does He want? He wants our humble hearts, seeking to do His will. He wants the absolute best for us, and for that we need to trust and obey Him. Everything that happens to us is not an accident. God is molding us and making our heart, our spirit, our character, which is what we will bring with us to heaven. The best birthday gift is ourselves, humbly loving our God who loves us enough to give us the gift of Himself.
Monday, December 14, 2020
Your Ways O Lord, Make Known to Me
“Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” Psalm 25:4-5
I love reading about the saints, ordinary men and women who were able to love and obey God in an extraordinary way. It gives me hope that it is indeed possible to follow Jesus through the narrow road. Every day is a new opportunity to try harder, to make better decisions, to be more disciplined, to grow closer to God. If God does not give up hope on us, why should we give up hope on ourselves?
Today is the Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church. He came from a very poor family, his father died when he was but three years old, his older brother died of malnutrition, and as a child, St. John was put in a boarding school for poor orphans. In spite of such an unpromising beginning, God had great plans for the boy, and he had religious leanings even when he was young. He attended a Jesuit school, and in 1563 he joined the Carmelite Order. He attended the university in Salamanca, and studied theology and philosophy.
At a time when the Church forbade the translation of the Bible from Latin, he took it upon himself to translate the Song of Songs into Spanish, his native tongue. That was the kind of man he was. When he was 25 years old, he met St.Teresa of Avila. Both of them worked to reform the Carmelite order which had become lax and departed from the original, strict rule and regimen. This resulted in his trial for disobedience, and his subsequent imprisonment in a dark narrow cell for nine months. They wanted to kill his spirit, instead his spirit flamed into new life in the dark of imprisonment. During this time he had many beautiful encounters with God which he wrote about in poetry on scraps smuggled in by the friar tasked to guard him.
He wrote through the years, “Silence is God’s first language...In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds.... The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light...Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful, and loving infusion of God, which if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love....In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God....In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
In the dark cell, when St. John was ‘alone’, he was not really alone. God was with him, like a flame in the silence. When we feel most alone and in despair, we must learn to seek God for He is surely there.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks...” 1 Thessalonians 5:16
This is St. Paul’s good advice for us in the second reading for today. This is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, when we light 3 candles in the Advent wreath, including the pink one. In Latin, the first word of the entrance antiphon for the Mass is “gaudete”, rejoice, as in, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near” from Philippians 4:4-5.
The pink candle of rejoicing is surrounded by three violet candles, the color of repentance, sorrow, penance, sacrifice. In this life no one escapes pain or hardship, no one. This is why we should take Saint Paul’s advice to heart. Rejoice always, even if we are in the midst of trial. Pray without ceasing, for those who trust in God will never be disappointed. In all circumstances, give thanks! Do we find it difficult to do all three? Perhaps our human proclivity would be to stress, complain, worry, be miserable even. It may be easier to go this natural route, the same way a river runs the same course day in and day out. But we are not a river, we do not have to follow the contour of the earth.
We have been given inner resources and strength to be joyful, even in the midst of difficulty. Perhaps we are more depressed during this season seeing all the Facebook posts about others having fun, or receiving gifts, or eating gourmet food. I believe joy takes practice, like all other gifts. If we practice gratitude, counting our blessings in a more conscious, determined way, it will become a habit. We can wake up every single morning thanking God for all His wonderful blessings!
Last year during Advent I was in the hospital. On this particular date, December 13, I was in the ICU having just undergone an open heart surgery, a coronary bypass followed by a pulmonary artery embolectomy under deep hypothermic circulatory arrest. Ordinarily I would have been fearsome just thinking about it, but the night before my procedure I was at peace. I was able to sleep well even after having refused the sleeping pills my nurse offered. I knew that God was in control, all was well with my world. I have seen how God can give me peace beyond understanding, strength and joy for this journey even under the most trying circumstance. It is because of God’s amazing grace that surrounded me all throughout, but I also believe He gave me that grace because I have been practicing gratitude, and praying without ceasing since I was young. It is a discipline. I practice it more than ever today, during this pandemic, at a time I need more faith for our business, for my brother’s health, and my health. God is good in all circumstances! Can I hear an amen?
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Our Lady of Guadalupe
There is Zechariah 2:14-17 or Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6,10 for the First Reading. Then Judith 13:18-19 for the Responsorial Psalm. For the Gospel reading we have the beautiful account of the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38, or Luke 1:39-47 about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. So much to ponder about!
In the 1400s, Mexico was under Aztec oppression. In every town, there was a temple pyramid, where Aztec priests would offer human sacrifices to their god Huitzilopochtli. This god was the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," and the priests would cut out the beating hearts of victims, usually adult men but very often children. Over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Then in 1523, Franciscan missionaries came and evangelized the Indian people.
On December 9, 1531, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to a 57-year old simple peasant man, an Aztec convert, who was on his way to mass. Mary asked Juan Diego to request Bishop Zumarraga that a shrine be built in her honor on the site where she appeared. When Juan presented this request to the Bishop, the Bishop naturally asked for a sign. After several encounters with Mary, Juan brought the Bishop what he asked for. When Juan opened his tilma, his peasant cloak, beautiful Castillan roses, foreign to Mexico, fell out, but more than that, the Bishop saw an extraordinary image of Our Lady on the tilma. The Bishop wept at the sight. That tilma still survives today and thousands go to see it in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We may be skeptical about apparitions and images appearing on tilmas or anywhere else. However, because Mary spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, and because she was wearing the Aztec dress for pregnant women in the image, this provoked millions of conversions to the Catholic faith in just under seven years.
Today, we may not have human sacrifices to gods, but 24.9 million people are being sacrificed at the altar of human trafficking. It is the fastest growing crime and generates an estimated $99 billion dollars each year.
One woman’s story is particularly poignant. Irene gave money to some people who were going to help her get to another country where she would study nursing. Instead, she was forced to have sex with about 40 men a day. When she got pregnant and gave birth, they took her baby and sold the baby to pedophiles. Irene couldn’t take it anymore and leapt from the 4th floor of the apartment where she was held hostage. She was found, brought to A21, a foundation that fights sexual trafficking, and today, she is pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse.
There is too much evil in the world. But the vision in the Book of Revelation chapter 12 gives us hope. Because of Mary’s yes, because she gave birth to Jesus, and because Jesus gave His life for us on the cross, “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of God and the authority of His anointed.” (Rev. 12:10) God’s magnificent plan is always the best. We need only to trust in Him.
Friday, December 11, 2020
A Blessed Time
“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ “ Matthew 11:16-17
Sometimes I can read and read a passage and come up blank, with no understanding whatsoever. This is one of those passages. I have read it many times through the years and it has not yielded its secrets. Hello, google? What can you tell me about this verse? Well, if Bible teacher Bob Dodson is correct, it references an old fable of Aesop, who wrote a whole collection of stories with morals several centuries before Christ.
This particular one is about a fisherman who got frustrated. He expected that if he played beautifully on his flute, the fish would “dance” out of the water on to the shore. Well, they did not. So he finally got his net, caught the fish and dumped them on the sand. There they finally “danced”, flailing and flapping. He said to the fish, “I played a tune for you and you did not dance, and now all you can do is dance.” In other words, the fisherman gave the fish plenty of opportunities to hear and follow him, but the fish did not take advantage of it.
In this day and age, we certainly have an abundance of resources to learn more about Jesus and understand His words. Just for Advent, there are so many free ‘pilgrimages’, recollections and talks available online given by really great speakers. Scott Hahn, Lee Strobel, Ann Voskamp, and so many more, have made available their resources. There are free advent activities for children, bible studies, story telling, etc. There is no lack of ways to grow closer to God, and to savor this blessed, sacred time. Let the lack not be in us.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
The Good Fight of Faith
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” Matthew 11:12
In my other Bible, I read, “...the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (NIV) Does Jesus mean that we have to be spiritually aggressive to lay hold of Kingdom blessings? Is faith a violent force? Are we not taught that the meek inherit the earth?
But we also need to remember St. Paul’s admonition to Timothy. “Fight the good fight of faith!” he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:12. Then he writes the believers in Ephesus that, “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.” If that isn’t WAR in capital letters, I don’t know what is!
We are in a war alright, and we are in the thick of it, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. The enemy is wily, deceitful, and likes to use our weaknesses against us. Should we be meek in the face of that? The Greek word “praus” translated as meek actually means more than just being mild-mannered or gentle. It is more accurate to say that those who exercise God’s strength under His control will inherit the earth. How do we use God’s strength?
St. Paul warned that we need to put on every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy so we will stand firm. One part of that armor is the belt of truth which sadly is getting battered from all sides. We also need the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Last but not least, we need to pray at all times in the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the weapons of war, and this is how we will be victorious against our adversary, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Wednesday, December 09, 2020
"Come to me, all you who labor
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and
LEARN from me...
And you will find rest for yourselves..."
Sometimes I picture God
shaking His head in frustration.
He has already given us
His 'instruction manual',
how to live so that we will have peace
in the midst of confusion,
joy in spite of sadness and pain,
wholeness and strength
in spite of circumstances around us
trying to destroy what we have.
Jesus says LEARN from me.
Listen to me, follow me.
Instead we want to do it, "My way!"
Imagine if we didn't know how to drive
and we bought a really nice car and
didn't read the manual that the
manufacturers carefully put together
so that the car would run at its optimum.
Could we get far using it?
Through trial and error?
That's what we do with our lives when we
don't read our instruction manual, the Bible!
I think when we get to Heaven and see
our 'manufacturer' face to face and talk to Him,
we're going to say, "If only
I took You more seriously!
It would have saved me a lot of pain and frustration!"