Thursday, February 25, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Failure of Jesus

All of us have experienced failure in life. Some have failed in a test or examination. Others have failed in a more serious matter, in marriage or in rearing children or in a financial undertaking. Still others have failed in a still greater degree, in maintaining a healthy lifestyle which eventually led to death. We can identify therefore with a man who also failed many hundreds of years ago in the mountains and plains of Judea. This is the failure we are going to reflect upon today.

I am not referring to the failure of Jesus as mentioned by Pope Francis when he visited the United States in September 2015. In that homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, Pope Francis said that from a human point of view Jesus' life ended as a failure because it ended in a shameful death on the cross. (By the way, this statement of the Pope drew adverse reactions, mostly from non-Catholics who did not take into consideration the context it was said.) I am referring to the failure of Jesus as described by the Gospel reading today.

In the second part of the Gospel for today there is a parable about a fig tree in a vineyard which was found to have no fruit for three years. The owner of that tree said to the vine-dresser, the man cultivating it, to cut it down. But the vine-dresser told the owner to wait for another year. He promised to hoe around it and fertilize it, hoping that the following year it would bear fruit. He agreed with the owner that if it still would not bear fruit, then it would be cut down.

There is an incident in the life of Jesus wherein he cursed an actual fig tree because he found no fruit in it and it withered immediately (Matthew 21:18-19). But Jesus used this instance to teach about faith. This withering of the fig tree can be seen by us as the physical fulfillment of the parable in the Gospel.

The parable of Jesus is easy to understand now. He referred to the nation Israel where he labored for 3 years but it did not bear the fruit that he expected, belief  in him as the one sent by God to save the nation. God is the owner of this nation which he formed in the desert after the Israelites escaped Egypt. God wanted to abandon Jesus' work among the Jews. But Jesus, the vine-dresser in the parable, bargained for one more year.

Jesus was given his wish but at the end of that extra year the nation Israel still did not repent and accept Jesus as their longed-for Messiah or King. Jesus felt keenly the effect of this failure of his that he cried over it. In Luke's Gospel we read that Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he saw the effects of its rejection of him as its rightful king: the temple would be completely destroyed; men, women and children would be slaughtered; and those remaining alive would be scattered all over the earth. It was a most pitiable sight for Jesus to see but he could do nothing about it because he was rejected. This was his failure. He could not prevent this total destruction and slaughter of his own people, especially very young children who were completely unaware about the sins of their parents and grandparents.

Jesus failed but not for long. He succeeded to pay the price for our sinfulness by his suffering and death on the cross, he rose victorious from the dead and was elevated to the highest heaven as the right hand of God, as the Lord and King of all. Then he sent his Spirit among us to live in us and to work through us so that one by one the nations would acknowledge his kingship. When all the nations have acknowledged that Jesus is the anointed one of God, the Messiah King, then Israel which became again a nation in May 14, 1948 will also acknowledge him as its Messiah. By that time Jesus would have complete success.

The Spirit of Jesus is at work among us today to compensate for the failure of Jesus during his lifetime in Palestine. He leads us by ways some of which are unknown to us so that more and more people will become real followers of Jesus. Amidst the suffering and persecutions which we endure from our own wrong doing, from the manipulations of the world and the devil, Jesus' Spirit is with us to make us agents of the spread of his kingdom so that nations will acknowledge his lordship.

Lent is an appropriate time to reflect on our role as agents of Jesus for a new world, one where love reigns supreme.

Let us bow down our heads to pray.

Lord Jesus, you failed once among your own people. We will not allow you to fail this time. Use us to accomplish your purpose among the nations. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Why Pray on a Mountain?

Most of us have not asked this question: Why did Jesus pray on a mountain? We have not asked because perhaps we did not notice this detail when reading or listening to the Gospel. But this detail is there for all of us to read and ponder upon.

In today's Gospel reading we heard, "Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray." This was not the only time that Jesus prayed on a mountain. It is related by Luke that just before Jesus chose his twelve apostles "he went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God" (Luke 6:12). And we are familiar with the fact that Jesus had the habit of praying at night in the Garden of Gethsemani which is on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. This Mount of Olives was a favorite of Jesus. It was here that he wept over Jerusalem because it did not believe in him. It was on this mount that he ascended to heaven. It is on this mount that he will descend when he comes again in bodily form. Jesus loved mountains and he loved to pray on a mountain. Why? We will find out why as we ponder on this sentence from our Gospel reading today.

We recall that in John's Gospel after Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand men (again John explicitly mentions on a mountain) he "realized that they would come and carry him off to make him king, so he fled back to the mountain alone" (6:15).

This was the first and most obvious reason why Jesus prayed on a mountain. He wanted to be alone when he prayed. It was to the mountain that he fled from the people. The Gospel says that he brought along with him Peter, James and John but he did not involve them in his prayer. He prayed alone while the three watched him. It was perhaps to ensure that nobody would disturb him that he brought these three disciples along. They were to guard him so that he would not be disturbed by others when he prayed.

Because Jesus was undisturbed on a mountain he could pray for any length of time before daybreak. This was the second reason. It was to pray for a long period of time that he prayed on a mountain. The time was so long that invariably the disciples would fall asleep as Jesus prayed. Jesus never hurried up in his prayers. He took his time. He was so unlike most of us who wish that a person praying in public would cut his prayer short so that we can go to the main show, as they say.

Some of us may ask this question: Jesus as second person of God was always united to God, was always in fellowship with his Father God. Why then did he go up the mountain to pray to his Father? Could he not pray to God in the plain, in the house where he stayed, in the street when they were walking?

Jesus did pray in the plain, he did pray in a room, he prayed even as he walked but still he wanted to pray on a mountain. Why? The third reason why he did this was to show us an example, to lead us in our prayer.

A mountain is higher than the plain. This is obvious. It is not obvious for us though that prayer should be the priority in all our activities. For most of us it is a decoration in our activities, especially during meetings and seminars. Prayer is like a parenthesis in our life. We pause for a short time in the morning to pray. We pause during meal time to pray. We pause before sleeping to pray. Many of us do not even pause. We just go ahead with our work.

For Jesus prayer was on the top of the mountain. It was on top of his activities. It was his priority. Nothing was to substitute for it. He prayed on a mountain to show us that our prayer life should also be on top of all our activities.

But Jesus does not just show us that our prayer life should be our priority. He leads us to make real this priority in our life. He sent his Spirit to move our hearts and minds to make prayer our number one priority in life.

Now you object. You say, "It was alright for Jesus to make prayer his priority because he had no other work but to preach. But for us this cannot be done because we have work in order to make a living. We have a family to feed, unlike Jesus."

This is where it shows that we have forgotten that we are baptized persons. According to our Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 1243, 1265, 1269, we who were baptized have put on Christ, have risen with Christ, are truly children of God because we are partakers of his divine nature, we no  longer belong to ourselves but to him who died and rose for us. We can no longer give the excuse that we are just mere human beings. By the grace of baptism we have become divine like Jesus.

Yes, we have work to do, to feed our family. And we do not abandon this work, because as Paul the Apostle says, If one does not work, let him not eat. But our priority is not our family but God's family. Before talking to the members of our human family we talk to our Father God. He knows what we need. Jesus said that even before we ask anything from God he knows already what we need. After all it is God who ultimately provides the food on our table. We only follow his instruction how to get it for our human family.

This life of Jesus within us, given to us at baptism, if it is real, if it is actualized will move us to make prayer our priority. In what ways? The Spirit of Jesus will lead us. We only follow.

In my case he has led me to pray first before I do any work. Not just pray some our fathers and hail marys but really pray with our Father God, commune with him. He does this in my life, not I doing it for him. When he speaks I pay attention.

Why did Jesus pray on a mountain? To be alone with his and our Father God, to be undisturbed and to show us that prayer is his and our priority.

Let us bow down our heads to pray.

Lord, teach us and lead us to make prayer, real prayer, conversing with our heavenly Father, our priority. Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

First Sunday of Lent Cycle C

A Perfect Body in an Imperfect World

Every night 300 million children go to bed hungry. That number is three times the population of a country like the Philippines. Around the world 842 million persons suffer chronic hunger. They are almost always hungry. These are the data from a report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2013, that is, three years ago. Most probably these numbers have increased by now. It is statistically correct to say that 1 in every ten persons around the world is perennially hungry, is constantly forced to fast.

We who are relatively well-fed simulate this hunger during this season of Lent by fasting. But our fasting is only a taste of this hunger because we still eat one full meal a day with the other two meals not equaling in quantity this one full meal. And we are only required by Church law to perform this kind of fast on two days during this season, namely Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Simply put, we only experience minimal hunger during this season.

But the person who is our reason for this Lenten season did not just taste hunger. He went on fully hungry after taking no food for forty days, as we read in our Gospel reading today. St. Luke says, "During that time (the forty days) he ate nothing and at the end of it he (Jesus) was hungry" (4:2).

This is the not the first time it is recorded that a human being did not eat anything for forty days. Earlier in the Bible it is recorded that Moses did not eat anything and did not drink water for forty days (Exodus 34:28). Luke was not explicit about Jesus not drinking water for forty days. He just wrote that Jesus ate nothing. The prophet Elijah also fasted for forty days and forty nights (1 Kings 19:8).

Why did Jesus fast for forty days and forty nights? Was it to imitate Moses and Elijah and thus have himself recognized as a prophet like them? This is very unlikely because Moses and Elijah were not models of Jesus. He did not look up to them as his models. Rather the opposite is true, Moses and Elijah looked forward to Jesus in faith as their model. So rather we can say that Moses and Elijah fasted for forty days to point to Jesus who would do the same. Their fasting pre-figured or prophesied the fasting of Jesus. In effect they were saying, Just as we fasted for forty days, a prophet greater than us would come who would also fast for forty days.

Did Jesus fast for therapeutic purposes as is done by many people around the world? An encyclopedia entry reads, ". . . extended fasting has been recommended as therapy for various conditions by health professionals of many cultures, throughout history, from ancient to modern." But Jesus had no diseases. In fact he could not be contaminated by any disease because his body was perfectly healthy. His body was perfectly healthy because it fully obeyed God's will in everything and it had to be perfect in order to be a presentable offering to God in sacrifice. So Jesus did not fast for therapeutic reasons, in order to cure a sickness in his body.

Did Jesus fast only for a symbolic reason, just to signal the start of his work for the next three years? In other words, was his fast only a religious ritual? But we know that Jesus disliked religious rituals. He condemned the rituals of the Pharisees. He was not fond of these rituals. Instead he produced new rituals, like the washing of the feet and the breaking of bread and wine. Fasting was not one of his rituals. He discouraged his disciples to fast for this reason. He told them not to fast while he was still with them physically.

Did Jesus fast in order to give Satan an occasion to test him because by the end of this fasting he would be hungry and weak? The ensuing passage of the Gospel tells us that Jesus was not weak. He overcame Satan's temptations.

The reason why Jesus fasted for forty days was to condition his perfect body for the work ahead of him.

When a car manufacturer produces the prototype of a car model he considers this as perfect according to the specifications set in the design of that car. This is the type of car that will be imitated by mass production in the assembly line. It is perfect as far as the design goes. But it has to be tested. It has to be conditioned so that it would function according to the specifications and go the many miles intended for it.

In a similar way Jesus had a perfect body. This was created according to his own design as creator of all. His ministry or work would be carried through this body. So it had to be tested and conditioned so that it would function according to the will of his Father. So fasting was required by his perfect body in order to start properly his public work.

Fasting made it clear to Jesus' body that he was not dependent on anything for his work of redeeming humanity. He was totally dependent only on God. His body was tried and tested to be perfect. His body was perfect already according to its design. But now it was tested to show to Jesus and to us that indeed it was a perfect body, just like a car is tested to determine whether it does indeed follow the specifications of the manufacturer. The temptations that followed were part of this test. The three evangelists have the word "tested". 

The succeeding stories of the Gospel tell us that indeed the perfect body of Jesus performed very well. Instead of being contaminated by diseases it was instrumental in curing all the diseases of persons who had faith in him. The power of this body extended even to Jesus' clothing so that when a woman who had hemorrhage for 12 twelve years touched it she was instantly healed.

This perfect body of Jesus is what we receive in communion. If we receive this body with the proper disposition it works wonders in our body. St. Catherine of Siena was sustained by this body for many years as her only food. It heals us of our many ailments. That is why before communion we say that we will be healed by the word of Jesus. If we do not see the wonderful results of the perfect body of Jesus in our body it is because we do not have the proper disposition to receive it.

In today's Mass when the priest or minister says to us in communion "Body of Christ" let us be aware that this is a perfect body able to work wonders in our bodies. Then we can go on real fasting to test also the effect of Christ's perfect body in our bodies.

Let us bow down our heads to pray.

Lord, you have a perfect body. And this perfect body is your gift to us during holy communion. Thank you for giving us your perfect body. Teach us the proper dispositions to receive it with reverence and love so that it can work wonders in our life as you used it to work wonders in the lives of people in Israel when you still lived among them in physical form. Amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Word That Is Made Up of Flesh and Blood

Everyday we use words. We are so familiar with words that we do not notice the importance of the Word. Yes, I am talking about the Word, singular, not about words, plural. But Luke who wrote the Gospel for today's reading saw the value of this Word. That is why we heard it read a while ago, "While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Genesareth" (5:1).

Notice carefully what Luke wrote. He said that the crowd was listening to the word of God. He could have said, "listening to the words of God" because Jesus used or spoke many words. But he did not use the plural. Luke used the singular, word. As we shall learn today, the difference is not just one of grammatical number, singular or plural. The singular "word" has many things to say to us which cannot be conveyed by the plural "words".

For hundreds of years before Vatican II, that is, before 1962, the Mass did not end with a blessing but with a reading from the Gospel according to John, the first 14 verses. This portion of John's Gospel is about the Word. It begins, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And the last verse of this portion is, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". Some of the old people among us here remember this ending although most probably we did not understand it because the priest read it in Latin.

Today we reflect upon this Word who has become flesh and blood and lived on this planet earth.

In the dictionary the basic meaning of "word" is that it is the basic unit of a language. In other words it is something we use to communicate with others. Interestingly enough the word exists in six places or situations, just like water existing in three states: liquid in its normal state, solid as ice and gaseous as vapor.

First, the word exists as a sound. Secondly, it also exists in print. Before it exists as a sound or in print the word exists in our mind as an idea. So, thirdly, the word exists in our mind as an idea. Fourthly, it may also exist in a sign. The deaf and dumb use words but in signs. The Trappist monks use the word in signs because they are not allowed to speak except on special occasions. Fifthly, the word also exists as a series of numbers in the computer and in the media attached to a computer. You see, the computer uses only two numbers, 1 and 0. When a word enters a computer this is translated into numbers composed of 1 and 0, the only language the computer understands. The sixth way that the word exists is the one we are interested to learn today.

Why is the Word so important in our lives? Because it is the Word who created us. In John's Gospel we read, "Through him (that is, the Word) all things came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be." It is through this Word that we exist, that we are here on planet earth, that we are here inside this building.

It is through the word that we are healed of our diseases. We say this everytime we make communion. We say, Lord I am not worthy that you enter under my roof but only say the Word and I shall be healed. Notice we do not say, "only say the words," but "only say the Word," singular.

It is the Word who cleans us of our sinfulness. Jesus told his apostles during his last supper, "You are clean already, thanks to the word I have spoken to you (John 15:3).  

How can the Word create us, heal us of our diseases, clean us of our sinfulness? It can do all these and more because this Word is the Word of God. God spoke the Word to express himself, to communicate himself to us and to our world. And he spoke this one Word, his Son who became flesh and blood in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Word is most powerful because it is Jesus himself. The sixth way the word is present is in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He is the Word.

It is the Word who improves our lives, who gives us what we need. It is also the Word who can give us what we want. All the sciences in the world use words and all these words come from the one Word of God. If all the words in all the worlds were boiled down to one word, this would be the one Word of God. Scientists do not realize they are studying the Word of God by using his words. The farmers and the employees do not realize that their life comes from the Word, the improvement of their lives comes from the Word, any genuine progress comes from the Word.

Only fellowship or companionship with the Word who has taken on flesh and blood will make our life better because only he knows what words to use to make our life better. He has these words with him.

In the dictionary in the meaning of "word" there is an entry which says that if the word begins with a capital letter it is the Bible. Yes, the Bible is the written Word of God. The Bible is the written Jesus Christ. It is a unique book. It is unlike any other book because what it contains is not just words as in other books. It contains a person, the Word of God, Jesus the Christ. That is why in the Christian Community Bible of the Claretian Publications the first sentence in the introduction reads, "You have opened the Bible; now look for Christ as you read."

Vatican II urged all of us to read the Bible with devotion. It is intimate familiarity with the Word in the Bible, that is, with Christ speaking to us from and through the Bible that will help us live with peace and joy in our life.

As a closing prayer let me borrow from a cellphone message from my friend Fr. Buddy Torres OCD, a Discalced Carmelite missionary in the province of Palawan, Philippines.

Let us bow down our heads to pray.

Lord, teach us to be always Word or Christ centered and refrain from being work or I, me, mine centered. Amen.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Unflinching Courage

If there ever was a man who was not afraid of anything it was Jesus. Again, let me repeat my statement. If there ever was a man who was not afraid of anything it was Jesus.

The Greeks have a word which we have adopted to name any extreme or chronic fear that we experience. This is the word "phobia". We have acrophobia for unusual fear of heights, hydrophobia for unnatural fear of water, and so forth. Just put the phobia after a word and you have fear of that word.

Some people have prayerphobia. When you ask them to pray in public, they give lots of excuses. They say, they have a soar throat; they cannot read the print in the prayer book because they did not bring their glasses, etcetera. The truth is that they have an unnatural fear of praying in public.

In contrast to us who have unfounded fears, Jesus was not afraid at all of anything. The Gospel reading today illustrates the unflinching courage of Jesus in the face of what would drive us to fear.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus' town-mates were filled with fury when he told them that he would not do any miracle for them as he did in the other places. "They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away" (Luke 4:29-30).

These people of Nazareth knew Jesus because he lived among them. They knew him as the son of Joseph, the carpenter. Jesus worked also among them as a carpenter. They were amazed that he spoke so well reading a portion from the prophet Isaiah and commenting upon it. When Jesus told them that he was the Messiah they had been expecting for so many years, the successor to the throne of David, the king who would liberate them from all their problems, they expected that he would prove this by a miracle because for them he was only an ordinary guy, a carpenter. But Jesus rejected their demand for a miracle. And they were terribly angry at him.

It is to the credit of these people that they did not take up stones to throw at him or a club to strike at him. No one dared to take up something to strike at him. They were afraid. Instead they gathered around him and by the sheer volume of their bodies  pushed him to a hill to throw him over that hill. In this way no one would be personally responsible for his death. All of them as a group would be.

But when they were about to push Jesus over the hill he looked at them with a look which they could not bear looking at. They were terrified by the expression of his face. Their bodies were immobilized and Jesus walked through their midst unharmed and went away from them.

The Gospel according to Mark (6:1-6) tells us that Jesus visited his hometown again but even this second time his town-mates lacked faith. So he cured only a few  of them. Mark tells us that their lack of faith distressed Jesus; it made him suffer pain.

Jesus was never afraid of anybody, whether it was his familiar town-mates, or strangers trying to trap him in his talk, rulers or spirits from the underworld. He was not even afraid of the violence of nature.

Once on a stormy sea his disciples who were seasoned fishermen were terrified. But Jesus was in the stern or rear end of the ship, "sound asleep on a cushion", as Mark describes him (4:35-41). The disciples woke him up and upbraided him for his seeming unconcern over their situation. Jesus rebuked the wind and told the sea, "Quiet, be still." The wind ceased and there was an immediate calm.

Jesus was not afraid of Pilate, of the Roman soldiers, of Herod. When he was told to go away because it was reported that Herod would kill him, he called Herod a fox, a wild dog.

Jesus was not afraid to suffer and die. He predicted his suffering and death many times. And he went straight to Jerusalem knowing fully well that terrible suffering and death awaited him there.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (13:8).

Jesus is still the brave person that he was. His enemies have multiplied all over the world. But he is not afraid. He is using all the violence that is now being inflicted upon him and upon his Church to renew creation. In the last book of the Bible he tells us, "See, I make all things new" (21:5).

The courage that Jesus had and still has he gives to us as one of his gifts. This is the gift of fortitude prophecied by Isaias (11:2). We simply receive it and we actualize it in our life. I had one occasion to actualize this myself. When I was once held up by two holduppers I just shouted at them and they ran like dogs away from me. It was the courage of Jesus being actualized through me. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to make us actualize this gift of courage.
Let us bow down our heads to pray. Dear Holy Spirit, our Comforter, you energized the courage of Jesus so that he was never afraid of anything in his life. Make us like Jesus in the face of the many enemies around us, the world, the flesh and the devil. For his sake and for the glory of God the Father we pray. Amen.