Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter Sunday of 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).

Jesus Has Favorites

Today my homily will be addressed especially to a select few among us who are dear in a special way to Jesus. This does not mean that the others need not listen. They  need to listen also because they too may belong to these few who are most dear to Jesus and they are not aware of it. This homily may make you aware that you also are very dear to Jesus.

In the Gospel reading for this Easter Sunday we encounter two persons who were very dear to Jesus. They were Jesus' special friends. Jesus loved all his apostles and disciples. But among them he had a special liking for two who appear in our Gospel reading today. They were Mary of Magdala and John the Apostle.

It was Mary of Magdala who was mentioned first among the women who went to the tomb of Jesus very early Sunday morning. In Mark's Gospel it is explicitly stated that Jesus first appeared to Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene (16:9). How this happened is narrated in the continuation of our Gospel reading today. It was also Mary Magdalene who was told by Jesus to tell his apostles that he had risen from the dead. Because of this she was called "the apostle to the apostles" by the 3rd century theologian Hippolytus of Rome. The basic meaning of "apostle" is the one sent. Thus Mary Magdalene was the one sent by Jesus to tell the ones chosen by Jesus as sent ones (that is, apostles) that he was risen from the dead. The title "apostle of apostles" as applying to Mary Magdalene was later on repeated by other writers and saints, among them St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

The other person who is mentioned in our Gospel reading as a special friend of Jesus is John the Apostle, the author of the Gospel we just read. He called himself here "the other disciple whom Jesus loved". It was he who leaned on Jesus' breast during the last supper. Five times John in his Gospel refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved. This does not mean that Jesus did not love the other disciples. He loved all of them, but John felt that Jesus had a special affection for him. He was the only one who remained close to Jesus from the time he was arrested up to his crucifixion. The other male disciples fled. At the cross Jesus gave John to his mother Mary as her son, then he gave her to John as his mother. From that time John took care of Jesus' mother as his own. It was only John among the Apostles who did not suffer martyrdom. There is a tradition that he was thrown into a large cauldron of boiling oil but he was not burned. Indeed he was a favorite of Jesus. He died a peaceful death.

There is a passage in John's Gospel which tells us that Jesus had other special friends. John 11:5 reads, "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus."

We can also say that Jesus loved the Apostle Paul in a special way. He was not one of the original disciples of Jesus. At first he hated the Christians. He might have been that young man whom Mark mentioned as loved by Jesus (10:21) although he went away.  Because Jesus loved him, he pursued him until he overtook him on the road to Damascus, and Paul became a most devoted follower of Jesus, an Apostle to the non-Jews.

All throughout history Jesus had special friends. Some of them are canonized saints. Others were not canonized but we know they were special friends of Jesus. Among the canonized saints we can mention St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of  Assisi, St. John of the Cross. Among those not canonized we can mention Nicholas of Cusa, Copernicus, Blaise Pascal.

Some of us here may be special friends of Jesus but we are not aware of it. Francis Thompson the English poet was not aware that Jesus was pursuing him to love him. He fell into drug addiction. But later on he wrote a most beautiful poem, THE HOUND OF HEAVEN, which described how God was pursuing him to love him and how he constantly tried to escape God until he was finally caught in his loving arms.

How do you know that Jesus wants to befriend you in a special way? I give here four indications which can tell you that Jesus wants you to be his special friend. These signs are to be taken together, simultaneously.

The first is that you fall in love with him in a way like falling in love with a boyfriend or girlfriend. When this happens Jesus is always in your mind and heart. You keep thinking of him day and night and you entertain an affection for him.

The second is that you want to be near him always. You may want to stay very often in front of the tabernacle in the church or chapel conversing with him there. Or you may want to carry a bible in your pocket to open it as soon as you are not pre-occupied with your duty or work and you just love to read your bible, the written Christ. Or you may just want to be alone conversing with Jesus in your room or outdoors.

These signs do not tell you that you have to be a priest or a religious sister. These can happen even if you are married or are planning to marry. These signs happen because Jesus has first fallen in love with you and you are just responding. These signs may also be a call for you to live a life of single blessedness.

The third sign is that you are concerned primarily with the work that Jesus has given you. You may have a work to support your family but deep in your heart you know that Jesus has given you a work which you must attend to. This work may be very simple, like teaching catechism to children, or a little complicated like teaching in a university. It can be the work of a carpenter as Jesus had or the work of an astronomer as happened in the life of Copernicus. Whatever it is you know that it is a work Jesus gave you and you give priority to this work, along with your obligation as a family man, as the case may be.

The fourth sign is that new, original ideas are coming out of your mind. New ways of doing things are revealed to you. Or new ways of understanding are being shown to you. These new ideas are not just in the field of religion. They may be in biology or in business. When this happens to you it is advisable that you write down these ideas. If you are able, look for someone who has this experience so that you can be directed properly.

Spiritual direction is important because you can be misled by other spirits. When Jesus becomes your special friend you may encounter painful and strange trials. And you may be tempted to give up this relationship. But look for one who knows that he is a special friend of Jesus. This person may be a priest. Or he may not be a priest. St. Teresa of Avila listened to lay people.

Of the twelve apostles only one was a special friend of Jesus, John. Of the many disciples of Jesus only a few were his special friends, Mary Magdalene, Martha and her sister Mary, and Lazarus. Today of the thousands who say they are Christians maybe one or two only are Jesus' special friends.

If you think you are one of these few, give thanks to God and be prepared to suffer everything for Jesus. He is the most faithful friend but he also tries us so that our love of him becomes purer and purer every day until even in this life we see him, as it were, face to face. As he said, Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. To see God is to be most happy. Nothing else can compare to this happiness.

This season of Easter is a time of rejoicing because a completely new life is offered to us, the resurrected life of Jesus. Let us rejoice with the special friends of Jesus because they can show us more clearly and more sweetly the love Jesus has for us.

Let us bow down our heads to pray.

Lord Jesus, if I am your special friend, make me aware of this and guide me so that I will be faithful to you. If I am not your special friend, help me to find your special friends so that I can serve you through them. Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Passion Sunday 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 Sinless Sinner

In our reading of the Passion of our Lord according to Luke today we heard a strange request of Jesus. He told his Apostles, "one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one." In other words Jesus wanted by this request that each of his apostles should have a sword. To get one they would have to sell their cloak because they did not have extra money for this need of the hour. This cloak was their outer garment which was necessary to keep them warm during their sleep. Since this request of Jesus happened during the night, he thought that the sword was more important than keeping warm during their sleep that night.

But when the apostles told Jesus that they had already two swords, Jesus said that these were enough for their need that night.

The reason Jesus gave that they need to have swords was also strange. He said, as we heard in the recitation of the Passion, "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, He was counted among the wicked; and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment."

Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah which reads, "Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses." (Isaiah 53:12).

Jesus wanted to be counted among the wicked. That is why he wanted his disciples to have swords so that they too with Jesus can be counted among the wicked, those who use the swords to harm their fellowmen. As it turned out the sword was used to cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant who came along with the temple guards to arrest Jesus.

Jesus wanted to be counted among the wicked. This is so unlike of us who do not want to associate ourselves with criminals. But Jesus was crucified between two criminals as we heard in the Passion story today.

Jesus also freely hanged on a tree by being nailed to the cross. In the Old Testament God said that the man who hanged on a tree, whether voluntarily or forced to do so, was cursed by God. He was a sinner by hanging on a tree. In the book of Deuteronomy we read, "God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree" (21:23). Paul the Apostle took this up in his letter to the Galatians. He wrote, "Christ has delivered us from the power of the law's curse by himself becoming a curse for us, as it is written, "Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree." (3:13) That is, according to Paul, Jesus became a curse by hanging on a tree, the cross.

Jesus wanted to be counted among the sinners to such an extent that the same Paul affirmed, "For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This attitude of Jesus of being identified with sinners although he himself did not commit any sin was clear in his dealings with people. The people saw that he went along with prostitutes and tax collectors who were thought of as public sinners. Those who thought that they were upright, holy people, the Pharisees and the scribes who were the religious and theologians of Jesus' day, did not like this attitude of Jesus. They wanted Jesus to associate himself with them. Instead Jesus condemned these Pharisees and scribes as frauds, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, beautiful to look at on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men's bones (Matthew 23).

Jesus identified himself with sinners. He still identifies himself with those who think they are sinners. And this is where we are in danger. Many of us do not want do identify ourselves with sinners. We think this way: 'We are not criminals. We are trying to obey God's commandment. If we fail to obey we have the sacrament of confession to go to. We go to the church regularly. We help our neighbor. We participate in the affairs of our parish.' Thus we go through life assured that God is pleased with us and will reward us with heaven when we die.

Such a mentality exposes us to the danger from which the Pharisees and scribes suffered, the danger of identifying ourselves with the upright, just and holy men and women when Jesus who was actually sinless did not identify himself with those people. He identified himself with sinners. He wanted to be counted as a criminal, as a sinner.

If we do not identify ourselves with sinners we will be surprised when later we will hear these words of Jesus addressed to us, "I never knew you. Out of my sight, you evildoers" as we find in Matthew 7:23. This is because we will never be justified unless we claim our sinfulness deep in our heart. Remember the story of the Pharisees and tax collector in Luke, chapter 18? The Pharisee thanked God because he was a good man. But all the tax collector did was to beat his breast and say, O God be merciful to me a sinner. Then Jesus declared that the tax collector was justified, made just, made holy before God, but the Pharisees went on being a condemned man, away from the happiness of God.

So, it is with us. We can be like the Pharisee all our life, thinking we are good human beings before God. But unless we get the attitude of the tax collector which was also the attitude of Jesus, identifying ourselves as sinners, we will not be justified. We will be condemned like the Pharisee.

It is not a matter of convincing ourselves that we are sinners. It is not making this kind of argument: "All human beings are sinners. I am a human being. Therefore I am a sinner." Rather it is a matter of responding to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit within us. Only this Holy Spirit can produce in us a real conviction that we are sinful. He convicts us of our sinfulness if we listen attentively to him.

As we bow down our heads to pray let us join David in the fifty first Psalm, as he acknowledges his being convicted by the Spirit of his sinfulness.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fifth 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).

Jesus the Writer

Did Jesus write something which we can read now? Most of us who have read the four Gospels will certainly answer, No. As far as we know Jesus did not write anything which has been preserved for us to read today, although there is a legend that Jesus wrote to Abgarus, king of Edessa, Mesopotamia. This legend was started by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, Palestine in the early fourth century.

Putting aside this legend Jesus did write and we find this in our Gospel reading today. But he did not write on a paper. He wrote on the ground of the temple precincts in Jerusalem. This writing was occasioned by the bringing in of a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. When they asked Jesus what he would do with this woman, he did not answer them. Instead he wrote something on the ground. Later after telling them that the one who thinks he has no sin should cast the first stone on the woman, he continued writing on the ground.

The great Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, "It is impossible to tell and therefore needless to ask what he wrote." Some Fathers of the Church, particularly Ambrose and Jerome, say that Jesus wrote on the ground the names of the woman's accusers. St. Thomas Aquinas has a different opinion. In his commentary on the Gospel of John he says that Jesus wrote down what he said to the accusers, which was, "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast the stone at her."

Whether the Church Fathers Ambrose and Jerome were right in saying that Jesus on this occasion wrote the names of the woman's accusers on the ground we do not know. But we know for certain that Jesus liked to write names.

First, we notice that Jesus was fond of changing names of persons. He changed the name of Simon to Peter which signified rock. He changed the names of John and James to Boanerges, meaning sons of thunder. He also changed the name of Thomas to Didymus, meaning Twin.

Secondly in the book of Revelation we see that Jesus was going to write names. To the church of Philadelphia he said, "I will inscribe on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which he will send down from heaven, and my own name which is new." (3:12)

To the church of Pergamum he spoke, "To the victor I will give the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone upon which is inscribed a new name, to be known only by him who receives it" (2:17).

These passages tell us that Jesus likes to give new names to persons and to write names on persons.

But there is one passage in the Old Testament which gives us a clearer picture of Jesus' predilection or liking for names. In Isaiah 49:16 he tells Zion, the city of Jerusalem, "See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name". This saying can be applied to persons, not just to cities.

Jesus had a predilection or liking for names because for him names were not just a combination of letters, as they are for most of us. For Jesus and for the Jews of his time names did not just identify persons or things. They were the reality in sound of those persons and things. That is why in the prayer he taught us the first petition was for the name of God to be taken holy and sacred. Names were most important to Jesus.

Only Jesus knows who we really are. Only he knows the name to describe this reality that we are. As he spoke to the church of Pergamum he has given us a name which only he and we know. This name encompasses our reality. And it is this name which he has inscribed in the palm of his hand.

By inscribing our secret name in the palm of his hand Jesus is telling us that he loves us, he will carry us wherever he goes. He shows us he is the ultimate lover. Someone loves us more than we can ever know or imagine, someone who went through all the suffering and pain and death itself to free us from our sinfulness so that we can truly enjoy this whole universe that he made for us.

Jesus is a writer. But he does not just write anything. He likes to write names, the name of God, his own name, and our names.

Lent is the period of the year wherein Jesus shows us how much he loves us. He went through all the pains of the cross because he wanted to give us himself. We can only receive him if we accept the pardon he offers us so that our sins are blotted out and we come out clean as newly created in his image.

Our response can only be gratitude and fully surrendering ourselves to his love, to do with us whatever he wants. 

Let us bow down to pray.

Lord Jesus, you like to write our names and your name and the name of your Father in our souls. You have inscribed our names in the palms of your hands, proof that you love us. Your sufferings and death prove beyond doubt how much you love us. Make us love you more each day of our life. We fully surrender ourselves into your loving arms. Amen.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fourth 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).

Strength for the Weak

Today most of us are aware that there are two kinds of sins, mortal and venial. Many of us cannot give the technical distinction between these two kinds of sins as taught by the Church. Our idea mostly is that mortal sin is big sin and venial sin is small sin.

In the Old Testament we do not find such a distinction as mortal sin and venial sin. But there is another kind of distinction of sins in the Old Testament. The distinction begins in the Book of Leviticus, chapters 4 and 5. It is made clearer in Numbers 15:20-31. The two sins are: 1) sins through inadvertence, unwittingly done; and 2) sins through defiance, knowingly and willfully done. In the Old Testament only the first kind of sin could be forgiven. The second kind could not be forgiven. No amount of sacrifice could forgive this sin. Here is the judgment of God about this second kind of sin.

"But anyone who sins defiantly, whether he be a native or an alien, insults the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. Since he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, he must be cut off. He has only himself to blame." Numbers 15:30-31.

In the New Testament Jesus also made a distinction between two kinds of sin: 1) sins against him which was pardonable; 2) sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which can never be pardoned. (Luke 12:10)

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that if we sin willfully after receiving the truth, there remains for us no further sacrifice for sins, only a fearful expectation of judgment and a flaming fire to consume the adversaries of God. (10:26).

When Jesus asked forgiveness for those who crucified him he had a condition attached to this forgiveness: "they know not what they are doing." Luke 23:34.

In the Gospel reading today there is a class of people whom the Scribes and Pharisees condemned as sinners: the tax collectors and prostitutes. But Jesus did not condemn them. In fact he welcomed them. This made the Scribes and Pharisees suspect that Jesus was in truth a sinner because he associated with them. To point out the real situation of these tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus spoke the beautiful and wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son. Some Bible scholars say that this story should be entitled the parable of the Prodigal Father because the father there was so wasteful of his resources, perhaps more than his son.

In this parable Jesus taught that these tax collectors and prostitutes who were represented by the younger son who indulged in riotous living were sinners who were not really aware of what they were doing. In the Old Testament language they sinned inadvertently. They committed sins of weakness. They did not commit sins of defiance. It was the Scribes and Pharisees who condemned these tax collectors who committed the sin of defiance.

Here we see the mentality of Jesus. He was always on the side of the oppressed, the weak, the downtrodden in society.

There is no place for defiant sinners in the company of Jesus, only for sinners who are so by weakness. These tax collectors and prostitutes were aware that they were weak. They knew they were in the wrong work. And they perceived that Jesus could give them the strength to get out of their work. When Jesus forgives he transforms weakness into strength. When he said to a person, "Do not sin", the person addressed to would not sin anymore.

For many years now I have been sinning against the second commandment which says, You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. Even today I still commit this sin. But Jesus has not abandoned me. He still loves me and makes me feel that he still receives and loves me.

This sin is something that I have inherited from my parents and those around me. When I am surprised, I utter the interjection "sus!" which is from the name of Jesus. Many priests and nuns and other religious teachers have told me that this is taking the name of Jesus in vain. I agree. But I just cannot stop myself from uttering "sus" when I am surprised. When I utter this syllable I am not even aware of it. It truly is for me a sin of inadvertence.

Does Jesus condemn me? Not at all. He never struck my mouth or put a disease into my tongue for taking his name in vain. But the priests, nuns and religious teachers condemn me. The same story happens again. The teachers of religion condemn those weak people whom Jesus welcomes. Jesus continues to deal with me as with a most intimate friend. I know in time he will get rid of this bad habit in me, as he had gotten rid of my other bad habits before. I do not say that I will get rid of that bad habit. Jesus will get rid of that for me. That is how faithful and profitable his friendship is. He transforms my weakness into strength.

What weaknesses do you suffer? Weaknesses in your sex life? In the use of other people's money? In laziness in your work or study? Jesus can turn these weaknesses into strengths. Give over your weakness to Jesus. Let him handle it. He certainly will make you strong.

Let me end with that lovely hymn our brothers and sisters in faith have sang for more than a century now.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals he's waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home.
Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home.
(from Majesty Hymns, pages 325-326)

Bowing our heads let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we acknowledge our weakness. This is the cause of our sins. Forgive us. Make us strong through our weakness by fully depending on you in everything. Amen.