Saturday, March 24, 2012


Unless a grain of wheat falls down to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

It is an undisputed fact that all of us want to live, and have life to the full. Nobody in his right mind would like to die, and to give his life away, just for the sake of giving it. Each one of us would want as much as possible to live life to its full potential, and it is this desire that makes us recoil from the thought of just existing; somehow the expression “get a life” would convey to us that we are not just here to stay put nor just simply exist. Each of us desires to live (not just exist), and more than that, we want to live it to the full. Going further, we may ask ourselves what the expression “living life to the full” means. I myself would be at a loss to tell you exactly what that would mean on my own, but I have the feeling that life could never be lived and enjoyed to the full if it shut out from growth. When we continue to grow and age with grace, this is when we live life fruitfully. But then, that would lead us to consider another question: what does it mean to grow?

In the Gospel we hear the Lord saying these familiar words: “Unless a grain of wheat falls down to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus teaches us something important about life, using an example from nature. In this temperate region where I presently am, the harsh winter has gradually ceded to spring, with its gentle promise of new life and growth. Where previously there had been dry and seemingly inert branches, flowers are blooming, with the concealed promise of future fruits. But before these flowers ever came to be, before those fruits could ever be able to bend branches, the seed has to let go in order to give up its shoots; the flower has to give up its fragrance and its beauty, in order that it may bear fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it; and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for life eternal”. The law of life has been imprinted by God’s wisdom in the cycle of nature. The miracle of life does not exclude death from itself; rather it forms part of life. Dying in order to life: this is the supreme paradox of life. This is true in our life as Christians, as persons called to live. Jesus shows us that if we want to live, we have to let go, knowing that life moves on, and that the only true good that we have to hold on to is the very love of God, that does not age, that does not turn brittle, that does not fade. In the present state of things, letting go is a very important part of life; we cannot live to the full is we are too full of things that are perishable, things that moths eat and destroy, and that thieves could steal. We cannot live to the full if we insist on enjoying things as if they were meant to last forever, as if they could give us any real and lasting joy. Jesus the Lord, with the words of the Gospel, opens our eyes and allows us to see that we have to let go of things and make it our aim to make as our prized possession the only thing that endures and really matters: our union with God. This is something so great that it even merits us forgetting ourselves. this friendship, this love is so great, its fruit so satisfying, that the very price that we must pay is our very self: He who does not deny himself and take up his cross is not worthy of me (cfr. Matt. 10:38; 16:24), our Lord says. This self-denial with view for growth and eternal life is, in a certain way, at the heart of the Lenten season, which is fast drawing to a close.

But this self denial must be rooted firmly in that which IS at the very center of the Paschal Mystery: LOVE. In the First Reading we hear in the book of the prophet Jeremiah of the Lord promising to place his law in the hearts of the Israelites, one that would seal his relationship with them as a people particularly his own: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people”. A law not written on tablets of stones but in hearts of flesh; not carved by hard instruments, but imprinted with the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit, finger of God’s right hand. This law is none other than the law of love.
But how do we define love? Before our eyes we see the Son of Man being handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and the leaders of the people, scourged and maltreated, we see him crucified, and die on the cross, only to rise again. Man does not need to define what love is; God has defined it for him. Thinking about love, we are brought once again to consider the example of the seed that dies: love does not consist so much in possessing and having, than in the giving oneself. As such it presents a power not given to everybody. Everybody could receive and possess, but only the strongest and the purest of heart could give of themselves. And by his filial love and total obedience, Jesus on the Cross gives the supreme definition of what love is: the unselfish offering of his whole self as a gift to his Father, and as the price of our redemption. Herein lies a power which the devil never understood, but which served to allow him to recognize that he who hung on the Cross was the God who had defeated him, once and for all. In his generous self-giving, the Son of God gives those who unite their lives with him the same power to offer themselves and to participate in his redemption.

The Crucifixion by El Greco

The Cross is the definition to love that God gives: patient and kind, humble, not jealous nor boastful, not rejoicing at the wrong, but is happy in the truth; a love that bear all things and endures all things (cfr. 1 Co 13: 4-7). It is love because it is obedient, as we hear from the letter to the Hebrews, in the Second Reading: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”.
May the proximity of the most solemn feasts of the Christian year serve us all the more to intensify our struggle to be worthy of God’s love, repeating incessantly that prayer of the Psalmist: create a clean heart in me, O God. Only a heart that is pure can renounce itself, and make itself capable of loving. A heart that has died to itself is the only one capable of rising again to new life, and live according to the new law of Love, in perfect imitation of the love and obedience of the Son for His Father.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son and Our Lord?” In the baptismal liturgy, just as during the renewal of our baptismal promises, the minister asks us this question. The affirmation, our response “I do believe” to this very important question, points to the capital importance of knowing Christ, getting to know who He really is, because we cannot place our trust and confidence in someone whom we do not know. But then getting to know about Christ doesn’t only mean having a mental outline of his doctrines, in order to be able to give a ready answer to any exam in catechism class; knowing Christ means getting to live with him, or better still, allowing his own life to enter into our own so as to be transformed by it. In a way, the Christian life is a matter of responding to that question of Jesus Christ, posed to his apostles: Who do you say that I am?

Lent presents itself as a worthy avenue of getting to know our Lord more, the grace of God that makes itself manifest in this season of grace give us the light to see him more clearly, in the same way that the closest apostles of Jesus were able to see him in a different light, literally. In the Gospel reading this Sunday, we come to know of Jesus being accompanied by three of his disciples—Peter, James and John—up to Mt. Tabor. Standing there with them, he is transfigured, that is to say, there is a change in his appearance: his face, and even his own clothes, take on a dazzling beauty, such that the evangelist Mark, jotting down Peter’s memories of that event, describes them as whiter than any fuller could ever make them.  Before them, Jesus seems to converse with two figures from the religious tradition of Israel: Moses, who handed over the Law of God to his people, and Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets. Then suddenly, with that impressive sight before them, they find themselves within a thick cloud and hear a voice thundering: This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Terrified they fall to the ground. With the voice still ringing in their ears, they look up, and see Jesus, and only Jesus.

The transfiguration of the Lord on Mt. Tabor was another one of those moments in the life lived by Jesus with his disciples that allow his followers a glimpse into his identity. No doubt, some of them may have remembered the voice as the same one proclaiming Jesus to his Son when he rose over the waters of the Jordan. The appearance of the Lord, his clothes so white that no fuller on earth could achieve such a whitening effect, would lead them to conclude that such splendor was unearthly, divine.

The experience of the apostles had made them realize that this was no ordinary man they were dealing with. For indeed, nobody had ever taught with such authority in their synagogues, such that even wind and the waves obey him; it was unheard of that anybody could heal a man deaf and mute since birth, who could restore life to those who lay in death; someone who could even walk on the waters, something which the psalms themselves attributed only to God.

This was something that perhaps moved Peter to confess: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! Aided and moved by the finger of God, the apostle, a witness to many of the wonders made by Jesus, made the confession that would transform him into the rock upon which the faith of the Church rests, the faith upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cfr. Mk. 1:1).

But then the experience that the disciples had with the Lord on Tabor wasn’t enough with the glory that they had witnessed. It is not enough to be a witness of the glory of the Son of God. As they were going down, the Lord told them not to tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (cfr.Mk.9:9). It is not enough to focus on the glory of Jesus Christ; it is also precise to know that the only way to share in that glory is through the royal way of the Cross. This was something that the apostles at first would not be able to understand. All of them had that conviction that glory was in store for them, because they had left everything and shared the life of the Master; that they were to share in his reign and in his power seemed certain. In fact, they quarreled over it, so much so, that the Master himself had to give them a lesson in humility in various moments of their life with Him. But what they didn’t know was that there was only one way to share in that glory, and that meant sharing in his passion and death as well.

That the Lord would have to undergo through the scandal of the Cross was too much for his disciples; it was to much for them to stomach, the fact that they descended from the glory of Tabor in order to climb Calvary. But later on, strengthened by the Paraclete, they would make the announcement of His death and resurrection the heart of their preaching, as we would hear in the Second Reading: Christ Jesus it is who died, or rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us”(Rom. 8:34).

The faith of the apostles is the basis of the faith that we have. What we know of Christ Jesus is founded firmly on the testimony of the apostles themselves, one that continues to resound in our days; it is the same testimony made by the Church, holy, catholic and apostolic. It only in the Church that we can come to know who Christ really is. Nowadays it is easy to construct and image of Christ that is suspiciously attuned to our own convenience, one that, more often than not, seems to deny the cross. It is so easy for us to profess in a Christ who is all glorious, but who does not have the marks of the nails on his hands and feet, and the wound on his side. In an age where it is easy to personalize things, we can always run the risk of making a “personalized Christ”. But a Christ who is personalized in this sense, adjusted to our comfort, to our whims, is a false one, one that cannot save,  one that cannot show us the way to the glory of eternal life.

May our contemplation of Christ transfigured in glory strengthen us to follow by taking our cross and join it to His, knowing that glory is only to be achieved nobly through sacrifice. Amen.