Saturday, September 29, 2012


There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:39-40)

These words of the Gospel, this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, aside from inviting us to reflect in the integrity of life that we are all called to live, also allow us to consider one important characteristic of our decision to respond to the Lord’s call to holiness. The message of the Gospel calls for radicalism: not only does it call for a radical option for that which is good and true, but it also entails renewing that choice for God in every aspect of our life. The Lord wants us to be radical in following Him, and this is shown in our firm decision to turn our back to sin, striving to open ourselves more to the grace of God, and this is nothing else but conversion.

Following Jesus Christ entails a change with respect to everything that does not lead us to him. Once he told his disciples that the acceptance of his message of salvation meant that on needed a renewed heart and spirit, much like new wine that had to be received in new wineskins. This change must also be radical, and to emphasize this he uses an image that may strike us as something extreme: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…” (cfr. Mk 9:43.47).

It is true that the reality of life is such that it could not be considered merely in terms of black and white; however, it is equally true that the more important and weightier things in life do not admit any such middle ground. This is true in relationships that grow in love. Our relationship with God, our acceptance of his invitation of salvation is one of these instances: “He that is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). There is no middle ground between good and evil, between salvation and damnation, between God and the mammon. To make use of a popular phrase, one cannot simply light a candle to St. Michael, and then kiss the devil at his feet.

Things are certainly not so simple when it comes to the reality of daily life; but then, if we really wish to be coherent with our lives, and do well our resolution to be Christians, we need to be radical, and much so with regards to certain things and issues. This is easier said that done in a society that tends to be blur every line and break every law, then afterwards qualifying it as normal and permissible. In an increasingly relativistic and secularist society as ours, it takes great courage to say “no” to what is not good, to what is false. It is heroic to live for the eternal values of the Gospel in an environment that seems to place more reasons for not leaving them.

The Gospel also warns us against the evil of scandal. This is also a consequence of conversion. The daily struggle against evil, and the rejection of the devil’s temptations should lead us to be allow the goodness of God to shine through our lives, and not the opposite. It is a fact of history and experience that there are those who bear the name of Christ, but do not show his work in their lives. This is the sin of scandal: instead of bringing people to do what is good and to reject sin, we become occasions for them to stray from God. This trespass is grave. The Lord uttered many words during his earthly ministry, few of them were harsh and even condemnatory. Of these few, some where precisely pertained to scandal: “Whoever cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk 9:42). Death would be preferable to the one who causes scandal, and a horrible death at that, the Lord points out, underscoring the gravity of this sin.

These words should lead us all the more to beg for God’s mercy, which is limitless and eternal, and the grace to be firm and radical in our daily struggle against sin and evil. It is important to consider that we are all sinners, and every single one of us, without the benefit of God’s grace, is capable of committing the greatest of crimes. Hence our constant need for the divine mercy of God.

May this mercy be our strength as we continue in our Christian vocation, struggling as the saints struggled during their time of trial here on earth, knowing that the process of continued conversion ends only once we see ourselves safe in God’s eternal embrace. AMEN.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


“The Son of man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise”. But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid top question him.

A week ago we had listened to the invitation to look to the Cross of Christ, sign of God’s love and of man’s salvation. Once again, in this twenty-fifth Sunday, the liturgy raises before our eyes the figure of the Son of Man, suffering, crucified and forsaken. In the First Reading we see him as someone whom his very own people had plotted against: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training”. The cross of Christ does not merely stand as a sign of God’s love, the instrument with which our ransom was paid and our redemption was one. It is also the arena in which the decisive battle between good and evil was won. Indeed, the suffering of the Just One of God, the Lamb without stain, all the more emphasizes the evil and the darkness that lie in the heart of sinful man. Jesus’ love, humility and obedience on the cross stresses all the more the ugliness of sin and of the one who has chosen to reject God’s love out of pride, the devil in the first place, and then sinful man, who is the victim of his treachery.

The cross of Christ (and by this I also refer to the whole saving work of our Lord) is far richer in wisdom than any other lesson-book in history. It does not merely teach us things; it impresses on us things that are really important, essential to attaining our main goal in life: to achieve happiness eternal, only possible in union with God. The message of the cross provides an interesting paradox. St. Paul expresses this in what could be termed as the “scandal of the cross”: Christ crucified presents a message that appears as something scandalous and foolish to a world that is engrossed in its own values. But for those who believe, the cross is reveals the wisdom of God and the power of God. This is something that the world—a sphere in a certain sense separated from God—would never understand. It would take the special grace of God and the teaching of the Savior that would allow us to realize that it is in the Cross of Christ that which is perceived as weakness is actually power and greatness, and that which is thought of as absurd is actually wise.

In the Gospel we see the disciples arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, something which we do quite a lot among ourselves as well. It is observed that each of us has that inclination to go up, to be great, to excel. I think this is quite natural. If we had been created by a God who is of an excellence more supreme than anything that our limited intellect could ever conceive, who would blame us if we yearn to excel. I believe that this drive to go up (Excelsior! Ever higher! a known motto says) is but another of those marks imprinted by the divine hand of the Creator upon us. But the question here, however, is not based on the fact that we were meant to aspire for the heights, but on what we understand greatness to be, and how must one aspire and achieve that greatness. It is true that we were all born for greatness, the question here in what does man’s consist? Through what road should man pass in order to reach the heights to which he is called.

In the same Gospel account, we hear of Jesus’ words: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. These were words followed by something which the Lord did: Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the one who sent me”. What had been said and done must have perplexed the disciples in the midst of their undoubtedly heated discussion about who was the greatest among them. Jesus had mentioned something about a servant holding the exalted position of the First among others; of the child being the depository of greatness. This perplexity could be understood in a culture where both the servant (or the slave) and the child amounted to nothing, and yet the Lord had mentioned these two insignificant elements of society in his teaching about greatness.

We have this predictable and yet at the same time misguided notion that human greatness is about getting what we want as we want it; power as something that enables us to possess, to claim what is ours, even with the use of force. Sometimes we may think that true power is having dominion over others, and that oftentimes we may have the notion that pressure and violence is an ingredient to power.
But then Jesus teaches his disciples that power and greatness is not all about possession and dominion. Not at least in God’s way. That God is powerful, that God is omnipotent is not due to the fact that he can do everything that he wills. God is most powerful because he can humble himself in assuming the weakness of human nature, accept and suffer pain, and die. He is powerful because he can give everything that he has. The cross, thus, is the highest manifestation of power: it is the sign of God’s never ending and  infinite generosity, a love that gives everything of itself, a power that does not seek ultimately to possess, but rather to give of itself.  It is more difficult to give generously of oneself than to take something by conquest. It takes more mastery over oneself to be humble than to conquer seven kingdoms, for there is wisdom in saying that the hardest thing to conquer is oneself. Jesus on the cross manifests the true meaning of power, the power to love, and what it means to love. In this is also contained true wisdom. We live in a world where admittedly knowledge is power, but knowledge in itself cannot give what man craves the most: love. We are not Gnostics, who believed that man could attain salvation by knowledge. Man has been saved by the love of a God who hung on the Cross, and it is only through love that man can accept the gift of salvation that is being offered to him like a fruit, hanging from the tree of the Cross of Christ.

In our daily, Christian life, this generosity of God, this power, this wisdom is lived through our commitment to service. Service is one thing that likens us to Christ. Christian service, which mirrors the generosity of God on the Cross, is something that does not seek to possess. Sometimes we offer service in order to noticed, applauded and praised by people. We do so in order to be recognized. But service according to the style of Jesus Christ is nothing like that. At the heart of service is generosity, a total and unselfish offering of the self; it is an offering that is oftentimes best kept hidden. It is something done out of love for our neighbor, not so that we may receive something in return primarily, but to work for the good of the other.

Service is not a thing of slaves; rather it manifests the nobility that lies in the heart of the one who serves. Contrary to what the world may think, only those who possess greatness of heart could truly serve. The one who asks that he be served relays the symptoms of a heart that is shrunken, unable to expand. The one who is ready to serve has a heart that is magnanimous, just like our Lord. It is easier to command that others serve oneself; it requires great humility, selflessness and love to forget oneself and turn to attend to the needs of the other. At the root of greatness is a heart that is disposed to serve. In fact, this even goes beyond human greatness: when one chooses freely to serve, out of generosity, in humility and in love, that person is imitating the life of the divine Master, who, in showing his love for his followers, the evening before he suffered and died, bent the knee and began to wash the feet of his disciples, whom he did not call servants, but friends (cfr. Jn 13:4-15).

If only this generosity, this commitment to service in the style of Christ (who came to serve and not to be served) were to be made flesh in our families, in our communities, among the leaders of our community—both religious and secular, how many conflicts would be averted! How wise and exact was the observation of the apostle James when, in writing to the Christian community, he commented that envy and selfish ambition (the mistaken idea and the wrong road to greatness) were the cause of disorder and evil in the community: Beloved: where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. These are words that we have in the Second Reading. A disinterested servanthood based on the example of Christ yields to peace in the community; egoism and the selfish drive to possess tears a community apart. 

Considering these words, my thoughts turn toward the example of the saints, these true servants of God. It is not a coincidence that at the start of that long process that leads to beatification and eventual canonization, “servant” is the first title that they receive. In proposing these persons as example of human greatness tempered by divine grace, the Church points out that at the heart of this greatness is the will and the obedience to serve. My thoughts lead me to the example of Maximilian Kolbe who, in perfect imitation of the King of Martyrs, offered his life generously to a stranger. In offering to exchange places with a condemned man, St. Maximilian shows that for a person who serves, nobody is a stranger: everybody is a neighbor and a brother. St. Maximilian is a shining example of human greatness, tempered by the divine.

May these spiritual considerations lead us to be servants, knowing that herein lies true power and dignity. “It is an honor to be of service”, we so often hear and say. Looking at the Crucified, contemplating his words, and on their confirmation in the example of the lives of so many saints, may we realize in our lives that true greatness comes in knowing  how to give generously, not only something that we have, but ourselves most importantly. AMEN. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


“Who do people say that I am?”

This question, which we hear in the Gospel this twenty-fourth Sunday, is something that has found an echo in man’s heart. The desire for the infinite, planted in the human heart by God himself, has led man to search for the divine. This yearning is responsible for the phenomena of various religions that we see in the world today. They are paths forged by man’s innate desire to see God’s face and to know his name.

But it is not just enough to seek God; it is important that God himself speak to man. Despite of this call to contemplate the face of God, which springs from man’s heart, man cannot get to know God on his own, nor see the face of God with his own eyes. He needs God’s self-revelation. Without this initiative from God, man is at the risk of inventing an image of God, most often fashioned after man’s image and likeness. From here we could appreciate that not all religions are the same. This is what distinguishes other religions from the Christian faith, which is not just a religion—a movement coming from man; rather it is a faith based on what God reveals to us about himself, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ.

But even then, in our life of faith, even those who believe in the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ still need to listen to the Son of God when he talks to us about himself. Even Christians have the peril of inventing Christ, of fashioning the Son of God out of their own image and likeness. For some he is a revolutionary who sides with the poor and is against the oppressive rich; for some he is a mere tool in order to legitimize their own ends. Thus it could be understood that the question that our Lord presents to his disciples is something that is important in the way we live as Christians.

Who do you say that I am?

From asking the disciples what people think about him, he goes deeper into a personal level. But even then, the reality of who Jesus is does not depend on our personal opinion. Only God can reveal the truth about who he is. Only through faith can we touch the face of God and love it. Faith means possessing a heart that knows how to listen, and listening attentively means that one obeys the Word that one has received through believing.

Both in the gospels of Matthew and Mark we see this scene wherein Jesus asks his disciples this question. In both accounts we see Peter giving the right answer. In Matthew we hear Jesus telling Simon that it was not flesh and blood that had moved him to confess that he was the Son of God, but the heavenly Father. Getting to know Jesus, Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God and true Man, is a gift of God: it is a grace that has to be received. It is not a personal achievement, the fruit of intellectual discourse, or one’s own personal reflection. It is a gift that only a humble and listening heart can receive.

But Jesus shows us one more thing about God, about himself: God is love, and not the other way around. Love without God is pure sentimentality, and sentimentality does not save man from death. Nowadays we hear people preaching the opposite, that Love is God, that one has to live according to how one feels at the moment, to act on one’s impulse. No, the God whom we follow is a person, whose essential act is to love, and this love has been manifested to us supremely in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The celebrations that we’ve had these days—the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the feast of the Our Lady of Sorrows—had given us a lot of time to reflect on this mystery of God’s love. The Cross is the highest manifestation of God’s love, revealed in Jesus Christ. The Gospel shows the repugnance shown by Peter, who chided Jesus when the latter began to teach clearly how the Son of Man was to suffer greatly, be rejected by the leaders of his own people, be killed and then rise from the dead after three days. The response of the Lord was surprisingly harsh: Get behind me, Satan.

The message of the Cross is scandalous to a world that prizes sentimentalism over sacrifice, the pleasure of the fleeting moment over a love that gives truly of itself. Yet the Cross is the only sign that God brandishes to the world, the only sign through which man can be saved, the only instrument through which God has been glorified and exalted, and through which man has been redeemed. This is the only sign through which God is made known to man.

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.

If such is the sign of the Master, so too must it be the sign of the disciple. Just as the Lord offered his own life as a sacrifice pleasing to his Father, and a saving sacrifice for men out of love, so too those who live under the sign of the Cross must strive to live the same life of Christ: generously giving of itself, sacrificing, loving. If we share Christ’s very life, we too shall share his glory. Nobody can be saved without the Cross. It is only in imitating the life of Christ (aided by his grace that primarily comes to us through the sacraments), a life given up for God and man, that we can save our life. Herein lies the paradox of Christian life. A paradox, not a contradiction: it is in losing our life for God and our neighbor that we gain life eternal; on the other hand, if we tenaciously hold on to it, we lose it.

In our daily life, carrying the cross, making our life a sacrifice pleasing to God and—in Christ—a cause for salvation of our neighbor, means manifesting our faith in our works, a faith in the Son of God that does not remain as beautiful words, but rather shown in charity. The Gospel does not enjoin all of us to come up with mega initiatives to help solve the problem of poverty an unemployment (to some perhaps), but it enjoins to show charity in the most ordinary circumstances of our daily life: swallowing our pride, giving encouragement and peace to those around us in their troubles, etc. Even time spent in being a friend who needs someone to listen to his troubles is a work worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Let us ask Mary, Mother of Fair Love, that strong woman who stood at the foot of the Cross, to make us worthy of the Cross of our Lord. Only those who have proven themselves worthy to carry the Cross in this life are worthy of the crown of glory promised to those who persevere to the very end. AMEN.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius

The celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows comes rightfully after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Not only do we contemplate the sorrow of a mother who had seen her Son suffer and die in the most horrible of deaths; in this feast we are also led to consider the Virgin Mother’s role in the work which her Divine Son accomplished on the Cross. The words of the hymn above (called Stabat Mater for the first words of the hymn) show the deep union that lies between the Son and the Mother, one that isn’t founded by virtue of birth alone. Jesus and Mary share a bond that goes beyond the one formed in the Virgin’s womb: Mary is united with her Son also in the order of grace.

Her being at the foot of the Cross, an ordeal that would be particularly hard for any mother, is the fruit of her “yes” to God, generously given during the Annunciation, and faithfully lived every single moment of her life. Her suffering was foretold by the old Simeon when he said that in union with her Son—a sign if contradiction, the cause of the rise and fall of many—a sword shall pierce her heart. She plays an important part in the history of man’s salvation, since she shared in the sufferings of her Son. “Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary”, the liturgy sings to her, “without dying you won the martyr’s crown beneath the Cross of the Lord.”  

There is a scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ that shows Mary wandering through the empty room where the leaders of Israel had just tried Jesus clandestinely and unjustly. Suddenly she stops and presses herself against the cold stone floor. The camera goes down to show Jesus tied in the dungeon beneath the floor, seemingly just below the spot where Mary was. The mother holds her ears to the floor; the son looks up to the ceiling. The mother listens to that which could not be heard; the Son looks towards that which could not be seen. There is a union between the two, which not even the cold stone floor could prevent.

To love means to be where the beloved is, to yearn for the beloved, to desire to live his very life, and to suffer what he suffers. This is what Mary lived in her following of her Son; this is the message of this feast. The union that Mary had with her Son is the one that we should have in our life as followers of the Jesus crucified and forsaken. To live a life of union with God means to possess a heart that remains awake despite of the fact that darkness has fallen; one that knows how to listen to the footsteps of God; only God can grant our hearts the grace to listen to His footsteps, to be aware of His presence.

May the Blessed Virgin, the sorrowful Mother, and the Virgin full of the hope of the Resurrection, intercede and obtain for us this indispensable gift: that of being able to listen with our hearts the voice of the Lord, and listening to it, being able to obey it, in the same way that Mary herself did in her life. AMEN.

Friday, September 14, 2012


WHEN we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously fe
eling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once. how it consecrates and sanctifies us.

It does so because it is the Sign of the universe and the sign of our redemption. On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross he sanctifies man to the last shred and fibre of his being. We make the sign of the cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God. In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fulness of God's life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly.

Think of these things when you make the sign of the cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being,--body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing,-- and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God. 

--ROMANO GUARDINI, Sacred Signs.


“Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honorable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation—very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world”. (St. Andrew of Crete)

These are words that serve to open our reflection in this feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross. Yes, I have placed the word “holy” before the Cross, to remind us once again that it is, for us who believe, a sign of salvation and the instrument through which our Lord won for us new life. In a society and culture such as ours, we are used to seeing this symbol; we see it everywhere and we have grown to be familiar with it, so much so that even lamentably we have lost sight of its true and sacred significance. It has become part of fashion, which isn’t known for its modesty and decorum many times: that which is the holiest of signs has become profane among other profane symbols. Hence, this day is an invitation to us to rediscover the meaning of the holy cross, to exalt it, and to live its message in our lives, so that, with the grace of our Savior, we may be able to share in his life, won for us on the cross.

Basically, the cross shows two things to us: in the paschal mystery of Christ (his passion and death on the cross, and then his glorious resurrection from the death), of which the Cross is its supreme expression, the Holy Spirit has proven the world wrong about sin (cf. Jn 16:8-9). It puts before us the reality of sin. The cross was the price for our sins. The first reading of the Mass of today’s feast gives us an idea of what sin actually is: in the story of Israel’s rejection of God and lack of trust in him by their constant complaining, we see that they are attacked and bitten by serpents, and many of them die. In answer to their pleas for forgiveness and healing, God instructs Moses to fashion an image of a bronze serpent on a pole, upon which the people must gaze if they wish to be healed.

Whenever darkness gets the better of us, when we allow sin to get the upper hand in our lives, we are like the Israelites, who, despite of seeing the many wonders that the Lord has done in our lives, still reject his love, refuse to live according to his commandments, and not place our confidence in his power. For this is basically what sin is: a rejection of God’s law and of his love; when we think that we know better than him in how to live our lives, when we think when we know better about what is really good, in what can us destroy us. It is basically a lack of trust, a lack of submission to his will, and a weakening (if not an absence) of the obedient love that the creature has for its creator, that a child has for its Father. Tragically, the consequence of this is always death.

But God, who wills that all men be saved, did not leave us to our own death. Notice how strange is the command to fashion an image of a serpent, made by a God who had commanded the people not to make images of animals and worshipping them. And yet this is something that he enjoins Moses to do; he tells them the people that if they want to live, they have to gaze upon the bronze image as if their salvation depended on it, an aspect that is very much alive in worship and adoration.

The passage is very rich in signs and symbols. In the image of the serpent we see foreshadowed the salvation done by the Son of God, whose humanity was fashioned in the womb of the immaculate Virgin, the same humanity possessed by Adam, whose disobedient marked the entrance of sin into the world. The second reading, taken from the letter of Paul to the Philippians, speaks about the humility of the second Person of the Trinity: he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. But this humility was not enough for God, as the Apostle continues: ..and being found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. By taking up our sinful humanity, he defeated sin and the devil in his own turf. Just as the image of the serpent was able to thwart the deadly effect of the serpents’ bite in the people of Israel, so was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (who died on the cross in obedience to the will of the Father and out of love for sinful man) able to save us from death and grant us a new life of grace.

This is the second part of the message of the Cross. The message does not end in the darkness of sin, in the silence of the grave, nor in the despair of the tomb. The holy Cross is glorious because it is the instrument of Christ’s glory, symbol of his victory, throne from which he reigns, and upon which our redemption was won. For us it is the ark that leads us over the deadly waters of sin, allowing us to arrive in the Promised Land, which is none other than the salvation that is given to us as a gift from God in Jesus Christ.

The power of the holy Cross is made present in our lives whenever we take up our daily battle against sin in all of its forms. The Cross shows its power whenever we struggle with God’s grace to rise above our weaknesses day by day, minute by minute, and respond humbly to the call to conversion. The Cross makes us more like Christ whenever we try to live for the other, putting an end to our selfishness and egoism.

Let us pray that the power of the Cross may continue to shine our lives. In a society that shows itself to be living in darkness because of its staurophobia (the fear of the Cross), the world needs witnesses to its power and salvation. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I remember that in grade school they taught us that the skin is the largest and the most extensive organ that the human organism has. Equipped with millions—if not billions—of sensors, it is receptive to the slightest touch and pressure, news of which travels quickly to the brain, allowing the body to respond to the sensation that it has received. This simple fact led me to reflect on the fact of how humans beings (though this isn’t reserved to the human organism of course) where made to be receptive to the touch of others. The person was made to be touched, and upon this innate ability to be receptive depends the life (or death) of the person. Man was made to touch and be touched, and he does this in varied ways. But ultimately, he was made in order to be touched by the God who created him. His life and his growth depend on how he responds to this divine touch. If he chooses to shy away from God, the human spirit with its thirst for divine love shrivels up and dies; if he opens up to the grace of God, the more he lives and grows.

The First Reading relays to us a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It relates the coming of the Lord, his visit among his people. The presence and the touch of the Lord is life-giving. The images that the prophet uses suggests the effects that the grace of God have in man: eyes and ears are opened to see and to hear the Good News of God’s salvation, the lame are given the strength in order to walk, and to the dumb the power of speech (and of song) is bestowed. The presence of God in man through grace bears fruit in wholeness of life. This is the effect of grace in the life of man, sanctifying grace that is nothing less than the divine life of God in us, restoring life that has been destroyed by the darkness of sin, and further strengthening it in order to reject sin and live according to His law.

This presence of the Lord among his people in order to grant them salvation is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The Lord had assumed our own humanity, and living among us as man, announced this salvation and fulfilled this Good News of salvation in his own person. In the Gospel we see Jesus performing another miracle, one among the many that he had made in his ministry. In the episode of the deaf man’s hearing being restored to him, we see the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament: God has come and visited his people, and has blessed them with good things. “He has done all things well”, the people say after having witnessed the wonders that Jesus made among them. These were merely signs that pointed to the reality of God’s presence among men, a presence that in itself is a sign of salvation. God saves, and he saves in the person of Jesus Christ.

We allow this salvation to enter into our lives when we allow ourselves to be touched by God. We allow God to touch us when we open our ears to receive his Gospel. Receiving the Gospel and believing in it does not merely require faith. One also needs to be obedient to the Word that has been received.

More than ever, we are called to receive the Gospel and the salvation that it contains with open ears, that is to say, not only believing in it, but also obeying it in its entirety. Applying the Gospel in our life means allowing it to influence our moral decisions, so that our thoughts, words and action, and also our intentions (or the reasons for our actions) will always be in sync with the saving message of Christ, interpreted and taught to us by the magisterium of the Church.

This acceptance of the Gospel, living according to God’s law of love makes us very sensitive about living a life of charity and solidarity, most especially with the poor. In the Second Reading, the letter of the Apostle James turns our attention to one thing that was already present even in the early Church: the scandalous discrimination between the rich and the needy poor. If God has been good to us, by touching us with his grace, by sharing us his very own divine life, by granting us the gift of his mercy, then we too must show the same mercy and goodness to our needy brothers and sisters. Nowadays, our society is divided in a debate that is based on how to uplift the poor and the materially needy in their plight. Our leaders, and we ourselves see the demand to do something. The panorama of suffering that we see in the society that we live in, in which those who have less have lesser every passing day, and the rich get richer, is due to the fact that as Christians, we have failed in our witness to the Gospel of Christ. What a scandal, what a big scandal this is!

It is not that Christianity has failed, nor that Christ is at fault, or that the Church is to blame, but it is rather us, individual Christians who are at fault. We have tied our hands, we have closed our ears, and we have hardened our hearts.

The Gospel does not ask us to present a surefire solution to the problem of poverty. It is a problem to great for us to solve, one that will always be part of our earthly condition. Rather, it asks us not to be deaf to the plight of the needy. There is no magic and standard formula on how to do this; we need to look into our hearts, examine our personal condition, and the particular circumstances in which we live and move, in order to be able to respond well to the call of Christ who waits for us in the guise of the needy. In order to be able to help the poor in an authentic way, we need to discern and act. In a world that has been scandalized by the life of privileged that many Christians have lived, we are called to witness to the love of God that extends itself to all men, whether rich or poor.

May our reflection on the Word of God make us open to receive the touch of God in Jesus Christ, and allow us to be responsive to the call to live according to the charity of God, most especially to the most needy who are nearest to us. May our faith and love move us not to think only of ourselves, but also makes us sensitive to the needs of others, both bodily and spiritual, so that in imitation of Mary our Mother (whose birth and special vocation we have celebrated yesterday) and of all the saints, we may be persons through which God continues to touch and heal the world. AMEN. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012


“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”

At the start of the reflection that we make of the Sunday readings, the exhortation of Moses to the people of Israel brings us to the heart of the covenant that is established between the Lord and his people. The giving of the Law by God to his people is that which seals this special relationship; from being “no-people”, Israel becomes God’s special portion among the nations. The Law becomes that which defines the life and identity of Israel, and regulates the life of the people not only as a nation, but also as individual persons. For Israel, it is the supreme expression of God’s will, and the condition for the people if they want to receive to the full the blessings that are fruit of their special relationship with God. Faithful observance of the Law of the Lord, given to the people through Moses, is manifestation of wisdom and pledge of God’s favor.

Considering this, it would be understandable why Israel was so keen in trying to obey and absorb this expression of the divine will. The law of God, expressed in a precise manner in the Ten Commandments, has been imprinted in man’s heart and in his nature by his Creator. In order to be more faithful to Law, the Israelites further formulated provisions and traditions that were designed to make its observance more amenable, in order to insert it more in the daily life of each individual person. These human traditions, and the clauses that came from the fundamental expression of God’s law (the Ten Commandments), were supposed to aid man in living the will of God in a more profound way; as signposts, they were supposed to guide man how to live according to the spirit of the law, and to express in his life that which lies at its heart: to love the Lord with one’s whole being, and to love neighbor as oneself.

But just as any instrument could be used wrongly, human traditions and further elaborations of the law could also divert us from living what the Law actually enjoins us to do. In the Gospel we see the Lord Jesus finding fault in the example of the Pharisees, who had placed so much importance in the mere observance of the Law. Applying to them the words of the prophet Isaiah, he qualifies the worship that they give to the Lord as vain and false, in teaching as doctrines mere human precepts. By focusing so much on external trappings and provisions of the law, they have lost sight of the real meaning of worship. He points out that true worship starts from within a man’s heart, just as it is from the depths of the person that abominations rise: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile”.

Be careful to note that the Lord Jesus does not pour scorn on human traditions and the interpretation of the law; it is rather that these traditions—which have risen from the desire to be able to follow God’s law and thus live it more meaningfully in our loves—have diverted man from the true meaning of fidelity to the divine commandments. To love God with one’s whole being and to love neighbor as oneself: this is that which constitutes the heart of the law, and that which lies at the root of all human tradition. The Word of God enjoins us to look at our own way of living out the commandments of God, how we apply these into our lives, and to rectify our intention wherever it is lacking.

Rectifying our intention in living the law of God (who is love) means welcoming this law, this word that comes from God. The Apostle St. James, in the Second Reading, explains that humbly welcoming the word means not limiting ourselves to listen to it, but rather to become doers of the word as well. Living according to the commandments (which have Charity at its heart) does not only mean living in a way that would be pleasing to God, by living good, moral lives; but living a life that is characterize for a genuine love of neighbor, especially for those who are needful of our help: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world”. (from the Second Reading according to the letter of James). To love our neighbor—especially the poor—in an authentic way is to desire that which is TRULY good for them, not merely that which is apparently good. This is most especially true in our society, wherein we try to find solutions in order to alleviate the suffering of the poor and our people at large. We—along with our lawmakers and leaders—should come up with solutions that are would truly help raise the standard of life in our society, with laws that keep in mind the deepest truths about the human person and his dignity, and are in line with the divine law, which is the only absolute law on earth. We should not be swayed by solutions that have the appearance of good, ones that would only bring about positive results that are immediate but not long-lasting, ones that would in the end would lead us to more ruin than betterment of life.

Our reflection of the Gospel should also allow us to examine ourselves as Catholics—children of the Father, disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church enlivened by the Holy Spirit—in the way we live our lives. Let us ask ourselves sincerely if we are really living the law of God, expressed in the Gospels and taught by the teaching authority of the Church; or according to a moral law that we have merely made up for ourselves just to make us more comfortable. Let us examine our traditions and devotions, rectifying them and purifying them if they lead us away from the true love of God and neighbor. May our lives be patterned after the love of Jesus Christ, who was obedient to his loving Father and who loved man so much as to give his life for him and take it back so that man might live; may it be patterned after the love of the Virgin Mary and that of the saints, who serve as our models in the struggle to live this authentic love for God and neighbor. AMEN.