Sunday, April 29, 2007

4th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps 99; Rev 7:9, 14-17; Jn 10:27-30

By virtue of our baptism we become members of the sheepfold of Christ. We are the flock and Jesus is the Shepherd who deeply cares for us.

Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and follow him. Is this true with us? Are we good listeners and faithful followers of Christ? Listening is important because it is the beginning of understanding. We cannot truly follow Jesus unless we understand him. We listen to Jesus when we decide to find time alone with him in prayer. This also happens when we read his Word and seriously reflect on it.

A sheep is safe with its shepherd, but not when it wonders around or follows a different path. Similarly, we are secure when we observe the commandments of God or follow the ways of the Lord. Once we pay attention to the enticements of the devil, our life is in danger. Adam and Eve listened to the devil and suffered the consequences. If only they had eaten the snake instead of the fruit, they would have enjoyed paradise for eternity. The sad fate of our first parents will also be ours if we refuse to follow the guidance of the Good Shepherd.

The Lord promises that the sheep which listen to his voice and follow him will never perish or be lost. These reassuring words should inspire us to remain with Jesus all the days of our life. We all will die someday. Some of us would perish from old age or incurable disease; others from natural disasters; still some others from violent deaths. But, if we are genuine disciples, our souls will not perish in eternity. The second reading describes the destiny of God’s children: “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17). Lasting joy and consolation await those who follow the Lord faithfully.

Following the Lord leads to everlasting life, but discipleship is never easy. Discipleship always brings with it trials and persecutions. The first reading narrates how Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and expelled by the Jews for proclaiming the Word of God to the gentiles. Many of us would also experience hardships and strong oppositions in doing our tasks as Christians. Some might even suffer martyrdom for promoting the values of the kingdom. And yet, no matter how great the cost of following Jesus is, we know that we are not left alone to our own resources. The Good Shepherd will always be there to guide, inspire, protect and strengthen us.

A Sunday school teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible: Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the verse. Little Rick was excited about the task – but, he just couldn’t remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line.

On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, “The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19

A husband read an article to his wife about how many words women use a day 30,000 to a man’s 15,000. The wife replied, “The reason has to be because we have to repeat everything to men. The husband turned to his wife and asked, “What?”

(The story is from an unknown author)

The risen Lord asked Simon Peter “Do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” When Jesus repeated the question two more times, the disciple was hurt but continued to say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Ordinarily, commentators would say that Jesus asked Peter the same question three times in order to give the latter a chance to redeem himself. Peter was challenged to commit himself again to the Lord the same number of times he denied him.

Some scholars, however, have another way of explaining why the risen Lord had to repeat the question “Do you love me” to Peter. They explain that in Greek, there are various words for the English word “love”. One is philia, which is a devotional kind of love. An example of philia is the admiration that we have for deserving individuals such as our parents, siblings, friends, teachers and idols. Another Greek word for love is agape, which is a self-sacrificing and unconditional type of love. We have agape when we love a person without conditions or selfish interests. Likewise, our love is agapaic when we show readiness to lose one’s life for the sake of the beloved. The question “Do you love me” was asked three times because Peter did not respond fully well. In the original text, the risen Lord asked Peter, “Agapas me?” or “Do you have agape love for me?” He wanted to know whether or not Peter would love him without reservation or would be willing to sacrifice his life for him. But Peter simply answered, “Philo se” or “Yes, Lord, I have philia love for you.” He was declaring great devotion or admiration for the Lord, but he couldn’t promise him heroic love. After his notorious denial of Jesus during the trial in Jerusalem, Peter could no longer say, “Lord, I will die for you.”

The risen Lord was hoping that Peter would change his mind and so he asked him a second time, “Agapas me?” But again the disciple said he only have philia love for the Lord. Not wanting to humiliate Peter, Jesus finally asked him, “Do you have philia love for me?” And Peter replied, “Yes, I have philia love for you.” In the end, the risen Lord went down to the level of Peter and accepted what he can commit at the moment. Nonetheless, he prophesied that the disciple would develop an agapaic love and would one day give his life for him.

We know that the prophecy concerning Peter was proven true. The first reading narrates how Peter and the other apostles faced courageously the persecutions directed to them by the Jewish authorities. Repeatedly, they were strictly forbidden to preach about the risen Christ and to teach in his name. But Peter and company were determined to obey God, not any human authority (Acts 5:29). They were imprisoned and fiercely whipped, but “they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). Tradition holds that all apostles of Jesus, except John the beloved, suffered and died as martyrs. Peter himself was crucified upside down. He did not only feed Jesus’ flock; he gave his life for them.

During the season of Easter, the question of Jesus “Do you have agape love for me?” is directed personally to each one of us. The Lord would like to know whether or not we love him selflessly and unceasingly. It is nice to be with Jesus when everything is going fine, when life is comfortable, or when fortunes and blessings keep coming. But what happens when our faith is tested, when our Christian life is becoming rough, or when persecutions come our way? Like Peter, we might find it difficult to promise the Lord agape love. Even so, Jesus remains confident that sooner or later we would develop the same kind of love that finally led the apostles to give their life totally for the service God.

It was a Sunday morning in South America, in a little chapel on the border of Venezuela and Colombia. As Mass was beginning, not uncommon occurrence took place: a band of guerillas armed with machine guns came out of the jungle and crashed and banged their way into the chapel. The priest and the congregation were totally horrified and afraid. The men dragged the priest outside to be executed. Then the leader of the guerillas came back into the chapel and demanded, “Anyone else who believes in this God stuff, come forward!” Everyone was petrified. They stood frozen. There was a long silence.

Finally, one man came forward and stood in front of the guerilla chief and said simply, “I love Jesus.” And he was roughly tossed to the soldiers and also taken out to be executed. And several other Christians came forward saying the same thing; they, too, were driven outside. Then the sound of machine gun fire. When there were no more people left willing to identify themselves as Christians, the guerilla chief returned inside and told the remaining congregation to get out. “You have no right to be here!” And with that he herded them out of the chapel, where they were astonished to see their pastor and the others standing there.

The priest and those people were ordered to go back into the chapel to continue the service while the others were angrily warned to stay out “Until,” said the guerilla chief, “You have the courage to stand up for your beliefs!” and with that the guerillas disappeared into the jungle.

(The story is by William J. Bausch in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Sunday (Year C)

Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

A woman and his bad-tempered husband went on vacation to Jerusalem. While they were there, the husband suffered a heart attack and died. The undertaker told the wife, “You can have him shipped home for $5,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for $150.”

The woman thought about it and told him she would just have him shipped home. The undertaker asked, “Why would you spend $5,000 to ship your husband home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only $150?”

The woman replied, “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Today, the whole Christendom commemorates with great joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is something that we proclaim in every celebration of the Eucharist. And yet, we also assign a special day to tell the world that our Lord conquered death once and for all, that the tomb could not hold on to him who is the very source of life.

We rejoice in the Lord’s resurrection because it is a powerful reminder that Jesus triumphed in the end, not the power of darkness and sin. For a while, it seemed that evil had the final say and darkness had overshadowed light. Evil succeeded to falsely accuse Jesus and to condemn him to death. The power of darkness also managed to cast doubts and fears in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples which led them to desert him. But not until the time of the resurrection when Jesus showed the world that he is the sovereign Lord of life and that he brings truth (not deception), justice (not discrimination), and goodness (not evil). In his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus brought his disciples peace, not anger; in fact, he never uttered a single word of regret or blame to them.

The good news of the resurrection is important because sometimes we are tempted to think that evil is more powerful than the good and that the wicked are more fortunate than the righteous. We are made to think this way whenever we see bad people living in affluence or health and good people suffering from poverty or sickness. We need to remind ourselves that things aren’t always what they seem to be. What appears to be a good life may not really be good; and what seems to be a bad situation may not in fact be bad. And besides, there are many things about the interior life of evil and good people that we do not know. As believers of the resurrection, we only need to trust that righteous people will always be at peace in their hearts; but not so the wicked. God is happy with the upright and he will grant them the reward of eternal joy in the end.

The Lord’s resurrection reminds that we will not end up in the grave but in everlasting life. The sacrificial death of Christ on the cross is followed by his sitting at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3) and in him, we gain a mediator per excellence who will intercede eternally on our behalf (Heb. 2:18). We are now hopeful of walking and passing thru the same gate that leads to the Father’s home (Heb. 6:20). As St. Paul says: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thes. 4:13). Now, we can face physical death with full confidence that the Risen Christ has swallowed up death in victory and will awaken those who have died at his coming (1 Cor. 15:51-56). Like Paul, we now have the courage to say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Therefore, a believer’s death should never be seen as a tragedy because “the Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life” (CCC 1020).

If we really believe in the resurrection, then we have to live our life in preparation for the life to come. This is the clear invitation of Saint Paul in our second reading: “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).

What a powerful reminder this is for all of us! How many of us live lives as if there is no tomorrow? We work and work as if there is no tomorrow. How much money is enough? How much possession can satisfy us? Sometimes, we also eat and drink as if there is no tomorrow. We don’t care about our health as long as we enjoy life now or as long as we get much money today. Obviously, this is the attitude of people who do not truly believe in another life to come.

What are things that are above? They are nothing but the values of the kingdom of God that Jesus would like us to keep. Some of them are described by Saint Paul: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body” (Col 3:12-15).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday (Year C)

Is 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

Today is “Palm Sunday”. We bless palms before the Mass in memory of the people of Jerusalem who carried palms as they welcomed Jesus into their city. This day also is known as “Passion Sunday” because we read during the Mass the account of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. The liturgy of the palms and the liturgy of the passion somehow illustrate the inconsistency of human responses to Christ throughout history. Sometimes people welcome Jesus into their lives; other times they deny him or drive him away.

What could be some reasons of people’s inconsistency in following Christ?

One possible reason is self-centeredness. The people of Jerusalem had selfish motivations in receiving Jesus. They got interested in him because they learned about the wonderful miracles he performed. They welcomed him thinking that he also would do something good for them. Many thought he could be the king who would deliver them from the bondage of the Roman occupiers. However, when they realized that Jesus would not do what they wanted him to do, they abandoned him. In fact, the crowd was no longer there when Jesus needed them most.

We are not totally different from the selfish people of Jerusalem. Sometimes we treat the Lord as if he is an agent of rescue 911. We only call on him in times of need, in times of crisis. But during happy and prosperous days, we could barely find time for Christ and his Church. When the Lord calls us to help the poor and the unwanted or when the Church needs us to enliven the Christian community, we are nowhere to be found.

Another possible cause of people’s halfhearted discipleship is fear of discomfort and suffering. The people of Jerusalem changed their attitude towards Jesus upon learning that religious authorities were planning to have him arrested or killed. In the midst of persecution, they no longer wished to be known as his admirers or followers. For fear of his life, even Peter denied any association with Jesus.

Sometimes we also are like Peter and the Jerusalem crowd. We try to avoid trials, challenges, or conflicts while following the Lord. We involve in Church related activities simply to secure our comfort zones. We don’t like to hear disturbing homilies and we react strongly when Church leaders call us to participate in the struggles of the poor. This “feel good” type of discipleship is far from the ideal because the Christian life includes not only devotional practices and liturgical celebrations but also actions in behalf of social justice and peace.

Still another possible reason why people waver in their covenant with Christ is lack of trust. Many of those who welcomed the Lord in Jerusalem believed in his miracles, but they didn’t have enough faith in him. They changed loyalties because Jesus was running directly against the strongest opposition. How could he defeat the military might of the Romans and the religious leaders of the Jews? They didn’t trust that Jesus had the power over all things and that he can save humankind from darkness and sin.

How often also do we lack faith in the saving power of Christ? We pray whenever we need something, but when our prayers are not granted we begin to doubt if the Lord really exists. In times of serious accidents or great calamities, we also begin to question if Jesus really cares. Our insecurities often lead us to believe in superstitions and to consult the opinions of quack doctors who serve other gods. How little is our faith! If we really accept Jesus as the Son of God or as Lord of the universe, why do we question his will? If we really believe that he is the Compassionate God or the Good Shepherd, why do we feel insecure in life?

During this Holy Week, the Church would like us to reflect prayerfully on the person of Jesus and his salvific act, and to thank the Lord sincerely for showing us what it means to be a true child of God. We need to highlight at least three important points:

First, a true child of God is one who is others-oriented, not selfish. Even during his darkest hour, Jesus continued to think of the good of others: he encouraged the disciples (Lk 22:28-30), comforted the women of Jerusalem (23:27-31), forgave his persecutors (23:34), and promised salvation to the repentant thief (23:42-43).

Second, a true child of God is willing to suffer for the well-being of others. Jesus was fully aware that his going to Jerusalem was like marching to his passion, one that would cost him his life. But Jesus was not deterred from entering the city of David because he felt the need to raise his ultimate challenge to the people to accept the good news of the kingdom of God.

Finally, a true child of God puts his trust completely in God. Jesus remained steadfast while undergoing the most serious trial of his life. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus in anguish sweated blood while praying so fervently: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Then, after hours of agonizing pain on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Here was a child who remained faithful to his Heavenly Father up to the end.

After watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, a father asked his child “What would you think of someone who isn’t moved deeply by what we saw?” The young kid responded, “He would be evil.”