Saturday, April 26, 2008

6th Sunday of Easter (A)

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

One day a little boy was sitting and watching his mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. He suddenly noticed that his mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her black head.

He looked at his mother and inquisitively asked, “Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?”

His mother replied, “Well, every time that you disobey my orders and make me unhappy, one of my hairs turns white.”

The little boy thought about this revelation for a while and then said, “Mom, how come all of grandma’s hairs are white?”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Serious admirers often use the old adage that says, “Your wish is my command”. When we love someone, we express willingness to do anything that our beloved ask of us. Jesus simply asks us to observe his commandments.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” What Jesus tells us is that we can either love him or sin; we cannot have both. If we truly love the Lord, then we must try to follow what he wishes us to do or avoid. Genuine love for Jesus moves us to change our lives for the better; it also inspires us to distance ourselves from words, actions, people or things that draw us away from him. To sin is to make Jesus second in our priorities. Every time we commit sin, we love someone or something else more than we love Jesus.

How do we know if we love Jesus? The best way is to look at the way we live our lives. Do we live according to the values of the gospel? Are we grateful to God and generous in giving time for prayer and reflection? Are we humble and sincere in our dealings with people? Are we simple in our lifestyle and responsive to the needs of others? Are we patient and forgiving to sinners? Are we taking care of the environment and responsible in using God’s gifts? Are we faithful to our duties as superiors, parents, teachers, or guardians to people entrusted to our care? Are we respectful to those who give their lives for our future and well-being? Are we trying to live as brothers, sisters, or friends with others in the community? If we can give an honest “Yes” to these questions, then we know that we truly love the Lord.

“Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” The reward of discipleship or the fruit of living moral lives is intimate relationship with Jesus and the Father. When we love one another, Jesus and the Father dwell in our hearts and in our midst.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.” Sometimes, we experienced persecution while observing God’s will or while doing what is right. Yet, we remain strong and steadfast because we believe in Jesus’ promise of his abiding and faithful presence. The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, is already with us. He will defend our cause in the eyes of people, but, importantly, in the eyes of God.

Someone asked God, “How do I live my life best?”

God said: “Face your past without regrets; handle your present with confidence; and prepare for the future without fear.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

5th Sunday of Easter (A)

Acts 6:1-7; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

A priest died and went to heaven. There he saw angels walking in procession. The priest noticed that once in a while, some angels would do a quick somersault then continue walking.

“What do they do that for?” the priest asked St Peter.

“You know what Father,” Peter explained, “What you see are guardian angels. If the one they’re guarding commits a mortal sin, they somersault.”

“Well,” the priest said, “May I see my guardian angel?”

And Peter replied, “He’s not here. He is in the Lord’s room.”

“Is that how special we, priests, are?” the priest inquired.

“Not really. But your guardian angel somersaults rapidly and the Lord made him His electric fan.”

(The story is told by Larry Faraon, O.P.)

In the gospel, Jesus speaks about his Father’s house which has many dwelling places. He promises disciples that he will go there and prepare a place for each one of them. Such is a great consolation for those of us who seriously desire to live in communion with God. In the midst of life’s joys and pains, successes and difficulties, we continue to believe that our ultimate destination is oneness with the loving God.

It is easy to imagine God’s house as a physical location where we can go if we know the way. Like Thomas, we might also ask: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus, however, leads us to a deeper understanding of God’s dwelling places. First, he and the Father dwell within one another – “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. And second, he and the Father dwell within us –“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. God, thus, lives not in a house of stone but in a spiritual house made of living stones. In the second reading, Peter claims that we are that spiritual house because God has chosen us to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, precious in His sight.

“I am the way”, the Lord says. The way to communion with God is not a physical road but a person whom we know. Jesus is the path that leads us to the heart of God. He is the road of service, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, justice and mercy. No one can come to God by greed and selfishness, by force and violence, or by rejection and hatred.

God’s kingdom, therefore, is more of a state of existence than a physical location. It is a situation where God reigns, where love dominates, where kindness overrules, where peace prevails, and where joy lasts.

“I will go and prepare a place for you”. Jesus always leads the way. He goes first and makes it easier for us to reach our ultimate goal in life. He provides us with good examples of meaningful and fruitful living necessary for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

There is a story of a man who had a dream one night. He dreamed that he died and found himself in a large room. In the room there was a huge banquet table filled with all sorts of delicious foods. Around the banquet table were people seated on chairs. They were obviously hungry. But the chairs were five feet from the edge of the table and the people apparently could not get out of the chairs. Furthermore, their arms were not long enough to reach the food on the table.

In the dream there was a solitary large spoon, five feet long. Everyone was fighting, quarreling, and pushing, trying to grab hold of the spoon. One man reached out, picked up some food, and turned it to feed himself, only to find the spoon was so long that as he held it out he could not touch his mouth. The food fell off.

Immediately, someone else grabbed the spoon. That person reached far enough to pick up the food, but could not feed himself. The handle was too long.

In his dream, the man who was observing it all said to his guide, “This is hell; to have food and not be able to eat it.”

The guide replied, “Where do you think you are? This is hell. But this is not your place. Come with me.”

They went into another room. In this room there also was a long table, filled with food, exactly as in the other room. Everyone was seated in chairs, and for some reason they, too, seemed unable to get out of their chairs.

Like the others, they were unable to reach the food on the table. Yet they had satisfied looks on their faces. Only then did the visitor see the reason. For exactly as before, there was only one spoon. It, too, had a handle five feet long. Yet no one was fighting for it. In fact, one man who held the handle reached out, picked up food, and put it into the mouth of someone else, who ate and was satisfied.

That person then took the spoon by the handle, reached for the food from the table, and put it back to the mouth of the man who first gave him something to eat. And the guide said, “This is heaven.”

(The story is told by Robert A. Schuller in The Power To Grow Beyond Yourself)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

4th Sunday of Easter (A)

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Pet 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

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 Ricky 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)

The fourth Sunday of Easter is assigned as Good Shepherd Sunday. For us believers, the Good Shepherd is no less than Jesus Christ himself. He is our model of a servant-leader, both in the religious and in the secular world.

The image of a good shepherd is appropriated to Jesus because he possesses within himself the qualities of one who takes care of the flock. Like a good shepherd, he knows us individually and he looks after each one of us. As a good shepherd, Jesus leads us by example; he practices what he preaches. And finally, like a good shepherd, Jesus is willing to give his life for our protection and well-being.

Almost all of us have shepherding roles. Priests and religious are called to lead the people in their journey to God or to heaven. Government and civil authorities are expected to lead their constituents to progress and prosperity. In the family, parents are leaders of their children; while in school, teachers are leaders of their students. However, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of leaders or shepherds are we?

If we serve only when it is convenient, we are no good shepherds. If we serve only when there is money involved, we are what Jesus calls “robbers and thieves” of the flock. If we lead people only from a distance or if we have no personal involvement with those whom we serve, we are bad shepherds.

The gospel tells us that Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd; he also is the gate of the sheepfold. In old Middle Eastern shepherding, the sheepfold is a circular wall of stones with a small opening for the sheep to pass through. Once the sheep are all inside, instead of closing a hinged gate, the shepherd would normally lie across the opening, so that no intruder or beast can get through without going over his body first, without confronting or even killing him. This kind of shepherding involves not only care but also courage. Jesus is like this kind of a shepherd to us – literally, he is ready to lay down his life for us.

What about us? Do we also have the courage to sacrifice our life for people entrusted to our care?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

3rd Sunday of Easter (A)

Acts 2:14, 22-23; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35

The gospel talks about two frustrated disciples who are moving away from Jerusalem because they believe what happened there in the past days proved them wrong. The man that they had hoped would liberate them from the Roman occupiers had been crucified and killed. The shameful death of Jesus on the cross meant defeat and the end of their aspirations for a better life. They heard astonishing reports that the tomb of Jesus was found empty and that the Lord might have risen from the dead, but these disciples would not take them seriously. And thus, they are leaving Jerusalem with broken spirits and going to a small village called Emmaus, perhaps hoping to find consolation for their great sorrow.

Along the road, the Risen Christ joins the two disciples but they recognize him not. The Lord inquires about their plight and listens to their answers and frustrations. He seems disappointed at their poor perception, but patiently he explains to them the painful event in Jerusalem in the light of the Scriptures. He leads them to understand that the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory, and that his passion and death were the means to bring salvation to the world.

Like the two disciples, we would end up disappointed with Jesus if we mistake him for someone else. For example, we would be frustrated if we think Jesus is a king who likes to be served and feared. Our tendency would be to offer as many burnt offerings in the temple or material goods in the Church, hoping to please or pacify the Lord. Actually, Jesus is not this kind of a God. He is like Yahweh who desires mercy, not sacrifice (Mt 9:13). He would prefer our little works of mercy for the poor and the less fortunate.

Similarly, we would be frustrated if we consider Jesus like a vending machine which gives us what we want after we drop some coins. Our tendency would be to give donations, pray, or observe commandments in exchange for a favor asked. Actually, the Lord is not a vending machine, but a responsible father who knows what is good for us. He would grant our request only if it is not harmful to our wellbeing. Sometimes, he would delay in responding to our prayers in order to make us grow in faith. Moreover, he would like us to be generous, to pray, or to obey God’s will because we see their value, rather than to use these good actions as bargaining power.

We also would be frustrated if we believe that Jesus is a terminator of sinners, ready to punish and destroy those who commit wrongdoings. This understanding is wrong because Jesus is a God of mercy and compassion. He wants to save people and to bring all into his kingdom. If sinners would humble themselves and repent from their evil ways, they would also find themselves in heaven.

After explaining the meaning of the recent events in Jerusalem, Jesus gave in to the request of the two disciples to stay a little while in the house. He sat down at table with them, blessed the bread, gave thanks and broke it. All of a sudden, we are told, the eyes of the disciples were opened and they recognized the Risen Lord in their midst. This is the Lord that they came to know – one who lived with them, ate with them, and shared their joys and sorrows. In Jesus, we come to understand that God is one who loves as so much to the point of sharing everything human, except sin.

It is important that we get a good knowledge of the heart of Jesus for us to find peace and joy in following him. Hopefully, the Risen Christ would inspire in us a robust faith that would make us strong amidst trials and difficulties in life.