Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

At an adult catechism class, the catechist noted that the story of Jonah was not actually historical, that it did not actually, literally happen as it is related. He followed his comment with a rhetorical question (one that does not actually needed an answer) – “Well, how can we not say that the story of Jonah and the Ninevites did not actually happen?” A couple of answers came, though. One blurted out, “well, it could not be that one could still be alive after three days of being in the belly of a whale.” “Some practical, empirical guy,” the catechist thought. Another remarked: “well, because the people actually repented?"

The first reading and the Gospel were intentionally put together.

The figure of Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days is a figure of Jesus in the tomb for three days. The juxtaposition of the first reading and the Gospel shows this vividly. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale, but after three days was brought out alive to the shore, Jesus will stay in the bowels of the earth, but on the third day will rise again.

But there is another thing that we should not miss in the juxtaposition of the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading, Jonah preached to the people, and the people repented – from the king to last citizen, and in the Jewish hyperbole, even the cats and dogs fasted. In the Gospel however, we see the obstinacy of the people who still failed to heed the call of Jesus to repent and believe. Time and time again, God called his people to repentance, but they kept on sinning. Time and time again, God calls us to repentance but we keep sinning.

This season of Lent, God again is calling us to repentance. Jonah speaks to us today – “repent for the hand of God is upon you.” And we have a greater than Jonah here – Jesus Christ who invites us, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” threatening us not with destruction, but offering us love and compassion.

How will our story unfold?

As we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm, may we wholeheartedly pray:

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.

This season of Lent, may we come to true repentance, turn away from our sinful habits and strive towards virtue and goodness. Amen.

Have a holy Lent.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday of the First Week of Lent

Lent calls us to turn to God, and in doing so, also turn to others, especially those in need. That is why one of the paths of Lent is alms-giving – acts of compassion. The readings indicate our motives for treading this path of compassion. First of all, as the First Reading intimates, it is the command of God. Second, as the Gospel unequivocally puts forth, by these acts, or our neglect of them, we shall be judged.

Although these are noteworthy motives, they are not enough. Alms-giving, acts of compassion hopefully, will spring from a heart that loves God and sees God in the needy. Hopefully, our alms-giving, our acts of compassion, our pursuit of the good and true and rejection of evil and false will not simply be motivated by a desire for the joys of heaven and a fear of the pains of the eternal fires of hell, but be motivated by our love of God who has loved us first.

The truth is, we ourselves were once (and continue to be!) the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, homeless, and imprisoned who have been loved by God. To us, hungry for food that satisfies fully, Jesus gives us himself in the Eucharist. To us, thirsty for the truly life-giving water, Jesus gives us the saving waters of baptism. We, naked in our helplessness to free ourselves from the shame of sin, are clothed by Jesus with his righteousness that we may stand before God with confidence. To us, homeless with the loss of paradise, Jesus opened the gates of the Father’s house where there are many mansions, and in which Jesus prepared a place for us. To us, sick because of sin, Jesus offers us the healing balm of forgiveness. Enslaved and imprisoned by our wrongful choices and bad habits, and constantly tormented and tempted by the evil one, Jesus offers the freedom of the children of God.

We have been loved first. Now it is our turn to acknowledge God’s goodness by loving him in others. “Caritas Christi urget nos.” (2 Cor. 5:14)


A prayer by St. Francis Xavier may help us reflect on today's message.

O God I Love you,
not simply to be saved,
and not because those who fail in love to you
will be punished with eternal fire.

You, you, my JESUS, have all-embraced me on the cross.
You have borne the nails, the lance, much ignominy,
numberless griefs, sweating and anguish, and death,
and these on account of me and for me, a sinner.

Why therefore, should I not love you,
O, most loving JESUS?
Not that in heaven you shall save me,
nor lest for eternity you shall condemn me;
not with the hope of any reward,
but as you have loved me, so also will I love you,
only because you are my King,
and because you are my God.

This has been put to song in Filipino by Fr. Manoling Francisco. Translation was made by another Jesuit, Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ. Here is the link: Pagkabighani.

Have a holy Lent.

First Sunday of Lent

We have just begun the Holy Season of Lent. We began with Ash Wednesday. We were marked with the ashes to remind us of our human condition of sin and death – of our need for forgiveness and our hope of eternal life. I noted in my reflection last Wednesday that we were marked with ashes in the sign of a cross, not with an “X”. At the outset, for me, this shows that although we have sinned, and because of that, we merit the consequence of sin, which is death, God has not put an “X” on us. God has instead given us the Cross – the Cross of Jesus Christ. And we are marked with the Cross – we are marked with the Love of God shown in its fullness by Jesus Christ, the Love of God which forgives ours sins and that gives us eternal life. This love we commemorate and celebrate at the most holy days of the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday).

But we do not only commemorate and celebrate our redemption. We rather, enter into these mysteries – we take part in these mysteries, so that we will be recreated anew – we die with Christ so that we may rise anew with him. We are not passive recipients and inactive spectators. By our Baptism, we have died to sin, and have received new life. But as we go through every day of our lives, we come face to face with sin and death, and often times fall prey to them again. That is why, every year, we go through the liturgical seasons. Every year, we are invited to be made new again. Lent is part of this process of renewal.

The readings proclaimed to us today express this hope. In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, we hear what God did after the flood. The flood was a figure of the devastation that sin brings to us and to the world. Sin can, and does destroy not only our souls, but our whole selves, our relationships, our culture, the moral fabric of society, social, economic and political institutions, and even the environment, and the whole of creation. Sin brings destruction – and at its worst, total destruction. The flood, which symbolizes destruction is not God’s punishment. God does not want to destroy us and creation. Remember, he created us all and he saw and affirmed that was all good. It was our sin that destroyed our original goodness, and the original harmony of all.

But God does not mark us with an “X”. God did not give up on us. He delivered those who obeyed him – symbolized by Noah and his family, who made and boarded the ark. After the flood has subsided, God renewed his covenant with Noah and with all of creation. Creation has been made new. The promise of God, that never again will a flood destroy humanity and all creation, is actually both a promise and a challenge. God renews his love, gives it again to man, hoping that man will not turn away again, disobey God and sin, and bring destruction again to himself and all creation.

Now, it is interesting that all kinds of animals were with Noah and his family in the ark. Would not the animals fight against each other – prey and predator? Would not the wild animals pose a danger to the humans? They were in one ark, and nothing bad happened! Sin brought the disorder, chaos, violence to the world. Sin brought the flood, destruction to the world. But being in the ark somehow restored order, harmony and peace in creation. Being in the ark saved Noah and the animals.

Now, was there anybody too who was with wild animals but was not hurt, instead was even attended to by angels? The Gospel tells us that Jesus was in the desert, and he was with the wild animals, but there was no mention of conflict. Instead, it was just related by Mark as a matter of fact, and that he was attended to by angels. Mark tells us that Jesus is the new ark. Amidst the floods of chaos, violence and destruction caused by sin, in Jesus, order, harmony and peace are restored. In Jesus, we are saved.

Lent is a call to enter the ark. Lent is a call to return to Jesus. Peter in the second reading tells us that in Jesus, the waters that destroyed humanity and creation is transformed into the saving waters of baptism, by the love of God revealed in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Unlike Noah, we do not need to build the ark. We need only to enter the ark. We need only to return to Jesus.

What does returning to Jesus entail? Jesus himself tells us – “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” First of all, we need to repent – to recognize our sins, ask for God’s forgiveness, and resolve not to sin again. And then we need to believe – to believe with our minds and hearts that God’s will is best for us, that God’s will alone can bring us true happiness, and to live in our lives what we believe.

This season of Lent, let us enter the ark. Let us return to Jesus. Let us obey the call of Jesus to repent from our sins, and believe in the Good News of God’s love. And hopefully, by the end of Lent, and as we take part in the celebrations of the Paschal Triduum, we may become a renewed person, renewed in our covenant with God, in our relationship with one another, renewed in our relationship with all of creation.

We pray for the grace of obedience. And let us this first week of Lent, consciously practice the virtue of obedience.

Lord God, teach us to turn from our sinful selves to your saving grace. When we pray, “thy will be done,” may we truly let go of our false independence and obey only your most holy will.” Amen.

Have a holy Lent.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
Jesus said to them in reply,
"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." (Lk 5:27-32)


Lord Jesus, as you called Levi,
you called me to follow you.
Not because I am worthy.
Not because I am qualified.
Not because there is anything I can give.
But because you know I need you,
and you alone can heal my broken soul.
Thank you, Lord.
Make me an instrument of your healing.
Make me an instrument of you love.


Have a holy Lent.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Somebody shared to me that he is giving up sweets for Lent. Another said she’s staying away from soda. Another shared that he is temporarily off Facebook and Twitter. And another shared that he is giving up his dinner cigarette. All these in the spirit of the Lenten Fast.

These acts of penance are all good and noteworthy. These practices of mortification, of self-denial help us recognize our true needs and help us let go of unnecessary things that often distract us from what is essential.

But the readings today shed light to a deeper and fuller understanding of fasting. Isaiah tells us that fasting is not limited to letting go of things we enjoy, or have been having in excess. Fasting rather is also and necessarily, a letting go of selfishness, complacency and apathy. Fasting is fasting from ourselves so that we can see others who are in need, and so we may do our best to reach out to them in compassion and service.

And in the Gospel Jesus tells those who question why his disciples do not fast that they will fast when the groom is taken away from them. Jesus reveals the fuller understanding of fasting – that we can truly fast and our fasting can be truly meaningful and can work to our holiness if we have filled ourselves first, with Christ. The call of fasting then is first of all, for us to receive Christ in our lives, give him priority and primacy, and with Jesus, we seek no other. Filled with Jesus, we can let go of our cravings of the things of this world, and our cravings to satisfy ourselves. Filled with Jesus, we can reach out to others in compassion and service, to give them, by our acts of alms-giving, not ourselves and our own righteousness, but Jesus.

Today, let us open our hearts, let ask the Lord to empty us of ourselves and our cravings, let ask the Lord Jesus to come and fill us, let ask the Lord to make us turn to others in need. Let us ask the Lord that we may long for, and give Jesus, only Jesus.


Have a holy Lent.