This week, on Good Friday, all of us will have the opportunity to venerate the Cross. We will process forward, approach the Cross, and with tender love in our hearts, kiss and adore it. For many, this long-held tradition and practice of venerating the Cross may lead us to pose the following questions: Why? Why would we want to (or even dare to) venerate the Cross? This makes no sense! Wasn’t it used to kill the God who loves us and whom we love in return? Isn’t it inconceivably foolish, odd and strange, or even scandalous and inhumane, to venerate such an evil instrument of violence, death and torture, especially since it was used on our Creator and God?
Well, these are all good and reasonable questions, and the answer to them is most definitely a resounding Yes! This practice of venerating the cross is indeed a weird and strange one, but hopefully the reflection that follows will increase, deepen and further our understanding while shedding at least some light on a possible answer as to why we do it.
As I begin at this time, I would now like to direct our attention to the painting. As you prayerfully look at it and contemplate it, put yourself in the scene. Imagine that even as He is dying on the Cross, Jesus is able to peer through space and time. 2000 years into the future, He is able to see all of us! On a more particular, individual and more personal level, He is able to see you and He is able to see me.
As He looks upon you, and as He looks upon me, what do you think He sees?
Our Hope in the Cross:
For most of us, it is easy to see how the Cross, more than being an image of evil, violence, death and torture, is a sign of hope. The reason is that as we look upon the Cross and look at Jesus looking at us, we call to mind the fact that the story doesn’t end here. We remember that after the Cross, there is a Resurrection. In fact, we intuitively know that because of what Christ did on the Cross for us, every cross has a resurrection. No matter how horrible, unbearable or evil our life situations become, because of Christ’s Cross, we are able to hope and not despair. We are able to hope, with good reason, that our suffering and pain will soon end, and that eventually there will be peace and tranquility. We are able to hope that we will be able to mystically enter into Christ’s Resurrection and experience our own resurrections. More to the point, we are able to hope and believe that there is more to look forward to after death, and that the imperfect world we are living in now isn’t all that there is. In short, because of Christ our Savior, we are able to see our salvation and hope and believe that there is indeed a place of happiness and bliss which will fulfill all of our deepest longings and desires – a place called heaven – and that someday, we will all be there, together and with Him.
But this is what we see when we look to Jesus on the Cross. As was asked before, what about what He sees as He gazes on us? What is Jesus thinking as He looks at you and me from the Cross?
The Possibilities of Our Original Goodness:
Inevitably, there are many answers to this question; so much so, that all of us will probably be able to pray with it for the rest of our lives. As such, the answer that I am about to propose is only a small part, or a piece of the puzzle (if you will). In no way is it meant to exhaust the mystery that this question poses. So with great humility and much reverence, I propose that one answer could be that as Jesus sees each and every single one of us, individually, He sees possibility and potentiality. He sees who we were created to be, and He sees all that He desires in us. In short, He sees each of us as what we can become if we cooperate with His saving grace and help. He sees us as His friends, friends who have an abiding, everlasting, loving, faith-filled and joyful relationship with Him.
Each and every single one of us has an inherent dignity within us that comes from the fact that we were lovingly created in the image and likeness of God. God created each of us out of love, and when He looks at His creation, He calls us good. We are His gift to Himself. We are His beloved children and He is our loving Father. The only problem is that because of our fallen state and the sinfulness that we all have in our hearts, we forget who we are and it is hard for us to see the goodness that God has placed within us. Remember this, though. Remember that we have an original nature which more original than original sin, and remember that this original nature is inherently good!
This Gives Jesus Hope:
It is this original goodness, and the possibilities that flow from it, that Jesus sees. When He is on the Cross, He sees all that we could become and who we were meant to be. He sees who He created us to be, and He sees us actually becoming that version of ourselves. He sees us becoming the best version of ourselves! He sees us growing to the point that He will be able to have a real, profound and authentic relationship with us and eternally call us His equals and His friends, and as He sees all of this, He is able to feel great hope at the core of who He is – deep within His most Sacred and Merciful Heart. It is this hope (along with His eternal divinity) that gives Him the human strength and the human desire to endure the sorrowful passion of His suffering and death on the Cross for us.
With this in mind, just think about it. Isn’t it mind-boggling to think that Jesus (our God and our Creator) believes in us and hopes in us (as little as we are)? Isn’t it amazing and awe-inspiring to realize that Jesus actually believes and hopes in you and me!!!
Wow! As we look at Jesus on the Cross, we experience hope, but simultaneously, the same is also true for Jesus. As He looks at us from the Cross, He experiences His own hope. Thus, our two hopes cross and meet. They touch and make contact. They encounter each other and become one! So during this Holy Week, as you are preparing yourself for what will probably be the best Easter of your lives, go back to this painting often, and pray and talk with God about all of this. Maybe in your conversation with God He will give you more insights than what I have already been able to share with you here in this short reflection. In any case, as you are venerating the Cross on Good Friday, remember that Jesus is lovingly looking down upon you and that His gaze is one of belief, faith and hope in you. Also remember that because of His belief, faith and hope in you, you have every reason to have faith, belief and hope in yourself. Never lose this hope, and never despair. No matter what your struggles are and no matter how weak, sinful and imperfect you feel you are, Jesus is always with you, faithfully loving, believing in and hoping in you. This is even truer now than it was before, especially since you are responding to Him by becoming full members of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. With this in mind, I conclude by wishing you a Happy Holy week and much fruit for the rest of your lives. My best of regards, many graces and God Bless!!!
I preached the following homily/reflection during a communion service which took place in a hospital/nursing home…enjoy!
Today, with humility, gratitude and joy, I stand before you, and I would like to begin with the words of the Disciples that we here in today’s Gospel Reading. They said these words to Jesus up in the high mountain when they saw the majesty of God in His Transfiguration, and today, I say these words to you. Today, I say, “It is good that we are here.” It is good that we are here, not only together in each others’ company, but also in the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Speaking of the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ, He promised that He would always be present and dwelling among us. Through the Eucharist, He has kept this promise to us for over 2,000 years, now, and He has more than merited our trust.
Today, all of the Mass readings are about God’s promises to us, and how we should respond with faith, hope and love.
In the first reading from Genesis, we hear of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son (Isaac). In the reading, we see how Abraham was obedient. Ultimately, he was able to be obedient, because he remembered God’s particular and individual promise to him when he and his wife were old and still did not yet have a son to continue their family lineage. This promise of God was that Abraham would bear much fruit and that he would indeed have descendants, descendants that would be as numerous as the stars. Upon hearing this promise, Abraham was told that His wife who was barren has, in her old age, miraculously bore a son in her womb. This miracle child, this only son of Abraham, this only hope that Abraham had of passing on his lineage for generations to come, this gift from God was precisely what God was asking Abraham to Sacrifice in offering his son, Isaac, to be slaughtered by his own hand. In the end, though, because of Abraham’s faithfulness and obedience, as well as his trust in God and in God’s promise to him, God mercifully and lovingly prevented Abraham from following through with the unthinkable act of killing his own son. In so doing, God did, indeed, keep His promise to Abraham.
Moving on, in today’s psalm, we hear of another promise of God. In short, this promise has to do with resurrection and salvation. The words of the psalm response remind us that God promises us that in the end, we will walk with the Lord in the land of the living.
But that’s not all; there’s more!
In the second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we are reminded of God’s promise to us that He will always be with us and shielding us and protecting us. The words that tell us this are: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Furthermore, we hear of how God is always with us, giving us everything we need; including His very Self! Also, we hear how Jesus acquits us and forgives our sins. We also hear of how Jesus is at God’s right hand, following through with His promise to always be interceding for us.
The culmination of all of this comes to a climax as we read today’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel, we hear of Peter, James and John and how they saw the majesty, glory and divinity of Jesus in His Transfiguration. In short, Jesus opened the Disciples’ eyes and allowed them to see the reality of who Jesus is as the Son of God. As their eyes were opened, the Disciples experienced their own transfiguration. They were transformed. Jesus allowed them to experience His transfiguration, and the reason was so that they could believe Him and trust in His promises as the Christ and the Messiah. Had the Disciples not seen the majesty, glory and divinity of Christ at His Transfiguration, they would have most likely despaired and lost all faith or hope when Jesus was undergoing His passion and death on the Cross. Inevitably, they would have seen Jesus’ scourging at the pillar and His weakness as He carried the Cross on His way to Calvary, then finally His lifeless body as He died on the Cross. Inevitably, at His death, they would have begun to doubt His divinity and doubt the veracity of His promises. They would have stopped believing and hoping that He, indeed, was the Christ and our Messiah.
Just like the Disciples, today (in our circumstances), sometimes we forget the power of Jesus in our lives. We experience pains, sufferings, woundedness and difficulties. In truth, we experience real evil in our lives. As such, our temptation is to forget the power of Christ, His majesty, His glory and His divinity. Our temptation is to forget in the power of His life, death and resurrection, and how because of Him who has conquered the world and all evil, we are victorious. Just like the Disciples, sometimes we are tempted to forget the promises of Christ, and as such, it is difficult for us to have the same level of trust, faith, hope and love that Abraham had in God; the perseverance that He exhibited in the unthinkable circumstances of His situation that we heard about earlier in the first reading from Genesis.
We forget the message that all things work for the good of those who love God, and that God has plans for our welfare; not for our woe.
One basic truth follows from all of this, and that truth is as such: that without remembering and strongly believing in God and His promises to us, it is impossible for us, and we are simply unable, to hear the Lord speaking to us and obey and follow His will in our lives.
But the good news for us today is that we are still here, and that God is still with us, and that He is still patiently transforming us every day. Slowly but surely, He is holding us by the hand and pulling us through our life circumstances. Each circumstance that we face, in the end, is meant to be for our own good and is a true gift from God. No matter how bad the situation seems, God wants to use it to help us grow deeper in our faith, to become more mature spiritually, and ultimately to grow closer in our relationship with Him. He wants us to turn to Him in our difficulties as little children who utterly and deeply need the help of their Father.
In short, all of our circumstances are for our own good and are meant to form and transform us. As such, our very lives are meant to help us enter into the Mystical Body of Christ and personally experience and participate in, for ourselves, the same Transfiguration that He, Jesus Christ Himself, experienced.
Today, let us open ourselves up to this transfiguration, so that for the rest of this Lent, we can be transformed every day and grow deeper in our trust for God and His promises to us. In so doing, we will also be able to have the strength, like Jesus did, to embrace our Crosses, and trust that because of Him, every Cross (even our Crosses) has (or have) a Resurrection.
To help us do this, and to aid us in becoming more open to being transformed and transfigured (with Jesus), we need to constantly remind ourselves of His promises. Personally, I like to do this by praying a personal creed to myself every day, words that I want to and need to believe more and more every day.
These words are as follows:
- God loves me unconditionally.
- God has cast my sins from His memory, forgiven me completely and washed away all of my sins (past, present and future).
- And finally, God is always with me, constantly giving me innumerable graces and blessing me all the time.
I pray these words to myself every day to constantly remind myself of who God is to me in my life. Today, I invite you to begin this same practice, and to pray these words every day (whenever you feel afraid, anxious, worried, desolate or alone). Let these words bring you peace in time of distress. Let these words help you to experience the healing balm of God’s presence in your lives.
If you do this every day, I promise that your life will change and that you will be able to find the graces and blessings in all circumstances. You will be able to live in deep peace, gratitude and joy. You will grow in the virtues of trust, obedience, faith, hope and love, and ultimately, no matter what, you will be happy.
In conclusion, since God is a God of promises, and since we are supposed to imitate Him and be perfect as He is perfect, we should also be people of promises, as well.
So I invite you to take some time, right now, to turn to somebody next to you (who you don’t already know), and ask them what they need you to pray for. (Wait for about three minutes to let this happen)…
Now that you have spoken with your neighbor next to you, promise to pray for that person for the rest of Lent. Pinky swear and cross your heart and hope to die. Mean this promise with all of your heart and actually follow through with it. Do it!
If you do this, you will be able to trust in the promise that we are not alone and that we are all in this journey of life together, praying for each other, lifting each other up and supporting each other. Likewise, we will be able to trust in God’s promise to us that He hears our prayers and listens to us and remember that, “…the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore…pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 4: 13-16).”
Together, with each other and with God, as we are transformed and transfigured with Christ, we will also be resurrected with Christ. Every Cross has a resurrection!
Be assured of my prayers for you, have a great rest of your Lent, and God bless you…Amen!
We Are Clay in The Hands of God the Potter
In today’s reading from Jeremiah, we hear that like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are we in God’s hands. We also hear that just like a potter, whenever the object of clay which He is making turns out badly, God transforms the clay into another, better, NEW creation.
Sometimes Being Transformed Is Painful
We have all played with play-dough before, and as kids, we were very rough with our play-dough. We would roll it into a ball, throw it against the wall, let it hit the floor, stretch it, break it, squish it, flatten it and so on and so forth.
In the end, out of all of that, we would end up creating something that we were proud of, even if we had to start over and try again a few times.
But imagine what it would be like and how it would feel to be the play-dough experiencing all of this abuse.
God Is Gentler than We Are
We can take comfort in the fact that while we are the clay (or the play-dough), God is not abusive. He is gentle with us, and patiently forms us with care.
Nonetheless, sometimes (especially when we are not malleable or open to change) we feel lots of pain in the process of being transformed. The good news is that the pain is never meaningless, and God (the potter) is with us, loving us through it all.
I am sure all of us can remember getting hurt. I remember when I was a kid (like you at your current age). I accidentally kicked my foot through the window next to my bed while I was sleeping and dreaming. I immediately woke up and noticed the damage. Blood was everywhere!
Well when I was at the hospital, my mother did something very interesting, so much so that I remember it even to this day, over 20 years later! While the doctors were opening the cut, pulling out the shards of glass and stitching me up, she took my hand. She said, “Don’t worry. I am here with you. Just hold on to my hand and squeeze as tightly as you can whenever you need to.”
God Is Like My Mother
God is like my mother, and as we are experiencing the necessary pain that comes with being transformed, He stretches out His hand and invites us to cling on to Him, holding on as tightly as possible. Just like with my mother (who allowed my pain so that my foot could heal and grow healthily), God allows us to endure our pain. At the same time, though, just like my mother, His loving presence and tender touch is very comforting. To be sure, the pain doesn’t go away, and as we squeeze on tightly, God feels the pain with us, but the fact that we are not alone and that we are loved makes the pain all that much more bearable and meaningful.
So next time when you are playing with your play-dough, remember how God is transforming you and lovingly pulling you (by the hand) through even the most painful, difficult, toughest and hardest days of your life.
Homily for Daily Mass of 1st Thursday of Advent, 4 December 2014 (Gospel Reading = Matthew 7: 21, 24-27)
In the Gospel Reading from today’s Mass, we hear Jesus saying the following to His disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”
These words really stuck out to me and struck a chord within my heart. In short, upon some reflection, I realized that Jesus is making a distinction here. He is differentiating between the words that we say and the actions that we do.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of people who listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and who have a very good knowledge of what Jesus teaches and says, and who yet make little or no deliberate attempt to put it into practice. If we are to be in any sense true followers of Jesus we must hear and do; otherwise, it is possible for us to use words and call Jesus ‘Our Lord’ while simultaneously not acting as if He is our Lord and not doing His will.
There are two great permanent truths within this passage.
The first truth is that there is only one way in which a man’s sincerity can be proved, and that is by his practice. Fine words can never be a substitute for fine deeds. There is only one proof of love, and that proof is obedience. There is no point in saying that we love a person, and then doing things which break that person’s heart. When we were young maybe we used to say to our mothers, “Mother, I love you.” And maybe our mothers would smile a little and wistfully say, “I wish you would show it a little more in the way you behave.” So often we confess God with our lips and deny him with our lives. It is not difficult to recite a creed, but it is difficult to grow up, become mature and truly live the Christian life. Faith without practice is a contradiction in terms, and love without obedience is an impossibility.
The second truth is that at the back of this passage is the idea of judgment. All through it there runs the certainty that the day of reckoning comes. A man may succeed for long in maintaining the pretenses and the disguises, but there comes a day when the pretenses are shown for what they are, and the disguises are stripped away. We may deceive men with our words, but we cannot deceive God. No man can ultimately deceive the God who sees the heart.
But for those of us who genuinely do want to call Jesus ‘Our Lord’ and follow through in action by also doing His will, two questions arise. First, how do we know the will of God, and second, how do we do it!
Well, we receive the answer to both questions in the second half of today’s Gospel. In essence, we come to know the will of the Father by ‘listening.’
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man (who is solidly founded on rock and can withstand the storms of life)…and everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool (who will collapse and be completely ruined amidst even the slightest of storms)…”
Here, Jesus correlates the disposition of wisdom with the one who listens. Interestingly enough, the Latin word for ‘listen’ is obedire, and it literally means to listen or to hear. But it also means to obey.
And this precisely is the word in which hearing and doing are summed up – the word, obedience. Jesus demands our implicit obedience! To learn to obey is the most important thing in life. The reason is that it is Jesus’ claim that obedience to him is the only sure foundation for life; and it is his promise that the life which is founded on obedience to him is safe, no matter what storms may come.
So in order to do the will of God, we must first listen to Him. This requires encountering Him frequently in our prayer lives and growing closer and closer to Him spiritually. This growing relationship with our Lord can only happen if we grow in our ability to experience Him in at least an hour of personal silence every day. Only then, over time, will we begin to hear and recognize His voice. Only then will we be able to actually obey Him (and do His will).
Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we will all admit that there is a little bit in each and every single one of us that is foolish. For example, in my life, it is easy to hear and listen to God, but when it comes to actually obeying and doing the will of God (especially when it comes to my weakness of food, dieting and exercise), I fall short.
Some of you may have the opposite problem of me, though, where it would be easy for you to obey and do God’s will…where you would easily be able to do all that God is asking of you in your life (if only you could begin to hear Him speaking to you in your heart of hearts). If this is your situation, try to implement more silence into your daily routine, and I promise that over time, you will begin to hear His voice…the voice of our God and Father.
This said, though, no matter where we fall on the spectrum between listening and obeying, the good news for us today is that God is indeed close to us (even closer to us than we are to ourselves), and is speaking to our hearts all the time. In fact, He is the rock that we are supposed to lean on and fortify ourselves with. Thank God our God is a patient God, and gives us (who are weak) time to grow more and more as we learn to accept Him (and His strength) more and more in our lives.
I conclude with this note:
In our weaknesses, even if we are honestly trying to listen, obey and do God’s will in our lives, we are bound to fail and miss the mark from time to time. Nonetheless, our God and Heavenly Father who knows all things will no doubt know the honest effort that we are putting forth, and will thus judge us accordingly…in His great and infinite mercy. If you want His mercy, though, just be sure that you are always getting back up when you fall, and striving with great strength to do better and better all the time…striving to love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and with all your soul.
The authentic Christian life must be one of total engagement of the entire person – mind, soul and body…a whole and entire (sacrificial) gift of the total self.
Please pray for me in my struggle to do God’s will in my life (especially regarding my weaknesses and my health), and I will be sure to reciprocate the favor by praying for you in your struggles to do God’s will in your lives, as well.
Amen, and God bless!!! 🙂
In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus’ injunction to his disciples (and to us, here today) is “Be Watchful! Be Alert!” He says, “You do not know when the Lord is coming…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
The Common Interpretation
A common interpretation of these words from Jesus is that He is calling us to complete our work day by day, to make every day pleasing for him to see, to be ready to meet him face to face at any moment, and to live in such a way that it doesn’t matter when he comes. While this common interpretation is a valid, authentic and meaningful one, I would like to take this opportunity to delve a little deeper and perhaps reflect even further on these words from Jesus, the words “Be Watchful! Be Alert!”
The Pharisees and Lack of Recognition
Two Sundays from now, on this year’s third Sunday of Advent (which is called Gaudete Sunday), we will hear from the Gospel of John. In it, we will read about how the Pharisees ask John the Baptist why he baptizes if he is not the Christ. But more importantly, we will read John the Baptist’s response to the Pharisees. He points to Christ as he tells them, there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.
Another Possible Interpretation???
These words really stuck out to me when I read them, and I will return to them in a moment, but right now, let us look at the Pharisees. In all fairness to them and for all intensive purposes, I would have to admit (in all honesty) that if the above-presented common interpretation of Jesus’ words (to be awake, alert and watchful) is exhaustive and complete; the Pharisees seem to be the ideal role models for us. The reason is that much of their efforts were geared towards living righteously. They sought cleanliness, ritual purity and strict, juridical obedience of the law. In short, in a certain sense, they were always alert and watchful. They did try to make every day pleasing for the Lord to see, and they did strive to always be ready to meet Him. So why are they not canonized? Why are they not saints? Why do we not try to imitate them? I think the answer lies in John the Baptist’s words to them, where again, he says, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” As alert and watchful as they were in their attempts to live good, righteous and holy lives, they somehow missed the mark. Unfortunately, they failed at the all-important task of recognizing the Christ; Jesus who was amongst them, right in front of them, with them and already in their midst.
The Meaning for Us
For us, today we begin our journey of advent, a season where we are preparing, watching and waiting for the coming of our Lord and Savior, the baby Jesus. I believe that the good news for us is that He is already here, always with us and among us (in so many different ways), and that all we have to do is watch and be alert, growing in our awareness so that unlike the Pharisees, we will be able recognize Him and know Him when we see Him. This is difficult at times, and it was even difficult for the 12 Disciples, as they, too, failed to recognize Jesus multiple times throughout the Gospels. As seminarians, we’re no different, and our temptation … MY TEMPTATION … (which my spiritual director has warned me against on several different occasions) is to externally go through the motions (like the Pharisees) to look good on the outside, and to (for instance) say the Liturgy of the Hours instead of genuinely praying the Liturgy of the Hours when we’re in community. If we fall into this temptation of watching NOT for Jesus, but instead for the seminary formation team, we are failing to respond to Jesus’ injunction for us today, the injunction for us to be awake, alert and watchful towards Him! As such, we are failing to experience and live in the awareness (on a deeper, more profound, authentic and more spiritual level) the good news; the good news that we don’t have to wait or prepare for Jesus anymore. Why? Because He has patiently and lovingly been with us, in our presence, all along. All we have to do is watch; watch so that instead of missing Him, we will see Him and be able to respond accordingly.
Excerpt from the 2014 Easter Sunday Gospel Reading (John 20:1-9):
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb…Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
The Dark and Scary Tomb:
In today’s Gospel according to John, the most predominant theme is the empty tomb. So significant is this theme that in this short reading alone, the tomb is mentioned a total of seven times! As such, today I invite us to go exactly there, praying that the Lord will accompany us and help us to go precisely where we do not want to go, asking Him to take us to that dark, cold and scary place; that place of obscurity and mystery; that place which is associated with silence, stagnation and death.
But He Did Not Go In:
Why? Because as I was praying and reflecting on this reading, the words that kept on reverberating in my mind and heart were, “the other disciple [John] arrived at the tomb…but did not go in.” These words struck a chord within me, because I realized that my inclination would be the same. I, myself, would be apprehensive and afraid. I, too, would hesitate and not want to go into the tomb. But in my prayer, I felt the Lord telling me: “Thomas, without the tomb, there is no resurrection. If you do not go into the tomb with me now, you will find yourself there (all alone) later, with no way to transcend it, with no way to get out.” So in my prayer, upon realizing that just like Peter, the other disciple eventually mustered up the courage to follow the Lord and enter into the tomb, I accepted the Lord’s invitation. I found the courage to go in, and here is what I discovered.
God, Our Father, Works On Us When We Are In The Tomb and Creates Us Anew:
Jesus died at 3pm on Friday. Then, He was entombed. There Jesus remained, buried in the earth, through Saturday, when all earthly work stops in accord with God’s command to rest on the Sabbath. But God, the Father, did not stop. He went on working, silently and in secret, filling with His breath and spirit the body of His only Son, until He would rise again on Sunday, the third day, when the prophecies would be fulfilled and life would finally spring forth from the tomb, conquering death forever. Let us not imagine this event as being a thing of the past, though! The resurrection of Jesus is not in the past and it does not pass away through the death of time; instead it is and it abides. It is not over, and it will not be over until each and every one of us (as the mystical body of Christ) has been resurrected! As such, we, ourselves, find that we are enmeshed in it and that it lives on through us and is the very thing that sustains us. In essence, the resurrection is our wellspring of life, and we are called to participate in it; today in the here and in the now. But the only way to do this is to enter into the tomb, our own personal tomb, so that God the Father can do as He did with Jesus, work on us silently and secretly, breathing His life-giving spirit into us, resurrecting us, giving us new life and creating us anew.
In Seminary, We Find Our Tomb:
As seminarians, God the Father is doing precisely this, silently and secretly working on us who seek to continue the life, death and resurrection of His only Son. So in many ways, the seminary for us is our tomb, and all of us here have indeed entered into it courageously. But I have found in my own process of formation here at the seminary that as we enter into one tomb, the Father (if we allow Him to do so) resurrects us into another tomb, inviting us and challenging us to muster up more courage and enter deeper and deeper into our death so that we can continually become more and more alive. My own example of such a tomb is one that I realized very recently. Ultimately, my current tomb is a fear of success; a fear that the more I grow and succeed, the more I will have demands and expectations placed upon me, demands and expectations which I am afraid of and feel I won’t be able to live up to. This would mean leaving old sins and vices behind and not allowing them to linger. This would mean building virtue in my life and allowing Christ to save me and truly set me free! To this point thus far, I have lamentably been unsuccessful, because I have allowed my fears to sabotage my efforts, and as such, I have inhibited my growth and not yet met my full potentiality. So right now, this is the tomb that God is asking me to enter into, but not without the promise of a future resurrection. My hope for all of us today is that we will find the courage to enter into the tombs of our hearts (as God reveals them to us) so that in us, especially during this Easter season, God the Father can continue His work of resurrecting His Son until the end of time, when all of us (His members) will rise to life eternal. So, as we approach our resurrected Lord in the Eucharist today, let us pray (for ourselves and for each other) that we will not get in the way of the ongoing resurrection, and that ultimately, we will cooperate with God, allowing Him to lead us and work with, in, through and for us, so that the resurrection will someday find its final end and completion, with all of us – all of God’s people – in Heaven experiencing the Beatific Vision together, forever and ever. Through Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen!
This homily reflects on the first reading from the Christmas Vigil Mass…Isaiah 62:1-5
The reading can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122513-vigil-mass.cfm
My most memorable Christmas gift ever was given to me a little over 10 years ago. When I opened it and saw it for the first time, I remember jumping up and down and screaming out tears of joy (mixed with choked up laughter) and being completely unable to speak in the midst of my excitement. This gift, which to this day remains as my most precious possession, was my saxophone. I will cherish it for the rest of my life, not only because it is an expression of my very identity (as a musician), but also because as excited as I was on that unforgettable Christmas Day, my mother was all the more. I will always remember the expression on her face, and how happy she was when she saw my reaction. In a real way, this saxophone is more than just a saxophone, it is a token (and outward sign) of how deep her love is for me, and how much she is willing to sacrifice for me.
God’s Love for Us:
As we celebrate this Christmas Vigil Mass we hear God speaking the following words to us in today’s first reading from Isaiah: He says, “You shall be called My Delight and your land Espoused. For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” This is just so, so gorgeous and beautiful!!! Ever since I was introduced to these words from scripture, I have gone back to them frequently whenever I needed to be consoled by them (and reminded of God’s love for me). In these words, we hear of God’s deep love for us, and how much He wants to marry Himself to us, become one with us, and just BE with us! In a deep and profound way, these are the words of God kneeling down on one knee and presenting us with a priceless ring.
Jesus Christ is the Ring:
Jesus Christ is the Ring. The birth of Jesus, His very incarnation, poignantly shows us that there has indeed been a marriage…a marriage between heaven and earth, a marriage between divinity and humanity, a marriage between God and Man…a marriage between God and Us!!! As Jesus Christ is born, He comes into our world and becomes one with us. He unites Himself to us and we become one with Him! In John’s Gospel from tomorrow’s Christmas Mass [during the day], we read that Jesus “gave us the power to become children of God.” It is precisely Jesus’ birth that allows this to happen, as in His incarnation, He marries us into His family, thereby sharing His sonship with us and giving us the Christmas gift of His very own Father.
My most memorable gift ever was my saxophone. Even to this day, it is a gift that I frequently go back to (and in many ways, because it brings so much joy to me, I use it to bring joy to others). Will our response to Jesus’ gift (of marrying us and sharing His Father with us) be the same, or will we just treat this gift like most of the other gifts we’ve received throughout our lives? Will we open this gift once then tuck it away in storage never to be seen, used or remembered again? Or will we treat this gift as one that is precious to us, one to be in constant use, one which should never be forgotten; one which should remain close to our hearts and bring us consolation and joy for the rest of our lives…one which will be shared? It is our choice. As good a gift as the saxophone was (and still is to me), I choose to make the gift of Jesus Christ more precious to me. As we approach the Blessed Sacrament this evening (which in itself is a sign that reminds us of God’s marital love for and covenantal union with us), let us ask God for the grace of true gratitude and Eucharistic thanksgiving…the grace to keep this precious gift of Jesus Christ always alive in our hearts.
This past weekend was family weekend here at the seminary. Unfortunately, my family was not able to come for the visit. As a result, the weekend was initially difficult for me, as I had to struggle through the sadness of missing my family and not being able to share the weekend with them – all while watching my brother seminarians and their families laughing with each other and overall enjoying each other’s company. To be honest, the temptations of jealousy and envy were lurking in the background, temptations which came very close to prevailing within me.
Eventually, though, through the grace of God, I turned to Him and began to prayerfully reflect on the situation at large, how He was present there with me (in my personal and self-centered loneliness), and what He was trying to teach me during this time.
As I continued in this spirit of prayer and reflection, I began to feel a sense of peace, and moreover, I even began to enjoy myself. In fact, I began to project outwards and simply enjoy the company of everyone’s family members, and all of those who were around me. Most poignant for me was the realization that with all the children, parents, grandparents, family, and friends of my brother seminarians present at the seminary, the seminary actually felt like a parish community. This feeling of a “parish community” is something that has truly been absent to me since I have been here at the seminary, because day in and day out, the norm for our community is consistent only of us seminarians and the priests – and very rarely anyone else ‘from the outside.’
In light of this feeling of a parish community, I realized that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder and that I truly miss and have a zealous love for the people of God; especially all the people who I have grown so close to in my parish back home. It was this love and zealousness for God and His people that fostered my discernment in becoming a seminarian to begin with. Unfortunately, in the monotonicity and mundaneness of ordinary daily life here in the seminary, it is easy to forget why we are here, and what we are actually doing here in the first place. In short, the experience of this weekend gave me this reminder, a reminder that I truly needed. As St. Theresa of the Child Jesus puts it in today’s second reading from the Office of Readings, “In the heart of the Church I will be love…love sets off the bounds of all vocations…O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love.”
In conclusion, my spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Kottayil, prayed the blessing over our meal that weekend, and in his prayer, he thanked God for us seminarians and for our families, as well as for extending the families of us seminarians to that of the whole Church and all the members therein. This humble prayer of thanksgiving, in itself, was a further reminder to me that every person that was present during family weekend is – by nature of their Church membership – part of my extended family, and is, as such, my beloved brother and sister. We are all, as the Church, one body and one spirit in Christ. This knowledge of the unimaginable family that God has given me is a true blessing. In fact, there is a joke (speaking of the dysfunctional nature of family) that says that God gives us our friends to ask forgiveness for and make up for our families. Luckily for me, God hasn’t just given me friends; instead, He has given me so much more!
In the end, I am no longer my own, and I am no longer solely my family’s. As Christ says in Luke, Chapter 14, verses 25 to 27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” As a seminarian aspiring to share in Christ’s fatherly priesthood, I primarily belong to Christ and His Church, now. Yes, it is true that my mother, father, grandparents, siblings and friends were not here for the visit, but it is entirely false that my family and friends were not here with me. It was a true joy to meet and encounter each and every person who visited the seminary this weekend, and it was a pleasure to simply thank God for their presence, and for His presence in them.
Please continue to pray for me as I continue in my discernment, ever-learning how to die to myself and to become a true disciple and follower of Christ and His Church.
“Triumphs lie in faith.” ~ God Bless!!!
I just wanted to share with you some wisdom that was imparted on us this morning during the homily at the daily Mass by one of the spiritual directors and priests who lives with us here at the Seminary.
- “Either prayer will stop you from sinning, or sinning will stop you from praying.”
I thought that this would be a good quote to share, as it is both, an encouragement to those of us who are praying, and a warning to those of us who find ourselves neglecting prayer.
In the end, the priest was inviting us to have hope and to not grow despondent, and to believe that if we continue to pray faithfully, we will eventually overcome sin (even sins that we are attached to) and become saints. This will happen through the grace of God. In order to show you how this works, here is an anecdote and excerpt from some spiritual reading that I have been personally reflecting on:
There’s a gentle way that the Lord frees little souls from their attachments…
Have you ever played fetch with a dog? You throw the ball and the dog retrieves it. Sometimes when the dog returns, however, it doesn’t drop the ball…[so]…what do you do? You get down with the dog and begin to pet it real nicely saying “nice doggie…that’s a good dog.” Then, as the dog becomes pleasurably distracted and begins to wag its tail and relax, you grasp the ball without the dog noticing, and pull it out with a quick and easy jerk. Well this is how the Lord deals with us sometimes.
When we go to Jesus, especially to His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, he fills us with His love and peace, and at the same time, in His great mercy, He silently loosens our grip on our attachments.
The moral, of course, is to trust the Lord and go to Him [in prayer]. He’ll help us become detached, and it’ll happen with ease.
Here at the seminary, we are invited and encouraged to go before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for at least an hour a day. In fact, I am about to go do my Holy Hour right now!
Please pray for us seminarians, that as we are faithful to our prayer lives, we will slowly become the men (and hopefully the priests) that Jesus is calling us to be, and that true formation begins to take place.
You are always in my prayers. God Bless, and remember to be a ‘good doggie’ and LET GO AND LET GOD !!! 🙂
“Triumphs lie in faith…Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You…have mercy on us!”
I am beginning this blog in order to document and keep a regular record of my experiences in seminary life and to share how God is working through me and moving my heart throughout my discernment. I hope you enjoy, and please, please, please, keep me in your prayers.