October 4, 2020 – Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah presents the house of Israel as the vineyard of the Lord, and the people of Judah His cherished plants.  In spite of the Lord’s care, the vineyard never bore fruit.

This beautiful metaphor about God’s love for His people and their failure to respond applies to us today.  The vineyard is the symbol of the Church while each of us is a seed planted in it.

Dearest ones, reflecting on this reality brings to our minds the fundamental truth about our lives on earth.  God from the beginning has cultivated us as His vineyard meaning that we are not here by chance.  He has planned our lives for us and our duty is to follow that plan.  St. Paul in the second reading admonishes us not to be anxious about anything but to persevere in prayer and petition.

Reflecting on St. Paul’s assurance that we should not be anxious is challenged by so many evils bedeviling us presently:  the mortal challenge to our health, especially the virus that has also gripped our government; the violence on our streets; the economic challenges; our personal struggles in whatever form they are; and so on.

The truth is that Our Lord is still the Emmanuel who is always with us.  The world still belongs to God and He wants us to come to Him with prayerful trust.  Like Isaiah, Our Lord wants to find some fruit in our lives.  If he is to come now, what fruit will he find in our lives?  Honor, truth, justice, purity, love, grace, charity, good work, friendship and courage as St. Paul reminded us in the second reading.  Or, will it rather be, as Isaiah noted in the first reading, wild grapes of sin, lukewarmness, spiritual mediocrity, vanity, licentiousness, anger, bitterness, and so forth, instead?

As we meditate on these words with regard to our lives, it is important to remind ourselves that whatever the situation of our present life, the Lord is challenging us today not to despair but to embrace Him in order to bear lasting fruit.

As St. Francis de Sales admonishes us:  “Do not fear what may happen tomorrow only entrust yourself completely to God.  The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.  Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

September 27, 2020 – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel admonishes us to take responsibility for our actions and stop the blame game.  Like the Israelites, sometimes we shout “The Lord’s way is not fair” or, “society is to blame”.  Prophet Ezekiel’s admonition is important for us today in a society that encourages us to always blame our problems on others.  Today, someone ends up a drug addict, he or she is only a victim and no responsibility; someone is poor, it is society to blame; someone is sick as a result of his life-style, it is the society to blame and so on.  There is no personal responsibility anymore.

Of course, I do not mean that everyone’s suffering is as a result of their wrong actions; yet, it is important to point out that many are.  The prophet reminds us that we are responsible for our moral decisions rather than God.  “The choices we make either foster or damage our relationship with God”.  In making our decisions, Paul reminds us in Philippians that it should not be made out of selfishness or vainglory but humility and love.  Jesus chose humility over pride.

When our actions and decisions flow out of humility and love, they align with God’s will for us.  Being humble makes us aware that we are creatures that totally depend on God.  When we do things out of love, other people take precedence in our lives becoming primary in our hearts, minds and actions.  The second son changed his mind in the gospel and went to his father’s vineyard and worked.

That is what the Lord is asking us to do today.  Roll up your sleeves and get to work out of love for your neighbor to make the world a better place.  Are we ready for that?  Or shall we be like the first son that had all the good intentions but none was put into practice.

I love this poem that says, “I was hungry and you formed a study group to discuss my hunger, I was imprisoned and you went to church to pray for my release, I was naked and you debated the morality of my appearance, I was sick and you thanked God for your health, I was homeless and you preached about the spiritual shelter of God’s love, I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.  You seem so holy, so close to God, but I am still hungry, lonely, cold”.  Remember, as St. Augustine warns us, “the road to hell is fraught with so many good intentions” but no action.

September 20, 2020 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary TIme

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah admonishes us “seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near”.  The prophet in the first reading reminds us of the greatest gift God has given us, which is “time”.  As the book of Ecclesiasticus tells us, there is time for everything—a time for planting and a time for gathering.  Our lives’ journey is a time of planting while our coming death is that of harvesting.  In the gospel, Jesus compared God’s kingdom to a landowner who employed laborers in his vineyard.  It does not matter when a laborer was employed all that is important is that he worked.

Dearest sisters and brothers, now is the time to work in the Lord’s vineyard and not tomorrow.  As Martin Luther reminds us, “our time on earth is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively and we must use it creatively in the knowledge that now is ripe to do right.  At our baptism, like the first laborers who made an agreement with the landowner, each of us promised God that we are going to belong to him entirely.

We are to do his will and imitate him, like the generous landowner.  We are to show love to everyone irrespective of whether they merit it or not.  We are to be merciful, generous and forgiving.  We are not to be like the workers who were hired early, by seeing others as not good or as not as devout as we think we are, or not deserving as much as they get.

The question for us today is, how far have we fulfilled all of our baptismal promises?  At this moment, it does not matter to what extent we have done that, but that we begin to do so now.  God is not interested in the past but in the now.  He wants us to get into his vineyard of life immediately and begin to work.  Our God is generous, offering us new opportunities to do better.  Yet, the catch is that if we do not get in to work now, we are not sure when the work will finish.  Do not postpone it further.

We should hearken to the advice of the prophet who asks that the “scoundrel should forsake his way and the wicked his thoughts and turn to the Lord”.  St. Paul in the second reading showed us a perfect example with his life.  He was so in love with God to the extent that there was no difference between life and death for him since either way he belongs to the Lord.  Can we, like St. Paul, fall in love with God today?

September 6, 2020 – Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s readings, the Lord reminds us of the importance of being members of a community.  He tells us in the Gospel that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is in their midst.  This message from the Lord is important for each of us to take to heart, especially today when excessive individualism and selfishness is presented to us by the world as the ideal way to live.  According to the world, the mantra is: live and enjoy in your private space and never allow anyone else to come close or even be bothered by them.

The Lord wants to remind us again that he did not create us as solitary nomads in our private islands but as brothers and sisters whose lives are meant to touch each other.  He wants us to live out the full implication of this truth.  The first is that we are all connected with each other.  Everyone should therefore be concerned for each other’s welfare.  We are particularly to be solicitous for the good of our neighbor, especially their spiritual welfare.

In the first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel was warned that if he fails to tell and dissuade a wicked man from his or her evil ways, he will suffer for that negligence.  In our interactions with our neighbors, do we take a stand for the truth?  Remember, our enemy the devil always tries to persuade us not to take sins seriously.  He tells us that we deserve to be happy and that there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong.  That is why we find it difficult to condemn evil when we see it.

Each of us has been given that siren in our hearts—the Holy Spirit—that reminds us what is wrong and what is right.  Do we listen to him?  In the gospel, the Lord says that if our brother or sister has sinned against us, we try to inform him or her and help him or her make amends, integrating the person back to the community.  This admonition challenges us today where when someone does wrong against us, rather than integrating the person back into the community, we try to make the person be hated by our loved ones and our friends.  We want those that are not in good terms with us also to be despised and disliked by every other person else.  We cannot do that since as Paul tells us in the second reading, owe nothing to anyone, except to love him or her.

6 Septiembre 2020 – Vigésimo Tercer Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario

En las lecturas de hoy, el Señor nos recuerda la importancia de ser miembros de una comunidad.  Él nos dice en el evangelio, donde dos o tres están reunidos en su nombre, él está en medio de ellos.  Es importante que cada uno de nosotros tomemos en serio este mensaje del Señor, especialmente hoy en día, cuando el mundo nos presenta el excesivo individualismo y el egoísmo como la forma ideal de vivir.  Según el mundo, el mantra es: vive y disfruta en tu espacio privado y nunca permitas que nadie más se acerque o sea molestado por ellos.

El Señor quiere recordarnos una vez más que no nos creó como mónadas solitarias en nuestras islas privadas, sino como hermanos y hermanas cuyas vidas están destinadas a tocarse unos a otros.  Él quiere que vivamos la plena implicación de esta verdad; que todos estamos conectados entre nosotros. Por lo tanto, todos deben preocuparse por el bienestar de los demás.  Debemos ser particularmente solícitos por el bien de nuestro prójimo, especialmente por su bienestar espiritual.

En la primera lectura, se advirtió al profeta Ezequiel que si fallaba en decirle y disuadir a un malvado de sus malos caminos, sufriría por esa negligencia.  En nuestras interacciones con nuestros vecinos, ¿defendemos la verdad?  Recuerde, nuestro enemigo el diablo siempre trata de persuadirnos de que no tomemos los pecados en serio. Nos dice que merecemos ser felices y que no existe el bien y el mal absolutos.  Por eso nos resulta difícil condenar el mal cuando lo vemos.

A cada uno de nosotros se nos ha dado esa sirena en nuestro corazón: el Espíritu Santo, que nos recuerda lo que está mal y lo que está bien.  ¿Le escuchamos?  En el evangelio, el Señor dice que si nuestro hermano o hermana ha pecado contra nosotros, tratemos de corregirlos, integrando a la persona en la comunidad.  Esta admonición nos desafía hoy en día, donde cuando alguien hace algo malo contra nosotros, en lugar de integrar a la persona, hacemos que la persona sea odiada también por nuestros seres queridos y amigos.  Queremos que aquellos que no están en buenos términos con nosotros también sean despreciados y desagradables por cualquier otra persona.  No podemos hacer eso ya que, como nos dice Pablo en la segunda lectura, no le debemos nada a nadie, excepto amarlo.

August 30, 2020 – Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “get thee behind me Satan, you are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do”.  In the rebuke of Peter, the Lord wants Peter to take the position of a disciple, which is always behind the master; to be at the back of him rather than in front.  Being a disciple means trusting the master even when everything is not clearly understood.  Peter, in trying to dissuade the Lord from the cross, thought he was doing him good without knowing that he was being an instrument for the devil.

Dearest sisters and brothers, this episode happens every day in our lives.  The devil is always wanting us to take the easier way out any time we face life’s problems.  He wants us always to seek the path of the least resistance and the most convenient way out even when it leads to our spiritual destruction.  The Lord, rather, wants us to always ask ourselves:  What does the Lord want me to do in this situation? Which one among the options will lead me to do his will even when difficult and inconvenient?

In Peter’s admonition to Christ, one may see also an effort to protect himself.  It is obvious that Peter knows that if Christ is killed, he might be killed also.  Peter’s action also reflects our own fears and dread in the face of pain.  As humans, no one wants to endure pain, including myself.  We saw how Jeremiah lamented that the word of the Lord he is prophesying is bringing him derision and reproach from the people.

The mystery of life as our Lord told us in the Gospel is that suffering is part of following him and that anytime we reject the cross, we reject him.  That is what St. Paul reminds us when he tasked us “not to conform ourselves to this age” that wants a life of ease and comfort and nothing else.  Paul, rather, wants us to be “transformed by the renewal of our mind to discern what is the will of God”, which is that we follow him through our daily and individual crosses.

It is the cross that unites us with Christ.  Anytime we accept sufferings for Christ’s sake we are united with him in a special way.  It is true that “our love for God may not make life easy for us, but it brings us great fulfillment and meaning to life” both here and in the hereafter.

August 23, 2020 – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus asked his apostles who they say he is.  Peter declared, “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, meaning that he is the anointed Messiah that has come to save the world.  Paul tells us in the second reading, it is “from him”, this Christ Messiah, “and through him and for him are all things”.

In Paul’s statement, Christ is the center of everything that exists, our world, all creation and the entire universe.  Christ also is supposed to be the center of our lives.  It was in his image and likeness that each of us is created.  He is the Word of God through whom everything came to be.

If Christ is to be the center of our lives, we are then to live our lives from him, through him and for him.  Living from Christ means having Christ as the source and origin of all our actions in life.  None of what we do should ever originate from selfishness but always should be God’s centered.

Doing everything through Christ means that Christ is to be the means through which we do all we do.  We are always to rely on the power of God, especially prayer.  Of course, it does not mean that we should not use natural means to solve our problems.  For example, when someone is sick, he should go to the doctor but one should acknowledge also that, ultimately, it is God who is working through the doctor.

Doing everything for God means that the end of our every action should invariably lead to God.  The motive of our every action should be love.  Sometimes the consequences of our actions may not always be pleasing to everybody, but we should not worry as long as we are trying to do the right thing for God.

In the Gospel, Peter declared Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Peter was able to do that because he has experienced who Christ is.  Peter’s whole life has been Christ-centered.  God used his experience of Christ to reveal Christ’s identity to him.  In the same way, like Peter, we can only know Christ, if everything we do in life is from him, through him, and all for him.

August 16, 2020 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospel reading, we saw the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  The woman was a pagan whose daughter was tormented by the devil.  Jesus literally derided her, telling her that it will be wrong to give the children’s food to dogs.  The Canaanite woman stood her ground and remained focused on her goal, which was to get our Lord to cure her daughter.  In her action, we saw the true meaning of the faith which Jesus praised.

Dearest sisters and brothers, reflecting on this encounter between the woman and Jesus, one thing that stood out is the woman’s tenacity.  The way she was ready to suffer whatever insult that is thrown at her so long as she gets what she needs from Jesus.  This is what faith is all about.  It is being able to endure whatever trials and difficulties that come our way.  It is holding on at the end of the rope and not giving up, as many people do today, after their first trial, knowing that the Lord will rescue us from whatever difficulty we are in.

Again, one can learn from the woman’s response to Jesus, an ability to acknowledge one’s position before God.  When Jesus tells her literally about being a dog, she did not get mad and bolt out in anger at such a terrible remark.  She rather was able to accept even being called that.  Faith therefore is also acknowledging our lowly positions before God knowing that before him we are nothing.  Our acknowledgment of our nothingness before God is very important today where many people do not want to be creatures, but rather the creator. It is only when we accept in humility our nothingness before God that he fills us with his life.  And it is only when we are filled with God’s grace and life that we will be able to “observe what is right” and “do what is just” as Prophet Isaiah admonishes in the first reading.

If we have faith, we will also be able to cross whatever boundary and obstacle that is preventing us from reaching out to others, whether obstacles of race, ethnic divisions, culture, language, sex, social status, and so on.  The Canaanite woman was a pagan whose need and faith made her not see Jesus as a stranger, who he was at that time.  Through faith, we shall be able also to accept everyone without discrimination.

August 9, 2020 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, faith and its challenges were presented to us through the readings.  In the Gospel, Peter, when invited at his request by Jesus to come to him, had the initial faith to get out of the boat walking on the sea.  When he saw himself walking on the sea, so much doubt overcame him that he began to sink.  He cried out to the Lord to save him.  Jesus while saving him lamented about his lack of faith.

Dearest sisters and brothers, Peter’s episode represents our individual experiences of life.  As baptized Catholics, each of us have been struggling with our faith journey.  Many a time, we have not always been faithful to the Lord probably because of the difficult life’s challenges we do face.  In today’s readings, especially, the Gospel, we are called once again to examine why we have not always been faithful to the Lord and the circumstances that lead to those infidelities.

In addressing our various infidelities to the Lord, the first area we may need to focus our attention is on the identity of the Lord and where he can be found.  In the first reading, the Lord, in appearing to Elijah, was neither in the strong wind that was crushing the rocks, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire; but rather, he was in the tiny whispering sound.  Many a time, we seek the Lord in the wrong places of life.  We think he can be found in the great events of life, like our great achievements and successes, great learnings, political programs, our wealth, and so on, while neglecting the little things that really bring us closer to him.

Things like being there for our poor neighbor who is need, doing our little prayer devotions like the Rosary, divine mercy, and others, such as sitting in a quiet time before him in the Eucharist, sending a little get-well card to a neighbor who is sick, making a phone call to a friend we have not seen for a while, given encouragement to someone who is depressed, being available at the game of our kids and grandkids, smiling to a stranger who seem uninterested and so on and so forth.

While doing all these little things, the Lord should always be the center.  In the Gospel, we saw that while Peter’s focus was on the Lord, he walked on the sea and as soon as his focus turned away from the Lord to himself and his surroundings, he began to sink.  In the same way, the Lord is inviting us today to always keep our focus on him so that we will keep overcoming all the challenges of life as they come!

August 2, 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we heard words of encouragement and upliftment.  “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat”.  In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Dearest sisters and brothers, I personally feel that these uplifting words from the prophet and St. Paul is being addressed to each of us now.  Today, we are living in an uncertain time; a time one is not sure what is going to happen next.  A time one cannot plan for any future.  A time when each person is afraid of his or her neighbor wondering whether he or she is positive with the virus.

Living in this moment, we hear the voice of St. Paul telling us that neither life nor death will separate us from the love Christ meaning; that whatever happens from the time of our birth until we die, cannot separate us from the love Christ.

In the Gospel, Christ manifested his love by feeding the 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.  Like these 5,000 people we are all hungry.  We have so many needs; especially the fear and anxiety that are pervading our lives today.  For example, we want Covid-19 to pass by us.

Jesus, like he did in the Gospel, wants to solve our problems.  It is important to remind ourselves that each of us has a role to play in bringing a solution to our problems and that of the entire world.  Jesus in feeding the 5,000 people did not call down food from heaven. Rather, he fed the people with bread and fish provided by his apostle.

In the same way, Jesus wants us to bring his attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters like the apostles did today.  We can do that by praying for our sisters and brothers.  We are also to provide to God our various gifts, talents, and wealth, through which God will feed our brothers and sisters in need.  God does not expect more than we have but he wants our little so that he can multiply it.

We are, for example, on a practical note to help contain the spread of Coronavirus by doing our little part:  wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding crowding, washing our hands and so forth. These are the little things we can do so that God can do the rest.