The mandate of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 has become a Christian mandate in our time, with a slight adaptation. Even though a pre Christian mandate (Christ instituted Christianity, not John), the relevance is most fitting for today’s Christians. Let us then explore some of the applicable relevance of John’s mandate to the Church of today.
Here are great practical tips to prepare the way of the Lord in Advent:
Step 1: “Make Straight his Paths” requires the removal of all forms of crookedness from the Christian hearts (which are the true paths of the invisible Lord). Synonyms of crookedness include dishonesty, shadiness, corruption, illegality, fraudulence, deviousness, deceitfulness, unscrupulousness, evasiveness, and wickedness.
Step 2: “Every Valley shall be filled.” Valleys are dark and dangerous. The valley of the heart harbors dangerous secrets that need to be filled with kindness, forgiveness, and love.
Step 3: “Every Mountain and Hill shall be made low.” Unmanaged anger and frustration can rise as high as the mountain and the hill. Advent is time to mow down such insane expressions.
Step 4: “The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.” Revenge takes a winding and rough path. It needs to be gotten rid of.
These four steps correspond to the four weeks of Advent. When these four steps are successfully taken, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Bon voyage. Father UC
The Lord said, through the mouth of prophet Jeremiah: “I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land,” (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
Jeremiah spoke the language of hope to the distressed people of God at his time. In our own time, Advent season resonates that same language of hope to God’s people all over the world.
The people of God are blessed to hear this message of hope at the very beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. For the next four weeks the faithful people of God would be living in anticipation of a just shoot from the descent of David, the friend of God.
Hope in God does not fail, even if it delayed. But doubt suffocates hope. No one hopes for nothing. Always, hope points to something of great value. Christmas is the hope that Advent suggests. Christmas would be a fulfilled promise of joyous satisfaction, only if Advent was able to elicit the hunger of hope in us.
Without the hope of Advent, Christmas would be as ordinary as December 25th. Friends, let us stay hopeful in anticipation of the Lord’s coming since our hope will never be in vain.
Blessings. Father UC
Countless kings exist. And everyone has a king. The difference might be a king with synonymous names like my hero or my idol or my champion or my mentor. Let us simply define a king as a metaphor of that person you owe your free loyalty to. So, it is okay to have a king.
Why have a king? The broadest meaning of kingship we adopted here helps. A king inspires, motivates, challenges, but also protects. The presence of a king assures peace.
Where does the kingship of Jesus fit in? Jesus is not just a king, but the King of kings (Rev. 17:14). If your king deserves your free loyalty, Jesus’ kingship merits unconditional loyalty because he gave humanity life in abundance (John 10:10), by reopening the Way (shut) to eternal happiness, of which he is the Only guide that knows the Way: “No one comes to the Father, except through me “(John 14:6). However, a little problem exists. That is the inability to acknowledge the rightful position of Jesus as the King of all kings.
The difference is clear. Jesus is the humblest and the most compassionate of all kings. His kingship was totally devoted to the well being of humanity, not just his loyalists. First, he lowered his divinity, emptied himself of his royalty and became human in order to lift humanity from the stranglehold of filth (Philippians 2: 6-11). Second, he achieved his mission with two out of his three authorities, his priesthood and his prophetic ministry. Third, however, he chose to withhold his kingship ministry until the end of time. This means that his authority to judge was kept till the end of time. In the present time, the mercy of Jesus is available and inexhaustible. Even at the one moment manifestation of his kingship, Jesus rode on a borrowed colt into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11), whereas earthly kings rode on horses and chariots.
Every year, the Solemnity of Christ the King reminds us of that Last Day, when Jesus will appear in his glory as the King of kings and transform time into eternity. On that Day, the loyalists of Jesus will shine and replace the fallen stars, while the rebels would be covered in perpetual darkness because they chose not to be with the King, whose light is unquenchable.
Structurally, while the Solemnity of Christ the King anticipates the second coming of Jesus as a King, it also ushers in the beginning of another liturgical cycle with the commemoration of his first coming as a baby. Stated differently, Christ the King marks the End of the Beginning. Therefore, the kingship of Jesus includes the times and the seasons. Next is Advent – the 4 weeks preparatory period for the birth of Jesus. Enjoy the transition.
Father UC cares for you.
Safety policies are perceived differently. Not too many are comfortable with seatbelt or bike helmet policies. Some even resist them as unnecessary restrictions on their individual rights. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of accident victims, who adhered to the safety policies, had minor injuries compared to those who disregard them.
Comparatively, the end time signs and warnings even though they sound horrible and scary, are best understood as safety tips or drills. As it were, their brief but scary moments, usher in a new dawn of eternity. The wise, who applied the annual or occasional safety drills in their lives will be ready to follow Jesus when he suddenly appears in his glory (Mark 13: 24-32).
Because that great Day is unknown to all except the Father, it will happen as a huge surprise amidst the normalcy of people’s daily routine. The scripture compares that Day to the days of Noah and the days of Lot, when the people were unsuspectingly busy eating and drinking, and the flood and brimstones respectively came (Luke 17: 26-37). But the (few) wise, who took the safety warnings seriously, were unhurt amidst the calamities.
To take the safety warnings seriously is to live in the present. That way, we should always be prepared like the scout. Unfortunately, many people are stuck with the regrets of the past or overwhelmed by the anxiety of the future, and miss the gift of the present. Our inability to live in the fullness of each moment or be satisfied with the newness of each day is aptly summarized by the saying attributed to Thomas Fuller: “We are born crying, live complaining and die disappointed.”
Overall, the end of time, though scary, is too real; but ignoring it will be too late to set right for the unwise. Moreover, “The wise” (who stayed conscious of the safety warnings) “shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever (Daniel 12:3). Let’s be wise.
Blessings. Father UC
Last weekend's definition of Love as self-donating or putting your all (without expectations) in services to God and neighbors, resonates with its succinct application, seen this weekend. The widow of Zarephat gave her all in service to Yahweh, represented by Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh.
The widow in the gospel also gave her all. Jesus noticed and extolled her offering of all her possessions, at the dismay of his audience. It takes foolishness to offer your all either to God or to your neighbors or both.
Nevertheless, only in foolishness can we give our all. The ancient Jewish male dominated background rendered their widows vulnerable because they were not permitted by law to inherit the properties of their late husbands. A widow was rightly classified among the paupers or have-nots in the Jewish society. Therefore, for these two widows to have given their all means that they truly gave out of love. They might have through poverty learned total dependence on the providence of God.
To love with your entire self or your all requires giving your all, your very last iota of sustenance, while trusting no other but God alone. Offering your all activates the generosity of divine providence. First, you have to demonstrate your faith that God would provide for you by letting go your last means of sustenance. Second, you must avoid giving and expecting something in return (from any human person). That is called business and not kindness.
The two widows gave their last, which is equivalent to their all and were blessed by God. We can learn from their perceived foolishness in order to be wise children of God.
Blessings. Father UC
Love is the most popular but extensively misused word. Love means different strokes for different folks. On the contrast, love opposes relativism. Nevertheless, the paradoxical nature of love is the challenge because love is both asymmetric (a one-way traffic with zero payback expectation or indebtedness) and mutual.
The problem is: the mutual dimension of love has been generally overrated at the detriment of the asymmetric characteristic. These two dimensions of love are inseparable, for love to be love. Asymmetric standard provides that color contrast that produces the beautiful picture of love.
Love is first a one-way traffic paved by a lover toward a beloved. Love is exclusively an action of a lover. The intention to love must be clearly defined as (for) the benefits of the beloved. Whether the beloved would reciprocate this love or not, should not be the concern. Stated differently, the quality of love is by no standard diminished when not reciprocated. This asymmetric lens enables us to understand better the love of God for humanity at the events of creation and redemption. God taught humanity asymmetric love, by granting humans a 100% freedom to reciprocate or reject God’s love.
Have you wondered why Jesus did not teach: love your neighbor, who would love you back or love God because of favors received? Instead, he said: “You shall love the Lord your God (with your All) and love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mk 12:28-34). Loving with your All implies giving and expecting nothing in return. In fact, the bible described the restriction of love to the people who love you back, as a pagan practice (Matt 5:46). This proves the asymmetric aspect as the driver of love, and not mutuality. The climax of asymmetric love is: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt 5:44).
Asymmetric love has remained the missing leg in the understanding and practice of love. Unfortunately, human beings perceive love primarily as a mutual act with indebtedness. For example, if you love me, then I should love you back; if you have shown me love (charity), then I owe you a favor in return. In truth, Jesus taught us to promote love by initiating love, not by receiving love. Consequently, a true lover should not hate the beloved because the latter could not reciprocate the love. Such stark ignorance or negligence has completely distorted the concept of love.
But how can love be mutual and asymmetric? A better question is: Could there be genuine love without asymmetric aspect? The answer is No. The expression, I love you, says it all. This shows an individual intention in words. It is a willful assertion that did not derive from the feelings of the beloved, and so should not have any imaginary expectation attached to it. If the beloved replied, “thank you,” that should even be much appreciated. However, if the beloved found substantial reasons to reciprocate the love, only then would the love be mutual. Simply put, every love act must be guided by asymmetric intention, which may or may not bear fruit. When asymmetric love freely bears fruit (though unrequired), it is then called mutual love. Therefore, mutuality can only happen (or not) at the final stage of the love course. Love is the noblest course – only the daring selfless thread on its sharp edges. I hope this true meaning of love (in spite of) would illumine your previous understanding of love.
Blessings. Father UC
Albert Einstein struggled with speech impediment. At 4 years, he was unable to talk and his teacher branded him “a would never do well.” Einstein did not only prove his teacher wrong, he also set straight the record that innovators change the world, not through talking, but through deep mental determination.
Failure does not define a person. Determination or lack of it does. Determinists see failure as a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block. And they believe that so long as there is a will, there must always be a way.
St. John Paul II corroborated the importance of determination when he admonished Christians: “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
The application of the admonition of St. John Paul II to one’s life has two major challenges, external and internal. At the external level, one has to encounter deterrents, such as hasty judgment, shouting down, discouraging remarks, mockery, associating you with failures. Despite the negative impacts of external barriers on the individual, the internal challenge remains the stronger factor. Lack of willpower as well as not knowing exactly what you want is a greater obstacle to success.
Bartimaeus, the blind man, overcame the two challenges on his road to success (Mark 10: 46-52). His determination weathered the attacks of hinderers. He refused to be cowed or back down from announcing his plight to Jesus. And when Jesus asked what he wanted, Bartimeus clearly stated his need in simple words: “Master, I want to see.”
Christians are Bartimaeus and Bartimaeus is Christians. Bar/timeus simply means the son of Timeaus. It is interesting that the bible chose no personal name for the blind man, but preferred to describe him as the son of his father, Timeus. Again, in Latin, timeo translates I am afraid or I fear. Derivatively, Bartimeus might stand for the son of “the fearful one” or the son of “a coward.” Ordinarily, the son of a coward is perceived as a coward. Therefore, Bartimaeus is a generic name for fearful Christians.
But to the utter shock of the crowd, Bartimaeus eventually conquered his fear factor and achieved his dream. Though physically blind, Bartimaeus was equally blind to what determination could achieve. Likewise, most Christians are still blind to the power of determination. Fortunately, Bartimaeus’ story provides Christians with an effective strategy to conquer FEAR, which is: Face Everything And Rise, rather than, Forget Everything And Run. Indeed, Bartimaeus faced the intimidating crowd and rose. His success story perfectly resonates with the papal admonition of St. John Paul II (cited above), in which hope is required but fear is discouraged. Like Einstein, Bartimaeus did not only prove the crowd wrong, he also set straight the record that determination is key to the achievement of dreams, because it stays hopeful while overcoming the fear factor.
Notice that when Bartimaeus established his determination by refusing to be silenced, the same crowd that tried suppressing his voice became polite in addressing him: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Therefore, whoever walks on the way of determination with hope as a companion would not only conquer fear but would also achieve his/her goal; through which his/her initial hinderers are transformed into his/her supporters. You can be the architect of your life. God bless you.
Does our vantage positions increase our cravings? Could it be that apostles James and John validated the Latin adage: “Amo habendi habendo crescit – the love of having increases by having,” in their quest to sit at the right and the left sides of Jesus (Mark 10:35-45)? Does that quest sound familiar to the power intoxication among the political class and societal elites? Has it not also pervaded the minds of the ordinary people? The overall risk is the consequential disregard of others as mere means to personal ends.
James and John, the twin sons of Zebedee, occupied two out of the twelve apostolic slots, whereas the entire Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel shared the remaining ten slots. As if their unmatched advantage was not enough, James and John desired to occupy the perceived two openings of succeeding Jesus. Their lust for power blinded their sense of concern toward the competing interest of others. Also, their desperation even dared the cost of martyrdom: we can drink your cup and also share your (Jesus) baptism.
Nevertheless, Jesus used the Trinitarian logic to discourage the twins’ lust for power. In the Trinitarian circle, the right and the left sides or spaces are occupied. That Jesus sits on the right side of the Father (1 Peter 3:22) implies the Holy Spirit on the left. And by extension, the Father and the Holy Spirit flank Jesus’ right and left sides, respectively. Invariably, what the twin brothers lust for was unavailable, until the Father decided otherwise. Imagine their stupid ghost-chase driven by unrivaled thirst for power at the top, and the unjustified indignation by the ten apostles, at the bottom.
Lesson: Leadership authority derives from God (Romans 13:1). But power fumbles when hijacked. Manipulative authority indicates a hijacked power. Moreover, if authority follows the sequence of affiliation, Jesus would have easily approved the request of James and John. On the contrast, such arrangement can best be described as power maneuver.
John was the beloved and James was the most outspoken apostle. Despite belonging to the innermost caucus of Jesus’ companions, neither James nor John succeeded Jesus. Rather, Peter with a weaker connection did. John lived the longest and died as the only apostle that was not martyred. Although he was alive when Peter died, still he could not succeed him as pope. Pope Linus did.
Position of authority should not be an outcome of desperation, which thrives on overturning the will of God expressed as the will of the people. Whereas some are made leaders like Peter in spite of his limitations, some others like John (though the beloved) could as well enjoy a healthier life without getting to the leadership top. By this standard, power should not be bequeathed to cronies, family or loyalists.
Even though James the less (whose mother was Mary) was a cousin of Jesus, he was not among the three caucus companions of Jesus, neither did he succeed him. So, rather than lust for power to dominate, which provokes desperation, think leadership as service to God through the people.
Blessings. Father UC
There is no better gauge for entering the kingdom of God than the motivator of actions: “For my sake,” as stated by Jesus in the gospel of Mark 10:17-30. Broadly, “for my sake” has practically motivated every single human act. In fact, every good deed or sacrifice was grounded in “for my sake.” Does that mean that everyone would therefore be rewarded with heaven? That would amount to a fallacy of undistributed middle. Consequently, the possessive pronoun “my” has to be defined in each context of use.
Only when “for my sake” refers to Christ or God should its motivated actions merit heavenly rewards. Other instances of acting “for my sake” have earthly rewards. The difference is found in the answer to the key question: why did I do it or why did he/she do it for me?
When a person acted for the primary benefit of the self, he or she can rightly claim she acted “for my sake.” Likewise, every single beneficiary of an act could rightly claim that the action was done “for my sake.” Invariably, we either perform good act for the primary benefit of ourselves or for someone else. That is not all. There is a third path to a good act, which is: doing good (or embracing a sacrifice) for the sake of Christ.
Since our good actions are always aimed at either a direct benefit (my sake) or to an indirect recipient benefit, (who perceives it as done “for my sake”) we can also achieve the advanced path of acting for Christ’s sake. The countless times we have acted positively suggest that we are capable of acting for the most important purpose – doing good for the sake of Christ.
The anonymous man in the gospel knew the commandments of God and kept them but for a different purpose, for his own sake: “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life.” He was a keeper of the law, and Jesus loved him for that because keeping the entire commandment implies lots of sacrifices. However, Jesus quickly reminded him about a major omission in his good deeds: “You are lacking in one thing.” Even though this man has not violated the law from his youth, he has practically not done any good deed (or sacrifice) for the sake of Christ. Charity without expectations properly defines doing good for the sake of Christ.
Doing good deeds or keeping the commandments is required but for the Right reason/intention, which is: doing them “for my (Christ) sake.” Now we know that only good deeds purely done for the sake of Christ would make the doer inherit eternal life. Even the most difficult sacrifice of family ties and material possessions must be done for the sake of Christ, otherwise, the strenuous deprivations would end in futility. This is reasonable because Christ will compensate the unrewarded good deeds done for the sake of Christ. Not to worry, we still have the time. Today, Jesus asks us: “When last did you do good deeds or sacrifice for my sake?”
Blessings. Father UC
It is a paradox of marriage that priests, who studied it, do not practice it, whereas others, who do not study it, practice it. The outcome of this paradox is not strange to us. Unfortunately, most intending couples only learn about the principles of marriage few weeks to their wedding. However, our context could only permit broad strokes on marriage.
Reflection question: Why was Eve called a suitable partner?
Prior to Eve, Adam tried to find happiness with the glamor of creation available to him. Not even his preternatural knowledge, which named all creatures without repetition, could generate an answer for his happiness. In fact, Adam was lonely in the midst of plenty. The reason is, Adam was different. Only him was made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, he needed a person of distinct nature to complete his joy.
God supplied Adam’s most pressing need. God could have created Eve the same way he created Adam. But that was unnecessary and could have ruptured the common origin of humanity. The reasonability of how God created Eve highlights the non-dualism of human existence.
In the creation of Eve, God sustained a continuity of God’s perfect art in Adam (a composite of matter & spirit, capable of mental reflections). Eve therefore concluded the creation process of humanity, started in Adam. The choice of the “rib correlation” designates Eve as that missing suitable partner, who should stand side by side in collaborative support with Adam. The “side” strongly entails complementarity because Eve reminded Adam of his missing part (ner). The logic is, Adam was rendered incomplete without Eve (as his fitting recipient), whereas Eve in gratitude found fulfillment in Adam (as her essential donor). Both Adam & Eve need each other. None would have found complete happiness without the other. Not even the loss of paradise and its consequential sorrows were able to separate this first couple.Why have many marriages not worked or still not working? A simple but straight answer is: recent generations more than ever have neglected the source and principles of marriage. The bible teaches that for a marriage to work, a man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife in such a manner that the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Every failed marriage or the shaky ones are traceable to the negligence of this foundational injunction. To leave father and mother is different from abandoning them. Rather, it emphasizes sincere commitment to the partner; to an extent that parental love should not be an obstacle. This marriage logic goes on to state that since parental love should not hinder the bond of marriage, no other human person must dare come between married spouses – “what God has joined together, no human being must separate,” (Mark 10: 2-16).
Marriage is attractive but has a depth of mutual responsibility. No one partner is capable of living a fulfilled married life in isolation. Couples miss the point when they practice marriage as a dyadic bond. Essentially, marriage is a triadic bond. God initiated and designed it as such. The bonding of marriage in God requires each partner to relate to the other through the passage of God, thereby recognizing the invisible presence of God in relation to the private thoughts, words and actions. Therefore marriage is a sacred union, in which God is a co-stakeholder with the couple, and should never be left out, if the goal is a happy married life. Best of luck in your marriage!
Two opposite groups are prominent in today’s scripture texts. The first group is the exclusivists championed by Joshua the son of Nun and John the son of Zebedee. The second is the promoters of borderless inclusivism led by Moses and Jesus. The most interesting part is the intimate connection between the champions of exclusivism and the promoters of inclusivism. While Joshua was a long serving aide to Moses, John was the beloved apostle of Jesus.
As noticed in the two immediate past reflections, proximity to authority tends to magnify the feelings of insecurity among close associates. Such feelings as these abound: “Oh, that other person is here to deprive me of my vantage position;” or “he is a threat to my comfort zone;” or “she is here to divide the master’s love & attention to me”. Over all, strangers (outsiders) are perceived to be either intruders or disguised enemies. The reaction of Joshua and John confirmed the pervasive insecurity syndrome, as identified. Even though the historic contexts and periods were vividly different, the reactions of Joshua and John still correlate.
On those two occasions, Joshua and John focused on the borderlines between the exclusivist Us and the designated others. The appeal of Joshua confirms: “Moses, my Lord, stop them (Eldad and Medad).” His appeal demanded the suppression of the gift of prophesy that Eldad and Medad received, just because they were not in the tent, when God multiplied the spirit of Moses among the 70 elders in the tent (Numbers 11: 25-29). Joshua might have thought that if he persuaded Moses to disqualify Eldad and Medad, at least one of the two openings will be his, by the time he would have become an elder. While he was envying the prophetic elders, he knew not that God had a bigger plan for him to succeed Moses, even as a young man. Similarly, John worried over a stranger, who used the name of his beloved master (Jesus) to cast out demons and attempted to stop him. Hoping to be praised by Jesus for protecting the apostolic privilege, he was disappointed.
Interestingly, the replies of both Moses and Jesus proved their inclusive ideology. Moses reprimanded Joshua: “Are you jealous of my sake? In other words, why are you losing sleep over the benevolence of God upon me? Can’t you see that God has eased my tedious job by spreading prophesy among 70 elders? To John, Jesus instructed, “Do not prevent him, for whoever that is not against us, is for us” (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). Moses and Jesus defended the fact that a candle gains brightness by lighting up other candles. Their inclusive minds saw amazing growth in sharing unlike the exclusivists, who think that sharing causes impoverishment.
It is interesting to note that a flip of Jesus statement could support exclusivism. There is a reason why Jesus did not say: “whoever that is not with us is against us.” The difference is deep. While Jesus statement is inclusive, the flip is exclusive. By extension, the flip statement of Jesus indicates that whomever that fails to support us, or our agenda or our leadership style or political manifestoes is against us. Indeed, the flip statement renders credibility to the exclusive perception of zero tolerance to contrary views. On the contrary, to be “against us” or “not against us” must be explicitly (obvious) proven, while “for us” be a deduction from it. This means that when there are ample evidences that the other is not against us, he is therefore for us. This approach of Jesus highlights trust over suspicion. Whoever has no evil intention against you is for you, even when they are not your praise-singers.
According to Jesus, praise-singers that prevent you from seeing your exclusive faults are your eye, hand and foot to be cut off. The road in the camp of exclusivism leads to a dead-end. Living in that camp feels like a stuffy airtight room or deoxygenated stagnant water. Therefore, learning from Moses and Jesus to open windows and let in fresh air overturns the perceived insecurity toward a stranger and replaces it with growth and increased support.
Blessings. Father UC
Last weekend the scripture readings introduced the danger of cheap friendship, which always seeks personal gains at the expense of standing in solidarity with the truth. This weekend, the 3 scripture readings highlight a deeper risk of cheap friendship, but also offer the remedy.
Stakeholders of cheap friendship occupy their minds with how to consolidate their over bloated personal interests, regardless of how those outside of that friendship circle feel. Succinctly, the book of Wisdom identified the circle of cheap friendship as “the Wicked,” who derive joy in plotting against the just. The ways of the just reprimand the flattery lifestyle of cheap friends, hence they conspire to torment the just one: “Let us beset the just one, because he sets himself against our doings … and charges us with violations of our training…with revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test” (Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20). These modern conspirators misplace their energies and time into undermining whoever opposes their sly agenda. And because they chose to dine with jealousy and selfish ambition their mindset has become rusty – in need of cleansing.
Aware of the magnitudes of cheap friendship, Apostle James warns: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (James 3:16). Implicitly, James draws the attention of all stakeholders of cheap friendship to the cleansing process of attitudinal change.
The best approach to the conversion of cheap friends is learned with ease at the feet of Jesus. Similar to last weekend’s insight, the gospel reading of today confirms elements of cheap friendship among the apostles of Jesus. While his apostles were desperately contesting about who would head the apostolic college, Jesus redefined position of authority as servant-leadership: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all,” (Mark 9:30-37).
Servant-leaders work for no-personal gain. They develop large ears to the pains and sufferings of the people, and offer their best in salvaging the misfortune of their people. In addition, servant-leaders are open to be held accountable. As people-oriented leaders, these public servants embrace transparency as essential part of their services.
Such renewed understanding of leadership counteracted its former intimidating fame and oppressive characters. Unfortunately, only a few have indeed accepted the transformation that Jesus initiated. May all Christians in secular authorities and political power see their elevated grounds as servant-leadership, rather than insensitive bosses, Amen.
Blessings. Father UC
What was Peter’s major concern towards Jesus’ announcement of his passion and death in the gospel text of Mark 8:27-35? Most likely, it came to Peter as a rupture of the friendship or companionship he enjoyed. Similarly, what is our greatest interest in a relationship? Why do our friends matter so much to us? The truth is: Friends provide the convenience and comfort we enjoy. No matter how hard we try to deny it, personal gain is a strong factor, if not the strongest in a relationship. And who enjoys staying in uncomfortable relationship?
Peter was captivated by his envisaged “inconveniences” of living without Jesus, having enjoyed the fame of his miraculous power, his tremendous authority, and the special honor of being his disciple. Like Peter, the cronies of those in power are the focus today.
Political, cultural, religious or social prominence (even personal friendship) has been designed to be competitively attractive due to the craving for gains. Obviously, whenever our political terrains are stripped of its overrated glamor and immunity, its true character of service will emerge. Until then, we are doomed with endless recycling of schemers in different shades and colors. Both the upstream and the downstream sectors have been deviously designed to induce people into the narrow choice of either be an advocate or a critic.
Worse on that manipulative network are the sycophants, who earn their living from defending the glaring exploits of their masters. Sycophants can do Anything and Everything to stay connected to the powers that be. As praise-singers they easily feel threatened by mere imaginations of the end to the master’s control over the people.
Peter expressed such gain-oriented concern and got an instant and stern repudiation from Jesus: “Get behind me Satan. You think not as God think but as human beings do.” Though the first pope, his disgusting attitude inflicted a satanic coloration to his personality.
The bigger question is how does God think, which Peter attempted to obstruct? I would think that God is Truth, and so thinks Truth. Peter heard the truth about the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, but prioritized what he would lose during those trial moments. His understanding of discipleship was tainted with a net gain of benefits: “We have abandoned everything to follow you, what do we stand to gain?” (Matthew 19:27). Whoever thinks like Peter, self-identifies himself or herself as a modern day Satan, who obstructs the truth, for gain.
On the contrary, it is burdensome to follow or stand by the truth, especially when it holds a close associate accountable. It feels comforting for most people to stand in solidarity with their master or friend, rather than call him out when he was wrong. Our reflection text confirms that it takes genuine friendship to watch and redirect the straying feet of a friend, as Jesus taught. Cheap friendship logically requires sycophantic complicity to survive.
Even Aristotle, a pagan philosopher, got it right, when he said: “Socrates (is) my friend, Plato (is) my friend, but truth is more my friend.” Socrates and Plato were his ardent mentors.
Evidently, genuine friendship is costly. Peter did not realize that friendship with God comes with a price. He later did, though. Isaiah knew and paid a price to stand in friendship with God (Isaiah 50:5-9). Therefore, any friendship that suppresses the truth about a friend is like faith without good works, which James condemned as dead (James 2:14-18). Based on these highlighted insights, which relationship are you in, the costly type or the cheap one?
Blessings. Father UC
If a circle is 360-degrees, then a semi-circle is 180-degrees. When a semi-circle moves additional 180-degrees, it completes a circle. So, imagine our individual state of being as a semi-circle on course to complete its remaining 180-degrees orbit. That complete turn usually reveals a pleasant surprise in contrast to the known half. It is a turnaround, which generates a flipside in the paradox of life.
Let us add flesh to this theoretical skeleton. Imagine not being whom you have known. Imagine waking up to the reality that you were adopted. Imagine realizing that your age is false. Would things still be the same for you?
Then, imagine being declared a legitimate beneficiary of a fortune. Imagine also being medically certified okay, after a struggle with organ disability or failure. Just imagine regaining your agility at 80 and able to jump rope with your grand kids in the backyard.
These extreme imaginations capture the overwhelming feelings of a desert whose parched land burst forth with streams (Isaiah 35:4-7); and the joys of the blind that regained sight or the mute empowered with speech (Mark 7: 31-37). Again, God chose the despised poor “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,” (James 2:1-5).
Summarily, these imaginations confirm the impermanence in nature, first noticed by Heraclitus. Though a philosopher, his theory has not contradicted the scripture. His “Omnia flux” (only change is constant) points to that transformative reality that Christians hope for.
Consequently, if nothing is permanent why allow your sorrows, disappointment, injuries, pains, sufferings, and impoverishment overwhelm you? Why try to end it, prematurely? You cannot be done when God is not done with you. Your story is not yet complete. Moreover, if God could cause streams in the desert, if God could restore sight to the blind, if God could make the mute speak, then, the same God is able to bring a 180-degrees turnaround in your present predicament. The patience of God should not be mistaken as a delay.
Enjoy your Labor holiday. Father UC
Our reflective verse: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me teaching as doctrines human precepts,” (Mark 7:6). Such attitude is suggestive of hypocrisy.Hypocrisy is not just a sin but also an acute catalyst to related sins. First, hypocrisy ambushes its victims by polluting the air, and whoever inhales the contaminated air of deception gradually experiences a painless mental reset. These unsuspecting victims fall prey to hypocritical antics due to the assumed respect attached office holders. It doesn’t matter whether secular, religious or family.
Hypocrisy is genetically elusive. As a result, it can be said that it poses the highest threat to societal sanity. Obviously, the stern warning of Jesus to the hypocrites of his time (Pharisees and Scribes) shows the high risk associated with hypocrisy (Mk 7:1-8).
Obviously, there are more hypocrites in the world than any sage could guess. If we think we are not hypocrites, we might at least have been hypocritical, on few occasions. Hypocrisy means duplicity. When we say one thing and do another, we are not better than hypocrites. A hypocrite pretends, flatters and deceives, so as to look nice in the eyes of the people. He cares so much about his crafted reputation that the consequences of his deceit are maximally dismissed. One can conclude that the narcissists of our time personify the biblical hypocrites, because nothing makes sense outside of them.
Like Jesus, the church overtly detests hypocrisy because of its dangerous and rapid ripple effects. Besides the fact that a hypocrite is capable of deceiving a people as long as desired, hypocrisy can be serially infectious. None of its dual dimensions is safe, enough. Deceit is no mean crime. It is as bad as rape, or even more. Deceit is a major impediment in marriage. Any marriage entered into in deceit by at least one partner lacks validity of union. Simply put, no marriage existed from day 1. The perceived union is a sham.
Pope Francis recently identified hypocrisy as a deadly virus menacing our world order. According to him, majority of people across board are infected of the hypocritical virus, while other are susceptible to it.
The above analysis of hypocrisy provokes the concern: How can we be clean of hypocrisy? First, the warning from Moses provides the most precise answer: “You shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it” (Deut. 4:1-2). That includes using God’s name to deceit as well as selective acceptance of the scripture. Second, we should guide against the real things that defile, as listed by Jesus: unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. Notice that hypocrisy made the list as deceit, but also stand as a causal effect for others. Enjoy your Sunday.
Reflection questions: Did Christ actually say: “Be submissive to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord” ( ). Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ love loved the church and handed himself over for her, to sanctify her … without spot or wrinkle…” (Ephesians 5:21-32).
How chauvinistic could this statement be?
My reply: My standpoint is built on the fact that words have their appropriate meaning within the context of use. Despite its appealing strength, extrapolation misleads to interpretative aberration.
Put in context, Christ did not make a chauvinistic statement. Nevertheless, chauvinism can be attributed to his words, if taken out of context or viewed in isolation from other accompany statements. Let us try and review these same statements together, so as to and retrieve and respect the mind of the speaker.
First, Christ gave a mutual admonition to husband and wives. This entails that each admonition is incomplete without the other.
Second, the admonitions were strictly on teaching mutual Love as Christ loved. At this point, we should concentrate our quest on how to unravel the true meaning of submission in love. Submission powered by love categorically differs from forced submission.
The responsibility of husbands underscores the validity of Christ’s argument. Through it we see clearer the summary and central message that Christ communicated on marriage. Which is easier to practice, willful submission towards a lover or unconditional love to a beloved.
None of these admonitions would be impossible, if we chose to love as Christ loved. Christ taught us how to love at moments of inconveniences (when ignored, cheated, lied, hurt). Such excellent love could validly apply even outside of marriage. Love as Christ loved is a reflection of Christian love.
Aquinas captures loving as Christ loved in 3 stages of inconveniences. 1) To be polite, decent and civil to aggressors. 2) At least, to desire the good of the aggressor/enemy. 3) To be able to love in actuality – able to die for the other.
Indeed, love as Christ loved, is the trusted vaccine that immunes Christians against the fatal virus of “worship of self.” Self-indulgence and self-gratification are strains of worship of self.
Here is our reflection question: Why did God offer Mary the full privilege of transporting her body and soul into heaven at her death?
My reply: 1) Through Mary's Motherhood and faithful discipleship, she heard the Word of God (Jesus) and Kept it (Luke 11:28). a) Mary has a direct blood bond or intimacy with Jesus. She is the biological mother of the God-man. This is unparallel favor because Jesus would never have another mother. b ) Her faith in God is exceptional and exemplary: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to according to your will" (Luke 1:38). Like her Son, who came to lead humanity back to God by doing the will of God, Mary's response to Angel Gabriel proved that she lived a life of total submission to God's will. Mary was also known for pondering the mysteries of the word of God (Luke 2:19).
2) Jesus, Mary's Son, desired that his mother's body (the tabernacle, which incubated him) should not know decay, before she joined him in heaven. In other words, the mother-child love that started in the stainless womb of Mary, developed into an eternal bond they share in heaven.
Why? Because the purity/chastity of Mary before and after the birth of Jesus prepared her for an instant transformation into a glorified body: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Luke 1:42); also, "henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). These biblical verses attest to the assumption privilege God chose to give Mary and Mary alone.
3) Therefore, Mary's assumption into heaven is a special reward for her unwavering faithfulness borne from her unparalleled love for God, especially, her unique favor for being the mother of Jesus.
Lesson: We can learn to put God first, from Mary the mother of Jesus, and our mother by adoption; so as to receive the fullness of our specific favors from God.
4) Finally, my joy knows no bounds on every solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (August 15th). On this special day 21 years ago, I was consecrated a priest of the Most High God. Ever since, I have never ceased to see how my priesthood is anchored in Christ, but also cladded with the mothering cloak of Mary.
Today, I pray an overflow of joy and gladness to you, my dear friends. Father UC
Lots of people work hard but only a few are successful. Why is that the case? Is there something we are not doing right?
It could be that many work hard but not smart. Rather than drain our energies working too hard, we have the option to work smartly. The words of Jesus: “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:24-35) resonates with our thesis: Why work hard, when you can work smart? We don’t have to work hard all the time. In today’s world, people make more money through various online businesses. The CEOs of Amazon, Google, Apple Store and Play Store Apps, et cetera, have no physical retail shops; still they make millions on daily basis.
The worst form of delusional hard work is the expectation of miracles on daily basis. Even Jesus carefully corrected such demented wish: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). As the saying goes: “Everyday is not Christmas.”
For the records, God only permits miracles for necessary purposes: “I will now rain down bread from heaven … to see whether they will follow my instructions or not” (Ex. 16:2-4,12-15). Miracles happen in extreme situations that we cannot change. So, why trouble God in situations that God has already gifted us with the rationality and skills to overcome? Obviously, it is abusive not to do our own bits in life, but expect miraculous interventions.
In fact, the crowd that covered long distances in search of free bread was capable of producing homemade bread for themselves. Unlike the hungry Israelites in the desert, who had exhausted their food supplies, this particular crowd came from their various homes in search of free bread. At that time, homemade bread was the commonest staple food. As such, the crowd should have smartly sought for what they could not provide for themselves – that is, the bread of life, rather than abandon their respective jobs in search of free perishable bread. Although they worked very hard rowing their boats, they lacked the smartness to know the difference between perishable bread and bread of life.
Despite the clarification on the layers of difference in their search, the crowd still chorused: “Sir, give us this bread always.” It is this “give us” mentality that is the problem. “Give us” mentality blinds us from even trying to do the little we can for ourselves.
Identifying their problem, Jesus refused to give them free bread. Instead, he instructed them to be “bread givers” to those around them: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” When we faithfully commune the body and blood of Christ, we become whom we consume (little christs). And as active sparks of Christ, we are expected to be the bread that would quench the hunger of people around us, in order to lead them to Christ (the bread of life). It is important to notice that giving is a great virtue, especially when the receiver cannot help himself/herself. We can actually be a miracle (a sweet surprise) to those in need. Are you ready to be that sweet surprise to someone, this week?
Blessings. Father Levi
Last weekend, the Web was aglow with the state of the art funeral ceremony of Obi Cubana’s mother in Oba, Southeastern Nigeria. Millions of comments from enthusiasts contrasted those of critics. A few others chose to tease out lessons from the loud event. Obi Cubana was not born into royalty, but he bequeathed a royal funeral to his mother. Take it or leave it, Obi Cubana’s exploits would trend a bit longer in the media Web.
From the bubbles of news that saturated the media platforms and environmental spaces, what stood out for me is Obi Cubana’s uncommon generosity. The magnanimity of his committee of friends, who gifted him 246 cows and N500 million for his mother’s funeral was a demonstration of giving back to a mentor with a generous heart. In addition to this circle of billionaires and millionaires he mentored, Obi Cubana invested N1m each to 1000 youths from Oba, as an indelible tribute to his mother. By the strength of his largesse, in the next 20 years, Oba would become a city of millionaires. And when most of his beneficiaries learned from him and sponsored several others, the network of generosity would exponentially expand. In giving back, amazing growth is inevitable.
Besides the curiosity of the nebulous source of Obi Cubana’s wealth, he has distinguished himself as a celebrated mentor and a brand name in the business of human investments. Still, Obi Cubana is neither the richest man in his state nor in his country.
Generosity rather than impoverishes, multiplies wealth. Generous givers receive back in hundred fold. But wealth without generosity enervates human development.
Generosity builds a nation, not accumulation of wealth. A wealthy but selfish guy would still be a curse to his people because exploitation would be his weapon of expanding his business empire. His people’s sorrow would be his gain, and their tears, his happiness. Such imperialistic capitalism suffocates human development. In such a system, the growth ratio of human development is tacitly blocked with a glass ceiling, in order to maintain or widen the gap between the employer and the employees. Capital Investment without human investment is a societal threat, and therefore oppressive to the masses. Many might consider human investment a risk venture, but its turnover (gain) often yields a hundredfold. This thesis is proven in the prevailing story of Obi Cubana and his millionaire committee of friends. Furthermore, besides its economic relevance, generosity also has a spiritual value.
The two instances of multiplication of loaves in the bible can be viewed from two important perspectives. The first and the very obvious is the miraculous aspect. However, our focus is on the second, the implicit generosity that was taught by Elijah (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Jesus (John 6:1-15) to their respective disciples. These two biblical texts confirm that it is not abundance but a large heart that inspires generosity. From the little available resources, the generosity of Elijah and Jesus caused an untold increase, which satisfied the hunger of all present.
For the wise, generosity is the way to go. We don’t have to be wealthy before we can be generous. Also, generosity is not measured by the quantity of possession, but solely determined by the resolve to assume the responsibility of another person’s need. It is doubtful that Obi Cubana learned generosity only when he became wealthy. First and foremost, whoever practiced generosity without a payback tie would not only enjoy a hundredfold of economic returns, but would also attain a spiritual reward. Givers never lack. Be the next.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
Shepherds abound. Still, shepherding lacks. Why is it so?
When shepherds abandon their primary duty of shepherding the flock of Christ, in pursuant of self-satisfaction, it becomes a misplacement of priority. Who then should take care of the shepherds?In the absence of selfless shepherding, God, the Chief Shepherd, first intervenes by providing the required care to the flock. Thereafter, would the selfish shepherds be punished. In other words, shepherding the flock is a priority task.
Shepherding is a priority for God: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands… I will appoint shepherd for them who will shepherd them, so that they need no longer fear and tremble” (Jer. 23:1-6). That includes whomever that shepherds well. God shepherds the shepherds, not for their sakes, but such that they would be committed to the shepherding vocation of the flock of God. The flocks of God are the people of God. Nothing whatsoever should displace attending to the dire need of God’s vulnerable people. From this standpoint, human shepherds are privileged to do the work of God. It therefore, becomes unnecessary for shepherds to imagine that the Chief Shepherd could neglect their faithful services.
Why then is shepherding almost impossible? This question does not deny the fact that many shepherds are taking great care of the flocks. The truth is: shepherding demands 100% compassion and care. Shepherding is one vocation for which 99% is not good enough. The 1% strayed sheep are also entitled to proportionate care of the shepherd because God said: none (of my people) shall be missing (Jer. 23:4). Only with disinterestedness could the desired shepherding of the entire flock be met.
The focus on the wholeness of the flock explains why Jesus created space within his expressed compassion for his exhausted (apostles) shepherds: “come away by yourself to a deserted place and rest a while,” in order to accommodate his prioritized pity for his vulnerable flocks: “they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:30-34). A flock without a shepherd can be compared to the vulnerability of kids without a reasonable adult guardian. Jesus altered his plan to be with his apostles as they rested with a prompt response of satisfying the hunger of the people to learn from his teachings. Therefore, a greater shepherd must be ready to sacrifice lesser needs for greater ones, even if the latter thwarts his schedule.
Despite the difficult task of shepherding the flock, there are still great shepherds. Great shepherd in the golden words of Pope Francis “smell the smell of the sheep.” Great shepherds should not be known by the gulf of economic inequality between them and their impoverished flocks. Great shepherds stay with their flocks, especially in the face of danger. Great shepherds, like David and Jesus, are always accessible to their flocks. Where are such great shepherds? Our society is desperately in need of such great shepherds. Please pray for great shepherds.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
Without prejudices to the exclusiveness of the 12 apostles of Jesus, apostle in a generic sense means “one who is sent.” Obviously, the owner of the mission sends every apostle to a designated place, with a defined message. In other words, the Sender stipulates the message, but also decides the audience. By way of extension, the mission of a prophet (we saw last week) correlates him to an apostle – one who is sent.
Prophets and apostles share parallel missions. Two outstanding missionary qualities include: 1) both are sent. They neither initiate their messages nor choose their mission areas. 2) They work for zero fees. Their sustenance can only be assured through the benevolence of people. In fact, they are volunteers in the circle of humanitarian services. Although volunteers are usually unsung, still they are the true heroes. Prophets and apostles in their designated fields are true heroes, consumed by their vocation.
Conversely, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, perceived prophetic vocation as lucrative business (Amos 7:12-15). His myopic lens was infested with his strong xenophobic personality. For Amaziah, Amos (a prophet from Judah) was a bold intruder in a foreign land of Bethel. His exclusive assertion proved his ignorance concerning the two basic qualities of prophet Amos – that he followed the directives of the Sender, and attached no fees to his services.
There are still many Amaziahs and Amoses in our society. We are the present day Amaziah if our services in the church were gain-oriented and xenophobic. Hopefully, we are the Amos of our time, if we kept the dual principles of volunteering and hospitality. Volunteering and hospitality demonstrate a fervent trust in investing in the commonwealth of God, with hope that the accumulated rewards will be ours at God’s own time. God’s own time includes earthly existence but culminates in heaven.
The apostles in their missionary journey typically experienced an example of enjoying the reward of voluntary services at God’s own time. Jesus instructed his apostles to travel light with only the essentials in order to experience the benevolence of God through kindhearted people. Basically, Jesus advised them to lay no claims for any form of compensation but to accept whatever that is served to them in good faith. Above all, Jesus was emphatic that conversion must never be coerced: “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (Mark 6:7-13). Essentially, evangelization must exclude proselytization (coercion). Religious proselytization can hardly be free of profit-orientation.
The apostles kept the missionary rule of their master and became the Amos of their time. Our individual mission on earth could be partly or fully impacted by theirs, so as to enable the Amos in us overcome the Amaziah tendency.
Good luck. Father Levi UC
Who is a prophet? Is the personality of the prophet elusive or is he an enigma?
Where does the confusion originate: from a distorted perception toward a prophet, or from the unusual behavior of the prophet? Can a prophet actually be misunderstood?
A prophet is a visible Voice of an invisible Speaker. John the Baptist’s self identity was: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” (John 1:23). Conversely, a prophet also speaks for himself. Not all he says are received messages. The confusion that derives from a mouth, which utters two different kinds of words, puts the audience of a prophet in a constant struggle of discerning the words of the invisible Speaker from those of the prophets.
Follow-up questions include: Does the prophet have a life of his own? Is he an indifferent announcer of the unseen voice? Does he fully understand the messages he disseminates? Does a prophet live a normal life or is he at odd with himself and his society?
A prophet is one who has no life of his own, except being available at the services of God and humanity. His life lends a bridge, which enables the downward transmission of the will of God on the one hand, and the upward conveyance of the cries of the people, on the other.
Prophets are not fortunetellers. Instead, the Overseer of the future freely communicates a tiny aspect of the future to the present via a prophet, but chooses to conceal the details of the how. Such unknown details keep a prophet at the crossroad of the known and the unknown. Like anyone else, a prophet even struggles to understand the message he announced. Therefore, a prophet is nothing but a living channel of divine communication. He is a mouthpiece of God.
A prophet is a normal person, who yields to the directives of God. Ridiculing, altercating, lampooning, vilifying, undermining, envying, slandering, are the woes of a prophet. His uprightness and firmness to the truth are offensive to those who surround him because they are allergic to his uncompromising nature. Most times, the people are so scared to deal with the newness of the message that the prophet disseminates, and so prefer to predict his utterances. Such wishful thinking is obviously absurd. Worse still, the familiarity of a prophet constitutes a common obstacle against the acceptance of his inspired messages – “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,” (Mark 6:4).
Therefore, a prophet can best be understood as a normal person with an unusual mission. Nevertheless, we can still be prophets whenever we act in a prophetic way. And when we dare, the reward of a prophet awaits us, at the close of time.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
Faith is an active belief in God. It is a journey into the unknown, and not a destination. It takes a person of fervent faith to journey into the unknown with God. The person of faith courageously and persuasively appeals to the gracious throne of divine mercy. As such, faith is never dormant.
In this journey, God is the anchor. Faith has God as its direct subject. It drives the person of faith into faith-related actions. However, those, who lack faith, perceive what a person of faith does as a risky folly. Most often, a person of faith suffers disparagement because of his/her (seeming) "dumb" activities. In essence, faith is a blind leap into the unknown; driven by the conviction that God holds the unknown in the palms. God knows and controls even the deepest part of the unknown.
Calling on God to take care of the worrisome unknown is an act of faith. It is not cowardice. As our journey partner, God is always available to help. It would rather be sheer stupidity not to ask for help or even to doubt the invisible presence of God along the journey. Fervent trust in God is the only requirement to attract God's attention. The details of how the divine solution to our problems would come about should not be our major concern.
Faith presupposes unwavering trust in God. Faith in God is like a childlike trust, albeit reasonable to the person of faith. Such reasonability does not have to convince another person. Faith is personal and operates in various degrees.
Firm faith invites the intervention of God. Faced with impossible situations, a person of faith thrives. Aware of the companionship of God, a person of faith utilizes the advantage of it.
The two instances in today's gospel reveal the consistency but also the divergence of faith-prayers. First, the raising of Jairus' daughter had both indirect and direct dimensions. The intercession of Jairus for his ailing daughter (indirect) prompted Jesus to restore the life of his 12 years old (dead) daughter. Jesus took the child by the hand (direct contact) and said to her: "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" (Mk 5:21-43). Succinctly, the indirect faith-prayer of Jairus was efficiently answered by a direct contact of Jesus.
Second, the healing of a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years also had direct and indirect dimensions. However, a shift of occurrence is noticed. Whereas Jairus' prayer followed an indirect-direct movement, that of the woman had a reversed occurrence of direct-indirect movement. Directly, the woman took a leap of faith for her own healing, but unreservedly believed the efficacy of an indirect contact with the cloak of Jesus. Nevertheless, both faith-prayers contain the primary elements of faith, as discussed above. At the end, Jesus perfectly answered the faith-prayers of Jairus and of the woman, even though differently.
On the one hand, the woman's faith attracted an instant healing. On the other hand, Jairus' daughter had a delayed healing. Nevertheless, it is very important to note that despite the delayed arrival of Jesus and the death of his daughter, the faith of Jairus was firm.
Overall, two points stand out. 1) Faith-prayers either directly or indirectly (intercession) are equally efficient. 2) Even when the answer to faith-prayer seems delayed, God is always on time. Consistency in faith is key.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
Our greatest problem is not the lack of knowledge concerning the incredible deeds of God. The unimaginable acts of creation, the mystifying authority over nature, and the amazing demeanor of the creator God, are too glaring to be unnoticed. I will not conclude without naming the exact problem.
The people at the time of Job lived out a philosophy of life that regarded suffering as a consequential punishment for evil done. According to this naive logic, suffering is a clear symptom of unpunished evil, while fortune is a sure indicator of blessings from God. The major flaw of such logic lies on the fact that the implied class dichotomy was solely blamed on God. Contrariwise, God willed that judgment should follow death.
As a product of his time, Job vehemently questioned the suffering of the just, whose victim he was. Armed with his known logic of suffering, Job’s lament questioned the justice of God. In reply, God refuted the naive logic of suffering and dislodged it by exposing the immensity of creation to Job, whose depth dwarfed human logic (Job 38:1, 8-11). After being schooled in the superior rationality of God, Job was humbled to learn that life is larger than human logic. He therefore bowed in humble submission to the enthralling will of God.
Centuries later, the disciples of Jesus experienced his unparalleled authority over nature. Awed at the instant submission of the storm to Jesus’ command, his disciples chorused: “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”(Mk 4:35-41).
As a proof that the problem is not the absence of God’s awesomeness, the disciples of Jesus still deserted him during his suffering moments (except John), in spite of all their previous miraculous experiences that proved his divinity. Like the disciples of Jesus, we always want things to go our way. If those disciples followed their own wills during the persecution of their master, in disregard of the will of God for them, then their respective reactions can hardly be excused as a result of unknowingness. Basically, knowing is not a correlative of doing.
What then is the biggest problem? Sadly but truly, we are our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is the inability to configure our will to the will of God. Total submission to God’s will, has often been dismissed with soothing arguments/excuses. Excuses are like shoes. Each person finds a fitting size. Excuses, usually drawn from free will and personal interests, empower us to displace what God wants of us with what we want of ourselves.
But Jesus Christ was not stupid when he said in clear terms: “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me,” (John 4:34). And if Christians were truly Christ-like, should our favorite food be different from that of Christ? Your answer is your guide because a Christ-like Christian must be “a new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14-17).
Blessings. Father Levi UC
In life, we do the very least. God does the rest. But all is done in mutual collaboration. The infinite love of God allows human beings to participate as co-creators. Not because God is unable to achieve all without external hands, but mainly because love is impossible without sharing. Prophet Ezekiel confirms that God is able to plant on mountain heights and it grows to fruition; and to make a withered tree blossom (Ez. 17:22-24). So, God’s collaboration with humans evidences authentic love. And only with God is doing the very least approved as optimal input.
The farmer’s experience of planting the seeds, sleeping and waking to see the seeds sprout and grow (Mk 4:26-34) strongly emphasizes the long wait of inactivity, the inescapable passivity, but the most important period of the planted crops, known as growth. Growth as a process, even though difficult to explain, is the product of the invisible care (input) of God. Growth causes fruition, which actualizes the dream of the farmer. Without growth, the preparatory efforts of the farmer in planting the crops end in futility. Without growth, harvest is impossible. Nevertheless, the role played by the farmer cannot be unsung. As negligible as it should be when contrasted to the growth process, the farmer’s activity complements the invisible grace of God. Truly, grace builds on nature and complements it.
The seen is petty compared to the much, embedded in the domain of the unseen. The seen and the unseen are no match. What is unknown supersedes the perceiver. The unseen, nay, the unknown, stuns but humbles the knower. Yet, the unseen graciously allows the seen to enjoy the glory at harvest time. Only the wise is able to search beyond the seen in order to discover the untapped abundance of the unseen.
The mustard seed analogy is our life story. Our efforts are compared to the tinniest size of a grain of a mustard seed, while the gigantic tree it became resonates the immeasurable care of God. Paul succinctly sums it up: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” (1 Cor. 3:6).
While it is important to notice that our least (effort) can be maximized and fully appreciated, it is also encouraging that despite our least contribution, God allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labor. However, it takes wisdom not to forget the root-cause of the growth and fruition we enjoy. At least, a verbal acknowledgement of the source of growth in our life is enough. Let us, therefore, search beyond the visual so as not to forget the immensity of the unseen.
Blessings. Father Levi
We can be more appreciative of what Christ did for us. Precisely, Christ willfully gave up his own life for humanity to enjoy eternal life. Only him could do that for the entire human race (the good, the bad, and the ugly). He did not only offer his life (once) that we might have the fullness of life; he also made endless provision of his body and blood for our nourishment in this world and eternal life, hereafter. What an infinite love!!!
The Eucharist or the body and blood of Christ, which is celebrated today doubles as material and spiritual food. While it sanctifies our physical body, it as well nourishes our soul (that life principle – the image of God in us) for that perfect union with God in heaven, known as the Beatific Vision. God is the source of life. Any willful cutoff or walk-away from God destroys the soul (absence of life/God).
Unfortunately, the universal availability of the body and blood of Christ at no cost seems to have caused many to disregard the efficacy of this angelic food. Many Christians belong to this category of ungrateful charlatans. Not only do they trivialize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic, they also abuse the sacredness.
Countless times, the body of Christ has been abused with arrant impunity and excessive indifference. This is the case when we failed to examine ourselves before communion; while still in the state of mortal sin, we communed Christ; and when we blocked our ears to the pathetic voices of forgiveness and compassion.
When we commune at Mass, do we hear Christ whisper to our souls: “I am in you?” And at the end of Mass, are we attracted to the faces of Christ in others, as taught by the indelible example of Saint (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta? One thing is certain. Unless we share what we become, we cannot be worthy of the Eucharistic reception. But when we do, we are other “Christs.” May the body & blood of Christ purify our bodies, our minds and our spirits, for the purpose of sharing the sweetness of Christ in the world, before it becomes too late.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
When Karl Rahner, in his classic writing, The Trinity, asked what would change if the doctrine of the Trinity were to be dropped as false, his curiosity mirrored a collective concern of Christians. In other words, of what use is a sound doctrine of the Trinity if it lacked the potential to transform our persons, culture and relationship? In fact, the Trinity for Us (revelation) should stimulate the Trinity in Us (Trinitarian ethics) as a prerequisite to experience the Trinity in Se (Beatific Vision – direct communion with God). Let us therefore keep our reflection on particular ethics of the Trinity.
How could the Trinity impact Christians? The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though distinct in persons, is essentially one. As such, the Trinity offers a one-stop understanding of personhood. Looking through the optics of the Trinity, a person is not an independent entity. Rather, a person is an individual in a relationship. Invariably, the fullness of person can only be realized in an interdependent relationship.
Relationship could either be imperfect or perfect. The healthiest relationship between two persons (guided by the principle: you love me and I love you back) is still imperfect – even pagans do the same. But a perfect relationship is possible among three persons (the Father wholly loves the Son and the Son wholly loves the Father; the Father and the Son together wholly love the Holy Spirit; the Spirit equally loves the Father and the Son). This triad relationship automatically transcends the indebtedness of reciprocity in a one-to-one relationship. Indebtedness suffocates freedom. Certainly, it takes two to tango, but it takes three to engage in endless love. This is why the perfection of Christian marriage has the personality of God as the bond between the groom and his bride.
Trinitarian relationship has two sides: communion and distinctness. Distinctness assures freedom of collaboration. Distinctness is not division. Obviously, any unity without defined distinctness is a forced union, which doesn’t last. But a unity of distinct persons underpins complementary relationship. Trinitarian complementarity teaches us how the distinctness of the three persons is harmonized in the communion of divine unity. Again, distinctness engenders interdependence but obstructs independency. “I can exist without you” is a corruption of the true understanding of a person. The Zulu proverb, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – a person is a person through other persons, comes very close to the Trinitarian understanding of personhood.
Conclusively, distinctness is a basic complement of communion (unity). The Father is not the Son, nor the Son, the Holy Spirit or the Father. Trinitarian distinctness gives meaning to our own distinctness, which must be appreciated and not depreciated. Unless we appreciate each other’s distinctness and allow their values to enrich us, our vision of unity would end in futility. Happy Trinity Feast and enjoy your Memorial weekend.
Father Levi UC
The unbroken continuity of our salvation plan provokes a deep thought. That singular mission, which originated from the Father, and accomplished by the Son, is eternally sustained by the Spirit. It is the same mission of imparting/communicating the Truth to all who cares, that the church celebrates on this Pentecost Sunday.
The Holy Spirit neither introduced nor encouraged a different agenda from what Jesus taught. Instead, the Spirit ceaselessly illuminates the Truth in diverse ways among all peoples on earth. Jesus is the personified Truth, who reveled to the world the Way to eternal Life. Understanding Jesus as the incarnated Truth perfectly defines the continuous mission/work of the Spirit: “He will guide you to all truth” … “Everything the Father has is mine; He will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).
The awe-inspiring activities of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (50th day of resurrection) confirm his universal but diverse character. Again, the boundless nature of the Spirit testifies to the presence of elements of Truth among peoples of varied cultures. On that historic day, representatives of peoples from across (the then known) world heard the Truth in their native languages (Acts 2:1-11). Such manifestation shows that the Truth is available to all peoples, not through a particular language, but through all languages. Simply put, the Truth speaks all languages, and all peoples are capable of understanding the Truth, and to live by the Truth.
But due to conflict of interests (lest I lose my friends, family, fans, and associates or be called out) the call to witness to the Truth (John 15:26-27) is daily neglected. When we disregard the Truth, not only do we infest the world with lies and consequently indict the innocent, we also make the Holy Spirit a liar by denying his active presence and work. Anyone who lies denies Jesus, the Truth, but also disparages the continuous activities of the Holy Spirit. However, every lie has an expiration date.
Imagine the peace and serenity we could bequeath to ourselves, to our community and to the society at large, if we chose to witness to the Truth by submitting to the dictates of the Holy Spirit. Alive in the Spirit, the Truth will set us free. Let us strive to collaborate the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26-27) in us. Happy Pentecost Sunday!!!
Father Levi UC
Ascension Feast, the return of our Lord Jesus to the Father, is celebrated on the 40th day after resurrection (Acts 1: 3), called Ascension Thursday. For pastoral reasons, it could be moved to the next Sunday, and so replaces the 7th Sunday of Easter. As such, we are to reflect on Ascension and its readings.
Succinctly put, Pope Benedict XVI explains our earthly journey as an “exitus-reditus,” round trip. We all came from God and are destined to return to God. But because our common parents, Adam & Eve, lost the Way, God the Son (the Way himself) became like us (human) in order to lead us back to the Father (our destined home). As the Way, Jesus is both the path (to follow) and the leader (the paver of the path). Indeed, the divine Word (Christ) became human so that humanity might be divinized (be one with God). Jesus did not come to die on the cross, which sounds absurd. Rather, he ransomed us from the bondage of Satan with his own life, set us free, before leading us home to the Father. Consequently, we are adopted children of God. The Trinitarian family, in which Jesus by nature is the only begotten Son of God, has been extended to us by adoption.
We are never alone in the journey. Being the Way (the Path & the Paver), Jesus humbled himself and passed through the stages of our return journey in order to reinforce our confidence as pilgrims. First, Jesus died and resurrected, which proved that death is no longer an end, but a homeward transition into immortality. After his resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples the Kerygma (proclamation) mandate: “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:15-20). Essentially, the kerygma announces the risen Jesus as the Way, in whom there is life, but without whom, there is no life. That Way that leads to eternal life is also life, itself. The Kerygma disseminates to all peoples the invitation to enjoy the fullness of life in Christ Jesus. That invitation is the inviolable Truth of the gospel.
Whoever is attracted by the Truth of the gospel and believes it, surrenders herself/himself to the fuller details of its teachings, called Catechesis. Catechesis begins from baptism and runs through a lifetime. Often it engages questions and answers aimed at fuller knowledge of our faith in God – fides queres intellectum (faith seeking understanding). Catechesis is so required for the flourishing of faith that Peter (the first pope) instructed: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you about the hope of your faith,” (1Peter 3:15). Such accountability of faith is possible through the Holy Spirit, who explains to us, all that Jesus taught and did.
Inspired by the Spirit, the period of Mystagogia challenges us to live the gospel we learned from catechesis. Traditionally, the church used to end this practice on Pentecost day (50th day of resurrection). Practically, its lifetime expectation has become more dominant.
Second, before ascending to the Father, Jesus unequivocally drew our attention to the necessity of unity among us his faithful, while we daily march towards taking our turns to reunite with him in heaven. To reassure us of our free certified return tickets, Jesus ascended back to the Father.
Third, in ten days time, Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit, another advocate for us, as he promised. This is the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit – also a proof that we have never been abandoned in the journey of our faith. Beyond Ascension, we have an unmatchable advocate in the person of the Holy Spirit and a certified return ticket to the Father. That does not mean, we cannot miss the flight. If we delayed to abide in Christ as the branches abide in the vine, we cannot but run out of life, wither and die (eternally).
But as Jesus counseled his politically minded disciples, he calls us to concentrate in activating the gifts of the Holy Spirit in each of us, rather than devote ample time to political disputes. It is indeed our primary duty to be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). While we await the final return of Jesus, which concludes our homeward journey, let us strive to remain in Christ, by following his Way and witnessing to it in Truth for the assurance of our Life (divinization).
You are blessed. Father Levi UC
The first reading from Acts of the Apostles reveals the action of the Holy Spirit in contrast to ethnic biases. Ethnic biases are cultural taints, which were sneaked into the gospel message by agents of mission. They are superfluous infiltrations into the true teaching handed on by Jesus. The gospel is a metaculture because its truth transcends the boundaries of geography, class, race, language and epoch.
The failed cultural taint at the inception of the church was the Jewish circumcision. It was so crucial that the pressure to impose it on non-Jews (Gentiles) as a requirement for conversion into Christianity led to the first council of the Church in Jerusalem, presided over by Apostle James. Circumcision was a required ritual act of initiation for Jews. Jewish babies were circumcised on the eighth day, including John the Baptist (Luke 1:59-66) and Jesus (Luke 2:21-39).
But the problem arose when non-Jews started converting into Christianity. This growth of membership occasioned a gradually transition of the early church from an ethnic community toward a global assembly. The universal character of the church necessitated the timely distinction between the demands of Judaism and that of Christianity. The council of Jerusalem did an awesome job when it restricted circumcision to Judaism (its rightful place) and defined baptism as the only gateway initiation into Christianity.
The epic decision at the council of Jerusalem was based on respect for the otherness of other cultures. This earliest council appreciated the importance of diversity in creation. We are uniquely made. Particular people were created in their kind and values; each person in her specificity. Still, we were created to share love with foreigners by appreciating them, without forcing our own cultural categories upon them.
The Holy Spirit confirmed the universal character of the gospel at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48). Cornelius with his households were unbaptized and uncircumcised Gentiles, when Peter and the circumcised believers (Jews) visited with him. Still in their natural state, these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, glorifying God (Acts 10:44-48).
Again, the Holy Spirit revealed herself as the Principal of mission. Missionaries are secondary instruments, and so must neither force conversion on people nor underrate the preparatory actions/presence of the Holy Spirit among them. The companions of Peter were astounded at the generosity of the Holy Spirit to the uncircumcised Cornelius, because they imagined themselves as the exclusive beneficiaries of her gifts. But they were proven wrong.
If the unbaptized and the uncircumcised Cornelius also received the Holy Spirit, who are we to condemn a people as pagans just because their knowledge and pattern of worshipping God differs from ours? The Spirit blows wherever she wills. We cannot restrict her activities. Rather than segregate people of other faith manifestations, let us be ever conscious that God chose us (we did not choose God) to bear everlasting fruit, which is love (John 15:9-17). “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” (1 John 4: 7-10). Love is the parameter of those who know God. Therefore, only Love can facilitate true conversion in every person. Indeed, it is God that chose us because the Holy Spirit always precedes the actual YES in every conversion.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
The Sweetness of the Vine lies in its Unity. The imagery of the Vine has a lot in common with the image of the sheep we saw last weekend. Both images emphasize frailty and dependence on the part of the children of God, but utmost care and compassionate acceptance on the part of God. Nevertheless, the vine metaphor goes further to provide the connection between God and God’s children in the person of Jesus.
Jesus said: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower,” but also added, “I am the vine, you (Children of God) are the branches” (John 15:1-8). These two sentences excellently capture the vertical and horizontal structure of relationship in Christianity, with Jesus at the intersection point.
The branches of the vine are very delicate. As such, the caring vine grower supports them with stakes. The Father removes whatever inhibits growth on the vine, but also prunes it to facilitate increase in growth. Without the intensive care of the vine grower, the vine would not produce fruits. But cut off from the nutritional support of the vine, the branches die away. Therefore, for the branches to stay alive, they must remain connected to the vine.
The fruits of the vine are never isolated. A single stalk bonds individual fruits together and forms a bunch or a community. This analogy of the vine speaks directly to the communality of Christians anchored in Christ, and tended by the Father through the Spirit.
The converted Saul was running out of life before he was integrated into the community of God’s children. Having been cut off from Judaism, his former faith, Saul was gasping for a refreshing air of Christian community. Suspicious judgments about his past would have snuffed life out of him. Thanks to Barnabas, who saw the necessity for a quick integration of Saul into the community, and played the connecting role. We are called to be the Barnabas of our time. When majority are pointing accusing fingers on a strayed child of God, we are to step up and facilitate his/her integration into the fold.Saul could have worked as an independent preacher after he received his call, consecration and commission, on the way to Damascus. Rather, he humbly submitted himself to the apostolic unity with center in Jerusalem. Unlike Saul, the Christian unity of today’s world has tremendously lost its enviable bearing. “Each one to himself and God for us all” has become the mantra of Christianity. It is extremely difficult to account for the exact number of Christian denominations in the world. Some city roads have as many as 10 to 15 churches, with many facing each other in a tensely competitive demeaning. Do modern pastors have more wisdom and understanding than the converted Saul? Are they more inspired by the Holy Spirit than he was? Why the endless division in founding new churches, rather than stick to the one vine with multiple branches.
Living in unity underscores what John describes as “love indeed and truth” (1 John 3: 18-24). Practical love and truth enable us to learn compassionate acceptance and bonding from Jesus and his Father. It is equally a valid reminder of our frailty and impending death, when we stand in isolation. Francis of Assisi summarizes the Christian identity of unity: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
Blessings. Father Levi UC Nkwocha
We are Christians, and gladly so. But being Christians is not our full identity. The disciples of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch by non members of the faith group (Acts 11:26). Antiochians saw in the disciples a valid replication of the ethics of Christ, and addressed them accordingly. The undeniable point is, onlookers gave the name Christians to the earliest followers of Christ. Nevertheless, the disciples adopted the designation “Christians” as their official name because it indicates their fraternal bond with Christ as well as the definition of their mission. That Christians got their matching name from outsiders of the faith-circle became a conscious reminder of the fact that unblinking eyes are watching.
Evidently, the name Christians was the correct answer to the question: “Who do people say the earliest followers for Christ were?” The follow-up question should be: who did these early Christians say they were? How did they define themselves”? This self-evaluative question is very important because the depth of its answer not only harmonizes, but also completes what observers see.
So, what is this specific identity that completes the name Christians? And why is that the case? Did the founder of Christianity leave it nameless? Jesus Christ never used the word Christians. According to the beloved apostle, Children of God is the most appropriate identity for Christians (1 John 3:1-2). Jesus used it after his resurrection (John 21:5). Whereas the name “Christians” indicates a relationship of association, “Children of God” reveals an intrinsic family relationship. “Children of God” directly provokes the thoughts of family bond, with God as our (collective) Father.
As family, Christians are to see themselves as siblings of equal vulnerability. Every child is vulnerable and dependent on our collective Father. Not even pastors, general overseers, or popes are outside of the family of God’s children. At best, they could be privileged children. There is a reason for Christians to understand themselves as defenseless children of God.
Jesus has the answer: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-18). The flock of Jesus represents the vulnerable children of God. It also reaffirms the unceasing dependence on the good shepherd for survival. More recently, the children of God have been exposed to contract-shepherds, who easily abandon the children/sheep at threatening moments of their lives.
Contract-shepherds meticulously seek their gains, at the expense of the protective task they owe their sheep. For example, amidst the raging insecurities in Nigeria, such as kidnapping, looting and banditry, which lead to incessant killings, contract-pastors are still too far apart from the traumatic pains of the common masses. With sophisticated security agents that guard their own lives and those of their immediate families, these contract-pastors hop from one location to another in their cozy jets. They abandon the helpless children of God, who daily use the dangerous interstate highways, at the mercy of the wickedness of those unchallenged bandits and hoodlums. Some, moreover, due to political ambitions, would not even dare to engage in a minimum verbal condemnation of the pitiable Nigerian state. Still, it is common knowledge that speaking truth to power in defense of the flock distinguishes a good shepherd from the contracted ones.
The good news is: Children of God are priceless in the sight of God. For the love of the children of God, the good shepherd laid down his life. To be true children of God is the most prestigious identity. The reason is: true children today, in spite of their present miseries in the hands of contract-shepherds, will at the fullness of time be like God, in the eternal kingdom (1 John 3:1-2).
Be consoled!!! Father Levi UC
There is a cogent reason Jesus stayed back for forty days before ascending to the Father. Although Jesus spent three solid years teaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, it still took him additional 40 days (after resurrection) of private instructions to erase the incredulity of his disciples. The major obstacle of the disciples was how to be convinced that the risen Lord is not a ghost, because as at that time, resurrection sounded like a fairy tale.
The gravity of the disciples’ confusion in grasping resurrection absolutely justified the several post-resurrection manifestations of Jesus to them before his ascension. Nevertheless, the fruits of those forty days have continued to enrich the Church to date. Those forty days of intensive learning taught the disciples (and through them to the present world) the major distinction between a ghost appearance and the real presence of Jesus, after his death.
Jesus consistently proved his real presence with his two unique post-resurrection identities. He showed his nail holes as a proof of his broken (immolated) body but also demonstrated the breaking of bread as a reenactment of his sacramental broken body. Both proofs testify that the same body (and blood) sacrificed on the cross for the salvation of the world is still available in its Eucharistic or sacramental form, for the nourishment of the body and soul of believers.
In the gospel of today (Luke 24:38-48), Jesus went a step farther to engage directly the bubbles of doubt that hovered in the minds of the disciples. He ate the regular food the disciples offered him in order to dissuade their incredulous thoughts of imagining him as a ghost.
All the post-resurrection manifestations (about 5) to the disciples were consistent proofs that Jesus conquered death and is alive. For today’s world, these proofs are the anchor basis for believing the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and his other promises. Like the apostles, these proofs are capable of healing our unbelief, too.
Jesus knew how foolish the doctrine of his Eucharistic real presence would be in the ears and eyes of those blinded by empirical proofs (such as apostle Thomas), when he blessed those who would believe without seeing his nails marks, and without touching the holes on his body. He, therefore, countered such unbelief by providing valid empirical proofs of his resurrection.
As today’s Christians are strengthened by these invaluable post-resurrection proofs of the real presence of Jesus (that took 40 solid days to prove), they should not be afraid to be broken, while witnessing to the good news of the Eucharistic presence, which they partake of, and become – the Eucharistic people.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
In April 2000, when pope John Paul II declared Divine Mercy Feast as a Universal celebration on the final day of Easter Octave (8th day), he did not introduce a new message to the Christian world. Divine mercy preexisted John Paul II’s pontificate. In fact, the availability of the immeasurable mercy of God has been there at the very inception of Christianity, as was taught by Jesus and handed on to his disciples. However, the awareness of this most precious and invaluable gift to humanity waned overtime. The church will ever remain grateful to John Paul II (the mercy pope) for rekindling with great fervor one of the Church’s best heritage from her founder and head (Jesus).
The early church practically lived out the principle of God’s mercy. These early Christians valued the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which inspired them to have lived mercifully. Anchored on mercy, the early Christians lived a life that assured the wellbeing of all, in such a manner that none among them was in need. As a standard, the rich shared their wealth with the poor through the coordination of the apostles. This spirit of communion that guided the early church suffered grave distortion as the then Palestinian church evolved her catholicity of embracing all cultures and peoples.
Another vivid example of practical mercy was done by the post-resurrection visitation of the risen Christ to his terrified apostles. This visit of empowerment established a departure from the past guilt of desertion that hunted the apostles, and boosted their confidence in focusing on the resurrection mission to all nations/peoples. The most striking aspect of Jesus’ visit was the (avoidable) repeat of his initial visit due the absence of just one man – Thomas the apostle. Jesus could have neglected Thomas but mercifully obliged to his puerile conditions in order to have all the 11 apostles (Judas has died) present.
Indeed, Mercy seeks the wellbeing of all, not many. Not even a super majority is large enough to satisfy the principle of mercy. Jesus was so merciful to Thomas that he played along with the empirical rule of engagement that his uninformed apostle set. Rather than be apologetic for his absence, Thomas boldly issued conditions for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus: “Unless I put my finger into the holes in his hands and feet, I will not believe.” By being profoundly merciful, Jesus schooled Thomas in the post-resurrection mandate of mercy, which dissolved his methodic doubt.
Having graduated from the school of mercy, Thomas gave the church the best Christological basis in the entire bible: “My Lord, and my God.” Thomas unequivocally called the risen Christ, my God, which is his true identity. Also, Thomas through his set rule provided an empirical proof for the resurrection of Jesus. By his standard the doubting world received a biblical text that confirmed, it was the crucified
Jesus, who visited his apostles after resurrection in his tangible but glorified body. Incidentally, the methodic doubt of Thomas became a disguised blessing for the Church. When properly applied, the principle of Mercy turns rot into gold.
Divine Mercy principle is carefully summarized as the ABC of Mercy:
A = Ask for the Mercy of God
B = Be merciful
C = Complete trust in the Mercy of God
The rich treasure of divine mercy even though inexhaustibly available would be beneficial when we apply the ABC of mercy in our individual and collective lives. Like Peter, humbling ourselves before the throne of grace and ask for mercy from God would always separate us from the mistake of Judas. Although Peter denied Jesus three time and Judas betrayed him once, it was nothing but Peter’s explicit appeal for mercy that set him free from the guilt of his denial. Because he asked for mercy, Peter was not deposed as the head of the apostles. On the contrary, Matthias validly replaced the apostolic position of Judas. Asking for mercy includes requesting pardon from people we offended through our uncharitable words and actions.
When we learned to ask for Divine Mercy, automatically we owe mercy to whomever that offended us. The two dimensions are inseparable as affirmed in the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This simply implies that the measure of mercy we show others would determine the measure of Divine Mercy we can attract for ourselves.
That brings us to C, the last but the culminating point of A & B. Without Complete Trust in God, we lack the ability to Ask for Divine Mercy and also the charity to Be merciful to others. Complete trust in this regard is closely synonymous with expressing a fervent faith in God.
Even though the mercy of God is explained as the inexhaustible ocean of resource, we are called, on this fateful day of the Divine Mercy Feast and the days that follow, to embrace the ABC of mercy, which thoroughly defined the lost beauty of communion practiced by the early Christians.
Jesus I trust in You. Father Levi UC
Today is Palm Sunday (also known as Passion Sunday), the beginning of Holy Week. This event from ancient times has two parts. The joyous part marks the moment of jubilation with palms and singing (also procession where possible) in reverence to Jesus’ ironic entry into Jerusalem. It is ironic because his triumphal entry culminated in his passion and death. Jesus entrance into Jerusalem started in a joyous mood with pomp and pageantry that sadly culminated in a chorus rejection by an intimidating crowd, spiced with diatribe and curses.
The same crowd that showered ululation of praises, honor, and adoration to Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the Highest!” (Mark 11: 1-10), turned around and poured acerbic tantrums at him: Crucify him! Crucify him!! (Mark 14:1-15: 47). As a result, the rejection/condemnation of Jesus cut-short the reverential jubilation, he earlier received. This double standard could justify the saying of Jesus: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
Such unabated display of hypocrisy is still alive with us, Christians. The same Christian mouths that bless people are also too quick to curse them. The same mouths that offer praises also demean. The same mouths that ask for mercy are also guilty of intolerant towards others. The same persons that want to be understood, swiftly judge other people. Why the hypocrisy? What forms the basis for the claims we attribute to ourselves? And to what extent do we own ourselves? Do we also realize that we belong to Christ, by default?
Overall, “The Master has need of it” (Mark 11:1-10), reveals that the ownership of all things belongs to God. It is also a quick reminder that human beings are nothing but custodians/stewards to things in the world. We cannot be the masters of the universe; not even masters of our own lives. God, the creator is the Master and owner of all things. Indeed, the Master has need of us too. We do not feel the demand from the Master because our hypocrisy has projected our ego to shadow as its own master – thereby rendering us unavailable for the services of the Master. Deep down, however, we really miss the Master of our being, in accord with the Latin saying: Res lacrimat Domine – A thing cries (longs) for its master (owner).
Uniquely, we belong to God: “We are made for you, O Lord. Our souls shall not rest until they rest in you” (St. Augustine). We should desire God like the fish (on the shore) thirsts for water. Such suffusing desire can only be possible if we dreaded and shunned hypocrisy.
It was hypocrisy that facilitated the crucifixion of our Master. The hypocritical denial of Peter, the hypocritical kiss of Judas, and the hypocritical desertion of the disciples (except John), underpinned Jesus’s execution. In our own time, our individual and collective hypocrisies have betrayed Jesus again and again, much more than the denial of Peter or the betrayal of Judas or the rejection of the Jewish mob. Nevertheless, our collective hypocrisy can be healed by our solidarity with sincerity – “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). Christians can aspire to be the Nathaniel of our generation, whom Jesus extoled in these uncommon words: “Behold a truly Israelite (Christian) in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47). May the Master say such beautiful words about us, each time he has need of our individual services. Amen
Enjoy the Holy Week. Father Levi UC
Victory in death is an uncommon teaching. As it was in the time of Jesus, so it is still today. Besides rare ancient cultures like the Aztec people in the present day Mexico, the approach toward death has always induced fear and aversion. For the Aztec, death during childbirth is praiseworthy and heroic. It was considered the highest form of martyrdom. This sense of dignity at death attests to the greatness of sacrifice involved in generating new life. By this standard, whenever death is experienced in the course of generating new life or saving existing life, victory over death is achieved. This understanding underpins the transformative notion of Death from a destructive end to a necessary means, toward a victorious end.
The Christian teaching about the victorious death of Jesus on the cross pertains to all Christians by extension. The powerful metaphor from Jesus suitably conveys his exceptional teaching about substitutive death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” (John 12:20-33). This metaphoric statement is also empirical. It is metaphoric because a grain of wheat represents human beings. Likewise, it is empirical because it is scientifically provable. As such, the described process of degeneration (death) and regeneration (sprouting) justifies the cycle of seed germination. Basically, the mother seed has to experience a heroic death, in order to propagate multiple lives of her generation.
Is heroic death worth experiencing? Heroic death means glorified new life. Similar to a grain of wheat, which dies to generate additional lives, the mother amoeba completes its life cycle by splitting itself into two baby-daughters. The heroic death that Jesus recommended for Christians seems to connect the two life cycles of the wheat and the Amoeba. The phenomenal death of a heroic Christian is not only a gain to the living, but also a gain to the hero. As such, no life is lost in its true sense. Overall, earthly life is transformed into glorious life. Summarily, to be a Christian is to live a life of daily martyrdom. Two types of martyrdom are known in Christianity: blood and white martyrdoms. Every true Christian should experience white martyrdom in his or her lifetime. This entails being a proud and bold witness to the Truth (Jesus). Courageous witnesses to the Truth die multiple times to themselves in order to assure better lives for other people; mostly the victimized weak in the society. On its part, blood martyrdom is the highest expression of witnessing to the same Truth.
Why is heroic death different from suicide? Intention separates the two. Heroic death is sacrificial, while suicide is selfish.
Why do we still fear Death? Ignorance is the best answer. We are deceived by FEAR created by ignorance. The fear created around death intimidates more than death itself. Governed by fear, we often compromise our lives believing to be protecting them. We merry with the things that harm and eventually destroy us, thinking we are having fun. Until we realize that we die and rise everyday, we might not understand Jesus’ teaching about heroic death. Actually, the permanent cessation of breath is a finality of a gradual dying process, nicely called growth. Confirmed by the metaphor of “a grain of wheat,” growth and death are as mutually inseparable as “cause and effect” in the logic of syllogism.
A circle of the enlightened few, like Jesus or deacon Stephen or Socrates or the swan bird, who conquered the fabricated fear, perceived death differently, beyond a dreadful phenomenon. Illumined, Jesus and Stephen blessed and forgave their cruel executioners, Socrates happily paced around until the hemlock poison he was made to drink froze his heart, and the Swan bird would sing before dropping dead. Such heroic deaths because of their substitutive character completed a cycle of earthly life, rather than destroyed it, thereby affirming the saying of Jesus: “Whoever finds his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life (for the sake of the kingdom), will find it.” To lose one’s life is to be less consumed of the concerns of oneself; but to live in worthy service to others. We are challenged to live likewise.
Blessings. Father Levi UC
The same Joseph judged and condemned by his ten older blood brothers, was empowered by a stranger, Pharaoh. Eventually, it was Pharaoh’s investment on Joseph that saved the lives of his wicked brothers from famine. We can never tell the end story of human investment.
To criticize is easy and cheap. Many belong here. But to inspire or to empower is so costly that only a few favor its path.
This weekend readings invite us to fast from judging and condemning others because of their fruitless goals. Instead, we are given the offer to assist in building others. So, whom have you helped to grow during this Lenten period? Our “yes” or “no” answers is solely determined by that, which captivates our interests in others – their strengths or their weaknesses. Rarely can it be both.
The prominence of what attracts our attention in others is confirmed in this short story. One fateful day, a distinguished scholar gave a topnotch paper that received a resounding standup ovation, which shook the foundation of the seminar hall. While escorting the paper presenters to their cars, a colleague of this spectacular scholar openly teased him: “So, you still wear sandals to great occasions?” Gently, the scholar replied: “When everyone else is looking up to what is in the head, you are looking down at what is on the feet.” His reply cannot be said any better. To talk/look down on people, indirectly compromises our own status. So, why do it?
Why not be the light you desire to see in others? Since love led Jesus to die on the cross, every believer that desires salvation ought to be indebted to love (John 3: 14-21). As believers in God, we are called to live by the standard of Christian love. How not to condemn others, is to be a blessing to them. When we bless or encourage others, we are investing in them. Human investment can be
understood as increasing the lights in the world by at least raising a replacement of oneself or doubling of oneself. Whenever we invest in others, we not only identify with Christ, the Light of the world, but also become tiny sparks of light, whose illumination reveals the suppressed truth (Christ) in the world.
Becoming sparks of light can only be possible through the grace of God available to us in the form of merciful love (Ephesians 2:4-10). Despite the iniquitous lives of the chosen people of God in ancient times, who by the standard of their infidelity to God deserved death, God (rich in mercy and love) still raised Cyrus the king of Persia, as the instrument that reestablished the fallen kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chr. 36:14-16,19-23). If God did not condemn the abominable people of Judah, if Joseph did not condemn his wicked brothers, why do we derive fun in running down other people?The energy for criticizing others can be rightly channeled to empower at least one person, during this lent. Let us fast from judging/condemning others. Yes we can!!!
Father Levi UC
The most glamorous, adorned and dignified Temple is the human body.
It is also the most neglected and starved. Uniquely, the Temple of the body is a living structure beyond human architecture.
I grew up knowing a temporary gathering space with zinc roof suspended on multiple arm-size galvanized poles as my church. With joyous music adults as well as minors chorused prayers and praises to the almighty God. All approached this makeshift space with awe and optimal reverence as the house of God.
At twelve, the Junior seminary chapel with its stained glasses, high roof, polished pews, marble altar & floor, gigantic crucifix, the statues of Jesus & Mary, but also the perpetual tabernacle red light, was a beautiful mosaic to behold. This was incomparably awe-inspiring than my community church.
As a senior in high school, I was selected to attend my first Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. Maria Assumpta Cathedral is a monumental piece of rare architecture that stands tall on a major corner of a 4-way intersection. Its imposing octagonal shape with a central dome is nothing compared to the galaxy of symmetrical designs on the inside. The elevated altar at the center allows maximum accessibility for worshipper from all corners. There was no doubt that God lives here.
On the eight year of my priestly ordination, I represented my diocese for the first ever, World Congress on Mercy, in Rome (2008), organized by Pope Benedict in honor of his predecessor Pope John Paul II (the Mercy Pope). Wrapped in contemplation, I was stunned at the sight of St Peter’s Basilica. The architectural pieces of classic sculptors and artists were amazing. I felt lost in adoration like Peter at the mount of Transfiguration, and desired to be there. The nobility of the sanctuary radiates the kingship of God and the kingdom of God’s people. By the way, Basilica means kingdom. Hence, I concluded: “Lord it is good to be here.”
While on this journey of faith, I did not fully realize that my body (and every human body) is practically the most magnificent architectural edifice of God’s abode – “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?” (1 Cor. 16:19). How do we answer Paul? Actually, it is easier to believe that Jesus described his body as an exalted Temple in contrast to the Temple of Jerusalem (John 2: 13-25), than Paul.
The high point is, if Jesus held the people in the temple accountable for the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple, constructed for 46 years by human hands, how much more would he hold us accountable for abused bodies but the best of Temples? Again, if we truly believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, does that fact alone not remind us that we are mere stewards of All we are, and have, especially our bodies?
Unfortunately, the care for our bodies even though unreasonable is on the surface. Today, thousands of dollars are spent on jewelries, exotic cosmetics, and plastic surgeries in order to adorn the body. It is unfortunate because we care less about the inside of such externally adorned bodies. May we remember that Jesus cleansed the temple of its impurities from the inside, and trashed the dirt outside: “He drove them all out of the Temple area… Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2: 13-25). The best Lenten discipline is the zeal to cleanse ourselves from the inside because our bodies are the most fashionable Temples of God.
Blessings. Father Levi
The early 90s trended the American comic Christmas movie, Home Alone. The little Kevin McCallister while home by himself outsmarted some dumb kidnappers. Kevin, the wonder kid, was physically alone in the house but stayed protected by his gift of wisdom. Our invisible God elevated the wisdom of Kevin to that of a smart adult, such that He was lonely but never alone.
It is a basic Christian teaching that we are never alone in the journey of life. Specifically, our 40 days of Lenten journey is an inward declutter but we are never alone in the exercise. This form of self-scrutiny for a cleaner personality is first and foremost driven by divine interventions. As the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, where angels ministered to him (Mark 1:12), so do we enjoy lots of unnoticed divine interventions during lent and beyond. Periodically, God allows these interventions to be obvious for our faith sustenance and growth. Divine manifestations or luminous experiences strengthen the conviction that God accompanies us in our spiritual journeys. The Abrahamic encounter with the angel and the transfiguration experience are great examples.
Although the disciples of Jesus would not fast when he was with them, because his divine presence was their immunity booster (against temptation), still Jesus strengthened their feeble faith with his transfiguration experience. Actually, the goal of the transfiguration was not immediate but futuristic. It was in preparation for the post resurrection challenges, when Jesus had been taken away from them. And so, Jesus “charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone except when the son of man had risen from the dead” (Mk 9: 2-10).
Equally, Abraham was providentially given a ram for sacrifice as soon as he passed the test of faith in God. Test of faith is a positive aspect of temptation that enables a believer to prove his/her faith commitment to God. God initiates a test of faith. Conversely, Satan is the temper, who ceaselessly entices believers into walking away from God’s plans & purposes. This negative aspect of temptation is geared towards deceit that leads to the believer’s downfall.
Both incidents of God’s manifestation to Abraham and the 3 apostles happened either on a height or a mountaintop. In ancient times, mountaintop designated a midway, meeting point, between heaven (God’s abode) and earth (human territory). Ordinarily, mountaintop is typical for human-divine encounter. But in Christianity, through the incarnation of Jesus, divinity coexisted humanity. By such holy intercourse the divine presence is universally available for Christians to see through the eyes of faith. Rather than struggle to locate a mountain and climb it, an active Christian faith recognizes and appreciates that invisible presence of God, whose company can be enjoyed.
The ups and downs that characterize Lenten period are the reason God speaks through the readings the language of assurance/hope. God cannot desert us because God understands our feeble strength in comparison to the treachery of Satan. Paul was emphatic in reiterating God’s protective love for us: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In his stylistic way, Paul reassures us that during this year’s Lenten struggles to declutter our inner selves, all the satanic treacheries would fail, so long as we flee our comfort zones (old selves) and cling to God in prayers. At-one-with-God in prayers, Satan and his agents would never dare us. God proved his supremacy to Abraham and the three apostles so that we can as well learn and believe: Nothing is impossible for God to prove God’s love for us. Remember, when the raging tempest terrified the apostles, Jesus was calmly sleeping. But when called upon by the trembling apostles, Jesus put the storm to rest, with a single command. We are called to do likewise. Bon voyage on your Lenten Cruise!!! Father Levi cares.
Fasting and temptation are like two strange road users. Between them exists a persistent inverse relationship. In fact, they are two contraries that coexist. Such relationship can be either harmful or helpful. Harmful if you give up, but helpful if you persist.
First, let us try to understand fasting as a Christian practice. Fasting is a voluntary self-discipline that facilitates spiritual stamina. Basically, fasting is a bittersweet experience that transports us away from our comfort zones. The sweetness emerges at the finish line.
The mere thought of leaving our comfort zones invites temptation. While in, Mr. temptation is never in a hurry to leave, until forced out. In essence, comfort zone is that intersection where fasting and temptation meet at opposite traffics. Whereas the motion of fasting pulls away from the comfort zone, temptation secures immobility with tough wedges.
Second, what does a comfort zone mean? For Christians, multiple comfort zones exist in forms of pleasures. Pleasure is desirable. It can be neutral but capable of degenerating into a vice. Food, drinks, and sex are the commonest pleasures.
Third, what are the colors of comfort zones? Recently, Pope Francis shared a comprehensive list of comfort zones that should be abstained from. This papal list includes the very obvious with emphasis on the elusive:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust I God.
Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pleasures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words; be silent and listen.
Officially, Ash Wednesday began a forty-days-journey of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. As we struggle daily to leave our comfort zones, we have to be conscious of the fact that fasting and temptation are two strange motions on opposite directions. While fasting (gas pedal) accelerates motion, temptation (hand & foot break) puts wedges on the tires.
Nevertheless, should Christians understand that their identity means nothing less than living a sincere life as Christ taught (by words and deeds), they would focus on the spiritual stamina, the end result of fasting, which boosts the immune system against the virus of temptations. Only after his 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert, did Jesus establish his earthly ministry (Mk 1:12-15). Steadfast fasting is the complete dose of vaccine, which provides the antibody that transforms our vices into virtues. When attained, the spiritual stamina of fasting propels us forward as never before.
Be steadfast & Blessings. Father Levi.
Although COVID 19 has popularized quarantine, still quarantine is not synonymous with COVID. Actually, quarantine restriction predates this frustrating pandemic. In the biblical times (OT & NT), leprosy was as dreaded as COVID (Lev. 13:1-2, 44-46). The high contagious rate underpins the reason for quarantine in both historical periods. However, COVID has gravely terrorized the world within a very short period than the many centuries of leprosy, due to its high mutation and mortality rates.
In spite of the significant advancements attained in medical researches, quarantine as a borrowed ancient practice has proven itself relevant and scientifically reliable. It shows in principle that quarantine of either individuals or groups is purposefully aimed at the safety of many, if not all. Even though quarantine comes with a price, the endpoint can be consoling.
Tolerating the discomfort of quarantine underscores the right attitude that Paul teaches: “do everything for the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31-11:1). The life of every single person is precious to God. Therefore, whenever a person substitutes her comfort for the collective wellness of people, God is practically glorified.
Facial masking and social distancing are evidently discomforting but evading such COVID protocols endangers (weaker) lives in the environment. Contributing to the wellness of all is a noble mission, even if there are no personal rewards: “If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness … Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” (St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations). The desire for direct self-benefit should not blind the vision for collective but indirect benefits. When the community is safe, its residents thrive.
On the flip side of quarantine exist the risky services of health caregivers. Infected people in solation mostly need help to survive. The people of Jesus’ time despised and avoided lepers. But compassionately Jesus would not. He stood and listened to the plea of a leper, who approached him before granting his request of healing. Jesus saw himself as an essential frontliner, constantly drawn to the services of saving lives or granting wholeness of life to victims. In the midst of COVID attacks, frontline health workers, like Jesus, risk their own safety and seek the wellness of infected patients. Even though they are paid workers, but the risk involved is priceless.
Another great lesson from Jesus is how he instructed the leper to abide by all the prescribed protocols of the health laws, despite being convinced of his healing: “Go show yourself to the priests and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mk 1: 40-45). The final part of Jesus’ instruction: “that will be proof for them” is most striking. It teaches that even if we are sure of not having COVID, testing negative before traveling (when required), remains a valid safety protocol. In other words, the proof is for “them” (immigration health officers) and not basically for you. Therefore, obedience to laws that protect human lives enables believers to be more Christ-like. Stay safe.
What defines a minister of God? And how does God rate that minister? Evidently, that, which diminishes a minister of God erupts whenever both questions contradict each other. A popular man of God bragged that he is not a pastor. Other than a pastor of souls, that he is a radical prophet that performs miracles. He claimed that pastors preach the Word of God but that he performs miracles, and could repeat every single miraculous act of Christ.
The point here is not about the veracity of his miraculous claims. That would make a great reflection topic. Rather, our main point is exploring what motivates / drives his miraculous interest. Already, not only has his boisterous claim exposed his poor scriptural understanding; it also has disclosed his misplacement of priority between proclaiming the gospel and miracle works. Surprisingly, most Christians think alike with this man of God. Therefore, let us compare notes with Jesus’ voice on the issue.
After healing Simon’s mother-in-law of fever, later in the evening, Jesus cured many with various diseases, and drove out many demons. At dawn, he withdrew to a deserted place to commune with the Father. Searching him out, he was told: “Everyone is looking for you” (Mk 1: 29-39). But why was everyone looking for Jesus? His miraculous deeds, of course were the attraction. Stunned by his miracles, the people gathered to declare Jesus their king, and to persuade him to settle permanently in their locality. Their intended action suggests the danger of cheap popularity that the ministers of God encounter. As it was in the time of Jesus, so it is today. Christians and non-Christians travel far and wide to fill-up mega churches in expectation of miracles. Miracles are necessary on two counts. Besides restoring hope to direct beneficiaries, it strengthens the faith of believers, but mostly initiates faith among unbelievers. But not all miracles are from God. Recall that shortly before the Exodus event, the magicians of Pharaoh – turning staff into snake, matched the miraculous power of God displayed by Moses. The only difference was that Moses’ snake swallowed the snakes of the magicians. In other words, miracles are but one brand of the fruits of Christianity; never the totality nor the crux of Christianity.
Jesus’ response to his four companions (Simon, Andrew, James and John) searching for him with the people shockingly highlights what the crux of Christianity is. He told them: “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come” (Mk 1: 29:39). If preaching the gospel is the core reason why Jesus came, why are Christians unsatisfied with listening to the gospel and practicing it? Again, why do ministers of God prioritize miracles over preaching? Since the switch of emphasis is unchristian, we are left with cheap popularity as the underlying reason, for the widespread craving for miracles.
Paul, our big brother in faith, is a vivid example of true ministers of the gospel, and as such a superb pastor of souls. His opening statement affirms: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast … That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16-19). This Pauline understanding of Jesus’s teaching concerning the priority of the gospel intrinsically eliminates cheap popularity – that silent killer of overambitious ministers of God. Paul’s disposition emphasizes the selfless service required for dispensers of the gospel: “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible … All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it” (1 Cor. 9: 22-23).
Charismatic ministers of God, which includes all gifted ministers of God, regardless of whether one is a miracle worker or not, on daily basis encounter this very crossroad in their ministries – to project the self rather than Jesus and his gospel. This sweet temptation is pressured by the obsessive admiration of fans and beneficiaries. But the good news is, the examples of Jesus and Paul are too persuasive to ignore for any minister that truly understands the full meaning of his/her calling. The way out of the crossroad is renounce cheap popularity, as Jesus and Paul did.
Blessings. Father Levi
In last weekend reflection, we saw how prophet Jonah reversed God’s will in attempt to promote his self-image. The same point on conflict of interests between God and the prophet need to be revisited, because there are still thousands of Jonah in our world. The greater reason to worry about includes the scary words of God to God’s people in Deuteronomy (the 2nd Law) this weekend: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among their kin, and will put words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever will not listen to my words, which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name, an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die,” (Deut. 18: 15-20).
Two outstanding points are worth exploring. On the part of the people, there is a strong mandate to listen to the words from the prophet with grave punishment for any dissident. Since the people are utterly scared to experience the wrath of God, the resultant effect is the spread recourse to gullibility – uncritical attitude toward prophets and their utterances. Such gullibility is the micro-problem, which vulnerably lies at the mercy of the macro-problematic insincerity of the prophet.
The next point is prophetic insincerity. Prophetic insincerity is a generational disaster. Its disastrous impact justifies the death penalty God ascribed to it in Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, the brazen display of prophetic insincerity from certain minsters of God is striking, despite the death threat. I doubt if I should even marvel at such insanity when resilient conflict of interests ravages the minds of most modern prophets?
Prophetic insincerity can be traced to inflated self-image of a prophet, which overturns his zero tolerance to prophetic alteration. As a mouthpiece of God, every chosen prophet should only speak the oracle of God. Although prophets are entitled to their personal opinions, the word of God warns them against speaking in the name of God, when God is silent or to alter what God actually said.
The temptation of using the name of God as a means to elevate the self-image of the prophet has dragged many ministers to impersonate God. Unhealthy competition concerning prophecies has become the order of the day. The struggle for who would release the highest number of accurate predictions has reduced divine prophesies to mere forecasts. It is embarrassingly shameful to say the least that some prophets even weaponize “prophecies” as political shenanigans, which result to conflicting predictions, all in the name God.
Nonetheless, the truth remains that, taking advantage of the gullibility of God’s people would exacerbate the death penalty for any prophet (fake or real) who meddles with God’s name. Based on this unfortunate prophetic insincerity the people of God are advised to take care and process what they hear. After all, the outburst of the unclean spirit to Jesus: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God,” (Mk 1: 21-218) was not a humble recognition but rather a deceitful distraction to confuse the people who were astonished by his authority over evil spirits. Blessings to you as we pray for our prophets.
When the storm of life rages and confronts us – our respective reactions are of vital importance for the sustenance of our stability. Most times, the enduring consequence that drains our energy is not in the storm (itself) but in our inability to weather the storm, effectively.
Weathering the storm could be either active or passive? The passive aspect is unpopular in contrast to the active option. The passivity I wish to address has nothing in common with sheer oversight in identifying the storm of life. Such culpable ignorance is more dangerous than sensing the storm, but applying the wrong tool.
A successful weathering of the storm of life entails conscious but spontaneous reactions, also called flexibility. Rigidity is the problem that must be avoided whenever learning is the goal. To weather the storm with less energy, we have to learn adjustment, which enables re-planning and a refocusing on something else – “when one door closes, another is open.” This readjustment takes lots of inner strategy to stay positive and move on because the future is bright and unexplored. In life, failure can be inevitable but giving up is unforgivable. Weighing our options before acting vividly captures our main point.
Now let us try and validate our thesis using the stories of Jonah and Jesus. When confronted with his storm of life, Jonah had couple options. But he faltered when he restricted himself to only one concern – his integrity, in case his words do not come to pass (how would the people/society look at me, if God relented in punishing the Ninevites?). In reaction, Jonah confronted the situation and preferred to disobey God by attempting to evade his mission. Sad enough, he had little or no consideration for the endangered lives of the Ninevites (Jonah 3: 1-5, 10).
On the contrast, Jesus took the passive way and weathered his own storm of life, after the arrest of John the Baptist. Jesus would have stayed back and confronted Herod, the killer of John, but he weighed the consequences, which included his (possible) premature death, and a rupture of the wellbeing of the people (what would happen to them if I failed to minister and proclaim the kingdom of God among them?). That Jesus left the vicinity of Herod, and thereafter established the apostolic structure of his earthly ministry cannot be ascertained as failure in solidarity with John (Mark 1: 14-20). Jesus demonstrated his flexibility toward an unavoidable situation because he valued the wellbeing of the people over and above his personal praise. As God, Jesus could have destroyed Herod for the arrest and later killing of John, to the admiration of many people. Rather, he chose to walk away because that would have constituted a major distraction (and a huge obstacle) to his earthly mission.
Confrontation is a strategy but not the only one. From the master, Jesus, we can learn to weigh our options at the crossroads (storm) of life by knowing when to stand our grounds, but also when to walk away from the storm. It takes wisdom to know HOW to weather various storms of life. While some storms are best weathered by confrontations, many are overcome by walking away. “Walking away” is no sign of cowardice. Instead, it perfectly summarizes the injunction of Paul in 1 Cor. 7: 29-31 ¬ “…. Let those weeping act as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing….”Blessings. Father Levi
Welcome to the Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday or the third week of Advent, which is evident by the rose colored vestment and the 3rd Advent wreath candle. Rose color shows a significant shade of the usual purple color of Advent with the anticipating white color of Christmas. Put together, Gaudate Sunday strengthens our enduring hope by asking us to rejoice because the savior is almost here. At this point, our waiting can never be in vain.
With the “almost-here” good news at the background, the prophetic template of “Promise-Attitude-Fulfillment,” can be seen clearly in the three readings of today. Isaiah opens the stage with the prophetic promise that summarizes the mission of the messiah: “The Spirit of God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” (Is 16:1-2; 10-11). God the Father originated the one mission of regeneration following the degeneration of creation (generation): “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Is 6:8). God the Son freely responded in love: “I am here, send me.” And with the collaboration of God the Holy Spirit as the Principal Agent of mission, this mission is actively sustained till the end of time.
Even though the messiah perfectly fulfilled this one mission, he also desired the participation of human agencies, beginning with his mother, Mary, John the Baptist, his disciples, but also their successors. That Jesus allowed his disciples in every age to participate in his one mission is quite revealing of his inclusive intent.
John the Baptist was instrumental to the fulfillment of the messianic promise by keeping up the right attitude. He teaches us not to play God. His sincerity in telling his followers the Truth speaks directly to the faces of all spiritual minsters across the Christian denominations. John the Baptist’s firm answer: “I AM NOT the Christ; not even Elijah; and not even the prophet,” (John 1:6-8) perfectly challenges all spiritual leaders to learn humility and always distinguish their personal opinions from the prophetic words of God. John the Baptist in his transparency allowed his questioners and his followers to envisage Jesus beyond his own secondary activities, even though amazing in their eyes. Such simple but courageous attitude enabled John to introduce Jesus to the world: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” (John 1:29). At that instance, some of his disciples left him and followed Jesus. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter was one of them, who later became an apostle of Jesus. John the Baptist was consistent in drawing a strong contrast between himself and Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). No wonder Jesus extoled him: “Among all those born of women, there is none greater than John” (Luke 7:28). Attitude, as we can agree, is everything.
Regrettably, self-aggrandizement and rivalry have perverted men and women of God in every nation of our contemporary world. One wonders why many spiritual leaders are unsatisfied with being “a voice” for God, and stop playing the fake boss that often try to run God. In sum, that right attitude of John the Baptist is significantly missing today. Some even project themselves as the Christ. Not only do they denigrate their coworkers in the vineyard, they also impersonate Jesus.
The latest is the contradicting forecasts on American election. Disparity of voices concerning what God said is obvious: whereas one group of prophets said that the incumbent president will win, the other group claimed that he will lose. Logically, it shows that either way, suggests duplicity in God. It is painfully embarrassing and disgusting to see these fake tele-evangelists defame the name of God and taint the face of Christianity, creating rooms for non-Christians to laugh at the Christian faith and also ridicule their God. Must God be dragged into politics, in spite of Jesus’ warning: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (politics) and to God what belongs to God (faith)? Even though the two are somewhat connected, the boundary must always be defined.
Paul backs Isaiah up by naming the attitudinal conditions for experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promise. He harps on the right disposition, while hoping: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks ……” Pay attention to the next lines of Paul: “Do not despise prophetic utterances.” Instead, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain every kind of evil” (1Thess 5:16-24). By insisting on the need to “test every prophecy,” Paul knew about the dangers of fake prophecies. Nevertheless, bequeathing us with such huge responsibility of discernment also equips us to distinguish the fulfillment of God’s promise from the ruses of those fake prophecies.
Stay conscious. Father Levi
Scripture says: “God’s ways are not our ways” (Is 55:8). Does that answer why we think God delays in coming to our aid? Does God actually delay or are we impatient to wait unto the Lord?God cannot delay because God lives and acts in the Present – in the here and now. In contrast, human beings live and operate within the pressure of time. The categorized time, even though a human product, has grown into a monster that polices its inventors. The ticking of time has costs jobs, shocking mishaps, but mostly human and material losses. Humanity is trapped into the web of a stereotyped time.
Caught in such quagmire, we probably see delay because we always try to lump God into our suffocating category of time. The prayerful laments over our woes attest to this fact: God I need your help, now; in the next hour; tomorrow; or next month; else it would be too late. So long as we succumb to the ploy of time, God’s intervention would never seem to be on time.
The ever-now nature of God functions outside of time, without deadlines. As a pure Spirit, God is also space-less. From such vantage position of seeing reality in its wholeness, God operates only at the appropriate time, which might take stages of accomplishment – because each moment is precious and comes with particular lessons. Appropriate time offers a clue for understanding why God only responds at the Best of times for our sake. Since human beings can only see things in perspectives, our grasp of time would ever remain elusive. As a result, humanity falls prey to the torturous claws of time; but in delusion pretend to enjoy its policing.
Last week we shared an introduction to the Advent hope that reassures. This week, the assured hope has begun to flower with the resounding voice of consolation. The previous voice of indefinite hope has narrowed down to tangible consolation: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God” (Is 40: 1-5). A named messenger is sent by God to comfort the broken hearted. We are the broken hearted of our age. Our hearts bleeds with the wounds of oppression, lies, and conspiracies. John the Baptist is the chosen prophet, whose primary duty was to console the expectant people by preparing their minds and hearts for the days of the Lord – a sign that the Lord is closer than we imagine.
Previous prophets pointed to the hope of the messiah. John the Baptist was the only prophet who not only comforted the people but also translated their hopes into concrete reality. His odd personality (his choice of desert for a home, camel’s skin for cloth, and locust and wild honey for food) convinced the people of the nearness of a new dawn (Mk 1: 1-8). Many mistook him for the messiah and followed him. But his humility dared not condone the mix-up. In utmost clarity he stated: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Indeed, humility energizes the patience to walk with God.
God is order personified. Chaos indicates the absence of God. Consistently, God, while correcting the chaotic impacts of humanity’s impatience, accomplishes the divine plan, which is also God’s Will. How then can God delay when order and peace in the world perfectly fit into the will of God? We need patience to wait unto the Lord, but also the understanding to accept that God never fails in the promised hope because fidelity is a major characteristic of God’s nature. In affirmation, elder Peter concludes that we misrepresent God with the attribute of delay because; “with the Lord one day is like thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2Pt 3:8-14). Be comforted and remain blessed. Father Levi
A new dawn is here. A hopeful beginning has come. The mother Church points to a consoling future for her children, who are trembled by fear and uncertainties. 2020 has entered the annals as the year of global lockdowns, economic meltdowns, physical tortures and psychological trauma. Its ravaging conspiracy theories have inflicted untold havoc than the onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic, by injecting overdose of mistrust into the psyche of the common people. While majority of the people were abandoned in their gullibility, a few like the front liners were forced to risk it all out. Who would have imagined that an entire year would have slipped off without the routine socialization, but spent in seclusion and fear? As hard as it sounds is nothing less than the real situation. Nevertheless, such ugly state, drenched with filth, also evokes a powerful hope for a new era, among Christians.
Advent, the start of the Church’s new year is here. Advent heralds hope against hopelessness. Its melodious tone echoes hope even in the midst of lament. The pandemic with its oppressive narratives might still endure, but the hope that Advent brings is here to strengthen the traumatized victims of its devastations.
More than ever, amidst the horrible state of our world, this Advent season is projected to achieve two of its most dynamic goals. First is to reconnect our minds to the incredible manner God delivered God’s people from manmade oppressions, through the Exodus experience. Second is to reassure us that the same most powerful and loving God is about to visit with us in person and to transform our cries into lasting joys and peace. Advent draws our attention to the glimpse of light at the end of the sorrowful tunnel.
Dear friends, here we are with the unfailing promises of Advent: “You shall see the face of God and live.” Gone are the days when it was said in the Old Testament times that no one could see the face of God and live. Even the great patriarch, Moses, could only see the back of God in a momentary episode. On the contrast, we, the people of God in the new dispensation, are privileged to see not only the face of God, but also the fullness of revelation of God in Christ. Be consoled therefore, and put your trust neither in the vaccine, nor in the anti-vaccine theorists, but in the coming of a savior, who has chosen to be like us and to be with us, in order to deliver us from our exploitative bondage. Behold he comes.
Peace!!! Father Levi
Why should the second coming of the King of Kings rather than herald happiness for all, also usher pains and sufferings for some people? Why should a loving God eternally condemn creatures He made in His own image? Why would this specific coming not bring an end to all sufferings?
It is one thing to believe that Jesus will come a second time, and another thing to understand the purpose of his coming. Basically, Jesus will come again as the Universal King in order to reconcile all things back to the Father (the origin of creation). Understanding this reconciliatory mission is the primary focus of our reflection, today, The Solemnity of Christ the King. Getting it right would either diminish or completely eliminate the blame shift that ruminates lots of minds concerning the Last Day. The saying that Jesus will come as a judge begs for clarification. The scripture rather than describe Jesus as an apathetic judge, defines him as a compassionate organizer, who will align things in their proper perspectives. Indeed, Jesus would come as that Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. His kind of kingship is that of a Good Shepherd, whose mission is not different from the optimal wellbeing of his flock.
As the ultimate discerner his final role is not to condemn but to separate the sheep from the goats (Mt 25: 31-45). His role only confirms the chosen identities of sheep and goats. The individual identities to either remain a sheep (as destined) or degenerate to a goat is a choice made in freedom. To become a goat, even though a major deviation from humanity’s destiny, is a free choice. This means that it is the human person that willfully rejects spending eternity with God. God does not reject anyone. Rather, we choose to reject God by sticking to our evil deeds, which condemn us. As testified by prophet Ezekiel (Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17), God would first gather us as a shepherd gathers his flock from wherever we are scattered across the world. God longs to have us back together. But, he would as well respect our final (individual) choices. For the longest time God has allowed the cohabitation of sheep and goats intending to have the strayed sheep (turned goats) to eagerly miss home and return as sheep. The long duration between Christ’s first coming and his second coming was sufficiently designed for such inclusive purpose. At his second coming therefore, Jesus has only one role of respecting people’s choices by separating the sheep from the goat. Then, he would embrace and lead the flock of obedient sheep into the kingdom of everlasting happiness.
What could be the definitive identity? Could it be that goats at certain points in their lives grow horns but sheep do not? And when their horns are gone, they reflect sheep? Does that not suggest that what distinguishes sheep from goat could be thin? In other words, silly mistakes could be those “horns” that make a huge difference. Here, “horns” could best be described as indifference to the plights of other people. Being “hornless” as the sheep would represent the quality of kindness that prompts a person to voluntarily alleviate the pains of others.
The multiple faces of Jesus scattered all over the world constantly solicit for our kindness. The availability of these faces of Jesus offers us the opportunity to retain our destined identity as sheep. Whenever we show them kindness, the imprint of a sheep in us is renewed. That is the only way to renew our identity as the flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. When the Chief Shepherd appears, he would gather all the sheep, nurse the sick and the wounded, before leading them home. Let it be known that the King of Kings we celebrate today, but eagerly anticipate his second coming, is not an indifferent judge, but that same compassionate Shepherd inaugurating his eternal kingdom of love and peace. With an open invitation, everyone is destined to be a sheep. But to remain a sheep is a choice. Likewise, to become a goat is a choice but a suicidal one. Father Levi cares for your choice.
Three stewards are presented to us in the gospel of today (Matthew 25: 14-30). Two received the praise of their master, and were handsomely rewarded. The third guy was so unfortunate that he lost everything to the most rewarded, as directed by the same master – which sounds like snatching the little savings of the poor in order to enrich the wealthy. Indeed, this story raises certain curiosities, such as: How justifiable could the judgment of the master be? What did the third guy do or (not do) differently? Was he not free to use what was gifted to him? How reasonable was his action? Why were the first and the second guys lavishly favored?
To address these valid concerns, we need to situate this story in its proper perspective as an eschatological (end of time) teaching. It would amount to a use of wrong lens, if the story is read out of context by extrapolating its meaning from the everyday occurrences. Therefore, there is need to interpret this story as a teaching that sheds light on the Last Judgment. Accordingly, the Catholic liturgy, which deals with the practical expression of faith, emphasizes the teachings of the end of time with appropriate biblical readings, especially during the final weeks of the liturgical year (from the 30th Sunday to the 34th Sunday). In general, stocktaking is core in eschatological teachings. This background outlines our analysis of the story.
Suppose the third guy felt victimized by the master? We can rightly tell that he actually did, going by his assessment of the master: “I knew you are a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant…” However, since the story is silent on the character of the master, it is prudent to focus on the provided actions/reactions of the three guys, and try to establish a connection with the judgment of the master.
From the perspective of a defense attorney to the third guy, the following are possible reasons he responded differently: 1) The gifting of talents was not done on equality basis – 1st guy got five talents, 2nd guy got two, 3rd guy got one. Such injustice discouraged him from utilizing his talent. 2) Why was he denied the freedom to do with his (one) talent what pleased him? 3) Trading an only talent would have exposed him to a higher risk of losing it – hence, the safer choice of hiding it.
Let us turn to the prosecution attorney to refute these weighty allegations against the master. First, talent or gift is the prerogative of the giver. Second, the justice of giving is protected by the principle of proportionality – to whom much is given, much is expected. This kept the master’s 100% expectation from each of the three guys at a proportional level. Whereas the 1st guy increased his five talents with additional five, and the 2nd also increased his two talents with additional two, the full expectation from the third guy was nothing but an additional one talent. Third, proportionality entails that no person is excluded, but that each person is gifted according to his/her ability. This implies that the third guy lacked the ability to have managed five or two talents. His best ability fits into that of a one-talent guy.
Having listened to both the defense and prosecuting attorneys, here is the ruling of the judge. Every individual talent/gift is meant for the benefits of all humanity. Every gift has the potentiality to bear fruits, when put to good use. As a result, every gift, whether natural or spiritual is irreplaceable. The inability of a person to harness his/her gifts/talents amounts to an irreplaceable loss on the collective wellbeing of humanity. Therefore, the third guy was guilty of breaching the wellness of the whole by choosing not to use his talent. His freedom to choose violated his responsibility toward others. The master, rather than being greedy as suggested by the third guy, had the interests of all, at heart. He proved that by not collecting the fruits of the labors of the 1st and the 2nd guys because he had no need of them. Instead, he lavishly rewarded them by doubling their talents.
Lessons: To put every talent into good use is to multiply the talent. Putting talents into good use includes, developing and sharing them in order to inspire, mentor, and impact people around us. The more we impact people, the more we multiply our talents, and the more fruits we bear. The Master Jesus, at his second coming would ask one question to everyone: “show me your fruits,” because each person’s fruits would authenticate his/her identity? The number of talents you are gifted with would strictly determine the exact number of your expected fruits. To hide any talent is to deny other people from benefiting from it. Avoiding the risk of reaching out to inspire others with your talents signifies laziness, sloth, and selfishness. Another form of burying one’s talent is refusing to share it. This comes in the form of obsessed careerism and self-righteousness that benefits only the owner. As such, neither obsessed careerism nor self-righteousness is capable of bearing fruits. Fruits are the number of people that owe their inspiration and growth to those, who judiciously developed and shared their talents. Excel with your talents.
From the start of his enthronement a particular king successfully ensured the well being of all his people. In return, his people loved and revered him. After 36 years of his kingship, his health rapidly waned and he was forced to hand over the day-to-day administration of the kingdom to his son (the heir apparent). However, his son, the prince, was a different person, who thought that the father over pampered the people.
Brazen with power, the prince and his guards unleashed stringent measures on the people. Personal foods were seized and stored in the palace. Still, he enacted a new law with death penalty, forbidding food theft. Untold sufferings and hunger filled the land. These oppressed people, who had enjoyed kind governance from their king, cried out to the heavens in lament of their sorrows. Even the fatherly advise of the ailing king to the prince was thrown to the birds.
One evening, while the prince and his cohorts were feasting on their plunders, the two village clowns sneaked into the palace and narrated the people’s ordeal to the king. Their story broke the heart of the king, and in compassion, he gave them the direction to a secret store in the palace (with a narrow vent), where all cooked foods are kept before serving. His final words were: “Do not be caught.” Quickly, the starving clowns crawled into the store and started devouring the food with all their might. The wiser one took the counsel of the king seriously. Intermittently, he would go and size his tummy and returned to the food. The foolish clown kept eating, believing he would accumulate enough energy for the days ahead. About 30 minutes later, they heard voices of the palace maids and guards coming to get the foods. The wise clown easily crawled out of the vent and escaped. But the bulged tummy of the foolish clown stuck him. Swiftly, one of the guards stabbed him to death. Lesson: Sin condemns the sinner, but not all sinners would end up in hell. Only the foolish sinners, who were not conscious of the consequences of their sins, would. Only the sinners, who cared less or who basked in the euphoria of possibilities, would be punished eternally. Those, who were conscious that the master would show up suddenly, would always be prepared and put themselves in order before the Last Judgment.
Among the ten virgins, why were five welcomed into the marriage banquet and the others rejected? Why were one clown killed and the other clown, escaped death? Wisdom is the underlying answer. Activated Wisdom enables a person to focus on the Big Gain (heaven), and not be distracted with the petty gains or short-lived pleasure-driven gains. Pleasure-driven gains can only be good as means to the end (heaven); never as end in themselves. Our focal point perfectly agrees with Jesus’ first mission rule to the 72 disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) – by so doing, you would stay out of trouble; and do not be caught in any form of trouble.
In order words, being a virgin (or innocent) was necessary, but insufficient, without wisdom. Similarly, starvation was not enough reason to indulge in gluttony. Wisdom is not m yopic. There is vision in Wisdom. Together our two stories teach that being conscious of the ultimate goal guarantees not being caught “napping” (or unprepared).
Have a pleasant Sunday. Father Levi
Why is it that most people that desire heaven, are too scared to become saints? The simple reason cannot be disconnected from a popular misconception of who a saint should be. The truth is, every age has peculiar characterization of the saints of its time – from the ascetic desert fathers, through the persecution eras of martyrs, to the solitary contemplatives, and now to the Internet servants. However, a common thread of humanness runs through all these ages of saintliness.
Saints are sincere humans, who prioritized the purposes of life, and responded positively to the promptings of their time. This simple but holistic definition implies that there are numerous saints that are known to God alone. The church in her wisdom knows that canonized saints are only a fraction of the myriads of saints that exist. This is the primary reason every November 1st worldwide, the uncountable saints of God are celebrated. You and I could become the saints of our time, if we desire to do just one thing.
The secret of becoming a saint is to be sincerely Human, nothing more, and nothing less. A saint is not a person who does extraordinary things. A saint is a person who does the ordinary things in extraordinary way. You don’t have to live weirdly, or be a monk or adopt austere and ascetic types of lives. Interestingly, never be ashamed to accept your mistakes (because it serves as a catalyst for growth). Above all, never play (the role of) God, because it blocks the path to humanness. To be a saint, simply be as humane as possible, but make God a priority.
The human example of a15 year old Italian, Carlo Acutis, is highly illuminating. Carlo perfectly fits our saintly description of attaining a true-self. Being committed to “who you are,” entails putting God first, but also taking the concern of others seriously. Such distinguishes a saint.
Born in London in 1991, and died in Italy in 2006, Carlo lived his normal teenage life as a popular jokester, who loved soccer and video games. But his love for the Eucharist transformed his passion for ice cream and jokes with the saying: “What’s the use of winning 1,000 battles if you can’t beat your own passions?” Even though a handsome rich kid, his compassion for the vulnerable was exceptional. Testimonies of Carlo helping the homeless poor abound. Precisely, he cleaned his room so well that Raejsh, the Hindu cleaner, would have less job. Raejsh was so impressed that she converted to Catholicism, through Carlo’s uncommon simple but caring life. The high point of Carlo’s life started at the age of 11, when he began to investigate the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred in history. With his internet wizardry, he created a website that comprises 160 panels, which spread to more than 10,000 parishes in the world. Carlo wondered why stadiums were filled with young people, but churches were empty. For Carlo, the internet was a powerful tool for spreading the gospel – taking the gospel to people’s homes. According to Pope Francis, Blessed Carlo Acutis “did not rest in comfortable immobility.” He grasped the needs of his time, because he saw the face of Christ in the weakest.”
Carlo is the model of saintliness for the millennial generation, who lived a normal life of a teenager regulated by unmatched love for God and sincere services to his neighbors. Seeing the exemplar simple life of Blessed Carlo, any person (who desires) without deceit, could be a saint within his or her natural categories. Happy All Saints Day.
God bless you. Father Levi
I used to lend my voice to the critique of Paul Ricoeur on the fundamental command of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ricoeur demonstrated a compelling argument on why the clause “as yourself” enthrones the self over and above the neighbor. As he argued, to love the neighbor “as yourself” institutionalizes exclusive power to the self, which suppresses the entitlement of love to the neighbor. Initially, I found Ricoeur’s standpoint appealing due to the unavoidable implications of consolidating the oppressive selfishness of the self. While at the crossroads of trying to weave such questionable disconnect into Jesus’ other protective teachings on the vulnerable neighbor, I dug deeper until brighter light shed on the understanding of what Jesus meant. From my renewed standpoint, it is Ricoeur, who tried to misread Jesus, due to the fear that the self might not even love herself or himself enough, and as such would become susceptible to undermining the love for the neighbor.
This inability of the self to love itself is the core problem that Jesus already identified and proffered the solution. The saying of Jesus implies that you cannot love another person except you first learn how to love yourself. In this way, Jesus reminded all human beings that self-love is an imperative, not an option. And that only when self-love is attained could love of neighbor be realistic.
How then does self-love, rather than hinder love for neighbor, guarantee it? Self-love must be desired and earned. It is not a given. The attainment of genuine self-love stimulates a relationship. This includes relationship with God, with neighbors and with the rest of creation. Being at peace with oneself and one’s environment guarantees desired happiness. Every healthy relationship is driven by mutual urge for interdependence. Whenever self-love is experienced there is usually a strong feeling of lack that can only be filled by the availability of the neighbor. Therefore, when Jesus instructed: “love your neighbor as yourself,” he intended a synergetic or interdependent relationship, not a one-way act. In fact, only a malfunctioned self-love could undermine love for neighbor.
In accordance with identifying the root cause of greed as the unabated insensitivity or neighborly disconnect, St. Francis of Assisi affirms that, “the desire to appropriate for oneself leads not only to seeing oneself as separate from the rest of creation, but also to conflict with others. The desire to posses also reflected a turning inward toward the self and a failure to recognize that, ultimately, all (creatures) belongs to the sovereign and absolute God. Desire to appropriate results in a failure to recognize God and to disrupt relationship with God.” Reading Francis closely reveals the fact that he perfectly understood the “love your neighbor as yourself” paradigm of Jesus as a complementary love for God.
Love for God can only be problematic, if isolated. The problem lies on the novel but emphatic teaching of Jesus that love of God is incomplete without love for neighbor. His classic teaching has not stopped stunning generations because humanity in general tends toward selective love.
The way forward brightens when viewed through the lens of interdependent relationship. Self-sufficiency is the virus that destroys self-love. This mutating virus has wrecked many homes, unions, and marriages. As soon as the sense of independence preoccupies the self, the existing relationship powered by love for the other becomes impossible – “I can do without you.” But self-love when redeemed and sustained, always yearns for relationship. While experiencing a blazing yearning to be loved, the self also learns substitutive love for the neighbor. The traditional system of substituting needs, known as “trade by barter,” created room for everyone to be proportionately dependent on everyone else. Unfortunately, since money became a legal tender, it has done more harm than good. In part, it has institutionalized self-sufficiency. The love for money has unseated the love for neighbor – a confirmation that money is indeed, the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Therefore, the way out is to understand Jesus correctly and practice what he said: “love your neighbor as yourself.” While self-love energizes the love for neighbor, both arms of the ONE love are made whole in the love for God.
God bless you. Father Levi
One evening two drunken friends were having a hot debate about the position of the moon. Facing each other Joe furiously insisted that the moon is on his right side, while Jack vehemently contested that it is on his own left side. Determined to find out who was correct and who was wrong, they staked $500 for the winner. For more than two hours they maintained their different positions and waited for an objective judge, until they recognized a sage and begged him to settle the matter.
“How may I help you?” the sage inquired. Joe: Is the moon on my right? Sage: Yes it is, you are correct. Jack: is the moon on my left? Sage: Yes it is; you are also correct. Disappointed at the sage, the drunken friends questioned how the moon could be on the right and on the left, at the same time. The sage asked them to switch positions. Then he asked Joe: where is the moon? He quickly replied, “I am surprised, it is on my left.” Again, he asked Jack: “where is the moon?” Jack said: I can’t say how it moved to my right?” Finally, the sage ruled: “Joe and Jack, neither of you was wrong, and the moon never shifted. Joe, that you were correct does not mean that Jack was wrong.” The wrong thing was your inability to recognize that contraries coexist; and that your particular position is not exhaustive of all truths.
That I see a bold letter M on the road does not mean that someone in opposite direction, who sees the bold letter as W is wrong. Everyone sees from a standpoint. And no one talks from nowhere. Reality, like the moon, is one, but we, like the drunken friends, see it from different perspectives. That we see different aspects of the same reality should not make a particular perspective a monopoly of the whole or a contradiction of the other. That I hold a different position from yours does not mean I am against you (or hate you) – avoid the danger of dualism. The reality of life is best enjoyed in complementarity, never in isolation.
While the Pharisees used their dualistic minds to set a deadly trap for Jesus by trying to pitch him against emperor Caesar, Jesus (like the sage) schooled them on the principles of non-contradiction. Jesus being an ardent spiritual reformer of his time (and beyond) did not make him a political revolutionist. Rather than being violent in wining transformed hearts from people, Jesus applied the violence of love. To the utter disappointment of the shrewd Pharisees, Jesus demonstrated his recognition of civil authority and commitment to legitimate civil duties. Similarly, Isaiah 45:14-6 confirms the non-contradictory principle of our universal God, who chose Cyrus (a pagan king, and a non Israelite), addressed him as “my anointed,” and made him the instrument of deliverance for the people of Israel, while they suffered in captivity.
At times, God’s choice for a leader can leave us dumbfounded. Being open to accepting someone we did not vote for might still mean conforming to God’s will. Only God can read the inner mind and spirit of prospective leaders. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” (Matt 22:15-21) underscores the fact that a Christian who failed to uphold legitimate civil responsibilities (like evading taxes) cannot be a good Christian because he has denied Caesar what is Caesar’s. Also, a Christian who chose to extol his party policies above his faith commitments, has denied God, what belongs to God; and so cannot be a good Christian. In essence: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” concretely reminds Christians of the parting words of Christ: “You are in the world but not of the world.” Therefore, defining our political and religious boundaries right would enable us to act equitably in giving to Caesar what is his, and to God what is God’s. Since everything including Caesar belongs to God, our political ambitions should not suppress our Christian values and faith commitments. Rather, both should be equitably harmonized by prioritizing God’s will.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Teasing out a connection between the readings evoked one of my favorite childhood stories. Here it goes: The tortoise and the dove were best of friends who did almost everything together. With time they developed an amazing bond, which convinced neighbors that they were inseparable.
These two friends lost their job, and subsequently worked in the king’s farm for a pound of black beans, locally called akidi. Even though their compensation was unfair, they dared not joke with akidi. Akidi was their favorite meal, especially when the dove, the renowned chef, prepared it. Each day, the shared dinner was a dream meal.
One fateful day, the dove prepared a very delicious akidi meal. Mere perception of the irresistible aroma elicited the tortoise to salivate. As usual both friends sat facing each other to enjoy the day’s aromatic and tasty dinner. With a morsel of food in the hand, the tortoise halted his friend: “I have an idea. We can enjoy our meal better if combined with a game.” The dove unassumingly yielded in order to please his friend. Then tortoise set the rules: since the food is still hot but we were starving, it would be awesome to name the food before putting it in the mouth, thereby allowing some fresh air to cool off each morsel. Though famished the dove trusted the friend and played along. The tortoise knew that the dove stuttered and so plotted to take advantage of his speech disorder. As the dove struggled several times to call akidi, the tortoise kept calling and eating, until he finished the food. The dove saw a fair game, which the friend won, and endured the hunger. Still, the tortoise insisted on playing the game the next day and starved the friend again.
On the third day, the dove cooked his best but also initiated a game changer. The tortoise, who had planned another double ration tried to resist a change of game but succumbed to the stronger pressure of fairness. The dove stated the new game rule as follows: “No one will eat with a dirty hand.” He then placed a bowl of water on a table in front of the house, and placed the sweet akidi on the rooftop. Leading by example, the dove washed his arms and flew up and began eating, while the tortoise made incessant failed attempts to get to the food.
Figuratively, that only the one without dirty or soiled hands should eat the delicious meal set on a high place, highlights uprightness or righteousness, as the sole condition for the heavenly banquet. The tortoise allowed greed to distort his initial friendship commitment and detached himself from being sensitive to the wellbeing of his friend, the dove. Greed is a symptom of exclusive self-love. Greed is not a mere attachment to materiality, but detachment from the wellbeing of others (William T. Cavanaugh). The burdening weight of selfishness constrained the tortoise from reaching the delicious meal because the rule states: “No one would eat with soiled arms.” As a lesson, the food even though available to the tortoise was still inaccessible – the emotional pain of constraint.
When this story is plugged into the readings, two essential points are noticed. 1) The venue of the heavenly banquet is on the mountaintop (Is 25:6-10). 2) The insensitive guest missed the meal (Mt 22:1-14). The point is, in spite of the abundance of supplies at the heavenly banquet no greedy person will enjoy the meal. Even if he/she manipulated his/her way to the mountaintop, his selfishness would call him out.
God’s 99% bountifulness does not erase the 1% responsibility towards others. It rather ensures it. It is in abundance that such responsibility either shines out or its lack is exposed. Amidst bountifulness, the best-kept secret of each person emerges. The one guest that refused to dress up in the wedding garment (usually provided at the entrance of the hall) was insensitive to the emotional torture such negligence caused his generous host. Even though poor and hungry, his greed restrained him from being sensitive to the wellbeing of another. Unfortunately, his poor condition concealed his true personality until he encountered abundance. This concealment might have paved the way for him to arrive at the mountaintop without notice. If he made it to the mountaintop, he still could not enjoy the sumptuous meal because he lacked uprightness due to his displayed insensitivity to the wellbeing of others.
Friends, let us be aware that the heavenly banquet prepared by God is lavishly bountiful and that all are invited. The only heavy burden that can restrain us from enjoying such delicious meal of the angels is our ugly attitude toward our neighbors, such as inhospitality, duplicity, hypocrisy, slander, indifference and the likes. Being compassionate and responsible to the plight of others guarantees a pass to this special banquet. I wish to see you there.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
A young man fell in love with a poor (orphan) girl that vended sachet water to motorists on slow traffic roads. They started dating toward marrying each other. Immediately, he put her back to school and saw her through her college education. She graduated as a lawyer in flying colors, and got a lucrative job in an oil company. To mark this milestone achievement, she planned her graduation party at a classic event center with friends but kept it away from her lover.
On the day of the party, the young man went to work as usual, but a colleague drew his attention to the party card posted on Facebook, with pictures of his lover. Unassumingly, he hurriedly planned a surprise at the party. He arrived when the last guest presented her gift to the graduating girl. An air of excitement beclouded him, as he walked the aisle with a plastic bag. Her lover felt embarrassed at his sight and was skeptical of what he has in that kind of odd bag. She had lied to her friends that the lover traveled. But in truth, she has started thinking that he does not match her current social class. The lover boy gave her a good hug and opened the plastic bag in front of all the guests and invitees and said: "My sweet heart, here is the birthday gift I brought for you.” She quickly brought it up only to find out it was a loaf of bread.
Dismayed and disappointed at her boy friend, she angrily flung it away and rained abuses on him; even called him “stingy man.” Recovering from the shocking humiliation, the young man rushed and picked up the bread. He gently opened the bread in front of his girl friend and the guests. Behold, there was a car key and an engagement ring inside the bread. Then, the young man beckoned on the guests to judge between her lover and himself.
How would you feel if you were the victim of such an ingrate? And what would you have done? Could you have acted differently?
Unfortunately, this girl represents a cross section of humanity’s ungrateful attitude toward God. How often have we shown ingratitude to God despite all the benevolence we enjoy – the air we breathe, the warmth of sunlight, the cool breeze of the evening, the rain that waters our flowers and plants, especially our precious lives?
Much more than the reasonability of the young man, the infinite generosity of God deserves our personal and collective gratitude. On daily basis, God wonders at the volume of ingratitude humanity spits on his face – “What more was here to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1-7; see also Mt 21: 33-43). How long shall ingratitude continue? You and I have the answer. God bless you. Fr. Levi
The Means justifies the End because the end distinguishes the Good from the Bad. Growing up in a devout family the end was of primary concern: How could a person achieve a well-ended life? My naïve mind (and those of my peers) imagined the guardian angels as Arithmetic geniuses, whose daily task was to document the good and the bad deeds of every human person. Consequently, each person would be judged with what is left, after the good deeds have cancelled out the bad deeds. A person whose good deeds superseded his misdeeds would go into heaven, while another whose bad deeds outweighed the good deeds would go into Hell. That innocent eschatological criterion with its flaws was indeed effective among my peers. For every misdeed then, we strived to make up with more good deeds so that our guardian angels will be proud of us. Some curious childlike minds developed a daily chart of personal deeds.
However, with an enlightened faith, daily chart of individual deeds sounds unnecessary. It became clearer that human souls can either be in the state of God’s grace or run short of it. The grace of God is copiously available to everyone, but mortal sin automatically causes loss of grace in the soul. All humans are at liberty to switch, back and forth, from graced life to non-graced life. In essence, the final state in which a soul concludes his life (moment of death) determines the final destination (hell or heaven). It therefore matters most in what state our earthly life ended. In this advanced theological truth, one mortal sin, especially at the 11th hour of life, is capable of draining the grace of God in the soul, be it actual or sanctifying grace.
Life is an ongoing pilgrimage with bundle of possibilities and modest puzzle. That some, who started well, might end badly, while those, who started badly might end well, succinctly articulates Jesus’ parable about two sons. The first promised to work for the father but failed. The second declined to work for the father, but ended up doing the work. Jesus taught that it was the second (son), who did the will of the father (Matt 21:28-32). As a result, documenting or trumpeting one’s good deeds might disappoint. Despairing (giving up) from trying is also perilous because a sinner today can become a saint tomorrow.
Likewise, do not give up on anyone or canonize another, until that invaluable second of last breath, which separates the soul from the body. Between the two great moments of birth and death is an ample period of growth and possibilities to ensure that one dies in the state of God’s grace. Since the exact moment of death is uncertain, now is the time to invest wisely. Let us work smartly rather than drain our energy in futility.
Good luck. Father Levi
Collective salvation is a judicious summary of the last two weekends’ reflections. These beautiful reflections bring to bear the twofold responsibilities of every serious Christian. First and rightly so, is the responsibility towards others (neighbors). Its core message challenges Christians to reach out to the neighbor (turned offender) in order to win the neighborliness back. The three rigorous but required steps are basically salvific for that neighbor at an edge – sincere efforts to save a neighbor from dying in his/her sins. This arm of responsibility is so imperative that its neglect holds the offended responsible for the loss of the offender-neighbor. The second arm of responsibility is directed toward self-love. The core message challenges Christians to free themselves from the venomous shackles of unforgiving. It was clearly stated that the only determinant for receiving God’s forgiveness is the practice of forgiveness toward others – “the measure you give (to others) is the measure you receive.” This dual responsibility of Christians defines heaven as a reward for activists of collective salvation.
That no one can go to heaven alone is factual. Isolated spirituality is self-contradictory. The will of all created angels was tested individually, which resulted to the division between good angels and demons. It happened because there is nothing like angelic race. As pure spirits, their individual decisions would remain irrevocable. Contrariwise, God created a human race (with spirited-soul and body) in the personalities of Adam and Eve. God also effected salvation for the human race. The same logic that extends the consequences of the sin of Adam to the entire humanity supports the salvation of the human race through the salvific act of Christ, which happened even before many generations were born. The human race connectivity stimulates the dual responsibility of all Christians aptly summarized as the conscious vision and mission for collective salvation.
Heaven is simply a leveler reward. Citizens of heaven gained entrance with a life passport doubly stamped as both a mentee (a believer in Christ) and a mentor (a witness of the gospel). Being a believer is necessary but insufficient without practical witnessing to the gospel. It does not matter the length of time any person was in active service (as a mentee-mentor) when death struck.
Heaven is a sanctuary for pure and inclusive lovers. As such, prospective citizens of heaven should shun all forms of envy and selfishness in order to be open to all arrivals: whether the early birds with the 6am and 9am on time flights, or those whose flights were delayed to 12 noon and 3pm, or others whose flights were cancelled and rescheduled for late hours of 5pm and 6pm (the end time on earth). Being open and receptive to late arrivals simply means being appreciative of God’s generosity (Matt 20:1-16), whose (holistic vision) ways are different from humanity’s perspectival understanding of every situation (Is 55:8).
Saint Paul understands the holistic vision of God, which informs the generosity of God, in his parting admonition to the Philippians (Phil 1:20-24, 27). His expressed dilemma to wish death in order to unite with Christ or live on because of his responsibility towards the salvation of others (especially the Philippians) attest to his consciousness for a collective salvation. Such consciousness in Paul confirms his readiness (then) as a prospective candidate of heaven to facilitate the salvation of others. He also proved his openness to God, who is generous in forgiving by “seeking the Lord while he may be found,” (Is 55:6-9). Paul stands tall as a model for all serious Christians en route to heaven. Recall that his flight though delayed did not prevent him from entering heaven — a clear show of God’s generosity to latecomers but also a required openness for Christians to adopt.
Good luck on our collective journey. Father Levi
Why forgive, when you can retaliate or at least avoid the offender for the rest of your life? We get it completely wrong, when we think that we do others a favor by forgiving them. That is not strange, though, because naturally, self-love can be so possessive that it rarely leaves any space for the other to belong. In today’s society, many brag that they'd rather die than forgive. Some boast that they can live comfortably without recourse to whomever that stepped on their toes. For such people, giving a second chance is strictly unimaginable – an impossibility. But second chance can only constitute an impossibility, when erroneously we think the primary recipient of the favor of unforgiving is the other. Would it be a shock to notice that forgiveness is typically a self-favor?
Interestingly, forgiveness is first and foremost a double favor to the self. First, it is a spiritual favor. Second, it is a temporal favor. In general, forgiveness entails self-emancipation from destructive debacles. Naturally, we are designed by God to activate self-defensive mechanisms, whenever our lives are threatened. In a sense, we are programmed to protect our lives against violent attacks. Regrettably, we prefer to expose ourselves to the venom of unforgiving.
As humans prone to ethical wrongs and spiritual sins, we cannot escape the direct consequences/punishments due to our faults, except through the mercy of God, merited for us by Christ. The reason is “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23). Providentially, God’s mercy frees us from death with a logical condition that we show mercy to those who wrong us. This golden logic of “the measure you give is the measure you receive,” (Luke 6:38) reveals the essence of forgiveness in Christian eschatology. Recall that the Lord’ prayer, (Our Father), is clear and emphatic on it: “… Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Invariably, it is our fault if we miss heaven. No one will miss heaven because he/she committed sin. Christ already paid the debts for our sins. Rather, many will miss heaven by ignoring the simple requirements. Unforgiving logically obstructs entrance into heaven; for when we refuse to forgive other people’s wrong against us, we automatically reject the mercy of God available for our sins. In fact, the criterion for accessing the mercy of God is the extent we show mercy or forgive others – “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” (Matt 5:7). Asking for God’s mercy without being merciful would attract the wrath of God. The prayer of an unforgiving person is an abomination in the face of God.
As social beings, we cannot avoid interpersonal relationships. In as much as we can control how we relate to other people, we cannot guarantee how other people relate to us. People knowingly or unknowingly hurt other people by day. Hurting others is as inescapable as road accidents. Road accidents occur for reasons ranging from inexperience, recklessness, drunkenness, health problems, mechanical/electrical faults, and unsafe road conditions. Just one of these conditions is enough to hurt the most careful driver. Since hurting others is inevitable, unforgiving is simply suicidal. Unforgiving is self-cursing – “drinking poison but expecting your offender to die.”
Forgiveness does not alter the principles of justice. Neither does it suppress one’s right to revenge or avenge injuries. But it takes prudence, the pride of ethical virtues, to moderate justice with mercy. Therefore, forgiveness is a prudent means of giving the offender a second chance. A second chance entails offering a reasonable excuse for the offender. Holding the offender excusable effects a healing process in the offended. The most effective reason for offering an excuse is that we deserve a second chance, too.
So, why go ahead and sign our death warrants by keeping malice or being obstinate in unforgiving? Unforgiving is a dreadful killer that secretly eats us up. The more people you do not forgive, the more you expand limitations on your freedom. The more malice you keep, the more you expand your enemies’ territories. On the contrary, the easier you forgive, the more you multiply your allies. Forgiveness widens our horizons, while unforgiving shrinks our comfort zone.
God bless you. Father Levi
Love of neighbor implies a twofold responsibility: First, to oneself and second to others, especially the distant other. Remember, oneself is also a neighbor to someone else. Regrettably, this second arm of responsibility is terribly played down or even neglected. Its suppression increases as modernity advances. Part of the sins of modernity is her birth of dualism, which pitches even Siamese (conjoined) twins against each other. Freely, modernity switches from idolizing one, to demonizing the other.
Freedom and responsibility are conjoined twin sisters that modern society treats differently. While the modern mind tenaciously lays claim on freedom for his comfort, responsibility (her twin sister), is shunned like a virus. Judgmentally, we are ultra sensitive to how good, people should treat us, but undermine being nice to others either as optional or burdensome. The scripture messages today put before us a challenge to review the neglect on responsibility toward others. Its significant absence can be blamed on willful suppression rather than on ignorance.
Every healthy relationship is built and sustained on the precept of “watching each other’s back” or mutual responsibility. Responsibility is a core demand of love. The lack of it infects relationship with flattery, deceit, and hypocrisy that lead to relational paralysis. Relationship is never static. It is meant to grow through mutual complementarity. As a basic check, any relationship that is not open to growth (learning and transformation) is a suspect of toxic infections. These sum up to a self-check: What is my responsibility in this relationship? What should I do to make it work? How am I endangering it? Rather than monitoring what wasn’t done right to me.
To be responsible indicates sincere commitment to warn the partner against a possible danger, which eludes his/her blind spot. The “warner-listener” dynamics presented in Ezekiel 33:7-9 is a universal template that not only protects a relationship, but also eliminates room for an accomplice. The word of God to Ezekiel wholesomely aligns with the ethos of the Igbo people of Nigeria: “Ahuu ekwughi ji okenye. Ekwuo anughi ji nwata” – while vicious silence destroys the warner, incorrigibility destroys the intended audience. The universality of “warner-listener” template is fittingly applicable to parenting, friendship, marriage, neighborliness, work ethic, and other social activities.
“Warner-listener” dynamics is at its best when guided by love. Love is the summary of all commandments (Rom 13:8-10). No sane person will willfully hurt the lover or deny the responsibility due to her. Responsibility is so central to humanity that its neglect caused the first death in human history. God reprimanded Cain, when he treacherously tried to excuse himself out from the responsibility he owed his brother, Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If the first sin against God was disobedience, the first sin against humanity bordered on irresponsibility.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus emphasizes the “warner-listener” dynamics with the clarity of “offender-offended” connectivity. In context, the responsibility of the offender to ask for forgiveness is assumed. That Jesus did not border to include this aspect shows that any pompous offender unable to say: “I am sorry,” in a relationship is a sheer disaster to the existing bond. Jesus concentrated on the offended in order to highlight the inescapability of mutual responsibility in day-to-day activities.
Three steps of responsibility are recommended: 1) One on one dialogue 2) Inclusion of witnesses 3) Involving the institutionalized authority of the Church. These steps are logical and should not be altered. Although the first is the hardest, it is the shortest and most effective means of peace restoration. The wise settle with this #1. However, when the three steps are exhausted without result, revenge is not even an option. The last resort: “Treat him like a Gentile” implies considering him as an obstinate person, who chooses to resist your responsibility toward him. Only when an impossible listener resists the warner’s responsibility could the warner be exonerated as an accomplice (Ezekiel 33:7-9). If at each moment, someone has to be responsible for another’s well being, then unforgiving would become a forgone alternative.
God bless you. Father Levi
Generally, challenges are compounded not because of their intensity, but due to poor handling. Poor handling intensifies challenges into difficult problems. Problems become complex when we fail to identity their root cause, or compromise interrogating our comfort zones. Interestingly, the inability to confront our comfort zone affirms us as “catalysts of our problems.” The way out is to carefully identify the obstacle in our lives, and remove it. If we search wisely, the many seeming obstacles would be reduced to one main obstacle. Overall, two outstanding steps are necessary: identifying and removing.
First, what does it take to identify the obstacle? Obstacle takes a lot of energy (gut) to identify, but when done, its obstruction is partly removed. The main obstacle functions (best) covertly. That is why exposing it is as effective as destroying it. Again, the main obstacle targets the primary goal of life. So, there is a close link between my primary goal and its obstacle. The simple truth is: Mistaking the primary goal for something else would automatically result in identifying a shadow of the obstacle or a false obstacle. This means that there could be false alerts on what the obstacle is.
Second, the earliest challenge is to eliminate false obstacles. What seems is not always what is. Most often we fail to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant obstacles. As a result, we tend to allow our biases and suspicions to mislead our search. Shockingly, our known enemies stand as irrelevant obstacles. For the very fact that we are conscious of their hatred feelings, their evil plans become easily predictable, and would subsequently immune us against the intended impacts. The Pharisees, the Scribes and the Chief priests, passionately hated Jesus because he called out their hypocrisy. Still, it was Peter, his Vicar on earth, that Jesus called “an obstacle” to his salvific mission. In this light, bias and suspicion are blind leaders. These blind leaders restrict our search only to the outside.
Third, we are left with the inward search of our comfort zones. Can your close associate be your main obstacle? Can your best friend, family and favorite fan be your obstacle? That sounds incredible. Indeed, it is the shock of its incredibility that distinguishes it as the main obstacle. The intense danger of the main obstacle lies in its undercover style of operation, which elicits shocks when exposed. Its concealing strength as an “enemy (from) within” justifies the stress for a thorough identification and exposure. The root of most individual failures can be traced directly or indirectly to family, friend or fan, solely because they are usually taken for granted. Since they belong to the comfort zones of our lives, they ought to be treated as holy cows that need no scrutiny.
Fourth, when the obstacle is identified, it MUST be given its backbench position.
Unless your main obstacle is identified, you cannot overcome it. Jesus found his obstacle in Peter’s suggestion: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” (Matt 16:22). And so, he did not spare him because of friendship ties. That was a tough decision, though. Wisdom faces its toughest test at the crossroads of “conflicts of interests.” Jesus excellently passed his own test by pleasing God rather than pleasing a human friend. Consequently, Peter got an instant backbench, so that Jesus’s mission can move on.
Good companions can rightly walk beside a person as peers or ahead as mentors. But the obstacle must be put behind: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Matt 16:23). That is where he/she belongs. Putting the obstacle behind entails confronting our fears. Personal FEAR would remain overwhelming until we decide to: Flee Everything And Run (defeated) or Face Everything And Rest (overcome).
Friends try to treat whoever that is the obstacle in your primary goal of life as Satan. Satan works so hard everyday to obstruct our reunion with God. Satan, however, uses human agents (often) closest to us to deceive and achieve his obstructing mission. Therefore, beware of what advise you take in, regardless of whom it comes from.
God bless you. Father Levi
Openness to other people’s opinions can be difficult, especially when such views contrast our comfort. Ordinarily, everyone enjoys praises and appreciations. But the degree of tolerance on people’s opinions about us varies from one individual to another. Some people have even developed a phobia toward listening about their blind spots. But the truth is, everyone has a blind spot that could only be seen by others. Most people in this category prefer to live in delusion than to face and improve the reality of their faults. Among them, the saying is popular: “appreciate me the way I am.” Where then is the room for growth (personal effort) towards perfection, “as our heavenly Father is perfect”? Should self-competition be trashed? Unless we are open to accept constructive criticisms, growth will be impeded. However, not all criticisms are corrective; many are destructive. I do not mean the latter. Destructive criticism aims at pulling someone down, and not at aiding his/her growth. Even though people’s opinion might not be accurate all the time, most times they can be insightful.
Teaching by doing, Jesus sets a golden standard for Christians at Ceasarea Philippi (Matt 16: 13-20). “Who do people say I am?” and “who do you say I am?” are timeless questions for positive growth. Nevertheless, only a few practice it. Does it mean that most people do not like growth? No. On the contrary, people prefer to pad up or package their personalities and market to the public. Some would garnish their personalities at the expense of basic ethical standards. That way, the gullible would be manipulated to believe the fake growth. The world's best kept secret is the faults of egoistic people. But for real growth to happen, one must pass through the two evaluations of Jesus?
First, “who do people say I am?” aims at getting a frantic outsiders’ feedback (opinion) on Jesus. Outsiders include critics, haters, objective observers, and admirers. Was Jesus uncertain on what could have been the outcome of such a mix? Does that shed a dim light on why he asked the question on a foreign land (probably to set a control over the audience)? Or was that a way to make the disciples feel freer to respond? Since Jesus identified himself as a good shepherd, he knew that his mission included rescuing the (stubborn) lost sheep, and that honest feedback enables self-evaluation. As bitter as public opinion might sound, it shouldn’t be suppressed.
Second, “who do you say that I am?” addresses a caution against sycophancy. With this question, Jesus challenged the honesty of his closest pals. It was no surprise that none of the disciples spoke up, until Peter was inspired by the Father to provide the classical answer, unknown to any human mind. I wish not to deliberate on the significance of his answer. That has received uncountable theological explanations. Probably, the Father’s intervention might have saved these close associates of Jesus from engaging in a flattering spree. After all, there was an internal contest on who would succeed Jesus. Fortunately, the Father (through Peter) solved the puzzle: “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” This extraordinary confession of Peter confirmed him as the Vicar of Christ for his church.
As a rule of thumb, answers to the two questions must not contradict. Christ is the prophetic fulfillment of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and others. While we are afraid of hearing the evaluations of the people about us, we must also be careful concerning the deceptive danger of sycophancy from close associates: family, friends, and fans. Why do all the words begin with the letter “f.” Could it be that all three are capable of causing the failure of any individual, when not balanced with the opinions of outsiders? Your guess is as good as mine. If then you want to stay away from failures, emulate Jesus by welcoming the evaluative opinions of both outsiders and insiders. Also be encouraged by Paul and Augustine, who were not ashamed to publish their faults.
God bless you. Father Levi
In Christ, no one is a foreigner; except the one who chose to. All are welcome. Everyone has a conducive space to fit in. The disparity of when one’s invitation arrived makes less of a difference. Such equitable standard underscores the warning of Jesus: “the first shall be the last and the last, the first,” (Matt. 20:16). Paul’s invitation arrived much later than those of the 12 apostles. Still, that did not prevent him from becoming the apostle to the Gentiles (the non Jewish world), and an outstanding mission model.
When Jesus defined himself as “the Way,” it includes the fact that everyone irrespective of one’s geopolitical location on the globe enjoys a proportionate vantage position from the center-point (Jesus). In short, if Christian spirituality were a circle with Jesus at its center, every believer would be seen occupying his/her relative but most strategic position in the journey of faith. Any attempt to displace or switch positions ends in futility.
Christian faith can be somewhat likened to karma (fate) in Buddhism. As one’s personal faith is capable of designing and redesigning interjecting circumstances in life, so is karma believed to shape the future of non-theistic devotees. Comparatively, the underlying difference is the absence of grace in the principles of causality that inspire karma. Essentially, it is the quality of faith, and not its age that swiftly draws a petitioner to Christ. Unsurprisingly, an 11th hour faith, manifest of the Good thief, earned him an instant pass into paradise, ahead of some cradle believers.
The central point in the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus (Matt 15:21-28) is the quality of faith she manifested. Everything else in the story can be finely summarized as the process that led to her faith proclamation. At the confirmation of her ardent faith: “O woman, great is your faith!” her prayer was instantly answered. Her tested faith rapidly closed up her initial distance (as a foreigner from Jesus) and bonded her to Christ (the center and host).
In this context, foreignness refers more to ignorance of the true faith than mere geographic location. The words of Jesus in the dialogue, which sound impolite, actually highlighted the unprivileged status of the Canaanite woman as an unbeliever, such that the readers of the story would clearly understand the leap of faith she demonstrated that earned immediate answer to her prayer.
Isaiah affirms this incredible faith bonding (between any believer and God) as an instant game changer: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, … their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar,” (Is 56:1, 6-7). Paul reiterates this very fact of Isaiah’s prophesy in support of the key point noticed in Matthew, as he highlights the inclusiveness of the gospel: “I glory in my ministry (as apostle to the Gentiles) in order to make my race (Jews) jealous (Rom 11: 13-15, 29-32). Paul teaches that the gospel was not an exclusive gift to the Jews.
Friends, let us not be deluded. Every believer, regardless of duration, can redesign certain unwanted circumstances in life, by standing firm on personal qualitative faith. Sufficient grace to do our own bit is readily available: “My grace is sufficient for you,” (Cor 12:9). Ours is to demonstrate a quality faith, while God’s grace completes the process. Nevertheless, bear in mind that persistency and humility define a great faith.
Good luck, as we journey on. Fr. Levi
Previously, I have tailored my reflections on the event of Jesus walking on the sea to the ultimate authority of God over the laws of nature. I have also noticed that most standard homilies belong to this category, which delight in highlighting such marvelous act of Jesus. Sequel to that, I wish to concentrate on the underlying lessons of the event, by identifying the best conceivable reasons that led Peter to sink into the water.
My full stake is on the efficacy of God’s presence. God’s presence is a game-changer. The absence is a fiasco/disaster. Simply put, the sublime splendor of radiance, which defines the presence of God, accounts for the bliss of possibilities. One thing is to believe in the awe-inspiring presence of God, and another is to desire and experience it. To experience a taste of the presence of God entails a conscious transition from a particular wavelength to another. Since God’s wavelength is peculiar to God, even though accessible to human beings, communication can only be possible when the latter relate the former on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, the intense pomposity and rowdiness in the human societal wavelength tend to freeze the exchange switch that enables smooth transition from our mundane mode to God’s presence and back.
Where is God’s presence? How can we discover and encounter God’s presence? Elijah and Peter offer sufficient clues. By the way, the flight of Elijah to God, from the tyrannical king Ahab and queen Jezebel plays out as a fulfillment of his name. Eli (my God) / Jah (Yah[weh], the true God). Elijah (in Hebrew) means my God is the true God. The name implies staunch faith and dependence on the daily providence of this supreme God. Also, Elijah’s lack of genealogical records further strengthens his total dependency on God. No wonder, Elijah is an acclaimed epitome of OT prophets (Matt. 17:1-5, 10). This affirmation should not question the prominence of prophet John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11. Recall that Jesus associated Elijah to the personality of John the Baptist (Matt.17:12-13). As such, Elijah could be the OT prefigure of the NT John the Baptist. Both spoke truth to power and totally depended on God for survival.
At the very imminent threat to his life, Elijah swiftly sought the presence of God in the desert for protection (1Kgs.19:9a,11-13a). Arriving the mount of Horeb exhausted, Elijah waited patiently at the cave to behold the presence of God. The loneliness of a desert agrees with the fourth distinct manifestation of serenity. The previous three manifestations of violence only heralded the absence of God. God was not in the strong wind, and in the earthquake, neither was he in the fire. None, but the tiny whispering sound ushered the presence of God.
When last did we pay attention to the whispering voice from the sanctuary of our (sound) conscience? Does that not suggest that we often need quiet moments at lonely places in order to activate and listen to the whispering voice of God? It is no coincidence that Jesus severally withdrew to lonely places and communed with his Father. In fact, prior to the walking on the sea, Jesus kept vigil in prayer from evening till the 4th watch of the night (Matt. 14:22-33). Filled with the magnificent splendor of God’s presence, Jesus radiated the brilliance of light. The petrified disciples could identify such glamorous shine, at a wee hour, with no human, but a ghost. This luminous presence of God enabled Peter to walk on the sea, when he prayed for it. With God all things are possible. And prayer is key to possibilities.
Prayer activates the full awareness of God’s presence. Elijah overcame his fears in the presence of God and communed. Peter did not realize that he activated the presence of God when he prayerfully requested Jesus to command him to walk on the sea toward him. Rather than concentrate on the whispering voice of God’s assurance: “... do not be afraid,” Peter caved in to the forceful pressure of the stormy wave on the sea (which suggested the absence of God), and began to sink. He might as well have disconnected himself from the safe presence of God, by attributing this great feat of walking on the sea to himself with a shout out to the other disciples in the boat: “Yeah!!! I did it.” However, he quickly learned his lesson and reconnected to the saving presence of God with another fervent prayer: “Lord save me.” Friends, it is a choice to activate God’s presence through genuine prayers, and dwell in it as long as we desire, for maximum security, especially at this pandemic time.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
“No free lunch,” is a popular saying that does not pertain to God. God always serves a free lunch. At zero cost the world survives on atmospheric oxygen. As a being is, so it acts. In God, being and act, are one and the same. Jesus, the fullness of revelation of the invisible God, communicated the inseparability of God’s action from who God is. Even though, we cannot completely know God (as God is) due to our present incapacitation, we can at least comprehend who God is from what God does. This non-duality in God sheds light on the purpose of incarnation accomplished through the mission of Jesus.
At the core of virtues revealed by Jesus is generosity (charity). Creation properly understood is a product of God’s generosity. Creation in general and humanity in particular happened as free gifts. All we are and have are testimonies of God’s generosity. On the one hand, Jesus revealed the generosity of God. On the other hand, he aimed at inculcating generosity to all nations through his disciples. Multiplying generous people is that best kept secret for global peace.
Isaiah 55:1-3 recounts the overflowing generosity of God: “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” In Romans 8:35, 37-39, Paul confirms that “nothing” can obstruct us from receiving the generosity of God.
The gospel of Matthew 14:13-21 explicitly demonstrates the dual purposes of Jesus’ words and deeds on that event of the 5000 fed. First, he felt deep compassion on the helpless crowd and suspended his planned isolation for contemplative prayers. It takes generosity to substitute personal interests with attending to the urgent needs of others. Urgency, strikingly, reminds us that delay is dangerous. Second, generosity stimulates extra steps in communicating similar spirit to other people. “Give them some food yourselves,” was more than a mere suggestion. In truth, Jesus was highly disappointed at the indifference of his disciples towards the starving people, when they suggested their dismissal.
For the disciples, dismissal was a huge relief from the nuisance of the crowd. The prolonged presence of this crowd prevented the disciples from enjoying a private time with Jesus, and possibly learning more confidential information from him. Engulfed in such self-centeredness, the five loaves and two fish were considered their exclusive dinner. Why share with these inconsiderate strangers (who probably had reserved foods at home), who ruined their plan to retire to a quiet place and rest? Recall that Jesus and his disciples were initially escaping to a lonely place after being exhausted from the day’s work. In this context, the interest of the knowledge-seeking crowd conflicted with the possessive attitude of the disciples. As a result, generosity was almost denied. How justified could the stand of these disciples be? The answer lies in the lesson Jesus taught them. Jesus emphasized that no excuses should negate generosity, because humanity is a product of God’s generosity. To be Christ-like, one should spontaneously respond to the urgent needs of others. Regrettably, the world operates on the reverse principle of “my need first.” Feeding of the 5000 was not as much a miraculous show of power, as it is a teaching opportunity of a lifetime course on generosity.
Aware of the importance of generosity, great parents delight in teaching their kids generosity. Growing up, I noticed that my mother as soon as she gave me snacks would beg that I give her a slice of it. When I did, she would smilingly, return the piece, which left me puzzling on why she even asked. Now, I know better that she was trying to inculcate generosity in me. At times, she would encourage me to go outside and share my snacks with my friends or playmates. Malta is a poor country; still she is rated the fourth most generous country in the world. Many priests and religious were trained through the generous donations from Malta. It takes only a compassionate spirit, not much of possessions, to be generous and encourage generosity.
Often, we presume like the disciples that our anger is justified or that we have reasons to suppress generosity. Interestingly, Jesus has proven such unrefined assumptions, wrong. No excuse is good enough to restrict the urgency of a generous appeal (whether explicit or implicit). In the same vein, selective generosity is as bad as its denial. Above all, teaching generosity to others would rapidly dispel self-centeredness from the world than other ethical approaches put together.
God Bless you. Fr. Levi
Good life has great investments at its core. People severally invest on daily basis by converting available resources to richer assets. It could be a long-term investment like parents sacrificing certain pleasurable goods in order to provide quality education for their kids. It could as well be a short-term investment, such as displayed by a beggar mom. This caring single mom had only four bananas for the family’s dinner. She gave one banana to each of her four kids and reserved none for herself. Her sacrifice turned into a wise investment. In appreciation, each child secretly gave the mom half of one banana, which added up to two whole bananas. From the story, it takes sacrificial vision to invest wisely, especially when the welfare of others is prioritized.
How often do we ponder about the welfare of others in our day-to-day activities? To what extent does altruistic intents influence our actions? King Solomon is a biblical model in focus (1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12). His uncommon request for wisdom was motivated by the welfare of his people, the Israelites. Such altruistic intent instantly merited him greater favors from God. Solomon sacrificed personal interests, but reaped much more than he invested: wisdom, fame, power and wealth. Solomon’s story teaches that one's investment in other people’s welfare guarantees one's welfare; but not the reverse.
Compassion toward the need of others is a practical expression for the love of God. God created everything out of love, and desires that humanity oversees creation in love. Whoever patterns his/her life in selfless love has not only invested wisely, but has also sealed the highest investment. The highest investment allows us to trade in all our selfish desires so as to merit eternal happiness in heaven. The wisdom of such selfless sacrifice might seem invisible except for the priceless gain of heaven. Paul articulates this wisdom better: “All things work for good, for those who love God,” (Rom. 8:28-30). To love God is to be guided by love toward all that God loves. God loves all creatures in their uniqueness. Augustine might have had similar wisdom in mind when he arrived at the conclusion: “ Love (as God does), and then do what you like,” — this maxim of ethical perfection guarantees that your likes and desires be strictly guided by love for God and neighbors.
Being benevolent stimulates the desire for the highest investment in life. Today’s gospel (Matt 13:44-46) emphasizes the importance of wise investment. The person, who found a treasure buried in a field, hurriedly sold off all his possessions, and bought the field, presents a typical example of wise investment. Similarly, the merchant, who sold all he owned and bought the most precious pearls, also invested wisely. If, therefore, the best of earthly treasures and purest pearls cost their new owners all they had, is it not most justifiable that the prize of heaven, whose worth is incomparable, should cost us all distracting material pleasures? So, invest wisely today on heaven, the highest of values.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
In the parable of the wheat and the weed (Matthew 13:24-30), the expressed eagerness of the servants seeking their master’s approval: “Do you want us to go and pull them (weeds among wheat) up?” implies acting too quickly. Acting too quickly eliminates the suspension of action for a better assessment, while allowing clearer views. The inherent danger of acting too quickly is the regrettable, but avoidable idiotic end.
On the contrary, the master cautioned: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest time.” Why wait till harvest time? Waiting does not mean inaction. Rather, it is a waiting that enables the most appropriate time and the most effective means of assessment. Timing and approach separate ingenious acts from inane acts. Harvest time is that ripe time when the fruits differentiates the wheat from its resembling fruitless weed (such as feather reed grass). This kind of waiting is not a delay, but an efficient strategy to achieve a fruitful result.
Acting in haste usually inflicts untold suffering or even death to the innocent due to narrow-mindedness. Narrow-mindedness is the prime cause of unbridled intolerance. So, why go to jail because of a hasty action that would have been avoided if given a second thought?
Gaining of time offers ample opportunity for repentance or change of heart. Time lag has caused the transformation of sinners into saints. Think about Christianity without the gifts of Apostle Paul, the great Augustine, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, whose conversions were phenomenal. These precious icons attest to the embedded treasure in avoiding premature judgment. Acting too quickly simply means premature judgment.
Interestingly, God, the master of the universe, chose to reserve the right of judgment to Godself, but at the end of time. Since a just judgment requires a holistic understanding, and humanity sees things in perspectives, only an all-seeing God is capable of rendering it. The civil society continues to grapple with just judgment, at times appealing to the psychological condition of the accused at the moment of a crime. Most often lack of complete information leads to unfair judgment. It takes an all-seeing eye to avoid unjust judgment.
Even in the Old Testament, similar affirmation of “live and let live” philosophy of cohabitation is echoed in the book of Wisdom: “For your (God’s) might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all ... Though you are master of might you judge with clemency, and with much leniency you govern us, … that those who are just must be kind; and you would permit repentance for their sins,” (Wis 12:13,16-19). The interplay of justice and kindness is key to cohabitation.
Cohabitation is God’s intention for all creatures because God takes absolute “care of all,” and has designated purposes for each organism, including the creepiest and most disgustful ones. Tolerance, though an imperfect acceptance of other people or things within our space, is still uncommon. Cohabitation exceeds tolerance. It is an openness to accommodate another person or thing by creating enough space not just for her to stay, but to belong.
The wisdom in cohabitation derives from the available rooms for transformation. In the world, good people can corrupt tomorrow, while notorious persons are capable of turning into illustrious citizens. None is guilty until convicted. And conviction can justly happen at harvest time — the end of time. If God, the master of the universe, is comfortable with such arrangement, who are we to alter it?
God bless you.
God likens God’s Word to the rain, which never returns void, in order to affirm that the Word is veritable (Is 55:10-11). Like the rain cycle, the veritable Word does not complete a return trip without causing humanity to yield fruits. Moreover, this veritable Word (with equal capability) is the viable seed that produces abundant fruits on a good soil. However, not every soil is good enough to yield fruits.
Every good soil is open to growth. First, it receives the seed, germinates it, and with the help of other important natural elements provides the nutrients that nourish the seed. In essence, the veritable seed (Word) collaborates with individual contexts in order to bring out the best in each person.
Why should only good soil bear fruits? Various soils are capable of becoming good soil. A soil in its natural state becomes good for planting when cleared of bushes and tilled. It takes hard work (suffering) to achieve a good soil. Laziness is a huge obstacle in the process of achieving a good soil. The soil of lazy persons is never ready for planting. When God, the sower, sends out the veritable Word into the world, the Word either drops on good soil or the fallow soils (untilled) of laziness, filled with rocks, thorns and the stiff paths (Matt. 13:1-9). In the eyes of lazy people, hard work is perceived as suffering, whereas the input (work) is nothing compared to the abundance of the harvest (output).
Why do all the good soils not yield fruits of a hundredfold? Why should the good soil yield various seeds, some hundredfold, some sixtyfold and others thirtyfold? Simply put, whether a hundredfold or sixtyfold or even a thirtyfold, each represent a hundred percent of fruit bearing. As God uniquely created every person, so are the gifts and expectations. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” but to whom less is given, less is expected.
Rather than compete in futility with someone else along the journey of faith, concentrate on yourself – compete daily with yourself – target to make your good, better, and make your better, the best. Your fruit bearing expectation might be hundredfold or sixtyfold, whereas you are busy comparing yourself with someone whose expectation is only thirty, thereby becoming lazy by day. Ensure that your soil of life does not lay fallow but constantly tilled. The little effort it takes to work on ourselves for growth is nothing compared to the glory at the end of time (Rom. 8:18-23). Therefore, it is our fault, if we cannot bear fruits as at when due, because the Word of God is ever veritable, but produces fruits only on a good soil. So, try and be that good soil, which bears good deeds as fruits.
Good luck as we get to work. Fr. Levi
When Francis Bacon popularized the saying: “knowledge is power,” little did the world know that intellectual power can also be self-destructive. Most times the ignorant accepts his limitation, adopts openness to learning, whereas the learned in craving for advanced knowledge throws humility to the winds and destroys himself. As much as knowledge is power it takes moderation to manage it. At times unlearning what is learned creates room for humility.
Fate brought two men with striking disparity of knowledge at a local river. One was a professor of Oceanography, and the other an uneducated ferryman. Mr. Professor quickly contracted the services of the untidy ferryman to the estuary (where the river meets the sea), the destination of his research, and back. From the start of the journey, Mr. Professor displayed his wealth of knowledge, not minding if his high sounding jargons made any sense to the poor fellow. Startled at his quiet, Mr. Professor became more direct: “Do you have a college degree?” “No sir” came the reply. “There, goes a huge part of your life,” retorted the arrogant Professor. He repeated similar geographical and biological questions, but the answers were nothing than a definite no. Sarcastically, Mr. professor concluded: “I can see that you barely have a life to live.” Shortly afterward, the ferryman broke the long silence: “Mr. Professor, do you know how to swim?” “Not at all. Why do you ask?” replied the Professor. “I see a stormy wave approaching us. Since you do not know how to swim, there goes your entire life.” This reflects the story of life. That tiny missing link in a person could be in the possession of an unsuspecting other. We can never be complete without the other.
Jesus in today’s gospel (Mt 11: 25-30) introduces a paradigm shift: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” His disclosure of this unique plan of God ties with the main lesson in the encounter between the professor and the ferryman. Drawing support from these epic words of Jesus, our story substantiates that collaboration of knowledge keeps society alive, and that no one individual is a custodian of knowledge.
Raimon Panikkar, a mystic theologian and philosopher, wraps it when he said: Each individual perceives reality from a particular window; the cleaner my window, the clearer my vision. Therefore, the more open I am to learn from other people’s experiences, the richer my knowledge of reality.” Panikkar reminds us that learning is a natural ongoing process in which everyone is both a learner and a teacher. Good teachers learn from their students. Good parents, as well, learn from their kids. Growth or progress in the society is hindered when some people think they are citadels of knowledge – and as such can only give out knowledge, but not receive any. The key is openness to learn newness irrespective of the lowly sources. Proverb 6:6 affirms: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Learn her ways and be wise.” If wisdom can be learned from an ant, won't more be learned from every person?
Corroboratively, Jesus praises the Father for revealing the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven to the uninformed, but hidden to the learned. The knowledge of the kingdom is an inclusive knowledge suitable and accessible to all. By the benevolence of God it has become basic knowledge available even to those at the margins and to the socially branded nonpersons. Its availability at the lowest ebb guarantees no excuses of ignorance of the rule. So, why is such knowledge still hidden to the learned? Hiddenness does not mean unavailability. Neither does it mean ignorance. Keeping the knowledge of the kingdom “hidden” rather emphasizes the inability to look closer at the right spot and see what is covertly there. It simply means stooping low to learn from a negligible source. The wise and the learned fail to discover the knowledge of the kingdom because they totally rely on their elevated status with the unmatchable advantages, and so disregard the possibility of any knowledge from the lowly ones. This was the problem of Mr. Professor in the story. Interestingly, God’s plan has humbled them. But if in humility, the learned unlearn self-importance, and be open to learn from little ones, the knowledge of the kingdom will surly be revealed to them.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Normally, a reward suggests a preceding remarkable act. Therefore, a reward does not belong to the first act, but rather comes as an appreciation of a completed good deed. Although the direct recipient could reward the generous giver, still a compassionate third party can also compensate him, instead. God rewards us both as a direct recipient of returned love, and as a benevolent third party for favors done to others. It is not uncommon to argue that we owe God nothing simply because God is never in need. As untrue as this claim is, I will proceed to provide some scriptural proofs supporting gratitude.
One important way of understanding individual and collective gratitude to God is to pay deeper attention to the meaning of “the reward of a prophet.” Before doing exactly that, can we come to terms with who a prophet is? Going with the most precise definition, a prophet is a mouthpiece of God. Being a mouthpiece of God falls into two related categories: 1) a fulltime traditional prophet, called like Elisha; and 2) prophetic witnessing expected from all believers. Both categories offer ample opportunities for believers to return merited favors to God. They are merited favors because as believers, we cannot but give back to the sole Giver (God). So, whereas God favors us with unmerited gifts (including life and its sustenance), we can only attract more rewards (from God) by giving back a tiny fraction of our bequeathed abundance. Such good deeds that attract rewards (more gifts) describe a prophet’s reward.
Who gets a prophet’s reward? Both a true prophet and a prophetic witness, who defends the truth (Christ) at all cost, would definitely be rewarded as a prophet. But not all prophets are true prophets. False prophets are manipulators that work for self-interests. On the contrast, true prophets voluntarily offer themselves as living instruments of God for services to people of their age and time. In words and in deeds, prophets sacrificially stand bold in solidarity with God, despite the taunt, the torture, and the death penalties, they face as the price of their fidelity. Paul in Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 sums up the life of a prophet as “dying with Christ, and rising with him,” or “dead to sin and alive in righteousness.” Alive in righteousness, Elisha inquired into the utmost need of the woman of Shunem and resolved it (2 Kings 4:8-11,14-16). Like Elisha, prophets of our time should be committed to the needs of God’s faithful people, and desist from swindling or exploiting them. In fact, the people of God should reflect the goodness of God as much as their (wealthy) prophets.
Essentially, the prophet partly shares his prophetic witnessing or mission with all God’s faithful. The compassion of the woman of Shunem, who volunteered and provided sufficient hospitality for Elisha, describes a vital aspect of prophetic witnessing. Every prophetic witnessing or good deed for the sake of God attracts various degrees of costly price. Even the sacred act of hospitality cannot be separated from the dangerous risk of hosting an enemy or an ingrate. Nevertheless, between the righteousness of prophet Elisha, and the prophetic witnessing of the woman of Shunem, lays the connecting rod of Gehazi, her servant. Often times our domestic or junior staff constitutes channel of reward and favor from God. Our attitude to them could hinder or foster our rewards. For Gehazi to have named exactly the most pressing need of his madam, when asked by Elisha: “can something be done for her?” shows a cordial relationship between them. That Elisha rewarded his host by respecting the answer given by her servant: “she has no son,” teaches all believers to treat people around them kindly. Who knows if the reward would have been hindered had Gehazi been mistreated. If for no other reason, please treat people under your care, kindly, for the sake of God.
Doing good for the sake of God is the core of all prophetic witnessing. The gospel (Matt 10:37-42) warns against replacing such prime goal with family ties or self-love. Acting for the sake of God explains what it takes to bear one’s cross daily with faith in the consoling words of Jesus – “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Hard as it sounds, therein lies the truth. Moreover, good deed done without expecting a payback from any (human) person distinguishes a virtuous act for the sake of God. Only such generous acts are able to express sufficient gratitude to God and in return attract the reward of a prophet. May nothing frustrate your own reward of a prophet!!!
Discrimination has been humanity’s diehard habit. Facts show that this paranoid abnormality did not start with racial differentiations. Even as one people, the first generation of humanity displayed exclusive intention at Babel in resistance to God’s design for diversity. Unknown to them, the Christian God is a God of diversity, whose love relationship makes enough room for the other to belong. In the one God are three distinct persons that love and admire the distinctions of each as complementary. It was such self-giving love of the Trinity that caused creation. For example, incarnation (God-man in Jesus) happened in order to reveal who God is and how humanity ought to live a fulfilled life. Incarnation in itself demonstrated the openness of God to accommodate the diversity of human nature.Sadly, humanity in particular has failed to learn the beauty and serenity in diversity. Injustices and inhumane oppressions would not cease until rooms harboring discriminatory hatred are cleaned up and replaced with the multifarious beauties of diversity. Openness to newness is key. As soon as diversity was reinforced through differences of languages at Babel, other forms of discrimination ensued. Ancient Jews disparaged the Gentiles and the Samaritans. Among the Jews, the poor, the tax collectors, widows and women were virtually discriminated. Worse still, fellow citizens were discriminated against not because of any wrong they committed but because their righteous mode of life stood at odds with the welcomed irregularities preferred in the society. Prophet Jeremiah was a victim of such conspiracy (Jer 20:10-13). Jeremiah’s awful experience sheds light on the current wakeup call across the globe.
As the world is waking up to centuries-old ills of discrimination through protest marches, dismantling of slavery monuments and policy change, a lot more needs to be done.
Discrimination is still manifested in various forms and different shades. Racism is symptomatic of the deadly virus better described as “sameness syndrome.” Sameness syndrome underpins all forms of discrimination because of its anti-diversity stand, which perceives diversity as division. In fact, advocates of sameness theory are as deficient as a man of one book.
Jeremiah suffered discrimination in the hands of his own people simply because his righteous ways threw their evil deeds to their faces. Regardless of natural laws, what determines good or evil in a systemic sameness syndrome is the unreasonable solidarity in defense of comfort zones. Whatever that is perceived to threaten the comfort zone is radically resisted and eliminated. Such was the fate of Jeremiah. It must not be a crime. Otherness is enough to attract attacks.
Since racism is oppressive, xenophobia, tribalism, caste system, and other forms of discrimination double the oppression because the upheld differences in the latter are more imaginary than skin-coloration.
Everyone must not be a discriminator, yet the silence of sitting on the fence is as dangerous as being an activist of discrimination. Paul in Romans 5:12-15 reminds us of the incredible influence of the one strong activist toward the many. Just as Adam’s sin infected humanity, so did the grace from Jesus avail salvation for all. Similarly, if few ugly minds instituted policies that enthroned racism, its dethronement does not have to take a mammoth crowd, but a few sane minds to achieve.
The fall of the empire of discrimination is possible when the gift of diversity is appreciated. The beauty of life shines brightest as a gift. Only in gratitude to the gift of life can the inclusive diversity of peoples and things in the world reflect the immensity of their relational God. Both the discriminator and the discriminated deal with FEAR differently. Jeremiah, when threatened, understood the secret and found consolation in solidarity with this God of diversity. Rather than forget everything and run (fear), Jeremiah faced everything and rose (fear). Unmanaged fear is self-destructive, but self-confidence (in solidarity with God) conquers discrimination.
The same message echoes in the gospel: “Fear no one… do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:26-33). Solidarity with God saved Jeremiah, it still works in our own time. Every life is uniquely the creative work of God and so bears the spark of God – each creature is precious to God. John Duns Scotus defines this truth as the Haecceitas (thisness) of each element in creation. Paradoxically, those who claim to kill in the name of God actually work against the God whose life approves and cherishes diversity as a personal signature. Therefore, it is obvious hypocrisy to claim to be Christians, but still discriminate other noble creatures of God.
Happy Father’s Day. Fr. Levi
A 12-year-old American girl diagnosed with kidney failure was struggling to live. The parents were ready to pay a donor but none was available. That morning the doctor read her medical report and told the parents that their daughter had less than a week to live, if the transplant was not done. Though broken, the parents still feigned some smiles to encourage their girl. Then came the shattering wish from the girl: “Mom, Dad, please don’t let me die.” Stuck in their helplessness, the doctor later invited them to his office. The heavens let loose with joyous shouts when the doctor said: “I got a matching donor.”
Two weeks after a successful transplant, the doctor scheduled a checkup with the family. The girl was anxious to meet and thank the donor that saved her life. At the waiting lounge an awkward incident nearly stole their joy. A hungry looking black male entered, sat next to the girl and with a smiley face gestured a “hi” wave. What happened next ruptured the happy mood of the entire family. The mom quickly grabbed and moved the daughter to her other side. Swiftly, the husband signaled the wife to move to the end of the bench, while he sat at her former position. With the girl squeezed between her protective parents, a significant gap was intentionally created between the black male and her dad. The gap was nothing compared to their frosty looks.
A breath of relief came when the doctor stepped out and ushered the family into his office. First, he expressed his excitement at the speedy recovery of the girl. Then he returned the check to the parents in respect of the wish of the donor. He did it for free. This amazing news doubled the curiosity of the girl to appreciate the donor. She promised to live ever grateful to such humane stranger.
At that point, the doctor excused himself and returned with the black male they disparaged at the lounge, and said: “Behold the donor that saved your life.” A spontaneous “oh my gosh!!!” froze their drooped lower lips. The girl being the first to recover from the embarrassing shock, said: “I’m sorry for coldshouldering you. Name anything I could do to reward your kindness. My parents are wealthy.” Smiling, the young man stuttered and said: “Just take good care of me (kidney) in you,” and left. The doctor later disclosed to the family that the young man developed post-surgery complications and had few days to live. As a result, he had quit his janitor job in the same hospital and was moving to his family house, but would not disclose his new contact address. Earlier on, while cleaning, he had heard the threatening health condition of the girl and volunteered to help.
The black male died couple days later. His substitutive death should help us to be more appreciative of what Christ did for us. Although the black male risked his life while saving the girl still he had hoped to live, afterwards. At best, his death was inadvertent. Specifically, Christ willfully gave up his own life for humanity to enjoy eternal life. Only him can do that for the entire human family (including the good, the bad, and the ugly). He did not just offer his life once that we might have fullness of life; he made endless provision of his body and blood for our nourishment in this world and life eternal in the next.
The body and blood of Christ, which is celebrated today doubles as material and spiritual food. While it sanctifies our physical body, it as well nourishes our soul (that life principle imaging God in humans) for that perfect union with God in heaven. God is the source of life. Any willful cutoff from God necessitates death of the soul (absence of life/God).
Unfortunately, that the body of Christ is universally available at no cost might have caused many to disregard this angelic food. Christians are that ungrateful family. Reasonably, ignorance does not have to excuse in hasty profiling. Severally, the body of Christ has received worse abuses than the rebuff the family gave to the generous black male that saved the life of their daughter. Here is the checklist: Do we Christians hear Christ whisper the last wish of the black male inside of us each time we receive his body and blood?: “Just take care of me (Christ) in you” or have we been guilty of disparaging the unidentified face of Christ in others? Of major concern in the story is how easily the girl’s mind was being shaped with unwarranted negativities. May the body of Christ purify our bodies, our minds and our spirits for the purpose of loving-kindness toward one another, before it becomes too late.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Two basic dimensions of comprehending the Most Holy Trinity are the Immanent and the Economic. While the Immanent Trinity addresses who the Trinity is in itself (being), theEconomic Trinity underscores what the Holy Trinity does in relation to creation, but in particular to humanity (doing/activities). Fortunately, being and doing in the Trinity reflect each other. Since the Immanent Trinity is built on interpersonal love relationship, the Economic Trinity (an outward reflection of that love) unceasingly invites humanity’s active collaboration. But considering the fact that the finite human mind lacks the capacity (Karl Barth) to know the infinity of the Trinity, it is prudent to stay with the economic Trinity (Karl Rahner).
That humanity lacks the capacity to fully know the immensity of God should not imply a zero knowledge or tabula rasa of God. Rather, humanity is capable of knowing God to the extent God has revealed God-Self (in Christ). The selected readings of today’s solemnity affirm the validity of this assertion.
The one-on-one encounter of God with (an angered) Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34:4-6,8-9 necessitated a functional definition of God as: “The LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This self-expression of God humbled Moses, and melted his furious anger toward the stubbornness of his idolatrous people. In other words, if all believers should genuinely follow the footsteps of this God of a second, … a fourth … and a seventh chance, our gruesome world would be dramatically healed. At present, these divine characters of mercy, kindness and fidelity have been trashed, and replaced with endemic violence, hatred, discrimination and injustice in the world.
Consequently, the golden admonition of Paul in 2 Cor. 13:11-13 has become imperative for our ungodly society and age. Here, the apostle of the Gentiles articulates the splendor of living in accord with the Trinity: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Paul has offered our politically manipulated world the gateway to global peace. The conditions are so right that they proceed from self-critique, and deconstruction of negative mindset, to brotherly love and cohabitation. When actualized, the peaceful presence of the Trinity can be felt, even more personal and real, than what Moses experienced. Again, Paul stressed the fact that the activities of the Trinity are capable of causing the radical healing obviously missing in today’s world, when his words are believed: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The significance of this Pauline wishful prayer is manifested daily at the beginning of tons of Masses celebrated through out the world.
In John 3:16-18, Jesus Christ confirms that he is the full revelation of the Trinity. Jesus revealed a Trinitarian paradigm of love expressed in total giving (kenosis) for the benefiting sake of the other persons. His preference for the downgraded (tax collectors and sinners) is remarkable. On the contrary, our society is sick with selfish love, which has constituted a high wall of divide, rivalry, envy, suspicion, threats, vicious elimination, slander, murder, et cetera. Such endless list degenerates into racial profiling and killing. George Floyd mirrors one but Many of such inhumane acts. But if we desire to end avoidable deaths such as George, we must adopt the Trinitarian version of love (revealed in Jesus) as a way of life. Only this Trinitarian love, which improves the other, is capable of healing our selfish and pretentious minds.
Best of Holy Trinity Solemnity. Fr. Levi
In a dream, a man enjoyed a tour of heaven with St. Peter. The experience was deeply shocking. The first section was deafening with music and dances, including outbursts of shriek sounds from strange tongues. When asked, Peter replied: “they are the Pentecostal brethren.” The second section was loud with spontaneous biblical quotations. The man could easily predict that they were the Evangelicals. Moving further, a soft melodious tune from a large choir greeted them. They were the mainline Protestants. Then a radical turn to the right landed them at the final section. Its solemn atmosphere doubled the curiosity of the man. Before he could utter a word, Peter silenced him: “Sh..hh!!! Here are the Catholics in perpetual adoration. So, don’t disrupt their silence because they think they are the only ones in heaven.” Could this mosaic be the true meaning of UNITY intended by Jesus?
Given the emerging multiplicity of Christian denominations and the exponential sprouting of doctrinal and practical differences, how far could anyone prove that the Father answered the Unity prayer(s) of Jesus? Worse still, the numbers of the books of the Bible have not stopped provoking unresolved debates among believers in Christ. Have Christians failed Christ? Do non-Christians still take Christians seriously? By the way, why the concern about the Unity prayer on a Pentecost Feast, rather than concentrate on the challenging theology of the Holy Spirit?
At the intersection of Ascension and Pentecost lies the fundamental basis of Unity. Unity was the Last wish of the first advocate of humanity. Jesus prayed more than once for the Unity of his followers and their prospective converts. He defined this kind of Unity with the relationship he shares with the Father. Indeed, the Father and the Son are one, but distinct persons. Inferentially, Jesus prayed for a Unity that includes distinctness; definitely, not sameness. Distinctness flourishes in diversity, whereas sameness chokes it.
Jesus laid the foundation of the structure of Christianity by teaching and praying for Unity, as his Last wish (Jn. 17:21-23). Last wish is supreme, even to written will. In accord, the Holy Spirit kicked off his mission, as the second advocate, by demonstrating that the Father approved the Unity prayer of Jesus. With a powerful harmony of languages, the dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit reveled a Unity of understanding without dissolving the distinctions of native tongues – each person heard Peter in his native language (Acts 2:8). This proof is entirely different from the gift of speaking in tongues. Only those who have the gift of discernment could understand the message content of tongues. The manifestation of the Unity of languages was a unique event with a global understanding.
It is no coincidence that the most ancient name of the Spirit is ru’ah (wind). As wind, the Spirit functions through a borderless universe. She can neither be contained, nor restricted. As Christianity was founded under one head, so is the church of Christ spirited under one indivisible Holy Spirit. The underlying problem rests on Christians, who lack openness to the indiscriminating diversity of the Spirit. Evidently, division among Christians is a mental construct begging for a radical deconstruction. So, come Holy Spirit and enlighten the faithful on the necessity and true meaning of Unity. Archbishop Fulton Sheen says it all:
“How God will judge my life I know not, but I trust he will see me with mercy and compassion. I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expected who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there. When the record of any human life is set down, there are three pairs of eyes who see it in a different light. 1) As I see it. 2) As others see it. 3) As God sees it.” In God’s house all are welcome!!!
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
JESUSISNOWHERE is a cluster of words that forms two sentences when spaced out properly. Did you first see: JESUS IS NOWHERE or JESUS IS NOW HERE? The good news is: both sentences are very correct. The bad news is: they have different theological implications. In general, both sentences shed amazing light on today’s Feast of Ascension of Jesus. By the way, for pastoral reasons Ascension is celebrated on the 7th Sunday of Easter in America, except these six provinces (New York, Newark, Boston, Hartford, Omaha, and Philadelphia) that still maintain its traditional celebration on Thursday (40th day, after resurrection).
How does JESUS IS NOWHERE relate to Ascension? Jesus was seen, while he lived and worked among the Jews and their surrounding neighbors. At the completion of his mission on earth (thousands of years ago), including proper mentoring of his disciples, Jesus returned to the Father. On that very event, his disciples stood gazing but he was NOWHERE to be seen (Acts 1:11). It was difficult for these disciples to accept Jesus’ non-(physical)-presence. We cannot blame them because they missed Jesus more than many of us missed beingin the church for Masses. At least, our unpleasant isolation experiences could enable us to relate to the frustration of the disciples at the departure of their beloved master, teacher and friend.
Lost in their gaze as they pondered the NOWHERE of Jesus, reminisced the feeling of insecurity that overwhelmed them at the news of “the empty tomb,” 40 days back. For the second time, their hope waned. Ascension seemed more confusing to these men of Galilee than the resurrection. After resurrection, Jesus visited with them couple times, which strengthened their hope. Ascension rather highlights a departure that initiated his absence or seen NOWHERE. Lifted up into the sky unaided, flattened the same laws of nature, Jesus chose to obey in his lifetime. His disciples in their bewilderment might have lost this last display of Jesus’ supernatural power.
Extremely stretched, JESUS IS NOWHERE could be interpreted as a proof of his non-existence. Agnostic atheists might use it to deny or at least doubt the validity of the divinity of Jesus. But for believers, JESUS IS NOWHERE makes a complete sense when read together with JESUS IS NOW HERE.
JESUS IS NOW HERE is absolutely consoling. From the anxiety of being seen NOWHERE, Jesus is NOW HERE with us. He has transformed from a physical geographic presence to being ubiquitous or everywhere. Is this good or bad news? “As each person wants it” is the best answer. Surplus oxygen in the atmosphere does not mean that people have equal ability to inhale it. That America trashes surplus food, does not deny the fact that some Americans have limited access to food.
So how can we see Jesus, who, ordinarily is seen NOWHERE, and still, is NOW HERE? Jesus knew about this paradox, when he told his disciples: “A little while, you will not see me, a little while, you will see me,” (John 16:16). This statement of Jesus illumines and validates the possibility of this paradox: seen NOWHERE and still, seen NOW HERE. Jesus also knew that relying on our own strengths, we would be stuck in the perplexity of the paradox. So, he promised: “I will not leave you orphans (John 14:18).” “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever,” (John 14:16). That Spirit of Truth will explain to you all things, and will remind you of everything I have told you (John 14:26).
Next Sunday, Pentecost, the Spirit will arrive. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern the presence of Jesus in our daily lives. Because Jesus is now ubiquitous, he is available to be found among the poor, the needy, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, and the imprisoned. This is one reason, in Matthew 25, the criterion of the Last Judgment is centered on rendering services to Jesus disguised in various human forms of the needy. Most importantly, Jesus is found spiritually within us, and sacramentally in his Word and his Eucharist. For mystics like St Francis of Assisi, Jesus is even seen in nature’s flora and fauna. Let us therefore, rejoice and be glad as we celebrate the feast of Ascension because JESUS who seemed to be NOWHERE for the disciples, is NOW HERE, with us. May the coming of the Holy Spirit open our inner eyes to see Jesus, HERE and NOW.
God bless you. FR. Levi
The one mission of Love, initiated by the Father, and accomplished by the Son, has a continuity plan being inspired by the Holy Spirit, till the end of time. On this penultimate Sunday, it is fitting that the readings anticipate the continuity of this Love mission. This provokes my reflection on the Love activity of the Holy Spirit, in view of a deeper discourse on Pentecost day.
Love is so commonly used that it means different strokes for different folks. A broad line divides love into: egotistic and altruistic. “My gain” or “the gain of the other,” motivates each side of the divide. A third position (a balance of the two) is rarely possible. Overall, giving characterizes a true lover, as testified by the Holy Spirit. Altruistic love best explains the love acts of the Holy Spirit. But before showing that, let us imagine a bit of altruistic love in the family setting.
My pick is the love of mothers for the last child. I would have picked an only child, but remembered that one (as quantity) occludes comparison. In other words, a mother’s predilection for a favorite child can best be seen in comparison with the siblings. I am unsure whether my proposition is culture-specific or a universal fact. Rather than worry about that, let us assume the accuracy of this proposition for informative purposes. So, how altruistic could mothers be toward the last child?
In general, most mothers boldly favor the last kid, at the envy of the older siblings. The last child (even as an adult) is jealously treated as a kid that must be excused and protected. Such protective mothers double as the advocate, whose weapon of defense stems from emotions, rather than logic. For not washing the dishes, the last child would still go unpunished. In defense, the mother would hurriedly do the dishes, and then make excuses for the favorite kid. Often she apportions blames among the older children for being insensitive to the feelings of the last child. Cuddling her, she would say: “Sweetie, you don’t look okay!!!” Really? This same child was super active playing before the mother returned. Notwithstanding the bias, the older kids had to learn to tolerate the partiality or the illogical treatment of their mother. Moreover, the mother would reserve the choicest part of her own meal for her last kid. Most times, this mother could be overly obsessive on the concerns of her last child. Despite the complaints of everyone else in the family, the mother practically lives for her last child.
Like the obsessed mother, the Holy Spirit loves to a fault with untold giving (7 gifts and 12 fruits). Her activities transcend the principles of logic because the Spirit blows wherever she wills (John 3:8). In the Spirit, love is an end, not a means. As an end, love effects perfect acts, while as a means it impacts imperfect acts. Love is perfect when its acts are for the pleasure of the lover. The love of the Spirit is other-directed. The Spirit lives and acts for the wellbeing of others (the beloved). Living for the beloved guarantees the joy and happiness of the lover. Jesus affirms: “If you love me, you would keep my commandments” (John 14:15-21). This love pattern contracts legalistic obedience. Obedience in order to avoid punishment is different from obedience born out of love. When urged by love, we act for the sake of the lover by overcoming the risks involved, even if it entails flattening the rules of logic.
Think of the Holy Spirit as the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son, gifted to the world for the lavishing wellbeing of believers (including non-Christians). Yes. That is why she is the Love of God. This personified Love unceasingly showers love, and lovingly urges us to live out love. Jesus, before ascending to the Father, disclosed to his followers that only in love would the keeping of his commandments be possible. Specifically, he dramatized this point with Simon Peter (his chosen vicar) when he emphatically identified the success of shepherding his flock in the undying love for him (John 21:15). It is the Holy Spirit that inspires and consolidates this undying love for Christ. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is an embodiment of shared Love.
Besides her distinct personality (as the 3rd person of the Trinity), the Holy Spirit exclusively retains nothing for herself. She is known by her love acts such as: Advocate, Sanctifier, Comforter, Intercessor, Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, the Dove, and the presence of God. Even her name is equally shared. To be holy is to be Godly (a quality shared by both divine and human beings). Similarly, all ethereal beings are spirits. Ultimately, her name validates the truth of her activities because the Holy Spirit is the quintessence of altruistic Love. As we anticipate the Ascension of Christ, which ushers the love activities of the Holy Spirit, let us be mindful of Peter’s instruction: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” (1 Peter 3: 15-18). Cooperating the Holy Spirit is our hope.
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
Last Wednesday I presided a funeral service of a parishioner, fondly nicknamed “Miracle man,” by his family. It was recounted that this “miracle man” experienced certain miracles in his lifetime, and so, found God, and boldly shared his faith from the perspective of God’s mercy through miracles.
Simple put, miracle is understood as God’s purposeful intervention in the logical progression of things in the world. God occasionally interfereto right the negative consequences of human activities in the world, when called upon in prayers or when humanity has lost leadership control and derailed from the plan of God. Although as “cosmic priest,” humanity is endowed with freedom and rationality to lead the entire creation safely back to the creator by following the Way or examples of Christ, still God, like a caring mother, mercifully intervenes out of compassion to save the logical consequences of the recklessness of humanity. When this happens, miracle has happened; notwithstanding whether acknowledged or not.
Millions of miracles happen in a lifetime, but only a few like the “miracle man” recognizes and appreciates them. Majority of the modern minds would rather explain away awe-intriguing experiences as mere luck. We often hear: “Oh, he was the only lucky survivor of a highway fatal auto crash,” or “she is a great fighter to h
Up until the emergence of COVID-19, God was pushed away from secular spaces. In some countries, it was highly offensive to display one’s faith in public. Star players were suspended either because they celebrated their goals with religious signs or exposed “Thank you, Jesus,” written on their undershirt. Such tide of atheism was pilling high. Boomers or the millennial kids would easily imagine a world without God than one with God. In fact, the God of our time became the stone rejected by builders that proved to be the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-9).
Today, the narrative is gradually changing. For more than ten weeks human intelligence has technically surrendered to the menace of COVID-19. Suddenly, scientists, virologists, great leaders, technocrats, intellectuals, prophets, including the high and the low, have lost the claim of certainty on the knowledge of things in the world. Instead, they have humbly adopted the language of uncertainty towards finding solutions to contain corona virus. Many have returned to the rejected stone (God). It is common to see several videos from different nations, where health workers gather in prayers before and after their daily routine. Infected patients are not left out in holding on or attributing their miraculous healings to God. Rediscovering God as the last resort might not pass for a healthy faith, but it could also form a remarkable turning point.
If the world would pay heed to God at this time of the pandemic, be it discovery of vaccine, or healing of the infected, would happen like another miracle of life. If we believe the words of the scripture, Jesus assures us: “Do not be afraid. You have faith in God, have faith also in me,” (John 14:1-12). In conclusion, Jesus assured: “whoever that believes in me, will do the works I do, and will do greater ones.” Now that the world is in a desperate situation to win the war against COVID-19, is it not wise to effectively double efforts by turning to God for miraculous assistance.
The history of Christianity shows that God has been providing for those who call upon Him in truth and in faith. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) recounts the ability of the apostles to assure the wellbeing of all, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They attended equally to both the spiritual and the temporal needs of Christ’s faithful. By so doing, none was neglected. Similarly, none of us would be neglected, if we earnestly backup the laboratory efforts of scientists with effective prayers. As a result, the duration for approved cure or vaccine against COVID-19 would happen sooner than expected (miraculously). “Lord let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”
God bless you. Fr. Levi
One of the ageless ingenuity of Thomas Aquinas in Moral Ethics is his discourse on the determinant role of Intention in human act. Indeed, Intention separates good act from evil act. It is intention that separates murder from manslaughter. It is also intention that separates philanthropy from the clutches of indebtedness. Still, it is intention that separates a good shepherd from a pilfering-herder.
Not every “help” is born from philanthropy. Most favors are more than what meets the eye. Such comes as an invisible trap into indebtedness. Because indebtedness increases vulnerability, the debtor is reduced to a defenseless victim of the whims of the magical donor. In other words, robbers in shepherd’s cloak simply manipulate the gullibility of their flock in order to take undue advantage of them. Jesus vehemently condemns such hypocrisy and invites shepherds to learn from his selfless example.
A good shepherd stands out from the crowd of self-enriching shepherds. Even though no one is good except God (Luke 18:19), still, there exist disinterested shepherds, whose efforts are pleasing to God. Despite its high demands, shepherding is a metaphor of Christian mission. Invariably, to be a Christian is to emulate the shepherding model of Christ.
How did Christ shepherd? He did the ultimate by laying down his life for his sheep, in order that they might have the fullness of life (John 10:10). His example overturned the indifferent shepherding standard of his time. Jesus as well challenged his faithful followers to adopt his own disinterested standard of shepherding his flock. By so doing, we come to the knowledge that both the shepherds and the flock are of great importance to Jesus, the good Shepherd.
A good shepherd enters through the gate (John 10:2). His activities are not shady. He cares, feeds, and nurses the sheep, thereby “smelling the smell of the sheep” (Pope Francis). In return, the sheep know his voice, recognize him, and follow him (John 10:3). He leads and the sheep follow. A good leader is preoccupied with the interests of the sheep — leading them to greener pastures, to running streams, and ever ready to defend the vulnerable sheep.
Every Christian is relatively a shepherd. While some are shepherds of one, three or five sheep, others shepherd a hundred fold and above. The gospel of today calls for inward search, especially pastors, bishops, overseers that pillage the flock of Christ. Even at the heat of COVID-19 lockdown some men and women of “God” still emphasize tithing and monetize prayers — milking dry their flock. Nevertheless, it is comforting to appreciate some shepherds of the flock who are donating foods, medical supplies, and stipends, to cushion the disastrous impact of COVID-19.
Besides ministers in churches, parents and guardians are also shepherds. As custodians of minors, what is it that motivates your support towards them? Could it be indebtedness or leader-service? The flock, like dependents, shows mental or physical vulnerability or both. According to Jesus, any intended act of taking advantage of the flock under our care defines us as thieves, who avoid the gate, and leech the flock, through the backyard (John 10:8).
Jesus is not only the good shepherd; he is also the Gate to the sheepfold (John 10:7). As the Gate to the sheepfold, all shepherds are to pass through him by emulating his selfless or his leader-service model. Whoever therefore that aims at being a good shepherd should pay attention to the beautiful words of Kevin Craw, as he summarizes Aquinas’ good intention: “If your heart is pure and your goal is right, you can’t go wrong.”
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Fear of the Unknown is a disgusting experience that has persisted in human history. This invisible enemy uses death to spook everyone. Daily, the traumatic torture of the unknown leaves its victim gasping. FEAR can mean: “Forget Everything And Run” or “Face Everything And Rise.” People have dealt with this unknown differently. While some were crushed, others were victorious. The victorious faced the unknown spiritually.
A reliable way of dealing with the unknown is the religious approach. The Christian faith walks on two legs along the journey of life: Intellectuality and Spirituality. On the intellectual level, we seek the knowable in the believed or the visible in the invisible. On the spiritual level, we seek the symbolized in the symbol (Prof. John Egbulefu). Faith can be that unfailing tool to deal with the confusion of the unknown.
The flight to Emmaus by the two disciples of Jesus was a radical reaction to fear of the unknown —the killers of their master were on the prowl. Complicated stories escalated their fear, and they sought a safe zone. Our time of COVID-19 posits greater fear of the unknown. The entire world trembles. Most people have fled the roads, avoiding social gathering, but seeking refuge in the seclusion of their homes.
Like the time of Jesus, media propagandas have continued to intensify the existing pessimism. The way out is to recognize the invisible presence of Jesus at this time of fear.
After Jesus’ resurrection, his proof of identity changed from his physical look to two indelible symbols. Blurred with uncertainty, his transformative look confused his disciples (including the eleven) such that they needed proof to recognize him. Last Sunday, Jesus showed his five wounds at the request of Thomas. These five wounds were peculiar to him, as the same Jesus, crucified, and pierced on the side with a lance, but alive in their midst.
Today, Jesus enlightened the confused minds of his two disciples at the Emmaus encounter. Preceded with a heartwarming breaking of the Word, Jesus revealed his second proof by breaking the bread. Emmaus experience undergirds the structure of the Mass; finely divided into the liturgy of Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Most importantly, the Emmaus experience also proved the Real presence of risen Lord at every Eucharistic celebration. At the very moment of consecration: Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples; immediately, “their eyes opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight,” (Luke 24:30-31). Jesus vanished because his divine nature abhors duplicity. God is one and simple. It was therefore logical that the physical presence disappeared for the symbolized Real presence to enliven the two disciples back to Jerusalem, their mission territory.
With the ongoing restraint from sacramental communion, Christ’s faithful like the two disciples, can still encounter the risen Lord in the mystery of his real presence. The truth is: whether sacramental communion or spiritual communion, the same Jesus is received. We all need such a renewed faith in order to overcome the fear of the unknown, which previously blinded the eyes of the two disciples. We need to allow our eyes to be opened to the new ways of recognizing Jesus through spiritual communion with him, when the physical is absent.Being stuck to familiar modes blinds our eyes from recognizing the real presence of the risen Lord. Let us therefore pray for more graces to accept the things we cannot change as a protective gear to minimize the anxiety of the unknown.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
The resurrection of Jesus was a transformative event in human history. Its uniqueness and relevance explains why Jesus did not allow it to stay as a mere faith option. Rather, he spent extra days on earth to provide substantive proofs for its reality. Ordinarily, Jesus accomplished the mission of the Father within his 3 years of detailed proclamation of the gospel in words and deeds, which culminated in the ultimate sacrifice of the self on the cross.
Why did he spend 40 days before ascending to the Father? The answer is simple: His apostles almost suffered despair at his death, and in fear hid behind locked doors in the upper room. They literally perceived the burial of Jesus as the dead-end of their calling. They lacked the hope to continue the gospel message. So, Jesus knew their collective weakness and took time to prove that he was alive in order to rekindle their hope and refocus them to the gospel mission. It took about five different encounters to restore the lost hope among the apostles. Thomas’ own was the last but the most dramatic.
Thomas’ dramatic insistence turned into a great theological enrichment. His insistence for empirical proof was so important that Jesus had to repeat his earlier visit to the ten apostles, a week after. Thomas’ thorough examination of the post resurrection Jesus instantly erased the suspicion that he could be either a ghost or a magical impostor. As a curious mind, apostle Thomas verified the peculiar identity (the 5 wounds) of the crucified Jesus in his risen (glorified) body. Overwhelmingly convinced, he adored Jesus and addressed his divinity: “My Lord and my God,” (John 20:28). Thomas’ faith declaration might be the only time in the Christian scripture, where Jesus was explicitly called God. What a revealing testimony!!!
Certain that his apostles had regained their hope in his proven resurrection, Jesus reemphasized their full participation in his own Mission: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” After imparting peace on his apostles (“Peace be with you”), Jesus invoked the Holy Spirit upon them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Only then did he hand on to them the authority to forgive sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, are retained,” (John 20: 21-23). Because the one mission of Christ was designed for all times and to all peoples, the accompanying authority to act in the person of Christ, and forgive sins, is alive in the Catholic Church, through the unbroken chain of apostolic succession. In God, to love is to share. The imperative to be merciful/forgive one another, when wronged, is for all Christians, whereas the specific authority to forgive sins against God is reserved to those who share the ministerial priesthood of Christ.
Today, the Church celebrates this amazing gift of Divine Mercy, which is graciously available to all that needs it, through the instrumentality of priests and bishops. The dual authority to bind and to loose validates the efficacy of the auricular confession. Since God is pleased in having his vicars act as valid channels of mercy, the instruction of Jesus to the lepers: “Go show yourselves to the priest,” (Luke 17:14) reechoes the call to take auricular (ear related) confession more seriously. Sinners are spiritual lepers.
However, why border confess your sins, when Jesus already died for them. As demonstrated, auricular confession derives its authority from the risen Christ. This is the reason the two sacraments (Baptism and Penance) that have direct link with sins (sacrament of the dead in sin) were not instituted until after resurrection. So, if we imagine Christ as the ocean of mercy, auricular confession is the available means of drawing the mercy of God. A penitent experiences a holistic transformation in just 3 minutes walk, through the sacramental washroom.
Moreover, the authority to forgive sins comes with optimal responsibility: maximum secrecy; the inability of the confessor to forgive himself or his partner in crime; as the authority is conferred after ordination, so can it be withdrawn, when abused.
This simple means to God’s Mercy leaves Christians with no excuses to utilize confession as often as desired. Within its sacramental structure, the visible presence of the priest acting in the person of the invisible Christ confirms forgiveness. Forgiveness is so essential that while obeying the lockdown order, priests are open to appointments for confession. May no situation separate us from the merciful love of God. Amen.
Happy Divine Mercy Feast. Fr. Levi
Christ is not dead. He is alive!!! “Why seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).
Christ died that we might enjoy eternal life. Through his death, he paid off the price of our own death. His death exposed his unconquerable power over the clutches of death. By his stripes, the living are healed: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).
By his brief sojourn in hades, the prisoners of death were revived and liberated. He is the victorious lamb, whose meekness defeated the satanic might. His unquenchable light shattered the cloud of darkness. Death can no longer threaten his own body, the church. As part of that mystical body of Christ, we are one with him. As faithful members of his body, we belong to Christ, and no marauding thief can steal us from him.
Christ is the reason for our undying Hope. He is the Anchor of our faith. The memory of him assures hope. Because he lives, we can see tomorrow. That he reduced death to a mere walkway makes him an unmatchable champion. Unlike other founders of religions, held bound by the power of death, our Master and Lord rose triumphantly at the dawn of the third day. Hurray!!! His resurrection has made us candidates of our individual resurrection!!! Indeed, we are children of the resurrection Light that dispelled the thickest of darkness.
Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that not even troubles, worries, anxieties, diseases, including the fear COVID-19, can separate us from the protective hands of the risen Lord. If we believe that he destroyed death, once and for all, then, why worry, when our hope is alive in him? His resurrection beams light on the Anchor of our salvation. At the sight of the anchor, everyone on board understands that the storm is overcome. This reason precisely provokes enduring joy of our hope. Therefore, our hope in Christ can never be in vain.
Rejoice and be glad because our Redeemer is alive. Happy Easter!!! Fr. Levi
The first Holy Thursday was a practical expression of genuine love. Jesus on the eve of his anticipated execution left us timeless examples of love. He never allowed his impending passion and death to distract him from seeing the needs of his loved ones. He taught us that true love is proven in most difficult times.
Two arms are noticed. Faced with his agonies, Jesus took care of both the physical and the spiritual needs of the people around him. This example of charity opposes spiritualizing physical needs of others. They two though distinct are complementary. Apostle James emphasized the lesson therein: “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” (James 2:16-17).
First, Jesus shared meal with his treacherous apostles. His envisaged knowledge of their abandonment inspired him to love them more. Food sharing (eating from the same bowl) is itself an act of communion. Cultures, who still eat together, avoid their enemies because of lack of trust, and absence of bond. But Jesus practiced the opposite. He never ceased to perform acts of charity because true love worries more about the need of the other, but less of one’s need.
Second, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the ultimate sacrament of love and service. As the victim-priest, Jesus gave his all for the sake of love. He as well instituted the ministerial priesthood for the continuity of his example of love: “Love one another, as I have loved you,” (John 13:34). Finally, by washing the feet of his apostles, he left a timeless example of a servant-leader and mandated them to do likewise (John 13:14).
Staying home is an act of charity. It is frustrating, but also a considerate and compassionate discipline for the wellbeing of others. Every Mass either celebrated in private by the priest, or with the faithful is in full communion of the mystical body of Christ. Christ (the head) and his body (the church) are inseparable.
“You should wash each other’s feet” implies charitable works of reaching out, especially to the sick, the elderly, and the needy, at this period of restriction of movements. While the health workers, and other essential duty agents are out risking their lives, rendering services, those staying home can still practice the love example of Jesus.
Such charitable works can range from simple acts of phone calls, sending cards, to more engaging actions of prayers and almsgiving to the needy and the homeless. Providing food at this critical time to hungry children and families at accessible locations can save lives. It is a timely divine act that communicates love of God and neighbor.
It is timely because in addition to the psychological threats and anxiety generated by COVID-19, its accompanying lockdown order has inflicted more pains and sufferings on the people due to loss of loved ones, ill heath, loss of means of livelihood, financial impoverishment and food scarcity; especially in developing nations where online activities and steady electricity are impossible.
Celebrating our Holy Thursday today in isolation challenges our faith as true members of Christ’s mystical body, to practice the examples of Jesus, as he mandated us on the Last Supper (the first Holy Thursday). Earlier on, Jesus in his typical compassion also commanded his apostles to feed the hungry crowd, from their own meager reserve: “You give them something to eat” (Mark 3:37). This clear and distinct command demonstrates the cliché that a healthy mind or soul cohabits a healthy body. Therefore, spiritualizing other people’s hunger is unchristian. The beautiful words of Mother Theresa of Calcutta say it all: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” Let us rise and do likewise. Welcome to the Triduum (the 3 holiest of days).
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
In a lifetime, Christians, especially Catholics, are faced are forced to celebrate Easter, the epicenter of their faith in Jesus Christ, differently. In April 2020, the rich Christocentric spirituality of Easter, finely articulated in the Holy Week and climaxed in the Triddum (the 3 days of the redemptive acts, before resurrection), has turned out to be a celebration in isolation. Thoughts of wonder besiege believers on how satisfying a celebration in isolation would be, due to the global social distancing, prescribed as a protective measure against the peril of COVID-19.
In truth, celebrating in isolation can never be the same with the well organized and enriching community experiences of Easter liturgies. Rather than drain our emotional energies, wallowing in regrets, or shut down the oasis of our spirituality, is it not fair enough to ask God for the serenity to accept the consequences of COVID-19, as one of the few things in life, we cannot change. Is learning to deal with the era of COVID-19, without being crushed, not wisdom? As the world battles against this awful pandemic, staying positive and safe is required. A good start would be to make a departure from the memories of public celebration and discover the hidden lessons of isolation.
How positive could Easter celebration in isolation sound? In contrast to isolation being considered as a total disruption of worship of God, Isaiah admonishes: “Go, my people, go to your private room, shut yourselves in. Hide yourselves a little while until the retribution has passed” (Is. 26:20). Could there be any known retribution of our time, more fitting than COVID-19? It doesn’t matter much whether the retribution has divine, human or cosmic origin. In essence, this period of isolation can speak different meanings to us.
Have you imagined celebrating the Holy Week in isolation? Think of how Jesus celebrated the first Easter; definitely, not with pageantry, but in utter isolation. Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week. We are all called to celebrate the holiest of weeks of the entire church year in Isolation. Step by step, let us follow the isolation path of Jesus by reimagining his painful hours and days of sufferings and death, as the missing light for this period of stay home.
Let us identity elements of isolation on the first Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, more than other days of the Holy Week, ends in anticlimax. Jesus’ humble ride on a colt into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1-11), climaxed to bitter isolation. Since the meanest form of isolation is that inflicted by loved ones, Jesus swallowed the nastiest part.
The crowd that welcomed Jesus with branches of olives and palm, amidst shouts of joy, spreading their clothes, was not different from the unanimous hooting: “Let him be crucified” (Mt. 27:22). His perfect humility and obedience were taken for granted. Apostle Judas, after dinning with him betrayed him. Peter, his chief of staff, denied him: “I do not know this man” (Mt. 26:74). Suddenly, the Master was labeled a stranger. Even the three members of his inner caucus: Peter, James and John, rather abandoned Jesus than keep an hour watch with him. The crowd that Jesus fed and healed chose the release of Barabbas, the criminal, but rejected him. Suspended on the cross, Jesus heavily wearied by the weight of humanity’s isolation lamented the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46).
Celebrating Holy Week in isolation enables us to capture the true presence of the events of the passion and death of Jesus. Therefore, our current state of isolation could as well enlighten us to experience a sincere participation in the passion and death of Jesus. If well taken, our awful experiences in isolation could ultimately turn into improved attachment to Jesus, during this Holy Week and beyond. Welcome to Holy Week.
Dear friends: May the peace of Christ, which the world cannot give, be with you! I address you as friends in the comradeship of Christ (John 15:15). The existing fear calls for renewed friendship and companionship centered in Christ, in order to resist the aggressive fatality of COVID-19. Unmanaged apprehension can be deadlier than the global pandemic, itself.
The trauma of uncertainties makes it extremely difficult to find the appropriate words of consolation. Actually, words at this challenging time might sound empty without the sacraments or effective COVID-19 vaccine. How much longer shall the suspension last? And how convincing would it sound to say: I still feel your presence in your absence? To assure you that your physical absence is complemented by your spiritual presence? Faced with the torments of the unknown, consoling words seem to sound unreal. However, the feebleness of my words is strengthened in the veracity of the Word of God.
Today, more than ever, I found reassuring hope in the prophetic words of the scripture. It couldn’t have been mere coincidence that at the peak of a global lethal threat to the most beautiful gift called life, God speaks to us in a language of reassuring hope. I believe that, if not all, as many as would personalize these words would recount the fulfillment of God’s promises, when the raging tide is calmed. Hear, then, the promises of the Chief Shepherd for us His vulnerable flock: God said: “I will put my Spirit in you that you may live” (Ezekiel 37:12-14). Imagine these beautiful reassuring words that sound like – I will enliven you. I am your life insurance. I will optimize your immunity.
Are you unsure of being part of the flock of Christ? “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:8-11). Are you scared that your friendship with God has been compromised? The Psalmist echoes consolation: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption,” (Responsorial Psalm 130: 7).
Sin constitutes a strong barrier between God and us: “Those who are in the flesh (carnality) cannot please God,” (Rom. 8:8); except they purge themselves of sins, and then live in the Spirit. Fortunately, repentance attracts God’s mercy. Mercy wipes clean sins and reconnects us to God’s friendship.
Perchance, infection occurred, believe the words of Jesus: “This sickness will not lead unto death…” (John 11:4) – Jesus did it to Lazarus. He would do it for you or your loved one. Just believe like Martha and Mary did.
Worst scenario: The Gospel acclamation reminds us that, “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die” (John. 11:26). In the process, whoever dies in friendship with Christ will eternally be alive. Courage, friends! You are not alone: “When Jesus saw her (Mary the sister of Lazarus) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled… And Jesus wept” (John 11: 1-45). Jesus shares our anxieties and pains. Please try to overcome isolation by believing that we are in it together with Christ.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Impaired visibility is no proof for lack of presence. Rather, distorted visibility misleads to inaccurate conclusion. The reality of presence remains unchangeable but concealed until a change in direction or mental deconstruction happens. Physical shifts and mental adjustments can provide appropriate lenses for visible clarity. Imagine a sudden realization that reality has been perceived through poor visibility. Imagine also the immeasurable joy, and expository humiliation, that follow clarity of vision.
Suppose COVID-19, the most dreaded pandemic, is here to taunt the impaired visibility of our global society? Could it be that the world has existed blindly for thousands of years? Is it possible that COVID-19 came as a global warning?
Poor visibility is as bad as settling with symptomatic feelings. Settling for regular symptoms in a patient conceals the true nature of contagious virus, thereby exposing the public health to higher risks. The marauding COVID-19 arrived as unknown fast-killer with its concealed (window period) virulent fatality. Through impaired visibility, it was mistaken as a novel brand of the common flu. Likewise, the biblical Samuel focused on external features as clue to identify the chosen king of Israel. His visibility was blurred with manliness and good looks, present among the older 7 sons of Jesse, but lacking in the minor (son), David. On the contrast, neither age nor stature mattered as much as David’s shepherding virtue, which Samuel was unable to discern (1Sam. 16:1b, 6-7,10-13a). So, reality stays hidden under poor visibility.
The pandemic anxiety shaking global foundations and economy today can be compared to the dark world of the man born blind in the gospel of John. Within such precarious situations, questions like: whose sin caused the man’s blindness from birth was as unnecessary as asking today, by whose oversight is COVID-19 terrorizing the entire humanity? “Who sinned” sounds like “whose fault caused COVID-19”? And which country is responsible?
Instead, the corrective answer by Jesus could be inspiring: He is not blind due to any sinful act, but that “the work of God might be made visible through him” (Jn. 9:1-3). As we eagerly await the availability of COVID-19 vaccine, certain contemplations can be pertinent. Could God be speaking in the midst of the menace of COVID-19? Has the fear of death silenced the rowdiness of a busy world? Has COVID-19 forced people of the world to contemplate life and its purposes more than ever before? Has it proven that tight work ethics, economic growth, vacations, partying, going to games, can be forgone, whenever life is threatened? Who thought that stay-home order was possible?
Could it be that through impaired visibility the loosening of family bonds were unnoticed or ignored? Was it the case, that shared faith prayers, and the visibility of God’s presence, were restricted in the church buildings?
Could any positives be learned from COVID-19? The obvious is that life at its best lies in the sacredness of each human life, regardless of nation, race, religion gender, age or color. Could the stay-home order create more bonding in the family, especially for kids, who had struggled with insufficient time from working parents? Has COVID-19 panic caused a radical turn to God in prayers?
Humility is the way out of this killer virus. Cultural pride would prolong its devastations. Cultural pride like the Pharisaic conspiracy is the worst form of blindness because of its contradictory defenses. Cultural pride means being blind, but still denying it. Such blindness, according to Jesus is incurable, whereas the acceptance of blindness (or impaired visibility) summons divine healing – “that those who do not see might see and those who do see might become blind” (John 9:38-41). COVID-19 has proven that recklessness toward human life at any level can generate a pandemic.
Now is the time to emphasize family as the first church. Staying home with God would strengthen family bond and faith. The true church is Christ and his faithful, not the buildings. May God be our protection against this raging COVID-19, Amen.
Amen. Father Levi
It is assumed that water only is capable of sustaining human life for 3-4 weeks. Water is one element that can sustain life across the desert, until stored energy is exhausted. Dehydration kills faster than hunger. And so, extreme thirst represents a periculum mortis (in danger of death) condition, which bends the rules. This vital importance of water beams its connection to life.
Thirsty of natural water in the wilderness, the Israelites desperately cried out against Moses. In their lament, these Israelites preferred slavery (in Egypt) with drinking water to freedom in the wilderness without water. Their desperation underscores the imminent threat to life induced by thirst. In order to survive the choking grip of thirst, these Israelites did not mind putting God to the test at Massa and Meribah (Ex 17:3-7). God in turn, reassured them of his omnipotence by using Moses to provide water from the rock – an improbable feat.
At the well of Jacob, similar force of thirst drew Jesus and his disciples into an enemy territory (John 4: 5-42). Traditionally, Jews and Samaritans harbor mutual hatred against each other. But the force of thirst shattered the cultural barrier. Like at Massa and Meribah, inhibitory territorial laws gave way to lifesaving actions. Oddities were also surmounted. While the Samaritan woman overcame her oddity of talking to Jesus, a Jewish male, at an odd (lonely) time of the day, Jesus overlooked the negative impression of conversing with an immoral woman. In other words, the raging force of thirst paved way for a successful dialogue that culminated in Christ oriented conversion.
Whenever barriers are broken, reality unveils. At the encounter of Jesus, the Samaritan woman, initially in need of natural water became thirsty of the living water (Christ), which wells up to eternal life. After her transformative experience, she ran into the city, and with her testimony predisposed the minds of her fellow Samaritans, and then invited them to meet Jesus at the well. With a burning thirst for Jesus, the Samaritans looked beyond his Jewishness and believed his teaching. Thus, they told the woman: “we no longer believe because of your word; for we heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42).
These two biblical instances support the very fact that if thirst for natural water could lead to relaxation of regular rules and inhibitions, the equivalent force of thirst for things of Christ would reasonably produce amazing faith as it did among the Samaritans. In essence, the stories demonstrate that it takes an irresistible thirst for natural water to elicit the brand of faith that thirsts for the living water or eternal life in Christ. In this third week of Lent, Christians are called to thirst for Christ, the way they thirst for natural water on a scorching day.
Good luck and God bless you. Fr. Levi.
Uncertainty defines every promise. This is not only true between human beings, but also appropriate between God and human persons. In both aspects, trust is inevitable. On the one hand, the degree of Trust is determined by the trustworthiness of the promisor. On the other hand, the trustworthiness of the promisor could be underrated by the doubtful mind of the promisee. In essence, it takes the trustworthiness of the promisor and the credulity or the childlike trust of the promisee in order to experience the fulfillment of a promise from God. Since, the credibility of God, the promisor, has been proven, it is reasonably correct to assert that the “Missing Arm” for the fulfillment of divine promises is the childlike trust or childlikeness of human persons.
Childlikeness can best be understood theologically as self-forgetfulness. It is natural for humans to be forgetful of things but ever conscious of the self. Self-forgetfulness is a complete reverse of this natural tendency. At the natural level, self-consciousness is the goal. But at the supernatural level, self-forgetfulness is the goal. Self-forgetfulness is the total dependency on the trustworthiness of God in order to have a successful engagement of the vagueness associated with divine promises.
Is self-forgetfulness an impossibility? Interestingly, many human beings engage in self-forgetfulness in their interpersonal daily interactions. Top on this list are new lovers and airplane passengers. These two groups of people exhibit more of self-forgetfulness than self-consciousness. Like new lovers, most airplane passengers worry less about the risk of lives they put at stake boarding an airplane with manageable conditions and inexperienced pilots. In fact, the slightest worry disappears completely when the airplane has been delayed for couple hours. Such situations automatically transform people’s options for self-consciousness to total dependency on another person (self-forgetfulness). So, if it is possible to occasionally practice self-forgetfulness, how often do we apply it to God?
Two biblical models of self-forgetfulness are given in today’s readings: Abram from the Old Testament and Peter in the New Testament. Both are great personalities with natural virtues. Each however, had his own struggle along the journey of faith. Both wonderfully answered their divine calls with impressive sense of self-forgetfulness. Abram was asked to abandon his homeland and all its prospects, with a (vague) promise to become a father of great nation (gen. 12:1-4). Peter too, had to abandon his fishing business (and family tie) for a (vague) promise to become a fisher of men. His request at the scene of transfiguration attests to self-forgetfulness – “Lord, it is good that we are here,” than elsewhere; therefore, let me “make three tents for You, Moses, and Elijah” (Matt 17:1-9); but not even one for James, John and himself). None had clarity of vision concerning the fulfillment of his promise. Still, they struggled to substitute their self-reliance with absolute reliance on God.
Being humans, their trust in God wobbled with time and life challenges. At the moments of their failures, both sacrificed their self-forgetfulness and total reliance on God for self-reliance. Overcome with self-consciousness (what could happen to me?), both drifted into man-pleasers, rather than God pleasers. To please Sarah, the wife, Abraham was impatient with God’s promise and impregnated Hagar for an heir. The consequence of such impatience has continued to deny the world of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. Peter was even worse. Self-consciousness of Peter turned into the forgetfulness of the Lord. As a man-pleaser, he denied the Lord 3 times. Like Abraham, Peter at some point lost fear of the Lord and fell into the fear of the people.
Abraham and Peter remind us of our strength and weaknesses as Christians. Whereas their faithfulness in God was strengthened by self-forgetfulness, their failures were caused by loss of fear of God, which culminated in self-reliance. The renowned preacher to popes, Raniero Cantalamessa (OFM), summarizes self-forgetfulness as: “Fear the Lord, and do not be afraid of anything else.” Jesus even in the midst of his passion endorsed self-forgetfulness when he said: “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and your children;” and “Father, let this cup pass me; not my will, but your will be done.” So, if Abram and Peter in their weakness practiced self-forgetfulness, we too can equally do that, so long as we prefer to be God pleasers rather than human pleasers.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Tom, a certain young adult, got a surprise call from his baptismal sponsor. His sponsor travelled abroad a few months after Tom’s infant baptism, and barely communicated. The message was straight: “I returned yesterday, please come to my house and do an errand for me.” Tom obliged. Tom’s sponsor gave him $350 to buy a good phone he would use, while visiting.
In less than 10 minutes, Tom arrived at the phone shop (with nonrefundable policy) but spent another 35 minutes sampling the various phones on display. The entire 45 minutes were not enough for Tom to decide whether to buy a low quality Chinese brand and keep the balance for himself, or be honest and buy the original branded phone with the whole money. Eventually, Tom saw it as a rare opportunity to swindle his stingy sponsor. After all, his sponsor would soon travel back before the phone could develop problems. So, he used $200 to buy a fake brand of phone and falsified the receipt, by bribing the sales girl with $50 (equivalent of the local currency). Smiling home, he handed over the package with the receipt to his sponsor. His sponsor strengthened up, apologized for lack of communications in previous years, and with a passionate hug, gave Tom the package, saying: “Happy birthday, my dear.” Tom didn’t even remember it was his birthday. Overall, it takes a cheat to fall into temptation.
Was Tom tempted, and by who? Recall, he terribly lost $250 by attempting to scam his sponsor. How does Tom’s story resonate with the temptation of the 1st Adam (at Eden garden of plenty) and that of the 2nd Adam (at the barren desert). Understanding temptation as random trials meant to disprove (or prove) our love priority for God exposes who the tempter is. God cannot be the tempter because the same God desires our protectiveness from the consequences of temptations. Neither does God lead us into temptation – a reason Pope Francis has called for the review of the poor translation of Our Father in certain languages. In my native Igbo language the line: “Lead us not into temptation,” reads, “Do not allow us to fall into temptation.” The revision therefore would not affect “Our Lord’s prayer” in my language.The Bible calls Satan, the tempter, in both temptation of Adam & Eve (Gen. 3: 1-7) and in the temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11). Truly, Satan is the tempter because he is the one that constantly doubts humanity’s faithfulness to the love of God. Satan prows about on a daily basis attempting to prove that God only entices human beings into love, with the claim that humanity would desert God if they were offered competing options not to love God back. It is no surprise therefore that the devil is diabolum in Latin (one who casts divisive barrier between humanity and God).
However, the devil only suggests with enticements. He absolutely lacks control over our wills, but overcomes our resistance by offering us that which we lust for, as irresistible bait. Adam & Eve were victims of the lures of Satan because of their insatiable appetite in the garden of abundance – affirming the Latin saying: Amor habendo habendi crescit (the love of having increases by having). On the contrary, the perfect contentment of Jesus assured his overwhelming defeat of satanic lures. Unlike the garden of abundance, the austere life depicted with the desert region allowed Jesus to focus on nothing but the love of God. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the recommended life jackets.
Should we get rid of temptations? We don’t have to aim at eliminating temptations, partly because we lack the ability, and partly because we lose the good fruit of temptation, which is renewed faithfulness in God. Temptation is no sin – a reason Jesus passed through it. Rather, temptation is a crafty lure to revolt against God. As noticed, temptation does not always lead to sin. Instead, drawing strength from Christ to overcome temptation confirms but also renews our profession of love to God. This first week of Lent, urges us to flee from inordinate pleasures that are capable of casting huge barrier between God and us. Such inordinate attractions are distractions. So, flee for your life!!!
God bless you. Fr. Levi.