St. Bernard Parish
St. Bernard Catholic Church
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 18, 2019
“The Ultimate Challenge of the Pilgrim”
The centerpiece of our reflection is the strange quote from Jesus Christ: “I have come to set the earth on fire …
there is a baptism with which I must be baptized! Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” (Lk 12:49-53).
Isn’t this scary? Is Christ truly divisive? Could he be contradicting himself? How can we reconcile the offensive language of “division,” but “no peace,”
and wishing a “blazing fire” on earth, with his nonviolent, love-inspired and compassionate moral principles?
Contextual understanding might be a useful tool. So, what does Jesus intend to communicate to his audience? Two major points can be noticed.
The first is the definition of the Messiah-ship of Christ. The second is the inescapable consequences of standing with Christ.
1) The metaphor of fire and baptism: there are other meanings of fire and baptism in the scripture. This context does not refer to the consuming
fire of destruction or the sign of acceptance of animal sacrifices by God. It includes, but is not actually the fire of the Holy Spirit,
as witnessed on Pentecost day. Rather, the fire signifies the inner burning fervor and zeal that drive someone into doing the will of God,
even when there are favorable reasons to reject or decline it. The greatest fear (reason) not to submit to God’s will is the threat to life.
However, as earthly pilgrims, our lives are not ended at death, but are radically transformed from mortality to immortality in union with God.
What therefore matters most is gaining life in eternity: “whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel, will find it,” (Mark 8:35).
Similarly, the baptism Jesus refers to is the witnessing to the gospel with one’s life. James and John understood this meaning, when they answered Jesus
that they were able to drink of his cup, and to participate in his destined baptism (Matt 20:22). In essence, this form of baptism is martyrdom.
Martyrdom is the ultimate challenge of the Christian pilgrim. It appears stupid, even though, the wisest investment
in the bank of God.
2) Division: Jesus prophetically announces the inseparable consequences of a genuine pilgrim, who patterns his life, after that of Christ.
Although “division” sounds divisive, still it is in context absolutely consequential rather than intended. To stand with Christ along the rough
journey of life has the necessary implications of being scorned, abused, victimized, rejected, hated or killed, even by close relatives.
Nevertheless, a genuine Christian pilgrim looks beyond these torturous and oppressive hurdles, and stand steadfastly with Christ in defense
of the noblest principles of truth, justice, mercy, and love. A few choose this narrow course of life. This brave minority constitutes genuine
Christian pilgrims, whose lives exemplify the blazing fire that inspires baptism by martyrdom.
Every genuine pilgrim swims against the current of his age and time. He/she is a light that diminishes the surrounding darkness.
As long as this light shines, the agents of darkness are irritated. In retaliation, the evildoers conspire to victimize the pilgrim of light.
Like Jeremiah, whose plot by the princes almost led to his death (Jer. 38: 4-6, 8-10), the Christian pilgrim encounters daily threats,
oppression, and ploys. Despite the overwhelming pressures, he/she is faith-full.
The cross of Christ is the anchor and source of strength. As instructed by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews,
through a focus on the sacrifice of the Christ, Christian pilgrims are rejuvenated in order to unfear physical death,
as true witnesses (Heb. 12: 1-4). While learning from the Master’s example of passion, death and revelation,
their bond of friendship with Christ stays tighter than biological ties. Nothing whatsoever can separate a genuine Christian pilgrim
from the love of God. Not even the attractions of families and friends can: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come; Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8:38-39). Stay focused on the example of Christ.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 11, 2019
“Pilgrims Walk by Faith”
Pilgrims walk by faith, not by sight. They see with the eyes of faith. Pilgrims might not have clear vision
of their destination and the implied challenges of their missions. But they are certain that God is their
faithful guide and companion.
Pilgrims are on a journey, but not as tourists. Whereas tourists choose their destinations,
and rely on the satisfaction of their travel plans and provisions, pilgrims patiently depend on the
evolving plan of God. Unlike tourists, whose plan includes a homebound/return arrangement, pilgrims desire
the unknown but “a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for
he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). Our fathers in faith lived their lives as pilgrims (Wis. 18:6-9)
The scripture presents Abraham as an ideal pilgrim. In his life story Abraham journeyed to an unknown destination,
trusting God as his guide and companion. Moses too, walked with God. Like Abraham, Moses struggled in his journey with God.
Both made hasty mistakes (impatience) because they had no blue print plans for their journeys. Their impatience almost
ruined God’s plan for them. Abraham, through the birth of Ishmael (with Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant), established a long
lasting feud between the generations of Isaac and Ishmael. Similarly, Moses saw, but could not enter the Promised Land.
Still in their struggles, they stayed faithful to God.
Nevertheless, whereas Moses’ journey was a homeward return, Abraham journeyed to an unknown new home,
without desiring a return to his native homeland: “If they (Abraham and Sarah) had been thinking of their
land from which they had come, they would have had the opportunity to return,” (Heb. 11:15).
In essence, both Moses and Abraham walked faithfully with God and died, without experiencing the completion of their
promises from God. Their journeys were rendered incomplete probably because their final destination is heaven.
Faith is the ship that conveys believers beyond the dark spot of reason. Through faith, Abraham and Moses relied
on the consistent but gradual manifestations of God’s plan in their lives. Their willingness and availability to
be instruments of God distinguished them as genuine pilgrims.
This weekend’s readings speak to us, specifically as earthly pilgrims, in order that we might
learn from the derivative characteristics of an exemplar ancient pilgrim. Conscious of our final destination,
we are called to travel light, but also invest wisely in the heavenly bank, where fraud or robbers cannot operate,
and where taxes are exempt (Luke 12: 33-34). Still, where the reward is no less than a hundred fold. As we journey
toward this unknown, readiness with our lamps lit and resilience, strengthen us to be vigilant when the master
will return. Most importantly, being dutifully focused, but also trusting the fidelity of God, our master and guide,
sustains our faith that God’s plan for us must surely come to fulfillment at God’s own time.
This is true because as pilgrims we walk by faith, not by sight. Since God created us for the definite purpose
of union with Him, we cannot find rest outside of that purpose (Augustine). Therefore, “where your treasure is,
there also will your heart be.” Putting your heart elsewhere amounts to vanity.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 4, 2019
“Are we not Pilgrims?”
One of the substantive reasons for the creation argument is that it is purposeful. It is ordered by the highest intelligence towards a designated goal.
In other words, it is not a product of chance. Therefore, humanity, the crown (pride) of creation was designed for eternity. For believers in Christ, existence in the world transits into the heavenly glory: “You are not of the world,” (John 15: 19-20).
How then should Christians accomplish their lives on earth with a focus on the heavenly destination?
A certain king in dire need of counsel was advised to consult a famous sage, who lived deep in the forest. This king ordered his servants to pack enough food supply
and load on two camels, while he rode on the third. In addition, he chose the best four of his servants for the seven days journey into the forest.
On the 7th day, the king arrived at a dead end, where the messenger of the sage lived in a small hut. The messenger asked the king to descend from the camel,
leave all he came with in the custody of his servants, and follow him, because the way that leads to the sage is narrow, and with low height.
On arrival, the king was shocked at the sight of an old bearded man sitting on a low stool in an empty little hut. In his curiosity, he asked the sage:
“what is a famous wise man doing in the thick wild, without a single possession? I had expected to behold a magnificent mansion.” In reply, the sage asked:
“where is your kingdom?” The king retorted: “as a pilgrim, you don’t expect me to travel with my kingdom, do you? Then the sage asked: “are we not pilgrims
The readings in agreement with this story remind us of the awareness of our earthly existence as pilgrims.
Wise pilgrims travel light with only the essentials. As many airlines permit ONLY personal items, so should we be conscious of ONLY the necessities
for our earthly journey. Anything more should be considered excess luggage, which inhibits. The burden of excess luggage is what the book of Ecclesiastes describes
as “All things are vanity,” (Eccl 1: 2; 2:21-23). Whatever that is unnecessary for the heavenly journey is vanity and a serious distraction.
While still on earth, Christians as pilgrims, are heavenly bound, expecting the appearance of Christ, which leads into glory.
They should therefore, as Paul instructs: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth,” (Col. 3: 1-5, 9-11). Earthly desires include:
“immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry;” also, lies, and discriminations.
Unfortunately, majority of believers live as if earthly existence is the destination. People worry and crave for materiality
but ignore the necessities for eternity. Like the rich man, who thought that hoarding food could guarantee security to his life,
life is empty without anchoring it in Christ. In fact, only One thing is essential, that is, “to be rich in what matters to God.”
Loving God above everything, and loving whatever God loves, is the MEANS to achieve richness in God. May the Holy Spirit inspire in us,
the desire to be rich in God. Amen.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 28, 2019
For the sake of the innocent, the guilty can be spared. But only in Christ was the innocent killed for the sake of the guilty.
Being sinless, Christ carried our sins, and bore our guilt (Col. 2: 12-14). Although we cannot repeat Christ’s substitutive sacrifice,
we can still play the important role of intercession.
Abraham teaches us about another dimension of altruism – the power of intercession. Abraham kept the anger of God on hold,
until he exhausted his persuasive appeal in favor of the innocent. Unfortunately, Sodom and Gomorrah forfeited the grace of the innocent (Gen. 18: 20-23).
Through Abraham’s effective dialogic approach, God revealed the preciousness of the just and the innocent in his sight: “If I found (as little as) ten
innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah, I will not destroy the entire city.” If the powerful prayer of Abraham could delay the anger of God, (to the
point of almost averting it), against the iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, we can be the Abraham of our time.
Genuine prayer keeps the concern of God first, those of others second, and that of the self, last. Similar result is achieved,
when the needs of others and that of the self are addressed in a “we” language, as Jesus taught in the “Our Father” prayer template (Lk. 11: 1-13).
The language of “Our Father” reminds us of our inescapable responsibility towards the happiness of others. And because our happiness is
connected to the happiness of others, we (like Abraham) are responsible for interceding, but also interrupting the needy situations of others.
In the absence of voluntary responsibility (ability to respond to the other), asking, seeking, and knocking, are recommended as reminders.
When we block our eyes and ears to the cry of the needy, they are left with no other option than to cry out louder by asking, and knocking at
the door of God. However, a nobler way to intercede for the needy is either to substitute, by becoming the voluntary poor (as Jesus, and St.
Francis of Assisi practiced), or to intercede for them as Abraham did.
The worst response is indifference. Indifference is the sin of the rich man (Dives) against Lazarus. Indifference attracts the anger of God
towards humanity’s hostility. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were extremely hostile to strangers in their cities. They were indifferent to their feelings,
but took advantage of their vulnerability. They molested and abused them like objects of satisfaction. Such magnitude of indifference provoked the anger of
God against the oppressors, but also attracted His compassion toward the victims.
When we show indifference to the needy, by restricting our good deeds to families and friends, we force them to utilize their last lifeline
option (God). God graciously allowed humanity to be custodians of His wealth for equitable distributions. Regrettably, greed and selfishness,
which are products of indifference, account for humanity’s failure as custodians. Consequently, God occasionally intervenes in order to reassure
If the bad news is humanity’s indifference or irresponsibility, the good news is God’s intervention at the proper time.
It can be delayed, but never denied. God’s faithfulness is ever assured, as he encourages us to ask, seek, and knock, for answered prayers.
On our part, substitutive concern is our way of collaborating God’s intent, as faithful custodians.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 21, 2019
“Reaching Out in Joy”
An unbroken thread is noticed between last weekend’s story of the Good Samaritan, and today’s story of Abrahamic model of hospitality. Abraham, like the Samaritan, reached out to the three strangers. His act prefigured Jesus’s description of neighbor.
In response to the lawyer’s speculative question, “who is my neighbor,” Jesus gave a universal practical correction with his story. While the lawyer was curious about who qualifies to be a neighbor, Jesus reversed his curiosity, and set a new pattern that urges each person to reach out to anyone in need (as neighbor). Rather than examine whether the other person is a neighbor or not, be that neighbor, by putting yourself at their services. A good neighbor therefore, is one, who undertakes the responsibility toward the wellbeing of any person in need.Abraham models good neighborliness. From the comfort of his tent, he sets out to be a neighbor to wayfarers (Gen. 18: 1-10). Like Abraham, God expects us to leave our comfort zones and render services to the other in need.
Such services must be accomplished in freedom and happiness. Our joy in helping should come from the smile of the neighbor. Unlike the cheerful host (Abraham), Martha perceived her hospitality to Jesus as a burden. At some point, she let out her complaint. Unfortunately for her, complaint kills neighborliness. Being envious of Mary’s company with Jesus, Martha obstructed the joy of neighborliness she started; and labored in vain (Luke 10: 38-40). As we decide to be neighbors to the needy, we should also strive to find happiness in doing that. Complaining, while trying to help, destroys the attached graces.Paul understood this satisfaction in service. He considered his efforts and sufferings in growing the Church, a share in the passion of Christ (Col. 1: 24-28). In other words, he found happiness in serving the people of God.
In conclusion, Abrahamic hospitality confirms the story of the Good Samaritan, but contrasts Martha’s hosting, by teaching us that it is not enough to reach out to the needs of others, but that we should also be fulfilled while doing so. Paul and Mary were the New Testament examples of Abrahamic neighborliness, without complaint. Therefore, let us become the contemporary Abraham, Paul, or Mary, whose joys radiate in reaching out to others.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 14, 2019
Mother Theresa of Calcutta was once asked: why do the disparaged suffering Indians attract your attention?
Smiling, she replied: “I do not see Indians, rather, I see Christ on their faces.” Truly, the hidden face of Christ is
seen in the face of others. In particular, the face of the other in need, radiates the face of Christ,
which unceasingly summons us for help. Our reactions to this distress call prove our love-response for God.
Christ chose to hide His face in our neighbors’ faces, as God put his command in human mouths and hearts (Deut. 30: 10-14).
It is near, but easily neglected. This is the reason Christ will reward and separate the good people from the bad, saying:
“when I was hungry, …” “when I was naked…,” “when I was homeless…,” you came to my rescue (Matt. 25:35-40). To love others is to be
responsible for their wellbeing. So, it has been from creation.
If the first sin was against the love of God, the second major sin was against love for neighbor. Cain, in a bid to conceal his
murderous act, inadvertently confirmed it: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or should I be answerable (responsible) for Abel; is he not an adult?
Certainly, the failure of Cain to be his brother’s keeper led to the first murderous act on the face of the earth. Because he ignored the
responsibility toward the brother, already inscribed in his mind and heart, the first crime against humanity happened. The criminality of
Cain teaches us of the impossibility to please God, while being indifferent toward the human other.
Such failure is still possible whenever there is an attempt to sever love of God from love for others. Like Cain, a scholar of the law
wanted to ridicule Christ on who the neighbor is. He failed woefully because in the story of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is not defined
by affinity or locality, but described as “anyone in need.” As written in the law, the love for neighbor is the practical expression of the
love for God (Lk. 10: 25-37). Until we assume responsibility for the need of others, our desire to love God would remain unfulfilled.
The difference between the Temple priest and the Levite on the one hand, and the Samaritan on the other, is the reason for their variant decisions.
Whereas the two temple ministers were consumed by self-love and self-righteousness, the Samaritan was concerned about the need of the other (altruism).
Imagined in a question format, the two would have thought: “What will happen to me, if I moved closer to the victim of
robbers?” “Who knows if it were a ploy, to kill me?; or he could pollute me, if he were dead?” The Samaritan, on the
contrary, thought less about himself, but was consumed by the pitiable situation of the robbery victim: “What would
happened to him, if I ignored, and did not help?” Christ is the practical model of saving lives. Christ though,
the image of the invisible God, sacrificed his life in order to save human lives (Col. 1: 15-20). The metaphor of the Good
Samaritan emphasizes similar love for the other in need. The Good Samaritan got it perfectly right. His practical compassion
toward the needy stranger demonstrated his genuine love for God.
The Good Samaritan, like Mother Theresa, saw God in the face of the dying neighbor, and quickly responded to his compassionate cry.
Majority of believers are like the Temple priest and his attendant (the Levite), who blindly seek the face of the invisible God,
while daily bypassing the visible face of God in the needy others. Self-love is good, but must be regulated by love of God and love
of the other. It is the need of the other that sets the Christian agenda; regardless of physical differences. Therefore, “go and do likewise;”
be a neighbor to someone in need.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 7, 2019
Christ’s mission formula is built on collaboration. Mission collaboration operates best on the principle of equity. Equity balances the fundamental right of freedom
of worship and the socioeconomic inequality ratio. Reciprocation, because of its demanding consequences of payback and indebtedness, is inadequate.
Moreover, the worst scenario is to envisage mission as self-dependence or active-passive dynamic. Self-dependence radically reverses the mission guideline of Christ,
because it kills the inherent collaborative spirit. Mission agencies must first acknowledge the primary role of the Holy Spirit, and then seek the collaboration of
The success story of the first missionary experience of the 72 disciples was built on the careful application of Christ’s mission formula (Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20).
The cautionary formula includes: “sending them like lambs among wolves,” entails the precarious nature; travel light – trust in God and be dependent on the
benevolence of your hosts. As announcers of the gospel, the hospitality of the children of God is deserved. Concentrate on the gospel by avoiding distractions,
but coexist peacefully. Neither select your hosts, nor reject their offers. Rather, appreciate their welcome, but also tolerate their rejection.
Be open to their provisions, so that you can easily adapt to them, and more so, impact them. In return for their hospitality, convince them that they are
part of God’s kingdom, and grant healing to the unwell. To those who reject you, leave revenge for God. Be assured that Christ’s immunity not only empowers you, but also shields you from the worst of enemies. Above all, the greatest happiness is the assurance that your reward is in heaven.
Paul’s willingness to follow Christ’s mission ethics redefines himself as a new creation (Gal. 6: 14-18). For Paul, only in Christ is life meaningful
because His singular sacrifice of redemption stands tall as an unmatchable game changer. Only as adopted free children in Christ can we boast, because we have become that (Christ), which our natural or cultural inclinations could not offer. The new creation we have become (through baptism, and sustained by other sacramental graces) prepares us to savor the sweetness of the New Jerusalem – the peaceful abode of God (Is. 66: 10-14).
Regrettably, Christ’s mission template has not been taken seriously. Several mission reports show that the opposite has been the case.
For whatever reasons, self-dependence has overshadowed collaboration in mission. Mission in this regard, became a one-way traffic:
From us to you; denying the hosts, a role or even a say, in the conversion process. The inescapable fruits of such deviation are nominal conversion
and shallow Christianity present all over the globe. It is no gainsaying that Christianity as the most populous religion can only boast of few (authentic) Christians.
As a matter of urgency, a retrieval of Christ’s mission formula must inform the new evangelization fervor, initiated by Pope John Paul II.
Paul, the mission giant, recorded enormous success while exploiting collaborative attitude. Despite his dexterity, he recognized the preparatory
role of the Holy Spirit and submitted himself to the welcome and hospitality of his hosts. The pious women, for example, provided for him (Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:11).
Based on collaborative efforts, the gospel was incarnated in every culture he evangelized. Paul in his letters identified the supporting roles of his co-workers,
the host communities, especially the pioneers of faith, in founding particular churches, unlike modern missions, whose reports barely included owners of lands,
and the first receptive contacts. Majority of such pilot hosts have remained unsung heroes, despite their sacrifices in supporting the gospel.
If Christ’s words are “yes” and “Amen,” then a retrieval of his mission model and its application in the new evangelization fervor is hope for Christianity.
God bless you, Fr Levi
13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JUNE 30, 2019 - REFLECTION
"Gasping for God"
"When you are given the grace to gasp for God the way you gasped for air, you will have found him." (Anthony de Mello). How then can we serve whom we have not found?
True service to God entails a personal experience of His presence. Such experience when constantly desired forms the bedrock of faith and service. Even though the ability to hold breath under water varies, the gasping for air experience is virtually the same. In other words, the search for God might relatively differ, but the experience of finding Him remains the same for everyone.
That point of finding God is the Aha moment, open to everyone. The Aha moment happens at that singleness of purpose, when God (alone) is gasped for. At that Aha moment, scales fell off the natural eyes, and beholding the loving invitation of God, the eagerness to serve God, becomes supreme. Such supreme experience whether seen as conversion, born again, enlightenment, divine encounter, leaves the person gasping for God.
At the very moment Elijah hung his prophetic mantle on the shoulders of Elisha, Elisha desired God above all, as he would gasped for air, under water. He abandoned his farming business, had a quick parting meal with his family and workers, and then became readily available for the internal Journey with God (1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21). Distance is a barrier to this inner journey because one will always desire the presence of God, the way Peter longed for it at the Transfiguration.
Elisha saw no distance in his newly found journey, that is why, like Abraham and Paul, he never bothered to ask about his destination. The destination is the presence of God, which he found. Said differently, the Aha moment is also the destination. Despite the vagueness of the journey, the consolation is that it is a “we journey (with God)” which is embarked in freedom. Elisha had the freedom to say no.
Abuse of freedom cannot be ignored. It can either be total or partial. The hypocritical “yes” is more dangerous than the outright “no.” A hypocritical service to God is as entertaining as showmanship, in which every attention is centered on the entertainer. Self-centeredness is a killer of service to God. It is a preference to bloat, drowning, than to gasp for air. Christ reveals three obstacles to desiring God. 1) self choice for self aggrandizement; 2) attachment to family, 3) willingness, but unready.
Paul in Galatians 5:13-18, draws attention to the persistent conflict of interest between the flesh and the Spirit in everyone. While the flesh desires what gratifies the self, the Spirit desires God, as it would gasp for air. When God is gasped for, violence or retaliation becomes prohibited.
Christ demonstrated to his disciples that nonviolent attitude should be the character of anyone at the service of God (Luke 9: 51-62). Retaliation emanates from navel-gazing. Such voracious love of self is tamed with the unparalleled desire for God, which includes all that God cares for (neighbors). Despite unjust provocations, retaliation has no justification for those who desire God. There is always another way to pass through in order to evade retaliation. Often, this way takes longer time. Still, it is the litmus test for desiring God, above all else.
If found in a moment, how then can gasping for God be sustained? It can only be sustained as a journey, but a journey without distance. When God is found by gasping for God, distance becomes a negation because only the presence of God matters. Therefore, if “you stop travelling (wandering), you arrive” (Anthony de Mello).
God bless you. Fr. Levi
CORPUS CHRISTI - THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD - JUNE 23, 2019 - REFLECTION
From an ancient European belief that lasted up until 17th century, the pelican mother-bird was the major symbol of self-sacrifice and charity. As such, early Christians adopted the pelican mother-bird as a metaphor of the Eucharist. Queen Elizabeth I’s legendary portrait, designed by Nicholas Hilliard in 1575 (at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), is also called the pelican portrait. It symbolizes a mother sacrificing herself for her people, if necessary.
Pelican is a water dependent bird that feeds on fishes, but at moments of emergencies such as drought, the mother pelican pierces her breast in order to sustain her chicks with its blood. Such sacrificial love, even unto death for the lives of the beloved, parallels the pelican with the Eucharist. The Eucharist or the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ reenacts the unique emptying of self on the cross, by which eternal life is available to all.
In the OT, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, prefigures Christ, when he offered bread and wine to Abraham. In the NT, bread and wine became the material components of the Eucharist, instituted during the Last Supper in anticipation of the accomplished self-sacrifice on Good Friday; with a specific mandate to partake of the eating and drinking as a memorial of Christ’s selfless love (1 Cor. 11: 23-26).
As a sacrament, the Eucharist effects the true body and blood of Christ, it re-presents. This real presence does not exclude other presence of Christ in the church, but rather emphasizes its fullest sense or substantial presence (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1374). Even though the bread and wine appear unchanged, the substantial transformation cannot be denied because the consecrating words: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” are Christ’s, who incapable of deceit causes the change of nature, through the action of a priest (St Cyril, In Luc. 22:19). Aquinas however, reminds us that this substantial transformation cannot be comprehended by the sense, but only by faith (STh. III, 75, 1). Regardless, the reality of the Eucharist has several scientific proven realities such as the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano, Italy where the consecrated bread and wine transformed into real human body and blood. The underscored supreme centrality of the Eucharist is summarized as “the source and summit of Christian life,” (CCC, 1324-1327).
The Eucharist unites us with Christ, who said: “whoever eats my body and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). It also engenders sanctifying grace, and the desire for God in us, thereby shielding us from sin, as well as urging us into exemplar lives. Eucharistic availability is assured by the affordability of its matter (bread and wine – the commonest food of the time), and the frequency of its form (Do this in memorial of me). By these very facts, the food of the angels has become a choice food at our disposal. Most importantly, the efficacy of Eucharist is neither distorted by the impurity of the priest, nor the unworthiness of the recipients. Therefore, as long as we partake in the body and blood of Christ, worthily, we are the mystical body of Christ (the Head and its members).
Nevertheless, the danger of abuse is also possible due to its simple and quotidian presence. Even though the Eucharist is a life-giving food, free and available to all, its unworthy consumption, ipso facto, attracts condemnation (1 Cor. 11: 27-29). However, since the condemnation is suicidal, and the judgment, a reserve of God, it is unnecessary to weaponize the Eucharist.
As the mystical body of Christ, we are called to be Eucharistic people – the thanksgiving community. The desire of Christ to be united with us in love caused the institution of the Eucharist. Christ offered not only what he has, but also who he is in order to be perpetually in love. In this regard, the Eucharist is a sacrament of love and service. Being Eucharistic people, we are invited into the love-embrace with Christ at every Mass, and especially at adoration services (CCC, 1380). In essence, the Eucharist is a bidirectional dynamic. First, it is a lovely invitation to commune with Christ, at no cost. Second, it is an empowerment to go make disciples of nations, by sharing what we have become (other Christs). Whereas the first straightens our love for God, the second complements it with love for neighbor. Actualizing the two dimensions is the gauge for a true thanksgiving community – a Eucharistic people.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
MOST HOLY TRINITY - JUNE 16, 2019 - REFLECTION
" A Return for the Return"
The Christian God is not just one, but triune (coeternal and consubstantial). This God is triune because the nature is love. To be in love necessarily implies selfless relationship. Such relationship would have been impossible, if God was not triune. God did not enter into relationship at creation because creation was not a necessity. Rather, the intra-relational love that existed between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit was before time. Before creation, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit perfected the mutual circle-dance that Tertullian (3rd cent.) taught and John Damascene (8th cent.) defended as Greek, peri/choresis. Consequently, creation understood as creatio ex nihilo is purposefully the gratuitous invitation into the ongoing perchoresis. The love-invite is so pure and selfless that humanity was offered (individual) choices to respond to the love or to walk away.
The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity articulates this mystery of God’s love extended in time to humanity and the entire world. According to scholars like Aquinas, Holy Trinity is an intelligible mystery. It is not a bunch of confusion. Otherwise, the descent of the Holy Spirit (the teacher & illuminative energy) would have been futile. Holy Trinity is comprehensible to the extent human capacity can contain, and to the degree of revelation. In time, Paul teaches that our perception of God is in a dim form, until in eternity, when we can see God truly as God is (1 Cor. 13:12). Therefore our understanding of the Trinity is here, but still to come. Nevertheless, the rich deposit of faith information available to humanity is sufficient for humanity to make the right decision.
Even though Theophilus of Antioch (2nd century Church father) first used the coinage, trinity, the reality it defines, like “Wisdom,” preexisted all ages (Prov. 8: 22-31). For example, Jesus instructed his disciples to baptize all nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20). Despite stating three persons, Jesus did not say names. To date, not even English syntax has reviewed that biblical statement. Another instance in the bible depicting the distinction of the three divine persons, but also their inseparability is noticed when Jesus beautifully establishes the unbroken connectivity in the Mission of redeeming the world: “Everything that the Father has is mine, for this reason, I told you that he (the Spirit of Truth) will take from what is mine and declare it to you,” (John 16: 12-15). The Trinity unveils when we read Jesus’ statement together with, others like: “I and the Father are one;” “I am the… Truth;” and “the Spirit of Truth.”
The realty of the Trinity can be contemplated in two ways: 1) Intrinsic Trinity (in itself) and Economic Trinity (for us). However, Aquinas instructs that we can only talk about what God is not with certainty, than fully comprehend what God is. Karl Barth confirms that humanity lacks the capacity to fully know God.
Faced with the noticed incapacity, Karl Rahner proposes greater attention on the economic Trinity by reflecting on the relevance of the Trinity. First, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that personhood entails relationship. In Christian theology, therefore, a person is an individual in relationship, primarily opposed to atomization or solitariness. In essence, isolation is a killer of Godliness as well as humanness.
Second, in the Trinitarian love-dance, we see the perfect model of love. One to one love is necessary but insufficient. Such reciprocal love is basic, but lacks the third arm that assures stability. No wonder, Jesus warns against the danger of this basal form of love by implying: since the pagans love those who love them, what distinguishes the Christian love from theirs? (Matthew 5:47ff). Christian love must be Trinitarian. As the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and both love proceed into the Holy Spirit, so shall it be. This tripod love formula is the quintessence of love. It assures “love in spite of,” as against “love because of.” While “love in spite of” is anchored on the selfless Trinity, “love because of” is virtually selfish.
Unless humanity’s interpersonal love reflects the Trinitarian love and anchors on it, instability can be inevitable. The purity of love is best experienced when each person learns to love the other, for the sake of God (the origin of love). Christian marriage is built on this Trinitarian tripod formula: love God, and let your love for the other be relationally derivative from the divine love commitment. The man-made problem sets in, when we attempt a reciprocal love, without God. Sooner or later, the downsides of the beloved becloud the initial attraction on the lover, leading to intuitional collapse. When we love God first, and love the other for the sake of the established love in God, we become the beloved of both God and the other. As a result, we can still find Reason in God to hold on, when there are numerous reasons to quit. The trinity therefore is the perfect model of personhood in love.
God bless you.
PENTECOST REFLECTION - JUNE 9, 2019
"The Illuminative Truth of Pentecost"
Understanding the unique event of Pentecost is graciously illumined when read together with the Old Testament Babel experience (Gen. 11:1-9). The major problem at Babel was that, diversity was misconstrued as division, which led to the failed attempt to preclude it. The entire people on earth at that time thought that unity could only be possible or sustained through uniformity (by being the same people). They regretted the introduced dissonance of languages. On the contrast, the coming of the Holy Spirit has clarified that in God, diversity and unity coexist without contradiction.
Unity in diversity is the way of God. Indeed, God is a God of diversity (three distinct persons, still, one God), who never replicated any human person, but has created each person with profound uniqueness. Accordingly, God urges us to discover the unity that approves of diversity, and not a uniformity that destroys it.
In essence, it is absolutely wrong to perceive diversity and division synonymously, as humanity’s first generation did. This point is the connection between Babel and the Pentecost. The confusion of languages instituted by God in order to rescue diversity from suffocation, is harmonized in the inclusive language of the Spirit, spoken by the apostles. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whatever the apostles taught was perfectly understood by the crowds of people from various nationalities: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Asians, Egyptians, et cetera (Acts 2:1-11).
The Pentecost event illumined Babel, through the activities of the Holy Spirit, who came to sanctify, enlighten, and explain all Truth, till the end of time. On Pentecost day, the Spirit of Truth, promised by Jesus and sent by His Father, descended on the apostles in form of a strong wind and rested on them like tongues of fire. Known for her seven gifts (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, & Fear of God), and twelve fruits [charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (generosity), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (self-control), and chastity], the Holy Spirit inspirited the recipients to speak the divine inclusive language, quiet different from glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Glossolalia requires interpretation.
Pentecost basically draws from the Greek pe?t???st?? (the fiftieth day following the Resurrection). Prior to its Christian adaptation, the pe?t???st?? was a Jewish festival that commemorated the Shavuoth, the Feast of Weeks or Wheat (seven weeks after the Passover feast) for the Jews. Early Christian tradition regards the Pentecost as the birthday of the early Church. Nevertheless, it is unresolved whether the Last Supper, Easter, or the Pentecost marks the proper emergence day of the church. It is striking, however, to notice that the term Pentecost derives more from the Day of Her descent, than from the name of the Holy Spirit. Some titles of the Holy Spirit include: the Hebrew Ruah (wind, breath, air), the Paraclete (another advocate), the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Glory.
Moving beyond terminology, diversity and equity are the major revealed truth of Pentecost. The Pentecost experience is a firm testimony that multiplicity of languages and cultures are no barriers to God’s Word. It as well confirms the universal, omnipotent and equitable love of God for all peoples. The Holy Spirit proportionally inspires all languages of peoples and nations for the purposes of achieving a perfect communication with God, the omniligualist, par excellence.
Unfortunately, our society like the Babel generation is in dire need of the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Our age and time has virtually embraced falsity and disdained the truth. Told as a moral story, falsity once tricked truth and stole her clock, leaving her victim naked. Today, falsity parades itself in the stolen cloak of truth, and is easily and mostly attractive to people, while majority disgustingly shun the nakedness of truth. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our beclouded world with the truths of life, as we strive to live honestly with Her gifts and directives.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
ASCENSION OF JESUS - REFLECTION - JUNE 2, 2019
" A Return for the Return"
For genuine pastoral reason(s) some dioceses take the option of shifting the Solemnity of Ascension from its proper day, Thursday (the 40th day, after resurrection), to the following Sunday (7th Sunday of Easter). The local context approves the latter option, hence the title.
The title of this reflection is inspired by Jesus’s quote: “In a little while, you will no longer see me. In a little while, you will see me” (John 16: 16). The question is: Did Jesus intend to confuse his disciples with this paradoxical statement? If not, how best can we understand these farewell words of Jesus? It is pertinent therefore, to grasp the mind of the parting Master, and evade unnecessary confusion.
A clue is found in the extension of the same quote: “I will not leave you, orphan, I will come to you; I will send you another Advocate” (John 16: 18; John 14:26). Reading both statements together illumines the puzzle and undergirds the significance of Ascension.
On the one hand, “you will no longer see me” announces the departure that increases the fear of absence. Such imagination constituted a heavier concern for the apostles, who had barely recovered from the shock of Jesus’ death and physical absence. Although the post-resurrection or glorified presence of Jesus has been reassuring to the disciples, the news of Ascension triggered off a sense of permanent absence.
On the other hand, Jesus used the second sentence: “In a little while, you will see me” to allay their fears, by assuring his continued presence, though in different forms. Jesus’ promised presence could be immediate & indirect (10 days), in the coming of another Advocate (Holy Spirit), but more so, direct in the Eucharist & the prolong waiting for the parousia (the second coming of Christ). Either perspective confirms the divine plan for unbroken presence.
Ascension of Christ is a major event that happened between resurrection and Pentecost. Understanding ascension requires at least two perspectives: 1) The accomplishment of Jesus’ mission, which implies a home coming 2) A departure (for our sake) in order to prepare a place for us; so that wherever He is, we too would desire to be, in union with Him. In other words, ascension rather than abandonment (loss of presence) guarantees extra favors such as an enduring Advocate (anticipating the Pentecost) in time, and a reunion in eternity.
In a way, the ascension of Jesus conveys the Trinitarian reality. Simply put, the Father, as the origin of mission, sent His Son for humanity’s salvation. At the accomplishment of that mission, the Son returned to the Father, in order that both will send the Holy Spirit for the continued inspiration of all peoples. As Jesus anticipated his return to the Father, he disposed his disciples for the strengthening role of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts are needed by all witnesses of the gospel (Acts 1: 1-11).
Like the apostles, all believers are enriched because of the ascension event. The fear of uncertainties or absence is dispelled by the very fact that we are not orphaned. Instead, as we anticipate in few days, the coming of the Holy Spirit with Her lavishing gifts, we as well, desire the glamorous reunion in eternity, where St. Paul reminds us about seeing God as truly as Godself radiates. Therefore, Jesus’ ascension is a return that will bring about our own return. From God we originated, unto God we shall return. May the ascended Lord meet us well on His return.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
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