St. Bernard Parish
St. Bernard Catholic Church
PALM SUNDAY - APRIL 5, 2020
"Celebrating Holy Week in Isolation"
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.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 29, 2020
"Our Hope Shall Not Be in Vain"
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
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 22, 2020
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
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 15, 2020
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.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 8, 2020
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
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 1, 2020
"Why be Tempted?"
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.
SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 23, 2020
"A “Short cut” to Holiness"
Holiness like safety needs a reliable guide. And because Holiness takes a process, it is achieved through imitating the Master. This process aims at overcoming self-efficacy (I can always do anything, without help), in order to follow the footsteps of the Master. Teenagers’ belief that nothing is practically impossible is a good example of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy would imply the abuse of self-trust. Therefore, for a spiritual journey like holiness, anyone, who is able to tame self-efficacy, has successfully enrolled into the school of holiness.
Next step is easier. It is one’s ability to copy the Master. It is totally built on Trust and Reliance on the Master. To imitate the Master, the follower simply needs to do what the Master did, by stepping into the footprints of this great Master. The committed student is expected to perfect his baby strides, with time.
Ironically, the easiest route is to be a holy Christian. To be a holy Christian is to do exactly what Jesus did and love the way he did. Self-efficacious Christians fall into the invisible traps of the devil because they deviate from Jesus’ footsteps. If Christians would trust Jesus, as much as the son trusted his hunter-father, then holiness would be synonymous with Christianity. Trust and love work together. And Trust functions optimally in love.
Christian holiness is not a reserve for special people. The invitation to be holy or perfect is open to all (Matt. 5:48). However, many imagine popular “miraculous saints” as the only standard of holiness. That’s incorrect. On the contrary, anyone can be holy by becoming a sincere friend of Jesus – “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Whoever loves Jesus truly will not hate to do what Jesus did and how he loves. In all things, simply act in love for God.
The foundation of holiness is already laid in every believer – “you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you” (1 Cor. 6-19). Granted the simplicity of following the steps of Jesus could be dismissed as mere naivety by mundane logical standard, that doesn’t alter its spiritual truth. Interestingly, the blind obedience of the son to the simple instruction of his hunter-father captures the required “foolishness” that justifies one as wise in God. Most times, empirical wisdom can constitute huge obstacle in the holiness process because God’s standard is different from that of the world.
In contrast to the gain-oriented mundane standard, God’s love is inclusive, forbearing, altruistic, but expects no payback. Through the use of such mundane lens, sincere expression of love for Jesus by imitating him would be perceived as playing the fool. Moreover, that the simplicity of love in God contrasts the mundane standard does not diminish its superiority because the simpler the nobler.
Simply put, Christian holiness means being in friendship with Jesus by stepping into his indelible footprints propelled by Love and Trust in him. It is as simplistic as the instruction of the hunter dad to his son: “As you follow me, ensure that you always put your feet on my footprints.” Untold risk awaits anyone, who chose to ignore the footprints of Jesus because he is the only Way. Christians should shun self-efficacy because it undermines the simple learning process of holiness.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 16, 2020
"Is Loving God a Choice?"
How can we reconcile a loving God, who meticulously demands the keeping of all Ten Commandments from the believers? This concern summarizes the fundamental position of critics of faith in the Christian God. Often, such insinuations create bubbles of doubts among Christians.
So how best can we react to their concern? Could the attack be a manifestation of a loud outcry of shifting blame to God? Is it a subtle way of divorcing human freedom from responsibility? Would advocates of this criticism rescind their position if God gave only ONE commandment? Or is lawlessness their preferred choice? In other words, what image of God would assure humanity’s comfort?
First, we need to eliminate the futile premises. If the Christian God is a creator God, but never a created God, then our task is half done. Second, it is undeniably reasonable that the creature reflects the intention of the creator. Third, consequent upon these two points, we are left with analyzing the fairness of God’s purpose of offering humanity the ultimate choice of choosing God above all else. In this regard, to choose God is to accept the terms of contract, as offered; but which also could be declined. Choosing to love God, but rejecting the contract terms is absolutely contradictory. Every contract entered in freedom requires evidences of responsibility from both parties.
From Eden, the justness of God was obvious. Our first progenitors (Adam & Eve) enjoyed 99.9% freedom to use the provisions in the garden but had only 0.1% restriction (not to touch the tree at the center of the garden). Still, humanity failed woefully the responsibility test. In other words, the problem was never the quantity of restrictions or commandments, but rather, the lack of quality responsibility from the human agents.
To date, it might be shocking to notice that in the love invitation, God has never exceeded the 0.1% proof of responsibility from humanity. The Ten Commandments are bullet-point implications for accepting the love invitation of God. For the immensity of love, crowned by the redemption act, God simply requests a logical return of love from us. Interestingly, the love for God, like the musical “tuning fork,” is bifurcated (principally understood as God in relationship with humanity).
Another proof of God’s fairness in defining the divine-human love-relationship can be seen in the three scripture readings of today. Sirach 15:15-20 clarifies the consequences of either choosing God & life, or evil & death. Regardless of the consequential clarity, God’s equity ensures that no one is forced into any unjust act or given license to sin (vs. 20). It is the underlying motivation of our choices that determines the difference.
Wisdom should be that grand motivation of human choices; but not all wisdom is of God. Paul in confirmation shows the distinction: “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away. Rather we speak God’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:6-10). Paul identifies the uniqueness of God’s wisdom by naming its qualities as mysterious, hiddenness, and predetermined. In conclusion, Paul asserts that whenever we act in God’s wisdom, the goal is “for our glory.” Applying Paul correctly in our discourse would mean that choosing God above all else, as the “all-in-one” commandment, is a fitting example of acting in accord with God’s wisdom. Based on this Pauline fact, Jesus affirmed that he (the perfect love of God) is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Mt. 5:17-37). St Augustine therefore, summarizes: Love (God) and do what you will (Augustine’s Love Sermon, #110).
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 9, 2020
"Who has seen your Light, or tasted your Salt?"
“You are Light of the World;” and “You are salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13-16) are metaphorical definitions Jesus gave to his followers. The wisdom of a metaphor is timeless and universal. This does not mean that metaphors lack shady sides. Rather, it underscores the ability of a metaphor to sustain its relevance in every age and time. Metaphors are coded words or expressions, which demand profound insight in order to perceive the mind of the user. When grasped, the intention of the user can be relevantly applied to the needs of particular contexts. Another great advantage of metaphors is that no particular interpretation could ever boast to exhaust its rich meanings. Therefore, metaphor requires a hermeneutic carefulness in order to decode and contextualize its meaning for the enrichment of its particular audience.
Following this approach, I intend to decipher the metaphorical meaning of Jesus’ injunction, cited above, by using a descriptive example of how to be a Light and Salt to people around you.
An American college graduate visited Kenya for tourism. While touring the suburb with her guide, she noticed groups of teenagers playing various games on a large playing ground, under shady trees (without adult supervision, of course). The natural beauty of the terrain and the loud excitement of the teenagers attracted her. Friendly approaching a group of 12 age mates (all boys), she said: “I got a pack of 6 delicious chocolates from America, but you outnumbered that. Why don’t you compete in a short race and the winner takes it all?” The boys gave their consent. As age mates, the teenage boys know the champion. As they tried to line up for the race, the sharp voice of the guide interrupted: “On your marks!!! ... “set!!! … “go!!!” At the end of the race, the boys happily shouted: “We won.”
What happened blew the mind of the American girl. How on earth could they have thought of holding hands and run together, rather than compete? Amazed but pleased, she handed the chocolates over, and the recipients thankfully shared them with joy.
Unknown to the American and her guide, the group champ signaled a secret code of togetherness (Ubuntu) and the rest collaborated. This champ would have easily won the delicious chocolates and demean his mates, but rather chose to be light and salt to them. He truly reflected Jesus’s metaphor, in which a true champ is one who illumines the lives of others; one whose happiness is derived from making others happy; and one who draws out the latent sweetness of each person he encounters. Light and salt positively impact things they encounter. They do so inclusively. Light illumines everything within its range and radius. Salt flavors food ingredients. Both serve and enhance others. Salt and light are altruistic in nature.
Christians are called to emulate the altruistic example of their master Jesus, who “came to serve and not to be served” (Mark 10:45). Christians, no doubt, render help, but not all help is altruistic. Christian altruism requires spontaneity (prompt response to a need), cheerfulness; above all, it rejects expectation for payback. Apathy is unchristian. It can be compared to directing a flashlight or torch into one’s own eyes so that others will not benefit from its shine. Apathy can also be likened to licking a mouth full of salt in order to render the food in the house, tasteless. The horrible feeling of dazzling the eyeballs or eating salt (by itself) captures how terrible we become any time we fail to share our derivative Light from Christ or use the tasty salt in us to flavor the insipid world around us. Unshared salt or light is a total waste to both the owner and others. As a Christian, whose lives have you illumined, which mouths have you put smiles on, or what lives have you brought sweetness and joy? Your answer validly defines you.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD - FEBRUARY 2, 2020
"Temple Presentation: A Prophetic Fulfillment"
Today, we celebrate a two-dimensional event that traces its root to an ancient Jewish religious practice. On the one hand is the postpartum purification of Mary. On the other hand is the presentation of Jesus in the temple. This ancient practice is one of the finest biblical customs upheld in both Eastern and Western liturgical rites. The feast is celebrated on February 2nd. Its prominence over Sunday in ordinary time is remarkable.
Why purification of Mary? Recall that this event happened in the era of justification by Law. Mary and Joseph were obedient to the Law of God, as well as civil laws. Besides being just, Mary traveled with utmost difficulty due to her advanced pregnancy to Bethlehem for the national census. At her time, mothers were restricted from community worship until their purification rite is performed. The blood flow at a child’s birth had to be ritually cleansed on the 40th day (from Dec. 25th to Feb. 2nd). This is more a law on hygiene with spiritual undertone. Blood was sacred to the ancients than it is today. Mary therefore went though this process in fulfillment of the law. Otherwise, the blood at Jesus’s birth was itself a purifier: “He (Lord) will purify the sons of Levi” (Mal. 3:1-4)).
Why presentation of Jesus? Two previous divine manifestations of the baby Jesus to the shepherds and to the Magi culminated in his temple presentation. This event is the crown of his infancy epiphanies. As stipulated in the Mosaic Law, every first child-son shall be consecrated to God with a sacrifice of 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons (for poor parents). Like Mary, Jesus’s presentation was in fulfillment of all righteousness. Both were decent respecters of the law – “I came not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). By his divinity, Jesus automatically belonged to the temple. As a 12 year old he would remind his parents that the temple was his home – “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the life of Jesus was a constant struggle in harmonizing his divine and human natures. It has remained uncertain whether any nature dominated. So, while fulfilling the ritual practice of being presented in the temple, the infant Jesus was also fulfilling his role as a purifier. Compared to the refiner of gold in the prophecy of Malachi, every being that encounters Jesus glows. From infancy, the Light of Jesus has continued to illumine various dimensions of the darkened world.
Even though humanity was caught napping at the birth of Jesus, the righteous old Simeon and the pious Anna were met keeping vigil for the expected messiah. We can imagine how complete their joys were. Invariably, the presentation of Jesus equally illumined these two seniors, who perhaps had difficulty travelling to Bethlehem for census. Their prayerful dedication at the temple merited a priceless reward of beholding the savior of the world before sleeping in peace. Therefore, Jesus’s presentation was a dual fulfillment of the law and the prophetic promise to Simeon. In the midst of these fulfillments Simeon gave his prophetic insight to the parents in order to enlighten them on the mission implications of their son.
As foretold by Simeon that Jesus’ mission will bring the fall and rise of many in Israel truly affirms a deconstructive-constructive (or a degeneration-regeneration form of baptism) pattern of salvation (Heb. 2:14-18). If we died with Jesus, we shall rise (and reign) with him (2 Tim. 2:11). Next, the chosen methodology for achieving the defined pattern would be perceived as contradictory. 1) The personality of Jesus: his kenosis (emptying of self in Phil. 2:6-11; a king that chose to serve; a creator that borrowed everything, including his body). 2) His teaching interrupted the standard of the world. Simeon concluded by confirming Mary’s role in the salvific mission of Jesus. That the sword (of sorrow) would pierce Mary’s heart attests to her profound participation, as the second Eve, in the salvation plan. This is further witnessed in the church’s liturgical arrangement of placing the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14th) side by side with Our Lady of Sorrows (September, 15th).
As we light our candles in procession or solemn entrance into the house of God, may the Light of Christ dispel our individual and collective shades of darkness, as it did thousands of years ago for Simeon and Anna.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 26, 2020
Lisa was a well-experienced but humane obstetrician in a local clinic. She was popular for successful handling of complicated deliveries. And so became the favorite of every expectant mother. On that fateful day, Lisa was scheduled to deliver six mothers of their babies. One of them was pregnant of triplets. She had worked a night before due to a prolonged labor and so resumed duty in the afternoon. While still at the doctor’s dressing room, a nurse brought an emergency call that the triplet mother suddenly went into severe labor. Swiftly reacting to her report, her phone rang and it was the principal of her daughter’s school. Picking up, the message, though from an unstable voice, was clear: “Lisa, am sorry, your daughter has been kidnapped …” Impulsively, and without waiting for the rest of message, Lisa ran toward the exit door but stopped, and rather dashed into the labor room. She concealed her disquiet in order to save the mother and her kids. As if preplanned, the other five mothers, perhaps at the sight of Lisa, simultaneously went into labor. She never left until all mothers were safely delivered of their babies.
Driving home she struggled with bittersweet emotions. Would her family and friends, especially her daughter, ever forgive her? Could she even forgive herself of negligence of family commitment? At once, what could have been worse than withdrawing from saving multiple lives? Her worries were intermittently illumined by the flashback of smiles from the babies she delivered. For her family, Lisa was a terrible disappointment, even though her sacrifice benefited humanity. Not even the good news that police later found her daughter changed the ugly label on Lisa. She remained the unsung heroine. At the crossroad between family ties and altruism, stands the Christian sacrificial life that Jesus exemplified. Whoever wants to be a Christian disciple must renounce the self, overcome family ties, embrace daily sacrificial responsibilities, and follow Christ’s footsteps (Luke 14:26). It takes huge sacrifice to be altruistic in the Christian standard. Practical Christianity is a duty call, in which the need must set the agenda for response. On the contrary, what motivates our decisions is far from the compelling need. Often, it is either the self or its family extension that usually defines what is needful. Responding to individual needs or family responsibilities is good, but could be dangerous when it obstructs vision to respond to others in need. It therefore takes a critical look to see beyond the clog of sentiments. A cursory look at the gospel passage (Matt. 4:12-23) would only see insensitivity in Jesus’ decision to leave town, on hearing that John the Baptist, his 2nd cousin, has been imprisoned. Why not? John lived and worked for Jesus but felt abandoned by that same messiah. But did Jesus really abscond?
Spiritualizing the answer would argue that Jesus knew that John has excellently completed his mission of setting the stage for the messiah. Perhaps, his life no longer mattered. Such position is wrong because it reduces John to an object that was used and dumped.
Reasonably, the worst fate for John was martyrdom, the ultimate price of Christianity, which has a meritorious prize. And the heroic John couldn’t have been scared of martyrdom. Again, Herod, the killer of John, would have killed Jesus, the non-violent messiah, which would have ended his life, even before he started his salvific mission. In other words, it was not insensitivity, but rather call of duty that motivated Jesus to launch his salvation ministry in the coastal city of Naphtali.
As the women in labor were in dire need of Lisa, so was Naphtali yearning for the Light of Jesus. Rather than play any role in the rescue mission of her daughter, Lisa saved the lives of mothers and their babies in the delivery room. Like Jesus, Lisa sacrificed family ties in order to save lives.
Recall that Jesus came to offer fulfillment to those in need, and note also that his pattern prioritized the neediest. At every encounter, Jesus fills in what each person or city lacks. Naphtali the devastated victim of several wars, which sat in the gloom of darkness, became his mission start point. Aware of the demand of his mission, Jesus chose his earliest four apostles from among fishermen in the distressed district of Galilee. Experienced fishermen like Andrew, Simon, James and John, were collectively poor and local, but rich in simplicity, patience and dependent on God for their daily earnings. As peasants, it was easier to detach from their work and family ties. By following Jesus, they would earn popularity and fulfillment. But as the mission progressed, their simplicity, patience, and dependence on God, improved with challenging experiences, which toughened their skins for deeper commitment to duty calls.
Christians have a common duty to do good always, even at the expense of self-comfort. The call to save life from inception to natural death is a sacred duty, not a choice.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JANUARY 19, 2020
In the old city of London, before the invention of electricity, Mr. Smith enjoyed smoking his pipe at sunset in his porch, overlooking the major streets intersections. The sweet menthol of his pipe was usually embellished by the routine job of the district torchbearer. From his vantage position, Mr. Smith felt captivated by the activity of the torchbearer as he gradually set the street fire-posts aglow. Hidden in the shadow of the twilight, the torchbearer brought unhidden smiles to Mr. Smith, his neighbors, and several road users. After lighting up the lives of people and their environment, the torchbearer would vanish into the clutches of awaiting darkness. This invisible torchbearer could only be seen through the visibility of his services.
Generally, no one likes to be invisible. The common tendency is to be seen and heard. Technology, especially social media is rapidly growing the craving for visibility to an extent that not being visible is considered nonexistent. However, a purposeful invisibility for the visibility of another occupies an advanced level of heroism.
John the Baptist (JB) was the torchbearer of his dark era. JB introduced the Light (Christ) to the gloomy world, but barely enjoyed the illumination. The personality of JB can fairly be described as enigmatic. Though the greatest of all time (Luke 7:28), still the humblest; existed in the New Testament, but lived a choice life of Old Testament prophets; a privileged kin of Jesus, but preferred being his servant. Most importantly, JB adopted invisibility in order that Jesus would be unmistakably visible to the world: “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:30).
Moreover, the 3 basic necessitates of life (food, shelter and clothing) that the world craves for meant nothing to JB. Rather he found fulfillment in being the invisible voice that ushered in the Light of the world. He even encouraged his own disciples (like Andrew) to follow Jesus.
Standing at the commencement of Jesus' public ministry, JB summarized his mission by performing a single but all-important act of introducing Christ to the world: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). Immediately afterward, he disappeared from the scene (was jailed and decapitated). In fact, JB offers Christians a reliable paradigm of discipleship through his unwavering commitment toward making Christ visibly present to the world.
Learning from JB, the world would be a better place, if Christians could live their daily lives in such a manner that individual talents, charisms, skills, and professions, are geared toward projecting Christ, and Christ alone. As a universal gauge, a bad Christian attracts attention to himself/herself, while a good Christian aspires to reflect Christ in order to direct others to Him. The Lord, himself has said: “It is too little, … for you to be my servant, … I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:5-6). Therefore, Let us make Christ visible to the world by adopting invisibility. May our good works be seen, and not us.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF JESUS - JANUARY 12, 2020
Baptism of Jesus is a significant event between his private (30 years of family) life and his public ministry. On the one hand, Jesus’ baptism concludes the Christmas season, but also commences his 3 years ministerial duties as the teaching prophet, the sanctifying priest, and the king of kings.
At the baptism of Jesus two facts were revealed. First, there was need to publicly endorse the very fact that Jesus’ incarnation did not distort his divine personality. This confirmation was aimed at eliminating possible doubts or suspicions that the human birth and tutelage by the mother, Mary, affected the divinity of Jesus.
When John the Baptist conceded to Jesus’ request for baptism at the river Jordan, the three persons of the Trinity were actively present. In the full glare of the crowds, and as Jesus stepped out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove, while the voice of the Father thundered: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3: 13-17). In essence, the words of the Father and the witnessing of the Holy Spirit confirmed the 100% divine nature of Jesus, even in a 100% human nature. Thus, the Church truly teaches that Jesus is one person with two natures.
By extension, the endorsement of the Father and the Holy Spirit also accounts for the appreciation of the excellent motherhood of Mary. From the moment of conception, through birth, and the raising of Jesus, Mary’s motherhood was judged a perfect service in collaboration of the Trinity. The words of the Father can be read as a thankful appreciation to Mary and Joseph for the awesome job of raising a flawless Son of God for 30 years.
If God trusted the competence of Mary for 30 years; if Jesus humbled and obeyed Mary’s instructions for 30 years; and if Mary intimately knew Jesus for 30 years; why should any sane Christian presume he/she could be a true follower of Jesus, without appreciating the unique role of the mother? From this analysis, there is no doubt that Mary was the most privileged disciple of her son. Needless to conclude that Mary not only heard the Word of God and kept it (Luke 11:28), but was also present at the Pentecost event (Acts 1: 12-14).
Second, the baptism of Jesus provided the opportunity not only to affirm the identity of Jesus but more so to define his mission. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is that non-violent savior that would rather sacrifice his life for the sake of his flock, than break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, until he establishes justice on the earth (Is 42: 1-4, 6-7).
But why was Jesus baptized? Baptism was not necessary for Jesus, a reason John the Baptist tried to decline from baptizing him. The answer is rather found in the statement of Peter: After the baptism of Jesus, he went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10: 34-38). As a prophetic teacher, Jesus underscored the message of the kingdom by his examples. The easiest manner to inculcate the necessity of baptism to his followers (compared to children) was for Jesus to accept baptism, thereby confirming his mission identity as the Way, the Truth and the Life. However, because John’s baptism was for repentance only, toward the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus commanded the Trinitarian formula as a criterion for valid Christian baptism instituted for eternal salvation. Therefore, all Christians should strive to appreciate the fact that both the 30 years of Jesus’ private life (under Mary) and his 3 years of public ministry were inseparably committed for our salvation.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
EPIPHANY - JANUARY 5, 2020
"His Light Also Shines to the Gentiles "
"Gentiles" is a generic biblical term for non-Jews or other nations. Like the Jews, the sign of the expected messiah was extended to them because Jesus was born as king of the whole world. Two groups of complementary identities represented the Israelite-Jews (shepherds) and the Gentiles (magi) in the remarkable visitations to the infant savior. As noticed, the fuzzy understanding of the shepherds concerning the coming of the messiah reflects the faint interpretation of his star (sign) by the astrologers from the East.
The story of the magi fits into the single event of Christmas. The magi visitation today, complements the earlier visitation of the shepherds. Perhaps, the shepherds in their lowliness and simplicity overcame the busyness of the Jewish society. But to prove that the obstacle was the man-made busyness, and not the comfortable status of the people who gathered in Bethlehem, the second visitors of the baby Jesus were drawn from the elite class. The wealthy learned magi validate the scriptural point that Christ came to reconcile ALL things back to the Father. So, even as a baby in the manger, Jesus already became the rallying point and the enricher of ALL.
Epiphany marks the revelation of Christ to the non-Jewish world. Although the manifestation came later, still the faith deposit it impacted on these foreigners is quite the same. Geographic distance and time are no determinants in the faith journey.
Epiphany can as well be the actual Christmas for non-Jews. God chose to reveal His son first to the Jews before the Gentiles. Only God knows the reason for that plan. Nonetheless, to date, the Orthodox Catholics of Eastern rite celebrate Epiphany as their own Christmas.
Whether celebrated according to the Western rite or the Eastern rite, Christmas is for respective wholeness. From the status upgrade of unworthy ancestors of men and women, through the popularity of the shepherds, then to the conversion of the wealthy pagan magi, the birth of Christ has proven its illuminative power over the darkness of doubt and ignorance. None of these actors in the drama of faith was complete. Rather, the fullness of revelation of God in Christ shed His Light upon them and made them whole. At each visitation of the baby-Christ, inadequacies were healed. The insignificant shepherds became the first and authentic witnesses of the savior’s birth, while the pagan magi returned home as believers. Christmas completes whatever each person lacks. To the humble hearted, Christ’s birth brought fulfillment. But to the egoists (like King Herod), who had no room for Christ, the message of His birth became a threat that exacerbated into infanticide (killing of the under two year olds). “He came to his own, but his own did not accept him. But to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God (John 1:11-12). Let us strive to belong to the group that long to receive Christ daily, by witnessing to his Light on earth.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH - DECEMBER 29, 2019
"The Ideal Family"
The family of believers is the first Church, and the nucleus of Christian learning. The first religious lessons begin in the family through words and examples. Children easily copy what they see rather than what they hear. A family that has time for God would produce children that know and respect God, prior to encountering contrary teachings.
Church in its proper perspective is the gathering of two or three in the name of Christ (Matt. 18: 20). It is the family of believers that forms the basic Church. Hence, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, logically idealizes the first church. Every other form of Christian community is an extension of such family faith. In other words, the family is the parameter for measuring the faith-strength of Christianity in every local Church. It is improper therefore to view the Church as gathering of individuals. That will reduce the church to a crowd.
This family based importance of the Church has come under enormous threat at our age and time. The simple reason derives from the fact that family and church are interrelated. Whatever affects one affects the other. Said differently, the failure of the family adversely affects the growth of the Church. Most recently, secular and political policies are fast in eroding family bonds, with the Church as primary target. Accordingly, the loud individualism amidst the noisy world has been detrimental to the healthy status of family life.
Learning from the Holy family therefore, can be instrumental to the disruption of such dangerous plot. The Holy family comprises Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Even though its hierarchical order connotes a reversal of the conventional family template of father, mother, and child, exploring the thirty years of Jesus’ private life, before his public ministry, can be revealing. In accordance with CCC #533 two major secrets of the Holy Family bond, are contemplative silence and dignity of work. This approach can further be achieved through juxtaposition with the triple roles of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and by identifying their distinctions, without losing sight of their connectivity.
In contrast to the modern passion for voice, Mary and Joseph maintained equilibrium in their home through contemplative silence. They discovered the nobility of silence and applied it as a rule of life. Silence does not mean indifference. Rather, it means the discipline of talking when necessary and about relevant issues. Mary spoke few but effective words in the scripture. In like manner, the scripture depicts Joseph as a great listener that loved putting into action the will of God. In fact, there is no single word in the scripture attributed to Joseph. The act of pondering the mystery of salvation protected Mary and Joseph from verbal profanity and abuses. Unfortunately, in today world, silence is detestably viewed as mark of nonexistence. Loquacity has assumed a beacon of freedom of expression with its concomitant abuses. Nevertheless, inventions and lifesaving breakthroughs are products of silence.
For Mary and Joseph, silence does not mean inactivity. On the contrary, silence increases concentration, which improves productivity of labor. These parents of Jesus as tradition testifies valued the dignity of human labor. Both found fulfillment in their respective house keeping stewardship and carpentry skill, but inculcated same to Jesus.
Jesus, though God, subjected himself to the parenting skills of Mary and Joseph. He respectfully learned from them, even though he was to be their teacher. Honoring of parents is the only commandment with an earthly reward because of the importance of parental roles. However, great parents are also open to learn from their children, as Mary and Joseph did, when Jesus stayed back in the Temple, doing his heavenly Father’s work.
Parenting involves a balance of fatherly and motherly roles. Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus, but Joseph was their custodian, who implemented the flight to Egypt. The secret of successful parenting lays on the ability to give the partner excuses. Trust is key, here. Mary and Joseph had individual messages from God, but none doubted the other. The overall secret of Mary and Joseph can be identified in the unconditional love of God they shared. Therefore, whenever a family of believers anchors its home on love of God, mutual respect and appreciation become the delicious fruits of silence and hard work.
Wishing you a favorable New Year. Fr. Levi
NATIVITY OF OUR LORD - DECEMBER 25, 2019
"The Unwelcomed Savior: A Lesson for All"
“Christmas comes to bless the earth with its wondrous heavenly gift.” Many however, miss its heavenly blessings. It took 30 solid days of Advent preparations for the messiah’s birth. In ancient times, it even took centuries of hope between Isaiah’s prophecy of a virgin’s birth, whose name is Emmanuel, and its fulfillment on the first Christmas. Still, the messiah was unwelcomed. Rather, the infant-savior had the lowliest of birth without merriment. Even though Caesar Augustus decreed a census holiday, people gathered, but got busier with their own thing. Consequently, there was no-space for the savior of the world. Indeed, each person had excuses for the unwelcoming attitude. Nonetheless, how silly could excuses be when seen from a vantage point?
A drunk man in a house party suddenly remembered that drunk driving is a severe punishable offense. Unannounced, he left the party and boarded a city transit bus. An hour later, those in the party got curious about his absence. So, his best friend phoned to check on him: “Sam, where are you, your car is parked outside?” Intoxicated Sam hilariously replied: “Yeah, I am in a bus headed home. I left the car because I can’t drive drunk. Who wants a ticket from those mean looking cops? Shocked, the friend asked: “Which other home are you going to, we are all in your house. You are hosting the house party.” As silly as the excuse of the drunk Sam, so was humanity’s excuses at the first Christmas, and perhaps, thereafter.
Christmas reenacts the birth of that God, who took our nature (incarnation) and stayed with us (Immanu-El). His prenatal names: Emmanuel (God among us) and Jesus (savior) communicate the oneness of his person and mission.
Christ came that All may have life in abundance (John 10:10). Even though, the optimal goal of Christmas is humanity’s interest: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (John 1: 1-13). What boldness of ingratitude!!!
In truth, his virgin birth instituted wholeness across borders. It interrupted the Jewish male world, and included Tamar (adulterer), Rahab (prostitute), Ruth (a Moabite – a pagan territory), Bathsheba (adulterer) and Mary (a suspect of infidelity), in the list of Jesus’ ancestors (Matt 1: 1-25).
Next, the shepherds (stereotyped as non-persons) were the first to receive the message of Christmas. Most probably, they were excluded from the census. In spite of their invalidity as witnesses in court, these marginalized shepherds became the first authentic announcers of the good news of Christmas. They were also the first choristers of the divinely taught Gloria.
Even though the shepherds were the first human visitors to the infant Jesus (Lk. 2: 1-14), they were second to the hospitality of the animals. All rooms were sold off, except the manger in the stable. Again, humanity fumbled in her silly excuses of busyness.
Busyness is a common excuse that obstructs. On the first Christmas night families and friends were noisily busy (drunk in merriment) that they missed the greatest joyous event in human history. Could it be that the shepherds were able to hear the melodious song of the heavenly host because they were quiet and less busy? Despite being drawn together in Bethlehem, people still allowed silly excuses to prevent them from witnessing to the unique event of the first Christmas. The heavenly host, nature’s moon and stars and the animal kingdom bowed in adoration at the birth of the savior, but humanity was too busy to welcome its highest Gift. Therefore, learning from the folly of humanity’s busyness is a welcomed development, because “… to those that accepted him, he (Christ) gave the offer of adoption as children of God.”
Merry Christmas. Fr. Levi
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 22, 2019
The “Contradictory” Sign of the Messiah
Why a sign?
A sign points to a reality that shares meaningful relationship with it. It draws attention not to itself, but to something else. Signs inspire hope toward what is signified. Signs occur either as natural (one to one identification, like smoke and fire) or artificial (logical connection, like road signs). Overall, signs evoke the imminence of the expected reality. Therefore, sign and hope are interrelated in the same way logical contradiction evokes doubt.
However, beyond these two types of sign is the supernatural sign. Supernatural sign is not governed by natural laws. As such, it takes both faith and reason to understand it. In supernatural sign, the reality and what points to it are inseparable. Essentially, the sign is the reality itself. This distinction enables us to better understand why God prompted Ahaz to ask for a sign concerning the long awaited messiah.The circumstances of King Ahaz of Judah, (Southern Israel; 2 tribes) needs retelling. War is looming. The enemy allies have encamped against a helpless Judah. Ahaz, in obedience to the prophetic word of God from Isaiah, relied on the protection of God. He refused to join forces with the Northern Israel (10 tribes) and her allies, against the Assyrians. As a result, the Northern forces declared war against Judah in order to destroy Ahaz, and install a puppet king in their favor.
Should Ahaz fight in defense of Judah? Strangely, God told Ahaz, through Isaiah, not to do anything but that He, God, is the protection of Judah. Sensing that Ahaz was not convinced, God told him to ask for a sign. Fortunately, the fear of God in Ahaz surpassed his doubts, and he declined the (sign) offer.
God was highly pleased with the decision of Ahaz because faith is deeper than reason. As a result, God did not only protect Judah, He as well promised a supernatural sign (“a virgin will bear a son”) for a supernatural reality (messiah – God-Man) from the minority tribe of Judah. When viewed with a natural lens, this supernatural sign appears contradictory.
Whatever thwarts the logic of natural laws is hastily termed contradictory, as though such laws must regulate every happenstance. The ordained coming of the messiah has a sign that flaws the laws of nature and logic. This particular sign contains what it signifies: “A virgin will bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel – God with us.” Does that mean, God, through Isaiah, foretold “contradiction” as a sign of the messiah?
A critical look shows no contradiction. The coming of the messiah is not governed by the logical principles of natural laws. Natural laws only govern natural occurrences, but not supernatural events. The coming of the messiah is a supernatural event that surpasses the laws of natural logic. If a genuine sign must contain the reality it signifies, then a pregnant virgin is the best sign for a God-Man's conception and birth. Here, the natural interfaced with the supernatural. It is therefore most appropriate that the holy marriage between divinity and humanity gave birth to the messiah. Mary and Joseph struggled with this seeming contradiction, until they received clarifications from God.
In that unique moment of incarnation, the chosen Virgin Mary collaborated with the Trinity: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Lk 1: 35). She is the human ambassador, whose irrevocable YES enabled the first Christmas. God permitted the collaboration of one uncontaminated human person in order to save the world because “God who created you without you, will not save you without you,” (Augustine). Mary qualified as that purest human, whose body became the safe sanctuary for the divine messiah.
To prove that life is larger than logic, God gave Ahaz a special sign to reassure doubtful minds of His sustained plan of salvation. This sign of “a virgin birth” is uniquely extraordinary because it contains what it signifies – the divine-human reality, which is the cause of our joy.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 15, 2019
"Patience is Key"
Most regrettable acts have resulted from impatience. Little wonder the Latin wisdom says: In dubio non agis – Do not act, while in doubt.
Consequently, the Gaudate Sunday or the Third Sunday of Advent speaks the language of patience. Gaudate or joyful symbolized with the rose candle on the Advent wreath encourages Christians to hold on a little bit more. Even though it can be difficult to wait so long, many have missed the excitement because they gave up, not knowing that the end was too near. Only the patient ones are able to witness the joyous reward of reaching the end.
The pastoral letter of James (5: 7-10) admonishes Christians to learn the patience of the farmer as he waits on the late rains for fruitful harvest. Bishop James teaches that the coming of the Messiah requires not just the farmer’s patience, but also the patience of prophets: “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The most fitting prophet to learn from is John the Baptist (JB). “JB was more than a prophet,” still, he experienced hardship while waiting for the messiah. He was “the chosen messenger of the messiah,” and a 2nd cousin of Jesus, still, he languished in prison, but later paid the ultimate price of his prophetic ministry.
We can imagine the thoughts of JB in the captivity of Herod (IV) that caused him to send messengers to Jesus, in order to clear his doubt about the messiah: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” If JB was at some point confused concerning the inaction of the messiah to save him from prison, he might have struggled to understand the kind of messiah he prepared the way for his coming.
Like JB, our narrow expectation of the messiah is the problem. Unfortunately, the messiah is neither a warlord, nor the Spiderman. Rather, Isaiah (35: 1-61, 10) describes the character of the expected messiah: “He comes with vindication, with divine recompense . . . Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” When confronted with the skeptical question from JB, Jesus authenticated his messiah-ship by affirming the prophecy of Isaiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”Interestingly, despite his doubts, JB took no offense at Jesus, and was blessed. The patience of JB in suffering for the expected messiah that “strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11: 1-10), contributed in earning him, the “Greatest Of All Time” title, from the messiah: “Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Whoever, therefore, takes the advise of Bishop James seriously, and learns from the patience of prophet John the Baptist puts himself or herself in the best mood of meriting the praise and blessing of the messiah, when he comes. With patience, our hope to see the messiah will be awesomely rewarded. The messiah will soon be with us. A little bit of patience is needed to unleash the desired joyous moment. Hurrah!!! Brothers and sisters, the waiting will soon be over.
God bless you. Fr Levi
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 8, 2019
"Hope against Hopelessness"
This second phase of Advent journey reassures hope and justice for the victimized. In ages past, God through the prophets has promised a Messiah for the rescue mission plan of the oppressed. This phase II plan unveils the strategic approaches of the expected Messiah, which include disabling the wicked and rehabilitating the victims of their wickedness. Although people have different perceptions about the Messiah, the Messiah in his unique approach is coming to bring hope amidst hopelessness.
To the impatient modern mind (such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees), the way of the Messiah delays and is unreasonable. The unnatural lowly birth of such a nonviolent preacher and his shameful passion and death contradict the reasonability of modern logic concerning an eradicator of evil. For these skeptics, why still hope on a “weak” Messiah? Our expected Messiah is not weak. Rather, his approach is different from the societal mindset. His gradual and nonviolent strategies are designed for our own good. The faithful understand the news of expectation of the Messiah and wait in eagerness and excitement.
Five youngsters got lost in a strange Island when the storm overturned their boat. They lay exhausted on the shore for a couple hours. Then they worried on what next to do. The believer-girl proposed praying to God since they lost everything including their communication gadgets. She was vehemently opposed and ridiculed. Luckily, one of the skeptics found an old rusted lighter with little fluid. Everyone sprung into gathering coconut palms for constructing a shelter. After construction, they lit dried sticks and palms to keep warm. Satisfied with their efforts, they rushed into the water to freshen up. As they were in the water, the wind increased the fire and it burned down their shelter, including the lighter. What a huge loss!!! The believer-girl tried to comfort by encouraging them not to give up on God. Unanimously, the other four cursed her and her God, questioning where that God was when they lost everything in the storm. And worse still, the destruction of their shelter – the only hope of immediate survival. Amidst such pain and devastation, the four skeptics were despaired and waited for death. But the believer-girl stayed by herself and prayed. Even though she couldn’t fathom when and how the rescue mission would happen, she eagerly waited.
Suddenly a hovering rescue helicopter disrupted their silence. “The savior is here,” they shouted. The youngsters were overwhelmed with joy, while being lifted away from their hopelessness. Curiously, one of them asked the pilot how he located them. “I saw your smoke signal and found you,” he replied. But they said we didn’t send any signal. The fire burned our improvised shelter and we lost all hope. Immediately, the believer-girl shouted, “all thanks to God for answered prayers.” God allowed the destruction of what we thought could have protected us for a night to become a reliable sign for our final safety. The rest were humbled.
As the scripture messages announce the modality of the expected Messiah, it is received with negative and positive attitudes. While indifference and skepticism dismiss the truth of the coming Messiah, believers await him with excitement and joy. Unlike the modern logic mindset, believers express hope in the midst of hopelessness. The believer-girl, even though a suppressed voiced, was finally vindicated. We can learn from her to resist the pressure of the secular society and believe that God’s silence is neither weakness, nor abandonment. Rather, the Messiah’s gradual and nonviolent strategies are designed for our best interests.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 1, 2019
"Advent is Here"
Happy New Year, everyone. Advent begins the new year of the Church. Advent comes from two Latin words: ad (towards) and venio (coming; to come). Literally, advenit translates “he is coming towards.” So, Advent implies two important questions: Who is coming and for what reason? The Messiah is coming towards his oppressed people in order to liberate them, especially from sin and death. Advent is the liturgical season that reenacts that period of increased longing for the first coming of the Messiah. By extension, there is still need for God’s intervention in our distorted world in order to restore our hope for life.
The significance of Advent positions it between the first coming and the second (Last) coming. Liturgically, Advent offers an ongoing consciousness of the second coming of Christ (anticipated as Christ the King), but with emphasis on the memorial of the first visitation (Christmas). The liturgical color of purple speaks the language of hope in the four weeks of Advent, represented by the four big candles of the Advent wreath. From one lighted in the first week, the number of lit candles increases proportionately in subsequent weeks. Gloria at Mass is dropped during Advent such that it will be sung with renewed spirit on Christmas Eve (marking the first time the angels sang it to the shepherds).
Advent language of hope is emphatically present in the readings of today. The reality of such yearning period in the history of our faith can best be experienced through imagination. Imagine what it feels like being under the colonial Romans, with severe restrictions on political, religious and economic freedom, but daily anticipate the day of the promised Messiah. And behold God speaks through Isaiah that the day of the Lord (the Savior) is nearer than ever (Is 2:1-5). The great excitement must have cut across the aging, and the young, including the children, resulting in an overwhelming eagerness to experience freedom. With similar feeling should we desire the presence of the infant savior among us because our confused secularized world lacks Christ. The evils, injustices, and calamities we daily experience are clear indicators of our helplessness.
Paul calls for an increased consciousness of the Savior, whose coming is sooner: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:11-14). Here, Paul sets basis for the Lord’s coming, which echoes the same readiness implied during Advent and for the second coming. Similarly, Jesus forewarns against the distractions from the lust of the flesh that kept people busy in the time of Noah and cost them their lives in the flood (Mt 24: 37-44). Unfortunately, the orgies of sin are still holding many people in captivity, and obstructing them to realize the need to prepare for the Lord’s coming. But the truth is, no amount of pleasure can satisfy, while still in captivity. The lasting satisfaction needed is freedom from captivity, which can only be granted by Christ. Advent is that opportunity to intensify the preparation for Jesus, the Messiah (so as not to be found wanting). Welcome onboard, Advent Airline, for a four weeks cruise.
God bless you. Fr Levi
CHRIST THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE- NOVEMBER 24, 2019
"Christ the King of Kings"
Christ the King is the liturgical anticipation of the second coming of Christ as a king, destined to happen on the Last Day, when all things will be reconciled to the Father, through the justice of personal accountability. That very Day, Christ will judge the earth.
Is Christ a king? Christ is the ideal king, and therefore the king of kings. He is the unique king. When interrogated by Pilate during his passion, Jesus replied: “my kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36). Pilate, hearing that said: “Then you are a king?” Jesus replied: "For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth" (Lk. 23:3). Christ’s definitive responses eliminated any doubt concerning his kingship.
Was Christ kingly while on earth? Yes and No! No, because Christ’s kingship transcends the standard of earthly kings. Earthly standard of royalty emphasizes supremacy and might. In other words, the people labor and sacrifice for their kings. It is so common that it has been the norm. Royalty therefore is the exclusive right of kings (queens). However, Christ warned against such supremacist’s ethics: “The kings of the earth lord it over their subjects, you shall not be like them" (Lk. 22:25-26).
Yes, because Christ is a king with a difference. Unlike the earthly kings, who demand worship and services from their subjects, Christ’s kingship renders services to all: “The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). Through multiple examples of service, Christ redefined leadership as servant oriented.
What kind of king is he? The “Servant Songs” in Isaiah 42: 1-9 and 49: 1-13 offer us the right lens to see Christ as the servant-king. Based on emphasis, Christ first coming is distinguished from his second coming. As Christ, he functions as a king, a priest and a prophet. Whereas his roles as a prophet and a priest dominated his first coming, his function as a king will dominate his second coming, without diminishing the other two. At this second coming, Christ will perform his role as the just judge. With a crown of love on his head and a scepter of equity in his hand, he will judge the world.
What are the significances of his kingship? It is for the purposes of love that judgment is scheduled at the end of time, but also reserved for God, who has a holistic knowledge of each person. Does God’s enduring patience to wait until the end not question our hasty condemnation of each other, despite our sketchy knowledge of the other? Is Christ the King celebration not an annual landmark reminder that “we act God” each time we judge another person? Nevertheless, Christ’s kingship assures us hope of freedom. This includes: freedom from oppression, misconception, servitude and contempt; freedom from sufferings, pains, and death; but also freedom of the children of God that enables us to become coheirs with Christ in his kingdom.
Christ the King celebration concludes the liturgical calendar of the year, the same way the second coming of Christ on the Last Day will bring creation to a purposeful end. The Church allows her members to experience such annual reminder in readiness for the ultimate end. Despite the certainty of this second coming, the day and time are uncertain to anyone, besides the Father. Therefore, readiness in waiting for Christ’s second coming is required, and as such an awesome deal, for the eternal joy and happiness it heralds. Yes, we can be found worthy, when Christ appears in glory.God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 17, 2019
"Staying Conscious of the Last Day"
With barely one week left before the Catholic liturgical calendar of the year comes to an end, it is not surprising that the readings speak the eschatological (end-time discourse) languages of warning. These biblical warnings, rather than sound scary, are aimed at avoiding silly mistakes. Righting our wrongs while there is time, in readiness for that end, is the goal. In other words, eschatological discourses are cautionary measures. Imagining the end to be as near as possible would necessitate the expected readiness for the second coming of Christ.
The church’s calendar will end next Sunday with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Christ the King is a foretaste celebration of that Last Day. Jesus first came as a savior. His second coming will be as a judge. In his first coming, Jesus through words and deeds showed us the WAY to the Father. This second coming, designed to bring all things to a unifying end, will be guided by the justice of rewarding each person according to his/her deeds. Therefore, the Last Day is for personal accountability. It is a day of reckoning; a day of judgment that separates the wicked from the kindhearted. The Last Day can occur as an individual or a collective end. As a matter of fact, not all who desire union with God would succeed due to procrastination. The time is now in order to avoid regrets.
Regrettably, we often worry endlessly because the focus of concern is missed. We should rather focus our worries on the things within our limit to improve, not on the things reserved for the divine authority of God. Certain worries are beyond us, such as seeking to know when and how the world will come to an end. According to Jesus: “Only the Father knows.” Readiness should be the only useful concern. This entails being prepared always for that unexpected Last Time and Day. What then should be the concern of Christians, if worrying about knowing the exact time is futile? Paul knows better.
Paul invites us to imitate his style of readiness for the Last Day. For Paul, living in view of the Last Day, demands that each day becomes an opportunity to be worthy children of God. The consciousness of the Last Day inculcates in us the wisdom to stay clean with God and to avoid any distractions.
Last Day is that most important day of life. What matters is not how we come into the world, but how we conclude our earthly journey. The winner of the marathon is decided by how the race ends. The Last Day is the finish line of the earthly race, except that the lines are invisible, and without cheerers. Only the inner voice of conscience accompanies each racer. Because of the invisible finish lines, many get lazier, lose focus, and give-up, not knowing they are a few inches away from their respective finish lines. Symptoms of laziness include pride, greed, slander, and self-centeredness.
Paul condemns the tendency of succumbing to laziness (2 Thes 3: 7-12). Laziness is a silent revolt against the gifted potentials of humanity meant for personal and collective improvements. Whoever therefore, chooses to abandon his race, or refuses to work, or doubtfully seeks a proof for the exact time and manner of the Last Day, has already condemned himself (Mal. 3: 19-20). Not even persecution is excusable enough for giving up the struggle. In the midst of oppression and calamity, the safety of the righteous is assured as promised by Jesus: “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” because “By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (LK 21:19). To persevere, one has to be ready for the Last Day by staying conscious of compassion and collaboration in good deeds.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 10, 2019
"Earthly Pleasure versus Heavenly Treasure"
Obviously, there are earthly treasures. Seekers of earthbound treasures, like the Sadducees, patronize them for the gains of worldly pleasures. Although stories of treasure hunt (search) include foreseeable risks, still the daring embark on it because the reward is nothing compared to the risks involved. Compared to earthly treasure, heaven is the ultimate treasure. Heavenly treasure in this regard represents that which optimally satisfies the afterlife experience.
Afterlife is that unmatchable treasure, which is incomparable to anything else. Unlike the hunt for earthly treasure, which is disrupted by death, the earnest desire for heavenly treasure transcends death. Death is incapable of obstructing the search for eternal life. It rather facilitates it. For sincere seekers of heavenly treasure, death can only be a quicker means to their goal, and not an end to it. Such distinction provides grounds for the daring attitude of the seven brothers seen in today’s 1st reading (2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14), but also the gospel exposition of the narrow-mindedness of the Sadducees (Lk 20: 27-38).
Driven by pleasure-bound philosophy, the Sadducees tried to ridicule Jesus about the possibility of resurrection. Similarly, the tyrannical king enforced death penalty on those who believed in the invaluable afterlife treasure. Fortunately, the propaganda of the Sadducees and the death strategy of the king failed woefully. In both examples, the faith conviction of what awaits the friends of God, after death, stood unbeatable.
Even though the eating of pork feels pleasurable, it was believed to be a violation against God’s law and so was resisted by the seven brothers. Death penalty was not enough threat to alter the strong belief of choosing obedience to God above any other pleasurable thing: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him…” (2 Mac 7: 9-14).
Like the seven faithful brothers, Christians are called to embrace the steadfastness that the grace of God offers, which fosters the desire for the heavenly treasure, even if it meant paying the ultimate prize of death (2Thess 2: 16 – 3:5). Equally, and against the lame argument of the Sadducees, Jesus teaches that resurrection is real because the seekers of the kingdom have no need for afterlife marriage. They are like angels. And since they made the right choice, they can no longer die because they were not afraid to die only once, in order to treasure eternal life. More practically, the Winter season which brings the dying of nature's beauty also assures the joyful hope that Spring (resurrection) will soon be here. Christians have a lot to learn from this natural phenomenon.
Elsewhere Paul affirms that no sacrifice is too much for the sake of Christ and his gospel. This might sound ridiculous, but more imperative in the present age and time when people tend to shun pain and try every means possible to deny its existence or negate its redeeming effect. More than ever, the global socio-political and religious oppressions demand concrete interruption of the inhuman current situation, irrespective of the costly price. Like Paul, may this personal pledge enrich our drive for the heavenly treasure: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church" (Colossians 1: 24).
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 3, 2019
"God and the Sinner"
God loves the sinner and so awaits his return. This statement is true because God sees the distinction between a sinner and his sins. The book of Wisdom 11:22-23 confirms that God “overlooks people’s sins that they may repent.” Said differently, God loves the sinner, but detests his sins. The sinner ceases to be one, at the very moment he decides to separate himself from his routine or occasional sinful acts. In the scene of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11), Jesus’ words affirm this distinction: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Jesus did not condemn the woman, and would not ever condemn her, if she would take seriously the advice to separate herself from sin. Therefore, anytime the sinner, in freedom, distances himself from sin, his personality bonds with God. The bonding of humanity with God is the origin and purpose of creation. Many desire this bonding, but can only actualize it through the proper use of freedom, and not its abuse. Freedom, as intrinsic gift from God, achieves its purpose when oriented toward the divine-human love-bond.
God endowed humanity with freedom that she might choose to stay on and enjoy the incomparable love relationship, or walk away into self-destruction. Each choice has inseparable consequences. Permit me to use the metaphor of light to further buttress this point. First, imagine God as the solar energy (sun), and each person as the moon. So long as the moon travels through the direction of the sun, it (like a mirror) reflects the light of the sun upon the earth, but gradually loses the light when it travels away from the source of light. As the moon loses its beauty and brightness when it derails from the sun, so does each person lose her essential beauty, when the darkened path of sin is chosen.
In accord with the Greek, harmartia (deviation), sin simply means a conscious walking away from the glowing and glorious presence of God, into the perilous dark zone. Nevertheless, here is the good news: there is always enough room awaiting the return to the source of light. In this regard, if the moon returned to the sun and stayed, its light will ever glow. Similarly, God patiently and eagerly awaits our return to stay – “there is more joy in the presence of the angels of God, over a sinner that repents” (Lk 15:10).
Jesus in the gospel narrative (Lk 19:1-10) exemplified the untold patience and eagerness of God toward a sinner that seeks the face of God. Like Zacchaeus, sin obstructs the vision of a sinner to see God. However, immediately the sinner thirsts for God by making sincere effort to overcome his obstacle (Lazarus climbed a tree against his short stature), he would be surprised at the extent of readiness with which God has desired his return.
Unfortunately, God cannot force a sinner to return home. That would contradict His endowed freedom to humanity. At the same time, God never ceases to propose a return reminder by whispering to our consciences, and by providing appealing signs along the chosen wrong way: “…. little by little [God] warns them (sinners) and reminds them of the sins they are committing that they may abandon their wickedness…” (Wis 12:2). More so, at the very moment someone made a decision to return, God prioritizes the process. Such was the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus.Whereas the Pharisees defined Zacchaeus by his dishonest tax practices, Jesus emphasized the distinction between his sins and his person, and so, offered him the opportunity to separate the two. The beauty in Zacchaeus, which Jesus saw and helped to activate, revealed him as a compassionate person, who resolutely abandoned his evil past, and over-compensated those he extorted. The story of Zacchaeus teaches that a sinner today can become a saint tomorrow. To become a saint, we only need to desire God by freeing ourselves from the shackles of sins, in order to be embraced by the awaiting hands of God. Good luck in your decision.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 27, 2019
"Bad Prayer / How Not to Pray"
The “Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” Also, God is mostly compassionate to the cry of the oppressed, the poor, and the orphan because the prayer of the humble pierces the cloud and does not rest until it obtains its request (Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18). Why then are some prayers not answered within the ambience of God’s justice?
Paul uses his humble experience to explain how the justice of God works. According to him, the justice of God functions within the love of God. It is neither revengeful, nor retributive. Rather, the justice of God allowed Paul to forgive those who denied him support at very crucial moment. Facing those trials, Paul contracts the desertion he suffered from his followers with the unflinching faithfulness of God (2 Tim 4: 6-8, 16-18). Like Paul, the consolation of believers is anchored on the truth that a just reward awaits those who would not despise others for whatsoever reason.
To despise others entails self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a symptom of pride, which contaminates prayer. It takes pride to defend and cover up one’s flaws or guilt. On the contrast, it takes humility to accept or acknowledge one’s weakness or wrong. Humility melts all obstacles along the path of one’s prayer because it attracts the just compassion of God. Any prayer therefore that lacks humility is a bad prayer. Moreover, a bad or contaminated prayer is offensive to God’s ears.
To pray badly is to be elusive of the ACTS of prayer. Genuine prayer is a deliberate act with a defined purpose addressed to the Supreme authority of all things. It is a dialogic interaction between two unequal persons or between a petitioner and the (sole) petitioned. The ACTS of prayer includes the four aspects of genuine petition: Adoration (acknowledging the supremacy of God in contrast to our inferiority), Contrition (acknowledging our faults and imperfections), Thanksgiving (appreciating the benevolence of God), and Supplication (affirming our nothingness without God). In other words, prayer is itself an obvious expression of humility, helplessness, and dependency upon God.
The Pharisee in the gospel narrative (Luke 18: 9-14) prayed wrongly because the ACTS of prayer did not guide his words to God. Worse still, he despised the tax collector in the process of bragging. First, his words were empty of prayer (only praised himself). Second, they were offensive (arrogance). His boasting and arrogance contaminated his address to God because they lacked the basis of love of God and love of neighbor. However, the prayer of the tax collector found favor in the sight of God because he prayed in accord with the ACTS of prayer.
Like the tax collector, may our prayers be structured with the ACTS of prayer, as we PUSH (Pray Until Something Happens) our destiny forward.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time - October 20, 2019
"Prayerful Persistence: A Catalyst for Justice"
Within the dynamics of unmerited favor from God exists the justice of God. In confirmation, the weekday Common Preface II addresses God in these words: In love you created man (humanity), in justice you condemned him, but in mercy, you redeemed him. In God, love, justice and mercy are integral attributes that work in harmony, without any conflict. Two salient points are noticed:
1) God expresses His love as unmerited favor towards humanity.
2) Justice has a significant influence on God’s response to prayers.
Any contradictions? Absolutely no!!! Rather than contradict, God’s justice perfects God’s love. Both work in excellent harmony. The same God, who occasionally surprises us with choicest blessings, also desires that we trust His benevolence and request for our needs, until they are granted.
The emphasis on today’s readings concerns the need for persistence in prayer. Persistence not only demonstrates eloquent faith in God, it as well appeals to the authority of God’s justice. This point agrees with the main teaching of Jesus in the story of the poor widow and the unjust judge. Harping on the importance of persistence in prayer, Jesus contrasts the unjust judge with the God of justice. He challenges us to reason about the fact that, if the persistent cry of the widow caused the judge to grant her request, would not the justice of God guarantee a premium response to whosoever calls upon Him, unceasingly? Nevertheless, whereas the unjust judge granted the request of the widow in escape for self-satisfaction, God answers persistent prayer because it is His nature to harmonize justice with love.
Prayerful persistence strengthens faith in God and deepens the love bond. It takes a great amount of humility and dependence on God to achieve. A strengthened faith is like a quality faith, which can move mountains. In addition to faith commitment, prayerful persistence allows the petitioner to exercise her freedom of worship.
As a reward, persistence separates us from the long general queue, and adds us to the priority line. Most importantly, since persistence obeys the norm of justice, no person is hurt in the process. Instead, the persistent petitioner enjoys an upgrade to priority list for a prioritized answered prayer. In other words, persistence increases the chances of expediting answers for prayers.
Persistent prayer enables us to PUSH our petitions into the priority box for express attention from God. Persistence in prayer simply means PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens. Like physical exercise, though strenuous but assures healthier living, so is persistent prayer. Through the persistency of Moses’ hands raised in prayer the Israelites defeated the Amalekites in a fierce battle (Ex 17: 8-13). With this understanding Paul admonishes us: “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim. 3:14-4:2). The acronym PUSH also validates Augustine’s teaching: “Pray as though everything depends on God.” Let us therefore learn to PUSH the ACTS of prayer in order to live and testify to the goodness of the Lord.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 13, 2019
"Right Way of Thanking God"
Today’s Christianity in general seems to experience certain shifts from the intent of Jesus, the founder. One controversial aspect that has commonly suggested deviation is the poor understanding concerning showing appreciation to God. It is no longer uncommon to preach thanksgiving as a “payback” to God.
Rather than be guided by the biblical teaching that no one is able to pay God back, “Prosperity Gospel Preachers” exploit their flock in the guise of thanksgiving, popularized as “sowing of seed” and tithing. Seed sowing simply argues that cash or material goods (seeds) deposited to the man of God would instigate God to answer prayers, in proportion to what was given. Often, the giving narrative includes a heavier deposit after favors have been received.
Then comes the big question: does this practice represent the teaching of Jesus on appreciating God? The 3 readings of this weekend liturgy offer insightful clues into the right answer. In 2 Kings 5: 14-17 Elisha, the man of God, corrects a payback mentality of King Naaman of Syria. The incredible transformation of his leprous skin initiated a deep faith on the Almighty God of Israel. Naaman intended to pay off for his great cure with material gift to Elisha. Elisha read his mind and rejected his offer, but used the opportunity to teach him that God’s generosity does not require a payback. Naaman quickly grasped Elisha’s message and instead committed himself to the worship of the God of Elisha in his own country by taking some soil from Israel, as material connection. From a onetime “payback” intent, Naaman learned to be thankful to God for the rest of his life.
God appreciates every “thank you” gesture, but not in form of a payback. God encourages generosity as a free act, which implies more significant ways of appreciation, besides material giving. In essence, God is satisfied with our minimal “thank you,” so long as it does not lead to a disconnect from the maximal appreciation of being in a committed love relationship. If Naaman had paid off (the debt) for his cure with his wealth, his found faith in God probably would not have lasted.
The gospel story of the healing of the ten lepers (Lk 17: 11-19) confirms that a minimal “thank you” satisfies God. Also, in addition to payback, ingratitude constitutes another incorrect response toward God’s generosity. Both are unacceptable to God, as proved by the action of Elisha and the words of Jesus: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? … Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” 90% ingratitude is as bad as payback obligation. Both are unwanted extremes.
Such minimal “thank you” is open to grow into the maximal life of thanksgiving. A genuine way of appreciating the benevolence of God is to live a daily life of thanksgiving. Life of thanksgiving entails a daily commitment to the love of God and neighbor, to the extent that it hurts doing the opposite. When life becomes meaningless and dry, without Christ; when materiality fails to bring us happiness; when sufferings and injustice do not sever us from God; when we learn to share our talents, time and treasure without complaint; only then is a life of thanksgiving possible.
Paul, in 2 Tim 2: 8-13, realized this advanced way of appreciating God, and lived a daily life of thanksgiving guided by the saying: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; … But if we deny him, he will deny us….” Let us then make the right choice of thanking God minimally and maximally with our lives.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 6, 2019
A sound understanding of the serenity prayer summaries this weekend’s reflection: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This powerful prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr, articulates the true Christian life. It not only confirms that God works with us, and not for us, but also proves that activity and passivity complement the Christian life. This means that, while hard work effects success or good results in some situations, there are still occasions, when no amount of human efforts can change the situation. In such critical situations, the ability to recline inward and accept our fear restores our serenity, or peace of mind. Therefore, certain pains in life are inevitable, but for a greater purpose. We need wisdom to know when to increase our effort, and when also to absorb certain anxieties of life, by striving to maintain a balance between activity (do something) and passivity (accept the situation).
Without wisdom, believers easily blame God (of the gap) in every unpleasant situation, while nonbelievers find consolation in apportioning blames to unjust governance and society at large. Unfortunately, the lesson is lost to external blames. Worrying and lament increase our sorrows, but inner peace increases our happiness. The solution can only be found in the inward journey of the self.
Solution to anxiety is possible when I learn to compete with myself, and no other. If we learned to take blame and excuse others, our chances of achieving serenity increases. One way to accept the things we cannot change is to accept the hard fact that we are limited humans with its full implications. Yes, humans can change the face of the earth; still yes, human pride can push overboard, and destroy the earth. Truly, wisdom lies at the balance of effecting change and accepting the change, we cannot change.
Prophet Habakkuk, in the first reading, represents us in his lament against God. Even though lament is not false alarm, but a desperate call, the silence of God should not be misinterpreted as lack of empathy. Amidst His silence, God unceasingly is at work for us. The time difference between God and us can be deceptive. If America alone has 3 different time zones, think about the entire world. What matters most, according to God’s reply to Habakkuk, is that God never disappoints. His delay is never late, and the faithful know this (Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4).
His faithful apostle Paul communicates the same point to Timothy (2 Tim 1: 6-8, 13-14). Paul calls Timothy to compete with himself and grow his potential gifts. Paul knows that when our God-given gifts are properly grown, we automatically find the courage to change the things we can (by bearing testimony to God), and the serenity to accept the things we cannot change (by bearing a share of hardship for the gospel).
More still, in the gospel of Luke 17:5-10, the apostles like Habakkuk, asked Jesus to increase their faith, in order to face their anxieties. Jesus’ response teaches that faith is measured in quality, not in quantity. A quality faith, even though as tiny as a mustard seed, can overcome huge obstacles along one’s way. In other words, Jesus reiterates the fact that peace of mind is achieved not by seeking help from the outside, but through an inner competition that “stirs into flame” the potentials we already possess. As gold is purified in the furnace, inner competition burns off our impurities and brings out the best of us. The furnace journey of life can be awful, but the end-product consoles. Jesus provides a reason why we would go through the crucibles of life: “we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” As humans and believers in God, we are playing out our assigned roles in the drama of life. Notice that, best actors lament less, but compete inwardly, by stimulating their potentials. St. Augustine therefore offers a clue: “Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you.”
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time - September 29, 2019
“The Venom of Indifference”
Like venom, the lethal effect of indifference is other-directed. As venom stays harmless in the body of the host, but damages the victim, so does indifference. Deceptively, indifference is a silent killer because it is the mother of the sin of omission. As such, indifference is another name for sin of omission. The Church teaches that sin is possible through four ways: thoughts, words, deeds and omission. Sin by omission is the most elusive. Its inherent danger accounts for the reason Jesus warns us against its lethal consequences.
The deceptive nature of indifference often blurs our vision such that it could be easily ignored. Actually, indifference blinds us toward the needs of others. Our responsibility towards the needs of others can easily elude our consciousness when our righteousness is built only on the letters of the Ten Commandments. This is true because the language of the Ten Commandments overwhelmingly emphasizes the evil to be avoided (“Do not”) rather than the good deeds to practice. The missing details on good deeds, however, are contained in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5: 1-17), and the criteria of Last Judgment (Matt 25: 1-46). Christians are called to grow their spirituality on the Old Testament commandment and the New Testament praxis.
This weekend’s scripture readings obviously attest to the injurious consequences of indifference. Amos, the social justice prophet, reiterates the trong condemnation of complacency of indifference by God, among the rich. As they enjoyed their comfort zones, they ignored the misery of the unfortunate, who languished in the margins (Amos 6: 1a, 4-7).
Aware of the results of such willful negligence, Paul admonished Timothy to translate his faith into action, by pursuing a righteousness that is born from love, patience, and gentleness, towards others (1 Timothy 6: 11-16). The culmination of the danger of indifference is finely captured in the gospel story of Jesus concerning a rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31). The scariest part is that indifference alone was bad enough to have landed the rich man into an eternal place of torment in the flames. But did Lazarus enter the bosom of Abraham because he was a victim of indifference? John Chrysostom read beyond the social status of the two men in the story, and concluded that wealth and poverty are nothing but masks. The masked personality should be our utmost concern. Lazarus did not go to heaven because he was poor; neither did the rich man go to hell, because he was rich. Both Lazarus and the rich man had ample opportunities to make heaven, by utilizing their peculiar situations. Their ways crossed because they needed each other’s attention.
Unfortunately, the massive wealth of the rich man captivated his attention and blinded his vision towards his spiritual responsibilities for the needy. Although he might not have enjoyed his wealth alone, still it was for a wrong purpose and to the wrong beneficiaries. To feed Lazarus was a gracious opportunity for the rich man to earn his salvation, yet he ignored that. Fortunately, Lazarus patiently managed his condition without cursing God and without envying the rich man.
The best way to appreciate God’s gratuity towards us is to live as mere stewards by extending that love to the needy neighbors. The absence of love is not hate, but indifference. Hate rather results from accumulated effects of indifference. It is no coincidence that the rich man has no name. You and I can be that rich man of our time if we failed to realize that we are mere stewards of God’s wealth and shun indifference.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 15, 2019
“God’s Prodigality and Humanity’s Revolt”
God is that “prodigal” Father in Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:1-32). His prodigality is evidential in His infinite lavishness of empathy towards humanity.
God’s compassion transcends human logic and imagination – a reason it sounds stupid by human standard.
Even as sinners, God still searches us out. In the beginning, God entered into a love covenant with humanity. Consistently, humanity has been
guilty of infidelity, despite God’s fidelity. Every sin is an expression of disobedience to the will of God. As such sin is an act of infidelity,
otherwise known as idolatry. Idolatry simply means a willful rejection of God, while expressing loyalty to another god. Does this mean that humanity
is that wicked? The foundational reason lies on the prodigality of God, who fashioned humanity with an unlimited freedom to love Him back or reject Him.
Even though to reject God translates to abuse of the gift of freedom, time and time again, God forgives and renews the love covenant.
As a people, the Israelites represented the rest of humanity in the Old Testament covenant. Despite being delivered from slavery, and
fed with manna and quail, majority of the people revolted against God in preference to a golden calf, fashioned by Aaron. Still, at the intervention
of Moses, God forgave and accepted them as the beloved (Ex 32:7-11, 13-14).
In order to sustain the covenant, God seeks us out in two ways. First, He finds us in our helpless state. Like the shepherd and the woman
in the 1st and 2nd parables, God goes in search of the missing us. As sinners, we are the lost sheep, and the lost coin that caused rejoicing and gladness,
when, eventually, found. Every sinner is most precious in the eyes of God. God looks beyond the sinner’s disobedience and sees his/her helplessness.
As at a time our guilt justifies our condemnation, God’s empathy upon us increases. God’s empathy does not give up on us, until He wins us back.
Paul in his first letter to Timothy recalls being stuck in such pathetic condition, before the risen Lord found and transformed him. He testifies
in writing to the prodigal mercy of God (1 Tim. 1:12-17).Second, God patiently misses us, and awaits our return. In the 3rd parable, the father awaits the return of the prodigal son. Often times,
God allows us space to express the freedom He bequeathed us. Most often, we get entangled in the process, and rush back to God, bruised, disgraced and empty.
If the first approach of seeking us out, suggests that God is policing us, the second response stands as an affirmation that God does not interfere with our
This 3rd parable also classifies humanity into the personalities of the two sons. May we examine which of the two is a better son?
The younger son has often been labeled the bad guy. His abuse of freedom rooted in selfishness, impatience, and debauchery won him the
disparaging title, “the prodigal son.” So, what’s the difference between the prodigality of the father and that of his son?
Whereas the father’s image of God reflects the selfless lavishness of God’s compassion towards humanity, the prodigality of the son,
connotes greed and selfishness. For this son, family love comes secondary to self-autonomy and pleasure. He explored freedom without responsibility,
and met his doom. His radical curiosity almost cost his life. Nevertheless, he learned his lessons. His repentance to return home restored his noble
status because the father long awaited his return.
If the younger son was selfish but repentant, his older brother was obedient but unforgiving. Even though he stayed home and obeyed the father,
forgiveness or 2nd chance was impracticable. In his narrow thinking, the return of the brother threatened his position, and he lamented over not
being appreciated enough. Consequently, he excluded himself from the family celebration. A deeper look shows that this older brother was selfish
but concealed it with his military or mechanical obedience. But the prodigal father deserved love-induced obedience.
Most often, there is a tendency for those in the church to judge those outside. If those outside are lured by strange pleasures, like the prodigal son,
those inside, like the older son, struggle with unforgiving. The point, however, is clear, both unruly pleasure and unforgiving spirit, keep their
victims away from the prodigal love of the Father. Therefore, only a sincere repentance, and return to the prodigal Father, makes a reasonable difference.
For cut off from God, we wither and die (John 15: 5-6).
God bless you. Fr. Levi
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 1, 2019
In a particular seminary, the 4th year theologians of 2001 set had the best-gifted singer. His melodious voice could bring down the angels.
It could also melt a raging heart. He became famous even among the bishops. Soon after his ordination as a transition deacon, another bishop requested the deacon’s own bishop to permit him to sing the gospel
at the ordination of priests of his diocese. The agreement was sealed. The deacon travelled a day before the ordination, and arrived in the
evening to the host diocese.
Dressed in a newly dry-cleaned dark suit that matched his shining black shoes and the clerical collar shirt, he majestically walked
into the bishop’s court with a carry-on bag and a briefcase. Sighting an old man trimming the flowers, he called out: “Hey, old man, come and
carry my luggage, I am a special guest of your bishop.” Without any sign of hesitation, the man carried his luggage and silently led him to
the apartment of the cathedral administrator.
At the sound of the doorbell, the administrator opened the door, and respectfully greeted the old man, saying: “Good evening,
my Lord bishop, are you done exercising?” “I was on it, before our August visitor arrived, and requested my help for his luggage.” “He did, what?,”
exclaimed the administrator. Standing lifeless, the pompous deacon wished he could disappear or rather awaken from a dream. Ashamed of himself,
he pleaded for forgiveness from the bishop. Surprisingly, the bishop said: “My son, I already forgave you at the gate, because empty cans make the
loudest noise.” The ending of the drama is a story of another day.
This story confirms that pride goes before a fall. It as well affirms that you cannot tell a book from its cover.
These two idioms summarize this story and underscore the scriptural teachings on the need to embrace humility as a standard of life.
The young deacon represents us. Like the bishop said, he didn’t realize he was empty of substance. Who we are should not be determined by what we have.
The reverse is more reasonable and true. We can easily lose what we have, but hardly can we lose who we are. Unfortunately, the deacon defined himself by his
gifted voice, which deteriorated into pride and arrogance. Besides his melodious voice, he lacked manners, which exposed his emptiness. Invariably, he allowed
what he possessed to overshadow who he should be.
As the gospel teaches, we are bound to fall unless we keep ourselves low. Humility is all gain, because whoever lies on the ground has no fear for a fall.
Any movement from that lowest base constitutes a rise. Humility encourages the subtle distinction between attachment to possession, and detachment from it.
Whoever succeeds to detach the self from possession concentrates in enriching the personality in humility. The bishop dressed in work clothes, while trimming flowers
is a good example. Humility like water quenches the flaming fire of pride in our nature (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29). Like the sage who loves parables, the bishop metaphorically instructs the pompous mind of the deacon. Should he heed the path of wisdom, and learn humility,
he too would become wise. Humility therefore is not only a personal virtue; it is also contagiously missionizing.
Humility is the nature of God. God’s awe rather than repel, attracts the angels and us (Heb. 12: 18-19, 22-24). In its truest sense, humility plays out
in genuine giving. And the greatest of alms is the sharing of one’s life. Both are present in God because God allowed us a share in the divine life.
Accordingly, Jesus in the parable of a wedding banquet (Lk 14: 1, 7-14) condemned self-exaltation, but recommends humility for us, especially in almsgiving.
Such desired humility and alms could be collaborated in the one act of “voluntary poor” (becoming poor for the sake of the kingdom). Therefore, if humiliation
is negative because it is imposed and undermines, why don’t we choose humility (willfully), since it shields us from unnecessary embarrassment, but also exalts us?
God bless you. Fr Levi
Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 25, 2019
“Enter by the Narrow Gate”
The narrow gate simply means the uneasy road. Many, in a bid to avoid the challenges of the uneasy road, choose shortcuts, instead.
Shortcuts, however, distort the growth or developmental process.
Imagine the possibility of a caring parent downloading piano lessons into the brain of her child.
At best, the child would become an entertainer that is not entertained. The absence of memory on skill acquisition
and development makes the child a stranger in a skill he displays. In truth, self-fulfilling happiness is attained when
individuals improve on their own abilities. Why the rush? Why the shortcuts?
Compared to another child of the same age, who went through the gradual but rigorous piano lessons the computer-programed child
is as good as a machine, whose human experiences of learning piano were robbed. While the programed-child’s skill is fixed,
the child that took the piano lessons enjoys imaginable room for improvement. With sincere interest and practices, this latter
child can beat his set goal and even play better than any instructor.
The child that underwent a gradual training with the implied disciplines reflects God’s choice of parenting.
God’s mill grinds slowly, but surely. Only the patient few go through the narrow gate of God’s discipline.
A certain countryside man lost the wife, while she was being delivered of her baby. With the love of his life gone,
he transferred all his love to his son and raised him accordingly. He pampered him extensively, and hoped to expose him
to the realities of the world when he became an adult. Unfortunately, the son became used to the pampered life and radiated
hopelessness to both himself and his dad.
After several sleepless nights, this man decided to choose the narrow path for his beloved son. Still, he had two major challenges.
1) How could he convince the son to embrace this unknown path? 2) Is he strong enough to see his son go through the rough narrow path?
Regardless, he preferred to test run his idea.
One early morning, he shared a story with his son. He said, “my beloved son, because you are all I have,
I have to tell you the best-kept secret of my life. There is a treasure box I buried in the land behind my house.
A traveller lost it two years before your birth, and I have been waiting for his return to claim it. Twenty years after,
I doubt if he would ever come. Unfortunately, due to old age, I can no longer dig and have forgotten the exact spot I buried it.
But if you found it, you will become wealthy and famous. Remember, a treasure is best kept secret.”
The attraction of wealth forced the son to embrace the discipline of hard work. He struggled with his tools initially,
but got better by day. First, he fenced the entire piece of land in order to protect it. Then, he dug for 30 days,
but found nothing. Out of compassion his dad almost discouraged him from digging farther. At this moment, nothing could stop his search.
So, he dug up the entire land in another ten days, without success. Could it be that someone else found the treasure box or there was no box?
“My beloved son,” the dad called him, “even though you did not found any box, I am still proud of your accomplishments.
I never believed you could work so hard in your entire life. As we try to unravel the mystery surrounding the box,
I suggest you plant some crops in the tilled land.” The son saw it as more opportunity to further his search and complied.
Weeks and months passed by and the harvest was amazing.
After sales, the son became a rich and famous farmer because he never left farming business. Only then did the dad explain to him
that there was no treasure box, besides the latent treasure of hard work, made possible through discipline.
The son learned the lesson and loved his dad more. This later dad that balanced incredible love for the son with discipline,
also conforms to the parenting standard of God.
God’s love inculcates discipline in us. So, “do not disdain the discipline of the Lord,” (Heb. 12 5-7, 11-13).
Discipline is like pruning a fruit bearing plant in order to increase its fruit production. It is like physical exercise
that burns unwanted waste in order to achieve optimal functioning of the vital organs. Although the process is gradual and
entails sacrifices, the end is incomparably rewarding. It is better therefore, to endure certain sacrifices for a while,
and enjoy in eternity, by striving to journey through the narrow gate of life (Lk. 13: 22:30).
God bless you. Fr. Levi
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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