St. Bernard Parish
St. Bernard Catholic Church
OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - NOVEMBER 22, 2020"To be a Goat Is a Major Choice"
Why should the second coming of the King of Kings rather than herald happiness for all, also usher pains and sufferings for some people? Why should a loving God eternally condemn creatures He made in His own image? Why would this specific coming not bring an end to all sufferings?
It is one thing to believe that Jesus will come a second time, and another thing to understand the purpose of his coming. Basically, Jesus will come again as the Universal King in order to reconcile all things back to the Father (the origin of creation). Understanding this reconciliatory mission is the primary focus of our reflection, today, The Solemnity of Christ the King. Getting it right would either diminish or completely eliminate the blame shift that ruminates lots of minds concerning the Last Day. The saying that Jesus will come as a judge begs for clarification. The scripture rather than describe Jesus as an apathetic judge, defines him as a compassionate organizer, who will align things in their proper perspectives. Indeed, Jesus would come as that Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. His kind of kingship is that of a Good Shepherd, whose mission is not different from the optimal wellbeing of his flock.
As the ultimate discerner his final role is not to condemn but to separate the sheep from the goats (Mt 25: 31-45). His role only confirms the chosen identities of sheep and goats. The individual identities to either remain a sheep (as destined) or degenerate to a goat is a choice made in freedom. To become a goat, even though a major deviation from humanity’s destiny, is a free choice. This means that it is the human person that willfully rejects spending eternity with God. God does not reject anyone. Rather, we choose to reject God by sticking to our evil deeds, which condemn us. As testified by prophet Ezekiel (Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17), God would first gather us as a shepherd gathers his flock from wherever we are scattered across the world. God longs to have us back together. But, he would as well respect our final (individual) choices. For the longest time God has allowed the cohabitation of sheep and goats intending to have the strayed sheep (turned goats) to eagerly miss home and return as sheep. The long duration between Christ’s first coming and his second coming was sufficiently designed for such inclusive purpose. At his second coming therefore, Jesus has only one role of respecting people’s choices by separating the sheep from the goat. Then, he would embrace and lead the flock of obedient sheep into the kingdom of everlasting happiness.
What could be the definitive identity? Could it be that goats at certain points in their lives grow horns but sheep do not? And when their horns are gone, they reflect sheep? Does that not suggest that what distinguishes sheep from goat could be thin? In other words, silly mistakes could be those “horns” that make a huge difference. Here, “horns” could best be described as indifference to the plights of other people. Being “hornless” as the sheep would represent the quality of kindness that prompts a person to voluntarily alleviate the pains of others.
The multiple faces of Jesus scattered all over the world constantly solicit for our kindness. The availability of these faces of Jesus offers us the opportunity to retain our destined identity as sheep. Whenever we show them kindness, the imprint of a sheep in us is renewed. That is the only way to renew our identity as the flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. When the Chief Shepherd appears, he would gather all the sheep, nurse the sick and the wounded, before leading them home. Let it be known that the King of Kings we celebrate today, but eagerly anticipate his second coming, is not an indifferent judge, but that same compassionate Shepherd inaugurating his eternal kingdom of love and peace. With an open invitation, everyone is destined to be a sheep. But to remain a sheep is a choice. Likewise, to become a goat is a choice but a suicidal one. Father Levi cares for your choice.
THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 15, 2020 "Show me your Fruits"
Three stewards are presented to us in the gospel of today (Matthew 25: 14-30). Two received the praise of their master, and were handsomely rewarded. The third guy was so unfortunate that he lost everything to the most rewarded, as directed by the same master – which sounds like snatching the little savings of the poor in order to enrich the wealthy. Indeed, this story raises certain curiosities, such as: How justifiable could the judgment of the master be? What did the third guy do or (not do) differently? Was he not free to use what was gifted to him? How reasonable was his action? Why were the first and the second guys lavishly favored?
To address these valid concerns, we need to situate this story in its proper perspective as an eschatological (end of time) teaching. It would amount to a use of wrong lens, if the story is read out of context by extrapolating its meaning from the everyday occurrences. Therefore, there is need to interpret this story as a teaching that sheds light on the Last Judgment. Accordingly, the Catholic liturgy, which deals with the practical expression of faith, emphasizes the teachings of the end of time with appropriate biblical readings, especially during the final weeks of the liturgical year (from the 30th Sunday to the 34th Sunday). In general, stocktaking is core in eschatological teachings. This background outlines our analysis of the story.
Suppose the third guy felt victimized by the master? We can rightly tell that he actually did, going by his assessment of the master: “I knew you are a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant…” However, since the story is silent on the character of the master, it is prudent to focus on the provided actions/reactions of the three guys, and try to establish a connection with the judgment of the master.
From the perspective of a defense attorney to the third guy, the following are possible reasons he responded differently: 1) The gifting of talents was not done on equality basis – 1st guy got five talents, 2nd guy got two, 3rd guy got one. Such injustice discouraged him from utilizing his talent. 2) Why was he denied the freedom to do with his (one) talent what pleased him? 3) Trading an only talent would have exposed him to a higher risk of losing it – hence, the safer choice of hiding it.
Let us turn to the prosecution attorney to refute these weighty allegations against the master. First, talent or gift is the prerogative of the giver. Second, the justice of giving is protected by the principle of proportionality – to whom much is given, much is expected. This kept the master’s 100% expectation from each of the three guys at a proportional level. Whereas the 1st guy increased his five talents with additional five, and the 2nd also increased his two talents with additional two, the full expectation from the third guy was nothing but an additional one talent. Third, proportionality entails that no person is excluded, but that each person is gifted according to his/her ability. This implies that the third guy lacked the ability to have managed five or two talents. His best ability fits into that of a one-talent guy.
Having listened to both the defense and prosecuting attorneys, here is the ruling of the judge. Every individual talent/gift is meant for the benefits of all humanity. Every gift has the potentiality to bear fruits, when put to good use. As a result, every gift, whether natural or spiritual is irreplaceable. The inability of a person to harness his/her gifts/talents amounts to an irreplaceable loss on the collective wellbeing of humanity. Therefore, the third guy was guilty of breaching the wellness of the whole by choosing not to use his talent. His freedom to choose violated his responsibility toward others. The master, rather than being greedy as suggested by the third guy, had the interests of all, at heart. He proved that by not collecting the fruits of the labors of the 1st and the 2nd guys because he had no need of them. Instead, he lavishly rewarded them by doubling their talents.
Lessons: To put every talent into good use is to multiply the talent. Putting talents into good use includes, developing and sharing them in order to inspire, mentor, and impact people around us. The more we impact people, the more we multiply our talents, and the more fruits we bear. The Master Jesus, at his second coming would ask one question to everyone: “show me your fruits,” because each person’s fruits would authenticate his/her identity? The number of talents you are gifted with would strictly determine the exact number of your expected fruits. To hide any talent is to deny other people from benefiting from it. Avoiding the risk of reaching out to inspire others with your talents signifies laziness, sloth, and selfishness. Another form of burying one’s talent is refusing to share it. This comes in the form of obsessed careerism and self-righteousness that benefits only the owner. As such, neither obsessed careerism nor self-righteousness is capable of bearing fruits. Fruits are the number of people that owe their inspiration and growth to those, who judiciously developed and shared their talents. Excel with your talents.
THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 8, 2020 "Do not be Caught Nappingt"
From the start of his enthronement a particular king successfully ensured the well being of all his people. In return, his people loved and revered him. After 36 years of his kingship, his health rapidly waned and he was forced to hand over the day-to-day administration of the kingdom to his son (the heir apparent). However, his son, the prince, was a different person, who thought that the father over pampered the people.
Brazen with power, the prince and his guards unleashed stringent measures on the people. Personal foods were seized and stored in the palace. Still, he enacted a new law with death penalty, forbidding food theft. Untold sufferings and hunger filled the land. These oppressed people, who had enjoyed kind governance from their king, cried out to the heavens in lament of their sorrows. Even the fatherly advise of the ailing king to the prince was thrown to the birds.
One evening, while the prince and his cohorts were feasting on their plunders, the two village clowns sneaked into the palace and narrated the people’s ordeal to the king. Their story broke the heart of the king, and in compassion, he gave them the direction to a secret store in the palace (with a narrow vent), where all cooked foods are kept before serving. His final words were: “Do not be caught.” Quickly, the starving clowns crawled into the store and started devouring the food with all their might. The wiser one took the counsel of the king seriously. Intermittently, he would go and size his tummy and returned to the food. The foolish clown kept eating, believing he would accumulate enough energy for the days ahead. About 30 minutes later, they heard voices of the palace maids and guards coming to get the foods. The wise clown easily crawled out of the vent and escaped. But the bulged tummy of the foolish clown stuck him. Swiftly, one of the guards stabbed him to death. Lesson: Sin condemns the sinner, but not all sinners would end up in hell. Only the foolish sinners, who were not conscious of the consequences of their sins, would. Only the sinners, who cared less or who basked in the euphoria of possibilities, would be punished eternally. Those, who were conscious that the master would show up suddenly, would always be prepared and put themselves in order before the Last Judgment.
Among the ten virgins, why were five welcomed into the marriage banquet and the others rejected? Why were one clown killed and the other clown, escaped death? Wisdom is the underlying answer. Activated Wisdom enables a person to focus on the Big Gain (heaven), and not be distracted with the petty gains or short-lived pleasure-driven gains. Pleasure-driven gains can only be good as means to the end (heaven); never as end in themselves. Our focal point perfectly agrees with Jesus’ first mission rule to the 72 disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) – by so doing, you would stay out of trouble; and do not be caught in any form of trouble.
In order words, being a virgin (or innocent) was necessary, but insufficient, without wisdom. Similarly, starvation was not enough reason to indulge in gluttony. Wisdom is not m yopic. There is vision in Wisdom. Together our two stories teach that being conscious of the ultimate goal guarantees not being caught “napping” (or unprepared).
Have a pleasant Sunday. Father Levi
SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS - NOVEMBER 1, 2020 "You Too Can Be a Saint"
Why is it that most people that desire heaven, are too scared to become saints? The simple reason cannot be disconnected from a popular misconception of who a saint should be. The truth is, every age has peculiar characterization of the saints of its time – from the ascetic desert fathers, through the persecution eras of martyrs, to the solitary contemplatives, and now to the Internet servants. However, a common thread of humanness runs through all these ages of saintliness.
Saints are sincere humans, who prioritized the purposes of life, and responded positively to the promptings of their time. This simple but holistic definition implies that there are numerous saints that are known to God alone. The church in her wisdom knows that canonized saints are only a fraction of the myriads of saints that exist. This is the primary reason every November 1st worldwide, the uncountable saints of God are celebrated. You and I could become the saints of our time, if we desire to do just one thing.
The secret of becoming a saint is to be sincerely Human, nothing more, and nothing less. A saint is not a person who does extraordinary things. A saint is a person who does the ordinary things in extraordinary way. You don’t have to live weirdly, or be a monk or adopt austere and ascetic types of lives. Interestingly, never be ashamed to accept your mistakes (because it serves as a catalyst for growth). Above all, never play (the role of) God, because it blocks the path to humanness. To be a saint, simply be as humane as possible, but make God a priority.
The human example of a15 year old Italian, Carlo Acutis, is highly illuminating. Carlo perfectly fits our saintly description of attaining a true-self. Being committed to “who you are,” entails putting God first, but also taking the concern of others seriously. Such distinguishes a saint.
Born in London in 1991, and died in Italy in 2006, Carlo lived his normal teenage life as a popular jokester, who loved soccer and video games. But his love for the Eucharist transformed his passion for ice cream and jokes with the saying: “What’s the use of winning 1,000 battles if you can’t beat your own passions?” Even though a handsome rich kid, his compassion for the vulnerable was exceptional. Testimonies of Carlo helping the homeless poor abound. Precisely, he cleaned his room so well that Raejsh, the Hindu cleaner, would have less job. Raejsh was so impressed that she converted to Catholicism, through Carlo’s uncommon simple but caring life. The high point of Carlo’s life started at the age of 11, when he began to investigate the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred in history. With his internet wizardry, he created a website that comprises 160 panels, which spread to more than 10,000 parishes in the world. Carlo wondered why stadiums were filled with young people, but churches were empty. For Carlo, the internet was a powerful tool for spreading the gospel – taking the gospel to people’s homes. According to Pope Francis, Blessed Carlo Acutis “did not rest in comfortable immobility.” He grasped the needs of his time, because he saw the face of Christ in the weakest.”
Carlo is the model of saintliness for the millennial generation, who lived a normal life of a teenager regulated by unmatched love for God and sincere services to his neighbors. Seeing the exemplar simple life of Blessed Carlo, any person (who desires) without deceit, could be a saint within his or her natural categories. Happy All Saints Day.
God bless you. Father Levi
THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 25, 2020 "As Yourself"
I used to lend my voice to the critique of Paul Ricoeur on the fundamental command of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ricoeur demonstrated a compelling argument on why the clause “as yourself” enthrones the self over and above the neighbor. As he argued, to love the neighbor “as yourself” institutionalizes exclusive power to the self, which suppresses the entitlement of love to the neighbor. Initially, I found Ricoeur’s standpoint appealing due to the unavoidable implications of consolidating the oppressive selfishness of the self. While at the crossroads of trying to weave such questionable disconnect into Jesus’ other protective teachings on the vulnerable neighbor, I dug deeper until brighter light shed on the understanding of what Jesus meant. From my renewed standpoint, it is Ricoeur, who tried to misread Jesus, due to the fear that the self might not even love herself or himself enough, and as such would become susceptible to undermining the love for the neighbor.
This inability of the self to love itself is the core problem that Jesus already identified and proffered the solution. The saying of Jesus implies that you cannot love another person except you first learn how to love yourself. In this way, Jesus reminded all human beings that self-love is an imperative, not an option. And that only when self-love is attained could love of neighbor be realistic.
How then does self-love, rather than hinder love for neighbor, guarantee it? Self-love must be desired and earned. It is not a given. The attainment of genuine self-love stimulates a relationship. This includes relationship with God, with neighbors and with the rest of creation. Being at peace with oneself and one’s environment guarantees desired happiness. Every healthy relationship is driven by mutual urge for interdependence. Whenever self-love is experienced there is usually a strong feeling of lack that can only be filled by the availability of the neighbor. Therefore, when Jesus instructed: “love your neighbor as yourself,” he intended a synergetic or interdependent relationship, not a one-way act. In fact, only a malfunctioned self-love could undermine love for neighbor.
In accordance with identifying the root cause of greed as the unabated insensitivity or neighborly disconnect, St. Francis of Assisi affirms that, “the desire to appropriate for oneself leads not only to seeing oneself as separate from the rest of creation, but also to conflict with others. The desire to posses also reflected a turning inward toward the self and a failure to recognize that, ultimately, all (creatures) belongs to the sovereign and absolute God. Desire to appropriate results in a failure to recognize God and to disrupt relationship with God.” Reading Francis closely reveals the fact that he perfectly understood the “love your neighbor as yourself” paradigm of Jesus as a complementary love for God.
Love for God can only be problematic, if isolated. The problem lies on the novel but emphatic teaching of Jesus that love of God is incomplete without love for neighbor. His classic teaching has not stopped stunning generations because humanity in general tends toward selective love.
The way forward brightens when viewed through the lens of interdependent relationship. Self-sufficiency is the virus that destroys self-love. This mutating virus has wrecked many homes, unions, and marriages. As soon as the sense of independence preoccupies the self, the existing relationship powered by love for the other becomes impossible – “I can do without you.” But self-love when redeemed and sustained, always yearns for relationship. While experiencing a blazing yearning to be loved, the self also learns substitutive love for the neighbor. The traditional system of substituting needs, known as “trade by barter,” created room for everyone to be proportionately dependent on everyone else. Unfortunately, since money became a legal tender, it has done more harm than good. In part, it has institutionalized self-sufficiency. The love for money has unseated the love for neighbor – a confirmation that money is indeed, the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Therefore, the way out is to understand Jesus correctly and practice what he said: “love your neighbor as yourself.” While self-love energizes the love for neighbor, both arms of the ONE love are made whole in the love for God.
God bless you. Father Levi
TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 18, 2020 "Principle of Non-Contradiction"
One evening two drunken friends were having a hot debate about the position of the moon. Facing each other Joe furiously insisted that the moon is on his right side, while Jack vehemently contested that it is on his own left side. Determined to find out who was correct and who was wrong, they staked $500 for the winner. For more than two hours they maintained their different positions and waited for an objective judge, until they recognized a sage and begged him to settle the matter.
“How may I help you?” the sage inquired. Joe: Is the moon on my right? Sage: Yes it is, you are correct. Jack: is the moon on my left? Sage: Yes it is; you are also correct. Disappointed at the sage, the drunken friends questioned how the moon could be on the right and on the left, at the same time. The sage asked them to switch positions. Then he asked Joe: where is the moon? He quickly replied, “I am surprised, it is on my left.” Again, he asked Jack: “where is the moon?” Jack said: I can’t say how it moved to my right?” Finally, the sage ruled: “Joe and Jack, neither of you was wrong, and the moon never shifted. Joe, that you were correct does not mean that Jack was wrong.” The wrong thing was your inability to recognize that contraries coexist; and that your particular position is not exhaustive of all truths.
That I see a bold letter M on the road does not mean that someone in opposite direction, who sees the bold letter as W is wrong. Everyone sees from a standpoint. And no one talks from nowhere. Reality, like the moon, is one, but we, like the drunken friends, see it from different perspectives. That we see different aspects of the same reality should not make a particular perspective a monopoly of the whole or a contradiction of the other. That I hold a different position from yours does not mean I am against you (or hate you) – avoid the danger of dualism. The reality of life is best enjoyed in complementarity, never in isolation.
While the Pharisees used their dualistic minds to set a deadly trap for Jesus by trying to pitch him against emperor Caesar, Jesus (like the sage) schooled them on the principles of non-contradiction. Jesus being an ardent spiritual reformer of his time (and beyond) did not make him a political revolutionist. Rather than being violent in wining transformed hearts from people, Jesus applied the violence of love. To the utter disappointment of the shrewd Pharisees, Jesus demonstrated his recognition of civil authority and commitment to legitimate civil duties. Similarly, Isaiah 45:14-6 confirms the non-contradictory principle of our universal God, who chose Cyrus (a pagan king, and a non Israelite), addressed him as “my anointed,” and made him the instrument of deliverance for the people of Israel, while they suffered in captivity.
At times, God’s choice for a leader can leave us dumbfounded. Being open to accepting someone we did not vote for might still mean conforming to God’s will. Only God can read the inner mind and spirit of prospective leaders. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” (Matt 22:15-21) underscores the fact that a Christian who failed to uphold legitimate civil responsibilities (like evading taxes) cannot be a good Christian because he has denied Caesar what is Caesar’s. Also, a Christian who chose to extol his party policies above his faith commitments, has denied God, what belongs to God; and so cannot be a good Christian. In essence: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” concretely reminds Christians of the parting words of Christ: “You are in the world but not of the world.” Therefore, defining our political and religious boundaries right would enable us to act equitably in giving to Caesar what is his, and to God what is God’s. Since everything including Caesar belongs to God, our political ambitions should not suppress our Christian values and faith commitments. Rather, both should be equitably harmonized by prioritizing God’s will.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 11, 2020 "1% Responsibility amidst Plenty"
Teasing out a connection between the readings evoked one of my favorite childhood stories. Here it goes: The tortoise and the dove were best of friends who did almost everything together. With time they developed an amazing bond, which convinced neighbors that they were inseparable.
These two friends lost their job, and subsequently worked in the king’s farm for a pound of black beans, locally called akidi. Even though their compensation was unfair, they dared not joke with akidi. Akidi was their favorite meal, especially when the dove, the renowned chef, prepared it. Each day, the shared dinner was a dream meal.
One fateful day, the dove prepared a very delicious akidi meal. Mere perception of the irresistible aroma elicited the tortoise to salivate. As usual both friends sat facing each other to enjoy the day’s aromatic and tasty dinner. With a morsel of food in the hand, the tortoise halted his friend: “I have an idea. We can enjoy our meal better if combined with a game.” The dove unassumingly yielded in order to please his friend. Then tortoise set the rules: since the food is still hot but we were starving, it would be awesome to name the food before putting it in the mouth, thereby allowing some fresh air to cool off each morsel. Though famished the dove trusted the friend and played along. The tortoise knew that the dove stuttered and so plotted to take advantage of his speech disorder. As the dove struggled several times to call akidi, the tortoise kept calling and eating, until he finished the food. The dove saw a fair game, which the friend won, and endured the hunger. Still, the tortoise insisted on playing the game the next day and starved the friend again.
On the third day, the dove cooked his best but also initiated a game changer. The tortoise, who had planned another double ration tried to resist a change of game but succumbed to the stronger pressure of fairness. The dove stated the new game rule as follows: “No one will eat with a dirty hand.” He then placed a bowl of water on a table in front of the house, and placed the sweet akidi on the rooftop. Leading by example, the dove washed his arms and flew up and began eating, while the tortoise made incessant failed attempts to get to the food.
Figuratively, that only the one without dirty or soiled hands should eat the delicious meal set on a high place, highlights uprightness or righteousness, as the sole condition for the heavenly banquet. The tortoise allowed greed to distort his initial friendship commitment and detached himself from being sensitive to the wellbeing of his friend, the dove. Greed is a symptom of exclusive self-love. Greed is not a mere attachment to materiality, but detachment from the wellbeing of others (William T. Cavanaugh). The burdening weight of selfishness constrained the tortoise from reaching the delicious meal because the rule states: “No one would eat with soiled arms.” As a lesson, the food even though available to the tortoise was still inaccessible – the emotional pain of constraint.
When this story is plugged into the readings, two essential points are noticed. 1) The venue of the heavenly banquet is on the mountaintop (Is 25:6-10). 2) The insensitive guest missed the meal (Mt 22:1-14). The point is, in spite of the abundance of supplies at the heavenly banquet no greedy person will enjoy the meal. Even if he/she manipulated his/her way to the mountaintop, his selfishness would call him out.
God’s 99% bountifulness does not erase the 1% responsibility towards others. It rather ensures it. It is in abundance that such responsibility either shines out or its lack is exposed. Amidst bountifulness, the best-kept secret of each person emerges. The one guest that refused to dress up in the wedding garment (usually provided at the entrance of the hall) was insensitive to the emotional torture such negligence caused his generous host. Even though poor and hungry, his greed restrained him from being sensitive to the wellbeing of another. Unfortunately, his poor condition concealed his true personality until he encountered abundance. This concealment might have paved the way for him to arrive at the mountaintop without notice. If he made it to the mountaintop, he still could not enjoy the sumptuous meal because he lacked uprightness due to his displayed insensitivity to the wellbeing of others.
Friends, let us be aware that the heavenly banquet prepared by God is lavishly bountiful and that all are invited. The only heavy burden that can restrain us from enjoying such delicious meal of the angels is our ugly attitude toward our neighbors, such as inhospitality, duplicity, hypocrisy, slander, indifference and the likes. Being compassionate and responsible to the plight of others guarantees a pass to this special banquet. I wish to see you there.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 4, 2020 "The Height of Ingratitude"
A young man fell in love with a poor (orphan) girl that vended sachet water to motorists on slow traffic roads. They started dating toward marrying each other. Immediately, he put her back to school and saw her through her college education. She graduated as a lawyer in flying colors, and got a lucrative job in an oil company. To mark this milestone achievement, she planned her graduation party at a classic event center with friends but kept it away from her lover.
On the day of the party, the young man went to work as usual, but a colleague drew his attention to the party card posted on Facebook, with pictures of his lover. Unassumingly, he hurriedly planned a surprise at the party. He arrived when the last guest presented her gift to the graduating girl. An air of excitement beclouded him, as he walked the aisle with a plastic bag. Her lover felt embarrassed at his sight and was skeptical of what he has in that kind of odd bag. She had lied to her friends that the lover traveled. But in truth, she has started thinking that he does not match her current social class. The lover boy gave her a good hug and opened the plastic bag in front of all the guests and invitees and said: "My sweet heart, here is the birthday gift I brought for you.” She quickly brought it up only to find out it was a loaf of bread.
Dismayed and disappointed at her boy friend, she angrily flung it away and rained abuses on him; even called him “stingy man.” Recovering from the shocking humiliation, the young man rushed and picked up the bread. He gently opened the bread in front of his girl friend and the guests. Behold, there was a car key and an engagement ring inside the bread. Then, the young man beckoned on the guests to judge between her lover and himself.
How would you feel if you were the victim of such an ingrate? And what would you have done? Could you have acted differently?
Unfortunately, this girl represents a cross section of humanity’s ungrateful attitude toward God. How often have we shown ingratitude to God despite all the benevolence we enjoy – the air we breathe, the warmth of sunlight, the cool breeze of the evening, the rain that waters our flowers and plants, especially our precious lives?
Much more than the reasonability of the young man, the infinite generosity of God deserves our personal and collective gratitude. On daily basis, God wonders at the volume of ingratitude humanity spits on his face – “What more was here to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1-7; see also Mt 21: 33-43). How long shall ingratitude continue? You and I have the answer. God bless you. Fr. Levi
TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 27, 2020 "A Happy End"
The Means justifies the End because the end distinguishes the Good from the Bad. Growing up in a devout family the end was of primary concern: How could a person achieve a well-ended life? My naïve mind (and those of my peers) imagined the guardian angels as Arithmetic geniuses, whose daily task was to document the good and the bad deeds of every human person. Consequently, each person would be judged with what is left, after the good deeds have cancelled out the bad deeds. A person whose good deeds superseded his misdeeds would go into heaven, while another whose bad deeds outweighed the good deeds would go into Hell. That innocent eschatological criterion with its flaws was indeed effective among my peers. For every misdeed then, we strived to make up with more good deeds so that our guardian angels will be proud of us. Some curious childlike minds developed a daily chart of personal deeds.
However, with an enlightened faith, daily chart of individual deeds sounds unnecessary. It became clearer that human souls can either be in the state of God’s grace or run short of it. The grace of God is copiously available to everyone, but mortal sin automatically causes loss of grace in the soul. All humans are at liberty to switch, back and forth, from graced life to non-graced life. In essence, the final state in which a soul concludes his life (moment of death) determines the final destination (hell or heaven). It therefore matters most in what state our earthly life ended. In this advanced theological truth, one mortal sin, especially at the 11th hour of life, is capable of draining the grace of God in the soul, be it actual or sanctifying grace.
Life is an ongoing pilgrimage with bundle of possibilities and modest puzzle. That some, who started well, might end badly, while those, who started badly might end well, succinctly articulates Jesus’ parable about two sons. The first promised to work for the father but failed. The second declined to work for the father, but ended up doing the work. Jesus taught that it was the second (son), who did the will of the father (Matt 21:28-32). As a result, documenting or trumpeting one’s good deeds might disappoint. Despairing (giving up) from trying is also perilous because a sinner today can become a saint tomorrow.
Likewise, do not give up on anyone or canonize another, until that invaluable second of last breath, which separates the soul from the body. Between the two great moments of birth and death is an ample period of growth and possibilities to ensure that one dies in the state of God’s grace. Since the exact moment of death is uncertain, now is the time to invest wisely. Let us work smartly rather than drain our energy in futility.
Good luck. Father Levi
TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 "Collective Salvation"
Collective salvation is a judicious summary of the last two weekends’ reflections. These beautiful reflections bring to bear the twofold responsibilities of every serious Christian. First and rightly so, is the responsibility towards others (neighbors). Its core message challenges Christians to reach out to the neighbor (turned offender) in order to win the neighborliness back. The three rigorous but required steps are basically salvific for that neighbor at an edge – sincere efforts to save a neighbor from dying in his/her sins. This arm of responsibility is so imperative that its neglect holds the offended responsible for the loss of the offender-neighbor. The second arm of responsibility is directed toward self-love. The core message challenges Christians to free themselves from the venomous shackles of unforgiving. It was clearly stated that the only determinant for receiving God’s forgiveness is the practice of forgiveness toward others – “the measure you give (to others) is the measure you receive.” This dual responsibility of Christians defines heaven as a reward for activists of collective salvation.
That no one can go to heaven alone is factual. Isolated spirituality is self-contradictory. The will of all created angels was tested individually, which resulted to the division between good angels and demons. It happened because there is nothing like angelic race. As pure spirits, their individual decisions would remain irrevocable. Contrariwise, God created a human race (with spirited-soul and body) in the personalities of Adam and Eve. God also effected salvation for the human race. The same logic that extends the consequences of the sin of Adam to the entire humanity supports the salvation of the human race through the salvific act of Christ, which happened even before many generations were born. The human race connectivity stimulates the dual responsibility of all Christians aptly summarized as the conscious vision and mission for collective salvation.
Heaven is simply a leveler reward. Citizens of heaven gained entrance with a life passport doubly stamped as both a mentee (a believer in Christ) and a mentor (a witness of the gospel). Being a believer is necessary but insufficient without practical witnessing to the gospel. It does not matter the length of time any person was in active service (as a mentee-mentor) when death struck.
Heaven is a sanctuary for pure and inclusive lovers. As such, prospective citizens of heaven should shun all forms of envy and selfishness in order to be open to all arrivals: whether the early birds with the 6am and 9am on time flights, or those whose flights were delayed to 12 noon and 3pm, or others whose flights were cancelled and rescheduled for late hours of 5pm and 6pm (the end time on earth). Being open and receptive to late arrivals simply means being appreciative of God’s generosity (Matt 20:1-16), whose (holistic vision) ways are different from humanity’s perspectival understanding of every situation (Is 55:8).
Saint Paul understands the holistic vision of God, which informs the generosity of God, in his parting admonition to the Philippians (Phil 1:20-24, 27). His expressed dilemma to wish death in order to unite with Christ or live on because of his responsibility towards the salvation of others (especially the Philippians) attest to his consciousness for a collective salvation. Such consciousness in Paul confirms his readiness (then) as a prospective candidate of heaven to facilitate the salvation of others. He also proved his openness to God, who is generous in forgiving by “seeking the Lord while he may be found,” (Is 55:6-9). Paul stands tall as a model for all serious Christians en route to heaven. Recall that his flight though delayed did not prevent him from entering heaven — a clear show of God’s generosity to latecomers but also a required openness for Christians to adopt.
Good luck on our collective journey. Father Levi
TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 "Embarrassing Logic of Unforgiving"
Why forgive, when you can retaliate or at least avoid the offender for the rest of your life? We get it completely wrong, when we think that we do others a favor by forgiving them. That is not strange, though, because naturally, self-love can be so possessive that it rarely leaves any space for the other to belong. In today’s society, many brag that they'd rather die than forgive. Some boast that they can live comfortably without recourse to whomever that stepped on their toes. For such people, giving a second chance is strictly unimaginable – an impossibility. But second chance can only constitute an impossibility, when erroneously we think the primary recipient of the favor of unforgiving is the other. Would it be a shock to notice that forgiveness is typically a self-favor?
Interestingly, forgiveness is first and foremost a double favor to the self. First, it is a spiritual favor. Second, it is a temporal favor. In general, forgiveness entails self-emancipation from destructive debacles. Naturally, we are designed by God to activate self-defensive mechanisms, whenever our lives are threatened. In a sense, we are programmed to protect our lives against violent attacks. Regrettably, we prefer to expose ourselves to the venom of unforgiving.
As humans prone to ethical wrongs and spiritual sins, we cannot escape the direct consequences/punishments due to our faults, except through the mercy of God, merited for us by Christ. The reason is “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23). Providentially, God’s mercy frees us from death with a logical condition that we show mercy to those who wrong us. This golden logic of “the measure you give is the measure you receive,” (Luke 6:38) reveals the essence of forgiveness in Christian eschatology. Recall that the Lord’ prayer, (Our Father), is clear and emphatic on it: “… Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Invariably, it is our fault if we miss heaven. No one will miss heaven because he/she committed sin. Christ already paid the debts for our sins. Rather, many will miss heaven by ignoring the simple requirements. Unforgiving logically obstructs entrance into heaven; for when we refuse to forgive other people’s wrong against us, we automatically reject the mercy of God available for our sins. In fact, the criterion for accessing the mercy of God is the extent we show mercy or forgive others – “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” (Matt 5:7). Asking for God’s mercy without being merciful would attract the wrath of God. The prayer of an unforgiving person is an abomination in the face of God.
As social beings, we cannot avoid interpersonal relationships. In as much as we can control how we relate to other people, we cannot guarantee how other people relate to us. People knowingly or unknowingly hurt other people by day. Hurting others is as inescapable as road accidents. Road accidents occur for reasons ranging from inexperience, recklessness, drunkenness, health problems, mechanical/electrical faults, and unsafe road conditions. Just one of these conditions is enough to hurt the most careful driver. Since hurting others is inevitable, unforgiving is simply suicidal. Unforgiving is self-cursing – “drinking poison but expecting your offender to die.”
Forgiveness does not alter the principles of justice. Neither does it suppress one’s right to revenge or avenge injuries. But it takes prudence, the pride of ethical virtues, to moderate justice with mercy. Therefore, forgiveness is a prudent means of giving the offender a second chance. A second chance entails offering a reasonable excuse for the offender. Holding the offender excusable effects a healing process in the offended. The most effective reason for offering an excuse is that we deserve a second chance, too.
So, why go ahead and sign our death warrants by keeping malice or being obstinate in unforgiving? Unforgiving is a dreadful killer that secretly eats us up. The more people you do not forgive, the more you expand limitations on your freedom. The more malice you keep, the more you expand your enemies’ territories. On the contrary, the easier you forgive, the more you multiply your allies. Forgiveness widens our horizons, while unforgiving shrinks our comfort zone.
God bless you. Father Levi
TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 6, 2020 "The Bond of Responsibility"
Love of neighbor implies a twofold responsibility: First, to oneself and second to others, especially the distant other. Remember, oneself is also a neighbor to someone else. Regrettably, this second arm of responsibility is terribly played down or even neglected. Its suppression increases as modernity advances. Part of the sins of modernity is her birth of dualism, which pitches even Siamese (conjoined) twins against each other. Freely, modernity switches from idolizing one, to demonizing the other.
Freedom and responsibility are conjoined twin sisters that modern society treats differently. While the modern mind tenaciously lays claim on freedom for his comfort, responsibility (her twin sister), is shunned like a virus. Judgmentally, we are ultra sensitive to how good, people should treat us, but undermine being nice to others either as optional or burdensome. The scripture messages today put before us a challenge to review the neglect on responsibility toward others. Its significant absence can be blamed on willful suppression rather than on ignorance.
Every healthy relationship is built and sustained on the precept of “watching each other’s back” or mutual responsibility. Responsibility is a core demand of love. The lack of it infects relationship with flattery, deceit, and hypocrisy that lead to relational paralysis. Relationship is never static. It is meant to grow through mutual complementarity. As a basic check, any relationship that is not open to growth (learning and transformation) is a suspect of toxic infections. These sum up to a self-check: What is my responsibility in this relationship? What should I do to make it work? How am I endangering it? Rather than monitoring what wasn’t done right to me.
To be responsible indicates sincere commitment to warn the partner against a possible danger, which eludes his/her blind spot. The “warner-listener” dynamics presented in Ezekiel 33:7-9 is a universal template that not only protects a relationship, but also eliminates room for an accomplice. The word of God to Ezekiel wholesomely aligns with the ethos of the Igbo people of Nigeria: “Ahuu ekwughi ji okenye. Ekwuo anughi ji nwata” – while vicious silence destroys the warner, incorrigibility destroys the intended audience. The universality of “warner-listener” template is fittingly applicable to parenting, friendship, marriage, neighborliness, work ethic, and other social activities.
“Warner-listener” dynamics is at its best when guided by love. Love is the summary of all commandments (Rom 13:8-10). No sane person will willfully hurt the lover or deny the responsibility due to her. Responsibility is so central to humanity that its neglect caused the first death in human history. God reprimanded Cain, when he treacherously tried to excuse himself out from the responsibility he owed his brother, Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If the first sin against God was disobedience, the first sin against humanity bordered on irresponsibility.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus emphasizes the “warner-listener” dynamics with the clarity of “offender-offended” connectivity. In context, the responsibility of the offender to ask for forgiveness is assumed. That Jesus did not border to include this aspect shows that any pompous offender unable to say: “I am sorry,” in a relationship is a sheer disaster to the existing bond. Jesus concentrated on the offended in order to highlight the inescapability of mutual responsibility in day-to-day activities.
Three steps of responsibility are recommended: 1) One on one dialogue 2) Inclusion of witnesses 3) Involving the institutionalized authority of the Church. These steps are logical and should not be altered. Although the first is the hardest, it is the shortest and most effective means of peace restoration. The wise settle with this #1. However, when the three steps are exhausted without result, revenge is not even an option. The last resort: “Treat him like a Gentile” implies considering him as an obstinate person, who chooses to resist your responsibility toward him. Only when an impossible listener resists the warner’s responsibility could the warner be exonerated as an accomplice (Ezekiel 33:7-9). If at each moment, someone has to be responsible for another’s well being, then unforgiving would become a forgone alternative.
God bless you. Father Levi
TWENTY-SECOND WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 30, 2020 "Identifying the Obstacle"
Generally, challenges are compounded not because of their intensity, but due to poor handling. Poor handling intensifies challenges into difficult problems. Problems become complex when we fail to identity their root cause, or compromise interrogating our comfort zones. Interestingly, the inability to confront our comfort zone affirms us as “catalysts of our problems.” The way out is to carefully identify the obstacle in our lives, and remove it. If we search wisely, the many seeming obstacles would be reduced to one main obstacle. Overall, two outstanding steps are necessary: identifying and removing.
First, what does it take to identify the obstacle? Obstacle takes a lot of energy (gut) to identify, but when done, its obstruction is partly removed. The main obstacle functions (best) covertly. That is why exposing it is as effective as destroying it. Again, the main obstacle targets the primary goal of life. So, there is a close link between my primary goal and its obstacle. The simple truth is: Mistaking the primary goal for something else would automatically result in identifying a shadow of the obstacle or a false obstacle. This means that there could be false alerts on what the obstacle is.
Second, the earliest challenge is to eliminate false obstacles. What seems is not always what is. Most often we fail to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant obstacles. As a result, we tend to allow our biases and suspicions to mislead our search. Shockingly, our known enemies stand as irrelevant obstacles. For the very fact that we are conscious of their hatred feelings, their evil plans become easily predictable, and would subsequently immune us against the intended impacts. The Pharisees, the Scribes and the Chief priests, passionately hated Jesus because he called out their hypocrisy. Still, it was Peter, his Vicar on earth, that Jesus called “an obstacle” to his salvific mission. In this light, bias and suspicion are blind leaders. These blind leaders restrict our search only to the outside.
Third, we are left with the inward search of our comfort zones. Can your close associate be your main obstacle? Can your best friend, family and favorite fan be your obstacle? That sounds incredible. Indeed, it is the shock of its incredibility that distinguishes it as the main obstacle. The intense danger of the main obstacle lies in its undercover style of operation, which elicits shocks when exposed. Its concealing strength as an “enemy (from) within” justifies the stress for a thorough identification and exposure. The root of most individual failures can be traced directly or indirectly to family, friend or fan, solely because they are usually taken for granted. Since they belong to the comfort zones of our lives, they ought to be treated as holy cows that need no scrutiny.
Fourth, when the obstacle is identified, it MUST be given its backbench position.
Unless your main obstacle is identified, you cannot overcome it. Jesus found his obstacle in Peter’s suggestion: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” (Matt 16:22). And so, he did not spare him because of friendship ties. That was a tough decision, though. Wisdom faces its toughest test at the crossroads of “conflicts of interests.” Jesus excellently passed his own test by pleasing God rather than pleasing a human friend. Consequently, Peter got an instant backbench, so that Jesus’s mission can move on.
Good companions can rightly walk beside a person as peers or ahead as mentors. But the obstacle must be put behind: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Matt 16:23). That is where he/she belongs. Putting the obstacle behind entails confronting our fears. Personal FEAR would remain overwhelming until we decide to: Flee Everything And Run (defeated) or Face Everything And Rest (overcome).
Friends try to treat whoever that is the obstacle in your primary goal of life as Satan. Satan works so hard everyday to obstruct our reunion with God. Satan, however, uses human agents (often) closest to us to deceive and achieve his obstructing mission. Therefore, beware of what advise you take in, regardless of whom it comes from.
God bless you. Father Levi
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 23, 2020 ""Who Really Am I?"
Openness to other people’s opinions can be difficult, especially when such views contrast our comfort. Ordinarily, everyone enjoys praises and appreciations. But the degree of tolerance on people’s opinions about us varies from one individual to another. Some people have even developed a phobia toward listening about their blind spots. But the truth is, everyone has a blind spot that could only be seen by others. Most people in this category prefer to live in delusion than to face and improve the reality of their faults. Among them, the saying is popular: “appreciate me the way I am.” Where then is the room for growth (personal effort) towards perfection, “as our heavenly Father is perfect”? Should self-competition be trashed? Unless we are open to accept constructive criticisms, growth will be impeded. However, not all criticisms are corrective; many are destructive. I do not mean the latter. Destructive criticism aims at pulling someone down, and not at aiding his/her growth. Even though people’s opinion might not be accurate all the time, most times they can be insightful.
Teaching by doing, Jesus sets a golden standard for Christians at Ceasarea Philippi (Matt 16: 13-20). “Who do people say I am?” and “who do you say I am?” are timeless questions for positive growth. Nevertheless, only a few practice it. Does it mean that most people do not like growth? No. On the contrary, people prefer to pad up or package their personalities and market to the public. Some would garnish their personalities at the expense of basic ethical standards. That way, the gullible would be manipulated to believe the fake growth. The world's best kept secret is the faults of egoistic people. But for real growth to happen, one must pass through the two evaluations of Jesus?
First, “who do people say I am?” aims at getting a frantic outsiders’ feedback (opinion) on Jesus. Outsiders include critics, haters, objective observers, and admirers. Was Jesus uncertain on what could have been the outcome of such a mix? Does that shed a dim light on why he asked the question on a foreign land (probably to set a control over the audience)? Or was that a way to make the disciples feel freer to respond? Since Jesus identified himself as a good shepherd, he knew that his mission included rescuing the (stubborn) lost sheep, and that honest feedback enables self-evaluation. As bitter as public opinion might sound, it shouldn’t be suppressed.
Second, “who do you say that I am?” addresses a caution against sycophancy. With this question, Jesus challenged the honesty of his closest pals. It was no surprise that none of the disciples spoke up, until Peter was inspired by the Father to provide the classical answer, unknown to any human mind. I wish not to deliberate on the significance of his answer. That has received uncountable theological explanations. Probably, the Father’s intervention might have saved these close associates of Jesus from engaging in a flattering spree. After all, there was an internal contest on who would succeed Jesus. Fortunately, the Father (through Peter) solved the puzzle: “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” This extraordinary confession of Peter confirmed him as the Vicar of Christ for his church.
As a rule of thumb, answers to the two questions must not contradict. Christ is the prophetic fulfillment of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and others. While we are afraid of hearing the evaluations of the people about us, we must also be careful concerning the deceptive danger of sycophancy from close associates: family, friends, and fans. Why do all the words begin with the letter “f.” Could it be that all three are capable of causing the failure of any individual, when not balanced with the opinions of outsiders? Your guess is as good as mine. If then you want to stay away from failures, emulate Jesus by welcoming the evaluative opinions of both outsiders and insiders. Also be encouraged by Paul and Augustine, who were not ashamed to publish their faults.
God bless you. Father Levi
TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 16, 2020 "Faith Factor"
In Christ, no one is a foreigner; except the one who chose to. All are welcome. Everyone has a conducive space to fit in. The disparity of when one’s invitation arrived makes less of a difference. Such equitable standard underscores the warning of Jesus: “the first shall be the last and the last, the first,” (Matt. 20:16). Paul’s invitation arrived much later than those of the 12 apostles. Still, that did not prevent him from becoming the apostle to the Gentiles (the non Jewish world), and an outstanding mission model.
When Jesus defined himself as “the Way,” it includes the fact that everyone irrespective of one’s geopolitical location on the globe enjoys a proportionate vantage position from the center-point (Jesus). In short, if Christian spirituality were a circle with Jesus at its center, every believer would be seen occupying his/her relative but most strategic position in the journey of faith. Any attempt to displace or switch positions ends in futility.
Christian faith can be somewhat likened to karma (fate) in Buddhism. As one’s personal faith is capable of designing and redesigning interjecting circumstances in life, so is karma believed to shape the future of non-theistic devotees. Comparatively, the underlying difference is the absence of grace in the principles of causality that inspire karma. Essentially, it is the quality of faith, and not its age that swiftly draws a petitioner to Christ. Unsurprisingly, an 11th hour faith, manifest of the Good thief, earned him an instant pass into paradise, ahead of some cradle believers.
The central point in the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus (Matt 15:21-28) is the quality of faith she manifested. Everything else in the story can be finely summarized as the process that led to her faith proclamation. At the confirmation of her ardent faith: “O woman, great is your faith!” her prayer was instantly answered. Her tested faith rapidly closed up her initial distance (as a foreigner from Jesus) and bonded her to Christ (the center and host).
In this context, foreignness refers more to ignorance of the true faith than mere geographic location. The words of Jesus in the dialogue, which sound impolite, actually highlighted the unprivileged status of the Canaanite woman as an unbeliever, such that the readers of the story would clearly understand the leap of faith she demonstrated that earned immediate answer to her prayer.
Isaiah affirms this incredible faith bonding (between any believer and God) as an instant game changer: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, … their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar,” (Is 56:1, 6-7). Paul reiterates this very fact of Isaiah’s prophesy in support of the key point noticed in Matthew, as he highlights the inclusiveness of the gospel: “I glory in my ministry (as apostle to the Gentiles) in order to make my race (Jews) jealous (Rom 11: 13-15, 29-32). Paul teaches that the gospel was not an exclusive gift to the Jews.
Friends, let us not be deluded. Every believer, regardless of duration, can redesign certain unwanted circumstances in life, by standing firm on personal qualitative faith. Sufficient grace to do our own bit is readily available: “My grace is sufficient for you,” (Cor 12:9). Ours is to demonstrate a quality faith, while God’s grace completes the process. Nevertheless, bear in mind that persistency and humility define a great faith.
Good luck, as we journey on. Fr. Levi
NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 9, 2020 "God’s Presence and Absence"
Previously, I have tailored my reflections on the event of Jesus walking on the sea to the ultimate authority of God over the laws of nature. I have also noticed that most standard homilies belong to this category, which delight in highlighting such marvelous act of Jesus. Sequel to that, I wish to concentrate on the underlying lessons of the event, by identifying the best conceivable reasons that led Peter to sink into the water.
My full stake is on the efficacy of God’s presence. God’s presence is a game-changer. The absence is a fiasco/disaster. Simply put, the sublime splendor of radiance, which defines the presence of God, accounts for the bliss of possibilities. One thing is to believe in the awe-inspiring presence of God, and another is to desire and experience it. To experience a taste of the presence of God entails a conscious transition from a particular wavelength to another. Since God’s wavelength is peculiar to God, even though accessible to human beings, communication can only be possible when the latter relate the former on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, the intense pomposity and rowdiness in the human societal wavelength tend to freeze the exchange switch that enables smooth transition from our mundane mode to God’s presence and back.
Where is God’s presence? How can we discover and encounter God’s presence? Elijah and Peter offer sufficient clues. By the way, the flight of Elijah to God, from the tyrannical king Ahab and queen Jezebel plays out as a fulfillment of his name. Eli (my God) / Jah (Yah[weh], the true God). Elijah (in Hebrew) means my God is the true God. The name implies staunch faith and dependence on the daily providence of this supreme God. Also, Elijah’s lack of genealogical records further strengthens his total dependency on God. No wonder, Elijah is an acclaimed epitome of OT prophets (Matt. 17:1-5, 10). This affirmation should not question the prominence of prophet John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11. Recall that Jesus associated Elijah to the personality of John the Baptist (Matt.17:12-13). As such, Elijah could be the OT prefigure of the NT John the Baptist. Both spoke truth to power and totally depended on God for survival.
At the very imminent threat to his life, Elijah swiftly sought the presence of God in the desert for protection (1Kgs.19:9a,11-13a). Arriving the mount of Horeb exhausted, Elijah waited patiently at the cave to behold the presence of God. The loneliness of a desert agrees with the fourth distinct manifestation of serenity. The previous three manifestations of violence only heralded the absence of God. God was not in the strong wind, and in the earthquake, neither was he in the fire. None, but the tiny whispering sound ushered the presence of God.
When last did we pay attention to the whispering voice from the sanctuary of our (sound) conscience? Does that not suggest that we often need quiet moments at lonely places in order to activate and listen to the whispering voice of God? It is no coincidence that Jesus severally withdrew to lonely places and communed with his Father. In fact, prior to the walking on the sea, Jesus kept vigil in prayer from evening till the 4th watch of the night (Matt. 14:22-33). Filled with the magnificent splendor of God’s presence, Jesus radiated the brilliance of light. The petrified disciples could identify such glamorous shine, at a wee hour, with no human, but a ghost. This luminous presence of God enabled Peter to walk on the sea, when he prayed for it. With God all things are possible. And prayer is key to possibilities.
Prayer activates the full awareness of God’s presence. Elijah overcame his fears in the presence of God and communed. Peter did not realize that he activated the presence of God when he prayerfully requested Jesus to command him to walk on the sea toward him. Rather than concentrate on the whispering voice of God’s assurance: “... do not be afraid,” Peter caved in to the forceful pressure of the stormy wave on the sea (which suggested the absence of God), and began to sink. He might as well have disconnected himself from the safe presence of God, by attributing this great feat of walking on the sea to himself with a shout out to the other disciples in the boat: “Yeah!!! I did it.” However, he quickly learned his lesson and reconnected to the saving presence of God with another fervent prayer: “Lord save me.” Friends, it is a choice to activate God’s presence through genuine prayers, and dwell in it as long as we desire, for maximum security, especially at this pandemic time.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - AUGUST 2, 2020 "Teaching Generosity"
“No free lunch,” is a popular saying that does not pertain to God. God always serves a free lunch. At zero cost the world survives on atmospheric oxygen. As a being is, so it acts. In God, being and act, are one and the same. Jesus, the fullness of revelation of the invisible God, communicated the inseparability of God’s action from who God is. Even though, we cannot completely know God (as God is) due to our present incapacitation, we can at least comprehend who God is from what God does. This non-duality in God sheds light on the purpose of incarnation accomplished through the mission of Jesus.
At the core of virtues revealed by Jesus is generosity (charity). Creation properly understood is a product of God’s generosity. Creation in general and humanity in particular happened as free gifts. All we are and have are testimonies of God’s generosity. On the one hand, Jesus revealed the generosity of God. On the other hand, he aimed at inculcating generosity to all nations through his disciples. Multiplying generous people is that best kept secret for global peace.
Isaiah 55:1-3 recounts the overflowing generosity of God: “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” In Romans 8:35, 37-39, Paul confirms that “nothing” can obstruct us from receiving the generosity of God.
The gospel of Matthew 14:13-21 explicitly demonstrates the dual purposes of Jesus’ words and deeds on that event of the 5000 fed. First, he felt deep compassion on the helpless crowd and suspended his planned isolation for contemplative prayers. It takes generosity to substitute personal interests with attending to the urgent needs of others. Urgency, strikingly, reminds us that delay is dangerous. Second, generosity stimulates extra steps in communicating similar spirit to other people. “Give them some food yourselves,” was more than a mere suggestion. In truth, Jesus was highly disappointed at the indifference of his disciples towards the starving people, when they suggested their dismissal.
For the disciples, dismissal was a huge relief from the nuisance of the crowd. The prolonged presence of this crowd prevented the disciples from enjoying a private time with Jesus, and possibly learning more confidential information from him. Engulfed in such self-centeredness, the five loaves and two fish were considered their exclusive dinner. Why share with these inconsiderate strangers (who probably had reserved foods at home), who ruined their plan to retire to a quiet place and rest? Recall that Jesus and his disciples were initially escaping to a lonely place after being exhausted from the day’s work. In this context, the interest of the knowledge-seeking crowd conflicted with the possessive attitude of the disciples. As a result, generosity was almost denied. How justified could the stand of these disciples be? The answer lies in the lesson Jesus taught them. Jesus emphasized that no excuses should negate generosity, because humanity is a product of God’s generosity. To be Christ-like, one should spontaneously respond to the urgent needs of others. Regrettably, the world operates on the reverse principle of “my need first.” Feeding of the 5000 was not as much a miraculous show of power, as it is a teaching opportunity of a lifetime course on generosity.
Aware of the importance of generosity, great parents delight in teaching their kids generosity. Growing up, I noticed that my mother as soon as she gave me snacks would beg that I give her a slice of it. When I did, she would smilingly, return the piece, which left me puzzling on why she even asked. Now, I know better that she was trying to inculcate generosity in me. At times, she would encourage me to go outside and share my snacks with my friends or playmates. Malta is a poor country; still she is rated the fourth most generous country in the world. Many priests and religious were trained through the generous donations from Malta. It takes only a compassionate spirit, not much of possessions, to be generous and encourage generosity.
Often, we presume like the disciples that our anger is justified or that we have reasons to suppress generosity. Interestingly, Jesus has proven such unrefined assumptions, wrong. No excuse is good enough to restrict the urgency of a generous appeal (whether explicit or implicit). In the same vein, selective generosity is as bad as its denial. Above all, teaching generosity to others would rapidly dispel self-centeredness from the world than other ethical approaches put together.
God Bless you. Fr. Levi
SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 26, 2020 "Highest Investment"
Good life has great investments at its core. People severally invest on daily basis by converting available resources to richer assets. It could be a long-term investment like parents sacrificing certain pleasurable goods in order to provide quality education for their kids. It could as well be a short-term investment, such as displayed by a beggar mom. This caring single mom had only four bananas for the family’s dinner. She gave one banana to each of her four kids and reserved none for herself. Her sacrifice turned into a wise investment. In appreciation, each child secretly gave the mom half of one banana, which added up to two whole bananas. From the story, it takes sacrificial vision to invest wisely, especially when the welfare of others is prioritized.
How often do we ponder about the welfare of others in our day-to-day activities? To what extent does altruistic intents influence our actions? King Solomon is a biblical model in focus (1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12). His uncommon request for wisdom was motivated by the welfare of his people, the Israelites. Such altruistic intent instantly merited him greater favors from God. Solomon sacrificed personal interests, but reaped much more than he invested: wisdom, fame, power and wealth. Solomon’s story teaches that one's investment in other people’s welfare guarantees one's welfare; but not the reverse.
Compassion toward the need of others is a practical expression for the love of God. God created everything out of love, and desires that humanity oversees creation in love. Whoever patterns his/her life in selfless love has not only invested wisely, but has also sealed the highest investment. The highest investment allows us to trade in all our selfish desires so as to merit eternal happiness in heaven. The wisdom of such selfless sacrifice might seem invisible except for the priceless gain of heaven. Paul articulates this wisdom better: “All things work for good, for those who love God,” (Rom. 8:28-30). To love God is to be guided by love toward all that God loves. God loves all creatures in their uniqueness. Augustine might have had similar wisdom in mind when he arrived at the conclusion: “ Love (as God does), and then do what you like,” — this maxim of ethical perfection guarantees that your likes and desires be strictly guided by love for God and neighbors.
Being benevolent stimulates the desire for the highest investment in life. Today’s gospel (Matt 13:44-46) emphasizes the importance of wise investment. The person, who found a treasure buried in a field, hurriedly sold off all his possessions, and bought the field, presents a typical example of wise investment. Similarly, the merchant, who sold all he owned and bought the most precious pearls, also invested wisely. If, therefore, the best of earthly treasures and purest pearls cost their new owners all they had, is it not most justifiable that the prize of heaven, whose worth is incomparable, should cost us all distracting material pleasures? So, invest wisely today on heaven, the highest of values.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 19, 2020 "Acting too Quickly"
In the parable of the wheat and the weed (Matthew 13:24-30), the expressed eagerness of the servants seeking their master’s approval: “Do you want us to go and pull them (weeds among wheat) up?” implies acting too quickly. Acting too quickly eliminates the suspension of action for a better assessment, while allowing clearer views. The inherent danger of acting too quickly is the regrettable, but avoidable idiotic end.
On the contrary, the master cautioned: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest time.” Why wait till harvest time? Waiting does not mean inaction. Rather, it is a waiting that enables the most appropriate time and the most effective means of assessment. Timing and approach separate ingenious acts from inane acts. Harvest time is that ripe time when the fruits differentiates the wheat from its resembling fruitless weed (such as feather reed grass). This kind of waiting is not a delay, but an efficient strategy to achieve a fruitful result.
Acting in haste usually inflicts untold suffering or even death to the innocent due to narrow-mindedness. Narrow-mindedness is the prime cause of unbridled intolerance. So, why go to jail because of a hasty action that would have been avoided if given a second thought?
Gaining of time offers ample opportunity for repentance or change of heart. Time lag has caused the transformation of sinners into saints. Think about Christianity without the gifts of Apostle Paul, the great Augustine, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, whose conversions were phenomenal. These precious icons attest to the embedded treasure in avoiding premature judgment. Acting too quickly simply means premature judgment.
Interestingly, God, the master of the universe, chose to reserve the right of judgment to Godself, but at the end of time. Since a just judgment requires a holistic understanding, and humanity sees things in perspectives, only an all-seeing God is capable of rendering it. The civil society continues to grapple with just judgment, at times appealing to the psychological condition of the accused at the moment of a crime. Most often lack of complete information leads to unfair judgment. It takes an all-seeing eye to avoid unjust judgment.
Even in the Old Testament, similar affirmation of “live and let live” philosophy of cohabitation is echoed in the book of Wisdom: “For your (God’s) might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all ... Though you are master of might you judge with clemency, and with much leniency you govern us, … that those who are just must be kind; and you would permit repentance for their sins,” (Wis 12:13,16-19). The interplay of justice and kindness is key to cohabitation.
Cohabitation is God’s intention for all creatures because God takes absolute “care of all,” and has designated purposes for each organism, including the creepiest and most disgustful ones. Tolerance, though an imperfect acceptance of other people or things within our space, is still uncommon. Cohabitation exceeds tolerance. It is an openness to accommodate another person or thing by creating enough space not just for her to stay, but to belong.
The wisdom in cohabitation derives from the available rooms for transformation. In the world, good people can corrupt tomorrow, while notorious persons are capable of turning into illustrious citizens. None is guilty until convicted. And conviction can justly happen at harvest time — the end of time. If God, the master of the universe, is comfortable with such arrangement, who are we to alter it?
God bless you.
FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 12, 2020 "The Veritable Word & the Good Soil"
God likens God’s Word to the rain, which never returns void, in order to affirm that the Word is veritable (Is 55:10-11). Like the rain cycle, the veritable Word does not complete a return trip without causing humanity to yield fruits. Moreover, this veritable Word (with equal capability) is the viable seed that produces abundant fruits on a good soil. However, not every soil is good enough to yield fruits.
Every good soil is open to growth. First, it receives the seed, germinates it, and with the help of other important natural elements provides the nutrients that nourish the seed. In essence, the veritable seed (Word) collaborates with individual contexts in order to bring out the best in each person.
Why should only good soil bear fruits? Various soils are capable of becoming good soil. A soil in its natural state becomes good for planting when cleared of bushes and tilled. It takes hard work (suffering) to achieve a good soil. Laziness is a huge obstacle in the process of achieving a good soil. The soil of lazy persons is never ready for planting. When God, the sower, sends out the veritable Word into the world, the Word either drops on good soil or the fallow soils (untilled) of laziness, filled with rocks, thorns and the stiff paths (Matt. 13:1-9). In the eyes of lazy people, hard work is perceived as suffering, whereas the input (work) is nothing compared to the abundance of the harvest (output).
Why do all the good soils not yield fruits of a hundredfold? Why should the good soil yield various seeds, some hundredfold, some sixtyfold and others thirtyfold? Simply put, whether a hundredfold or sixtyfold or even a thirtyfold, each represent a hundred percent of fruit bearing. As God uniquely created every person, so are the gifts and expectations. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” but to whom less is given, less is expected.
Rather than compete in futility with someone else along the journey of faith, concentrate on yourself – compete daily with yourself – target to make your good, better, and make your better, the best. Your fruit bearing expectation might be hundredfold or sixtyfold, whereas you are busy comparing yourself with someone whose expectation is only thirty, thereby becoming lazy by day. Ensure that your soil of life does not lay fallow but constantly tilled. The little effort it takes to work on ourselves for growth is nothing compared to the glory at the end of time (Rom. 8:18-23). Therefore, it is our fault, if we cannot bear fruits as at when due, because the Word of God is ever veritable, but produces fruits only on a good soil. So, try and be that good soil, which bears good deeds as fruits.
Good luck as we get to work. Fr. Levi
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 5, 2020 "Unlearning to Know"
When Francis Bacon popularized the saying: “knowledge is power,” little did the world know that intellectual power can also be self-destructive. Most times the ignorant accepts his limitation, adopts openness to learning, whereas the learned in craving for advanced knowledge throws humility to the winds and destroys himself. As much as knowledge is power it takes moderation to manage it. At times unlearning what is learned creates room for humility.
Fate brought two men with striking disparity of knowledge at a local river. One was a professor of Oceanography, and the other an uneducated ferryman. Mr. Professor quickly contracted the services of the untidy ferryman to the estuary (where the river meets the sea), the destination of his research, and back. From the start of the journey, Mr. Professor displayed his wealth of knowledge, not minding if his high sounding jargons made any sense to the poor fellow. Startled at his quiet, Mr. Professor became more direct: “Do you have a college degree?” “No sir” came the reply. “There, goes a huge part of your life,” retorted the arrogant Professor. He repeated similar geographical and biological questions, but the answers were nothing than a definite no. Sarcastically, Mr. professor concluded: “I can see that you barely have a life to live.” Shortly afterward, the ferryman broke the long silence: “Mr. Professor, do you know how to swim?” “Not at all. Why do you ask?” replied the Professor. “I see a stormy wave approaching us. Since you do not know how to swim, there goes your entire life.” This reflects the story of life. That tiny missing link in a person could be in the possession of an unsuspecting other. We can never be complete without the other.
Jesus in today’s gospel (Mt 11: 25-30) introduces a paradigm shift: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” His disclosure of this unique plan of God ties with the main lesson in the encounter between the professor and the ferryman. Drawing support from these epic words of Jesus, our story substantiates that collaboration of knowledge keeps society alive, and that no one individual is a custodian of knowledge.
Raimon Panikkar, a mystic theologian and philosopher, wraps it when he said: Each individual perceives reality from a particular window; the cleaner my window, the clearer my vision. Therefore, the more open I am to learn from other people’s experiences, the richer my knowledge of reality.” Panikkar reminds us that learning is a natural ongoing process in which everyone is both a learner and a teacher. Good teachers learn from their students. Good parents, as well, learn from their kids. Growth or progress in the society is hindered when some people think they are citadels of knowledge – and as such can only give out knowledge, but not receive any. The key is openness to learn newness irrespective of the lowly sources. Proverb 6:6 affirms: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Learn her ways and be wise.” If wisdom can be learned from an ant, won't more be learned from every person?
Corroboratively, Jesus praises the Father for revealing the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven to the uninformed, but hidden to the learned. The knowledge of the kingdom is an inclusive knowledge suitable and accessible to all. By the benevolence of God it has become basic knowledge available even to those at the margins and to the socially branded nonpersons. Its availability at the lowest ebb guarantees no excuses of ignorance of the rule. So, why is such knowledge still hidden to the learned? Hiddenness does not mean unavailability. Neither does it mean ignorance. Keeping the knowledge of the kingdom “hidden” rather emphasizes the inability to look closer at the right spot and see what is covertly there. It simply means stooping low to learn from a negligible source. The wise and the learned fail to discover the knowledge of the kingdom because they totally rely on their elevated status with the unmatchable advantages, and so disregard the possibility of any knowledge from the lowly ones. This was the problem of Mr. Professor in the story. Interestingly, God’s plan has humbled them. But if in humility, the learned unlearn self-importance, and be open to learn from little ones, the knowledge of the kingdom will surly be revealed to them.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JUNE 28, 2020 "A Prophet’s Reward"
Normally, a reward suggests a preceding remarkable act. Therefore, a reward does not belong to the first act, but rather comes as an appreciation of a completed good deed. Although the direct recipient could reward the generous giver, still a compassionate third party can also compensate him, instead. God rewards us both as a direct recipient of returned love, and as a benevolent third party for favors done to others. It is not uncommon to argue that we owe God nothing simply because God is never in need. As untrue as this claim is, I will proceed to provide some scriptural proofs supporting gratitude.
One important way of understanding individual and collective gratitude to God is to pay deeper attention to the meaning of “the reward of a prophet.” Before doing exactly that, can we come to terms with who a prophet is? Going with the most precise definition, a prophet is a mouthpiece of God. Being a mouthpiece of God falls into two related categories: 1) a fulltime traditional prophet, called like Elisha; and 2) prophetic witnessing expected from all believers. Both categories offer ample opportunities for believers to return merited favors to God. They are merited favors because as believers, we cannot but give back to the sole Giver (God). So, whereas God favors us with unmerited gifts (including life and its sustenance), we can only attract more rewards (from God) by giving back a tiny fraction of our bequeathed abundance. Such good deeds that attract rewards (more gifts) describe a prophet’s reward.
Who gets a prophet’s reward? Both a true prophet and a prophetic witness, who defends the truth (Christ) at all cost, would definitely be rewarded as a prophet. But not all prophets are true prophets. False prophets are manipulators that work for self-interests. On the contrast, true prophets voluntarily offer themselves as living instruments of God for services to people of their age and time. In words and in deeds, prophets sacrificially stand bold in solidarity with God, despite the taunt, the torture, and the death penalties, they face as the price of their fidelity. Paul in Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 sums up the life of a prophet as “dying with Christ, and rising with him,” or “dead to sin and alive in righteousness.” Alive in righteousness, Elisha inquired into the utmost need of the woman of Shunem and resolved it (2 Kings 4:8-11,14-16). Like Elisha, prophets of our time should be committed to the needs of God’s faithful people, and desist from swindling or exploiting them. In fact, the people of God should reflect the goodness of God as much as their (wealthy) prophets.
Essentially, the prophet partly shares his prophetic witnessing or mission with all God’s faithful. The compassion of the woman of Shunem, who volunteered and provided sufficient hospitality for Elisha, describes a vital aspect of prophetic witnessing. Every prophetic witnessing or good deed for the sake of God attracts various degrees of costly price. Even the sacred act of hospitality cannot be separated from the dangerous risk of hosting an enemy or an ingrate. Nevertheless, between the righteousness of prophet Elisha, and the prophetic witnessing of the woman of Shunem, lays the connecting rod of Gehazi, her servant. Often times our domestic or junior staff constitutes channel of reward and favor from God. Our attitude to them could hinder or foster our rewards. For Gehazi to have named exactly the most pressing need of his madam, when asked by Elisha: “can something be done for her?” shows a cordial relationship between them. That Elisha rewarded his host by respecting the answer given by her servant: “she has no son,” teaches all believers to treat people around them kindly. Who knows if the reward would have been hindered had Gehazi been mistreated. If for no other reason, please treat people under your care, kindly, for the sake of God.
Doing good for the sake of God is the core of all prophetic witnessing. The gospel (Matt 10:37-42) warns against replacing such prime goal with family ties or self-love. Acting for the sake of God explains what it takes to bear one’s cross daily with faith in the consoling words of Jesus – “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Hard as it sounds, therein lies the truth. Moreover, good deed done without expecting a payback from any (human) person distinguishes a virtuous act for the sake of God. Only such generous acts are able to express sufficient gratitude to God and in return attract the reward of a prophet. May nothing frustrate your own reward of a prophet!!!
TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JUNE 21, 2020 "The Cancer of Discrimination"
Discrimination has been humanity’s diehard habit. Facts show that this paranoid abnormality did not start with racial differentiations. Even as one people, the first generation of humanity displayed exclusive intention at Babel in resistance to God’s design for diversity. Unknown to them, the Christian God is a God of diversity, whose love relationship makes enough room for the other to belong. In the one God are three distinct persons that love and admire the distinctions of each as complementary. It was such self-giving love of the Trinity that caused creation. For example, incarnation (God-man in Jesus) happened in order to reveal who God is and how humanity ought to live a fulfilled life. Incarnation in itself demonstrated the openness of God to accommodate the diversity of human nature.Sadly, humanity in particular has failed to learn the beauty and serenity in diversity. Injustices and inhumane oppressions would not cease until rooms harboring discriminatory hatred are cleaned up and replaced with the multifarious beauties of diversity. Openness to newness is key. As soon as diversity was reinforced through differences of languages at Babel, other forms of discrimination ensued. Ancient Jews disparaged the Gentiles and the Samaritans. Among the Jews, the poor, the tax collectors, widows and women were virtually discriminated. Worse still, fellow citizens were discriminated against not because of any wrong they committed but because their righteous mode of life stood at odds with the welcomed irregularities preferred in the society. Prophet Jeremiah was a victim of such conspiracy (Jer 20:10-13). Jeremiah’s awful experience sheds light on the current wakeup call across the globe.
As the world is waking up to centuries-old ills of discrimination through protest marches, dismantling of slavery monuments and policy change, a lot more needs to be done.
Discrimination is still manifested in various forms and different shades. Racism is symptomatic of the deadly virus better described as “sameness syndrome.” Sameness syndrome underpins all forms of discrimination because of its anti-diversity stand, which perceives diversity as division. In fact, advocates of sameness theory are as deficient as a man of one book.
Jeremiah suffered discrimination in the hands of his own people simply because his righteous ways threw their evil deeds to their faces. Regardless of natural laws, what determines good or evil in a systemic sameness syndrome is the unreasonable solidarity in defense of comfort zones. Whatever that is perceived to threaten the comfort zone is radically resisted and eliminated. Such was the fate of Jeremiah. It must not be a crime. Otherness is enough to attract attacks.
Since racism is oppressive, xenophobia, tribalism, caste system, and other forms of discrimination double the oppression because the upheld differences in the latter are more imaginary than skin-coloration.
Everyone must not be a discriminator, yet the silence of sitting on the fence is as dangerous as being an activist of discrimination. Paul in Romans 5:12-15 reminds us of the incredible influence of the one strong activist toward the many. Just as Adam’s sin infected humanity, so did the grace from Jesus avail salvation for all. Similarly, if few ugly minds instituted policies that enthroned racism, its dethronement does not have to take a mammoth crowd, but a few sane minds to achieve.
The fall of the empire of discrimination is possible when the gift of diversity is appreciated. The beauty of life shines brightest as a gift. Only in gratitude to the gift of life can the inclusive diversity of peoples and things in the world reflect the immensity of their relational God. Both the discriminator and the discriminated deal with FEAR differently. Jeremiah, when threatened, understood the secret and found consolation in solidarity with this God of diversity. Rather than forget everything and run (fear), Jeremiah faced everything and rose (fear). Unmanaged fear is self-destructive, but self-confidence (in solidarity with God) conquers discrimination.
The same message echoes in the gospel: “Fear no one… do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:26-33). Solidarity with God saved Jeremiah, it still works in our own time. Every life is uniquely the creative work of God and so bears the spark of God – each creature is precious to God. John Duns Scotus defines this truth as the Haecceitas (thisness) of each element in creation. Paradoxically, those who claim to kill in the name of God actually work against the God whose life approves and cherishes diversity as a personal signature. Therefore, it is obvious hypocrisy to claim to be Christians, but still discriminate other noble creatures of God.
Happy Father’s Day. Fr. Levi
SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST - JUNE 14, 2020 "Is the Body and Blood of Christ appreciated enough?"
A 12-year-old American girl diagnosed with kidney failure was struggling to live. The parents were ready to pay a donor but none was available. That morning the doctor read her medical report and told the parents that their daughter had less than a week to live, if the transplant was not done. Though broken, the parents still feigned some smiles to encourage their girl. Then came the shattering wish from the girl: “Mom, Dad, please don’t let me die.” Stuck in their helplessness, the doctor later invited them to his office. The heavens let loose with joyous shouts when the doctor said: “I got a matching donor.”
Two weeks after a successful transplant, the doctor scheduled a checkup with the family. The girl was anxious to meet and thank the donor that saved her life. At the waiting lounge an awkward incident nearly stole their joy. A hungry looking black male entered, sat next to the girl and with a smiley face gestured a “hi” wave. What happened next ruptured the happy mood of the entire family. The mom quickly grabbed and moved the daughter to her other side. Swiftly, the husband signaled the wife to move to the end of the bench, while he sat at her former position. With the girl squeezed between her protective parents, a significant gap was intentionally created between the black male and her dad. The gap was nothing compared to their frosty looks.
A breath of relief came when the doctor stepped out and ushered the family into his office. First, he expressed his excitement at the speedy recovery of the girl. Then he returned the check to the parents in respect of the wish of the donor. He did it for free. This amazing news doubled the curiosity of the girl to appreciate the donor. She promised to live ever grateful to such humane stranger.
At that point, the doctor excused himself and returned with the black male they disparaged at the lounge, and said: “Behold the donor that saved your life.” A spontaneous “oh my gosh!!!” froze their drooped lower lips. The girl being the first to recover from the embarrassing shock, said: “I’m sorry for coldshouldering you. Name anything I could do to reward your kindness. My parents are wealthy.” Smiling, the young man stuttered and said: “Just take good care of me (kidney) in you,” and left. The doctor later disclosed to the family that the young man developed post-surgery complications and had few days to live. As a result, he had quit his janitor job in the same hospital and was moving to his family house, but would not disclose his new contact address. Earlier on, while cleaning, he had heard the threatening health condition of the girl and volunteered to help.
The black male died couple days later. His substitutive death should help us to be more appreciative of what Christ did for us. Although the black male risked his life while saving the girl still he had hoped to live, afterwards. At best, his death was inadvertent. Specifically, Christ willfully gave up his own life for humanity to enjoy eternal life. Only him can do that for the entire human family (including the good, the bad, and the ugly). He did not just offer his life once that we might have fullness of life; he made endless provision of his body and blood for our nourishment in this world and life eternal in the next.
The body and blood of Christ, which is celebrated today doubles as material and spiritual food. While it sanctifies our physical body, it as well nourishes our soul (that life principle imaging God in humans) for that perfect union with God in heaven. God is the source of life. Any willful cutoff from God necessitates death of the soul (absence of life/God).
Unfortunately, that the body of Christ is universally available at no cost might have caused many to disregard this angelic food. Christians are that ungrateful family. Reasonably, ignorance does not have to excuse in hasty profiling. Severally, the body of Christ has received worse abuses than the rebuff the family gave to the generous black male that saved the life of their daughter. Here is the checklist: Do we Christians hear Christ whisper the last wish of the black male inside of us each time we receive his body and blood?: “Just take care of me (Christ) in you” or have we been guilty of disparaging the unidentified face of Christ in others? Of major concern in the story is how easily the girl’s mind was being shaped with unwarranted negativities. May the body of Christ purify our bodies, our minds and our spirits for the purpose of loving-kindness toward one another, before it becomes too late.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
MOST HOLY TRINITY - JUNE 8, 2020
Two basic dimensions of comprehending the Most Holy Trinity are the Immanent and the Economic. While the Immanent Trinity addresses who the Trinity is in itself (being), theEconomic Trinity underscores what the Holy Trinity does in relation to creation, but in particular to humanity (doing/activities). Fortunately, being and doing in the Trinity reflect each other. Since the Immanent Trinity is built on interpersonal love relationship, the Economic Trinity (an outward reflection of that love) unceasingly invites humanity’s active collaboration. But considering the fact that the finite human mind lacks the capacity (Karl Barth) to know the infinity of the Trinity, it is prudent to stay with the economic Trinity (Karl Rahner).
That humanity lacks the capacity to fully know the immensity of God should not imply a zero knowledge or tabula rasa of God. Rather, humanity is capable of knowing God to the extent God has revealed God-Self (in Christ). The selected readings of today’s solemnity affirm the validity of this assertion.
The one-on-one encounter of God with (an angered) Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34:4-6,8-9 necessitated a functional definition of God as: “The LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” This self-expression of God humbled Moses, and melted his furious anger toward the stubbornness of his idolatrous people. In other words, if all believers should genuinely follow the footsteps of this God of a second, … a fourth … and a seventh chance, our gruesome world would be dramatically healed. At present, these divine characters of mercy, kindness and fidelity have been trashed, and replaced with endemic violence, hatred, discrimination and injustice in the world.
Consequently, the golden admonition of Paul in 2 Cor. 13:11-13 has become imperative for our ungodly society and age. Here, the apostle of the Gentiles articulates the splendor of living in accord with the Trinity: “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Paul has offered our politically manipulated world the gateway to global peace. The conditions are so right that they proceed from self-critique, and deconstruction of negative mindset, to brotherly love and cohabitation. When actualized, the peaceful presence of the Trinity can be felt, even more personal and real, than what Moses experienced. Again, Paul stressed the fact that the activities of the Trinity are capable of causing the radical healing obviously missing in today’s world, when his words are believed: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The significance of this Pauline wishful prayer is manifested daily at the beginning of tons of Masses celebrated through out the world.
In John 3:16-18, Jesus Christ confirms that he is the full revelation of the Trinity. Jesus revealed a Trinitarian paradigm of love expressed in total giving (kenosis) for the benefiting sake of the other persons. His preference for the downgraded (tax collectors and sinners) is remarkable. On the contrary, our society is sick with selfish love, which has constituted a high wall of divide, rivalry, envy, suspicion, threats, vicious elimination, slander, murder, et cetera. Such endless list degenerates into racial profiling and killing. George Floyd mirrors one but Many of such inhumane acts. But if we desire to end avoidable deaths such as George, we must adopt the Trinitarian version of love (revealed in Jesus) as a way of life. Only this Trinitarian love, which improves the other, is capable of healing our selfish and pretentious minds.
Best of Holy Trinity Solemnity. Fr. Levi
FEAST OF PENTECOST - MAY 31, 2020"Unity, Not Sameness"
In a dream, a man enjoyed a tour of heaven with St. Peter. The experience was deeply shocking. The first section was deafening with music and dances, including outbursts of shriek sounds from strange tongues. When asked, Peter replied: “they are the Pentecostal brethren.” The second section was loud with spontaneous biblical quotations. The man could easily predict that they were the Evangelicals. Moving further, a soft melodious tune from a large choir greeted them. They were the mainline Protestants. Then a radical turn to the right landed them at the final section. Its solemn atmosphere doubled the curiosity of the man. Before he could utter a word, Peter silenced him: “Sh..hh!!! Here are the Catholics in perpetual adoration. So, don’t disrupt their silence because they think they are the only ones in heaven.” Could this mosaic be the true meaning of UNITY intended by Jesus?
Given the emerging multiplicity of Christian denominations and the exponential sprouting of doctrinal and practical differences, how far could anyone prove that the Father answered the Unity prayer(s) of Jesus? Worse still, the numbers of the books of the Bible have not stopped provoking unresolved debates among believers in Christ. Have Christians failed Christ? Do non-Christians still take Christians seriously? By the way, why the concern about the Unity prayer on a Pentecost Feast, rather than concentrate on the challenging theology of the Holy Spirit?
At the intersection of Ascension and Pentecost lies the fundamental basis of Unity. Unity was the Last wish of the first advocate of humanity. Jesus prayed more than once for the Unity of his followers and their prospective converts. He defined this kind of Unity with the relationship he shares with the Father. Indeed, the Father and the Son are one, but distinct persons. Inferentially, Jesus prayed for a Unity that includes distinctness; definitely, not sameness. Distinctness flourishes in diversity, whereas sameness chokes it.
Jesus laid the foundation of the structure of Christianity by teaching and praying for Unity, as his Last wish (Jn. 17:21-23). Last wish is supreme, even to written will. In accord, the Holy Spirit kicked off his mission, as the second advocate, by demonstrating that the Father approved the Unity prayer of Jesus. With a powerful harmony of languages, the dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit reveled a Unity of understanding without dissolving the distinctions of native tongues – each person heard Peter in his native language (Acts 2:8). This proof is entirely different from the gift of speaking in tongues. Only those who have the gift of discernment could understand the message content of tongues. The manifestation of the Unity of languages was a unique event with a global understanding.
It is no coincidence that the most ancient name of the Spirit is ru’ah (wind). As wind, the Spirit functions through a borderless universe. She can neither be contained, nor restricted. As Christianity was founded under one head, so is the church of Christ spirited under one indivisible Holy Spirit. The underlying problem rests on Christians, who lack openness to the indiscriminating diversity of the Spirit. Evidently, division among Christians is a mental construct begging for a radical deconstruction. So, come Holy Spirit and enlighten the faithful on the necessity and true meaning of Unity. Archbishop Fulton Sheen says it all:
“How God will judge my life I know not, but I trust he will see me with mercy and compassion. I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expected who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there. When the record of any human life is set down, there are three pairs of eyes who see it in a different light. 1) As I see it. 2) As others see it. 3) As God sees it.” In God’s house all are welcome!!!
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
FEAST OF THE ASCENSION OF JESUS - MAY 24, 2020
JESUSISNOWHERE is a cluster of words that forms two sentences when spaced out properly. Did you first see: JESUS IS NOWHERE or JESUS IS NOW HERE? The good news is: both sentences are very correct. The bad news is: they have different theological implications. In general, both sentences shed amazing light on today’s Feast of Ascension of Jesus. By the way, for pastoral reasons Ascension is celebrated on the 7th Sunday of Easter in America, except these six provinces (New York, Newark, Boston, Hartford, Omaha, and Philadelphia) that still maintain its traditional celebration on Thursday (40th day, after resurrection).
How does JESUS IS NOWHERE relate to Ascension? Jesus was seen, while he lived and worked among the Jews and their surrounding neighbors. At the completion of his mission on earth (thousands of years ago), including proper mentoring of his disciples, Jesus returned to the Father. On that very event, his disciples stood gazing but he was NOWHERE to be seen (Acts 1:11). It was difficult for these disciples to accept Jesus’ non-(physical)-presence. We cannot blame them because they missed Jesus more than many of us missed beingin the church for Masses. At least, our unpleasant isolation experiences could enable us to relate to the frustration of the disciples at the departure of their beloved master, teacher and friend.
Lost in their gaze as they pondered the NOWHERE of Jesus, reminisced the feeling of insecurity that overwhelmed them at the news of “the empty tomb,” 40 days back. For the second time, their hope waned. Ascension seemed more confusing to these men of Galilee than the resurrection. After resurrection, Jesus visited with them couple times, which strengthened their hope. Ascension rather highlights a departure that initiated his absence or seen NOWHERE. Lifted up into the sky unaided, flattened the same laws of nature, Jesus chose to obey in his lifetime. His disciples in their bewilderment might have lost this last display of Jesus’ supernatural power.
Extremely stretched, JESUS IS NOWHERE could be interpreted as a proof of his non-existence. Agnostic atheists might use it to deny or at least doubt the validity of the divinity of Jesus. But for believers, JESUS IS NOWHERE makes a complete sense when read together with JESUS IS NOW HERE.
JESUS IS NOW HERE is absolutely consoling. From the anxiety of being seen NOWHERE, Jesus is NOW HERE with us. He has transformed from a physical geographic presence to being ubiquitous or everywhere. Is this good or bad news? “As each person wants it” is the best answer. Surplus oxygen in the atmosphere does not mean that people have equal ability to inhale it. That America trashes surplus food, does not deny the fact that some Americans have limited access to food.
So how can we see Jesus, who, ordinarily is seen NOWHERE, and still, is NOW HERE? Jesus knew about this paradox, when he told his disciples: “A little while, you will not see me, a little while, you will see me,” (John 16:16). This statement of Jesus illumines and validates the possibility of this paradox: seen NOWHERE and still, seen NOW HERE. Jesus also knew that relying on our own strengths, we would be stuck in the perplexity of the paradox. So, he promised: “I will not leave you orphans (John 14:18).” “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever,” (John 14:16). That Spirit of Truth will explain to you all things, and will remind you of everything I have told you (John 14:26).
Next Sunday, Pentecost, the Spirit will arrive. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern the presence of Jesus in our daily lives. Because Jesus is now ubiquitous, he is available to be found among the poor, the needy, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, and the imprisoned. This is one reason, in Matthew 25, the criterion of the Last Judgment is centered on rendering services to Jesus disguised in various human forms of the needy. Most importantly, Jesus is found spiritually within us, and sacramentally in his Word and his Eucharist. For mystics like St Francis of Assisi, Jesus is even seen in nature’s flora and fauna. Let us therefore, rejoice and be glad as we celebrate the feast of Ascension because JESUS who seemed to be NOWHERE for the disciples, is NOW HERE, with us. May the coming of the Holy Spirit open our inner eyes to see Jesus, HERE and NOW.
God bless you. FR. Levi
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 17, 2020
The one mission of Love, initiated by the Father, and accomplished by the Son, has a continuity plan being inspired by the Holy Spirit, till the end of time. On this penultimate Sunday, it is fitting that the readings anticipate the continuity of this Love mission. This provokes my reflection on the Love activity of the Holy Spirit, in view of a deeper discourse on Pentecost day.
Love is so commonly used that it means different strokes for different folks. A broad line divides love into: egotistic and altruistic. “My gain” or “the gain of the other,” motivates each side of the divide. A third position (a balance of the two) is rarely possible. Overall, giving characterizes a true lover, as testified by the Holy Spirit. Altruistic love best explains the love acts of the Holy Spirit. But before showing that, let us imagine a bit of altruistic love in the family setting.
My pick is the love of mothers for the last child. I would have picked an only child, but remembered that one (as quantity) occludes comparison. In other words, a mother’s predilection for a favorite child can best be seen in comparison with the siblings. I am unsure whether my proposition is culture-specific or a universal fact. Rather than worry about that, let us assume the accuracy of this proposition for informative purposes. So, how altruistic could mothers be toward the last child?
In general, most mothers boldly favor the last kid, at the envy of the older siblings. The last child (even as an adult) is jealously treated as a kid that must be excused and protected. Such protective mothers double as the advocate, whose weapon of defense stems from emotions, rather than logic. For not washing the dishes, the last child would still go unpunished. In defense, the mother would hurriedly do the dishes, and then make excuses for the favorite kid. Often she apportions blames among the older children for being insensitive to the feelings of the last child. Cuddling her, she would say: “Sweetie, you don’t look okay!!!” Really? This same child was super active playing before the mother returned. Notwithstanding the bias, the older kids had to learn to tolerate the partiality or the illogical treatment of their mother. Moreover, the mother would reserve the choicest part of her own meal for her last kid. Most times, this mother could be overly obsessive on the concerns of her last child. Despite the complaints of everyone else in the family, the mother practically lives for her last child.
Like the obsessed mother, the Holy Spirit loves to a fault with untold giving (7 gifts and 12 fruits). Her activities transcend the principles of logic because the Spirit blows wherever she wills (John 3:8). In the Spirit, love is an end, not a means. As an end, love effects perfect acts, while as a means it impacts imperfect acts. Love is perfect when its acts are for the pleasure of the lover. The love of the Spirit is other-directed. The Spirit lives and acts for the wellbeing of others (the beloved). Living for the beloved guarantees the joy and happiness of the lover. Jesus affirms: “If you love me, you would keep my commandments” (John 14:15-21). This love pattern contracts legalistic obedience. Obedience in order to avoid punishment is different from obedience born out of love. When urged by love, we act for the sake of the lover by overcoming the risks involved, even if it entails flattening the rules of logic.
Think of the Holy Spirit as the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son, gifted to the world for the lavishing wellbeing of believers (including non-Christians). Yes. That is why she is the Love of God. This personified Love unceasingly showers love, and lovingly urges us to live out love. Jesus, before ascending to the Father, disclosed to his followers that only in love would the keeping of his commandments be possible. Specifically, he dramatized this point with Simon Peter (his chosen vicar) when he emphatically identified the success of shepherding his flock in the undying love for him (John 21:15). It is the Holy Spirit that inspires and consolidates this undying love for Christ. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is an embodiment of shared Love.
Besides her distinct personality (as the 3rd person of the Trinity), the Holy Spirit exclusively retains nothing for herself. She is known by her love acts such as: Advocate, Sanctifier, Comforter, Intercessor, Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, the Dove, and the presence of God. Even her name is equally shared. To be holy is to be Godly (a quality shared by both divine and human beings). Similarly, all ethereal beings are spirits. Ultimately, her name validates the truth of her activities because the Holy Spirit is the quintessence of altruistic Love. As we anticipate the Ascension of Christ, which ushers the love activities of the Holy Spirit, let us be mindful of Peter’s instruction: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” (1 Peter 3: 15-18). Cooperating the Holy Spirit is our hope.
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 10, 2020
"You Will Do Greater Works"
Last Wednesday I presided a funeral service of a parishioner, fondly nicknamed “Miracle man,” by his family. It was recounted that this “miracle man” experienced certain miracles in his lifetime, and so, found God, and boldly shared his faith from the perspective of God’s mercy through miracles.
Simple put, miracle is understood as God’s purposeful intervention in the logical progression of things in the world. God occasionally interfereto right the negative consequences of human activities in the world, when called upon in prayers or when humanity has lost leadership control and derailed from the plan of God. Although as “cosmic priest,” humanity is endowed with freedom and rationality to lead the entire creation safely back to the creator by following the Way or examples of Christ, still God, like a caring mother, mercifully intervenes out of compassion to save the logical consequences of the recklessness of humanity. When this happens, miracle has happened; notwithstanding whether acknowledged or not.
Millions of miracles happen in a lifetime, but only a few like the “miracle man” recognizes and appreciates them. Majority of the modern minds would rather explain away awe-intriguing experiences as mere luck. We often hear: “Oh, he was the only lucky survivor of a highway fatal auto crash,” or “she is a great fighter to h
Up until the emergence of COVID-19, God was pushed away from secular spaces. In some countries, it was highly offensive to display one’s faith in public. Star players were suspended either because they celebrated their goals with religious signs or exposed “Thank you, Jesus,” written on their undershirt. Such tide of atheism was pilling high. Boomers or the millennial kids would easily imagine a world without God than one with God. In fact, the God of our time became the stone rejected by builders that proved to be the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-9).
Today, the narrative is gradually changing. For more than ten weeks human intelligence has technically surrendered to the menace of COVID-19. Suddenly, scientists, virologists, great leaders, technocrats, intellectuals, prophets, including the high and the low, have lost the claim of certainty on the knowledge of things in the world. Instead, they have humbly adopted the language of uncertainty towards finding solutions to contain corona virus. Many have returned to the rejected stone (God). It is common to see several videos from different nations, where health workers gather in prayers before and after their daily routine. Infected patients are not left out in holding on or attributing their miraculous healings to God. Rediscovering God as the last resort might not pass for a healthy faith, but it could also form a remarkable turning point.
If the world would pay heed to God at this time of the pandemic, be it discovery of vaccine, or healing of the infected, would happen like another miracle of life. If we believe the words of the scripture, Jesus assures us: “Do not be afraid. You have faith in God, have faith also in me,” (John 14:1-12). In conclusion, Jesus assured: “whoever that believes in me, will do the works I do, and will do greater ones.” Now that the world is in a desperate situation to win the war against COVID-19, is it not wise to effectively double efforts by turning to God for miraculous assistance.
The history of Christianity shows that God has been providing for those who call upon Him in truth and in faith. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) recounts the ability of the apostles to assure the wellbeing of all, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They attended equally to both the spiritual and the temporal needs of Christ’s faithful. By so doing, none was neglected. Similarly, none of us would be neglected, if we earnestly backup the laboratory efforts of scientists with effective prayers. As a result, the duration for approved cure or vaccine against COVID-19 would happen sooner than expected (miraculously). “Lord let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”
God bless you. Fr. Levi
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 3, 2020
"Robbers or Shepherds?"
One of the ageless ingenuity of Thomas Aquinas in Moral Ethics is his discourse on the determinant role of Intention in human act. Indeed, Intention separates good act from evil act. It is intention that separates murder from manslaughter. It is also intention that separates philanthropy from the clutches of indebtedness. Still, it is intention that separates a good shepherd from a pilfering-herder.
Not every “help” is born from philanthropy. Most favors are more than what meets the eye. Such comes as an invisible trap into indebtedness. Because indebtedness increases vulnerability, the debtor is reduced to a defenseless victim of the whims of the magical donor. In other words, robbers in shepherd’s cloak simply manipulate the gullibility of their flock in order to take undue advantage of them. Jesus vehemently condemns such hypocrisy and invites shepherds to learn from his selfless example.
A good shepherd stands out from the crowd of self-enriching shepherds. Even though no one is good except God (Luke 18:19), still, there exist disinterested shepherds, whose efforts are pleasing to God. Despite its high demands, shepherding is a metaphor of Christian mission. Invariably, to be a Christian is to emulate the shepherding model of Christ.
How did Christ shepherd? He did the ultimate by laying down his life for his sheep, in order that they might have the fullness of life (John 10:10). His example overturned the indifferent shepherding standard of his time. Jesus as well challenged his faithful followers to adopt his own disinterested standard of shepherding his flock. By so doing, we come to the knowledge that both the shepherds and the flock are of great importance to Jesus, the good Shepherd.
A good shepherd enters through the gate (John 10:2). His activities are not shady. He cares, feeds, and nurses the sheep, thereby “smelling the smell of the sheep” (Pope Francis). In return, the sheep know his voice, recognize him, and follow him (John 10:3). He leads and the sheep follow. A good leader is preoccupied with the interests of the sheep — leading them to greener pastures, to running streams, and ever ready to defend the vulnerable sheep.
Every Christian is relatively a shepherd. While some are shepherds of one, three or five sheep, others shepherd a hundred fold and above. The gospel of today calls for inward search, especially pastors, bishops, overseers that pillage the flock of Christ. Even at the heat of COVID-19 lockdown some men and women of “God” still emphasize tithing and monetize prayers — milking dry their flock. Nevertheless, it is comforting to appreciate some shepherds of the flock who are donating foods, medical supplies, and stipends, to cushion the disastrous impact of COVID-19.
Besides ministers in churches, parents and guardians are also shepherds. As custodians of minors, what is it that motivates your support towards them? Could it be indebtedness or leader-service? The flock, like dependents, shows mental or physical vulnerability or both. According to Jesus, any intended act of taking advantage of the flock under our care defines us as thieves, who avoid the gate, and leech the flock, through the backyard (John 10:8).
Jesus is not only the good shepherd; he is also the Gate to the sheepfold (John 10:7). As the Gate to the sheepfold, all shepherds are to pass through him by emulating his selfless or his leader-service model. Whoever therefore that aims at being a good shepherd should pay attention to the beautiful words of Kevin Craw, as he summarizes Aquinas’ good intention: “If your heart is pure and your goal is right, you can’t go wrong.”
God bless you. Fr. Levi
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 26, 2020
"Fear of the Unknown"
Fear of the Unknown is a disgusting experience that has persisted in human history. This invisible enemy uses death to spook everyone. Daily, the traumatic torture of the unknown leaves its victim gasping. FEAR can mean: “Forget Everything And Run” or “Face Everything And Rise.” People have dealt with this unknown differently. While some were crushed, others were victorious. The victorious faced the unknown spiritually.
A reliable way of dealing with the unknown is the religious approach. The Christian faith walks on two legs along the journey of life: Intellectuality and Spirituality. On the intellectual level, we seek the knowable in the believed or the visible in the invisible. On the spiritual level, we seek the symbolized in the symbol (Prof. John Egbulefu). Faith can be that unfailing tool to deal with the confusion of the unknown.
The flight to Emmaus by the two disciples of Jesus was a radical reaction to fear of the unknown —the killers of their master were on the prowl. Complicated stories escalated their fear, and they sought a safe zone. Our time of COVID-19 posits greater fear of the unknown. The entire world trembles. Most people have fled the roads, avoiding social gathering, but seeking refuge in the seclusion of their homes.
Like the time of Jesus, media propagandas have continued to intensify the existing pessimism. The way out is to recognize the invisible presence of Jesus at this time of fear.
After Jesus’ resurrection, his proof of identity changed from his physical look to two indelible symbols. Blurred with uncertainty, his transformative look confused his disciples (including the eleven) such that they needed proof to recognize him. Last Sunday, Jesus showed his five wounds at the request of Thomas. These five wounds were peculiar to him, as the same Jesus, crucified, and pierced on the side with a lance, but alive in their midst.
Today, Jesus enlightened the confused minds of his two disciples at the Emmaus encounter. Preceded with a heartwarming breaking of the Word, Jesus revealed his second proof by breaking the bread. Emmaus experience undergirds the structure of the Mass; finely divided into the liturgy of Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Most importantly, the Emmaus experience also proved the Real presence of risen Lord at every Eucharistic celebration. At the very moment of consecration: Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples; immediately, “their eyes opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight,” (Luke 24:30-31). Jesus vanished because his divine nature abhors duplicity. God is one and simple. It was therefore logical that the physical presence disappeared for the symbolized Real presence to enliven the two disciples back to Jerusalem, their mission territory.
With the ongoing restraint from sacramental communion, Christ’s faithful like the two disciples, can still encounter the risen Lord in the mystery of his real presence. The truth is: whether sacramental communion or spiritual communion, the same Jesus is received. We all need such a renewed faith in order to overcome the fear of the unknown, which previously blinded the eyes of the two disciples. We need to allow our eyes to be opened to the new ways of recognizing Jesus through spiritual communion with him, when the physical is absent.Being stuck to familiar modes blinds our eyes from recognizing the real presence of the risen Lord. Let us therefore pray for more graces to accept the things we cannot change as a protective gear to minimize the anxiety of the unknown.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY 2020 - APRIL 19, 2020
The resurrection of Jesus was a transformative event in human history. Its uniqueness and relevance explains why Jesus did not allow it to stay as a mere faith option. Rather, he spent extra days on earth to provide substantive proofs for its reality. Ordinarily, Jesus accomplished the mission of the Father within his 3 years of detailed proclamation of the gospel in words and deeds, which culminated in the ultimate sacrifice of the self on the cross.
Why did he spend 40 days before ascending to the Father? The answer is simple: His apostles almost suffered despair at his death, and in fear hid behind locked doors in the upper room. They literally perceived the burial of Jesus as the dead-end of their calling. They lacked the hope to continue the gospel message. So, Jesus knew their collective weakness and took time to prove that he was alive in order to rekindle their hope and refocus them to the gospel mission. It took about five different encounters to restore the lost hope among the apostles. Thomas’ own was the last but the most dramatic.
Thomas’ dramatic insistence turned into a great theological enrichment. His insistence for empirical proof was so important that Jesus had to repeat his earlier visit to the ten apostles, a week after. Thomas’ thorough examination of the post resurrection Jesus instantly erased the suspicion that he could be either a ghost or a magical impostor. As a curious mind, apostle Thomas verified the peculiar identity (the 5 wounds) of the crucified Jesus in his risen (glorified) body. Overwhelmingly convinced, he adored Jesus and addressed his divinity: “My Lord and my God,” (John 20:28). Thomas’ faith declaration might be the only time in the Christian scripture, where Jesus was explicitly called God. What a revealing testimony!!!
Certain that his apostles had regained their hope in his proven resurrection, Jesus reemphasized their full participation in his own Mission: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” After imparting peace on his apostles (“Peace be with you”), Jesus invoked the Holy Spirit upon them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Only then did he hand on to them the authority to forgive sins: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, are retained,” (John 20: 21-23). Because the one mission of Christ was designed for all times and to all peoples, the accompanying authority to act in the person of Christ, and forgive sins, is alive in the Catholic Church, through the unbroken chain of apostolic succession. In God, to love is to share. The imperative to be merciful/forgive one another, when wronged, is for all Christians, whereas the specific authority to forgive sins against God is reserved to those who share the ministerial priesthood of Christ.
Today, the Church celebrates this amazing gift of Divine Mercy, which is graciously available to all that needs it, through the instrumentality of priests and bishops. The dual authority to bind and to loose validates the efficacy of the auricular confession. Since God is pleased in having his vicars act as valid channels of mercy, the instruction of Jesus to the lepers: “Go show yourselves to the priest,” (Luke 17:14) reechoes the call to take auricular (ear related) confession more seriously. Sinners are spiritual lepers.
However, why border confess your sins, when Jesus already died for them. As demonstrated, auricular confession derives its authority from the risen Christ. This is the reason the two sacraments (Baptism and Penance) that have direct link with sins (sacrament of the dead in sin) were not instituted until after resurrection. So, if we imagine Christ as the ocean of mercy, auricular confession is the available means of drawing the mercy of God. A penitent experiences a holistic transformation in just 3 minutes walk, through the sacramental washroom.
Moreover, the authority to forgive sins comes with optimal responsibility: maximum secrecy; the inability of the confessor to forgive himself or his partner in crime; as the authority is conferred after ordination, so can it be withdrawn, when abused.
This simple means to God’s Mercy leaves Christians with no excuses to utilize confession as often as desired. Within its sacramental structure, the visible presence of the priest acting in the person of the invisible Christ confirms forgiveness. Forgiveness is so essential that while obeying the lockdown order, priests are open to appointments for confession. May no situation separate us from the merciful love of God. Amen.
Happy Divine Mercy Feast. Fr. Levi
EASTER SUNDAY - RESURRECTION OF THE LORD - APRIL 12, 2020
"Because He Lives"
Christ is not dead. He is alive!!! “Why seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).
Christ died that we might enjoy eternal life. Through his death, he paid off the price of our own death. His death exposed his unconquerable power over the clutches of death. By his stripes, the living are healed: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).
By his brief sojourn in hades, the prisoners of death were revived and liberated. He is the victorious lamb, whose meekness defeated the satanic might. His unquenchable light shattered the cloud of darkness. Death can no longer threaten his own body, the church. As part of that mystical body of Christ, we are one with him. As faithful members of his body, we belong to Christ, and no marauding thief can steal us from him.
Christ is the reason for our undying Hope. He is the Anchor of our faith. The memory of him assures hope. Because he lives, we can see tomorrow. That he reduced death to a mere walkway makes him an unmatchable champion. Unlike other founders of religions, held bound by the power of death, our Master and Lord rose triumphantly at the dawn of the third day. Hurray!!! His resurrection has made us candidates of our individual resurrection!!! Indeed, we are children of the resurrection Light that dispelled the thickest of darkness.
Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that not even troubles, worries, anxieties, diseases, including the fear COVID-19, can separate us from the protective hands of the risen Lord. If we believe that he destroyed death, once and for all, then, why worry, when our hope is alive in him? His resurrection beams light on the Anchor of our salvation. At the sight of the anchor, everyone on board understands that the storm is overcome. This reason precisely provokes enduring joy of our hope. Therefore, our hope in Christ can never be in vain.
Rejoice and be glad because our Redeemer is alive. Happy Easter!!! Fr. Levi
GOOD FRIDAY - APRIL 10, 2020
"Thank God it is Good Friday"
1) "Ecce Homo (Behold the man)" - Words of Betrayal.
2) Traitor's Kiss - Sign of fake-love.
3) "I do not know this man" - Words of Denial.
4) "I Thirst" - Words of Anguish.
5) "Father forgive them," - Words of true Love.
6) "Consumatum est (It is done)" - Words of fulfillment.
7) What were you doing there? - Words of contemplation.
8) "I did THIS for you; what have you done for Me? - Words of the Last Judgment.
Which of these words touches you, most?
Stay focused & Safe, Fr. Levi
HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER - APRIL 9, 2020
"At the Feet of Jesus on Holy Thursday"
The first Holy Thursday was a practical expression of genuine love. Jesus on the eve of his anticipated execution left us timeless examples of love. He never allowed his impending passion and death to distract him from seeing the needs of his loved ones. He taught us that true love is proven in most difficult times.
Two arms are noticed. Faced with his agonies, Jesus took care of both the physical and the spiritual needs of the people around him. This example of charity opposes spiritualizing physical needs of others. They two though distinct are complementary. Apostle James emphasized the lesson therein: “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” (James 2:16-17).
First, Jesus shared meal with his treacherous apostles. His envisaged knowledge of their abandonment inspired him to love them more. Food sharing (eating from the same bowl) is itself an act of communion. Cultures, who still eat together, avoid their enemies because of lack of trust, and absence of bond. But Jesus practiced the opposite. He never ceased to perform acts of charity because true love worries more about the need of the other, but less of one’s need.
Second, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist as the ultimate sacrament of love and service. As the victim-priest, Jesus gave his all for the sake of love. He as well instituted the ministerial priesthood for the continuity of his example of love: “Love one another, as I have loved you,” (John 13:34). Finally, by washing the feet of his apostles, he left a timeless example of a servant-leader and mandated them to do likewise (John 13:14).
Staying home is an act of charity. It is frustrating, but also a considerate and compassionate discipline for the wellbeing of others. Every Mass either celebrated in private by the priest, or with the faithful is in full communion of the mystical body of Christ. Christ (the head) and his body (the church) are inseparable.
“You should wash each other’s feet” implies charitable works of reaching out, especially to the sick, the elderly, and the needy, at this period of restriction of movements. While the health workers, and other essential duty agents are out risking their lives, rendering services, those staying home can still practice the love example of Jesus.
Such charitable works can range from simple acts of phone calls, sending cards, to more engaging actions of prayers and almsgiving to the needy and the homeless. Providing food at this critical time to hungry children and families at accessible locations can save lives. It is a timely divine act that communicates love of God and neighbor.
It is timely because in addition to the psychological threats and anxiety generated by COVID-19, its accompanying lockdown order has inflicted more pains and sufferings on the people due to loss of loved ones, ill heath, loss of means of livelihood, financial impoverishment and food scarcity; especially in developing nations where online activities and steady electricity are impossible.
Celebrating our Holy Thursday today in isolation challenges our faith as true members of Christ’s mystical body, to practice the examples of Jesus, as he mandated us on the Last Supper (the first Holy Thursday). Earlier on, Jesus in his typical compassion also commanded his apostles to feed the hungry crowd, from their own meager reserve: “You give them something to eat” (Mark 3:37). This clear and distinct command demonstrates the cliché that a healthy mind or soul cohabits a healthy body. Therefore, spiritualizing other people’s hunger is unchristian. The beautiful words of Mother Theresa of Calcutta say it all: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” Let us rise and do likewise. Welcome to the Triduum (the 3 holiest of days).
God bless you. Fr. Levi.
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 freedom.
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 outin 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 on earth?”
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 His fidelity.
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.
BR>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 their hosts.
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 - 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
5th SUNDAY OF EASTER REFLECTION - MAY 19, 2019
"The Cost of Discipleship"
The German, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the very opening statement of his book, The Cost of Discipleship, made an insightful distinction: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of the church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” In Bonhoeffer’s description, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.” It is the transformative effect of grace with its new demands on the renewed person that Bonhoeffer describes as “costly grace.”
Grace is God’s act of love for humanity, in spite of humanity’s ungratefulness. The true meaning of Grace is reduced when kept at the corridor of virtue, whereas it articulates how God lives and acts among the people. God’s life as manifested in grace defines the criterion of love for discipleship. Said differently, Christian discipleship demands an advanced kind of altruistic love that urges a true disciple on, even in the face of persecution and death (ultimate price). This advanced criterion is set by the love standard of Christ, which he urges his disciples or followers to accomplish.
Christian criterion of discipleship is summarized in today’s gospel injunction on a new commandment (John 13: 31-33, 34-35): “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Indeed, Christ’s love sets the agenda. Christians, from the outset, are solely invited to collaborate Christ’s standard. Through His standard, Christ glorified God, and in return was glorified.
Paul and Barnabas embraced Christ’s standard of altruistic love, which spurred them to labor tirelessly in spreading the gospel to several cities beyond Palestine. While founding local churches and their presbyters, they joyfully shared the standard of Christian discipleship in order to strengthen and exhort the new communities of Christ. Paul and Barnabas could neither hide nor delay the cost of Christian discipleship because of its inseparability from the gospel. As soon as they set up a functional structure of Christian community in any city, they encouraged them to embrace the love of God, which entails the price: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14: 21-27). In other words, to become Christian is to embrace the example of Christ (advanced altruistic love or gracious life).
To secular ears, the renewed standard of love by Christ would sound stupid, foolish, and impossible. Such secularized imaginations could only be correct if Christian discipleship is earthly bound. But because it is heavenly bound or oriented toward eternity in God’s kingdom, the momentary sacrifice is incomparable to the awesome rewards that await the faithful followers of Christ. The secular mind might also question the rationale behind collaborative suffering, if Christ has paid off the price of humanity’s sins. However, the Godly act of love-grace earned by Christ is clearer when compared to Noah’s ark (the only means of salvation from the flood), which though available to all (including the snail, the slowest animal), also demanded the cooperation of the willing. Christian salvation is a cohesive choice, never by coercion.
As confirmed in the second reading (Rev 21: 1-5), there is newness in the plan of God, which will terminate death, pain, mourning or wailing, and so establish blissful consolation, when God dwells perpetually with humanity. We are therefore invited to look beyond the cost of discipleship and see the priceless reward that awaits our cooperation of Christ’s standard.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
4th SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 12, 2019
"My Sheep and I"
Sheep is a favorite name metaphor of Jesus. At least, it is the choicest in the animal genera. Although, the Lion of the tribe of Judah prefigures Jesus, still, He chose the sheep for his followers, and the Lamb for Himself. In last weekend’s gospel, the risen Christ had Peter renew his love commitment to Him, after a failed attempt to abandon the Father’s mission, at the sea of Tiberias. Each yes of Peter to the triple love questions of Christ was respectively followed with the responsibilities: “Feed my lambs;” “Tend my sheep;” “Feed my sheep,” (John 21: 17-19). The point here is not only the emphasis or the confirmation of the naming metaphor (sheep), but also the fact that shepherding them was explicitly demanded as a demonstration of love for Christ.
So, why sheep? Without delving into an exegesis of sheep, the simple pastoral reason for this common identity of Christ and His followers highlights vulnerability. Recall the mission attitude: “I am sending you like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Similarly, Christ’s passion was prefigured in Isaiah’s text: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearers is silent, he opened not his mouth” (53:7). In general, sheep can hardly survive without the protection of a good shepherd. They literally lack any natural self-defensive mechanism.
From an external perspective, Christ forewarns his followers about the challenges of witnessing to the gospel in a violent world. This defines Christianity as a non-violent religion, even though the history of Christendom failed to stay clean. From an inner standpoint, sheep can be stubborn and unintelligent, thereby requiring tender, loving care, achievable with unrelenting patience. Both interpret the responsibility bestowed upon Peter’s shoulders as the Vicar of Christ.
Aware of such serious incapacities, Christ in today’s gospel (John 10:27-30) defines the love relationship between Himself and His sheep. Inasmuch as these sheep pay attention to His voice, their loving care and protection are assured. Should they get wounded by sins or even be martyred, their rebirth in the precious blood of the Lamb, will surely whiten their robes in eternity, where nourishment is endless (Rev. 7:9, 14b-17).
This good news, as proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas, attracted almost the whole city of Antioch in Pisidia, against the jealousy of the Jewish leaders (Acts 13: 14, 43-52). The newness of Easter is the sweetness of Christianity. That newness is also the magic of attraction. In spite of being a minority religion, Christianity then like a drop of honey, attracted more flies than a bucket of vinegar. Above all, the identical metaphor between Christ and His sheep has continued to empower these flocks, as they globally witness to the gospel of salvation, amidst threats to lives. As sheep of His flock, Christ the victorious Lamb of God assures unwavering hope. And as long as these sheep listen to the voice of the owner (Christ), safety is guaranteed because “the Father (of Christ) is greater than all.” Let us therefore, make the choice of heeding Christ’s voice, since that is evidentially the ONLY way to survive as sheep. Even though our mothers do their best in tendering, loving and caring for us, they can only achieve nothing, without configuring themselves to the safest hands of Christ.
Happy celebration! Fr. Levi
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - MAY 5, 2019
“Stuck in the Past”
Last week’s reflection centered on the radical newness that Christ’s resurrection brings/engenders/. This week’s contemplation reminds us that such freshness or newness, though an ongoing process, can be resisted, because a greater percentage of humanity prefers to stay with the known, rather than be open to the unfamiliar. Fortunately, no magnitude of resistance could eschew the inevitable newness of Christ’s resurrection. After all, the familiarity of today was first the unfamiliarity of yesterday. Getting stuck in the past inhibits the newness of progress. In essence, embracing Easter newness is like bathing in a flowing river, while resisting it compares to washing in stagnant water.
The need to embrace the newness of resurrection justifies 5 previous manifestations of Christ within the octave: to Mary Magdalene; to the women; to the 2 disciples at Emmaus; to the ten; and to the eleven apostles. The number increases today at the sea of Tiberias.
Resisting Easter newness is like going back to the old business of fishing that Peter initiated, which attracted six other apostles; a show of abandonment of the new job of fishers of souls (John 21: 1-19). Christ’s displeasure was expressed in the satiric question, “children, did you catch anything?” “Children” totally contrasts the ennobling “Friends” he called them at the Last Supper. The nostalgia for their fishing career, at the expense of their missionary mandate, articulated their childish act. In other words, the apostles were guilty of not letting go (old fishing experience), in order to let in the gospel of Christ. In truth, the openness that ushers in the resurrection newness was blocked with the desire to stick with the familiar.
Christ’s simple instruction: “Cast the net over the right side,” (a 100 yards from the shore) proved his earlier quote: “cut off from me you can do nothing,” but with me you can achieve amazing results. Although, the timing (sun rise) and the location (shore) constituted enough obstacles to make a catch, still they got more than expected. Invariably, Christ practically demonstrated to them how successful they would become as long as they work for God and in His name. He patiently corrected them in love by reiterating the fruit of newness that comes from His resurrection merits. Sharing breakfast with them reassured Christ’s real presence, but also revealed to Peter that love for Him is the only key to successful mission because deeper love for Christ illumines witnessing, even by martyrdom.
The boldness and the illuminative understanding displayed by the apostles before the Sanhedrin, while facing persecution, would not have been, if they remained their old terrifying selves. Definitely, when the newness is embraced with openness, amazing clarity of mission begins to emerge: Peter and John rejoiced that they have been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name (Acts 5: 27-32).
As often as the newness of the resurrection is duly appreciated, our collective story as the alleluia people, witnesses its turning point, like never before. Such regeneration enables us to join our voices to the angelic chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5: 11-14).
God bless you, Fr. Levi
2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER/SUNDAY OF DIVINE MERCY - APRIL 28, 2019
The major fruit of Easter is the thorough newness that cuts across the entire creation. Easter brings the gift of newness, which transforms the face of the earth and its inhabitants. In the West, such newness is symbolized in the Easter eggs, and the spring season that heralds the emergence of life among its flora and fauna. Springtime announces the resurrection of nature’s life against the gloomy, dull, and freezing winter of death. The beautiful budding of tress, the sprouting of tulips, and the sweet fragrance of the lily flowers, testify to the transformation of the gifted newness of life.
In the Sub Saharan Africa, the moisture of gentle rains dispels the harmattan dryness that shrinks vegetation and animals. Sooner, plants and vegetables fructify as animals get nourished. In both Western and African contexts, the transformative process from death to new life aligns with the Christian rebirth that Easter creates.
Easter is a time of unparalleled rejoicing for the gifted regeneration, following humanity’s degeneration. Such access to newness of life was merited by the death and resurrection of Christ. In spite of its availability, humanity is free to enjoy or to reject it. Like Noah’s ark, only those, who chose to enter the ark, were saved. In the new dispensation, Christ is the true Ark. Whoever repents like Peter and asks for God’s mercy is transformed.
The joy of Easter is inseparable from Divine Mercy. It is erroneous to imagine that repentance belongs to Lenten season, while Easter is a time of rejoicing. Even though Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is variously interpreted as satisfaction, atonement, participatory or enjoyment, the truth is: forgiveness is the fruit of that ultimate price. Like the regular laundry, Christ after meriting eternal life for us on the cross, provided sufficient laundry marts for His believers, at no cost. Knowing fully well the necessity of such sacramental agency, Christ within the octave (eight days) of his resurrection, handed on to the apostles the authority to forgive sins: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained,” (John 20:23). Through unbroken succession, the sacrament of penance is richly available in the priestly ministry of the church. As often as humanity gets infected with sins, so does the need to ask for mercy increases. After a thorough wash in the sacramental laundry (confession), the penitent comes out anew, with sweet smelling fragrance of the mercy of God.
Divine Mercy, being commemorated today, is the last resort for anyone who desires salvation. Its necessity lies in the ABC of Mercy: Ask for Mercy; Be Merciful; and Complete Trust in God. Like baptism (Matt. 28: 19-20), the institution of the sacrament of penance (John 20: 21-31) occurred after resurrection, at a time the Mission of Christ has been accomplished (consumatum est – it is finished). The Mercy of God is an ocean that can neither be exhausted nor be polluted, by the terrific frequency of the innumerable users.
We are the alleluia people because the Mercy of God is at our beck and call. In Acts 5: 12-16, as transformed penitents, the apostles worked many signs and wonders, especially Peter, whose shadow effected healing. The reality of Christ’s resurrection impacted newness on their faith and mission. Moreover, John, the only apostle, who was steadfast to the master, was gifted with the vision of recording the past, the present and the future at the Island of Patmos (Rev. 1: 9-11, 12-13, 17-19). Being steadfast to the mystery of the cross assures the joy of the resurrection. Therefore, appreciating the Mercy of God rather than contradicting the joyfulness of Easter, confirms the reconciling purpose of Christ’s death by which we enjoy the newness of rebirth.
God bless you. Fr. Levi
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 17, 2019
" Don’t give in to sleep"
At this tempting period, God might tarry, but surely will not disappoint. Many have lost the luminous presence of God because they prematurely gave up hope. The church in her wisdom understands the importance of perseverance while waiting unto the Lord, and addresses it on this 2nd lap of the Lenten journey.
Is it not most striking at what time God chooses to show up in the lives of His friends? In the 1st Reading (Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18), Abraham in obedience prepared the covenantal sacrifice and waited all day for God till sundown. He tirelessly waded off the birds of prey from the sacrifice. At sunset, he was exhausted, and almost succumbed to the inducement of sleep, when God appeared and consumed his offering. The experience in the gospel narrative (Luke 9: 28b-36) was not different. The transfiguration scene would not happen until Peter, James, and John were overcome by sleep.
Why the constancy of sleep? Sleep plays two sensitive roles in this discourse: one negative and the other positive. Sleep can be the obstacle to luminous experience of God. It comes to put us off from waiting unto the Lord. Sleep could be tempting. At the dawn of his passion (in Gethsemani), Jesus warned his sleepy apostles against the lures of sleep, and the necessity of keeping awake, at least an hour, for God’s own time.
God’s own time is usually in-the-between. As that indicator of body exhaustion and weakness, sleep alerts us to switch over to the spirit mode and persevere by drawing from the stamina reservoir (stored through fasting & prayer). Fortunately, that thin subconscious state (trance) induced by sleep can still be the choice time for God’s revelation.
If the enviable blessing of Abraham and the unique luminous experience of Christ’s divinity by the 3 apostles happened at this all-important intersection between sleep and wake, then the message is clear on the dual role of sleep during this Lenten period. Giving in too quickly constitutes a huge obstacle toward the experience of God’s presence, which occurs at God’s own time (between sleep and wake). The second Reading (Philippians 3: 20-4: 1) also reminds us that waiting unto the Lord is a Christian character that starts from the Lenten period but goes beyond it in anticipation of the second coming of Christ, which will usher in our own transfiguration.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT MARCH 10, 2019
" Lenten Temptations"
Lenten season can be most tempting. The church knows the slippery nature of Lent that she prepares all pilgrims for the rest of the 40 days journey with the example of Jesus’ temptation. The most tempting periods are the times decisions are taken to reconcile with God and neighbors. It is common experience to feel hungriest on a day one decides to fast from favorite food; to feel sleepy earlier when daily rosary is to be prayed; and to easily find excuses to procrastinate alms giving. These evil distractions confirm that the journey is more spiritual then physical. The enemy, the devil, doesn’t let go unless he sees proofs that one means business. Such is the required discipline for Lenten journey.
Temptation is no sin. Although it is targeted toward sin, still, human cooperation is necessary. Sin requires the full knowledge of its gravity and consent. The self and the world, no doubt, are agencies of temptation, but the grand schemer is the devil. The devil aware of these triple necessities forges individual temptations in crafty and subtle manners. As the father of all lies, he targets individual priorities, and lays sugarcoated snares.
The gospel message (Lk 4: 1-13) exposes the subtlety and killer-target points used by the devil in tempting Jesus. 1) After 40 days of dry fasting, the desire for food became primary. Hiding under the cloak of nicety, the devil instigated a miracle from Jesus, which was oriented toward obeying the latter’s command. 2) The devil offered Jesus the shortcut to his salvific ministry (3 years of preaching, passion, and death) in exchange of worshipping the tempter. 3) With more subtlety, the temper extrapolated a scripture passage in favor of his gimmick.
Jesus overcame the evil ploy of the tempter, not because he lacked the ability of comply, but rather because he stayed conscious of the fact, that nothing good can come from the devil. His 40 days of spiritual gym in the desert through unbroken chain of fasting and prayer energized Jesus’ desire to stay conscious and focused on doing the Father’s Will only, despite the weakness of the body.
We are called to learn from Jesus’ example, if we desire to overcome Lenten temptations. Since we cannot avoid temptations, staying conscious with focus on listening to the tiny voice of God, alone, is the only weapon to shatter the veiled snares of the devil. Therefore, listen to the Vicar of Christ: “Be vigilant, because your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in faith,” (1 Peter 5: 8).
God bless you, Fr. Levi
EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - MARCH 3, 2019
"The Inner Housekeeping"
A couple noticed another couple moved into the next house. One day, the wife of the new neighbor did laundry and put them out to the sun at their backyard. Looking through the east window glass, the older neighbor’s wife called the husband and criticized the laundry outside, saying: “she can’t even wash clean her clothes.” A week later, she called the husband, to come and see that the new neighbor had learned to wash her clothes. “Who must have taught her?” she asked the husband. In reply, the husband said: “I woke early this morning, and cleaned our window. The dirt was not on our neighbors’ laundry, but on our window.”
In agreement, Raimon Panikkar, a mystic theologian, teaches: “We see reality through individual windows. So, the cleaner the window, the clearer the image. Similarly, the dirtier the window, the cloudier the perception. Our respective windows of talking and seeing emanate from the heart. As testified in the first reading (Sirach 27: 4-7), and the concluding line of the gospel, the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart. A cloudy perception either in sight or in speech reflects inner corruptibility of the heart, whose rotten fruits include folly, lies, antagonism, and most especially, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the biblical expression of false-self. The false-self, as condemned in the gospel (Luke 6: 39-45), glorifies in magnifying the faults of others, while keeping blind eyes on itself. Said differently, such blind self is mostly dangerous to the society because it can only mislead to doom.
Nevertheless, St. Paul in the second reading (1 Cor. 15: 54-58), assures us of a transformative hope, when corruptibility will put on incorruptibility – when the true-self will be liberated from the impurities of the false-self. In anticipation of such glorious state, we are called to look inward and do a regular cleaning of our individual windows, in order to bear healthy fruits, such as clean, kind, and unbiased thoughts, words and deeds. This is true, because “in the Lord, our labor is not in vain.”
God bless you, Fr. Levi
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection - 2/24/19
"Revenge: A Destroyer of Decent Personality"
At the basic instinctual level lays revenge. It functions as an incomplete human act because it skips the rational process. In fact, it is an act of man, which doesn’t surpass the sensual reaction of “stimulus and response” theory. Such sensual activity displays the sink level humans can share with lower animals. Lower is the emphasis because some animals are wiser than others.
One day, a scorpion returning home, waited all day on the shore to get ferried across the river, because its stinging nature was a huge risk, no one wanted to take. At sunset, there appeared a princely-frog that often takes its bath in the river. Catching sight of the frog, the fatigued scorpion begged for help and promised to be mannered. Compassionately, the frog offered its back to the scorpion, and crossed it to the other side of the river. Crawling out from its back, the scorpion stung the frog, and it hurt terribly. “Why would you do that, you promised not to,” the disappointed frog interrogated. Justifying its unrepentant self, the scorpion replied: “so you believed me, is it not in my nature to sting?”
Few weeks later, the frog also offered to ferry the scorpion across the river. The attendants of the princely-frog waited in vain for their master to drown the wicked scorpion. Instead, the frog on dropping off the scorpion got a severer sting that caused it a painful outburst. Wearing down cast faces, the attendants came to the rescue of the prince, but were stopped from avenging the wickedness of the scorpion. Rather, in a calm voice, the princely-frog said: “the scorpion was right, it is his nature to hurt, but my nature to help.” “I will destroy my personality, if I allowed the scorpion to set the agenda of my existence.”In all instances of revenge, the offender systematically sets the agenda for the offended. And when the snare-agenda is ignored, the offender drags the offended to its gutters, which reflects its downgraded nature. The lesson from the frog corroborates with the Latin adage: “Agere sequitur esse – as a being is, so does it act.”
Like the kind frog, the young David in the first reading (1 Sam 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23), refused to destroy his cultured personality, which has great respect for the life of God’s anointed king, in the name of revenge. Similarly, the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15: 45-49) confirms, “agree sequitur esse, in his distinction between the earthly Adam (a living being), and the heavenly Adam (a life-giving spirit). More so, the gospel, (Lk 6: 27-38) provides a renewed gauge for distinguishing selfish-love and selfless-love. Whereas selfish-love conditions a good act, selfless love shares unconditional goodness to others. Selfless-love truly defines the golden rule or what I term “substitutive responsibility,” when it resists the intention for reciprocation.
Indeed, the frog-lesson, exemplified in the personality of David teaches that revenge has the powerful tendency of distorting the noble character of selfless-love. Paul and Jesus approve of this moral teaching in their respective connections between nature and actions, and distinctions between the good and the wicked; selfless-love and self-love. Therefore, in order to sustain the nobility of selfless-love, (recall the examples of the frog and David), I conclude with these beautiful words: “treat others, not as bad as they deserve, but as good as you are.”
God bless you. Fr. Levi
SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - 2-17-19
"The Unpopular Standard"
The popular choice is the most preferred by the people. It could be on anything but most troubling on the standard of living a good life. Good life requires Best of choices. Unfortunately, the popular standard of life seems to contrast that very best.
Popularity, which shares the same root with populace, has its strength in the majority. Popular represents that, which the “people” endorsed as standard. Besides its numerical strength, the popular standard should also pass the test of a good life, which leads to the ultimate goal of life. In so far as the popular standard tendentiously does not reflect that good life taught by Jesus, it becomes necessary to look elsewhere. The unpopular is the next to be screened.
If the popular standard is set and adopted by the people, let the unpopular be the command of God. The unpopular mandate of God is still to achieve popularity due to its oddness in the sight of people. At best, it contradicts, “What we want and are used to.” An insightful story might project the distinction between the popular and the unpopular standards of life.
A poor woodcutter in a village lost his beloved wife at childbirth. Even though the baby survived, the woodcutter never became whole again. With untold resilience, he rediscovered his lost happiness in his energetic handsome son. He practically lavished him with unrivaled love to the utter disappointment of the people. Their popular critique of the woodcutter’s love for the son, such as “he caused his mother’s death,” never changed the latter’s “odd” or unpopular affection. At the request of his son, the woodcutter bought him a horse, using his life savings. He was mocked by popular opinion, yet his constant response was: “God knows the best.” The popular gained momentum when the son, while riding the horse fell and severely broke his leg. Walking crutches became his support. This time, the people ridiculed the woodcutter like never before. Unwaveringly, his response remained the same: “God knows the best.”
Shortly, a severe civil war caused a compulsory conscription of all young men into the military. The incapacity of the woodcutter’s son averted his conscription into the military services. He was the only young person spared in the village. The drastic losses of the war included the death of all, who served in the military, from that village. After the war, the entire village assembled at the woodcutter’s house, and unanimously, confessed: “now we understand your saying, God knows the best.”
“God knows the best,” is a verbal expression of absolute trust in God. Even though it consistently contrasted the popular opinion, it stood tall, at the end. The unpopular standard of trusting in God, even though, a blind leap, proves to be the best choice. The first reading (Jeremiah 17: 5-8), confirms: “Blessed is the one, who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” In a similar vein, the gospel (Luke 6: 17, 20-26) evidences the oddness (unpopularity) of the beautiful Beatitudes in contrast to the popular standard of life. Paradoxically, the gospel flips the popular acclamation with woes: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep,” and the unpopular command of trust in God with blessings: “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” Overall, to trust in God, as seen in the woodcutter’s story seems impossible, unless we first believe in the resurrection power of Christ, the basis of such “blind leap of faith.” This summarizes Paul’s teaching in the second reading (1 Cor. 15: 12, 16-20). May God enable us to believe without reservation the costly implications of Christ’s resurrection.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection - February 10, 2019
"The triple C Formula"
Whereas people seek and hire only certified or qualified personnel, God does the incredible opposite. Whereas everyone avoids the risk of dealing with unskilled or amateur workers, God looks beyond the unprofessional risks and commissions the chosen. God does not ask for working experiences, still His business progresses, despite the challenges of inexperience. The simple reason is found in the outburst of the Psalmist: “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3). However, God does more than managing weaknesses. It is his attitude to weakness that is most striking. Rather than demand for the qualified (certified), God gets deeply involved in the process of qualifying us.
Unceasingly, God works with us through a triple C formula. First, He Chooses (calls) us the way we are (with our imperfections). Second, He Consecrates (cleanses) us. Only then, will He Commission (employs) us. This triple C formula, among other advantages, sustains inclusiveness – the character of God. Therefore, no one is excluded in the gratuitousness of God’s plan, as seen in the prophecy of Jeremiah: “Before I formed you, in your mother womb I know you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed,” (Jer. 1: 4). Knowing (as choosing), dedicating (as consecrating) and appointing (commissioning) confirm that the triple C formula is the true attitude of God toward humanity. The underlying implication is that God looks beyond any human excuses, and invites us to work in the vineyard.
Today’s readings provide further endorsement of the triple C option. Retelling the choice of Isaiah, as a prophet, the first reading (Is. 6: 1-2a, 3-8) highlights his flaw: “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips,” but goes on to report, rather than a rejection, a process of cleansing carried out by God. To compete the 3 Cs step, the confidence that Isaiah lacked was renewed, which urged him to affirm the commissioning: “Here I am send me!.”
Similarly, St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15: 1-11) confesses that despite his inadequacies as a “persecutor” of the gospel and “one born abnormally,” (exceptionally called), God appeared to him, bathed him in the Spirit, and commissioned him. Paul’s example emphasizes the singular fact that what counts is not our flaws, but how our appreciation of God’s intervention in our iniquitous experiences empowers our present commitment to God’s work. In corroboration, Paul affirms that he toiled harder than the rest of the apostles, through the grace of God.
The gospel (Luke 5: 1-11) recaptures the triple C format with the personality of Simon, who became Peter, the first Vicar of Christ. His professed “sinfulness,” literal ignorance, and unsuccessful fishing business, were no hindrances to the plan of God for him. God saw in Simon the unharnessed qualities for spreading the gospel. Such qualities include the humility, the sacrifice and the patience, peculiar to fishermen. Jesus transformed the work of Simon from a fisherman to a fisher of men, prioritizing his potencies over his weaknesses. While the encounter of choice took place at the Lake, the work place of Simon, the consecration happened through a process, before the final commissioning. God’s grace can manifest instantaneously, but also in a process.
Aware of the triple C format of God in relation to us, let’s us focus on producing equitable evidence that proves our gratitude for the unmerited choice, the consecration and the commission, received.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
NATIVITY OF THE LORD - DECEMBER 25 - 2018
"A Child is born for us. His Name is Immanu-El "
God’s choicest promise for us is fulfilled today. God is with us (Immanu-El), and like us (incarnation) – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, the incarnated Word of God came and illumined our dark world (gospel of the day: John 1: 1-3). Let the heavens rejoice and the earth resounds with joy.
Christmas, this immense show of God’s love elevated the human nature to an amazing sacredness. In order to salvage humanity, God assumed voluntary poverty (poverty is not a curse). In fact, the poverty of God and the YES of Mary, (the beloved of the Trinity), put the wretched humanity in collaboration with the purposes of God. The Christmas story retells how God transformed the insignificant people into important witnesses of the Word among us.
Christ came that All may have life in abundance (John 10:10). At Christmas, God reconciled all things in Christ. Jesus is born for all, especially the neediest, the insignificant persons, the marginalized, those quarantined at the margins, away from the center. His birth exposed the self-centeredness of humans. The account of Jesus’ birth depicts a paradox – “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those that accepted him, he gave the offer of adoption as children of God,” (John 1: 1-13).
The Christmas vigil gospel narrative (Matt. 1: 1-25) highlights the inclusiveness of 5 unique women in the genealogy of Jesus. As an interruption of the Jewish male world, Tamar (adulterer), Rahab (prostitute), Ruth (a Moabite – a pagan territory), Bathsheba (adulterer) and Mary (a suspect of infidelity), made the list of Jesus’ ancestors. Even though they were not the model women of their time, still, God did not exclude them. Similar to the lower status of Jewish women, the shepherds (class of non-persons) were the first to receive the message of Christmas. In spite of their disparagement as valid witnesses, these Jewish shepherds became the first authentic announcers of the good news of Christmas. They were the first choristers of the divinely taught Gloria.
Although the poor shepherds were the first humans to visit the baby-King (midnight gospel – Lk. 2: 1-14), they were beaten by the hospitality of the animals. There was no room for the savior of the world, except at the stable. Again, humanity fumbled. The Christmas message transformed the debasement of the shepherds into self-esteem (Lk. 2: 15-20; gospel at dawn). Their humility was instrumental to believing the words of the angels, and adoring the baby-King.
Unlike the shepherds, the next visitors were taught humility and faith before they could see the baby-king. The Magi set out looking for the newborn king, but solely relied on their scientific knowledge. Their proud intention of being discoverers of the new king eluded them, at the moment the source of their scientific knowledge (the star) disappeared. The disappearance of the star was divinely purposed. But because science and faith are designed for efficient collaboration, the astrologers were humbled to ask questions from scriptural experts, from whom they learned about Bethlehem as the place of birth. These Magi, who departed as unbelievers, learned humility and faith, on the way. As a result of their reformed personalities they adored the new king and adorned him with special gifts.
Christmas reconciles all things in Christ. The star, the animals, the downtrodden shepherds, the marginalized women, and the non-Jewish scientists were relatively enriched in their specific roles. Similarly, we are invited to learn the humility and faith of the shepherds in order to pay homage to the newborn King. Immanu-El – God with us.
Merry Christmas and a splendid New Year to you, all. Fr. Levi
4th Sunday in Advent - Dec 23, 2018
"Your Will be Done "
On this last Sunday of our desirous expectation for the fulfillment of the promise of the Savior, the scripture readings remind us of the need to conform to the Will of God. That our joy of Christmas might be fullest, we are admonished to be agreeable to accept God’s will for us, and be ready to do His Will, especially when it conflicts with our wishful thinking. Abiding by God’s will, the splendor of Christmas will radiate through us.
God willed that the insignificant, the unpopular and the marginal city of Bethlehem-Ephrathah be raised to an enviable status of being the birthplace of the Savior (Micah 5: 1-4a). This “will” shows how the good news of Christmas brought joy to every strata of the world. The name, Beth-lehem (house/home of bread), depicts the ordinariness of the city. Named after the commonest and cheapest food (home baked bread), Bethlehem embodies the significance of the lowly birth of the King of kings. The transformed Bethlehem resonates with a line in Mary’s beautiful song of praise (Magnificat): “He (God) has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.” Primarily, the will of God invites simplicity and lowliness of heart as conditions for embracing Christmas.
The birth of the baby-king fulfills the prophecy of old: “Behold I come to do your will,” (Heb. 10: 5-10). Jesus sets the example of doing God’s will, and through it has consecrated us.
Being a faithful disciple of the son, the gospel reading presents Mary’s example of doing God’s will (Luke 1: 39-45). Inspired by the lowliness of life, Mary thought less of herself (as the mother of the savior), and hastened to Zachariah’s house, in order to avail herself of services to the aged cousin, Elizabeth, in her sixth month of pregnancy. Learning from Mary, our mother, the will of God must come first in our lives. Discerning the will of God can be extremely challenging. The will of God most times is visible in the prompting need of others. Mary’s substitutive responsibility toward Elizabeth encourages us to generously offer our birthday gifts to the baby-Jesus, through positive responses to the lowliest among us. It is the will of God that Jesus’s birth identified with lowliness while his life demonstrates the readiness in doing whatever be the will of God.
May we learn doing God’s will in our lives by emulating Jesus and his mother.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 9, 2018
"Getting Ready for the Promise "
With hopeful expectation, God’s promise for us is about to happen. What are the signs? For this second week, God through prophet Baruch has asked Jerusalem to take off her robe of mourning and misery, and replace it with the splendor of God’s Glory (1st (Reading Baruch 5: 1-9).
We are the new Jerusalem. We are the abode of peace. Our hearts as well as city should be peaceful. But how ready are our hearts and our city for the fulfillment of God’s promise?
God still did not leave us clueless. God has given us a detailed instruction through prophet John the Baptist. In today’s gospel (Luke 3: 1-6), a voice in the desert resounds: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Advent Week II reminds us of the essence of preparation in anticipation of the Best for us – our salvation. Like those expecting an August guest, our required preparation follows an inside-out structure. It is from our hearts to our environment, not the converse. The housekeeping involved should be thorough; no half measures. It is either spotlessly clean or not good enough. The simple reason is, the baby-Christ deserves much more than an August visitor. He comes to be with us, and to save us, and as such merits our relative Best. The divine call for preparation shuns competitive rivalry because your Best is not my Best. If we must compete, only compete with yourself, and strive toward your Best. Let’s work toward giving the baby-Christ our Best distinct selves as birthday gifts, because His coming fulfills the Best promise for us.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - DECEMBER 2, 2018
"Hopefulness amidst Hopelessness "
With the conclusion of the church’s liturgical calendar year, last weekend, Advent season has commenced a New Year. I welcome you to a year of 100% newness and freshness – a year beaming with amazing Hopes and Opportunities. Recall that the language and imagery of the “end of time,” depicted awaiting horror of uncertainty. The season of Advent interrupts that awful portraiture, with its consoling package of Hope. It is a proof that God never deserts us, especially in our hopelessness. The color of Advent is purple, which speaks the language of Hope and Promises. Etymologically, Advent is derived from two Latin words: Ad [toward] & Venio [coming] meaning, God is “coming toward” us. God searches us out, while we are stuck in our miserable impasse. Advent is that period of unmerited excitement and hopefulness, heralding the nearness of our salvation.
Uniquely, God is not just consoling humanity in her misery and vulnerability, God has also planned to be with His people. It is the divine plan to identify with the gravest burden of humanity, in order to eradicate it. The burden of sin is the gravest obstacle because it practically cuts us off from the loving purpose of God.
The redemptive journey of God to be with us, which started on March 25th (Feast of Annunciation), is nearing its fulfillment. The 4 Sundays of Advent represent the final days of ceaseless yearning for God’s coming. It is fitting that God chose the lowly nature of humanity, not only to save it, but also to prove that our nature is no obstacle to live eternally in heaven. The coming of the incarnated God is to illumine and dignify our infected nature, especially our bodies. Therefore, Advent transforms our hopelessness into hopefulness.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
THE LAST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 25, 2018AND THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
We celebrate today two all-important activities in the Catholic Church. Could the church have separated the two events? No. The two are intrinsically inseparable both now and at the end of time. The church intends on this day to reenact the second coming of Christ, which will also bring the eschaton (end of time). In the first coming, the incarnated Christ (humble state) came for the salvation of the world, which was perfectly accomplished as prophet and priest. Within this period each person has enough time to make the right decision.
The second coming is purposed for the manifestation of Christ’s divinity as King. Christ’s kingship will bring to an end all other puppet kingdoms because as the true king, He will judge each person according to his/her deeds. At this end of time, Christ will reconcile all things to himself by harmonizing justice and mercy. None will be lost except, those who chose to be lost, by rejecting the love invitation of the Trinity. On the contrast, all those who embrace the love shall share in the kingdom, and the priesthood of Christ. These sheep on the right shall see God face to face and shall be one with God (divinization). Unlike earthly kings, Christ the king rules with the Power of Love. Therefore, it will be absolute ignorance and self-hatred not to be part of Christ’s kingdom. Let’s make this ultimate choice, right.
God bless you,
THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOV. 18, 2018
" The Warner Sunday "
This penultimate Sunday heralds alerts for the imminent End. The primary message of today highlights preparedness. Since the end is as certain, but as unpredictable as death, readiness at all times, is the only way out.
Being ready at all times for the ultimate end is all gain. Even if the end doesn’t happen immediately, there is nothing to lose. The huge loss hurts terribly, when we fail to prepare. There seems to be no middle course. Whoever fails to get prepared has inadvertently prepared to be taken unawares.
The church in her wisdom understands the irreparable loss that is consequential from unpreparedness. So, every 33rd Sunday re-enacts the warning signals for the end of time.
The signs of the end are, no doubt, the most horrendous sights; still the emphasis goes beyond those imaginable calamities, to the assurance that “the just will be unharmed.” The just are those who heed the warning and are always ready for the end. The time is now.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOV. 11, 2018
" Who is the real Poor? "
Material poverty might be the most common type, but definitely not the only one. Spiritual poverty and voluntary poverty even though unpopular are still ennobling virtuous practices in the church. Whereas Christians are encouraged to show compassion toward the sympathetic circumstances of the material poor, they are equally invited to embrace spiritual and voluntary poverty. Ascetic living (or spiritual poverty) can be selective and optional, but voluntary poverty is open for all (including the material poor).
Voluntary poverty offers the golden opportunity to emulate the self-emptying of Christ in solidarity with the neediest. In essence, and according to John Chrysostom, one of the most renowned church fathers and a rhetorical homilist, poverty and riches are mere “masks” that shield the true inner personality. Chrysostom teaches that none of the masks truly constitutes an insurmountable barrier into the kingdom of heaven. The evidences in the first and second readings of today agree with the thesis of Chrysostom.
The incredible hospitable heart of the widow (a biblical synonym of poverty) of Zarephath (1Kgs 17: 10-16) challenges our individual and collective discipleship, as Christians. The story reconnects the priority of love for God, seen last weekend. The poor woman, despite her compassion for her son, was able to share with Elijah, the prophet of God, all she got, her last resort. Her awareness of the imminent risk of starving to death wasn’t enough barrier to evade hospitality. Amazingly, she even agreed and served a stranger, first.
Similar parallel is noticed in the gospel (Mk 12: 41-44), as Jesus observed how people make their offerings. From his vantage point, Jesus identified another widow as the most generous. Whereas others gave part of their plenty, the widow gave all she got. The criterion is not the quantity given, but the quality of heart that gives. Said differently, the willingness to share the little we got, with the neediest, is the main lesson that the two readings communicate.
These two widows have few things in common. They are true image of voluntary poverty, in solidarity with the neediest. Even though materially poor, they were not selfish. Both were materially detached. In truth, they rose beyond the lure of materiality and practiced voluntary poverty for the sake of God and humanity. They had God in their number one position, and neighbors in their number two position, while themselves occupied the number three position. Gale Sayers’ dictum: “God is first, others are second, and I am third,” articulates the exemplar hearts of these two anonymous women. The scripture left them anonymous such that anyone touched by their unusual generosity could step into the footprints they left in the shore of time.
Today’s society shows that many beggars understand and practice detachment, even with the least, they got. So, it is not actually how little we got that defines poverty, but how attached we are to what we got. The real poor are not the ones with few things, but rather the ones, who find no reason to share, whatever they got. Invariably, rather than set material poverty or wealth as criterion, it is evidently detachment from materiality (and never attachment) that determines a generous heart. If we listen well, at the most critical moment, detachment or voluntary poverty simply advises: “let go, and let God.” The widow of Zarephath heeded this advice, and lacked no more. Those, who heed such salvific advice at this time, eagerly await the second coming of Christ (Hebrew 9: 28).
God bless you, Fr. Levi
THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME NOVEMBER 4, 2018
" Who is my #1 love? "
The Readings of today (Deuteronomy 6: 2-6 and Mark 12: 28b 34) are assertively clear on the need to make God our priority. The strong words of the readings require sincere and full commitment to an unrivaled expression of our love for God. Nothing less is good enough. To love God is the only true option. Refusal to love God according to God’s category is nothing but a revolt. There is no mid-way. To reject God necessarily implies adultery. This is true because adultery simply means replacing God’s number 1 position with something else. Anything that occupies that first position in our priority list but God, be it the self, or another person, or spirit or thing, constitutes adultery. In fact, not to love God above all, means a rejection of God, whose own love invites our appropriate response. The consequence is most grave because to love God is only a response. God always initiates love, by loving us, first. According to the readings, still, the choice to love God includes also to love that, which God loves, especially humanity. From today’s biblical injunction, it is practically impossible to imagine to love God we cannot see, while we cannot love our neighbors, we see everyday. John, the beloved apostle, condemns such dualistic misplacement or hypocrisy in 1 John 4:20. Whereas, a denial of love for God is a no, no option, any attempt to love God without its complementary love for neighbor, antagonizes the required sincerity and full commitment of the practice. Therefore, the number 1 priority, which is explained here, as a reserve for God and God alone, entails the inseparable love for neighbors. When we do likewise, we shall not be far from the kingdom of God. God bless you, Fr. Levi
30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME- REFLECTION - OCTOBER 28, 2018
" At the Feet of Bartimaeus "
Jesus is the Teacher, no doubt. Occasionally, the scripture offers us human examples. Today’s gospel (Mark 10: 46-52) presents the personality of Bartimaeus as a metaphor, in order to drive home couple salient points. These points will be reviewed under the broad category of his ineptitude and his attitude. The doggedness of Bartimaeus in managing his inability explains the importance of his example. Somehow, everyone, like Bartimaeus, has certain degree of shortfall or inability. Rather than perceive his inability as a fitting obstacle for making excuses, Bartimaeus teaches the better option of confronting his obstacle. The attitude of Bartimaeus reminds us of a true but heuristic story.
One day, a famous pastor dramatized an important lesson to his congregation. He put up a $50 dollar bill to the full glare of the sitting congregation and asked: “who needs this money”? Amidst the suspense, all raised their hands, saying “I,” except a girl, who walked to the pastor and collected the money. She got the money because she went for what she needed, while the rest sat tight on their pews. This girl is a modern Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus was blind (possibly from birth). Blindness was his major inability. Culturally, he was despised (as a sinner). Physically, his options were strictly limited. The society might have downgraded him (a reason they hushed him). Nevertheless, he never gave up in confronting his ineptitude.
Like the girl, Bartimaeus swallowed his ego and begged publicly to satisfy his need. Spurred to overcome his inability, Bartimaeus was not satisfied in the begging option; he desired to gain his sight, so as to earn his living. The passing of Jesus offered the rare golden opportunity, which he swiftly and resiliently grabbed. Bartimaeus exhibited the readiness to transform his obstacle even before he received his healing. He knew what he needed and so nothing, not even thousands of people, who feel differently, could stop him. His resilient attitude, despite the overwhelming odds from the crowd to silence him, proved his preparedness to overcome his ineptitude.
In essence, while God surprises us with abundant gifts and blessings, sometimes, our faith in God, like in the stories of Bartimaeus and the girl, also challenges us to transcend our inabilities and go for (in prayers) what we need, despite other intervening obstacles, whether from nature or from people around us. In all, it is our attitude that matters, most. Attitude is everything and can transform any ineptitude (inability) in our life. Let us, therefore, learn at the feet of Bartimaeus.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 21, 2018
"Leadership verses Ruler-ship"
Today’s gospel from Mark 10:35-45 emphasizes the importance of the distinction between leadership and ruler-ship. The corrective teaching of Jesus evokes some pertinent questions: who is a leader? Why is a ruler, not a leader? These questions alert caution on the grey boundary that divides leadership from ruler-ship. Our reflection, therefore, seeks to highlight the qualitative difference that defines leadership.
Broadly, a leader embodies her people, and lives for them. She participates in the pains, sorrows, as well as the joys and happiness, of her people. In this regard, the happiness of a leader derives from the collective happiness of her people. In fact, the life of a leader should be altruistic. Leadership as envisioned by Christ is service to the people. The Catholic Church resonates this perfectly well in her leadership. The role of the Pope as Christ’s vicar on earth is properly expressed in one of his titles: “servus servorum Dei” – “the servant of the servants of God.”
Altruistic leadership requires a leader to harmonize vision with mission. By matching vision with mission, a leader sets clear and achievable goal, and then strategizes toward its actualization. In other words, leadership entails initiative and practicality. Having one but not the other is contradictory.
The bigger question then is: why the struggle to be the Head (as exemplified by James and John), if leadership demands serving (others) than being served? The answer is not farfetched. Leadership has been confused with Ruler-ship. In essence, the former contradicts the latter. At best, ruler-ship is a distortion of leadership. Whereas a leader lives for her people, the people live for a ruler. Whereas a leader models an “inversed pyramid,” in which the top (head) bears the whole (people), a ruler signifies the portraiture of a pyramid, where the head sits comfortably on peoples heads. In contrast to the discomfort of the basal leader, it is therefore the “unparalleled comfort” of ruler (at the top) that attracts the struggle. In order to sustain his comfort, the ruler lords over the people.
Jesus condemns the act of lording over, but recommends a goal-oriented service. Goal-driven service requires sacrifices as shown in Christ toward his Church. The goal of a leader is a continuous process toward the Promise Land. This age-long promise has been expressed with several typologies: from the (lost) Garden of Eden, through the undisclosed destination for Abraham, and later, the Land with milk and honey, then to eternal life, as the reality. All through ages, the journey to the Promised Land has remained unchanged except for the noticed transition from particularity to universality. As seen in last weekend’s reflection, the ultimate goal of Christian life is to inherit the promise of eternal life. The success or failure of each epoch can be measured according to the leadership quality of the one that leads. Specifically, the Pope is the leader of the Church of Christ, but derivatively, every adult Christian, is likewise a leader. So, we, all, are called to learn from Jesus how to be (proportionate) leaders, through service.
In conclusion, our reflection today might sound utopic to many ears because it overturns the societal status quo. However, rather than perceive the Christian ethos as impossible, let us further learn from the words of Gilbert K. Chesterton: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and not tried.”
God bless you, Fr. Levi
28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 14, 2018
"Love of God and Neighbor"
Love for God is necessary, but insufficient, without the intrinsic love for neighbor. In today’s gospel (Mark 10: 17 – 30), the timeless dialogue between the young man and Jesus should be a daily engagement for genuine Christians. Among other things, the dialogue teaches two important points. On the one hand, whoever does not daily personalize the question: “what must I do to gain eternal life,” of the young man, is far from that kingdom. On the other hand, whoever does not align one’s daily life with the response of Jesus will eventually lose eternal life. These two correlated points address the purpose of life and therefore calls for analysis.
Applying our thesis, the rich young ruler passed the first test of being concerned about eternal life. Jesus confirmed it, by “looking at him, loved him.” What then was his obstacle? What caused his failure on the second test? Identifying the young man’s obstacle is core to the corrective response of Jesus, whereas ignorance of his failure would cause our failure, too. In essence, the young man (partially) loved God and labored to gain eternal life, as a selfish man. The selfishness of this man explains the attitude of the greedy-rich, Jesus refers to, who get entangled with unnecessary earthly accumulations. The metaphor of “the camel passing through the eye of a needle,” portrays the impassibility that awaited heavily-laden camel of the rich at the pedestrian gate of the ancient Israel, after sunset, when the city gate is closed. This narrow gate only passes returnees, who traveled light.
The young man left Jesus disappointed because heaven (eternal life) is for selfless (indifferent) lovers. Said differently, this selfish man attempted severing love for God and love for neighbor. He failed woefully because of such distortion of the original bond. Any attempt in loving God, without its concrete application in loving our neighbors ends up in abysmal futility. In this regard, the motivation is not, loving neighbors because they are lovable, but because God loves the neighbors. Daily planning to gain eternal life requires loving God as much as loving fellow human being, whom God loves most. If love for God straightens the vertical axis, love for neighbor straightens the horizontal axis. When the vertical and the horizontal intersect, the CROSS - the sign of salvation is formed. Therefore, the genuine love for God must necessarily include the practical expression of love for neighbors because both (arms of love) are intrinsically inseparable. Heaven is a gathering for selfless (indifferent) lovers, and we need the gift of Wisdom (1st Reading) to make that endless choice, with the penetrative quality of the word of God (2nd Reading) as our guiding lamp.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - OCTOBER 8, 2018
"The model for the kingdom is Childlikeness, not Childishness"
When Christ in the today’s Gospel categorically insists: “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child, will not enter it,” what did he intend communicating to us? Why a child? Why does Christ often use the metaphor of a child? How does the child model the greatest in God’s kingdom?
Without searching farther, St Augustine’s two great sayings illumine the way for us. 1.) We are created for you, O God, and our souls shall not be restless, until they rest in you.” 2.) “God, who created you, without you, will not save you without, you.”
Augustine’s 1 & 2 together, highlight Dependency on God. This is the main point of today’s readings. The child in her vulnerability is a metaphor of absolute dependency. In this biblical context, the loving providence of God is also emphasized. Therefore, only in God can the innocence, (say naivety), and weakness of the child attract unmatchable care and protection. The child expresses such incredible dependency through the “childlike trust.” Childlike trust transcends the logic of reason. Rather, it is guided in the logic of love. Logic asks for rational proofs, but love can be irrational when subjected to the rubrics of the former.
The 1st Reading offers an example of childlikeness or childlike-trust. Adam, the first child of God achieved amazing feats by cooperating God, even when his actions would logically seem ridiculous. Apart from Adam, every other specie of creatures was made in pairs (male and female), still, he did not complain. His uncomplaining childlike- trust could be read in todays’ world of logic as dumb. Again, why didn’t God name the creatures? How did Adam successfully achieve that, if he were dumb? The answer is simply available. Childlikeness or dependency on God is a TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves Most) work. With Childlike-trust Eve, (the Best of partners) came as a result of Teamwork. In essence, childlikeness, which connotes dependency on God, provides opportunity for unequal collaboration that results to the Best (reward).
The Best for the childlike is to be the Greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Adam and Eve lost their childlikeness as soon as the desired Independence from God. In fact, the sin of Adam and Eve is best explained as a rupture of their original purpose, by contracting Independence or Autonomy from God (you will be your own gods). Unknown to these primogenitors, independence from God means childishness.
Paradoxically, wisdom emanates from childlikeness rather than from childish rationality of the modern mind. Like Adam and Eve, modern mind, through the enthronement of reason, has abandoned God, by creating an artificial gully-disconnect. This disconnection from God has left humanity with incessant unanswered questions about the end, because the plan for the end is dangerously distorted. Marriages will work perfectly, only when God becomes the bond. Practically, the childlike model of the kingdom prescribed by Christ is almost discarded. And so, we are living with the consequences. Nevertheless, the condition for the kingdom has not changed. To be in heaven therefore is a choice for the Best.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
"Comfort Zone” breeds Exclusivity"
Moses and Jesus distinctively question the natural desire for exclusivity. Their responses highlight incredible reasons for openness to inclusive vision. The great corrective lessons from the biblical masters can be summarized in the cliché: “A candle loses nothing in lighting another candle.” On the contrary, a candle enriches itself in brightness by sharing its light, with another. Openness to sharing characterizes true discipleship. John 3:8 reminds us: “The Spirit, (like wind) blows where it wills.” Our pettish boundaries cannot compartmentalize the Spirit. Neither can it restrain the gifts of the Spirit beyond the tents of meeting. Therefore, openness to the gifts of the Spirit, even among unfamiliar recipients, is the main point.
It is no coincidence that in both OT and NT instances, the young were messengers of the unusual. Why are the young presented as key players in the change narrative? The neutrality of the youthful age agrees with their lives at the intersection of tradition and transformation. In the 1st Reading, it was a young man who brought the news to Moses that, two elders, Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp (outside of the tent of meeting). Similarly, it was John (the youngest of the apostles who reported their discriminatory act to Jesus. These youths that transmitted the strange (different from the status quo) occurrences identify themselves as agents of change, who are open to newness and growth. Like the (strange) child metaphor of last weekend, the significance of the youth challenges all of us to adopt the required openness in appreciating the gifts of God in those outside of our set boundaries.God bless you, Fr. Levi
25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 22, 2018
"Welcoming the (strange) Child"
A pertinent question comes to mind, here: Why a child? Or what are the significances of a (stranger) child?
In this biblical context, a child metaphor implies liability (one whose vulnerability demands sacrifices). It also highlights child characteristics such as self-centeredness, dependency, vulnerability, non-responsibility, and control (her interest comes first). In addition, the child expects: unrivaled attention and care. Faced with such sensitive challenges, the best parent must overcome with the power of love.
In a world of inordinate cravings, where selfish interests, jealousy, (2nd Reading: Jas 3:16 - 4:3), envy (1st Reading: Wis. 2:12, 17-20), and tussle for power (Mark 9: 30-37), triumph, welcoming a child can be the least option, because of conflict of interests. Like a child, whose center of existence is the self, so it is with people that have disproportionate desires. To raise one’s child demands a 24/7 (24 hrs of 7 days) attention and care. The mobility of 2-3 year olds can be more exerting than a factory job. Their interests determine family decisions. Even though they cannot engage in arguments, their whole self constitutes an unbeatable opinion. The child naturally occupies the #1 position on humanity’s list. Certainly, there are amazing parents in regards to raising their own child. But Christ meant more than one’s own child. That he stands a (stranger) child before the apostles as a way of teaching them the power of love in contrast to their craving love for power is the core message.
Invariably, the power of love for a child properly defines the responsibilities of the parents as the head of the family. Leaders are likened to parents of children. A good leader therefore is one, who relates to his/her followers with the power of love, rather than the love for power. Jesus in today’s gospel condemns the love for power. Instead, he invites us (leaders at various levels, especially the family) to inspire our leadership with the power of love, as would toward a (strange/homeless) child. By extension, unless we learn through the power of love to welcome a (stranger) child with her full load of oddities, we cannot welcome Christ and his Father.
God bless you, Fr. Levi
24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPTEMBER 15, 2018
"Faith: Doing the Saying"
24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Sept 16, 2018 True faith in God is seen in practice. Some prefer expressing it as faith in action. Faith inspires Christian activities, especially altruistic deeds. Faith can be professed in both words and deeds. Verbal profession of faith and practical faith (faith in action) are intrinsically related. Nonetheless, there is always a stronger tendency to pick and choose the first, without the other.
James, the apostle experienced this anomaly and argues for a working formula that upholds the complementarity between the two forms of faith expressions. His teaching: “Faith without good works is dead,” articulates the apostolic stand that is kept alive in the Catholic Church to date, carefully distinguished from the “the faith alone (sola fide)” option, propagated by the 16th century reformation theology. Interestingly, the gospel messages are vividly summarized into one whole teaching: “the love of God and love of neighbor.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus exemplifies the inseparability of verbal proclamation of faith and the concrete expectations that accompany it. Jesus’ point on his identity as the Christ (the Messiah) clearly comprised obedience unto the passion and death process. However, that the Messiah (a savior) was destined for rejection, suffering and death was totally incomprehensible to the apostles. Peter’s bold profession of Jesus as Messiah could not sustain the practical implications of the latter’s messiah-ship, as he enumerated them. Instead, he desired a separation of faith in the followership of the Messiah, from its practical demands. As such, Peter constituted himself an obstacle between Jesus and the actualization of his messianic ministry. The label “Satan” explains the gravity of Peter’s misstep. In other words, it is a serious offence to make a verbal profession of faith without the correspondence deeds. Such unfruitful followership amounts to hypocrisy.
Faith cannot be dismissed as an invisible reality because genuine faith shows itself in compassionate acts. As Christians, our faith is not measured by the length of time between our baptism and the present. It is not as well determined by whether we are cradle Catholics or converts. In contrast, the ultimate gauge of faith is the accompaniment of good deeds. Faith without good works, according to apostle James, is dead, or better said: it is empty.
God bless you,
TWENTY THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - SEPT. 9, 2018
"What determines our respect for others? "
John 10:10: (Jesus came that All may have life, in abundance), offers us the vista of understanding the purpose of God’s physical visitation in the world. The abundance of life meant here is not an otherworldly phenomenon. Rather, Jesus through His unique sacrifice earned for us, all, a new life (salvation) that begins from our earthly existence, and continues eternally in heaven for those who chose and abide with the WAY (Christ).
This new life contrasts, but also cures our sick society. The new standard of life offered us by Christ, is built on the principle of equity, in which every person is appreciated in her uniqueness. As a genuine charter of life, the new life in Christ challenges believers to live above the societal standard, where one is addressed, the way one dresses; where productivity is the determinant of policies; where the most vulnerable, the weakest, the neediest, the poorest of the poor, are treated as non-persons. Similarly, the wealthy and the “highly-placed” in the society are almost adored.
The apostle, James, condemns such dehumanizing partiality among believers of his time. He therefore admonishes us to emulate the new standard for life as lived and set by Christ. In the Gospel narrative, Christ demonstrates how precious each person’s life is. His healing of the deaf and speech impeached man confirms his intent for All to have life in its fullness. Despite his busy schedule, Christ allows the NEED of each person to determine his attention and response. The need, not the social status, sets the agenda. In the community of God’s people, the need of one becomes the need of all. The church reflects that community, where each works towards accomplishing the fullness of life for ALL, here and hereafter.
God bless you,
TWENTY SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME- SEPT. 2, 2018
"God commands the wellbeing of humanity"
All authorities come from God because life itself traces its origin and sustenance to the authority of God. The wellbeing of humanity, especially the most vulnerable, occupies a central position in God’s command and purpose. Therefore, any human ordinance, which fails to account for, or contradicts God’s purpose for humanity loses its obligation. As God’s children, we are invited to prioritize God’s instructions in respect for God prioritized intent for humanity’s wellbeing.
The danger is to alter the order of priority in regards to divine and human authorities. Unfortunately, choosing to reverse the order contravenes the overall mandate for respecting God’s authority, since God forbids any “addition or subtraction” from what God command. God’s command stands as a mirror that reminds us of our responsibility towards the neediest as well as the weakest of the society – biblically referred to as the “the orphans and the widows.” Invariably, the wellbeing of these lowliest of humans informs basis for validation of ritual observance for purity, but never the converse.
Above all, living a stainless life derives not from rituals of body purity, but from maintaining the bond between love of God and love of neighbor. These two arms of love are distinct but inseparable. Any choice of the first, without the second, expresses mere external observation of religious and cultural practices, substantially devoid of God’s purpose for humanity.
God bless you. Fr. Levi Nkwocha
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 26, 2018
" God commands the wellbeing of humanity"
All authorities come from God because life itself traces its origin and sustenance to the authority of God. The wellbeing of humanity, especially the most vulnerable, occupies a central position in God’s command and purpose. Therefore, any human ordinance, which fails to account for, or contradicts God’s purpose for humanity loses its obligation. As God’s children, we are invited to prioritize God’s instructions in respect for God prioritized intent for humanity’s wellbeing.
The danger is to alter the order of priority in regards to divine and human authorities. Unfortunately, choosing to reverse the order contravenes the overall mandate for respecting God’s authority, since God forbids any “addition or subtraction” from what God command. God’s command stands as a mirror that reminds us of our responsibility towards the neediest as well as the weakest of the society – biblically referred to as the “the orphans and the widows.” Invariably, the wellbeing of these lowliest of humans informs basis for validation of ritual observance for purity, but never the converse.
Above all, living a stainless life derives not from rituals of body purity, but from maintaining the bond between love of God and love of neighbor. These two arms of love are distinct but inseparable. Any choice of the first, without the second, expresses mere external observation of religious and cultural practices, substantially devoid of God’s purpose for humanity.
God bless you.
Fr. Levi Nkwocha
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