Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily

As we enter the Third Week of Lent, we continue on our journey of repentance in preparation for the approach of the Feast of Easter that commemorates the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that Jesus triumphed over the temptations in the desert, we are reminded that we too can triumph through our living faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, today, it is appropriate to look at the nature of sin. By understanding how offensive it is to the eyes of God, we are then equipped with sufficient knowledge to decide if we will walk in His Holy ways or if we will reject His Divine grace in exchange for the sinful path of life.

First of all, I must ask, is there such a thing as a good sin? To answer that question, one must know the definition of sin. Sin is a transgression (offense) against God. It is a crime against God! Why is it a crime against God? It is a crime against God because it is a rejection of God's Holy ways. Sin is the outcome of one's decision to have "his way" or "no way!" That is why a sin is a crime against God.

Now, I ask, is there such a thing as a good crime? Is one crime better than another? Is an assault on someone better than a robbery? Is adultery better than murder? Is lying better than stealing? Is disobedience better than being a party to an abortion?

During today's reading of the Gospel, Jesus addressed the nature of sin. He asked, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?" [Lk. 13:2] "Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?" [Lk. 13:4]

What did Jesus answer? He said, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." [Lk. 13:5] In other words, a sin is a sin! There is no such thing as a big sin versus a small sin. Nor is there such a thing as a good sin versus a bad sin. A sin is a sin! If you offend God, then you have offended God! You cannot walk away and say, "I did not offend God because it was a small sin." Nor can you say, "It is no big deal because it was a small sin." A sin is a transgression against God. To sin is to offend God, to reject His holy ways!

During today's Gospel Reading, Jesus gave a parable about the fig tree. Why did this parable immediately follow after Jesus explained that sin is offensive to God, that it deserves severe punishment? It is because Jesus wanted to point out the sin of indifference, the sin of neglect of one's responsibilities towards God.

In the parable that Jesus told, a man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. When the man went to look at it for a fruit, he found none on it. The tree had now been without fruit for three consecutive years. Finally, tired of that useless tree, the man told the gardener to cut it down. Upon hearing this, the gardener asked the owner to patiently wait another year during which time he would dig around the tree and put manure on it in the hope that it would bear fruit. If that helps after one year and there are fruits on it, good; if not, then it should be cut down.

In this parable, Jesus was talking about those who are indifferent to their salvation. He was talking about those who refuses to live their faith in Christ by performing good works, those who reject the grace of God the Father and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

The man who planted the vineyard is the Lord Jesus. The fig tree in the garden is one of many. We Christians each represent one fig tree. (Optional: In other words, it must be like a jungle in that vineyard with so many fig trees.) Each fig tree is expected to bear fruit that represent the good works and virtues of those who help to build the Body of Christ. Such good works can be inside or outside the parish. Some are called to teach Sunday School in the parish while others are called to witness to their co-workers in the working world. Each must answer his calling according to where he has been sent by God.

In the parable, we heard what should be done with a fig tree that does not produce any fruits after three years. It should be cut down. In other words, the life should be withdrawn from it. It should be destroyed. It should be thrown into the fire to burn until there is nothing left of it.

Near the end of the Reading, we heard that the gardener begged mercy on behalf of the fig tree. He promised to nourish the tree in the hope of awakening (reviving/rekindling) it so it will produce fruit.

Who is this gardener that begged mercy of the man? In John 15:1, we learn that God the Father is the Vinegrower. He is the One who removes every branch that bear no fruit. [Jn. 15:2] Jesus is the true Vine Who gives life. Unless one abides in Jesus, he cannot bear fruit because apart from Him, they can do nothing. [Jn. 15:5] In other words, Jesus is the Gardener.

Based on this knowledge, we learn that Jesus, as our Mediator [1 Tim. 2:5] begs the Heavenly Father to have mercy on behalf of those who do not bear fruit. Jesus promises to the Heavenly Father that He will shine even more graces upon those who have become indifferent to their salvation, those who have dulled their spiritual minds in order to reject the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. And, should it be that after another year, those who have rejected God's grace continue to do so, then let it be that God the Father will end their fruitless lives.

Some may ask, "If the fruits are also synonym to virtues, what are these virtues that should be on the fig tree." They are the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. [Gal. 5:22-3]

What does it mean when it is said that one does not bear fruit? It means that they are doing the work of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these. [Gal. 5:19-21] As Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Galatians, "I am warning you, as I warned you before; those who do these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God." [Gal. 5:21] These are the fig trees that bear no fruit.

Some are under the impression that God is so full of love and mercy that He closes His eyes to the sins of the world. Whoever put that on their minds, it certainly was not God, nor the Holy Catholic Church. And if it was not God, nor the Holy Catholic Church, then it had to be Satan and his children who walk in the darkness. Let it be known that while God is very patient, as the parable of the fig tree tells us, His patience has a limit. How long will God the Father permit His beloved Son Jesus to shower an abundance of grace and love upon sinners who continue to reject the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit? Does today's parable not say that their days are numbered?

During today's First Reading from the Book of Exodus, we heard that God observed the misery of His people. He heard their cries on account of their taskmasters. [Ex. 3:7] And so He went to deliver them from the Egyptians. [Ex. 3:8]

During the Second Reading that provided us with more information about God's people, we learn that God did free His people from slavery. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food. They all drank the same spiritual drink. But, even thought they were God's people, he was not pleased with most of them. And He struck them down in the wilderness. [1 Cor. 10:2-5]

Why did God strike them down? These things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. [1 Cor. 10:6] And we should not complain about this righteousness of God. Those who complained in the days of Moses, they were destroyed by the Destroyer. [1 Cor. 10:10]

As St. Paul said, these things happened to serve as an example. And they were written down to instruct us. So, if we think we are standing, we better watch out that we do not fall. [1 Cor. 10:11-2]

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask, do you think that some of those in the days of Moses were worse sinners and that is why God struck them down? Do you think that some of those in the days of St. Paul were worse sinners and that is why they were denied the Kingdom of God? I say no! The sins that are committed today are the same sins that were committed in the days of Moses and St. Paul! Because of those specific sins, God struck some down and denied them the eternal Kingdom of joy and peace.

In conclusion, we should ask ourselves, is God using this Lenten Season to shower an abundance of grace upon us through Jesus Christ so we will repent of our sins? Is this our last year on earth? After all, none of us knows when the Father shall call us to answer before Him. In the hope of being united together one day as brothers and sisters in the Heavenly Kingdom of God, let us all prepare ourselves by repenting of our sins.

Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro,
the priest of Midian.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely,
God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
God said, “Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.
I am the God of your fathers,” he continued,
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
But the LORD said,
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt
and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers,
so I know well what they are suffering.
Therefore I have come down to rescue them
from the hands of the Egyptians
and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites:
I AM sent me to you.”

God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.

“This is my name forever;
thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills,
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
The LORD secures justice
and the rights of all the oppressed.
He has made known his ways to Moses,
and his deeds to the children of Israel.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Reading 2 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
that our ancestors were all under the cloud
and all passed through the sea,
and all of them were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food,
and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them,
for they were struck down in the desert.

These things happened as examples for us,
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.
Do not grumble as some of them did,
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.

Verse Before the Gospel Mt 4:17

Repent, says the Lord;
the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Gospel Lk 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”

Prayers to Start

"Lord Jesus, increase my hunger for you that I may grow in righteousness and holiness. May I not squander the grace of the present moment to say "yes" to you and to your will and plan for my life."

 My Lord and my God! I believe that you came as my Savior. I know you wish to save me from everlasting harm. Thank you. I place all my trust in you. I love you, Lord, and I offer myself as an instrument for you to help others to know and love you, too.

Teach me, Lord, to repent, to turn to you, and to spread your Good News. I believe in your mission of saving souls, including mine. I hope in you because of the time of mercy that you grant me. I want to love by spreading the Good News of your salvation. Let me be a messenger of your love.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Homily for Today


My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we enter the Second Week of Lent, in the tradition of the Catholic Church, we are called to continue to examine our hearts and to repent of any sins that may offend our Lord Jesus. This examination of conscience is to prepare us for the glorious Resurrection of Christ that will be celebrated on Easter Sunday immediately after the completion of the Lenten Season.

This Sunday, to elevate our minds towards a higher level of spiritual holiness so we may possess a greater perception of how offensive sin is to God, we are reminded that our citizenship is in Heaven. In this process, while discovering the merits that we have freely received by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our hearts are impelled to show appreciation to the Heavenly Father in thanksgiving.

During today's First Reading from the Book of Genesis, we heard that because Abram believed in the promise of the Lord that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, the Lord "reckoned it to him as righteousness." [Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3] As the living faith of Abram was reckoned to him as righteousness, the living faith of many others in those days was reckoned to them as righteousness.

"By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts." [Heb. 11:4] "By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death... For it was attested before he was taken away that 'he had pleased God.'" [Heb. 11:5; Gen. 5:21-4] "By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith." [Heb. 11:7] And the same reckoning of God was found in many others in the days of the Old Testament. In complete obedience to the Lord God, such echoing living faith, Isaac, [Heb. 11:20] Jacob, [Heb. 11:21] Joseph, [Heb. 11:22] Moses, [Heb. 11:23] and Rahab [Heb. 11:31] were all made righteous.

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." [Heb. 11:1] Indeed, by faith many of those who lived in the days of the Old Testament have received approval.

During today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians, we heard St. Paul teach "that our citizenship is in Heaven." [Phil. 3:20] Why is it that while we are in this world, we do not belong to this world? It is because Christ died for us so that we may be made righteous through Him. Through His death on the Cross as the sacrificial Lamb, we qualify to inherit the salvation that awaits all those who persevere in their living faith.

Since Christ died for us, we are indebted to Him for the gifts of righteousness, salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We are indebted to Christ for what awaits us after the last trumpet. At that moment, in the twinkle of an eye, we will all be changed [1 Cor. 15:52-3] in the image of Christ. [1 Cor. 15:49] Our perishable bodies will put on imperishability, and our mortal bodies will put on immortability. [1 Cor. 15:54]

As "there is the glory (brightness) of the sun, the glory (brightness) of the moon, and the glory (brightness) of the stars, each differing from one another, so it is with the resurrection of the dead." [1 Cor. 15:41-2] Jesus will transform our present limited bodies of humiliation into glorious bodies. [1 Cor. 15:43] Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky. [Dan. 12:3] Those who lead many to righteousness shall shine like the stars forever and ever. [Dan. 12:3]

Let us reflect upon those biblical words for a moment. Let us reflect upon the glory that our loving Heavenly Father has prepared for each and everyone of us through Jesus Christ. What reward awaits you and I according to our good works? Will one or more of us in this parish shine as bright as the most brilliant star in the sky? I pray that the Lord God will bless all of us with such a reward.

To receive that glorious reward, we must persevere in our obedience to the commandments of God and of the Church. We must submit ourselves in obedience to the Church authorities. We must serve our Christian brothers and sisters in humility. Everyday of our lives, we must make sacrifices, always giving thanks to God for everything that He has given us.

Can we compare the sacrifices that we must make in this earthly life to the eternal rewards that awaits us all? No! There is no comparison. For our earthly lives are as a second of the eternal existence that God has prepared for us? If our earthly lives are as a mere second, then what are our sacrifices? Are they not only a small fraction of a mere second? My brothers and sisters, truly, the Lord God asks so little of us, and yet, He gives us so much in return.

During today's Gospel Reading, we heard that Jesus went up the mountain to pray with three Apostles, Peter, John and James. While they were on the mountain, the appearance of the face of Jesus changed and His clothing became dazzling white. Then, Moses and Elijah appeared and started talking to Jesus.

As we heard, that event did not pass unnoticed. Peter and the other two disciples witnessed the glory of the Lord Jesus. They witnessed, as far as it is humanly possible to see with the human eyes, the brilliance that comes with the transforming glory that awaits those who will be changed in the image of Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not belong to this world. Our citizenship is in Heaven. How long can we continue to be double-minded? [Jas. 1:8, 4:8] One moment, embracing a spiritual mind, we want to die and go to Heaven; the next moment, embracing a worldly mind, we do not want to die and we desire all the pleasures of the world. How patient the Lord has been with us who are so unstable in our ways.

Knowing that our citizenship is in Heaven, our present goal in life should be to prepare ourselves for what awaits us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our preparation should consist of embracing holy virtues that will benefit us for eternity.

Should we not be shining in love towards all men versus closing our eyes to the wars, the division and the hatred that goes on in this world? Should we not be showing charity towards the poor versus accumulating an over-abundance of wealth that will be left behind when we depart from this world? Should we not be sharing the good news with all those with who we come in contact instead of being indifferent to our faith?

There is so much that we can do, (pause) if we are willing, to accumulate credits that will be applied towards our Heavenly reward. What are a few moments of our time here and there in comparison to what awaits us? What are a few weekly sacrifices in comparison to the blessings that we will receive as Heavenly citizens?

My brothers and sisters, the eternal rewards that shall be bestowed upon each and everyone of us shall be according to what we truly deserve. For the Lord Jesus is just in all His ways!

This week, let us reflect upon our citizenship in Heaven. Let us assess what is forthcoming based on what we have earned until now in our lives. Let us assess if we qualify to shine as the brightest of the stars in the sky. And if necessary, let us correct ours ways so that we will be among those that the Lord God shall bless the most abundantly.

Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1GN 15:5-12, 17-18

The Lord God took Abram outside and said, 
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD, 
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

He then said to him, 
“I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans 
to give you this land as a possession.”
“O Lord GOD,” he asked, 
“how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
He answered him, 
“Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, 
a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought him all these, split them in two, 
and placed each half opposite the other; 
but the birds he did not cut up.
Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, 
but Abram stayed with them.
As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, 
and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.

When the sun had set and it was dark, 
there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, 
which passed between those pieces.
It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram,
saying: “To your descendants I give this land, 
from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

Responsorial PsalmPS 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me.
Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Your presence, O LORD, I seek.
Hide not your face from me;
do not in anger repel your servant.
You are my helper: cast me not off.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Reading 2PHIL 3:17—4:1

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, 
and observe those who thus conduct themselves 
according to the model you have in us.
For many, as I have often told you 
and now tell you even in tears, 
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach; 
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, 
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body 
by the power that enables him also 
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, 
in this way stand firm in the Lord.

OrPHIL 3:20—4:1

Brothers and sisters:
Our citizenship is in heaven, 
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body 
by the power that enables him also 
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, 
in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Verse Before The GospelCF. MT 17:5

From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard:
This is my beloved Son, hear him.

GospelLK 9:28B-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James 
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance 
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, 
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus 
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, 
but becoming fully awake, 
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, 
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking, 
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, 
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said, 
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time 
tell anyone what they had seen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Today's Homily

Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Holy Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. As most of you are aware, the Lenten Season began a few days ago on Ash Wednesday and it will last for forty days. Every year during this time, the Church unites herself to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. [Catechism of the Catholic Church # 540]

Jesus' temptation in the desert reveals to us the way in which the Son of God is the Messiah. This is contrary to the way Satan proposed it to Jesus and the way men wish to attribute to Him. This is why Christ vanquished the tempter for us: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning." [C.C.C. # 540; Heb. 4:15]

During the Season of Lent, it is the custom of the Church to re- read and re-live the great events of salvation history in the 'today' of her liturgy. This demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to the spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church's liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it. [C.C.C. # 1095]

Today's message from the Gospel of Luke speaks to us of the triumph of Jesus in the desert. Led by the Spirit in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus resisted the three temptations that were placed before Him. Through Jesus and with Him, we are reminded that we too can be triumphant in our battle against evil.

In accordance with the tradition of the Church, during the Lenten Season, we as believers are called to repent of our sins that offend God. We are called to frequently remember the triumph of Jesus. We are called to triumphantly live our faith in Christ as baptized children of God. We are called to go forward and shine by our obedience, our servitude, our charity towards others, through prayers, sacrifices, all in the love of God.

By doing so, we know that in the end, our triumph shall also be glorious through the Kingdom of God that we shall inherit as children of the Lord.

During today's Gospel Reading, we heard how Satan tempted Jesus the first time. He asked Jesus to manifest His Divine power by commanding a stone to become a loaf of bread. But Jesus, "though He was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross." [Heb. 2:6-8]

At anytime in His life, Jesus, being God incarnated, could have performed miracles or could have appealed to His father and at once, He would have sent Him more than twelve legions of angels. But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, when they say that it must happen in this way? [Mt. 26:53-4]

The answer that Jesus gave to the devil is most interesting. Jesus said, "One does not live by bread alone." If we are to associate this response with the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, it implies that the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, is insufficient in itself to assure our salvation. There is a great truth to this mystery. As words without actions are dead, faith without works is also dead. [Jas. 2:26] For, by the grace of God, our works are manifestations of the indwelling Holy Spirit who is sanctifying us and moving our living faith towards a perfect likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So important are works in our lives that in the end of the Book of Revelation, we read, "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work." [Rev. 22:12] In the beginning of the same Book, we read, "I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you." [Rev. 3:1-3]

In that same Chapter, we read, "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." [Rev. 3:15-7]

You see my brothers and sisters, to qualify to inherit the Kingdom of God, we need to allow ourselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit to perform spiritual works for the glory of God. As the spiritual works of Jesus were Divine manifestations that He truly was the Son of God, our spiritual works by the power of the Holy Spirit are manifestations that we too are children of God, Sons and Daughters of the Almighty.

In the second temptation, the devil showed Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. Then he promised to give Him all their glory and authority if Jesus would worship him. Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.'" By His answer, Jesus gave two messages. First of all, His answer echoed the first Commandment, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." [Ex. 20:2-3]

Secondly, for what would it profit to gain the whole world but to forfeit one's life? [Mt. 16:26] What good is all the glory and authority that comes with the ownership of kingdoms if one will lose his soul? Are a few years of glory and authority of more value than an eternal life as a child of God? Certainly not!

My brothers and sisters, during the coming week, let us reflect on the actions of Jesus who was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. As Jesus resisted the temptations in the desert, we too are called to resist the daily temptations that cross our path and seek to destroy our communion with God. We are called to repent of past sins, to be sanctified in Christ, to perform spiritual works through the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist all glory and authority that may separate us from the love of God Who greatly desires to see the fulfillment of our adoption as His children. Let us reflect upon these things during the coming week.

May the grace of God be with you all as you search your hearts with great sincerity and allow yourselves to be transformed in Christ.

First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Dt 26:4-10

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading 2 Rom 10:8-13

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart

—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Verse Before the Gospel Mt 4:4b

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Gospel Lk 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

Not on Bread Alone

From Bishop Barron click here for Word on Fire


Lent Day 5
Not on Bread Alone
The temptations Jesus faced in the desert may seem a little obscure to us, but, in fact, they lie at the heart of all human temptation. They are three classic substitutes for the good that is God’s will.

The first great temptation is to focus our lives on material things and the satisfaction of sensual desire: “The tempter approached him and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’” Jesus is starving after 40 days of fasting, and he feels the temptation to use his divine power to satisfy his bodily desires.

This means that he feels the pull to make the satisfaction of bodily desire the center and ground of his life. This is the pull toward hedonism—the philosophy that the good life is the physically-satisfying life. Food, drink, sex, material things, money, comfort, or a secure sense of the future have become the supreme values for many in our culture.

Many, many people throughout history, and to this day, are waylaid by this powerful temptation. It is powerful because the desires are so basic. Thomas Merton said that the sensual desires—for food, comfort, pleasure, and sex—are like little children in that they are so immediate and so insistent.

But our lives will never open to greater depth as long as we are dominated by our physical desires. This is why in so many of the initiation rituals of primal peoples, something like fasting or sensible deprivation is essential. It is also why initiation into a demanding form of life, like the military, often involves the deprivation of sensual pleasures.

When we give way to this temptation, it shuts down the soul, for the soul has been wired for God. It was created for journey into the divine, for the beatific vision. When sensual desire dominates, those deeper and richer desires are never felt or followed. They are, as Merton said, like little children, constantly clamoring for attention.

This is why Jesus responds: “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone shall man live” (Matthew 4:4). Life means so much more than sensual pleasure. Love, loyalty, relationship, family, moral excellence, aesthetic pleasure, and the aspiration after God are all so much more important.

Some Prayers to Start

"Lord Jesus, your word is life and joy for me. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may have the strength and courage to embrace your will in all things and to renounce whatever is contrary to it."



Lord Jesus, in this season of Lent, I want to draw closer to you. I believe that you truly became one of us to save us as an act of love beyond all human understanding. I know I can count on you to carry me through each day. I know that in all circumstances you are with me. I want to love you more than myself and say “yes” to your will in every moment. I trust totally in your grace. Thank you, Lord! This Lent, I want to learn to love you as you deserve by being the person you want me to be.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Call of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

From Catholic Exchange:

The Call of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

For many Eastern Christians, Lent is embraced as a time for the renewal of repentance, fervent seeking after God, and increased love and concern for our neighbor. After a few weeks of preparation for Lent (also known as the Great Fast) we begin this period of bright sorrow, a forty day period leading up to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Pascha, Easter, or the Feast of all Feasts.
I say bright sorrow because joy and sorrow are kept in tension. We experience sorrow because of the suffering endured by our Lord in the Crucifixion. But at the same time we experience joy because we know the end of the story: Christ is risen from the dead and by His death he has trampled upon death, and to those in the tombs, He has given life!

Fasting

The Church in her wisdom, over centuries, developed this season of fasting in preparation for a season of feasting. It is generally understood that the traditional fast, handed down through generations, is to abstain from meat and dairy for the whole of Lent and limit food and drink to one or two small meals a day (yes, no snacking), and only after a certain hour (the details are a little more complicated and vary from church to church). In order to observe this fast, one needs will power, preparation, and devotion to the precepts of the Church. For the young and healthy, it is recommended that we put forth a valiant effort to observe the Great Fast according to the tradition of the Church, but the degree of observance is a personal matter worked out in the conscience of the believer and in dialogue with his or her parish priest or spiritual guide. On the one hand, the person who fasts can reap rewards from Great Lent. On the other hand, the church does not shame those who don’t fast, but he or she has lost a great opportunity.
There are a few reasons I have heard for why Eastern Christians fast the way we do. Some are related to Genesis. One of God’s first commands concerns fasting: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:17).God created the world and everything in it, and he gave trees, their seeds and fruit to man for food (cf. Gen. 1:29). It is not until after the Fall that humanity begins to eat the flesh of animals. Some say that not eating animal products during Lent is symbolic of our return to Paradise, to Eden, to our state before the Fall. Another, more practical, reason for fasting the way we do is to remind ourselves of our dependence on God. Every time I have to plan a meal around fasting or put down a snack I automatically picked up, I am reminded of God and the fact that I belong to Him, and not to my belly. In addition, there is frequent exercise of will power in order to observe the inconvenience of fasting. This is a sort of practice or exercise so that when I am confronted with sin, I am stronger and better able to choose what is good and reject evil.
In order to warn the faithful of the dangers of pride mingled with works of righteousness, the Church has placed before the beginning of the Great Fast the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The gospel reading is a parable about two men who enter the Temple to pray: one, a Pharisee, having performed righteous deeds, in his arrogance boasts to God of the good things he has done, and thanks God for not making him like sinners; while the other, a Publican, having no righteous deeds to bring before God, begs for mercy. Jesus tells his disciples that it was the Publican who walked away justified in his humility before God. The parable also “shows that when righteousness, which is marvelous in every other respect and sets a man close to God, takes pride as its companion, it casts that man down into the lowest depths” (Blessed Theophylact, The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke).

Prayer

St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians called the followers of the Lord to “pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5:17). Eastern Christians, in particular the monastics, have spent centuries struggling to understand and practice the meaning of this teaching. Lent becomes a season for increased efforts in dialoguing with God and in being with God both in silence and in worship. If we can not attain to unceasing prayer because of our current state in life, at least we can spend more time in the awareness that we are in the presence of God, no matter where we are or what we are doing.
The Church provides opportunities for frequent communal prayer during the Great Fast. It is likely that you could find more prayer services at an Eastern Church over the course of Lent and Holy Week than at any other time during the year. There is also a call to more fervent personal prayer: a call to an increased devotion to a rule or to the Jesus Prayer (a short prayer that can be repeated throughout the day, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.”) Many pastors call their flocks to turn off the television, or the computer, and instead to read the Scriptures and find time for silence.
St. Paul also exhorts married couples concerning the marital act: “do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again” (1 Cor. 7:5). Many faithful husbands and wives over the centuries have observed sexual abstinence for the whole of Lent in order to devote more thought and time to God.

Almsgiving

In preparation for the Great Fast, on the last Sunday that meat is permitted (ten days before Ash Wednesday), the gospel reading from Matthew is about the Last Judgment. Here, Jesus gives to the Church the implied command to perform corporal works of mercy: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25: 35-36).Lent becomes an opportunity to make a greater effort to see Christ in the poor, the suffering, and the stranger, in the least among us.
On the last Sunday that dairy is permitted (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday), the gospel reading, again from Matthew, teaches us how to give alms: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3). Blessed Theophylact interprets the left/right hand to mean, “Let not your vainglory be aware of your almsgiving” (The Explanation: The Holy Gospel According to Matthew).

Final Reflections

The Pharisees are often portrayed as wicked in the gospels: they are proud and rigid and they are fierce persecutors of Jesus and the disciples. At the same time, the Pharisees also fast, give alms and pray. They are zealous for the traditions of their fathers and the strict observance of the Law; Jesus tells us: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:20).But righteous works must be yoked with faith, love and humility; external observance of the commandments is not enough. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, or ‘actors’, who are “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mat. 23:27).
During this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, let us imitate the Pharisee in his virtues and the Publican in his humility; and also fasting not only from food and drink, but also from sin, from gossip, jealousy and anger! In the words of St. John Chrysostom: “what good is it if you don’t eat meat or poultry, and yet you bite and devour your brothers and sisters?”

Homily


Wow! What powerful readings that we have just heard from the Holy Scriptures. What I mean by powerful is that the readings make us think twice of how we would behave if we suddenly found ourselves in the Divine Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of us would like to think that if Jesus suddenly appeared to us, we would run towards Him and hug Him. Our words would probably be, "Finally Jesus, I waited so long for You," or "Oh Jesus, I love you."

But these were not the responses of Isaiah, Paul and Peter. The prophet Isaiah viewed himself as a great sinner among sinners, he not being worthy of being in the Divine Presence of Yahweh. [Is. 6:5] Paul, still full of guilt for having persecuted the Holy Catholic Church instituted by Jesus, viewed himself as being unfit of being called an apostle. [1 Cor. 15:9] And Peter, the first Pope, begged Jesus to get away from him because he was a sinful man. [Lk. 5:8]

Are we not also sinners living among sinners? "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." [1 Jn. 1:8] As sinners, are we worthy of being in the Divine Presence of the Lord? Or, should we also fall on our knees and say, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful person!"

Isaiah, Paul and Peter were blessed. They perceived the divinity of the Lord. As the Book of Revelation tells us, "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." [Rev. 4:11] These early Church saints perceived that they who were unholy and unworthy of being in the presence of He Who was the Most Holy. Most likely, they asked themselves, "Why me?" "Why do you come to me Lord?" "Can you not find someone else who is more holy than I am?" Knowing what they were, frail creations of God, they humbled themselves before the Lord.

How did the Lord God react to the sincere state of mind and heart of these three children of His? He forgave the sins of each one of them and gave them a mission to fulfill. Isaiah was called to bring the Israelites to repentance. Paul was called to bring others to follow Jesus. Peter was called by Jesus to assist Him in His ministry and to provide leadership to the Holy Catholic Church after the death and glorious Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As history tells us, in each case, the grace of God has not been in vain. Isaiah, Paul and Peter were most grateful to the Lord God for having chosen them and they have made a great effort to answer their calling to the best of their capabilities. This is not to say that they were perfect. Isaiah wished at times that God would have chosen someone else because the people would not listen to him. St. Paul started on the wrong track by persecuting the Christians. St. Peter ran and denied Jesus during the last twenty- four hours of His life. All of them were weak. All of them made mistakes. But, what was most important, all of them had sincere hearts and overcame their weaknesses by placing their complete trust in the Lord God.

Going back to my original question, "How would we behave if we suddenly found ourselves in the Divine Presence of the Lord Jesus?" Many of us can answer that question in absolute truth. You see, Jesus is physically present in the Holy Eucharist and in the Holy Tabernacle. In the past, how have we behaved in His Sacred Presence?

In the physical presence of the Lord, do some of us fall down with our faces to the ground? Do some of us genuflect piously before Him? Do some of us half genuflect as a habit and forget why we are doing it? Do some of us deny ourselves the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist? Or, do some of us pass before the Holy Tabernacle without displaying any honour and respect towards the Lord Jesus? What we have done in the past is but a reflection in the mirror of what we will truly do when we find ourselves in the Sacred Presence of Jesus. If we have never shown honour and respect for the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, nor before the Holy Tabernacle, should we behave differently before Him when we will see Him, surely Jesus will call us hypocrites. To avoid being called hypocrites, we must now begin to give the Lord Jesus the honour and respect that He truly deserves.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus, in human form, has been gone for a long time. And we cannot deny that we are weak. Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, we are not perfect, but we do have sincere hearts. Because Jesus has been gone for a long time, we are tempted to forget about Him. And, by modelling after those who are weaker than we, we are easily influenced to live as though Jesus does not exist.

To ensure that we would never forget Him, over and above the many invisible gifts that have been given to us, Jesus gave us many visible gifts as reminders that He is our Lord and God. He gave us His Holy Church to which we belong as children. He gave us the Church leadership that has handed down the tradition since the days of the incarnation of God on earth. He gave us the Holy Bible as His inspired Word. He gave us the Sacraments. He gave us the Sacramentals. Every generation, He gave us saints to prove to us that it is possible to love and serve Him in all humility. And by the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Most Holy Name of Jesus, miracles have been manifested as an affirmation that it was God's Divine Will for the saints to be canonized.

Jesus never left us alone. Over and above His physical Divine Presence in the Holy Eucharist, He has given us many visible gifts that can be seen with our eyes. These gifts are the strength of our living faith in the blessed hope that awaits us all.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, by the grace of God, while we are what we are, let not the grace of the Lord towards us be in vain. If we have neglected our salvation, let us start again from where we left off and together, let us move ahead with Jesus so the grace of the heavenly Father may shine brilliantly through us.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1IS 6:1-2A, 3-8

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.

They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it, and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Responsorial PsalmPS 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8

R. (1c) In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.

Reading 21 COR 15:1-11

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

Or1 COR 15:3-8, 11

Brothers and sisters,
I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures; 
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
he appeared to me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

AlleluiaMT 4:19

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come after me
and I will make you fishers of men.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them. 
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

Homily for Today

Unto us it is given so we may blossom in Jesus! Good morning to everyone and welcome to our guests who have found their way to our humble...