Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reparation Is Constitutive of Repentance

Lk. 19:1-10

If only to stress the message of how a truly repentant sinner should reparate, this story of Zacchaeus gives us a very good picture. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, was considered an enemy by his fellow Jews because of the excessive taxes he collected from them. The Roman officials were just concerned about their take. Jews who were assigned to collect for them were free to add whatever amount they wanted. This was the source of anger from their fellow Jews. For this reason, a tax collector like Zacchaeus during the time of Jesus was also considered a great sinner. That is why the Pharisees and the Scribes were scandalized when Jesus partied at the house of Matthew. But that is another story.                   Zacchaeus
Going back to Zacchaeus, he must have heard about Jesus particularly His coming to town. He knew how popular Jesus was. He heard His penetrating Words and His wonderful miracles. Zacchaeus was attracted to Jesus. He wanted to see Jesus! So, he went to find a way to see Him. It was mentioned in the Gospel that he was small of stature. Together with so many people who wanted to have a glimpse of Jesus, it would be impossible for him to meet Jesus. So, even though it was embarrassing, he climbed a sycamore tree. He and Jesus meant to see each other. Jesus must have felt the want of Zacchaeus. So, when Jesus saw Zaccaheus, He approached him and told Zaccaheus the good news of visiting his house. That clinched it for Zacchaeus. The gesture of Jesus was enough for Zacchaeus to realize His care and his need for repentance. Then, everybody heard the pronouncements of a reformed man, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over." How we wish all repentant sinners will also do a la Zacchaeus! We should not only say sorry, but reparate if we have done any damage and repay if we have stolen something. There lies the true sign of a repentant sinner! Because of this Zacchaeus act, Jesus said, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham." Zacchaeus regained his dignity not only as a Jew but also as a child of God.

Unknowingly maybe, the structure of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is present in the story. The elements maybe found in the story. The elements of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are; Examination of Conscience, Confession of Sins, Penance, and Absolution. The Examination of Conscience is found in the condition of Zacchaeus before and when he met Jesus. Confession was when he mentioned what he had done to others in terms of fraud and extortion. Penance happened when he promised to repay what he had taken and offered to give to the poor. Absolution happened when Jesus declared that salvation has come to his house.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an effective Sacrament. Zacchaeus helped us understand its true essence. The reparation part had been taken for granted so many times if not totally neglected. Justice requires that we at least do something to repay and reparate. It is the true and effective sign of repentance. Anything short of it makes our repentance questionable. God forgives unconditionally but He expects full contrition if we are to benefit His full forgiveness.

Let us pray for more Zacchaeuses.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Humbly Saved Than Being First

Reflection on Lk. 14:1,7-11

The Gospel happened on a Sabbath day and Jesus gave a lesson on humility. Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees for their misguided values. Because of their fanatic adherence to the laws, they had become unconcerned about the conditions of their fellow human beings. They were willing to implement the full force of the law against individuals, like postponing the cure of a sick person, but were willing to compromise it for the care of their animals, like helping an ox that fell on a cistern. The Pharisees believed that fulfilling the law, no matter who was concerned, was the ultimate purpose.

Later, Jesus told the parable on humility in the wedding banquet. This is to send the message that salvation is not determined by individuals; is not guaranteed in the fulfillment of the laws; and received first by those who are righteous. In the same way that the humble is exalted and the exalted is humbled, those who had gone astray and repented would go ahead of those who had been righteous but were not repentant. So many times in the Gospels this month had this been stressed. In fact, the main Gospel of Jesus is about repentance. As soon as He embarked in His ministry after that Baptism at the Jordan, He went about preaching the Gospel of repentance. Jesus was not devaluing nor ignoring the importance of the law and pious activities. But if these were done merely externally and from an arrogant and righteous heart, they will not gain the favor of God. God looks for the repentant heart. God looks for the humble person. God looks for the coming back of the prodigal son!

He gives us a warning in the parable of the wedding banquet. Be careful in determining yourself as already worthy of the Kingdom. You might be surprised! The parable (story) of Jesus about the sheep and the goats reminds us that on the day of judgment, we will be judged according to how we have treated our neighbors. In that parable, Jesus clarified that our service of God is done through our neighbors. When God asks us how we served and not served Him, how we treated our neighbors would be the basis of His judgment. Attendance to Sunday or daily worship, prayers in the adoration chapel, attendance in processions, novenas, and other para-liturgies, fasting and other sacrifices, are not sufficient. Charity counts big in our discipleship. However small are our services to our neighbors, those are services rendered to God. Any service rendered to God is always BIG!

The stress of our Lord in humility now becomes clear. Humility entails service. Service is always making oneself available for the needy other. Whether it is time, talent, or treasure, in whatever measure, when done out of love, it is always very precious to God. Bear in mind and keep in our hearts that we are creatures who are always dependent on God. That alone should remind us to be always humble!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Relevant Answer Out Of A Right Question

Reflection on Lk. 13:22-30

Reiko Repents

While passing through towns, Jesus was asked, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Seems like a very important question. They were interested in salvation. They were interested in the number who will be saved. They were interested in the answer of Jesus who they have developed a respect for. But, interestingly, Jesus did NOT answer the question! Why? His answer will lead us to the answer! This incident again leads us to the heart and mind of the Lord. For Him, the number of those who will be saved and knowing the chances of being saved, were not important compared to HOW one can be saved. Jesus ignored the question but gave an answer that will help more the people. For Him, knowing how many will be saved does not really help much compared to knowing the ways to salvation. In fact, without the knowledge of the ways, even having a great chance to be saved amounts to nothing. The knowledge of knowing one's chances brings him back to where he was before he knew those information.

The Lord Jesus did not stop in telling them hat they had asked the wrong question. Rather, He told them how they could guarantee their salvation. It is not a secret to the Jews the fate of the sinners of their time. The prostitutes, robbers, murderers, adulterers, tax collectors, and other were ostracized in society because of their crimes and sins. They were considered lost, last, and least in society. However, in pointing out to the Jews the mercy of God and the way to salvation, Jesus revealed to them the necessity of repentance for salvation. repentance here means total union with God. The lesson of the Pharisee comes to the picture. No matter how committed we are in our religious obligations and activities, if we had not developed a repentant heart, we can not receive God's justice. The story of the Tax collector and the Pharisee gave us that message. These so called "anawims" and sinners; once they recognize the lord Jesus and repented, God's justice will surely be received by them. Again we remember Matthew, Zacchaeus, Magdalene, Augustine, Peter, and Paul! All great sinners in their time, but all humbles themselves before God! God gave them His mercy; and with God's mercy, salvation.

Therefore, asking the right questions will help us receive the right answers. What we do with the right answers also matters. Once we receive the right answer, let us try to work on them. If we were sincere in our question, we should also be sincere in receiving the answer. Seriously receiving the answer means putting them into action. At this point, it will be good to remember another character in the Gospels; the rich young man. Having been a faithful Jew by following all the commandment since he was a child, he approached the Lord with the same question about salvation. The Lord responded by telling Him to obey the commandments. The man responded that he had done ever since. If it was enough, the Lord could have stopped right there. But it was not enough. The Lord challenged the rich young man to establish his want for the Kingdom by asking him to leave everything and follow Him. We know the story. The rich young man left Jesus. He was told by Jesus what to do. He was surprised. He can not leave his riches. He was so attached to his riches that he could not leave them for Jesus. He is only willing to follow the commandments but he was not willing to go with the "commander"! He was only interested in the grace, but not in the source of grace. He believed that he has better chances of getting salvation through his riches than the Lord who is the source of all riches. Thus, it is revealed, that his heart was not yet for God. He was doing things for the Lord, but he was not yet for the Lord. In that case, salvation is still far from him.

The next time we pray, be aware of the questions we ask the Lord. Are they relevant? Are we willing to accept God's answer? Are we willing to do them? For salvation's sake, do it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Remember When We Were Young...

These thoughts just dawned on me and I said it will be good to write them.

(Photo was borrowed  from
 luksong baka,  a traditional street children's game Philippines Buhay Pinoy  Filipino Pilipino  people pictures photos life Philippinen  jumping

I remember when we were young we used an earthen jar (tapayan) for our drinking water. Refrigerators were just available to the rich then. The tapayan provided us with cold water. If we want it cooler, our father will ask us to buy a block of ice (at 5 centavos only!) from the store which uses it to make their soft drinks cold. Wrapped just in a piece of paper, I would race back to the house because of the discomfort of holding the ice. Buying ice from the store was one errand we dreaded to do!
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I remember when we were young, a school day will start with my mother rising up at about five in the morning to prepare breakfast for us, eight children all! She would brew coffee bought from the store which were re-packed it in paper. At times, she would just brew the same coffee for the next day. Fried rice (sinangag) was always a favorite especially when it will go with scrambled egg and/or dried fish. Bread (pandesal) was also available but usually, we had a choice between fried rice or bread. Because we were so many, not everyone can have both rice and bread. Margarine was also available as spread for the bread. For our school snack, we can have two pieces of bread (bought at 5 centavos each!) and we can spread it with margarine. But if we ran out of margarine, we just have to make do with the bare pandesal or if there were fried rice left, we make a fried rice sandwich out of it!

I remember when we were young, specifically in our elementary days, our "baon" was only five centavos! Then, with five centavos, we can buy any of the following; ice cream, ice drop, piece of bread, banana cue, camote cue, slice of turnip, slice of green mango, five pieces of candy, rice cake, and others. As a come on, vendors would allow us to shoot our five centavo coin into a small bottle at the bottom of a big bottle full of water. If our coin lands in that small bottle, we get back our money and get the good for free. 
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I remember when we were young, we would walk from the house to the school and back. Our school was about a little more than a kilometer away. We went through a lot of "iskinitas" (side streets). Then, walking to and from school, was a regular activity for all of us. We carry our bags full of books that were mostly hard bound. In my case, whenever I have to catch up with my assignments which I forgot to answer the previous day, I would do my assignment while walking to school! Something like this also happened when I took the board exam for Agricultural Engineering (That story deserves another post.). 

These days, every elementary schooler walks to school. Most are being serviced by tricycles! Wow! In our days, it was very rare. Usually, even the rich were being brought to school with their parents by car. Times had really change. I asked a parent about it and the answer was quite reasonable. They were investing for security reasons. Many children just suddenly disappear and their whereabouts unknown even to these days. They were afraid that their children will be the next victim. Spending for their transportation for security reasons, they believe, was very much worth it. I agree but I am very sad about it. The money spent for "security" would be most useful to these people in another way specially because they are already stretching their budgets to cope with everyday needs. But I guess they do not have much choice. It is hard to risk the safety of their children. In that sense, we were more lucky because we did not have that threat. Well, ces la vie!

These are all for now... more to come ... still when we were young.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Advent: Longing For The Lord


In recent years, when September comes, many already begin to make countdowns for Christmas. Most radio, television, and even the print media make this "anticipation" of Christmas. Department stores start planning and displaying Christmas decorations. Even goods usually reserved for the Christmas season are already on display. Offices and houses begin to decorate. The danger of this is that Spirit of Christmas is being ushered-in prematurely. Many believe that Christmas need not be on December 25 alone. In fact, the Tagalog song says, "At, magbuhat ngayon, kahit hindi Pasko ay magbigayan." True, everyday is Christmas. It is true in the sense that we have to sustain and exercise the Spirit of thanking God for humbling Himself by becoming one like us. But if we are to savor and achieve its true essence, preparation for it is necessary and inevitable. The only way it can be fully appreciated and celebrated is when we go through an intense internal preparation in a season called, Advent.

The Advent Season is a four-Sunday preparation for the big event of Christmas. It captures back the experience of the Jews who were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. "Maranatha!" (Come, Lord Jesus!). The Jews, because of their exiled situation, longed for the coming of the Messiah, their believed Savior. Because of their suffering and aching for the presence of God, they begged Him to send the Messiah, who He had promised through the prophets. Everyday, they looked around and above to see signs of His coming. And one day, he did; on a silent night and a holy night. Although the Lord had already come thousands of years ago, we are asked to re-live it both in memory of the First Coming and in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus during the season of Advent.

The effective preparation is repentance. The Lord, not Santa Claus, is coming not anywhere but in us; particularly in our hearts. Therefore, it is the heart that must be ready for the Messiah's entrance. We allot more communication time with God. We ask Him to enlighten us with the sins we have committed and inspire us of the things that we have done well. We are encouraged to make sacrifices not only in atonement for our sins but also to discipline ourselves and be braced well for the temptations that are yet to come. And we go out of ourselves to help our neighbor whether with our time, talent, or treasure. Blessed really is the servant whom the Lord will find waiting for Him when He comes!

Therefore, celebrations before Christmas day are off or counter to the Christmas Spirit! Christmas parties must be celebrated after December 25, the beginning of the Christmas Season. Decorations must be more full and alive during these times. Gifts are more properly given during the Christmas season. Singing carols are very appropriately heard starting Christmas day through out the season. The external preparations must reflect the internal preparation that is happening. If the internal requirement is repentance and longing for the coming of the Messiah, then what should be our external manifestations?  "Elementary, my Dear Watson!"

We all want a happy Christmas. There are those who had claimed they had happy Christmases. Essentially and truly, the authentically happy Christmas is when we have accepted God's offer of peace through the birth of His Son. Christmas is God's loving invitation to be united with Him and our response in faith through repentance. All other fruits are mere bonuses!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Heart Of The Matter Is the Matter Of the Heart.

Reflection on LK. 18:9-14

the heart of the matter by mappamundi.
This scene is a good example of understanding God's justice. We can not pay our way to heaven. But we can always find it. The incident reveals the true essence of serving the Lord. Quantity matters, but quality in terms of humility counts. Actions are good, but the best intentions should be its source. It is not the hurt that an act would entail but the heart that goes with it. Repentance is the sacrifice (offering) most pleasing to God. Humility brings us to our true place with God. All our good works are meant to be a thanksgiving to God who was responsible for everything that we have and achieved. God does not and will never owe us anything. There is nothing we can do for Him. Everything that we do and are asked to do are for our neighbors and for ourselves. God's plan is for all of us to be saved. Knowing, loving, and serving God are meant to make us worthy of the Kingdom. Realizing this truth makes us work more and at the same time humbles us more. As Jesus said in the Gospels, good servants, after they had done what everything for the master, should say to themselves that they only did what they were supposed to do and therefore should regard themselves as unworthy ones. The point of the Lord is that our lives were meant to be a thanksgiving (liturgy=living sacrifice) to God.

The sharp contrast of the attitudes of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple provides us a clearer idea of our responsibility and how we attain God's justice (the Kingdom). The Pharisee took a good position in the temple; praised himself and even measured himself against the tax collector; lastly, he reminded God about his accomplishments by mentioning his acts of fasting and tithes. He gives us the idea that because of what he had done, God owes him! The Pharisee was short of saying to God to be proud of him and therefore must reward him. On the other hand, the tax collector located himself as far away from God as he can; would not even raise his eyes to heaven; beats his breast and prayed. He was showing an attitude of utmost humility. He feels unworthy and in dire need of forgiveness. His words of contrition and begging for mercy were all he can do to express to God how sorry he was in offending God. For Jesus, the tax collector went home justified while the Pharisee did not.

Does this mean that all of the good things that the Pharisee had done were for naught? No. The actions of the Pharisee were good per se. Unfortunately for him, the Lord does not only consider the act. Jesus was also concerned about the heart that went with the act. This is understandable because we know that actions maybe "good" but may come from evil intentions. The devil, in fact, can make use of "good" actions to attain his goals; e.g. it will convince you to go to mass instead of reviewing for your exams. It wants you to fail in the guise of wanting you to be "holy". On the other hand, essentially evil actions can not be justified by the best of intentions.  For example, aborting a baby to avoid responsibility or embarrassment does not agree with the Will of God. Good intentions and good actions must go together. The matters of the heart are the heart of the matter. 

God's justice was fulfilled in the tax collector. He may have done much bad and not done much good, but he gave more heart. By being humble and very contrite, he gained the respect and mercy of God. Opening his heart to God made possible the entry of God's grace of forgiveness. New life in him resulted in the process. The beauty of this is that God's justice is available to all at all times. God may have made each one of us unique, but He made all of us with a heart. A heart where His words had been inscribed. A heart where He dwells and constantly prods us to follow His Will. A heart where we can always find His wonderful presence. A heart that will help us to see our true place with Him and lovingly encourage us to go back to Him. It does not matter to God whether we are rich or poor, powerful or powerless, white or black, woman or man, priest or lay, educated or not etc. Our heart's desires and actions determine our worthiness for God's justice!

The First Right Step.

Reflection on Lk. 13:1-9

Sometimes we have a tendency to cover ourselves by pointing to the faults of others. We thought that by putting the light on somebody, we can evade judgment. We thought by blaming others, our own blames will disappear. The fact is, it is temporary. What we have, we have. We may not be in center stage, but we are still going up the stage. The Gospel today exposes that effort of the people to put the blame on the Galileans. To expose the the "exposers" , in turn, Jesus even included the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus, in both cases was quick to tell them that the way they died does not necessarily measure their guilt. He was leading them to the essence of repentance as the key to change and holiness and not dwell on the bad fate that befell other people. Focusing on the way of death may temper our guilt. Admitting once guilt and repenting for one's sin resolve everything. Therefore, anybody who does not acknowledge his sin may be even worse than those who had suffered and died.

Jesus was still dealing here with the hard-headedness and hard-heartedness of the people. They were being hurt and threatened by the words of Jesus. Instead of applying those words to themselves, they would rather point to somebody. They were confused of Jesus. Who is this person? How could the son of a carpenter and an ordinary lass say these words? He came from Nazareth where nothing good was expected! Their eyes were being blinded by their biases. Jesus can not be the Messiah they were waiting for. They could not accept this kind of messiah. And yet He makes sense. He was able to penetrate their soul. They could not deny the truth of His words. Even the traps they had laid before Him had been convincingly answered and refuted. Just who is Jesus?

This thinking will continue and affect them the whole time of their interaction with Jesus. Jesus was an enigma to them. But Jesus knew this. That is why He tried to enlighten them about Himself. He gave them opportunities to accept Him. He spoke in words and situations that were familiar to them. He told them the parable of the fig tree to give them the message that God is patient. God, in fact, cares for them and takes care of them as signified by the digging and the manuring of the tree. The parable expresses the hope of Jesus for the people. Jesus did not believe that Israel's final answer was a "no" or a total and absolute rejection of Him. He was right. They may have succeeded in crucifying Him and putting Him to death, but His disciples testify to the fact that not all of Israel rejected Him. Through the apostles, the Christian faith was born and became the locus of interaction between God and His People. Up to now, God is being patient. He wanted us to be with Him. As Jesus promised, no one was lost. When He died on the cross, He died once and for all!

As for us, the grace of salvation had already been merited to us by Jesus. But we have to accept that grace. To accept it, we must be worthy of it. Unworthiness renders it useless. Even if God had given it as a gift, worthiness is the only state we can fully benefit from it. And we can start by accepting our weaknesses and walk the road of repentance. That is how change happens. If all of us will decide to change, change happens right there. But if we require others to change first, then nothing happens (because the other also requires us to change first!). 

The Prodigal Son. Zacchaeus, Matthew, Peter, the thief, and others who had recognized their sins and their need to be one again with God, all made the first right step to conversion. Repentance.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Straigthway To Heaven

November 2, 2008
Feasts of All Souls

In the '70', there was a song that became popular not only because of its innovative and excellent rock beat but because of its length (seven minutes!). The song was sung by the group Led Zeppelin and was entitled "Stairway To Heaven". The opening line in a summarizes the whole song, "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold; And she's buying a stairway to heaven." This, in a way, tells the essence of the song about the quest of a lady to find heaven.

Today, All Soul's Day is being celebrated by the Church for all the faithful departed who are still undergoing whole cleansing (purgation) so that they will be worthy of the Kingdom. They are, in a manner of speaking, finding their "stairway to heaven". Yesterday, All Saints Day, was a day dedicated to all those who are already in God's Kingdom; those who had found their stairway to heaven.

Our faith recognizes that we are grouped depending on the status of our relationship to the Kingdom; Triumphant or the saints who are already in the Kingdom, Militant or those who are still here on earth journeying towards the Kingdom, and Patient or Suffering or those who already died and are undergoing purgation. In our Creed, we profess that we are in Communion. We continue to do good works and pray for each other. We thank and praise God for crowning our love ones who had lived faithfully on this earth by making them saints and enter the Kingdom. At the same time, we ask for their intercession because they had been a witness to the love of Jesus. For us who are still living our lives here on earth, we continue to struggle in living up to the challenges of our faith according to the Will of God. We are asked to pray and do good to our neighbors. God's mercy must be shared to everyone. But it is not limited to our neighbors here. It is much more important to be shared to those in "purgatory" who had already been held helpless by their death. If we are asked to do charity and prayers for our neighbors here who are still capable of availing themselves of the God's justice and mercy, how much more are those who are only relying on the intercession of others. To pray and offer works of mercy for the departed faithful is the most charitable act we, here on earth, can do!

Maybe we wonder why the "purgatory?" But what is the Purgatory? By the word itself, it means cleansing. We believe that a person who had the smallest sin is not worthy of the Kingdom. The soul of that person has to be cleansed. Note that it is not because God does not want the soul, but because the soul is not worthy of the state it will enter into. The provision of the Purgatory is in fact God's way of assuring the soul of entrance into the Kingdom. We have to remember that even the souls in Purgatory are heirs of the Kingdom. It had been assured to every soul by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, and that their names are written in heaven. There is no way but up (heaven) for the souls. However, they can not but undergo cleansing which is a patient suffering of punishment incurred because of sin. Purgatory also makes us realize how God hated sin. How this act, no matter how small can impede our journey towards eternal life. Jesus, during His ministry, had stressed it so many times that we were really made aware of the consequences of our opposing actions. God hopes that we will prevail. But God knows, many will fail; therefore, the  Purgatory!

We are really graced! The challenge rests more on us here on earth who can still avoid Purgatory and go straight to heaven. In that song "Stairway To Heaven", the lady was told, "Yes, there are two paths you can go by; But in the long run, there is still time to change the road you're on." We can choose to trek the road to the Kingdom, if we want. Alone, we can not do it. God will lead us to it if we want. In the same song, it says to the lady,"Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow? And did you know your stairway lies on whispering wind?" For us Christians, the whispering wind is the Spirit of God which blows us to the Kingdom. So, why pass by Purgatory when we can go straight to heaven?