The Love that Conquers All: The Paschal Triduum

The Paschal Triduum starting from Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil on Black Saturday constitutes the most important days in Christendom.  It commemorates the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the events which truly changed the world and the way we view everything. The Paschal Triduum is also termed as the Paschal Mystery which means that no words can ever fully elucidate it. It is like a well which no matter how much we take from it, there will always be something more. Yet I believe that it can always be summarized in the word: LOVE.

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Photo (C) Charles Navarro Cabansay

Maundy Thursday: The Washing of the Feet and Mass of the Lord’s Supper

“No matter what God’s power may be, the first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself.”                                                                                                              -Jacques Ellul

The one thing that distinguishes Christianity from other religions is that while other religions are all about man’s search for God, Christianity is all about the search of God for man. It’s not about finding God but rather God finding us. God who is love, always descends, extends and serves.

We always limit ourselves in order to facilitate a relationship. When we play with children, we do not do so in order to win or flaunt to them that are older and greater than them. We do so in order to bond with them. So here is God who became man in order to facilitate a relationship with us. Not just any kind of relationship but a relationship that loves until the end, love that is willing to accept and wash our feet, the dirtiest and lowest part of us, in order to invite us to an intimate relationship with Him. And it is in this very capacity to condescend where God’s almighty power is revealed. It is where the greatness and truth of His love is manifested. Indeed, the most powerful men on earth are those who can and willing to give everything.

However, it does not end there, this kind of relationship, service and condescending love is given to us as a ‘mandatum’, a mandate. It is not that difficult to love, but to love as Jesus loves, that’s the tricky part. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you so must your love be for each other. (John 13:34).” More than that it will be the sole sign that we belong to Him, that we are His disciples and that “[we] share in his heritage.” His last discourse in the 14th Chapter of the Gospel of John is all about this love. It serves as a prelude and explanation for all the actions that will show how His love is truly until and even beyond the end.

Good Friday: Veneration of the Cross and Mass of the Pre-sanctified

 “Love can never be defined. It is love that defines us, it shows us who we are and what we are truly capable of.”

This Friday is good because it is the day that love has triumphed. It is the day when a man proved that love is possible in any circumstance even in the face of worst evil. Jesus proved that the love He commands is possible. Yes, it is difficult but not impossible. He showed that love can always be the choice and the answer. Love and not might is right. Love is the greatest magic and power. For it is love that reveals God’s presence even on the cross of death.

It is the day when it was proven that: “There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails (1 Cor 13:7-8).” This day is the ultimate proof that wherever love is true, God is there.

On this day, God introduced who He really is. He revealed His very being and we have discovered that: “God is love. And he who remains in love, remains in God and God remains in him (1 John 4:16).”

On the cross, God faced and underwent all human dysfunction and corruption. He was abandoned, betrayed and denied by His friends. He became a victim of institutional corruption and injustice. He was stripped of every human dignity. He endured hungered and thirst. He was hurt and hated. He was not spared of all kinds of pain and suffering. And finally, He was killed. He only responded with love. And so we say, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come let us adore.” On the wood of the cross is truly our salvation: LOVE, the only thing that can redeem the worst in us.

Black Saturday: Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection

“Those who are friends in Christ shall never see each other for the last time.”

If we analyze it, the root of all human corruption is the goal of self-preservation because of the insecurity of life and fear of death. This is the very reason why Jesus’ resurrection is the one event that changed the world. That’s why St Paul cannot overemphasize the importance of the resurrection for us when he said: “If our hopes in Christ are limited in this life only, we are the most pitiable of men (1 Cor 15:19). And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too (1 Cor 15:14).” The resurrection invalidated sin and negated its consequence which is death. By the resurrection, the whole creation, especially humanity, was lifted from its fall, renewed and glorified. By the resurrection, we are children of God once again and coheirs with Christ. Jesus transformed our broken humanity to the fullness of our being created in the image and likeness of God. Because of His resurrection, we can be all who God has created us to be, despite our flaws, our past and limiting imperfections of this life.

Yes, there will be crosses but as the Son of God cannot be recognized without His cross, the cross will be the confirmation of our identity as the children of God. To find the cross is to find Christ. It is a cause for rejoicing since the cross would also be a sure sign of our resurrection. As St Paul says: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him (Rom 6:8).”

Christ proved that there is forever –that all our fears, anxieties, pain, and depression are useless because forever is true. The challenge of Easter is for us to walk in the newness of life, living in the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’ –free to love, free to be the best, free to be happy whatever the circumstance is. The message of Easter is to live free from the shackles that death has put upon our humanity –grudge, misgiving, anxiety, insecurity, greed, and pain. We can now see death as only the birth into eternal life.

We are now free to love truly so that we can live our lives to the full. We can now live the joy that comes from true love without any worries for we know that there will always be a happy ending which in fact is not an end. As St John Paul II said, “We are the Easter People and Hallelujah is our song.” A true Christian cannot help but live in joy and continually praise God, “for his love endures forever (Ps 118).” Furthermore, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that “nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39).”

“Peace be with you,” Christ is saying to all of us now. Living in peace is our way of life and nothing must rob us of this peace. Christ furthermore has given us a pledge of resurrection in the Eucharist where we become together by and with Him. In the Eucharist, His passion, death and resurrection is made present to lift us from our falls and continually redeem us. He lives forever making our redemption always reachable in this life. And so we must “rejoice in the Lord always. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:4,7).”

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We Remember: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

“Love has a way of remembering, a million and one yesterdays. Love has a way of reliving the memories no joy can replace.”

This Sunday is full of reminders which upon closer examination will reveal essential truth in our lives. Jesus knew fully well what awaited Him in Jerusalem. He knew that the acclamations, the praises and the palms would turn into mockery, insults and scourges within a week. He knew that the royal welcome would lead into the utter humiliation of the crucifixion. And so we come to Church today bearing palm fronds in our hands as symbols that we praise Him and acclaim Him as King of our lives yet more often than not, it would not even take a week, nor a day, before we crucify again our Lord and Master. Today is a reminder that even after almost two thousand years, even after He is worshiped as King and Lord, His passion, death and resurrection continues to this very day. And the biggest mistake in love would be to forget. Every time we forget, we sin. Every time we forget the meaning of His passion, death and resurrection, it loses its power to transform us. Every time we forget, we crucify Him once again. And so after the Mass, let us put our palm fronds some place where it can continually remind us. It will soon, like us, dry up, wilt and fall every now and then, but nonetheless, it stays and never forgets.

The green palm fronds that we bring each year during Palm Sunday is also a sign of God’s faithfulness and unwavering love. In each leaf, we see God’s sustenance of life continues, that even though we continue to sin and fall, God continues to love and He never gives up on us.

Today also reminds us that our lives on this world is a way of the Cross and that we must carry our Cross after Jesus. The world is full of inevitable suffering because it’s not where the perfect life we long for can be found. Suffering exists because of our own imperfections, sufferings which more often than not, we lay on the shoulders of innocent ones to carry. The Passion of the Suffering Servant in the First Reading reminds us that sufferings will not cease to exist when we begin to serve the Lord but rather sufferings will begin to have a meaning and power to make us better. It reminds us that suffering is real when we turn away from the selfish ways of the world. Yet the greatest consolation we can have is that we are never alone in this journey. Jesus is with us and we are together. Once we realize this, we’ll believe that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light”. And we will experience His words, “Take my yoke upon and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” The Psalm reminds us that in the moments of god-forsakenness, the presence of God can be revealed in us when we emulate His love that repays evil with good. St Paul reminds us that every time we suffer and want to unburden ourselves, we must run to Jesus for He can fully understand and in His embrace, our pain will drown in the ocean of His love. And that our pains are not meaningless but all remembered and will serve as our crown of glory.

Finally, the Passion of our Lord reminds us that despite our failures, flaws, pains and sufferings, we loved with a love that knows no bounds. We are reminded that we are never forgotten, that we can always be forgiven and that we can always be redeemed and saved by love alone. Christ died for all of us yet we must also impress upon our minds that Jesus would still do it even if for us alone. Jesus’ salvation can happen in the life of each one of us if we will allow Him to enter our lives and to save us from every moment of god-forsakenness and pain.

Christ entered Jerusalem many years ago to establish His Kingdom. The Crucifixion is a conquest not of an earthly kingdom but of a Kingdom of Hearts. The power of the Crucified is the power to elicit love even from the hardest of hearts. For love can only beget love. For love can truly conquer all if we surrender into it. Yet love even though it surrounds us can only fill us if we open our hearts. Forever is real if we never forget and Jesus can always be with us in our hearts and so we sing: “We remember how you loved us to your death and still, we celebrate for you are with us here. And we believe that we will see you, when you come in your glory, Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.”

 

1st Reading: Is 50:4-7

Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

2nd Reading: Phil 2:6-11

Gospel: Lk 22:14-23:56

WE REMEMBER- Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Ecclesiastes: 5th Sunday of Lent

 

“All things work together for good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). Yes, even sin.”

-St Augustine of Hippo

            One of the messianic roles of Jesus is to serve as a gathering force. The Messiah was supposed to “gather the scattered tribes of Israel” and to be the one who fulfills the promise to Abraham and prophetic role of Israel: “through [whom] all nations shall find blessing.” This was fulfilled by Jesus through proclaiming the Kingdom of God where no one is outcast, not even the leper, the public sinner, the children, the prostitutes nor the tax collectors. Moreover, this gathering force of Jesus is expressed beautifully in His passion, death and resurrection of which He said: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself (Jn 12:32).” And it is specifically through the cross by which the divided world has been conquered and became one family. It is through the message and power of the cross whereby all reconciliations are possible, where all divisions, grudges and wounds of separation are healed.

            We must remember that the word “Church” is taken from the Greek “Ekklesia” which means a gathering. Moreover, one of the marks of the Church is that of being Catholic or universal which refers to its nature of embracing people of all times and places and even embracing the whole creation. One of the biblical origins of the word devil as the adversary of God is “ho diabolos” from “diabalein” which means to throw apart. It can thus be proposed that the worst consequence of sin is division and separation. It separates us from our true selves, from the rest of humanity and ultimately from God, the source of all unity. Hence, we can understand the earnestness of the Priestly Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane for the Church, for all those who will believe in Him: “that they may be one, Father, as you and I are one.”

            Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery in today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on our response to the divisive power of sin. He did not let sin and the death it brings to separate the woman from His love and from the rest of the community. He did not extend his hand to cast a stone but rather used it to lift her up. He extended his hands never to accuse but always to heal, to gather, to bless and to embrace, exemplified to the outmost when He spread His arms on the cross to embrace all sinners. In the First Reading, we see Yahweh making a way in the desert and rivers in the wasteland, so that He may form a people for Himself. The Psalm is the song of joy of the Israelites when they were brought back by the Lord from their exile. On the Second Reading, St Paul considers everything as nothing compared to the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ, a knowledge which brings all our difference and everything that may divide us into naught. He also exhorts us have a right relationship with God, a righteousness that surpasses mere adherence or disobedience to moral laws.

            We must get rid of a relationship with God that has a tendency to regard ourselves as better than others. For true religion is not really about being the chosen few, or becoming the elect. Religion comes from the word “religare” which means “to bind people together.” Heaven is in being together whereas hell is in being separated because of our selfishness. In being together, our sorrows are divided while our joys are multiplied. One can thus see why the worst sin in the gospel story is not lust but rather pride—that comes from self-righteousness—that shuts us off from God and others, feeling we don’t need them. Thus, being holy is being an agent of togetherness. It lies in acknowledgment of our frailty, of our incompleteness, of our brokenness, and thus we go to Jesus and towards our brothers and sisters to be healed and to be whole. In Jesus, we can see that even in the brokenness of man, the presence of God can be revealed by returning good for evil.

            The face of the Son of God is revealed in forgiveness. Hence, we can see how asking for forgiveness and forgiving one another serve as a gathering power. For as Horace Bushnell said, “Forgiveness is man’s deepest need and highest achievement.” Indeed, what would heaven be to us if we are not together? What would heaven be to us if we are alone?

            God is calling us to be an Ecclesiastes: one who convokes a gathering. We must always struggle for togetherness, no matter what our differences, our weaknesses, and our beliefs. For God has decreed that “neither death, nor life, neither principalities nor powers, neither present nor the future, neither the heights nor depths will be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).”

1st Reading: Is 43:16-21

Ps 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

2nd Reading: Phil 3:8-14

Gospel: Jn 8:1-11

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ECLIPSE

 

“The harsh radiant sun,

The gentle sparkling moon,

Together, in an eclipse.”

            As far as I can remember, the Korean Series: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho ends along these lines: “The sun and the moon are not supposed to meet. But they do come together, during an eclipse. Do you know why? Because God is crazy. Like you and me, we are not supposed to meet, yet we met, do you know why? Because God is crazy.”

            In life, love is never planned, it doesn’t need to have a reason. But when love comes into your life, it becomes your plan for life and your reason for living. Every man has the privilege to doubt his calling in life and to turn his back on it from time to time, yet nonetheless, what he must not do is to forget that he is called. There can be something wrong when you are no longer capable of doubt, for maybe you become too conceited to believe that you are worthy of the call.

            “Kung papipiliin ako sa pagsunod sa Diyos o sa puso, parehong mahirap. Pero mas nakakatakot kung susundin mo ang puso, kasi pag sinunod mo ang Diyos, Siya na ang bahala sa’yo. Pero kapag sinunod mo ang puso mo, hindi mo alam kung ano ang naghihintay sa’yo.”

            Let me share to you a love story. Once there was a seminarian who was already pursuing his theological studies (in other words, he just need a few more years prior to priestly ordination). During those times, he was once assigned to a hospital for the apostolate of sick visitation. One day, as he was making his rounds in the hospital, he came upon a girl with a terminal disease.

            At first, the girl was very snobbish and vexatious. To show her annoyance, she even told the seminarian to stay away because she no longer believes in God, that if God exists, how can He let her be afflicted with such a terrible disease.

            Yet the seminarian persevered in visiting her and striking a conversation. Soon enough, they became friends. The girl’s name was Christine. Christine indeed he discovered was a very nice girl gifted with such an angelic face and voice despite of her sickness. They became close to each other to the point that Christine, a former choir member, promised to the seminarian that at his ordination, she would sing his favorite song, Lead me Lord.

            Now as the line from the 500 Days of Summer goes: “A boy and a girl can just be friends. Yet at one time or another, one of them will fall for the other, maybe temporarily, maybe at the wrong time, maybe too late, or maybe, just maybe, forever.” As the seminarian revived Christine’s faith in God, she also revived something within him. The seminarian wrote in his journal: “ I still cannot understand love, so I cannot fall, yet why does this foolish heart of mine keep on pounding? I know that we can’t be together, yet how do I stop thinking about you all night long.”

            He prayed hard and asked the Lord to take his feelings away, yet God is love, He can grant your prayer if you ask to stay away from hatred, but how can he grant your supplication if you ask to escape away from love?

            Even when he was no longer assigned in that hospital, he continued to visit her. As the visits increased in number, the more they felt that they belong together. It’s very hard when you know deep in your hearts that you love each other yet the situation dictates that you can’t be together. If they will confess their love for each other, what for? If the girl would soon die because of her sickness; if the boy would very soon become a priest?

            As the seminary academic work continued to pile up in his fourth year in theology, his visits became less and less while her sickness turned into worse. Soon she had to undergo chemotherapy. In one of his visits, she sang to him Carol Banawa’s Stay and it was the most heart breaking song he ever heard: “Why did you have to leave me? When you said that love will conquer all…why did you have to leave me…when you said that dreaming was as good as reality…and now I must move on trying to forget all the memories of you near me…but I can’t let go of your love that has taught me to hold on.”

            He was able to confess his love for Christine on his last visit. Then at a cheerful disposition and that unforgettable angelic smile, she replied: “Do you know that God made human beings with wings like the angels? Yet unlike the angels, each of us is given only one wing. So we must find another who is willing to fly with us towards heaven. I’ll be gone soon, but you don’t have to worry, I am sure to come back as your angel and the time will come when we can finally fly together. I love you, but I am sorry that you love me too because we cannot be together. I know I’ll die but I also know that you can live for me. Fulfill your dream of becoming a priest but all I ask of you is to never forget me. And I know you won’t.” How can he forget that smile that made him felt heaven in his heart?

            As the final term of the academic year approached, he became busier as her condition worsened. It was very unfortunate that news of her death reached him during the final examinations. No one can ever described how devastated he felt during those times, yet he decided to never give up on his dream because of his promise to her. He cannot even leave the seminary for just a short time without risking that he might not be able to return, for it was the ultimate test of his detachment. He knew that he could pray but he also knew that prayer wasn’t enough. Because the word enough does not exist in the vocabulary of love. Because love tends toward God and forever. That song she sang to him continues to break his heart into pieces yet it can never be erased on his mind: “I want you to stay, never go away from me. Stay forever. But now, now that you’re gone, all I can do is pray for you, to be here beside me again.”

            He was only able to visit her grave. And on her last letter to him which the Father Rector gave to him at the end of the term, she said to him, “There was a time when I thought my sickness was too long until I met you. Now, I know that even a lifetime of wellness would not be enough to show someone how much you love him.” Indeed, true love doesn’t have a happy ending because true love never ends.

            Our sorrows must not last when we journey towards that which we have always desired. We must learn to move on, because when we stubbornly cling to a stage of our life that has already ended, we will not see the purpose and joy of the rest. And if we are hard headed, God will shake us up to put us back to our senses. The Lord is indeed stern to those He has chosen. God is Almighty, He can do anything and nothing is forbidden to Him. It is through this almighty power that he chooses to only do what is good. When we reach the end of our stories, we shall see that often good is disguised as evil but nonetheless good and is part of His plan all along.

            The sun and the moon can’t always be together but let us remember that the sunlight always gives meaning to the existence of the moon. Can you cast out from your heart the pain of such a loss? No. But you can always find joy in something won. He found it in being a priest.

The Parable of the Grudging Son: 4th Sunday of Lent

The Parable of the Grudging Son: 4th Sunday of Lent

 

“Too often, the world of religion is different from the world of conversion.”

-Rev. Fr. Gabriel Ma. Delfino

            Today is Laetare Sunday which is the Lenten counterpart of the Gaudete Sunday in Advent and also celebrated with the liturgical color of old rose. It invites us to rejoice as our Lenten journey nears to its end. But it also invites us to reflect once again if ever we have truly advanced in the call of lent. Maybe we have already been done with our abstinences, the Stations of the Cross and the Lenten pilgrimage but have we truly turned our lives back again to the Lord? Yes, through the sacrament of reconciliation, but have we lived it through the amendment of our lives? Maybe we have completed the Lent of religion but not the Lent of conversion.

            Or maybe we think that conversion is not for us. Let us admit it, most of us have never seen ourselves as the Prodigal Son. Because we have never really turned our backs to God completely and surrendered ourselves to worldly whims and desires. We have never squandered God’s grace. We are good Christians who go to church every Sunday and frequent the sacraments.

            If we can’t see ourselves as the Prodigal Son, then I believe that it would help to reflect in being the Grudging Elder Son. Let us examine then how we view our choice to stay in the Father’s house. Do we see the love of the Father as something to earn and gain? Do we see God’s favor as something lose by sinning? Do we see obedience to the Father as slaving ourselves? Do we think that we alone have the right for his attention? So that when a criminal who has offended us has repented and was converted and the Lord throws a party of grace to welcome him, we will stay outside and grumble over it. Then we have truly missed the point of it all and we are as prodigal as the other son and we are in need of conversion as much as them.

            We need to convert the way we view things about God and ourselves. Sin is caving in towards ourselves. It is creating our own selfish world. Both sons in the parable are guilty of this. What the grudging son failed to see is that staying away from the love of the Father is enough punishment in itself –the drunkenness with pride and vanity, the hunger for God, the great loneliness and emptiness and the humiliation are enough punishments for his fault. Thus, his survival and his return is truly a reason to celebrate, for he found his true self and he found his true home. We must never grumble against our prodigal brothers and sisters for we can never know what they have gone through before finding God. Another things we might have failed to see is that staying in the Father’s house is a reward in itself, that we were never slaving ourselves but rather living the freedom and glory of the children of God, that we have only done what we ought to do and that we must be thankful that we never have to go what the prodigal has gone through before realizing where he truly belongs.

            God plays no favoritism. It is only us who has the tendency to make favorites. We all need to turn our eyes, always to God, to the Father and His love, and never to ourselves. For everything is providential. Everything is grace. And all of us have always something to convert. All of us needs to turn back to God every time, for we will always have our need for God.

            Hence, all conversion must be a reason for celebration. For conversion is always a celebration of true life, a life in God, a life in the Promised Land. We ought to celebrate as the Israelites did in the First Reading. And with St Paul, we must all be ambassadors of God, we must all become agents of reconciliation instead of condemnation. This life is never about us, it is all about God and His love. And so let us heed the Psalmist’s call to “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

4th Sunday of Lent

Laetare Sunday

1st Reading: Jos 5:9a, 10-12

Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (9a)

2nd Reading: 2 Cor 5:17-21

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32