Walking in the Newness of Life: 5th Sunday of Easter

“Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”                                                                                                        -Martin Luther

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“Behold, I make all things new (Rv 21:5).” Indeed, together with peace the greatest blessing of the Risen Lord is the everlasting and universal capacity for renewal. His resurrection has renewed creation and bestows on us the power to renew it again and again. When Jesus conquered death, He has not just suppressed its effect but moreover reversed its curse such that now the end of something can become the beginning of everything. Now, nothing is killed or ended definitively but everything can be the life-giving touch of God in our lives. By the death of the Eternal One, Christ has paid the price of everlasting renewal, such that everything can be turned to good, such that everyone of us can always have a happy future if we will choose it, no matter how great and many our sins are, no matter how our lives has been cast down.

“It is necessary for us to go many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22),” St Paul reminds us in the First Reading. The apostles were not disillusioned by the Resurrection that everything will turn out the way they wanted. But they were able to see the sufferings and trials of this life in a new way. Because of the resurrection, tragedies and sufferings us are bestowed with meaning and power to redeem. We saw the eagerness of the apostles in proclaiming this message everywhere, because the joy that comes from this new perspective in life, once we realized it is like a contagious fire that desires to be shared. Nothing is more expensive than a start, says Nietzsche, but for us Christ has paid the price. What we hold now is not just hope in the future but freedom from the frustrations of our past. We can always recreate the perception of our past if we will not be limited by our frustrations. We just need to be aware that we still have the same strength we had before to move on. We must forget the past that dissatisfies us. We just have to imagine a new life and believe in it by sourcing our strength on those moments in which we have attained what we desired. The light from the stars that once guided us can still bring us to further destinations even if we cannot see them in the darkness of the new night. Because of our Risen Lord, uncertainties now belong to the past and we now have the pen to rewrite our history.

Now, it would pay for us to reflect on the mystery of the “eternal childhood of God,” and let us go back on that first Easter when the Risen Lord walked with two of His disciples on the way to Emmaus, the two were crestfallen and burdened with the frustrations of what happened on the past, on that day which Jesus suffered and died, and the nonchalant response of the Risen Jesus was the question: “What sort of things? (Lk 24:19).” That question seems to imply that Jesus has fully moved on into the joy, freedom, and glory of the resurrection, into being the glorified child of the Eternal Father that it appears that He no longer dwells on the sufferings and tragedies He experienced before. God cannot be hampered by dark clouds on the horizon nor can He be weighed down by sorrowful memories. He walks in the eternal gift of the present, the embodiment of the beautiful quote: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.”

The challenge of the Gospel is for us to live in the eternal gift of the present. This is what is meant by living in the glorious freedom of the children of God. Because children have no past and the only thing that matters to them is the present moment. To walk in that newness of life, it is necessary for us to love like Christ did. For true love is always young. The love shown and commanded by Christ is like that, ever new, no frustrations of the past, no uncertainties of the future, just the joy of being together and surrendering to one another at the present moment.

There are moments when like the two disciples on Emmaus we will be distraught by the things that are happening around us and we will ask the Lord: “Are you the only one who does not know of the things that have happened to me? (Cf Lk 24:18)”. And He will amaze us with His questions: “What sort of things?” And He will then proceed to explain everything to us in light of all the sufferings and trials He passed through, affirming to us that the sufferings and tragedies of the present life are nothing compared to the glory that is to come when He will dwell with His people and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain…(Rv 21:4).”

We may never be able to totally purge from our hearts the painful memory of our loss, but we can always find new joy in anything we achieved. Sadness cannot last forever as we walk on the path towards our deepest desire. Truly, hallelujah is our song for there is forever and we can only praise God there with the psalmist: “I will praise you forever, my king and my God.”

I would like to end with a verse from Kalidasa: “For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision; But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

1st Reading: Acts 14:21-27

Ps 145: 8-9. 10-11.12-13

2nd Reading: Rv 21:1-5a

Gospel: Jn 13:31-33a.34-35

Knowing Whose We Are: 4th Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday

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“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”     Ps 23:1

For me, the following story by Sadhu Sundar Singh is the most beautiful illustration of the Good Shepherd.

There was once a man who owned several hundred sheep. He had servants who would take these sheep out for grazing and each evening, as they brought the flock back, they would notice that a few sheep were lost. Yet the servants were unwilling to look for them in fear of thieves and wild beasts. Nonetheless, the owner loved his sheep and wanted to save them. However, he thought to himself, “If I go myself and look for them, they will not be able to recognize me as they have not yet seen me before. This is what I need to do, I must become one of them. He went out and found them gone astray or wounded. They readily followed him, believing him as one of their own. He brought them home, sat with them and fed them. He then took off his sheep skin. He was not sheep but man. He just became a sheep to save the lost and wounded. So it is the same with God, God is not man, He became man in order to save man.

Such is the shepherd we have in Jesus Christ. The Sacred Scriptures, even from the Old Testament has oftentimes described God’s care of His people akin to that of the shepherd his flock. When left to ourselves, like sheep without a shepherd, we can easily be lost, for we only graze where there is grass without ever thinking where we are going. When we stray from the fold, we become vulnerable to predators and prone to becoming injured. Sometimes it is our very own doing and on other times, we just don’t know that we are lost. That is why our Shepherd keeps a constant watch over us, by day and by night. A shepherd is called by his duty to always be with his sheep, to live with his flock. A flock may consist of hundreds or thousands of sheep. So the shepherd strives to know each one by name. The sheep must be able to recognize the shepherd’s voice so that it can follow him for good pasture during the day and for safe shelter each night.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me,” says the Lord. We can be sure that God knows us so the question is, do we really know Him? How can we hear His voice if we do not know Him? The challenge of today’s Gospel is sang by the Psalmist: “Know that He, the Lord is God. He made us, we belong to Him. We are His people, the sheep of His flock.” So we must take time to know our shepherd, for the question who am I, to be answered fully and truly, must go hand-in-hand with the question who is God. Love can only grow with knowing. The deeper our knowledge, the greater will be our capacity to love. The Risen Jesus exhorts us today to know Him by celebrating His life in the Eucharist, by relating with Him who constantly watches over us and lives with us. He knows our deepest desires and our greatest pains for He just not created us, He also became one of us. We need to believe nothing can snatch us from His hands and that through His guidance, we will find life everlasting.

And so we pray to the Good Shepherd: “You know what is yours, keep them and do not let them be separated from you. Give us shepherds according to your heart.”

1st Reading: Acts 13:14.43-52

Ps 100:1-2.3.5

2nd Reading: Rv 7:9.14b-17

Gospel: Jn 10:27-30

Judged on Love Alone: 3rd Sunday of Easter

“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”

                                                                              -St John of the Cross

Today’s Gospel passage is a very eloquent portrayal of the dynamics of loving God. To fully comprehend these dynamics, we must see ourselves as Peter. When we experience failures in some new undertaking, one of the common tendencies is to try to go back to the way we were and try to undo the past. This is all the more when it comes to love. For in love, unrealized hopes are always soul crushing. The reminiscences of Peter during these Gospel event must have been so poignant and made more powerful by the presence of a charcoal fire, beside which his denials had been committed. He remembered how Jesus called him while practicing his trade. He remembered it all, the overwhelming catch of fish, how Jesus baptized him as the Rock, the leader of the apostolic community over which the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail. His thoughts may have come back on the moments he witnessed how Jesus raised the dead and how we was glorified in Mt Tabor. Finally, he recalled how he would have killed for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and how he swore on the previous supper to never leave his Master even unto his death. Then those words echoed which may have struck him through the heart once again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times (Jn 13:38). And now we reflect on how he sees on the gaze of the Risen Jesus the eyes which look upon him with pity and love on the courtyard of the High Priest despite his denial. The reality of the resurrection might have increased his regret and loss all the more. He might have been thinking, “I should never have doubted Him. I should never have denied Him. I should have stood up for him for He would truly rise again. Now, how can I bring back the past? How can I be His rock again? How can I show my face to Him? What can redeem me now?”

 We can thus see that with the threefold denial of Peter comes the threefold affirmation of his love. Furthermore, in the Hebrew usage, repeating a word thrice means fullness and extremity. It tells us that love of God can only be all or nothing. True love has no reservations. It will also be worthwhile to reflect that John used two Greek words for love in these passages: the phileos and the much greater self-sacrificing agape. Jesus used agape in asking Peter while Peter answered with phileos twice before affirming agape on the last time.

The Gospel passage also reminds us that love of God is a love that must serve. Jesus responds to our profession of love by commissioning us to serve, to take care of his flock. Our love for Jesus can be expressed and experienced personally when we have love for one another. We can experience the Risen Jesus in our relationship with one another.

The challenge of today’s Gospel is for us to never give up on love. We can get tired from time to time but what is important is that we stay in love. We can always choose love. Love is a choice, a decision that one must continuously make and profess, not just when we are passionate or intimate.  Love is a devotion, a decision we commit ourselves on. For in the end, it is our love that will only matter, a love that the Lord fully knows, a love that the Lord clings on every time we fall, a love which is like the little flame in the midst of enormous darkness, yet darkness can never consume it as long as it chooses to shine. It is on this love by which we shall be judged or rather it is this love that will justify us. For love is always redeeming.

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1st Reading: Acts 5:27-32.40b-41

Ps 30:2.4.5-6.12.13

2nd Reading Rev 5:11-14

Gospel: Jn 21:1-19

 

Doubting yet Choosing to Believe: Divine Mercy Sunday

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Minor Altar of the Divine Mercy, Cathedral of St Sebastian, Lipa City, Batangas

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

                                                                                    -Frederick Buechner

It has been eight days since we have proclaimed once again the message of Easter, that our Redeemer lives. Same with the first century disciples, the full reality and implication of the Resurrection is hard to take in and takes time to comprehend. And so we find in the Gospel readings of the Easter Octave and throughout this liturgical season that the revelation of the Risen Lord is gradual and progressive and hence, we must grow with it. And we soon find out that it is very difficult to make the God of Holy Week the God of our everyday lives. After all, the peace and joy of the Resurrection is a journey to Emmaus with the Risen Lord, it is a process to recognize Him walking with us. And in this process, doubt has almost always been a part.

What I realized is that we have wrongly attached the moniker ‘doubter’ to St Thomas exclusively. For in reality, most, if not all, of the disciples and the apostles have stubbornly doubted the resurrection before they saw the Risen Lord. And even in the presence of the Risen Lord, some are doubting and still afraid such that Jesus have to explain to them extensively, eat food like a living person and show his wounds to prove to them that it is really Him. The point I would like to make is that we are all permitted to doubt. Even Jesus Himself wrestled with human doubt and anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith but rather a part of the process of believing. It is only when faith passed through the trial of doubt that it becomes purer and stronger and finally transformed into a commitment, a conviction that calls us to action. Doubt is sometimes an expression of faith, of wanting to believe. For we only doubt a fact of which we want to be convinced more of its truth. The important thing is that after doubting, we must choose to move on and take the risk of believing. For faith means never acting upon your doubts but acting upon your convictions.

So how can we move on through our doubts? We must seek the companionship of the disciples, of our fellow believers. St Thomas sought to mourn alone so that he was consumed by his sadness and doubt. He was not there when the Lord revealed Himself in the assembly of the disciples. We must always remember that God reveals Himself in the togetherness of the believers. We must go to the Church when we doubt. When we are full of unbelief, it is all the more that we must seek Jesus in the sacraments. The presence of the Lord is not always clear or obvious. But more often than not, it is not the Lord who is absent, it is us. How will we see Him if we do not want to look for Him? How can we be near if we stay away from Him? How can we be found if we continue to hide uselessly from Him? We may continue to be in doubt because we are alone, lost, distracted, or looking in the wrong place. We can only finally touch His nail marks and put our hands on His side if we ask Him and go near Him despite our fears and unbelief, despite our doubts and worries. Only then will we realize that we may never understand but we can always choose to believe and exclaim with St Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”

Then, we must also create a culture of belief. Our faith as a community of believers must be empowering to those who are lonely, afraid and doubting. If we examine it, how can Thomas really believe the testimony of his fellow disciples about the resurrection if they are still hiding behind closed doors for fear that the enemies of Jesus might also put them to death? Doubt is a cycle and contagious. And so we must be strong in faith for one another. In our assembly, we must find the Risen Christ as unfailing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment and growth.

Finally, sometimes the doubt that paralyzes us are not intellectual or empirical doubts but rather self-doubt. Moreover, the message of the Resurrection is not just something to believe and hear about but rather something to live and to embody. And so we doubt ourselves and become paralyzed because we think that we are not up to the challenge. And here is where I would like to say something about the Divine Mercy. In the words of Shakespeare, I believe that the Divine Mercy would like to say: “Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.” The Divine Mercy is an assurance that we may always doubt ourselves because of our weaknesses and falls, but we must never doubt His love. For as the Psalmist sings as he tells the whole history of salvation, “Let us sing to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” In the ocean of His mercy, all our weaknesses and falls will definitely be consumed. So we always move on through our doubts by saying: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

1st Reading: Acts 5:12-16

Ps 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24

2nd Reading: Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13,17-19

Gospel: Jn 20;19-31