Let's get it right
Remain in God's love:
“Remain in me” (John 15:4), is a special invitation to couples. As couple, is a way of reminding you of the source of your sustenance in marriage. Your marriage cannot survive if it does not draw strength from Christ. Christ states explicitly, “Cut off from me, you can do nothing”; “Remain in me as I remain in you”. It is very clear.
Once couples start shrinking in their faith, they start shrinking in their love. As Fulton Sheen said, love one another as a gift from God, not as gods. That way, you find in your spouse, an irreplaceable gift that cannot expire. Always recognize that your love flows from the Vine whose branches you are. If you center on yourselves, you get frustrated, wear out and wither. If you concentrate on yourselves alone, then you become exposed to the tortures of self-centered ego. You become jealous. You become possessive. You become more of a receiver than a giver because your love is not refilled by Love itself. I urge you all to make Jesus the center and source of your love.
Pray together as couple. Move to God together spiritually. Move along with your partner in faith. Enjoy God’s love together, don’t stay back, and don’t pull the other backwards. God loves you together. That way, you will bear endless fruits in your precious relationship. That way, you won’t contemplate divorce even when the challenges come in your marriage.
How God connects the dots!
Acts of the Apostles (9:1-20), is a popular passage in the Scripture which tells the story of Saul's conversion. I'm just marveled at the way God connects the dots. Saul departs on a mission to persecute Christians. God changes his plan, and eventually his entire life. He encounters God in a unique way, then goes blind. What is most puzzling being how God moves different persons as players in Saul's conversion experience! The disciple Ananias is somewhere praying.
Then he gets this revelation, "Ananias, get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, and in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, that he may regain his sight" (Acts 9:11-12). Even though Ananias hesitates for a moment, he has only to play according to God's plan. God has already arranged everything. He knows the result. He provides the destination. Judas' house is the meeting place.
Then he gives Ananias the GPS, and leads him off. Ananias is coming from the direction of the sunset while Saul is coming against the sun. The darkness in Saul's heart is meeting the light of God in Ananias, and Saul's life will automatically change. God reveals to Saul what his next step would be. Isn't that amazing that his life will never be the same? We just need to realize that God connects the dots in our lives, as he did for Saul. He has the direction. He provides the meeting place. He produces the result. He is the King of Kings and Lord of lords. Just play into his game-plan. May God connect the missing dots in your life. Amen.
What’s in the air, what does the Church say?
The 2018 Valentine’s Day coincides with Ash Wednesday, and there seems to be some panic in that sense. Many see that as a clash, not sure how correct that is. In its secular tone, Valentine’s Day evokes a feeling of amusement, merrymaking, revelry, exchange of flowers, chocolates, etc. Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, elicits austerity, introspection, mediation, and reflection. It introduces the forty days of prayer, fasting and abstinence to commemorate Christ’s suffering and death. Different dioceses and churches have put out some directives to the faithful regarding the primacy of Lent over Valentine’s Day. For instance, the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the United States reminds the faithful that despite Ash Wednesday coinciding with Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday will be observed as a day of fasting and abstinence. Wow! The big questions: is the Church canceling this year’s Valentine’s Day celebration or should it be postponed? Do lovers not have to exchange gifts on that day as usual? The susurrations are many. Some say Christ has hijacked the day as though it’s different from other days. Others insinuate that the church wants to strip the day of its mundane connotation. What exactly is happening?
Between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday
From a religious perspective, Valentine’s Day seems to be flagrantly mis-celebrated. But in a sense, it can also be said to be an event that bridges the gap between young people in the world and the church because it is all about love notwithstanding how it is interpreted. Saint Valentine died for love; martyred under the emperor Claudius 11 because he embodied Jesus. He embedded Christ’s love thus, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). According to sources, Saint Valentine was either a priest of Rome or the former Bishop of Terni, Narnia and Amelia, a town of Umbria, in central Italy. Valentine used the opportunity of his imprisonment to spread the good news about Jesus. He converted the judge prompting him and his family, his forty-four-member household (family members and servants) to get baptized.
On the other hand, Lent is celebrated the world over. In the Church, it is a special forty-days period marked by prayers, fasting and almsgiving. This practice follows from Christ’s forty days’ fasting in the desert immediately after his baptism. He “was led into the desert to be put to the test by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights” (Matt. 4:1). Fasting is about mortification of our bodies, abstinence from the things we naturally crave for. Prayer is a channel to stay connected with God, a weapon against temptations from the devil. Almsgiving expresses our faith in God, who “loved the world and gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Through almsgiving, we are able to extend God’s love beyond our comfort zones. In Lent, believers are invited to give up pleasurable goods for the sake of those in need and for the sake of their salvation. The United States Bishops Conference remarks, “We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ”.
The first thing that connects Valentine’s Day with Lent is love. Valentine’s Day is Lover’s Day, that’s obvious. It originates from the idea that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for love; performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. Prior to his death, Valentine was said to have written a letter to the judge’s daughter whom he healed and which he signed, “Your Valentine”. This seemed to be the spark for what is known today as “Lovers Day”.
Love originates from God, and overrides everything. In his love, he invites us to love one another. Valentine’s Day becomes that great opportunity to love as love is the elevation of the human being to that divine dignity from creation. That’s what Saint Valentine sacrificed his life for. He believed in God’s love and dignified it through the sacrament of marriage. He understood the futility of the flesh devoid of God’s love. He realized that mortality symbolized by the ash (Ash Wednesday) is transformed into immortality in Christ who is our eternal Val. In Saint Valentine, agape and filial love overcame eros or erotic love much orchestrated by mis-celebrated lover’s day. Love is not a commercial venture, and cannot be reduced to mere material or physical exchange. It is not just about watching movies together, not just about giving flowers. It is a commitment, a relationship.
Secondly, Valentine’s Day seems to remind us of the oneness of humanity despite faith affiliation. For instance, Saint Valentine is commemorated in the Anglican community, as well as in Lutheranism on February 14. The Lutheran Service Book commemorates Valentine on this date. The Eastern Orthodox Church also allows their members named Valentino (male) or Valentina (female) to observe their name day on February 14 following the Western calendar.
Therefore, if Lent celebrates Christ’s sacrificial love, then love becomes a gift for us and for one another. Lent draws our attention to God’s love made visible in Christ. Lent focuses our attention on the need to sacrifice for one another. It invites us to authentic love as demonstrated by Saint Valentine, who guided the Roman soldiers to the true meaning of love. Lent tells us that we are all lovers for God’s sake as Pope Francis puts it, “…a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ."
There is really no clash between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday because Christ is our capital “VAL-IN-TIME”. Christ is the “Beginning, the first-born from the dead”, …and through whom God reconciles all things to himself (cf. Col. 1:18-19). Valentine’s Day represents God’s love whereas Lent makes that love available to God’s creatures.
The great lesson from these apparent co-events is to enlighten us that our life should become a spectrum of Valentine. Sacrificing for those we love should be an ongoing process. Giving up what we value for the sake of love should be a life commitment. Praying for loved ones should be a constant practice. Scripture says, “When the completion of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law” (Gal. 4:7). That’s the meaning of Valentine- Christ, our capital and eternal VAL came at the appointed time to save us. Saint Valentine died for the Roman soldiers because he understood the mandate of Christ, “There is no greater love than this: to lay one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). So, both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day celebrate one and same thing- GOD”S LOVE in our midst. As Saint Paul says, “Faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of them is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). That’s Valentine. That’s Ash Wednesday. That’s Lent. That’s our life.
The Three Ps of our faith journey!
"But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." (Matt. 15:25-28).
This is an excerpt from the gospel, a passage that challenges us in numerous ways. Can Jesus test us? Can we have our patience stretched to its elastic limit? The Canaanite woman is an example. She's insulted by the disciples, almost forced back from her demand. But she has her eyes constantly fixed upon Jesus and on the miracle, and she finally gets it.
In Numbers, chapters 13 and 14, God commands Israel to possess the land of Canaan. Before then, God asks Moses, “You shall send one man from each tribe”, to reconnoiter the land (Numb. 13:1-2). Most of the men on mission come back distracted by the things and persons they saw, and report to Moses, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan” (Numb. 13: 27-29). That’s like saying that God is not strong enough to save them from the “big” people they are seeing in the land.
Three important Ps in our spiritual journey include: Prayer, Patience and Perseverance. Each is vital in our understanding of the faith, and must work with the other for faith to be fruitful. Let’s look at them in relation to the Canaanite woman.
Prayer: We can only seduce God through prayer. Think about any prayer greater than the Canaanite woman's in the discourse with Jesus, "Lord, help me". It is an exclamation of both need for God and dependence upon his strength. Prayer is a call for help. Prayer is a request for support from the divine. She keeps calling on Christ to help, to save her dying daughter. That’s all that worries her, that’s all she wants to achieve. It’s as if she knows it will come, possibly at God's time. She focuses all her energy intensely on that. Our prayers can stretch beyond our own time into God’s time. God’s time is the important part of whatever struggle we engage in. That is the Canaanite woman’s secret.
Patience: This woman couldn't have sustained the pressure if she isn't patient. Jesus already doesn't say a word to her at the beginning (Matt. 15:23). Then the disciples ask that she be dismissed, yet she isn't deterred. Patience is the ability to remain focused, to be steady and diligent. Patience is the quality of bearing challenges without losing our temper, not being irritated in the face of opposition. The Canaanite woman gets it, and remains in pursuit of her desire from Jesus. We all can lose our patience, not the case with this woman.
How about the seeming insulting response from Jesus? What could he mean by telling the Canaanite woman, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to little dogs"? (v.27) Of course, the Jews have nasty notion about dogs; that means Jesus almost classifies the woman as "outcast". As a stranger from Canaan, the land which God demands Israel to conquer in the Old Testament, she's not part of the "lost sheep of the House of Israel". But this lady perseveres. Perseverance sustains patience, and she seems aware of that. She remains persistent, holds strongly to her faith. She admits her unworthiness before God, “"Please, Lord, for even dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters" (Matt. 15: 27). Thus, this woman makes her way into the domains of the elect, the house of Israel. It’s like saying to Jesus, “I know, but the patient dog eats the fattest bone”. She doesn't need to belong to the house of Israel in as much as she gets what she wants. Faithful, patient dogs can gain from their master's largesse. The woman of Canaan has the secret to God’s heart, "Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted", so says Christ.
Hey, have you been pleading for a long time with no apparent result? Have you let yourself be distracted by opposition, needs and human obstacles? Have you encountered disappointments and thought of an escape other than God? Just follow the lead of the Canaanite woman. Pray, be patient, and persevere. These are the hallmark of faith. Sometimes, they don't come so easy, the same with our requests. Yet, Jesus knows the right time, and will do it for you. Your faith can be stretched a little farther than you imagine, do not give up.
Let your desire be granted you. Amen.
"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn.8:7).
This powerful statement from today's gospel speaks to us in one way or another. Not only that it indicts us in our sinful nature but in our judgmental attitudes too. Jesus saves the woman caught in adultery, and implicitly saves us from condemnation. He invites us to look inwards and to avail ourselves the opportunity to repent. Sometimes, we feel like stoning those who have committed crimes around us- our husbands, wives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and leaders; that's just the truth. Ironically, we sit on crimes, maybe similar or different, but operate on the law of "thou shall not be caught". Jesus invites us to drop our stones.
If we drop our stones, we drop our sins. If we drop our stones, we become free. If we drop our stones, we open our hands to receive God's grace. If we drop our stones, we pick up mercy and forgiveness. The stone is a symbol of the hatred, the heaviness in our hearts. So, the statement, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her", becomes not necessarily an indictment but an invitation to openness, to turn to the righteuos God. Scripture says, "the standard you use wil be the standard used for you" (Matt.7:2); "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt.5:7). We all desire God's mercy.
Let's drop our stones and be at peace with God. His love is so strong to let us be condemned.