Wednesday, October 26, 2016

house blessing 2

Our gospel for today’s blessing of this house tells us two things about what a home should be:

First, why did Luke mention Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree?  Why not another tree – perhaps an olive tree, an apple tree, a guava tree, whatever.  But why a sycamore tree?  It is said that no matter how short you cut a sycamore tree it will always grow back.  No matter how short, it will always find its way to grow back.  I think that’s the first quality of a blessed home – it should be a place of second chances, third chances, fourth chances, fifth chances.  A home is where you know people will never give up on you.  A home is a place where you will always be given another chance. That is the first quality of a home.  It is like a sycamore tree – no matter how short it is cut, it can and it will always regrow.

psalm 176 - freedom - 28th week tuesday 2016

Today we direct our attention to psalm 119, our responsorial psalm.  Again this is a continuation of what we called the longest psalm with 176 verses – 22 stanzas in all, each stanza with 8 verses.  The subject of this long psalm is love for God’s word. The psalmist may have used words like word of truth, ordinances, precepts, law, commands, statutes, but these refer only to one thing, God’s word in the bible.  “Take not the word of truth from my mouth, for in your ordinances is my hope.  And I will keep your law continually, And I will walk at liberty, because I seek your precepts.”

Often times we look at laws as a burden we are forced to carry.  We often see laws as limitations to our freedom.  I must do this even if I don’t like it because it is the law.  I cannot do what I want because I am constrained by laws.  But this is not how the psalm looks at God’s law – he sees it as a delight and a joy and when one seeks to obey God’s laws it is liberating, one is not shackled by limitations or constraints but becomes in fact free.

psalm 139 - who am I? - 27th week tuesday 2016

Psalm 139 our responsorial psalm today answers the questions who am I, who are you, who are we?  The answer to these questions are the basis for my identity, it is the basis for every morality.  Change the answer, gloss it over, belittle it, apply it to some and not to all, and we will have a totally different world, a totally different morality, a totally different society.
Who am I, who is every man woman and child?  I am created by God on purpose and with love.
You have formed me; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully, wonderfully made; When I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth you know me.
We are all made by God, we are not accidents of nature, there is a purpose why God made us so and it is up for us to discover and fulfil it in our lifetime.  God owns us, he owns our life, he alone can give it, he alone can take it back.  It is my task, the task of each person who were fearfully and wonderfully made by God fulfill in his lifetime the vocation and responsibility God has given to each one, to live this life so as to glorify the creator so as to live with him forever in the life to come.

psalm 111 - training our eyes to see the good - 17th week monday 2016

Psalm 111, our responsorial psalm in today’s mass begins with an invitation to give thanks to God and ends with a summons to praise.  The reason for this thanksgiving and praise are the works of the Lord – great are the works of the Lord exquisite in all their delights – to praise God for his many interventions in the lives of his people especially in establishing a covenant that bound him to his people forever.
In a way this psalm is inviting us to discover the many good things that the Lord is giving us every day of our lives.  Think of the life God has given us, the gift of family and friendships, the gift of sustenance such as food, work, health, the help and assistance of friends.  Many times however when we pray we focus only on the negative things in our lives – our lack, our regrets, our mistakes, what we need and what we don’t have. 

psalm 95 - living in god's presence - 27th sunday C

Psalm 95 our responsorial psalm today is referred to as the Invitatory Psalm by the church.  Those of you who pray the liturgy of the hours (as priests, nuns and monks we are obliged to pray the liturgy of the hours) are familiar with this psalm because this is prayed daily, in fact this is the first prayer of the day.  As we wake up, as we begin the day, some of us still sleepy, still yawning perhaps, some of us struggling with the pains of arthritis, but as we start the day we are made to pray, “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us; Oh, that today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
This is the first prayer and it is invitatory because it is inviting us to live in the presence of God; it has the task of making us aware, making us conscious that today, this very day, now, and every day - we live in God’s holy presence. 

psalm 139 - omniscient and omnipresent - 26th week friday 2016

Today on the memorial of the saint, St. Jerome, who said, Ignorance of scriptures is ignorance of Christ, let us reflect on psalm 139, one of the most beautiful psalms, a subject of so many beautiful hymns in the church.
Psalm 139 speaks of two qualities of God – omniscience and omnipresence.  God knows everything and God is present everywhere.
God knows everything.  In just one stanza he uses the verbs – you probed me, you know me, you understand my thoughts, you scrutinize me, I am familiar to you.  That’s how God is to each one of us.  He knows us intimately.
God is also present everywhere.  He is always with us, always there by our side.  God will always be there for us.
God is omniscient and omnipresent.

psalm 88 - why o lord? - 26th week wednesday 2016

Today the church continues to read to us Psalm 88 which I referred to yesterday as the saddest, the most dreary, and even the most pessimistic psalm.  Today we are now on the second part of the psalm when the psalmist says “I, O LORD, cry out to you; with my morning prayer I wait upon you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me; why hide from me your face?” 
St. John of the Cross wrote about what he calls in spiritual life as the dark night of the soul.  It is a time in our relationship with God when we can no longer sense his presence, we can no longer feel that he is listening to us and even much less that he is answering our prayers.  There are no more consolations even in our prayer or in our mass.  The dark night happens when we feel that God is no longer there.  This is also what the psalmist feels. 
But this is not punishment or abandonment.  In fact in the dark night God is inviting us to grow in our faith. 

psalm 88 - a sad psalm - 26th week tuesday 2016

Today we read the saddest of all psalms, psalm 88.  There are other sad psalms in the book of psalms but these sad psalms at least end with a high note – with hope and optimism.  But Psalm 88 is different – it begins with, “by day I cry out before you and at night I clamor in your presence;” and it ends with, “my companions have become darkness.”
So why is it that such a dreary psalm made its way in the bible, why is it that this pessimistic, seemingly hopeless psalm be accepted as one of the psalms, one of the prayers of the church, a model prayer?  Why?  Because sometimes in our life we have to approach God in darkness.  Sometimes we also come to God in the dark.

psalm 17 - remaining loyal - 26th week monday

Our psalm today, psalm 17 is an honest and earnest plea for God’s help in the midst of great torment and suffering.  And the psalmist argues to God that even in the midst of so much trial he remains faithful to God, he remains loyal and obedient to God’s laws.  He said, “your eyes behold what is right; though you test my heart, searching it in the night, though you try me with fire, you shall find no malice in me.”
If you notice we are most vulnerable when we are in great trial, our faith is most vulnerable when we are in crisis.  I remember the first ever Filipino monk who abandoned his vocation when he became sick and was confined in the hospital.  I also remember so many Filipinos with marital problems abandoning their catholic faith in the midst of a crisis.  I also remember priests losing their vocation because of midlife crisis or husbands and wives separating because of financial problems and difficulties.  Crisis is always a time when everything in us is tested making us vulnerable to all persuasions.

psalm 146 - amen, it is reliable - 26th sunday C

What’s one word that survived thousands of years and has been adapted to hundreds of languages and dialects without any modification to its meaning?  Sometimes it may be pronounced a little differently but it is discernible all over many languages.  So what is the word? If you said “Amen,” then you guessed it right.  Amen.
But what does Amen really mean?
The word amen is related to a word in the first line of our responsorial psalm today, psalm 146, “blessed is he who keeps faith, or blessed is he who keeps truth forever.”  To keep faith, to keep truth means God is blessed because God is trustworthy, he is credible, he is reliable – we are affirming what we believe.  And so when the priest says “the body of Christ” and you respond “Amen,” it means, “it is, it is indeed the body of Christ.”  Or when the priest prays and ends it saying “we ask this through Christ our Lord,” and we respond saying “amen,” it means “God is trustworthy, God is faithful, God is truthfulness, when He says it He does it, He fulfills His promises and He will deliver.”  That short word A-M-E-N is loaded.

psalm 144 - life is a battle - 25th week friday 2016

Psalm 144 is a psalm prayed in the face of battle.  The first verse which was not read in mass is a thanksgiving to God for teaching the psalmist to fight – “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.”  Thus he then calls us with terms used for the military – God is a fortress, a stronghold, a bulwark, the deliverer and a trusted shield. 
In the communion of the saints there is the church triumphant – referring to those in heaven; there is the church suffering – those in purgatory; and there is the church militant referring to all of us here on earth.  Militant – the word connotes struggling, fighting, doing battle.  I believe it is important to be reminded by the psalm of this imagery of earthly life.  Of course not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense – that life is a battle against evil forces up to destroy us, that life is a struggle against the temptations of greed, the temptations of lust, temptations of anger and impatience.  We are fighting the evil of injustice, of racial discrimination, and the evil that belittles life from its beginning unto its end.  We are in battle for the triumph of the values of the kingdom in us and around us, every day of our lives.

psalm 19 - created things speak of god - 25th week wednesday 2016

Today in this feast of the evangelist St Matthew we hear Psalm 19 proclaim – “the heavens declare the glory of God;  and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” Our psalm today invites us to open our eyes and see God’s creation around us for they speak of God – his grandeur, his goodness, his power, his love, his beauty.  Nature – created things speak of God.
Months ago I was invited to see a mountain range so big and so vast and a forest which went as far as the eyes can see. The place was advertised on a bus saying:  come and see how little you are.  To be there and to say to God in prayer Lord you are so big and I am so little, so tiny in fact if I consider that the earth is just a tiny speck of this vast universe.  Lord you allowed me to experience your grandeur and majesty.

psalm 119 - love for god's word - 25th week tuesday 2016

Today we allow once more our responsorial psalm to guide us in our meditation.  Psalm 119 may have used a lot of words like law, precepts, commands, ordinances but these refers only to one thing - God’s word.  And the verbs he uses in relation to God’s law are - to walk in it, to understand it, to meditate on it, to choose it, to discern it, to observe it, to be led by it, to keep it continually and to delight in it.
Today in our gospel Jesus puts before us the real reason why Mary is Blessed.  She is blessed not because she bore him in her womb, not because she is Mother of God, but because she listened to God’s word to her and acted on it.  St Augustine himself said “Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb.”

psalm 15 - who shall be admitted - 25th week monday 2016

Today we reflect on Psalm 15.  Psalm 15 can be likened to an processional or entrance song – pilgrims would sing this song as they enter the temple in procession - who shall be admitted to your tent, who shall live on your holy mountain. 
Every religion has a requirement before one enters a sacred place – there may be ablutions or washings, or the putting on of sacred marks on the forehead, or it can be the putting on of the required dress or clothing.  In this psalm the requirement for entering the temple is spelled out.  To those who enter a clear conscience is demanded.  The person who worthily enters the temple is a person who does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart, he does not slander nor harms his fellow man, he does not lend his money on usury and does not accept bribes.

house blessing

In our reading today Paul prays that we his readers will be given strength, wishing us to rely not on our own strength but in the strength that comes from God.  Paul has reminded time and again elsewhere in his many letters that man is in no way good enough, that we are not good enough but that we need the strength, the grace that comes from God.  If you notice Paul does not say here be strong, or be stronger.  No, for we can never be good enough.  Instead Paul calls to God to give us strength.

In this same prayer Paul also prays that we may understand, the breadth, the length, the height, and the depth of his love for us.  Paul includes all three dimensions that can be known by our senses immediately - how wide, how long, how high, except how deep.  We need to bore a hole to know that.  In saying so Paul then prays that God will give us understanding beyond what we have, not dependent on our mental capacities but understanding beyond what we have.

baptism - giving a name

Allow me to share some few thoughts. 
Unlike other gatherings for prayer which almost always start with an opening song and the sign of the cross, the rite of baptism starts instead with a question, what name do you give your child?  Now you may take this question and its answer for granted or you may even take it as stating the obvious by the fact that this has been already established a fortnight ago in their birth certificates.  But this first act in the ritual of baptism is very important.  It defines our purpose today, it establishes the intent of our gathering, it summarizes and therefore simplifies the varied actions in this long ritual into something that is both simple to understand and at the same time expressive of our longing for this child. What name do you give your child?  To be baptized is to be defined – to be baptized is to establish who you are and who you will become.  Thus the question - What name do you give your child?

psalm 113 - transcendent and immanent - 25th sunday C

We continue to allow our responsorial psalm to lead us in our reflection this Sunday.  Today we reflect on Psalm 113.  Psalm 113 is called one of the Egyptian Psalms for these are psalms that are sung to commemorate and thank God for the freedom brought about by the Passover, the freedom from the bondage of Egypt.  As such the psalm begins and ends with halleluyah. 
Halleluyah is a Hebrew phrase rightly translated as “Praise the Lord” but wrongfully understood as “Praise the Lord.”  Why did I say that?  Because hallelu yah is in the imperative mood.  It is a command, an order, it is a demand.  You just can’t get the feel of its urgency if you simply translate it as praise the Lord.  You have to put it in context and say, “you there, yes you in white shirt I demand that you open your mouth and sing out loud, praise the Lord.” That is how alleluia is to be translated. 

psalm 78 - retelling god's goodness - 24th week wednesday 2016

Our responsorial psalm today is psalm 78.  It is the second longest psalm. It is a long psalm because it is a retelling of the story of Israel, a story which stretches from the time of Exodus to the time of King David.  It recalls Israel’s relationship with God through the years, a relationship that has so many ups and downs.  One day the people are faithful to God, the next day they become unfaithful to God, and yet God continues to forgive, God continues to draw them back to himself despite their disloyalty.  Our responsorial psalm today is a summary – “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. But then their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet God was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them.” That’s the story.

psalm 100 - savoring thankfulness - 24th week tuesday 2016

Today we continue our reflection on our responsorial psalm, this time psalm 100. It is entitled a psalm of praise or a psalm of thanksgiving.  I noticed for the past 2 weeks that I have been here Americans are especially thankful.  They get up the bus they say thank you as they pay the driver.  They go down the bus, they say thank you again.  Filipinos are not like that.  Probably if the driver says, its ok you don’t have to pay, then most probably we will say thank you.  Here you open the door and hold it a while so that another can enter without touching the door, he says thank you.  You allow him to go first he says thank you.  You step aside so that he can pass through, he says thank you.  Everywhere you go people are polite, politeness seems to be the rule.

I am reminded of this because Psalm 100 is also telling us to always say thank you to God, but not just as a matter of politeness but to be conscious, to be aware, to know what we are thanking God for.  If you notice the stanzas of the psalm alternate.  The first stanza commands to thank, then the second stanza tells us to know why we thank. Then again the next stanza tells us to thank, then the next stanza tells us to know the reason why we thank.

psalm 40 - ears open to obedience - 24th week monday 2016

“Sacrifice you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Burnt offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”  The same verse from Psalm 40 would be quoted in the letter to the Hebrews but instead of ears open to obedience it substituted it with a body you have prepared for me.  Why?  Jesus needed a body, a human body in order to be obedient, in order to obey the Father.  To obey the Father Jesus has to become human in order that he can die for love of us. If he does not have a body, if he remains only divine, then he cannot suffer and die.  He has to obey the Father, he has to die to save us and so he was given, not ears, but a body.
Since I also work in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood, young men would always ask how we priests manage living without a wife, thinking perhaps that that is the most difficult thing in the priesthood.  But if you ask priests, the most difficult thing in the priesthood is to obey, to be obedient, to remain obedient.
It is not easy to surrender one’s opinion, one’s logic, one’s will to the opinion, to the logic or to the will of another.