The five ways of repentance by St. John Chrysostom

August 23, 2016
The five paths of repentance
Shall I list the paths of repentance? There are certainly many of them, many and various, and all of them lead to heaven.
  The first path is the path of condemnation of sins. As Isaiah says, Tell your sins, and you will be acquitted. And the Psalmist adds: I said “I will bear witness against myself before the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. So you, too must condemn the sins you have committed. Condemn them, and that condemnation will excuse you in front of the Lord, since whoever condemns the sins he has committed will be slower to commit them next time. Stir up your own conscience to be your accuser – so that when you come before the judgement-seat of the Lord no-one will rise up to accuse you.
  This is the first path of repentance but the second is in no way inferior to it in excellence. It is to forget the harm done to us by our enemies, to master our anger, to forgive the sins of those who are slaves together with us. As much as we do this, so much will our own sins against the Lord be forgiven. So this is the second path to the expiation of our sins. As the Lord says, Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours.
  Would you like to know the third path of repentance? It is prayer: fervent prayer, sincere and focused prayer, prayer coming from the depths of the heart.
  If you want to know the fourth path, I will tell you it is the giving of alms. It has great power.
  And finally, if someone acts with modesty and humility, that path is no less effective as a way to deprive sin of its substance. Look at the publican, who had no good deeds to speak of. In place of good deeds he offered humility, and the huge burden of his sins fell away.
  So now I have shown you the five paths of repentance. First, condemnation of sins. Second, forgiving the sins of those near us. Third, prayer. Fourth, almsgiving. Fifth, humility.
  So do not be idle, but every day advance along all these paths at once. They are not hard paths to follow. Poverty is no excuse for not setting out on the journey. Even if you are destitute you can do all these things: put aside anger, carry humility in front of you, pray hard, condemn your sins. Poverty is no obstacle – not even to that path of penitence that demands money: that is, almsgiving. Remember the story of the widow’s mite.
  Now we have learnt the right way to heal our wounds, let us apply these remedies. Let us regain true health and confidently receive the blessings of Holy Communion. Thus we may come, filled with glory, to the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and receive its eternal joys through the grace, mercy and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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The Temple and the Sacrifice, an Advent reflection

December 14, 2015

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Scripture Reading:

  • First Reading: Zeph 3:14-18
  • Canticle: Isaiah 12
  • Second Reading: Phil 4:4-7
  • Gospel: Luke 3:10-18

Gaudete! Rejoice! The Church celebrates Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday in the third week of Advent. The priests wear rose color and christians lit the third pink candle in their advent wreath. Why does the church celebrates this rejoicing? In the second reading, Paul himself used the word “Rejoice!”.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

And as if it is not enough, the Prophet Zephaniah in the first reading also tells that not only the people will rejoice, but God himself will rejoice.

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
     as on a day of festival.

What is the reason of this rejoicing? Zephaniah tells us

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;

This is the reason for our rejoicing: the Lord our God is in our midst. Zephaniah speaks of “On that day…”, the Day of the Lord. On that Day, God will be in our midst, and this is the reason for rejoicing. That Day lead us to the Gospel reading where people flock to John the Baptist asking “What must we do?”

10 And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

At the first sight, it may seem the Gospel reading present to us a different mood. The first and second reading speaks of rejoicing, and here, in the Gospel, people were asking what they must do to repent. Isn’t it a different contrast? Maybe it is not.

When people were in expectation that John might be the Christ, he answered,

I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

John is speaking about someone who is coming, someone mightier than he is. He realized that his role was to prepare for this coming (2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C). Could it be that this someone mightier than John is what the Prophet Zephaniah proclaims? God himself?

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;

John gave a clue by saying that this someone mightier than he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. These two images bring us to the Temple of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Temple, and the image of fire reminds us of the Temple’s sacrifices, of the holocaust, burnt offerings.

There was this beautiful prayer by Azariah from the Book of Daniel (Dan 3).

Then Azari′ah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise;and thy name is glorified for ever.For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us,and all thy works are true and thy ways right,and all thy judgments are truth.Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon usand upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our fathers,for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins.For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee,and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments;we have not observed them or done them,as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us.So all that thou hast brought upon us,and all that thou hast done to us,thou hast done in true judgment.Thou hast given us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful rebels,and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world.And now we cannot open our mouths;shame and disgrace have befallen thy servants and worshipers.For thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly,and do not break thy covenant,and do not withdraw thy mercy from us,for the sake of Abraham thy belovedand for the sake of Isaac thy servantand Israel thy holy one,to whom thou didst promiseto make their descendants as many as the stars of heavenand as the sand on the shore of the sea.For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation,and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins.And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy.Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee. And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy faceDo not put us to shame,but deal with us in thy forbearanceand in thy abundant mercy.Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works,and give glory to thy name, O Lord!Let all who do harm to thy servants be put to shame;let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion,and let their strength be broken.Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God,glorious over the whole world.”

Azariah prayed in the midst of the fire, and he retold the story of how the people have gone into exile, which is due to sins, and now there is no Temple where they can offer sacrifices to find Mercy. But Azariah in that midst of prayer said, his offering now is a contrite heart and a humble spirit. Azaraiah in a way prophecied the kind of worship that will inaugurates the new age when the people will

with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face

This is the context of the people who are coming to John the Baptist. John is baptising the people for a repentance. He is bring a people that is coming with a contrite heart and a humble spirit. In fact, John is preparing a rededication of a New Temple!

When Solomon first built the Temple in Jerusalem, he dedicate it to God and this is what happens.

When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. (2 Chro 7:1)

Fire and Holy Spirit! The fire came and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, filled the temple. John the Baptist is preparing for a New Temple, a temple that is not built on stones but on Christ himself. In Jesus, the glory of the Lord dwells. In Jesus, we see the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God who was slain.

But John said, that Jesus will baptise YOU with the Holy Spirit and fire. It is not enough that God just dwells in Jesus. God wants to dwell in …. you. God wants you to be his temple. And that’s why St. Paul can confidently said.

 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? (1 Cor 6:19)

We have become His Temple. The temple reminds us that God dwells in us. But the temple also reminds us that we are called to offer up sacrifices. In the Old Testament, the Temple and the Sacrifices are two different thing. But in the New Testament, Jesus is the Temple and the Sacrifrice. We are called to be this God’s dwelling and a holocaust. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice was physically and totally consumed. In the New Testament, the sacrifice is spiritually and totally consumed. In Jesus, we offer that one perfect sacrifice of love to the Father. What better sacrifice than doing the will of God?

“Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.” (Heb 10:5)

There is no conflict between rejoicing and repentance. We rejoice because God is coming to his temple, we are His temple. We, on our parts, are called to prepare this dedication of His temple through repentance. Just as a bride prepares herself for her bridegroom, we too in this Advent, prepare ourselves for our bridegroom. We are waiting for the time when He fully dwells in us and we in him, when we are truly one. We rejoice, because he pours out His Spirit to dwell in us. We rejoice because His fire will come from Heaven. The fire of love that will consume our contrite heart and humble spirit, our sacrifice of Love. The fire of love that allows us to follow Him whole heartedly, to fear Him, and to seek his face. We have come to do Thy will, O God. We rejoice because this great love that brings God to be in our midst. He does not send His Spirit and Fire and remain in Heaven. No. He comes to us in His Spirit and in His Fire. So it is appropriate for us to sing the Canticle from Isaiah,

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

 


The Way to Go Home, an Advent Reflection

December 7, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Scripture Reading:

  • First Reading: Bar 5:1-9
  • Responsorial Psalm: Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
  • Second Reading: Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
  • Gospel: Lk 3:1-6

If the first week of Advent speaks about the coming of our Lord, in this second week, the Church proclaims how this coming will take place, and how it will be our homecoming  as well.

The first reading was from the Prophet Baruch which took place in exile. The people have been in exile in Babylon, and Baruch proclaim a consolation that will come from the Lord.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.

What is the cause of this rejoicing?  Baruch tell us that they will go home to their homeland one day.

Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you

There were two movements in that last sentence that we read. The first one was when the Israelites were led away from their homeland to exile, and they are led away “on foot” by their “enemies”. But now, they will be brought “back”, and by who? by God!

In fact, God promised how this is going to happen.

For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,

And this brings us to the Gospel reading, to John the Baptist. Luke introduced John in this way.

the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low. The prophecy of Baruch was being fulfilled. This is a time of consolation. God is coming to bring back the Israelites. But this is the strange part: during the time of John the Baptist, the Israelites were already back from exile. So in what way was the prophecy being fulfilled?

Luke was describing another exile and exodus. In fact, the exile and exodus of the Israelites were just a prefigurement of this one exile and exodus. This one exile and exodus is one of a spiritual nature. Sin separates us from God, and this is a more grievous exile! But God promise a consolation, a salvation. He will come and save his people, he will bring us back. It is for this reason that John gave his life to

Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

John proclaimed that not only we will be brought back and saved, but first, God will come. God is coming and visiting us! The way that John was preparing was not just a way for the people to return to, not only the way for another exodus, but the way of the Lord, where “his paths” is being prepared. This is the path that God himself will walk on earth. This Way is the way of the Lord because God himself will walk in this Way.

This brings to mind of what Jesus himself said,

I am the Way …

John, in fact, was preparing for the coming of Jesus, and it is in Jesus that God himself walks here on earth to visit his people. But he not only came to visit us, he came to dwell with us and bring us home. God has shown us the way to go home in Jesus.

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus is our way to go home.

John’s whole life was for this purpose. His whole life was to prepare the Way. But how can we enter the Way? Luke answered it through John the Baptist too.

the word of God came to John […] preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John preached a baptism of repentance. Repentance is the door to enter into the Way. Repentance opens the Door of Mercy that allows God to come and visit us, and allows God to bring us home. Repentance is the way we should prepare for the coming of Our Lord, and of our own homecoming.

But what does repentance consists of? It is in changing our life to live a life of love as Christ himself lives. St. Paul in the second reading prayed

And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more

so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness

One thing we can learn to realize is that our love is just a tiny little love. God has planted the seed of this eternal life, and we are called to bear fruit of this harvest by bearing fruits of love. But life can be too distracting, and we stop living in love, but simply living for ourselves. We became selfish, pursue our own dreams and desire, put pleasures above all things. But we are called to “repent”, to turn back, and to live a life of love the way Christ lived it. And we only need to look at the Cross to learn what kind of love we are all called to be. How far we have fallen, and yet how high we have been called. But there is always hope, and our hope comes from Christ. St. Paul himself said,

I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.

 The one who began… will complete it. God will complete what he has sown in our life. We can hope, because God is faithful.

In fact, one of the most beautiful hope during this liturgy is one of the verse in the responsorial Psalm.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
  carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
  carrying their sheaves.
This psalm speaks about the pain when the Israelites went out full of tears to the Exile, but it promises a time when they will come back, full of song. The hope and the promise that Baruch himself prophesied. But one of the most beautiful image in this psalm was that as they go out, they “carry seed for the sowing”, and when they come back, they come back “carrying their sheaves”.
Their time in exile was for a purpose… they carry seed for the sowing. It is during those time in exile they carry the seed that will grow into a harvest. It was during this exile that the Israelites returned to their covenant with God. This harvest is what they bring back home from their exile to their homeland.
We too in life face struggles and difficulties, but God promised us that it is not for nothing. As we face and enter into all those trials, we carry seed for the sowing. It is during those time that the seed grows into a harvest. And there will be a time for the harvest. A time when God will come and visit us, a time when the work that He has began will be completed, a time of rejoicing and full of song, a time for our homecoming. This is the time that we are waiting for in this Advent, and we can begin preparing for this time, growing our seed, by what John the Baptist told us to do, … repent.

When the bridegroom comes, an advent reflection

December 2, 2015

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C

Scripture Reading:

  • First Reading: Jer 33:14-16
  • Responsorial Psalm: Ps 25: 4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
  • Second Reading: 1 Thes 3:12- 4:2
  • Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Who doesn’t like apocalypse movies? Many people have been talking about the end of the world for ages, and many stories have been told with the destruction of the world in mind. In this first week of advent season, Jesus did not hesitate telling us about the end of times too.

There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.

And if it is not too strange enough, the Church traditionally pray for “Hope” during this first week of Advent. It is as if what Jesus said about all this turmoil and chaos was supposed to bring us hope! Or could it be … maybe it is really meant to bring us hope? How can we understand what God is saying to us?

Maybe the first reading can give us a clue. The part of scripture from the prophet Jeremiah is related to prophecies for the restoration of Judah and Israel. The Israelites fell at the hand of the Babylonian and went into exile. In this prophecy, God promised to restore Israel and Judah.

In those days and at that time,
I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David,
who shall practise honesty and integrity in the land.
In those days Judah shall be saved
and Israel shall dwell in confidence.
And this is the name the city will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.
The city will be called “The-Lord-our-integrity” because God will fulfil his promise, he always keeps his word. It is not easy to live as an exile, but it is even harder to live your faith in a pagan world! And this is what happened to the Israelites. The promise of land for the Israelites was always tied to the covenant. The Israelites need to be faithful to the covenant. Their idolatry was the beginning of their downfall and the reason they lost their land. But God was not sitting down in idle. He promised to save Judah. He promised to save Israel. And his promise will be fulfilled by raising up a virtuous Branch from David, the Messiah. Interestingly, this is the image of the Messiah that was prophesied by Jeremiah to save Israel. It was not a military leader, but rather a “virtuous” man, a man of honesty and integrity. The righteous one will save them.
And this bring us back to Jesus and his own words. During Jesus time, the Israelites have returned from exile, but were now lived under the Roman empire. Few verses back, Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem, and now he told about the Parousia, about the coming of the Son of Man.
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
The image of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory reminds us of the Prophecy of Daniel. Daniel saw a vision of four beasts, and powers were taken away from these beasts, and given to the one like a son of man.

And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence. On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)

The coming of this King is associated with the destruction of the beasts, and with salvation.

stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

Jesus is the King. He often called himself the Son of Man in the Gospel, and in this apocalyptic prophecy he promised to come again, and that will be the time for our liberation. But liberation from what? What do we need to be liberated from?

We need to be liberated from the beasts that rule our life. From sin! In advent we celebrate the two comings (advent) of Christ. We remember his first coming on Christmas, but we also remind ourselves of his coming at the end of times. And both coming is to save us from our sin! Christ came into the world to save us.  God became man so that men may become gods. It is through the Incarnation that the human family was redeemed. In Jesus, the new Adam gave his whole life to God by dying on the Cross, the ultimate yes to Love. In this ultimate act of Love, we who were far away have been brought near, we have been forgiven, we are no longer alien, but fellow citizen. We have been reconciled to God.

It is through the Cross that blood and water was poured out, the symbol of the Sacraments and the birth of the Church from the side of the new Adam. We were born anew, and adopted as children of God, and as children of God we share His divinity. As St. Peter said,

In making these gifts, he has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. (2 Pet 1:4)

We share the divine nature! Think about that. But Peter also mentioned what this means, it also means that we will be liberated from the corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. Righteousness will reign, sins will be destroyed.

What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. (2 Pet 3:13)

 

This is what we are waiting for! But in the meantime, we live in this pagan world. In the mean time, we will experience persecution, sufferings, and difficulties. But St. Paul told us it is not worth to the glory that we will receive.

I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free. (Rom 8:18:23)

We are in this act of giving birth! The world that we know now will give way to a new kind of reality that we do not know yet. Just like the womb has to be destroyed when a baby is born, so too this creation is waiting for a new heaven and a new earth.

We not only experience difficulties but also experience temptations to let go the faith, to follow the way of the world. Jesus told us to hang on.

Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

Is this not what we all experience as Christians? There is always this temptation to be carried away with this earthly life, living just for this world. We forgot our destination and destiny. Life goes on, as people say. And many of us Christians lost our Hope of our heavenly home. We forgot we are in exile, and our true home is in heaven.

This is what plague the Israelites during the exile. They got accustomed with the life of their pagan surroundings, they adopted their culture, religions, and their gods, their life just moved on. They forgot that they were in exile, they forgot about their home. They lived like any other people surrounding them with all its vices and immorality. They had fallen asleep.

Have we too live a worldly life? Have we forgot our home? Do we realize we are in exile? Do we live like “the rest of the world” live? Have we forgotten our adoption as children of God?

This readings remind us to stay awake, to keep watch, and to pray at all times. It is interesting that Jesus alludes to the Prophet Daniel about his second coming. Daniel was one of the Israelites who were in exile. One of the most favourite stories that all children love is the story how Daniel was put into the lion dens and God saved him. But what made him put into the lion dens? Some men were jealous, and told the king,

O king, this man Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, disregards both you and the edict which you have signed: he is at his prayers three times each day

Daniel prayed at all times. There was an edict not to pray to any other gods except the king, but Daniel continued to pray at all time to God. He risks his life by praying, but … he was saved for the same reason … because of his prayer.

Does our lifestyle also prevent us from praying? Is our work too demanding that it is taking our time with God? Are our hobbies, our relationships, or even our housework make us not praying? Do we stop praying because we are too busy in life? Will you sacrifice and risk your life to continue praying at all times? Or have we fallen asleep?

Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

This is what prayer brings us, a union with God. It is this union with God that changes our lives to be more like him, like a God who is love. That’s why St. Paul in the second reading demanded the christians in Thessalonians to live a life that God wants.

we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants…

In Baptism, we have died to the world and to self, and we no longer live for ourselves but for God alone. We have been betrothed, wedded, and consecrated for the bridegroom!

And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes

St. Paul also speaks about this union with God as it is symbolized in the love of husband and wife.

Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless.

Blameless, that’s what we are called to be. And the Good News is that it is Christ’s work! Christ is the one who will purify us and cleanse us and make us holy. This is our liberation, our salvation when Christ comes again.

Jesus, in the Gospel, loved to use the image of the coming of a bridegroom to tell us to stay awake. In the Book of the Revelation, the last book in the Bible, John saw the bride coming down from heaven, beautiful, and ready for the bridegroom. That bride is you and me, we are the Church. That moment of union with the bridegroom is what we are waiting for. That is the moment of our salvation when we are liberated from anything that separates us from our loved one. We have tasted this union a little bit in the Eucharist during this life time. But what will happen when that day comes?? I don’t know.

But my heart is throbbing with expectation, and with hope, with joy and eagerness. I am waiting for my love one!… and I hope you have the same hope as mine.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!!

 

 


The Cleansing of the Temple and the Voice of God

November 21, 2015

Friday of week 33 in Ordinary Time (Year I)

Readings:

  • First Reading: 1 Maccabees 4:36-37,52-59
  • Responsorial Psalm: 1 Chronicles 29:10-12
  • Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

If you have been reading the scriptures from the weekday masses, you may have been filled with heroic stories how some Jews resisted the decree to worship any other gods but YHWH. In the reading the day before, Mattathias began the revolt, flee to the hills, leaving all his possessions to fight against the Pagan who forced the Jews to follow Pagan customs and worships and thus abandon their own faith. Mattathias refused and fought. In today’s reading, we hear the successful story of Judas Maccabees.

Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it.

What had happened to the sanctuaries? The sanctuary has been defiled by the Pagan. In fact, it all begin long time ago when the Israelites began to be unfaithful to their God. They sinned. And because they sinned, God let their land be conquered by Pagan rulers. Northern kingdom fell first, but then the southern kingdom of Judah followed. But God continued to preserver a “remnant” who is faithful to his laws and commandment. We have heard of this “remnant” who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of being faithful to God. This “remnant” fought and waged war, and today, we hear the story how they conquered and recapture the sanctuary.

The word sanctuary reminds me of the words of St. Paul, “don’t you know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit?”. What have we done to this sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? Have we been following the influence of the world and slowly drifted away from our faith? or have been faithful to God? Are we defiling this sanctuary by worship of any other gods, like money, relationships, career, or even ministry? Are we defiling this sanctuary by tolerating habitual sins in our lives like anger, sexual sins, sloth, greed, or even pride? Have we kept our sanctuary pure and holy? Sins defile the sanctuary, and we have to wage war against sins.

War is one of the many stories in the bible that modern mind cannot accept. But we are constantly dealing with spiritual warfare daily. We struggle with sins. There is always a temptation to “worship” other gods in this body, to follow the flesh as St. John said it, or simply to be selfish as Pope Benedict XVI once said. But we have to wage war against these. It’s the only way that we can regain the sanctuary. This is what the story in Maccabees teach us.

And the story teach us that God is on our side as we wage war against sins in our lives. He is there to help us, and in fact he is intervening with us to cleanse this sanctuary. This is what the Gospel himself tells us.

Jesus went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling.

Jesus, God himself, came into this sanctuary to cleanse it. This is only if we allow Him to, and the best way to allow him to come into our sanctuary and cleanse it is through the sacrament of reconciliation. It is in this sacrament that we “purify and dedicate” the sanctuary again. It is in this sacrament that God “came into the Temple and began driving out …” our sins.

And what a joy it is! The story in the first reading tell us how they celebrate the dedication of the temple with joy and gladness.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering holocausts, communion sacrifices and thanksgivings.

Thanksgiving! Eucharistia! What better way to celebrate this dedication of the altar than by celebrating the Eucharist? It is in that Eucharistic altar that we offer up our bodies, our lives again as a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.

But there is something more. The Gospel tell us what Jesus said and did after he cleansed the temple.

my house will be a house of prayer…

He taught in the Temple every day…

the people as a whole hung on his words

A house of prayer. This is what we are called to be: a house of prayer. The temple is cleansed not for its own sake. It is cleansed so that it can be a house of prayer where God meets man.

For me the image of Jesus “teach in the Temple every day” was very striking. It is as if the Gospel tries to show that he is now “dwelling” in that temple and “speaking” to us “daily”. How many of us long to hear the voice of God? How many of us wish to know him more, to know his will, and simply to listen to his voice? But here he is, in our bodies, dwelling, and speaking to us “daily”. Maybe the reason what we have not been hearing the voice of God is not so much that God does not speak to us. Maybe we have not allowed him to enter this sanctuary. Maybe our sins and idols prevent him. Maybe we defile our sanctuary. But the Good News is that God is on our side to reclaim this sanctuary. He provides what is needed for us to “fight”, to purify, and to rededicate this sanctuary. It is always available in the Sacrament. It is here as we continue to cleanse this sanctuary, we can see Jesus “in” our sanctuary, and speaking to us.

It is this word of Jesus that continue to give us life. Luke gave us an image of the “whole people hung on his words”. Indeed, we can “hang” on his word, it is the word that gives us life. For me as I imagine these words, I see a picture of a little baby who clings to his mother, a child that hangs on his mother’s breast. This is how we can rely on the Lord. This is how we can be nourished by the Lord. This is how we are to live in his embrace. This is how we are called to live in intimacy with God.

Don’t you know you are the temple of the Holy Spirit? Will you let him in? Will you let him speak? Will you listen?

 

 


What I wish to be written on my grave

October 29, 2015

In one of my lunch conversations, someone asked a question what I wish to be written on my grave (or maybe columbarium?). Well this is the one.

“with Christ I hang upon the cross, and yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me. True, I am living, here and now, this mortal life; but my real life is the faith I have in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 – Knox Bible)


Niniveh, Martha and Mary

October 7, 2015

Tuesday of week 27 in Ordinary Time

Scripture Reading:

  • Jonah 3:1-10
  • Psalm 129:1-4,7-8
  • Luke 10:38-42

What does Niniveh have anything to do with Martha and Mary? But somehow Yesterday’s mass first reading speaks about Jonah preaching to Niniveh, while the Gospel tells story when Jesus was at Martha and Mary’s house. As I reflect on those words, I felt that one word connects the two stories, and that word is “repentance”.

In the story of Jonah preaching to Niniveh, I found one of the most beautiful and consoling words I have ever found in the Scripture:

“God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented”

What consoles me so much was that God sees our efforts to repent. Who has never struggle with sin? Many of us made resolutions years after years, from one week to another, or maybe from one confession to another confessions. But again, we fall again and again. However, God sees my effort. He sees your effort. And that matters to him.

What is interesting is that the efforts of the people of Niniveh is extremely externals that it is obvious even to a passer by. They changed their clothes to sack clothes, they stopped eating, they weeped. This reminds me also that the the externals is a reflection of the internals. If we truly put efforts to repent, it can be seen. How much effort then, have we put, to renounce our sinful habits? Does our effort translate to something real to some actions? Or is it just in our mind? If it is just in our mind, maybe we are just deceiving our selves. We thought we repent, and yet, we are not really repenting. Maybe going for a confession, which is something externals, has to be done! If the heart truly repents, what efforts have we done to repent?

But then the Gospel story reminds us that repentance is primarily not of the externals, but rather the internals. And I found Jesus words truly describe what repentance is all about:

“Mary … has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her”

Repentance is primarily choosing a better one. And indeed, it is a better one! Whenever I tried to imagine the scene of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha was distracted with all the servings, I could see Mary who was close and stay with Jesus.  On the other hand, I see Martha who were too busy and distracted, and away from the Lord.

Isn’t sin about being distracted? Few of us would think Martha sinned at that moment. But sin is about separation, it is about being away. And we sin because we are distracted. We forgot the ultimate good and the fulfilment of our heart. We look too much to our dreams, our careers, our desires, our relationships, (and our gadgets these days). We forgot the one thing necessary… God. We seek happiness all in the wrong places.

But repentance is about choosing God! It is about sitting at his feet, listening to him, and being with him. Repentance is about being united with God, and that’s why “it is not to be taken from [her]”. Repentance leads us to a union where nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

But just as in the first reading God saw the efforts of the people of Niniveh, so too Jesus saw the heart of Martha who was longing for him. And who could not feel the gentleness of Jesus voice when he called her, “Martha, Martha…”. So too today, I could hear him calling my name, and I hope you can hear his gentle voice calling your name too.