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(Part 164)


February 15, 2018
Today’s gospel: Luke 9:22-25

We are followers of Christ. We are to follow where he goes and to do what he tells us to do. Where did Jesus go? He went to the cross. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (v.22). Now if we wish to be his follower and disciple, we must do likewise. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (v.23).

In following Jesus, we are called to do three things.

First, we deny ourselves. Jesus lived only for others. He went hungry and without rest to minister to the needs of others. Even though innocent, he suffered the condemnation that others rightly deserved. He gave his life so that others might live. As followers of Christ, we give our all to Jesus and to his work. He and the mission he gives us are our number one priority. We let go of our own preferences, priorities and agenda. We are willing to suffer inconvenience, hardship and suffering for his sake, and we do so with great joy.

Second, we take up our cross daily. Jesus carried the cross to Calvary and was nailed to it. Not just his body but his dignity was assailed as he hung on the cross naked, reviled by people all around. As followers of Christ, we must be willing to suffer rejection, betrayal, indignity, abuse, pain, oppression, persecution, abandonment.

Third, we follow Jesus. Where he goes, we go. What he tells us to do, we do. Just as he was obedient to the Father, we are obedient to him. Just as his priority was to do the Father’s will, our priority is his mission, as we continue with his work of bringing salvation and freedom to others. We do not question him but rather trust in him. We are confident that he leads us, yes to the cross, but beyond the cross to eternal life.

Indeed, many Christians today are focused on the opposites. They live and work to satisfy themselves, avoid hardships in life, follow their own desires and goals. That is the way not to life but to death. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (v.24).

Further, many Christians are engrossed in their own pursuits. These might be money and power. Or it might be the good things of family and livelihood. All these are part of life and are good, but only if pursued not apart from God. People work on their careers all their life, thinking of achievement and success according to the world’s definition. Along the way, they lose their way. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (v.25).

Jesus has already shown us the way. He went ahead of us, and endured what we might have to endure as we follow him. He lost everything, his very life, but he gained everything, as on the third day he was raised. To follow Jesus, all the way to the cross and beyond, is certainly the only way to life.

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(Part 163)


February 14, 2018

Today’s readings:
Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-18

Today, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the churches will be packed with lay Catholics. That is cause for great rejoicing. At the same time, it is cause for grief. Why? Because many who go to church today do not go regularly to Sunday Mass. The numbers today highlight the lack of numbers on Sundays.

The majority of lay Catholics are nominal in their faith. Even those who go to church may not be striving to live the fullness of the Christian life. Even those who go to Mass every Sunday may not be attaining to the holiness and perfection that God requires. Indeed, 99 of the 100 sheep are lost.

Today we celebrate a day of repentance and a day of love. The two are actually related. God is love and showed His love for us in sending His own Son Jesus to suffer and die for us, and thus win for us our salvation. We are to love God in turn, even before we love others, including our spouse. To love is to be in right relationship with the other, to do what is pleasing to the other, to do what is for the good of the other. In relation to God, this means not sinning. And if we do sin, we must repent.

So receiving the ashes on our foreheads is a sign of our repentance and our love for God. Indeed, as Valentine’s Day is for husband and wife, we are mindful that we the Church are the bride of Christ.

Now Ash Wednesday would be a time of grief (we grieve due to our sin). “Yet even now­oracle of the Lord­return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.” (Jl 2:12). On the other hand, Valentine’s Day is a time of joy. But the product of weeping and mourning in repentance will be joy. It brings us back to God. “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Jl 2:13a). It opens up to us the grace and mercy of God. “For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.” (Jl 2:13b). It blesses us. “Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind a blessing” (Jl 2:14a).

Now Ash Wednesday is not just for each of us to individually repent and turn fully to God. If we grieve not just for our own sins but also for others who continue to sin against God and who have placed themselves outside of His loving embrace, we must consider how they can be led to repentance and restoration in Christ. We are among those whom Jesus desires to use to reach others. We are sent as prophets. We are to proclaim the righteousness of God. “Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation” (Jl 2:15-16a).

As prophets, we speak on behalf of God. We are His instruments in reaching out to sinners. “I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” (Ps 51:15). We are His representatives, acting on His behalf. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20).

Our repentance brings God’s mercy and the fullness of God’s love. “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Ps 51:3). And it brings about joy as well. “You will let me hear gladness and joy; the bones you have crushed will rejoice.” (Ps 51:10).

Valentine’s Day is about love and joy. So too is Ash Wednesday. Thus, “when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Mt 6:16a). When you go out on your Valentine date with your spouse, do you wear a scowl, are you unkempt? No! Rather, “anoint your head and wash your face” (Mt 6:17). Today, even as you grieve over your sins and the sins of the world, rejoice in the love of God and of your spouse.

Be strengthened by the mercy and love of God, be encouraged by the love of your spouse, be mindful of those who should be the bride of Christ but for now are not due to sin, then be God’s instrument of salvation, reconciliation and renewal for others. The task is urgent. People are dying in their sins. The sheep are lost. Act now. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2b).

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