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Friday, January 28, 2011



    The world has heard the greatest speeches in history beginning with the Greek orators Pericles, Plato and Cicero until the most recent times by men and women whose speeches have made a great impact in the world.  But none of them can ever equal the greatest speech ever spoken by man, that is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus.
The Beatitudes that we heard from the gospel today is the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount which is the second of the seven sermons of Jesus.  There are two versions of the Sermon on the Mount by St. Matthew and St. Luke.  St. Luke addresses the materially poor while Matthew added the moral attitude, a disposition which is required by the hearer. Many biblical scholars believe that the Beatitudes are not the original words of Jesus but rather a compilation of the teachings of Jesus or catechetical instructions we call kerygma.
The best seller books in the world are often about how to be rich, how to stay young and beautiful, and how to have power.  Certainly because these are all the ingredients of success and greatness according to worldly standards.  This is the reason why most of our parents would form and  educate their children towards this goal: to be successful in life!  Why? Because the world teaches us that happiness is measured by success.  So everyone wants to be successful because they want to be happy.
For us Christians, the Beatitudes of Jesus is the true standard of true happiness.  We can say that it is the magna carta that one has to follow if he wants to be he happy in the truest sense of the word.  If we can summarize the beatitudes in one sentence, it would be: Blessed are the poor!  For Matthew, the poor here means those people who bow before God and expect everything from him, those who are oppressed who can only turn to God and those who renounced their possessions and take poverty themselves for the love of God.
The Beatitudes is not the glorification of poverty or the canonization of the poor per se.  The poor are blessed not because of their poverty but because God takes side with them.  This is the reason why Jesus became poor.  When we are poor in the truest sense of the word, we have nothing except God.  The materially rich are still poor when they are detached from their riches.  The basis of all this is our nakedness and nothingness before God.  Before God, we are all poor!  Our happiness lies in living and accepting it.
I was once assigned as a parish priest in one of the poorest islands in the Philippines and I have seen and experienced myself what real poverty is together with my people.  They might lack even the basic necessities of life but in their simplicity, they are a happy people.
Isn’t it true that we can only enjoy material things as much, our youth  fades and power is only temporary?  At the end when everything is spent and taken away from us, we have only God and ourselves.  This has been what the saints have discovered after following the Beatitudes:  that the true happiness is finding God in our lives who is the only one who can make us truly happy if only we accept that we need him.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Aired on the Australian Catholic Radio Online
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          The imprisonment and death of John the Baptist brought sadness to Jesus and he withdrew from Nazareth to Galilee and settled in Capernaum.  Our gospel today has two sections namely the beginning of the preaching ministry of Jesus and the calling of the first four apostles.
          Most of us may wonder why would Jesus choose Galilee as his home base for the next three years of his life.  We remember that Jesus was rejected by his own people in Nazareth.  He said “Amen I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Lk. 4:24).  He was even accused by his relatives as a crazy man (Mk. 3:21).  Aside from this rejection, there was a historical meaning why he settled in Capernaum.
          Capernaum belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel which preferred loose confederacy of tribes that include Naphtali and Zebulon.  They never succeeded completely in expelling the Canaanites who were the former inhabitants so there was a mixed population.  Galilee was also surrounded by the Gentiles: the west by the Phoenicians, to the north and to the east by the Syrians and to the south by the Samaritans.  Galilee was also the passing route of the great roads of the world.  Because of these factors, the Galileans were more open to other people and new ideas as compared to the Jews of the Southern Kingdom.   They were fond of innovations and changes which made a very fertile ground for a new gospel preached to them.  This is why Jesus opted to start his public ministry in Galilee.
          Jesus was like a shining light to the people sitting in darkness. That’s who Jesus is: the Light of the world.  It is very interesting to note the first written words spoken Jesus to begin his public ministry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” The word repent is the translation of the Greek word “metanoite” from which we derive the word ‘metanoia’ which means “conversion”.  Unless there is a complete turn about from the old life, there can be no way for the message of the Gospel to sink in.  After Jesus preached the need for metanoia or conversion, he proclaimed that the Kingdom is at hand.  The Kingdom of God was the central theme of his public ministry and preaching.  In effect, he was not just preaching about the coming of that kingdom but he was preaching that he was the personification of that kingdom.  In Greek we call him as the auto-basilea or the Kingdom of God himself personified.
          The second section of our gospel today is about the calling of the first four apostles. The historical milieu of Galilee helps us to understand why Jesus chose his apostles who were Galileans.  It is interesting to note that the first four apostles were two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew then James and John.  Being Galileans, they were open to a new leader, ideas, adventures and possibilities.  But why fishermen?  Because they would soon be fishers of men.  Other than Peter who was married, the biblical texts do not give us written accounts if they were married or not but when they were called by Jesus they left everything behind.  They left their boats which means their profession, their families and everything.  No questions asked.  No ifs and buts.  That’s the power of the calling of Jesus.  It is irresistible!  You cannot but follow him.
          Some of us may ask what were the qualifications to be an apostle.  Why did Jesus choose these simple fishermen, mostly uneducated to become the pillars of the Kingdom he was preaching?  From a psychological point of view, no one among them would qualify to lead an organization that would soon change the course of history.  Some psychologists say that the first one who would fail a psychological examination was Peter and the only most likely to pass was Judas Iscariot.  If I were to start a corporation or an empire, I will choose the best men and not the ones chosen by Jesus who were nothing but  seemingly failures.  It goes only to show that while we see the appearance, God looks unto the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).  There was something than meets the eye.  That lies the mystery of choosing the Twelve.
          What is this Gospel for us today?  First, we need to be like Galilee.  We need to be open like a fertile soil where the Gospel will be planted in our hearts.  That can never be possible if there is no continuous conversion.  Secondly, we are called as disciples to witness our faith.  That’s what an apostle is: a disciple sent to the share the Word to the world.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jesus as the Lamb of God

Please listen to the Australian Catholic Radio Online:

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” was the cry of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus coming toward him.  Our reflections this Sunday will be about Jesus as the “ Lamb of God”.   When Jesus was called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and John 1:36,  it referred to Jesus as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for sin.
          The lamb plays a very important role in the life of the Jews, not just because of the commercial value of lambs in their socio-economic life but the symbolism of the lamb in their lives as the People of God.  Let us now go to the Old Testament and take a look at the role of the lamb in the relationship of the Jews with God.  There are three ways of understanding the theology of atonement in the context of the lamb.

1. The Passover lamb.  On the night of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, God commanded the people to slaughter lambs for two reasons: a) It was their last meal before they left Egypt.  In Exodus 12 where the Passover rituals were prescribed, God commanded that the lamb must be a year old male and without blemish. It should be slaughtered during the evening twilight, roasted whole without breaking its bones. b) Its blood was applied in the doorposts of every house to spare their first born males from death.
The Passover was the principal feast of the Israelites since the time of Moses until the present time.  It defines them as the People of  God.  As a meal, it is centered around the lamb which symbolizes their redemption from Egypt.  Because the Passover was the salvific event when they were saved as a people, they have to celebrate it once a year to commemorate that event.  Having been part of that annual celebration, the Jews in the present time are assured that they have been grafted to those Israelites who experienced the Passover in Egypt, hence they, too, are saved.
For us Christians, our salvific event was the death of Jesus on Calvary.  It was the moment when he as the true Lamb was sacrificed on the altar of the cross.  This Christian Passover is being celebrated by all of us to commemorate that salvific event whenever we gather in the Eucharist.  Just like the Jews, we Christians are grafted to Jesus in his sacrifice and we are assured that through him we are saved.

2. The lamb being sacrificed in the temple.  As commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-42, there were two lambs being sacrificed in the temple everyday, one in the morning and the other at the evening twilight.  Let us remember that Jesus died at the hour when the second lamb was being sacrificed in the temple.  Isaiah (11:19) and Jeremiah (53:7) prophesied that the Messiah would be like a lamb led to be slaughtered.  The Jews at that time were aware that the sufferings and sacrifice of the Messiah would provide redemption for Israel.

3. The Scapegoat. In Leviticus 16, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Day of Atonement.  In the rituals of that feast, there were two goats to be used as a sacrifice and as a scapegoat.  One will be slaughtered as an offering for the atonement of sin at the altar while the other one will be set free in the wilderness which will bear all the sins of the people.

When John saw the lambs being brought to the temple to be used as sacrificial offering, he pointed out to Jesus and said “Behold the Lamb of God”.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are being reminded of this great truth when we say “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world have mercy us, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.”
          Jesus is our Passover Lamb which we partake whenever we celebrate the Eucharist; we eat his body.  His blood is not anymore applied in the doorposts of our homes, but rather it is running in our veins hence we will be saved from the wrath of God.  He is also our scapegoat because he took away our sins and made us free.

Saturday, January 8, 2011



There are two events in the life of Jesus according to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke which made manifest the concrete and visible presence of the Most Holy Trinity, namely: the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration.  In those events we see Jesus as the center of the story, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and cloud and heard the voice of the Father.  Baptism would be an initiation before Jesus started his public ministry while the Transfiguration happened before his passion and death.
          In the three cycles of the liturgical year, we read the Baptism of Jesus according to the synoptic gospels, although it is also written in the gospel of St. John but the focus is more on the testimony of John rather than the event.  This year, we read the account according to St. Matthew.
          In the gospel today, when Jesus appeared in the Jordan to be baptized, John tried to dissuade him “It is I who need baptism from you and yet you come to me.”  This means that John knew Jesus at once and he was also aware of the limitation of his ministry.  But Jesus replied “leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should , in this way, do all the uprightness demands.”  We have to understand that John’s baptism was not connected with forgiveness of sins; its purpose was revelatory, that Jesus may be made known.
          As we read or listen to the account of Jesus’ baptism, let us reflect on our own baptism.
          Once Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him.  We have here two very powerful statements which will give us a better understanding of our own baptism:  1) “the heavens opened”.  Remember that the heavens were shut down in the Old Testament right after the Fall of man which was symbolized by Adam and Eve being driven out from the Garden of Eden.  And now the heavens have been opened.  When we were baptized, the heavens were opened for us precisely because we see heavens as the home of our Father.  Becoming a child of God after we were baptized, we become heirs of the Kingdom as St. Paul reminds us. 2) “the Spirit of God descending like a dove”.  The dove is used here as a symbol of new life.  Let us again go back to the Old Testament, after the flood during the time of Noah.  In the book of Genesis, the dove was a powerful symbol used by the author to symbolize new life.  The dove in the story of Jesus’ baptism points to the role of the Holy Spirit in our own baptism.  When we were baptized, we entered into a new life in the Spirit as St. Paul reminds us.
          Then the voice of the Father was heard “This is my Son, my Beloved; my favor rests on him.”   Even though the fatherhood of God takes centrality in the teaching and ministry of Jesus, never was it known that the author of the four gospels used any symbol for God the Father.  But here in the Baptism of Jesus and later on during the Transfiguration, we have the concrete audible manifestation of the Father.  His message was centered on Jesus who was his beloved.  For St. Mark and St. Luke it was addressed to Jesus; You are my beloved Son…” but for Matthew, it was addressed to the people: “This is my son..” which is more revelatory in nature.  Biblical scholars would say that the Father’s voice was the “Confirmation” of Jesus just like our own confirmation after we receive our baptism.
          But the voice of the Father was not just addressed to Jesus per se but to all the baptized.  When we were baptized, God the Father claims us as his child.  And even if we did not hear the voice of God the Father during our baptism, the statement remains true. 
The beauty of our baptism is not just about the removal of the Original Sin and receiving the sanctifying grace but we also enter into a Trinitarian life:  we live a life of the Spirit, we carry in ourselves the name of Christ (that’s why we are called Christians) and we become sons and daughters of God the Father.  This is why at the baptism of Jesus, the Trinity made manifest himself to the people to remind us of this beautiful truth: we are the beloved of God! With St. Augustine, I could say that God loves me more than anybody else in the world and he loves others just like he loves me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011




The celebration of the Epiphany is commonly called the “Three Kings”.  Sometimes we call them wise men, magi or astrologers and tradition named them Melchor, Balthazar and Gaspar.    But what is the story of these three men?  What is the proper understanding behind their journey?  And how are they connected to Epiphany?
          The word Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means “divine manifestation” or in simple terms we say “revelation”. For the first time, man was able to see the face of God.   Jesus made himself manifest first to two groups of people namely the shepherds and the magi.  They were the first recipients of the divine manifestation: the shepherds who knew nothing and the magi who did not know everything.  Both were the first ones who saw the face of God made man.
          More than just historical personages, the three magi represented humanity searching for the fullness of life.   Each of them carried the longing of man to see the face of God and to encounter the Divine.  That was the goal of their journey: to encounter God!  In that journey, it was not just about the effort of man in the search but also the guidance of God in the symbolism of the star.   In the darkness of our own search, God always provides us with stars in many different forms that will eventually lead us to encounter Him.  The star may be a friend, your spouse, your parents or even a stranger, and sometimes an experience.  Have you ever considered that sometimes we are that star to other people so that through us, they are able to meet and encounter God?
          In the search of the three kings, they encountered King Herod who was the epitome of evil wanting to kill goodness.  As there are stars in our journey, there will always be people who will hinder us to encounter God.  If we look closer at the story in the gospel today, Herod was even making a ploy that he also wanted to encounter the Divine but his motive was to kill God.  That is why we have to be very careful how to handle the many Herods in our life.
          It is in obedience to the guidance of the star that the wise men were able to find the child.  If we only have to obey the many ways of God, He will lead us to find Him. When they found the child, they were overjoyed.  The joy of finding the child with Mary was a symbol of the reward of man’s search for meaning.  Jesus is the joy of our hearts.
          After they prostrated themselves and paid the child homage, they opened their gifts of gold for the king, frankincense for the priest and myrrh for the prophet who was about to die.  Why do we search for God?  Simply because we want something from Him.  Why do we pray to God?  Because we need Him.  With the three kings, it was different.  They searched God not because they needed something from Him but because they had something to give.  When we encounter God, we do not need anything from Him; we just have to give ourselves to Him without reserve.  Then that’s the time when we have everything and that was the experience of the joy of the three kings.
          After the encounter, they did not go back to Herod, instead they took a different route back home.  A true divine encounter ushers in a complete turn about from the old way of life to a life of truth and goodness.  We have to make a different route away from the evil one who wants to kill the God within us. 
And why did the three wise men have to go back home?  Because their journey did not end in finding Jesus, but rather their journey continues in a life of witnessing to others who might be able to go to Bethlehem.  It is through us that other people will be able to see Jesus and encounter God when we share to them our experience of meeting Jesus in our own Bethlehem.