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Friday, October 28, 2011


          (Matthew 23: 1-12)


         The Scribes and the Pharisees were the masters of the law during the time of Jesus, being given the task of preserving and proclaiming the Ten Commandments.  Although they were in conflict with Jesus, they rose to the height of their power after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.  When the Temple of Jerusalem was razed to the ground by the Romans, the Pharisees took over the religious authority of the Jews.  The community of St. Matthew directly experienced the tension between the Church and the Pharisees.
          It was the obligation of the Pharisees to teach the Jews reverence to God having received their power from the prophets, hence their teaching was valid and binding.  Not all Pharisees were evil, but most were especially those who took advantage of their power for their selfish and personal gains. 
Lord Acton once said:   "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Because the Pharisees believed to hold absolute power, they were corrupted by their own power, absolutely.  This fact is posited by William Pitt who said "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."
Historically, the Pharisees have long been gone but Pharisaism remains creeping amongst us, not just among religious leaders but to those who may hold power in any form.  When Pilate claimed that he had power over Jesus during the trial, Jesus reminded him: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11).  So how do we see power?  Power is always a gift and with that gift is authority and with that authority is responsibility.  Peter Parker also known as Spiderman once said: "With great power comes great responsibility."  True enough, the gift of the power which was not handled responsibly by the Pharisees became their curse.
A president of a nation, a bishop of a diocese, a priest in a parish, a CEO of a company, a superior of religious congregation, parents of a family, a principal of a school, a teacher in a classroom, a manager or supervisor in an office:  they all have powers over their constituents.  Unless they see their power in the context of service to others, that power will corrupt them, in one way or another.  As a parish priest, I am aware that I can only exercise my power and authority over my parishioners if I see myself not as a boss but as their servant.  The power entrusted unto us is not about us.  It is only for a limited time, no matter how much we want to hold unto it, it will be taken away from us, sooner or later.  It is meant for others.
When we look unto ourselves and find out that a Pharisee is lurking in the deep recesses of our consciousness, let us befriend and tame him.  As Jesus reminds his disciples: “You must therefore do and observe what he tells you; but do not be guided by what he does”        (Mt. 23:3).
The secret of greatness in the eyes of God lies in serving others:  “The greatest among you must be your servant” (Mt. 23:11).


Friday, October 21, 2011


        (Matthew 22:34-40)


  The essence of the Covenant between God and Israel is expressed through the Ten Commandments.  To ensure that the Israelites would follow them, the Pharisees multiplied them into 613 positive and negative laws. There were too many commandments to follow and because they were confusing they became a burden to bear for the people.
          Jesus’ answer to the question “Which is the greatest commandment” is a quotation from two passages in the Old Testament:
1) Dt. 6:5 as the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole mind.”  It is called the “Shemah Israel" or “Listen Israel”. 
2) Lev. 19:18 as the second greatest commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
          Although they were quotations from the Old Testament, Jesus introduced a new way of looking at them:  First, the hinge or the meaning of any commandment is Love!  Second, Jesus put the two commandments together as an inseparable unity.  The two commandments are just like the two sides of one coin which is love.
          Why do we have to love God? Because God is love and he has loved us first.  God translates this divine love through our human experience of being loved.  Under normal circumstances, all of us are the fruits of the overflowing love between our father and mother.  From the moment of our conception till birth we have experienced this magnificent love most especially from our mothers.  During our childhood and our growing years, we were the recipients of love from people around us like our families and friends.
          I felt the tremendous love of God through the extraordinary love my family gave. Being the youngest, I felt I was the center of the family’s affection and that’s how I believe that I am the center of God’s affection.  I felt so loved by God because my family love me very much.   Now it is my turn to give this love back to the source who is God.
          Why do we have to love others as our self?  Simply because God loves them as he loves us.  1 Jn. 4:20 reminds us that if we say we love God but we hate our brother, we are liars!  Because if we cannot love our brother whom we can see, then how can we love God whom we cannot see?  In romantic love, we fall in love with the other person because we feel attracted to his/her goodness or good qualities.  It is the magnet of love that draws us to the other person.  In our love to our parents, siblings, friends and even to humanity, it is the goodness in us that overflows and seeks to be shared.  This is called charity which is love in action.  St. Paul reminds that there are three things that will last: faith, hope, charity and the greatest of these is charity (1 Cor 13:13).  He also reminds us of the futility of things without love. “If can speak the tongues of angels, have all the prophetic knowledge, give all my possessions, but do not have love, I gain nothing…” (1Cor 1:1-3).
          It is not enough to say “Dear God, I love you with all my heart” if we cannot say “I love you” to our parents, spouses, friends and others who are part of our lives.  It is not also enough to be saying I love you to God nor to others if we cannot translate it as concrete charity through our good works to others.  Don’t wait for tomorrow to do this, do it now because tomorrow may never come… GOD LOVES YOU!

Friday, October 14, 2011


       (Matthew 22:15-21)

To listen to the Australian Catholic Radio Online:       

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            Because Israel was under the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus, the Israelites had to pay a tribute to the Roman Emperor in form of taxes.  They were forced to pay being a conquered nation but they could not expect social services in return. For the nationalistic Jews, payment was an offence to Israel yet refusal to pay would be a form of rebellion.
          When he was asked by the Pharisees and the Herodians about the lawfulness of paying the census taxes to the Roman emperor, Jesus was actually being led into a trap.  Either which way, Jesus’ response would anger both the Romans and the Israelites.  It was a very difficult dilemma for Jesus but his response stunned his hearers: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 
          It may seem to appear that it was a political question on payment of taxes but the truth is the question was meant to destroy Jesus.  When Jesus asked for a coin, they gave him a denarius which bore the face of Caesar.  It means that they were carrying the Roman coin and they knew they had to pay the taxes so there was actually no need to ask the question. Here is a concrete example when people maliciously use religion to destroy other people.
          In human relationships, how often do we use such tricks for entrapment?  Like the Pharisees some people use seemingly kind words which may appear charitable to the other person but in reality they are like poisoned arrows ready to pin down an enemy.   They are, just like the Pharisees, masters of hypocrisy.  We have to be very careful how to deal with them.  Sometimes we have also to be aware that it is us who are in their shoes.
          The response of Jesus is a wisdom to ponder on:  It is the standard of justice.  Yes we give our due to the government in forms of taxes, we cast votes during election, etc the failure of which is detrimental to us.  Because God is just, he gives what is due to us in terms of the blessings that we receive.  But how much do we give what is due to God?   He does not need anything because he is complete unto himself.  But he wants us to give him something which is due to him: our adoration, praise, love and fidelity.  One very concrete way of giving what is due to God is our rendezvous with him every Sunday in the Eucharist.  If we can spend long hours on movies, TV, sports, shopping, why can we not spend an hour with him on Sundays?  We also give what is due to God by living good lives that will reflect back his goodness to the world.  We do not just avoid doing evil; we become God’s ambassadors of goodwill through our good works which change the lives of others as well as our own.   One very meaningful ritual that we can do before going to bed every night is to examine our consciousness and ask ourselves “What good have I done today?”   If we can honestly say that we have done at least one good deed during the day, then we are justified in living out the borrowed time that was lent to us by God for the day.  We can sleep at peace with our self and God knowing that we did not live the day in vain. 

Friday, October 7, 2011





Recorded at the Australian Catholic Radio Online:

         Weddings are the happiest celebrations we can ever have. The wedding reception completes the celebration wherein the invitees take part in the banquet prepared by the groom and bride. 
          The theme of the readings this Sunday is about the Royal Wedding Banquet. It is a messianic banquet because it is the wedding of Jesus the Messiah to his bride the Church. It is also a heavenly banquet because it pertains to the Kingdom of heaven.  The first reading in the book of Isaiah prophesies that the banquet will be of fine wines and rich food which will be served for all peoples. 
The parable is about the invitees to a wedding banquet and their attitude towards the celebration.  The first ones to be invited refused the invitation and killed the servants.  In anger, the king sent his troops to destroy the murderers.  Then the invitation was extended to everyone until the wedding hall was filled with guests.  Yet one of the guests was not in a proper wedding attire so he was punished as well.
          The Israelites were the first ones to be invited being the Chosen People of God.  In their stubbornness they killed their prophets and rejected Jesus as the Messiah.   In 70 AD the Temple of Jerusalem which was the center of the religious life of the Jews was destroyed by the Romans.  It was the punishment of Israel for rejecting and murdering Jesus. After the resurrection, the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles who willingly accepted it hence the growth and spread of the Church.  These were the new invitees to the messianic banquet who accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
          The parable is a story not just of the past with the Jews and Gentiles but it is living  reality with us as its present characters.  We are the new People of God and being members of the Church, we are now the invitees to the Wedding Banquet.  Just as being the Chosen People of God was not an assurance of entrance to the messianic banquet, our baptism and membership in the Church is not our ticket to taste the heavenly banquet.  The invitation remains a constant calling to each one of us not just to be in the heavenly banquet at the end of our lives but here and now at the present time.  It is God who calls us in fellowship with Him together with the members of the Church.  This is very concrete when we gather together as a Christian community every time we celebrate the Mass especially on Sundays.  It is the time when we partake in a banquet prepared for us by God in the form of bread and wine which is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  It is the foretaste of the banquet we will be celebrating for the rest of our lives in heaven.  Our “wedding garment” represents our good works as fruits of our faith.

The door swings open and I behold a majestic hall
Crystals with most precious stones adorn the wall
Transparent as glass are the flowers in pure gold,
Ground covered with sand made of pearls untold
Around the table, twelve chairs of agate, jasper,
Emerald, onyx, carnelian, yellow quartz, sapphire,
Beryl, topaz, turquoise, amethyst and chalcedony,
The light at the inner chamber shining so brightly
Where all my friends are gathered clothed in white
Greeting me a hero’s welcome beyond my delight
To my amazement, the banquet is prepared for me
It is my wedding to my Beloved Lamb in eternity....