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Monday, January 30, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 5:21-43)

31 January 2012, Tuesday, 4th Week of the Year


When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, "My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." He went off with him and a large crowd followed him.

There was a woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, "If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured." Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to him, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask who touched me?" And he looked around to see who had done it.  The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official's house arrived and said, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?" Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid; just have faith." He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, "Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep." And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

Mk 5:21-43

            Today’s Gospel is a long story about the healing power of Jesus.  There are two healing stories here.  The main one is about curing Jairus’ daughter and the other one is an inclusion from the main story, the healing of the woman with the haemorrhages.  And it was amazing that when the woman touched the clothes of Jesus, she was healed from her painful and long-time sickness.  Jesus was so powerful that after the woman touched him, he noticed that his powers seemed to be “lessened.”  There are two things we can reflect about this -- one would be the healing power of Jesus and the other one is the deep faith of the woman.

            Jesus, as part of his ministry, is doing a lot of miracles and healing during his time.  His heart is always with those who are poor, the sick, the outcast and the sinners.  It is by this kind of work that Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God, the Christ.  However, in Mark’s style of writing, Jesus doesn’t want others to know about the wonders he performed.  It invites us to believe in Jesus, as oppose to his disciples who have witnessed his wonders, yet still doesn’t truly know who is Jesus.  Do you only believe in Jesus if our prayers are answered?  How deep is your faith in Jesus?      

            This brings us then to the woman with haemorrhages.  As Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."  Indeed, through her faith in Jesus, the woman was cured.  But what caught my attention was the deep faith of this woman.  I believe that she had such deep faith, that even Jesus felt that his power was “lessened” because the woman touched him.  This is an invitation for us that faith must also be translated into action.  We must do something in order to share and grow in our faith.

            As Filipino Catholics, signs and symbols are very important in our faith and tradition.  Perhaps outsiders would react to people in our community who kiss, touch, wipe their handkerchiefs at the statues of Jesus, our Blessed Mother or the saints.  I honestly admire them for such faith and devotion.  However, I remind some of my friends who have such practices that this is not magic.  That after doing such acts would immediately cure a sickness or solve their problems.  No.  It is faith that will bring about real miracle and healing in our lives.  And in whatever form it comes to us and when it comes to us, it is only whatever is enough, that which is given to us.      

            St. John Bosco, pray for us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 4:26-34)

27 January 2012, Friday, 3rd Week of the Year


Jesus said to the crowds: "This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come."

He said, "To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade." With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
Mk 4:26-34

            Jesus preached two important things during his earthly life which has become central in our Christian faith.  This is the love of God the Father (Abba) and the Kingdom of God.  And today’s Gospel according to Mark is one of the Kingdom parables.  Jesus used the mustard seed in his parable to explain the Kingdom of God.

The mustard seed, being a very small seed, help us understand the larger point that Jesus is trying to make – that even a little bit of faith can work wonders. That it can grow, and strengthen, and make possible miracles.  But there is something else here that is easy to overlook, another message worth remembering.  It is a reminder to us of how much God treasures those things that are small.  Just like Jesus, came to us as one who was small Himself – a helpless baby, without a home, in a forgotten corner of an occupied country.  That is why he feels a special affinity for those things in this world that are weak, overlooked, neglected, dismissed, little.

            Who among you knows Angela Merici?  Angela was born in 21 March 1474 at Desenzano, a small town on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy.  She was left an orphan at the age of ten and together with her elder sister came to the home of her uncle at the neighbouring town of Salo where they led an angelic life. When her sister met with a sudden death, without being able to receive the last sacraments, young Angela was much distressed. She became a tertiary of St. Francis and greatly increased her prayers and mortifications for the repose of her sister's soul. In her anguish and pious simplicity she prayed God to reveal to her the condition of her deceased sister. It is said that by a vision she was satisfied her sister was in the company of the saints in heaven. 

When she was twenty years old, her uncle died, and she returned to her paternal home at Desenzano. Convinced that the great need of her times was a better instruction of young girls in the rudiments of the Christian religion, she converted her home into a school where at stated intervals she daily gathered all the little girls of Desenzano and taught them the elements of Christianity. It is related that one day, while in an ecstasy, she had a vision in which it was revealed to her that she was to found an association of virgins who were to devote their lives to the religious training of young girls. The school she had established at Desenzano soon bore abundant fruit, and she was invited to the neighbouring city, Brescia, to establish a similar school at that place. Angela gladly accepted the invitation.  Finally, on the 25th of November, 1535, Angela chose twelve virgins and laid the foundation of the order of the Ursulines in a small house near the Church of St. Afra in Brescia. Having been five years superior of the newly-founded order, she died.

St. Angela Merici, perhaps unknown to all of you, is the saint whom we also celebrate today.  Though what she has done was so little, it was big in sacrifice and faith, hence it bore fruit which consists of schools and the Ursuline Order.  Great things indeed begin with something small.  May our hearts and minds be drawn to those who are the smallest of all especially those who are often dishonored, and even discarded.  Those who are the size of a mustard seed.  Then we are building the Kingdom of God.

            St. Angela Merici, pray for us.

Sparkles of Light (Lk 10:1-9)

26 January 2012, Thursday, 3rd Week of the Year


After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you."
Lk 10:1-9

            Today’s Gospel Jesus appointed seventy-two of his disciples to go to every town which he intends to visit.  He even gave specific instructions, even difficult ones, on how to fulfil these tasks like what to do in entering the house, what to say, what to eat and drink, and Jesus even asked them to cure the sick.  All of these are part of being a disciple of Jesus.  It is hard.  It is difficult.  The task was daunting, yet only few were willing to do the task.

            Let me tell you a little story.  One Saturday morning, my single-parent-dad-friend asked his three children to help out with the laundry.  And mind you, it was a lot.  Since their house help went home to the province for a short home visit, the father reminded them that no one will do these things except them.  The children then were willing to do their laundry.  But before they even started, their father added, “However, I am sorry, there is this other thing… our washing machine is broken so we need to do hand washing.”  Then there was a long pause.  By the looks on the children’s faces, it was not that inspiring or motivating thing to hear at that time.  After a while the youngest, with such innocence spoke out, “Dad, I love you, even you say we don’t have soap, I will still wash our clothes.”                       

            This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  Perhaps in our parishes, there are so many who wanted to serve as catechists, readers, lay ministers, servers, choir members or other tasks in the church.  However, once they know that it will entail time, resources, some difficulties and challenges, and even perhaps working with some people they don’t like or got angry with, they would rather stay in the peripherals.  Now is this wrong?  Absolutely not.  There are many saints and holy persons who did not do great and difficult things yet still has been blessed with a fulfilling and sanctifying life.  Yet the Gospel for today invites us to go beyond ourselves if we want to follow Christ.  To go the extra mine, to take a leap, to journey the road less travelled.  And if you are willing to do this, Jesus reminds us that it will not be easy and smooth.      
            That is why today, it is apt that we also celebrate the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, to remind us what discipleship is all about.  Timothy, for example, spent 15 years working with Paul, and Timothy became one of his most faithful and trusted friends.  He was sent on difficult missions by Paul—often in the face of great disturbance in local Churches which Paul had founded.  Titus is also a friend of Paul and when Paul was having trouble with the community at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul’s severe letter and was successful in smoothing things out.  These two first followers of Paul gave their lives and even done difficult tasks for the Church.  It was difficult.  It was hard.  They don’t need to do it.  But they did it because they love Jesus.  May we continue to heed the call of Jesus, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”

            Sts. Timothy and Titus, pray for us.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 3:31-35)

24 January, 2012, Tuesday, 3rd Week of the Year


The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.  Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.  A crowd seated around him told him, "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you." But he said to them in reply, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
Mk 3:31-35

            Our Gospel for today may be seen as two parts.  First is about the crowd informing Jesus regarding “his mother, brothers and sisters.”  Secondly is the response of Jesus toward such identification. 
In the first part, many would immediately ask, does Jesus really have brothers and sisters?  We know Jesus have Mary and Joseph as his earthly parents, but does he really have sibling or siblings?  Well, we really can’t say.  Perhaps.  Yet we really don’t know.  However, one important reference we can find about his so called “brothers and sisters,” which can somehow shed light for us, is on Mark 6:3.  The passage goes, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  Clearly, those identified as “brothers and sisters” of Jesus by the crowd are those who are close to him, who are his disciples, who are his followers.  They are Jesus’ earthly family.                  
            The response of Jesus from the second part invites us to look beyond his earthly family.  Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And he answered, “Here are my mother and my brothers… for whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  We are all part of Jesus’ family, his spiritual family.  And this is manifested in our faith in Jesus.  This faith in Jesus, following his words and deeds, makes us one body of Christ.  Hence, we become God’s adopted children who can loving call God “Father” like Jesus.              
            As a Jesuit seminarian, I am currently staying in an international community.  We are sixty seven Jesuit seminarians from 14 different nations taking courses from Philosophy and Theology.  With different cultures, backgrounds and personalities living together in one roof, one could simply imagine what sort of community we are.  There will always be unavoidable differences and challenges along the way that brings about tension and difficulties in our community.  This simply points that we are still a human organization.  However, despite of these differences and challenges, whenever we come together in prayer, whenever we receive the Holy Eucharist, whenever we go to our studies and apostolates, we become friends in the Lord, we become one community, we become one family.  And I think this is what it means when Jesus refers us as his “brothers and sisters.”    
The Gospel for today invites us to be part in this one body, one family in Christ.  It is not only having faith in Jesus.  No.  It entails more.  We are also invited to face our differences and challenges with one another, and to work towards the Kingdom of God.  Most of the time it is difficult to do this because there will always be differences and challenges among us.  Even as one human family, it is hard to work for peace, unity and equality.  But we are invited not to lose hope and don’t stop.  As long as we continue to forgive and love one another, we become true “brothers and sisters” in Christ.  
St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 3:7-12)

19 January 2012, Thursday, 2nd Week of the Year 

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, "You are the Son of God." He warned them sternly not to make him known.
Mk 3:7-12

Today’s Gospel is a simple description on how popular Jesus was.  It tells us about the multitude of people who were following Jesus.  This large number of people came from many places.  There were from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idulmea, Jordan, Tyre and Sidon.  All were following Jesus because of the physical and spiritual healing that he has done.  Perhaps there were so many who followed him that “he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.”

My friends, we are no different from the crowd during the time of Jesus.  With the many things that are happening around us, we usually “follow” these trends.  We attend different events such as business opportunities or leadership workshops to hopefully increase our efficiency in our endeavours.  We keep track of celebrities or personalities which may on one hand bring us entertainment or on the other hand the intrigues which they usually deny.  We take a visit at the electronic store to have a feel of that new gadget that promises better features than the previous one.  We follow our friends and acquaintances on Twitter and Facebook which somehow brings about a personal sense of connection and belongingness to us.  We are like the crowd because we seem to be searching for many things.  We are constantly searching.  What are you searching for?

At this time of technological advancement and economic progress, miracles and healing come as a surprise and interest.  This must be the feeling of the crowd during the time of Jesus.  Whenever we hear that someone heals in the name of Jesus; we would all go there and see and experience it for ourselves as they say: “To see is to believe.”  If we could see the miracle and healing unfolding right before our very eyes, then we believe, then we have faith.  Are you one of those?  On the other hand there’s that silent majority who follow Jesus not because of his miracles and healings. They follow Him for the simple reason that they felt it in their hearts their need for Jesus, immaterial of His miracles and healings.  Are you one of those?

                Miracles and healing do happen.   They happen because we have faith in Jesus.  It may not be what we expect, like a total cure from a disease or reconciliation with our hurtful past, but it is there.  It happens without us knowing it, without us seeing it.  We just have to believe.  We believe that in God’s time and grace, he answers our prayers in the way that is for us.  Like the crowd that were following Jesus; some came to be cured and healed; some came just to be a spectator; some came because they believe.  Yet still many can’t see who Jesus was.  Even those with unclean spirits “would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God.’”  Why can’t the others see this despite what Jesus was doing?     

My friends we are like the people from Idumea, or Tyre or Sidon. We want to know Jesus, just like some desired.  We have come from all directions to meet him again or to learn about him for the first time. We've heard about his words of life, his healings, the way he extends new boundaries of freedom, and that he radically cares for each person he meets and liberates us from our deep, dark, muckiness. His only desire is for us to come to know the God he calls Abba so we can know the steadfast love of God for us.  So, why are you following Jesus?  If you follow Jesus because you love him and have faith in him, then you are in the right track.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 2:23-28)

17 January 2012, Tuesday, 2nd Week of the Year

As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?" He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?" Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."
                                                                                                                                                                Mk 2:23-28

Sabbath for the Jews is a very sacred day.  It is a day of rest.  Therefore on that day, no work was permissible, not even medical care could be given.  A wound or fracture, for instance, could not be attended to.  It was even a big debate among the Jewish religious leaders whether on that day a knot could be tied or untied.  An egg laid by a hen on that day, for example, could not be eaten, because the hen in her effort to lay the egg, violated the law of that day.  Not even self-defence was permissible on that day.  Violation of the law of that day was liable to punishment with death.  This was the law and this was instructed by God to the people of Israel to rest from “work” on the seventh day of every week.  No wonder that in our Gospel, the Pharisees reacted, and perhaps were so angry at Jesus and his disciples for picking grains.

                Did the disciples really break Sabbath?  The answer is no.  The disciples of Jesus didn’t break the Sabbath rule.  The people were not allowed to “work” on the Sabbath Day.   This means that the people of Israel were forbidden from labor that brought them a profit on that day.  The disciples were not working; they were simply meeting a pressing need. They were hungry and they were simply doing what the Law gave them permission to do.  The Pharisees acted this way simply because they were judging according to the teachings of the rabbis and the elders.  The disciples had not violated God’s Law; they had violated the traditions of men and the Pharisees are upset about it.  As Jesus reminded us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  That why the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.” 

                When I was a young seminarian, our seminary life was tight.  Everyday we follow a certain schedule.  There is time for everything – a time to pray, a time to eat, a time study, a time to work and a time to play.  This tight schedule helped us to discipline ourselves to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  However, there is one unwritten rule, an unofficial exception.  And this unwritten rule is: we can ask to take a rest, an afternoon or even a day-off, if we feel we needed it.  This unwritten rule is not made for us to escape our responsibilities in the seminary, but hopefully through this rest we may be able to perform much better with our different tasks and responsibilities.  Take time to rest, take time to pray.  Jesus invites us to do what is necessary for us to have some time to rest, reflect and recharge ourselves.  Thus, for us Catholics, Sunday is our Sabbath.  It is our day of rest.  But most of all, it is our day we celebrate the Eucharist, that God came through Jesus Christ to free us from sin and death.        

                Work is important for many of us.  We need to work in order to provide for our needs and the needs of our family, and even the needs of others.  But many times we tend to intoxicate ourselves with work.  So we give time to ourselves to rest and reflect.  In our reflection, hopefully earthly things will assume their true size.  In our prayerful reflection we will be able to see that in the wilderness of perplexity and affliction of this life, it is God who is guiding us to new life, and that will give us strength.  We give significance to the Lord’s day so that we may be recharge to respond to the needs of people in the world which we express in the prayers of the faithful at Mass. 

                St. Anthony, pray for us.

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