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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mt 7:7-12)

1 March 2012, Thursday of 1st Week of Lent


“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  This is the law and the prophets. or mother.
Matthew 7:7-12

Our Gospel for today is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples against formal, hypocritical prayer, and thus he gave them a model prayer to start them on their prayer journey. Now he takes the lesson a step further by teaching them to ask in faith. The teaching seems to be simple -- and at one level it is.  Jesus introduces three words that indicate desire in our prayer: ask, seek, and knock.
Ask seems to refer to simple petition, with the promise "it will be given to you." It is to ask for, with a claim on receipt of an answer, ask, ask for, demand."  Many of our prayers are of this kind. Finding that parents are the key to getting many things, our children commonly ask for what they want: "Mom, can I have some cookies." Or "Dad, can I drive the car tonight?"  And the answer, though, is not so simple. It could be, "Yes, I'll bring some to you on a plate." Or, "No, they'll spoil your dinner." Or, "Not now, but after you finish your math homework you can take a break and have three cookies -- no more."
One of the lessons Jesus is teaching us is to ask for the things we desire, rather than just trying to seize them on our own. One thing we eventually learn as children is that for some things the answer is always, "No." We learn not to ask any further. We also learn that in some areas if we ask, and conditions are right, we will receive. As we listen to our parents, we are educated in what to ask for and how to ask.  We don't learn these things by never asking. We learn by continuing to ask, and gradually learning our parents' mind, and asking according to what we perceive to be their mind. Hence, we are told to ask.
"Ask" indicates a petition. "Seek," however, indicates a search for something that is either lost or has not yet been found or discovered. "Seek, and you will find," Jesus says.  Just previously in the Sermon on the Mount, he had instructed his disciples, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (6:33). It is as if Jesus calls his disciples to a Quest for a kingdom and righteousness that are not immediately obvious.

Seeking can be frustrating, but we must not give up. Jesus has told us to seek his kingdom and his righteousness. The seeking process is a maturing process, a sifting process, and -- if we continue and don't give up -- becomes a single-minded Quest to know God. "Seek, and you will find." There is a promise here that if we will seek to know the Lord, and seek after his presence and blessing, we will find it. There is a looking that can be frustrating, but we are not to give up because we will find Him if we seek him with all our heart.
The third command is "Knock, and the door will be opened to you." Basically, knocking is confined to closed doors, not open ones. You've faced closed doors in your life, ones you sought desperately to open or reopen. Some of them you have banged on again and again. But then you learn to try other doors to see which one God will open.  "Knock," says Jesus, "and the door will be opened to you." We are to continue to knock on doors until God opens to us the opportunity he has in mind.


Sparkles of Light (Mk 1:12-15

27 February 2012, Tuesday of 1st Week of Lent


The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Mk 1:12-15

Today’s Gospel is about prayer.  I will not use the passage from Matthew 6:7-15 for our reflection, but instead I will a similar passage from Mark 1:12-15 which also speaks about prayer.  This Gospel is simple yet portrays a very good message for all us during this season of Lent.  In this part of Mark, Jesus went to the desert for forty days and somehow he faced dangers like the temptation of Satan and presence of wild beasts.  However there is also the good presence of angels who administered him.  This is what Jesus did before he started his public ministry.  “This is the time of fulfilment: The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  Unlike in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke (both in chapters 4) where the parallel story for this one is more detailed, Mark seems to be the main source for both Matthew and Luke.

Perhaps you may ask why did Jesus go to the desert before starting his ministry?  Is it a sort of “training” before facing the different challenges ahead?  If so, why does he need it since he is the Son of God and he can face any tests and challenges with ease?  There are two ways to answer these questions.  There is the symbolic way and the pastoral way.  The passage, especially in Matthew and Luke, is very symbolic.  It reveals to us many truths about Jesus, the reality of evil, the Kingdom of God, etc.  But I will not dwell into that.  I like to dwell more on what this Gospel means to us today especially as we are in the season of Lenten.  Jesus is fully divine and fully human.  Though he can face these challenges as a divine person, yet because he is also human, he perhaps encountered difficulty and was even tempted.  However I think the important thing here is that Jesus still went to the desert, faced these challenges and temptations.  Though we really don’t know what really happened at the desert, yet for sure he was able to gather spiritual strength so that as he started his public ministry, he was filled with life and grace.  This is the message of the Gospel for us.  In these days of prayer and fasting, we are also invited to go into our own “deserts” and face the challenges and temptations.

Why “desert?”  Why not a Church or a garden?  The desert I am referring to is not really a physical place.  The desert I am referring to is a figurative place that we go when we pray and try to encounter ourselves and our God.  The image of the desert can be a barren, dry and empty place.  Yet it can be a very powerful and holy place to encounter one’s self and God.  When you pray or quiet yourself, try to imagine you are in place where there is nothing.  There are no comforts of home, no television, no movies, no phones, no iPods, no computers, no internet, no Facebook, no friends, no family, except your very own self.  Try to imagine that.  It’s hard right?  I know someone who can’t survive without her phone even for five minutes.  And yet when we are in our deserts, we have no distractions and we can focus fully in ourselves and to God.  Sometimes we may encounter our broken and wounded self, that’s fine.  Sometimes it is just empty and quiet, that’s fine.  It’s all in the process.  Jesus himself went to the desert and faced all of these, not because he has to, but because he really wanted to face himself and God.  Hence, when you pray, especially this Lent, you must create your own deserts so that you may be able to really self-examine and mortify yourself.  When you do this, you are ready to face the noisy “marketplaces” in your lives. 

This Gospel passage is very timely since we are in the Lenten season.  Lent is 40 days before Easter Sunday.  Eventhough we have already started Lent since Ash Wednesday, it is not late to enter into the desert and journey with Jesus, so that our lives may be a true witnessing to his passion and glory; a dying from ourselves to a new life with God.  May you find inner peace, hope, healing and a more truthful perspective of life during this Lent.              

Sparkles of Light (Lk 9:22-25)

23 February 2012, Thursday after Ash Wednesday


Jesus said to his disciples: "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."

Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?"
Lk 9:22-25

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus giving us a paradoxical statement: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?" This statement seems to be odd for those who were listening to Jesus.  How can someone save his life if he looses it?  And those who lose their life will save it?  What does Jesus mean by this statement?  Moreover, Jesus was telling them that he “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.”  Is he going crazy?  Perhaps those who have “shallow” faith in Jesus might be thinking like this.  However, Jesus’ words are really filled with priceless wisdom.  Jesus is showing us the true way of living our Christian lives.

Perhaps if we ask around from our family and friends what they want in their lives, most of them I think will say that they want to be healthy, happy, enjoy good relationships, have happy healthy children, and have enough money to live comfortably, so they can afford to go on holiday, have a nice home, and so forth.  Who doesn’t want to have these, right?  However, Jesus is challenging us.  He invites us to follow his path that we deny ourselves with the inducement of this world and carry courageously our cross and follow him.  Jesus is not also saying that we should turn and leave everything, our dreams, our wishes, and our desires.  No.  Definitely not.  Jesus is simply saying that we should learn to deny ourselves by learning to go beyond ourselves, to be contented with what we receive, and to give ourselves for Jesus and others.  However, for many of us denying ourselves is difficult to do like as big as forgiving somebody who has wronged you or abstaining from the little things you enjoy in life.  Yet this is the meaning of carrying our cross daily.           

By carrying our cross, despite that it may be difficult or heavy, Jesus promised us that he is with us.  Jesus is helping us carry whatever cross that we have.  When Jesus was carrying the cross towards Calvary his cross became a sign of suffering and intense pain.  However, it is the same cross that became the sign of Triumph and Salvation for all of us.  What is the cross that you are carrying right now?  Open your hearts and humbly ask Jesus to help you carry your Cross.

The Lenten season is a good opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with Jesus as well as learning to carry our daily cross and deny ourselves.  That is why many of our brothers and sisters will usually have their Lenten plans and resolutions. Some give up sweets or alcohol, others may forgo watching TV. Some will do almsgiving like donating food, toys, and other means to charity, becoming involved in charitable work with the Church, or helping out at the home for the aged or a children’s hospital.

But, through God’s grace, hopefully we can truly even slowly deny ourselves for it is only when we are truly prepared to stop living life for ourselves, and start living it for Jesus that we truly find life.  That is at the heart of what I think Jesus is calling us to do in this passage.  His call is to stop living life our way, and living it his way, following Jesus by imitating his life and give our lives to others.  May the next days of Lent be a meaningful and fruitful journey of finding oneself and giving oneself as Christ did.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 9:30-37)

21 February 2012, Tuesday, 7th Week of the Year


Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."
Mk 9:30-37

The Gospel for today basically has two parts.  First is what we call as one of the passion prediction of Jesus where he tells his disciples what will happen to him and yet the disciples does not understand about this, and they are afraid to ask Jesus about it.  Second, Jesus answers the question, “Who is the greatest?”  The disciples were expecting Jesus to recognize the “greatest” among them but instead Jesus place a child in their presence and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”  This passage from Mark is really apt as we will start the Lenten season tomorrow by the imposition of the holy ash on our foreheads.

The disciples don’t understand and they were afraid to ask Jesus because they were expecting Jesus to be their earthly Messiah.  They thought Jesus was the one the prophets spoke about who will liberate them from foreign rule and bring back Israel’s former glory.  They were blinded with such prediction because they can’t really see that Jesus is more than this earthly Messiah.  That is why the more Jesus reveals to them the way of discipleship and about the Kingdom of God, it gets more confusing for the disciples.

Since they see Jesus as an earthly Messiah, they were also expecting that being his disciples, they were in a sense above others.  But in the literary style of Mark, it is the opposite.  It seems that the others know better who Jesus really is rather than his own disciples.  Jesus then, like a patient and good teacher, called his disciples and showed them what it means to be the greatest.  Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” 

Jesus invites us to do selfless sacrifice and humble service. Jesus in his very life served others.  He came to serve and not to be served.  He also suffered in many ways - misunderstanding, opposition, and torture. In the end he sacrificed his life for us. Yet his life was lived to the full – full of meaning, peace and joy – leading to the same for us, if we believe and follow him.  This is the way of true discipleship.

To further emphasize his point, Jesus chose a child to be our model.  Why a child?  I think Jesus chose a child because during his time – even in our present time -- a child has no say, no power, no authority, no possessions, and no prestige in society. Yet a child is innocent, simple, trusting, open – a true image of God.  An image of a baby for example has the power to melt the hardest heart – the power of attraction, and that is the power that God prefers to use: the power that God used in Jesus’ birth as a baby, and in his death on the cross as the crucified Messiah. 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  I like to invite everyone to receive the holy ashes in your parish or wherever it is available.  As you receive the mark of the cross on your forehead, may it remind you that we are all sinners and in need in God’s grace and mercy.  And this Lenten season is a good time for us to renew ourselves by following the way of the cross – for it is in dying in our sinfulness, weaknesses, selfishness and attachments that we are being born to eternal life.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sparkles of Light (Mk 8"27-33)

16 February 2012, Thursday, 6th Week of the Year


Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Mk 8:27-33

In the Gospel for today, Jesus asked his disciples an important question.  “Who do people say that I am?”  They presented Jesus what they have heard from others as if Jesus was asking from an outsider’s perspective.  The answers were not close to who Jesus truly is.  And then Jesus asked them personally, “but who do you say that I am?”  The eager Peter immediately and confidently replied, “You are the Christ.”  By the looks of it, Jesus was so happy with such response and reminded them not to tell anyone about it.  It seems that the disciples, after all the miracles in the previous chapter of Mark, knew this time who Jesus is.

However, our Gospel story didn’t end there.  Jesus continued his discourse by teaching them about the passion and resurrection that will take place.  Such revelation of Jesus immediately stirred the disciples in disbelief, particularly Peter because he rebuked Jesus.  Jesus also rebuked Peter because he was definitely wrong.  Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan… You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  And Jesus is right.  The disciples were thinking that they have found the Messiah, the one foretold by the prophets that would free them from any foreign rule, the one who will bring back the glory of Israel.  We have found the Christ who would liberate us.  This was their great expectation.  Jesus was the fulfilment of that expectation.  Yet Jesus is the Son of God who came into this world as a poor carpenter, in this particular time, in this particular circumstance, to save us from our sins by giving up his very earthly life so that we may share in his divine life.  The disciples were happy that they have found the Messiah, yet this Messiah said that he will suffer and die.  How does it feel to hear that?  

I think I know the feeling of Peter and the disciples.  When were kids, my sister and I would attend voice/singing classes every Saturday.  We were in this class for several years, training regularly in front of our classmates, preparing for a recital at the end of the year.  During one of the sessions that we attended, my sister and I were the only veteran students and the rest were new ones who were perhaps still struggling to hit the right notes from the exercises.  Our voice teacher then bragged to the new ones about my voice, that since the time I started, I have improved a lot and even became a better singer.  Of course coming from my teacher, I have felt proud about it.  To show that she was right, she asked me to sing several scales using some middle range notes which I believe I did fairly well.  Still as a proud teacher, she then asked me to sing some more scales using high range notes.  Before I reached “la,” I was already squeaking and struggling to hit the notes.  And I saw how my teacher’s face turned from smile to frown.  I have felt that I was being rebuked that time.  My teacher was expecting me to do great, but I was only limited to certain ranges.

In our lives we expect so many great things to come.  We have lots of expectations.  Perhaps some of these expectations come into reality, but also there are expectations that don’t fulfil what we anticipated.  The Gospel for today teaches us that though we have expectations, we must also learn to accept things as they are.  Just like Peter, his protest was born out of his love for his Lord but also his ignorance of God’s word. One minute Peter was a “rock,” and the next minute he was a stumbling block. Peter did not yet understand the relationship between suffering and glory.  When Jesus rebuked Peter, he looked at his disciples for they too needed to hear.  When we are tempted to try and expect Jesus to fix everything in our lives, like a kind of Messiah in our materialistic generation, we must hear this same rebuke.  “The Son of Man must suffer” said Jesus.  He uniquely came to die in our place because he loves us.  This is what is expected also in our way we live our Christian lives.

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