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Jn 15:9-17 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted in Gospel of John, Sunday Gospel by Erineus on May 17, 2009

Jn 15:9-17 – Jesus’ Commandment
Sixth Sunday of Easter

“This I command you: love one another” – John 15:17

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30). “And your neighbor as yourself”  (Lk 10:27) is the first and most important. “The commandment of love encompass all of the commandments of the Decalogue and fulfill them. All are contained in them, all follows from them, all strive toward them” (OR, June 1991). “Love is the greatest and the first of all the commandments and in it all the others are included and made one” (JP II Address to Youth). It is a resume and condensation of the fullness of the Law (Rm. 13:8, 10) that suffices. So it is that charity expresses all, contains all, crowns all.

In today’s Gospel, the commandments (plural) in Jn 15:10 have been reduced to a singular commandment: the disciples are to love one another, just as Jesus has loved them. This is the new commandment of Jn 13:34, and it is repeated in Jn 15:17. The disciples’ love for one another is compared to Jesus’ love for them. How has Jesus shown his love for the disciples? This was illustrated in 13:1-20 in the washing of the disciples’ feet, introduced by the statement in Jn 13:1 that Jesus loved them to the end.

It was explained how in context this constitutes a reference to Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf; the love they are to have for one another is so great that it must include a self-sacrificial willingness to die for one another if necessary. This is exactly what Jesus is discussing here, because he introduces the theme of his sacrificial death in the following verse. In 10:18 and 14:31 Jesus spoke of his death on the cross as a commandment he had received from his Father, which also links the idea of commandment and love as they are linked here.

Let us take note that It is not just the degree or intensity of the disciples’ love for one another that Jesus is referring to when he introduces by comparison his own death on the cross (that they must love one another enough to die for one another) but the very means of expressing that love: it is to express itself in self-sacrifice for one another, sacrifice up to the point of death, which is what Jesus himself did on the cross (cf. 1 John 3:16).

Jesus has shown us the way of real loving to the end. He died for us even when we were sinners.  He loves us all even when we were unlovables, undeserving of his love and unrepentant sinners. Let us, therefore love as he has loved us. “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors that you may be children of  your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If  you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (v. 44-48).

Recommended Sunday Reflection: Abide – Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD

Jn 15:1-8 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted in Gospel of John by Erineus on May 10, 2009

Jn 15:1-8 – The Vine and The Branches
Fifth Sunday of Easter

Somebody once compared a Christian to a basketball player. To be good player, he said, it is not enough that you run fast, dribble well, assists timely and execute the play as planned. It is not enough that you have years of experience, full knowledge of the rules and regulation, good nutrition, enough rest  and constant practice. What matters most is to be able to shoot, to make points  and eventually to win the game.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, is saying the same thing but in ways familiar and understandable to his people during his time.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears much fruit…He who abides I me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:1-2, 5-8).

Our Lord is describing two kinds of followers: that of those who, although they are still joined to the vine externally, yield no fruit; and that of those who do yield fruit but could yield still more. The Epistle of St. James carries the same message when it says that faith alone is not enough (James 2:17). Although it is true that faith is the beginning of salvation and that without faith we cannot please God, it is also true that a living faith must yield fruit in the form of deeds. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). So, one can say that in order to produce fruit pleasing to God, it is not enough to have received Baptism and to profess the faith externally: a person has to share in Christ’s life through grace and has to cooperate with Him in His work of redemption.

Jesus uses the same verb to refer to the pruning of the branches as He uses to refer to the cleanness of the disciples in the next verse: literally the translation should run: “He cleanses him who bears fruit so that he bear more fruit”. In other words, He is making it quite clear that God is not content with half-hearted commitment, and therefore He purifies His own by means of contradictions and difficulties, which are a form of pruning, to produce more fruit. In this we can see an explanation of the purpose of suffering: “Have you not heard the Master Himself tell the parable of the vine and the branches? Here we can find consolation. He demands much of you for you are the branch that bears fruit. And He must prune you `ut fructum plus afferas”: to make you bear more fruit’.

“Of course: that cutting, that pruning, hurts. But, afterwards, what richness in your fruits, what maturity in your actions” (St J. Escriva, “The Way”, 701).

After washing Peter’s feet Jesus had already said that His Apostles were clean, though not all of them (cf. John 13:10). Here, once more, He refers to that inner cleansing which results from accepting His teachings. “For Christ’s word in the first place cleanses us from errors, by instructing us (cf. Titus 1:9) […]; secondly, it purifies our hearts of earthly affections, filling them with desire for Heavenly things […]; finally, His word purifies us with the strength of faith, for `He cleansed their hearts by faith’ (Acts 15:9)” (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary on St. John, in loc.”).

Christianity, therefore, is not just a religion of “don’ts” or simply avoidance of sin but one of “do’s”. Christ is very definite about it, “You must bear fruit in plenty,” fruits of good works.  The only thing that matters is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6) as St James beautifully put it: “What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it?” (Jas 3:14).

We must bear abundantly the fruit of holiness (see Gal 5:22ff) and evangelization (Jn 15:5). Otherwise, we will be like “a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt” (Jn 15:6). We bear fruit abundantly by being attached to and living in the Vine, Jesus Christ (Jn 15:5). We must be abiding in Jesus and He in us, and stay in communion with all the others who abide in Jesus.

The life of union with Christ is necessarily something which goes far beyond one’s private life: it has to be focused on the good of others; and if this happens, a fruitful apostolate is the result, for “apostolate, of whatever kind it be, must be an overflow of the interior life” (St J. Escriva, “Friends of God”, 239).

The Second Vatican Council, quoting this page from St. John, teaches what a Christian apostolate should be: “Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate. Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ; as the Lord Himself said: `He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing’. This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by the active participation in the Liturgy. Laymen should make such a use of these helps that, while meeting their human obligations in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate their union with Christ from their ordinary life; but through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him” (”Apostolicam Actuositatem”, 4).

If a person is not united to Christ by means of grace he will ultimately meet the same fate as the dead branches–fire. There is a clear parallelism with other images our Lord uses–the parables of the sound tree and the bad tree (Matthew 7:15-20), the dragnet (Matthew 13:49-50), and the invitation to the wedding (Matthew 22:11-14), etc. Here is how St. Augustine comments on this passage: “The wood of the vine is the more contemptible if it does not abide in the vine, and the more glorious if it does abide….For, being cut off it is profitable neither for the vinedresser nor for the carpenter. For one of these only is it useful–the vine or the fire. If it is not in the vine, it goes to the fire; to avoid going to the fire it must be joined to the vine” (”In Ioann. Evang.”, 81, 3).

Jesus, makes it clear that those baptized into Christ have been baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:13). If we are united to Jesus, the Head of the body, we are to be united to all the other parts of the body. Jesus promised that the world would believe when Christians are one (Jn 17:21). In unity, we will bear the great harvest leading to Jesus’ final return.

Jn 20:19-31 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted in Easter, Gospel of John by Erineus on April 19, 2009

John 20:19-31 – Appearance to the Disciples
Second Sunday of Easter

When the other disciples reported to Thomas what had happened, telling him that they had seen the resurrected Jesus, Thomas did not believe on account of their testimony, however. He flatly refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he could see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand into the spear wound in Jesus’ side.

Eight days later the disciples were again together behind closed doors. This time Thomas was present with the other disciples. Jesus (who is portrayed as knowing precisely what Thomas had said previously about what it would take to make him believe) now turned to Thomas and offered him the opportunity to touch the nail marks in his hands and the spear wound in his side. He, then, exhorted him,  “do not be unbelieving but believe” (Jn 20:27).  Thomas’ answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God”! (Jn 20:28).

Thomas’ statement, while it may have been an exclamation, does in fact confess the faith which he had previously lacked. Thomas’ reply is not simply an exclamation: it is an assertion, an admirable act of faith in the divinity of Christ: “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’ confession, is the culmination of the gospel’s Christology, since it acknowledges the crucified/exalted Jesus as “Lord and God” (other acclamations in the Gospel, 1:49; 4:42; 6:69; 9:37-38; 11:27; 16:30; see cf. JBC 61:235). The Fourth Gospel opened with many other titles for Jesus: the Lamb of God (1:29, 36); the Son of God (1:34, 49); Rabbi (1:38); Messiah (1:41); the King of Israel (1:49); the Son of Man (1:51). Now the climax is reached with the proclamation by Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas’ confession of faith  has become the ejaculatory prayer often used by Christians all over the world, especially as an act of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist.

It is significant that Jesus does not reject or modify Thomas’ confession. Instead he accepts it approvingly but reprimands Thomas for demanding such a sign before he will believe (Jn 20:25; cf. 4:48). He should believe in the basis of the word which has been spoken to him by others (e.g., 17:20;  see cf. JBC 61:235).

Jesus in saying those words concludes that those Christians who have believed without seeing have the same faith which is in no way different from that of the first disciples. These refer to the  future disciples who would believe without the benefit of seeing but have come to believe in Jesus through the words of his disciples and their successors.

As we celebrate today the Second Sunday of Easter, let us heed the Lord’s exhortation to stop our unbelief and beg Him to increase our faith so that, like Thomas, we can also acclaim the highest Christological confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!,” that resounded throughout all history (Jn 20:28). When we are in doubt let us learn from Thomas who has recovered from the crisis caused by doubt and imitate his example. Few moments from now, we will witness the priest prays the consecration and elevates the body and blood of Jesus, let us be one in heart and mind with Thomas the Apostle in acclaiming, “My Lord and God!” (Jn 20:28).

Jn 12:20-33 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted in Gospel of John, Gospel Reflections by Erineus on March 28, 2009

 

John 12:20-33 – The Coming of Jesus’ Hour
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday Gospel Reflection

Paradox, literally speaking, is a form of speech that contains a “seeming contradiction.” It has been said that “Life is a paradox.” There are many things in life which seemed to be a sort of contradiction but in truth and in reality they are not. The same also with our Christian life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gave his disciples one of the most popular biblical paradox commonly referred to as the  Paradox of the Grain of Wheat, when he said to his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies,  it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

What Jesus, indeed, introduces is a divine paradox.  The seed must die if it is to bear fruit.  The person who strives to play it safe, in his relationship with God dies, while the one who sacrifices life,  lives.  The road to glory is servanthood.  That was true for Jesus, and it is true for all who would follow him.  “Preachers should preach regularly on the apparent failure the Gospel invites to, ending in death.  A message of ‘success’ has to contain large elements of a siren song of ‘this world’….  In John, cross and crown are one” (Sloyan, 156).  Like Jesus, we are expected to be faithful even unto death and to trust God for vindication.  “If Jesus’ willingness extends to the point of death, his ‘deacons’ must follow him there.  It is a hard place to go…, but if (this step) is taken, it is rewarded with a great gift:  ‘honor’ from the Father” (Howard-Brook, 281).

Pope John Paul II said something very beautiful about this divine paradox:

Christian logic is really ‘original.’ Nobody can consider himself safe except when he risks all for the Lord; neither always can he consider himself saved if, in turn, he does not make himself an instrument of salvation, since spiritual gift grow when they are shared” (L’osservatore Romano, June 1991).

The Church in her Catechism (CCC 1816) teaches how to be productive Christian:

“The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

The imagery of the grain of wheat and the message it contains and wishes to deliver illustrates the life, teaching and the fate of Jesus and his disciples. Before his passion and death, Jesus is limited to his earthly ministry and he was met with opposition, hostility, rejection, and persecution not only of the Scribes and Pharisees in particular and the Jews in general but also of his relatives to the point that he was thought to be mad or out of his mind. But after the resurrection, his life gains a cosmic dimension. Many people repented, converted and began to believed him as their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is sent and the disciples are given knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. They are also inspired to spread and give witness to the Gospel to all peoples: Jews and pagans alike. Jesus by being faithful to saving mission entrusted to him by God the Father to the end has become a fruitful servant of God. Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, like a grain of wheat who was sown and died, lives and produces and abundant harvest.

The imagery of the grain of wheat also illustrates the life of Lawrence, a deacon and martyr of Rome. Tertullian, an irascible Carthaginian theologian around A.D. 200, writes: “We become many whenever you mow us down; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, 50). Simply said, the “Blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”  Martyrs like Lawrence, “are truly a luminous beacon for the Church and for humanity, for they have made Christ’s light shine in the darkness. They strove to serve Christ and His “Gospel of hope” faithfully, and by their martyrdom expressed their faith and love to a heroic degree, putting themselves generously at the service of their brethren” (Pope John Paul II, Message for eighth Public Meeting of the Pontifical Academies, November 3, 2003).

Christianity, like any other system of belief, thrives on commitment, and the commitment of martyrs is inspiration for the ages. As a Christians by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit as a prophet, priest and king. As a prophet, therefore, we should “be ready and willing to become a consistent witness even at the cost of suffering and great sacrifice. Because as a prophet, even in the most ordinary circumstances we are called to a sometimes heroic commitment” (see Veritatis Splendor, 93).

How can we be faithful and loyal prophets in the midst of this corrupt and depraved generation? When we consistently hold to what is right, true and beautiful and reject what is evil, denounce injustices, decry violence, condemned human rights violations, take care of our environment, protect human life and dignity and promote integral human development.

Not all of us are called to martyrdom in the real sense of the word.  Not all of us are called to follow the footstep of Lawrence. But all of us are called to become consistent witnesses of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Every time we choose life over death its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose good over evil, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose grace over sin, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose truth over lies, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose God over Satan its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose heaven over hell its also bloodless martyrdom.

The countless thousands of Christian martyrs who have gone to their deaths for “the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine” (cf. CCC 2473) are the ultimate witnesses. Be counted among the chosen ones, therefore, and make your “consistent witnessing a seed of the Church and of Christianity, a “fragrant offering” (Eph 5:12), “holy, living and acceptable sacrifice to God” (see Rm 12:1).

Picture: http://www.heartlight.org

Jn 12:20-33 – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Posted in Gospel of John by Erineus on March 14, 2009

Cleansing the Temple by Carl Bloch

Jn 12:20-33 – Cleansing of the Temple
Third Sunday of Lent

The Temple played an important part in the life of Israel fundamentally because the Temple was considered God’s own house, His dwelling place on earth in the midst of his people. The Jews  believed that God lives in heaven, but he hears the prayers that are addressed to him in the Temple. The prophets, however, realized that God’s presence among his people was a favor that could be withdrawn if they proved unworthy of it.

Like the prophets before him Jesus expressed the deepest respect for the temple of Jerusalem not only because it was dwelling place of God on earth but most importantly it  is His Father’s house. It is not surprising,  therefore, to hear, in today’s Gospel, why Jesus burst with anger  upon learning that traders and money changers were turning the house of God into a “marketplace” or “den of robbers.” Worst, they had the guts to oppress and exploit the poor and the pilgrims even within the temple. Although it was considered the “outer part” of the temple it was still within the temple.

What is the message for us? What is the challenge for us?

First, a temple or a church buiding is sacred because it is God’s dwelling place here on earth. It is also considered sacred because it is dedicated and offered to God. It is also sacred because it is intended for the glorification of God and sanctification of His people. Hence, a temple of the Church as a place of worship and sacrifice must be treated with reverence and respect. As far as possible it must not be used for any secular purposes which are considered offensive to the Lord. Indecent clothing and foul words and irreverent gestures must be avoided at all times.

Second, a temple is the body of Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, it was Lord himself who explicitly referred to his body as the temple of God. Since it is the Church which is the mystical body of Christ, the Church or the community of Lord’s disciples is the temple of God. As Jesus himself said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.”

Considering this we can somehow say that prayer is effective when it is done in the name of Jesus and addressed by the whole assembly of the faithful. When you pray, therefore, pray in the name of Jesus in the Spirit. Pray as a Church. Pray in the Church. Pray with the Church. Pray for the Church. Pray with heart and mind of the Church. Always take an active part  in sacramental and liturgical life of the Church.

Third, our body is also a temple of God, a dwelling place of the Spirit. Like the temple or church building it must be treated with respect and reverence. Anything that defiles the body must be avoided. In the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, he said: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy,” (1Cor 3:16-17).

Today as gather as a worshiping assembly, let us always be reminded that the Church, the mystical body of Jesus Christ, is the Temple of God. Please be reminded also that we are temple of the Holy Spirit. Being members of this Church by virtue of our baptism we share in her vocation to holiness  and in her mission to work for the glorification of God and sanctification of His people. Let us, therefore, cleansed ourselves of all impurities, infidelities and immoralities so that we may able to offer our body as holy, living and acceptable sacrifice to God the Father and consequently help in the building and spreading the Church, which is the seed and the beginning of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Picture: http://picturesofjesus4you.com/259.html