Love Without Condition

May 5, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Holy Spirit, Love, Service

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 / Ps 98 / 1 Jn 4:7-10 / Jn 15:9-17
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is a story told about a devastating famine in Russia that had brought great misery.  A beggar had become weak and emaciated and almost starved to death.  He approached the novelist Leo Tolstoy and asked him for assistance.

Tolstoy searched his pockets for money but discovered that he didn’t even have as much as a single coin.  However, he took the beggar’s worn hand between his own and said, “Don’t be angry with me, my brother.  I have nothing with me.”

The thin, lined face of the beggar lit up as if from some inner light.  The beggar whispered in reply, “But sir, you called me ‘brother.’  That was the greatest gift that you could give me.”

Jesus said in our gospel today, “This is my commandment:  Love one another as I have loved you.”

As we gather on this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the readings invite us into a deeper understanding of love, unity, and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Easter season is drawing to a close, yet the spirit of renewal and hope remains vibrant within us.  This Sunday offers a moment for reflection on the journey we’ve undertaken since Easter Sunday and the profound teachings shared during this sacred time.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we witness the radical inclusivity of God’s love, as Peter proclaims to Cornelius and his household that God shows no partiality.  This passage challenges us to expand our understanding of community and embrace the diversity of God’s creation.  It reminds us that the love of God knows no boundaries, and extends to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, or background.

The passage from the First Letter of John reinforces this message of love, emphasizing that love is not merely a human emotion, but the very essence of God’s being.  As beloved children of God, we are called to love one another for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  This love is not based on merit or worthiness but is freely given to all who open their hearts to receive it.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the profound nature of love, and the call to abide in His love.  He reminds them that they are not merely servants but friends, chosen and appointed to bear fruit that will last.  This passage challenges us to deepen our relationship with Christ and to live lives rooted in love, compassion, and service to others.

The gospel also brings us into the intimate discourse between Jesus and His disciples, a conversation rich with profound meaning and enduring relevance.  In these verses, Jesus speaks of love, friendship, and the essence of discipleship.

Jesus begins by commanding His disciples to abide in His love, just as He abides in the love of the Father.  This call to abide in love is not passive; it requires an active commitment to remain connected to the source of all love, which is God.  Through this connection, we find our strength, our purpose, and our identity as followers of Christ.

The depth of Jesus’ love for us is revealed in His willingness to lay down His life for our sins, a sacrifice that exemplifies the greatest expression of love.  In this act of selflessness, we see the true nature of love – love that is sacrificial, unconditional, and boundless.

As Jesus continues, He invites His disciples into a deeper relationship with Him, calling them friends, rather than servants.  This shift in language underscores the intimacy of their connection and the trust that exists between them.  It is a relationship built, not on fear or obligation, but on mutual love and respect.

Central to Jesus’ message is the commandment to love one another as He has loved us.  This commandment is not merely a suggestion or a request; it is a mandate that lies at the heart of Christian discipleship.  To love as Jesus loves is to embody the very essence of His teachings, to extend compassion, forgiveness, and grace to all those we encounter.

There was a story about two little boys who were brothers and went to school for enrollment.  The teacher asked these little brothers about their age and birthdays, so she could place them in the registration form.

The older of the two replied, “We’re both seven.  My birthday is April 8 and my brother’s birthday is April 20.”  The teacher replied, “But that’s not possible, boys.”

The quieter brother spoke up.  “No, it’s true.  One of us is adopted.”

“Oh!” said the teacher, “Which one is adopted?”

The two brothers looked at each other and smiled.  The older brother said, “We asked Dad that same question a while ago, but he just looked at us and said he loved us both equally and he couldn’t remember anymore which one of us is adopted.”  What a wonderful analogy of God’s love for us.  It is a love without condition; it does not discriminate.

Finally, Jesus reminds His disciples that they did not choose Him, but He chose them, and appointed them to go and bear fruit that will last.  This commissioning is both a privilege and a responsibility, calling us to live lives that reflect the love and grace we have received.

As we reflect on these words of Jesus, may we be inspired to abide in His love, to embrace our identity as His friends and disciples, and bear fruit that will bring glory to God.

May we strive to love one another with the same selfless love that Jesus has shown us, and may our lives be a testament to the transformative power of God’s love at work in the world.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Becoming What You Can Be

February 14, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Humility, Lent, Prayer, Repentance

Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is this beautiful saying which is very fitting to our celebration today. It says, “Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.” What do we need to give up today in order for us to become the person that is pleasing before the eyes of the Lord?

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent: forty days of preparation for the coming of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, which we call the Pascal mystery. Forty is a very important number, because we know that, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, He was there in the desert for forty days and forty nights to prepare for His public ministry. During that time Jesus encountered a lot of challenges and temptations.

After the homily, we are going to receive the ashes, which are a sign of our repentance. This is also a reminder of our human weakness, that we are all in need of God’s mercy. When we receive the ashes, there are two formulas that will be said. The first one says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and that can be found in Mark 1:15. The second formula that we are going to use is, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and that can be found in the book of Genesis 3:19.

Ashes remind us of our humanity: that we are all created by God. That’s why in Genesis 2:7 it says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Here we can see, brothers and sisters, that when God created us, He created us from the dust, and because we came from dust, this is also a good reminder for us not to be proud. The scripture lets us continue to remain grounded, to be humble.

But in spite of the fact that we came from dust, of all God’s creations, He only breathed the breath of the Spirit on man. That’s why we are all so special in the eyes of God. Hence the formulas that are used as we receive the ashes, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

This may lead us to ask the question, what does this challenge us to do today? As we try to reflect on the words that we will be hearing soon, this helps us also understand the call of Lent. The word ASH can also be an acronym.

“A” stands for almsgiving. Our human weakness tells us that we only think of our own needs. Everyone always tells us: Think of yourself first before you think of others; just think of yourself. Our human weakness tells us we are always tempted to be selfish and greedy, to think of ourselves. That is why during the season of Lent we are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, that we belong to one body of Christ. That because we are one body, we need to think of others also. That’s why we are encouraged during the season of Lent to give.

Our gospel today reminds us that when we give, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. There are people who, when they give, just seek to be praised. Of course, that’s not what our gospel tells us. When you give, do it in secret; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This tells us that when we give, our giving must be inspired with true love and brotherhood.

“S” stands for sacrifice. Worldly people will think that suffering, or any form of sacrifice is worthless. Comfort, happiness and physical satisfaction are all they are looking for. And that’s what the world tells us: satisfy your thirst, satisfy your hunger, satisfy your longings. We as Christians are taught that suffering can be valuable if we offer it with the Cross of Christ. Our pains, our problems, sufferings in life can only be meaningful when we learn to unite all our problems and sufferings with the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminded us in the gospel of Saint John, chapter 15, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. That’s true love. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest also reminded us that there is no love when there is no sacrifice. That’s very true. That’s why for us Christians we can only show a genuine love when sacrifice is there.

That’s applicable to anybody that we deal with, even between husbands and wives. You say I love you, honey. I love you, sweetheart. You must be willing to sacrifice, willing to forgive, willing to understand, willing to remember the promises that you made during your wedding day: “I will be with you in good times and in bad.” That’s the promise you made a long time ago that you cannot deny. It’s like saying, “Show me your flaws, and I will not leave you, I will be there, I will be here.” We are bound by the promise that we made not only in front of the community but in front of God, I will not leave you, I will be with you whatever will happen.  That’s one way of showing our sacrifice.

When we give something that hurts us, that is true giving. You should learn to sacrifice yourself. Learn to forget yourself in order to see the needs of others. And that’s a Christlike act.

Lent also encourages us to fast. And when we fast, we fast not only for health reasons or for beauty. That should not be our intention in fasting: I want to be healthy. Brothers and sisters, when we fast or when we sacrifice something, when we don’t eat, when we don’t purchase something, that’s a sacrifice. Our normal thinking will tell us that we save, we don’t purchase something we don’t eat in order for me to save.

But fasting tells us that when we don’t eat, what we don’t eat belongs to the poor. Every time we fast, we should put something aside for the poor and remember those people who have nothing to eat. That’s why, during the season of Lent, we are given the Rice Bowl container, so that every time we fast, we put an amount of money in there. That’s our way of expressing our solidarity, our charity towards poor people.

We don’t only fast, but we also feel how it is to be hungry. Fasting is about giving. Fasting is also an invitation for us to conquer our selfishness. That’s also the main purpose of fasting. It’s a time during the season of Lent to combat our cravings and greed. This is the best time for us to learn to discipline ourselves. To fight against our cravings and our desires.

“H” stands for humility. How do we humble ourselves? The answer is through prayer. Prayer is an act of humility. Someone once said prayer is nothing but a humble acceptance of our total dependence on God. People who pray wholeheartedly are people who realize that apart from God, we are nothing and we can do nothing. That’s why we need to pray, brothers and sisters, because our prayer will make us realize that we are really nothing and we can really do nothing without God.

People who do not pray, even if they don’t say it, are proud because they think that they can survive life without God, that things can be well even without God. That’s where prayer is very important.

Of course, our gospel also today reminds us that when we pray, we don’t pray like the hypocrites, just to win the praise of others. Our intention in praying is to give praise and glory to God. Not to win, not to receive praise from other people. Yes, it is true that we can pray everywhere, we can pray even in our workplace, in the marketplace or wherever we are, but let us always remember that we need to pray in the silence of our hearts. We don’t need to show it to other people that we are praying. Even in our own silence, even in the midst of noise or chaos, we can continue to pray in the silence of our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, let us take the challenge. Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.

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Servant Leaders

November 5, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Father Nixon, Generosity, Humility, Mission, Service

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 / Ps 131 / 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13 / Mt 23:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

One of the criticisms directed at Catholics by our Protestant fundamentalist brethren, especially the born-again Christian groups, is about the address we give to the Pope as “Holy Father” and also to all priests as “Father.”  They say that this is against the teaching of Christ in the Bible.  They cite today’s gospel reading, especially verse nine that says, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”

If we follow this kind of interpretation, it is an absurd one.  If taken literally, the word would forbid us to call our natural father, “father.”  How would a father feel if his children did not address him as Father, Dad, Papa, or Daddy?  Instead, his children would be forced to use his given name.  Would he agree to this?  Surely not.  He may even scold or get angry with them.  Along these same lines, how are we to address our schoolteachers if there is only one teacher?

What Christ wants to teach us is that our concern should not be for honors, worldly dignity, and a craving for first places in gatherings.  If we extend our helping hands to others in need, we should not be proud that it is coming from us, but rather, we should announce that it is coming from God.  We are just doing our job and should not expect any return.

In today’s gospel, Jesus affirms the Pharisees and scribes as legitimate leaders of people following Moses.  He tells His disciples to obey and respect them, but not to follow their example.  What they say is true, so follow them, but in practice, they are misusing their authority for the sake of their selfish advantage, so do not imitate their example.

Why does Jesus forbid His disciples to use the titles of “father” and “teacher”? Even Saint Paul referred to himself as the Father of the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 4:15. Is it because this can be abused and misused?  It is in the abuse sense that these titles are forbidden from being used.  Many use their titles, positions in organizations and government, and honors, to threaten, look down on, exploit, deprive, and oppress other people.

The message of today’s gospel is a clear warning to all who hold office and authority in God’s Church, whether as priests, bishops, or superiors.  This gospel also applies to all of us.  One such example is when parents use their authority as parents to justify what they are doing instead of listening to their child’s pleas.  For our government officials, corporate leaders, and to anyone that holds authority, many people say that authority is bad.  They say that power corrupts.  Every day we hear stories in the media about scandals among politicians, corporate heads, even in the Church, and among others who hold positions of authority.

Authority, however, is good because it comes from God.  God entrusts a share of His authority to men and women.  It is the abuse of authority that makes it a bad thing.  Just like money.  Money is good and is not the root of evil.  It becomes the root of evil when we begin to love it and make money our god.  Authority is entrusted to us by God, not to dominate and exploit others, but for service.  Leadership is service and should be by example.  It is service that matters.  If we want to become great human beings and outstanding Christians, then we must serve the rest.

Our service might take the form of meeting material and physical needs like washing or cooking meals for the family.  These are small things and often taken for granted, but in the eyes of God, the greatest performance we ever have.  Our service might take the form of caring for the emotional and psychological needs of others, like offering companionship and friendship when they are down, speaking words of hope and encouragement, showing acceptance and giving recognition.  Servanthood is not about position or skill.  It is about attitude.

We have undoubtedly met persons in service positions, like people in government organizations, church, and others, who have poor attitudes toward servanthood.  Just as we can sense when a worker doesn’t want to help people, we can just as easily detect when a leader has a servant’s heart.  The truth is that the best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves.

John C. Maxwell, in his book Leadership Promises for Every Day said, “The true servant leaders put others ahead of their own agenda, possess the confidence to serve, initiate service to others, are not position-conscious, and serve out of love.”  The call to leadership through service is not only addressed to clergy and to those who hold apostolic office in the Church and to those who hold positions.  All Christians are called to show leadership through service.

Those baptized people who do not seek to serve God and their fellow human beings cannot be Christians.  Each one of us has the responsibility to show the authenticity of the Christian message through our love and service.  For example, the best husband is the one who meets the needs of his wife most generously.  The good boss is the first one to do what he expects from his subordinates.  The concerned school principal who reports to school early, joins the teachers in being punctual for their duties.  The dedicated head of the office that attends to his tasks, inspires the other employees to work efficiently and effectively.  Thus the greatest among us must be the first to serve.

Even the Pope is reminded of this by his title, “Servant of Servants.”  If we know some Christian leaders who are as hypocritical as the scribes and Pharisees described in today’s gospel, the challenge for us would be to try to make a distinction between what they teach (which may be sound) and how they live (which may not be worthy of emulation.)  Those who distance themselves from the Church because they heard or saw unbecoming behavior of a Church leader may indeed be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  We must not do this.  Abuse of an office does not nullify the validity of the office itself.

The gospel ends up with a call of evangelical humility which is recognition that in the eyes of God, everyone is equal.  It is the recognition that those who evangelize or minister to others, are not below us, but are in fact equal to us in the eyes of God.  With this humility, preaching becomes not talking down to the people, but sharing with them our common struggle to understand and live God’s word.

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God, Neighbor, Self

October 29, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Generosity, Guest Celebrants, Love, Mission, Service

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / Ps 18 / 1 Thes 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant

We have this great commandment to love from Jesus.  At first it seems that there’s two commandments here, but in reality, there are three.  The second one has two parts. The first says to love the Lord with your whole heart and soul, and the second says to love your neighbor as yourself.  So, there’s the commandment to love the neighbor but also a commandment to love yourself.

These three commandments are very much interdependent with one another.   They’re like a tripod.  A tripod has three legs; if you remove one of the legs then the other two fall.   That’s the way it is with these commandments; they are interdependent.  They’re all intertwined with one another.

Think about the commandment for loving yourself, having a healthy self-love: Why shouldn’t you?   God created you in love, and you were conceived in love.   A healthy self-love is very important, because if you don’t have a healthy self-love, and you’re looking down on yourself, how can you really have a good relationship with other people?   If you don’t love others, you can’t very well love God.  Saint John, in his first letter, asks, how can say you love the God you can’t see if you don’t love the neighbor you can see?   And of course, if we don’t love others, we probably have a dim image of ourselves without the proper image of love of God.

Those are very important and of course, the love of God is all encompassing.   In the love of God there is a commandment to love God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. That’s important, because if we don’t have that overarching love of God, then our love of ourselves and our neighbors is too exclusive.  It’s not broad enough if we don’t have that love of God.

Seeing God reflected in all of creation, in all people, leaving none of them out, and realizing also that the love is not always easy.  It’s not always easy to love your neighbor – some of them aren’t very lovable, let’s be honest.  Of course, there are things to get in the way, like grudges that last for generations. Yes, it’s not always easy to love our neighbors, but it is our call to do that.   The overarching love of all creation calls us to love everyone and everybody – we don’t leave anyone or any groups of people out.

For love to be love it has to be active.  When there’s no activity, there is no love, and so our love has to be very active and involved.  If we don’t take time to treasure love ourselves, then everything’s going to falter.  Loving others meets an active love, going out of our way to love them.

Who’s the neighbor?  The neighbor is anyone God puts in your path.  That’s the neighbor, whether it’s your immediate family, your extended family, your workplace, your neighborhood, your church, people you meet in the street, anyone God puts in your path is your neighbor.  The thing is that God makes the choice – we don’t always have a choice about who our neighbor is.  We probably wish we did, but that’s whoever God manages to put in our path.  Sometimes that can be very difficult if you’ve got other agendas going and this person steps into your life and is demanding your attention right now, it’s not always easy.   But it’s a call to love your neighbor as yourself, whoever that neighbor may be.

Then this is really big today – loving God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people.  We cannot exclude any groups of people, and there’s too much of that in the world today, and too much of that in our history.  We’ve excluded the Blacks and the Native Americans.  In the love of all creation, we’re not doing too good a job of loving all creation. We are destroying creation, and this is important as to whether or not we’re going to live, and not just for us but for the generations that come after us.

Loving God and all people and all creation – the Church is really calling us to this.  Eight years ago, Pope Francis put out an encyclical on the environment, calling us to honesty and calling us to respect the environment as God’s precious creation.  And in the last couple months he added an addendum to that where he’s bringing the process even further along.  I’d like to say this is important; this is whether or not we’re going to survive.

Love God with your whole heart and soul, and see God reflected in all people and in all creation.  That’s a pretty serious obligation.  One thing that I thought of being connected with this was an American Indian way of ending a prayer.  We say “amen,” but many of them say “all my relations.”  That doesn’t mean all their relatives; it means a relationship with all people and all creation –  all my relations.  And the significance of that is that if you’re not in all creation, there’s something dishonest about your prayer.   That’s pretty profound; that you can’t pray worthily unless you’re a in a relationship with all people and all creation. All my relations – could we honestly say that at the end of a prayer instead of amen?

 

 

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Consistency in Word and Action

October 1, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Evangelization, Father Nixon, Generosity, Grace, Humility, Obedience

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 18:25-28 / Ps 25 / Phil 2:1-11 / Mt 21:28-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today’s gospel is a parable about the contrasting attitudes of two sons. The first son said no, but after he came to his senses, he did his father’s wish. The second son said yes, but later, he did nothing. The meaning of this parable is crystal clear: The Jewish leaders are people who said that they would obey God and then did not. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are those who said that they would go their own way and then took God’s way.

There was a minister who was walking down the street, when he came upon a group of about a dozen boys, all of them between ten and twelve years of age. The group surrounded a dog. Concerned lest the boys were hurting the dog, he went over and asked, “What are you doing with that dog?” One of the boys replied, “This dog is just an old neighborhood stray. We all want him, but only one of us can take him home, so we have decided that whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie will get to keep the dog.”

Of course, the reverend was taken aback. “You boys shouldn’t be having a contest telling lies,” he exclaimed. He then launched into a ten-minute sermon against lying, beginning, “Don’t you boys know it is a sin to lie?” and ending with, “Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie.” There was a dead silence for about a minute. Just as the reverend was beginning to think he had gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, “Alright, give him the dog.”

I think, brothers and sisters, we all find ourselves guilty at times of stretching the truth, sometimes innocently at first, but over time this can begin to affect our relationships. For instance, we have all known someone at some point who has a habit of saying one thing but doing another. I think that can be a frustrating experience over time.

The common question for today’s gospel is: Who is better between these two sons: the one who said no, but at the end fulfilled his father’s wish, or the one who said yes, but later did nothing? Maybe our answer would be: the one who said no, but in the end did fulfill his father’s wish.

The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. We have to admit that neither of these is an acceptable way of conduct. Neither was better than the other, in the sense that the two sons both caused the father pain and sorrow. The one caused pain at the beginning and the other one at the end. Neither of the two was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both could have been better sons by giving a wholehearted Yes, spontaneously and joyfully, and by carrying out the order efficiently, and not the other way around, by which the No of the first son turned into Yes, and the Yes of the second one became a No.

The true Christian should be better than both: What he says, he does. There should be consistency in his words and actions. What he teaches is what he acts.

The readings this Sunday pack a powerful message and tell us very clearly that we have to have a healthy Christian moral life. This healthy Christian moral life is founded on three pillars.

The first pillar is the assurance of grace.  Our God who is gracious is a forgiving God. His assurance of grace to us is this: He who has chosen to renounce all his sins shall certainly live (Ez 18:27). This grace is so insistent that by its force many can undo change. In other words, we must develop our friendship with God and follow Christ faithfully.

In one of the chapters of the book, The Purpose Driven Life, which was subtitled, Developing Your Friendship with God, it is said that, like any friendship, we must work at developing our friendship with God. The author gave at least four ways to develop our friendship with God.

First, we must choose to be honest with God. God does not expect us to be perfect, but He does insist on complete honesty. If we look at the Bible, friends of God were not perfect. If perfection were a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be His friend. Fortunately, because of God’s grace, He is still the friend of sinners.

Second, we must choose to obey God in faith. Every time we trust God’s wisdom and do whatever He says, even when we don’t understand it, we deepen our friendship with God. We obey God, not out of duty, fear, or compulsion, but because we love Him and trust that He knows what is best for us.

Third, we must choose to value what God values. This is what friends do. They care about what is important to the other person. The more we become God’s friends, the more we will care about the things He cares about, like the redemption of His people. He wants all His lost children found. Friends of God tell their friends about God.

Fourth, we must desire friendship with God more than anything else. An example of this is David in the Book of Psalms, in which he uses words like “longing,” “yearning,” “thirsting,” “hungering,” etc.

The second pillar of Christian morality is the awesome gift of personal responsibility. This means that to be a person is to be responsible. To be responsible is to do one’s duty. God never excuses us from our duty. It is our duty to be consistent with what we say and do, as proclaimed by Jesus in today’s gospel. As Christians, there should be consistency in our words and actions. What we teach is what we act.

It is like the story of a businessman who was ordering five hundred ball point pens from an office equipment salesman. The latter was writing the order in his notebook, when suddenly the buyer exclaimed, “Hold on, I’m canceling the order.” The salesman left the store wondering why the wholesaler suddenly changed his mind. “Why did you suddenly cancel that order of ball point pens?” asked the surprised bookkeeper. The businessman angrily answered, “Because he talked about ball point pens to me for half an hour, using every convincing argument, and then he wrote out my order with a pencil. His practice did not agree with what he professed.”

In other words, a man’s words must be followed by action. No one likes a person of empty promises. “Seeing is believing” is what an old adage has said.

The third pillar of Christian moral life is self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not a false humility. It is rather to consider the other person better than us, so that nobody thinks of his own interests, but the interests of others. Just like what St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:3-4) in our second reading: Thinking of other people’s interests first, like the common good of the society, may entail larger considerations.

Neither of the two sons in the parable is a model of obedience, because both were imperfect. The perfect model is Jesus who, in obedience to the will of His Father, emptied Himself, accepting death, death on the cross, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians in the second reading today. It was the unwavering obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father that saved us.

Brothers and sisters, as we obey, we listen to the word He is speaking to us, either audibly or in silence, in a continuous encounter that entails “un-selfing,” just like Jesus emptying Himself.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Hungry and Thirsty for God

February 22, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Compassion, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Lent, Mercy, Sin, St. Paul

Ash Wednesday
February 22, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Our gospel today reminds us of the three traditional gestures, or balances, so that we can enter into the spirit of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  This also helps us to prepare for the suffering and death and resurrection of Our Lord, who is the source of our salvation.

Today the Church asks us also to fast and abstain. Fasting is a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food and drink. This is applicable to ages fifteen to fifty-nine. Abstinence refers to refraining from certain kinds of food or drink, like meat or those cravings or those foods that we like to eat every day. This applies to ages fourteen and above.

Why, brothers and sisters, does the Church ask us to fast and eat only one full meal today and on Good Friday?  (Fasting is only for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) We don’t fast in order to save money or to lessen our expenses.

First, we fast so that what we gather or what we collect we can share with the hungry. Sanctifying ourselves has to do with tenderness and compassion for the poor and the needy. Our penance has a social dimension, so that we can be in solidarity with others who are hungry.

Second, we fast because we are hoping that we experience physical hunger, so that it will awaken in us a deeper level of hunger.  What is that deeper hunger? It is the hunger for God, hunger and thirst for God.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters observe fasting, which they call Ramadan.  It is said that, when they are at the height of their hunger because of long fasting, that is the time when they read the Koran, their holy book. They believe that, when the body is very hungry, it is open to receive God.

The same thing with us. When we feel hunger, it awakens the deeper hunger that we have: our hunger for God.  This hunger of ours for the Lord will bring us to our brothers and sisters who are hungry because of poverty.

In our first reading, the prophet Joel tells us that God, the Lord, is gracious and merciful. In our second reading, Paul reminds us that we are God’s coworkers, and he urges us not to receive God’s grace in vain. Connecting the meaning of the two readings, they tell us that the mercy that the Lord has given us, we will need to share with others.

How can we keep our penance and our compassion from making us sad people, because doing our penance or showing an act of compassion can be a very challenging thing?

Fasting is not only for food but also for our bad habits. Yes, it is true that every one of us here has our favorite food, but we also have our favorite sins. During the season of Lent, we’re invited to avoid these sins by denying ourselves, by controlling our desires and cravings.

Going back to the question, how can we keep a happy heart even if we deny ourselves? A spiritual writer said: “We can be happy even with our sacrifices and self-denial if we put emphasis on what we say ‘yes’ to, not to what we say ‘no’ to.” If we focus more on what we say ‘yes’ to, that makes us happy.

If we want to be happy in all our sacrifices, we need to focus on the reasons why we say ‘yes.’ For example, as parents, your ‘yes’ to your children is “I want my children to be successful, and that’s my commitment, that’s my ‘yes.’ But that ‘yes’ has a payment. It involves a lot of sacrifices. That’s why, in order for my children to succeed, I must work hard. Sometimes I work overtime. When I get my salary, I will take good care of it, and I will not waste it on my vices.”

That’s a big sacrifice on the part of the parents. They work so hard, even if they are tired. They continue to work overtime because of their love for their children, because they have that vision, they have that ‘yes’ that “I want a good future for my children. That’s a big sacrifice and it is meaningful for me, as a parent, and that’s what makes my heart joyful.”

So, brothers and sisters, we focus our commitment on saying ‘yes,’ because if we do that, we can be closer to the Lord. Our penance, every time we celebrate the season of Lent, is to be closer to the Lord and closer to the poor and those who need our help.

Saint John Paul II said, “The deepest fulfillment of every human person is in the giving of self.” Who can do this? Who can give their selves to others? Only those people who are hungry and thirsty for God.

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Gratitude Completes the Gift

October 9, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Eucharist, Father Nixon, Generosity, Thanksgiving

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 9, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Kgs 5:14-17 / Ps 98 / 2 Tm 2:8-13 / Lk 17:11-19
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A story is told about a magical horse owned by a priest.  The horse would run only if the phrase, “Thanks be to God,” was uttered, and the horse would stop when it heard, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”  One day, a Protestant man borrowed the horse, and he was instructed in the magic words that were needed to make it run or stop.  The man said, “Thanks be to God,” and sure enough, the horse started to run, and when it was about to bump a tree, he said, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and the horse stopped abruptly.  Then he let it run again, by saying, “Thanks be to God.”  He was enjoying the ride until he came near a cliff.  Unfortunately, he forgot the magic words to stop the horse.  He tried, “Our Father” – it did not stop.  “Amazing Grace” – the horse continued to gallop.  When the horse was almost to the edge of the cliff, he suddenly remembered the words, and cried out, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”  The horse stopped just in time.  The man sighed in relief, “Thanks be to God.”

Whatever happened to the other nine?  The nine lepers were cured and did not return to thank the Lord.  Leprosy was a terrible disease; terrible not only because it destroyed the body, but also because its victims were separated from their families and society.  There were very strict laws that prohibited lepers from mixing with healthy people.  Imagine the sufferings of the lepers.  I bet the cured lepers ran home to their families. They must have been thrilled beyond description.  There must have been some grand celebrations.

But why did only one return?  I’m sure all intended to return and thank the Lord.  Perhaps we can understand if we put it in modern day language, so here it goes.  Mary had to return home and clean the house; there were only men living there and the place was a mess.  Aaron arrived home just in time to save the harvest; he worked day and night.  Martha had to catch up on her favorite TV series.  David found his business in crisis and dedicated himself to getting it in order.  Amos returned to find his wife had remarried and moved away; he drank his pain away.  Peter lost his old job and was looking for a new one.  Anna headed back to thank the Lord but could not resist that sale sign in the shopping mall.  And so on.

So, there you go, brothers and sisters – excuses, excuses, excuses, all except Simon the Samaritan.  Jesus had given the sick the gift of life, and like any gift, it cannot be complete without a thank you.  Yes, we teach our children to say thank you.  We celebrate Thanksgiving each year as a national holiday.  We have a need to say thanks.

We celebrate the Eucharist each week, and the word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  A gift requires a thank you, not so much for the giver, but for the receiver.  The poet George Herbert wrote, “Oh God, you have given us so much.  Give us one more thing – a grateful heart.”  We see miracles all the time.  We have seen how many times people have been cured of diseases, sometimes with no logical medical explanation.  When people are sick or dying, they take their relationship with the Lord seriously.  Many return to the sacraments and change their priorities in life.  But when the crisis is over, some of them are never seen again in the church.

If we examine our lives, we can see God’s hand in so many instances and close calls.  We all have been touched by Jesus.  This Sunday, let us ask ourselves, “Have our lives changed as a result of the encounter?”  Are we like one of the nine, superficial in our relationship with Christ, except when we think we really need Him?  Or have we responded like the Samaritan?  Today we are reminded to be grateful for everything.  Gratitude is something that we cannot ignore at the expense of our decency and integrity.

The first reading, according the Second Book of Kings and the gospel of today, presents to us an attitude of gratitude. Naaman after being cured of leprosy and the Samaritan after being healed by Jesus.  Why is an attitude of gratitude to God crucial to the wholeness of mind, body, and spirit?  Apparently, to be made well, we must add thanksgiving to our faith.  The person who makes such acknowledgement experiences a salvation that goes beyond the merely physical cure.  It is a reorientation of the inner life.

How is our impulse to thank others related to our impulse to thank God?  What does gratitude contribute to our being made well in body, mind, and soul?  Why is it so important that Jesus would chastise those who didn’t value it?  Gratitude keeps us connected to the giver of the gift.  It helps us recognize the source of a gift.  Furthermore, it keeps us grounded in the value of the gift as we take it into new pursuits and places.  All good gifts come from God.

The attitude of gratitude keeps us focused on the source of life, love, and each new day.  Maybe when we acknowledge the source of love, we are more likely to share it with others.  Maybe that is why it is important enough for Jesus to lament its lack from the other nine.  So, brothers and sisters, we will not forget to thank the Lord for all the blessings that we have received in our lives.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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True Wealth

July 31, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Grace, Thanksgiving

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 31, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ecc 1:2, 2:21-23 / Ps 90 / Col 3:1-5, 9-11 / Lk 12:13-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp.  He picked it up, and a genie appeared.  “Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you a wish.”  The man thought for a moment, and then responded, “My brother and I had a fight thirty years ago, and he hasn’t spoken to me since.  I wish that he would finally forgive me.”  There was a thunderclap, and the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted.”  The genie continued, “You know, most men would ask for wealth or fame, but you only wanted the love of your brother.  Is it because you are old and dying?”  “No way!” the man cried, “But my brother is, and he’s worth about sixty million dollars.” 

Brothers and sisters, in the gospel, a man asks Jesus to interfere and to help settle a problem in the family concerning the division of ancestral property.  He says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”  In Jewish culture, as well as in many other cultures, to be chosen as mediator is something honorable.  Normally, people would ask someone to mediate because of the person’s good standing in the community.  Jesus appears to decline the invitation and gives the reason for His refusal when He says, “Take care to guard against all greed.  For though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”  The Lord suspects that this conflict about the inheritance is driven by greed, and He does not want to take part in it. 

Brothers and sisters, up through today, many family feuds are caused by a selfish interest in inheritance.   Because of a piece of land or property, siblings give silent treatment to one another, file civil lawsuits against each other, and in some situations, harm or even kill one another. 

To show his disgust with greediness, the Lord tells the parable of the man with the bumper crop, the man who built bigger barns to store up his harvest and secure his comfortable future.  He is called a fool by God.  Why?  What did this farmer do to displease God?  There is no sign that the man is dishonest or that he cheats others in order to gain more. 

However, if we read between the lines of the parable, we can tell that the farmer is wrong on at least two counts.  Number one, he celebrates bountiful harvests without being grateful.  He believes that he is successful in farming because of his own efforts.  Thus, he does not feel beholden to anybody, not even to God.  And second, he depends solely on material possessions for his security and happiness.  He believes that by becoming wealthy, his future is guaranteed.  The farmer in the parable is a fool, because he forgets that all of creation is from God. 

There is nothing that we can claim as our own in this world.  Even personal achievements cannot come without God’s grace.  We should remain grateful to God, because He is the reason for all our being and becoming.  The person who thinks he succeeds through his own effort only tends to become proud and selfish, while he who recognizes that every blessing comes from God tends to become humble and generous. 

Moreover, the farmer is foolish to think that his wealth alone would make him happy.  The experience of so many lonely, rich people is proof that possessions do not guarantee life and happiness.  In fact, there’s more to life than money and material things.  Love, friendship, intimacy, and other Christian values are essential for joyful and meaningful living.

In the days of King Solomon, there lived two brothers who reaped wheat in the fields of Zion.  One night, in the dark of the moon, the elder brother gathered several sheaves of his harvest and left them in his brother’s field, saying to himself, “My brother has seven children.  With so many mouths to feed, he could use some of my bounty.”  And then he went home.  A short time later, the younger brother slipped out of his house, gathered several sheaves of his wheat and carried it into his brother’s field, saying to himself, “My brother is all alone, with no one to help him harvest, so I’ll share some of my wheat with him.”  When the sun rose, each brother was amazed to find that he had just as much wheat as before. 

The next night they paid each other the same kindness, and they awoke and found their stores still full.  But on the third night, they met each other as they carried their gifts into each other’s field.  Each threw his arms around the other and shed tears of joy for his goodness.  And when King Solomon heard of their love, he built the temple of Israel there on the place of brotherhood. 

Brothers and sisters, what does it matter if you have all the riches in the world, but have no real friends?  What does it profit if you manage to get the bigger share of an inheritance, but lose a brother or a sister in the process?  Would not love and intimacy in the family be more important than a piece of property? 

In the first reading, the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that all things are vanity.  When death comes, all of our human achievements, including material possessions and honorific titles, will be left behind.  St. Paul, in the second reading, wisely admonishes that it is better to set our hearts on what pertains to higher realms and not on things of Earth.  What are these higher things that St. Paul is talking about?  What else, but the virtues that Christ our Lord would like us to have, such as love, compassion, generosity, mercy, and forgiveness.  These virtues will accompany us to Heaven, not our earthly honors or possessions. 

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Waiting on, Waiting for

July 17, 2022 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Father Nixon, Generosity, Life, Prayer, Service

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Gn 18:1-10a / Ps 15 / Col 1:24-28 / Lk 10:38-42
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is a story about three prisoners on death row, who were asked for their last wish.  The first one wished for pizza.  It was given to him, and then he was executed.  The second one asked for a steak.  It was given to him, and then he was executed.  The third one asked for cherries.  When the guard told him that cherries were not yet in season, he replied, “Well, that’s all right, I can wait.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us about the value of waiting, and the ways of waiting.  Martha was the one waiting on the Lord, while Mary was the one who waited and listened at the Lord’s feet.  Martha was busy and anxious serving the Lord, while Mary was still and calm, listening to the Lord. And in the end, Jesus tells us that Mary has chosen the better part.  

There are a Martha and a Mary in each one of us.  In prayer, may we be given the wisdom to know who we really are and what we should be, as we follow and serve the Lord.  Mary sat beside the Lord at His feet, listening to Him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” 

The gospel also introduces us to two women:  Martha, the perfect host, and Mary, the perfect disciple.  They are both eager to serve Jesus, but they go about it in different ways.  

Martha is the perfect host.  She prepares the house for Jesus and His disciples.  She cooks the food and serves everyone because she thinks they are tired and hungry.  She has no idea that Jesus comes, not to be served, but to serve. 

That is why Martha is so upset, so preoccupied with preparing nice food.  She becomes anxious and even snaps at Jesus for allowing Mary not to help her in the household chores.  But Jesus gently rebukes her.  “Martha, Martha, you fret and worry about so many things, but just one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen the best portion.”  Mary listens to Him, learns from Him, experiences His presence, and occupies a place that only men should have – sitting at the foot of her master – in order to learn and be taught. 

Actually, Brothers and Sisters, we also experience this.  When we invite someone to our house, after we greet them and welcome them, sometimes we leave them alone for some time while we continue to prepare their food.  For example, we may give them photo albums to look at, or give them magazines to read, or the remote control for them to watch television.  Like Jesus, our visitors didn’t come for a free meal; they came to be with friends.  They came to be with us. 

On the other hand, Mary is the perfect disciple.  She sits beside the Lord at His feet, listening to His instructions and teachings.  She seems to know instinctively that there is need for only one thing:  to listen to the good news that Jesus brings. 

This might be the reason that God created us with two eyes and two ears, but only one tongue.  He wants us to speak less, but see and listen more, especially in our hearts.  God cannot speak to a noisy heart.  Second, the heart must be obedient and submissive.  God cannot speak to a heart that denies, rationalizes, or postpones.  Third, the heart must be open, so that all the deepest concerns and chambers can be reached and cleaned.  In the same way, God cannot clean and heal a heart that is closed tight. 

It does not mean that Jesus did not appreciate Martha’s hospitality, but He chided her for being so anxious and upset about many things.  She forgot a very important element in her relationship with Jesus.  That is, to allow time to listen to a friend, a beloved, and most of all, to her Lord and Savior. 

Brothers and Sisters, we can discern from the action and reaction of Martha and Mary in serving the Lord their different forms of spirituality.  With Martha, we have an active form of spirituality, while for Mary we have the contemplative spirituality.  It is a combination of prayer and action and reflection which we need in our lives as Christians.  Action and contemplation are not viewed as opposing forms, but complementary. 

We are drawn to the danger of too much activity; we work and work as if there is no tomorrow.  We are so involved in our apostolic activity, outreach programs, and looking for money, but we miss giving attention to enlivening our relationship with God, family, and friends, and listening to them. 

If we have given so much time to work, we must also in the same manner, have time for prayer, meditation, reading scripture, and the Eucharist.  All of us are a bit of Martha and Mary.  We are both body and soul, and we must keep both in balance.   We must give each of them its due.  Jesus does not need people who work for Him; He needs people who do His work.

Lastly, let us pray that the Lord may teach us the value of being prayerful, hopeful, and joyful in waiting. 

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Most Blessed By Obedience

December 19, 2021 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Father Nixon, Generosity, Joy, Mary, Obedience

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Mi 5:1-4a / Ps 80 / Heb 10:5-10 / Lk 1:39-45
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today is the last Sunday of Advent.  This season is about to end, and we are closer to the Christmas holidays.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord took flesh in the Virgin Mary, and He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament.  And every Christmas we commemorate His birth.

During these four weeks of Advent, we have been listening to and meditating on the readings from the Holy Scriptures that remind us of the need that we all have to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. (more…)

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