Third Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 17:3-7 / Ps 95 / Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn 4:5-42
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
For a few moments I’d like for you to put yourself in the place of the woman at the well in today’s story. Imagine you’re her and you’re there. It’s dusty and it’s hot, even in the shade. The dust and the wind are hot, and they’re sticking to you because you’re sweaty. You’re a long walk from the village. You’re alone. The jars are heavy even when empty.
I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters. I exist and I swim in the waters of this world, this culture. It can be a cesspool really. The world doesn’t love me; it doesn’t care about me. Society, the culture, they wish for my power as their own. I’m worth what I produce for it. My dignity is ambiguous, my morality is ambiguous, dependent on what others might see in me or gain from me, so I behave the same. This culture that corrupts me by bombarding me with its messages: consume, it’s your truth, love whomever you’d like, if it feels good do it, the baby is not a person, the old man is a burden. This culture that has shaped me is the same that will condemn me, shun me, ignore me, separate me whenever it seems helpful to it. Governments, business, academics, art, media, these can’t save me. I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters.
I am the woman at the well, and I am a cast away, rejected, shunned, alone with my sin and my pain. There’s a reason I’m at the well far outside of town, alone with the sun at its peak and the heat. I am a cast away. That’s because no one will be there, no one carries heavy containers of water in the heat of the day; they go in the early morning or the late evening when it’s cool. But me, I go when no one will be there, no one to deride me, no one to judge me, no one to make me feel worse about myself than I already do. No one can help me, no one cares, no one loves me. Do I even deserve love anyway? I just need to exist. I just need to get by. I am the woman at the well and I am a cast away.
I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him. Why talk to me? Why care about me? I am a woman, I am from Samaria, I’m a pagan. You don’t know me; You can’t know me. Everything about me is the antithesis of what someone like You would value. I float in sin. I doubt You can help me. You don’t even have a vessel, a container for the water, and my darkness is deep, too deep for You to reach. How could You sustain me for even a few moments, let alone eternally? No, this doesn’t make sense, this must be some trick. You must want something from me or wish to gain something by this encounter. I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him.
I am the woman at the well and I accept Him. Wait, He does know me. He really, truly, knows me. He knows my heart, hardened and despairing as it is. I’ve never met Him, and yet He softly identifies everything about my darkness. He dips deeply into my well of shame and loathing and somehow accepts it, accepts me. He accepts who I am. His grace is bigger than my past, much bigger. He’s met me in the dark and barren places of my heart where I am and offered me His love without requiring anything. And yet, I feel I want to return to Him somehow. I want to acknowledge this immense gift. I welcome His gift. It’s what I’ve unknowingly been seeking. He has risen me to pure living water. I’m unsinkable. I live. I am the woman at the well and I accept Him.
I am the woman at the well and I know Him. I’m not even going to haul the water back or the containers. I’m lighter than air now. I’m restored. My burdens lifted. My guilt and shame washed away. I’m floating. But what about the others? They don’t know, they can’t know. They swim in dirty waters. They are castaways. They doubt love. If they knew Him, they might be light. I must share. I must let them know, because even me, and all my darkness and brokenness and doubt, even me He loves and wants to save. You’ve got to meet Him. There’s nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more beautiful. He is the living water, salvation, the Christ. I am the woman at the well and I want you to know Him.KEEP READING
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 3:16-23 / Mt 5:38-48
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Late one night, a cheerful truck driver pulled up to a roadside café for some refreshment. As he was eating, three wild-looking motorcyclists rode up to the café’s entrance. The atmosphere became tense as they walked in wearing dirty leather jackets and tattoos.
Immediately they picked out the truck driver as the target of their meanness. One poured salt and pepper into his coffee. Another took his apple pie, placed it on the floor, and squeezed it under his dirty boot. The third overturned his coffee, causing it to spill into his lap. The truck driver said not a word. He merely stood up, walked slowly to the cashier, calmly paid his check, and left.
“That guy isn’t much of a fighter, is he?” sneered one of the motorcyclists. The waiter behind the counter peered out into the night and replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t seem to be much of a driver either. He just ran his truck over three motorcycles.”
Brothers and sisters, in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Offer no assistance to one who is evil.” (Mt 5:39). He is really a good teacher, because He goes on to give an example of what He means. He says, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
During the time of Jesus, Roman soldiers controlled Palestine, and they had life and death power over Jewish citizens. In other words, Roman officers could commandeer Jewish citizens and could order them to carry some objects for a distance – one mile for example. In other words, as Christians, we are expected to do more, to do extra, to go beyond our human transactions.
The Code of Hammurabi that existed between 1793 and 1750 BC, expressed the law of retaliation which we heard a while ago, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the very first verse of our gospel, Matthew 5:38, which was not a command to do violence, but to set limits on giving vengeance for an offense. The debtor must pay his debts, but the creditor must never ask for more than the amount involved. Payment for one’s misdeeds must be in the same measure – no more, no less. In other words, before Jesus Christ, this precept was a law of mercy.
For example, if one of your friends knocked out one of your teeth, you could retaliate by knocking out one of his. If someone struck you in the eye, you could return the strike, but no more than one eye. But Jesus did not like this law and presents a real challenge – love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
Why? It is because Christians are expected to do more. A bishop once said: To love those who you know as friends is not extra. To give to those who have given you in return is not more. To work because you are paid a salary is not beyond. To give in order to be given in return in the form of honor, praise, or promotion is not extra. All this – friendship, salary, honor, praise, and promotion, are ordinary human grounds of transactions. Everybody, even pagans and bad people, do this.
Jesus also adds to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Whether we like it or not, we like to return evil for evil. We are like a rubber band; you stretch it hard and once it snaps, it stings. Gandhi said that if we take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then the world would be filled with blind and toothless people. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it is said that if the moneylender Shylock were to be allowed to cut a pound of flesh from the body of Antonio, who failed to repay him, what would become of us, but a walking bone.
The Divine Counsel, however, tells us to return good for evil. In fact, St. Paul reminds us to conquer evil by our good deeds.
Just like what a mother said to a priest after Mass, “Father, we were late for Mass because on our way to church, we were robbed inside the bus. There were six of us, and four young robbers pulled knives on us.” Expressing concern, the priest asked, “Are you all right? What can I do to be a help to you? Do you still have money for your fare back to your home?” She replied, “We are a bit shaken, but we are OK, Father. I was able to hide enough money for our fare.
“But I want to make a request. You see, I was touched by your gospel reflections about the man who was robbed, and a Good Samaritan came to help. If you really want to be of help, in your next Mass, please pray for the young men who held us up.” The priest was shocked because he was praying for kind and loving people most of the time, for sick persons, etc., but never in his life had the priest prayed for robbers. If he would not pray, who would pray for them?
What Jesus said is a challenge to all of us. But why do we have to love even our enemies and not hate them instead? It is because first and foremost it is extra and more. To love those who are not lovable, to give to those who cannot give in return, to serve those who cannot serve in return, and to forgive even our enemies.
The other reason is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our vocation as humans is to resemble our Father in Heaven.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 15:15-20 / Ps 119 / 1 Cor 2:6-10 / Mt 5:17-37
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
I was at lunch several years ago with a very kind priest, and we got to talking about a young man we knew who started missing Mass and avoiding church and the sacraments and prayer life. In fact, he was openly disagreeing with many of the Church’s teachings. I said, “Father, even so, he’s a good guy; he’s nice and thoughtful, kind and generous,” and as I was saying that, the priest started getting visibly agitated. And pretty strongly he said, “Deacon, I’m tired of hearing ‘He’s a good guy, or a good boy, or a good girl.’ We’re not called to be good; we’re called to be holy.”
So, I had to kind of think and take it back a little bit; one, it was uncharacteristic of his demeanor, but two, it made me think quite a bit about it. And in a way, in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying something similar.
Does it work for me to say, “I’m ok, I’m a good guy, I haven’t killed anyone.” That’s our goal? That’s our standard? That’s the bar that we set for ourselves in our moral and spiritual lives? Just to simply avoid the major obvious sins, and I’m ok, I didn’t kill anyone, haven’t cheated on my wife, haven’t bad mouthed God. I haven’t lied, at least no big ones, just little white ones.
No, brothers and sisters, that’s not the goal. Jesus says today, “I have come.” That’s pretty important, the Son of God has said, “I have come.” What’s going to follow? I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets. I have come to fulfill, to extend, to complete, to make perfect. I have come. I have come. He’s come to call us to something higher, something better, something more noble, something heaven-like.
He shows us that worldly dominance passes the closer we get to God, and it’s replaced with humility, and love, and mercy. He sets the bar higher and calls us, not only to recognize that bar, especially the thou-shalt-not bars, but to look the other way for our goal: to look the other way from that bar, and to look inside for the ideals, inside of us where He planted His Holy Spirit at our baptism.
Do I look at that boundary, that thou-shalt-not-kill, that murder boundary, and just see how close I can get to it in my life without crossing over it into moral badness, if you will? I stay safe on this side: I really want to hurt the guy, but I’m not stepping over the line.
Or do I hold in my heart the love of my neighbor, the love of the other, and of their God-given true dignity? Do I work to remove my anger, or my resentment, or my jealousy, and replace it with love? Love, wishing the good of the other, wishing for that person to join me in the kingdom?
The ideal is a high bar and it’s not defined by a list of borders, a list of boundaries, a list of what’s morally good and what morally isn’t. It’s not contained in two lists: Here are the do’s and here are the don’ts. The bar is a change in our hearts; it’s a modification of the direction of our lives and our love.
What must I do to follow Jesus, to be a good Christian, to become holy? Every now and again in my spiritual life I ask myself that question, and I imagine some of you have asked it as well; what am I supposed to do to be a good Christian? And oftentimes when I’m talking with folks in RCIA who are considering coming into the Church, they have that same general question: What do I do to be a good Christian, and follower of Jesus?
And in moments of clarity, very rare moments of clarity, I can give them an answer: If you want to be a good Christian, doing what Jesus asks is a good start. Pope Francis had a similar answer, and he didn’t ask me for any help when he came up with it. He explains, “So if anyone asks what one must do to be a good Christian, the answer is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.”
We’re in the third out of four weeks of going through the Sermon on the Mount during this ordinary time. Two weeks ago, we did the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they…” Last week we were salt and light. We’re still salt and light this week too. Next week we have another reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
So Pope Francis says, “Just do what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.” That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Pretty simple? Well, it isn’t quite so easy when we probably have to hear the message over and over. Let’s read about it, let’s pray over it, let’s meditate over the gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven. Wash, rinse, repeat. Read it again.
Let it sink into our hearts, so they’re pointing the opposite directions of those boundaries, those borders, the “I didn’t kill anybody.” Because the message is love centered on Christ, and it is directed toward others, wishing, praying for the good of the other. It’s our relationship in the world. It’s salt and light, and it’s mercy, forgiveness and mercy.
Now remember, mercy doesn’t mean leniency. It doesn’t mean morally compromising. It doesn’t mean lowering the bar. When Jesus is giving His teaching today, you don’t see Him lowering the bar, He’s extending the bar into the heart. He’s not appeasing the social norms or the civil norms or the governmental norms of his day, He’s not doing it then, He’s not doing it today, because the ideal is high and we as Christians are bound to Him and our goal is heaven, our goal is to be a saint. That’s my goal, I pray that it’s your goal as well. It’s a very high ideal.
Mercy is there, mercy is available, sure, when we fall short of the ideal, when we miss the mark, which is another way to say when we sin. But Jesus and His Church don’t lower the bar, because it’s that important. Instead, we are called to extend His love, and extend His mercy, to live a moral life. We can’t do that alone; we cannot do it by ourselves; we need help.
And we get help, praise God we get help, because we’re washed of our sin and filled with light at our baptism, the light of Christ at our baptism. So that Jesus accompanies us and assists us because he becomes our moral compass and He is our only goal, He is our moral bar, and our earthly wish is to carry Him always in our hearts, because we don’t want to just be a good guy or a good girl or a good woman or a good boy. We don’t want to be just a good guy, but we want to be saints.
At the beginning of every mass, we have this opening prayer, when Father says “let us pray” after the Gloria. It’s called the “Collect.” That’s when we’re all collecting together and beginning the Mass, and that prayer is a summary of the purpose of today’s Mass. I want to repeat it because I think it’s beautiful: “O God who teach us that You abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by Your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to You.” Isn’t that beautiful? Praise God and amen.KEEP READING
The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
During the Christmas season, the image of the Most Holy Virgin Mary with her child comes readily to mind. We see this image in all Nativity things, right in front of us, and in many other places, on many Christmas cards or postcards that we receive from our families or friends. It should also be in our hearts.
We have come together here today as a family of God on this first day of the New Year. We celebrate the maternity of Mary, the event around which this feast is celebrated. As we start the New Year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, thus reminding us of our other mother: of course, Mother Mary.
When a child is in danger, it will instinctively call out, “Mom” or “Mama.” That’s because the essence of being a mother is care, love, help, support, and concern for her children. As a Jewish proverb puts it succinctly, “God cannot be everywhere, so he created mothers.”
As we commemorate this solemn feast, the Church has for us these brief reminders. In the year 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus, an ecumenical council of bishops of the Catholic Church, settled whether Mary was to be called “Mother of Christ” – Christotokos, implying Jesus is merely human, or “Mother of God” – Theotokos. The Council decided on the title Theotokos, Mother of God, for Mary. The Council said that Mary is rightfully the Mother of God, therefore affirming the divinity of Christ.
In the Bible, the very first person to refer to Mary as the Mother of God is her own cousin, Elizabeth, who said in a loud voice, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There is nothing wrong with invoking Mary with the title “Mother of God.”
So what do we mean when we invoke Mary as the Mother of God? When we say Mary is the Mother of God, we do not mean that from all eternity, our God took His Godship from Mary, or that Mary is the source of the Godship of Jesus. As the Catholic Church teaches us, Jesus Christ was eternally begotten by God, Light from Light, True God from True God, eternally begotten by the Father. It means that Mary did not give Jesus Christ His Godship; Mary only gave birth to the humanity of Jesus Christ.
However, right from the moment of conception, the baby in the womb of Mary was truly God and truly man at the same time. Therefore, the baby born from the womb of Mary is God and man. Mary gave birth to God and man. When we say Mary is the Mother of God, it does not mean that she gave Godship to Jesus; it only means that Jesus was God right from her womb.
Saint Thomas added to this by asking, “Do mothers beget bodies or persons?” As one priest asked, “Do our mothers merely give birth to our bodies, or to ourselves as persons?” As people, of course. Thus, Mary conceived in her womb the Son of God, not just His human nature, but His divine nature as well.
If we look at the attitude of the mother, it is very beautiful. At the start, when she still bears the child in her womb, she must take care of herself, in order that the child is not in danger. She can’t sleep at night, because she watches the child sleep. As the child goes to school, she’s the one preparing the provisions.
But on the other hand, the womb of the mother becomes a battlefield or war zone, the worst enemy of the unborn, defenseless child. The enemies of the unborn child are many: abortion, artificial birth control, cigarette smoking, drinking hard liquor, and many more. That is why the child, while still in the womb of the mother, experiences rejection, insecurity, human rights violations, and lack of love from the parents. This is not so of Mary, who follows God’s will to be the mother of Jesus, even though she is in danger of being punished through stoning.
There was a teacher who had just given her primary grade class a lesson on magnets. In the follow-up test, one question read My name starts with M, has six letters and I pick up things. What am I? She was surprised to find half of the class answered the question with the word mother. Of course, the answer was supposed to be magnet.
People especially need their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, or insecurity. We need our mothers to pick us up. Perhaps even more so for those of us who are already old, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
So as we begin another year, with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary. May we all be like Mary with our total trust and faith in the Lord.
Let us not put our hopes in someone or something that may only give us false and ephemeral hope in the end. Instead, we place our entire lives in the loving and caring presence of our God who is always there for us. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” With Mary, we pray that the Lord will bless us this new year, and all the days of our lives.KEEP READING
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
December 25, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 52:5-10 / Ps 98 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There was an inquisitive 4-year-old who happened to be rooted strongly to the “why” and “tell me” stage of life. The little boy was helping to sort out ornaments and said, “Daddy, what does ‘ignore’ mean?” The father explained, “Ignore means not to pay attention to people when they talk to you.”
Immediately, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus.” Puzzled, the father knelt closer to his animated son and replied, “I don’t think we should ignore Jesus either, son. I think we should give Him our full attention. So why do you say that we ignore Him?” “But daddy, that’s what the Christmas carol says: O come let us ignore Him.”
Kids sure say the darnedest things sometimes. But you know, brothers and sisters, often we actually get so caught up in the frenzy of preparations — parties, shopping, and decorating — that we appear to ignore the true meaning of Christmas and fail to prepare a place in our hearts to come and adore Him.
Let us adore the baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love? Imagine Jesus, the son of God and our savior, born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of a crib. When God comes, He usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance.
God’s humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better, but of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So, no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus, we will not be able to comprehend. It will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God.
So let us praise God now in our own words. As we look at the baby Jesus, we think of the mystery of God’s love for us, and ask ourselves: Why did God, who is almighty and all powerful, become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. If Jesus had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing God really loved us, but now we know for sure.
John the Evangelist says this is the revelation of God’s love for us: that God sent His only son into the world that we might have life through Him. This Christmas, brothers and sisters, let us thank God for revealing His love for us in Jesus, that He who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that He became one of us to help us be more like Him, to have life through Him.
So, as we see baby Jesus in the manger, we reflect on God’s way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. God’s way is not one of violence, but gentleness. There’s a lot of goodness and love in the world but God is always tender and loving. As we look at baby Jesus in the manger, we see that He is the answer to today’s problems.
Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. So let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender, and loving with those around us, as He was in the manger.
Jesus in the manger gave us hope. In the darkness of our world His light has shone. His coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. And we remember the message of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, peace!KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Acts 14:21-27 / Ps 145 / Rev 21:1-5a / Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Each Sunday after Easter, God’s messages through the readings help us in living our everyday lives. The main theme of today’s readings is that Jesus’ disciples are recognized by the people around Him because they follow His commandment of love.
There are four elements through which Jesus wants to make His presence among His disciples during His lifetime and after His resurrection. These four elements are: the cross, prayer, Eucharist, and love.
The first element is the cross. Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me.” (Mt 10:38, Lk 14:27) Crucifixion was a form of Roman punishment during Jesus’ time, especially for criminals and rebels. When persons were condemned to be crucified, a part of the sentence was that they should carry the cross on which they were to die, to the place of execution.
For us, to carry the cross is a figurative expression which means that we must endure whatever is burdensome, trying, or is considered disgraceful in following our Lord, Jesus Christ. The cross is the symbol of doing our Christian duty, even at the cost of the most painful death, just like Jesus Christ, who obeyed God and carried out His work for the salvation of all, though it required Him to die upon the cross in order to do it.
The second element is prayer. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20) The best secret to unanswered prayer for whatever we need, is asking it in Jesus’ name, and not in the name of revenge, of consolation or pleasure, of an easy way out, of fame or shame, of good works or recompense for charitable donations.
First and foremost, our prayer must never be selfish. Selfish prayer cannot find an answer. We are not meant to pray only for our own needs, thinking of nothing and no one but ourselves. We are meant to pray as members of a Christian community. When prayer is unselfish, it is always answered. Let us always remember that the answer to our prayers is not according to our wish, but the will of the Father through Jesus Christ. That is why we should not separate ourselves from His Son.
The third element is the Eucharist. Matthew 26:26 says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take and eat. This is My body.’” At the Last Supper, Jesus eats a Passover meal with His disciples in view of His passion, death, and resurrection. The bread now is Jesus’ body, being broken and given to His disciples and to all of us. The wine is now Jesus’ blood, poured out for the redemption of the world. At Mass, the bread and wine are substantially changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Jesus. The bread that we eat is not a symbol of Christ’s body, but really is His body.
The last element is love. Jesus says in today’s gospel, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Jesus gives us this new commandment that we should love one another because He loves us. This teaching of Jesus about loving one another takes different forms.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39) Ordinarily, for Jewish people, a neighbor is only a fellow Jew. But for Jesus, the term neighbor includes any individual who is in need of help. That is what we understand in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Every person in need, whether he lives next door or a town away, whether she is beautiful or ugly, is a neighbor.
Jesus asks His disciples to use as a measure in loving other people, the love they have for themselves. They are to treat another person as their own flesh and bone. That is not an easy thing to do. We normally have different standards for ourselves as compared to others. The natural tendency is to give ourselves first priority or utmost care and to provide others with less or even no attention. By asking us to love a neighbor as our own self, the Lord simply is helping us overcome what we call narcissistic tendencies. We all belong to the one body of Christ, and we need to behave like we really are part of one another.
In today’s gospel, Jesus presents an even more demanding version of the commandment to love. He says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34-35) The Lord teaches His disciples to use as their standard for loving, not only their love for themselves, but His love for them. He knows that our way of loving can easily be tainted with selfish motivations. Hence, He challenges us to love one another according to the way He has loved us.
But the question is, what is this Christ-like love? It is a love that is agape. A love in spite of and not “love if” or “love because.” Agape is unconditional love: a love that is not motivated by how lovable the other person is. It does not say, I’ll love you if you become valedictorian of your class, or very successful. Or I’ll love you if you can afford to buy me a beautiful car, etc. It is love for even the unlovable, including the poor and one’s enemies. His love is self-sacrificing, unselfish, unselective. The love of Jesus is also not merited love which is bestowed on those who possess adorable qualities. It never says: I love you because you are considerate. I love you because you are faithful.
We are all called by Jesus to do the same thing: to love each one not because he or she is lovable, but in spite of the fact that he or she may not be lovable. We are to love even our enemies and sinners also.
There was a little girl who was born without an ear. She became a shy and introverted person. There were times when she would go home crying because her classmates made fun of her. When she became a teenager, her mother took her to a surgeon who performed an ear transplant on her. The operation was successful, and she became a normal and happy person. Not long after, she had a boyfriend. After several years, they decided to get married. On the eve of her wedding day, she went inside her mother’s room to thank her. As she embraced her, she noticed something strange, something absent. She realized that beneath the long hair of her mother was a missing ear. She cried and said, “It was you! All these years you didn’t tell me it was you.” The mother replied, “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be sad for me. I did it because I want you to be happy, to see you happy with your life. You don’t lose something when you give it to someone you love.”
I recently received a text message from a friend that will make us reflect about life and love. It says, “LIFE is a four-letter word that is very meaningful. L stands for love. I stands for inspiration. F stands for forgiveness. E stands for everlasting. No matter who, what, where, and when you found life, always remember, only God can satisfy your life.”KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Ps 126 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a little-known sidelight to the story of the woman taken in adultery. After the Pharisees dragged her before Jesus for sentencing, and Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” a stone comes flying from the crowd. Jesus looks up, frowns slightly, smiles a little and says, “If you don’t mind, mother, I am only trying to make a point here.”
In one way, this is a good joke because it shows the natural tendency of good people like the Pharisees and the Scribes to throw stones at those they consider sinners. In other ways it is a bad joke because it tries to paint sinless Mary in the colors of sinful humanity. The last person who would want to throw a stone at the woman caught in adultery would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s most favored one. According to the joke, Jesus says He’s trying to make a point here. So now the question is: What is the point that Jesus is trying to make? Why would the Church give us this story for our spiritual nourishment on the last Sunday before Holy Week, when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus on our behalf?
The story of the woman caught in adultery had a very curious history in the early Church. Many ancient Bibles do not have it. Some have it as part of a different chapter in the Gospel of John. Still others have it as part of the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars think that originally this story could have been part of Luke’s Gospel. Why? Because it reflects themes that are dear to Luke, such as concern for sinners, interest in women, and the compassion of Jesus.
The fact that it is missing in some early Bibles and found in different locations in others suggest that some early Christian communities had removed this story from the Bible. When later Christians tried to put it back into the Bible, they were no longer sure of its original location.
So why would anyone want to remove this story from the Bible? There are people who cannot understand why Jesus would sympathize with a convicted adulterer. After all, it is decreed in the Bible that such offenders should be put to death. (Lv 20:10)
Does this not seem like an obstruction of justice? What do you think? Perhaps you remember the case of Karla Faye Tucker, a self-confessed repentant murderer who was executed in Texas in February 1998. Many Christian organizations, including the Vatican, pleaded for her pardon, yet her execution was carried out. Supporters of the death penalty argued that no one should interfere with the course of justice. Well, Jesus just did in our gospel today.
There are people who think that compassion and leniency are a sign of weakness. These are probably the kind of Christians who tried to suppress the story by removing it from the Church’s Bible. How could Christians read this marvelous story of Jesus’ compassion and still take a hardline stand with regard to correctional services?
The answer lies in how one reads the story. Some people identify themselves with the Pharisees when they read it. Their interest is in how to deal with other people who break the law. Their answer is usually that justice should be allowed to run its due course.
Now you can begin to understand, in the history of the Church, why the medieval Church did not see anything wrong with burning at the stake convicted witches like Joan of Arc. Didn’t the Bible say that no one who practices sorcery should be allowed to live? That is the law; that is justice. Our only duty is to implement it.
But when we read this story, identifying ourselves, not with the Pharisees, but with the woman herself, then we begin to see the story for the good news that it really is. Like the woman, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Like her, we all deserve death. Why? Because the scripture says “the wages of sin is death.” But when Jesus comes into the picture, He overturns our death sentence. He sets us free with His words of absolution: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more. “
The story shows how Jesus stands up for sinners before the law. In doing so, he draws upon Himself the hostility of the hardline officers, who will eventually arrest Him and give Him a taste of their justice. The Church puts this story before us today, so that we can see ourselves in the sinner woman, whom Jesus saves from sure death, at the risk of attracting death to Himself.
This season of Lent urges us not to be judgmental of others. We are all sinners and in need of God’s mercy and grace. Only God has the right to judge people, because He alone is perfect.
Somebody said that God Himself does not propose to judge a person until he’s dead. So why should we judge him?
Sometimes people ask me, “Father, is it wrong to judge?” Of course, the answer is: It depends on how you deal with judgment.
There are two ways of judging people: with compassion or without mercy. If we judge the person with compassion, just like Jesus did, then we are doing the right thing. If we judge the person without mercy, without compassion, then we end up like the Scribes and the Pharisees in our gospel today. They want the woman to be stoned to death. Or we end up being like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He could not accept his brother for having squandered his parents’ money and property.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Father, what if I tell my children, “Don’t go with a drug addict.’ Am I judging the drug addict?”
Of course, that is a different story. Your intention is not to judge the drug addict, but to keep your children away from drugs.
Or how about Putin, who killed all these innocent people? Are we not going to judge him? Judge him with mercy. That is what Jesus wants us to do. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us of this when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this: When do you judge and act like the Pharisees and the Scribes? Are there times when you judge others because of your biases and prejudices? Are there times when you judge others even though you only know a little about the person?
If you are a person who judges others, try reflecting on these pieces of advice:
1) Never judge someone without knowing the whole story. You may think you understand, but you don’t.
2) Never judge someone by the opinion of others. Often, we are victims of this kind of judgment. We easily listen, especially when the person telling us the judgment or the criticism is someone we trust, or someone who is close to us.
3) Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you. Sometimes it is very easy to judge a person by their face, especially if the person’s face is ugly or he looks like a madman. But we may end up realizing that the person leads a very saintly life. And there are people who look like saints, but the way they lead their life is the other way around.
4) Don’t judge a person without fully understanding them. Just because you and the person don’t agree doesn’t mean you’re right.
We must be conscious that the way we judge things is limited. Our minds, our intellect, is just limited. That’s why, in philosophy, only God is an unlimited being. He’s the only perfect being. We, created beings, are all limited beings. Even our thinking is limited; the way we say things; the way we understand things; the way we hear things is limited, and prone to mistakes. If we are aware of that from the very beginning, then we end up realizing that we are not supposed to judge others right away. Jesus is telling us in our gospel today to judge others with compassion, with mercy, so that we won’t end up to be condemning.
We may be hounded by remorse for our past sins we have committed, like stealing, giving or accepting bribes, committing abortion, gossiping, making intrigues, or infidelity to one’s spouse. We feel we must do something more in order to make a balance of our spiritual account sheet. In short, make reparations.
So, this story is a fitting preparation for Holy Week. We see Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice to grant us clemency; we who are already sentenced to death by our sins.
As we prepare for Holy Week, let us thank Jesus for His mercy and love. And let us promise him that we shall commit ourselves to doing exactly as He tells us: To go and sin no more.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk 13:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The season of Lent is a wakeup call for all of us, a time to be brutally honest with ourselves, so that we come to know how deeply we depend on God’s mercy and providence. We know that the God we worship and believe in has proven to be loving, forgiving, and saving throughout the history of our Faith.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells about a fig tree that never bears fruit. So, like any sensible farmer, the owner thinks it’s probably time to get rid of it, simply because it does not bear fruit. But the man who works in the field has a better idea: I’ll give it a big dose of loving care, then we’ll hope to see its branches bend under the weight of juicy figs.
That is exactly what Jesus does for us. He feeds us, not with fertilizer, but with His Own Body and Blood. He invites us to stop boasting and be humble and let Him gently point out what we are doing wrong.
A story is told of an eight-year-old boy named Jimmy, who was acting up. He refused to do what he was told to do and did everything he was told not to do. In desperation, his father finally sent him to bed before dessert was served. Just then, a neighbor dropped in. He always liked Jimmy, and after a while he asked the parents if he could talk to the boy.
With a prayer in his heart, he reminded the lad that his disobedience displeased his parents and made them sad. It especially displeased God. The boy began to cry. “What can I do?” The visitor called his parents, who listened with tears in their eyes, as Jimmy told them he was sorry.
What the visitor did for Jimmy, Jesus does for every one of us. That is the meaning of the story Our Lord tells us in our gospel today. The man who planted the fig tree is God the Father. The fig tree means the chosen people of God: you and me. And the vinedresser or the worker in the vineyard is Jesus.
In justice, God the Father decides to cut down the fruitless trees. Christ intercedes. He pleads and prays that we be given more time, that we be given another chance. For the sake of His Son, the Heavenly Father gives us another chance.
This is the story of our life with Christ. We have not borne fruit. We have not done what we were created to do. We have even done what God told us not to do. We have disobeyed His ten commandments. We have not produced. You can’t blame God for being dissatisfied.
He decides to remove us, but Christ intercedes. He intervenes. Christ steps between us and God and asks for another chance. Pleading for us is one of the principal tasks of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He asks for mercy for us. He gets us another chance. Not only does He beg His Father for forgiveness, Jesus begs for all the good things we need.
That is one reason why every official prayer of the Church, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, ends with a plea: “Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord,” or some variation of this thought.
There is a rather famous painting that shows a young man playing chess with the devil. They are playing for possession of the young man’s soul. The painting portrays the devil as having just made a brilliant move. Chess players who studied the arrangement of the chess pieces in the painting feel immediate sympathy for the young man. He has been put in a hopeless situation. He has been led down a blind alley with no exit.
Paul Charles Morphy, a former world class chess player, became intrigued by the painting. One day, while studying the arrangement of the chess pieces, he saw something that no one else did. Excitedly, he cried out to the young man in the painting, “Don’t give up! You still have an excellent move left.” There is still hope.
The story fits in beautifully with the point Jesus makes in the parable of the fig tree today. Like the young man in the painting, the fig tree seems lost, then suddenly a ray of hope breaks through. Like the young man in the painting, the tree is not doomed after all; it gets a last minute reprieve. It gets a last minute second chance.
This is an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Because of Jesus, there is always one more move left to make, no matter how late in the game it is.
This brings us to the most important point of all. How does all this apply to our lives in a very practical way? All of us, to some extent, are like the young man in the painting and like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable. All of us, at one time or another, have arrived at a point in life when it seemed that we were in a no-win situation. Perhaps some of us are at such a point in our lives right now. Perhaps some situation threatens to engulf us and overwhelm us. Perhaps some relationship threatens to destroy everything we believe in. Perhaps some problem has led us down a blind alley that seems to be a dead end.
It’s right here that today’s gospel has an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus Christ, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, we always have one more move left. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what the situation.
This is the lesson that’s contained in today’s scripture. This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy. And this is the message that God wants us to carry back into our world to share with others.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 30, 2022 – Year C
Readings: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 / Ps 71 / 1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13 / Lk 4:21-30
by Rev. Louis Benoit, Guest Celebrant
In the gospel you heard last week, Jesus presented a grand vision of God’s plan for humanity: God’s plan for humanity through Jesus, God’s presence among them. The people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth at first were impressed – They liked it. But then they started asking, “Hey, isn’t this the son of Joseph, the local carpenter?” They go from seeing Jesus’ grand vision to seeing things from their local small-town viewpoint only. In their narrow vision, they miss God’s presence in Jesus, and they resent Him. That’s what’s going on in today’s gospel. (more…)KEEP READING
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 2, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Ps 72 / Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Mt 2:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today we celebrate the feast of the Magi, or of the Epiphany. This feast is called Epiphany because Jesus revealed Himself, not only to the Jews, the chosen people, but also to pagan visitors. The word epiphany is from the Greek word, epiphaneia, which means manifestation. In other words, Epiphany is first and foremost the feast of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, to the world. Jesus is Savior, not only of the Israelites, the chosen people, but of everyone. In this sense, the Magi represent all the other peoples of the world. (more…)KEEP READING