Theme: Present

Most transformation experiences whether good and bad are an inherent aspect of the human condition. When human beings participate in such a process, the results can be either remarkable or surprisingly ambivalent. For example the transformation of a baby to a child to an adult can be amazing to witness; but when that same human being is ravaged by a debilitating illness, one must look much deeper to find the person’s true uniqueness.

Read more: Second Sunday of Lent Year C   

Theme: Temptations

Humanity has always struggled with the question ‘where can I Find God?’ Some attest that God can be found in the faces of the poor and those who are struggling. Others mention of finding God in silence and reflection. These six weeks of Lent is an opportunity for rediscovering God in a more organized manner a true friend.

Read more: First Sunday of Lent Year C

Theme: Faith

In the scales of interpersonal relationships, deceit, arrogance and selfishness will be outweighed by integrity, humility and true mutual concern. These qualities create disciples, build community while at the same time defeating death and preparing humanity for immortality.

First reading: Sirach 27:4-7

When archaeologists excavated Qumran in 1947 they found fragments of the book we call Sirach. Seventeen years later, in 1964, similar excavations of the fortress-city of Masada yielded an entire copy of this work. In an ancient synagogue unearthed at Cairo, another copy of Sirach was found. All of these discoveries attest to the popularity among Jews of the wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach even when it was not included in the official canon of scripture. Written in Hebrew around 180 B.C, the scholarly and shrewd author sought to answer the needs of his people in their struggle to maintain their ancient and treasured traditions against the pervading influence of Greek culture by emphasizing the fact that all lovers of wisdom/philosophers would find the source of their preference only in Israel because of law and virtues. Sirach taught that wisdom would be discovered, not in abstract speculation, but in the well-lived life of one who fears the Lord. Two generations later around 130 B.C Sirach’s grandson translated his work into Greek to make its insights readily available to Greek-speaking Jews.

Among the early Christians, this second century B.C anthology of humor, wisdom and practical advice was also popular, as is evidenced by its Greek name: ‘Ecclesiasticus/Book of the Church’. This reading belongs to a longer section of two Chapters concerning integrity, friendship and the dangers that militate against values. Excellent advice for choosing proper companions, today’s text points to a person’s speech as a gauge of inner virtue. The image of the sieve and husks is borrowed from the grain harvesting process. Once the grain has been threshed, it is run through a sieve. While the grain falls through, the husks/kopria in Greek meaning refuse are left behind ready to be discarded. With this graphic image, Sirach compared what happens when a person begins to speak. Whereas there may have been a doubt as to the character of persons when they are silent, all doubts are dispelled when the inner aspect of persons is revealed in open oratory. Sound advice in any age, Sirach’s wisdom teaches us that ‘blessed is the person, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact’. A spoken word is so powerful that it can reveal the integrity or lack of it in any individual. It is critical to think before we speak because what comes out of one’s mouth reveals the heart.

Second reading: 1Corinthians 15:54-58

The power death wields over those who do not believe leaving deeper effects on society. Any one who wishes to engage in the struggle for justice and transformation will not succeed if he/she remains in psychological bondage to the powers of death. Only those who are neither pessimistic nor afraid are able to persist. When Paul called the Corinthians to affirm their faith in the power of Jesus over death, he challenged them to affirm as well their freedom from death, sin and law by exercising their freedom “fully engaged in the work of the Lord” 1Corinthians 15:58. Paul insists that Jesus’ resurrection determines how we think about our immortality. Whereas some in Corinth held that an ideal existence could be attained by divesting oneself of the body and all that it entailed, Paul spoke of transformation of the corruptible frame unto incorruptibility. It is this transformation into a “spiritual body” 1Corinthians 15:43 that maintains the continuity between the believer here and now and the believer in a future existence.

This transformation has been made possible for all only because of Jesus Christ. His death on the Cross and his rising has accomplished victory over death. The risen Lord is life caused by faith and love. Only Jesus Christ and his victory over death has broken this repetitive and vicious cycle, freeing those who believe, from sin and the law cf. Colossians 2:13. In the final verses of this difficult text, Paul challenges all who enjoy the victory of Jesus over death to manifest their sincere gratitude in steadfastness and perseverance cf. 1Corinthians 15:57-58. Only those who persevered in the way of Christ achieve steadfastness.

Gospel Luke 6:39-45

What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying! This pithy statement written time back was bandied about as people discussed the need for authenticity and integrity in relationships. Although it may have become common and hackneyed from overuse, the point remains relevant as the point made in today’s gospel. The conclusion of Luke’s version of the great sermon is comprised of three separate parables that were to function as object lessons for Jesus’ disciples. All three parables are concerned with the principles that should govern lives of disciples. Of course the sayings as they are here arranged and in their given larger context reflect the situation of the Christian community of their time, yet still relevant to us today.

Without the earthly Jesus to guide them and without the apostolic eyewitnesses, new Christians learned the gospel and the meaning of the Christian way of life from those who already lived it. With the light and presence of the Holy Spirit, Christians living together in community were responsible for one another as teachers, guides and as disciplinarians. Not only by their words were they to witness to one another, but also by their works and behavior. They had little choice bit to influence one another which made them to be self-critical and personally transformed before assuming the task of admonishing and transforming others. The grossly exaggerated image conjured up by the speck and plank metaphor is put purposefully to provoke humor. Imagine someone with a plank hanging out of his/her eye sympathetically attempting to remove a speck from another’s eye! ridiculous! Yet, the humor of the image should not blind us to the seriousness of the lesson whose point is an attempt to improve or correct others without a prior self-critique is absurd!

The term ‘hypocrite’ cf. Luke 6:42 was a name given for those who attempt to reform others without any self-involvement but now it has undergone quite evolution. Initially, the word meant one who answers. In classical Greek, hypocrite meant interpreter, expounder, orator and actors on a stage. From this latter application, it came to connote a pretender and dissembler. Today, as we know, hypocrite is a derogatory term for those whose actions are not consonant with their words including liars and deceivers. Unfortunately, sometimes even professed and confessing Christians earn this title for themselves proving the need to do self-examination before attempting on the task of fraternal correction. Truly, the disciple need not be completely without imperfections before the process can begin; yet there is need for clear motivation before entering into the process intended for the good of all who believe.

As baptized we are called upon to be both guides and teachers. In order to lead a blind person, one must be sighted; in order to teach, one must be knowledgeable; otherwise the blind person and the student will be lost. The sight and the knowledge examples are insights that come from a faith-filled relationship. To teach the ways of Jesus, to lead others in his way, the disciple must first embody the lessons. Only then will the process of speck and plank removal be a true witness to Christian charity. The third parable unveils true discipleship. The logic of this text is simple. Good trees, like good people, produce good things; decayed trees and corrupt people give forth worthless and evil things. This section of the gospel comes full circle as it recalls the wisdom of Ben Sirach in today’s first reading; just as a person’s speech reveals his/her mettle, so too do a person’s deeds mirror the heart and mind prompting them.

Application

We need to pray and think before we talk to any one because words define our hidden self. Indeed it is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Those who live and die in Christ have joy and hope in this life and the world to because they have defeated death. We are encouraged to perfect as our heavenly father, even when we find ourselves hypocrite and with planks in our eyes, lets do our best to change and bear good fruits.

Fr. Paulino Mondo

Theme: Be reconciled with God

My brothers and sisters, today we are entering a holy season of penance and mortification. Together, we have gathered here to celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first of forty days of the Lenten Season that precedes Easter. On this special occasion, we are called to be reconciled with God. Through the ashes that are symbolic of penance, we are reminded that we as sinners are but dust and ashes cf. Genesis 18:27. Today, in preparation for the joy of Easter that is approaching, we need to call upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus, asking Him for His blessings and forgiveness. Our heavenly Father does not want us to die but to live with the risen Christ. Through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we ought to prepare ourselves to celebrate his death and glorious Resurrection worthily.

The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the old when someone had sinned, he/she had to dress in sack clothes and cover self with ashes cf. Jeremiah 6:26.The rite that we are observing today arises from that custom symbolizing public penitence. Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one's forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eighth century. This was accompanied by fasting, prayer, sacrifice and charity towards the poor. The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D, tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain foods. We who happen to live in the age of consumerism, this form of prayer is important as it assists us to reflect on the gift of life.

First reading: Joel 2:12-18

Prophet Joel announces that the Lord God calls us to return to Him with all our hearts by fasting, weeping and mourning. We are told to split apart our hearts, not our clothing. To practice sincere repentance, the Lord tells us to change our wrong ways. We are called to examine our most inner self and let go all those evil ways once and for all. During this holy season we ought to remember that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not punish us if we are sincere and if we are willing to change. God is not a God of punishment but a God of love to those who strive earnestly to walk righteously. Prophet Joel reminds us that our sanctification in the likeness of God is not just for a few people but for all of us who have placed their hope in God. 

The following reminders need to provoke our hearts as we are told to assemble the aged, to gather the children, and even the breast fed infants. Even the bridegroom should leave his room and the bride her canopy. This is a very powerful command that includes everyone, of all ages! This is the holy season when the ministers of the Church beg the Lord, asking Him on behalf of the people to show His mercy upon humanity. This is the time when we remind the Lord of His promises made to Abraham our spiritual father that we will inherit the Promised Land. The practice of reminding God of His promises is to draw His pity upon us who are weak.  It is in doing so that He will not forget us. It is also a moment to assure us that we will not be mocked by those who say, ‘Where is your God?’ For our Lord God keeps His promises. He will save those who walk in righteousness. In this era of the joy of the Gospel, we need to gaze our eyes on the one who alone can save us and that is Lord God ever loving.

Second reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

Through this reading St. Paul is appealing to us on behalf of Jesus to be reconciled to God. God the Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross. He who was without sin took our place and was treated as a sinner, so that we might become righteous in the eyes of God. What a horrible death we deserved; the death that Christ endured for us is beyond telling. All this was possible because of God’s divine love for us. Today once again, God reminds us that He heard our cries that were raised to Heaven and has helped us to secure our salvation. Now is the time for us to show our appreciation towards this act of love by walking in His righteousness so that we may inherit the salvation that we have asked of Him and which He is granting to us through His infinite care and mercy. This is a wonderful invitation that we should not let pass by us.

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

How do we walk in righteousness? Jesus answers this question during today’s Gospel. We walk in righteousness by not continuing to live in our worldly ways. Jesus warns us against hypocrisy common to those who are pious so that they may be seen by others. He says that they have received their rewards through those who admired them and praised them for it. For them, there is no reward from God the Father in Heaven.

During this Lenten Season, our piety must manifest private and privileged time between the Lord God and ourselves. We must experience a transformation of our whole being beyond going to Church. We must walk with Christ in our lives every minute of the day, from the time we rise in the morning until the time we go to bed at night. Equally, when you sacrifice by giving to the Church or by reaching out to someone in need, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing. Do it privately and then forget about it. If you give a donation to the Church so that you can receive a larger reward, then you are missing the point. Important must be as Christ is instructing us that our right hand must not knows what our left hand is doing. Meaning, our right hand is giving while our left hand is waiting to receive its benefit.

If you decide to increase your time of prayer during the Lenten Season, do not do it in open space for others to see and applause your piety. If that is the case, then such a behavior will make you receive your reward on earth by those who will praise you for your demonstrations. Rather when you pray, go in your inner room, close the door and pray to God the Father in private so the Heavenly Father may see you in private and reward you.

If you decide to fast, do not overdo it to the extent that you look weak and sick so the others will notice that you are fasting. Fast to the degree that you can manage, always being cheerful and looking healthy so no one but God will know that you are fasting. Then, God the Father will reward you. All this is intended to assist us to be reconciled to God! These are the guidelines that the Church has received from God so the faithful may experience true repentance and receive Divine mercy and forgiveness. As you enter the Lenten Season, remember these words every day! Practice them! And I assure you that God shall reward you! This is the time to regain our joy and lost glory and to be able to achieve this we have to repent and believe the good news.

Application

The forty days that we have ahead of us are a moment of grace that God is granting us. Let us utilize them for the sake of our salvation by fasting, praying, mortifying our selves and through acts of charity towards other especially the poor.

Fr. Paulino Mondo

Theme: Forgiveness

When Christian missionaries to Alaska went to minister among the Inuit people, they were surprised to discover their term for forgiveness. A formidable assemblage of 24 letters, the compound word issumagijoujungnainermik is a beautiful expression which means not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore. Implied in this term is the notion that the one who forgives will also forget. What a freeing thought! Forgiveness is a noble gift and when it is authentically offered and genuinely received, it never ceases to stir true amazement in the human heart.

Read more: Seventh Sunday in ordinary time Year C

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