For Freedom, Christ Set Us Free

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel.  Sunday, 26 June, 2022.]

Our second reading today from the Letter of Blessed Paul the Apostles to the Galatians begins with the inspiring line, “Brothers and sisters, for freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Freedom from Jewish Circumcision and Law

In the context of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is responding to his communities of Christian converts in Galatia and Asia Minor who were being misled by Christian Judaizers, who claimed that Paul was not a true apostle.  They taught the Galatians falsely that before they could be true Christians they must first be true Jews, and therefore that circumcision, the celebration of the Jewish feasts, and fidelity to the Jewish way of life according to the law are necessary for Christian salvation.  Against these Christian Judaizers, Paul exerts his authority as an apostle.  He had not walked with the Twelve original Apostles during Jesus’ public ministry, but his apostleship was genuine, he insisted,  based on the personal experience he had had of Jesus in his conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  In this experience, he received his mission to the Gentiles from Jesus himself.  He was to bring them the good news of salvation not through compliance with Jewish law and customs but through faith in Christ Jesus.  For it was through his death and resurrection that Jesus set all free from sin and slavery. 

Therefore, Paul’s admonition: “Brothers and sisters, for freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Do not submit again the slavery of the Jewish law.

Freedom from Religious Externalism

On a deeper level, he set us free from relating to God merely through external compliance with the law, the notion that you are justified if you have properly washed your hands before eating, if you flaunt your fidelity to the law by wearing a phylactery on your forehead, and if your circumcision is cut in the flesh.  Paul’s rejection of this externalism, echoed with finality by the early Church in the Council of Jerusalem, was rooted in Jesus’ own rejection of religious externalism which eclipsed the interior demands of a true relationship with God:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity.  But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.  Blind guides who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.  Even so, on the outside, you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (cf, Mt. 23:23-27).

Paul’s message was:  “Brothers and sisters, for freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Through his Cross, Christ set us free for a genuine relationship with the Father in the Spirit that is not entered into through external enslavement to laws and pious practices.  This relationship is not achieved in the hypocrite’s declaration, “Thank God, Lord, that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest and adulterous – like this tax collector”:  I always put money in the collection basket, I am faithful to five daily novenas, I go to Mass every day, I pray the rosary every day. I love all women and men; it’s just my neighbor I can’t stand!  It’s just this other student I despise!  It’s just this needy person I won’t help because she is too demanding!   Remember, Jesus taught that it was not the Pharisee that was justified, but the tax collector who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (cf. Luke 18:9-14).  There was a freedom in the openness of the tax collector to the mercy of God that was absent in the self-righteous Pharisee.

“Brothers and sisters, for freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Paul continues:  “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.  But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Freedom from Sin for Love

In Paul, “the flesh” is not just the body but all that which opposes the Spirit, the Holy Spirit that is sent to us in the Church to remind us of and explain all that Jesus taught us about the goodness of his Father, about the Kingdom of God, about making service in the Kingdom the priority in our lives, about his coming to bring us life, life to the full, about accepting him as the Bread of Life, about taking care of the least of his sisters and brothers, about repenting from our sins and believing in salvation in Jesus Christ who suffers and dies for us to free us from our sins.

This struggle against sin, against the flesh, in those elements in me that rebel against Christ, reject his kingship, reject his love, is real.  So often, sin is so powerful in me, it takes over, possesses me, and enslaves me.  Have you ever experienced this?  Paul expressed it in all its pathos in his letter to the Romans:

“What I do, I do not understand.  For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.  For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me.  So then I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.  For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Miserable one that I am!  Who will deliver me from this mortal body?”  It is worth pondering this experience that Paul describes.  I believe, he or she who has struggled with to be free of sin understands. 

Through belief in Jesus Christ our Lord we are freed from the law of sin. 

“Thanks be to God, [we are freed] through Jesus Christ our Lord…” (Rom 7: 15-29).  We are freed not through any merit of our own, not through anything we have done or achieved, but simply because even in our sin, God loved us, and expressed that love for us in Jesus hanging from the Cross, who having died, rose, and sent us his spirit of life.

“For the law of the spirit of life in Christ has freed you from the law of sin and death.  For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit…” (Rom. 8: 2-4)

Brothers and sisters, “for freedom, Christ set us free.”  We are freed of Jewish circumcision and customs.  We are freed of hypocritical religious externalism.  We are freed of enslavement to sin.  We are invited to an authentic relationship with Jesus in freedom.  In contemplating the Jesus Christ on the Cross, we are invited ever more deeply to hear the Father’s Word of love spoken to each of us intimately from the Cross. In response, we are invited in the Spirit to reject our history of disobedience, idolatry and sin, and stand to him, even at the cost of suffering with him, to witness to his love in our world.

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Our Participation in Jesus’ Sacrifice

[Homily:  Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Sunday, June 19, 2022]

Before Abram was renamed Abraham (cf. Gen. 18:5), Abram was sent by God into Canaan, where God promised he would be the father of a great nation. Abram believed in God’s promise.  In this faith, he journeyed with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, from Ur to Canaan (cf. Gen 12:1-9).

But Canaan then had warring kings, five were warring against four. Eventually, the five captured the nephew of Abram, Lot, who had meanwhile been living in the Jordan plain;  they captured him and seized all his possessions. News of this reached Abram.

With 310 of his household servants, Abram pursued the five kings to rescue his nephew. After a fortuitous battle, Abram won.  He brought Lot, his household and his possessions home. A newcomer to Canaan, his victory stunned the Canaanite kings (cf. Gen 14:1-17).

Melchisedek, King and High Priest

At this point, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek appeared. Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem), encountering Abram, brought out bread and wine.  Being a priest of God, he blessed Abram:

“Blessed be Abram by God the most high, the creator of heaven and earth!”  he prayed.
“Blessed be God Most High who delivered your foes into your hands” (Gen 14:19-20a). 

Abram deferred to Melchizedek.  He was not just a representative of earthly power, possibly the first of the Canaanite kings.  He was a king of Salem, of Salaam, peace.  Melchizedek was not merely recognizing Abram’s military victory, but recognizing that he was blessed by God, the creator of heaven and earth.  He recognized that it was God who had delivered Abram’s foes into his hands.

The bread and wine that Melchizedek brought out was for a meal.  It celebrated Abram’s victory.  But it was also a covenant meal, where two parties came together and ate in shared agreement.  In shared bread and wine Melchizedek and Abram celebrated God’s decision to deliver Abram’s foes into his hands; they celebrated Abram’s acceptance of God’s power to redeem his nephew, Lot.   The covenant was:  God’s being for Abram, and Abram being of God;  God blessing Abram, and Abram blessing God. 

Representing God, Melchizedek blessed Abram.  Receiving the blessing, Abram acknowledged Melchizedek as representing the Holy;  yielding to his superiority, he “gave him a tenth of his possessions” (Gen. 14:19a). 

Jesus, Priest According to the Order of Melchizedek

All this was a remote preparation for another Covenant Meal.  Melchizedek’s meal of bread and wine was a foreshadowing of the High Priest, Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:1-10), who would take bread as a real symbol of himself giving up his body on a Cross for our salvation;  he would then take wine as a real symbol of himself pouring out his blood from a Cross for our redemption (cf.Lk 22:19-20).  The new covenant meal would remotely recall how the Father, in striking down all the first-born males of the Egyptian families who had enslaved his people, passed over the houses of those whose lintels had been marked with the blood of the sacrificed lamb sparing their first-born males (cf. Ex 12:1-36).  The new covenant meal would now commemorate the sacrifice of the High Priest, Jesus, on the Cross, whose self sacrifice surpassed the temple sacrifices of the Levitical priests repeated year in and year out, but whose blood of animals failed to atone for sins.  The Sacrifice of Jesus offered on the Cross through the Eucharistic meal allowed Jesus in his Death, Resurrection and Ascension to offer his body and blood once and for all times in the Heavenly Sanctuary to the Father as fitting atonement for our sins.  (cf. Heb 9:11-28).  Marked with the blood of the sacrificed Jesus, the Justice of the compassionate God passes over us sinners.  In this context, Jesus’ priesthood was not of the Jewish house of Levitical priests, but of a superior order, that of Melchizedek.  In Psalm 110, David spoke of his Lord God saying to his Lord, Jesus, “Take your throne at my right hand, while I make your enemies your footstool…  In holy splendor before the daystar I begot you… You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek (Ps. 110: 1a. 3b. 4b).

Through Baptism, We Participate in the Priesthood of Jesus

Jesus is the High Priest of the order of Melchisedek in whose priesthood we all now participate through our baptism.  Today, in Jesus’ priesthood, it may be appropriate to appreciate what we pray after the consecration in our Eucharistic Prayer today: 

“Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation,
His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven,
and ready to greet him when he comes again,
we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”
We are one with Jesus at the Last Supper offering his body and blood for us on the Cross
winning for us in his resurrection reconciliation with the Father.

“Look with favor on your Church’s offering,
and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself.
Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood,
may be filled with the Holy Spirit
and become one body and one spirit in Christ” (Canon III)

In the First Eucharistic Prayer we pray also after the consecration,
“Look with favor on these offerings
and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant, Abel,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,
and the bread and wine offered by your priest, Melchisedek.”

And so as we celebrate the body and blood of Christ today
we are not just celebrating bread mysteriously transubstantiated into the body of Christ
and wine miraculously transformed into the blood of Christ;
we are not just celebrating two objects with mysterious religious properties preserved in a hallowed tabernacle before which we are trained to bow, kneel, prostrate ourselves and pray.

Our Lives Included, Transformed, Uplifted

Instead, we are participating through lived faith in Jesus’ eternal and redeeming Sacrifice that profoundly includes our lives.  We participate in the Sacrifice offered once and for all times for the forgiveness of sins, by uniting ourselves with him, the High Priest according to the order of Melchisedek, shedding his own blood for our redemption, sacrificing his own body for our nourishment, dying in our dying to sin, rising in our rising to new life, being reconciled to us in our reconciliation with the Father and one another in him,  loving us in our loving others in him, encouraging us in our struggles for others in him, and – finally – in preparing ourselves in him and the Holy Spirit as a humble offering of joy and praise lifted up by Jesus to our Loving Father in heaven forever.

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In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…

[Homily.  Trinity Sunday. 19 June 2022.]

After the celebration of Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost, it only fitting that we celebrate our relationship with God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity.  When we recall the Father, what are some of the images of him that we recall from the Old Covenant that lead us to the New Covenant in Jesus and life today in the Spirit??

The Father

The Father is the creator of all in gratuitous generosity, sharing life and freedom in love. 

The Creator-Father deals with the human creature who, deceived by evil, misuses his life and his freedom.  As a consequence of sin, the human being is exiled from paradise into a condition alienated from the Father. 

The Father calls forth his Chosen People, entering into a pact with them:  “I will be your God;  you be my people.”  That includes the narratives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (who was also called Israel), and Israel’s twelve sons, the youngest of whom was Jacob’s favorite, Joseph, whom his brothers sell into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph thrives in Egypt under the favor of Pharaoh.  In a time of famine the rest of his family are forced to migrate to Egypt, where they too are able to survive because of the mercy and fraternal love of Joseph.  But here it is the really Father who allows his people to thrive in Egypt until, because of their size, they are enslaved by Pharaoh. 

Then the Father reveals himself as liberator.  He raises up Moses to free his people from their enslavement in Egypt.  He frees them from the power of Pharaoh and leads them through the Red Sea to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  But even though he shows the people that he is God for them, the people grumble in the desert and doubt the goodness of the Lord; they say they were better off in slavery.  The Lord teaches them his will from Mt. Sinai, but even in receiving his explicit commandments, the people choose to break them in sin.  The Father wishes to lead his people to their happiness, but they reject his leadership and turn to other gods. 

Already in the Promised Land, they demand that they be led by a human king.  The Father is their Lord, but they reject his rule, and demand a human king.  So God allows them their kings, all of whom, like Saul, are flawed; even the most faithful of them, David, is flawed in his sin with Bathsheba.  His son, Solomon, who is blessed with extraordinary wisdom and wealth, and builds the great Temple of the Lord, eventually betrays his wisdom and end up worshipping other gods.  After Solomon, the one Kingdom of Israel is irrevocably divided into two: the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.  Through his prophets, the Father tries to counsel the kings to fidelity to him, but their infidelity persists, and what the prophets warn will happen due to their infidelity comes true.  The northern kingdom is eventually decimated by the Assyrians; not long after, the southern kingdom is decimated by the Babylonians.  The humbled people are led into exile where they must suffer for their sins and struggle to remain faithful to their Lord among non-believers.

Working through the prophets and the Persian King, the Father eventually leads his remnant people back to Jerusalem.  He calls for the reconstruction of the temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  But things are never the same.  The new Temple is nothing like the glorious Temple of Solomon, and the Jews overlook the rule of their compassionate Lord and long for a political return to the Kingdom of David.  Their liturgy and spirituality decline into fastidious observance of external rules. 

If with the psalmist, the people could pray in their alienation from God, “Oh God, you are my God, for you I long!  For you my body yearns, for you my soul thirsts…”, the Father in the Old Testament even more powerfully yearns for his Chosen People to freely accept his leadership and love in their lives.  He is the Father who waits patiently for his lost son to get up from his misery and return to his Father’s home and feel his Father’s embrace.  He is the Father willing to send his only begotten Son to seek out and save the lost sheep, even if as the Good Shepherd he must lay down his life for his sheep. 

The Son

This was the context of Jesus’ proclamation, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).   Repent, and believe in the Kingdom of God. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God would be established in his courageous proclamation of it, in its acceptance by some, and its rejection by many.  The Kingdom of God was proclaimed in Jesus setting signs, understood by some, and misunderstood by many, that he and his Father were one, as when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), or “I come to bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).  The Kingdom of the Father was proclaimed when, in the context of a Paschal Meal, he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples – to us – saying, this is my Body given up for you. This is my blood poured out for you.  The Kingdom of the Father is established in the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, ultimately as the Father’s crucified Word of love, forgiveness and acceptance for us, his Chosen People.  This Word of love:  John expresses it profoundly in its cosmic context:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  …  He was in the world and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.  He came to his own, but his own people did not accept him.  But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice, nor by a man’s decision but of God…”

The Holy Spirit

In his farewell discourse before his suffering and death Jesus said to his disciples who were disturbed and anxious at the prospect of Jesus’ going away, “It is better for you that I go.  For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.  He will condemn the world in its disbelief, prove me right in my teachings, and as the Spirit of truth guide you to all truth.”   

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in whose wisdom the world was created (cf. Prov. 3; 19-20).   Led by the Spirit, Jesus confronts and overcomes all manner of temptation in order to accomplish his mission (cf. Lk 4:1).  It is this Spirit that Jesus sends to us upon his ascension and glorification in heaven.  The Spirit we see in the account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles empowering the disciples to take their convictions about the Risen Lord beyond the safety of the upper room and to go public:  to courageously preach the good news of salvation in the crucified Jesus openly to all peoples – first among the Jews and the Jewish Christians in  and around Jerusalem, then through Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth. – even to the ends of the earth at the peripheries of our society today  where people are marginalized, discarded, demeaned, degraded and killed. 

So, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, when we make the sign of the Cross we sign ourselves with the recollection of the history of our salvation, the history of the Father calling us as his People in love, redeeming us from our sins through the Word of God’s unending love for us on a Cross, and sending us his Spirit that in our lives we might be witnesses of his love.  “Go, …and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).  

Today, talk to the Father.  Remember, we are his children.  Let him speak to you about his love for you in his Son.  Talk to the Son.  Let him speak to you about the Father’s love for you from the Cross of Jesus.  Talk to the Holy Spirit, let him encourage you in your love for the Father and the Son in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.  Let him strengthen your faith and raise your hope.  Let him continually remind you of how because of your love, the Father and the Son dwell within you (cf. Jn 15:23).  Pause at that incredible truth.  Respond from within with even greater love for your God and neighbor – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! 

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“To the Ends of the Earth” Today

[Homily:  First Friday.  June 3, 2022.]

From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed water and blood.  From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed the Church.  From the side of the Crucified Lord, St. John Chrysostom said, flowed the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist, that is, the Church. 

Today, we celebrate the one Paschal Mystery in time, and celebrate aspects of it one by one:  the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Suffering and Death of the Lord on Good Friday, his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, his Ascension on Ascension Thursday or the Sunday after, and Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension, this coming Sunday.  In Ordinary Time we celebrate the Church.  But the Lord before he suffered, died, and rose again, said he needed to return to his Father’s house to prepare a place for us, and in order to be able to send us the Holy Spirit.

The ends of the Earth in the West.

The Spirit would remind the young Christian communities of all the Lord had taught us.  It would guide the development of the early Church that grew from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter preached to Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem.

Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles.  Towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear in our First Reading for today, Paul needed to defend himself against “the Jews” in Jerusalem before the new Roman Governor Porcius Festus and before the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa I. It was by “appealing to Caesar” that Paul escaped murder in Jerusalem and was sent as a prisoner to Rome where even as a prisoner he was able to preach the Gospel in what was for Luke at the ends of the earth. 

Historically, it is uncertain how Paul died.  Some say he was martyred – beheaded – under the brutal Roman Emperor, Nero.  But Paul wished to bring the Gospel further east, to Spain. If he was not martyred in Rome, he may even have reached there!  Through his life mission, marked by travail and persecution and directed by the Holy Spirit, the small sect of Jewish believers in Christ was transformed into a world religion which changed the course of human history. 

The Apostle of the Gentiles traveled West, “to the ends of the earth.”

The ends of the Earth in the East

Reflecting on this, we may consider that we are at the opposite “ends of the Earth” in the East.  Europe is called the Land of the Setting Sun.  We are in the lands of the Rising Sun.  Today we are invited to appreciate how the Gospel needed to be brought to us also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by such great missionaries as Francis Xavier and Mateo Ricci.  Francis Xavier brought the faith to Goa then to the Moluccas, then to Japan. After returning to Goa on official business as Provincial then returning to Japan he died on the Chinese Island of Shanchuan, short of entering mainland China.  Mateo Ricci did, not only by entering the great Chinese Middle Kingdom but by entering its culture.  Till today he is honored not only as a great missionary of the Church but as a great sage of China.  Of course, it was the Spanish missionaries who just over 500 years ago brought the faith to us in the Philippines. 

The ends of the Earth in Africa and the Americas

From Europe, the Gospel was preached to the ends of the earth in Africa not only by Catholic Christians but also by Protestant Christians. 

The Memorial that we celebrate today is that of the Christian witnesses in Africa (1885-87), St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, martyrs of Uganda.  Their martyrdom is tied to that of another Ugandan martyr, St. Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe.  All were in the service of King Mwanga II of Buganda.  When King Myanga II insisted that Christians prove their loyalty to him by renouncing their religion, upon their refusal, he killed them all, including and Anglican bishop, James Hannington.  Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe, the mayor-domo of King Mwanga II, reproached the king for these executions.  For this he was beheaded. 

Charles Lwanga was made to take his place as major domo.  As head servant, he acted to protect the male pages from the sexual abuse of the pedophile king.  After refusing to renounce his faith, Lwanga was executed with twelve others.  They were burned at the stake.  From the earliest accounts of the Church, “the blood of martyrs” has been “the seed of the Church.”

Of course, the Good News has been preached and the blood of martyrs spilled in North America and in South America as well.

The Ends of the Earth at “the Peripheries”

But today we may consider that under the Holy Spirit the good news preached “to the ends of the earth” is not merely geographical.  Pope Francis repeatedly admonishes us to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the peripheries of our society, to the outcaste, the discarded poor, the homeless refugees, the despairing youth, the unarmed victims of violent extremism and violent wars.

Today the witnesses of the Gospel may be those who in conscience struggle for the common good, e.g., those who offer their personal talent, time and treasure to provide a viable political alternative to voters despite insurmountable odds, those who stand for their political convictions even when on a stretcher they can no longer stand and cast their vote trusting in the power of God, those who stand courageously against people who in selfish interest would kill our common home as through open-pit mining in South Cotabato, those who sacrifice time and treasure to bring nourishment to the stunted and wasted malnourished, those who continue in social friendship to work against the obstacles to genuine fraternity in our Mindanao and in our world, no matter the cost.  These, St. Ignatius would say, follow not only “a human king” but “Christ our Lord, the Eternal King.”  These are those who have considered following Christ not only with “judgement and reason” but by “distinguishing themselves” making it “my earnest desire and deliberate choice, provided it be for thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life” (cf. SpEx, 91-98, esp. 98).

Looking at the Crucified Lord we know such interior movements only make sense in the Spirit convincing us of God’s love for us from the Cross and moving us to love for him in our world – till the end of the earth.

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To the Ends of the Earth

[Homily based on the Acts of the Apostles, Friday, May 27, 2022.]

We have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

As we have been celebrating the profound mystery of the Resurrection and are about to celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension this Sunday and the Solemnity of Pentecost the following Sunday, I would like to invite you to a prayerful reading or re-reading of the Acts of the Apostles.  Many of us may not yet have an opportunity to do this.  In the flow of our liturgy, now may be the time.  In the first pages of the Acts, there are accounts of the Ascension and of Pentecost: 

Acts says of Ascension Thursday [yesterday, 50 days after the Resurrection]:  Jesus said, “’You will receive power when the Holy Spirt comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this as they were looking on, he was lifted up.  A cloud took him from their midst” (1:8-9).

Of Pentecost, Acts reports of the apostles who had huddled together in the upper room in fear, “Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (2:3-4). 

Two Volumes of One Work

It is good however to locate these events in the context of the integral unity between Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke is the author of both.  He did not mean them to be read in isolation of one another, but as two volumes of one work, that is, two volumes of his intended “narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Lk 1:1).  The narrative does not close with the Ascension.  Instead, the Ascension is a transition to the fulfillment of the promise that reached beyond the Ascension:  “…the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and “…that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24-47).   That fulfillment is described in the entire book of Acts, where after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in Jerusalem, Luke narrates how the Gospel is preached first to the Jews, then to the non-Jews or Gentiles, to the ends of the earth.

Of course, the whole New Testament is how the Old Testament covenant between Yahweh, who is faithful, and his People, who are unfaithful, is finally fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Testament, where Jesus, the Messiah, suffers, dies and is raised from the dead to redeem and reconcile God’s chosen People with the Father.  But Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are saying it does not stop with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  As Jesus in the Resurrection is ascended to the Father, so does he together with the Father send the Holy Spirit to us – as he promised – to bring together those who believe in Jesus Christ into a new community, which under the direction of the Holy Spirit will bring the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. 

So if in the narrative of the Gospel according to St. Luke Jesus’ ministry moves from Galilee gradually to Jerusalem, the narrative of Acts is how from Jerusalem with the outpouring there of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus, the Gospel under the direction of the Holy Spirit is preached to the ends of the earth.

St. Peter’s Leadership and Witness

In the beginning of Acts, the leader and spokesperson of the community of believers in the Resurrected Jesus is Peter.  When, after the Pentecost event in Jerusalem, some people deride those who had received the power of the Holy Spirit as drunkards, it is Peter who addresses them declaring they were not drunkards but witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord whom the Jews had wrongly put to death.   He calls for repentance and belief in the Gospel, that is, in Jesus as our redeemer.  It is Peter who in the name of Jesus cures a crippled beggar and many other sick, and so wins the belief of more people in Jesus.  It is Peter who defends the new community before the hostile Jewish Sanhedrin that attempted to gag them from preaching about Jesus as the Messiah.  Peter and the Apostles declare, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.  It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20).  The good news about Jesus needed to be preached.  The immediate outcome:  Jewish Christians.  Practicing circumcised Jews who became Christians.  Their opponents, Jews who refused to become Christians. 

The Gospel needed to be preached not only in Jerusalem and in the territories around Jerusalem.  The Gospel needed to be preached to the ends of the earth.  It needed to be preached to people who were not Jewish nor Jewish Christians, but who may have had other religious beliefs. 

God’s Conversion of a Jewish Pharisee

That’s also what’s exciting about the Acts of the Apostles.  For these non-Jewish people, or Gentiles, God intervenes very dramatically.  He takes a young man from Tarsus specially educated under the famous Jewish rabbi, Gamaliel, who had been appointed to the central Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin;  he was a learned and ambitious Pharisee who had been brutally persecuting the believers in Jesus.   On the way to Damascus and Antioch to proclaim the formal prohibition of the Sanhedrin to believe in Jesus, God knocks him off his horse with a light that actually blinds him.  Jesus complains, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  It was not only a vision but a deep and personal experience by Paul of the Crucified but Resurrected Lord.  This experience changed his life – and changed the course of human history.  It obligated him to give witness to the Crucified and Resurrected Lord as the source of salvation for all who would believe in him to the ends of the earth.  

To the Ends of the Earth

The rest of Acts is an account of how Saul suffers, first,  in order to find his way into the very Jewish Christian Community of “The Way” that he used to persecute, and then how he suffers eventually to bring the Gospel beyond this first community of Jewish Christian believers to communities of non-Jews, the Syrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans , that is, to the Gentiles.  Paul undertook three separate missionary journeys on foot and by sea, first in Asia Minor, but then all the way to Greece, including those ancient cities we have heard of in our recent readings at Mass.  In Athens, Paul tries to evangelize the Athenians by identifying the Athenian statue “to the Unknown God” with Jesus, the Messiah.  But when the intellectual Athenians hear of a man resurrected from the dead they laugh him out of Athens.  In today’s reading he is in Corinth where despite the attacks of the local Jews, obeying the Lord’s mandate he stays for a year and a half to build up the Corinthian Christian community.  From his letters to the Corinthians, we know that this was a community endeared to Paul but challenged, and some of the most moving pastoral sentiments of Paul in caring for the Corinthians can be found in 2 Corinthians.   Finally, in Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, he courageously faced the Jews who wanted him put to death for preaching Jesus Christ.  He escapes death as a Roman citizen by appealing to Ceasar.  On this appeal he endures shipwreck and the attack of a viper in Malta to finally make it to Rome.  Here, Acts ends, with Paul as a prisoner, yet free enough to preach the Gospel of Jesus in Rome, fulfilling Jesus’ mandate that Gospel be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

“…if only we suffer with him…”

As I said, it is time to read or re-read the Acts of the Apostles especially before the Feast of Pentecost.  Understanding the experiences of Peter and Paul in establishing the first Christan communities under the direction of the Holy Spirit would help us better understand our calling, our responsibilities, and our future under the Holy Spirit:  “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit,” Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).

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Feed my Lambs.  Feed my Sheep.  Feed my Malnourished Children

[Homily.  First Friday Mass.  Jn. 6:60-69. May 6, 2021]

What Jesus said in today’s Gospel was controversial.  Those who were listening to him quarreled about what he really meant.  In fact, when Jesus had finished teaching, there were those among the disciples of Jesus who were so perplexed, if not scandalized, by it that they were forced to disassociate themselves from Jesus.  “This saying is hard,” they said. “Who can accept it?” (60).  “As a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him” (66).  The departure of these disciples must have been one of the saddest experiences of Jesus in his public ministry.  Their departure meant they had rejected Jesus. 

Today the saying remains controversial.  For unless you “get it,” you’d think that Jesus was offering his flesh to eat and blood to drink in a type of bizarre cannibalism.  “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (53-55).  What Jesus was talking about was all that he was about:  the eternal Word of God, the expression in the flesh of the Father’s compassion for humankind, the incarnated Word of God who, coming to bring us “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), suffers, dies and is raised up for us.  That self-sacrifice in love for us is his Body given up for us and his Blood poured out for us through which he is uplifted on the Cross, raised in Resurrection, that we may be all raised redeemed to the Father in love.  Is this not what we actually remind ourselves of every First Friday?

In appreciating Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist which uses Bread to bring to light the profoundly spiritual aspect of the Eucharist, that it was much more than the bread that was multiplied to actually feed more than five-thousand people who were hungry, that it was much more than the manna that fell from heaven to actually feed the Israelites wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land who were hungry, it does not erase the fact that God was concerned about human hunger and responded to this not just with spiritual words but with food.  It is in this context important to note that the Resurrected Jesus continues to concern himself with the importance of stilling hunger as a sign of acknowledgment that he is alive.  In Luke’s Gospel, when the Resurrected Lord appears to the gathered disciples for the first time, and their joy and amazement is yet mixed with fear, incredulity and doubt, Jesus asks, “’Have you anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them” (Lk. 24: 41-43).  The sign of Jesus’ resurrected life was clear:  ghosts do not eat.  In the Gospel of John, after a group of disciples had labored the whole night fishing in the Lake of Galilee and had caught nothing, Jesus calls from the shoreline, “Have you caught anything to eat?”  When they reply, “No” (Jn 21:6), he instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Catching almost more fish than they can handle, they recognize it is Jesus.  Again, it is food astonishingly provided that helps them to recognize the resurrected Jesus.  On the shore, over a charcoal fire, the resurrected Jesus actually prepares breakfast for them.  He “came over and took bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish” (Jn 21:13).  The breakfast is but a prelude the intimate conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter who on the night of Jesus’ arrest denied him thrice.  Jesus now asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Every time Peter said, “Yes, I love you.  You know that I love you!” Jesus’ instruction to him was “Feed my lambs.  Feed my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”  Of course, that may mean spreading the entire profound doctrine about Jesus as the Bread of Life, but its anchor in actual feeding may not be overlooked.  The Father was concerned for his People actually hungry in the desert, so he gave them manna.   Jesus was concerned for his listeners actually hungry, so he gave them bread and fish.   He was actually hungry with hungry people, even the most morally dubious, with whom he shared table fellowship, and so he ate with them.   Today he continues to be concerned about the actual hunger of starving and malnourished people to whom the Good News of the resurrected Lord is preached.   For what would be the genuineness of our faith in and love for the Risen Lord if we proclaim him alive, but do not care for his lambs, his sheep?

We cannot say today our faith is strong in the Risen Lord and not care about hungry people.  Recall the words of St. James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works [deeds]?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:14-17).  Finally, consider an essential criterion for the glorious Son of Man coming as Judge of Heaven and Earth admitting a believer to paradise; Jesus says, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food…” (Mt. 25:35).  When the believers ask him when it was that they fed him, he replies, “Whatever you did for one of these least sisters and brothers of mine, that you did for me” (Mt. 25:40).

The resurrected Lord asks us, “Do you do you love me?”  If we reply yes, Jesus answers, “Feed my lambs.  Feed my young children who are hungry.  Feed my children who are so malnourished they are ‘stunted’.  Feed my children who are ‘wasted’”

My sisters and brothers, ADDU is now involved in daily supplementary feeding of malnourished children, Catholic and Muslim, in Brgys. 76-A, 21,22,23 and Ma-a of Davao through a program called Malnutrition Intervention Alternatives (MIA) in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Local Government of Davao.  Should you, in your declared love for the Resurrected Lord still concerned about the hunger of his people, wish to help bring healing nourishment for children documented as stunted and wasted, please contact our Eucharistic minister, Ms. Nelia Villarta, who is the nutritionist head of this program.  She will tell you how you can help.  Stunted children are too short for their age; wasted children are too thin for their height.  In the Philippines, a high 30% of children under five are stunted, while this is only 20% in countries of comparable income.  In our Bangsamoro areas, 40% of children under five are wasted.  To address this problem, Nelia oversees the production and distribution of the MIA “power powder” of nutrients that the children are now either eating straight from the package or adding to their meals.   The quantities that they consume daily are calibrated against the severity of their malnutrition.

Meanwhile, beginning today, the collections and donations that we receive on First Fridays shall be dedicated to feeding the Lord’s malnourished children in this project. “If you love me,” he says, “feed my lambs…  I am the Bread of Life.”

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Strong in Faith, in Hope, Discerning and Wise

[College Graduation Address.  23 April 2022]

It has been my privilege today to officially confer on you your degrees for the courses you have completed.  You have worked hard for them.  Rejoice in them. 

Bear them both with pride and with humility.  With pride because they do attest to real knowledge, skills and competencies which you have acquired through difficult college years that were benefitted by the K-12 reform and challenged by the COVID 10 pandemic.  You have learned such professions as business management, accountancy, chemistry, nursing, education, philosophy, psychology, architecture, civil engineering, electronics engineering, even aerospace engineering, in some cases with outstanding achievement. 

Bear these, however, also with humility, because no matter how much you have learned, you know that there is much more you could have learned, and, as professions develop, so much that you yet have to learn.  Indeed, where frameworks of learning change, paradigms shift, and modes of production are revolutionized, you know that there is much you may have to unlearn.  No matter how much we may wish a world that is stable, certain, simple and clear, if ever that world existed, it is now gone.  The ongoing wars and real threats of nuclear war, the clashing public policies of polarized politicians, indeed, the confusion of clashing ideologies, some stressing freedom and liberty, others stressing efficiency and expediency, the unmitigated climate change causing devastating weather extremes and catastrophic calamities, the absolute claims of religions for unquestioning obedience or death, and the yet ongoing fourth industrial revolution destroying old professions and creating new, points to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is a world in which you must continue to learn, adapt, change, rethink assumptions, shift courses, reset targets, collaborating with people and experts you have yet to meet, trust and befriend.  You either deal with this world or you perish. 

That may seem like a lot of pressure.  And your response may be, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”  Instead, where this world is volatile, fall back on your faith, and be strong in your faith.  Faith is a gift.  It is given to you freely.  And freely you must accept it.  Accept that in this world there is a God, that he is good, and that he means well to you.  Remain faithful to this God and he will remain faithful to you.  Remember it was he who first called you to be with him in love.  He is a faithful God.  Where this world is uncertain, fall back on the hope that God gives you with faith.  In faith you know your hope is not only in this passing world.  Ultimately your hope is everlasting glory with God.  But in this hope you know that the trials, tribulations and ordeals you endure in this world themselves generate hope ultimately because you know yourselves loved in Jesus Christ.  Where this world is complex, fall back on the habits of discernment that you have encountered in Ignatian spirituality, testing the spirits in order always in the vuca world to follow the the promptings of the Spirit.  Finally, where this world is ambiguous, be wise – not just with the wisdom of the ancient sages, but with the humility that seeks in life to find what God wills and the obedience to freely accept and do God’s will.

In encouraging you in a vuca world to be strong in the faith, rich in hope, practiced in discernment and imbued with the choicest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, I now invoke the Lord to bless you all…

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May He make his face shine upon you
And give you Peace.

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A Celebration of Thanksgiving

[College Baccalaureate Homily:  Luke 24: 35-48.  21 April 2022]

Every Eucharist is a celebration of thanks.  This comes from the first Eucharist when taking bread, the Lord gave thanks, gave the bread to his disciples and said, “Take this all of you and eat of it. This is my Body given up for you.” Then he took wine; he blessed it, and gave it to his disciples saying.  “Take and drink.  This is my Blood poured out for you.”  The first Eucharist was one with the passion and death of our Lord, where his body was sacrificed and his blood poured out in love for you.  Beyond his suffering and death for you, Jesus’ thanksgiving is also for what we heard in our Gospel for this morning.  Jesus died.  But he was raised from the dead.  He had confronted the evil powers of sin and death.  But in dying he overcame sin; in dying he dealt death its death blow.  In remaining obedient to the Father’s will unto death, he ultimately triumphed for you.  That, turning away from sin, you may find forgiveness and life in the Lord.  “Thus it is written,” Jesus explains in our Gospel, “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” You are witnesses of these things” (24:46-48).

It is in this context that we give thanks this morning.  One week ago on Holy Thursday, we celebrated the first Eucharist which was inseparable from the memorial of the Lord’s passion and death “for you” on Good Friday, also inseparable from the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection for you on Easter Sunday.  In life, which through Jesus ends not in the darkness of a tomb in the light and glory of eternal life, this is what we ultimately give God thanks for. 

But today we also give thanks for your college graduation.  And give thanks you must, for this has been a long and difficult journey for you.  You are the first batch of graduates who have experienced the full effects of the K-12 reform.  Before your time, 10 years of basic education was considered sufficient for college.  But all over the world basic education required 12 years.  So in the Philippines we added two years.  Those two years we now call senior high school. Here at ADDU, we began SHS at the Jacinto campus. But we finished it in our own brand new dedicated senior high school.  Those were years where you had to do a lot of adjustment – to academic programs and formational activities that were new, exciting and exacting.  Your SHS ensured that when you entered college you were a mature 18 years of age.  Your maturity and intelligent participativeness  in classes were immediately noticeable. In 2020 however the COVID 19 pandemic struck.  It was totally unexpected.  It upended many of our lives.  It adversely affected many of our parents’ and relatives’ businesses, livelihood and jobs.  In the beginning the lethal virus was far away.  In time, however, many people we knew got very sick from COVID; many people we know, some of them our relatives and friends, died.  Alone.  Isolated from relatives and friends.  In this context the University shifted to online learning.  No matter how difficult that was, we were blessed to be able to do that.  We had the infrastructure.  Our teachers and staff and students came together to ensure the continuation of your education.  It was not always a smooth ride.  There were many bumps along the way.  You had to cope with difficult teachers, with isolation, with poor internet access, with less than ideal learning conditions.  You missed the interaction, the learning together, the singing together, the dancing together.  But the shift allowed you to achieve, if not surpass, minimum learning outcomes.  That is why we are here today, giving thanks to God for your graduation.

This Mass is an occasion for thanksgiving. For your parents and relatives who sacrificed much that you might graduate today.  For your teachers, your administrators, your friends. For the God who creates you, redeems you, and loves you in Jesus Christ, walking with you on your journey of life.  The journey included your pioneering the K-12 reform.   It included swimming through the murky waters of the pandemic.  The journey does not end today.  It continues not only in the fresh hopes that your academic achievements bring, but in the hope of his death and resurrection embraced for you in love.  As Jesus said, remain in that love.  God is love. 

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A Stellar Online Batch

[Address.  SHS Graduation.  22 April 2022.]

It is a privilege for me to finally be able to address you, if not face to face, online.  When you enrolled for the ADDU Senior High School (SHS) two years ago, the pandemic had already begun.  We had a spanking new stand-alone SHS campus in Bangkal dedicated to the special pedagogical purposes of the K-12 reform.  This campus was built for you.  But you are now graduating from the ADDU SHS without ever having used the campus.  Indeed, your limited enjoyment of it shall be just throughout the month of May when you go to Bangkal in order to take selfies and batch pictures.  Your entire ADDU SHS experience was online, and your experience of one another virtual.  So when you go to the Bangkal, for most of you it shall be the first time that you meet your class- and batchmates face to face, see the sizes and shapes of their physiques, hear the sounds of their natural voices, catch the joy in their laughter, see brightness of their eyes and the warmth of  their smiles.

The remarkable thing however is when that day comes, you shall not be strangers.  In fact, you shall share a bondedness with one another that comes from two whole years of online learning and interaction with one another that have distinguished you as a stellar batch.  From the hour of your enrollment you knew that your ADDU SHS  experience would be online. You did not complain about this.  The pandemic was getting people very sick, then even taking lives.  You did not whine.  Instead you embraced your online education as a matter of choosing what was necessary to continue your education.  Online you met teachers who worked hard on appropriate coarseware to make your online learning experience productive, if not even enjoyable; you met formators who attended to your spirit, to your moods, to your ups but also to your downs, in respectful conversation, in recollections, in retreats.  They worked so that as your knowledge increased, you also grew stronger in the faith.  But online you also met your classmates – in strands, in sections, in clusters, in shared subjects, in clubs.  All was online, but you drew maximum fruit from the platforms in creativity, so that the bonding among yourselves was strong.  With one another, you shared your talents and your skills by actively participating in class and in SHS celebrations and programs.    Today you recall the orientation programs, the fiestas, the IGNITE intramurals, the Christmas parties, Teachers’ Day, Strand days, the research disseminations, the competitions both inside and outside ADDU.  Through your Pulsong Atenista Student Government Officers you remember how a harmonious relationship between learners and teachers, and formators was cultivated.  Remarkably, online, you developed a powerful sense of belongingness to your batch – a sense of quiet triumph in shared achievement.

You are a batch of 1,392 graduates.  But of your batch 705 or 51% have graduated with academic honors.  In your batch, for the first time ever, there are ten of you who have graduated with highest honors, that is, with an average of 98% or above over four consecutive semesters.  Happily, your strengths have been developed coming not only from private but from public schools.  Your valedictorian, Mr. Hyram Yusico, comes from a public high school;  your salutatorian, Mr. Zaidamin Haron, hails from a private school. 

You are a stellar batch.  You have learned much.  But in humility you also know you have much yet to learn, even as many of you continue to cope with financial challenges brought about by the pandemic, or with mental stresses as you tackle multiple challenges coming at you from different directions all at the same time.  Challenges notwithstanding, you have gone through Senior High School with a dream – a dream to be able to give back to your families who have sacrificed much that you may go through ADDU’s SHS, a dream that through your successes in this SHS you may move on to college, there to prepare yourselves for life.  Hopefully in the SHS, as I mentioned earlier today in our Baccalaureate Mass, part of your life dream emerges from your experience of being truly loved – loved by your families and friends, loved by your faith community, loved by your school community.  But also loved by your Father, loved by Jesus, your brother and redeemer, and loved by the Spirit of Love.  Love, love, love!  Love received, love appreciated, love shared – especially with the least, the lost and the lonely in Mindanao.    Hopefully, your life dream includes them.  That in the special competencies you acquire, you may be able to lead them to a more humane life. 

Congratulations, graduates of ADDU SHS, graduates of basic education at ADDU.  In the ardor of this Love, Love, Love, go now and set the world on fire!       

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A Lakeside Breakfast with the Risen Lord

[SHS Baccalaureate Mass.  Jn. 21:1-14.  22 April 2022.]

In the Gospel of John, the Resurrected Lord appears to the disciples first on the evening of Easter Sunday.  They were gathered together behind locked doors for they were afraid of the Jews.  Suddenly Jesus is in their midst and wishes them Peace.  He shows them his hands and his feet, and the disciples rejoice.  Already with that first appearance, he missions them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  Whose sins you retain are retained.” As a fruit of the Resurrection, he sends out his disciples to forgive sins. 

Thomas was not with them then and shows himself skeptical of what the other disciples have reported to him.  A week later, Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time with Thomas present.  He wishes all Peace.  Then very personally he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand here and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.”  Responding to the Lord alive, present and addressing his earlier disbelief, he responds with what is a high point in John’s Gospel, “My Lord and my God!”

The Gospel of John could have ended at that point.  But it continues with the passage from John the Church gives to you on the day of your graduation from Senior High School.  Here, Jesus is at the shoreline of the Sea of Tiberias also known as the northern Lake of Galilee.  He has a charcoal fire going to prepare breakfast.  He means “to reveal himself again to his disciples.” 

The day previous, on the suggestion of Peter, the disciples went fishing.  They had labored the whole night, but had caught nothing.  They see the man on the shore, but they do not recognize him.  He asks, “Have you anything to eat?”  “No,” they answer. They are tired, and the question only sharpens their frustration.  Then, as many times in the Gospel of John, Jesus sets a sign to reveal himself, his power, his relationship with his Father.  “Cast your net over the right side of the boat and you will find something!” he calls out.  They do.  Their catch was overwhelming.  To fishermen it was specially eye opening.  John understands the sign, and tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter gets it, puts on clothes, then jumps into the water to meet Jesus in all his excitement, even as the other disciples labor at bringing in the extraordinary catch of fish.  Cooking even some of the 153 fish the disciples dragged ashore, the Resurrected Lord prepared breakfast for them.  In this way he revealed himself alive, eating with them, helping them overcome their fear, preparing them for mission. 

What follows the lakeside breakfast in John’s Gospel is Jesus’ intimate conversation with Peter.  It is as if the breakfast is but as prelude for this intimate encounter.  For all of Peter’s bravado, when Jesus was arrested, he denied him thrice.  We know that when Peter had realized what he had done, he wept bitterly in remorse.    So now in their first intimate face-to-face encounter since his death and resurrection, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me.” Peter says yes. Jesus tells him.  “Feed my lambs.”  But then Jesus asks him again, “Do you love me?” Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus tells him, “Tend my sheep.” But then a third time Jesus asks him, “…Do you love me.”  Peter, distressed at the repeated question, replies, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep.”  In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, for as many times as Peter denied him, he draws out his confession of love.  For as many times Peter confesses his love, Jesus forgives his earlier failures to love.  For as many times Peter confesses his love,  Jesus missions him now to care for his lambs, to care for his sheep.

In your senior high school, you have heard it over and over again: love, love love!  Hopefully, this is something you will not allow yourselves to forget as you move on in your journey of life.  Many times, things do not go the way you expect.  In your senior high school in pandemic years, there were many examples of this.  Many times, like the disciples, you went fishing the whole night and caught nothing.  Many times, it may have been difficult for you to find God, to acknowledge that he was and continues to be with you, especially in your moments of fear and discouragement.  Many times he appears in your life, knowing quite well what you are experiencing, but you do not recognize him.  And yet, quietly he has continued to lead you, helping you to cast your nets where you can be fruitful and successful.  Many times, using the fruit of your faith, he continues to nourish you.  And then to you, he asks, “Do you love me?”  “Do you love me?”  “Do you love me?”  And if you say, “Yes, yes, yes, I love, love, love,”  Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.”  Love, love, love.  Where there is hatred, love.  Where there is poverty, love.  Where there is ignorance, love.  Where there is disbelief, remember: God is love.  His Son is love.  His Spirit is love.  Be strong in faith and truthful in deeds because God accepts your love. 

This is what the Resurrected Lord reveals on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. 

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