3rd Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

3rd Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

Ex. 3:1-8, 13-5; 1 Cor. 10:1-6, 10-2; Lk.13:1-9

As we enter the Third Week of Lent, we continue on our journey of repentance in preparation for the approach of the Feast of Easter. Knowing that Jesus triumphed over the temptations in the desert, we are reminded that we too can triumph through our living faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, today, it is appropriate to look at the nature of sin. By understanding how offensive it is to the eyes of God, we are then equipped with sufficient knowledge to decide if we will walk in His Holy ways or if we will reject His Divine grace in exchange for the sinful path of life.

* “Doctor, Doctor, You’ve got to help me – I just can’t stop my hands from shaking!” “Do you                  drink a lot?” “Not really – I split most of it!” That is the reason I have come to you.

* Officer to driver going the wrong way up a one-way street, “And where do you think you are going up?” Driver: – “I’m not sure, but I must be late as everyone is coming back.”

Do you know what the indisputable truth about human beings is? It is our infinite capacity to mess up. We are mistake prone humans.

First of all, I must ask, is there such a thing as a good sin? To answer that question, one must know the definition of sin. Sin is a transgression (offense) against God. It is a crime against God! Why is it a crime against God? It is a crime against God because it is a rejection of God’s Holy ways. Sin is the outcome of one’s decision to have “his way” or “no way!” That is why a sin is a crime against God.

Now, I ask, is there such a thing as a good crime? Is one crime better than another? Is an assault on someone better than a robbery? Is adultery better than murder? Is lying better than stealing? Is disobedience better than being a party to an abortion?

During today’s reading of the Gospel, Jesus addressed the nature of sin. He asked, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” [Lk.13:2] “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” [Lk.13:4]

What did Jesus answer? He said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” [Lk.13:5] In other words, a sin is a sin! There is no such thing as a big sin versus a small sin. Nor is there such a thing as a good sin versus a bad sin. A sin is a sin! If you offend God, then you have offended God! You cannot walk away and say, “I did not offend God because it was a small sin.” Nor can you say, “It is no big deal because it was a small sin.” A sin is a transgression against God. To sin is to offend God, to reject His holy ways!

During today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus gave a parable about the fig tree. Why did this parable immediately follow after Jesus explained that sin is offensive to God, that it deserves severe punishment? It is because Jesus wanted to point out the sin of indifference, the sin of neglect of one’s responsibilities towards God.

I think we know the parable that Jesus told, about a fig tree planted in his vineyard.

In this parable, Jesus was talking about those who are indifferent to their salvation. He was talking about those who refuse to live their faith in Christ by performing good works.

The man who planted the vineyard is the Lord Jesus. The fig tree in the garden is one of many. We Christians each represent one fig tree. Each fig tree is expected to bear fruit that represent the good works and virtues of those who help to build the Body of Christ. Such good works can be inside or outside the parish. Some are called to teach Sunday School in the parish while others are called to witness to their co-workers in the working world. Each must answer his calling according to where he has been sent by God.

Near the end of the Reading, we heard that the gardener begged mercy on behalf of the fig tree. He promised to nourish the tree in the hope of awakening (reviving/rekindling) it so it will produce fruit.

Who is this gardener that begged mercy of the man? In John 15:1, we learn that God the Father is the Vine grower. He is the One who removes every branch that bears no fruit. [Jn.15:2] Jesus is the true Vine Who gives life. Unless one abides in Jesus, he cannot bear fruit because apart from Him, they can do nothing. [Jn. 15:5] In other words, Jesus is the Gardener.

Based on this knowledge, we learn that Jesus, as our Mediator [1.Tim.2:5] begs the Heavenly Father to have mercy on behalf of those who do not bear fruit.

Some may ask, “If the fruits are also synonym to virtues, what are these virtues that should be on the fig tree.” They are the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. [Gal.5:22-3]

What does it mean when it is said that one does not bear fruit? It means that they are doing the work of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these. [Gal. 5:19-21] As Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Galatians, “I am warning you, as I warned you before; those who do these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” [Gal. 5:21] These are the fig trees that bear no fruit.

During today’s First Reading from the Book of Exodus, we heard that God observed the misery of His people. He heard their cries on account of their taskmasters. [Ex. 3:7] And so He went to deliver them from the Egyptians. [Ex. 3:8]

During the Second Reading that provided us with more information about God’s people, we learn that God did free His people from slavery. They all ate the same spiritual food. They all drank the same spiritual drink. But, even thought they were God’s people, he was not pleased with most of them. And He struck them down in the wilderness. [1 Cor. 10:2-5]

Why did God strike them down? These things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. [1Cor.10:6] And we should not complain about this righteousness of God. Those who complained in the days of Moses, they were destroyed by the Destroyer. [1Cor.10:10]

As St. Paul said, these things happened to serve as an example. And they were written down to instruct us. So, if we think we are standing, we better watch out that we do not fall. [1Cor.10:11-2]

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask, do you think that some of those in the days of Moses were worse sinners and that is why God struck them down? Do you think that some of those in the days of St. Paul were worse sinners and that is why they were denied the Kingdom of God? I say no! The sins that are committed today are the same sins that were committed in the days of Moses and St. Paul! Because of those specific sins, God struck some down and denied them the eternal Kingdom of joy and peace.

In conclusion, we should ask ourselves, is God using this Lenten Season to shower an abundance of grace upon us through Jesus Christ so we will repent of our sins? Is this our last year on earth? After all, none of us knows when the Father shall call us to answer before Him. In the hope of being united together one day as brothers and sisters in the Heavenly Kingdom of God, let us all prepare ourselves by repenting of our sins.


1st Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

1st Sunday of Lent Year C – 16

Deu.26:4-10/ Rom.10:8-13/ Lk.4:1-13

A storekeeper, seeing a boy hanging about outside where there was a tempting display of various fruits, went out to him and said, “What are you trying to do, young man, steal my apples?’ “no sir,” said the boy, “I am trying not to.”

A young boy was forbidden by his father to swim in the canal near their home. One day the boy came home carrying a wet bathing suit and his father asked where he had been. The boy calmly stated that he had been swimming in the canal.

The father was angry and said, “Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” The boy assured him he had. The father wanted to know why the son had disobeyed him. The boy said, Well, Dad, I had my bathing suit with me, and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”

Furious, the father asked why the boy had his bathing suit with him. The boy answered with total honest, “So I would be prepared to swim, just in case I was tempted.”

Today’s gospel invites us to stay prepared to fight the temptation in our lives. Oscar Wilde was a much-celebrated Anglo-Irish literary figure, very witty… and very worldly. He once wrote: “I can resist everything but temptation.” There are many today, who live as Oscar Wilde lived.

They regard temptations as irrelevant, things representing what they regard as hypocritical middle class moral norms, norms that constrict us and deny us our freedom. We are to live, many claim, with only one self-indulgent moral norm: “If it feels good, do it. Anything is all right so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Some think that God tempts us just to see which way we will choose. It’s God’s way of testing us, they think. As for myself, I can’t imagine an infinitely good and loving God doing that to us. I believe rather what St. James tells us in his epistle:

“No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

We are in the season of Lent. It seems to me that we should be thinking more about how to deal with temptations rather than where they come from. It helps us to recognize the nature of temptations because, as I said, they always present themselves to us as something good.

We should not choose what only appears to be good or simply feels good. We should choose only that which is actually good. Choosing something that is bad is not the way to achieve what is good.

In the gospel, we heard that Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, was being led by the same Spirit to the wilderness, to the desert. There, for 40 days, He fasted and prayed, and at the same time He was being tempted by the devil.     After 40 days, He was hungry, and that was when the enemy attacked Him with temptations. In His hunger, the enemy tempted Jesus to use His power as the Son of God to turn the stones into bread. Then He was tempted with the power and glory of the kingdoms of earth.

And then finally, He was tempted to put God to the test to see if God will protect Him from harm. As we look at the temptations that Jesus faced, we may come to one glaring realization. These temptations are actually about the basic needs of our lives; not just basic needs but also the longings of our hearts.

Because in the depths of our hearts, we hunger for food to keep us alive, we long for safety and shelter, and when we have taken care of our hunger and shelter, we would begin to desire for luxury and pleasure.

So as we can see, what Jesus was tempted with, is actually what we ourselves are also tempted with. It is often said that there is a hole in our hearts that longs to be filled, but it cannot be filled with food, no matter how much we eat. It cannot be filled with clothes no matter how much we wear.

It cannot be filled with riches, no matter how much we have. Only God who created our hearts can fill that longing in the depths of our hearts. Yet we are tempted to long for something else. And in our foolishness, we long for something that is earthly, something that is passing, something that will eventually turn to dust.

A story goes that a psychologist spoke to an audience about stress management. Then she raised a glass of water, and everyone expected her to ask that “half empty or half full” question. Instead she asked: “How heavy is this glass of water?” The answers that came from the audience ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight of this glass of water doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.

In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” Well, the stress and worries or temptations of life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing much happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.

And if we think about them all day long, then we will feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. What happens to us when we keep thinking of our stress and worries is similar to what happens to us when we keep longing and going after the things of this world.

We will also become paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. We will be tempted to think that when we have satisfied our hunger, we won’t be hungry anymore. Or that if we get this amount of money, then we won’t be in need anymore.

Or if we achieve this status or this position or have this authority, then we will be secure and in control. But in today’s gospel, Jesus tells the devil that it won’t be; and Jesus is also telling us that it won’t be.

For Jesus, it is in God the Father that He trusts, for the things of this earth will pass and turn to dust. As for us everything will also pass, and we will also turn to dust. Yet in Jesus we must trust. As we heard in the 2nd reading: Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved.

So in our temptations let us call on the name of Jesus. In our needs let us turn to Jesus. And in the end, let us remember that we are dust, and we shall return to dust. And when everything comes to pass, may we still have the faith to say that “In Jesus we trust.” Amen.

Ash Wednesday – 2016

Ash Wednesday – 2016

Joel.2: 12-18; 2Cor.5: 20- 6:2; Mtt.6:1-6, 16-18

The Church was packed with the faithful eager to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Pat, Father Kelly’s janitor, offered to help. “OK,” said Father, “now these are the words you say: ‘Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Pat prepared to start at the opposite end of the communion rail. (This was in the old days, as you can realize.) But Pat came hurrying over to Father: “Father, what are those words again?” Father told him, Pat went back to his station, but in a moment he was back, asking for the words, which Father repeated.

When Pat came back the third time Father exploded: “You are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy.” Pat didn’t come back but when the padre and the janitor came close to each other at the middle the priest was dumbfounded to hear the words Pat was saying: “You are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy.”

Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum), is the Church’s “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh, King and Queen fasted wearing sackcloth and ashes.

In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence.

Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel in the first reading insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart, and not simply regret for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.”

Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer. We also need to know the significance of the blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day.

The priest, dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us three things that are: a firm conviction, a strong warning, and a loving invitation:

1- a firm conviction that we are mortal beings, our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and our life-span is very brief and unpredictable.

2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance.

3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance and a renewal of our life as the prodigal son did.

As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we remember the purpose of Lent: it is an exercise in cleansing and holy desire, helped by some penitential practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We begin this season by receiving ashes on our foreheads, as a cross.

Lent lasts forty days in imitation of the time Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry. What is the purpose of Lent? It is to prepare us for a more effective involvement in our vocation as Christians.

The whole of Christian life, St Augustine said, “is an exercise of holy desire.” He does not ask that we deny our normal, human desires, but we should raise and purify them. Our desires are too small if we look for fulfilment only in the transient satisfactions of this world, but God wants us to have so much more, no less than his very Self.

During Lent we seek to tune in to higher desires, our deep-down longing for God. In today’s Gospel Jesus shows the way: prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the classic Lenten practices. Of these, prayer has first place.

Our eternity will be an eternal relationship with the living God in the Communion of Saints. That relationship begins in this life, or it does not begin at all. Our main prayer is by sharing in the Mass, the loving sacrifice of Christ which opens heaven to us. Prayer is the foundation of our friendship with God, and it opens the way to eternal life.

Fasting is somewhat more tricky for us today. While we should certainly enjoy food and the conviviality that often accompanies a good meal, we should also find a place for fasting. The goal of Lenten fasting is not to have a sleek body one can be proud of.

All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of alms-giving. Lent is good time to rid ourselves of some of the clutter in our life. With a bit more vision, could we perhaps do more to serve the needy, not so that people will consider us generous, but to imitate God’s generosity to us.

Augustine sees cleansing as a necessary condition for the exercise of holy desire: “This will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from infatuation with this world. Like the example of filling an empty container.

God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed.”

So let us empty ourselves in this lent and let us be filled with the blessings of God. Amen.