“GOD’S LOVE IN JESUS, IN THE DISCIPLES AND IN THE SAINTS,” By Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM, Sunday Gospel Reflection for 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A

The gospel passage on the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A underscores, among others, the link between love and obedience and the presence of God in the person who loves.

Love is the very motive for and the essence of the Father’s sending of Jesus into our midst. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is also the fundamental message of Jesus’ life and ministry. In Luke 10:17, Mark 12: 30-31 and Matthew 22:37-39, we find Jesus summarizing all the commandments into the love of God and neighbors. John underlines the very nature of God as love. He writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

But the love that Jesus commands is a demanding love. It is a sacrificial and sacrificing love, one that is patterned after the very love of Jesus himself. Jesus says that only those who follow His example and obey His commands can be said to genuinely love. Thus, we find here that love is obedient.

In Christian life, obedience is not a prerequisite for love; it is rather the result or the consequence of love. If we, as disciples, truly love Jesus, then we obey Him and His commands and follow His example. Jesus Himself has shown us this obedient love. Because He loved the Father and He loved each and every one of us, He was obedient to His Father even to the point of laying down His life on the cross for our salvation.

Jesus made a promise to those who obey His commands out of love for Him. He will ask the Father to send to them the Spirit of truth, Who will not leave them despite Jesus’ return to the Father (ascension) but will remain with them until the end of time. It is this Spirit of truth that will make the disciples witnesses of love in the world.

If love is God’s very nature, therefore anybody who loves, especially after the example of Jesus, manifests God’s presence in the world. As one line from a Les Miserables song states, “To love somebody is to see the face of God.” We dare to add, “Anybody who loves reflects the face of God.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that Jesus has revealed the face of God. He writes in his Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 1: “The great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: But what has Jesus really brought, then, if He has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has He brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! He has brought God, and now we know His face, now we can call upon Him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God, the truth about where we are going and where we come from: faith, hope, and love.”

Jesus, as the human face of God, is the face of a compassionate, unconditional, boundless and obedient love. He is the Incarnate love of the Father.

The saints, in a powerful and special way, reveal the loving and living presence of God in our midst. Having just visited and prayed before the incorrupt body of the Franciscan Capuchin Stigmatist St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina at the San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy as part of our recent pilgrimage itinerary (May 3-19, 2014), I am reminded of what Pope Paul VI remarked of St. Padre Pio. Pope Paul VI said: “See what fame he had! What a world-wide clientele gathered around him! But why? Was it because he was a philosopher, because he was a learned man, because he was a man of means? It was because he said Mass humbly, because he confessed from morning to evening, and because, difficult as it is to say, he was a marked representative of the Lord” (Pope Paul VI, February 30, 1971).

Jesus, the disciples and the saints have revealed and continue to reveal the loving face of God. What about us?

More about Fr. Robert and his reflections.


“Because God Loves, He Suffers,” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The yearly commemoration of the Holy Week, of the Passion and Death of Jesus leading to his Resurrection, starts with the commemoration of his pilgrim journey or entrance into Jerusalem.

According to Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II), Jesus’ pilgrim journey from Galilee to Jerusalem is an “ascent” in both geographical and inner sense. It is an ascent in a literal and “geographical sense because the Sea of Galilee is situated about 690 feet below sea level, whereas Jerusalem is on average 2500 feet above.” It is also an inner spiritual ascent because “in the outward climb to Jerusalem,” Jesus’ ultimate goal is “his self-offering on the Cross.” Indeed, Jesus’ ascent to self-offering on the Mount of Golgotha, “an ascent towards loving to the point of death,” is “via the Cross.”

It is also in this ascent to his sacrifice on the Cross and in obedience to the Father’s will that God’s definitive revelation in Jesus is fulfilled. As Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The One who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn. 8:28-29)

Jesus ascends to his self-offering on the Cross on a donkey, an animal of the poor, the lowly and the humble. He does not come on a horse, a symbol of might and power. Although he is coming as a king, as exemplified by the spreading out of garments that is reminiscent of Israelite kingship, his is a different kind of kingship. Pope Benedict XVI writes: “He is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor.”

With branches from the trees, the people cry out: “Hosanna!” Through this Hosanna acclamation, disciples and the other pilgrims to Jerusalem express their hope for the coming of the Messiah and for the reestablishment of the David’s kingship and, therefore, of God’s kingship over Israel.

Indeed, Jesus is the Awaited Messiah, but he is not a political and worldly Messiah. It is precisely in the face of his passion in the hands of his enemies and of his death on the Cross that Jesus shows his being a Messiah. Jesus is the Crucified Messiah. He saves by being determinedly committed to the Father’s will even to the point of betrayal and death in the hands of men. Only in the shameful and baffling powerlessness of the Cross can Jesus demonstrate that authority that ultimately saves, forgives and rehabilitates. Jesus defines what sort of Messiah he really is on the Cross and not on a golden throne surrounded by power, might and pomp. The true Messiah is one who is crucified, who dies and who humbly and lovingly gives his all until there is nothing more to give. The true Messiah is one who suffers not only for us but also with us and in us.

But the week of the commemoration of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus is called Holy Week, not so much because of the passion and death of Jesus. It is not his passion and death per se that make Jesus’ passion and death holy but the love with which these are embraced. The passion and death of Jesus are a sign of love. They are the greatest expression of the Father’s love for us in and through Jesus His beloved Son. These are the culmination of a life lived in love – the love of God and His kingdom and of others. Jesus is one who walks his talk. His central message, the Kingdom of God, has something to do with God’s loving presence and action in our lives and history and this gets a most definitive seal of expression with the offering of Jesus’s life on the Cross.

While the passion and death of Jesus are a sign of love, they are also an invitation to love in a sacrificial and sacrificing manner. True love cannot but be sacrificial and sacrificing. To love is to be ready to offer oneself for the beloved even if this will involve a lot of sacrifices and, possibly, death. The ultimate measure of love is how much you are ready to suffer, to make sacrifices and to offer your life for the other.

Myron J. Taylor, following the insights of German theologians Jurgen Moltmann and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says: “Because God cares—because God loves—He suffers… If God loves, then God suffers. To love is to be vulnerable — to be vulnerable means to be open to the hurts and risks that come with freedom.”

More about Fr. Robert and his reflections.

“Who Do You Serve? God or Mammon?” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

Our God is a demanding God and He demands absolute loyalty. Jesus
highlights this in the Gospel passage by declaring categorically that one cannot serve two masters (God and mammon) and that wealth can compete with our commitment to God.

The word mammon is from the Greek word mamonas and it refers to earthly wealth. In the New Testament, only Jesus utters the word to contrast earthly goods with heavenly realities. However, this does not speak of Jesus’ negative attitudes and opposition to possessions in themselves but of the inordinate attachment to them and their materialistic character. Indeed, the problem is not about material goods per se but about our selfish, hedonistic and greedy attachments to them.

Jesus does not deny our human and basic need for food, drink, clothing, shelter and other material support. He does not also espouse passivity, laziness and apathy in the face of our duty to work in support of ourselves, our families and other people. But we must know our priorities in life and in this world. Our first priority is to “seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Mt 6:33)

We must recognize our noble place and unique value in the natural world. Jesus says that we are more important than the birds and wild flowers. (Mt 6:26) We must put our trust and confidence in the providential goodness of God. Jesus says that if God takes care of the birds in the sky and the grass in the field, “will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” (Mt 6:30) Our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask for it from Him. (Mt. 6:32)

Following the Wisdom teachers and to drive home his important
points regarding material goods, Jesus instructs his listeners through the use of two examples from nature. First, he compares the human need for food with that of the birds. In the scheme of things, although according to their nature, the birds do not sow, reap and gather in contrast to humans, God still takes care of them. We must trust that God will provide for us as we live according to our nature as human beings.

Second, Jesus also compares the human need for clothing with the raiment of the field flowers. They too follow their nature, which clothes them magnificently and in a way more beautiful than the royal splendor of Solomon. Likewise, as in the case of the need for food, we must trust that God will care for us as we live according to the nature fashioned for us by God.

Using the Jewish rabbinical argument “from the lesser to the greater,” Jesus then puts a challenge to the disciples’ faith. If through their respective natures God provides for the birds and the flowers and other creatures, for that matter, how much
more God will provide for us through our nature.

What we have in the gospel passage is one of Jesus’ Wisdom teachings. It is about putting our trust and confidence in God and living according to our nature as human beings.

But is this really what we see around us? How come some people, for example, seem to be more provided with material goods than the others? While we see so many people living in dehumanizing poverty and destitution, we also see others living in luxury and opulence? Is worrying not justifiable in the midst of uncertainty?

The gospel passage suggests a clue to the possible root cause of the problem: we do not really live according to our nature. Hoarding, greed, insensitivity, selfishness, apathy, laziness, among others, are not according to the nature God has fashioned for us.

The Social Teaching of the Church speaks of responsible stewardship, the universal destination of goods and solidarity with others, especially the poor and the needy. God has given us the goods of the earth for our proper use and not abuse. They are for our wellbeing and not for accumulation for the sake of profit and selfish interests. They are meant for sharing and equitable distribution according to the needs of people, not according to their wants. But this does not take place if we serve mammon more than we serve God and other people, especially the least, the lost and the last.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections

“Some Challenges Of The Feast Of The Sto. Nino” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The Feast of the Sto. Nino celebrates our nation’s great devotion to the child Jesus that has been maintained since 1521 with the gifting of the new Christian queen Juana with the image of the Sto. Nino by Magellan. The devotion has acquired different cultural trappings and practices, foremost of which are the Sinulog festivities that can be called as indigenously native.

The following are some of the challenges that the Feast of the Sto. Nino poses to us as Christians.

First, the Feast of the Sto. Nino reminds us of Jesus humbly identifying Himself with us in our humanity. The Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He was born a helpless and vulnerable child. He grew up in age, strength, knowledge, wisdom, and virtues and in the love and the grace of the Lord. He experienced what we experience in terms of human growth processes. He became close to us, near to us, becoming like us in all things except sin.

We have seen images of the Sto. Nino wearing a “Barong Tagalog,” in a basketball uniform, in a “kamiseta,” or in shorts. These devotional and indigenous images all boil down to the reality of God being one with us in all things except sin. Many people can identify with the Sto. Nino because He has first identified Himself with us.

Second, the feast challenges us to be childlike and to reclaim the inner child within us in the face of growths, sophistications and experiences of pains as adults. The child possesses so many endearing qualities that we must keep even when we are already adults. Child-like qualities such as trust, forgiveness, simplicity, gentleness and transparency, among others, must continue even in the lives of adult people.

The gospel reading from St. Matthew on this Feast of the Sto. Nino (Year A) deals with the issue of true greatness in the Kingdom of God. The discourse is occasioned by the disciples’ question about who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom. In the context of the Jewish society in that time, there was a good deal of preoccupation with position, status and placement in the coming Kingdom.

Jesus’ answer to the question of the disciples is composed of powerful actions and words. He calls a child and sets him in the midst of the disciples and admonishes them to become like little children. In ancient society, a child was a “nobody,” someone unimportant and without legal rights or standing and who was completely dependent on his parents. For a child, everything was a gift.

Anybody, therefore, who wants to be great in the Kingdom of God must be like a little child, a “nobody”. He/she must be someone who sees and receives everything as a gift from God. No one has a rightful claim on God’s Kingdom. The only precondition for entry into the Kingdom is the childlike and humble attitude of recognizing and receiving the Kingdom as a gift.

In presenting a child as a symbol of the Kingdom, Jesus makes him/her a model of innocence, humility and dependence on God. All forms of lobbying and status climbing are dismissed as anti-Kingdom values and practices.

Finally, we cannot have a devotion to the Sto. Nino and at the same time neglect our children. We refer here not only to our own biological, adoptive or surrogate children, but also to all the children in our midst. The Feast of the Sto. Nino must also impel us to take care of and protect all children, especially the most vulnerable among them. In the gospel passage, Jesus shows that people of the Kingdom manifest God’s special care and concern for the little ones.

According to the He Cares Foundation: Streetchildren Caring Center, there are more than 1.5 million street children in the Philippines – about 70,000 of them in Metro Manila alone. The Feast of the Sto. Nino reminds us that the inherent Filipino love for children must be translated into concrete deeds and programs that address the sufferings and problems of vulnerable children, including the street children. We cannot accumulate images of the Sto. Nino, some of which are even very expensive, while neglecting the poor and abused children. Genuine devotions must always lead to good deeds in the name of God and for the sake of others, especially the little ones.

About Fr. Robert and more of his reflections

“Conversion: Being Shaken To Our Authentic Identity In God,” by Fr. Robert Manansala

Conversion is a journey towards who we really are before the Lord, to our authentic identity in God: Sinful yet Beloved!

The German Jesuit priest Fr. Alfred Delp, who wrote powerful meditations from prison on “the spiritual meaning and lessons of Advent” before being martyred by the Nazis in a Nazi death camp in 1945, said that it is only when we experience being shaken and awaken that we begin to become capable of Advent. The experience of being shaken to awakening makes us realize that “all of life is Advent,” a journey towards encountering God.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist are our Advent figures who try to shake us to conversion in preparation for the coming of the Lord. John’s call to conversion is based on an earlier summons made by Isaiah “to prepare the way of the Lord.” However, Isaiah’s original line, “A herald’s voice that cries: in the desert prepare the way,” is changed to “A herald’s voice that cries in the desert: prepare the way,” making John the voice of God calling us into the desert of conversion.

In Hebrew, the word “shubh” for conversion indicates that one has taken a wrong direction and is summoned to return to God. In Greek, the word metanoia (“change of heart”) connotes not just a static compunction but a dynamic and determined turn-around and a commitment to a new way of life in God. In both cases, conversion is not purely a human decision or endeavor but a human response to God’s prior initiative. In the New Testament, conversion is a response to Jesus in whose person, words and deeds God’s Kingdom becomes an emerging reality.

Advent is intended to shake us to conversion or on-going conversion as our response to the new dawn that Jesus Christ has brought into the world. And this cannot be a half-baked conversion. Matthew tells us that many of the Pharisees and adducees come to listen to John and to be baptized by him. But John attacks them with his strong words: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Perhaps these Pharisees and Sadducees are toying with a change of heart, but not to the point of completely making a turn-around and committing themselves to God and to a new way of life. “Bearing fruit worth of repentance” is the only indicator of an experience of real and authentic conversion.

Fr. Delp, in his reflection on Advent on December 7, 1941, considered that one of the challenges of Advent is the call to authenticity. He said: “Someone who encounters the Ultimate, who knows about the end, must let go of every compromise. In the presence of the Ultimate the only thing that survives is what is authentic. All compromise shatters this. All cheap negotiating shatters this. All half-truths, and all double meanings, and all masks, and all poses shatter this. The only thing that stands the test is what is authentic.”

To embrace the Advent challenge of conversion is to embrace authenticity. John the Baptist shows the way to authenticity by knowing who he is before Jesus. He is not the Messiah; Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, he points to Jesus as the one who is stronger than he, the one who baptizes with the Spirit and the one who separates the wheat from the chaff.

Conversion is a journey towards who we really are before the Lord, to our authentic identity in God: Sinful yet Beloved! It is also a journey towards meeting others as we truly are in relation to one another: Brothers and Sisters in God! When we are finally shaken to our authentic identity in God and in relation to others, then we become capable of truly encountering the Lord in Himself and in others. Only when we are shaken to our true selves that we begin to become Advent people who are awake and ready for the Lord and his manifold visitations.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections

“Self-Idolatry And Humble Repentance” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

“One achieves uprightness before God not by one’s activity but by a contrite and humble recognition of one’s own sinfulness.” – J. A. Fitzmeyer

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a story of divine reversal that challenges us to reexamine our value systems and the way we evaluate ourselves and other people. We find in it the two characters’ contrasting interior attitudes, external behaviors and their respective self evaluations.

On the one hand, the Pharisees were known for their strict religious observance. The man in the story is a model of Pharisaic practice. Religiously speaking, he is beyond reproach. Dianne Bergant says that he is perhaps accurate in his self-description and in his negative evaluation of the tax collector.

On the other hand, tax collectors were despised as traitors by the Jewish people for being part of the economic system put in place by the Roman occupiers. They were also considered corrupt for often helping themselves with their tax collections. It is significant to note that the tax collector in the parable does not deny his involvement in such common practices. In fact, his prayer for mercy can be interpreted as an admission of his culpability.

The contrast in the internal disposition of the tax collector and the Pharisee is also very evident in their respective demeanor. The tax collector stands at a distance while the Pharisee may either be standing in front or in the midst of those in the Temple. He does not raise his eyes to heaven while the Pharisee easily does this. He beats his breast while the Pharisee’s arms are highly outstretched to the heaven. His demeanor is that of a repentant sinner while that of the Pharisee shows exaggerated self-confidence and even self-righteousness.

The two characters of the parable, according to Bergant, have described themselves correctly. However, the surprise in the development of the parable is when Jesus’ evaluation turns the story upside down. The Pharisee’s self-assessment is really a self-eulogy. Some commentators say that he is actually praying to himself and not to God. While he may be living an upright life, he takes credit for this and claims superiority over others by comparing himself with the tax collector. He is making himself justified before the Lord. The repentant tax collector, on the other hand, acknowledges that justification comes only from God. He prays that his sins be forgiven and his prayer is answered. The Pharisee does not need God for anything. He is sufficient by himself and so he receives nothing from God.

According to Patricia Datchuck Sanchez, Jesus’ parable, which is directed toward “those who believed in their self-righteousness,” returns the prerogative of judgment to God. By judging himself and others, the Pharisee is not only doing self-eulogy; he is also guilty of some sort of self-idolatry. J. A. Fitzmeyer says that “one achieves uprightness before God not by one’s activity but by a contrite and humble recognition of one’s own sinfulness.” Between the two characters in the story, it is the tax collector who has been given such righteousness before God. Sanchez is definitely correct in saying that “forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption are gifts from God that only the humble will recognize and only the needy will receive.”

as published on October 27, 2013, Parish Bulletin
About Fr. Robert and his reflections