Love is beyond “Friendly” Friendship. St. John 15:9-17, 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION By Fr. Laurian Janecki, OFM

Being religious or being spiritual is not necessarily the same as having faith and a life in the church, and being friendly is not the same as friendship. Last week we talked about branches connected to the vine and bearing fruit. There, Jesus told the disciples that to bear fruit we must remain connected to him.

Today Jesus makes it clear that this means remaining in his love – actively continuing in his love. If we keep his commandments, we will remain in his love, loving one another as he has loved us. What is important is that the focus of the command is to the disciples (us) and the church.

We cannot be left on our own in matters of love. Love cannot be a matter of warm, fuzzy and natural feelings towards others. Strangely it comes to us as a command. The question is, “But what good is a command to love someone?” We associate love with passions and feelings, affections rising within us based on likes and dislikes. We certainly say, “If I love someone, it won’t be because somebody gave me a command to do so.”

Jesus’ command to love is more than feelings and inclinations. Christ loves us when we are ugly; he loves us when we lack courage, when we behave hatefully, when we crucify him. When all this can be said about us, Jesus still loves us with the mercy only God can give us.

Husbands and wives are to love one another not just when they like it, but with constancy and fidelity that seeks the other’s good every day. Many have failed at this profoundly but it still remains the vision and demand of marriage. Feelings are never an adequate excuse or reason for not loving – our love must be “acting on behalf of the other’s well-being.” This love says, “I am for you.” Why? Because that is how God in Christ has loved us precisely when we are un-loveable.

This is the love that we should have available to everyone because we learn it from Jesus. The command is to: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is how we are to love. He commands love from us, but not as a master who commands servants or a general of his soldiers. Jesus makes us his friends. The strength of this command is that it comes to us in extraordinary ways: Jesus made us his friends, and he lets us in on what he himself knows. He includes us in such a way that we share something with him that commands love of us. “For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

Christ had made us his friends and therefore he can command us to love one another. How? Loving as he loved us. Our friendship with him makes us friends of one another. Being in him, we are brought together to accomplish what we cannot and would not accomplish on our own.

We Christians believe that friendship is essential to virtuous, good and decent living. We are to see and understand ourselves now through friendships, through Jesus’ friendship and the community of friends to which we belong because of our baptism.

We must learn to live as Christ’s friends and in friendship with him, to become like him. We are learning to love with him, to enjoy loving with him in his friendship – forgiveness, trust, counting on one another, fidelity, telling the truth.

Friends will seek the other’s good event at a cost to themselves. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In the church, a friend of Jesus should be our friend, my friend and your friend. Jesus commands us to love him and one another with the fidelity with which he has befriended us. So we embrace each other with the peace which is his peace regardless of arguments and sentiments of the likes or dislikes. And when we do, it is the Holy Spirit in us and Christ’s command of friendship living in us.

“It is risky to be open to God, realizing how our thinking and acting might be challenged. We need courage to be Christ’s Body and announce to the world the joy of Easter, hope of the Resurrection. With courage in the Risen Lord, we can imagine a better world and cooperate with God in his coming.” Maya Angelou.

“In the Spirit: I Wouldn’t Take Anything for my Journey Now.” Random House, NY, 1993.

We must draw upon the power of the Spirit for our courage and be the light of Christ for a world in need. The Holy Spirit is the creative living memory of the church. God’s spirit unites us and energizes us as we come together to share, relive and learn from the memory of the Risen Christ. Jesus, the wise rabbi, the compassionate healer, the friend of the rich and the poor, the saint and the sinner, the obedient and humble Servant of God – is a living presence among us, a presence that makes us a community of faith, calling us together to offer Christ’s love, support and compassion to one another.”

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

About Fr. Laurian and his other reflections…

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Faith Sharing of the Virtues of St. Anthony of Padua for Fiesta Novena Mass Day 6

We are featuring a series of nine Faith Sharing of Virtues of St. Anthony of Padua that were presented during the fiesta 9-day novena masses. This will temporarily replace the Sunday Gospel Reflections; after which the Gospel Reflections will return.

6

VISITING THE PRISON
by RJ Limpo

My name is RJ Limpo and I am one of the SYA volunteers who serve in the Makati City Jail. I recently learned that St. Anthony is the patron saint of prisoners. And the story goes. During his time, there was tyrant duke in Italy named Eccelino III who was the son in law of the Emperor. St. Anthony went to him to plead for the release of prisoners from Verona who the duke was holding. That is why he is the intercessor of prisoners.

It has only been a little over a year when I was asked to be part of the cathechism group that gives classes every Monday night at the Makati city jail. And I am quite sure.. that just like me, a lot of you here would cringe at the mere thought of visiting a penitentiary / jail compound such as the Makati city jail.
5
I found it very easy or perhaps convenient to shun myself from any affairs that pertained to reaching out to prisoners because in my mind every time there is talk about prison or prisoners for that matter, it is often spoken of with much prejudice, judgment and fear. And it is not unusual for people to disregard any or all affairs regarding jail matters. It is often perceived as a dead end of sorts. A mere detention for people who have committed crimes (or at least been accused of doing so)

Then I remembered the final words of Jesus to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew: When I was sick did you visit me? And When I was in prison did you visit me? And those words opened my mind just as if God sent me a key to open my heart.

Even so, I would still fear going to the Makati city jail because of the stigma that is attached to it which deeply affects a typical “unexposed to jail” citizen of the world. But later on, as I got used to the routine of giving classes every Monday, my apprehensions and my defense mechanisms slowly diminished. And I found that there are only a few things consistent with my preconceived notions of a jail inmate and the presumed demeanor of a so called criminal or accused.

My biggest realization would be that a lot of the people inside the Makati city Jail are actually nicer than the people I meet outside the jail compound. And really, I often would think to myself, how far am I from finding myself at the predicament of these people? Behind bars. After all, I know that I am a sinner just like all of them. And while they got caught while doing their offenses I.. did not. So how far am I from them? Hmmm.. Perhaps I am but a wall away. . . literally and figuratively.

Lets try to give it some thought.. All of us here tend to act according to what our environment presents us. If we are agitated, we get angry. If we are nurtured we are gratified.
In my time with the inmates I realized that the biggest obstacle of MOST inmates is that they are poor. They cannot afford education, wisdom and counsel. And in hunger they commit a mistake and cannot afford to pay bail let alone be represented by a lawyer.

Let me share with you a story of one inmate:

Jose is from the Pangasinan. There he was a baker earning a meager wage. And he like many, in search of greener pastures took the leap of faith to blindly relocate to Manila in the hope of attaining a better life. Here he found a job as you would guess a baker somewhere in San Andres, Manila. Without any relatives or knowledge of Manila’s streets or dealings, Jose spent days and nights in the bakery and even his day offs honing his craft. As he knew nothing better to do. Soon after his co workers became envious of him as he had an apparent talent in what he was doing. Jose soon became victim of company politics / intrigue and was insinuated to have an affair with the bakery owners wife.

Instead of exacting physical revenge on a helpless Jose, the bakery owner instead schemed to lead Jose out of his bakery and into the streets of Manila which he knew nothing of. Without money, food, change of clothes, much less a bed to sleep on. Jose found himself distraught and helpless. And this lasted for 7 days. Even if he tried to apply to every bakery he would see on the road, his now hideous appearance made him appear more sketchy than competent.

This prolonged agony led Jose to contemplate on taking his life. And in his desperate attempt to do so, he one day decided to dart himself onto a cruising taxi. His attempt however failed as the taxi driver was more skillful than he was. In his frustration Jose resorted to smashing the windshield of the taxi and damaging even other parts of the vehicle. As the people on the streets saw him behaving this way, they mobbed him, beat him up till he fell to the ground leaving him with a broken nose, a fractured arm, and a beat up face. Then the taxi company owner filed charges of malicious mischief with property damage on Jose and soon he landed in the Makati City Jail. This perhaps was the biggest break to come Jose’s way.

In the MCJ infirmary, Jose was diagnosed with sever psychotic trauma and was asked to go through psychotic and physical therapy. And soon after stabilizing, his baking talent was discovered and there he became the master baker. Creating different kinds of pastries and eventually enabling the jail personnel to go into business by selling his pies.

Later on, he got acquitted. But without any knowledge of the family he left behind in Pangasinan due to partial amnesia from the trauma, the workers at Caritas Manila took care of him and are still taking care of him at their foundation where he again is baking.

End of story.

Pope Francis came up with an inspirational book this year entitled Evangelii Gaudium wherein he encourages all of us in the church “to make the gospel known to others” and to “touch human misery”. My response to this call was to say yes to the weekly Catechism classes that I teach along with my SYA friends. We make the gospel known to them but in return we are enriched by victories like the story of Jose the baker.

I have seen the face of Jesus in the inmates many of whom I know by name, and I pray that through me they see a face of Jesus that tells them to be hopeful and know that God cares. Right now we are about midway through the lessons of the reference material we use for the classes. And I must say that although my duty is to teach. I am at the realization that I am the one learning the most from this experience.

And that biggest lesson I have learned.. is that we simply have to learn to forgive ourselves from our faults and allow Gods infinite love and mercy to permeate through our beings. Whether we are inside a prison cell or otherwise. This perhaps is the reason why St. Anthony never tired of petitioning to free the prisoners of his time.

As a parish community, I ask you to pray for those who are in prison and are seeking justice. Remember their families as well who wait for the day that they are united. Share your blessings, you will be surprised at how something as simple as a bar of soap is so appreciated in prison.

And since St. Anthony is also the patron saint for lost items. Let us pray for his intercession to our Heavenly Father, to bring back these lives that were lost in evil crimes, into the grace of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

“Life as Pilgrimage: From the Father Back to the Father by Way of Jesus”, by Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM, 5th Sunday of Easter Reflection

Intro
Majority of us go through life and living without pondering on the question of life itself. Who am I? A question that can be answered if prior questions of “Where do I come from?”“Where am I going?” are answered. Or “What’s the point of being here?” Our time and energy are not sufficient to cope with our daily concerns; we are glad to leave those questions about the meaning of life to armchair theologians and pulpit preachers.

However there are times when we are forced to pause because something happens that throw our routine off balance. Like the sudden death of someone very close to us which leaves us dumbfounded. Questions which we don’t bother to raise suddenly preoccupy us. Ventures, dreams and activities, goals which we considered to be important and which consume our energy and time, begin to look inconsequential against the reality of loss.

We ponder “Where are we going?” We might going in circles, not really getting anywhere. We feel like children taking those carnival rides – ferries wheel or roller coaster – arriving at the same spot where we depart, dizzy and dazed after the ride.

GOSPEL (John 14:1-12)
An experience of profound loss makes us question our direction in life. Jesus shows us that it is not different for the disciples. Today’s Gospel belong to Jesus’ farewell discourse before leaving his close followers. Jesus knew the pain and anxiety that this departure would cause on the hearts of his disciples. He counsels them not to be afraid, for he is going to prepare a place for them and will return to take them with him. Jesus’ remedy is faith in God and in Himself. But if faith is going to calm emotional distress, it needs to be understood. Jesus is trying to give his disciples a different mental framework that will bring them peace. But it goes right overtheir heads, as all they fathom is loss and this sense of loss triggers sadness and fear. Since theology did not help the disciples, Jesus tried a metaphor. Jesus envisions reality as his Father’s house. A comforting image of a home where we can all be together. He will come back and take us there. Love can endure temporary separation. But it can not abide permanent loss. Jesus assures them that they know where he is going and the way he is taking.

WORD
1. Life is a journey, a voyageto explore who at depth we really are. This entails not only discovery, but requires also an integration of their newly found aspect of their lives. New life means letting go of the known, the practiced. We seek to hold on to what has served us well in the past, whether it be values, dress, behaviors, look. We try to put the clock back (some with unfortunate results). That is why beauty products and the cosmetic industry are one of the most lucrative business nowadays. We refuse to let go of our youth, fearful of growing old, wrinkles and all!

If life is a journey, then we must constantly be on the move; there is never a point in this life that we can say we have arrived; there will always be an ongoing process of conversion.

2. Life as a journey entails different ways of looking at death as the concluding moments of our journey. Jesus is seeking to calm their hearts by re-interpreting death as departure and their loss as temporary because they will be reunited in the Father’s house. Hence death is a homecoming. It is coming back to where we came from, the bosom of the Father. It need not take us by surprise. The whole of life is filled with opportunities to rehearse this final massage. The letting go of youth, of health, of plans, of friends, when this is asked of us can all become a preparation for the last great renunciation that each of us is called upon to make. To befriend death throughtaking time a ponder on the richness of its meaning will help come to peace with the thought of dying. It is step each one must take alone.

No one else can share it as they have shared our living. A fuller appreciation of where life leads to in death is the bringing back to our consciousness a truth which we have conveniently and aggressively set aside – the truth that we all come from God. We take time to recall how surely God has held us through the many little deaths of life; any fear should be allayed. We know that he will sustain us surely at those concluding moments of our pilgrimage.

Brothers and sisters, we come from the Father, unto the Father we shall return, by the way of the Son.We have an astonishing origin, and a marvelous future that awaits us, because Jesus is the WAY.

More about Fr. Tasang and his reflections.

“Vengeance, Violence …Love, Holiness” by Fr. Joel Sulse, OFM

Browsing through my files while preparing my reflections for this Sunday, I asked to reprint this reflection of mine about Mt. 5:38-38. Paving our way to the road of the Lenten season, I feel that the thoughts here will help focus ourselves with the beauty of the Law and human relationships. It goes with the rewards that await us if we just anchor ourselves into the ways of God.

Injury is the force why people and nations cause harm and inflict pain on one another. A person may look physically all right but injury may have piled-up from within. Down through the years, a person may have tolerated it but the pain still remains. How can one overcome this? And what is the better option?

Judaism tries to moderate all forms of vengeance. It teaches one not to hate an enemy but to love one’s neighbor. Matthew affirms this in Jesus dismissing the Jewish teaching as narrow legalism. Jesus raised it to a higher degree of understanding introducing the Law of Love.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”(v.38) This implies that punishment cannot exceed the injury done. God’s purpose actually is to show mercy and not to injure. Thus, Jesus pacifies their thoughts by giving them the guidance they need – not to retaliate nor seek vengeance but to go out of our way to forgive. This is not easy but the price is worth the heavens.

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other. (v. 39) As a follower of Jesus, we were taught on how we can maintain our composure in front of a trial. He taught us not to be vengeful, nor to hold a grudge against a person, but to forgive. A slap in the face may mean criticism, insult, abuse, malice of any kind, threat, rumor, even physical and verbal abuse. Again, to forgive is the way to reach the heavens.

If someone takes your tunic, give your cloak. (v. 40) This is about “property injury.” As followers of Jesus, He advised us not to be consumed with fighting over property and rights. He knows very well that we cannot take them to our deathbed, nor to the heavens. He wants us to forget self and our property rights and focus on how we can attain our own salvation and the salvation of others. The more therefore that we give our property for the greater glory of God in service to others most especially the less fortunate, the more that He will open His door for us accompanying us to a reserved room for us in the heavens.

Forced to go one mile? Go with him two miles. (v.41) Remember Simeon of Cyrene in Mt. 7:32? Jesus is telling us that we should rather preoccupy ourselves in relieving others of their burdens. If we are therefore the criticizing and the complaining type, or the bitter and the resentful type, or the begrudging and the self-pitying type, then we have to do something and really ask ourselves, “Do I have the original nature of a good person created in God’s image and likeness?”

Give… and do not turn away.(v.42) Christian charity is a very good virtue rooted in Jesus himself who gave His life as a ransom for many. This is the highly valued Christian ethic, that we need to help those who are in need, and we really have to help. Is my help tied up with some other motivations? Am I trumpeting to the world what I have given? Is the help coming from within the very core of my inmost being? Am I really eager to give, even the most valued possession all for the glory of God? Am I tied up with the thought that I don’t want my family to experience hunger in the end? God knows more than we do. But the greatest consolation is “heaven is our reward!”

Love your neighbor…love your enemies and pray…(v.43-44) The fatal mistake committed by Israel is to interpret “neighbors” to only be their friends and those close to them. Another mistake is to “hate their enemies.” Jesus steered them to the right understanding of the Law- “TO LOVE.” Loving one’s enemy is against human nature because our tendency is to react and strike back. Jesus wants to take away that bitterness in us and preserve our heart to be like His. He wants us to recognize the side of compassion and mercy, His Spirit of love expressed in accepting the person for who he/she is. Prayer is of great help if we want a person to change into God’s image of love. We need to accompany them and bring them with us to heaven.

Be perfect as your Father is perfect. (V.48) Following the holy precepts of Jesus and His divine guidance on how we can live the fullness of life in accordance with His will, we will surely be transformed into his perfect image. Following Him consistently in our life will bring us the fulfillment we aspire for -HEAVEN. Perfection is fulfilling the commandment to love, for GOD IS LOVE.

On our roads leading into this coming season of Lent, let the holiness from deep within us burst forth!

About Fr. Joel and his reflections

February 16, 2014 Sunday Reflection by Fr. Efren Jimenez, OFM

“Before men are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.”
–(Book of Sirach, 15:15-20)

St. Augustine said that the freedom of choice is man’s ticket to heaven, and not otherwise due to his / her tendency to sin.

These are amazing words! Profound and endearing words to us who take the path of objective moral values in life to God. There is nothing arbitrary about God’s Law and therefore it is not a transient set of values. It reflects the wisdom of creation itself. The passage from the Wisdom of Sirach argues that within the great Wisdom of God’s creation, human persons have freedom of choice in shaping their lives, and their society. St. Augustine said that the freedom of choice is man’s ticket to heaven, and not otherwise due to his / her tendency to sin. God is never responsible for human sin, and destruction, nor does it constitute a license to sin and destroy. Life and sin are before us. God sees all, and He guides us. But we are responsible for our actions. This passage is stark in its insistence on human responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions and decisions.

It is easy to assume, on the one hand, to conclude that St. Paul’s mind in understanding of God’s Law from the Book of Wisdom are simply the same. He also writes of God’s wisdom, hidden in a secret purpose, which will complete our understanding of our own life story to fulfilment. We live in a confusing world, at times chaotic and dysfunctional, but time will come and all will come to truth.

The Gospel speaks of the completion of the law; the secret purpose of redemption in Christ clearly does not mean that the law is abrogated in favour of license. God’s law is from the beginning and it will last to the end because it is not arbitrary but the very wisdom of creation. In Jesus, the law touches reality to guide and fulfil the good purpose of every human being, and when the law touches the substance of human life, Jesus interprets the traditional prescriptions far more demandingly than most of us would have expected. He does not reduce the law, but bring it to its fullness and completion.

Thus, the beginning of violence and destruction is not murder but includes the many ways of putting one another down, of hurting, excluding or despising another, of holding grudges and unwillingness to discuss problems. Likewise, personal insecurity and breakdown of families come about not only through sensational adulteries, but through each person’s commitment and enduring fidelity in personal relationships. The lustful eye that sees another as less than a person, as an instrument for pleasure, profit, is at odds with the reality of God’s Kingdom. And also with breaking oaths, or forms of many lies, deceits and evasion that make oaths necessary in human society.

Jesus is teaching here the meaning of a transforming new attitude. He is asking us to go beyond the law, to observe the spirit of love and justice, and responsibility arising from a sense of what is right.

About Fr. EJ and his reflections

“Feast of the Presentation of the Lord” by Fr. Reu Galoy, OFM

the gospel tells us that we can only recognize the Messiah in our midst with the eyes of faith and with a soul wrapped in prayer.

All commentaries on this Sunday’s gospel say that Joseph and Mary’s presentation of the child Jesus in the temple is in obedience to the law – first, the purification of Mary after giving birth and second, the consecration and presentation of Jesus as the firstborn son. We see in this ritual being performed by Joseph and Mary the offering of their son – a gift from God back to God. Every child belongs to God.

In different cultures, there are rituals of presenting children to the community or to the society and these are considered milestones in the child’s life. But few would speak about a child being presented and consecrated to God. When the firstborn son of Prince William and Kate was first presented to the public, it made news all over the world, there was even a live telecast. We could only imagine how many photos were taken of this royal family. When we present a young daughter to “society” in a ritual called “debut,” we organize the best party and invite significant people.

Jesus is presented and consecrated in the temple with two young pigeons, the offering of the poor. No cameras, no klieg lights, no events coordinator, no music, no influential people, no applause. It did not make news all over the world, neither in the temple. The story of Christmas is consistent up to this point – a story of humility, fragility and solidarity with humankind.

BUT two persons noticed – two prayerful persons did notice that there in the temple was being offered the future messiah. Of the many people who might be there in the temple that day, Simeon and Anna noticed this obscure, ordinary family doing an ordinary ritual according to the law. It is said that Simeon and Anna never left the temple and prayed day and night. This detail in the gospel tells us that we can only recognize the Messiah in our midst with the eyes of faith and with a soul wrapped in prayer.

The Messiah is presented. In turn, God receives and claims the beloved Son. God, through Simeon and Anna, comes close, making once again the presentation ritual a manifestation and an encounter of the human and the divine. In the liturgical season, Christmas ends today. Yet we know that Christmas – the divine-human encounter — goes on to this day.

Today, let us welcome our Savior, the fragile baby offered in the temple, the light of the world. May we share his light to everyone we meet and may we recognize him in the many ways he comes to us every day.

About Fr. Reu and his other reflections.