From the Pastor's Desk

“Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion”

The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. Today’s liturgy combines contrasting moments of glory and suffering – the royal welcome given to Jesus by his followers and the unjust drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion. Holy Week challenges us to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation, to appreciate gratefully the price Jesus paid for our salvation, and to return God’s love for us (expressed through the suffering and death of Jesus), by loving others. The meditation on these Paschal mysteries should enable us to do our own dying to sin and rising with Jesus, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Proper participation in the Holy Week liturgy will also deepen our relationship with God, increase our Faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus.

Today’s first reading, found in the prophecy of Isaiah, is called the third Servant Song. Jesus saw aspects of his own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs. The second reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of who Jesus is, and of how his mission saves us from sin and death. The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from his admirers. They paraded with him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Mark. We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience and condemned Jesus to death on the cross, Herod who ridiculed Jesus and the leaders of the people who preserved their positions by getting rid of Jesus.

Let us try to answer five questions today: 1) Does Jesus weep over my sinful soul as he wept over Jerusalem at the beginning of his Palm Sunday procession? 2) Am I a barren fig tree? God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness. Do I? Or do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness? 3) Will Jesus have to cleanse my heart with his whip? Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of his Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does Jesus approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God. 4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to him during this Holy Week and welcome him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior? The palms should remind us that Christ is our King and the true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in life. 5) Are we like the humble donkey that carried Jesus? Let us carry and radiate Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service to our families, and communities.

HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER HOMILY

On Holy Thursday we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and preach the Good News of Salvation, and 3) the anniversary of Jesus’ promulgation of His new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover. The Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations. The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering of a lamb to God. They called this celebration the “Pass over." The farming descendants of Cain, however, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving. The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37), was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God and celebrated yearly by all Israelites to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian slavery, their exodus from Egypt and final arrival in the Promised Land.

In the first reading, God gives the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt the families within each from the coming slaughter. In the second reading, Paul suggests that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the Church. By it, Christians reminded themselves of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration. After washing the feet of his Apostles and commanding them to do humble service for each other, Jesus concluded the ceremony by giving his Apostles his own body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine as spiritual food and drink, in addition to serving the roasted Paschal lamb.

1) A challenge for humble service. Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another, and revere Christ’s presence in other persons. In practical terms, that means we are to consider their needs to be as important as our own and to serve their needs, without expecting any reward. 2) A loving invitation for sacrificial sharing and self-giving love. Let us imitate the self-giving model of Jesus who shares with us his own body and blood and who enriches us with his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey Jesus’ new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

3) An invitation to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: "Go forth, the Mass is ended," really means, “Go in peace to love and serve one another.’’ We are to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ whom we carry with us. (L/18)

Good Friday (March 30) 2018: Seven Words from the Cross

1. The word of Forgiveness: “Then said Jesus, ’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’" (Luke 23:34). While the crucified convicts would shriek and curse and spit at the spectators, Jesus, innocent of any crime against God or humanity, betrayed, arrested, scourged and condemned, did not. Now, from the cross, Jesus’ thoughts reached above his pain and rejection. Instead of being consumed with his own pain and misery, Jesus asked forgiveness for those responsible for the evil done to him - and by extension, for all who ignorantly go the way of sin and death. Jesus prayed for those who condemned Him, mocked at Him and nailed Him to the Cross - and for those who from all the nations and down through the years would crucify him by their sins.

Life lesson--unconditional forgiveness: If someone hurts our feelings can we forgive that person, pray for God’s blessings on him or her and continue to treat him or her as our friend? Here is a Chinese proverb: "One who hates another digs two graves: one for himself and the other for the one he hates." St. Paul admonishes, "Be ye therefore kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another" (Ephesians 4:32). He advises the Romans: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (120-21).

2. The word of Assurance: “Then [the criminal who had scolded his fellow criminal for mocking Jesus] said, ’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ’Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:42-43). On either side of Jesus, on their crosses were two thieves. These two were really guilty men who deserved death. When sunlight falls on wax it melts, but the same heat hardens the clay. The waxy heart of the thief on the right (traditionally called Dismas) literally melted with repentance at the sight of Jesus crucified, prompting him to address Jesus humbly and devoutly, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus said, "Today you shall be with me in Paradise." Dismas did not have to confess all his sins to Jesus - Jesus forgave and forgot them all… and at once! But the hard-hearted, unrepentant sinner on the left remained that way in spite of Jesus’ presence and exemplary, heroic death right before his eyes.

Life lesson: We are here to remember how Jesus died on the cross to save each human soul, paying his life as ransom. Will we follow the example of the repentant thief who, seeing the death of Jesus, was converted or will we go out of the Church today, unmoved and hard-hearted, returning to the world of our sins and infidelity like the unrepentant sinner who died in his sins in the presence of the Lord of mercy and forgiveness?

3. The word of Comfort: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ’Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ’Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Jesus’ disciples had deserted him; his friends had forsaken him; his nation had rejected him; and his enemies cried out for his blood. But his faithful mother stood there sorrowing at the foot of the Cross. Who can grasp the grief of Mary watching her son suffer - the grief of a mother watching her son die as a criminal on a cross? And who can grasp the grief of the son - the son who must see his mother’s heart pierced by a sword as prophesied by Simeon, when Jesus as a baby was presented in the temple? Jesus announces from the cross that he is going to give us the most valuable and the last gift: "Here is your mother." Here is the one I love, for you to love, and for her to love you - the one who taught me, the one who fed me, the one who wiped away my tears, the one who hugged me, the one who will be with you and pray for you.

Life lesson: This is Jesus’ loving death-bed gift to each of us who believe in Him: Jesus’ own mother as our mother, the mother of Christians, mother of the Church, to honor, love, and respect and imitate. She is the supreme model of trusting Faith in God, the model of perfect obedience to the will of God and the model of perfect surrender of one’s life to God. "Behold, your mother!" Pope St. John Paul II said, in addressing World Youth Day (n. 3; ORE, 19 March 2003, p. 6), "Jesus addresses these words to each of you, dear friends. He also asks you to take Mary as your mother ’into your home’, to welcome her ’as one of yours’, because ’she will discharge her ministry as a mother and train you and mould you until Christ is fully formed in you.’" May Mary make it so that we respond generously to the Lord’s call, and persevere with joy and fidelity in the Christian mission! The words which the Finger of God engraved on two tables of stone at Mount Sinai were never repealed. The Bible still says, "Honor your father and your mother." Those of us, whose parents are still living, need to follow the example of Jesus on the Cross. Women, behold your children; children, behold your mothers.

4. The word of Desolation: “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46). This fourth and central Word of Jesus on the Cross is another prayer, from the Psalms. All during His ministry Jesus had known what it meant to be forsaken. Early, the members of His own family forsook Him. Nazareth, His home-town, had forsaken Him. The nation He came to save rejected Him. But in every such instance He could always steal away to the tender healing fellowship of His Heavenly Father and find his purpose and strength in His presence. But now, even God seems to have turned away from Him, permitting him to experience the ultimate intensity of rejection and loneliness in human life. Hence, Jesus quoted the first portion of Psalm 22:1, a prophecy of the Messiah’s suffering and exaltation.

Life lesson: Every one of us experiences despair and rejection at certain periods of our life. When our dear ones die or fall terminally ill, when the only support of the family is accidentally removed, when the spouses are divorced, when the country faces serious threats to its safety, we ask the question, "Where is God?" Shortly before he died, Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet), the French atheist and writer, is reported to have said the following words to his physician, "I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six more months of life."

Jesus’ word of desolation teaches us that there is no despair so deep or evil so overwhelming, no place so far removed from joy, light, and love, or even from the very heart of God which God Incarnate has not experienced before us, and where God cannot meet us and bring us home. In the hardest moments, when we have been stretched out and are in great pain, we always know that He is there, by our side, feeling everything that we are feeling, and that He will not fail us, forsake us, or abandon us. Jesus is atoning for the unforgivable sin of despair by experiencing rejection from all quarters. Let us never lose hope of the mercy of a loving and forgiving God in spite of the number and gravity of our sins. Jesus is also teaching us the truth of the horrible reality of Hell, of the eternal and sad fate of forsaking of God.

5. The word of Suffering: "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ’I thirst’" (John 19:28). "Zhena" - "I thirst," the fifth word of Jesus from the cross, is the shortest of the seven, reminding us of Psalm 22:15: "My throat is as dry as dust, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth." While Jesus was dying on the Cross, He had developed an agonizing thirst. Death by Crucifixion is one of the most painful modes of torture ever conceived by man. The draining away of blood from the body brings on intensive thirst. The physical agony of thirst is terrible beyond the power of words to describe. The whole body cries out for water - water to moisten a parched mouth, water to free a swollen tongue, water to open a rasping throat that cannot gasp enough air, water to keep life alive just a few moments longer. The psalmist prayed (Psalm 63: 2): "O God, you are my God -- for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless, and without water."

Life lesson: Jesus’ thirst was more for souls who really thirst for God. All Christians are to be missionaries who satiate this thirst of Christ by preaching him, mainly through their exemplary and transparent Christian lives and drawing others to love and believe in Him. When Jesus says, "I thirst," he is not only identifying with the needs of humanity, he is experiencing them. When we thirst, Christ thirsts. When the poor thirst for clean water to drink, Christ thirsts. When children thirst for parents who will love them and not abuse them, Christ thirsts. When those who are marginalized by society because of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or political views thirst for belonging, Christ thirsts.

6. The word of Triumph: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, ’It is finished’" (John 19:30). The Savior was about to die. It was for this cause that Jesus had come into the world and now that His mission was accomplished He declared definitively, "It is finished!" meaning the work of salvation entrusted to Him as Messiah of God is now "accomplished, fulfilled, achieved." Jesus lived only half the normal span of human life in his century. During that time, He was criticized and despised and rejected. He was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane, led to the Judgment Hall, and condemned to die. Now his suffering was ended. The ordeal was finished, and nothing remained but the blessed peace of the absence of all sensation.

Life lesson: Can I die saying joyfully and gratefully the sixth and seventh words of Christ in all sincerity? It is possible if I live my Christian life doing the will of God in all sincerity and commitment. If a Christian is in the kitchen doing the will of God, said Blessed Mother Teresa, her actions are as important to God as when the Pope is preaching to millions.

7. The word of Committal: "Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ’Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last"(Luke 23:46). Jesus was always submitting Himself to God, and when He died, He died just as He had lived. Jesus entrusted his spirit -- his life -- and all that had given it meaning to God his Father in Faith. Even at the point of his own abandonment when the good seemed so very far away he proclaimed his Faith in God which the darkness could not overcome: "Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit."

Life lesson: We, too, are told to "commit our way unto the Lord; trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass." Let us live in such a way as to hear the welcome words of God our Father, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." The Christian should be able (like Stephen in Acts 7), to cry with his last breath, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." When we see someone hurting how often have we listened and invited them to prayer? How often have we failed to invite someone to Mass, a prayer service, or Bible study, because of the possibility of rejection? Just as Christ taught us to pray, he also offered this small prayer for strength, "Into your hands, Father, I commend my Spirit."

Fr. Gus. MS, Pastor
Fr. Edwin MS