24 September 2006


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:30-37

One of our favorite parlor games during parties is called “Trip to Jerusalem”. There may be different versions of the game but the objective remains the same. He who is able to sit on the one chair left wins the game. He who sits is the winner. Seats have always been symbols of authority and greatness.

Jesus and His disciples are on a trip to Jerusalem today. Theirs is no parlor game however. They are in the first leg of their trip to Jerusalem where Jesus must face His destiny. His disciples do not know that, so Jesus explains to them, for the second time, that in Jerusalem, He will be delivered into the hands of men who will put Him to death; but after three days, He will rise again. There is no chair waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem. There is, however, a heavy, rugged cross, reserved for Him there. And unlike our kind of “Trip to Jerusalem”, Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem sways to the tune of an argument. His disciples are arguing who among them is the greatest.

Reaching Capernaum, Jesus inquires from His so-called friends, “What are you arguing along the way?” They cannot satisfy Jesus’ inquiry. How can they, when they are busy trying to satisfy their individual hunger for greatness instead? But the disciples fail to answer Jesus not only because they are busy but also because they are shamed. How can they discuss greatness when Jesus speaks about lowliness? How can the disciples elbow one another to occupy the pedestal of power as the Master tells them that He will be raised on the pedestal of utter vulnerability? The disciples’ trip to Jerusalem is very much like ours, a scrambling for seats of authority, for chairs of greatness, for thrones of power.

The silence that meets Jesus’ question today comes not only from His disciples two thousand years ago. It is our silence too. It is the silence of His disciples of today, you and me. And it is a very deafening silence.

What are we arguing about along the way? Jesus waits for our answer. Do we dare be honest with Him?

Exploiting our disturbing silence, as He does with His disciples in the Gospel today, Jesus lectures us about His upside-down world Kingdom: “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” A good Rabbi that He is, Jesus lectures us not with the mere use of words but with the help of the living example of a little child. He places a toddler in our midst, puts His arms around him, and says, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

St. Matthew’s version (cf. Mt 18:1-5) of this same lecture of Jesus carries a further nuancing. In Mt 18:1-5, Jesus speaks not only about welcoming a child but also about becoming like a child. In both cases, however, it is the “child” that lends value to the teaching.

In Aramaic, the language Jesus speaks, the word for “child” and “servant” is the same: ebed. That says a lot!

Certainly, children are loved in Jewish culture. However, children are not made the center of a household’s doting attention nor are they put forward as models of ideal living. In the Judaic socio-cultural paradigm, a child has no rights and is neither a “he” nor a “she”. A child is an “it. Completely dependent of adults, a child’s place is always at the bottom. He is expected to wait on his elders and otherwise keep out of their way.

To be an ebed is to be a child and a servant at the same time. To be a child is to be a servant. But to be a servant is to be more than just to be a child. Jesus is the servant of all, remember? Jesus is ebed. Jesus is the ebed of the abadim; He is the servant of the servants. In every ebed, we meet, we love, we touch, we emulate, it is Jesus we are dealing with. Thus, whoever welcomes a child in Jesus’ name, welcomes Jesus Himself and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the Father who sent Him. The thesis of Jesus’ lecture is very clear: Truly great people do not look down on those at the bottom of the heap. Their rule is benign because they do not trample on those whose position is beneath their own. The greatest among us is the servant to the servants. Greatness, therefore, is not measure by seats, titles, influence, or privileges, but by service, by love, by humility. He who can bend the lowest can stand the highest. I received a text message few weeks, reminding me thus, “Have you observed a rice field and noticed which heads are bent and which ones stand up straight? The empty heads are standing tall and high while the heads that are filled with grains are bending low. Indeed, truly great and strong people are humble and gentle. Giants do not mind bowing low.”
Are we giants? Are our heads empty or filled with grain? Are we truly great?

Let us forever bear in mind today’s lecture by Christ: Greatness is not about a chair; greatness is about the cross. Greatness is not about being seated in some kind of a throne; it is about being crucified on the cross of Christ. The real trip to Jerusalem is far from being a parlor game during parties. It is our life. We tread the path unto Jerusalem, the real road that is less traveled. Jesus makes the trip with us; we are not alone. But do we make the trip with Jesus? Or are we busy arguing who among us is the greatest? Our silence is deafening.

23 September 2006


Memorial of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Priest
Mt 11:25-30

St. Pio was born of simple, hardworking farming parents on 25 May 1887, in Pietrelcina, Southern Italy. He was tutored privately until his entry into the Capuchin Friars at the age of 15. Of feeble health but strong will, with the help of grace he completed seminary studies and was ordained a priest in 1910.

On 20 September 1918, the five wounds of our Lord’s Passion miraculously appeared on his body, making him the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Church. Countless numbers were attracted to his confessional and many more received his saintly and spiritual guidance through correspondence. His whole life was marked by long hours of prayer and continual austerity. His letters to his spiritual directors reveal the ineffable sufferings, physical and spiritual, which accompanied him all through his life. They also reveal his very deep union with God, his burning love for the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. Worn out of over half a century of intense suffering and constant apostolic activity in San Giovanni Rotondo, he was called to his heavenly reward on 23 September 1968.
On 2 May 1999, Pope John Paul II beatified Padre Pio. Three years later, on June 16, the same Holy Father canonized Padre Pio.

I confess, I am speechless contemplating the life of our saint today. Instead of preaching about him, I am strongly drawn to pray to him. I divulge one of my secrets: Each time I walk towards the altar to celebrate the Mass, I mention the name of Padre Pio and ask him to help me celebrate the Mass with the same devotion he has for the Blessed Eucharist.

I was at the birthplace, the childhood house, and the church of the Holy Family in San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio spent most of his priestly life, last May this year. I went inside the house where he was born. I saw his personal effects exhibited in his parents’ house. I saw real pictures of his parents and siblings. I walked the cobblestones of the narrow street leading to his house. I saw his personal belongings as a friar at San Giovanni Rotondo. I saw his correspondences that occupy a whole room. I saw and venerated the crucifix he was contemplating on when he received the stigmata. I saw his rocking chair, his oxygen tank, his gloves, his undershirts, his bed, his pen, etc. I knelt and prayed before his tomb. I heard the confession of three Italian ladies and one Italian man and said Mass right in front of his tomb.
I am simply speechless.

All I can do is look at him. All I want to do is to invite you to look at Padre Pio.

I want to be like him. I want my priesthood to be like his. He is a mirror of Jesus to me.

It is said that Padre Pio used to pray the complete mysteries of the rosary fifteen times a day. When asked why it takes him so long in prayer, Padre Pio said that as he prays at every bead of the rosary, a guardian angel whispers to him the requests of a soul. Padre Pio once said that we should send him our guardian angels to tell him what we want him to pray for on our behalf and he assured us that he would offer his prayers and sacrifices for our intentions.

In silence, let us pause for a while now and send our guardian angels to Padre Pio to tell him our requests.

Padre Pio is likewise said to have remarked that he would not enter heaven until all his spiritual children are sure to enter heaven too. I do not know how that can be, but I am sure that Padre Pio will do everything to help all his devotees enter heaven someday.

In this Mass, let us begin to be devotees of Padre Pio. Let us continue knowing him more and entrusting our selves to his paternal solicitude. He will not fail us. He will certainly embrace us as a father embraces his child.

“Padre Pio, teach us too, we pray, humility, that we may be counted
among the humble of heart in the Gospel to whom the Father promised
to reveal the mysteries of His kingdom. Obtain for us an expression of
faith capable of recognizing Jesus in the faces of the poor and suffering.
Sustain us during our times of trial and struggle and, should we fail,
let us experience the joy of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Teach us tender devotion towards Mary, Mother of Christ and our Mother.
Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage towards the blessed Homeland,
where we, too, hope to arrive to contemplate eternally the glory of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
(Prayer of Pope John Paul II to St. Pio of Pietrelcina).

Padre Pio, prega por noi. Amen.

22 September 2006


Friday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time
Lk 8:1-3

When we were seminarians, we had many friends of the opposite gender. Girls seem to flock naturally around a young man preparing for the priesthood. No wonder because seminarians are often said to be “harmless”. Some, however, are quick to rebut, saying, “They are not harmless, mind you. They are only less harm.”

By “harmless”, people mean that girls are secured in the company of seminarians. Girls are secured not only from advances of men other than seminarians but also from the seminarians themselves. Seminarians are commonly regarded as gentlemen. They are polite, courteous, and considerate most especially towards the opposite sex.

By “less harm”, people mean that seminarians can also be naughty with girls, but the harm they can inflict on girls are not as grave as non-seminarians can do. The claim can be an issue that welcomes debates.

Another issue, however, is often overlooked. Whether seminarians are “harmless” or “less harm”, are they in turn “harmed not” or “harmed less” by girls?

Jesus is in the company of girls today. St. Luke gives us the names and brief descriptions of the women. There things stand out in the evangelist’s account.

First, Jesus is not alone with the women. “With Jesus,” writes St. Luke, “went the Twelve, as well as certain women.” Jesus’ friendship with the women mentioned in the Gospel is real and deep, but it is not an exclusive friendship. The women are friends not only of Jesus but of the Twelve as well. Jesus shares his friends with everyone.

Second, the women, according to St. Luke, had been cured of evil spirits and ailments. As an example, the evangelist cites Mary Magdalene. She used to be possessed by seven demons. It is, however, not very clear if it was Jesus who cured her because St. Luke does not explicitly say so. However, it can be presumed that it was Jesus who healed her; doing so does not add or subtract anything from Jesus who has always been regarded as a wandering Healer even prior to this account. Jesus’ friendship with the women mentioned here is born out of a life-changing event: the women were made whole again.

Third, St. Luke ends his description of the women by telling us something about Jesus more than about the women themselves. By saying that the women provided for the needs of Jesus and of the Twelve out of their own resources, the evangelist paints for us a picture of Jesus who relies on the help of others. Such attitude of Jesus is not a manifestation of weakness but of humility. Jewish men do not rely on women. Jesus is a Jew but he relies on women. Jesus is a humble friend whose friendship is not dictated by discriminating way of regarding people.

These three points may well help us see if our friendship is “harmless”, “less harm”, or “harmful”. Is our friendship exclusive? Does our friendship make people whole again or preserve their wholeness? Does our friendship have the humility to rely on others, without any trace of discrimination?

Are we a friend like Jesus?

17 September 2006


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 8:27-35

One day, I was having coffee with a friend when I spotted sitting in another table a classmate way back from the sixth grade. I told my friend, “That guy over there is my classmate in Grade Six. He is Rodney Cruz.” “Prove it,” my friend challenged me. “Go and say hello to him,” he continued. So I did. And guess who it was? Indeed, it was Rodney. One problem though: Rodney could not remember who Bobby Titco was.

When people we know fail to recognize us, we usually feel disappointed. We sometimes get irritated with people who do not get our name right. Wrong identification can be more than a laughing matter.

The question of who people say that we are is a very risky one. Thus, many avoid asking and answering it. Asking or answering it can touch a very sensitive part of the self. No matter how politely phrased, reports of what people say about us or how they see us can be disheartening and even alarming. What if the answers do not match our own self-understanding?

When Jesus asked His disciples who people say that He was, He took the risk of being disappointed. When He asked them who they say He was, He took an even higher risk. The people were wrong about who they say Jesus was. That was understandable because they were not as intimate as the Twelve were with Jesus. When Simon Peter answered Jesus’ second question, he likewise run the risk of being mistaken. But mistaken, Simon Peter was not. Indeed, Jesus is the Messiah.

Simon Peter was not mistaken about who the Messiah was but he was mistaken about what the Messiah was. He got a perfect score for knowing WHO the Messiah was, but a failing mark for not accepting WHAT the same Messiah really was. Like any Jew of his time, as well as ours, Simon Peter thought of the Messiah as one who would rise as a political leader to set Israel free from the oppressive rule of the colonial power. This kind of a messiah was expected to conquer the enemies of Israel with force, not one who was to be forced to carry a heavy, rugged cross. This kind of messiah was expected to rise victorious above the colonial forces, not one who was to rise from the ground, nailed on a cross, mangled and shamed. This kind of messiah was expected to live, not die. The problem is this kind of messiah was not Jesus.

Thus, Simon Peter could not agree with Jesus’ prophecy of what was to happen to Him in Jerusalem. Like anyone we commonly and easily take for a good friend, Simon Peter tried to deviate Jesus from His intention to proceed to Jerusalem. It was then that Jesus called Simon Peter Satan.

“Satan” is not a proper name, as your name and mine are. “Satan” means “adversary”. He is our enemy, one who leads us astray and accuses us before God after doing so. Thus, anything or anyone that hinders us from fulfilling God’s will is a Satan to us. Satan does not necessarily have to be something repulsive or hostile at first sight. Satan can be something attractive and friendly on the surface. Yes, a friend can be “Satan” too if he or she causes us to be out of focus in our desire and effort to obey God always, to place God over and above all things. Thus, Peter, though one of Jesus’ closest friends, was called “Satan” in the Gospel today.

Not all our friends who shield us from pain are true friends. There are pains that are necessary for us to endure because of our obedience to God. Over-protecting us from such pains is not friendship. It is “temptation”. A friend who tempts us is not a friend but a Satan.

Did Simon Peter really recognize who Jesus was? Or did he simply know who Jesus was? There is a big difference between knowing and recognizing. We may know someone but we may not recognize him or, worse, perhaps refuse to recognize him. We may know a friend but do we recognize God’s will for him? It is not enough to know a friend. Real friendship is when we recognize his God-given mission that defines who he really is.

Beware of Satan. Let us not be a Satan to anyone.

Do you really know me? Do I really know you? Do we really know Jesus?

10 September 2006


23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:31-37

There once was an old dusty violin being auctioned. The starting price was a mere $3.00. Yet even at such a very, very low price, the old dusty violin could not attract any bidder. Then from nowhere, a gray-haired man came forward, picks up the violin, dusts it off, and begins to play.

The man and the violin filled the auction hall with a sweet, enchanting music. When the man finished playing on the old dusty violin, the bidding suddenly jumps into the thousands of dollars. What changed the value of the violin? What transformed the old dusty violin into a priceless instrument? The poet, Myra Brooks Welch, says, “The touch of the Master’s hand.”

In her poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” Myra Brooks Welch concludes:

“And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap, to a thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.

“But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can understand
The worth of a soul, and the change that’s wrought
By the Touch of the Master’s Hand.”

Yahweh touches the land of the Israelites many, many times. Prior to their exile in Babylon, the Israelites already saw what happens when the hand of God touches. His touch changes the land. The First Reading today, however, tells us more. The prophet Isaiah consoles the people in captivity and proclaims that the touch of the hand of Yahweh changes not only the land but the lives of people as well. As the touch of the God’s hand transforms the burning sands of the desert into springs of water, the blind also begins to see again, the deaf also starts to hear again, the weakling also becomes strong, and the dumb sings a joyful song. The touch of the God’s hand promises the best and fulfills what it promises in a way that even the strongest hand cannot accomplish.

In the Second Reading, James the Apostle reminds us that the hand of the God rests upon the poor. In a sense, we shake hands with God when we touch the poor. Thus, two hands folded in prayer alone do not manifest genuine faith in God. True faith in God compliments folded hands in prayer with hands reaching out, touching, and lifting up the poor in loving service.

The Gospel today sums up Isaiah’s prophecy and James’ exhortation in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the touch of God’s hands on each of us – freeman or captive, rich or poor. Jesus is God-touching-us. God touches us in and through Jesus, His Son. With His touch, He heals us, changes us, transforms us, and makes our faith undoubtedly real.

And how does Jesus touch us?

Jesus touches us by taking upon Himself our infirmities. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God,” says Paul the Apostle in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:21). And again, in 2 Pt 2:24, we read, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” This is the reason why the touch of Jesus, the Master, is not only skin-deep. The touch of the Master’s hand opens and penetrates deeper and deeper until it has no where to go but outward, reaching out to others with the kind of love that not only heals wounds but transforms the wounded into a wounded healer. And where it faces a blockade, the same touch reverberates the command, “Ephphatha!”

The hand of the Master continues to play with old dusty violins. His touch never fails to produce sweet and enchanting music even with the most unexpected instrument. If we cannot hear it, can we be deaf or are we playing deaf? Anyone who has ears, let him hear. And he who has none, let him feel. The music is playing.

09 September 2006


Saturday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Lk 6:1-5

My first pilgrimage to the Holy Land is very memorable because of the Sabbath. I was billeted several floors above the lobby of a hotel in Jerusalem. When Sabbath came, the hotel was crowded. A big number of families decided to partake of the Sabbath meal and spend the Sabbath holiday in the same hotel I was staying.

Arriving from a whole day visit to several holy sites, I was rushing to get to my room because I needed to go to the bathroom. The “call of nature” is always urgent; thus, I took the elevator. Despite the crowd inside the elevator, I squeezed my self in. I pushed the button of my floor. The door closed. The elevator moved. The door opened. Lo and behold, I was only a floor above the lobby and my room was in the 34th floor! So, again, I pushed the button of my floor. The door closed. The elevator moved. The door opened. I was two floors above the lobby and my room was still more than thirty floors above me. I had to repeat the process of pushing the 34th button and waiting for the elevator door to close and open at every single floor of the hotel. By the time I reached my room, I was sweating cold. I barely made it to the bathroom because the elevator I took was the Sabbath elevator.

The Sabbath elevator is a Jewish device of using the elevator without breaking the Sabbath rest. The doors of the elevator open and close and open automatically at every single floor; thus, you do not need to push any button at all. For even pushing a button during the Sabbath breaks the Sabbath rest. Ridiculous? Say that to a devout Jew and you pick a fight with him, unless of course it is Sabbath.

Going to the bathroom is not the only “call of nature”. Often, nature’s call is even louder when it sounds hunger. This second kind of call comes upon the disciples today. They are hungry and so they pick ears of corn as they pass through a field. But some of the Pharisees will rather see the disciples starve because today is Sabbath.

The call of nature to relieve one’s self in the bathroom should not be difficult to answer. All that is needed is an easy access to the bathroom. Hunger, too, should be an easy problem to solve. Hunger is quickly solved by eating. But both calls can be preludes to unnecessary and prolonged discomfort, if not death in itself. What if an elevator that opens and closes and opens at every single floor delays the much needed visit to the bathroom? What if a legal interpretation keeps not only the food from the hungry but also the hungry from the food?

On my way to the dining, after my visit to the bathroom, I came to know that beside the Sabbath elevator in every Jewish hotel is a non-Sabbath elevator. A non-Sabbath elevator is the regular elevator: it opens and closes and opens not at every floor but at every push of a button. From that first pilgrimage onward, one of the first things I do when I arrive at a hotel in Israel is identify which among the elevators is a Sabbath elevator and a non-Sabbath elevator. Knowing which is which spells a lot of difference.

On our way to heaven, during our pilgrimage here on earth, may we come to know more and more what it means to believe that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and that Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Knowing thus may save someone from hunger.

Should someone suffer the embarrassment of not reaching the bathroom on time because of a Sabbath elevator? Should anyone endure the pangs of hunger because of the Sabbath rest? Jesus says, “No.” Do I hear a Pharisee now saying, “Yes?”

08 September 2006


Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mt 1:1-16, 18-23

Before I became a priest, my mother’s birthday was a simple family gathering. We either attend a Mass together or, when hearing Mass together was not possible, offer a Mass for her. Sometimes we had a family dinner in a special restaurant. Sometimes we watched a movie together. Sometimes we just stroll together. But always, the affair was simple and very private.

Now that I am a priest, commemorating mommy’s birthday is somehow different. The former simple and very private family affair is now “upgraded” and a concern of more people. Most of those people are people who love me too. They met mommy because they met me. They came to know her more because they came to know me better. They developed a special affection for her because I, her son, am a priest. When her birthday comes, she has more gifts than before. More people are excited about April 30 and not a few greet mommy, “Happy Birthday”. The otherwise exclusively family celebration has become a community affair. Mommy’s birthday is remembered because she gave birth to son who, later on, became a priest.

The same is true with the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate her birth in a very special way because she gave birth to the Son of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s significance to us is always seen in the light of her son, Jesus. Her birth signals the end of the period of promise and expectation of the Old Testament and the beginning of the time of grace, the kairos, of the New Testament. Because she was born, the birth of the Blessed Savior was near. Salvation was at hand more than before.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is karithomene, full of grace, because it was IN her, then THROUGH her, that karis, (“grace”) first appeared. Jesus is Grace in person. And the Blessed Virgin Mary was not only the first to have been saved, she was also the first human vessel of salvation and the first tabernacle of Jesus Christ Himself.

But unlike my mother’s birth, the Blessed Mother’s birth was ordained by the birth of her Son, Jesus. Mary was predestined to be the mother of the Lord. This is also the reason why she was immaculately conceived, that she was conceived without original sin, that even before the actual events of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery she was already saved. This must be the reason why on her birthday, the Gospel enumerates not her genealogy but that of her Son’s. The Gospel is not about her birth but the birth of the Lord.

Many people, though they are not my siblings, call my mother, “mommy”. They met her, they knew her, and they continue to love her. The Blessed Virgin Mary is our mommy too because of Jesus. We celebrate her birthday in a special way because of Jesus. May people rejoice and thank God for our birthdays because of Jesus too.

Happy Birthday, Mommy! (No, it is not my mom’s birthday today. But, yes, it is mommy’s birthday.)

03 September 2006


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When it comes to the subject of tradition, our attitudes can vary dramatically. Tradition does not only bring people together. Tradition also sets people apart. Tradition is like a script that dictates how we should act and behave. But what if a new script is proposed?

On the one hand, some of us have an affectionate loyalty, if not slavish subservience, to traditional ways of doing things. They feel secure when they adapt their own values and behavior to handed-down wisdom that creates and sustains the familiar. For them, there is no better guarantee that they are on the right track than that which comes from knowing they are treading along the path that many others have already taken. G. K. Chesterton once said, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.” But he quickly added, “It is the democracy of the dead.”

On the other hand, there are those of us who feel choked by tradition. They want novelty, a fresh outlook on things, a new way of doing things. They are not satisfied with renovation. They want innovation. They want to be original. For them, too much tradition is, in truth, scared opinion. While they may consult tradition, they do not feel obliged to move within its defined parameters. W. S. Maughan remarked, “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

In the Gospel today, the issue of tradition is raised against Jesus by His perennial critics, the scribes and the Pharisees. They accuse Him of breaking sacred tradition because He allows His disciples to eat without first washing their hands. It may amuse us to know that washing hands before eating is more than an issue of good hygiene for the Jews. For a Jew, not washing his hands before he eats numbers him not only among the physically unclean but also among the spiritually defiled. Because Jesus tolerates His disciples’ eating without first washing hands, He is, therefore, charged with disregard of the unwritten tradition of the elders.

In the written Law of the Jews, only priests are required to perform ceremonial washing before entering the sanctuary of the Temple. However, the requirement is eventually extended to every pious Jew. The ritual of hand-washing before eating becomes part of the unwritten tradition of legal interpretation and is regarded by the Pharisees and the scholars of the law to be as binding as the Law of Moses. It is but normal, therefore, that they expect Jesus, the wandering Rabbi, to share their view on the matter.

Jesus, however, quotes the prophet Isaiah against His critics to impress upon them and upon us today a lesson we quite often forget:

“This people honors me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
You put aside the commandment of God
to cling to human traditions.”

His motive is clear: Jesus wants to set people free from the burden of a stifling tradition that focuses on approved performance. His lesson is even clearer: When religious observance has no heart, it becomes a rubbish ritual.

Jesus takes the issue a step further and says, “Listen to me, all of you and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.” By saying so, Jesus declares all foods clean, a declaration that renders the whole concept of cushier meal a big baloney. As eating with unwashed hands is an imaginary defilement, as far as Jesus is concerned, so is eating food considered unclean by the Jews. Defilement is a matter of what comes from the heart. Jesus shifts the focus from personal hygiene to personal examination of conscience, from ritual washing to genuine worship, from dietary observance to moral living, from food to the human heart. Jesus is not interested in the condition of our hands before eating but in the condition of our hearts at every single moment of life. Our diet does not excite Him either. It is our heart that moves Him.

The stirrings of our hearts do not fail to hold Jesus’ attention. He is interested in our preoccupations that influence our personal choices and actual behavior. The territory within – with its complexity of emotions and desires – is where Jesus wants to venture into in each one of us. It is the same territory that He continuously remind us to examine and honestly face our real issues. Jesus knows too well that no external law can change our hearts, even if it makes us socially conform. Does He not also whisper to us, as He once proclaimed at the beginning of His public ministry, “Set your hearts first on the kingdom of God?” Only when our hearts are focused on God can we really experience what it means to be truly free without disregarding the essentials of tradition. Tradition should not script our every move. Jesus presents to us a new script, one that is written by the heart.

01 September 2006


Friday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time
Mt 25:1-13

There are ten virgins in the Gospel today. Five are wise while the other five are foolish. All ten wait for the coming of the bridegroom. Half of them fall asleep. The problem is not the sleeping. After all, when the bridegroom finally arrives, the five sleeping virgins wake up.

The issue is foolishness, not lethargy. Foolishness is not ignorance. I am not necessarily a fool simply because I do not know. I am foolish when I do not use my common sense. If I were Jewish, I should know that part of the surprise in a Jewish wedding is the exact moment of the bridegroom’s arrival. He may come early or be delayed. No problem: I will not sleep. My problem: I do not have enough oil for my lamp.

How can I be so foolish not to bring enough oil? My answers may be yours too.