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The Word Today, November 1, 1999 (Monday)

The Church dedicates the next two days to our deceased brothers and sisters.  Today, November 1, we remember all those who are already in heaven.  Tomorrow, we remember all the faithful departed, especially those who are still undergoing purification in the state of purgatory.

In the Philippines we have the custom of visiting the cemeteries or other final resting places of our loved ones.  This is a beautiful custom that arises from the doctrine of the "communion of the saints".  We believe that in God, through Christ, we are still united to all those who have left this earthly life.  We do well in remembering them, either praying for their eternal rest or even asking them to intercede to God on our behalf.

Just a brief reminder found in the liturgical books: On the first eight days of November, the faithful may gain a plenary indulgence by visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead.  On Nov. 1 and 2 and on the Sunday before or after November 2, one plenary indulgence can be gained by visiting a church or oratory and by praying the Our Father and the Creed, and a prayer for the intention of the Pope. We will talk more about indulgences tomorrow.

The Word Today, November 2, 1999 (Tuesday)

We talked yesterday about the plenary indulgences that we could gain this November.  Recently the Church came out with a new document explaining what indulgences are and what we should do about them.

A church indulgence is the removal of the temporal punishment due to our sins.  Even if our sins have been forgiven in confession and through other penitential practices (for venial sins), we must still be purified from their effects.  It is like a sickness.  We may be cured of it, but it still leaves ravages in our body, requiring healing and purification (detoxification). 

Such temporal punishment which will leave us "purified" to be able to enter heaven, may be done on earth while we are alive; it may also take place after death through purgatory (we will talk more about purgatory tomorrow). A plenary (full) indulgence removes all temporal punishment and prepares the soul to enter heaven immediately.  A partial indulgence removes only some of it.

Let us try to gain many indulgences.  We can only gain one plenary indulgence for a given day.  By the mystery of the communion of saints, we who are still living may apply these indulgences to the faithful departed still undergoing purification.

The Word Today, November 3, 1999 (Wednesday)

The Church teaches that there is a state or process of purification for all those who die in God's grace but are still imperfectly disposed for heaven. "The Church gives the name 'purgatory' to this final purification of the elect." (CCC1031)

It should not surprise us that the term "purgatory" is not found in the bible.  There are religious terms used by Christians of all denominations that are not literally in the bible (for example "Holy Trinity"), but the reality of what the term signifies is in the bible.  In the case of purgatory, the reality is found in the practice of praying for the dead, as expressed in the book of Machabees.  We also rely on the age-old practice of the Church to pray for the dead.  If they are in heaven, they have no need of prayers.  If they are in hell, no amount of prayers will help them.  For the prayers of the Church to have any meaning, there must be an intermediary state of purification.

So much for the explanation, what matters is what we do about it.  Let us pray for our deceased brothers and sisters, confident that our prayers will do them good.

The Word Today, November 4, 1999 (Thursday)

As November 1 and 2 are still so close, it is appropriate to talk of some of the so-called "last things".  The last thing that can happen to all of us here on earth is to die.  It is said that death is the great "equalizer".  There is a tale that one day the philosopher Diogenes was going over a pile of skulls, seemingly trying to look for a special one but unsuccessfully.  King Alexander then asked him what in the world he was doing.  "I am trying to locate the skull of your father Philip, the King before you, but they all seem to be the same."

The thought of death can help us have a better perspective of things.  It should not lead us to be unconcerned for the things of the living.  But at least it should help us realize the passing nature of everything.  Then we should resolve to put our heart in things that will really last, in things that will be for our eternal life.

The Word Today, November 5, 1999 (Friday)

When death comes, the soul can no longer animate the body.  Man's soul is spiritual.  It is immortal, it is not destroyed.  That is why in the Church liturgy we say  (in Latin) "Vita mutatur, non tollitur", life is changed, not taken away.  The soul of man after death will face Jesus Christ, who has been constituted as judge of all mankind.  We will have to render an account of our life and actions.

The thought of death and judgment should help us to live our life well.  Our life on earth is like a time of trial.  On how we live depends our eternal destiny.

The Word Today, November 6, 1999 (Saturday)

After death and judgment, there are only three alternatives for man - heaven, hell and purgatory.  We can be eternally happy in the love and friendship of God.  We can be forever tormented by the evil of sin and the devil.  Finally, we can be in a state of purification in preparation for heaven.

Some people think that we "reincarnate" in some other form - as another person or as another form of life like an animal or plant.  This is incompatible with the teaching of the Church.  It is also repugnant to common sense.  Our individuality and sense of responsibility for our actions would be compromised by reincarnation.  It would somehow be contrary to human dignity.

The Word Today, November 7, 1999 (Sunday)

Our consideration of the last things is bolstered by the gospel of today, the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the return of the bridegroom.  The bridegroom is Christ, who arrives at an unknown time.  The virgins represent all mankind.  Some will be ready with their good works.  Others will have been negligent.  The parable then can be applied to the coming of the Lord for each one of us, which is the moment of death.

Are we prepared?  To be prepared for death means not only providing for those we will leave behind.  It means above all providing for ourselves as we go ahead.  The book The Imitation of Christ advises us as follows: "Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out.  Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death?"

The Word Today, November 8, 1999 (Monday)

Jesus Christ has very strong words of reproach for those who "should lead astray a single one of these little ones."  In a very colorful imagery, Christ says of those who cause others to sin (this is the meaning of "scandal"), that a heavy stone should be tied around their necks and then be thrown into the sea.

If we think that murder is very bad because it is to kill another human being, then we can understand how bad it is to cause scandal, because it means to take away the spiritual life of another person.  It is like spiritual murder.  For example, some persons dress very provocatively out of sheer vanity.  Little do they realize that such behavior could be causing great harm to other people.

The Word Today, November 9, 1999 (Tuesday)

Today is the anniversary of the dedication of the church of St. John Lateran.  In the Philippines there is a school named after this Church.  The school, run by the Dominicans, is called Letran College or San Juan de Letran. What is this Church and what is its significance?

The Church of St. John Lateran is the church of the Pope as bishop of Rome.  As such, it is considered like the "mother" of all churches.  We know of course that we, the Christian people, are the Church.  But today, we can consider the value of the church as a building.

Because the church is the house of God and our place of prayer, we must maintain the church in a dignified way.  In the first place, we should keep it clean and in good repair.  We should not hesitate to use good and dignified materials for the Church.  To help in the construction of churches is one of the best uses one can make of one's material resources.  In helping in church construction, we will end up helping many people get closer to God.  We will also contribute very directly to God's worship.

The Word Today, November 10, 1999 (Wednesday)

How often we behave like the 9 lepers whom Jesus Christ cured in today's gospel reading.  We are so overjoyed by the boon we have received, we forget to give thanks to the giver.   Jesus Christ appreciated the lone ex-leper who returned to thank his benefactor.

We owe God everything -- our life, our possessions, whatever skills or talents we may have.  God is our father and he wants us to be happy.  The imperative for us to give thanks to God does not arise from any kind of need on the part of God.  It is rather a need coming from us.  We must recognize the source of all the good things we have so that we can orient them properly.  Whatever good we have received from God is not for our enjoyment alone.  They are there for a purpose -- to serve God and others.

The Word Today, November 11, 1999 (Thursday)

"When is the kingdom of God coming?... The kingdom of God comes unawares."  While not exactly referring to this, we can accommodate today's gospel reading to clarify some things that we are presently witnessing.  As the year comes to an end and as we await the new millennium (some say it begins in the year 2000, others say it begins at 2001) there is a tendency for so-called "millennarist" tendencies to arise.  All kinds of catastrophic predictions appear, attributed to prophets or saints.

We should be wary of such predictions.  The Pope has said, "As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs."  Purification is indeed a necessary part of this new era, but it need not come as catastrophic chastisements. As Christians, we should have a basic optimism -- Christ is risen, Christ has conquered, although we still have to cooperate with God in the work of Redemption.

The Word Today, November 12, 1999 (Friday)

Today we remember St. Josaphat -- not too many in the Philippines may now about this saint.  Yet he is particularly relevant at this time. Josaphat was martyred in 1623.   He came from Ukraine, one of the former Soviet Socialist Republics that has now gained independence.  It has a Christian majority, but they are mostly of the Orthodox Church. Josaphat converted to Catholicism and led the so-called "uniates", Orthodox Christians who recognized the primacy of the Pope.

The present situation in Ukraine is quite complex.   However there are moves towards greater unity through the ecumenical movement.  Let us pray, through the intercession of St. Josaphat, for the desired unity of all Christian communities -- a unity in faith, sacraments and pastoral activity.

The Word Today, November 13, 1999 (Saturday)

"He told them a parable, that they must always pray and not lose heart."  This was the object of the parable of the insistent widow who ceaselessly "nagged" the unjust judge to give her justice.  In Pilipino, we refer to a very persistent person as being "makulit".  The term tends to be derogatory.

But when it comes to our dealings with God, to be "makulit" is not something bad. There are so many examples in the Scripture where God allows himself to be moved by the persistence of a person's prayer.  The more persistent we are in prayer, the more our faith is evident.  And it is faith that God looks for in our prayer.  Let us pray with faith (and therefore with perseverance) and our prayers will surely be answered.

The Word Today, November 14, 1999 (Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)

"You have been faithful in small things; come and join in your master's happiness."  There is a profound lesson behind these words.  How many of us will ever end up doing great things?  If we were to wait for great opportunities to serve the Lord, it would never come.  God is waiting for us in the small things.

Yet these small things can be really great. "Do everything for love.  It that way there will be no little things: everything will be big.  Perseverance in the little things for love is heroism." (The Way)

The Word Today, November 15, 1999 (Monday)

St. Albert the Great was one of the first members of the illustrious Dominican order.  He was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas and it is said that he foretold the future greatness of St. Thomas when he said that this "dumb ox" would moo so loud, the whole world would hear it.

But St. Albert was himself known for his great learning in theological matters, as well as for his extensive knowledge of the natural sciences. He is considered to be the patron saint of chemists. The life and work of St. Albert illustrates what the Pope had said in his encyclical on philosophy -- faith and reason are like two wings of the human spirit. We need both to soar to the heights of understanding.

The Word Today, November 17, 1999 (Wednesday)

"And having summoned ten of his servants, he gave them ten gold pieces and said to them, 'Trade till I come.' "  This phrase contains the meaning of our life on earth.  This earth is not our final dwelling place.  We shall all die.  But we have to make use of the "gold pieces", of the talents, opportunities and time that we have received from God, while we live.

We should therefore be prodded on to do good while we can.  We cannot be a Christian and live a useless, idle and egocentric life.  When the end of our life comes, the King will ask us how we have made use of his gold pieces.

The Word Today, November 18, 1999 (Thursday)

"And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it."  Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he foresaw the destruction it would undergo.   He also wept because he realized how many would fail to avail of the sacrifice he would undergo for their sake.  These are tears of love and not of hatred, anger or frustration.

The Christian life consists of having a personal relationship of love and friendship with Christ.  It involves the heart and the mind -- the whole man.  We must realize how much Christ loves us and how he would weep for us.  Then we can more easily love him in return.

The Word Today, November 19, 1999 (Friday)

In today's gospel, we see how Jesus drove out those who were selling and buying in the temple, with a very straightforward reason: "My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves."

The Holy Curate of Ars, St. John Vianney, once said in his catechetical classes: "The church is the home of souls; it is the house belonging to us, who are Christians.  Well, in this house there is a storeroom.  Do you see the tabernacle?...It is the store-room," where the food for our souls is kept.

If Christ was filled with so much zeal for the temple, which was just a foreshadowing of the reality, how much for zealous should we be for the care of our churches where the true body and blood of Christ are reserved?

The Word Today, November 20, 1999 (Saturday)

The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus by giving him an apparently difficult legal puzzle.  Following the so-called levirate law, a widow had to be wed to her brother-in-law in order to continue the lineage of the deceased brother.  The important thing here is the clarification made by Christ: "The children of this world marry..." but in the next world marriage will no longer matter "for they are equal to the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection."

The Church teaches the great value of marriage.  In fact it is a "sacrament", a holy sign of God's presence, a source of grace and holiness.  At the same time, the Church teaches the greater value of virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. But this latter alternative is not for the majority of Christians since the kingdom of heaven has to spread through Christian families.  Apostolic celibacy is a gift and a grace of God.  In the Roman Catholic Church, the promise of celibacy is a necessary condition for the conferment of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  If there is a vocation,  the gift and the grace to fulfill that promise will follow if the subject cooperates with God.

The Word Today, November 21, 1999 (Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe)

The Church devotes the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which is today, to the celebration of Christ as the King of the Universe.  This celebration is like an optimistic reminder of a truth that is in the making, just as we pray in the Our Father, "Thy kingdom come!"

In this connection, the message of Pope John Paul II for World Mission Sunday of this year, is very relevant.  He said: "In modern culture there is a widespread expectation for a new era of peace, wellbeing, solidarity, respect for human rights, universal love.  Enlightened by the Spirit, the Church proclaims that this kingdom of justice, peace and love, already announced in the Gospel, is mysteriously brought about with the passing of time, thanks to individuals, families and communities who choose to live Christ's teaching in a radical way, in the spirit of the Beatitudes."

Let us try to be among those individuals, families or communities who will contribute to the coming of the kingdom because of our radical acceptance of the demands of the Gospel.

The Word Today, November 22, 1999 (Monday)

"Truly I say to you, this widow (who had actually put in only a small amount of money in the collection box of the temple) has put in more than all."

We all have the duty to support the Church.  And we should not be grudging in giving this support.  It is the giver who benefits most.  In the past God wanted to raise in the Church the so-called "mendicant orders" that had to live on the alms from the faithful.  In our times, the congregation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Missionaries of Charity, help the destitute and needy unstintingly, living the very same lifestyle of poverty as their beneficiaries.  Through such initiatives and many more similar ones, God is helping all of us to be more generous.  When we face God at the moment of judgment, it is not what we have amassed on earth that will matter, but what we have treasured up in heaven -- what we have given for God's works.

The Word Today, November 23, 1999 (Tuesday)

The gospel today contains the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the end of the world.  A phrase from Christ can help us have the proper perspective in this regard: "But when you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; these must first come to pass, but the end will not be at once."

We should be very sober and wary in the presence of "prophets of doom", taking advantage of the sense of foreboding accompanying the end of the second Christian millennium.  Only God knows when the end of the world will come.  It is our task to prepare ourselves for our personal end of the world -- when we have to face our Creator and render an account of the life he has given us.

The Word Today, November 24, 1999 (Wednesday)

After describing the difficulties that his followers must be ready to undergo, Jesus tells them, "By your patience you will win your souls."  Other translations speak of "perseverance" and preserving our life.  The ideas of patience and perseverance are especially useful for us.

In Pilipino, we talk of "ningas kogon".  It is the quick fire that burns off the dry hillside grass, that is quickly kindled and even more quickly extinguished.  It is a very common trait of ours to begin but not to finish.  In the spiritual life, we must consciously work for perseverance.  No worthy goal is achieved without trials.  So when difficulties arise in the pursuit of a worthy project, such as a divine calling or a work of charity, let us continue on in spite of difficulties.

The Word Today, November 25, 1999 (Thursday)

The gospel today talks about the second coming of Christ at the end of the world. "And then they will see the Son of Man coming upon a cloud with great power and majesty."

Let us remember that this very same Christ who will come in power and majesty comes to us, if we wish to, even daily, in apparent weakness and humility.  He comes to us when we receive him in the Eucharist.  Let us see to it that we are properly prepared to receive Christ by confession if we are aware of being in grave sin.

The Word Today, November 26, 1999 (Friday)

"Heaven and earth will pas away, but my words will not pass away." (Lk 21: 33)  There are certain teachings that change because realities, which these teachings reflect, also change.  We see this quite a lot in the social sciences because human behavior is always free.

 But there are teachings that do not change because they refer to unchanging realities.  The essential teachings of the Church on God, man, the world and salvation will always the same.  Development of doctrine in the Church happens in a "homogenous" way, just like a boy who grows up to manhood.  Appearances may change but he is always the same person.

The Word Today, November 27, 1999 (Saturday)

The gospel of today contains a simple message: be prepared for the coming of Christ.  The boy scouts in the Philippines have a motto, "Laging handa" – always prepared.  They should be ready for emergency situations, like an accident or a person requiring special help.  We can very well apply the same motto to ourselves.

The best way of being prepared for the coming of Christ is to make sure that we are reconciled with God, that we have a clean conscience.  Let us ask ourselves, "Is there anything in my life that would not be in keeping with my condition as a child of God?"

The Word Today, November 28, 1999 (First Sunday of Advent)

Today we enter the liturgical season called "Advent."  The word means "coming."  Liturgists explain that there are two comings of Christ that we celebrate in this season.  The earlier part of this time is for the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world.  The later part of this time is for the remembrance of the first coming of Christ, when he was born to us.

Philippine culture and customs seem to place more emphasis on the first coming of Christ.  As early as November 1, Christmas songs can be heard over the popular radio stations.  Groups of young people start rehearsing for their caroling sessions.  Christmas cards are being mailed now so that it will reach their destinations before Christmas.  This can very well be explained by the observation of the pastoral letter of the Philippine bishops on Filipino spirituality, that we have a great devotion to the Christ child, the "Santo Niño".  This is a wholesome orientation, supported by the recent elevation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus to the rank of "doctor" of the Church.

The Word Today, November 29, 1999 (Monday)

The gospel today (Mt. 8:5-11) contains one of the greatest lessons on faith.  The words of the centurion have been immortalized in the Eucharistic liturgy: "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but only say the word and my servant shall be healed."

This centurion's faith, by Jesus' own admission, was the greatest he had found in Israel.  The centurion's faith was not theoretical.  He conformed his attitudes, actions and words to his belief in the divinity of Christ.  What he said reflected not only faith, but also humility and spirit of service to neighbor.

The Word Today, November 30, 1999 (Tuesday)

Today is the feast of the apostle St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter.  In the Philippines, this day is also celebrated as National Heroes Day, but this national celebration is based on the celebration of Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the revolutionary Katipunan movement.  Bonifacio was obviously named after St. Andrew.

St. Andrew's celebration could be a good reminder for us to share our religious convictions with our family members and close friends.  The gospel of John narrates how Andrew led Peter to Jesus and how Christ then got to know Philip, a town mate of the two brothers.  Close family and friends should be the first object of the apostolic concern of a Christian.

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