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The Word Today,
January 1, 2000 (Saturday, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God)

While what is foremost in our minds may be the celebration of the new year, the religious significance of the day is the celebration of the motherhood of Mary.  Today is a holy day of obligation in the Philippines.

Mary's motherhood is a "divine" one, such that we can truly call her "mother of God."  This may come as a surprise to some non-Catholic Christians, but there is a perfectly acceptable explanation.  By calling Mary mother of God, as we do in the Hail Mary prayer, we are simply saying that Jesus, her son, is truly God.  If we say that Mary is NOT the mother of God, then it would be tantamount to saying (since she is obviously the mother of Jesus) that Jesus is not God.  Hence that title of Mary serves as a defense of one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith, the divinity of Christ.

The Word Today, January 2, 2000 (Sunday, the Epiphany of the Lord)

In the Philippines,  we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord today.  "Epiphany" means "manifestation".  In Jesus Christ, still as a little babe, God's glory and mercy are manifested to all men.  The gospel today talks about the three wise men from the East (they are sometimes depicted as kings in popular representations).  They were not Hebrews – hence they represent all mankind, the different races of the one human family.  They represent all of us.

God revealed Christ to them by making use of a miraculous star.  The star, for many people, is the ideal of service and mission that God has shown them.  By following that mission, sometimes embodied in a divine calling, Christ will be manifested to them and they will attain great joy, just like the three wise men.

The Word Today, January 3, 2000 (Monday)

In the first reading, taken from St. John's first letter, he says, "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.   Later on, John refers to an error that was spreading during that time.   This was the "Docetist" heresy, which claimed that Christ was not really a man but only had the appearance of one.  This doctrinal error was an example of a "false spirit".

In our present time, we can discern between good and bad spirits by their fidelity to the Church.  We can check out things through the appropriate Church source.  For example, we now have the definitive edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  In the Philippines, we also have the national catechism.  Whatever teaches error cannot come from a good spirit.

The Word Today, January 4, 2000 (Tuesday)

"Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love."  St. John, who wrote these words, had spent his life deepening his knowledge of the words he had heard directly from Christ's lips.  And this is his conclusion:   "let us love one another since love comes from God."

But the love that John talks about is not just sentimental love.  He is talking of the love that comes from deep within us, the love that gives rather than seeks itself.  The model of love, and therefore the model of how we ought to love one another, is God's love.  It is "God's love for us when he sent his Son to be a sacrifice that takes our sins away."  True love of neighbor is one that is willing to sacrifice for the good of the other.

The Word Today, January 5, 2000 (Wednesday)

Today we can continue our reflections on the first reading taken from the letter of St. John. Here John says that "anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love."

A practical application of this phrase is the classical distinction between imperfect and perfect contrition.  We should be sorry for our sins.  But if our sorrow is due to our fear of eternal damnation, then our love is not perfect.  There is an element of genuine love, but it is mixed up with self-love.  On the other hand, perfect contrition is to be sorry for our sins because they  "offend God who is all good and deserving of all our love."  Here there is no self-love.  We love God for his own sake.  We are sorry for our sins because of our filial love for God.  Let us often recite the act of contrition prayer in order to foster perfect love of God. 

The Word Today, January 6, 2000 (Thursday)

How do we know if we really love God?  Is it just a matter of gut feel? In the letter of John, we have the clear answer: "this is what loving God is -- keeping his commandments."  It would be a great inconsistency to claim to love God while breaking God's expressed wishes.

There is no opposition between love and obedience.  When there is love, obedience is a joy and pleasure.  Vice-versa: if someone does not obey, that person does not really love in spite of all his promises and protestations.

The Word Today, January 7, 2000 (Friday)

Leprosy during the time of Jesus was an incurable disease. And because it was contagious and brought about external deformities, lepers were also ostracized. A person who contracted leprosy was really in a sorry state.  Hence, when in today's gospel a leper came to Jesus with the indirect petition, "If you want to, you can cure me," it is not surprising that Jesus would answer, "Of course I want to! Be cured!"

Leprosy is a disease of the body, but even more serious are the diseases of the spirit. There are people who recognize that they are spiritually sick. Perhaps they have fallen into a sinful situation difficult to extricate themselves from. They may have contracted a bad moral habit (also called "vice").  They should not fall into despair. They should recognize their moral liability, but they should not hesitate to turn to Christ and ask for spiritual healing. With the grace of God, we can overcome the sinful situations in which we may find ourselves.

The Word Today, January 8, 2000 (Saturday)

The first reading, taken from John's first letter, can provide us with a much-needed clarification regarding sin.  He says, "(T)here is a sin that is death...Every kind of wrongdoing is sin, but not all sin is deadly." (1 Jn 5: 16-17) In the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee, the Pope pointed out some of the bad consequences of sin. "In the first place, if it is grave, it involves deprivation of communion with God and, in consequence, exclusion from a share in eternal life." (No. 10)

The word "mortal" means precisely something referring to death. Hence a grave sin is a mortal sin and deprives us of sanctifying grace, which is the life of God in us.  In this respect, there are only two categories of sin, venial or mortal. There is no third category, a sort of "halfway" sin that is grave but not mortal. Such an aberration would, in practice, result in people committing grave sins and then receiving the body of the Lord in communion without having true repentance in confession. It would be a license for sacrilege.

The Word Today, January 9, 2000 (Sunday, Feast of the Lord's Baptism)

With the celebration of the Lord's baptism in the Jordan, we officially end the liturgical season of Christmas as we begin the period called "Ordinary Time". "Baptism" means washing, and John the Baptist made it a symbolic rite of moral purification.  Why was Jesus baptized if he had no need of moral purification?

Some ancient writers say that by being baptized, Jesus gave water the ability of being used for the eventual sacrament of baptism.  In a way, we can say that Christ had to be baptized not for him to be purified, but for him to purify the water. Contact with Christ purifies. Let us keep in touch with him through prayer and the sacraments.

The Word Today, January 10, 2000 (Monday)

We have entered the "Ordinary Time" of the liturgical season.  Instead of some isolated aspect of it, we now commemorate all aspects of Jesus Christ's redemptive activity.  It is significant that in the gospel today we are presented with the calling of the first apostles. "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men," Jesus said to Peter and Andrew. Later Christ called James and John and they responded by "leaving their father Zebedee" and going after Jesus.

All the aspects of the redemptive work of Christ require the collaboration of people who are willing to leave everything behind in order to embark on the great adventure of evangelization.  The Church needs vocations of men and women willing to dedicate themselves to the many different forms of the apostolate. Let us all pray for vocations.  If you think God is calling you, do something about it. Get in touch with your parish priest, your spiritual guide or a trustworthy adviser and generously pursue that calling.

The Word Today, January 11, 2000 (Tuesday)

The gospel today says that the teaching of Jesus "made a deep impression" on his listeners "because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority." The comment of the people was "Here is a teaching that is new... and with authority behind it."

The teachings of Christianity are not matters to be discussed and debated endlessly because they primarily come from the initiative of God who revealed his saving truth to us.  We long for certainty in order to know what God is communicating to us. That is why there is a need for a religious teaching authority, and that is the task of the Church's magisterium.  Without magisterium, we would have endless discussions and each one could end up with a "cafeteria" Christianity, of arbitrarily accepting or rejecting what suits our individual caprice at the expense of God's revelation.

The Word Today, January 12, 2000 (Wednesday)

The first reading is about how God called Samuel, while still a young boy serving at the temple, to a special mission.  Before sleeping, the young Samuel heard a voice calling him by name. At first he thought it was the high priest, but it turned out to be God calling.  The high priest, knowledgeable in the ways of God, instructed Samuel on how to respond.  So next time God called, Samuel answered, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."

God is calling all of us to greater union and intimacy with him.  In this Jubilee Year, the different church events are like invitations from God for conversion and renewal.  Like Samuel, the best response is an attitude of openness, of listening to whatever God might be asking of us.

The Word Today, January 13, 2000 (Thursday)

In the gospel last week, Luke also narrated the incident of the cure of a leper narrated by Mark in today's gospel.  In both cases they mention the detail that after effecting the cure, Jesus told the leper to go to the high priest for final verification, just as the Law of Moses had required.

Although Jesus was God and his works were not strictly subject to the requirements of the Jewish law, he nevertheless respected the existing authority. We should strive to respect and follow all legitimate authority because God is a God of order and not of anarchy.

The Word Today, January 14, 2000 (Friday)

It must have been an impressive sight -- a paralyzed man being brought down by rope from the roof of the house so that he could be close to Jesus.  On this occasion Jesus performed two miracles. First, he forgave the sins of the man and then he made him walk. The greater miracle, as far as substance is concerned, was the forgiveness of sins. But the more spectacular one, which was like a proof of the authenticity of the first one, was the restoration of the man's limbs.

After his resurrection, as narrated in the gospel of St. John, Jesus passed on his power to forgive sins to the apostles and to their successors in the priesthood.  Without neglecting man's physical needs, the first concern of Jesus is our spiritual state. Knowing our need for forgiveness, the Lord instituted the sacrament of confession.

The Word Today, January 15, 2000 (Saturday)

The gospel today is about the call of Levi, also known as Matthew, to become a follower of Jesus.  By profession, he was a tax collector, working for the colonizer.  As such, he had a bad reputation among the Hebrews.  Yet Jesus did not consider this reputation, instead he declared that he "did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners."

We cannot judge the state of Levi at the moment of his call.  But we do know that there is no honest human profession that cannot be offered up to God.  Levi, the tax collector, must have been a good keeper of records.  Later on, he would be the first to make a compilation of the acts and teachings of Jesus Christ in what we now know as the gospel according to Matthew.  God uses his instruments according to their capacities and dispositions.

The Word Today, January 16, 2000 (Sunday)

Today is the Feast of the Santo Niño, a celebration proper to the Philippines.  There is a very widespread devotion to Christ in the aspect of his childhood all throughout this child-loving country.  It is no wonder that the Philippines is very strongly pro-life.

The Feast of the Santo Niño also reminds us of the importance of spiritual childhood.  This is a constant teaching of the Church, which St. Therese of the Child Jesus providentially has come to remind us of in this age of technological advancement.  Before God, in spite of what we may seem to accomplish, we are but little children.  Yet God is not a despotic ruler but a father full of kindness and love for us.  We should not hesitate to turn to him.  But to do this, we must "become like little children."

The Word Today , January 17, 2000 (Monday)

In the dialogue between Jesus and some people acquainted with John the Baptist, as narrated in today's gospel reading, we can see how down-to-earth Jesus Christ was.  He must have learned from Mary or from Joseph about the "art" of sewing a patch on a torn garment or of storing wine in the appropriate container.

As we celebrate this Great Jubilee 2000, we must be imbued by the presence of Christ, God-made-man, in our midst.  He is present now in his humanity in every tabernacle and adoration altar.  Let us not forget that he is there, not indifferent to human affairs but very concerned for what is happening to each one of us.  Let us talk to him about our needs and worries, no matter how small or trivial they may seem.  They are important to Jesus because he loves us.

The Word Today, January 18, 2000 (Tuesday)

Today we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It lasts until January 25, which is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the great apostle of the gentiles.  This celebration, of recent origin, is also called Church Unity Octave, the term "octave" referring to a one-week event.  It is a call for a renewed ecumenical effort.

Ecumenism is the activity to help unite the different Christian communities or Churches.  One of the goals of the Jubilee celebration of the third Christian millennium is precisely to contribute to the unification of all those who call themselves Christians.  Let us pray for this much desired unity.  Let us pray for the dialogue and the joint projects now going on to achieve this goal.

The Word Today, January 19, 2000 (Wednesday)

The gospel today shows how Christ was saddened by the bad dispositions of the Pharisees and Herodians. They were on the lookout for loopholes in the Lord\rquote s words and actions, but this did not prevent Jesus from doing good, just to avoid what is now called "pharisaical scandal."

As a people, we are often marked by excessive "human respect," often afraid of what people will say about us, even at the expense of principles. Many men act tough, yet they are so easily intimidated into doing evil by the coaxing of friends over a bottle of beer. We should try to develop the toughness of spirit and the consistency of Jesus Christ, who was not thwarted from doing good by the thought of what other people might say.

The Word Today , January 20, 2000 (Thursday)

There are many churches in the Philippines named after St. Sebastian, one of the saints whom we commemorate today. He is popularly depicted as being bound to a tree with arrows sticking out of his body. The story goes that he was a soldier who denounced the persecution of the emperors, so he was himself bound and executed by being shot with arrows. He was left for dead, but it turned out that he was still alive. After a bit a time to recover, he was up and about again denouncing the emperor's cruelty. This time he was seized and beaten to death with cudgels.

One of the important signs of this Jubilee Year are the martyrologies of the 20th century. Indeed, there have been martyrs for the faith not only at the beginning of Christianity, but constantly. Our century has its own share of holy men and women who have witnessed to the faith with their lives.  We should all be disposed for that if push comes to shove – but the acceptance of martyrdom requires a special help from God.

The Word Today, January 21, 2000 (Friday)

There are many women who are named Agnes. They are named after St. Agnes, martyr, whom we commemorate today. According to popular account, she was a young girl who had consecrated herself to God and so she refused to entertain certain pagan suitors. They denounced her to the emperor for being a Christian and she was decapitated for that.

Devotion to St. Agnes shows how the state of consecrated virginity was very much revered in the Church from earliest times. Women who choose to dedicate themselves to God in that state celibacy make the better choice.  They should not feel unfulfilled or that their maternal instinct is frustrated. They become "mothers" many times over through their dedication to the works of God.

The Word Today, January 22, 2000 (Saturday)

There are many churches in the Philippines named after St. Sebastian, one of the saints whom we commemorate today. He is popularly depicted as being bound to a tree with arrows sticking out of his body. The story goes that he was a soldier who denounced the persecution of the emperors, so he was himself bound and executed by being shot with arrows. He was left for dead, but it turned out that he was still alive. After a bit a time to recover, he was up and about again denouncing the emperor's cruelty. This time he was seized and beaten to death with cudgels.

One of the important signs of this Jubilee Year are the martyrologies of the 20th century. Indeed, there have been martyrs for the faith not only at the beginning of Christianity, but constantly. Our century has its own share of holy men and women who have witnessed to the faith with their lives.  We should all be disposed for that if push comes to shove – but the acceptance of martyrdom requires a special help from God. 

The Word Today, January 23, 2000 (Sunday)

"Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men." This was how Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to join him in his mission. He transformed them, elevating their occupation from a purely temporal and earthbound one to a great adventure involving redemption.

We are now celebrating the Jubilee 2000, and the whole celebration is oriented towards the redemptive mission of Christ. Redemption was the whole reason for Christ's coming to earth 2000 years ago. Christ continues to need collaborators who will become fishers of men. We Christians should feel the responsibility to apply the redemption to ourselves and to others. One way we can do this is to gain the jubilee indulgence and encourage others to do the same.

The Word Today, January 24, 2000 (Monday)

St. Francis de Sales, whom we commemorate today, was a zealous and learned bishop of the Church, who was declared as a doctor or the Church and patron of journalists and other writers. He wrote beautiful and helpful works, which helped disseminate the teaching s of the Church and to defend her positions. One of his most famous works is a classic in spiritual life entitle "Introduction to the Devout Life" which is still being sold in many Catholic bookstores. It shows in a very practical way how a person, immersed in day-to-day affairs, can be close to God.

Journalists and writers are very much in the heart of the Church. They can do so much good through their talent of communicating. They can also do much evil if that talent is motivated by negative values. Today let us pray for all practitioners of mass media.

The Word Today, January 25, 2000 (Tuesday)

Today we remember one of the most far-reaching incidents in redemption history -- the turnaround of a man who would be responsible for the evangelization of a great part of the Christian world. Saul, who persecuted Christians, was miraculously converted to faith in Christ through a miracle of grace. From a persecutor, he became the great apostle of the gentiles. He is responsible for bringing much of the non-Hebrew world to knowledge of Christ. Because of this, it is also appropriate that we culminate the week of prayer for Christian unity on St. Paul's conversion day.

Much progress has been made since the beginning of the ecumenical movement. Different Christian communities have gotten together, talked frankly and openly, and some groups have made joint statements on common religious issues. One significant development has been the joint statement of Lutheran and Catholic representatives regardin g the basis of justification. Other statements are in the making. Let us all pray for the progress of these works.

The Word Today, January 26, 2000 (Wednesday)

Today we commemorate Sts. Titus and Timothy.  St. Paul addressed some of his letters, which are now part of the New Testament collection, to these two persons.  They were followers of St. Paul in his missionary journeys.  He later left them in charge of some Christian communities.  Timothy became bishop of Ephesus while Titus became bishop of Crete.  In his letter to Timothy Paul talked about "the gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you."

The "laying on of hands" was the way that the sacramental power of priesthood was passed on.  It is an essential part of the rite of ordination.  Bishops are the successors of the apostles not only in their being in charge of the community but also because of the passing on of the powers that are linked to the priesthood.  The bishops of the Philippines are presently having their 80th Plenary Assembly at Tagaytay City.  Let us pray for our bishops that they "fan into a flame" the gift of the fulness of priesthood that they have received.

The Word Today, January 27, 2000 (Thursday)

In today's gospel Jesus Christ observed that we do not light a lamp in order to hide it, but in order to let its light shine forth.  We can apply this to our situation as Christians.  In another passage, Jesus referred to his followers as "light of the world".  Indeed, we can say that a Christian is like a light bulb that has been turned on by Christ.  We must cast our light around us.

We do this, in the first place, through becoming "witnesses".  We can witness by our example.  But we should go beyond that.  We also witness through the spoken word, enlightening the minds of our family members, friends and colleagues, with the gospel of Christ.  Finally, we must be ready for the greatest demand of witnessing.  We must be ready to give our lives for the sake of Christ.  That is why the Holy Father has wanted to make the "martyrologies" one of the signs of the Jubilee Year that we are celebrating.

The Word Today, January 28, 2000 (Friday)

 Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, considered one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all times.  He has the title "Angelic Doctor", referring to both his superior intellectual powers and his holiness of life.  These two qualities stand out in his works referring to the Holy Eucharist.  To St. Thomas we owe most of the Eucharistic hymns that are sung during the adoration and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

 Since this Jubilee Year is eminently Eucharistic, we could do well in recalling a phrase from St. Thomas' famous hymn, Adoro Te Devote.  We must believe in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament because "Nothing is more certain, since Christ has told me so; for what the Truth has uttered, I believe and know." 

The Word Today, January 29, 2000 (Saturday)

 While crossing Lake Genesareth in a fishing boat, a strong storm suddenly overtook Jesus and some disciples.  It was extraordinarily strong and the disciples of Jesus panicked.  They turned to Jesus, who was fast asleep in the midst of that storm, and Jesus did not let them down.  Jesus commanded the wind and the sea to subside, and they "obeyed".

Jesus was fast asleep even in the middle of that storm.  He must have been very tired to be able to do that.  Indeed, he had just spent the day talking to the crowds and healing them.  It is good to know that Jesus too felt exhaustion and ended up in a deep slumber because of his activities.  At the end of a day of work and exertion, we can feel especially close to the tired out Christ.  He understands our tiredness.   He understands our need to rest and sleep.

The Word Today, January 30, 2000 (Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

 In the second reading, taken from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we are told about the advantages of being single for the Lord.  An unmarried man or woman can devote himself or herself to the Lord's affairs, to trying to please God.  On the other hand, a married person has to worry about many other worldly affairs.  This does not mean to say that everyone should remain single.  To remain single for God, so-called "apostolic celibacy," is a gift for some.  The Church requires it of her priests because the priesthood entails complete and total dedication to the things of God.  Persons in consecrated life (so-called "religious") also practice apostolic celibacy because of their special calling to witness to the Kingdom.

Recognizing the value of virginity does not undermine the value of marriage. Married persons also devote themselves to God, but this has to be done through the fulfillment of their duties as spouses and as parents.  This is a high and noble vocation to which the great majority of Catholics are called.

The Word Today, January 31, 2000 (Monday)

The gospel today is about the expulsion of the devils (there were so many of them, they were called "legion") from a possessed man in the country of Gerasa, across the lake of Galilee.  That group of devils were given leave to enter a herd of swine and the swine ended up committing "mass suicide", running over the cliff and drowning in the sea.  It is a good day to remember the reality of the devil.  The devil is not a mythological figure.

The devil is a pure spirit.  He was an angel but he failed to choose God and instead, moved by pride, the devil chose himself.  We should pray to be protected from the wiles of the devil.  As in the garden of paradise, the devil continues to tempt men through lies, especially inciting human beings to pride.

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