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MARCH 2000

Word Today
, March 1, 2000 (Wednesday)

    Lectionary: 1 Pt 1:18-25 / Mk 10:32-45

In order to temper the ambition of the apostles Christ told them that they should not seek to lord it over one another.  Instead, in imitation of Christ himself, they should seek to be the servant of the others.  Christ himself "did not come to be served but to serve."

Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, has a very short but meaningful motto, "Serviam".  This is Latin for "I will serve."  It is the opposite of what was supposed to be the motto of the devil when he rebelled against the plan of God, "I will not serve."  An attitude of service is a Christian attitude that will fill our lives with meaning.  We must do things for others. What a wonderful motto by which to start the day or any other activity. Today, through my activities, I will serve God and others.  

Word Today , March 2, 2000 (Thursday)

    Lectionary: 1 Pt 2:2-5.9-12 / Mk 10:46-52

In the first reading St. Peter reminds all Christians that they are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God…you are the People of God."  What is the meaning of the "royal priesthood?"  What is a priest?  The letter to the Hebrews says that a priest is a mediator between God and man. .  A Christian is a "Christ-bearer", and he/she must bear Christ to other people.  Therefore all Christians are priests in the sense that they all have to mediate between God and men

The "royal priesthood" is what we now call the "common priesthood of the faithful".  It involves the mediation that we are all called to do as Christians.  But there is another priesthood, which is essentially different from this one.  This is called the "ministerial priesthood".  It involves the mediation, within the priestly People of God, exercised by those who have received the special sacred power to act "in the person of Christ" the head of the mystical body.  Both types of priesthood are important.  They complement each other.

Word Today , March 3, 2000 (Friday)

    Lectionary: 1 Pt 4:7-13 / Mk 11:11-26

There is an icon of Christ going around, which is called the "laughing Christ."  But the gospel reading today presents us with the image of the "angry Christ."  Christ seems to be angry at the fig tree that did not bear fruit.  He is even angrier with the people who turned the temple "into a robber's den."  We cannot be surprised at Christ's display of a whole range of human emotions because he is truly a man.  Yet being God, we also know that Christ is sinless and perfect.  Christ's anger must therefore have been a good anger.

But we are not perfect.  So quite often, our anger is not of the good type.  If we are angry at a sinful deed (but never at the sinful person), we may claim to have a righteous anger.  More likely, we get angry with people and then our anger is provoked not by zeal for goodness but by a feeling of personal affront. In theory then, we may get angry without sinning.  But in practice, let us exert effort to keep cool, not to lose our temper, to be always kind and charitable.

Word Today, March 4, 2000 (Saturday)

    Lectionary: Jude 17:20-25 / Mk 11:27-33

Today's responsorial psalm is from Ps 62 and it says, "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God."  Man, by nature, is a God-seeker.  Our innermost being seeks the Supreme Being who will fill all our longings for truth, goodness and beauty.  St. Augustin pointed out that, since God made us for himself, our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.

We can translate these considerations to our daily life.  We do not have to go to an isolated place in order to quench our thirst for God, although it is a good practice to seek occasional solitude.  We must try out the practice of living in the presence of God.  As we go about our daily activities, we can periodically lift our hearts and minds to God in acts of faith, hope and love.  These acts are sometimes called "ejaculations" (coming from the Latin jacula meaning dart) or aspirations.  Try it.  Be like the deer that goes to the clear water every so often in order to quench its thirst.

Word Today,  March 5, 2000 (Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Lectionary: Dt 5:12-15 / 2Cor 4:6-11 / Mk 2:23-3:6

The first reading contains the law of keeping the Sabbath day holy.  In the gospel, Jesus Christ explains the spirit of this law.  "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

In what sense is the Sabbath law for man?  It is a law meant to help man have his needed rest from labor and thereby devote the day to God.  In the Christian dispensation, the day of worship and rest has been moved to the day of the Lord's resurrection.  Hence, the day of the Lord, the dies dominici, is the day set apart for God.  The Catholic Church helps us to observe this by requiring her children to rest and to participate in the Holy Mass on Sunday or its eve.  The Holy Mass is the summit of Christian worship, so it is but fitting that the day of the Lord be associated with it.

Word Today,  March 6, 2000 (Monday)

    Lectionary: 2 Pt 1:2-7 / Mk 12:1-12

In the first reading, St. Peter tells us that we "will be able to share the divine nature."  The Eucharistic liturgy echoes these words of St. Peter when, while adding a bit of water (representing us) to the wine (representing Christ) to be offered up, the priest says, "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

That we can share the divine nature sounds like a bold assertion.  Yes we can, but not in the way that the devil was tempted to usurp God's divinity.  We can, because of the love and mercy of God, through faith in Christ.  St. Peter's letter enumerates a series of steps in our divine transformation, starting from faith, passing through different moral virtues, and ending with love.  This is a program of Christian life: the goal is transformation, the way is through faith, love and spiritual struggle.

Word Today,  March 7, 2000 (Tuesday, Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity)

    Lectionary: 2 Pt 3:12-15, 17-18 / Mk 12:13-17

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity were martyred in Carthage in the year 203.  There are very accurate accounts of their martyrdom.  The two are mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon).  Felicity was a slave girl while Perpetua was a twenty-two year old young mother from a rich family.  They faced martyrdom bravely, rejecting the possibilities given to them to turn their back on their faith.

One of the signs of this Great Jubilee Year is the martyrology of the twentieth century.  Martyrs are not only from the past.  Even now, many of our brothers in the faith are suffering persecution and death for their faith.  Let us sustain them through our prayers.

Word Today,  March 8, 2000 (Ash Wednesday)

    Lectionary: Joel 2:12-18 / 2Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6.16-18

Today we begin the liturgical season of Lent.  Lent is a forty-day preparation for Easter, and the emphasis is on our conversion through the spirit of penance.  It is therefore very appropriate that Ash Wednesday be a day of fasting and abstinence.  As a reminder, with the exception of those who are sick or are somehow legitimately prevented from doing so, all who are fourteen years and above are bound by abstinence (avoiding to eat meat).  All those between eighteen and sixty years old are bound by fasting (usually fulfilled by eating only one full meal a day).

There are two possible formulas in the distribution of the ashes.  One is from Mk 1:15, "Turn away from sin and believe the gospel."  The other one has reference to Gen 3:19, "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return."  They are complementary.  If we remember what we are, it is easier for us to turn away from sin.

 Word Today,  March 9, 2000 (Thursday after Ash Wednesday)

    Lectionary: Dt 30:15-20 / Lk 9:22-25

"I set before you life or death, blessing or curse.  Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God."  Unfortunately, in many places what prevails is a culture of death.  Out of love of comfort and pleasure, people are willing to kill the unborn child or the non-productive elderly.  They say they are pro-choice – what choice?  They are actually choosing death.  To be pro-life is to be truly pro-choice, because when one is dead there is no choice left.

In the Philippines, the forces of the culture of death are present.  The bishops have reiterated their opposition to anti-life and anti-family bills being proposed in the legislative bodies.  We must sustain that opposition so that Filipinos may live "in the love of the Lord."  We choose life, not because of earthly pleasure but because of the greater happiness that is promised for those who follow the law of God.

Word Today,  March 10, 2000 (Friday)

    Lectionary: Is 58:1-9 / Mt 9:14-15

Today's responsorial psalm is taken from Ps 50, the psalm of repentance attributed to King David after he recognized his sin of adultery compounded by murder.  The response is, "A broken, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn."

As we go through this Lenten season, we should be reassured by that response.  God is merciful.  If we are proud, refusing to accept our "brokenness", we cannot expect God's forgiveness.  But if we are humble, God will take us back like a good father.  Let us overcome our sense of shame.  Let us be willing to admit our sins and go to the sacred minister to receive the forgiveness of God.  This Lenten season is an ideal time to have a good confession.

Word Today,  March 11, 2000 (Saturday)

    Lectionary: Is 58:9-14 / Lk 5:27-32

"I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance."  This is how Jesus explained his behavior of socializing with people whom the Pharisees considered as sinners.

Christ's explanation can work for us in two directions.  In the first place, we should never be discouraged by our sins.  God is seeking us out because he wants our conversion.  In the second place, we should not be complacent if we think we have virtues.  God is not happy with the self-satisfied person.  Not that we should deliberately sin in order to be an acceptable sinner.  Rather, we must remember that if we have not sinned, it is because of God's help.  In view of our existential condition, we can always consider ourselves as sinners.

Word Today,  March 13, 2000 (Monday)

Lectionary: Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 / Mt 25:31-46

The gospel today is about the last judgment.  On that day, Jesus will pass final sentence on everyone.  What will be the basis of the judgment?  The gospel speaks of works of charity (to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison, etc.) that are done to our fellowmen, in whom we should see Christ.

St. John of the Cross said that at the twilight of our life (when we approach our death), the only thing that will really matter is love.  Have we loved God, or have we loved ourselves?  The Church has, over the years, identified the so-called corporal and spiritual works of mercy as genuine works of love.  If we truly love Christ, we will end up attending to the bodily and spiritual needs of our neighbors.  There is no place for egotists in the kingdom of heaven.

Word Today,  March 14, 2000 (Tuesday)

    Lectionary: Is 55:10-11 / Mt 6:7-15

In the gospel today, Jesus warned his listeners against "wordiness" in praying.  "When you pray do not use a lot of words as the pagans do."  This warning against wordiness is not against the use of formulated words in prayer.  In fact right after this warning, Jesus gave his listeners the formula of the "Our Father", a prayer that is like a summary of the whole Christian life.

The Christian prayer tradition has always recognized the existence of what is called "mental prayer", sometimes called "meditation" or "contemplation."  This goes hand in hand with what are called "vocal prayers", which are fixed prayer formulas that have come from the Sacred Scripture or from the spiritual patrimony of the Church.  These vocal prayers are valuable because they enunciate for us what are the fitting thoughts, sentiments and affections we should address to God.  The important thing is that when we recite such prayers, we have our mind on their meaning or on God, and not just recite them thoughtlessly.

Word Today ,  March 15, 2000 (Wednesday)

    Lectionary: Jon 3:1-10 / Lk 11:29-32

Both readings today refer to Jonah, the prophet who tried to evade his mission but ended up having to do it anyway.  In the process, he spent three days in the belly of a big fish.  Jesus Christ referred to this event when he said that his listeners would receive the "sign of Jonah".  Christ meant that he would spend three days in the belly of the earth.  Christ was actually talking about his resurrection from the dead.

The resurrection is unique.  Someone once said that in all the other religions, there is something between the present followers and their founders – a tomb or a grave containing the mortal remains of their founder.  In Christianity, there is a tomb but it is empty.  Christ is risen!  Our religion is not a mere ideology or code of ethics.  It is the following of an acting and living person, Jesus Christ the God-made-man.

Word Today,  March 16, 2000 (Thursday)

    Lectionary: Esther 4:17 / Mt 7:7-12

The gospel today contains one of the most beautiful reassurances of Jesus Christ.  "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you."  We must have great confidence in the power of prayer.  Why?  Not because of the worth of our actions but because of the goodness of God.  God is our father.  What good father does not want the best for his children?

If at times we think that God has not kept his part of the promise because our petitions to him seem to be unanswered, it is because he wants something even better for us.  Perhaps what we are asking is not really for our long-term good.  Or God may be giving us the good of patience, humility or detachment.  That is why we should always end our petition to God with the wholehearted acceptance of his will for us.

Word Today,  March 17, 2000 (Friday)

    Lectionary: Ez 18:21-28 / Mt 5:20-26

"If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven."  After saying this, Christ elaborated more on the need to love our brothers.  It is not enough not to want to kill.  We must avoid any kind of hatred.  We cannot be reconciled to God unless we are first reconciled with other people.

Unfortunately nowadays many people have standing feuds within the family.  Sad to say, the cause of family feuds is often disagreement over inheritance.  While it is not bad to work for a just and fair distribution, we should also be careful not to be carried away by avarice.  Sometimes it is better to accept certain inequalities for the sake of family harmony and peace, than to spend years in bitter litigation. 

Word Today,  March 18, 2000 (Saturday)

    Lectionary: Dt 26:16-19 / Mt 5:43-48

The gospel today contains what could be considered the conclusion or summary of the Sermon on the Mount.  "Be therefore perfect as your heavenly father is perfect."  A pioneer in lay spirituality, Blessed Escriva saw in these words of the Lord the message of the universal call to holiness.  He expressed it thus in 1945: "You have the obligation to sanctify yourself.  Yes, even you!  Who thinks this is the exclusive concern of priests and religious?  To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: Be perfect, as my heavenly father is perfect." (The Way, N. 291)

The universal call to holiness, especially addressed to laypersons, is at the very heart of the Second Vatican Council's message.  This is repeated constantly by the Holy Father and the bishops.  For example, during this Great Jubilee Year, the Pope has said that the most important results expected will be fruits of "holiness".  Holiness, in simple terms,  is being united to God.  Are we heeding God's invitation to holiness seriously?

Word Today,  March 20, 2000 (Solemnity of St. Joseph,  Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mar, Patron of the Universal Church)

    Lectionary: 2 Sam 7:4-5.12-14.16 / Rom 4:13.16-18.22 / Mt 1:16.18-21.24 or Lk 2:41-51

Because March 19 fell on a Sunday of Lent, the celebration of the solemnity of St. Joseph has been moved to the following day, which is today.  Over the years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of the figure of St. Joseph.  Just like Mary, who is the Queen of All Saints, Joseph's role in our redemption was a quiet but very crucial one.  Hence it is not surprising that he has been declared the "Patron of the Universal Church", not just a section or aspect of it, but of the whole People of God.

By focusing on St. Joseph, the Church is teaching us where true greatness and holiness lie.  He was a "just man", a holy man who quietly but heroically fulfilled the tasks God gave him.  He showed us the great value of doing our daily work and responding readily to the plans of God even if they do not coincide with our own.

Word Today,   March 21, 2000 (Tuesday)

    Lectionary: Is 1:10.16-20 / Mt 23:1-12

"Do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach."  This is what Jesus advised his followers, in the light of the hypocrisy of the considered leaders.  We too should see to it that we not only teach what is correct, but that we set the example of uprightness.

The importance of leadership by example is especially relevant in the family setting.  Parents are often puzzled as to how they should discipline or correct their children.  There are many educational theories and there may be many different solutions because of the diverse circumstances.  But one thing is sure – example goes farther than words.  If we want someone (especially a person we are forming closely) to improve, we should start by trying to improve ourselves on that point.

Word Today,  March 22, 2000 (Wednesday)

    Lectionary: Jer 18:18-20 / Mt 20:17-28

"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  Thus, the Lord checked the misplaced ambition among the apostles.

We can apply these words to the field where ambition often rules – professional work.  Some people work in order to assert themselves and eventually be top-dog in their dog-eat-dog world.  But Christians must work out of a genuine spirit of service.  If we have the "ambition" to serve, we shall end up doing our work as well as the very best, and more importantly, we shall get closer to God through the fulfillment of our professional duties.

Word Today,  March 23, 2000 (Thursday)

    Lectionary: Jer 17:5-10 / Lk 16:19-31

The first reading says, "I, the Lord, search the heart,…to give each man what his conduct and his actions deserve."  How important our intentions are!  The life of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose relics are now in the Philippines, is an illustration of this.  She reached great heights of holiness not because of the worth of her external actions but because of the great love`of God that penetrated those actions.

We too can make our actions very valuable by making sure that we have an upright and pure intention.  Deep in our hearts, we should do whatever we have to do with the intention of giving all the glory to God.

Word Today,   March 24, 2000 (Friday)

    Lectionary: Gn 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28 / Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

The Opening Prayer of today's Eucharistic celebration is a summary of the Lenten season. "Merciful Father, may our acts of penance bring us your forgiveness, open our hearts to your love, and prepare us for the coming feast of the resurrection."

Indeed, we should strive for conversion in order to have hearts open to God's love.  Without a spirit of penance (Lent is a penitential season), we cannot be truly open to receive the graces of Easter.  The Great Jubilee Year offers us a unique opportunity for conversion through the practice of the pilgrimage, done in a penitential spirit.

Word Today,   March 25, 2000 (Saturday, Solemnity of the Lord's Annunciation)

    Lectionary: Is 7:10-14 / Heb 10:4-10 / Lk 1:26-38

Since we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, it is quite logical that we celebrate his conception nine months before, on March 25.  The conception of Christ is a truly momentous event.  It is the moment of the Incarnation, of the "Word taking flesh."  Yet this cosmic event depended on a young village girl in the isolated town of Nazareth.

Today we celebrate an event in the life of Jesus Christ.  But we also remember with gratitude how Mary cooperated wholeheartedly in this event.  In the Eucharistic celebration, we pray the Preface of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On this celebration, we see the blending of Marian and Christological aspects.  We go to Jesus through Mary.  And Jesus gives us his own mother to be ours.

Word Today,  March 26, 2000 (Third Sunday of Lent)

    Lectionary: Ex 20:1-17 / 1 Cor 1:22-25 / Jn 2:13-25

The first reading contains the Ten Commandments of God.  It is very important that all of us know the ten commandments.  These are not arbitrary rules that God has imposed on man.  They are the moral code that is imprinted in the very nature of man.  He must follow them if he wants to be happy.

The late Pope John Paul I, who was noted for his catechetical ability, once compared the ten commandments to the instruction manual of a car.  If you buy a car, it is yours, you can do what you want with it.  But if you do not follow the manual (say, you use champagne instead of gasoline, jam instead of engine oil), then your car will not run properly.  You will end up destroying it.  God gave us our life and he left us free to live it.  He also left the commandments to show us how to live.  It is to our best interest to strive to follow the moral law as contained in the commandments of God.

Word Today,  March 27, 2000 (Monday)

    Lectionary: 2 Kgs 5:1-15 / Lk 4:24-30

The prophet Elisha cured the leprosy of Naaman, the important Syrian official, by asking him to bathe in the Jordan river.  The prophet did not even go out to meet Naaman, he just sent word that about what he should do.  At first, Naaman was indignant because he expected the prophet to do something more spectacular.  But common sense held final sway.  Why should he not bathe in the Jordan?  After all, if the prophet had asked him to do something very difficult, he would have done it. 

All of us have the tendency to go for the spectacular things.  So when something is quiet and hidden, we tend not to give it any importance.  Yet the truth of the matter is that many great things happen in our ordinary humdrum existence.  The great victories were won not in the battlefield but in the daily grind of the training grounds.  Let us realize the value of our ordinary efforts.

Word Today,  March 28, 2000 (Tuesday)

    Lectionary: Dn 3:25, 34-43 / Mt 18:21-35

Peter thought he was being magnanimous when he proposed the number of fulness (seven) as the number of times we had to forgive an offending person.  But Jesus wanted to emphasize the need for forgiveness by giving Peter an exaggerated figure.  "Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times."  It is a good thing that Jesus said this, so that there would be no room for doubt in our minds about the Christian demand of forgiveness.

For many people, forgiving is one of the most difficult things to do.  It is easy to say, it is easy to talk about, but once we are faced with a truly unjust situation, we can experience how difficult it can really get.  That is the time to remember that we must forgive as God wants us to forgive, and as he has forgiven us.  We should remember that any offence we may suffer from someone is infinitesimal when compared to the offences we have committed against God.  We should remember the words of the Lord's prayer, "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

Word Today,  March 29, 2000 (Wednesday)

    Lectionary: Dt 4:1, 5-9 / Mt 5:17-19

Jesus said, "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to complete them."  That is how we should view the apparent "changes" in our religious beliefs.  New developments do not discard what existed before.  They build upon them and complete them.

Very recently the Pope emphasized this continuity, especially in the light of the important changes ushered in by the Second Vatican Council held more than thirty years ago.  Those who see a break between the previous teaching of the Church and that of the Second Vatican Council end up either as "integrists" (like the group of Lefebvre, known as the Society of St. Pius X), rejecting the new as a betrayal of the old; or as "modernists", rejecting the old as irrelevant and mistaken.  The Church has introduced many new things, but these new things are in continuity with the old.  We must accept both old and new, in the spirit that the Church has proposed them.

Word Today,  March 30, 2000 (Thursday)

    Lectionary: Jer 7:23-28 / Lk 11:14-23

"Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses."  We can apply these words of Jesus to the need for unity within the Church.  The Church is united in "one head, one faith, and one baptism."  The guarantee of unity in the Church is the primacy of the Pope (the head), who safeguards the universal faith of the Church and watches over the channels of grace.

One way the Pope exercises his ministry of unity is by promoting the ecumenical movement.  He promotes dialogue and common activities with other Christian communities so that we can gradually thresh out differences that have arisen from historical events.  We can help out in this movement by living an authentic Christian life that can serve as a witnessing for other Christians.

Word Today,  March 31, 2000 (Friday)

    Lectionary: Hos 14:2-10 / Mk 12:28-34

Here is the summary of all the commandments, the one standard by which we can all strive to live.  "Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself."  Based on this, St. Augustin could say, "Love, and do whatever you want."

This is easier said than done.  Love is not just a vague feeling of attraction or benevolence.  The test of love is to do the will of the beloved.  Hence, the commandment of love can be transposed -- seek to do God's will wholeheartedly.  Do not seek it half-heartedly, or hesitatingly, but seek it with all that you have.

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