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MARCH 2001


Word Today, March 1, 2001 (Thursday after Ash Wednesday)

    Readings: 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 measures being promoted in some quarters.  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 2, 2001 (Friday after Ash Wednesday)

    Readings: 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 3, 2001 (Saturday after Ash Wednesday)

    Readings: 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 4, 2001 (First Sunday in Lent)

    Readings: Dt 26: 4-10 / Rom 10: 8-13 / Lk 4: 1-13

The gospel today is about Jesus Christ's spending 40 days fasting and praying in the dessert.  At the end of it, he was tempted by the devil.  This action of Christ was a preparation for his public ministry that would eventually lead to the sacrifice of the cross and the triumphant resurrection. 

Lent is a period of 40 days in which the Church helps us to prepare for the culminating days of the Paschal Mystery, which we usually refer to as "Holy Week."  Just like Christ, Lent would be a good time to go on retreat.  We need not spend 40 days on it.  The Church, through the granting of a plenary indulgence, recommends that we all do at least a 3-day retreat.  Once a year, it would be good to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of daily life and spend a few days concentrating on communing with God and looking into the affairs of our soul.

Word Today, March 6, 2001 (Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 7, 2001 (Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 8, 2001 (Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent)

    Readings: Esther 14:1-5. 12-14 / 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 9, 2001 (Friday of the 1st Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 10, 2001 (Saturday of the 1 st Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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, after the Great Jubilee Year, the Pope said that the most important objective of Church renewal is "holiness".  Holiness, in simple terms,  is being united to God.  Are we heeding God's invitation to holiness seriously?

Word Today, March 11, 2001 (Second Sunday in Lent)

    Readings: Gn 15: 5-12. 17-18 / Phil 3: 17-4: 1 / Lk 9: 28-36

The transfiguration is a very important moment in the life of Jesus Christ.  It was the time when he showed his glory, glory that John, one of the witnesses, would refer to in the introduction to his gospel.  This manifestation of glory would strengthen those three apostles, future pillars of the Church, in their faith.  Mt. Tabor, the mountain of the transfiguration, would soon be followed by Mt. Calvary, the hill of the passion and death.  The transfiguration may have helped those three apostles in the moment of apparent defeat.

God sometimes gives us moments of supreme joy and consolation.  But we can also expect moments of difficulties and discouragement.  When discouragement comes, then we should  remember the good times, and hang on.

Word Today, March 12, 2001 (Monday of the 2nd Week in Lent)

    Readings: Dan 9: 4-10 / Lk 6: 36-38

Jesus said, "Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap."  This is an invitation to be generous in giving ourselves to God and in the service of others.

Someone once made the observation that we can never outdo God in generosity.  When we are generous in our charity, we shall receive much more in return.  This does not mean that we should give precisely in order to have a reward.  But God is so good that when we give of ourselves unstintingly, we will certainly receive a much greater reward in heaven.  We often will also receive a greater reward even on earth.

Word Today, March 13, 2001 (Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 those considered as 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 to improve in something, we should start by trying to improve ourselves on that same point.

Word Today, March 14, 2001 (Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 15, 2001 (Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 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 16, 2001 (Friday of the 2nd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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. 

Word Today, March 17, 2001 (Saturday of the 2nd Week of Lent)

    Readings: Mic 7: 14-15. 18-20 / Lk 15: 1-3. 11-32

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most moving illustrations of the mercy of God. No matter how low we may fall, no matter how far away from God we may be, God will never give up on us. He is always ready to receive us.

But for God to receive us, just like the prodigal son, we must acknowledge our sins and errors. Only then can we have the eyes to see how good God is.  Pride, the refusal to acknowledge our sins, prevents us from availing of God's mercy.

Word Today, March 18, 2001 (Third Sunday in Lent)

    Readings: Ex 3: 1-8. 13-15 / 1 Cor 10: 1-6. 10-12 / Lk 13: 1-9

"Unless you repent, you will perish as they did." Lent is a time of penance and conversion. Repentance is the necessary condition for our salvation.  Repentance involves recognizing our sins and our sinful condition, together with the decision to turn our hearts away from sin. The sacrament of reconciliation is an ideal aid and channel for true repentance and conversion. In order to confess our sins, we need to be honest enough to admit our sins. 

How can a sick man take his medicine and get cured if he does not admit that he is sick? If we do not recognize and acknowledge our sins, how can we sincerely turn away from them?

Word Today, March 19, 2001 (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

Today is the solemnity of St. Joseph. 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 20, 2001 (Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 21, 2001 (Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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.

The Pope has 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 22, 2001 (Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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 23, 2001 (Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent)

    Readings: 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.

Word Today, March 24, 2001 (Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent)

    Readings: Hos 6:1-6 / Lk 18:9-14

What a contrast!  Jesus Christ shows us the figure of the self-satisfied and smug Pharisee.  He can find no fault in himself.  He only sees what he thinks as "virtues".  But they are not really virtues.  They are just external observances lacking in virtue because they do not refer to a good state of soul.  On the other hand we have the figure of the Publican.  He is aware of his sinfulness, and can only ask for God's mercy.  It was the Publican that "went home again at rights with God."

We cannot address ourselves to God with self-complacency.  God is truth, and so we cannot face God with the bold-faced lie that we are "good".  Rather, we must face our human condition, our shortcomings and miseries.  Then we can, with humility, look at God and relate to him as the prodigal son in the parable.

Word Today, March 25, 2001 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

    Readings: Josh 5: 9. 10-12 / 2 Cor 5: 17-21 / Lk 15: 1-3. 11-32

The gospel today is about the parable of the prodigal son.  It is one of the most moving illustrations of the mercy of God.  Let us focus today on the father of that spoiled boy.  The father is a symbol of God.

The father allowed the son to have his way because he wanted to have a son who would love him,  rather than just a slave who would externally do his bidding.  God gave us our freedom, and with it, the possibility of straying from God.  The father of the prodigal son was more than ready to accept his erring and repentant son.  God is always ready to accept us back, no matter how far away we may have strayed.  God offers us forgiveness.  Not only that.  Just like the father who was on the lookout for the return of his son, God is also looking for us, seeking us out. 

Word Today, March 26, 2001 (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 (or 26, if liturgically impeded).  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 27, 2001 (Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent)

    Readings: Ez 47: 1-9 / Jn 5: 1-16

Today's gospel is about the curing of a lame person at the pool of Bethsaida.  The man's situation was that he could not avail of the miraculous waters of the pool because, when he had the chance to get in to be cured, other people would go ahead of him.  Being lame, he could not move by himself, and besides, "I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred." 

How many people there are who could give the same excuse to God when they face the last judgment!  They could not avail of the curing grace available in the Church's sacraments because there was no one to help them. We cannot stand by passively while we see relatives and friends far from God.  Some of them may need just a little bit of encouragement so that they go to the sacrament of reconciliation. We have a responsibility to help those around us in their physical and spiritual needs. 

Word Today, March 28, 2001 (Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent)

    Readings: Is 49: 8-15 / Jn 5: 17-30 

"Amen, amen I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the father doing ...Of myself I can do nothing." These words of Jesus Christ manifest his absolute unity with God the Father, the perfect fulfillment of the will of God. 

We too, seeking to be close to God, should strive to do everything with God's help. We should recognize that without God's help, we would end up bungling everything.  When things turn out well, we should readily recognize that whatever good we may have achieved comes from God.  When things turn out badly, we must recognize our fault, perhaps for not corresponding enough to the help that God is providing us. 

Word Today, March 29, 2001 (Thursday of the 4th Week of Lent)

    Readings: Ex 32: 7-14 / Jn 5: 31-47 

"The works that I do bear witness to me, that the Father has sent me." The apostles were especially chosen witnesses, to testify on the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  All Christians are called to be witnesses to their belief in Christ.  The sacrament of confirmation constitutes the follower of Christ to be a witness. 

The best way of witnessing is through a consistent life.  If we truly live as children of God, then we will practice the first commandment, the commandment of charity.  And we will be filled with joy.  Charity and joy are two of the most convincing "arguments" in favor of the faith. 

Word Today, March 30, 2001 (Friday of the 4th Week of Lent)

    Readings: Wis 2: 1, 12-22 / Jn 7: 1-2, 10, 25-30 

The gospel readings of the past few days depict the growing rift between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews.  In today's reading, this reaches the point where "they wanted to seize him, but no one laid hands on him because his hour had not yet come." 

Martyrs, those who witness to the Faith through the shedding of their blood, have always been venerated in the Church.  In the Philippines, the first Filipino saint and the next one who may follow, were both martyrs. Every person who wants to follow Jesus must be ready to face difficulties and even to face martyrdom.  If ever it comes, we know that it is all in the plan of God. 

Word Today, March 31, 2001 (Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent)

    Readings: Jer 11: 18-20 / Jn 7: 40-53 

In today's gospel we find the daring defense that Nicodemus makes in favor of Jesus.  That defense earned Nicodemus the antagonism of his companions in the Sanhedrin.  His colleagues even criticized him personally, "Are you also a Galilean?" 

We first saw Nicodemus going to Christ secretly for fear of the other Jews.  Now he is ready to stick out his own neck for Christ.  Later on he would even be bolder.  In Jn 19: 39, he would help anoint the body of the apparently defeated Christ.  To be a witness to Christ, we should not be afraid or ashamed to speak out on his behalf.  We should not be ashamed to show our faith to our colleagues and friends, even if it may bring us unfair criticism. 

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