Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Scripture Reflection)

Today, again we listened to the Word of God, and found that if we stay faithful to God, despite all the temptations and the challenges facing us in our journey towards Him, God will reward us greatly, and in heaven our reward is great indeed. God loves us, and He does listen to us when we call on Him, and if we keep Him in our heart, we will not lose Him, for He is faithful.

Our modern world is filled with many things, tempting indeed for us, and many of these are so attractive that they divert our attention away from God, and into them. Worse still, these temptations made us forget about the love God has on us, how He died for us on the cross to save us from death and sin. Instead, we sin even more, and cause the Lord to grief over our continued rebellions against His ever-gracious mercy. For today, we learn indeed that there are three main forms of obstacles against us, against us in our journey towards the Lord. These are greed, power, and pride. These also translate as the three sources of temptations that affect us terribly, namely, commercialism, the world, and ourselves, our sinful beings.

First of all, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread, in order to fulfill His hunger, the devil tapped into our own weakness to greed and for more. For hunger is a natural occurrence in our lives when we do not intake any food for a while, but many of us who are in great abundance, not only fail to resist the temptation of the devil, and place our stomach above all the rest. Just look at all the greed in all the excessive eating habits, the high rates of obesity in many developed nations, where people eat without abandon, and eat like as if there is no tomorrow.

Not only in the matter of food, but also in fact with regards to possessions and wealth, where there are many who dedicate their whole lives solely for the pursuit of wealth, and more wealth, and affluence, and then more affluence. These people may even stop at nothing to gain what they want, including hurting others in the process, especially those they see as competitors to their goal. This is how sin and evil permeate into the hearts of all the people, including even among the faithful today. Jesus told us the way to overcome this, that is to focus on the Word of God, for we do not live from bread alone, but indeed what is most important is the spiritual food that we have, that is the Scripture. Read the Scripture, reflect on it, share it, and understand it, and you will find that you will find fulfillment greater than food, wealth, and affluence can offer.

For food, wealth, possessions, and affluence will pass away, and they will not be with us after we die. There are many out there in the world who suffer from hunger and poverty, and yet many of the rich and even those who are in the middle class who are too busy with their worldly pursuits, to offer a helping hand. The Church, which is also the world’s largest humanitarian agency, had done much to help these people, the least among the least, the last, the shunned, and the weakest.

However, there is only so much the Church can do, and ultimately it depends on us to also extend our helping hand. After all, through the word of God in the Scripture, we now know that when we give aid to these least among us, to those shunned and rejected by the society, we have done it for Christ. For Christ too is rejected by many, and hated by the world. But we, who believe in Him, if we cling strongly to Him, we will gain our due reward when the time comes.

Then the second obstacle, which is power and the offer of worldly power indeed. The very well-known phrase of “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely” is the perfect illustrator of this condition, in which power can corrupt us and twist us into a power-hungry beings seeking to gain more power or preserve our own power or control over others. This does not mean that power cannot be handled responsibly, but again, who do we then base that power on? Is it based on the Lord? or is it based on the evil one?

For indeed, a power that is of the Lord is also humble, and is also loving, for those wielding power responsibly, and belonging to the Lord will also know justice and love, and will not wield that power to cause suffering for others. Yet many use power and misuse that for their own purposes, and often cause suffering in others. The world offer a great temptation for many who has power, to always seek more and more in power and others, which is linked to that of the first obstacle, greed.

The quest for power has brought many destruction in the past, although also many constructive ones. Many people have died in wars and conflicts, especially those brought up by personal ambitions of certain people who seek ultimate power. They achieved it but for what? For power too does not last, and it is only temporary, either they are overthrown or they lose that power upon their death. Power is something that God entrusted to us, and therefore let us seek to use that authority responsibly, and not to misuse them for our own personal benefits and the detriment for others.

Then again, Jesus fought the devil and taught us that we should focus ourselves on the Lord and give the devil no attention, and base our own authority and power indeed in God and His teachings, that we can truly become wise, responsible, and just stewards of this power God has bestowed on us, for the good of others around us.

Then the last one, is the most difficult obstacle of all, that is the pride within our own being, and ourselves. We who are weak in flesh, are constantly tempted, and though our spirit is strong, but temptation of the flesh can indeed lead us astray from the path towards the Lord, but nothing is more difficult to conquer than that of pride. We humans are prideful in our nature, and pride is what has become the downfall of many. For pride prevented us from seeing in ourselves the defects that we have, and in pride too, we grow to seek more for ourselves, and hence greed, and also the quest for more power, that hunger also began from pride, pride in ourselves and our own abilities.

It is perfectly fine to be proud of our achievements if we also give what is due to the Lord, since it is with the Lord’s help that we can accomplish many things that we otherwise cannot accomplish on our own. Pride, undue pride in particular, is the main obstacle blocking us from giving what is due to God, to thank Him for His great blessing and kindness. Remember, the devil himself was the greatest, brightest, and most brilliant angels in all heaven, who was Lucifer, the light-bringer. But in pride, he has allowed himself to indulge in his own vanity, in his beauty and might, that he aspires to ascend and become God himself, challenging God the creator who created all including him. In his pride, he fell, and became the devil. We too, in our pride, can fall, and from the beautiful ones we are upon our creation by the Lord, we can fall to become nothing better than the servants of the devil in our pride and our hubris.

For pride prevents us from bowing down before the Lord, from acknowledging our sins and faults, and from approaching the Lord most merciful with a humble and contrite heart. Jesus taught us to be humble, and to not challenge the Lord our God in our pride, but to rather open ourselves to God’s love and mercy. Read the Scripture, understand the Word of God, and share our faith with one another, that we can learn more on the values and virtues of humility, simplicity, responsibility, and love itself.

Let us therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten season, strive to make this time a fruitful one, where we learn to wield power and authority we have responsibly, and to extend our hands to help those needy around us, those who hunger for food, those who hunger for love, and those who hunger for God. Bring to them what they need, and show God’s enduring love for all of them. Then let us also approach God with great humility, acknowledging our sins and weaknesses, and ask the Lord for His forgiveness, which He will be happy to do so, if only we approach Him with broken, humble, and contrite heart. A heart that longs for God and His love alone.

Let us like Jesus, confidently reject Satan, devil, Lucifer, the fallen angel out of pride, with a solid commitment to God, rejecting all his temptations and all his offer of corrupting goods and powers, and rather put ourselves completely in God’s hands and entrust ourselves to Him with all our hearts, our minds, and our souls. May all of us have a blessed Lent, and be prepared to commemorate our Lord’s Passion this coming Holy Week. Amen.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Luke 4 : 1-13

Jesus was now full of Holy Spirit. As He returned from the Jordan, the Spirit led Him into the desert, where He was tempted by the devil for forty days. He did not eat anything during that time, and at the end He was hungry. The devil then said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “Scripture says : People cannot live on bread alone.”

Then the devil took Him up to a high place, and showed Him in a flash all the nations of the world. And He said to Jesus, “I can give You power over all the nations, and their wealth will be Yours; for power and wealth have been delivered to me, and I give them to whom I wish. All this will be Yours, provided You worship me.” But Jesus replied, “Scripture says : You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.”

Then the devil took Him up to Jerusalem, and set Him on the highest wall of the Temple; and He said, “If You are God’s Son, throw Yourself down from here, for it is written : God will order His angels to take care of you; and again : They will hold you in their hands, lest you hurt your foot on the stones.” But Jesus replied, “It is written : You shall not challenge the Lord your God.”

When the devil had exhausted every way of tempting Jesus, he left Him, to return another time.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Second Reading)

Romans 10 : 8-13

True righteousness coming from faith also says : “The word of God is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.” This is the message that we preach, and this is faith.

You are saved if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart you believe that God raised Him from the dead. By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips you are saved.

For Scripture says : “No one who believes in Him will be ashamed.” Here there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; all have the same Lord, who is very generous with whoever calls on Him. Truly, all who call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.”

Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (Psalm)

Psalm 90 : 1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who rest in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, “My stronghold, my refuge, my God in whom I trust!”

No harm will come upon you, no disaster will draw near your home. For He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways.

They will lift you up with their hands so that your foot will not hit a stone. You will tread on wildcats and snakes and trample the lion and the dragon.

“Because they cling to Me, I will rescue them,” says the Lord. “I will protect those who know My Name.” When they call to Me, I will answer; in time of trouble I will be with them; I will deliver and honour them.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 : 1st Sunday of Lent (First Reading)

Deuteronomy 26 : 4-10

Then the priest shall take the large basket from your hands and place it before the altar of YHVH, your God, and you shall say these words before YHVH, “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt to find refuge there, while still few in number; but in that country, he became a great and powerful nation.”

“The Egyptians maltreated us, oppressed us and subjected us to harsh slavery. So we called to YHVH, the God of our ancestors, and YHVH listened to us. He saw our oppression to which we were subjected. He brought us out of Egypt with a firm hand, manifesting His powers with signs and awesome wonders. And He brought us here to give us this land flowing with milk and honey.”

“So now I bring and offer the firstfruits of the land which You, YHVH, have given me.”

Saturday, 16 February 2013 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Scripture Reflection)

Today Jesus, our Lord, shows us that no one is beyond redemption, and no one does not have hope for eternal life in Him, since all mankind, though sinners as they are, they do have the ability to listen and come towards the Lord, who will forgive them if only they would turn their hearts sincerely back towards Him.

We must make use of this Lenten season to take concrete steps in our path to return back to the Lord. Yes, the Lord calls us, and He wants us to return home with Him, and dwell no longer in our world of sin. This however, requires not just a sincere heart for repentance, but also through our actions of love and mercy, especially towards our fellow men, our brethren in Christ.  If we want to be forgiven by God, first we have to forgive those around us, who have offended us, and even caused us pain and suffering.

If we inflict pain and suffering back in return for the same pain and suffering, we are merely prolonging the endless cycles of hatred and evil. It is through the act of love and mercy that the Lord taught us, that we can truly liberate ourselves from this cycle, and thus release us from the bondage of the evil one, and then, and only then, we can be reunited with our Father in heaven who loves us.

If we do so, the Lord will bless us, and not only He will forgive us, but He will make us prosper in our lives, and also those around us. For God rejoices when a lost son or daughter of His is found once again, for is the shepherd not overjoyed when even a single sheep of his flock that was lost, is found? As the Scripture says, even if only one sheep was lost, the shepherd would go and look for it, and when he found it, he will be happier, even happier than having the other sheep that were not lost.

No, this does not mean that the Lord does not care for those who believe in Him and stayed faithful to Him. This means that the Lord comes especially to seek those who are lost, and have yet to receive His inheritance of love and everlasting life through Him, those who are still under the yoke of Satan, that is the yoke of sin and death. We who believe in Him are already saved, and already have a part in God’s inheritance, that is if we stay faithful. Let us help the Lord, to reach out to our brothers and sisters, particularly those who are still in darkness, those who still do not yet know the Lord, and have yet to receive the Good News.

Let us therefore this Lent, not be hypocrites and seek only to make ourselves holy and worthy, but rather, let us help one another to make ourselves worthy of God through penance and good works in Christ. Let us help this world become a better world, for everyone, that through our labour, the love of God is made manifest in this world, that many will see and then believe, becoming lost sheep no more, but one with the flock of Christ. Amen.

2013 Papal Conclave Update : Conclave may begin earlier than 15 March 2013

The Vatican has announced that there is indeed a possibility that the Conclave may begin earlier than the earlier announced 15-20 March 2013 timeframe. This is because unlike normal period of sede vacante (or vacant See ‘of Rome’) due to the death of the previous Pope, Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to retire and renounce the Papacy has been announced well ahead of the actual date of beginning of the sede vacante.

Thus, the Cardinals have ample time to prepare for the Conclave and travel to Rome by the time the See becomes vacant on 28 February 2013 at 8.00 pm Rome time. This would then allow the Conclave to begin much earlier, perhaps in early March 2013, and will allow a new Pope to be elected immediately, and then the new Pope can already be installed (at St. Peter’s Square ceremony of the imposition of the pallium and the Fisherman’s Ring) and enthroned (at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome), before the Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday (24 March 2013).

If the Conclave begins only on the 15th of March or even later, there would be no time left available for the Pope to be properly installed and enthroned before the busy Holy Week begins. Another advantage is also that the Cardinal-electors (especially the residential Archbishops and bishops of Archdioceses and dioceses around the world) can return to their home and celebrate the Holy Week with their diocese/archdiocese, rather than be stuck in Rome due to the late Conclave.