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Overcoming the Temptations of the Devil by Fr. Joel

In the first reading we heard how the devil tempted Eve, the first womanfruit of temptation God created from the rib of Adam, her husband. Eve fell into the temptation and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and gave some to her husband. The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom as the devil had told her. As soon as they ate the fruit of this tree, their eyes became opened and they realized they were naked. This means that they felt the sense of guilt. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans 5:12-19 made reference to this sin of Adam and Eve. He said that through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death. Since all men and women are descendants of Adam, they have inherited sin and death as well.
In the gospel of today, Jesus was tempted after his forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. However, he did not fall for the temptations of the devil. Jesus was tempted in three different areas of life. Namely: the devil asked him to turn stones into bread and eat if he is the son of God. To this temptation, Jesus answered thus, “man shall not live by bread alone but by the word of God’’. This was a test on self-control regarding eating and drinking. It also included the temptation to misuse power to get food and being selfish with food.
The second temptation was for Jesus to throw down himself from the top of the temple and that the Lord would protect him. To this test, Jesus answered, “You should not tempt the Lord your God”. This test is about seeking attention, praise, and approval from humans instead of God; It includes taking unnecessary risks in life, laziness, looking for short cuts or easy ways in life, and over dependence on others and God to provide us our needs. The third temptation was for Jesus to fall at the feet of the devil and worship him and all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor would be given to him. To this test, Jesus answered, “You shall worship only the Lord your God alone”. This test is about idol/Mormon worship, materialism, seeking worldly power, fame and authority.
The period of lent encourages us to work hard and overcome temptations like Jesus did. Just like we have inherited sin and death from the first Adam, we have also the opportunity to inherit the grace to overcome sin and death from the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Learn from Jesus how to over the devil during temptation. Jesus defeated the devil by using prayer, scripture and fasting. By praying more during lent, we shall be able to over the temptation of worshiping idols or Mormon and cultivate the habit of humility and service to one another. By fasting during lent, we shall be able to control our addition to food and drink and avoid gluttony and drunkenness. By giving alms during lent, we shall be able to control the spirit of materialism, greed, selfishness, and the desire for worldly powers and glories.
Temptation is real and inevitable in our lives as Christians. But through faithful observance of the Lenten season, we shall be empowered to win the battle against the devil. If we pray, fast, read scripture, and give alms to the poor, we shall overcome temptations. Remember that temptations are not obstacles to our progress in life. But they are opportunities to grow and become stronger on our journey and struggles toward perfection. No student will be given a certification of graduation from any school without being tested to evaluated on a certain strength and ability of the student in a giving field. In the same light, for us to become successful and perfect Christians, we must be tested and we must prove to be worthy of our status as children of God. The devil is the chief examination officer for Christians. However, the devil can only tempt us but cannot force us to do what he wants. We have the will power to reject his wishes and overcome his temptations just like Jesus did. Jesus did not succumb to his temptations because of his prayer, fasting, and use of scripture to counter the devil. Let us emulate Jesus during temptations.
We are being challenged every day of our lives by the devil to do one evil or the other. We must be strong in faith and use our knowledge of scripture to defend ourselves against the devil. Each time we decided to stand for God but against the devil, we are choosing life and the kingdom of God. But any time we yield to the devil’s temptation, we are choosing death in the kingdom of the evil one. Just like Eve saw the forbidden tree pleasing and good to eat, that is how devil’s temptation is to us. The devil presents to us very good looking and attractive things to tempt us. Therefore, we must be careful with very good looking and attractive things around us. They could be temptations from the devil. Do not be carried away by your desire for very attractive things. This is because you could fall into the devil’s temptation. In our daily lives, we are surrounded by so many temptations of pleasure, power, fame, wealth and beauty. The devil tempts us in the areas of our weakness. Make sure you are on guard and protect yourself from yielding to his tricks in those areas. We must be like Jesus and put God first above everything. Then use our faith and the scripture to assess anything that is attractive to us.
The period of lent is designed to help us practice how to avoid falling into the temptations of the devil. Therefore, learn to use prayer, fasting, alms giving, and the scriptures to overcome temptation in your life.

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT 2017
OVERCOMIMG THE TEMPTATION OF THE DEVIL

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Solemnity of Mary by Fr. Joel

There are many dogmas (Church’s teachings or declarations) about the Virgin Mary. For instance; ‘’Immaculate ConceptMary, Mother of God.jpgion’’, which means she was conceived without sin and redeemed from inheriting original sin; ‘’Assumption into heaven’’, which means her body never experienced corruption here on earth; ‘’Mediatrix of all graces’’ because of her intercessory role to humanity; ‘’the queen ship of Mary’’, which means the Queen of all the saints in heaven; and then ‘’the holy mother of God’’ that we celebrate today. These are some of the different ways in which the Church honors Mary. The Church honors her because of her unique and profound role in the history of our salvation.
Many people would ask why we honor her. Some would say that we worship her. That is not true. Why do we call her mother of God? John 1:1… says: ‘’in the beginning there was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God and all things came through him, and without him nothing came to be….. And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…that is the incarnation’’ It is this word that took flesh in the womb of Mary. If that word is God then Mary is the mother of God since she gave birth to him. We can as well say that of all children their mothers are older than them except Jesus because he was before her as God and her creator. And so if God who created all things chose her and made her his mother, who are we not to give her that honor due to her?
In our creed we do say: ‘’ I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, born of the father before all ages. God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
BEGOTTEN NOT MADE—Means he was not created like us humans but was divine and only took a human nature to be with us. He is one in being with the father
CONSUBSATANTIAL WITH THE FATHER—means- he is of the same substance or being with the father. That is why he told the disciple that to have seen him is to have seen the father because they are of the same being and substance. Philippians 2:6 say: Though he was God but he did not count his equality with the father….. Rather he emptied or humbled him, and took the form of a slave, coming in human form. All these goes to confirm the fact that Jesus is truly God. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God and we should honor her accordingly.
In Luke 1: 48, Mary said ‘’from now hence forth all generation shall call me blessed because the Lord has done great things for me’’. So, we are simply fulfilling this prophecy as we honor her. Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist said to her ‘’blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of womb, Jesus. Whom am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?’’
Some people question why we venerate images and pray asking for interception of the saints. We honor and revere our heroes in the civil society, and we name streets and buildings after them; we sometimes make their images to immortalized them and for remembrance. We make them our role models. So what is wrong if we do the same thing to the heroes of our faith and religion? We keep pictures and images of our family members, friends and dear ones. Why can’t we do the same to our spiritual family members and friends?
We go to mortal human beings and ask for prayers or intercessions. We also believe that when people lived good lives here on earth and they died, that they will go to heaven to be with God. You cannot be where God is unless you are like him in holiness. Therefore, if people here on earth can intercede for us, and God will listen and answer their prayers for us, why won’t God listen to those (saints) in heaven with him? The book of wisdom 3:1-9 says: ‘’the souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace….God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself….They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their king forever’’. This explains to us the power and position of the saints in heaven. Therefore, praying and asking for their intercession is not out of place.
If you believe that Jesus is God and born by Mary, why can’t you honor her? If you honor and respect you own parents why can’t you honor and respect the mother of God? If you believe that ‘’with God all things are possible’’, why are you not believing the virginity of Mary ( immaculate conception) and the fact that she never had any other child but Jesus even though she was married to, and lived with Joseph? Why do you think that God himself will dwell in a human being like Mary and yet she would be unclean? The angel said she was full of grace, meaning that, she was redeemed and made pure without sin.
LESSIONS TO LEARN FROM MARY
• Her humility before God and her husband Joseph.
• Her generosity in giving herself and her son for the serving of mankind.
• Her purity of heart that attracted God’s favor to her.
• Her obedience and submissiveness to the will of God.
• Her faith in God despite a difficult message from an angel.
• Her gratefulness to God as expressed in her song of joy to God for doing great things to her.
• Her desire for justice to be done to the oppressed and poor.
• Above all she is a model for all Christians. Let us emulate her as we enter the new- year. Let us ponder on the word of God to get wisdom and knowledge to live a better Christian life this New Year.
• Let us consecrate ourselves to her for her maternal protection and intercession this new- year. Let us pray and work for peace, love, and unity in our society.
• Let us resolve to be better Christians in the new- year and do not carry unnecessary luggage into the New Year.
• I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

Our God is Merciful, Compassionate and Loving by Fr. Joel

The first reading of today talked about God’s mercy and compassion to his people. Itreet said that God overlooks people’s sins that they may repent and receive his mercy and compassion. God rebukes offenders and reminds them of their sins so that they can come back to him. God loves all the things that he has created. Psalm said, ‘’I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.’’ It is a song of thanksgiving to the Lord for his mercy and compassion to his people.
In the second reading, Saint Paul assured the Thessalonians of his prayers for them so that the purpose and will of God will be done in their lives always. Furthermore, he cautioned them not to panic regarding any false teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ that is not coming from true ministers of God. These are very important lessons for us as well. We should learn to pray for one another so that God’s will shall be done in our lives. In addition, we should be careful of false prophets and their false teachings so that we are not deceived by them and then lose our salvation.
In the Gospel, Jesus showed mercy and compassion to Zacchaeus, a sinner. Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector who cheated people in his job. He wanted to see Jesus but could not because he was a short man. Therefore, he climbed up a tree to be able to see Jesus. When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and asked Zacchaeus to climb down the tree. Jesus followed Zacchaeus to his house and said to him salvation has come to your house today. The people were surprised that Jesus went to the house of a sinner. However, Jesus came to the world to call sinners to repentance. With this gesture from Jesus, Zacchaeus repented of his sins and promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back those he cheated four times more. All the readings of today are centered on the theme of God’s mercy and compassion.
Unfortunately, instead of taking advantage of God’s mercy and compassion and repenting of our sins, we are promoting and committing more sins day by day. We see God as a terror. We see his commandments as oppressive rules for us to follow. We want the kind of freedom our secular world is offering us to do as we want to. We talk about justice and freedom for all but we are denying the most vulnerable freedom and justice. The abortion of unborn children and adoption of children by same sex couples are injustices done to innocent children. We deny them their rights and freedom to a better life because of our selfish desires. The minorities and less powerful in our society are denied opportunity to prosper like others. We cheat and extort from the less privilege in our society. We segregate and discriminate against those who are different from us. In the name of civilization we commit and support all kinds of evil and atrocities. True civilization can only be attain when the less privilege and most vulnerable are protected. True civilization, freedom, and justice can only be achieved when the the same opportunities to develop and live a better life are given to everyone in society. Every one of us is guilty in one way or the other. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Therefore, we are like Zacchaeus, short because of our sins and as a result we are unable see Jesus. Our sins serve as stumbling blocks between us and Jesus. Sin stops us from being in communion with the Lord. We need to climb up a tree like Zacchaeus in order to be able to see Jesus. The tree we need to climb is the sacrament of reconciliation. In this sacrament we ask God for forgiveness and receive his mercy and love. We need to repair the damages we have caused others and ourselves too. We need to apologize to those we have cheated and mistreated and pay back to them for what we have done them. Our prayers and sacrifices will not be accepted if we do not repent and correct our mistakes. The Lord said that we must keep aside our offerings and sacrifices and go make peace with those we have wronged first before we can offer him worthy sacrifices. He also said in ‘’the Lord’s Prayer’’ that we should forgive other just as we want him to be forgive us. Therefore, repentance and forgiveness is very important for every Christian to be able to relate well with God and one another.
Please do not be afraid for God is willing, at any time, to show us his mercy and love. All we need to do is to make effort just as Zacchaeus did and salvation will come into our lives. Our sins are excess luggages that are not need for our spiritual journey. Therefore, we need to get rid of our sins as soon as possible to have an easy and smooth journey. Christ came to the world and died on the cross because of our sins. Let us go to him to receive his mercy and love. Do not allow the devil hold you hostage in his kingdom of darkness. Instead come to Jesus and enjoy freedom, light, and peace in his kingdom.
It is honorable and a blessing, as Christians, to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others as well. Forgiveness is a difficult thing to do, but is very important in our lives as Christians. Lack of forgiveness means carrying a great burden and is a disaster to a Christian. It robs us of our joy and peace. It breeds hatred, division, and violence in our society. Therefore, we need to forgive in order to receive forgiveness as well. We need to forgive in order to experience peace and joy in our society. Therefore, let us repent of our sins and forgive those who have wronged us. Let us emulate Zacchaeus who made effort to see Jesus and after encountering the mercy and love of Jesus, he repented and repaired the damages he had caused himself and his victims of corruption.
Lastly, as we prepare to vote, please pray and ask God to guide you to vote those who will promote peace and love but not those who will promote evil in our society. We may not have perfect candidates but, at least, vote for those who will promote better life and lesser evils in our society.

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
OUR GOD IS MERCIFUL, COMPASSIONATE AND LOVING

God Does Not Love Sin But … by Fr. Joel

GOD DOES NOT LOVE SIN BUT LOVES THE SINNER AWAYman praying

In today’s readings we see God demonstrating his love for his people in spite of their unfaithfulness. For instance, in the first reading he assured the people of Israel of his love and protection. And in the gospel we see a much more dramatic demonstration of unconditional forgiveness and love through the father to the son who had offended him.

The son collected his own share of inheritance, wealth and left to a distance land and squandered everything in the life sin. When he had finished everything that he had, he became so hungry that he went to work in a swine (pig) farm and wanted to feed himself from the swine’s food. What a disgrace, that the son of a very wealthy father descending so low to the point of wanting to eat with animals. He who exalts himself will be humbled while he who humbles himself will be exalted says Jesus. And of all animals it was swine’s food he wanted to eat. Remember that swine is one of those animal God forbid his people to eat in the Old Testament.

That is what happens if you throw away your dignity and waste your resources in the life of sin. Most times when you did not work hard for and you achieve something on a platter of gold, you tend to be careless and wasteful. That is the situation of this prodigal son.

This son took advantage of his father’s generosity, had no foresight, he was after worldly pleasure and happiness, he was not responsible, and did not want to carry his cross. He just wanted to enjoy life but he ended up suffering instead. That is why Christ said that anyone who wants to enjoy this worldly life to the detriment his soul will lose it, but anyone who suffers and loses his this earthly life for his sake will gain eternal reward.

After suffering and wasting his wealth and life, he came back to his senses and thought of how his father’s servants have more than enough to eat while he is dying of hunger. That is what happens when we are suffering we remember all the good things and opportunities that we have wasted. The good thing is that he admitted his fault, judge, and even condemned himself by saying that he had sinned against God and his father and no longer worthy of being his father’s son. And he wished his father could accept him as one his servants.

He was bold enough and decided to return to the father and apologize to him and with the hope of being accepted as one of the servants. But to his amazement, while he was still far away, his father caught sight of him coming and he ran to him in order to welcome him back home. And his father decided to celebrate his return home in a very special way that made the first son angry. Instead of him being punished for his wrong deed he was celebrated for coming back home. What a kind and merciful father! He was given new clothes (sign of renewal and new beginning in their relationship), shoes (sign of being a legitimate son and not a slave as he wanted), and a ring (sign and seal of their covenant relationship as father and son). And on top of that the calf they have been fattening for years was slaughtered for the celebration. All these was to demonstrate the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness to his son that was lost but is now found, who died and is now back to life.

That is how God is to us, he loves us in spite of our unfaithfulness and is ready to forgive and celebrate our repentance from our sins without any condition attach. When we repent of our sins, we are made clean and new creation by God himself. We regain our lost glory and dignity. Therefore, do not be afraid of coming back to God and his church because he is full of mercy and compassion. Just as the prodigal son was celebrated for returning home that is how the angels, saints, and God in heaven celebrate our repentance.

Many of us are like the prodigal son. We have gone far away from God because of our sins. We have squandered our blessings and destroyed our dignity as children of God. In our effort to seek worldly pleasure and happiness we have brought upon ourselves misery, depression, loneliness, addictions of all kinds, lack of love and peace, and all kinds of evil into our lives. We need to learn from the prodigal son and come back to the father to receive forgiveness and love. We need to reconcile with our families, friends, neighbors, church, and God.

This year and the period of lent are moments in which we are called to come back to Lord and receive his forgiveness and love. Please take advantage of these beautiful opportunities. And as you receive unconditional forgiveness from the Lord, please endeavor to forgive those who wrong us as well. Our forgiveness will not be completed if we do not forgive others who have offended us. Remember what we say always in the prayer Jesus taught us “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’’ Please do not be like the elder son who was angry that the younger son was forgiven and celebrated for coming back home. We must be like the father who forgives without any condition attached.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C

 

Marriage as a Divine Institution by Fr. Joel

Wedding ringsToday we celebrate marriage and family as instituted by God himself. It is a holy union between a man and woman who are open to accepting and nurturing children. That is the plan of God for marriage and family. The family is the smallest but most important unit in society. It is the foundation and pillar of society. Therefore, it has to be cherished and protected by all means for the good of humanity and society.

In the first reading of today, God said, ‘’it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a suitable partner for him.’’ And of all that God created, none proved to be the suitable partner for man. So, God made man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, God took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. God then used this rib to create a woman and brought her to the man, and the man said, ‘’this one, at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ’woman’ for out of man this one has been taken.’’ This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.

In the gospel, the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. And Jesus referred them to the laws of Moses which permitted them to do so because of their stubbornness of heart. But, that right from the beginning of creation God made one man and one woman so that they can be joined together and become one flesh and no longer two. And that what God has joined together, no human being must separate. That is no divorce. And that whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery. These are the words of Jesus from the Bible directly. The church only teaches and enforces this teaching about marriage and she has no right or power to change it. Even though some people argue that the bible was written by human beings. That is true. Human beings wrote it but it is not human words, God gave them and they wrote it down. We know the story of how Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. They were not his commandments. He was simply a messenger of God.

So when people are questioning these laws, they are questioning God’s authority. The fundamental understanding of marriage is being questioned by modern society. Some people feel that the church should change these laws and allow them do what they want. For example to redefine marriage is to question God’s authority and plan on marriage and the family. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and he does not change. He is our creator and master of all things and civilizations. We are to conform to his teaching and not him to conform to our wishes or ways. For us to be truly happy as human beings, we need to obey his laws.

Marriage is a divine institution created by God for the good of human beings and society. It is the union of love and life-giving- love that brings forth life to the world. That is, in marriage, you are participating in God’s divine plan and creation of the world. Anything other than that is not marriage according to God’s plan and design for the world. Marriage is a life of sharing as in a community. It entails sacrifice and self-giving, collaboration, humility, sacrifice, suffering and service to each other. And so if you are selfish, greedy, unforgiving, and afraid of sacrifice and suffering, you are not a good partner in marriage. Many people are not happy in marriage and want to divorce because they are not willing to share and sacrifice. Both of you must work hard and contribute to make your marriage work and make your home a happy, peaceful and loving place for you and your children.

Jesus had high regard for marriage that is why he compared it with his relationship with the church. He is the head while the church is the body, and separating the two is disaster and death. Moreover, he had high regard for children who were considered like property in the Jewish culture. Jesus proposes them as our instructors to receive God’s kingdom. If you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must accept little children and be like them. Marriage is the place where children are born and nurtured. And it is the primary responsibility of parent to take good care of them. If you are not willing to accept children from God in your marriage, you are not following God’s will.

Please endeavor to do all it takes to maintain and sustain your marriage and family. Listen to God’s plan and will for marriage and the family and not some selfish human thinking. Listen to the truth that will make you happy and set you free now and on the last day. Choose today, either to marry and have a family according to God’s plan and will or according to you selfish desire. The choice is yours.

 TWENTY SEVENTH SUNDAY OF YEAR B, 2015

God’s Love is Infinite by Fr. Joel

Abraham Lincoln was asked during the civil war, ‘’if the war is over, and when the south has been subdued and conquered,infine love and has come back into the union, how are you going to treat these rebellious southerners, what are you going to do to them?’’ And he answered: ‘’ I am going to treat them as if they had never been away.’’ That is exactly the attitude of our God when we repent of our sins; he treats us as if we have never committed any sins.

Today is the fourth Sunday of lent and it is called ‘’Laetare Sunday’’ a Latin word which means ‘’Rejoice’’. Hence the antiphon of today says, ‘’Rejoice, Jerusalem; be glad for her all you who love her….’’ On Laetare Sunday the Lenten discipline is relaxed. The organ and other instruments may be used, and there may be flowers on the altar; the priest may wear rose colored vestments. On a day like this, the Pope will bless a golden rose. He will explain the meaning: The rose is beautiful, but it has thorns. The beauty of redemption will not come without the thorns and pain of the cross.

So, we are rejoicing because of God’s infinite love and mercy to us. In spite of our sins, he loves us and forgives us. ‘’For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.’’ (Jn 3:16). Today we rejoice because our catechumens are getting closer to their baptism and full communion in the church. We rejoice because God never seems to learn his lesson, despite our stubbornness and sins, he keeps loving us, forgiving our sins, and will never give up on us. He never learned his lesson in creation: He created everything good and gave to our first parents, and they paid him with disobedience. He did not learn his lesson when he delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and did many great things for them, and they pay him back with rebellion. Even today, we who are the new Israel, we are rebellious and sinful, yet he loves us and grants us forgiveness. We have abandon God for the sake of secularism and civilization and we are turning things upside down. As a result, we are committing all kinds of atrocities such as abortion, same sex marriage, divorce, euthanasia, violence, suicide, murder, and all kinds of injustices and hatred to one another.  Yet God’s love is boundless and he is ready to forgive us.  Indeed, his mercy and love is infinite. So we have every reason to rejoice today. Do not just be happy but repent and receive his love and mercy.

The first reading is woeful and the gospel is up lifting. The first reading shows the anger and punishment of God while the gospel shows his love and mercy. We are people of the gospel, people of the New Testament and our God is merciful. Therefore, we must be happy, grateful to him, and take advantage of this opportunity and repent of our sins and receive his forgiveness. His forgiveness is freely given-you do not have to earn it. God loves and forgives us- Do you forgive others? God’s love is infinite- do you have limit to your love for others? Love begets love-do you receive love and not give others love?

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B