Epiphany of Our Lord – January 5, 2014

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/chelmsfordblue
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/chelmsfordblue

Gospel Mt 2:1-12

The Magi are champions of
faith and perseverance in a good
enterprise. They are our models
in following the star of God’s
inspiration and the guidance
contained in His Word.

When Jesus was born in
Bethlehem of Judea, in the
days of King Herod, behold,
magi from the east arrived in
Jerusalem, saying, “Where is
the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising and
have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard
this, he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief
priests and the scribes of the
people, he inquired of them
where the Christ was to be
born. They said to him, “In
Bethlehem of Judea, for thus
it has been written through
the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem,
land of Judah, are by
no means least among the rulers
of Judah, since from you
shall come a ruler, who is to
shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod called the
Magi secretly and ascertained
from them the time of the star’s
appearance. He sent them to
Bethlehem and said, “Go and
search diligently for the child.
When you have found him,
bring me word, that I too may
go and do him homage.”
After their audience with
the king, the Magi set out.
And behold, the star that they
had seen at its rising preceded
them, until it came and stopped
over the place where the child
was. The Magi were overjoyed
at seeing the star, and on entering
the house, they saw the
child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves
and did him homage. Then
they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold,
frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned
in a dream not to return to
Herod, they departed for their
country by another way.

 Source: wordandlife.org

The Epiphany of our Lord is most often associated with the search of The Three Magi or more popularly known to some as The Three Kings or the Three Wise Men for the child who has been prophesied to be the King of the Jews. These men were learned in science, specifically astrology while being of priestly descent from the East. They were asked by King Herod to look for the child in the guise of giving homage to him while in fact intending to kill him because of the prophesy.

The Three Magi were able to find the child Jesus through the guidance of a star after traveling for months. They paid homage to the child Jesus by presenting him with gifts: gold as king, incense as God, and myrrh as man. They did not come back to King Herod and instead traveled a different path.

This event is said to refer to the denial of Jesus by the Jews and the acknowledgment of Jesus by non-Jews or what was termed then as foreigners. The acceptance is in relation to Jesus being the Savior of mankind. The Three Magi’s decision to travel another path symbolizes the need to change for the better to attain salvation.

Mary, Mother of God- January 1, 2014

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/tomsaint
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/tomsaint

Gospel Lk 2:16-21

The Gospel passage includes
two events of the “Infancy
Narrative”: The episode featuring
Mary and the shepherds, and
that of Jesus’ circumcision, the
rite through which he officially
became a member of the Chosen
People.

The shepherds went in
haste to Bethlehem and found
Mary and Joseph, and the
infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made
known the message that had
been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by
the shepherds. And Mary kept
all these things, reflecting on
them in her heart. Then the
shepherds returned, glorifying
and praising God for all they
had heard and seen, just as it
had been told to them.
When eight days were
completed for his circumcision,
the baby was named Jesus, the
name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the
womb .

Source: wordandlife.org

Mary, Mother of God was just like any other young woman in externals during her time. She led a fairly ordinary life, performing household chores like any other young girl. There was nothing that indicated the great role she was to play. Young as she was however, she exhibited extraordinary dedication to prayer and in leading a life of purity and holiness.

There was something about Mary that endeared her not only to people around her. She was also pleasing to God’s eyes because she remained devoid of sin,so pleased in fact that she was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. There is no higher honor given to a human being.

These verses underscore the immense faith of Mary in accepting her role. The circumcision of Jesus after 8 days shows the Holy Family’s faithfulness to obeying the law. Undergoing the ritual is seen as a proof of Jesus’ oneness with the land of Israel.

 

My New Year Prayer

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/jenniferschwalm
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/jenniferschwalm

 

Thank you Lord for the year that just passed

Even with situations and people who seemed crass

Thank you for seeing me and my loved ones through

I won’t forget the days you had to carry us too.

Thank you for this day that marks a new year,

For the love and hope that overflows,

And now I know that in my deepest fear,

Your unending and unfailing love will show.

You lay my doubts to rest

And assure me that everything will be for the best

If ever I don’t hear you  the first time

Please show me the way one more time.

I offer myself to be a witness for you

A God that is all-knowing and forgiving too

Help me not to fail you

As I try to guide my family towards you.

Please be patient with me when I complain

Sometimes I have to try harder to go beyond the pain

I will not give up on myself if you won’t

Under your care despair is simply a don’t

In my moments of human weakness

Have mercy on me and bring me back to peace.

Grant me a life that is filled with you

And a death which will have its meaning in you.

My New Year Prayer is simple. I thank the Lord for the year 2013 even with its accompanying trials and problems. I am also very thankful for the new beginnings brought by the new year 2014. I submit all my worries and anxieties to God acknowledging that He knows what’s best for me. I ask his understanding when I fail along the way and pray that He bring me back to safety. Most of all, I pray of a life characterized by true faith in Him and a quiet and peaceful death when my mission is done.

 

 

 

Simbang Gabi Wishes and Prayers

An invitation for an interview with News to Go in Channel 11 with regards to a special segment about Simbang Gabi brought me face to face with my present thoughts about it. What started as a wish has now become a prayer. When before I wished for an easy life, now I prayed for the strength to face life, whether it be easy or difficult.

news to go simbang gabi

A Fulfilled Wish

Many people associate the completion of the Simbang Gabi or Midnight Mass  to the granting of a wish. Just like my sister-in-law Levy who incorporated her and her husband’s desire to have a child with their attending and completing the Nine-Day Novena Masses, one cannot help but associate their son’s birth soon after as the fulfillment of that wish. Although the Catholic Church is quick to point out that there is no magic involved in the practice, this hasn’t prevented the faithful from lifting their innermost desires, dreams, and hopes to God.

An Answered Prayer

During my younger days, I did the same. I wished for material things and many others which I thought were the key to my happiness. For several years, I tried to complete the novena but never did until two years ago. During a very difficult time in my life, I found myself asking for a lifeline in what I saw then was the end of the line for me. My family and I attended the novena with nothing but a prayer to see us through. We did pull through, not without more challenges but this time countered by the growing strength of  faith.

Wish or Prayer

This year, I expect to again complete the Nine-Day Novena. I have human wishes inside my heart which only God will ever know. I say my prayers, trying to do it in action as well. Faced with the question from the reporter of the above interview of whether I got my wish after completing the Simbang Gabi, it took me only an instant to answer that I did. I only had to look back to realize that the miracle or magic happened inside me.

Our Simbang Gabi wishes and prayers including the practices attached to it are the things that still hold Christmas and spirituality together. Nothing assures us more of the presence of God than a sincere wish and prayer that has been granted. For the Catholic faithful however, answers will come in the way God deems best for us.

How Do Catholics Celebrate Christmas?

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/jcapaldi
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/jcapaldi

For Catholics all over the world, Christmas is first and foremost a religious celebration and commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the reason why the Nativity scene is commonly seen in churches and homes of Catholics. The Catholic observance of Christmas starts with Advent. Advent is the period of preparation that begins four Sundays before Christmas Day.

Advent is sometimes compared to Lent since it is a period where the faithful are expected to fast, increase prayers, and do more good works. The actual Christmas celebration starts on Christmas Day itself and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany. Many Catholics prefer not to put up their Christmas trees before Christmas Day itself since the actual reason for the feast has not yet arrived.The period of Advent therefore is intended to prepare Catholics spiritually for Christmas, where the idea of “fasting before feasting” has been derived.

There are certain variations in the practices of Catholics in different countries. This has more to do with cultural influences rather than any serious deviation from the instituted doctrines of the Church in relation to the  Christmas celebration. Some of the more popular are:

1. Midnight Masses for the Nine-Day Novena before Christmas

Catholics are encouraged to attend anticipated masses in the evening or the usual dawn masses as a means of emphasizing the spiritual side of Christmas.

2. Advent Wreath Ceremony

Every week during the Advent season, one candle is lit until all the four (3 purple and 1 pink) are lighted. Lighting of a white candle at the middle of the wreath on Christmas Day itself is practiced in some places.

3. The Empty Manger

Families are encouraged to put their own empty manger depicting the Nativity scene at home. The idea is to fill it with straw before placing the image of the infant Jesus on Christmas Day. Any member of the family can “earn” straws by doing good deeds with the idea that Jesus is more comfortable with more straw and thus more good deeds.

4. The Tree of Jesse

This is a depiction of Christ’s genealogy or ancestry.

5. St. Nicholas Day

Catholics in some countries observe St. Nicholas Day on December 6 who many believe is the “model” of Santa Claus.

Catholics celebrate Christmas with joy and jubilation and are often reminded to retain its spiritual meaning amidst the highly commercialized Christmas shopping and practices.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day

There appears to be some confusion with regards to the observance dates of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Aside from one coming after the other, the timing of the western Halloween  at the last day of October gave rise to the common presumption that what comes the day after is the feast for the remembrance of the dead. In Catholic countries, All Saints’ Day which is a day that commemorates saints or those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven is observed every Novembers 1st while All Souls’ Day which commemorates all the faithful departed whose souls need to be cleansed from sins is observed every November 2nd.

Image Source: wikipedia.org
Image Source: wikipedia.org

All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day is also known as All Hallows or the Solemnity of All Saints. The saints said to have attained beatific vision in heaven refers to humans who were able to achieve perfect salvation and direct communication with God to their individual self. It is compared to the souls seeing God without any form of impediment.

The Catholic observance of this feast is traced back to the time Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs, sometime in May 13, 609. The observance of the feast as we know it today however is said to have started when Pope Gregory III founded the oratory in St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the relics of the holy apostles, saints, martyrs, and confessors. It was about this time that the observance was transferred from May 13 to November 1. This date which coincided with the Celtic holiday Samhain probably led to the confusion as it is a pagan event that is believed to have started the Halloween tradition.

Image Source: wikipedia.org
Image Source: wikipedia.org

All Souls’ Day

The Catholic Church observes All Souls’ Day or The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed the day after All Saints’ Day. Also known as the Feast of all Souls or more simply the Day of the Dead, it is being observed based on the Roman Catholic doctrine that the souls of the dead who have not been cleansed of sin at the time of death have to be helped by prayers and the sacrifice of the Mass. People from places that observe this tradition would flock to cemeteries to bring candles and flowers to departed loved ones.

Souls who are believed to be in purgatory are the ones expected to benefit from this practice.

Encouraging Catholics to Practice the Faith

Catholic-church-007

Many people commit the mistake of thinking that they can convince Catholics or people from other religion for that matter to actively practice the faith through threats, scare tactics, or bribing with the promise of a specific benefit. Since everyone is being enjoined to be part of active evangelization to help bring back people to active practice beyond rituals and ceremonies, there is a need to discover the effective means that could help accomplish the goal. It is believed that the way lies in witnessing for Christ and in leading a life that is worthy of emulation by others.

Everyone who speaks in the name of Christ ultimately finds himself or herself being under the scrutiny of people he or she is reaching out to. The power of convincing will not depend on eloquence but rather on the manifestation of the presence of Christ in the lives of those who speak. This is the very reason why it can be difficult to witness for Christ. People will pass on judgment based on what they see.

If they see someone who deals with others with respect, empathy, and justice, the connection of such attitude with the service to Christ is easily appreciated. If they see someone who is able to accept difficulties while lifting them up to God, they will see the difference. If they see someone who is able to forgive those who wronged him or her, then they will see how the true grace of God works.

Passive Catholics are called upon to wake up and rise to the occasion of practicing the faith and then evangelizing. We can no longer afford not to be involved especially because of the many challenges being faced by the Church today. It is part of our responsibility to spread the good news of salvation, mercy, and love. Through example, we hope to help in encouraging Catholics to choose to practice the faith with more conviction and humility.

 

When God Does Not Seem to Hear Our Prayers

One_Last_Desperate_Prayer

 

Image Source

Desperate times need desperate prayers, right? Not necessarily. For even in the midst of desperation, God offers hope and solutions.

In this life, it is always possible that we will come across situations that will not only challenge us but push us to the brink of despair. They can break us but only if we let them. They can make us stronger if we allow God to work in his mysterious ways through our prayers.

But what if God does not seem to hear our prayers no matter how loud we say it, how frequent we recite it, and how desperate we present it? Do we give up on God? Do we threaten Him? Do we bargain with Him?

A person who has nothing and no one will always have God. That is a promise He has given and intends to keep. We just need to be patient and pray more for strength while waiting.

God does not want us to suffer but He wants us to learn. He wants us to discover the way to Him as we accept our own little crosses in life. We need to carry them just like how Jesus did with His own.

When you find yourself almost giving up on prayers, stop a while and breathe long and hard then resume. Pray harder, pray more, and pray with more humility. God holds in His hands the power to change things affecting us. Let us rely on His better judgment for our lives.

Hold on a while longer for the change may just be waiting around the corner. Let us not give up before His answer comes. It will be such a waste not to experience His beautiful plans for our lives merely because we gave up too soon.

Before giving up on prayer, pray one more time. Prayer always works.

 

How to Make a Good Confession

confession

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The Sacrament of Confession is one of the sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church. Also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance, it provides an opportunity for the faithful to reconcile with God. The need to reconcile becomes necessary when a person is in a state of sin and is therefore deprived of God’s grace. A penitent or a person who confesses his or her sins to a priest can gain forgiveness of sins through the absolution.

There are three basic requirements in making a good confession. A penitent has to be truly sorry for sins committed. He or she must also  fully confess the nature and frequency of sin. Lastly, he or she must be willing to do penance or make amends for the sins.

Preparing for confession is as important as the act of confession itself. It starts with the thorough examination of one’s conscience in relation to the commandments of God. There is no limit to the number of times a person can go to confession and frequency in performing it is even encouraged by the Church to ensure the continued state of grace.

CONFESSION:

Penitent: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was ______________.

These are the sins I committed since my last confession. (Confess your sins with openness and sincerity. You need not mention all your sins. Focus must be given to big or serious sins, and on the resolutions made. You can ask the priest if you have any doubts or questions.)

For these and all the other sins I may have forgotten, I ask the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. (Listen to the words of the priest , and make the sign of the cross while he recites the prayer of absolution.)

Priest: God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, (+) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

(The priest may ask you to recite the Act of Contrition before the absolution. Otherwise you may recite it by yourself after your confession.)

Priest: The Lord has freed you from sin. Go and proclaim to the world the wonderful works of God.

Act of Contrition

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because I fear the loss of heaven and pains of hell. But most of all because I offended you my God, who are all good and worthy of my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

Prayers After Confession

(Spend some time in prayer. If you have not done so, recite the Act of Contrition. Thank God for the gift of forgiveness, and decide on one or two resolutions for the coming month.)

Thanksgiving After Confession

Dear Jesus, you have washed away all my sins and made me your friend once again. I thank you for showering me with your goodness and love. You know that I am not very strong especially in moments of temptation. I place all my trust in you, and ask that you heal me and renew me completely.

Oh Mary Immaculate and full of grace, be always at my side and intercede for me , Amen.

The Papacy and Sainthood Connection

Pope Peter
Pope Peter

A closer look at the List of Popes in the Catholic Church will reveal that a lot of them have been declared saints in different times. A renewed interest in the connection between papacy and sainthood has surfaced with the recent announcement that Pope Francis has given  his approval for two past popes to be declared saints within the year. These two are Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

The approval came with the acceptance of the second miracle to be attributed to Pope John Paul II and the waiver of the traditionally required second miracle for Pope John XXIII. It is to be noted that the declaration of sainthood requires two miracles to be attributed to the candidate. One is required for beatification and the second one to confirm sainthood.

Known as the “globe trotting pope” and the “good pope” respectively, these two personalities have won the admiration of the public and the Vatican as well for their accomplishments while holding the papal position. Pope John Paul II has reached out to all almost all countries regardless of religious ideologies. Pope John XXIII was credited for enacting sweeping reforms towards the modernization of the Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council.

It is worth mentioning that the first acknowledged pope of the Catholic Church, Simon Peter the Apostle of Jesus is also a declared saint. The same is true with a good number of popes included in the list. This fact seems to support the observation that the papacy tend to prepare human beings for sainthood.

Seventy eight of a total of two hundred sixty five popes have been declared saints. A large chunk of this number belong to the early popes as the number sharply decreased during the reform movements. The work assigned to the pope is so far-reaching and life-changing for the Catholic constituents that when taken seriously will certainly lead to the road to sainthood. However, there is nothing automatic about the papacy and sainthood connection.

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