Wednesday, October 22, 2014


You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mt 22:34-40

Click to go to << 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 2008 >>

What is the greatest commandment? That question seems strange. But it becomes understandable when we realize that that there were at least 613 rules that were developed to implement the Law of Moses. It’s like today’s legal system. When the legislature makes a bill and the President signs it into law, there is the still need of making what is called IRR or implementing rules and regulations. Now some rabbis taught that all of them were of equal importance while others say that some were more important than the others. The question put to Jesus (what is the greatest commandment) was meant to ask Jesus to which side he belongs: to those who say all are of equal importance or to those who say some are more important than the others?

Jesus replied that the greatest commandment was the Law of love: to love God AND to love one’s neighbor. Both have to be obeyed. Moreover, he said that it is from this Law of love that all the other rules flow. In other words, all the other rules were just ways of practicing the Law of love in daily life.

PHARISEES. The Pharisees were the ones who posed this question to Jesus. The name “Pharisee” means “separated”. They were separated from others by their strict observance of the Law of God. It was a way of expressing their fidelity to God. They were held in high esteem by the people because they were hard working and yet found the time to study and meditate on God’s Law. But if there was one great defect of the Pharisees, it was not hypocrisy but their great reliance on what they do for God than on God himself. In other words, they were BSS (mga bilib sa sarili). Perhaps, we can imitate the work ethic of the Pharisees. We can call it “sipag at tiyaga”.

NEIGHBOR. In Old Testament times, neighbor was understood as the one who belongs to my family, or my clan, or my people. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us to widen our understanding of neighbor. Anyone who needs my help, even if he were an enemy, is my neighbor. And as a Christian, it is my duty to be a neighbor to him. I have to help him.
We have heard the expression, “charity begins at home”. There is nothing wrong with that. But charity should not end at home. It must expand outside the home. For example, an alumnus treated to coffee at Starbucks in Sydney. At the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to read this sign: “We have already forwarded your donations for the victims of Haiyan.” Haiyan was the international name for typhoon, “Yolanda”. Australia is so far from the Philippines, yet these Australians behaved like our neighbors.

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. When Jesus said: “"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, what he meant was that loving one’s neighbor is as important as loving God.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” has an important implication. We can rephrase it this way: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That means that loving oneself is alright. What is wrong is to love only oneself. Charity begins at home is alright. What is wrong is for charity to begin and end at home.

Another important point. Jesus did not say that our love for our neighbor and our love for ourselves should be equal. What he said was that we should love them in the same way that we love ourselves. You do good to yourself; you should also do good to others. You don’t want bad things to happen to yourself; you also do not wish bad things to happen to others.

Maybe I should add a small note. The Tagalog translation of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is “Ibigin mo ang iyong kapwa gaya ng pag-ibig mo sa iyong sarili.” Neighbor is not kapit-bahay but kapwa tao. Nevertheless, let us remember that when we said that charity begins at home but should not end there, the nearest people to receive our charity outside our home is--our kapit-bahay! Remember further the question posed by Jesus at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” We can re-phrase it this way: “Which of these three behaved like a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Applying this teaching of Jesus to what he said about loving your neighbor as yourself, it will come out like this: “Love your kapit-bahay as yourself by behaving like a good kapit-bahay to them.”

The Cross is the symbol of Christianity. The first reason is that Jesus redeemed us by dying on the cross. But maybe we add a second reason. The vertical bar represents love of God. The horizontal bar represents love of neighbor. The cross cannot be a cross if the vertical bar and horizontal bar are separated. They have to be together. The second reason why the cross is a symbol of Christianity is because Jesus gave us the law of love: love God AND love your neighbor. That is the way Christians love.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
Mt 22:14-21

To understand the context of today’s gospel we need to look into the taxation system in Palestine in the time of Jesus. It is said that half of the family income went to taxes. Some of the taxes people paid were the following:

1.      Men and women, from 12 years old to 65 years old were taxed 20% of their income.
2.      Commercial transaction was 1%. It was 2% when slaves were bought and sold.
3.      There was a salt tax. Salt used by fishermen to salt fish was taxed.
4.      Professional tax. A shoemaker had to pay 1 denarius a month. 1 denarius was the average daily wage.
5.      There was a road tax. You had to pay a tax to move merchandise from one place to another.
6.      Anyone could be forced to render service to the State for 5 years without pay.
7.      Subsidy to the armed forces. People were obliged to offer hospitality to soldiers. They had to pay a certain amount for the support of the troops.

8.      There was also religious taxes.
a.      The shekalim was used for the maintenance of the Temple.
b.      The tithe (1/10) was for the support of the priests serving at the Temple.
c.       First fruits was a tax to pay for the worship at the Temple.

It is, therefore, easy to see why the question of the Pharisees and the Herodians was a trap. Jesus would lose the support of the people if he were to declare that it was the duty of the Jews to pay taxes to the Romans. Of course, he would get into trouble with the Romans if he were to declare openly that taxes should not be paid to the government. He would be considered a leader of a rebellion.

There is something strange also about the alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees were nationalists and anti-Roman. The Herodians were Roman collaborators. It is strange that they would join forces. Perhaps, it is a case of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, that is, they look at Jesus as a common enemy and therefore, their working together was something of a marriage of convenience. To the Pharisees, Jesus by his teachings was a threat to the Jewish religion. To the Herodians, Jesus was a potential leader against the Romans. Remember that in the multiplication of the bread, the people wanted to make him king.

What was the meaning of Jesus’ response: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”? They paid to Caesar what belonged to Caesar by using the coins that the Roman government issued. But they have not paid to God what belongs to God because of their hypocrisy. They have not practiced honesty and justice as demanded by the Law of God.

Giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God is called justice. Justice is a virtue, a good habit, which makes us give to everyone, God and man, what they have a right to. And because virtue is a habit, it means that someone, who possesses this virtue, constantly gives to everyone what they have a right to, constantly and not once in a while.

How is this virtue practiced in daily life?

Parents work to send their children to school. This is not only a matter of love but a matter of justice. Children take their studies seriously. This is not only a matter of gratitude, but a matter of justice.

Government officials do not overprice the purchase of medicine. This is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of justice.

Government contractors do not build substandard roads. This is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of justice.

When vendors in the market sell you 3 kilos of meat, you really receive 3 kilos of meat. It is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of justice.

Employees do not take home coupon bond from the office for the school reports of their children. It is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of justice.

Employers remit the SSS contribution of their employees together with their own. It is not only a matter of honesty and charity. It is a matter of justice.

We go to Mass on Sundays not only because it is the third commandment but because God has a right to our worship.

When we receive blessings from God, we should thank him not only because it is a matter of gratitude but because it is a matter of justice. God has a right to receive thanks from us.

Obedience to God’s commandments is justice. God has a right to receive obedience from his creatures. But as Christians, our obedience to God’s commandments goes one step further. Because God is also our Father in heaven, our obedience to his commandments is above all, an act of love. In other words, for us Christians the practice of justice is the basic step. Justice must always be followed. But it does not stop there; it must be made perfect by love.

We do not have the right to be forgiven by God after so many sins he has forgiven. But he forgives us all the same. Because he loves us.

A daughter, who had been a black sheep of the family, went one step further. She got pregnant while in college. She was already 5 years in college and she had been either shifting courses or transferring from one college to another. Her mother suffered in silence. Hindi siya sinumbatan. Was it because of justice on the part of her mother? Certainly not! It was because of a mother’s love.

Today’s teaching: christians practice justice that is perfected by love.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey
Mt 21:33-43

Click to go to << 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A (2011) >>

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
Mt 21:28-32

The parable is about a father and his two sons. He went to the first and told him to go and work in the vineyard. He refused to, but then changed his mind and went. The father, therefore, went to his other son who said he would go and work, but did not.

Take note that Jesus addressed the parable to chief priests and elders of the people. The parable, therefore, is about them. What was Jesus telling them through the parable?

They are like the second son who accepted the Law of Moses but rejected Jesus and his message. The first son is the sinners who disobeyed God’s Law, but on hearing the preaching of Jesus, repented.

What lesson can we learn from this parable, we who are living about two thousand years later?

The first son disobeyed but repented. We may disobey God’s Law. We may commit sin. But repentance is always possible. Remember St. Peter. He denied Jesus not only once but three times. But after the Resurrection, Jesus gave him the opportunity to repent by asking him three times: “Do you love me?” The thief, Hestas, was sinner. But at the end of his life, he repented. And Jesus accepted his repentance. It was only to him that Jesus ever said: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The second son was about to obey but disobeyed in the end. Even if we have been trying to be good and perhaps, have been successful, we should not be too sure about ourselves. We might find ourselves giving in to temptation later.

Let us go deeper and examine the issue of “sin” which is to say “no” to God, like the first son who said “no” to his father. Sin is also committed when we disobey God’s commandments, like the second son who after saying “yes” to his father’s command, disobeyed by not working in the vineyard.

Question 1: Do we commit sin because we disobey a commandment?

Answer: No. We commit sin when we do something bad.

Consider this. A doctor was commanded by the hospital director to perform an abortion. He refuses. Did he commit sin by disobeying the command of the director? Of course, not.

But take note. God commands us to avoid certain things precisely because those things are bad. For example, to steal is sinful because taking what belongs to someone else is bad. That is why he commands us: do not steal.

Question 2: Someone says: “I will lead a sinful life. But before I die, I will repent so that I will go to heaven.” Will he be forgiven?

Answer: Probably not. Why? Because someone who says that is not sincerely sorry. Now how can you be forgiven if you are not really sorry?

Question 3: There are some bad people who seem to escape punishment. Isn’t that unfair?

Answer: God rewards the good and punishes the wicked. If someone does not get punished here on earth, then he will surely receive punishment in the next life. Remember that God sees everything. There is no secret that can be kept from God. And no one can bribe God.

Question 4: Suppose you know someone who seems to be far from God. Is there hope that he will be converted?

Answer: Yes. St. Monica prayed for the conversion of her son. He did not change. But St. Monica persevered in prayer. Not only did her son become good, but he also become a Christian, then a priest, then a bishop and then a Saint, St. Augustine.

One Salesian shared this story. His father was far from God. When he entered the seminary, he prayed to God for the conversion of his father. He continued to pray for him until he became a priest. One day his father was hospitalized. In the ICU he asked his wife to call for a priest. He died at peace with God.

So, is there hope for someone who has been living far from God to be converted? Yes, there is. But we might have to pray for years to obtain his conversion.

To summarize:

1. We commit sin when we do something bad. 
2. If someone says that he will live a life of sin and then repent before he dies, he will probably be not forgiven because he is not sincere.
3.   Someone who escapes punishment in this life for his sins will not escape it in the next life.
4.    There is always hope that bad person will change and be converted. Our prayers will help. But sometimes we may have to pray very long for that conversion to happen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?
Mt 20:1-16

Click to go to << 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 2011 >>

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.
Mt 18:21-35

Click to go to << 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 2011 >>



The incessant drizzle outside the Ming Yang Correctional High School makes the reception room even more cold and empty. Lin Meiyun sits and waits at one end of a long table. 

The silence in the room of the juvenile detention centre in Taiwan is amplified by the sound of her heartbeat. Lin tells herself, “Calm down. No matter what happens, don’t get angry.” At last, the door opens. A teenage boy, escorted by a counsellor, appears. His name is Yang. The scrawny little boy she saw years ago has grown into a tall, young man. The honest and bashful look on his face reminds her of her only son, Teng De.

Looking at the boy in front of her, tears well up in Lin’s eyes. This is the person who had killed her son three years ago, stabbing him in the chest with a knife. No words are exchanged as they stare at each other in silence, their emotions frozen in the frigid air.

Breaking the silence, Yang stammers, “Mrs You,” referring to Lin’s married name. With tears streaming down his face, he continues, “Can I hug you?”

Lin nods. Yang hugs her tightly as pent up emotions give way to uncontrollable sobbing. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I am sorry,” Yang says over and over again. His words unlock the chains of hatred and misery that have bound Lin’s heart for so long. At that very moment, her shackled soul is set free.
It was difficult for Lin to give up her need for revenge. She wanted Yang and his family dead. She even started stalking his parents. That was when she saw Yang’s mother selling magnolias amidst the bustling traffic. His father, whose hand had been amputated in a car accident, was using his good arm to sell flowers, receive money and return change. In that moment, Lin felt empathy – Yang’s parents were as poor as she was. She remembered similar hardships when her husband had been bedridden for a long period of time. Back then, Lin held down two jobs washing dishes and cars to make a living. She also grew vegetables to sustain the family.

Yang’s parents were victims of circumstance, just like her. They were reduced to selling flowers by the road to pay the court-ordered compensation. Looking at them from across the street, Lin’s anger diminished.

“Even if I were to kill [Yang], it wouldn’t bring back my son. And my hatred would cause another family to suffer.” Lin thought to herself, “If my son were the one who committed the mistake, wouldn’t I also hope for forgiveness?”

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


“If your brother sins [against you]...."

This Sunday’s Gospel may be divided into two parts: (a) Steps to be taken when you are offended by a member of the Christian community; and (b) the power of the prayer of the Christian community. The first part begins with the words: ““If your brother sins against you….” The second part begins with the words: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray….”

To be a Christian is something between God and me. In other words, to be a Christian believer is a private matter. Agree or disagree? Many people will agree with this statement. That it is a private matter. But the gospel today disagrees. The two teachings of this Sunday assume that to be a Christian means to belong to a community. To be Christian means to belong to a church. In fact, the Greek word for church (“ekklesia”) means an assembly or a gathering. For this reason there is the church or Christian community called a parish, then a diocese, then the church in a country and finally, the universal church.

As I have said, today’s Gospel contains two teachings about life in this community or church. The first teaching is how to deal with broken relationships. When someone offends you or you offend someone, this results in a broken relationship. When someone behaves badly, especially when it gives the community a bad name, this results in a broken relationship between the individual and the community.

So what do you do? Jesus counsels a low-key approach. Go to the erring brother or sister and tell him or her his or her fault. For example, “When you gave away the chocolate I gave you, I felt offended.” You state specifically the offending behavior and then how it has affected you. Another example. “When your father saw you low grades, he felt that you did not appreciate the sacrifices he has made by working outside the country.” These are called a “you messages”.

But sometimes, the first step that we should take is to verify whether something is true or not. For example, “This morning you did not return my greeting. Were you angry with me?” Or “I heard from an office mate that you said that I was flirting with so and so. Is it true?” More often than not, “chismis” is nothing else but a made up story.

If the offending person refuses to accept his fault, then bring along one or two others in the hope that the offending person will be convinced that the fault you are pointing out to him is not just your opinion, but that it is really a fault.

The third stage is about excommunication, and it is for very serious matters only. It is to bring the fault to the attention of the community. And if the offending member still refuses to accept his fault, the community must treat him like a Gentile or tax collector. That is, treat him like an outcast. A Catholic who is excommunicated may attend Mass but cannot receive Holy Communion, for example. He cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery.

Sometimes the excommunication is formal. Fr. Daniel of Brazilwas excommunicated by his bishop because he refused a direct order from his bishop to apologize for or retract his statement that love was possible between people of the same sex. The priest also said a married person who chose to have an affair, heterosexual or otherwise, would not be unfaithful as long as that person's spouse allowed it.

At other times the excommunication is automatic. For example, everyone involved in an abortion is automatically excommunicated.

Excommunication is meant to make it very clear to the person who is excommunicated that his behavior or his teaching is unacceptable. It is meant to wake up the person (“matauhan”) and thus, be moved to repentance. An American Sister who allowed an abortion was excommunicated but repented and was later reconciled to the Church.

Finally, the gospel for this Sunday ends with these words: “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

I use Facebook not only as a social media but also as a media for evangelization and promotion of Don Bosco. There have been instances when I would be updating my posts that a message would pop up asking for prayers. A few days ago I received this message: “father pa help po pa pray mom ko na makalabas na sya hospital and good health po. Tnx.” I am sure that I was not the only one he asked to pray for his mom. This alumnus of DB Mandaluyong was taking advantage of the power of prayer of many.  At the same time, let us truly say a prayer when requested. It really doesn’t take long. And it doesn’t take many words. In this particular case, I prayed like this: “Please, Lord, do take care of his mom.”

Today’s Gospel gives us two lessons to bring home with us: (1) Regarding relationships: Let us verify whether an offense was really committed. If an offense was committed, let us use “you messages”, that is, let us state the offending behavior and then how it has affected us. Having one or two to back us up may be helpful. And (2) The prayer of many is powerful. And when we are asked for prayers, let us really say a prayer.