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DECEMBER 1999


The Word Today,
December 1, 1999 (Wednesday)

The gospel today is about the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Christ was able to feed four thousand men starting off from seven loaves and a few little fishes (See Mt 15:29-37).

Aside from the obvious miracle, this event also has a lesson for all of us.  If Christ could multiply the loaves and fishes, he could very well have started from nothing at all.  But he preferred to count on the little effort of the apostles – to give what they could, even if it seemed out of proportion to the needs at hand.  In apostolic tasks, we are also constantly witnessing miracles.  There is no proportion between the fruits of grace and the little effort that God's workers put in.  Yet that little effort needs to be made.  God wants to count on our cooperation, disproportionate as it may seem to the task at hand.

The Word Today, December 2, 1999 (Thursday)

During the last rainy season, we were all taken aback by the disastrous caving in of those houses in Antipolo.  It was a typical example of what the gospel today talks about.  If we build our house on loose foundation, it will eventually be washed away by the forces of nature.  We must build on a solid foundation.  The Lord says (See Mt. 7:26) that the foundation we must build on is the word of God that we act upon.

The Christian life cannot be based on mere passing moods or feelings.  It must be based on the word of God -- on faith and doctrine.  But this word of God must be put into practice.  Our life must conform to doctrine.  We must make a constant effort to live up to the demands of our Christian faith.

The Word Today, December 3, 1999 (Friday)

Today we remember St. Francis Xavier, principal patron of the missions.  He was one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus and he tirelessly proclaimed the gospel in India and Japan.

The need to proclaim the gospel to all the ends of the earth continues to be an urgent one.  What is needed?  Holy missionaries.  The Pope has said, "It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and co-ordinate ecclesial resources, or delve more deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of faith.  What is needed is the encouragement of a new ardor for holiness among missionaries and throughout the Christian community." (RM, 90)  Let us all pray for more holy missionaries in the Church.

The Word Today, December 4, 1999 (Saturday)

"The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest." (Mt 9, 37-38)  What a great harvest there is all over the world!  The Pope has called for a new evangelization, referring to the "post-Christian" cultures of the West that have lost the practice of the faith.  He has also called for a renewed effort to preach the gospel to non-Christians, the so-called evangelization "ad gentes".  This is also a very wide field, especially here in Asia.

Let us pray for more vocations of priests, religious and dedicated lay persons who will take the task of evangelization to heart.  There is much work to be done, and all Christians are asked to help in every way they can.

The Word Today, December 5, 1999 (Sunday)

The gospel today focuses on the figure of St. John the Baptist.  We are all familiar with the "cursor" of the computer.  It points to what we have to fix our attention on.  John the Baptist is called the precursor of Jesus.  He was the one who prepared the people to receive Jesus, and he was the one who "pointed him out" to the first disciples of Jesus.

In a sense, we are all like John the Baptist for the people around us.  Through the consistency of our lives and also through the right words of advice, we must prepare people to receive Jesus Christ.  During this season of advent, which is a preparation for the coming of Christ, let us be more conscious of our apostolic responsibility.  One practical resolution we can make is to bring our friends to Christ by encouraging them to go to the sacrament of reconciliation.

The Word Today, December 6, 1999 (Monday)

Today we remember St. Nicolas, bishop of Myra (now in Turkey).  There is a great devotion to St. Nicolas in the whole Church.  He is associated with gift giving.  Santa Claus is the popular figure that has arisen from the original St. Nicolas (note the similarity of sound in the names).  One legend has it that St. Nicolas saved three young girls from a life of prostitution by secretly providing them with money for their dowry, so that they could get married.

At this point of time, many of us are preparing for Christmas, especially with regard to gifts that we shall present to our friends and relatives.  Gift giving is a sign of love and appreciation.  Such appreciation might be reflected in the material value of the gift.  But it is even more important to put love and a personal touch, as we prepare these gifts.

The Word Today, December 7, 1999 (Tuesday)

Tomorrow we shall celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She is the principal patroness of the Philippines.  This day is a holy day of obligation in the Philippines.

Devotion to Mary is very much embedded in Filipino culture.  In Spanish, there is a phrase about the Philippines being "pueblo amante de Maria" (a people that loves Mary).  This does not detract from our love for Christ.  We love Mary, above all, because she brought Christ to us.  We show our love for Mary through our "consecration" to Mary Immaculate – a consecration that will be renewed in all cathedrals and parish churches tomorrow.

The Word Today, December 8, 1999 (Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Principal Patroness of the Philippines)

In today's celebration, we recall the teaching of the Church that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, unlike all other human beings, was preserved from the original sin that is the common lot of mankind.  We also believe that she did not commit any single sin in her life.Rather, she grew in holiness and grace from the moment of her existence.  The famous Franciscan theologian of the medieval ages, Duns Scotus, reasons out regarding the Virgin's preservation from original sin, that it was possible for God to do it ("potuit"), it was fitting that it should be so ("decuit"), therefore God did so ("fecit").

For lovers of Mary, it is a cause of rejoicing to know that she was God's "masterpiece" of creation.  We depict her today as crushing the devil's head, symbolizing her complete victory over sin and evil.  It is encouraging for us to know that our heavenly mother has won.  With God's grace and her help, so can we.

The Word Today, December 9, 1999 (Thursday)

"The kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm." (Mt 11: 12)  This phrase is not an advocacy of violence in the sense of bloodshed and going against nature.  It is rather a way of emphasizing that we must gain the kingdom of heaven with determined effort and forcefulness on our part.  We cannot gain heaven by having an easy-going lifestyle.

John the Baptist was a witness of an ascetical life.  We cannot gain heaven without some form of asceticism, in the sense of fighting against our sinful tendencies.  These sinful tendencies (concupiscence and malice) are present in all men because of the wound left on us by original sin.  We must recognize their presence in us and struggle forcefully to resist them.

The Word Today, December 10, 1999 (Friday)

Today is the anniversary of the dedication of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the archdiocese of Manila.  Since Manila is the first diocese of the Philippines, it is appropriate that we join in this celebration.

The gospel of this anniversary is about Christ's conversation with the Samaritan woman by the well.  There he tells her, "The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth."  Our religious life cannot be limited to the external fulfillment of rituals.  Rituals are important, but they must be the external manifestation of an inner spirit – a genuinely religious attitude of surrender to God.  This is true adoration.

The Word Today, December 11, 1999 (Saturday)

There was a Jewish tradition that the arrival of the Savior or Messiah would be preceded by the return to earth of the prophet Elijah, who had been taken up to heaven in a flaming chariot.  In the gospel today Christ clarified that this was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist came as a prophet.  He is considered to be the last of the prophets, the link between the Old and the New covenants.

"Prophecy" does not mean only to foretell future events.  It primarily means to speak on behalf of God.  The coming of salvation is preceded by the proclamation of the Word of God.  That is why there is need to evangelize, to spread the gospel, to fulfill our prophetic task.

The Word Today, December 12, 1999 (Third Sunday of Advent)

The Third Sunday of Advent is also called "Gaudete" Sunday, and there is an option of having rose as a liturgical color.  "Gaudete" means "Rejoice", and it is the first word of the entrance antiphon, which is a quotation from Phil. 4:4-5: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  The Lord is near."

The Church would like to emphasize that our eager waiting for Jesus during this Advent season is characterized by happiness.  A Christian, in spite of believing that we are in "a valley of tears", nevertheless preserves his cheerfulness.  Why?  Because the Lord is near.  The Lord is always near.  There is never any reason to give in to sadness or dejection.  If we find ourselves getting sad, remember the presence of the Lord, remember God's love for you, and fight off that sadness.

The Word Today, December 13, 1999 (Monday)

The first reading, taken from the Book of Numbers, is about the prophecy of Balaam.  The evil King Balak wanted the prophet Balaam to deliver a curse to Israel.  But what came out of Balaam's mouth were blessings and wonderful prophecies.  Among the prophecies was the promise of the coming of Christ. "A star from Jacob takes the leadership, a scepter (the symbol of kingship) arises from Israel."

We are only twelve days away from the birth of Jesus.  At this point, the liturgy wants us to express our eagerness for the coming of Christ.  The Opening Prayer asks God to "Let the light of the coming of your Son free us from the darkness of sin."  The Communion Antiphon says, "Come to us. Lord, and bring us your peace."  Let us imbibe this eagerness to welcome Christ into our lives.

The Word Today, December 14, 1999 (Tuesday)

Today we remember St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church, the close collaborator of St. Teresa of Jesus in the reform the Carmelite Order.  He should be especially close to Filipinos because he is, quite literally, "Juan de la Cruz", the name by which we designate the common Filipino.  This saint is renowned for his mystical theology.  The Pope himself studied St. John's works when the Pope was a graduate student in Rome.

John of the Cross talked very much about love and suffering.  Here are some often-quoted phrases from his works that we can use as food for thought today. "At the twilight of our life, all that matters will be love."  We have been created for love."  "As love is the union of the Father with the Son, so it is of the human soul with God."

The Word Today, December 15, 1999 (Wednesday)

The Responsorial Psalm in today's readings says, "Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a savior."  This is taken from a well known Advent hymn entitled "Rorate coeli".  The "Just One" is Jesus Christ.  It is a beautiful symbolism to represent Christ like rain that refreshes the parched ground.

How we welcome the rains after a long hot summer!  How the dry earth absorbs the rain and is then transformed into soft and fertile soil!  That is how we must anticipate the coming of Christ.

The Word Today, December 16, 1999 (Thursday)

Today we start the age-old Filipino custom of the "Aguinaldo masses".  It is also called "simbang gabi" or pre-dawn Mass, because these are celebrated before the break of day.  We celebrate them nine days before Christmas, "for the perseverance of the nation in faith and the preservation of our holy religion in this part of the world."

These Masses are actually Masses of the Virgin Mary.  The Philippines has a special permission to celebrate these Masses because it is of such ancient origin and is very deeply rooted in our culture.  It is wonderful to see how people, especially the youth, make the sacrifice of Catholic faith in spite of the onslaughts of materialism and consumerism

The Word Today, December 17, 1999 (Friday)

Today we enter the second period of Advent, which is more directly related to the preparation for Christmas.  The gospel reading today is the genealogy of Jesus, found in the gospel of St. Matthew.  At first glance, it might seem like a repetitious and boring reading -–just an enumeration of names, from Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus.  But this is enumeration is really very significant.  In the symbol of the four evangelists (man, lion, eagle, ox), St. Matthew is depicted as the man precisely because he starts his gospel on the human origin of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is true man.  He is not a spirit acting like a man.  His body is not an appearance of a man, but the real thing.  This is very important for us.  It helps us to be united with Christ.  He is one of us, not just an imitation.  He shares with us everything that is human (joys, sadness, disappointments, expectations) except for sin.

The Word Today, December 18, 1999 (Saturday)

After considering the humanity of Jesus, the gospel today concentrates on the reaction of St. Joseph to the pregnancy of his betrothed wife, Mary.  He is told by an angel, "Do not be afraid …to take Mary…for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 1:20)  Later in the gospel, Jesus is called "Emmanuel" or "God with us".  These all point out to the aspect of Jesus Christ which is inseparable from his humanity – his Divinity.

Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  As man, Jesus is one with us, we can identify with him.  As God, Jesus Christ lifts us up to the heights of God, he makes us sharers of the divine nature.  Because of that, we are children of God and heirs of heaven.  But we must be united to Christ by grace.

The Word Today, December 19, 1999 (4th Sunday of Advent)

The gospel for today presents to us the dialogue between the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, when the Incarnation took place.  Those who pray the "Angelus" prayer are familiar with the most important part of this dialogue –Angel's message and Mary's generous acceptance of her mission to be the mother of the Redeemer.  We can draw many lessons from this dialogue.  One of them is about fear.

"Do not be afraid, Mary…" the angel had to reassure her.  Fear involves a reaction to the unknown.  Faced with the plans of God, there is always something unknown and therefore it is natural to have a reaction of fear.  But love and generosity must overcome this fear.  The scripture says that "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  It is the beginning.  But fear must lead to love and acceptance, as in the case of Mary.

The Word Today, December 20, 1999 (Monday)

Still on the subject of the conversation between Gabriel and Mary, we can now focus on Mary's question, "How can this happen since I have no husband?" (Lk 1:34)  Other translations say, "Since I do not know man."  The beginning of this narrative introduces Mary as a virgin "betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph."  Many saints and fathers of the Church have interpreted these words and the circumstances around it as a support for the doctrine on the virginity of Mary.

These words show that Mary had the intent, even in her future married state, not to make use of marriage.  The other aspects of the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity is based on Sacred Tradition and on our conviction that God can perform a miracle such as the virgin birth.  Modern man finds it hard to accept this teaching.  Maybe it is because our standards of what is possible (with the grace of God) in regard to chastity, has been affected by the aggressive campaign of sensuality being waged in some quarters.

The Word Today, December 21, 1999 (Tuesday)

The gospel today is a preparation for Christmas because it depicts Mary after her conception of Christ but before his birth.  In particular, we follow Mary as she winds her way to the mountainous Judean region to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  One wonders: why did she visit Elizabeth?  Was it just to gossip with her cousin?  Was it to brag about her condition? Or was it, as we say in Pilipino, "para makipag-tsikahan"?

In fact Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, that is to say, up to about the time that Elizabeth would be giving birth to John the Baptist. (See Lk 1:56)  Hence it seems that the reason for Mary's visit was to help Elizabeth during the difficult period of her pregnancy.  This manifests Mary's spirit of service and concern for others.  Let us imitate Mary in her generosity and readiness to serve.

The Word Today, December 22, 1999 (Wednesday)

The "Magnificat", Mary's words of greeting to Elizabeth, is an outpouring of thanksgiving and adoration to God.  It is a beautiful prayer that the Church has wanted to be recited daily in the Evening Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours.

It is also a hymn to the virtue of humility.  "The Lord…has looked upon his lowly handmaid."  God can do many great things through his followers, but he requires humility.  Otherwise, the Christian might think that he is the one responsible for the good things that God does.  Besides, without humility, a person cannot become a malleable and docile instrument of God's actions.

The Word Today, December 23, 1999 (Thursday)

The Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass says, "A little child is born for us, and he shall be called the mighty God; every race on earth shall be blessed in him."

By now, most families and institutions have set up the "Belen", the representation of the birth of the little child Jesus, that was popularized by St. Francis.  "Belen" is Spanish for "Bethlehem", the town where Christ was born.  Let us make use of these representations of Jesus' birth in order to grow in our piety.  There is a scholastic adage that says "Universalia non movent", meaning generalities or abstractions do not move us, even if they are very good.  We are moved by concrete realities.  Hence it is good to consider the mystery of the Incarnation not only in abstract, but to represent it as we do in this custom of putting up Belens.

The Word Today, December 24, 1999 (Friday)

At midnight, the long-awaited Holy Year (or Great Jubilee of the Year 2000) will be inaugurated by the Pope at St. Peter's Basilica, with the opening of the Holy Door.  In many dioceses in the Philippines, the Holy Year will be launched with the blessing of the glorious cross at the respective cathedrals.  Through these events, we commemorate the birth of Christ, about 2000 years ago.

This should be a year of thanksgiving and rejoicing for all the benefits that we have received and continue to receive from God.  Let us check out our local cathedrals and parish churches for their planned activities in order to participate actively in the celebrations of this Jubilee.

The Word Today, December 25, 1999 (Saturday)

The formal launching of the Jubilee Year can also be held today instead of the night before.  The liturgy, which gives three options for the Mass (midnight, dawn and during the day), helps us to consider different aspects of Christ's entry into our world.  At the dawn Mass, we see how the shepherds were the first ones to find the child.

Shepherds are considered to be poor and simple folk. At the same time, they have a great capacity to care for the weak.  Poverty, simplicity and concern for others help us to be more ready to recognize God in the helpless people around us, just as these shepherds did.

The Word Today, December 26, 1999 (Sunday, Feast of the Holy Family)

On the Sunday within the week of Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  God wanted his only-begotten son to be born and to grow up within a human family.  That is part of Jesus' being "true man".  It also shows us that the family is the natural place for every human being.  We are born in a family, we grow up in a family and later on, most people will form their own families.  Even those who do not get married still belong, somehow, to a family.  It could be a spiritual family or they may retain their original natural bonds.  No human being can be considered complete without a family.

This is a good occasion to pray for the vitality of the Christian family.  There are many forces in society that are opposing the family.  There are groups that are bent on destroying the integrity of the marriage bond.  Some violate the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children.  Antoi-family groups sometimes pass these attempts off as "advances" of civilization.  In fact it is a regression to barbaric times.

The Word Today, December 27, 1999 (Monday)

Today is the feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist.  St. John, the youngest of the apostles, enjoyed a very special relationship with Jesus Christ.  He had given himself to the service of God at the prime of his life.  He had directed his great capacity to love at the Lord and Master, and Jesus reciprocated this love.  John proudly calls himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved."  Final demonstration of this special love of Jesus for John was the act of entrusting Mary to the care of John.

Today is a good day to pray for our priests.  The priest, just like John, has given himself to the service of God.  Many priests have been called at the prime of their life and they have gladly renounced other loves for the love of Christ.  The priest is also entrusted to the Virgin Mary in a special way.  Their tender devotion to Mary will help them have a heart that is filled with love.

The Word Today, December 28, 1999 (Tuesday)

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents.  These were the very young children in the neighborhood of Bethlehem who were put to death by Herod, who was seeking to kill Jesus.  They are in heaven by a "Baptism of blood"; they were washed from the guilt of original sin by the martyrdom they suffered.

Today we can remember so many other "innocents" who have been killed through the abominable sin of abortion.  We cannot strictly consider these unborn victims as "martyrs" of faith and we do not know for sure in what state they are.  But we can pray for them and we can pray even more for the conversion of those who are responsible for their deaths.

The Word Today, December 29, 1999 (Wednesday)

Today is the fifth day in the octave (eight day period) of Christmas.  We can remember St. Thomas ŕ Becket, bishop and martyr, who was murdered by agents of King Henry II of England in the year 1170 because St. Thomas defended the rights of the Church.  The story of St. Thomas is immortalized in literature in the famous plays "Murder in the Cathedral" (T.S. Eliot) and "Becket" (J. Anouil)

Thomas changed from a life of frivolity as a "crony" of King Henry II to a life of holiness and service as Archbishop of Canterbury.  We can partly give thanks to the grace of the sacrament of Orders for this transformation.  We should never underestimate the transformation that God's grace, especially through the sacraments, can work in people.

The Word Today, December 30, 1999 (Thursday)

The gospel today says that Mary and Joseph did "everything the Law of the Lord required."  These things included the rite of circumcision of the child as well as the rites of "purification" of the mother and the "presentation" of the first-born son.

If we consider who Jesus, Mary and Joseph were, we can say that they did not have to fulfill those requirements.  Yet out of humility and respect for the law, they fulfilled those requirements.  We too should have veneration and respect for all the just laws of the Church and of the State.

The Word Today, December 31, 1999 (Friday)

This is the last day of the year 1999.  And even if it is technically not the beginning of the Third Millennium, this is a significant passage of time.  The Church recommends the singing or the praying of the hymn of thanksgiving called the "Te Deum".

As we end the year, we should make an "examination of conscience", to make an evaluation of how the year went for us.  We should make this evaluation not only in terms of material accomplishments, but above all, we should think of whether we have been brought closer to God this year or not.  After all, every year that passes is a year closer to our end.  Are we going in the right direction?

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