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DECEMBER 2000

Word Today, December 1, 2000 (Friday of 34th Week)

    Readings: Apoc 20: 1-4. 11. 21: 2 / Lk 21: 29-33

"Heaven and earth will pas away, but my words will not pass away." (Lk 21: 33)  There are certain teachings that change because realities, which these teachings reflect, also change.  We see this quite a lot in the social sciences because human behavior is always free.

 But there are teachings that do not change because they refer to unchanging realities.  The essential teachings of the Church on God, man, the world and salvation will always be the same.  Development of doctrine in the Church happens in a "homogenous" way, just like a boy who grows up to manhood.  Appearances may change but he is always the same person.

Word Today, December 2, 2000 (Saturday of the 34th Week)

    Readings: Apoc 22: 1-7 / Lk 21: 34-36

The gospel of today contains a simple message: be prepared for the coming of Christ.  The boy scouts in the Philippines have a motto, "Laging handa" – always be prepared.  They should be ready for emergency situations, like an accident or a person requiring special help.  We can very well apply the same motto to ourselves.

The best way of being prepared for the coming of Christ is to make sure that we are reconciled with God, that we have a clean conscience.  Let us ask ourselves, "Is there anything in my life that would not be in keeping with my condition as a child of God?"

Word Today, December 3, 2000 (First Sunday of Advent)

    Readings: Jer 33: 14-16 / 1 Thess 3: 12- 4:2 / Lk 21: 25-28. 34-36

Today we enter the liturgical season called "Advent."  The word means "coming."  Liturgists explain that there are two comings of Christ that we celebrate in this season.  The earlier part of this time is for the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world.  The later part of this time is for the remembrance of the first coming of Christ, when he was born to us.

Philippine culture and customs seem to place more emphasis on the first coming of Christ.  As early as November 1, Christmas songs can be heard over the popular radio stations.  Groups of young people start rehearsing for their caroling sessions.  Christmas cards are being mailed now so that it will reach their destinations before Christmas.  This can very well be explained by the observation of the pastoral letter of the Philippine bishops on Filipino spirituality, that we have a great devotion to the Christ child, the "Santo Niño".  This is a wholesome orientation, supported by the elevation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (who promoted the "way of childhood") to the rank of "doctor" of the Church.

Word Today, December 4, 2000 (Monday of 1st Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 2: 1-5 / Mt 8: 5-11

The gospel today (Mt. 8:5-11) contains one of the greatest lessons on faith.  The words of the centurion have been immortalized in the Eucharistic liturgy: "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but only say the word and my servant shall be healed."

This centurion's faith, by Jesus' own admission, was the greatest he had found in Israel.  The centurion's faith was not theoretical.  He conformed his attitudes, actions and words to his belief in the divinity of Christ.  What he said reflected not only faith, but also humility and spirit of service to neighbor.

Word Today, December 5, 2000 (Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 11: 1-10 / Lk 10: 21-24

"Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it."  Sometimes we may wish to have lived during the times of Christ so that we could see and hear him personally.  But the providence of God has provided for this desire of closeness that we harbor.  Christ instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, where he is truly present for us to see and to speak with.

We can therefore apply those words to our faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  We are indeed fortunate because many people would have wanted to be very close to Jesus, and here we have him in our churches, where we can keep Jesus company.  Let us resolve to spend a few minutes each day to be with Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Word Today, December 6, 2000 (Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 25: 6-10 / Mt 15: 29-37

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

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.

Word Today, December 7, 2000 (Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 26: 1-6 / Mt 7: 21. 24-27

During the rainy season, we can hear of cases of houses caving in because the raging floodwaters have undermined the foundations of those houses.  These are typical examples 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.

Word Today, December 8, 2000 (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Principal Patroness of the Philippines)

    Readings: Gen 3: 9-15 – 15.20 / Eph 1: 3-6. 11-12 / Lk 1: 26-38

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, Blessed 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.

Word Today, December 9, 2000 (Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 30: 19-21. 23-26 / Mt 9: 35 – 10: 6-8

"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.

Word Today, December 10, 2000 (Second Sunday of Advent)

    Readings: Bar 5: 1-9 / Phil 1: 4-6. 8-11 / Lk 3: 1-6

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.

Word Today, December 11, 2000 (Monday of 2nd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 35: 1-10 / Lk 5: 17-26

Some people were scandalized because Jesus told the paralytic whom he cured: "My friend, your sins are forgiven you."  These men objected, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  Little did they realize that Jesus was, indeed, God who had come to forgive man's sins and call them to repentance.  They only saw the humanity of Christ.  Little did they realize that Christ's human nature was God's instrument of mercy.

Nowadays, some people are scandalized because the priests of the Church claim to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Penance.  They object to this, saying, "How can a man forgive my sins?"  The answer to this is that Jesus, who is God, has given the power to forgive sins to the apostles and their successors.  We can see this very clearly in the last chapter of the gospel of John, when he gave them such power after He rose from the dead.  The priests, in confession, are instruments of God's mercy.  They do not forgive sins by their own authority.  They do so in the name and in the person of Christ.  They do not say, "I, Father so-and-so, absolve you….".  The "I" is Christ, to whom they have lent their person at the very moment of absolution.

Word Today, December 12, 2000 (Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 40: 1-11 / Mt 18: 12-14

Referring to a man who owns a hundred sheep and loses one then later on recovers it, Christ said, "Amen I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray."  This is the attitude of God towards the repentant sinner.  God is always in search of those who go astray in order to lead them back.

The apostolate is an extension of God's work.  He uses Christians in order to lead sinners out of their bad ways, to go back to the fold of God.  Hence, Christians should show the same zeal in their apostolic tasks.  It should be their greatest joy to serve as an instrument of God for brining men back to God's friendship.

Word Today, December 13, 2000 (Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 40: 25-31 / Mt 11: 28-30

In today's gospel, Jesus Christ invites us to go to Him in our sorrows.  But he says that we must "take up his yoke," we must take up his burden.  This means that we should not rebel when God sends us difficulties.  "For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Some commentators explain that the proper understanding of the yoke being "easy" is that the yoke, the implement connected to the back of the beast of burden in order to make him carry the burden, is well fitted to the animal.  This means that the trials that may come to us, difficult as they may seem, are well-suited to our needs.  We will have the grace of God to bear them.  Even more, they are precisely what we need in order to become better children of God.  Let us not rebel against trials.  Let us see the loving hand of God in these trials.

Word Today, December 14, 2000 (Thursday of the 2nd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 41: 13-20 / Mt 11: 11-15

"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.

Word Today, December 15, 2000 (Friday of the 2nd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Is 48: 17-19 / Mt 11: 16-19

Jesus compared his listeners, who would not accept his teaching, to spoiled children who are not satisfied with anything.  "Damn if you do, damn if you don't."  Isn't this the situation that a Christian may sometimes find himself in when he is trying to do God's will?

In trying to do good, let us not be intimidated by what people may say about us.  We should not be hindered by the possible misinterpretation of our actions.  We cannot hope to please everybody.  What matters is that we do what we sincerely believe to be pleasing to God.

Word Today, December 16, 2000 (Saturday of the 2nd Week of Advent; Beginning of Aguinaldo Masses)

    Readings: Is 56: 1-3. 6-8 / Jn 5: 33-36

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 waking up early to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  The Catholic faith is alive in their hearts in spite of the onslaughts of materialism and consumerism.

Word Today, December 17, 2000 (Third Sunday of Advent- Gaudete)

    Readings: Zeph 3: 14-18 / Phil 4: 4-7 / Lk 3: 10-18

The Third Sunday of Advent is also called "Gaudete" Sunday, and there is an option of having rose as a liturgical color.  Rose is a color of joy.  "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.

Word Today, December 18, 2000 (Monday of 3rd Week of Advent)

    Readings: Jer 23: 5-8 / Mt 1: 18-24

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.

Word Today, December 19, 2000

    Readings: Judg 13: 2-7. 24-25 / Lk 1: 5-25

The gospel today narrates the events related to the birth of John the Baptist, which preceded the important announcement to Mary of the Lord's incarnation.  John's father, Zachary, could not believe the message of the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth, his wife,  would conceive and bear a child even with her advanced age.  Zachary lacked faith.  For that he was struck dumb until the message was fulfilled.

As we prepare to receive Jesus Christ, we must also foster the virtue of faith.  In our case, we must believe that Christ the Savior has really come.  We must focus on the person of Christ.  The reason for our expectation is that he is not just another human being who comes to bring a nice message.  He is God himself who has come to save us by taking up our human nature, together with all its miseries, except for sin.

Word Today, December 20, 2000

    Readings: Is 7: 10-14 / Lk 1: 26-28

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.

Word Today, December 21, 2000

    Readings: Sgs 2: 8-14 or Zep 3: 14-18 / Lk 1: 39-45

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 through 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.

Word Today, December 22, 2000 (Friday)

    Readings: 1 Sam 1: 24-28 / Lk 1: 46-56

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.

Word Today, December 23, 2000 (Saturday)

    Readings: Mal 3: 1-4. 23-24 / Lk 1: 57-66

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.

Word Today, December 24, 2000 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

    Readings: Mic 5: 1-4 / Heb 10: 5-10 / Lk 1: 39-45

The Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass says, "Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior."  The "Just One" is Jesus Christ himself.

After a dry season, the earth is parched and dry.  When the first rains come, the ground "eagerly" receives the water, transforming the dust into fertile soil.  We are now asking God to send us Christ, just as dry soil somehow "longs" for the refreshing rain.  When we receive Christ with eagerness, we shall also experience the transformation that only Christ can work in our hearts.  Our hearts will be transformed from hard rock into fertile soil, where the grace of God can bear fruits of holiness and apostolate.

Word Today, December 25, 2000 (Christmas, Solemnity of the Lord's Birth)

    Readings: Varying readings for Masses at Midnight, Dawn, On the Day

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.

Today, we can contemplate the newly born child Jesus.  Although he is the Almighty God, he now appears to us as weak and helpless.  A baby is so disarming, and our hearts naturally go out to them.  That is how God is inviting us, through the consideration of the infancy of Christ.  God is inviting us, divesting Himself of all the trappings of power, to give our love and affection to him.

Word Today, December 26, 2000 (Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr)

Readings: Acts 6: 8-10; 7: 54-59 / Mt 10: 17-22

St. Stephen was the first Christian to shed his life for his faith in Christ.  As he was dying, stoned to death due to his witnessing to the life, death and resurrection of Christ, he prayed for his persecutors, just as Christ did on the cross.  As we read in the account of his martyrdom found in the Acts of the Apostles, one of those present and actively helping, was the young Pharisee named Saul.  Perhaps it was due to the prayers of Stephen that the seed of conversion was sown in the heart of Saul, who would later on become Paul, the great apostle of the gentiles.

"The garden of the Church is watered by the blood of the martyrs."  Martyrdom is a very special gift of God.  To be able to freely give one's life as a witness to faith in Christ, is the supreme act of love of God.  We must all be ready for this, although only few will actually receive it.  We can face our own daily "martyrdom" by practicing self-denial, taking up Christ's burden, in the fulfillment of our daily obligations in a spirit of faith and charity.

Word Today, December 27, 2000 (St. John, Apostle and Evangelist)

    Readings: 1 Jn 1: 1-4 / Jn 20: 2-8

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 youth.  He had directed his great capacity to love at the Lord and Master, and Jesus reciprocated this love.  John proudly called 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 their youth 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, making it possible to practice apostolic celibacy for the kingdom of heaven.

Word Today, December 28, 2000 (The Holy Innocents)

    Readings: 1 Jn 1: 5-2: 2 / Mt 2: 13-18

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.

Word Today, December 29, 2000 (Friday, Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas)

    Readings: 1 Jn 2: 3-11 / Lk 2: 22-35

Today is the fifth day in the octave (eight-day period) of Christmas.  We can remember St. Thomas à 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.

Word Today, December 30, 2000 (Saturday, Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas)

    Readings: Jn 2: 12-17 / Lk 2: 36-40

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.

Word Today, December 31, 2000 (Feast of the Holy Family)

    Readings: Sir 3: 3-7. 14-17 or Col 3: 12-21 / 1 Jn 3: 1-2.21-24 / Lk 2: 41-52

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.  Anti-family groups sometimes pass these attempts off as "advances" of civilization.  In fact it is a regression to barbaric times.

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