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FEBRUARY 2000


The Word Today,
February 1, 2000 (Tuesday)

One of the side-incidents in today's gospel is the cure of a woman who had suffered from hemorrhage for twelve years.  In the hustle and bustle of the crowd, she moved up behind Jesus and timidly touched his cloak.  Suddenly she felt the bleeding stop, at the same time that Jesus felt power go out of him.  Jesus then praised the timid woman for her faith.

In the letter of the Philippine bishops on Filipino spirituality, they mentioned the propensity of some Filipinos to touch images of Jesus Christ and the saints.  Admittedly, there are some persons who do not approve of the practice.  However, provided it is not done in a superstitious spirit but in a spirit of devotion, there is really nothing wrong with wanting to have physical contact with the image that is venerated (not worshipped).  How many lovers have kissed the photograph of their loved one?  We are human beings, not angels.  We need to express our love and appreciation through sensible and material gestures.

Word Today,  February 2, 2000 (Wednesday)

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  We commemorate the Holy Family's fulfillment of the Jewish rite to offer to God the first born son.  It is traditional in many places to bless candles and have a procession on this day.

In the last few years, some people have been spreading an alleged prophecy that there will be "three days of darkness" when the only light that we will have will come from blessed candles.  Some people may have been taken in by this assertion and so they keep a store of blessed candles "just in case".  While the custom of blessing candles, having a procession with them and even keeping some in the house are pious and worthy practices, the threat of having three days of darkness is not a credible one.  It has no basis in the teachings of the Church and the alleged private revelations on which it is based is very questionable.  There is a need for conversion, but God does not ask for conversion on the basis of irrational fears.

Word Today,  February 3, 2000 (Thursday)

One of the saints commemorated today is St. Blase, bishop and martyr.  He is popularly invoked for ailments of the throat.  There is a story that on his way to martyrdom he miraculously cured a boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat.  Whether the story is true or not does not really matter.  We can always ask saints to intercede for us in relation to particular needs. 

There is a rite of blessing of throats with two crossed candles, asking St. Blase to intercede that God may deliver us from "ailments of the throat and from all other evil."  While applying all the means that God has given us, we should also pray for our health. 

Word Today ,  February 4, 2000 (Friday)

The gospel today narrates how Herod beheaded John the Baptist upon the instigation of Herodias, Herod's illegitimate queen, because she was actually the wife of Herod's brother.  It all came about because of bragging.  He told Herodias' daughter, "Ask me anything you like and I will give it to you."  Having said this in the presence of his guests, he could not back out when she asked for the head of John.

It is quite common that in a group with friends some people start bragging out of vanity.  Then they may find ourselves in a tight situation because they cannot honor their boasting without doing wrong.  The best thing is to avoid bragging.  But if due to boasting someone falls into a commitment he cannot justly fulfill, the next best thing to do is humbly to acknowledge one's mistake and face the embarrassment rather than do wrong.

Word Today, February 5, 2000 (Saturday)

In the midst of all their activities, Jesus told the apostles to "go off by yourselves to a remote place and have some rest."  Jesus was concerned for the rest and well being of the apostles.  Rest and recreation are important activities because men cannot be constantly on the move.  We are all familiar with the phenomenon of being "burned out".

There can be many forms of resting.  Here Jesus told them to look for a remote place, a place where they could have some solitude.  One of the most refreshing forms of rest is to go on retreat.  A spiritual retreat is a period of days (usually three or more) of getting away from our daily activities in order to spend some time to be with God.  A good way of benefiting from the Great Jubilee 2000 is to go on a retreat in order to have a renewal that will foster a deep conversion.

Word Today, February 6, 2000 (Sunday)

"Very early in the morning, before daylight, Jesus went off to a lonely place where he prayed."  This way of acting of Jesus was often repeated, so that eventually the apostles knew where to look for Jesus if he was not with them -- he must be praying somewhere.  If we consider that Jesus is true God and true man, then we can conclude that all of his activities can be considered prayer.  If any person had the facility to commune with God, it was Jesus Christ himself.  Yet we see him going to the appropriate place and setting aside a quiet time for praying.

If we want to be close to God, we must also set aside an appropriate time and seek an appropriate place to devote exclusively to communing with God.  Some people call this "meditation", others "mental prayer", others a "holy hour".  What matters is not the name, but the act of setting aside a time exclusively for God in prayer.

Word Today, February 7, 2000 (Monday)

"And wherever he went, to villages, towns or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplace and begged him to let them touch just the fringe of his cloak.  And all those who touched him were cured."  This emphasis on the sensible contact with Jesus can help us reflect on the Pope's letter about pilgrimage sites in this Jubilee Year.  He spoke of the fact that there are special times of grace (kairos), like now; as there are also special spaces or places of grace, like those places where Christ himself walked on.

Next month, the Pope will be touching those places where Christ was, as he goes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as head of the whole Catholic world.  We should feel very united to the Holy Father and, through him, be convinced that we also can "go" to those Holy Places with him.  In that way, we too can receive the gifts of God connected to that pilgrimage.

Word Today, February 8, 2000 (Tuesday)

In the gospel today Jesus condemned once again the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  At the end of his harangue, Jesus summarizes what is wrong with their way of acting: "You nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on."

In this verse, Jesus condemns the human traditions introduced by the Pharisees, in violation of the word of God.  Some people use this to denounce the Catholic Church's valuing of traditions.  This point needs clarification.  What the Church values as a source of revelation is "Sacred Tradition", that is to say, the word of God (teachings of Christ and the apostles) as passed on to us not in written form.  Sacred Tradition is not opposed to Sacred Scripture, they are complementary.  In fact we would not know what is the authentic Sacred Scripture if it were not for the Sacred Tradition kept by the Church.  We should note, however, that not everything "traditional" forms part of the Church's Tradition.  Discernment of what is and what is not deposit of faith is the competence of the successors of the Apostles.

Word Today, February 9, 2000 (Wednesday)

The gospel reading today emphasizes the importance of "what comes from within."  The Pharisees were so particular about the type of food they ate. But Jesus clarified that it is not what we eat that can defile us but rather it is what comes out of us.  He was talking on a different plane.  He was talking about what comes out of "the heart of man."  It is from our heart that evil comes -- "evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, etc."

We should remember that any external sin must first involve an internal act.  Hence if we are careful about our thoughts and inner desires, we can avoid many faults.  Let us be honest and sincere with ourselves in order to recognize those temptations that come to our mind.  It is easier to fight them at that stage than later on when the resolve to commit sin has already matured in our heart.

Word Today, February 10, 2000 (Thursday)

Today we remember St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict who is considered to be the father of Western monasticism.  St. Scholastica was herself the head of a religious community of women.  One day St. Benedict visited his sister in her monastery and when it grew late he thought it was time to leave.  Scholastica entreated her brother to linger on but he was determined to leave.  Scholastica then prayed to God and a sudden storm broke out that prevented Benedict from leaving.  She then told her brother, "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen."

This story ties in very well with the gospel reading, which is also about the power of prayer.  God always listens to our prayers.  And since God loves us, he always,grants our prayers if they are for our good.  So let us pray with confidence.  And if we do not get what we petition for, then accept the will of God wholeheartedly, knowing that God has granted us what is best for us.

Word Today, February 11, 2000 (Friday)

Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  There in France, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous.  Among other things, a spring of water appeared in a cave and it turned out to have miraculous powers of healing.  Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to Lourdes, some to ask for a cure and others simply to show their love for Mary.  Lourdes has become a site of prayer and charity because there are many volunteers who give their services to take care of the sick.  Today in fact we celebrate the "Jubilee of the Sick and Handicapped."

To take care of the sick is one of the best works of charity we can do. In the sick, we must see Christ himself.  The sick are a treasure of grace. We must never consider sick persons as useless or bothersome.  They are children of God who are in special need of care.  Even in their sickness they can continue to be a powerhouse of spiritual energy.

Word Today, February 12, 2000 (Saturday)

The gospel today is about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. From seven loaves and a few fishes Jesus was able to feed a crowd of four thousand people and even had seven baskets of leftovers.  This was an authentic miracle.  Some people, with a rationalist bias, want to reduce this incident to a merely moral miracle.  They allege that in fact, those people had their provision of bread, and the miracle was how they became generous enough to share their provisions with the others.  This is an unfounded assertion.

One lesson we can draw from here is the need to cooperate with the work of God.  Our poor efforts are very little in comparison with the goals of apostolate that God expects.  But however slight our help may be, God wants to count on our cooperation, just as he counted on the few loaves, the fishes and the effort of the apostles to organize the crowd.

Word Today, February 13, 2000 (6th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

St. Paul told the Corinthians, "Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God."  This is a wonderful practical rule.  The glory of God should be the object of all our actions, even the most prosaic and apparently insignificant action. This is actually the way that we can love God -- doing things for his glory and praise.

If we do something for the glory of God, we will increase its value.  An example of this truth is the life of St. Therese of Lisieux whose relics are now in the Philippines.  Externally, her actions were very insignificant.  Yet because of her great love, because she did things with very great love of God, she became a very great saint.

Word Today, February 14, 2000 (Monday)

The religious commemoration today is that of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, known for the evangelization of Eastern Europe and for the invention of the "Cyrillic" alphabet, which is used in Russia and some other Eastern European countries.  However, most people recognize this date as Valentine's day, the day of lovers.  Yet Valentine's day also has a religious origin.  It is named after St. Valentine, a martyred priest or bishop, who is commemorated today in some parts of the world. St. Valentine's connection with lovers is not so clear.

On this day of lovers, we should remember not to confuse affection or infatuation with love. The test of love is commitment and sacrifice.  That is why pre-marital sex is not truly a manifestation of love.  There is a movement among young people that is based on this truth.  It is named after an old hit song entitled "True love waits."

Word Today, February 15, 2000 (Tuesday)

The first reading in the next few days comes from the letter of St. James, called "the Less" to distinguish him from the other James who was the older brother of St. John.  In today's reading, St. James gives us very practical moral advice.  He says, "Everyone is tempted by being drawn away and enticed by his own passion.  Then when passion has conceived, it brings forth sin; but when sin has matured, it begets death." (Jas 1:14-15).

"Passions" means emotions and feelings.  Because we are not pure spirits, we all have feelings.  Problem is that our feelings do not always go in the right direction.  Feelings are good, but they have to be ruled by right reason.  When we find our feelings misdirected (for example, we are attracted by something immoral) we should learn to dominate it and not give in.

Word Today, February 16, 2000 (Wednesday)

We can continue learning from the moral and spiritual advice of St. James.  In the first reading he says, "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.  For the wrath of man does not work the justice of God."  Unfortunately we often see the opposite behavior which often ends up in conflict and sadness.  Many people are not ready to listen, they want immediately to give their view, and if they are contradicted, they get angry without getting to the bottom of things first.

There is such a thing as "righteous anger."  What St. James attacks here is not the righteous type of wrath but precisely "the wrath of man."  Why do we get angry?  Many times it is because we feel some personal affront.  We should not give in to this type of anger.  Let us try to catch ourselves and reject that feeling by overpowering our wrath with positive considerations.

Word Today, February 17, 2000 (Thursday)

In the first reading, St. James denounces "partiality towards persons."  He warns those who treat the rich well and ill-treat the poor.  It does not mean that we should do the opposite -- to treat the poor well but to ill-treat the rich.  What we should do is to treat all persons well and not to discriminate among persons.

Every human being is a person.  Every person is made in the image and likeness of God and enjoys a special "dignity" as a child of God.  The basic equality of all men is based on their personhood.  Nowadays, perhaps the worst kind of discrimination is suffered by the child in the womb.  There are countries where abortion is practiced in total disregard of the rights of the unborn.  The child in the womb is the poorest of the poor because he is helpless.  Those who kill him commit the gravest injustice against their neighbor.   

Word Today, February 18, 2000 (Friday)

Today's reading contains the refutation for the so-called principle of  "faith alone."  At present, an agreement has been reached with some Lutheran Churches that salvation is neither by faith alone nor by works, but it is by grace.  Those who insist on the primacy of faith try not to rule out the value of works.  They say that true faith will necessarily be manifested in good works.  On the other hand, those who insist on the need for good works do not claim that those works are enough in themselves.  They must be done in a spirit of faith and with the help of God's grace in order to have value for salvation.

The conclusion of this reading is that "Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead."  Whatever our emphasis may be, it is clear that good works are important.  The test of love is in deeds, not just beautiful phrases or promises.

Word Today, February 19, 2000 (Saturday)

The reading from St. James contains one of the most powerful pieces of advice against loquacity and flippancy. "The tongue is a little member, but it boasts mightily.  Behold, how small a fire how great a forest it kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity."  Indeed, how often we may have seen or even personally experienced the great harm and injustice that can come about due to people talking without verifying the truth of their assertions.  Like a fire, a false rumor spreads so fast and it is so difficult to rectify.

That is why St. James says, "If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man."  This does not mean that we should remain silent all the time.  We don't have to imitate that politician who never said his opinion over public issues, preferring to remain silent because "no talk, no mistake."  No, that is not the spirit of St. James' advice.  Rather, we should see to it that if we talk, we talk in a constructive and positive way.  Otherwise, let us just hold our peace.

Word Today, February 20, 2000 (Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The gospel today presents a dramatic scene a paralytic being lowered through the roof so that he could be close to Jesus and be healed.  But it becomes even more impressive because Jesus goes beyond the physical cure of the man and, seeing his good dispositions of faith, even granted a more important cure.  Jesus declared, "My child, your sins are forgiven."

In this Great Jubilee Year, God is offering us the great grace of forgiveness.  The plenary indulgence grants us forgiveness for the temporal punishment due to sin.  In order to gain the plenary indulgence, we must have a sacramental confession of our sins in order to obtain pardon for the guilt of sin.  God's generosity and willingness to forgive can be seen in the availability of the sacrament of reconciliation.  Priests have the obligation to administer this sacrament whenever any person reasonably asks for it.  In many parishes, there are schedules for confession that we should avail of.

Word Today, February 21, 2000 (Monday)

Today's reading presents the miracle of the boy possessed by a dumb devil.  The scene has been depicted in a masterpiece now located at the Sistine Chapel, painted by the great artist Raphael.  Unlike yesterday's gospel, when Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic and readily cured him, now there seems to be a lack of faith, and so the cure was not forthcoming.  But we can learn from the reaction of the boy's father.  He cried, "I do have faith.  Help the little faith I have!"

How often we may find ourselves in a similar situation.  We do believe.  But we realize that we need to have more trust and confidence in God.  Perhaps we are weighed down by problems.  We know we are children of God, but that fact doesn't seem to sink in enough.  Let us humbly repeat what that man said.  Lord, please increase my faith!

Word Today , February 22, 2000 (Tuesday: Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle)

"You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church."  Today we celebrate the feast of the "chair" of St. Peter.  We are probably familiar with the so-called "professorial chair."  The Latin term for this kind of chair is "cathedra".  It is where the word "cathedral" comes from.  The cathedral is the church where the bishop has his "chair".  Chair here therefore connotes a symbol of authority because of the position held by the one sitting on it.

Today then we should remember the authority of St. Peter.  It is an authority that came from Christ.  This authority is passed on to the successor of St. Peter, who is the Pope.  Together with authority is the special assistance of Christ.  "The gates of hell can never hold out against it."  We must have complete confidence in the Pope and submit to his authority in everything that has to do with the saving and liberating mission of the Church.

Word Today, February 23, 2000 (Wednesday: Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr)

The first reading from the letter of St. James says, "Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn't do it commits a sin."  This is a good occasion to remember that there are sins of omission.  Why?  We haven't done anything wrong!  If we willingly omit to do something good, we are doing something wrong because we are on this earth not just to avoid evil, but to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

Do you remember the parable of the talents?  The one who buried the talent under the ground did not do anything wrong.  Correction.  He in fact did something very wrong he wasted the gifts of God.  Let us examine ourselves not only on sins we commit, but also on sins of omission.

Word Today, February 24, 2000 (Thursday)

Today's gospel reading contains one of the strongest warnings to come from the lips of Christ: "If anyone should cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble and sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a great millstone around his neck."  Christ is really very much against the corruption of the innocent.  He is against the sin called "scandal", which is the act of directly or indirectly inciting others to do evil, through our instigation, advice or example.

Not that we should become self-conscious.  But if we are truly concerned for our neighbor, we must consider what effects our actions will have on others.  Consider your conversations -- do they edify or are they just useless and destructive criticism?  Consider your actions -- can others imitate them or would you have to conceal them?

Word Today, February 25, 2000 (Friday)

The gospel today contains the biblical reason for the indissolubility of marriage and why divorce is wrong. Referring to married couples, Jesus said, "They are no longer two but one body.  Therefore let no one separate what God has joined."

On the strength of the marriage bond depends the stability of the family.  The Church, when she opposes divorce and remarriage, wishes to strengthen the family.  Persons can only develop adequately within the warmth and security provided by a stable family.  If the possibility of irrevocably breaking it up is introduced, many people will suffer-- first the children, then the spouses themselves.

Word Today, February 26, 2000 (Saturday)

In the gospel today Jesus said, "I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  These days, we have the good fortune of having the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the Philippines.  The relics are presently making the rounds in the different dioceses of the Philippines.  Invariably, many people have flocked to show their devotion to this saint, who reminded the modern world of the importance of "spiritual childhood". 

We cannot approach God with the sense of self-sufficiency of a grown up person.  The truth is that before God, who knows all and can do all things, we must be aware of our nothingness.  Everything we have is from him.  But he loves us as a doting father loves his children.  Only by becoming simple and having a sense of dependence on God can we truly get closer to him. 

These days, we have the good fortune of having the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the Philippines.  The relics are presently making the rounds in the different dioceses of the Philippines.  Invariably, many people have flocked to show their devotion to this saint, who reminded the modern world of the importance of "spiritual childhood".  We cannot approach God with the sense of self-sufficiency of a grown up person.  The truth is that before God, who knows all and can do all things, we must be aware of our nothingness.  Everything we have is from him.  But he loves us as a doting father loves his children.  Only by becoming simple and having a sense of dependence on God can we truly get closer to him. 

Word Today, February 27, 2000 (8th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The first reading and the gospel contain the same theme -- the Lord compares himself to a bridegroom.  Who is the bride?  The letters of St. Paul develops this image by saying that the Church is the bride of Christ. In fact he uses this image to give practical advice to husbands and wives.  Just as Christ loves his Church and sacrifices himself for the Church, so husbands must love their wives and sacrifice for them.

We know that the sacrament of Holy Orders can only be conferred validly on baptized men because that is how the sacrament has been instituted by Christ, as we have been reminded in more recent pronouncements of the Church. But in this image, we can see why the male priesthood is very appropriate. The priest is "another Christ"; he has to act "in the person of Christ" who is the bridegroom. 

Word Today, February 28, 2000 (Monday)

The rich young man who went away sad.  That is the image that the gospel today presents to us.  It is an image that the Holy Father has often presented to the young people that he would meet on different occasions.  That man could have been one of the apostles and given his life a much greater transcendence. Instead, he was somehow "imprisoned" by his possessions, unable to pursue higher goals because of his attachment to them.

Young people are capable of great generosity.  They have abundant energy seeking direction and purpose.  Yet many young people are also being hindered by the environment of materialism.  One of the most liberating experiences for the young is the exposure to poverty and need.  When they help others (e.g., through visits to the poor and the sick, as suggested for this Jubilee Year), they see beyond the materialistic values surrounding them and they become more capable of being generous in the service of God. 

Word Today, February 29, 2000 (Tuesday)

There is a mistaken notion going around that if we opt to serve God and seek the happiness of heaven, then we must be resigned to being unhappy on earth.  This is not helped at all by some people who purport to serve God on earth, but go about it grudgingly and sadly.  The gospel today belies that notion.  Jesus told the apostles that those who have left all for the sake of the gospel will receive a hundredfold of what they have given up, "not without persecution, now in the present time" together with heaven later on.

 The truth of the matter is that the happiest people, even on earth, are those who have opted to serve God generously.  St. Francis, who lived a radical poverty, felt like the owner of the entire universe.  Those persons who decide to live a chaste and pure life for love of God are happier than the slaves of lust.  God cannot be outdone in generosity.  Like a good father, he wants his children to be truly happy in every way.  But he does not want us spoiled, so we must also count on difficulties.  Yet difficulties are compatible with deep joy and contentment. 

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