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JANUARY 2001

Word Today, January 1, 2001 (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God)

    Readings: Num 6: 22-27 / Gal 4: 4-7 / Lk 2: 16-21

While what is foremost in our minds may be the celebration of the New Year, the religious significance of the day is the celebration of the motherhood of Mary.  Today is a holy day of obligation in the Philippines.

Mary's motherhood is a "divine" one, such that we can truly call her "mother of God."  This may come as a surprise to some non-Catholic Christians, but there is a perfectly acceptable explanation.  By calling Mary mother of God, as we do in the Hail Mary prayer, we are simply saying that Jesus, her son, is truly God.  If we say that Mary is NOT the mother of God, then it would be tantamount to saying (since she is obviously the mother of Jesus) that Jesus is not God.  Hence that title of Mary serves as a defense of one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith, the divinity of Christ.

Word Today, January 2, 2001 (before Epiphany)

    Readings: 1 Jn 2: 22-28 / Jn 1: 19-28

We are now preparing for the Epiphany, or "Manifestation" of Christ.  He has come to us in his infancy, the God-made-man, hiding behind his human nature.  But in the Epiphany, this man will be manifested to us as God.  In the gospel reading of today, when Christ is already a full grown adult, John the Baptist "manifests" Christ's divinity to us by saying that He "has been set above me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose."

The best disposition, in order to accept the manifestation of Christ's divine nature in our life, is to be humble.  Like John the Baptist, we must recognize our nothingness and our need for God.  Then we will see God's hand in all the human events that we may experience.

Word Today, January 3, 2001 (before Epiphany)

    Readings: 1 Jn 2: 29- 3: 6 / Jn 1: 29-34

John the Baptist identified Jesus Christ as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."  This is a reference to the sacrificial Paschal lamb of the Old Testament.  The unblemished and innocent lamb was offered up as a sacrifice for the salvation of the people.  That is what Christ has done for us.

Just before we receive Holy Communion, the priest presents the Holy Eucharist to us, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."  When we hear those words, let us make an act of faith in the real presence of Christ, who has just been offered as a sacrifice for our sins, at the Holy Mass.

Word Today, January 4, 2001 (before Epiphany)

    Readings: 1 Jn 3: 7-10 / Jn 1: 35-42

In the gospel today, John the Baptist pointed out Jesus Christ to his own followers, among whom were the future apostles John and Andrew.  They followed Christ and stayed with him for the rest of the day.  They ended up committed to Christ.

In apostolic work, our task is to introduce Christ to other people.  We must facilitate their spending time with Christ.  We must teach people to pray, to deal with Christ as a friend.

Word Today, January 5, 2001 (before Epiphany)

    Readings: 1 Jn 3: 11-21 / Jn 1: 43-51

The gospel today shows how, from the first two persons who followed Christ because of the introduction of John the Baptist, there was a whole train of other people who would end up committing themselves to the Lord.  They brought their friends, one by one.  Andrew brought Peter.  Philip brought Nathanael.

We should bring our friends to Christ.  True friends share good things with each other.  Isn't meeting Christ the best thing that could happen to anyone?  If so, should he not also introduce his friends to Christ?

Word Today, January 6, 2001 (before Epiphany; closing of Jubilee Year)

    Readings: 1 Jn 5: 5-13 / Mk 1: 7-11 or Lk 3: 23-38

The gospel of Mark presents us with the scene of Christ's baptism.  Although we shall soon be celebrating the Solemnity of the Lord's baptism, this gospel is presented to us today in relation to the Epiphany of the Lord.  John the Baptist said, "I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

We can take advantage of this gospel to make an important clarification about baptism.  Baptism literally means "washing."  John's washing was a symbolic rite of cleansing from sin.  But the washing, or baptism, of Christ is the sacrament of baptism.  The sacrament of Baptism, which initiates us as Christians, is not only symbolic but actually cleanses us from sin –original sin and any actual sin.  This happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is invoked in the sacramental rite through the Trinitarian formula.  Hence to be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" refers primarily to the sacrament of Baptism.  On the other hand, when "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is used, for example in the Charismatic movement, it is not meant to be a replacement of sacramental baptism, nor should it be considered as something more important.  It could be viewed as a kind of personal and devotional renewal of our baptismal commitments – a deeper awareness of the importance of being baptized Christians.

Word Today, January 7, 2001 (The Epiphany of the Lord)

    Readings: Is 60: 1-6 / Eph 3: 2-3. 5-6 / Mt 2: 1-12

In the Philippines, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord today.  "Epiphany" means "manifestation".  In Jesus Christ, still as a little babe, God's glory and mercy were manifested to all men.  The gospel today talks about the three wise men from the East (they are sometimes depicted as kings in popular representations).  They were not Hebrews – hence they represent all mankind, the different races of the one human family.  They represent all of us.

God revealed Christ to them by making use of a miraculous star.  The star, for many people, is the ideal of service and mission that God has shown them.  By following that mission, sometimes embodied in a divine calling, Christ will be manifested to them and they will attain great joy, just like the three wise men.

Word Today, January 8, 2001 (Monday after Epiphany)

    Readings: 1 Jn 3: 22-4: 6 / Mt 4: 12-17. 23-25

The first reading, taken from John's first letter, can provide us with a much-needed clarification regarding sin.  He says, "(T)here is a sin that is death...Every kind of wrongdoing is sin, but not all sin is deadly." (1 Jn 5: 16-17) In the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee, the Pope pointed out some of the bad consequences of sin. "In the first place, if it is grave, it involves deprivation of communion with God and, in consequence, exclusion from a share in eternal life." (No. 10)

The word "mortal" means precisely something referring to death. Hence a grave sin is a mortal sin and deprives us of sanctifying grace, which is the life of God in us.  In this respect, there are only two categories of sin, venial or mortal. There is no third category, a sort of "halfway" sin that is grave but not mortal. Such an aberration would, in practice, result in people committing grave sins and then receiving the body of the Lord in communion without having true repentance in confession. It would be a license for sacrilege.

Word Today, January 9, 2001 (Tuesday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 2: 5-12 / Mk 1: 21-28

The gospel today says that the teaching of Jesus "made a deep impression" on his listeners "because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority." The comment of the people was "Here is a teaching that is new... and with authority behind it."

The teachings of Christianity are not matters to be discussed and debated endlessly because they primarily come from the initiative of God who revealed his saving truth to us. We long for certainty in order to know what God is communicating to us. That is why there is a need for a religious teaching authority, and that is the task of the Church's magisterium. Without magisterium, we would have endless discussions and each one could end up with a "cafeteria" Christianity, of arbitrarily accepting or rejecting what suits our individual caprice at the expense of God's revelation.

Word Today, January 10, 2001 (Wednesday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 2: 14-18 / Mk 1: 29-39

The gospel today mentions a detail in the behavior of Jesus that must have left a deep impression on the apostles. St. Mark narrates: "And rising up long before daybreak, he went out and departed into a desert place, and there he prayed." After this, Jesus invited the apostles to go with Him around the different villages and towns to continue his work.

It is an important lesson for all those who want to work for the Church. All our activities must be preceded by a deep life of prayer. Such life of prayer requires moments of solitude. If necessary, we must get up "before daybreak", before the hustle and bustle of the day overtakes us. Jesus who was God himself found the need to look for such solitude in prayer. All the more must we need it.

Word Today, January 11, 2001 (Thursday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 3: 7-14 / Mk 1: 40-45

In the gospel today, Mark narrates the incident of the cure of a leper. After curing him, Jesus told the leper to go to the high priest for final verification, just as the Law of Moses had required.

Although Jesus was God and his works were not strictly subject to the requirements of the Jewish law, he nevertheless respected the existing authority.  We should strive to respect and follow the just requirements of all legitimate authority, because God is a God of order and not of anarchy. In very extreme cases, legitimate authority may lose its right to be followed because the laws and practices it espouses may be unjust. But this is not to be taken lightly. It requires guidance and a sincere effort to look for non-violent and peaceful means.

Word Today, January 12, 2001 (Friday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 4: 1-5.11 / Mk 2: 1-12

It must have been an impressive sight -- a paralyzed man being brought down by rope from the roof of the house so that he could be close to Jesus. On this occasion Jesus performed two miracles. First, he forgave the sins of the man and then he made him walk. The greater miracle, as far as substance is concerned, was the forgiveness of sins. But the more spectacular one, which was like a proof of the authenticity of the first one, was the restoration of the man's limbs.

After his resurrection, as narrated in the last chapter of the gospel of St. John, Jesus passed on his power to forgive sins to the apostles and to their successors in the priesthood. Without neglecting man's physical needs, the first concern of Jesus is our spiritual state. Knowing our need for forgiveness, the Lord instituted the sacrament of confession.

Word Today, January 13, 2001 (Saturday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 4: 12-16 / Mk 2: 13-17

The gospel today is about the call of Levi, also known as Matthew, to become a follower of Jesus. By profession, he was a tax collector, working for the colonizer. As such, he had a bad reputation among the Hebrews. Yet Jesus did not consider this reputation, instead he declared that he "did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners."

We cannot judge the state of Levi at the moment of his call. But we do know that there is no honest human profession that cannot be offered up to God. Levi, the tax collector, must have been a good keeper of records. Later on, he would be the first to make a compilation of the acts and teachings of Jesus Christ in what we now know as the gospel according to Matthew. God uses his instruments according to their capacities and dispositions.

Word Today, January 14, 2001 (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Is 62: 1-5 / 1 Cor 12: 4-11 / Jn 2: 1-11

The gospel of today is about the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. Christ transformed simple water into the best quality wine, in order to avoid embarrassment for the newly weds. A side effect of this miracle was that the disciples of Jesus were strengthened in their faith in him. All this was initiated by the concern of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was also there.

We can see the maternal care of Mary. She was concerned for the simple material needs arising from the occasion. She mediated for her son. She was also responsible, somehow, for the increase of faith of the apostles. Let us be aware of Mary's role in our following of Christ. Let us turn to her intercession and let us imitate her faith in Jesus.

Word Today, January 15, 2001 (Monday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Heb 5: 1-10 / Mk 2: 18-22

In the dialogue between Jesus and some people acquainted with John the Baptist, as narrated in today's gospel reading, we can see how down-to-earth Jesus Christ was. He must have learned from Mary or from Joseph about the "art" of sewing a patch on a torn garment or of storing wine in the appropriate container.

We must be imbued by the presence of Christ, God-made-man, in our midst. He is present now in his humanity in every tabernacle and adoration altar.  Let us not forget that he is there, not indifferent to human affairs but very concerned for what is happening to each one of us. Let us talk to him about our needs and worries, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. They are important to Jesus because he loves us.

Word Today, January 16, 2001 (Tuesday of the 2nd Week)

    Readings: Heb 6: 10-20 / Mk 2: 23-28

"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Setting one day apart so that man can rest from work and worship God can truly be said to be a law for the sake of man. Through the third commandment of God, man's duty to worship God as well as to recover his strength to serve God during the rest of the week, is greatly facilitated.

Some time ago, the Pope reminded the Church about the need to observe the "Day of the Lord," especially in a world which is increasingly getting secularized, in which the sense of the divine is disappearing. Let us make sure to keep this day holy by engaging in the highest act of worship for a Christian (participation at Mass) and avoiding any kind of activity that would not be in keeping with the spirit of this day.

Word Today, January 17, 2001 (Wednesday of the 2nd Week)

    Readings: Heb 7: 1-3. 15-17 / Mk 3: 1-6

The gospel today shows how Christ was saddened by the bad dispositions of the Pharisees and Herodians. They were on the lookout for loopholes in the Lord's words and actions, but this did not prevent Jesus from doing good, just to avoid what is now called "pharisaical scandal."

As a people, we are often marked by excessive "human respect," often afraid of what people will say about us, even at the expense of principles. Many men act tough, yet they are so easily intimidated into doing evil by the coaxing of friends over a bottle of beer. We should try to develop the toughness of spirit and the consistency of Jesus Christ, who was not thwarted from doing good by the thought of what other people might say.

Word Today, January 18, 2001 (Thursday of the 2nd Week)

    Readings: Heb 7: 25-8: 6 / Mk 3: 7-12

The gospel today tells us that many people followed Jesus Christ. They came from many places – Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, and many other places "beyond the Jordan." Among other things, they were attracted by the Lord's healing powers.

The Lord's power of healing continues today in many different forms. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is one of the most important ways that God's healing comes to us. There are also non-sacramental ways that healing comes – whenever they are genuine, they are manifestations of the power of prayer and of faith. But these external and bodily healing are always secondary to the more important healing, the healing of the soul. Quite often, these miracles of God lead people to grow in faith and confidence in God.

Word Today, January 19, 2001 (Friday of the 2nd Week)

    Readings: Heb 8: 6-13 / Mk 3: 13-19

The gospel today talks about the choice of the twelve apostles. Jesus appointed them to preach, and he also gave them some of his powers to cure and cast out evil spirits.

The bishops of the Church are the successors of the apostles. They continue the ministry of preaching. They are the authoritative teachers of faith in the Church. Christ also gave them a special authority to fulfill their mission. They have the grace to teach and lead their flock. Let us be obedient to our bishops, most especially to the Holy Father, who is the head of the college of bishops.

Word Today, January 20, 2001 (Saturday of the 1st Week)

    Readings: Heb 9: 2-3. 11-14 / Mk 3: 20-21

The gospel today says that when the relatives of Jesus heard about what he was doing, they thought he was crazy. "They set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind."

This incident shows that Jesus Christ led a normal, uneventful and unobtrusive life before he started his public ministry. We normally refer to the early phase of Jesus' life as the "hidden" life, in contrast to his "public" life. There are some people who claim that Jesus spent his hidden life joining esoteric sects, like the one of the Dead Sea scrolls, or that he went to the gurus of India to learn techniques of meditation. This claim has no basis in fact and it is contradicted by what is explicitly stated in the Sacred Scriptures. Jesus' hidden life is a call for all of us to see the transcendent value of our ordinary day-to-day existence. 

Word Today, January 21, 2001 (Feast of the Sto. Niño, Proper Feast in the Philippines, Third Sunday of January)

    Readings: Is 9: 1-6 / Eph 1: 3-6. 15-18 / Mk 10: 13-16

Today is the Feast of the Santo Niño, a celebration proper to the Philippines. There is a very widespread devotion to Christ in the aspect of his childhood all throughout this child-loving country. It is no wonder that the Philippines is very strongly pro-life.

The Feast of the Santo Niño also reminds us of the importance of spiritual childhood. This is a constant teaching of the Church, which St. Therese of the Child Jesus providentially has come to remind us of in this age of technological advancement. Before God, in spite of what we may seem to accomplish, we are but little children. Yet God is not a despotic ruler but a father full of kindness and love for us. We should not hesitate to turn to him. But to do this, we must "become like little children."

Word Today, January 22, 2001 (Monday of the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Heb 9: 15. 24-28 / Mk 3: 22-30

It was indeed strange that the enemies of Jesus should accuse Him of diabolical possession, when in fact, many of His miracles were miracles of diabolical expulsion or exorcism. To emphasize that He was not possessed by the devil, Jesus said: "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand."

We can apply these words in a broader sense to see the need for unity. Disunity is a clear sign of death and destruction. Thus, people who separate themselves from the unity of the Church will certainly end up on the losing end. They will be like a branch that has been broken off from the main trunk. They may have an appearance of life for a while, but they will eventually wither for lack of inner vitality.

Word Today, January 23, 2001 (Tuesday of the 3rd Week)

    Readings: Heb 10: 1-10 / Mk 3: 31-35

Two points of clarification are in order in today's gospel.  In the first place, the persons referred to as the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus are his relatives.  They are not other children that Mary or Joseph had.  It was common practice in the setting at that time, as also happens in other cultures, to refer to kinsmen as "brethren".  For example, Lot, who was Abraham's nephew, is referred to as his brother in the book of Genesis.

The second point of clarification is that when Christ refers to "anyone who does the will of God" as his "brother and sister and mother", this is not to disparage the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In fact, she was the one who best fulfilled the will of God, starting with her wholehearted "Let it be done to me," when the angel announced God's plan for her.

Word Today, January 24, 2001 (Wednesday of the 3rd Week)

    Readings: Heb 10: 11-18 / Mk 4: 1-20

How receptive are we to God's word?  The parable today gives us some examples.  Are we those who do not listen at all,  whom the devil prevents from receiving the Word?  Or are we superficial listeners, like those who are initially enthusiastic, but do not really pursue all its consequences?  Or are we like those who are "choked" by too many worldly concerns?

Let us try to be like those who receive the Word of God, accepting it wholeheartedly, then trying to live by it.  For that, we must be attentive to God's word, we must let it take deep root in us by not being  frivolous persons, and finally, we must avoid the snares and distractions of worldliness and materialism.

Word Today, January 25, 2001 (Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle)

    Readings: Acts 22: 3-16 / Mk 16: 15-18

Today we remember one of the most far-reaching incidents in redemption history -- the turnaround of a man who would be responsible for the evangelization of a great part of the Christian world.  Saul, who persecuted Christians, was miraculously converted to faith in Christ through a miracle of grace.  From a persecutor, he became the great apostle of the gentiles.  He is responsible for bringing much of the non-Hebrew world to knowledge of Christ.  Because of this, it is also appropriate that we culminate the week of prayer for Christian unity on St. Paul's conversion day.

Much progress has been made since the beginning of the ecumenical movement.  Different Christian communities have gotten together, talked frankly and openly, and some groups have made joint statements on common religious issues.  One significant development has been the joint statement of Lutheran and Catholic representatives regarding the basis of justification.  Other statements are in the making.  Let us all pray for the progress of these works.

Word Today, January 26, 2001 (Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops)

    Readings: 2 Tim 1: 1-8 or Tit 1: 1-5 / Lk 10: 1-9 or Mk 9: 21-25

Today we commemorate Sts. Titus and Timothy.  St. Paul addressed some of his letters, which are now part of the New Testament collection, to these two persons.  They were followers of St. Paul in his missionary journeys.  He later left them in charge of some Christian communities.  Timothy became bishop of Ephesus while Titus became bishop of Crete.  In his letter to Timothy Paul talked about "the gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you."

The "laying on of hands" was the way that the sacramental power of priesthood was passed on.  It is an essential part of the rite of ordination.  Bishops are the successors of the apostles not only in their being in charge of the community but also because of the passing on of the powers that are linked to the priesthood.  Let us pray for our bishops that they "fan into a flame" the gift of the fulness of priesthood that they have received.

Word Today, January 27, 2001 (Saturday of the 3rd Week)

    Readings: Heb 11: 1-2. 8-19 / Mk 4: 35-41

While crossing Lake Genesareth in a fishing boat, a strong storm suddenly overtook Jesus and some disciples.  It was extraordinarily strong and the disciples of Jesus panicked.  They turned to Jesus, who was fast asleep in the midst of that storm, and Jesus did not let them down.  Jesus commanded the wind and the sea to subside, and they "obeyed".

Jesus was fast asleep even in the middle of that storm.  He must have been very tired to be able to do that.  Indeed, he had just spent the day talking to the crowds and healing them.  It is good to know that Jesus too felt exhaustion and ended up in a deep slumber because of his activities.  At the end of a day of work and exertion, we can feel especially close to the tired out Christ.  He understands our tiredness.   He understands our need to rest and sleep.

Word Today, January 28, 2001 (Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Jer 1: 4-5. 17-19 / 1 Cor 12: 31-13: 3 / Lk 4: 21-30

Jesus met with opposition when he preached in his own neighborhood.  The explanation given by Jesus for this reaction was this: "No prophet is ever accepted in his own country."  Yet we do know that eventually many of Jesus' followers were his countrymen and even some of his close relatives.

There is a natural resistance to accept the testimony of people with whom we are familiar.  We may tend to ridicule friends or relatives who decide to live a consistent Christian life.  Yet this reaction should not stop people from pursuing their goal.  Many times that natural resistance will be overcome by a consistent life of witnessing.  Example can be more convincing than many discourses.

Word Today, January 29, 2001 (Monday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time)

    Readings: Heb 11: 32-40 / Mk 5: 1-20

The gospel today is about the expulsion of the devils (there were so many of them, they were called "legion") from a possessed man in the country of Gerasa, across the lake of Galilee.  That group of devils were given leave to enter a herd of swine and the swine ended up committing "mass suicide", running over the cliff and drowning in the sea.

 It is a good day to remember the reality of the devil.  The devil is not a mythological figure.

The devil is a pure spirit.  He was an angel but he failed to choose God and instead, moved by pride, the devil chose himself.  We should pray to be protected from the wiles of the devil.  As in the garden of paradise, the devil continues to tempt men through lies, especially inciting human beings to pride.

Word Today, January 30, 2001 (Tuesday of the 4th Week)

    Readings: Heb 12: 1-4 / Mk 5: 21-43

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, January 31, 2001 (Wednesday of the 4th Week)

    Readings: Heb 12: 4-7. 11-15 / Mk 6: 1-6

Jesus did not get a good reception when he went to preach in his hometown.  The townspeople said, "This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother (meaning, relative) of James and Josef and Jude and Simon."

This gospel shows us that previous to his public ministry, Jesus must have led an ordinary life as a carpenter or craftsman.  This shows us the value of our ordinary life.  Jesus spent the great majority of his years on earth as a working man.  We can see, from here, that our daily work can be something very valuable in the eyes of God.

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