Forty

When we pass our period of testing and purification, when we learn to seek, to desire, and to trust in God alone, we obtain God’s promises for our lives.

In the Bible, the number forty signifies a period of testing:

  • During the time of Noah, it rained upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.
  • The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years during the time of Moses.
  • In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert where He was tempted by the enemy:
“At once the Spirit drove [Jesus] out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” — Mark 1:12-13

When we are tested, it is not just for God to know how much we have grown in our faith. God allows tests in our lives in order for us to grow in our faith.

When we are tested, God wants us to learn to seek and desire Him above all. He also wants us to learn to trust and depend on Him alone — not on bread, not on power, not on the riches of this world, and not even on our job security.

We are tested and shaken in order to be refined and purified so that only what belongs to God will remain.

“His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, ‘I will once more shake not only earth but heaven.’ That phrase, “once more,” points to [the] removal of shaken, created things, so that what is unshaken may remain.” — Hebrews 12:26-27

When we pass our period of testing and purification, when we learn to seek, to desire, and to trust in God alone, we obtain God’s promises for our lives:

  • After the flood was the new creation where the world was repopulated from the holy family of Noah.
  • After wandering in the desert for forty years, the Israelites arrived and conquered the Promised Land.
  • After being tempted by the enemy in the desert for forty days, the ministry of Jesus finally began.
“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” — Mark 1:14-15

What is God’s promise for your life? 

You may be in period of testing right now, but once you are refined, once you seek, desire, and trust Him and only Him, God will fulfill His promises to you.

Holding back our joy from others

Let us pray for healing from our own brokenness and insecurities that are holding us back from sharing God to others.

Have you ever felt like holding back your faith from others not because of fear, but because you simply don’t want them to experience the same joy you have felt by being in a relationship with God?

I have. From time to time, I admit that I still struggle with sharing God to people who are too aggressive (at least, for me) in pursuing their goals that I feel they no longer consider other people’s feelings. (The words “I feel” means that I am also judging them without actually knowing their story or their background.)

This is probably how the Pharisees and their scribes felt when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.

“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” — Luke 5:30

They may not have believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but they also did not want the sinners and tax collectors to experience being in a relationship with God. Because of their self-righteousness, they probably did not want others to share in their joy.

Today, let us ask God to renew our hearts. Let us ask Him to open our hearts especially to those who are different from us. Let us pray for the patience, humility, and understanding in order for us to truly love others, to accept them, and to put ourselves in their shoes.

Let us pray for healing from our own brokenness and insecurities that are holding us back from sharing God to others.

The Bridegroom

Until He comes again (and beyond), we are once again called to be His faithful bride — loyal and devoted only to the Bridegroom, in words, thoughts, and actions.

In the Bible, especially in the parables of Jesus, God is often referred to as the Bridegroom who will come for His bride.

But then we ask, “Why isn’t the Bridegroom with His bride?”

During the time of Jesus, before couples got married, there was period of engagement or betrothal. During that time, the man and the woman already agreed and were bound by law to get married. After a period of time, which scholars say twelve months, the man goes to the woman to marry her and take her into his home. His home is also where the wedding feast takes place.

Since the beginning of time, God has betrothed Himself to us. We are to be His and He is to be for us. This is especially apparent when God chose Israel to be His people:

“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” — Exodus 6:7

God did not just choose Israel to be His own. He also offered Himself to the Israelites like how a bridegroom offers himself to his bride. 

Before the time of Jesus, the Israelites were in a period of betrothal, meaning they were waiting for the Bridegroom to come for them and take them into His heavenly abode.

But in that period of betrothal, what God expected from them were their fidelity to Him, their loyalty, their complete devotion to Him. That’s why His first commandment is:

“You shall not have other gods beside me.” — Exodus 20:3

Jesus even clearly commanded them to love God like how the bride should love the bridegroom — with all of herself:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” — Luke 10:27

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the disciples of John the Baptist that He is the Bridegroom and He has come for His bride:

“Then the disciples of John approached [Jesus] and said, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast [much], but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’” — Matthew 9:14-15

Because the Bridegroom had come for His bride, it was not a time for gloom or fasting. But despite His works, His healings, His teachings, and His miracles, many still did not believe that He was the Bridegroom.

When He, the Bridegroom, came, He found many who seemed faithful in following the law, but were not truly faithful in their hearts, actions, and love for one another. 

Today, the Gospel is teaching us to believe in Jesus as the Bridegroom. He has already come for us, His Church, His bride. But until He comes again (and beyond), we are once again called to be His faithful bride — loyal and devoted only to the Bridegroom, in words, thoughts, and actions.

Will He find us, His bride, faithful to Him when He comes for us in order to take us to His heavenly home?

What is wasting your time?

What are the activities that are taking your time away from following Jesus, from making your God-given dreams a reality?

Until last week, I haven’t played a video game in a long, long time. As a hardcore gamer, that’s a huge thing for me. But last week, I relapsed and I started playing a mobile game.

I have been playing an hour a day since last week. But yesterday, I played for two and a half hours.

My dream for this year is to write a book. I told myself I would start last week, but then, I got addicted to the video game.

At work, I can write 300 to 500 words per hour. That means for every day that I play a video game, that’s 300 to 500 words of the book that I wasn’t able to write. If I continue playing this mobile game for 90 days, that would be equivalent to 27,000 to 45,000 words, which is the length of a short book.

Today, the Gospel reading teaches us that, in order to follow Jesus, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

“Then [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” — Luke 9:23

The book that I wish to write this year will contain the lessons I have learned so far in my journey of knowing God more. Writing this book is not only my dream, but my way of following Jesus. Since it’s purpose is also to bring God closer to His people, especially to our Catholic brothers and sisters who are feeling lost in their faith, I also consider this book as my mission for this year.

If I truly want to make this dream a reality, if I truly want to serve others, if I truly want to follow Jesus completely, I have to deny myself of playing video games and other activities that waste my time.

How about you? What are the activities that are taking your time away from following Jesus, from making your God-given dreams a reality?

 

P.S. I also love today’s first reading:

“Moses said to the people: ‘I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.’” — Deuteronomy 30:19-20

God has given us a choice today. Will we waste our time with the things of this world or will we follow Him?

The true meaning of fasting

This Ash Wednesday, and even this season of Lent, let us not only fast, but also return to the Lord and love Him, seek Him, and desire Him above all.
Fasting.jpg

Today is Ash Wednesday — the beginning of Lent and a day of fasting.

But, what does fasting really mean? Is it merely the act of eating only one full meal and two small meals? Is it total abstinence from food, from our vices, or from some activities? What should we really fast from?

The most important question is: “Why do we fast?” By answering this question, we will learn the true meaning of fasting.

The true meaning of fasting is desiring God above all.

That’s it. Period. Mic drop. That’s the whole essence of fasting. Isn’t it amazing that it is also the whole essence of life, of the Bible, of why Jesus came from heaven? That’s the whole essence of everything. 

We fast in order to remind ourselves to desire God above all.

When you go hungry and want some food badly, that’s the best time to remind yourself to love God more than satisfying your very basic need.

For many of us, desiring God over our daily meals is easy.

What is harder is desiring God above being able to eat in a fancy restaurant. When you keep on praying that you will one day be able to eat good food in a fancy restaurant but God doesn’t seem to answer your prayer, will you still continue to desire Him, to love Him, to trust Him?

What is harder is desiring God above our dreams. When you keep on praying for God to lead you to the right person, for God to give you a break in your career, or for God to bring you to places and countries you have never been to but God doesn’t seem to hear you, will you still continue to love Him?

What is harder is desiring the One whom we pray to above the things we pray for. If we are praying for healing and God does not give it to us, will we still trust in His will and love Him? Or will we break and complain?

We fast in order to remind ourselves to desire God above food, above our dreams, above our relationships, above the things we pray for, and even above our families.

The first reading truly encapsulates the essence of fasting:

“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.” — Joel 2:12-13

And like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading, let us fast not to follow tradition or to be seen by others, but to truly return to the Lord:

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” — Matthew 6:16-18

When we fast, we will also realize that it is truly God who provides. When we fast, we will learn to trust in His will.

This Ash Wednesday, and even this entire season of Lent and beyond, let us not only fast, but also return completely to the Lord and love Him, seek Him, and desire Him above all.

 

P.S. Sharing with you two free Bible studies that helped me understand the biblical bases of the Sacraments and of our devotion to the Blessed Mother. You can access them for free this season of Lent here.