The two signs of a true Christian

In my life, there still are people whom I find hard to forgive. But when I pray for them even when it’s difficult, when I pray for their success and well-being, I find the peace to face them, to love them, to forgive them, and to walk with them.

I remember a story about how the early Christians were recognized by other people.

They were not recognized through their knowledge or understanding of the Scripture or through their religious acts. They were recognized through how they loved and how they forgave.

St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died saying what Jesus said at the cross:

“As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them; and when he said this, he fell asleep.” — Acts 7:59-60

At the end of his life, St. Stephen prayed for his persecutors.

Like the early Christians, Jesus was known for His love and for His forgiveness:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” — Matthew 5:44

The two signs of whether or not we are true Christians are if we know how to love and if we know how to forgive — especially those who have hurt us.

Are there people in your life whom you still haven't forgiven? Like what Jesus said, pray for them.

In my life, there still are people I find hard to forgive — not because they hurt me, but because they hurt the people I love.

But when I pray for them even when it’s difficult, when I pray for their success and well-being, I find the peace to face them, to love them, to forgive them, and to walk with them.

Pray for them from the heart and you will learn to forgive them.

The true essence of religion

Let us be careful not to miss the point of religion which is to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, and with all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I believe in the importance of religion because I believe that God is a god of order. In the Old Testament, God was very specific as to how He wanted the tabernacle to be erected. He showed Moses a vision of the heavenly sanctuary on which He based the pattern of the tabernacle. In the book of Leviticus, God was also very specific as to how He wanted the Levitical priests to serve Him in the temple.

St. Paul wrote about this in his letters to the Hebrews:

“They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, as Moses was warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle. For he says, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’” — Hebrews 8:5

As Catholics, we believe that our celebrations of the Mass give us a glimpse of heavenly worship where we share in the love of God.

But many times, we miss the point of religion.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us of the true essence of religion.

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:20

The scribes and the Pharisees were “experts” in the law given to Moses. But despite knowing the “how-to’s” of worshipping God, they often missed the essence of why they were doing the things they did. Jesus even said to them:

“Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” — Luke 11:46

They knew the Law, but they missed the point of the Law. They missed the point of religion.

The true essence of the Law and religion is love.

Many times, we ourselves miss the point of our traditions, our Sacraments, and our practices by failing to truly love God and our neighbors.

What is the point of attending Mass if we do not know how to forgive and reconcile with our brothers as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading?

Religion was designed to love God and to love our neighbors as Jesus would always tell His disciples and followers.

Are you a religious person? Do you regularly attend Mass?

Let us be careful not to miss the point of religion which is to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, and with all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Why Catholics believe in the authority of the Pope

We are called to respect the authority that comes from God. 
al ha bayit.jpg

There was a time when I questioned the authority of priests and of the Pope.

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, I wish to share with you some of the lessons that made me respect the Papacy and its authority and the things that helped me understand the Catholic Church even more.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter:

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” — Matthew 16:18-19

What does this mean? What authority did Jesus give Peter when He gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven?

In order to understand this, we have to go back to the Old Testament and take a look at the structure of the Davidic Kingdom:

The Structure of the Davidic Kingdom

During the time of the Divided Kingdom (that is, the time of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah — which is the Davidic Kingdom), the Southern Kingdom was always ruled by a king from the descendants of David as promised by God to David (1 Samuel 7:16). As the Son of David, Jesus is the King of kings.

Beside the king was the king’s mother, the Gebira or the Queen Mother, who interceded for others to the king and to whom even the king himself paid homage (1 Kings 2:19). That is why our early Church fathers and we Catholics venerate (or give high respect to) Mary as the Queen of Heaven because she is the Queen Mother of the King. (Again, we only venerate her and not worship her or give her praise.) That is also why we ask her to intercede for us to the King.

And then, there was the al-ha-bayit (which is the Hebrew for over-the-house) who acts as the chief steward or the prime minister of the kingdom. When it comes to authority, the al-ha-bayit is second only to the king.

The Roles of the Al-Ha-Bayit

In the second book of Kings, Eliakim was the al-ha-bayit. He was also called the master of the palace.

“They (the Assyrians) called for the king, but Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, the master of the palace, came out, along with Shebnah the scribe and the chancellor Joah, son of Asaph.” — 2 Kings 18:18

The other mention of the al-ha-bayit was way back in the book of Genesis, when Joseph was assigned over the house of Pharaoh or the whole land of Egypt:

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph: ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are. You shall be in charge of my household, and all my people will obey your command. Only in respect to the throne will I outrank you.’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Look, I put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’” — Genesis 41:39-41

In these verses, the main role of the al-ha-bayit is to be in charge of the king’s house which is his kingdom, especially in the absence of the king. That is why we Catholics believe in the authority of Peter and his successors, the Popes, over the Church of Jesus. 

Of course, God will never be absent in our lives because He is always with us. But until Jesus comes again, He gave us the Papacy to guide us, to love us, and to unite us as we journey to eternity and until Jesus comes again.

The book of the prophet Isaiah also gives us a clue as to the other roles of the al-ha-bayit (and even how he was clothed). The context of the following verses is that God would replace Shebna, the former al-ha-bayit, with Eliakim:

“On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place, a seat of honor for his ancestral house.” — Isaiah 22:20-23

As we read from Isaiah, the al-ha-bayit was also to be a father to the house of Judah, which was the Davidic Kingdom. That is also why Peter and his successors are called the Pope (or Papa) because they are to be a father to the Church of Jesus, His kingdom, His sheep.

“‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” — John 21:15

The al-ha-bayit, like Peter, was also given the key to the House of David. What the al-ha-bayit opens, no one will shut, and what he shuts, no one will open. This is similar to the authority given by Jesus to Peter regarding the kingdom of heaven. 

This is why we Catholics believe that following the authority of the Pope and of the Catholic has eternal consequences for us.

Our Role as Catholics with Regards to Authority

We Catholics believe that the Catholic Church is the spotless bride of Christ. Spotless, meaning perfect.

However, we also understand that while the Church is perfect, its members and its leaders are not. We have always faced challenges regarding the corruption and immorality of some of our members and even our clergy.

But, this is not a reason for us to give up on our Church or disrespect our leaders whose authority comes from God.

David gives us a wonderful example by sparing the life of King Saul even if the king was always trying to kill David:

“When [Saul] came to the sheepfolds along the way, he found a cave, which he entered to relieve himself. David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of the cave. David’s servants said to him, ‘This is the day about which the LORD said to you: I will deliver your enemy into your hand; do with him as you see fit.’ So David moved up and stealthily cut off an end of Saul’s robe. Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’ With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way.” — 1 Samuel 24:4-8

Like Saul, the people to whom God gave His authority are not perfect. But like David, we are called to be merciful and to respect the authority that comes from God.

Others may abuse this authority. But, we are still called to love, to respect, and trust in God’s justice.

I, personally, think about it this way. While God’s authority is perfect, the ones receiving that authority are not. But, they still deserve our respect by the merits of the authority given by God.

This is also probably why we celebrate not just the Feast of Saint Peter, but also of his chair which is the sign of God's authority.

Do you also struggle with understanding the authority given by God to the Pope and the priests?

I hope this post helped you understand where you can find the historical and Biblical bases of the Papacy. 

If this post helped you in understanding the Catholic faith, please feel free to pass it along to family and friends whom you think will be helped by this post.

The sign of Jonah

There are so many Gentiles in our lives such as people from different color, race, religion, or background. Today, Jesus is calling us to love them and share with them God’s love and message of salvation. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the crowd that no sign will be given to them except for the sign of Jonah.

“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” — Luke 11:30

What is the sign of Jonah?

The most common understanding of the sign of Jonah is like how Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so would Jesus be in the heart of the earth when He died and resurrected on the third day. (Matthew 12:40)

But aside from the death and resurrection of Jesus, there are two other meanings of the sign of Jonah.

One is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. 

“Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’” — Jonah 3:4

During His ministry at around 30 AD, Jesus also preached a message of repentance. However, many of the people, especially the Pharisees and the scribes, did not listen to Him and even had Him killed. In 70 AD, the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed during the persecution of the Jews.

“Jesus left the temple area and was going away, when his disciples approached him to point out the temple buildings. He said to them in reply, ‘You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’” — Matthew 24:1-2

The other meaning of the sign of Jonah is that God sent Jesus to extend His love to the Gentiles like how He sent Jonah to extend His love to the Ninevites (who are also Gentiles).

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: ‘Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.’” — Jonah 3:1-2
“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.’” — Matthew 8:10-11

There are so many Gentiles in our lives such as people from different color, race, religion, or background. 

Today, Jesus is calling us to love them and share with them God’s love and message of salvation.

When our prayers become dry

When our prayers become dry, let us pray by simply remaining in God, being with Him, walking with Him, and staying in His loving embrace. When we pray, let us simply allow God to love us, to comfort us, and to give us rest. We do not even have to say a single word.

There are three prayers and novenas that I pray regularly:

  • The Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which reminds me to hope and surrender in the mercy of God.
  • The Litany of Humility which reminds me to seek God and not the riches and recognition of this world.
  • The Novena of Mary the Untier of Knots which reminds me of the role of Mary as the Gebira or the Queen Mother who intercedes for us and points us to her Son Jesus Christ, the King. It also reminds me to surrender to God’s will like what Mary did throughout her life.

But sometimes, I get so familiar with my novenas that I forget the essence of why I am praying them. I even get familiar with my daily prayers that they become dry.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us that the essence of prayer is not our words or novenas for God already knows what we are praying for:

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” — Matthew 6:7-8

The essence of prayer is being with God.

When our prayers become dry, let us pray by simply remaining in God, being with Him, walking with Him, and staying in His loving embrace. When we pray, let us simply allow God to love us, to comfort us, and to give us rest. We do not even have to say a single word.

Only then can we truly hear God in our prayers as well.

When we remain in God in every moment of our lives, we also "pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

 

P.S. Still, I believe in the beauty of novenas and other prayers of the saints and our Church fathers. Because they may teach us or remind us to pray for the things we may not pray for otherwise such as humility, trust, and the acceptance of God’s will.