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The teaching of Christ in our Gospel today (Mt. 18:15-20) seems to go contrary to our perceived everyday model of reconciliation. In our everyday life we instinctively expect the person who offends us to come seeking for reconciliation. On the contrary, Christ lies the responsibility for initiating reconciliation with the person who is offended: “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his faults.” Christ admonishes us to reach out to the offender. This goes with a lot of humility. 

Christ presents four steps towards reconciliation: First is a private consultation. Effective reconciliation begins by privately seeking it. It will be counter productive to tell the whole about a wrong doing committed against you by someone before making the person in question know about it. This may jeopardize the process. In a Christian spirit, let the person be the first to know that you feel offended by his/her actions. When this first step fails Christ gave a second step where you involve one or two responsible people that can help mediate. Be sure that such people are truly responsible because some people can make matters worse between you. The third step, if the second fails, is to involve the church or the community.  

The last step, if all fail, is to treat the person “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This last step can be misunderstood. Many may think that this means you have finished trying; you should hate the person or treat the person with disdain. Definitely, that’s not the kind of advice we will expect from a person like Jesus who symbolizes persistent love. When Christ advised his listeners to treat the person as they would a Gentile or a Tax collector, he is asking them to follow his (Jesus) footsteps. How did Jesus treat the Gentiles and the tax collectors? You remember what he did to the Samaritan woman at the well who was considered to be a Gentile? Remember what he did to Zacchaeus and Levi who were considered to be tax collectors? He didn’t condone their behaviors neither did he hate them or despise them. He never got done with them, he never finished trying. 

This last step is about the most challenging. Christ is asking us to still forgive and love even when our efforts for reconciliation fail. It is not an invitation to hate, but it is a christian call to never give up on trying to win back a brother or sister. If we can do nothing else, we can at least continue to pray for the person and still leave room that someday reconciliation may be achieved. This was reiterated by St. Paul in the second reading (Rom. 13:8-10): “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…. Love does no evil to the neighbor.” When you seek reconciliation and the other refuses, you’re exonerated in the side of God. The burden of sin is taken away from you. But continue to lift the person up to God. This is so weird and difficult. But a christian is known by his weird and difficult actions that eventually lead to God. 

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As we interact with people everyday we develop relationships that influence how they perceive us. There is hardly a one-way universal perception of an individual. People perceive us differently depending on how much they know us. Sometimes it is better not to ask people to tell us what they think about us unless we are strong enough to contend with what we will hear. In today’s Gospel (Mt. 16:13-20), Christ asked his disciples to tell him what they hear on the street about people’s perception of him. But the important question came when he wanted to know what the disciples, his closest companions, think of him. Peter spoke out from his personal experience of Jesus and said he is the Christ.

This challenges us with the question of our personal experience of Jesus as Christians. The important thing is not what others think about Jesus or what the scriptures say about him. What is important is an individual experience of Jesus as a believer: how do I experience him in my life? How do we explain Jesus to others from a personal point of view not what we hear or read about him.”

For Peter, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, not because he read it somewhere but because he allowed himself to have a personal relationship with Jesus that made him reach that conclusion. Peter, had a personal experience, a personal touch that came as a result of his openness to Jesus. For us to have a personal experience of Jesus we need to have a relationship with him, to be open to his promptings and dispose ourselves for him to touch our innermost emotions.

For us who are Jesus’ followers today, saying that He is the Christ, the Son of God is a repetition of a revealed truth. Such statement is a fundamental fact of our belief. Beyond this, we need something more, something deeper. We need real personal relationship to enable us describe him in our own words or terms. For example, for me, my personal relationship with Jesus makes me to describe Him as a confidant that never betrays my trust, one who knows my darkest sides, my weaknesses, but instead of getting disappointed and abandoning me he rather draws closer and encourages me to be better. He is the one that waits on me when there is no one to relate with. He is the one who does not judge me but always cautions me. He is the one who upholds me when am about to give up. Who is Jesus to you?

The challenge of having a personal relationship with Jesus is that his relationship is not selfish. He wants us to share with others what we feel and experience with him. When Peter proclaimed him as the Christ, the Son of God, he crowned Peter and gave him the mandate to be the harbinger of that belief, to defend it and to share it with others. It therefore means that as christians, we are expected to be to others what Christ is to us because his relationship is infectious. If I truly experience Jesus and have a personal experience of him, then it should be translated to living it out with others. Therefore, if Jesus is a friend that never judges me, I should not judge others. If he is one who knows my darkest sides and yet stands by me and helps me to erase them and become better, then I also need to stand by my friends, my family etc. to strengthen them despite my knowledge of their weaknesses.

Today, we are invited to share with the world our deep-rooted experience of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Gospel today (Mt 15:21-28) presents us with a story of a woman who came to Jesus seeking for help to heal her daughter. This woman was a Canaanite, a group of people that were cast out by the Hebrews and considered unclean because they were seen as pagans. Although this woman knew she was considered as unclean among the Hebrews, she didn’t allow her so called ‘unclean’ status to prevent her from seeking help from a Hebrew whom she saw as capable of helping her. 

From the onset, this woman taught us a lesson. That we should not allow any barrier to stand between us and our God. Never allow the feeling of unworthiness to further push you away from God or never feel that your sins are too grave that God is no longer interested in you. If we know the God we serve and what we need, then we must not be distracted but remain focused on the prize.

Interestingly, this woman was never discouraged even by Jesus’ words that alluded to her as ‘dog’. The use of the term ‘dogs’ to refer to the Gentiles was a common practice among the Jews of Jesus’ time who believed they’re the only true children and heir of God. Jesus certainly didn’t believe in such discriminatory perception. However, he repeated the words as a reminder to his people and to show them that anyone who has faith can be saved, not only the Jews. It was also a test of faith for the woman. 

Although her faith was tried, she passed the test. She was focused on the prize and not the obstacles on the way to the prize. She abandoned her pride and focused on the needs of her daughter. She believes that this Holy man was more than what he just told her. Her pride was also tested. She refused to succumb. She knew that this man called Jesus was a holy man, and since he has done it for others, he will do it for her. And so she persisted. This woman had her faith and pride tested but she passed with patience and persistence. 

Brothers and sisters, what are the hurdles we encounter in the process of seeking God’s favors? Sometimes our prayers and requests seem to go endlessly without results. There are times we experience more hardships and even increased problems on the way despite our prayers. Such feelings of helplessness and seeming lack of immediate response from God are capable of discouraging us and creating the feeling that God doesn’t care. But like this woman in the Gospel, if we focus on the prize not the hurdles or the bumps on the way, we will eventually enjoy the flavor of our patience Sometimes God delays His answers so that we can cherish His gifts when they come. And again, at other times God’s delays may indicate His change of plans for us against our erroneous desires. Remember, He controls the future and He will not hand you a snake instead of a fish. Stick to God’s plans with patience. One who is patient can boil a rock and drink from its sauce. 

Doubts and fears are two strong enemies of human endeavors. So many of us are determined to walk through the waters of life but unfortunately our fears and doubts truncate our determinations and thwart our efforts. In our Gospel reading today, Peter was affected by the effects of fears and doubts. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and asked to do the same. He was invited by Jesus. Sure enough, Peter started walking on the water quite good. But when the wind became strong he was frightened. Doubts set in, and he started sinking. 

Peter walked on the water not by his power but the power of Christ. As long as he relied on the power of Christ he kept walking on the water. But the moment Peter started focusing on himself and thinking it was his ability and power, he started to sink. He sank because his human powers were limited by fear, doubts and uncertainty. Peter began by trusting in God, but his failure came when he turned attention to himself and began to trust more in his ability rather than God. But when he returned his attention to the powers of Christ and invited Jesus to help him, he received the strength and continued to walk again.

As humans we have our storms, our troubles and our worries in life. These are often worsened by our doubts and fears. Our strength alone is not sufficient to combat these troubles because our human abilities are beclouded by fears and doubts and the evil one does well in an environment of fear and doubt. But the more we rely on the power of God, the stronger we become with the ability to manage our troubles. The moment we assume we can solve our problems independent of God, we find ourselves stumbling and sinking the more into our problems.

Are you experiencing chaos in your life? Is your faith beginning to slip? Are you feeling rejected? Are you tired of trying? Those are moments of doubts and fears. Don’t give in easily or else you will be drowned and be taken away by the storm of your problems. When you realize your family is tearing apart, and you no longer find joy in your spouse or your kids, don’t merely rely on your power alone to fix it – call on God. Or it may be that when you started your job you’re all excited but later down the years you no longer find joy in it, you’re getting frustrated with everything. Don’t allow yourself to sink. It’s time to call on your helper for more strength. Whatever you do seek the hands of God. Without God, our human powers are full of doubts, uncertainty, mistrust etc. Although Peter was afraid because of the storm, he never allowed himself to be defeated by his fears. He fought his fears by calling on Christ – a superior power – to help him. Whatever solution you seek for your problems, never forget to include a spiritual solution.

Focus your attention on Jesus and be courageous to call on Him always. With trust in Jesus we can walk on the waters of life despite its turbulence. Never rely on your abilities alone. Remember, we draw our strength from God and we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).

In the transfiguration event, we are presented with a scene that appears to be an open transition from the Old covenant to the New. Moses and Elijah represent the old covenant – standing for the law and the prophets respectively. Jesus appears in the middle of these great men of the scriptures as a fulfillment of the covenant. The transfiguration brings to the fore the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. The presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus shows us that the Old Testament and the New Testament are not opposed to each other. Rather, they complement each other in the fulfillment of the law and the prophets through Jesus Christ. We believe that the scripture or the Bible in its entirety is the revealed Word of God. 

Furthermore, as a confirmation of who Jesus is, while in the presence of his disciples, and standing amidst the representation of the Old Testament (Moses and Elijah), God pointed at the face of the New Covenant (Jesus Christ) and asked us to ‘Listen to Him.’ A kind of a transfer of authority from the old to the new, not in opposition but in transition. The transfiguration fused together the law and the prophets into the new covenant – salvation through Jesus Christ.

The voice of God in today’s gospel commands us as christians to listen to His son. How does Jesus speak to us today and how do we listen to Him? There are various ways. As christians Christ speaks to us through the scriptures, through the Church and it’s teachings and through the traditions of the Church. Unfortunately, many Christians today see the Bible, the scriptures, the Word of God, as boring. Some of us cannot sustain a long-term interest in reading the bible. It is easier for some to finish a 100-page book in hours but they cannot sustain reading only a two-page chapter of the bible in a month.The question is why the lack of interest on the things of God? As Christians, we need to transfigure our image and ignite our interest for the things of the Divine so that we can hear Him and listen to Him.

Sadly too, many of us have ignored these channels through which Christ speaks to us. We fail to listen to him when we decide to pick and choose what to believe in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Church. So many of us have allowed personal and societal ideologies to dictate what to believe about what the scriptures and the Church teach. It is sad that for some professed Christians social and political ideologies speak to us more than the Word of God. We prefer to listen to those loud societal voices while ignoring the gentle whispering voice of God. As Christians, the teachings of our faith should shape our moral, social and political ideologies, not the other way round. When we take the teachings of the Scripture and the Church together we will realize that they do not fit into just one narrow ideological view. Our faith is not a ‘party-line’ ideology. It supersedes all. We must be true followers of Christ who listen to him in its entirety. We cannot afford to remain pick-and-choose christians.

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In today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Christ used parables to compare the kingdom of heaven to certain treasures in the field and a merchant in search of fine pearls. Reasonably, we may perceive the Kingdom of heaven as something abstract, far removed from the present or something that awaits us only when we die. But we must also remember that a parable is actually an earthy story embedded with heavenly meaning. I choose to particularly reflect on these two parables in the light of our today’s earthly story hoping that it may resonate with our real life experience and make meaning to us.

The treasures and the fine pearls found by the two men in the parables denote something special and invaluable that must be loved, cared for and even give up everything to possess, maintain and sustain them. In our present reality, we need to talk about the ‘treasures’ that lead us to the ultimate treasure (the kingdom of heaven). We cannot attain the ultimate treasure if we do not cherish the earthly treasure bestowed upon our earthly care. The real treasure of life is under our noses: the people we share our life with; our communities, our gifts, and the opportunities we face every day to show our values as Christians. It is in such heart of ordinary things that we discover the kingdom of Jesus

In the two parables, one found a treasure by chance, he stumbled on it (was lucky), while the other had to search so hard for the fine pearls before he finally found it. It is a reality of life that some of us are lucky that our treasures come to us without much pain: the joy of a good family (a great husband/wife), very listening kids, a good paying job, good health, a strong faith passed to us by our parents, etc. But others are not that lucky. They have to work so hard, sometimes with pain and difficulties, for them to discover and possess their treasures: they work extra hard to remain happy with a family (constant struggle with marital relationships), struggling with children that are in and out of trouble, struggling to keep a job, struggling with health issues, etc.

Our Gospel today is challenging. It challenges us that regardless of how we discover our treasures we need to cherish them when we have them. Our possession of God’s kingdom hereafter is built upon how we manage our treasures here and now, whether they come to us easy or we have to struggle to discover and maintain them. We must not take anything for granted. We must find joy in what we have, even if it means struggling to make them better. For us to maintain our treasures or discover our fine pearls, we need to let those who are close to us know how much we cherish them. Be positive about what God has blessed you with. Learn to shower words of blessings upon the treasures that God has bestowed upon your life: your spouse, children, family, friends, etc. Tell them how beautiful they are, how intelligent they are, how helpful and priceless they are. And don’t forget to love yourself regardless of your looks and health condition – who you are is also priceless! Appreciate your employer, thank your employees and love what you do. Make your family and all that God has blessed you with to know how special they are, let them see you as one who can give up everything to possess them because they are of inestimable worth like the treasure in the field and the fine pearls. Certainly, they may not be perfect, but grace is built upon nature. People grow and do better when they know they’re appreciated. Don’t be too negative towards them all the time, you can fine the most beautiful pearl and treasure in the world if you are patient and positive with what God has placed into your care.

In today’s world, technology has provided us with a means for easy and accessible communication with a global audience in addition to our everyday face-to-face interactions. The faceless nature of technology – through the Internet and social media – has given many people the courage to express themselves in a way that they are not able to do in real-life face-to-face communication. This is a positive development. Unfortunately, this ability to courageously express feelings and thoughts through Internet technology has also introduced a callous attitude to communication and expression that promotes intolerance and hate among people. In the process of free and faceless expression, some have ignored the place of charity in human interactions. Pope Francis, in his message for the 50th World Communications Day (2016), emphasized the fruitful encounter between communication and mercy. His message was an invitation to the world to use the means of communication with which this generation has blessed us to communicate with fraternal love and charity, not by spreading hate and division.

This brief paper reflects on the relationship between communication and mercy and delineates the responsibilities of the person that communicates, especially in a time when technology appears to be a major aid to communication and transmission of information. As we reflect on the invitation to communicate with mercy, love and charity, the challenge to us as people of faith is: how do we do this? How do we communicate with love and fraternal charity in a society that is culturally and religiously diverse? How do we communicate with mercy in a world torn apart by religious intolerance? How do we communicate with mercy in a world where ethnicity and race are central points of identity? I believe that the answer lies in developing a communication spirituality that is guided by the principles of our faith.

Developing a Communication Spirituality

The message of the Holy Father for the 50th World Communications Day caused me to further reflect on the emerging concept of communication spirituality. This is a new concept; it attaches a spiritual meaning to communication beyond the everyday understanding of communication as a process of transmission of messages from sender to receiver. Communication spirituality embodies the idea that such transmission of messages should lead to building up humanity, not destroying it. Communication spirituality is embedded in the meaning of communication and mercy as presented by Pope Francis: “In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #11).

As we use the various tools of communication, particularly the new media technologies such as the Internet and social media, I invite us to develop a communication spirituality that will enable us to communicate with mercy, love and fraternal charity. Communication spirituality ensures that whatever comes out from the inside of us and is expressed in a message – in the real world or online –  should always flow from, and be grounded in, the spiritual experience that has been internalized as a result of our faith. Technology does not communicate; it is the person that communicates by the use of technology. Therefore, it is impossible to remove the human element from true communication. Communication spirituality reinforces the demands of our faith that encourage respect for differences and accommodation of diversity in our human relationships.

The Internet facilitates and enables interaction between and among people of different cultures, races, belief systems, political inclinations and geographical locations. Communication spirituality helps us to value and appreciate our differences through the sharing of ideas and knowledge that enhances growth. Technology does not have the ability to do all these things. As an instrument, it only facilitates these behaviors. The ability to carry out these behaviors is exclusive to humans. Technology does not hurt our feelings; humans do. Technology does not judge anyone; humans do. Technology does not have a heart; humans do. Technology does not interact; humans do. According to Pope Francis, “it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #10).

Therefore, we should never allow the facelessness we feel when using a piece of technology to make us forget that we are persons with a heart and feelings, communicating with another person or persons with human features just like we have. The fact that some may seem heartless and mean in their communication with us, is not an excuse to pay them back in their own coin by becoming heartless and mean as well. Rather, it is an opportunity to put our communication spirituality into play: communicate with conviction, in love and with fraternal charity. This type of communication sets us apart as people of faith and encourages peaceful collaboration and integration among people in our society.

Communication spiritualty in a multicultural environment demands that our Facebook posts, our tweets, our text messages, our blog posts, and our face-to-face conversations have, as their end, the desire to contribute to the common good of the person and the society. To develop a communication spirituality in a pluralistic society is to value the benefits of technology, which are a gift to our generation, and to use these tools to promote peaceful coexistence. People should use technologies to communicate their opinions and knowledge without resorting to hurting other people by demeaning their faith, their ethnicity, personalities or any other natural human attribute that may apply to them. When religious people allow the principles of their faith to guide their communication activities, they will realize that “communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society” (Pope Francis, 50th World Communications Day, #3). This is true communication spirituality in practice. It is the act of communicating with mercy, with love and with charity.

In our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, politicians and religious leaders must understand the diversity that stands before them. The thoughts they express have great impact on the lives of the people. We must not allow anger or sentiments to guide our utterances. Rational communication is needed to make our world better. Communication spirituality means sacrificing our anger and our sentiments, and communicating with a voice that is firm but charitable. Communicating with mercy, love and charity can have a positive influence on many people and can bring about conversion in the heart of the receiver of our messages. But hate only begets hate. When we preach hate, post hate, and return hate with hate, all we get is more hate and no peace. Any communication that blocks further opportunities for renewed relationships and reconciliation stands against mercy, love and peace.

Finally, when we develop a communication spirituality that is centered on fraternal charity and mercy, we begin to communicate with respect, with integrity, with a sense of justice, with a heart of compassion and with a desire to be of service to humanity.