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Pride and Humility

Pride and Humility

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

September 27, 2020

Matthew 21:28-31

Reading the entire Matthew chapter 21, we will get the sense of the parable of the two sons of the vineyard owner. Jesus just entered the city of Jerusalem and was welcomed by the people with a shout of “Hosana” and palm branches. Then, he proceeded to the Temple area to cleanse it from the malpractices plaguing the holy ground. Thus, the elders and chief priests, the one who was in charge of the Temple, questioned Jesus, “who are you? By what authority do you act and teach?”

Thus, Jesus answered them through a parable. This parable speaks of two sons; the first representing the elders and the second the tax collectors and prostitutes. Yet, to the surprise of the elders, far from being the protagonists of the story, they turn to be the villains. To add insult to the injury, the elders were practically in the worse condition than these tax collectors, because they are still far from the vineyard, from salvation. However, instead of repenting, the elders got infuriated and decided to finish Jesus once for all.

The question is “why were the tax collectors able to repent while the elders were not?” The answer is something to do with two opposing powers: at one side of the ring is humility and the other is pride. We begin with pride. Based on the Church’s tradition, pride is the deadliest of seven deadly sins. St. Thomas Aquinas explained that pride is “an excessive desire for one’s own excellence which rejects subjection to God.” In short, proud men regard themselves better than others to the point of contempt. What makes pride so dangerous, it may lead even people to think they are self-sufficient and has no need even of God.

Pride is extremely subtle because it can take root even in spiritual matters. We cannot say that I am lustful for prayer, but we can be proud of our spiritual life. We see ourselves holier and more pious than others based on our standards.

 At the opposite corner is humility. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, humility is a virtue that “temper and restrain the mind, lest it tends to high things immoderately.” In short, humility is the antidote of pride. Humility is rooted in the Latin word “humus” meaning soil. Humble persons recognize their identity as coming from the dust, and the breath of life and perfections are gifts of God. This humility will bring gratitude because we realized that despite nothing but dust, God is boundlessly generous and merciful to us.

However, humility and cowardice are often confused. Cowardice manifests in low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and poor in responsibility. Cowardice is rooted in incomplete and even distorted self-image. While humility begins with the right understanding of the self, that we are gratuitously loved by God. Humble people are strong people because only strong ones can confess their sins. Humble persons are mature persons because only mature ones are able to own their weakness, say sorry, and ask for help. Humble men and women are tough people because it is hard to forgive.

Lord, grant us humility, that we may follow Your holy will.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

The Parable of Mercy

The Parable of Mercy

25th Week in Ordinary Time [A]

September 20, 2020

Matthew 20: 1-16

Among the many parables of Jesus, this parable of the owner of the vineyard is one that I find difficult to understand. Every time I read this parable, I always felt that something was wrong. Perhaps, I easily associate myself with the first-coming workers, who work from morning to sunset. They are laborers who spend their time and energy under the heat of the sun and give their efforts to meet the demands of the vineyard owner. However, they receive the same wages as those who only offer one hour of work. Of course the owner of the vineyard did not break the contract, but there still seemed to be injustice.

Maybe, this experience is like when I was studying in Manila. I was studying hard to get the best that I could achieve. Indeed, I got good grades, but what I could not accept was when my classmates who did not spent much effort, got also the same grades as I did. For me, It was not fair, but I could drop my complaint because the final grade is the prerogative of the professor.

However, things started to look different when I became a teacher myself. At one point, I needed to give my students final grades. And this is the utmost dilemma for me because I realize that on the one hand, I need to provide justice, but on the other hand, I want all my students to pass and graduate. Finally, I often chose compassion and allowed my struggling students to pass. I am fully aware that some of my students will feel that I am unfair, and that is the burden I must bear as a lecturer who chooses to be compassionate.

If we try to look closely at what vineyard owner is doing, we will find it funny and even weird. He kept looking for and hiring new persons almost every three hours. To make matters worse, he gave the same daily wages for all. In the economy and business, overspending and excess labor are a recipe for bankruptcy! However, the owner of the vineyard did not seem to care and was constantly looking for laborers. Perhaps, he knew very well that if these people were without jobs, they would starve to death, but if they worked and received less than the minimum wage, they wouldn’t be able to survive either. He couldn’t satisfy everyone, but at least he would be able to save everyone.

Learning from this parable, rather than complaining to God, we need to rejoice because our Lord is full of mercy, who even takes the initiative and seeks to seek out those of us who need salvation, and who willingly give eternal life even to those who have not lived well, but at the last moment repent.

 We should rejoice because in God’s eyes, we are all the last workers to beg mercy. Who knows, the workers who come first are actually the angels, and we really are the last unworthy laborers. With our sin, we all deserve to go to hell, but God stretches out His hand and opens the Gates of Heaven. We should rejoice that heaven is not a lonely place where few righteous people deserve it, but it is full of grateful people who enjoy God’s mercy even if they are not worthy.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

[Check also my Youtube Channel ‘bayu ruseno’ to see videos on Catholic faith and catechism]

Mercy is the Option

Mercy is the Option

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

September 13, 2020

Matthew 18:21-35

Last Sunday, the Gospel spoke about the fraternal correction. If a brother has offended us, we are obliged to offer charitable correction. This Sunday, the Gospel tells us what to do if a person who has received a correction, is repenting and asking for forgiveness. The answer is simple: we forgive him, and we embrace him back into the communion.

Simon Peter, the spokesperson of the disciples, is trying to impress his Master. He offers that he is willing to forgive up to seven times. Simon Peter wants to show Jesus that he is also capable of having a high standard. To his surprise, Jesus is not impressed, and in fact, teaches the disciples another great lesson about justice, mercy and forgiveness.

This time, Jesus pulls out His favorite method: telling a parable, and we will appreciate the parable if we are able to recognize the historical context and its surprise. A servant owes 10,000 talents to a king. In Jesus’ time, talent is a precious gold coin, and it equals to 6,000 denarii. One denarius itself is equivalent to a wage of one day labor. Thus, this servant owes 60,000,000 days of work to His Master [or around 160,000 years of work!]. Yes, despite the unthinkably fantastic amount of debt, the king easily forgives and erases the entire debt when the servant begs for mercy. This king’s attitude is even more insane!

Therefore, when the king receives the news that this forgiven servant refuses to forgive another fellow servant with infinitely smaller debt [100 denarii], his anger is justifiable, and expectedly, his mercy turns to justice.

Reflecting this parable, we understand that before the Lord God, we are no different from this servant. We deserve nothing from the Lord except one thing: hell! Sin has destroyed our relationship with God, and we created an infinitely bottomless pit. Finite as we are, nothing we can do to close the infinite gap. Only the infinitely powerful God possesses the ability to build the impossible bridge. Fortunately, Jesus has assured us that His Father is also the Mercy Himself. Though we deserve nothing but hell, God has opened the gate of Paradise to us.

Since nobody can earn God’s mercy, His mercy is always free, but it does not mean it is cheap. God wants us to do something also to receive His mercy. He expects us to be merciful. If He forgives us, then we need to forgive those who have hurt us. Jesus Himself reminds us that we should be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful [Luk 6:36]. Being merciful is not an option. In fact, it is the justice that will be applied to us in the final judgment.

We know that to forgive is tough, but again we may learn from Jesus how to forgive. At the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing [Luk 23:34].” The first step is to pray for those people who have offended us. By praying often, we train our heart to let go of our anger and bitterness, and even to learn to love the way God loves even those people who wish Him not to exist at all.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno

Visit also my Youtube Channel “bayu ruseno”to get catechism videos!

Fraternal Correction

Fraternal Correction

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

September 6, 2020

Matthew 18:15-20

Today’s Gospel is well known as the fraternal correction or the way to correct our brothers. However, if we carefully read the text, we discover what being corrected is not simply about our appearance, mannerism, or etiquette. The concern of Jesus is about sin. Jesus does not teach us to correct someone who has a weird hairstyle, or someone who sleeps with a huge snore, or someone whose way of talking we do not like. If there is something that makes Jesus angry is none other than sin. Why so? Sin can destroy our relationship with God, and it closes the gate of heaven. Jesus’ mission is to bring forgiveness of sin and to undo the effects of sin, but if we refuse to repent and keep sinning, we throw insults to the sacrifice of Christ.

Jesus gives us the three stages of correcting a brother who lives in sin. The first level is a personal and compassionate reminder. We must not speak behind the person, but rather dare to confront and yet with charity. Just in case, the person is still obstinate, we activate the second level: calling two or three witnesses. The presence of witnesses will substantiate our claim. Yet, if the person remains stubborn, we shall appeal to the Church. We need to remember that the Church in Matthew 18 is not just an assembly of the believers, but the apostles, the authorities of the Church. If again, the person persists in his sin, then the Church has to treat him like gentiles and tax collectors.

Gentiles are non-Jewish nations and because they were not circumcised and worshiped idols, they are considered unclean and sinners. While the tax collectors were people who work for the Roman empire, and because their constant contact with the Romans and their corrupt practices, made them also unclean and sinners. The unclean people are not allowed to enter the Temple and synagogues to worship God. Thus, treating an obstinate brother like a pagan and tax collector means to separate him from the assembly in worship. This technical term for this is excommunication. This word is coming Latin words: “ex-” meaning outside, and “communion” meaning community or fellowship. Thus, being excommunicated is outside of the worshiping community. Thus, excommunicated persons are not allowed to receive the Holy communion, the sign of unity of the Body of Christ.

Excommunication seems to be too cruel, yet looking in a bigger perspective, it is a way of mercy, rather simply a tool of punishment. In fact, the Church rarely pronounced the sentence of excommunication. Most of the cases, it is the people who walk away from the Church and separate themselves from God and His people. We must also remember that Jesus is loving the gentiles and the tax collectors, calling them to repentance and performing many miracles for them. Our love for our brothers who are living sin remains and even gets intensified. The reason is that Jesus does not want them to perish, but live with God. We correct our erring brothers and sisters not because we hate them, but because we love them and because we are part of the same family of God. We are responsible for one another and we shall keep our brothers and sisters in our way toward heaven.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

check also my Youtube channel at “bayu ruseno” for video catechims, webinars and homilies.

Stumbling Stone

Stumbling Stone

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

August 30, 2020

Matthew 16:21-27

Last Sunday, we listen to the confession of Peter on the true identity of Jesus. Here, Simon received a new name, the keys of the kingdom and the authority to bind and to loosen. He became the prime minister of the kingdom, the first pope. However, today, we witness the dramatic turn around. When Jesus foretold about His incoming passion, Simon reactively put his Master aside, and rebuked Him. As a response, Jesus expressed harshly,
“Get away behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling stone to me!”

Last episode, Simon was Peter, and today, Simon is “Satan.” Last week, Simon was the foundational rock, and today, Simon is the stumbling stone. Previous story, Simon was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and now, he is thinking his self-interest.

To call Simon that he was “Satan” is unexpected, but not uncalled-for. Perhaps Jesus would like to point out that Peter’s action was influenced by the devil himself.  Often, we think that the evil spirits influence us in the case of diabolic possessions, but in reality, diabolic possessions are an extraordinary way of attacking us. There is an ordinary way: it is through temptations and inducing ideas that oppose to the plan of God. The real battle takes place not so much in the possession of our bodies, but of our minds and souls.

Peter is also called as the stumbling stone, and in Greek, it is “scandalon.” Last Sunday, he was given a new identity, Peter, the foundation rock, but now, he turns to be a stumbling stone. Both are stone, but two opposing purposes. The foundation rock is to support the Church and God’s will, but the stumbling stone is to stop or at least, to obstruct and slow down God’s will. Jesus has set his eyes on Jerusalem, to offer His life as sacrifice on the cross and gloriously rise from the death. Yet, Simon, the stumbling stone, tried to oppose and prevent Jesus from fulfilling His Father’s will. Interesting enough, the word “Satanas” in Greek, may mean ‘the adversary.’  Simon becomes the adversary against Jesus’ mission.

Last week, I reflect on the mission of Simon Peter and how we become little Peters as God calls us for particular vocation and service despite our unworthiness. However, Jesus tells us that the real hindrance to our mission is not our weakness and unworthiness, but our selfish interest and agenda. Instead saying, “Your will be done,” we shout, “My will be done.” This is the devil’s game plan, that we put ourselves first, rather than God. Some of us are ordained priests, yet instead serving the people with dedication, we are busy to seek comfort and amass fortune for ourselves. Some of us are parents, yet instead bringing our children to God, we are preoccupied in chasing our own ambitions and careers.

Thus, Jesus makes a bold reminder, “what is the point of gaining the whole world and yet losing our souls?” At the gate of heaven, St. Simon Peter will ask us, “Have you been a stumbling stone to God’s will or have your been a foundation rock to His plan?”

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP