Possessed by Christ

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 02 July 2023
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16 ><}}}}*> Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 ><}}}}*> Matthew 10:37-42
Photo by author, Our Lady of Fatima University-Quezon City with the La Mesa Dam Forest Reserve at the back, 01 July 2023.

Jesus continues to instruct the Twelve with important lessons on discipleship as he sent them on their first mission the other week. Last Sunday he taught them – including us today – to face all fears not to be fearless of anything or anyone but to fear only God.

Today, Jesus cautions us not to be unduly influenced by people especially those closest to us in fulfilling our mission in him. Very often, intimidation and influence can be used to adversely affect our ministry that eventually veer us away from our Lord Jesus Christ in the process. Hence, his encouragement too for us to persevere through those influences as we follow him.

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:37-39

James J. Tissot, ‘The Exhortation to the Apostles’ (1886-94) from Getty Images.

Being a Christian is being possessed by Christ. That is why he told us last week to “be not afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul” so that we fear only him our Lord Jesus Christ in the sense that we lose all meaning in life without him.

To be possessed by Jesus Christ is to have a life centered in him, detached from undue influences including from our family and friends especially us priests and religious. When priests focus more with self and family or with other people instead of Jesus Christ, everything crumbles – pati sutana nalaglag na! That is when priesthood becomes a career and a means for social mobility and livelihood with money as the priest’s new “lord and master”.

Priesthood is Jesus Christ, the Caller, not the call as I have always insisted to seminarians I teach and direct. Problems happen when the Caller is dislodged from the top spot and focus shifts on the call or priesthood when priests literally and figuratively throw their weight around when we hear the notorious lines “matutulog ang pari, pagod and pari, unawain ang pari”.

Photo by Ka Ruben, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, August 2022.

Discipleship in general of which the priesthood is just a part is indeed a very difficult life. Nobody said it would be easy as the opening instructions of Jesus to the Twelve clearly stated, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Jesus is not asking us to disregard our family and friends. What Jesus is telling us is actually a warning against too much expectations that our family and friends would love and embrace him too inasmuch as we have given ourselves to him. Not true at all, sad to say.

There are times that those closest to us are the ones who could not accept Jesus Christ’s call of discipleship. There are times that the most difficult people to be catechized and evangelized are those dearest to us.

Many of us must have felt in many instances how our family or friends are the ones who reject the ways of Jesus, the values of Christ. In this highly competitive world so exaggerated by the social media when everyone feels so entitled and deserving for everything, people have become so impersonal in dealing with each other, forgetting the basic courtesies in life, especially respect and kindness. Many are blinded by fame and wealth forgetting God and the people around them.

Photo by Mr. Mon Macatangga, 12 May 2023.

This Sunday, Jesus is teaching us to always have him as the basis and foundation of our relationships. Remember the gospel two Sundays ago when upon seeing the crowds Jesus was “moved with pity because they were troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd” that he taught us to pray for more workers in the harvest (Mt.9:36-37). The problems in the world can never be solved by money and any material thing but only by another person, by someone with the heart and face of Christ filled with his warmth and his loving presence, someone not afraid to love, not afraid to get hurt, not influenced by fads and trends or by what others say.

Everything in this life, in our ministry and in our discipleship has to be seen in the light of Jesus Christ. Things become cloudy or dull and shady when Jesus is absent that can greatly affect, for better or for worse, our relationships with one another. This we see in the first reading about the hospitality offered by that Shumenite woman to Elisha the prophet whom she recognized as a man of God. Elisha clearly saw the woman’s basis of hospitality – God – that he never abused it. In fact, we find a trace of humor when Elisha had to ask his servant what their graceful hostess most needed to reward her hospitality. Sometimes like Elisha in our being so focused in serving the Lord, we become so ignorant of the most obvious with those closest to us; imagine Elisha asking his servant what to reward the Shumenite woman, his seeming oblivious to the fact she and husband were childless! Eventually, Elisha would grant the couple the gift of a son whom he would later bring back to life.

At my 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood with friends from UST’s the Varsitarian, 18 April 2023.

To be possessed by Christ means to be “dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” as St. Paul explained in our second reading today (Rom.6:11). For some it may sound foolish but that is the reality and mystery of life we have been reflecting since the resumption of Ordinary Time last month. It is what we call as Christian paradox when in our sharing in Christ’s paschal mystery of his suffering and death, that is also when we find and experience our resurrection and life.

Last Monday, a very dear friend died, Sr. Gina of the Religious of Good Shepherd. We met in 1984 when I joined UST’s the Varsitarian where she was an outgoing staff member. She was the one who proclaimed the first reading at my celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood last April 18.

Photo by author, Chapel of the RGS Mother House in Quezon City, 29 June 2023.

When I first invited her to my anniversary, she declined due to a big retreat of priests at their spirituality center in Tagaytay; within a few hours, she texted me back and told me she would fix her schedule so she could come to my anniversary celebration. She later texted me twice to insist she had to be present at my silver anniversary.

Unknown to us all, her cancer had recurred and metastasized last November which we learned only June 28 when the RGS Sisters issued a health bulletin about her condition. Sr. Gina had decided to stop all medications to wait for the inevitable at their mother house in Quezon City two weeks earlier. June 29 she texted me to inform me of her condition. I was so happy to chat a few lines with her, asking her if I could visit her this week.

She never replied.

When I learned her condition the other Wednesday night, I cried as I realized the very reason why she insisted on coming to my anniversary in April: to remind me we are possessed by Jesus, only Jesus, always Jesus. Please pray for her beautiful soul. Thank you and God bless!