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Loving God and Loving Neighbor

(Homily delivered by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle at the Mass on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, at the Arzobispado de Manila Chapel at 7:30 a.m.)

With this Eucharistic Celebration where we will witness the blessing and the distribution of the ashes we are inaugurating or opening the holy Season of Lent, 40 days of Lent. It is a whole journey actually these 40 days offered to us, a journey in faith so that like the people of Israel that wandered in the desert for 40 years, we, during these 40 days of desert experience may be able to join Jesus in His passion, death and also resurrection.


The desert is not one place where people would normally want to live or stay. But according to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI there are many deserts in life and, in fact, some societies are experiencing what we call desertification. Parang ang pananampalataya ay nagiging disyerto. But while it is uncomfortable to be in the desert, a desert experience brings us to the essentials. When you are in the desert you know what really matters. Kapag nasa disyerto ka alam mo na ang pinakamahalaga ay tubig. Kapag nasa disyerto ka hindi na mahalaga ang iyung gel; hindi na mahalaga yung iyong lipstick, hindi na mahalaga yung porma mo.  Iyan ang isang mahalaga sa desert, you are brought to the essentials.

And this is what the Season of Lent in a way wants to impart to us as we join the people Israel who were wandering in the desert before entering the promised land; as we join Jesus who spent 40 days in the wilderness where He fasted, prayed and was tempted   before entering the world of His ministry,  we are invited to enter some sort of spiritual desert so that we can go the heart of the faith. And let us remember dear brothers and sisters, this Lenten observance this year happens within the Year of Faith. Ito ang Kuwaresma sa loob ng Taon ng Pananampalatay. And the readings give us two important things.

First is returning to the Lord; returning to God. That is the main message of the first reading from the Prophet Joel. “Return to me with your whole heart.” So let our hearts be focused on the Lord.

St. Paul in the second reading tells us we are ambassadors of Christ appealing to you, be reconciled with God. In the desert of our lives, this is one important thing that should be a treasure to us not only during Lent but every moment of our lives. Always turn to God; be reconciled with Him; doing what is pleasing to Him; harmonizing ourselves with the plan, with the will of God. Conversion is not just avoiding sin, but turning to God. That is faith. Iiwas nga ako sa masama pero mayroon ba naman akong pinatutunguhan? Minsan kaya tayo hindi makaiwas sa masama ay dahil wala tayong pinatutunguhan. Kung baligtarin kaya, ang buhay mo patungo sa Diyos at a kapag ikaw ay nakatungo na sa Diyos maiiwasan mo na yung masama. Uulitin ko po iyon. Minsan ang ginagawa lang natin ay umiiwas sa masama, at mabuti po iyon, yung umiwas sa masama. Pero pagkanaiwas ako sa masama ibig sabihin ba nun pumunta na tayo sa Diyos? Posibleng hindi. Umiwas ako sa masama pero baka wala naman akong pinuntuhan na Diyos. Eh, kung baligtarin. Unahin mo na ikaw ay bumalik sa Diyos at kapag ang puso at isip ay nakatuon na sa Diyos, iiwas ka na sa masama niyan, dahil nasa Diyos ka na.

And this is what we learn from Jesus. What made it possible for Him to face His death and therefore enter into new life, He was totally focused on the Father. Totally focused on the will of the Father so that nothing can block Him or hinder Him from doing what the Father has sent Him to do. So mga kapatid iyan po ang una. Balik sa Diyos in Jesus Christ. Fix you gaze, fix your eyes on the Lord.

Pero may ikalawa po. We cannot fix our eyes on the Lord without also looking at our neighbors, who are the image of God and who are loved by God. We see in the life of Jesus this double orientation. He was focused on God. He was the obedient Son of God. The will of God is to save others, to save people. And so Jesus did not only donate Himself, His life to God that donation of self to God also meant His giving of self to others for love of God and their salvation.

That is why when you look at the first reading, returning to God, our worship of God includes: being slow to anger like God; being rich in kindness like God; being compassionate to others like God. I cannot say kuwaresma na ngayon, nakatuon na ako sa Diyos pero ang puso ko malayo sa tao, kung malapit na ang puso sa Diyos ang puso na iyan titibok katulad ng pagtibok ng puso ng Diyos para sa kapwa.

And in the Gospel we are taught the three disciplines of Lent which are meant to help us focus on God and also to be more loving towards our neighbors. One is almsgiving. Kaya nga ngayon po ay binubuksan din ang Alay Kapwa, kung papaano si Hesus nagalay ng sarili para sa kapwa ganoon din. Huwag sarili ang laging pinagaalayan. Magalay ka sa kapwa. Di ba ganoon din po ang Pondo ng Pinoy? Minsan tayo ipon ng ipon para sa sarili pero yunng Pondo ng Pinoy, magipon ka naman para sa kapwa. Bakit lagi ang sarili ang laging pinagiipunan? Magipon ka para guminhawa ang buhay ng kapwa. Almsgiving.

Prayer which connects us to God but also connects us to the rest of humanity so that our prayer will not only be self directed but really in praise of God and hopefully through our prayer we bring other people to Him.

Ang fasting, a bit of self denial for others. Eto sinabi ko na ho ito dati. Yung iba tuwang tuwa fasting kasi talaga namang nagre-reduce, hindi ho yata ganuon, hindi ho yata ito para magreduce at magkasya ulit yung dating damit. Hindi po, eh. Itong fasting na ito ay talagang may elemento ng pagdidisiplina sa sarili upang sa pagdisiplina para sa sarili lalo na sa pagkain ako ay aasa sa Diyos, ang kalooban niya ang maging pagkain ng aking buhay at kung mayroon man tayong kakain bahagi ng fasting ay ibahagi mo naman sa iba. Ang fasting ay hindi yung makakatipid ako ngayon kasi isa lang ang meal ko. Yung matitipid ninyo sa ibang meals ibigay sa iba, iaalay sa iba. Katulad ng ginawa ni Hesus parang pinagtipiran ang sarili para mabuhay at yumaman ang iba. So all of these could be done with purity of intentions, purity of heart. We may not be in a physical desert but Lent provides us with a spiritual desert through fasting, almsgiving and prayer so that in that spiritual desert we may cope with the essentials of life, what really matters, turn to God and turn to neighbor. Life has become too complicated. During the desert experience of Lent we are brought back to the foundation. We are brought back to what human beings are meant to be and what really this season means,  turning to God and turning to neighbour just like Jesus. Let us now pause and before the ceremony of the blessing and distribution of ashes, let us open our hearts to the powerful spirit of the Lord so that our hearts may truly search for God and may be filled with love for neighbor.