We are opening today the sacred Season of Lent, Kuwaresma, almost 40 days of preparations for the celebration of Easter. That is the whole point of our Lenten preparation, inihahanda tayo para sa pagdiriwang ng muling pagkabuhay ni Kristo at para tayo naman ay makiisa rin sa bagong buhay. And it is not only for ourselves, but for the whole of society. The whole nation needs to rise again to new life.
But how do we rise with Jesus to new life, when, like Him, we should love until death? That is the conversion that is needed. The first reading from Joel asks us to repent and the second reading from St. Paul asks us to be reconciled with God. This is a form of dying. Whenever we repent, whenever we try to be reconciled with God, we need to die to ourselves. There is no new life without death. Death is not the end of life. Death is the way to life. That’s what we learn from Jesus. So we should accompany Jesus in this death, so that we can accompany Him also to new life.
The person who does not want to die, die to self, will not find life. Sino ang gustong mamatay? Hindi tayo makakarating sa bagong buhay kung walang gustong mamatay! Naiibang pagbati na sa halip na “Good Morning,” Mamatay ka na sana!” Hindi naman ang kahulugan nun ay mawala ka na sana sa balat ng lupa kundi mamatay ka na sana in the sense that matagpuan mo ang bagong buhay. At yung mga dapat mamatay, sana mamatay na, sa sarili.
And this season gives us three disciplines of dying to self so that we could also turn to God and be reconciled to God and have our relationships, different kinds of relationships, set aright, mga tamang ugnayan. And our Gospel for today gives us those three disciplines of Lent , three ways of dying, three ways of being reconciled with God.
The first discipline of Lent is almsgiving. Pagkakawanggawa. Kaya nga mayroon tayong Alay Kapwa kapag Lent. It reminds us of our right relationship with the neighbors. We should be good Samaritans, even those that we do not know, simply because they are in need, we should be willing to give. And with a pure motivation, not the type of giving that will draw attention to me. Alam na alam natin yan. Ang daming nagbibigay pero hindi naman talaga pagbibigay ang pakay. Ang gusto ay makunan ng litrato. Ang gusto ay makakuha ng boto. Hindi pagbibigay iyon. Hindi pagkakawanggawa iyon. Pagsasamantala yan. Sinasamantala mo ang pangangailangan ng iba para ikaw ang mapansin. That must die. That attitude must die. That attitude of self-directedness must die. That self-seeking must die. And what must rise? True concern for the neighbour. Who is my neighbour? Anyone is my neighbour because all of us came from God. It doesn’t have to be my relative. The person does not have to come from my region or my province. There is a human being and he needs something, he or she is my neighbour. We should rise to that. Almsgiving.
At huwag na kayong lalayo baka ang nangangailangan ay kasama niyo lang sa bahay; kasama niyo lang sa trabaho. Baka yung sa inyo ay naglalaba, yung labandera o kung mayroon kayong kasambahay. Baka yung inyong kasambahay. Lalo na dito sa atin na talaga namang maraming dukha, at marami pa ring nakakabangon mula sa Sendong at duon sa mga lindol na naganap sa Visayas. So almsgiving, dying to ourselves, especially that self-seeking that wants to hoard things for ourselves. Akin to. Akin to. Pera for myself. No. Almsgiving. Kapag may umutang po sa inyo sa araw na ito at sa Kuwaresma, huwag niyo na po ninyong singilin. Pagkatapos ng misa, puntahan niyo at sabihan ninyo, “Huwag ka nang mag-abala, iyo na yan!” O, baka mag-alisan na kayo sa simbahan.. sa almsgiving.
The second discipline of Lent is Fasting. It says of a relationship with God, of course, and even with ourselves and with objects, properly. Kasi po, one way by which we, in an unnoticed way, become self-centered is through food, especially nowadays when people are so conscious of health. That is a good sign. We have to take care of our body; we have to take care of the life given to us by God. But be careful. Sometimes taking care of our health becomes self-preoccupation. It’s not anymore health that I am taking care of, I am already too pre-occupied with myself. Ilang oras ang nauubos sa harap ng salamin. Ang daming pera ang nauubos para sa pagpapaganda.. How do I look, how do I look? Puro ganuon. Habang kumakain ng almusal iniisip na ang mimeryendahin. Habang nagtatanghalian, iniisip na yung mimiryendahin sa hapon. Habang nagmimiryenda iniisip na iyong ihahapunan. Tayo lang ang kumakain one a day, never-ending. One full meal a day.. never-ending.
Now through fasting we are learning to depend on God and to take care of ourselves in the right way. Taking care of self does not mean you only think of self. Kaya po ngayong araw na ito ang ating fasting ay may kasamang kawanggawa. Fast2feed. What we will save from fasting we give to Hapag-Asa so that many children can eat, especially the malnourished. Marami pinoproblema ang calories, yung iba walang makain. Yan po minsan ang ating problema, “alisin mo yung taba!” Yung iba hindi nakakakita ng taba. So yung fasting for today ay hindi pagpa-pa-slim. Self-preoccupation na naman iyan. Yung fasting for today ay hindi lamang para bumaba yung aking blood sugar, self-preoccupation na naman iyan. Sana yung fasting for today ay pagbabahagi sa mga walang-wala para sila naman ay mabiyayaan.
And, finally, Prayer. Prayer is a living and loving relationship with God. Many times, prayer is reduced to a ritual. Many times prayer becomes a conventional thing that we have to do, some obligation that we must fulfil but does not lead us to a living relationship with God, a relationship with God that will refocus my life, that centers on not the self but God, and with God as the center of my life, I will be changed. I will be loving like God. I will be truthful like God. I will be just like God. I will be compassionate and merciful like God. Prayer is important to die to self, in order to receive the very life of God.
So through almsgiving, fasting and prayer we hope to make perfect the business of dying. Sabi nila, practice makes perfect. Let us perfect the art of dying—dying to self—so that new life will come to us. And I repeat, if you do not want and you refuse to die to self, you will never ever experience new life in Christ. So before we bless the ashes that will be imposed on us with the words, “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel,” or “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” let us be filled with this desire to turn to the Lord, to change our ways, to die to self and to look forward to new life.