FR.PAOLO ASPRER, SSP on the Gospel John 18: 33b-37 My Kingdom is Not of This World
TODAY, my brothers and sisters, I hope, I pray, and I trust that you are doing well, in best dispositions to receive God’s gift, hope of healing, grace of new beginnings as we celebrate today the solemnity of Christ the King.
One of the most well-loved films of all times is The Lion King.
I am a ‘90s kid so the film played a vital role, a part of my childhood whether it was on a Broadway or a stage adaptation for the film itself in 1994…
It’s a hit, people love the story and music. It’s the story for the young ones and the once young, for the children and the child-like like Brother Bo. And we could see ourselves also as Christians in the main protagonist, Simba. In one of the gripping scenes of the film, Simba, through the prodding of the wise old prophetic baboon and his name is Rafiki, Simba realizes that he has to leave his hakuna matata—meaning, no trouble, his problem-free existence with the meerkat named Timon and the warthog named Pumbaa.
He must leave his hakuna matata existence and go back to his homeland, the Pride Rock (home of the Lion King and his lioness). Pride Rock is turned into a barren wasteland by Simba’s wicked uncle, Scar, and his army of hyenas. Simba hesitates to go home because he is prevented by a bad memory and, of course, as bad memory as the death of his father, Mufasa, inflicted by Scar.
Remember Who and Whose You Are
The father of Simba appears to him and reminds his son to step on his role as the rightful heir to the throne and assures his son of his abiding presence. The conversation between the father and the son is noteworthy.
Mufasa says, “You have forgotten who you are. Look inside yourself. Simba, you have forgotten me. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.”
The response of Simba: “How can I go back? I am not who I used to be.” Mufasa answers, “Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember whose you are.”
Friends, look into the mirror and remember who you are. Let us remember whose we are. Hindi lamang natin alalahanin kung sino tayo pero kung kanino tayo.
We belong to Christ the King, a servant King. We are not simply servants. We are not simply subjects. We are the children, the beloved sons and daughters of the servant King.
You know, the irony of life is that we remember the things that we should forget and we forget the things that we should remember. Perhaps, this COVID-19 Pandemic—resulting in lost lives, lost opportunities, lost dreams– has left a big scar, a bad memory in all of us. And perhaps, we have forgotten who we really are and whose we are. And perhaps you are undergoing a personal issue, a struggle right now– in your family, in your work, in your community– and it is scarring you or making you scared right now. Remember who you are.
My brothers and sisters, it is in remembering God’s faithfulness that we can establish and fortify our identity and mission in God’s kingdom. It is in remembering how good God is and how good we are in spite of our shadows, shame, and baggage. Our potential and actual goodness– that we can have real joy.
Our joy is that Christ continues to fight for us. Christ the King is present in all of us.
Christ the Glorious King
Our readings today picture Christ the King as Someone who is glorious.
In the First Reading, He is like the ancient one riding in the heavens envisioned by Daniel.
9I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a son of man. He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence. 14 On him was conferred rule, honour and kingship, and all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end.
The Responsorial Psalm is about the great immovable throne.
1Yahweh is king, robed in majesty, robed is Yahweh and girded with power.
2The world is indeed set firm, it can never be shaken; your throne is set firm from of old, from all eternity you exist.
Your decrees stand firm, unshakeable, holiness is the beauty of your house, Yahweh, for all time to come.
–Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 93:1, 1-2, 5
And in the Second Reading, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was…
5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the highest of earthly kings.
He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood,
6and made us a Kingdom of Priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
7Look, he is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. Indeed this shall be so. Amen.
8‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
Christ the Lamb
Christ is not simply our Lord. Christ is a lover, a liberator. The Lord of History is not a lion, the Lord of History is a lamb.
* Pilate said, ‘So, then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is you who say that I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’
In the Gospel reading today, all the glorious expectations of kingliness are reversed– because the King who we believe in, to whom we belong, is a Servant King. And He testifies to the truth and we know that truth is often painful. But when there is charity that accompanies the truth, it becomes bearable.
Jes testifies with truth. He will not kill for the truth. Jesus will die for the truth. He will not ask for ransom but He will be the ransom Himself. Yes, He will win, not by spilling the blood of others but by offering Himself, His body, and His blood for all of us. So, this is the King to a meaningful joyful existence, so that we allow ourselves to be embraced by this glorious Servant King.
There are three qualities that make the Kingship of Jesus joyful:
1. Joy is a gift, at the same time a decision. And a surrendered joy is a gift from God. Joy is God Himself. When we speak about joy, it is not something that we possess. Joy is the other way around. We can only receive joy, we can only experience and encounter a glimpse of joy. The joy that we are talking about here is larger than us. This gift is absolutely greater and larger than the receiver, than our capacity of receiving that joy.
So joy is not something that we manufacture like that Joy tissue or the Joy detergent. No. Joy happens to us. We don’t find joy. Joy finds us. We do not create joy. We fall into joy.
You know my dear Feasters, I’ve been a priest for six years now and if there are words that truly summarize my priesthood, they are the words mercy and joy.
There are so many moments of consolation and desolation. It’s not a walk in the park. Yes, perhaps it’s a bed of roses, but priesthood is a bed of roses with thorns– so many thorns.
One evening after a tiring ministry day, sacraments, office, community concerns, I just wanted to sleep. But before sleeping, I found myself in tears.
I asked myself, “Why? Why am I crying? I am happy with my priesthood. I’m contented.”
Yes, I have my own personal weaknesses and limitations and struggles but for all those I am grateful and I realized this is not simply a private personal joy but this is the joy of God.
You know, when we allow our personal choice to be embraced by a bigger joy, it deepens, it extends, it lasts.
2. The joy that you are talking about is not only a happy existence, but joy, pain, adversities, sorrow are compatible. Why? Because Christian existence is not only to struggle for a happy life, but the struggle embraces the meaningful life.
Are you really happy?
When we ask ourselves, “Am I happy?” I think it leads to more tears on our face rather than solace in our soul. Because no matter what we do or what we have accomplished in life, there are always areas of unfulfilled dreams, hunger, and thirst for something more. So, our life is not only a happy existence but it’s a meaningful struggle for a meaningful existence…
Have you ever asked Jesus on the Cross while He was dying, “Jesus are you a happy man?”
Siguro yung sasabihin ni Jesus, “If you picture a happiness that is stress-free, problem-free, then I am not happy. But what I am experiencing right now is more than happiness. It’s actually sadness, loneliness, and with that deep loneliness, there is meaningfulness and inside the meaningfulness… joy, contentment, fulfillment of one’s purpose in life.”
So, my dear friends, let’s ask ourselves: “Is our life meaningful? Are we living life to the fullest?”
It is only in giving joy that we become joyful. We can never have forgiveness, love, understanding, by actively pursuing them. We attain joy by giving joy. We make other people joyful. That’s the great paradox and center of our Christian existence.
The air that we breathe out is the air that we will eventually breathe back in. So, my dear friends, joy is not an emotion. Joy is choosing to place that happiness where it belongs and that is the fulfillment of your life’s deepest purpose.
VANYA CASTOR: Good morning, Conference! It’s a new day and I invite you, wherever you are, to let the light of God, let the joy of God fill the spaces that you occupy.
Today, we celebrate the kind of joy that can never be taken away from us, and we begin by singing to that right here, right now. Come on and sing out your praises!
After all that we receive from God, from the past three days, we bring them all in here. We shout it out, and we give Him glory and praises. Come on, we sing.”
AIO BARCELONA: It’s so good. So good to be in your Presence, Father. Father, we thank You for gathering us today. Thank You for bringing us together despite the many things that may hinder us from doing so, despite the battles that we continue to face every single day. But Father, you have proven through time that Your love, Your grace, Your mercy, Your power, the plans that You have for us will always prevail. So, Father, we ask You to remind us to remember that You are the God who can turn anything that was taken away from us into something beautiful, that You are the God who can turn our despair into hope, our darkness into light, our sadness into joy. And so we continue to trust, we continue to serve You, we continue to worship You, Father. We continue to bless Your name.
PLENARY SESSION 4
Founder, Light of Jesus Family
TODAY, I’m going to preach The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength.
We’re going to the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament, Chapter 8:9:
When I was a teenager attending the early prayer meetings of the Charismatic Renewal, we would sing only four songs. I don’t know why we did that. I guess we lacked songs or we had this mindset that if a song worked this week, we’re gonna sing it next week.
The first song that we would always sing was This Is the Day the Lord Has Made. And the last song was Oh, I Love You with the Love of the Lord. loved that last song because we would go around, make beso-beso, kiss cheek-to-cheek. And my crush was there—so that was an extra, special little treat.
The third song we sang during Worship—Come Holy Spirit I Need You. And we had to believe that if we did not sing the song, the Holy Spirit would not come to our prayer meeting.
Now, after the first song, This Is the Day the Lord Has Made, we would sing— always– The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength…
I had problems with that song.
First, the writer of the song perhaps did not have enough words in his vocabulary because the first line was repeated 4 times. Then we sang the 4 lines twice– so, we sang that line 8 times.
Second problem, I didn’t know what it meant… Even as I had been singing that song every prayer meeting, there was this big question in my mind: What does it mean?
This was my best guess at the time: The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength meant God is giving me His joy. It’s a joy that He gives to me and that’s my strength.
So, I was like, “Okay.”
Until one day, I realized that the line is in the Bible—that it’s actually a verse in the Bible—from the book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is telling everybody: “Don’t be sad. Don’t feel dejected because the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Now, let me give you a background on Nehemiah. I want you to imagine that you are a Jew living in
Jerusalem. Then one day, you hear the roar of the Babylonian soldiers making their way into Jerusalem.
They burn the Temple, burn your house. By force they put a chain around your wrists, your legs, and drag you all the way to Babylon—2,000 kilometers away. And there you live for the rest of your life as a slave.
That’s what happened to the Jews—they lived in Babylon as slaves for some 70 years. Some of them were very intelligent and very skilled and they began to serve the King.
But you know, as a friend of mind says, “Ang buhay ay weather-weather lang.” You may be on top right now– but don’t rest because the day will come that you’ll have to go down, get out of your seat because something or someone more powerful will come and take over your place.
One day, Persia comes along and conquers Babylon.
The Persian King looks at the Jewish exiles and says, “What are you doing here? Go home!”
The Jews could hardly believe what had happened. But they went on and left Babylon in three batches. The first batch left right away. After a few years, the second batch followed. And then the third—where Nehemiah belongs.
When he saw Jerusalem, Nehemiah felt heartbroken. He wanted to rebuild the city, to bring the people back close to God. And it was on this fateful day that he wrote this verse…
Note that Nehemiah was not a priest. He was governor—a government official. The priest was Ezra and during that time, the prophet was Malachi.
To all government officials, if you are listening right now, you better say this: “Thank you, Nehemiah. Pray for me that I may become like you.”
Hearing the Law
During a Feast—a gathering of the Jews—Ezra started to read the Law (the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel).
For the Jew exiles, it was the first time they were hearing the Law. Some of the exiles were not born in Jerusalem. They were born in Babylon—in chains—and there they could hear their parents and their grandparents telling them, “This is your God. This is your Law. And there was this beautiful Temple…”
And the exiles were like, “Yeah, teach me Daddy, teach me Mommy. I don’t know. I know only Babylon. And I know only the Babylonian god that my classmates were talking about…”
But then finally they went back to Jerusalem and then Ezra started speaking about the Law, about Yahweh their God…
And the Jew exiles began to weep because they realized they were far from their God: “We worshipped other gods back in Babylon. We did not observe the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week the Jews observed from Friday to Saturday as a day of rest and worship).”
The Jews began to weep and weep and weep (over their failure to obey God’s Law). They felt so bad about themselves. And so Nehemiah said:
Nehemiah was saying, “Joyful, joyful!” That’s what you do right now, on this day.
I know you feel bad. I know you feel guilty.
But now is not the time for that because today is the day of the Lord.
For the people who had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law, Nehemiah continued:
Joy is not just an emotion but an action. Today we
live in a culture where we base our action on our feelings. Yes or no?
We do that. We act based on what we feel: “I’m tired right now, so, I’m gonna act tired. I don’t feel like praying. I don’t feel like going to The Feast and I don’t feel like serving. I don’t feel like giving. So, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
There’s a popular formula:
“When I feel right, I’ll act right.” Here’s a more proven formula. It’s ancient and it’s not only in Christianity but in all major religions. They would teach us: “When I act right, I’ll feel right.” But I need to tweak that proven formula. I just need to insert this parenthetical remark:
It won’t happen right away. “I don’t feel like praying but I’m gonna pray right away.” “I don’t feel like loving but I’m gonna love anyway.” “I don’t feel like making that phone call but I’ll do it anyway and love that person and reconcile with that person. I’m not gonna base my life on my feelings.”
That’s what Nehemiah was saying: “This is the right thing to do. We should celebrate.”
I love reading that little instruction:
Did you hear that? Did you see: “Share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared.”
May I ask you this question: What was the happiest moment of your life?
Tell me: Was it that time when you stood on stage and people applauded you? Was it that time when you had more money in the bank? Was it that time when you bought that dream phone, or that dream car? Was it that time?
I’m sure that made you happy.
If you’re going to ask me… I know I hallucinate right now that we have the same answer.
The first thoughts that would jump out of my memory are those moments when I loved someone and didn’t expect anything back.
One of my favorite memories was when I took care of eight orphans for one year. I was their House Father. Actually, I lived with them in one house. And every night, they would gather in a circle in front of me and I would be reading bedtime stories and Bible stories to them and pray with them.
I also remember being in Anawim, our home for abandoned elderly. I lived there, talking with the lolos and lolas and listening to them.
I remember being with my Dad, my Mom– my favorite moments ever that I brag about. I’ve been bragging about this for decades. I’m sorry, I have to bring it up. I don’t care—I have the microphone J
You’ve heard me so many times that I cut the fingernails and toenails of my father when he could not see anymore. I’m proud of that.
One of the happiest moments of my life was bringing my aging Mom to a restaurant once a week, every Wednesday. It was the highlight of her week. She would be all dressed up, waiting at the garage for me to pick her up. At the restaurant, we’d chit-chat, talking about the same stories every single week. I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating. We’d talk about the same thing week after week.
And then after lunch, you know what she would say? She’d say, “Bo, where will we eat dessert?” She wanted that we go to another restaurant for dessert because she wanted to extend that time with me. And I didn’t mind…
This brings us to this last verse:
What in the world does that mean? I went through the Bible scholars and when I read what they had to say about this verse, I got comforted.
You know why?
They didn’t know either what the verse meant. They were wrestling with it. There were some scholars who were saying this:
This is what it means: That when you are in God’s Presence, you are happy. You are joyful. And the scholars back their explanation with Psalms and verses from all over Scripture. And it’s awesome. And I totally believe in that.
But then there are Bible scholars– some of them my heroes and I kind of gravitate towards these guys. They said there’s a second meaning and this is more precise:
That resonates in my heart because I am a father. My eldest son Bene
(That’s him when he’s still a kid. He’s now in his 20s) went to a specialty coffee shop—serving coffee with a taste of melon cantaloupe, or apple. So, he became a specialty barista for two years.
I never drank coffee all my life. For 40 years, I had never drank coffee. But when my son got into the coffee business, I went with him going from coffee shop to coffee shop. Why? Because I wanted to spend time with him.
Can you imagine how much joy I felt when we were in one coffee shop? And as he sipped his coffee, he was saying, “Oh, I can taste cantaloupe.”
Then he asked me, “Dad, what do you taste with your coffee?” “Ah… ah… coffee,” I said.
But I didn’t care (about my awkward reply) because all that mattered to me was he was with me, and I was with him. There was joy in my heart.
There was another time, recently, with my youngest son Francis (that’s him when he was a kid, with Mom Marowe and brother Bene, greeting me Happy Birthday in 2012).
Francis, now 16 years old, came up to me, walloped me with a question: “Dad, wanna bike with me?”
I want you to know that I am 55 years old. Maybe this is a wrong way of thinking, but at 55, I don’t want to ride on anything that does not have four wheels. I’m very comfortable with four wheels. It does not go to the right, does not go to the left. There’s no danger of skipping and sliding. None. It’s four wheels and then I sit at the back because I’ve got a driver. I’m so comfortable. There’s air-conditioning and I can read while I’m riding the car.
My dear friends, please understand I had no plans whatsoever, believe me, of riding a vehicle with only two wheels. It would be insane at my age. But when Francis asked me, “Do you want to bike with me, Dad?” I had to say, “Yes, of course…Of course.”
Because I want to spend time with that guy. Because he’s my son and I love him. And so, we’ve been biking together all over the place. Yes, I am at the back because I want to be sure that everybody is safe. I’m panting like a dog. I am like, “Why are these guys so fast?”
Anyway, I just want you to know the joy of the Lord is my strength.
It’s the joy God feels when He’s with you.
And Nehemiah was saying, “I know you feel bad right now because you’ve not been doing the Law. And yes, you were worshipping other gods. And yes, you’ve not been doing this or that. But I want you to know that this God wants you with Him right now. He’s happy because He’s with you. And if you’ve been unfaithful to Him, don’t worry. God has been faithful to you. He has joy in His heart when He’s with you.
I’m going to end with a favorite verse in the Old Testament:
Every time I read this verse I think of one thing…
Many years ago, I visited this island in the Visayas. From the airport, I went straight to the hotel and there was this phalanx of wonderful businessmen with a big streamer : “Welcome, Bro. Bo!”
The businessmen were all in Barong Tagalog—not single one of them was not in formal attire. And each one welcomed me warmly, with diplomatic handshake.
And then, from the corner of my eye, I saw this woman– running towards me. She just rammed through that crowd of business people– like a bowling ball striking bowling pins—saying, “Excuse me, excuse me.”
And then she was right in front of me. She was tall… she was abundant.
She said, “Bro. Bo!”
And then she began to cry, and said, “I just want you to know …You don’t know what you’ve done in my life!”
She really looked insane because after crying, she was jumping up and down, saying, “Bro. Bo, Bro. Bo, I’m so happy. I’m so happy!”
And then she gave me a hug.
I disappeared…Like there was an eclipse! And she just wet my shoulders with her tears.
When Zephaniah says, “God will delight with gladness, and with His love, He will calm your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs…”
You know what that means?
The picture of many of God is like the business people who greeted me before the woman did—formal, diplomatic, respectful. I want to believe that God was like that woman. Why? That’s what I feel about my own sons, about my own children. There are times I just can’t contain myself when I’m with them.
God has joy every time He looks at you. Every time He’s with you. That joy He has because of you – that should be your strength.
Let your joy not be based on your own joy. Let your joy be based on His joy because He loves you. Let your joy be based not on circumstance, not based on the fact that you are not sick, the fact that you have money or you don’t have money, the fact that people like you or not, the fact that you have 1,000 likes or just 1 like in Instagram. It does not matter.
Let your joy be based on His joy. He is jumping up and down, crying, hugging you, and with His tears, saying, “I’m happy because you’re here.”
May I invite you to come and pray. Let’s come before the Lord and pray… In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… Put your hand on your chest and say this with me:
Jesus, You died for me on the cross. What an insane thing to do. And You gave Your life for me. Thank You for being crazy over me, that You would give Your life for me. And so, today, I give my life to You.
My dear friends, this might be the first time you’re going to say this prayer.
I want you to mean every word, re-dedicate your life to the Lord.
Some of you, you’ve been praying this prayer for the longest time, and you keep on saying it again and again…
And some of you might not feel saying it. Act right and in due time you’ll feel right. Say this prayer:
Lord Jesus, I open my heart. Conquer me with Your love. And Jesus I dedicate my life to You—every part of me for the rest of my life. I am Yours. I pray this in Your Name, Lord Jesus. Amen.