Wednesday, February 28, 2007
2nd Sunday of Lent (C) - 2007
March 4, 2007
Readings: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18 / Phil 3:17 – 4:1 / Lk 9:28b-36
AWAKE, AWARE, & ALIVE WITH AND FOR GOD!
Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Today’s liturgy is smackful of startling similarities … Abram has a profound experience of God: “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him” (1st Reading). The darkness, however, was not the important thing … What came after it is most important in the whole experience … “It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”
The Gospel reading refers to three disciples who accompanied the Lord up Mount Tabor. Those of you who have climbed mountains would be able to empathize with Peter, James, and John. They must have been very tired and exhausted. Luke says they were “overcome by sleep.” But like what happened with Abram, their sleeping was not the main thing … It became a backdrop to a glorious manifestation of the Lord.
And since we are in the topic of similarities, let me push the envelope a little farther. Paul also speaks of darkness, this time, figurative and not literal. He refers to the darkness of those “who conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ” (2nd Reading). That monumental darkness brings with it a train of other lesser, but no less real, darknesses: the darkness of those whose “God is their stomach;” and the darkness of those whose “minds are occupied with earthly things.”
But similarities are not meant simply to startle. They are meant to awaken in us a sense of realization, a capacity to see not just similitudes, but parallelisms, in the hope that in and through this liturgical celebration, we may experience a certain “fusion of horizons” and thus be able to meet and encounter God who is “our light and our salvation” (Responsorial Psalm).
Let us face it … our lives are immersed in two different horizons – that of God, on the one hand, and that of our humanness with all its inherent weaknesses, on the other.
First, let us speak of what we are all too familiar with – the human pole of our experience. We go through life half awake, most of us. Many of us literally are unaware of what is going on, politically, economically, culturally, and in so many other spheres of life. For a great many of us, all the education we get, for example, is from the ubiquitous TV and the broadcast media. For many young people of our times, all they are able to “read” is HTML files in the unlimited web sites they happen to set their sights on as they surf the internet.
The human pole of our experience, the human horizon, is marred by a multiplicity of darknesses. Take the bi-polar reality of globalization, for example. We are enveloped daily by its positive and negative effects. We rejoice at globalization’s beneficial effects on society at large, but we are saddened, too, by its deleterious consequences that are beyond most ordinary people’s control. The darkness of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, that are necessary offshoots of a runaway free market economy, render many of us blind to the Christian Gospel’s call to transcendence and holiness. The persistent call of consumerism flies in the face of God’s call to simplicity and frugality. The dizzying competition for the more and the better – the ultimate in terms of comfort and quality – leave many of us in a semi-stuporous state of satiety and self-centeredness. Egoism and narcissism have become two postmodern terms that refer to the most flagrant sins of our times.
But we have come together today in this Mass to “lift up our hearts, thoughts, and spirits” to God. We have come together to talk about that other pole – the Divine horizon. We have come to hear good news today. And this, lest you forget, is what we have started out praying for … “help us hear your Son … enlighten us with your Word … that we may find the way to your glory” (Opening Prayer). We also ask the Lord: “open our hearts to the voice of your Word … free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision … restore our sight that we may look upon your Son” (Alternative Opening Prayer).
But this encounter, this “fusion of horizons” cannot take place unless we invest heavily of ourselves, unless we cooperate, unless we are willing to contribute our share to this divine and human endeavor.
It might do us good to remember at this point that Peter, James, and John could not have witnessed the Transfiguration of the Lord had they not gone up Mount Tabor. They could not have beholden the glory of the Lord had they remained asleep, as they had been, for the most part of the time the Lord spent in prayer.
And this is where the meeting point – the fusion of horizons – has to take place … here, in Church … now, in this liturgical assembly … and later on in the bigger liturgy of everyday life. All this refers to our own Mount Tabor. All this points to our own version of the mountain of the Lord that we must climb daily as believers. At this Mass, we are called to literally be awake. Throughout our daily lives, the Gospel Good News reminds us to a life of awareness and consciousness, above all, of God’s gentle workings in the ordinary events and circumstances of our lives. He continues to call us, not only to be awake, and aware, but most importantly, to be alive with, and for Him, and thus become, in our turn, examples of transformed lives that are on the way towards “finding the way to [God’s] glory” (Opening Prayer).
[Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB – Paranaque City, February 28, 2007]
GOD’S GRACIOUS GENEROSITY
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Profligate generosity is more like it … the utter generosity of one who makes and fulfills promises to Abraham and His people – land in plenty and offspring in abundance: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” Generosity upon gracious generosity … this is what the texts these first two Sundays of Lent seem to give us for reflection. Last Sunday, we saw the generosity of Christ, whose “fidelity on three counts” equal to the threefold temptations, was shown in his remaining steadfast. True to the spirit of Deuteronomy, his fidelity was equivalent to his being offered like the required “first fruits of the harvest” – understood as the best, and the most precious and valued.
In return, God, very clearly, will settle for nothing but the best – the best in return for our best, our “first fruits,” our utmost self-offering. Abraham definitely got more than he ever dreamed of. From being a wanderer, he was called from Ur, to be the “father of many nations” and to be the head of God’s chosen people. His generosity was met with even greater generosity: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”
And we thought that by giving up carbs or carved meat, as the case may be, on Lenten Fridays, was already such a big deal!
Today, God calls us to “higher grounds” and invites us to elevate our thoughts just as Peter, James and John were called to be with Jesus up the mountain of transfiguration. The three, who were willing to give up restful sleep at night and trek up the mountain to pray along with their Master and Lord, were greatly rewarded. In God’s “business enterprise,” no one gets short changed; no one is left holding the shorter end of the stick; no one goes away holding an empty bag. In God’s relational world, no one who loves is spurned; no one who offers self is ignored; and no one who “gives up brothers and sisters, mother and father” will be denied his “hundredfold.”
Abraham’s readiness and obedience of faith was rewarded handsomely: “Abram put his faith in the Lord who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” By his obedience, Abraham entered into the divine realm of “right relationships.” Relationships, even from the human plane, always have to do with mutuality, with reciprocity, with an attitude of give-and-take. Peter’s and the disciples’ readiness and openness to an intimate experience with their Master communing in prayer up the mountain, was similarly rewarded with a vision – “what no eye has seen nor ear heard.” Right relationship with God is definitely one of gracious and generous mutuality, in the context of a deeply intimate and personal experience of the Divine Giver’s awesome presence offering His own “first fruit,” His own only-begotten Son to us and the whole world: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Generosity is hard to come by these days. Just look at us … We find it hard to part with stuff. What else is behind the booming business of public storages? What fuels the demand for bigger and bigger houses? Food servings are getting bigger and bigger and calories per serving are getting more and more. The cumulative increase in everything we want to have is matched only by our greatly increased appetites and desires for the more and the better all the time. Ever wondered why “used car” sales abound everywhere? What passes at times for generosity, may well be nothing more than a desire to make more room for whatever better, newer, and more fashionable is coming our way via those appealing glossy catalogues! Generosity is hard to come by as we jostle and elbow our way figuratively in a perpetual rush to get to our goals and destinations. The (rat) race is on just as soon as we start munching on our “breakfast on the go.”
Years ago, we were told that Lent is some kind of a protracted retreat, a time for reflection, which hopefully will graduate into prayer. That old traditional ascetical and spiritual practice, we were further told, was designed to make us more open, and more available to God and others, whether through prayer, or through almsgiving or doing some other corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Lent was a time to take stock of our lives and see whether it is leading us towards that which every baptized Christian is called to – a life of holiness and union with God.
That was what Lent meant and what Lent still ought to mean for us.
Let us digress a bit at this juncture and see what St. Paul has to add to these thoughts. Very practical and very concrete, Paul speaks of “two roads that diverge in the yellow woods” of life, to quote Robert Frost rather freely: the path “according to the model you have in us,” that is, the path of righteousness, and its opposite, the path of “destruction.” Take your pick … The path of destruction is associated with phrases like, “enemies of the cross of Christ;” “their end is destruction;” “their god is their stomach;” their glory is their shame;” and “occupied with earthly matters.” The path of righteousness has to do with such phrases like “faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ;” “awaiting the coming of the Savior;” “their lowly body is transformed;” “share in Christ’s glory;” and “citizenship in heaven.”
In God’s scheme of things, what you give is not what you get. No, when you give, you get much more. In God’s righteousness and relational nature, the supreme law is “grace upon grace,” life in place of death, glory in the place of suffering. In the old and trite language we often heard before, it all boils down to this: God can never be outdone in generosity.
Robert Frost’s lovely poem could stand a bit of reflection and revisiting in connection with our lives as “pilgrims” in this “valley of tears.” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …” While the choice between one or the other may not be exactly like what Frost envisioned as a choice between two equally good, or at least, indifferent things, all the same, our choice between the path of righteousness and the path of wickedness makes a whole lot of difference for ourselves and others. To paraphrase Frost freely, “too bad we cannot take both.” We simply have to make a choice between one and the other.
To go back to where we started, it would help us to remember that someone made a choice that spelled a whole lot of difference for countless generations. Abraham generously offered himself when he answered the call of God. Paul also, albeit belatedly, assumed his role as evangelizer and committed disciple, becoming “all things to all men, in the hope of saving some of them.” Peter and the other disciples who saw the Lord in glory up the mountain eventually went down their mountain of meeting and did what was told them in the plains. God gave them a vision no man could ever dream of, nor imagine. His Son was transfigured in their presence.
The Lenten discipline is not unlike Abraham’s leaving familiar and comfortable Ur; not unlike Paul’s going down from his high horse and being subjected to further education in Damascus; not unlike Peter, James and John’s making a difficult trek up the mountain – all for the sake of God, all in search for intimacy with God, all with the goal in mind of seeing the face of God. By following the road of righteousness, they were given much more than they ever searched for. They saw a lot more than they ever expected.
They were all rewarded by God and His profligate generosity!
There is no denying that the path of righteousness and the journey up our own “mountains” are fraught with a lot of trials and difficulties. The consolations of God may often be miles apart from the God of consolation. In moments when we feel His justice does not seem to be forthcoming, it is good for us to take to heart the words of the psalmist in today’s response: “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
[Dundalk, MD – March 7, 2004]
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Pan de Vida
1st Sunday of Lent (Year C)
February 25, 2007
DESERT, DESOLATION, DISCOVERY, DEVOTION
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
It is Lent once again. All over the world, thoughts related to the desert and what it may represent, loom ahead. Christmas fades as a distant memory (or yet a distant dream). Valentine’s Day, marketed by the culture of consumerism as the next best thing after Christmas, is also receding in the far horizon. Lent enters into our world of experience as some kind of a lull from all frenetic activities and joyful celebrations. When Lent enters, there is not much to look forward to till the glories of Easter breaks forth in full splendor. But Easter is more than 40 days away from Ash Wednesday.
Lent smacks of recession – like the receding hues of violet that represents the whole liturgical season. Lent reminds us of desolation – like the image of the desert that figures prominently in today’s liturgy. Lent constitutes a lull, a lowered activity level, a backtracking, a pausing awhile, and retreating. Call it a desert experience of desolation … call it what you may want, but the bottom line is exactly what our alternative prayer of today alludes to – a return journey to a God whom we may have left desolate and alone by our sinfulness: “Bring us back to you and to the life your Son won for us by his death on the cross …” (Alternative Opening Prayer).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from this desert of desperation and lack of belief, including our utter lack of a sense of history. Bring us back, Lord, from the desolation of such short memories. We forget. We ignore the marvels done to our forefathers, who, although once were slaves in Egypt, were brought out from that experience of utter desperation: “We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders” (1st Reading).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from this desert of disappointment, living as we do in a world marred by the specter of terrorism, nuclear holocaust, massive inequalities, and injustices of all kinds. We fail. We falter. We fall into the vicious trap of feeling a great sense of abandonment. Throughout Lent, we pray, as we do today: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble” (Responsorial Psalm).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from our gross inability to confess, profess, and proclaim with our lives what we acclaim with our lips: “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (2nd Reading). At times, all we can do is mumble and mutter feebly with our lips what our whole lives ought to be truly proclaiming out loud – that “the word is near [us], in [our] mouth and in [our] heart.”
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the push, pull, and lure of pleasure. Often, all we think of is what can please our palates, what can fill our insatiable desire for the more and the better. Remind us always, as indeed, you do today: “Man does not live on bread alone” (Gospel).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the blinding but ersatz glory of power and prestige. Make us understand that the pain of being considered lowly in this world, insignificant and unimportant, can teach us the genuine value of an intimate relationship with you: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Gospel). Teach us, above all, the beatitude behind suffering, poverty, tears, lowliness, and in the hatred of the world on account of our attachment to you.
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the myth of self-sufficiency and misguided autonomy. Remind us, more than ever, that even if people may put us atop pedestals, and consider us supermen at times, all we are really is “only a man in a silly red sheet; only a man in a funny red sheet” as the band “Five for Fighting” puts it.
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from all this desperation and desolation of the desert experience of being ignored, trampled upon, and considered a pariah for reasons that we may not understand fully. Bring us back to you, for at moments like these, all we can think of and desire may be exactly what Satan the tempter, was trying to give you in the desert: power, pleasure, and avoidance of self-responsibility. Lead us to genuine devotion that does not feel the need to put you, our Lord, to temptation: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Gospel).
Lead us, we pray you, to a journey of discovery. Forty years did our forefathers spend in the desert, on journey, on pilgrimage towards the promised land. Help us discover, as the Israelites did, that walking together with you, is not necessarily a walk in the park, but a traverse through thickets and thistles that poke, prick, and prod our sensitive egos that are easily given in to desolation and discouragement.
This season of Lent and beyond, we acknowledge, Father and Lord, that beyond mere discovery, despite, and even on account of, our desert experiences of desolation and discouragement, you call us to a deep devotion and attachment to yourself, the only true God. For we know full well, that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Your word … your promise … your assurance … is all that many of us have left to hang on. You and you alone are everyone’s “refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust” (Responsorial Psalm). We hold on with hope to your word: “I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and glorify him” (Responsorial Psalm). We hang on to you, amidst the distress and desolation, with deep unalloyed devotion, “for no one who believes [you] will be put to shame” (2nd Reading).
Yes, Father and Lord, our Lenten retreat and “recession” beckon us to a deep devotion in faith, hope, and love. You call us to faith … “for if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You call us to hope … For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” You call us to a deeper love … “You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve.”
To be in Lent is to be in lull … in lull from ordinary, day-to-day faithlessness, hopelessness, and lovelessness. To be in Lent is to be in retreat … in retreat from all that smacks of desert desolation and despondency. To go through Lent is to be in a journey of discovery. It means to be attentive and quiet and reflective enough to discover the fullness of the “word” that is “near us, in [our] mouth and in [our] heart.” And to live Lent means to intensify one’s devotion and attachment to the “same Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him” (2nd Reading).
We end by anticipating the prayer at the very end of this Mass … “Father, you increase our faith and hope, you deepen our love in this communion. Help us to live by your words and to seek Christ, our bread of life, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.”
Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Paranaque City, February 21, 2007
N.B. I would like to share with you the lyrics of a beautiful song entitled COME PRIMAVERA. If it’s worth anything at all to my readers, as it is for me, I think it’s a timely reminder, among other things, to allow the seeming barrenness of Lent with its thoughts of desert desolation, awaken in all of us, redemptive thoughts, too, of new life and new hope like the spring does to us all – COME PRIMAVERA!
L'inverno sai finirà (WINTER AS YOU KNOW WILL END)
e come è arrivato se ne andrà (IT WILL GO AWAY THE SAME WAY IT CAME
e scioglierà il dolore (TO TAKE AWAY ALL PAIN)
come la neve al sole (AS THE SUN DOES TO THE SNOW)
e le ferite che hai (THE WOUNDS YOU NURSED)
lo sai guariranno prima o poi (WILL BE HEALED SOONER OR LATER)
dopo la notte l'aurora (AFTER THE NIGHT COMES THE DAWN)
ancora verrà si perchè (YET AGAIN AND FOR THIS I SAY)
torna alla vita più serena (GO BACK TO A MORE SERENE LIFE)
che rifiorisce come primavera (THAT BLOOMS LIKE THE SPRING)
la vita grida a voce piena (THAT LIFE SHOUTS IT OUT IN FULL)
dentro te (DEEP WITHIN YOU)
ritroverai anche tu (YOU, TOO, WILL YET FIND)
la forza che ora non hai più (THE FORCE THAT IS NOW HARDLY THERE)
e quella voglia di vivere (AND THAT WISH TO GO ON LIVING)
che ancor non c'è tornerà (THAT SEEMS ABSENT WILL COME BACK)
torna alla vita più serena (GO BACK TO A MORE SERENE LIFE)
che rifiorisce come primavera (THAT BLOOMS LIKE THE SPRING)
la vita grida a voce piena (THAT LIFE SHOUTS OUT IN FULL)
dentro te (x 2) (DEEP WITHIN YOU)
la vita grida a voce piena dentro te come primavera (THAT LIFE SHOUTS OUT IN FULL DEEP WITHIN YOU, LIKE THE SPRING)
FIDELITY ON THREE COUNTS
[Dundalk, MD – February 29, 2004]
We are back in the season of Lent, that time in the liturgical year when traditionally, we are expected to cut back on a whole lot of things, to make a “retreat,” as it were, so as to foster the threefold attitude and practice of “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” All three are not supposed to be engaged in for their own sakes, but for God’s. They are not, on that score, “negative” acts, but on the contrary “affirmative” ones that ought to lead us closer to God. In the long tradition of the Church, such “ascetic practices,” at bottom, really answer our deep need for God (prayer), for a healthy and balanced love of self (fasting), and our duty as Christians to love others (almsgiving).
Nowadays, the idea of giving up certain things is not a very hard concept to understand. Owing to the ongoing diet craze that go by various appellations (Atkins, South Beach, Diamonds, etc.), the idea of having to give up one’s cravings either for carbs or carved meat oozing with fat is not such a strange prospect at all. In an entertainment and information glutted world of 24/7 news and fashion channels, thrash and reality TV, and violent cartoon and animé characters, the idea of giving up one channel in favor of another is a daily dilemma for the boob tube addict.
Giving up certain things is a lot more a reality in our lives than we ever thought! For a great many of us, it is not the giving up of little things that counts as difficult. That which really poses as a big obstacle for many of us is the bigger issue of having to give up a lifestyle that precisely fuels that never-ending process of having to give up an infinite variety of little things in our cluttered daily lives. People give up stuff everyday. What they have no more place for in their bulging closets, they give away to charity. What they have grown tired of, they toss to the clothes collection bins all over the place. What they feel is no longer fashionable, they give up. In the same vein, people give up pasta and bread (the sale of bread in America has drastically dropped by 40% since the revival of the Atkins revolution!) as easily as they gave up red meat a decade ago. The bigger question, though, remains unanswered, or simply glossed over … For what? For whom? Why so?
Let us take a close look at today’s Scriptural data in the hope of finding some meaning to help us understand the whys and the wherefores of having to do “prayer, penance and almsgiving.” If you look at the three closely, they all have to do with giving up. Prayer asks us to give up some time from our daily rounds and routines. Penance asks us either to “do with less,” or to “do more” – give up stuff, or do more positive good to others. And almsgiving definitely has to do with having to part with something usable, something valuable, something that causes some pain or hurt to say good-bye to.
What for? This is what all three readings today speak about. All three readings really speak about fidelity. In the first reading, being reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people, Deuteronomy describes the people’s acknowledgement of that faithfulness by the offering of the first fruits of the harvest. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans confirms the same idea of a faithful God who deserves a confession of faith on our part, convinced as we are that “no one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The Gospel glowingly presents the fidelity of Jesus who was tempted thrice over in the wilderness.
Fidelity on three counts… This, along with the other two readings, is what leads us to the bigger picture that makes giving up anything worth all the effort; that gives meaning to the call for “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” This fidelity, both on the part of God, and on the part of God’s people, stands behind meaningful renunciation. Without this, all forms of giving up are nothing but vanity. “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” Without this context of fidelity, giving up carbs or carved game just does not measure up. Without this framework of faithfulness, giving from one’s superfluities just does not make for heroism and philanthropy. Without basing itself on Christian asceticism, fasting is just dieting plain and simple.
Fidelity is the language of relationships. Faithfulness is the life-giving atmosphere of love and mutual commitment – the very same love and commitment that Jesus showed in his threefold temptation to turn stone into gold (bread or material goods); to turn simplicity and ordinariness to power and prestige (by worshiping the devil); and to force God’s hand to do what He basically had the power to do by himself – that is to throw self-responsibility to the winds (by throwing self from the parapet of the temple)!
Fidelity on three counts! This is what Jesus showed us. This is what renunciation is all about … fidelity to His Father; fidelity to His people; fidelity to a relationship; fidelity for a purpose, and therefore, fidelity with a meaning.
Fidelity on three counts is what we all are called to ourselves. And our fidelity is sorely tested, too, in lesser, though not any less real, ways. The whole world is driven by the obsessive search for more … more money, bigger and bigger homes “far from the madding crowd” … We are tempted everyday to turn everything, including stones, into bread. The whole problem of corruption in and out of government is based on this … turn every single transaction into a means for making easy money. Everybody does it anyway, so there’s no harm joining in. The whole corporate world beckons us to do everything we can to rise to the top of the ladder, to wield authority and power, to be known and admired, to be in control. No one wants to remain forever an “average Joe,” and everyone aims at becoming the next “American idol” (or “star in a million” as the case may be). In the Philippines, presidential wannabes, who have been drooling for the much coveted office for decades, who now realize they can never be president in the context of an entertainment crazed, MTV (and MTB and Eat-Bulaga) culture, resort to producing puppets of a president whom they can manipulate from behind the scenes, with assurances of lucrative rewards and an infinite number of concessions. Similarly, we give up and surrender to the rampaging culture of death, the culture of violence, the culture of indifference as we get co-opted by the prevailing trends to do as the rest of the world does, not to rock the boat, and “see and hear no evil.” Evangelization gets reduced to an invitation to a mushy “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type of “feel-good” spirituality that accommodates to what is chic, current, and popular.
Fidelity on three counts… This is what we are called to reflect on today. Perhaps we are not to expect ourselves to be at par with the faithfulness of Christ whose commitment to His Father was more powerful than anything the devil and the world had to offer Him. Our version of this threefold fidelity may be a lot more modest, but no less genuine. In a world and cultural climate that increasingly beckon us to conform, to “live like the Joneses,” to outdo one another in some way, to be as the rest of the world is trying so hard to become, today’s liturgy is a gentle prodding for us to “go deeper,” (“Man does not live on bread alone”); to “do better” (“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve”); and to “draw closer” to the God of Jesus Christ (“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”)
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
February 18, 2007
COMPASSIONATE AND MERCIFUL LIKE GOD
Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
Last Sunday’s rousing call to authentic “blessedness,” in contradistinction to “woefulness” is brought up a notch higher today. The poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, and the hated (on the Lord’s account) are declared “blessed” last week. Today, the liturgy converges on something patently counterintuitive, counter-cultural, and, from the worldly point of view, totally beyond the pale of ordinary logic.
The “God of reversals” jolts us one more time, and asks all of us “to do a David,” and become what He Himself is … kind and merciful, as we declared after the first reading: “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Responsorial Psalm).
I start off this reflection with what I am all too familiar with – human experience – my own, and that of many others. Doing a David, that is, sparing graciously the life of someone who, in the first place, was out on a rabid and vicious campaign to kill him, is more than just counterintuitive. It flies in the face of logic. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ignored, unused, and wasted. It was a case of an almost perfect leverage for fame, power, and success. David, for all his talents at sleuthing and becoming a most successful “deep penetration agent,” certainly deserved to deal a death-dealing blow to Saul, his mortal enemy, who was caught woefully off-guard and utterly vulnerable (1st Reading).
But no … Great and noble men like David are made of sterner stuff, at least in this regard. He was no mere son of the “first man,” Adam, a mere “living being.” He prefigured, in his own way, the “last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (2nd Reading). He rose above the petty – and, I must add – a most natural tendency of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve – to take sweet revenge, and use others’ misfortunes or careless inattention or downright ignorance, to prop up one’s own career, and get on ahead of the pack.
All of us sons and daughters of the “first man, Adam,” are all in it together. In our tainted nature, courtesy of the first sin of disobedience, magnanimity of heart and the courageous act of forgiving those who cause, and do us harm and woe, do not come smoothly and automatically to us. I don’t know about you, but there is just something in the story of David’s “missed chance of a lifetime” that makes me inwardly cringe in semi-disapproval. A product of post-modernity myself, I know an opportunity when I see one. Schooled as I myself am, in the culture of pragmatic productivity and result-orientedness, David’s magnanimous act simply leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth – at least for a very fleeting while.
I must confess that having been unfairly and unjustly treated and not given a fair hearing in a recent most difficult life experience, it does not come easy for me, to do a David. In another recent reflection, I have also confessed to my readers that, as a midlifer, it gets to be harder and harder for me to see beyond the decisions of decision-makers who, “either in mould or mind” show utter lack of ability to see the bigger picture, who may tend to look at things, situations, and events one-sidedly, and who refuse to see what good things may come from the help “human sciences” and the world of learning and information can offer.
Today’s good news afflicts me. It does not, at first blush, comfort me. It disturbs me. But tucked somewhere at the back of my mind is that theoretical knowledge that gospel good news is meant as much “to comfort the afflicted, as to afflict the comfortable.”
We who minister to the people of God, ordained or lay, can sometimes be comfortable in our “star complex.” We easily get used to this star appeal because we always have a willing audience, wherever we go. We speak to groups, little or small. We perorate and pontificate at the slightest provocation. We are generally given the choice seats everywhere. People reserve the best cuts of meat for us, the best gifts on Christmas. Priests or laity, those of us who ever held a microphone and stood on a lofty dais or ambo, can get a little too comfortable with that star appeal accorded us, in lesser or greater degrees.
But that is just half of the potential problem. The other half that is not talked about, is the “intimacy factor.” One author refers to the fact that most ministers in Church, only go for what he calls “half intimacies.” Ably developed intellectually, superbly endowed with intelligence (and degrees galore to support that), many of us really identify our worth with the number of letters that follow our names. But we may not be meaningfully connected with others. We float around engaging in shallow, superficial, nodding relationships that are precisely what those half intimacies are all about. Our emotional development does not go at par with our intellectual development.
Capable only of engaging in “half intimacies,” most of us go through our ecclesiastical and parochial careers aiming “to prove ourselves.”
This is the situation that leads people to hurt one another, tear at each other, and outdo one another “in style” – that is, through subtle sarcasm, biting humor, and relentless criticism of each other, all done “in the name of principles” and “personal conviction.”
Today’s good news afflicts me precisely because of one thing. I am part of this sinful culture being among the sons of the first man, Adam. But today’s good news comforts me because being afflicted myself, my thoughts are raised toward the big possibility and great calling that takes center stage in today’s liturgy. The readings up the ante of real and authentic blessedness: “do good to those who hate you … bless those who curse you … pray for those who mistreat you.” (Gospel)
You who listen to me now, (or who read this reflection) … I ask you to pray for me, for like all the sons of Adam, I have afflicted you in many ways. I ask you to pray for me, even as I am in the midst of an affliction for which doing a David is most difficult and trying. I ask you to pray for yourselves, that the call to genuine blessedness may continue to afflict you, too, and thus lead you, in turn, to comfort the afflicted. For we all are called in due time, to be compassionate and merciful, like God!
[Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Paranaque City, February 15, 2007]
THE IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE
[Dundalk, MD February 22, 2004]
The readings today, like last Sunday’s, continue to disturb us. Not only are we told to look at things differently, to find happiness in the opposite of wealth, power, prestige and other legitimate human concerns, but also to consider ourselves blessed when our attachment to Christ leads us to a lifestyle patterned after His own, and are given a series of straightforward teachings that seem extremely difficult to accept, let alone fulfill.
Let’s face it …To equate genuine happiness with poverty, hunger, sorrow, and with being persecuted for His sake like we were reminded last week, simply flies in the face of logic and our contemporary sense of values! This week, we are shaken even more, as we are told to go the way of unconditional love … no, not for one’s friends, but for one’s enemies!
This sounds totally unacceptable, undoable, and practically impossible to fulfill.
Let’s be honest. Years of catechetical instruction have taught us to repeat this almost like a mantra, as a pious platitude, a quotable quote that comes in handy as a practical resolution after a week-end retreat or a memorable line to jot down in our journals and diaries. But to be honest, when was the last time you really had warm and cozy feelings for the one who double-crossed you, betrayed you and did evil against you? When was the last time you were tickled pink by the thought of terrorists lurking somewhere around the civilized world, waiting for the next opportunity to blow airplanes out of the sky and level-down buildings to smithereens? Since when did you feel a rush of excitement up your face at the prospect of meeting face to face with someone who has ruined your reputation and has caused other people to think less respectfully of you?
There is no denying it…to love anyone who has made, or still makes, your life difficult seems to be an impossible thing to do. And it will remain so for as long as we continue to misconstrue the Lord’s commandment of love.
I would like to suggest that, whilst the readings do tell us in positive terms what it means to love our enemies, they do not tell us what loving our enemies is not. I would like to suggest further, that our inability to do the former is due to our inability to understand the latter. According to Biblical data, love IS NOT a warm, cozy, cuddly and sentimental feeling for a person. Love is neither a natural inclination or attraction towards another. Love is not equated with liking another person. Love is not an emotion as liking something or someone is. Liking is something one cannot control. We either like something or we don’t. One does not decide one day to like someone he never liked before. If love were such an emotion, then, indeed, it would impossible to love our enemies, for no person can ever naturally like someone who makes him or her suffer.
Let us look at the Scriptural data presented in today’s liturgy. There are at least three important truths that we can cull from them. In the first reading, first of all, we are given an eloquent example of what love for an enemy is, or ought to be, made possible, not because David liked Saul (the two obviously were mortal enemies), but on account of God who has anointed Saul. He passed off a perfect opportunity to do away with a competitor on account of the God of “justice and faithfulness.” “Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed,” said David. The implication seems clear. No one can love the unlovable unless God enters the picture. One can only love one’s enemies on account of God.
Secondly, in the New Testament (2nd ) reading, St. Paul draws a parallelism between Adam and Christ, the “earthly one” and the “heavenly one,” respectively. We all are at one and the same time, the earthly, unredeemed Adam and the “heavenly one” like unto Christ. “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.” On account of Jesus’ resurrection, which is also our God-given calling in Christ, we Christians really live now on a different plane, with different paradigms and sets of values. Such a different “conceptual framework,” as it were, makes us capable of acting in a way different from common expectations. The Christian, in many ways, lives in a frontier world, where the usual rule of tit-for-tat or retaliation reigns supreme. Again, the implication is clear. One can only love on account of the one who rose from the dead, whose rising has made it possible for the believer to live partially both in the “earthly” and “heavenly” sphere. We can only love all the sinful Adams in this world because of Christ, the new Adam who has redeemed us all. One worth saving is then worth loving just as the Lord did.
The third and most important truth comes from today’s Gospel passage from Luke. Here we are told in positive terms what deciding to love means. It has nothing to do with warm feelings. Essentially, it means deciding to act in exactly the opposite way people usually would be expected to behave in the face of certain stimuli. In the face of hatred, one is counseled to do good. In return for curses (bad words), we are told to bless (good words). In exchange for mistreatment, one is exhorted to prayer. We are then back to the arena of paradox that we spoke of last week – the classic tension between two opposing poles of “woes” and “blessings;” “curses” and “beatitudes.”
There is, therefore, an unmistakable flavor of “affirmative action” in the command to love one’s enemies, in today’s readings. One is clearly told to leave the level of mushy feelings and maudlin thoughts and translate them into positive actions that spring from a willful decision from deep within the person, instead of the superficial level of feelings that ebb and flow with the tides. It is for this reason that contemporary social teachings see love for neighbor (including enemies) in the context, not so much of traditional “charitable works” but in the wider and deeper context of dedication and commitment to the virtues of “social justice” and “solidarity.” Merely engaging in occasional charitable acts appeases one’s conscience but does not satisfy the commandment of love for neighbor. A purely privatistic focus on “doing a good turn” on occasion, makes one feel good, but does not fulfill the expectation of the Lord for one to “do good.” Merely running around putting up soup kitchens, without the more important and long-term effort at “evangelizing cultures” of individualism, corruption, consumerism and utter lack of environmental concern, is tantamount to just “putting out brush fires,” without contributing towards the long-term preservation of the “forest.” Giving alms from our surplus (like when we do not know where to put stuff that accumulates in the house), and not from our need is to do something out of duty, and not out of love. Giving what we have no more need of, nor place for at home, while living a wasteful, ecologically unaware “throw-away” lifestyle like as if the world has all the room for our non-biodegradable waste is to mistake the forest for a tree.
Today’s readings are a call for us to disabuse the notion of private charity. Love for others, including our enemies, is shown through solidarity and working for the common good. It is also a reminder that love, far from being a passing feeling, is something we have to positively and passionately engage ourselves in – doing good, blessing, praying. These are affirmative actions that are done in exchange for the really nasty things that we all do to each other in the course of our short lives.
This, we can only do on account of the transformative power of the resurrection. Only through the power of the resurrection can we be capable of doing good. Only on account of the resurrection that is our destiny as disciples of Christ, can we be profligate in forgiveness and in our dedication to the common good and work for solidarity – salvific, not sinful solidarity. Only on account of the power of the living and loving God in Christ His Son, can the impossible be made possible. Only through Jesus. Only in Jesus. Only because of Jesus. Only Jesus!