IS IT GOOGLE OR GOGGLES? (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Catholic Homily (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C)
October 7, 2007

Bad news seems to be all we hear each and every single day. There is bad news in our (mostly) dysfunctional politics all over. There is bad news everywhere in the world where division, cliques, and conflicting allegiances reign. There, too, is bad news in the world of believers who may be staking out their futures – and, in many cases – also their peace of mind, on matters inconsequential. There is bad news in families all over, especially in poorer countries where there is a preponderance of so-called “global families,” a euphemism for families whose members, for economic reasons, have to live far apart from each other. There is bad news in the geopolitical world where the battle for economic supremacy entails wanton and selfish disregard for the integrity of the whole created world. In the context where I am, the Philippines, more of the same bad news continue to make our blood boil in frustration, anger, or desperation, as the case may be – news of such brazen acts of corruption on the part of the powers-that-be that makes one wonder whether there is still hope for the whole forlorn and forsaken country.

I am not sure the situation of turmoil that Habakkuk refers to in the first reading should arrest our bewildering slide into the slope of discouragement. But I do know, based on my Christian faith, that what Habakkuk eventually makes of it – the meaning that he draws from the sad experiences he refers to, has something to do with my state of discouragement and despondency. Like the proverbial rower, I move forward by looking backward. I look backward at history – the history of God’s people, in order to chart anew a fresh destiny, and weave a new story about the present and the future, based on God’s dream and vision for both me and the whole world in turmoil.

We counselors and therapists have it on the authority of Alfred Adler, that one powerful method to help people change and snap out of their debilitating slide to despondency is what is known as “confrontation.” Some authors now call it more benignly as “care-frontation.” I would like to think of Habbakuk as doing this for us in God’s name. The despairing Habakkuk declares on the one hand: “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord” (1st Reading). But on the other hand, we hear him confront himself with God’s declaration: “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.”

That vision, let us please remind ourselves, has together with it, a promise: “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

The just one, because of his faith, shall live! …

We are rowing now in more than just turbulent seas. The ship of our faith is shattered and battered by all sorts of challenges and oppositions. We need to look backward – at the history of God’s chosen people, if we are to move forward. But we need the proper tools to see clearly. We need the capacity of finding meaning even in apparently meaningless situations. We need the right vision. We have to have the right goggles.

Nowadays, all we do when we do not know is google it. But googling alone will not clinch it. We need to be more than just informed. We need to be formed, moulded rightly, endowed with the wherewithal to make meaning come out of what appears meaningless. We need more than just googled information. We need the goggles of faith. “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets” … the tablets of our hearts and minds.

All events and circumstances that unfold might be grossly dissonant with what we hear God tell us in His Word. There is a great divide between ideal and reality all over. The “already” and the “not yet” of our faith appear to be separated by a chasm similar to that between Dives and Lazarus that last Sunday’s gospel was speaking about.

At this point, a quote from Timothy Radcliffe, comes in handy. He, in turn, quotes William Carlos Williams who wrote: “dissonance (if you are interested) leads to discovery.”

This sounds like a “care-frontation” for me today, convicted as I am, by my lack of faith, my lack of ability to see meaning that hides behind the thick and lowering clouds of despair and discouragement. This much, the psalmist also tells us, as indeed we remind ourselves after the first reading: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

He does not stick to dissonance. That leads to a “hardening of the heart.” He, instead, focuses on discovery – the same discovery of the rower who moves forward, by looking backward. Propelled by the goggles of faith, his googled information – perhaps oodles and oodles of discouraging information – will not crush his resolve to move on, move forward – and live!

The disciples in today’s gospel passage tell us as much. They don’t google for more information beyond what they already heard and know. They ask for the real thing. They beg for what is really necessary and essential. They beg for goggles to see beyond what they already know: “Lord, increase our faith.”

We ought to take careful note of what is asked for. The request presupposes not a totally blank slate, or a totally empty container. The request presupposes there is already some faith to start with, something to begin with. They don’t beg: “Lord, give us faith,” but “Lord, increase our faith.”

There, indeed, is a great deal of dissonance in our daily lives, a great deal of moral distortion and confusion. In the current debacle in the Philippine senate, we cannot tell who among them is telling the truth. In between violent accusations and vehement denials, the only truth that seems to come out is what we already know – since the time of Adam and Eve. And what we know is what we are reminded of today – for the nth time … that all of us are sinners, and that “all men [and women] have fallen short of the glory of God.” What we know is that corruption is sin, and sin is what the middle letter of that three-letter word stands for – “I” … Sin has to do with You and I … with all of us taken singly and collectively.

But there is one today who reminds us to clarify our vision. Above and beyond mere knowledge of facts, St. Paul calls to mind what we all need to apply ourselves on, and use our talents and energies for … “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”

We need not more googles of information, but fresh and renewed goggles of faith in order to stir into flame the gift that we already all have. The former only leads to further dissonance. The latter can only lead to discovery.

National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
Better Living Subdivision, Paranaque City, Philippines
October 2, 2007 – 9:45 AM