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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

WHO REMEMBERS ME DOT COM: REMEMBERING AND CELEBRATING IN HOLY WEEK

PASSION SUNDAY
April 1, 2007

WHO REMEMBERS ME DOT COM:
REMEMBERING AND CELEBRATING IN HOLY WEEK

As I write these reflections, the thought of that “persistent” web site that forms part of the whole “social engineering” scheme in cyberspace, keeps on surfacing in my mind. Known simply as WRM that stands for “Who Remembers Me,” it captures email addresses from all over the world, generates a “personalized” invitation for every one to join, and links them up with one another in some way, by playing on that natural and innate human need for connectivity, for bonding, and some form of emotional attachment to each other, albeit on shallow and tenuous – if, a bit suspicious - grounds.

Who remembers me dot com … What a cute way of supplying a “fast food” style of affirmation, remembrance, and affiliation to a group, no matter the fact that it is really only virtual, and possibly unreal.

Today, Passion Sunday, the liturgy of the Church, among other things, reminds us of him who really remembers us in an eminently real and deep way. Last week, I made mention of the fact that we, like the Jews of old, are a people of memory. We thrive and live on memory. As a people of the memorial, events that happen are meaningful to us, not on account of the fact that they happened per se, but that they happened for a reason – owing to God’s loving and saving design. For a people like us of the memorial, we remember not just what happened. We remember the meaning of what happened in the light of the singular event of God’s entering into our human history. The meaning of the historical events take on a much richer hue and color on account of the saving event wrought out by God in Jesus Christ His Son, in union with the Holy Spirit. Thus, we Christians do not just simply recall things past. No … We look back, but with our sights trained really on the future. We make a return journey to the “already” of Christ’s saving event, but we really focus a whole lot more on the “not yet” – the fullness and fulfillment of what is yet to come.

I take my cue this Sunday from a seemingly insignificant bit player in the unfolding drama of today’s account of the Passion (Lk 22:14 – 23:56) – the so-called good thief, Dismas by name accorded by tradition. He made a passionate plea to the crucified Lord: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

When you come into your kingdom … This is the object of the supreme act of memorializing that is the hallmark of today’s liturgy. We remember: his triumphant entry to Jerusalem; the sudden shift in attitudes of the people who, one day were crying “hosanna,” and another day were shouting “crucify him.” But we look forward to more of what we recall. We call him “Son of David.” We declare him “blessed” as the “king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Lk 19:28-40).

But Dismas goes beyond mere material remembering. His being steeped in Jewish memory leads him to transform memorial to active faith and hope. He prays and pleads earnestly to him who has “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-11). He did not get lost in the utter “human tragedy” of the moment. He did not allow ephemeral “history” to cloud his “memory.” Suffering as he certainly was, along and with Christ, who, himself was deeply steeped in the mire of suffering and death on the cross, the good thief knew enough to look forward and stake out his “future” with God’s future: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Yes … I propose that we do have an answer to “who remembers me dot com.” I propose, too, that we can help one another this holiest of weeks and all the weeks of the year to come to a saving memorial of our past, present, and future.

Palm Sunday is best at this. It telescopes for us all three aspects of our history. This history, the liturgy today tells us, is really His Story – God’s story and ours – and our past, present, and future have been more than sufficiently covered by the story of Jesus, God and Man.

This Jesus whom we crucified is God. “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” This Jesus whom we put to death is fully man: “coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance.” This Jesus, who suffered and died on the cross is King and Lord. We entered with him in triumph to Jerusalem singing: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” This same Jesus now leads us marching triumphantly towards the heavenly Jerusalem. Palm Sunday makes sure we get it right. We recall the past. That is true. But don’t just recall things past. We call to mind things future – the “not yet” of our Christian faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Dismas did not just have a good hindsight. He probably rehashed the little of Hebrew Scripture and tradition that he knew or heard of as he swung in pain and humiliation up on the tree together with Jesus. But he was graced with the gift of insight. He saw somewhat prophetically the unfolding story of God at work in Jesus Christ. His insight led him to a prudential judgment of heavenly foresight. This foresight of faith, hope, and love is what we all have as Christians. When we were baptized we all were graced, gifted with, and given by God those three so-called “theological virtues.” We were primed for greatness and holiness. Somewhere in the trajectory of our earthly and material history, as human beings, there was Someone up there who remembered us dearly. Someone up there had us in mind from the very beginning. Someone up there had our best interests in mind.

This holiest of weeks can leave us mindless and distracted in so many ways. The culture of the “media moment” would probably take our thoughts away from all this holy remembering. In this world of media-mediated values, our best definition of a holy week retreat is to go along with the noisy and madding crowds to our favorite vacation spots (including – you guessed it right – the malls as the new cathedrals of commerce!). We would most likely remember with some regret, the pageantry of holy weeks gone by, distant now in time and practice from this show-biz inspired world of ours.

But time and again, the very same media culture catches our flagging attention. “Who Remembers Me.com” is one such reminder. Yes … we know that important truth that is well worth celebrating in liturgical memorial par excellence. God remembers me in Christ. God saves me in Christ. And His memory is one that we now ought to sing and acclaim for ever and ever. For His Kingdom will have no end. Hosanna to the Son of David!

Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Paranaque City, March 28, 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Forgetting, Pursuing, Forgiving (5th Sunday of Lent)

PAN DE VIDA
5th Sunday of Lent (C)
March 25, 2007

See also: http://pandelasemana.blogspot.com

Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11

FORGETTING, PURSUING, FORGIVING!

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

The desert path to discovery that we began on the First Sunday of Lent comes full circle today, and takes on a joyful tone: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Responsorial Psalm).

We are filled with joy, for like the Jews of old, who were a people of memory, we remember Him “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters” (1st Reading). We are full of joy, for although we, too, are a people of memory, we are told today to “remember not the events of the past” but focus our sights on the future that is already unfolding here and now: “See, I am doing something new! … In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.”

The first reading from Isaiah tells us to forget something past and pursue something newer and better.

St. Paul takes up a similar and related theme. He speaks of “everything as loss” in relation to the newer and better reality – “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (2nd Reading). But he does not merely speak of forgetting. He rouses us to pursuing, exactly as he himself did: “I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.” The forgetting and the pursuing in the path from desert desolation to discovery comes out clear in his words: “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

There is urgency in Paul’s proclamation. There, too, is palpable joy at the thought and realization that nothing was lost, but that everything was gained, when one realizes the absolute newness involved in the gift of new life in Christ.

Last Sunday, and the Sunday before that, the Gospel readings exhort us to repentance. In the parable of the “prodigal Father” that we read last week, we saw the call to repentance and reconciliation through the prism of a short story with three brief chapters: SETUP, UPSET, RESET. The original setup of peace and harmony between two brothers and their father was upset by a selfish and willful act on the part of the younger son. But the father’s prodigality in love – an image par excellence of God’s love for his erring people – went to such lengths so as to reset a broken relationship. God’s love – like the father’s love in the parable – came in bundles of threes: “He ran. He embraced. And he kissed his son.” He brought out “the finest robe.” He had his son wear “a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” And third, he had his servants “take the fattened calf and slaughter it.”

We are, indeed, filled with joy for the great thing done by the Lord has to do with His overwhelming desire and design to reset us, reform us, and reconcile us to Himself.

But wait … Today’s Gospel adds further details. To the basic story that shows the utter compassion and mercy of God, as shown by Jesus’ refusing to condemn the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you,” the Lord adds an important point about our response to the gift of forgiveness: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (Gospel).

Forget … yes … everyone who has been forgiven ought to do as Isaiah tells us: “Remember not the events of the past.” But forgetting ought to lead to pursuing. Seek for newer, better, and higher things. Pursue, not the losses but the gains, that accrue from “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus.” Leave behind what is past and gone … “Neither do I condemn you.” But “return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.” (Verse before the Gospel) Forget, but pursue: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

We have come full circle today in our spiritual desert journey towards discovery. Next week, we start the holiest of weeks in our liturgical calendar. Beginning Palm Sunday, we assume to the full our true nature as Christians – as a people of memory. As a people deeply steeped in saving memorial, we are asked somewhat contradictorily, to remember and remember not, at one and the same time. “Remember not the events of the past.” (1st Reading). The biblical concept of memorial has to do both with looking back and looking forward. Remember not the events of the past … Be not caught up only in looking back at the less important wonders of God. Look ahead to even greater wonders He continues to do in our lives. Remember not the losses, but count the overwhelming gains we get at our discovery – “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus.” Remember not the upset – the sins, the disobedient acts, the rebellions that we did in our weakness. But remember the original setup of God – who “has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Focus and look forward to a God who continues to do a reset for us all. His love comes in bundles of threes. His love is everlasting.

The woman caught in adultery obviously was guilty as charged. But even worse so were those who wanted to use her in order to lay an elaborate trap for Jesus. They, too, were guilty as hell … no more, no less. They, too, were upsetting God’s setup. But He who “has come to bring life and life in its fullness” was not one to get lost in futile remembrances of events past. He is one who looks forward and pursues the resetting and restoration of that upset loving plan of the Father whose love goes far beyond the human capacity to understand. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

We are a people steeped in the upset of sinfulness. We are a people, too, of memory. We remember God’s wonders and we are filled with joy. But our memory, more than looking backward, really looks and moves forward. “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus.”

Forgetting, and “remembering not the events of the past” in a superficial way, we are a people called to go in pursuit of God’s promises. One such glorious promise is fulfilled today in our hearing – the merciful act of forgiving for each and every one of us, scheming, adulterous, unjust – and – sinful people who have such short memories!

We are asked once more to do as God does today – He loves in bundles of threes! Our alternative opening prayer is one more such bundle:

Father in heaven, the love of your Son led him to accept the suffering of the cross that his brothers might glory in new life. CHANGE OUR SELFISHNESS INTO SELF-GIVING (1). HELP US TO EMBRACE THE WORLD YOU HAVE GIVEN US (2), that we may TRANSFORM THE DARKNESS OF ITS PAIN INTO THE LIFE AND JOY OF EASTER (3). Grant this through Christ our Lord.

[Paranaque City, March 22, 2007]

STRAINING FORWARD TO WHAT LIES AHEAD
[Dundalk, MD – March 28, 2004]


Gratitude, they say, is the memory of the heart. Memory, at least in the usual sense, has to do with things past, events gone by, favors completed, and deeds done. A grateful heart remembers with fondness, with joy, with thanksgiving.

Today’s readings, however, go beyond mere “remembrances of things past.” All three, in fact, transcend mere gratefulness, and all three probe deeper into the territory of exultant rejoicing, pretty much in the same tradition of last Sunday’s Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent), which we touched upon last week.

Wherefore rejoice? Isaiah gives us an opening salvo for reflection: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” Isaiah seems to tell us… No, do not get overly focused on the great things that God has done for you. Do not be merely satisfied with Divinely planned wonders like the escape from Egypt, the miracle of the manna, the abiding presence of God as “cloud by day and fire by night,” etc. Although we recognize, as the Israelites, indeed, recognized that “the Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy,” there is something more … a great many more surprises are in the offing. St. Paul affirms the need to look at things from a broader perspective and “consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” If we think we have seen the ultimate, think again; look again; and know that a world of difference exists between mere “rubbish” (the modern equivalent would be more like “shit”) and the “righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God.”

Gratitude is looking back with satisfaction and appreciation. Exultant rejoicing has to do with looking confidently at what’s coming up ahead, without in any way denying what has gone before. Gratitude, the logical offshoot of a history of favors received, however, takes a back seat to exultation and rejoicing for the coming marvels that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard.”

But Jesus, being the prophet par excellence that he is, gives us a glimpse of what’s coming up ahead … he makes all things new! He treats a potential dilemma of a problem in the person of the woman caught in adultery as a powerful way to show that God follows a different set of criteria … “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” Using what they thought was a perfect case to pin Jesus down, the Pharisees and scribes brought an adulterous woman in order to be stoned to death “as the law prescribed.” As the people watched this unfolding drama of “fidelity to the law” with bated breath, a story widely expected to end in a tragedy of soap-opera proportions, Jesus “bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.”
There is a very real tendency in all of us to write off people in our lives, as quickly and as definitively as we erase their names from our electronic address books or mail boxes. In our condemnatory and unforgiving tendencies, we may easily write the “final chapters” in our relationships with others. In this world marred by fragile relationships; in this society where brokenness and all sorts of rifts characterize many of our contracts, promises and vows; in these times when we can very easily walk out of permanent commitments in the name of “forging new grounds,” “redefining oneself” and “re-engineering” just about everything, there is a seeping and lurking danger of facetiously dispensing with those who do not follow our own “script,” who “follow a different drummer,” or who seem to be odd or different.

The self-righteous Pharisees and scribes, following old, cut and dried rules, were trying to “permanently delete” the adulterous woman, like an unwanted file or a dreaded virus from their moral “hard drive.” Rancor, anger, condemnation, revenge, and unforgiveness … all these constitute the equivalent of our own “search and destroy” “weapons of mass destruction,” that we employ to write off people in our lives, to destroy all semblance of exultant rejoicing, and to maintain in our memory banks, both random and remote, an image of a world that is beyond help and beyond hope.

The world, for decades, has gotten to be “hard wired” for violence and destruction. Thousands of studies all over the world, have proven beyond doubt the “correlation” between violence in mass media and violent behavior of children and adolescents, who, on average, see at least 20 hours of violence-filled shows on TV each week. Societies the world over are witnessing the progressive programming of whole nations and populations towards more violence, more brokenness, more vengeance, and more hatred. In such a situation, gratitude for things past grovels. The memory of past marvels shrivels; and exultant rejoicing all turn into mere drivels.

Hope “grows grey hairs;” and faith and love turn into mere platitudes … that is, if we persist in merely pining for St. Paul’s “rubbish,” and Isaiah’s “events of the past.” Despondency and despair are bound to get the upper hand, for as long as we think that “righteousness” is basically the fruit of our own efforts, of our own feverish strivings. Discouragement will remain our lot if we think that the newness that Scripture is talking about depends solely on us.

Perhaps it is time that we looked closely at the surprises and wondrous deeds the Lord Jesus Christ wrought at the representative of sinful sorrowing humanity – the adulterous woman! I do not know, nor do I care, about what the Lord wrote on the ground as he bent down while the woman’s accusers stood proud and mighty atop their moral high ground. But I can be certain of one thing: the Lord was not about ready to write the final chapter of the woman’s life. Without in any way condoning her sin, nor exonerating the woman, in a marvelously surprising and novel way, Jesus showed compassion with a respectful and loving advice: “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.”

The Lord was writing his outline for a world of newness, based on a new law, and a new set of criteria and values: the beatitudes, the new commandment of love, the values of a “coming kingdom” that elsewhere in Scripture is portrayed as “new heavens and a new earth … for the old order has passed away!”

Dwelling on things past makes for gratitude. Hopeful attachment to the God who continues “to do great things,” “who makes all things new,” coupled with our own human, earthly efforts at participating in God’s work by “straining forward to what lies ahead” makes for exultant rejoicing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SETUP, UPSET, RESET: GOD'S LOVE IN BUNDLES OF THREES!

PAN DE VIDA
4th Sunday of Lent (C) – 2007
March 18, 2007

See also

Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10-12 / 2 Cor 5:17-21 / Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

SETUP, UPSET, RESET:
GOD’S LOVE IN BUNDLES OF THREES!*

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

We started our Sunday Lenten reflections around the ideas of desert and desolation. The Israelites’ wandering in the desert for all of 40 years and Jesus’ own desert experience where he was tempted to the hilt, both led to discovery, to a more intense devotion and attachment to the God of promises. On the second Sunday of Lent, we reflected on the need for us to be awake, aware, and alive with and for God, to enable us to see for ourselves the unfolding glory of the Lord in his Transfiguration – a foretaste of good and better things to come. Last Sunday, we spoke of a love of this God of promises and fulfillment as, at one and the same time, tender, tough, and true. His is a love that is compassionate, but His, too, is a love that demands, a love that commands a loving response in return. But behind the image of a father giving “tough love,” the egregious truth stands out: “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Responsorial Psalm, 3rd Sunday of Lent).

Today, fourth Sunday, our thoughts move over to the idea of deliverance, not dependency. The chosen people finally made it across the river Jordan, as our first reading tells us (Jos 5:9a, 10-12). They no longer depend on manna from above, but from what they work for from below – on the fertile ground of Canaan. “No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.” Dependent no more, they nevertheless still had to work for their keeps. They tilled the soil. They toiled hard. But their journey from dependence to deliverance enabled them to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Responsorial Psalm) who proved Himself not only a God of promises, but also a God of fulfillment.

New life was in the offing for the chosen people. Their deliverance spelled newness, not in terms of shallow novelties, but a deep form of newness that seeps to the very core of their personhood – a foretaste and foreshadowing of the total newness that St. Paul speaks of: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2nd Reading). Deliverance is like being in a fertile, well hydrated Canaan. It is in not being dependent like the Jews of old, waiting each day for manna to fall down from heaven. It is in being like the Jews after the crossing over of the Jordan river … They were free … free to develop and make fruitful their newfound deep inner freedom in “a land flowing with milk and honey.” But for all that milk and honey to flow, they first had to get their creative juices flowing through hard work, fervent hope, and deep, creative love. “On that same day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain” (1st Reading).

This idea of new life contrasts with the death-dealing and disabling attitudes of the notorious Pharisees and Scribes of today’s gospel. They block the newness behind the never-heard-of-before behavior of Jesus who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Gospel). They “take offense” at the Lord allowing “tax collectors and sinners to draw near to listen to Jesus.” They get scandalized that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ Jesus” (2nd Reading). Masters of deceit and hypocrisy, they missed the truth about the God of deliverance in action in and through Jesus, there and then.

This occasioned the SETUP of a realistic story (called a parable) about a son, his elder brother, and their father. Their old, apparently wonderful and ideal, routine was UPSET by an over-eager-beaver-of-a-younger-son, who elbowed his way to get a third of the father’s property. One upset led to another upset, and yet other upsets in his – and the whole family’s life. He goes not only into penury. He goes down to the nadir of debauchery. Sin is a cauldron of double-trouble. It is a brew that upsets not only relationships, but a whole lot more – including people’s objective sense of justice and fairness. That brew of double-trouble superficially “brings him to his pragmatic senses.” The younger son, inappropriately referred to by tradition as the “prodigal son,” thinks of a bright idea. Remorse did not make him rise up from his fall. Hunger and utter penury did. He set his eyes on his father’s servants and their relative good fortune. “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.”

The disturbed SETUP goes into further UPSET mode. Sin, as alienation from self and others, brings about a new and further alienation. The younger son’s dysfunctionality now transfers to the older son’s intractability. The elder son complains: “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet, you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” The plot thickens. The older son’s anger glistens. The original UPSET now drives a dividing wedge between the father and the older son. Sin’s double-trouble affects the once ideal and peaceful relationship. The objective sense of justice and fairness is now colored by suspicion and recrimination. The past is now called to the fore, brought about as a noisy witness to the unfairness and injustice of it all. Anger that is originally meant for the younger brother is become anger directed at the father. The father becomes the scapegoat of all the older son’s pent-up resentment and negativity. Not only the plot thickens. Anger becomes the older brother with resentment so thick one could cut it with a knife.

Murray Bowen, the famous family therapist, proposed the theory of the concept of “societal regression.” By that he meant that if a given society is exposed continually to stimuli of violence and anger, the whole society regresses to a lower level of humanity and a higher level of violence. The society, simply put, becomes less human. In Catholic theology, this concept has an equivalent in what Pope John Paul II calls “sinful solidarity,” “solidarity in evil,” or a “culture of sin” or a “culture of death.” Sin is a brew of double trouble that affects not only oneself, but also others. Every act of personal sin has a social dimension. The UPSET caused by the greed and selfishness of the younger son affected the relationship within the family system. The UPSETS we cause by our personal sins affect the whole of humanity, and afflict wounds on the mystical body of Christ, the Church.

Such is the warp and woof of the fabric of corruption. Such is the nature of the interlocking web of personal and social sins that make up sinful structures in our society. And such, too, is the nature of broken relationships and the upsets behind our terror-filled, and violence-prone world.

But my job is to preach good news to a broken world. This news, by the way, is not mine, but God’s and God’s alone. Yes … “we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2nd Reading). And the Good News is simply this … beyond the SETUP, despite the UPSET, God wills and wants us to RESET.

Yes … the story of the prodigal son is a misnomer. It ought to have been the story of the PRODIGAL FATHER. Despite the upsets caused by the son, despite the obviously upset and angry elder son, the father tries to reset relationships. And to reset means to re-boot. It means starting on a clean slate. It means shutting down one’s memory bank, erasing the past, and starting on a push from a renewed and reset operating system. He focuses not on the resentment of the elder son, and definitely not on the stupid indiscretions of the younger son, but takes three different steps to fulfill the illogicality and prodigality of God who is kind and merciful. He runs to his son. He embraces his son tightly. And he kisses him.

Sin’s double trouble is replaced, rewritten, and reset by a love that comes in bundles of threes!

In case you missed it, we prayed in bundles of threes at the start of this Mass …
“Teach us, the people who bear his name, to follow the example he gave us: may our FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY turn HATRED to LOVE, CONFLICT to PEACE, and DEATH to ETERNAL LIFE.” FOR YOU ARE GOD … FATHER, SON, & HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN. AMEN. AMEN!

* I borrow liberally from Peter Kreeft and used his famous three words: Setup, Upset, Reset.

[Paranaque City – March 14, 2007]


GOD’S UNPARALLELED GOODNESS

[Dundalk, MD – March 21, 2004]

One is hard pressed to proclaim glad tidings at a time when the whole civilized world, in solidarity with Spain, mourns not only the death and gruesome dismemberment of 200 innocent people, (and more than 1500 seriously hurt), but the more serious trampling to the ground of what, among others, sets us apart as human beings from all the rest of living creation.

No … I am not referring to the more obvious human capacity to think and to act willfully. Whoever did that dastardly act definitely is good at both. The perpetrators thought well and planned well what they did. And the meticulous details that went into such a complex plan that was, by any standard successful, showed even more that they all acted willfully, knowingly and deliberately, with a very disturbing attitude of sinful nonchalance and callous sang froid!

But those people who have shown so much genius in planning and in the execution of their well-thought out plan, definitely lack one thing that ordinarily makes human beings worthy of the name – the capacity for empathy, the ability to “feel with,” and to stand in the shoes of so many innocent people; the capacity for human compassion, and the ability to stand in solidarity with others’ pain, misfortune or suffering.

It is bad enough for anyone not to be bothered, nor affected by the massive suffering of so many people. But the mere thought of anyone willfully and deliberately inflicting untold suffering and horrific sudden death to hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people boggles the imagination and disturbs one’s faith in humanity.

For many survivors and relatives, faced as they are with something that is basically unacceptable owing to the suddenness, senselessness and injustice of it all, faith in God may also be in a crucible. How can one understand, let alone accept the reality of the millions killed by a Hitler, or the hundreds of thousands made to suffer due to the dictatorial policies of a Ceausescu, or a Marcos, or a Duvalier, or the hundreds whose lives were forever changed or snuffed out by selfish and unrepentant coup plotters in certain countries (like the Philippines), or the blood baths caused by ethnic and religious strifes in certain other countries (like Rwanda) in recent history?

Today, I offer no answers. Today, as priest and prophet, I offer neither solutions, nor a tirade of interdicts against those men guilty of so much inhumanity to other men. I only modestly offer what today’s liturgy offers – an alternative view of things and events, in the hope that we all can imbibe an equally alternative way of acting and behaving, thus becoming what Christ was, what Christ is, to all suffering humanity. All I hope to do is to offer what Christ offers humanity today – an image of his God and Father who is good to both the bad and the good, the saints and sinners, who makes His sun to shine on all sinful humanity.

Together with the whole Church, I only offer good news in the midst of all sorts of bad news.

Today, you would remember, being the fourth Sunday of Lent, is also known as Laetare Sunday. Midway through our supposed protracted Lenten retreat, the liturgy tells us not to lose heart, but to persevere. We are told to do some rejoicing. And the readings themselves tell us wherefore rejoice: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Make no mistake about it … we rejoice not just because of God’s goodness, but owing to God’s profligate goodness. In the first reading, God’s people are reminded of the big change that took place in their lives: “Today, I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” The shame and utter humiliation associated with being slaves in a foreign land were lifted from their hearts. The Lord showed Himself, indeed, a deliverer, a savior.

In the second reading, rejoicing ought to come for “the old things have passed away; new things have come” for us all – epitomized by the new life that was wrought in Christ.

The Gospel of Luke clinches the good news of God’s overflowing mercy and goodness. The context is just as important as the more obvious message. The story of the “prodigal father” is told in the presence of “tax collectors and sinners.” God’s goodness is made to stand in stark contrast to the evil machinations of tax collectors and public sinners. God’s compassion and empathetic reaching out to repentant sinners symbolized by the father who welcomes, instead of condemns, his mortified returnee of a once sinful and disobedient son, sharply contrasts with the close mindedness and rigidity of the Pharisees and publicans who always felt self-righteous and who thought of themselves as faithful to the law.

The Pharisees and Publicans’ self-righteousness is behind their lack of empathy and lack of solidarity that stand in contrast with God’s gracious and profligate goodness. The same lack of empathy and brotherly solidarity seems to have been manifested by the older son, who, instead of rejoicing at the sight of a long lost brother, lost no time in counting what was not given him by the same father, and began remonstrating with the older man. His rigid, if immature, sense of justice prevented him from appreciating the presence of his sorrowing and repentant younger brother.

The world as we know it, steeped yet in rigidity and the unbending attitude of “tit-for-tat,” the modern version of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (lex talionis) could use a bit more of reflection on today’s good news. A world steeped in bad news could not afford to wallow in more bad news. For centuries, going to war has been conveniently justified. For centuries, “godly” men have maimed, crippled and killed one another “in the name of God.” For so long, even Catholic theologians have subscribed to the tenets of the so-called “just war” theory, a theory that officially, the Church’s magisterium has quoted less and less and veered away from in the recent decades since Vatican II.

History teaches us, to our shame, that wars solve no problem. The lessons of history ought to be clear enough if only we were less rigid and more open to solidarity and compassion, both products of the ability to empathize with others, to see others from the vantage point of Christ who suffered and died unjustly – and painfully – in the worst kind of death ever invented by mankind, the crucifixion. And that all too clear lesson is simply this: war and violence make for a never-ending spiral, a cycle that must stop where it begins – in the heart of each one of us.

The Pharisees and the publicans, so sure of themselves and so protective of their position, so disdainful of the tax collectors and sinners … the elder son who was so protective of his rightful share, so taken up by his “obedience” to his father and so indignant about the apparent “injustice” done to him … this is the story of all of us. This is no different from the utter lack of empathy that we manifest when we think that violence and force done to those who do violence and unjust force, are the right and proper things to do.

Millions of Spaniards, who went out all over their major cities in the aftermath of Marzo Once, almost a quarter of the total population of Spain, including the very people from the Basque secessionist region, perhaps could teach us an important lesson. In their pain and sorrow, in their righteous anger, they cried not for vengeance, but for peace. 911 days after 9/11, the Lord seems to tell them and His beloved people all over the world, that the cycle of violence must not be allowed to get a life of its own.

God’s unparalleled goodness is what we are faced with today. The breadth, the depth and the intensity of His love is unmistakable …no ifs and buts … just love and forgiveness and understanding from the world’s profligate, prodigal and tremendous lover!

Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tender, Tough, & True (3rd Sunday of Lent-C)

PAN DE VIDA
3rd Sunday of Lent (C)
March 11, 2007

Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk 13:1-9

TENDER, TOUGH, & TRUE

By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

Today, some of God’s multi-faceted nature shines out in all three readings. God waxes tender in the first reading. He proclaims compassion for his suffering people through Moses: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Along with the revelation of his name (I AM) came a revelation of his nature – a “kind and merciful” God (Responsorial Psalm).

St. Paul, though, offers us a glimpse into a contrasting picture of the same God - an image that exudes toughness. For Paul, who makes allusion to the same desert experience of the Israelites of old, a God who is compassionate and merciful to the upright, is also demanding and tough to those who knew nothing better than whine and complain about their lot during their desert wandering. “Yet God was not pleased with them, for they were struck down in the desert” (2nd Reading).

Contrasting, though, does not mean contradictory. No … God is not portrayed by Moses and Paul to be an ogre. Contrasting here is more akin to complementary … Each facet helps to form an integral, wholistic and total image of a God who revealed – and still continues – to reveal Himself to us his people.

The two contrasting images of toughness and tenderness find manifestation in Jesus’ actuations and teachings. First, the tender part … He makes it clear beyond doubt that personal suffering is by no means a direct effect of personal sin. God is not a mean and cruel God who pounces on every wrongdoing of man, woman, or child. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!” (Gospel). Not only God’s tenderness and compassion shine out in Jesus’ parable. His patience rings loud and clear in the parable of the fig tree: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.” This is a parable that points to more than just divine patience. It points eminently to God’s gracious magnanimity. It harks back to a truth that juts out of the totality of Scripture (beyond isolated passages) – the total truth that indeed, “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Responsorial Psalm).

Tender or tough? So is He, or isn’t He? Which is which?

We are in for a tough choice. Something in me tells me God is tender. But some part of me tells me, too, that He is tough. The readings today all give a balanced picture of both. God is tender. God is tough, too. But a third facet erases the apparent contrariety, if any. God is also true … tender, tough, and true. He is tender in His love. He is tough on account of that same love. And that love for us fickle and frivolous humanity is true … loyal, genuine, and unabashedly faithful.

God’s love for us is tender … He responds in kind to people who also respond to Him in faith and love. “To the upright I will show the saving power of God” (Psalm 50:23). God’s solicitous care for us is tough. His demands speak of His tough love for us all: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did” (Gospel).

In our times characterized by a whole lot of jaded hopes and failed promises, people find it hard to believe in anything. Many of us are cynical about our politically-confused, and terror-filled times. Many espouse DESOLATION instead of DISCOVERY as they wend their way gingerly through their own DESERT experiences. Failing to find meaning in their experiences of pain, their desolation does not lead to DEVOTION and attachment to a God who becomes increasingly distant and irrelevant to a people deeply steeped in what the late Pope John Paul II calls a culture of death. And as I shared with you last week, the challenge of our times is to remain AWAKE, AWARE, & ALIVE WITH AND FOR GOD, and hold on fast and long enough for us to see the transfigured glory of Christ, our Lord and God.

Human as I am myself, I find it hard even here and even now, to accept the egregious truth that “bad things happen to good people;” that I have been left behind by life holding the shorter end of the stick. At this point in my life, I feel exactly like what Manley-Hopkins’ refers to as “time’s eunuch” who “wakes and feels the fell of dark not day,” and who does “not breed one work that wakes.” Discouraged, and maybe, still far from the path that leads to DISCOVERY and DEVOTION, I can only find solace in the psalmist’s plaint: “Quare via impiorum prosperatur? Why do evil men’s ways prosper?

This Mass is for all of you with jaded hopes, faltering faiths, and limping loves. This Mass is for you and me, for we offer this together with Him whose love for us all is TENDER, whose demands from us all is TOUGH, but whose nature as a Lord who is KIND & MERCIFUL is TRUE. God is tender, tough, and true. This Mass is for all of us whose devotion may slowly be replaced by desolation and despondency. Among other things, the Lord asks us to imitate Him in His patience: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.”

To this tender and tough God, we pray: “God of all compassion, Father of all goodness, to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us you bid us turn to fasting, prayer, and sharing with our brothers. We acknowledge our sinfulness, our guilt is ever before us: when our weakness causes discouragement, let your compassion fill us with hope and lead us through a Lent of repentance to the beauty of Easter joy. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Alternative Opening Prayer).

SOLID AS ROCK IN THE MIDST OF INSTABILITY

[Dundalk, MD – March 14, 2004]

However much we desire certainty and stability, the glaring truth that besets us daily is really its opposite – the uncertainty of the times, the instability of everything on which our daily earthly lives are anchored … our jobs, our relationships, everything that we work so hard for like our financial security, our family unity and integrity, the trust that friends and colleagues alike have on us … All this could be snuffed out quickly and, at times, even unexpectedly. “Here, we have no lasting city…” “The world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away.”

Certainly, those who went through a horrific freak water taxi accident over the weekend at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and the scores who perished in a totally unexpected (though relatively common) ferry tragedy off the coast of Batangas (in the Philippines) two weeks ago, experienced first hand the fragility and uncertainty of life in this world.

This offers us all a good opportunity to reflect on what today’s readings tell us partly.

All three readings are a study in contrast. The first and second readings evoke solid certainty, reliable stability, and sure steadfastness. In a world marred by tentativeness and wavering trust on all fronts; in a society characterized by doubt and fear and worry, God reveals Himself to Moses as a picture of unmistakable and stable presence: “I am who am.” With unflinching authority, God even tells Moses: “I am sent me to you… The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” In the world’s past and current atmosphere in which we find ourselves “under a cloud” and having to “pass through the sea,” St. Paul offers an analogy that speaks of solid certainty: “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The Gospel seems, at first blush, to stand in absolute contrast to what the first two readings speak about. A superficial understanding of the passage invariably leads to fear, taking it to mean that the Lord is warning us to repent, lest we suffer the fate of those unfortunate Galileans meted out a swift and cruel punishment by Pilate. Fundamentalists and those who subscribe to a “fire and brimstone” type of spirituality based not on God’s love but on an unhealthy and theologically unbalanced “fear” of Divine chastisement, would love to hear this passage again and again.

But the truth of Scripture comes not from an isolated parable, but on the totality of Scripture, which includes so many considerations including context and literary genre of scriptural passages. Jesus aimed not at instilling fear of being punished similarly. Jesus aimed at instilling the idea of being always prepared. Jesus was really focusing on the need for repentance and reconciliation with God so that what is considered a human tragedy from every angle, does not become worse that what it already is. The worst tragedy that can befall us is being far from God, far from the ultimate source of stability and certainty. An even worse scenario, much worse than suffering a totally unforeseen earthly tragedy, is that of being so callous and indifferent to the time given us by God, to bear fruit, as represented by His patience on the barren fig tree.

Today’s liturgy, therefore, is at once consoling and gently nudging. It speaks to us about how “merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” But it also reminds us that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It tells us through Jesus’ parable, that time, indeed, is running out, and that the opportunities to repent are not endless, and that now is the time to take part in the workings of God’s grace.

We are at the heart of the Church’s Scriptural-based teaching on the so-called “divine-human participation” in the reality of salvation. Salvation, as the readings today make clear, is eminently a divine act and eminently a human act. Salvation is both a gift and a task. Salvation is God’s work, God’s grace, but grace cannot take effect without human cooperation. Grace builds on nature. Grace is something only the good God can give, but it cannot take effect in our lives without our own personal investment. God saves, yes, but we ought “to work for our salvation, in fear and trembling.”

The word we live in is fraught with a whole lot of uncertainties. The mystery of human iniquity has made this world a very unpredictable place. Terrorists continue to pose a threat to the ordinary person’s safety. The political situation has become, to say the least, utterly deplorable in many countries. Self-centered and greedy politicians and so-called “public servants” continue to disregard the demands of solidarity and the search for the common good. In the world’s top eleven most corrupt countries, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with the ranks of the middle class disappearing into the mass of suffering, at times, despairing populace. And the wealthy developed countries continue to live like as if the world’s resources were unlimited, continuing as they do to use up what took the earth millions of years to produce and store. It is ironic that a small percentage of the world’s population spends billions of dollars to slim down while a great majority is scrimping and scrounging for the next meal, living (or partially so) in a state of perpetual fasting and abstinence! It is even more tragic to note how much money is put to producing weapons of destruction, and so little spent to eradicate hunger and malnutrition all over the world.

The world is not only an unsure and unstable place. What makes it so is traceable to one and only one glaring reality – the mystery of sin, the mystery of iniquity, which is the situation all of us are in. “All men (and women) have fallen short of the glory of God.” Humanity, as a whole, is like a small boat, teetering in a swollen sea of pride, selfishness, greed, and the insatiable hunger for more and more. Sin has reduced life in many cases to a gamble, a bet, a journey with no sure destination.

This is the world that could use a bit more of reflection on the ultimate good news. This is the world that could use a bit more of attention on and could set its sights “on things that are above, rather than on things that are below.”

This is the alternative that today’s liturgy offers us all.

We may never know what is coming up ahead. We may never know what will happen to our family, to the nation, to the world. But there is one thing we all need to know – the utter importance of being prepared come what might, happen what may. For the Christian believer, touched by the moving spirit of God’s Word, the important thing is no longer that of trying to know what will happen, or when it will happen. What counts as important for the Christian is what he or she can do in the meanwhile, what he or she can do to contribute, to take part in the workings of God’s grace, to pitch in his or her share towards the building of a more caring and responsible society anchored on social justice and solidarity.

The journey up ahead is long and difficult. Not only that … it will remain fraught with uncertainty. Alone we cannot go far. With Christ as rock, however, we will. His life, his suffering, his death and his resurrection … they all sum up God’s self-revelation from of old: “I am who am … This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
March 6, 2007 – Paranaque City, Philippines