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Monday, June 25, 2007

TUNING OUT IN ORDER TO TUNE IN: SAYING NO TO EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT LIFE

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
July 1, 2007

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b,19-21 / Gal 5:1, 13-18 / Lk 9:51-62


Our contemporary language is chockfull of insights about what we value, about what we consider as important above all others. There was a time when we were told to “tune in” to a particular radio program, or to a particular TV channel. When there were but few choices available, we were advised to “tune in.” It was just a simple matter of turning the dial, and placing the arrow on the exact spot that corresponds to the desired radio frequency (which was either AM or FM).

In our times, we speak more of the need to “tune out.” With an almost endless array of choices that come along with cable TV; with so many products galore to select from, neatly stacked in heaving shelves in our “hypermarkets,” our capacity for freely making choices necessitates that we first, “tune out” or “zone out” in order to narrow down the list from which to make final choices. We literally need to un-clutter our lives first before we can make order come out of chaos. We figuratively need to narrow down the equivalent of our freedom “bandwidth” to be able to tune in to something that truly can set us free.

Tuning out and tuning in both have to do with the capacity for, and the actual use of, our personal freedom.

Freedom to follow Elijah is the subject of the first reading. As soon as Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, the latter unhesitatingly un-cluttered his life, said good-bye to what bound him to his past, and “followed Elijah as his attendant.” We are told explicitly: “Taking the yoke of oxen, [Elisha] slaughtered them, used the plowing equipment to boil their flesh, and gave it to the people to eat.” He tuned out before he tuned in, and focused on becoming a prophet like Elijah was.

Paul, for his part, takes up the same icon of the “yoke” that Elisha burned, and advises the Galatians to set themselves free. But for them to be truly free, they first need to “zone out” of situations that enslaved them. Only then could they really focus on genuine freedom. In effect, Paul tells them to be “free from” in order to be “free for.” He counsels them to liberate themselves from the “law of the flesh” so that they could “live by the Spirit.” Again, we may speak of his thoughts in terms of tuning out so that we could tune in to what leads to genuine interior freedom.

The Gospel of Luke links up this interior freedom with the call to discipleship. For a disciple to be genuinely free to follow the Lord, he has to tune out three things in his life. First in the list is the need for safety, comfort, and security. He tells the enthusiastic applicant who asked to follow him wherever he went: “Foxes have dens and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” In effect, he tells him to tune out first from all his cares and tune in to the demands inherent in being a disciple.

Second in the list is the need to “zone out” of all excuses, rationalizations, and alibis, legitimate or otherwise. Various concerns and personal ambitions, wants, and desires always tend to crowd out the feeble desire in the human heart to do good. One always will find a reason to delay, to postpone, to hem and haw, and to push ahead and pull back at one and the same time, when it comes to doing something difficult but necessary. Focus isn’t possible when we are too caught up in so many conflicting concerns at one and the same time.

Third in the list, which is perhaps the most difficult of all, is the need to tune out of so many attachments, affections, and emotional bonds that tie up the human heart. With so many conflicting allegiances, so many loyalties that claim for our undivided attention at any given time, we need to narrow down the field of choices a little bit. We need to lose some in order to win some. We need to let go if we are to let grow that feeble desire to do something really marvelous for God and others. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Our postmodern and globalized world has definitely made our field of choices wider and broader. Choices galore mark our entertainment world. Cable TV and satellite communications offer the global consumer with a wide array of choices in every language, format, and content imaginable. But our interior freedom to make wise choices may have narrowed down considerably. In many cases, commercial advertisers may really have decided already for young and old alike. In many instances, the bombardment of propaganda may really have lumped certain ideas and thought patterns down the throats of the unsuspecting masses. For many young people, who live in the midst of so much peer pressure, there may not be any interior freedom left to speak of when it comes to deciding to behave and act any differently from what the world of young people all over the world expects.

The call to discipleship, that is, the call to follow Christ truly, fully, and meaningfully, is basically a call to heighten and broaden our freedom. But before we can be “free for” Christ, we need to be “free from” so many constraints that pose as obstacles to fully following him. For us to be able to “tune in” to God, we very literally need first to “tune out” to so many things that do not lead us to Him.

At this juncture, I am reminded of the extended essay “Walden Pond” written by the American writer Henry David Thoreau. He writes about his “going to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately.” He speaks about “cutting a broad swath” and “saying no to everything that was not life.” He purposely “tuned out” in order to “tune in” and to “front the essential facts of life.”

He actually speaks of the very same stuff we are speaking of right now. He refers to the need for anyone to “tune out” or “zone out” of so many superficial and many times conflicting concerns that tend to crowd out the absolute essential of life.

Today, our readings remind us of this essential. And this essential is all about God’s call for us to follow Him. For us to do so, we need to un-clutter our lives. We need to say no to everything that is not discipleship. We need to tune out, in order for us to tune in. “Free us, Lord, from darkness and keep us in the radiance of your truth.” (Opening Prayer, 13th Sunday).

Paranaque City, June 25, 2007
3:45 PM

N.B. What follows is what I wrote three years ago whilst I was in Dundalk, MD. That explains the allusions I make to the Olympics which, by then, was just about to begin.

PASSING ON THE TORCH OF FREEDOM
June 24, 2004 – Dundalk, MD


Excitement is in the air as the Olympic torch steadily, but surely, makes its way to and from Athens, the site of this year’s athletic events so much awaited by the whole, free world. It is significant that, even as the world reels under the specter of terror and ongoing violence perpetrated by both sides who belong to the wide spectrum of political, economic, cultural, and religious ideologies, the vast majority of the freedom-loving world, focuses its attention, not on battling one another with weapons of mass death and destruction, but on slugging it out peacefully in friendly and healthy sports competitions.

It is unfortunate that there are those among us peoples of all nations, races, and creeds, whose attitude and behavior seem to mar and tar the nobility of such a wholesome dream for camaraderie and competition. It is, indeed, unfortunate, that in our days, there are those of us in the human family, who continue to derail the vision of worldwide fraternity, unity, and solidarity which the God of all creeds, the God of whatever appellation, from whatever faith tradition, so clearly wants His people to work for.

The Roman Catholic liturgy today, draws from the rich Scriptural tradition of both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), and sheds light on this on-going dream of God, on this on-going salvific work that Christ, the Son of God, prayed so fervently for just before he suffered and died, “that they might be one, even as you and I, Father, are one.”

Four important and significant Biblical personalities are presented for our reflection today: Elijah, Elisha, Paul, and Jesus Christ. All four personages figure prominently in accounts that all speak of a “giving,” “passing on,” a “handing over,” a “tra-dition” in the Latin sense, that is, to bequeath, to give, to deliver. Elijah does more than speak to Elisha. He “throws his cloak over him,” a “sacramental” act of passing on a task and responsibility. Elisha obeys, and goes forthwith to settle his personal and familial affairs. He leaves entirely what appears to be his rather copious means of livelihood, “and gave it to his people to eat.” Paul, for his part, basks in the glory and responsibility of received “freedom,” exhorting his readers at Galatia to “stand firm and not to submit to the yoke of slavery.” In the Gospel, the gift and task of discipleship were couched in no wishy-washy terms: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

There is a very clear trend in the totality of Scriptures that points to the elements that make up the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” In the same Scriptures, and in the tradition passed on by the Church founded by Jesus Christ, salvation, among other things, is very clearly associated with this concept of freedom – freedom from material goods, freedom from stifling relationships, freedom from the “slavery” of sin, freedom from both internal and external bonds that shackle women and men, to superficial cares and concerns that have nothing to do with eternal salvation. There is this unmistakable understanding that, whilst the fullness of salvation is yet to come, the sure way to this salvation already is available for God’s beloved children. In other words, salvation happens, here and now, for all those who love and follow the Lord. Salvation is a reality that takes place right now, right here, and a sure-fire sign it does take place is our sharing in, and our living concretely the manifestations of that gift of freedom.

That gift, however, does not come hermetically sealed, never to be opened. No … it is something one does, something one lives … something one not only professes, but also confesses in one’s deeds. Handsome is as handsome does… The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Freedom is both a gift and a glorious task. It is a privilege and at the same time a power for action, a promise of appropriate behavior commensurate with the nobility of that singular gift from God. It is a gift that is meant to grow, a favor from above that must flourish in our personal and social lives.

And since it is a gift to free persons, it can be abused. It can be misused. And it can plainly atrophy for sheer disuse.

Our own personal lives are a living testimony to the reality of that freedom. It is enough to look back at the choices we have made all our lives. My past 22 years of priesthood alone are an example of that freedom. I have made decisions. I have made choices. And some of those choices have caused grief both in myself and in others, even as some of those choices have led to personal good and that of others. In retrospect, I am sure you will agree with me, that if one could do it all over again, there would be choices and decisions you would have wanted to do a little differently. But choices lead to consequences. And consequences are what we all ought to be responsible for, being offshoots of the very freedom we all invoke.

The world is fast hurtling down the road of extreme polarities. The ideological spectrum now captures the undivided attention of people all over. In many places all over the world, people are neatly divided between two opposing political parties, with equally opposing ideologies. Nations are enmeshed in various forms of cultural, and economic “divides,” like the north-south, east-west problems. People from poor, developing countries like the Philippines are clearly aligned into the “haves” and “have-nots,” “educated” and “uneducated,” the “well-heeled” and the “great unwashed.” Alas, even the Church that we so love, can be scandalously divided between the “liberals,” and the “conservatives,” the “progressives” and the “ultra-traditionalists.” Polarization in everything and anything seems to be the run of the day. Polarization, I would like to suggest, is the new name for the so many “unfreedoms” in people’s lives today. Extreme polarization is the manifestation of a much deeper and subtler form of slavery that St. Paul speaks about.

In this welter of conflicting and contrasting ideological allegiances, I suggest that we return to the Biblical tradition that today’s liturgy shows us. I suggest that we return to the basic foundation of this freedom. And that foundation lies on the giver of that freedom, the source of that “glorious liberty of the children of God.” That source is no less, and no other than God. “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.” That freedom, ironically, is founded on “obedience” to the same God. (The Latin ob-audire from where obedience comes, has to do with “listening.”) Jesus Christ now tells us without mincing words: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We are avidly awaiting the Olympic torch to go home to Athens. We Christians do not merely wait for that material flame to go back where it began. We live and work – and die, if need be – in order to pass on the torch of freedom to one another, and to the rest of the world.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

A VOICE THAT POINTS, PROCLAIMS, & PROFESSES

THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
June 24, 2007 (vice 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Readings: Is 49:1-6 / Acts 13: 22-26 / Lk 1:57-66, 80


Other than Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God incarnate, only St. John the Baptist is accorded the highest celebration in Church (we call it a Solemnity) on the occasion of his nativity or birthday. For one who declared in all humility, “he must increase, and I must decrease,” (Jn 3:30) St. John is a veritable towering figure in the firmament of superstars in heaven!

But today, we would do well to look at the ways by which, and through which, John the Baptist received that heavenly crown of glory that we, and many other generations, extol him for. As usual, the chosen readings for the day are our primary rich resource and reference.

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that he was a man “called and sent.” He is a man raised after the heart of God himself. This much, the first reading indirectly alludes to. Although, it is by no means clear that the passage from Isaiah really speaks about John the Baptist, the mysterious figure spoken of by Isaiah, nevertheless, finds resonance in the person, life, and mission of John the Baptist. He is one “formed as his servant from the womb.” He, too, “is made glorious in the sight of the Lord” (1st Reading). The unfolding of later events, especially those surrounding his birth, definitely gives credence to the emerging conviction of a believing church, that John the Baptist, indeed, is the one envisioned to be fashioned as a “light to the nations,” like unto Christ, to whom he would later point to.

Secondly, the acknowledgment of the call from above is not to be confused with usurpation of what is not his. He was a “man named John, who was sent from God” (Jn 1:6). He was called and sent. He was not declared to be the most awaited one – the Messiah. “I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet” (2nd Reading). John the Baptist’s greatness is not something heaped upon him by himself, but by God alone. His greatness comes from his basic acceptance of his lowliness and nothingness. And that acknowledgment led him to become a voice that proclaims, more than anything else, the glories and praises of God: “I praise you for I am wonderfully made” (Responsorial Psalm).

Thirdly, John the Baptist, in many senses more than just one, is really the “voice” par excellence. Everything seemed to point that out. The few details surrounding his birth seem to converge on this one, important reality. Whilst I have no way of substantiating this, not being a Biblical scholar, there appears to be a connection between his identity and the capacity of using one’s voice to proclaim and profess. Zechariah, his father, we are told, lost his capacity to speak soon after knowing what was in the offing for him and his elderly wife, Elizabeth. But when in writing, he made known his wish for his son to be called John, his capacity to speak came back. John’s identity – his name – appears to be connected with the capacity to speak, proclaim, and profess God’s glory: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Lk 1:68).

Our times are filled with an endless variety and varying intensity of a multiplicity of voices. Voices from the world of mass media continue to offer a flood of information on a minute by minute basis. Voices from the part of our leaders churn out conflicting data and contradictory claims that the voice of objective truth is effectively muzzled. Voices are either magnified, or blown out of proportions such as the voices from the entertainment world. Just about everyone in this postmodern and globalized world, is saturated with conflicting voices that confuse, confound, and complicate our lives. Even mainstream news, that passes itself off, as “latest news and fearless views” can be nothing more than a voyeuristic glance at people’s private lives, relationship problems, and interpersonal difficulties, all shown in their gory details by the warring networks. Some authors even accuse media practitioners as endlessly providing what they aptly call “a pornography of grief.” With everything shown for all to see, and nothing left to the imagination, the repeated showing even of tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre, leave everyone desensitized, detached, and alarmingly disengaged from the world of real pain of real people with real feelings.

I would like to think of John the Baptist as one who now tells us to put the voice of truth, the voice of the good, and the voice of reason back to where it should remain – in our society, in our hearts, in our minds, and in all we do singly, or together, as communities.

It might do us good to see what sort of voice he was, and is, for the Church and the world. Although his voice, then – and now – is effectively muffled and eclipsed by what Rolheiser refers to as a set of threefold blocks found in postmodern society: the culture of “narcissism, consumerism, and unbridled restlessness,” John the Baptist still represents a voice that “speaks in the wilderness.”

His is a voice that points. He points, not to himself, but to the Voice par excellence, the voice of the Good Shepherd. In all we do, in all we utter, in the many little voices that we contribute to the great cacophony in this noisy world, do we do so much as point to him who “must increase” while we decrease, like unto John the Baptist? When was the last time our utterance pointed to Him who has the last word, He being the Word Incarnate? When was the last time, we led someone to the Lord, like Philip led Nathanael to Him?

But his, too, is a voice that proclaims. When he got his identity from his father, and was named John, there was a major turning point in the lives of his old parents. It was already a miracle enough of itself for him to be born in his parents retirement age. But the greater miracle is what took place when he got, and acknowledged, and claimed his God-sent identity. Even Zechariah took to proclaiming, ahead of his son who was yet in his early years. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.”

But most importantly, John’s voice was a voice that professes. “I am not worthy to unfasten his sandals … He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Proclamation spilled over into profession. Word ought to lead to worship and witness. Knowing his place, aware of his call, and cognizant of his being sent “from God,” John the Baptist professed for all to hear: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

His voice was never muffled. His voice was never drowned out by a flood of other conflicting voices. His voice stood out even as his neck stuck out for Herod to mercilessly pick on. But in death, as in life, his voice remains a thundering roar heard from generation to generation – a voice that points, proclaims, and professes.

“Open our ears, O God, to his message, and free our hearts to turn from our sins and receive the life of the gospel” (Alternative Opening Prayer).


June 16, 2007 - Saturday, 10:10 AM
Paranaque City, Philippines

Monday, June 11, 2007

NAMING SIN, CLAIMING GRACE, & PROFESSING LOVE

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
June 17, 2007

Readings: 2 Sam 12:7-10,13 / Gal 2:16, 19-21 / Lk 7:36 – 8:3


God our Father, we rejoice in the faith that draws us together, aware that selfishness can drive us apart. Let your encouragement be our constant strength. Keep us one in the love that has sealed our lives. Help us to live as one family the gospel we profess. We ask this through Christ our Lord. (Alternative Opening Prayer)

As is my wont, I would like to give my own “reading” of the three passages for today.

A rebuke from the Lord (2 Sam 12) gives the “beginning action” of today’s liturgical readings. Nathan the prophet “tells it like it is” to the humbled and repentant David, who has acted selfishly before the Lord. Fundamentally guilty of “inhospitality” not only to Uriah, but more so, to the Lord God, David’s remorse and plea for forgiveness – an acknowledgment and recognition of grace from above –occasioned a happy resolution from a forgiving and loving God: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die” (1st Reading).

The justification that David gets is clearly not on account of his own doing. It comes, first and foremost, from recognizing the power of God to restore him back to good standing. This much is clear from the first reading. But this, too, is made even clearer by Paul, who declares that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16-21).

The Gospel passage from Luke (7:36 – 8:3), for its part, clinches basically the same foundational truth. Earning back God’s favor begins by acknowledging and recognizing – and thus, welcoming God – back to one’s life, no matter what may have transpired in the past. The sinful woman recognized Jesus for who he was and what he stood for. Her warm welcome – her love shown concretely in her action of washing his feet and wiping them with her hair, also occasioned her total justification, her forgiveness: “Your sins are forgiven.” Her great love shown in a very hospitable act of acceptance of the Lord’s messenger was her way of saying, like we do today after the first reading: “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done” (Responsorial Psalm).

We started this Mass and every Mass with such acceptance and recognition. At the Penitential Rite, we also proclaimed our sinfulness, even as we acclaimed even more God’s loving mercy and forgiveness … “I confess to Almighty God …”

The past two Sundays, along with the recent solemn feast of the Sacred Heart have highlighted this extraordinary mystery of God’s love, and his desire to be one and to be close to His people. The Trinity, we said, is basically the story of God in action, a God who loves us, and gets close to us, not once, not twice, but thrice over. He is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God-Father as the Giver, God-Son as the Gift-ed One, and God-Spirit as the Gifting One, then and up till now. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord speaks of this same God who offers Himself as food for us wayfarers. He is not only Word made flesh. He is Word become flesh for us to eat, and “he who eats this body and this drinks this blood will have life everlasting.” The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, for its part, turns our gaze to the human and divine heart of Jesus, the Son of God, whose physical heart becomes the symbol and vehicle par excellence of His divine mercy, and of God’s desire to be close to His people.

But we should not fall overboard and keep on emphasizing unilaterally the extraordinary love of God for us. That is not the only point of today’s readings. Pious statements alone about God’s love won’t clinch it for us. Abstractions alone about this same God won’t help any if one does not welcome Him through recognition and acknowledgment. Good News won’t be of much help to us unless it gives way to greatness and holiness of life on our part.

And this, by the way, is the reason why we are together here today, and why Christian believers all over the world gather together each Sunday. We have come to acknowledge Him and His great love for us. We have come to give recognition of His power to forgive and His desire to bring us back to His fold. But implicit in such a recognition is our equally clear acceptance and recognition of our sinfulness.

We have come to give hospitality to the Lord. We have come to wash his feet and wipe them with our strong resolve to truly make a dwelling place for Him in our hearts, in our lives. But this is exactly where good news becomes great task – a self-imposed task that comes with the welcome we accord Him as Lord and Savior.

Many times, we act less like the repentant woman and more like the contemptuous Pharisee. He did not find it in his heart to do so much as leave room for the woman and what she represented – sinful but repentant humanity. In our selfishness, we see little hope in the world. In our self-centeredness, we close the doors on others and crowd them out of our lives. We give up on people. We give up on some of them as bad jobs. We judge and condemn. We even second guess one another, and see only bad intentions even if there were none. And, like the Pharisee, we bloat sins of the flesh out of proportions, and miss out on the bigger issues like social sins, sins against the environment, sins against innocent lives, and big scale mass violence in full blown wars and the like.

Today’s liturgy is more a call to recognition and acceptance of God, before it is a call to repentance. It is, first and foremost, a call to hospitality for God. It challenges us to unclutter our lives so as to leave room for God’s coming and dwelling within. It is first of all a call for us to love Him, before it is a call for us to ask His forgiveness. Great forgiveness comes from great love. We are forgiven, not primarily because we ask forgiveness, but because God loves us in the first place. The sinful, repentant woman, Jesus declares, was “forgiven much, because she has loved much.” She began well by acknowledging the God of forgiveness, the God become flesh in Jesus Christ.

There is a three-tiered lesson in all this for us. First, we need to name our sin. We need to recognize our sinfulness, like David did, like the woman in the gospel did. Second, we need to claim God’s grace. We need to recognize and acknowledge God’s loving mercy and compassion. We need to make good our prayer today, “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.” And third, we need to profess our love. Like the woman, who poured out tears and perfume, we need to pour out ourselves in love. That is the best return we can make. Love for love. We cannot settle for anything less. For it is that same love from God that has sealed our lives forever. “Keep us, Lord, in the love that has sealed our lives.”

Paranaque City, June 10, 2007

Saturday, June 9, 2007

LOVE UNDIVIDED FOR GOD; LIFE POURED OUT FOR OTHERS

ALTERNATIVE REFLECTION FOR CORPUS CHRISTI SUNDAY

Gen 14:18-20 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / Lk 9:11b-17


The Feast of Corpus Christi, much like that of last Sunday, Solemnity of the Trinity, offers us “in broad strokes” as it were, one of the major elements of the mystery of God. Last week, I tried to develop the Trinitarian mystery, not so much in terms of God’s inner nature (ad intra), as in terms of what God really means for us (ad extra). We said that the Trinity, more than calling attention to what God is, really calls our attention to what He is for us – a Creator, Giving God who is Father, a Savior, given-for-us-God who is Son, and an Advocate Gifting God who is the Holy Spirit. The gradual revelation of who God is, was a gradual unfolding of this same God in history, in action, deep into the heart of things, as it were.

Theologians have an abstruse, but very logical word for this mystery – the “economic Trinity” as distinct from what they refer to as “immanent Trinity.”

The Trinitarian mystery is all about a God in and of history in action. It is all about a God getting closer to us than close can be – not once, not twice, but thrice over!

Today’s Solemnity heightens this reality of a God-given-for-us. Today’s feast focuses on the “what” of this gift, and this divine desire to be as close to His people as is possible. Today’s feast is all about the Gift-ed One becoming what He is – and more – to us His followers. Corpus Christi is all about a “love undivided” given to the Church and her members. This love undivided was given in sacrifice. When one speaks of love, the concept of sacrifice cannot but enter the picture. There is no love unless there is sacrifice. And there is no sacrifice worthy of the name unless there is some form of self-offering.

This self-offering is what Melchizedek alludes to in the first reading. By offering bread and wine, Melchizedek foreshadows the offering that we make each time we celebrate Eucharist – offer the very same bread and wine that we will partake of and consume.

But the second reading makes sure that we see the connection between the first reading and the solemnity we celebrate. The bread and wine that we offer are not just any bread and wine. Any bread and wine will do for a party. Any bread and wine will do for a gig or a potluck dinner. But God did not go all the way and make Himself like us in His Son Jesus Christ, just to offer free dinners out in the desert. No … He offers Himself to us. Using ordinary elements that make up our ordinary day, such as food and drink, Christ shows us that what He really offers in the form of bread and wine is Himself, His love, His all.

What He offers is God’s undivided love, plain and simple. In gifts so ordinary, He shows us greater gifts so extraordinary. Such gifts are redolent with history and memory. “Do this in memory of me.” Every time one eats and drinks of it, one “proclaims the death of the Lord until He comes.” Through an action so ordinary, one harks back to a reality that in our times, we can call “extreme reality” … no … not only his dying … but what his dying really points to, his coming back to erase for all and for always, the effects of the very same death he himself passed through … “until He comes.”

God’s efficacious desire to be close to His people comes full circle in the Gospel account from Luke. The Gift-ed One gives Himself totally to adoring crowds. He probably mesmerized them in a way, with all His “good news” and “great deeds.” He not only taught. He healed. He made them whole. He restored their sights, their health, their sense of self-respect. No wonder they followed Him – even to the edge of the desert, sans provisions, sans food, sans everything. Even people who learned to value Him and love Him for what He did and for what He was to them got sucked in a good sense to the sacrificial mold of mind. Everything was worth giving up when one is in love. Everything is worth being sacrificed when one finds “the pearl of great price.”

But the greatest love came from Him who was willing to go all the way to Calvary and offer His life to the full.

You guessed it right … that love came in the form of ordinary food. He offered them nourishment, but he was able to do that act of love only with a little help from friends. Yes, he called his disciples, not servants, but friends. “Give them something to eat yourselves.”

The Solemnity of the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord is basically about two things: God’s great and efficacious desire to give of Himself entirely. He did so when He created the world and everything in it. He still does so as He continues to sustain the fruit of His handiwork. That sustenance continues to take place in and through the gift of the Eucharist, wherein we partake of both the symbol and reality at one and the same time of that “undivided love” shown in a “life poured out for others.”

But the second thing about Eucharist is this … God makes use of willing and generous persons to make His self-giving possible. He calls for the generous cooperation of his disciples: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” Modesty aside, I am glad to be part of this fraternity of those called to serve and wait at Eucharistic tables. I do that this very instant. I break the bread of God’s Word for you in this homily. I will continue to do that, assisted by others who have been commissioned to be my co-waiters at the second part of this Mass … break the bread of the Eucharist and distribute them in communion.

I am well into my 25th year waiting at the Lord’s table. I am certainly not worthy of it, nor do I come anywhere near being an expert at it, but I am definitely delighted and happy to do as I have done over the past 24 plus years. For here in this Mass and in every Mass I celebrate with you and for you, I am fed more than I feed you; I am nourished, more than I nourish you. For what I offer is not me, nor mine, and definitely not Melchizedek’s – but Christ’s very own Body and Blood. Through my unworthy hands, and unworthy lips, I “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.” Our prayer at the beginning of this Mass applies to me more than it applies to you all. Join me as I pray it once more:

“Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that Kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever" (Alternative Opening Prayer).

Monday, June 4, 2007

UNTIL HE COMES IN GLORY!

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi)
June 10, 2007

Readings: Gn 14:18-20 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / Lk 9:11b-17

There is no understanding fully the feast of today without framing it in the context of what “sacramentality” is all about. Being the “sacrament of sacraments,” as St. Thomas puts it, and being both “the source and the summit of Christian life” (Vatican II), the Eucharist is eminently a “visible sign of invisible grace” (St. Augustine). In the very visible, and very ordinary reality of bread and wine, we see, and feel, and experience, in an extraordinary way, something that God meant to be so ordinary in our lives as believers – His living, loving, and gracious presence in the midst of His beloved people!

Eucharist is all about presence. Eucharist is all about the here and now, the “already” of our Christian lives, though it is focused eminently on the “not yet” of our definitive salvation in Christ. Eucharist is all about basking in God’s love, and grace now, even as it leads us to look forward in hope. Eucharist is “seeing and tasting how good the Lord is” in our daily lives, even as it fills our hearts and minds with “what no eye has seen nor ear heard – what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him!”

Indeed, the Lord has set the table for us today, and everyday, as we do Eucharist. As we celebrate and partake of His meal, we receive a sign par excellence of that which our human hearts passionately long for, as “the deer longs for running water,” so does our heart pine for fulfillment. In the Eucharist, again to quote St. Thomas, “a pledge of future glory is given to us” (nobis pignus datur futurae gloriae!). A pledge – something that straddles the arena of what is, at one and the same time, already a reality and an unfulfilled finality … the reality of people like us who straddle heaven and earth, a sacramental people, who see God, heaven, and eternal bliss in the ordinary signs of everyday life in this world. This is the reality of what the Church is – living the “in-between times” of Christ’s coming as man, and of His coming back in glory, to lead us into what prophets of old referred to as the “messianic banquet.”

Being a people such as we believers are, with one foot on earth, and one foot in heaven, living in these “in-between times” of the earthly existence of the Church, we could use a little reminder time and again, a “taste and foretaste” of what ultimately is ours by virtue of what Christ has done for us. This is what Eucharist is, and what Eucharist does, for us. As the sacrament par excellence, it gives us this foretaste of what is to come in what the prophets foretold, in what St. Paul preached and taught, in what Jesus himself spoke about – “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

We are a people with such short memories. Distracted as we are by so much information, fed by a glut of sensual and psychological stimulations imaginable, emptied of the depth of noble dreams and visions by a culture of instant gratification and 24/7 entertainment monopolized by what passes for “reality-based,” but actually “voyeuristic” forms of infotainment, people nowadays, all over the world, have lost the ability to see beyond what meets the eye, to look and see far more than what their eyes can ever feast on – that is, we have lost that needed “sacramental stance” or that “sacramental view of reality” that brings us to a world of reality far deeper, far broader, far more significant than what appears to many. In the words of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes – the rest sit round and pluck blackberries” (Aurora Leigh).

Only he who sees … Only she who “stops, looks, and listens” … to what? To what John the Baptist went out for, and cried out for: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!” Only s/he who sees, knows, and only the one who knows, appreciates the real presence of Christ in his divinity and humanity in, and through the Eucharist!

There is a whole lot we are missing, ever since postmodernism has thrown “mystery” and our appreciation for it out the window. Soon after the Boyszone band members crooned “No matter what they tell us … what I believe is true;” soon after hordes of both young and old have “declared independence” from any semblance of guidance from any “authority” figure like Holy Mother Church; soon after they have replaced the “sacrifice of the Mass” with what simply appears like the Protestant “communion service,” many of us consequently lost taste for the Eucharistic celebration, even as we have grown increasingly uninspired by insipid, and lack-luster, “feel-good” pep talks that the homily has degenerated into. When we ceased giving the “real presence” that “pious stare” that was due it, and the fitting humble adoration of it in the spirit of the Tantum Ergo, the Mass has become, in many places, just a celebration that offers people a superficial “fellow feeling,” in which the high point is the giving of the sign of peace.

Once more this year, the liturgical calendar offers us an opportunity to re-appropriate what may have been missing, ignored, or glossed over in our common faith tradition as a people. Last week, we gave a serious look at the “story” of the Trinitarian God. We said that before it became a “mystery,” it was, first of all, “history” and reality. Today, we cast our glance at the ongoing and unfolding story of Jesus, gifted by the Father, who now “gifts” his body and blood to us in the form of bread and wine. Recipients of this sacrifice and self-offering, we now, in turn, led by no less than Christ the Victim himself, offer to the Father this same sacrificial offering. As victim, he shares his body and blood. As victim, he is the very lamb offered in a bloodless sacrifice, “for us men and for our salvation.” As priest, he himself leads us in the act of offering of this “sacrifice, which is now truly ours.” (Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be truly acceptable to God our almighty Father).

But the Eucharist is not only about “here and now,” as we have seen above. If Eucharist is a pledge and a promise (pignus); if Eucharist is a “foretaste” of what is to come, no Eucharistic celebration can be complete if it does not go beyond mere horizontal fellowship and “fellow-feeling.” If it is fully Eucharistic, it necessarily has to be “forward-looking.” If it is to be Eucharist as Christ meant it to be, it has to be a sacrament of faith and love, and a sacrament of hope. If the celebration is genuinely Eucharistic, it is meant to “lift up our minds and our hearts,” even as “we give thanks to the Lord our God.” If it is truly Eucharistic, it ought to point to something deeper, something nobler, and something infinitely better than what our earthly eyes can set our sights on.

This, the Lord himself alludes to in today’s gospel reading from Luke. The day was coming to an end. It was getting dark. The disciples and the enthusiastic crowds were “feeding on his every word,” as they listened avidly, unmindful of the fact that they brought no food or supplies with them. Nor were there Golden Arches anywhere near them to save the day for the same hungry crowds who definitely could use a “supersize” serving right then and there. But Jesus did not send them away running on empty. Jesus welcomed them. Jesus saw to it that they did not go away empty handed.

What then, is this pledge and promise that Eucharist is all about? What then, is this foretaste that communion brings to us? Jesus shows us by his work and deeds. By feeding the crowds, he really showed “in concrete sign and sacrament” what the prophets of old have been talking about – the glorious messianic banquet (an image of heaven), the definitive salvation that He, as lamb of God, has come to lead us to, that vision of the “heavenly Jerusalem” where hordes “follow the lamb wherever he goes.”

In the meantime, while we live in the “not-yet” of our earthly, pilgrim status as believers, we continue to celebrate the Eucharist and “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

Sunday, June 3, 2007

BOASTING IN THE HOPE OF GOD'S GLORY

Alternative Reflection for Trinity Sunday

Experience, it has often been said, is a good teacher. Personal experience separates the rookie from the veteran; the wise from the merely intelligent and school smart; the prophet from the charlatan; the genuine leader from the merely titled executive. Personal experience constitutes the “abundance of the heart whereof the mouth speaks,” and a deeply felt and personal intimacy and familiarity with someone or something is the only real passport to credibility.

The intellectual expert delivers facts and figures. One listens to him or her with respect. The personal witness delivers truth and doles out trust. One listens to him or her with awe. The former speaks from the point of view of learned facts; the latter from the point of view of lived experience. The former will most likely be accepted at face value, for whatever merit there is in what he or she says; the latter will definitely go beyond being merely accepted. He or she will most likely be believed, emulated, and admired. For in the final analysis, the preacher or teacher only delivers a message; the prophet delivers a whole lot more than just a message. He or she delivers life … life in its fullness … life as he or she has lived or experienced it first hand.

Today’s solemnity and the lessons it gives us, has to do with this lived experience, more than it has to do with a static – if, mysterious – doctrine. Doctrines come to us by way of propositions, theorems and treatises. Lived experience comes down to us by way of stories … stories that recount … stories that tell and retell feelings more than facts; convictions more than scientific data; and dynamic relationships more than static and stale statistical reports.

The Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity is one such story. It is a story of God Giving. It is a story of God Gifted. And it is an on-going story of God Gifting. It is a story so profound yet so real that the Book of Wisdom (8:22-31) can only gush poetically about Him who “was poured forth from of old;” “the forerunner of prodigies;” “first before the earth;” “who fixed fast the foundations of the earth.” The whole Old Testament is a testimony to this primordial story of God giving, God creating, God pouring Himself forth, God proffering life, God uttering everything to existence. “Let there be … and there was!” It was a story of God in action … a story filled with wonders and prodigies, marked by the magnalia Dei, the great and wondrous deeds of a God, who revealed Himself as Giver of everything that is good. “And God saw that it was good.” Rightly so, do we proclaim in today’s response: “O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.”

The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is also the story of God Given … It is the story of “peace with God,” “access to grace by faith,” and “hope of glory” given to us “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the story, now recounted by Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:1-5), himself a recipient of that Gift, a story of the “love of God [which] has been poured out into our hearts.” It is the greatest story ever told … “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son …” It is a story first told by angels to poor shepherds … a story that has changed the world forever.

But the story goes on. Today’s solemnity is also the story of God gifting, of God guiding, of God leading. It is a story of “hope that does not disappoint,” “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It is a story of everyman’s ongoing journey towards the fullness of truth. It is a story of everyman’s ongoing search for dreams and hopes yet unfulfilled. It is a story of everyman’s longing for fullness and definitive fulfillment … a story of hope that “when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide [us] to all truth.”

Biblical revelation simply recounts to us the story of this triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was first of all a story of God relating to humankind before it became a static report about “three Persons in one nature.” It was historical before it became philosophical and rational. It turned philosophical and rational precisely to make what was basically real and historical understandable to people who were far removed from the original story. But the Trinitarian mystery was, and is, all about the lived experience of relationality before it became doctrinal and dogmatic.

We need to re-appropriate this divine story of God giving, of God gifted, and of God gifting. We need to re-root ourselves to the lived experience of Christ, of Sts. Peter and Paul, of the apostles and of the saints. This is the only way we can make sense of our modern day history. This is the only way we can hew meaning, and carve out a meaningful finality to our earthly and human history – both personal and societal. This is the only way we can find direction amidst the confusion of today’s world.

I certainly do not intend to bore my readers to death, but let me introduce a phrase from long-standing tradition of Christian spirituality, a tradition that grows out of this marvelous story of God revealing Himself ad extra, that is, by relating concretely to us, His people, by His saving us in Christ, and in the Church … down through history … we need to cultivate and steep ourselves in a Trinitarian spirituality. We need to live and believe as we pray … as the Church prays. (Lex orandi, lex credendi … The way of prayer is the way of belief). Just look at how the Church prays … in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Both unity and distinction are preserved. The Church safeguards the unity, the oneness in nature, but also respects the distinction of Persons in God, who revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The whole Church does not feel the urge to crack open the code of the Trinitarian mystery. Quite plainly and simply, the Church just revels in, and celebrates this mystery. The Church simply allows herself to be drawn further and deeper into this glorious mystery of God’s love for all humankind. God, then, is not a mysterious code to be cracked (like the Da Vinci code), but a truth to be lived and experienced.
There, surely, is a long list of woes we can wallow in nowadays. No, I am not referring to the rising price of gas all over the world. Neither do I refer to what bothers most of us in the so-called free world – the ominous and ever-present threats of terrorism and large-scale violence. While they are part of our list that possibly grows by the day, what really stands behind all those worries and distresses of people all over the world can be reduced to one simple fact – the eclipse of God in the world today. The world is not only busy going about its daily affairs. In many cases, it is also busy doing away with everything that “smacks” of God, everything that has to do with religion. I know of one group whose overriding concern is to do away with any sign of religiosity in public places, which basically means, removing the cross in emblems and monuments, in halls and public open spaces.

On the personal side, as a priest, (trying hard to become a more credible prophet), I still grapple with cynicism and a whole lot of discouragement when I see all the goings-on all over the world, most especially in my country of birth. But on a day such as this, in my more quiet moments, when I think and reflect on a living and loving God, and His story of salvation, that still goes on, even now – a story whose ending can never be other than what He had planned, and paid for in His Son, through the Spirit, my heart digs deep and finds therein “reasons that reason itself does not know of,” (Pascal) and am led to boast, like Paul, “in hope of the glory of God.”

Is it any wonder that the ancient Greek Christians, hearing the story of the Trinitarian God, prayed in a manner that eloquently, though very simply, portrayed their faith in the one triune God: Hagios, hagios, hagios ho Theos! Hagios, hagios, hagios, ho Theos ho Athanatos! Hagios, hagios, hagios ho Theos, ho Ischyros! (Holy, holy, holy is God! Holy, holy, holy is God the Immortal One! Holy, holy, holy is God the mighty One!) Indeed, lex orandi, lex credendi!

POSTSCRIPT TO TRINITY SUNDAY

One thing good about writing and preaching is one can always hope to grow deeper in one's insights. They are insights that come, not from me, but from Him who sends us to His vineyard.

Going Relational, not Mathematical

Let's face it ... the Trinity is mystery par excellence. My counsel to all about this great mystery is to never go mathematical. Mathematically, three cannot be one and one cannot be three. I would rather, that we all go relational. When we go relational, we go historical. We go to how God revealed Himself in action. And when we see how God revealed Himself in and through history, in action, we see the incontrovertible fact about a God who loves us fully. He loved us as to create us. He is God, Creator and Giver of Life. He loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son. He is God, brother, who saves us in Christ. He loves us so much, too, as to make of us His dwelling. He "hovers" over us and around us, like gentle breath, like a gentle wisp of wind that energizes, that soothes, that cools and refreshes. He is God, Spirit, friend and Advocate, who continues to enliven and enlighten and empower.

Not Once, not Twice, but Thrice

All this goes to show a God of infinite capacity for love. He loved us and loves us not once, not twice, but thrice over! He is God Father. He is God Brother. He is God Friend and Advocate. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.