Catholic Homily/Reflection
2nd Sunday of Lent - Year A
February 17, 2008

There is hope in every line of today’s readings, upliftment for everyone who sees and sees rightly, for all who care to listen and hear good news during this “joyful season” of Lent. Last Sunday, our readings introduced us to the reason behind this joy, the foundation of this hope, and the firmament upon which all our Christian strivings are solidly anchored.

That reason, the readings insisted, was none other than God’s generous, gracious, and gratuitous love!

This is the same story of love reported by the first reading taken from the book of Genesis: the call of Abraham, a call enveloped in fivefold promises not only for the called, but for his descendants. “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you … I will make of you a great nation … I will bless you … I will make your name great … I will bless those who bless you … All the communities shall find blessing in you.”

The second reading fares no less in the conviction that God loves us. In his letter to Timothy, Paul boldly states: “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works, but according to his own design, and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

In the Gospel account from Matthew, upliftment happens both literally and figuratively, for three of Christ’s disciples. Led up a mountain to pray, they were favored with the grace to see rightly, and the singular blessing of being given a sneak peek at God’s dream – the “design” that St. Paul speaks of in the second reading. Peter, James, and John were led to a journey that peaked in a moment of discovery. God’s plan, and the absolute finality of that plan for sinful humankind, was delivered to the shadowed visions of three struggling disciples. By being made witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration, they saw a pledge; they espied a promise; they were made witnesses, participants, and partakers of the coming eventual fulfillment of what that gracious love of God entailed – every believer’s total transformation in Christ Jesus.

That coming transformation, however – our own transfiguration like unto that of Christ – is something that has become a little too hard to see. The many everyday pressures, the enormous stress and strain that are shouldered by entire generations caught up in a “culture of death” marked by hedonism, individualism, and minimalism of these postmodern and post-christian times, have resulted in peoples’ “shadowed visions” and blurred perspectives.

Our eyes are dimmed by selfishness and sin. Our capacity to see rightly is blocked by so many challenges. Where Abraham saw promise, where Paul saw grace and divine design, where three disciples saw a vision of what is to come for all of us, most of us now see discouragement, despondency, and despair.

I would like to confess that I am, on not a few occasions, also overtaken by such cases of “shadowed vision.” On both sides of the pacific, separated by some 9,000 miles of undulating sea, in both cultures that I have had the singular grace of experiencing first hand and comparing in my recent past, I see so much jaded hopes, so much passivity and resignation, and so much discouragement and lack of enthusiasm to believe that the world, and life in this war and strife-torn, unequal world, could still be better.

Our political lives everywhere are characterized by bitter polarization, our governments and peoples vie with each other for the unsavory reputation of being the most corrupt, the most graft-ridden, and the most inefficient in terms of meeting the needs of their constituents. (In this aspect of corruption, only one other country in Asia beats the Philippines!) The Church is locked in a lose-lose situation of two polar extremist groups vying for the attention of confused believers – the ultra conservatives and the ultra progressives. By their rigidity and dead, unbending, categorical positions, they both do a lot of harm to a living Church, who, they both forget, is guided by the loving and living guidance of a living God who promised to send His Holy Spirit to “lead us into all the truth.”

Shadowed visions are a daily reality in our times. We lose sight of heaven, even as we throw away the concepts of sin and divine justice. We lose a sense of a lively hope as we increasingly rely more on our own human knowledge and human capabilities, more on our own skills rather than divine wisdom. The stories that we tell each other, the news that hogs our TV screens, the headlines that catch our attention, all betray our preoccupation with and focus on the problems that plague us, and consequently, all we look for are solutions to the same problems. In our linear, cause-and-effect mentality, in our static, essentialist frame of mind, we fall easily to the temptation of looking for what is wrong, and what needs to be given solutions to. We are a people caught up in a blur of misplaced priorities and misguided approaches to poorly defined problems and issues in our lives.

As a phenomenologist, who subscribes to the basic notion of reality as something that is always co-constituted, as something that is not merely objective, but subjectively informed, I would like to suggest that the stories we tell each other have a lot to do with the reality that we all “construct” together. Where people are focused on “looking for what is wrong,” they see what they are looking for – problems to be solved. Where people are focused on what works, on what is good, and on what is right, they see solutions. They see a world that is patently different from that of the linear thinkers who only see causes and effects, who are rigidly attached to the belief that good management means the ability to troubleshoot, and see the source of problems, and therefore apply what they see are logical solutions to all the ills they can identify.

A recent interesting application of this phenomenologically inspired “social constructionist” philosophy is in the area of management of “learning organizations,” known as “appreciative inquiry.” Known and popularized as AI for short, it essentially asks the question “what is going well around here?” rather than “what is wrong in the system?” It is based on the counterintuitive concept that whatever is needed for an organization to grow and move forward is already in existence, already there waiting to be tapped, and that solutions, not problems, ought to be the focus of an organization’s journey of “discovery,” subject matter of its “dreams,” material for its “design,” and stepping stones toward its further growth and “development.”

Appreciative inquiry, as applied to faith, then means the ability to see and see rightly, to see beyond mere appearances, to see beyond the surface meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and see through its real meaning which is not defeat but victory. It stands for the ability to see the resurrection that could not have taken place without the experience of calvary.

AI, as applied to Christian faith, means to “seek that which is life-giving even in the midst of death.” It means to place “a comma rather than a period at the end of tragedy.” (G. Banaga, Jr.) It means to focus, not on the problems that plague us, but the blessings that inundate us, as we read so clearly from Genesis (1st reading) and Paul’s letter to Timothy (2nd reading).

It is about time we looked at our old life-scripts and reclaimed our stories. It is about time we reframed our understanding of who we are, and who God is vis-à-vis our personal and communal lives. As a people, we Filipinos, in particular, could use a little toning down of our tendency to self-flagellate ourselves, and continue to live under shadowed visions of victimhood and a sore lack of national identity and national sense of healthy pride in our heritage and history. It is high time that both government and people stopped heaping blame on former regimes, no matter how authoritarian, and began acknowledging their roles in this ongoing story of graft and corruption and national slide to becoming Asia’s basket case, economically, politically, culturally, and morally.

Today, one lesson we can draw from the transfiguration story is our need to look up and behold. We need to go up the mountain as Peter, James, and John did, together with Jesus, to see a new reality, to write a new story, to come up with a fresh discovery, conjure up a totally new dream for the future, and make new designs for ourselves as a people, and forge new paths towards development that are not based on blame, but on the ability to name, claim, and tame our own personal and collective issues that block growth and development. We cannot forever blame the Spaniards. Nor can we always use the Japanese and American occupations as a convenient excuse. And to see the Marcos regime alone as the universal culprit to our ills as a nation and people is the height of denial and unhealthy projection of the worst kind. It is to avoid responsibility and deflect from ourselves all culpability and blame that are ours, as much as theirs, to own.

My American sojourn has taught me a lot of precious life-lessons. One of them is the conviction I got that precisely proves my point – the need to focus on what is good, what is working, and what blessings we all have, instead of the problems that beset us. Another is the concomitant conviction that Christian faith has an important role to play in extricating ourselves from this mire or life-trap of “shadowed visions” and hopelessness. Merely talking about problems and endless hand-wringing and blame simply won’t clinch it.

Today’s transfiguration story is a clear support of this point. We all need to look up, and behold as the disciples did, so as to discover, dream, design and develop “a new heavens and a new earth.” Only we could do it. Only we could help ourselves. And God helps those who help themselves.

I end with a quote from the alternative prayer for today, a prayer we all could make our own, a prayer worth repeating over and over again: “Father of light, in you is found no shadow of change but only the fullness of life and limitless truth. Open our hearts to the voice of your Word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son who calls us to repentance and a change of heart, for he lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.”