Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

October 12, 2008

Homespun Filipino wisdom has, among so many, this particular adage: Ang isda nahuhuli sa bunganga; ang tao, sa salita.” (Fish get hooked in the mouth; people by what they say, that is, through words).

Words literally capture us every day. They enthrall us; captivate us; even dupe us. We fall for what advertising experts dole out to us each and every single day through the powerful mass media of communications. Did you know, for example, that serious and well-managed marketing strategies in the Philippines over the past years have caused the downfall of at least one product of a big multinational company producing detergent soaps and replaced by that of another big multinational company, solely on the basis of expert advertising? Words! How powerful they can be! How effective!

Is there any wonder why one of these newfangled multi-level marketing groups have called themselves FOREVER LIVING INTERNATIONAL? The words chosen denote what they market – assuredly not only soaps and creams and a motley of household items, but a lifestyle that “adds life.” FOREVER LIVING… what a cute way to sell items that are equated not only with longevity, but also with comfort, convenience, and a lifestyle to assure the first two! These multi-level marketers literally bring the whole supermarket or mall right at your doorstep! They bring comfort, convenience, and an American style of living that makes one take part in a group that always appears to be a cut above the rest in many unsaid, but subtle ways – and still be part of an organization that looks like a well-oiled money-making machine! Is it any wonder that names like AMWAY strike sensitive chords in the hearts and minds of Filipinos who tend to idealize anything that smacks of Americana (state-side culture)? Everything that is equated with plenty, with abundance, with comfort and convenience sounds like good news to the Filipino psyche.

Life, and everything that purports to enhance it always sells – everything that smacks of life and makes it better – whether only in claims or in reality.

Today, we not only claim, but more so, proclaim: I SHALL LIVE IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE! This is the type of proclamation of one who has known and tasted how good the Lord is… one who has known first hand through experiential knowledge the goodness of God. This is the conviction of the likes of Isaiah who speaks glowingly of a “feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Isaiah’s vision, we know, refers to the so-called “messianic banquet” which stands for the definitive salvation to be wrought by God in the end-times, the full import of which could only be spoken of through symbols and images. These images will come to full circle in the very last book of Scripture, Revelation, which will re-echo almost verbatim the image of utter happiness and fullness: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

There is definitely good news for us in today’s first and third readings. We are told that the Lord will provide an abundance of all good things to those in need. And the promise, the readings insist, is for all. Universal is its scope. It speaks about “all peoples,” “all nations,” “every face,” “whole earth,” “whomever you find,” and “all they found.” It is an invitation for all.

But something stands in stark contrast to this universality – in fact, its exact opposite: its particularity. ON THIS MOUNTAIN, THE LORD OF HOSTS WILL PROVIDE FOR ALL PEOPLES A FEAST.

These are times indeed, when we need to be reminded of the good news that history, all that happens in our days, all that transpires, are all converging upon one definitive finality: the fullness of salvation in Christ. I, for one, being rather pessimistic by bent, need to allow the good news today to elevate me from a situation of hopelessness to a situation of utter confidence in the saving power of God. There is no need perhaps to expound on the reasons for our lack of hope. A favorite author explains it so well, thus:

Now, for many […] the euphoria of the reforming [Vatican] council has dissipated. Now we are the poor church of sinners, shaken by massive defections from the ranks of the priesthood, religious life, and laity, by financial and sexual scandals, by internal polarizations. We feel burdened by the escapist uselessness of restorationist and fundamentalist forces in the Church, as well as by the brashness of the secularists in our midst who would destroy the richness of ascetical and civilizing traditions. We have been cast down from our seemingly unassailable heights of religious power and grandeur – all in the space of a few short years. We feel that God’s face has been turned away from us, and we are terrified of the darkness, of our powerlessness. We cry “How long Yahweh, will you forget me?” (Ps 13:1) (Arbuckle, G.A., 1995).

Today, we are all called not to wallow in despair. We have to cry, grieve and go through the normal process of experiencing and living sadness in our hearts, like Jeremiah, did some Sundays back – if we must! Actually, we must! Psychologists tell us that we ought to grieve over all losses in our life. It is normal to grieve. It is normal to take it up so plaintively to the Lord and ask him with anguish: How long, O Lord, must I keep waiting? For how much longer will I have to bear grief in my soul? Cry, grieve and be sad for a while… by all means! Despair and lose all courage and trust… by no means! Even Jesus was sad and troubled, as we read in the Gospel. He was distressed at the thought of his impending death and he sweated blood in the Garden. But then, hope triumphed in the end – that kind of hope that smacks of courage when he said: “Not my will, but yours be done!” Arbuckle speaks of the inability of modern men and women to grapple with grief. Everything that smacks of sadness is glossed over, unspoken of, removed from public scrutiny. He quotes Gorer who speaks of the “pornography of death” which makes people only speak of persons “passing away,” who are laid in “slumber rooms” (or viewing rooms), and who are made to look like they are just sleeping. Death is not to be mentioned publicly and the reality of loss is thus softened and downright denied. And the worst thing of all is, all signs of sadness and expressions of emotions are stifled. The natural and necessary process of grieving over the loss is systematically taken away.

My simple question is this… if we take away the grief and the tears now, then what happens to the promise of Isaiah and the Book of Revelation about there being no more tears, no more crying, no more pain? Have we appropriated it so soon? Have we claimed it ahead of time? Have we thus, removed the power of the good news of the Lord, because we have begun to play gods?

Social scientists and anthropologists have been baffled no end by the massive international outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died 11 years ago. (I have to confess that when she was being buried, it was my birthday. I chose to be alone and grieve silently in front of the TV screen ... Unabashedly, I must say…I did not quite know why at that time, but now I do). Princess Diana became some kind of a secular saint. And it was because she gave a world that was no longer able to grieve normally a chance to grieve. And people did it everywhere and all at once. It was a world that was relying more and more on technology for everything. It was a world that was no longer at home with their own feelings, a society that has grown callous and out of touch even with their own emotions. It has become a society of women and men who were getting more and more uncomfortable with expressions of feelings and powerful feelings at that. It was said that during the months the world was grieving, psychiatric couches were less full. There was no need for them for a while, for the world has made a massive catharsis, via the honest, unabashed communal experience of grieving.

We do know now, of course, that even as we admire Diana and the inspiration she gave us, that admiration alone does not save us, does not make us better persons. And this is where the second part of the good news comes in: ON THIS MOUNTAIN! The mountain stood for the meeting point between God and Israel, through Moses and the prophets. That meeting point in person now is Christ. As God become man, Christ is our way, our truth, our life. And only in Him do we find the way towards that fullness of salvation that the Messianic banquet symbolizes. Only in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is due to God, forever and ever.

Forever Living products, Amway, all consumer goods designed to enhance our earthly life… they are all good. But they are not the end all and be all of human life. They are reminders, they are signposts, they point to the real hunger that stalks us all: the hunger for the living God who Himself invites us…all of us, without exception. As we wait for the final definitive salvation symbolized by the feast, we may see its exact opposite in the world – a situation of chaos and apparent hopelessness. We may experience sadness and disappointment, even discouragement and all signs of grief, like St. Paul did…In the second reading, we are told he was no stranger himself to this chaotic – if, saddening -experience: “I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

We are well advised by Paul to remain strong and steadfast in the midst of this chaotic situation. For our faith tells us, we shall be forever living in the house of the Lord!