Monday, March 31, 2008
3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A
April 6, 2008
Today, 3rd Sunday of Easter, the liturgy calls our attention to early risers, sojourners, and travelers. In the Gospel, Luke reports the fact that “some women from [their] group … were at the tomb early in the morning.” The same gospel passage tells us about “two of Jesus’ disciples going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus.” Again, the same Lukan report speaks about the disciples being joined by another one, and all three became fellow sojourners as they talked on all the way up to the moment of the “breaking of bread.”
We see here three types of people with very focused goals and precise objectives. The women, presumably, were there first thing in the morning to do unfinished tasks related to the burial of their Master whose death coincided with the Sabbath day of rest. The two disciples had a precise destination – Emmaus, although the Lukan report does not say for what purpose. For all the precision and focus that they all had, these early risers, sojourners and travelers found a surprise that went far beyond what they all originally set out for.
Life, understood as journey, is full of surprises for everyone. Take it from one who, as they say, was “not born yesterday.” This year is a liminal year for me and my batchmates (to borrow from Victor Turner’s theory of liminality). Pushing fifty later this year, I know I am entering onto a new threshold (limen in Latin), a new stage of my life’s journey as a viator, a wayfarer, or a pilgrim, as traditional Christian spirituality would call every human person who ever lived in this world.
Stepping onto a new threshold is always somewhat fearsome, and at the same time, exciting. Saying goodbye to what Gail Sheehy aptly calls the “flourishing forties” and moving onto the threshold of the “fearless fifties” somehow leads one to be more circumspect, to be a little more reflective, a tad more prudent, and a lot more on the side of trying to “re-invent one’s self.”
One looks back to a lot more years. But one also looks forward, not necessarily to an equal number of years, but to producing a more lasting, deeper impact to society, the world, others, and on one’s self. In one’s earlier, more productive, and frenetic years, one focuses more on being a solid ground of hope for others. As one goes to the threshold of the second half of life, one focuses more on becoming a living message and example of hope for all of humanity. The former is primarily a doer, a busy man engaged in making a difference in the world. He or she is the equivalent of the “early riser,” someone with work to do, and businesses to accomplish, for whom time is limited. The latter is primarily a fellow “traveler,” someone for whom the process is more important than the outcome, someone for whom Emmaus is not so much a definitive “terminus ad quem,” (a definite final destination) as an ideal, a dream, a vision that is much bigger than all the Emmauses of the world put together.
Early risers who are at the morning of their lives are very much focused on their productive goals. Travelers who focus less on their goal or destination, and more on their being “wayfarers” are open to realities other than merely attaining their goal. Both early risers and travelers who open themselves to fellowship, to companionship, to intimacy and camaraderie with fellow travelers, become the richer for the experience.
They cease being mere early risers out to do unfinished tasks. They cease being mere travelers out to pursue the dream of their lives. They both become sojourners, wayfarers, and fellow journeyers together with others. They become co-pilgrims, co-searchers, and co-dreamers in pursuit of a reality that is bigger than all of them put together.
Sojourners are people who join something already begun. They don’t start out on a totally new journey of their own. Thus, with the utter confidence of one who has “hitched his wagon” to the rising “star of David,” Peter “raised his voice and proclaimed: […] Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know […] God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death.”
The very same Peter, who for a time faltered as he journeyed with his Master to Calvary, and denied him three times, now declares his unflinching dedication to “go and die with the Master.” He advises his fellow journeyers: “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as a spotless unblemished lamb.”
Peter’s fellow believers, who not only were “admirers” but real “disciples” of the Lord, who at some point decided to become fellow pilgrims with Peter and the original band of twelve, understood what it meant to be in journey with the Lord towards more than just a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Like them, we seek to understand. Like them, we seek to have a clearer view of what’s coming up ahead in the journey. This search feeds our prayer, even as today we proclaim after the first reading: “Lord, you will show us the path of life.”
The whole idea of life as an ongoing journey with someone else (or with others) is summed up in the Lukan report of the two disciples out for a journey towards an Emmaus experience of sadness, disappointment, and lack of understanding. The two were, to say the least, discouraged. One thing led to another. Their discouragement, dejection, and disappointment led to a certain lack of sight. Someone came in to join them as they trudged along in sadness. Someone came to be their fellow traveler and co-pilgrim – someone they did not recognize, prevented as they were by their self-centered focus on their grief and dejection.
That personage who came to be their companion, who journeyed with them as they sought for enlightenment, as they sought for the meaning and significance of it all, stayed with them as sojourner. Nay more, he stayed with them till the time of the “breaking of bread,” till the brightness of his presence dawned on people whose sights were darkened by sorrow.
It was primarily his presence evoked by the memorial act of the breaking of bread that spelled the dawn of enlightenment and deep realization on the part of the grieving disciples. The Risen Lord’s presence and accompaniment for the two as they journeyed together, became a proclamation and prophetic witnessing to an eminently personal experience of a God who died, but now is risen. In the supreme moment of remembrance, after the mysterious guest reframed the recent events in the light of Biblical hindsight, capped by a re-enactment of the breaking of bread, the two erstwhile sightless disciples, eventually saw … and believed. No wonder, they could confidently join Peter in proclamation and prophetic witnessing via kerygmatic preaching: “God raised this Jesus from the dead; of this we are all witnesses.”
We live in a lonely world. There is so much pain and that pain is worsened by the glaring fact that most people seem condemned to suffer through it all alone. With economic development comes a whole lot of alienation in the developed world. In the less developed countries, alienation happens because poor jobless parents who want to give children a bright future, take resort to outmigration in search of productive work. Families are separated by utter necessity. Loneliness and the phenomenon of various forms of emotional cut-offs stalk the land all over the planet.
Today, the stories of early risers, travelers, and sojourners tell us that this need not be the case. We need not wallow in sadness, dejection, and disappointment. The story of the Risen Lord’s presence in the midst of his fellow pilgrims, sojourners, and travelers, shows us that hope has not grown grey hairs; that hope is not lost. We may have lost our sight, but this memorial act that we do together, as we break bread with the Risen Lord, heightens our faith in him who has assured us: “I will be with you all days, until the end of the world.” With hearts burning within us, we cannot wait till the event of his presence comes to full significance as the Word is proclaimed, and a Memorial is done “in remembrance of him.”
Today’s alternative opening prayer sums it all up for us. It would do us good to pray it together at this time, and to pray it some more all through the day:
Father in heaven, author of all truth, a people once in darkness has listened to your Word and followed your Son as he rose from the tomb. Hear the prayer of this newborn people and strengthen your Church to answer your call. May we rise and come forth into the light of day to stand in your presence until eternity dawns. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Monday, March 24, 2008
2nd Sunday of Easter/Easter Octave
March 30, 2008
Easter Sunday has come full circle. During the so-called Easter octave (today being the “eighth day”), everyday from Easter Sunday to the 2nd Sunday of Easter, is meant to be each one a celebration of Easter day. Only in the next most important liturgical solemnity does the Church celebrate in full for all of eight days – the Christmas octave. The dramatic scenes of Holy Week have taken a back seat. The pall of semi gloom during the Paschal triduum has given way to the brilliance and ebullient joy of the Easter season. Even the receding color of Lenten purple, has exploded to the dazzling brilliance of Easter white, silver, and gold (or red, for the Chinese inspired cultures all over the world).
The world of nature, at least in temperate zones, assumes an air of newness. It is now springtime, and the coming of spring evokes feelings and thoughts of new life, freshness, and invigorating vitality. In this tropical side of the globe just below the equator, from where I write, Easter does not coincide with anything that approximates spring. There is no marked change of seasons and no gradual rise in temperature, but the celebration of Easter, all the same, evokes freshness and newness, and the birthing of new hope, new life, and new beginnings. The harvests are by now over and done with. The fields will lie fallow for a while during the hot, dry, tropical “summer” months. The plow and harrow will be set aside temporarily. The seeds for sowing are drying in the air and the hot sun, and the farmers and planters are conserving their energy, while excitedly awaiting the coming of the late-summer first rains – the so-called “agua de Mayo,” (the first rains of May), considered as beneficial to health as it is to the meager wealth of people who live close to the soil. There is hopeful excitement on the part of the natural world. Something new is in the offing. Something fresh is afoot.
In both cases, on both sides of the hemisphere, whether temperate or tropical, Easter comes to full flowering in the spirit of hope for absolute newness. For one, the readings speak of new modes of living after the post-resurrection coming down of the Spirit. The early Christian community, we are told in Acts, lived the ideals of a “forward-looking” community, whose members showed more interest in the “communal life, the breaking of bread, and the prayers,” than they did in earthly possessions (1st Reading). We are also reminded that, like gold tested in fire, our faith may prove to be “more precious than gold,” and “may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (2nd Reading). Again, we are reminded that being late, or plain absent the first time around when the risen Jesus showed himself to the gathered disciples, does not necessarily spell disaster for someone like Thomas and his salutary doubt (Gospel reading from John 20:19-31). Initially, this doubting Thomas rooted for no less than a credible sighting, no less than scientific, empirical evidence to what his fellow disciples, gathered in the Upper Room, were unanimously proclaiming. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
I will not believe! … How is that for a quotable quote, for a statement to base one’s life on? I will not believe! … Isn’t this what far too many of us really tell ourselves once too often? Isn’t this the unfolding credo of so many postmoderns like us, who live like as if Christ never suffered, never died, and never rose?
I will not believe! … Isn’t this the statement of those who would rather join the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and refuse to slug it out with the suffering Christ in the torturous road to Calvary on Passion Sunday?
I will not believe! … Isn’t this the attitude of one who shared the intimacy of a meal with friends and followers, who willingly allowed his feet to be washed, but who, moments later, went away in the night to do his deed of darkness, his dastardly act of betrayal?
I will not believe! … Isn’t this the attitude of one who joins the act of “remembering” the Passover of the Lord, but who refuses the “doing” part highlighted by the command to “love one another as I have loved you,” and thus becoming each other’s Passover to new life, like Christ became for all of us?
I will not believe! … Isn’t this the overwhelming attitude of denial that characterizes our postmodern existence – a denial of the totality of the person of Christ, that makes us mere “admirers” and not “disciples,” mere spectators and not active participants in His paschal mystery?
But hold it a second! Before we condemn Thomas and his doubts, let us take a closer look at the Gospel account. There is no compelling evidence to warrant even the slight suspicion that Thomas did, indeed, insist on seeing and touching the wounds of the Risen Lord. Not only did he not insist on his empirical examination. He went beyond what was expected of him. Not only did he not care anymore to see and touch. He also proclaimed beyond everyone’s expectation, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas, the initial doubter, eventually lived by faith, not by sight. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Blessed is Thomas, who, while not “seeing and touching,” believed much more than the fact that His Master is risen. This Master, to him, was more than just risen. He is risen, for now, operating as he does on memory, and not on sight, Thomas “saw and believed.” The hindsight of memory, of a grateful heart that remembers, what we could confidently call “heartsight,” counted now for Thomas as more important than empirical “headsights” or scientific data or proofs.
Nowadays, the sheer power of empirical data to convince anyone to give up traditional, long-held tenets of faith, seems beyond anyone’s control. Ironically, in this age of unfounded and fantastic claims of anyone who espouses any of the many conflicting ideologies, even a pack of lies and a whole lot of half-truths can lead people away from what they perceive to be dogmatic teachings from the Church. People who claim “I will not believe” before the time-tested teachings of Scripture, Tradition, and of Holy Mother Church, ironically take to the teachings of the likes of Dan Brown and his “Da Vinci Code” monumental lies hook, line, and sinker. With no “hindsight” of biblical memory to work on after denying all forms of meta-narratives, with no “heartsights” that can only come from a personal relationship of a disciple and not a mere admirer of Christ, nothing remains but dead “headsights” – mere conceptual and impersonal knowledge of a God who simply claimed, or is reported, to have risen from the dead.
Thomas, our model for today, 2nd Sunday of Easter, did live by faith. But he also lived, it must not be forgotten, equally by sight and memory. Seeing the risen Lord was more than enough for him. Without feeling the need to look nor touch, Thomas actually saw … and believed.
What makes it so hard for postmoderns like us to believe? Let me suggest that Thomas can teach us all more than just a lesson to live by. First, I would like to think that Thomas did see and acknowledge the wounds of Christ. What about us? Do we see the woundedness in the world that is, to use Sally McFague’s metaphorical theology, “God’s body?” Or are we living in splendid isolation and denial, comfortable as we are in our own “comfort zones” of inflexibility and indifference? Have we gotten so much calloused to the reality of war, of graft and corruption, that we cannot anymore do so much as raise a finger in protest to all the suffering that we cause one another in the world, particularly those who have less in life? Have we grown so indifferent to the sufferings of the poorest of the poor, the daily crucifixions being experienced by people who are perpetual victims of various forms of prejudice, biases, and different forms of marginalization in our so-called civil society? How can people who are oblivious to, and deny, the world’s woundedness ever believe in the resurrection? How can people who deny the reality of death ever talk so much of rising from the dead?
Second, Thomas also saw reality other than the wounds of Christ. He saw excited disciples, including women, who proclaimed the resurrection. Thomas saw the effects of the sending of the Holy Spirit. He saw … and believed. What makes us so blind to the reality of the workings of grace in this world of terrorism and unbridled individualism and spiritual malaise? What makes us so blind to the reality of the thousands and thousands of saints who lived holy lives despite the almost impossible situations that surrounded them?
I would like to suggest that faith, in the resurrection of Christ, at bottom, is a matter of hindsight – a matter of grateful remembering. Faith thrives on memory, the sort of memorial that disciples and believers do together, “in remembrance of Him,” who lived, suffered, died, and rose for our sakes. Faith, in the long run, is first and foremost “heartsight” before it is “headsight.” It is the memory of a heart loved, “with an everlasting love” by Him who is the world’s most tremendous lover. It is the “heartsight” of a doubting Thomas, whose salutary doubt is matched only by his love for the Master. On the hindsight of biblical memorial, based on the heartsight of a personal relationship with Christ, material evidences of the resurrection would now count as less important for people whose doubts have been more than amply resolved by love.
That love was all that mattered in the final analysis. Surrounded by empirical proofs and avowed proclamations of faith from fellow disciples, all that Thomas needed was that penetrating look of love from the Risen Lord that gave him that piercing heartsight of one who, setting aside all proofs, simply knelt down in love and declared with the full insight of his humble faith: “My Lord and my God!”
Friday, March 21, 2008
Easter Sunday - Year A
March 23, 2008
Something new is in the air; something strange; something unfathomable, it is true, but also something real. It is so real we stay up and keep watch. We keep vigil on account of it. It is so real, albeit difficult to fully fathom, that we engage in a multiplicity of symbolisms … Easter eggs, easter bunnies (Europe and US), the peacock (ancient Christians), water, light, candles, and new fire (the Eastern and Western Christian Churches). It is so real we Filipinos even engage in acts that border on the dramatic. In our penchant for re-enactments; in our entertainment-crazed culture that prizes living tableaus, we even take resort to stage-like living presentations of what we consider so real as to affect life in concrete; as to affect our emotional state as dictated by what we hold as true. In many, many places all over the country, the early dawn procession called the “salubong,” that re-enacts that supposed ecstatic moment of encounter between Mary and her Risen Son, takes place today with all the pomp and pageantry possible within people’s limited means.
Indeed, what is more real than people hoping and believing that life, in this world, could still be better? What is more real than people ever expecting that despite all the death, decay, and destruction that take place in our terrorized world everywhere in the planet, people can still dream of waking up in order to smell the flowers? What is more real than people, who, despite their jaded dreams, can still find meaning hidden behind such simple stuff like painted eggs, jumping bunnies, preening peacocks, and a huge lighted candle that wades down the aisle of a darkened Church during Easter Vigil?
On what is this reality based? What is behind such formidable hopes of peoples and nations? What explains this steadfast holding on to perpetual newness that even bombs, tsunamis, and terrorism cannot quell? Isn’t this a case of what C.S. Lewis refers to as either based on “lunacy or lies?” Let us take a short summative look at what we have been doing together over the past three days.
Last Thursday, we did an act of remembering. Through our own Passover meal, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we did a memorial and a proclamation in celebration of the fact that it is God who passes over and saves us “through the blood of the Lamb,” Jesus Christ His Son. On Good Friday, we stood witness at the foot of the cross to the fact that Jesus Himself is our Passover sacrifice, On this night of all nights, we proclaim once again, and celebrate our own passing over from death into life, in union with the same Christ, dead and risen.
In these post 9/11 times of digital images, identity-verifying iris scans, and redundant identity checks at airports all over the world, the painstaking search for evidences seem to be the name of the game. One is held suspect until proven otherwise. We live now, by sight, not by faith. Specially trained people who man the X-Ray machines examine every baggage, every satchel, every container, while personnel press and pat everyone who passes under metal and bomb detecting panels. The watchword nowadays simply put, is: to see is to believe. There is nothing like evidence that stands the test of sight, and one’s word of honor may not be good enough anymore for those in charge of “homeland security.”
If we go by this rule of “sight,” that focuses on external evidence, our celebration tonight (today) may, indeed, be either born of “lunacy or lies.” The Matthean account read in the vigil Mass is really no account at all, in today’s litigious and court-trial-crazed culture. No one, not a single one claims he saw Jesus rise from the dead. No, not even Mary of Magdala who came early morning only to see an empty tomb.
But people who followed the Lord, and who were ready and willing to “go and die with him,” who narrated the Christian story from the very beginning, operate from a different perspective. They go, not primarily by sight, but by faith. They based their account on something that went beyond sight, something that transcended material and physical evidence without throwing away such evidences altogether.
Our Christian narrators and story-tellers, beginning from the surprised women, the disciples, and all who “saw and believed,” were basing themselves on both “sight and memory.” For those who saw material events and evidences, the important watchword was very simply this: to believe is to see!
Sight and memory …. What was there in what disciples and loving followers of the Risen Lord saw that told them what they saw was real? What was there in what they saw and remembered that convinced them that, indeed, what they were seeing was not a ghost, but a Risen Body?
It all boils down to the “remembering and the doing” that we all have been engaged in over these past three days. What have we done? For one, we have done the memorial of him whose pesach (transition) from death to life has brought heretofore unheard of meaning and promise to our existence as human beings created unto God’s image and likeness. We recalled to mind, and celebrated in our own lives, the pesach of the Israelites of old from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty, and our own crossing over (Passover) from a life of sin to a life of grace. What absolute newness this brings about! … Newness of life, under the sway of the new law of Christ, Son and Savior!
Newness brings about fresh readings to reality, the type of freshness that only poets who see beyond evidences can give expression to, and write on. It is no wonder that this Christian story of pesach spills over, and finds expression in poetry, full as this story is, of promise, of hope, of joy, and effusive gladness of heart. Mindful that the story of the Resurrection of Christ is not just “old-wives tale,” and “telenovela material,” or gossip fare from snoopy women out for a morning stroll, John Updike writes in his “Seven Stanzas at Easter:”
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
Faded credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
Grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel …
The Christian story of the Lord’s resurrection that we celebrate to the full, born of sight and memory, does not come from “lunacy or lies.” It comes from the remembering and the doing in the context of celebration of God’s own doing … His loving and saving act for us all frail women and men, His beloved sons and daughters, in and through Christ. He is our pesach, our transition from a life of sin to a life of grace. His coming brought meaning to human existence, the poetry of the life of believers, who, because they believe, also see more than just a story, but a promise of presence, a promise of real hopes, a promise that “He will be with [us] until the end of days,” a promise that in the poetic lines of Manley-Hopkins, “in a flash, at a trumpet crash, this Jack, joke, poor potsherd, will become in God’s eyes, what in God’s eyes He is, immortal diamond, is immortal diamond.”
I end with the words of promise from another earlier poet, St. John Chrysostom:
Christ is Risen, and you, O Death are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
For Christ, having risen from the dead
Is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
With poetry and promise like these, what need we fear as we go through our own pesach experience of life in the real world of pain and utter possibility?
HAPPY EASTER TO ONE AND ALL!
Good Friday, March 21, 2008
Today, being Good Friday, the altars are bare; the tabernacle is gaping open and empty, and the joyful bells and organ music are both silent and still, reserved for the glories of the Easter celebration. Everything smacks of a kind of “mourning.” After we ended last night’s adoration and watching with the Lord before the altar of repose, the whole Church takes on a subdued atmosphere as it goes into what I personally call the R2M2 mode that is the hallmark of the holiest three days of the whole liturgical season.
R2M2 …. Remembrance, reenactment, memorial, and mystery!
Last evening was an exercise of remembrance par excellence. We gathered around the table of the Lord, among other things, to reminisce, to bask under the glow of His love, to hear the mandatum – the mandate given to his followers to “love one another” as He has loved us. Not only did we remember. We also engaged in a doing as befits our act of remembering. “Do this in remembrance of me.” In a moving reenactment of that mandate of love for others translated into service of foot-washing, of that touching institution of the priesthood understood as ministry, as service to His people, the whole Church did a memorial of that outstanding mystery of God’s love understood as presence, as service par excellence to His people, a mystery of God’s self-gift in the person of Christ, His Son, immolated, offered, like the sacrificial victim of the Hebrew Scriptures, an unblemished lamb offered in sacrifice to God, the Father of mercies and of all consolation.
The Church at large all over the world plunged itself to R2M2 mode beginning last evening. The liturgy takes on a dramatic turn. The people assume a reflective, meditative mood as the “joyful season of Lent” draws us all to its peak. Having laid our figurative cloaks and clothes at the feet of Him who “comes in the name of the Lord,” riding on a colt (or was it an ass?), having cried out lusty hosannas of praise to him who has come as promised from of old, we are now just about ready to cry, for reenactment’s sake, “crucify him, crucify him, for we have no other king but Caesar!”
However, lest we think we are just being taken for a ride by a shallow, stage-like performance of a passion-play of Oberammergau proportions, the famed Cenaculo of earlier Philippine times (during this writer’s childhood years), the liturgy itself orients us to what this three-day long celebration is all about.
No … it is not all about mere remembrance. No … it is not all about mere reenactment of events past, of material history being told and retold for mere posterity’s sake. Oh yes! …. It is all about a doing-remembering that is essentially what Biblical memorial is all about. It is all about mystery that transcends time and space – a mystery of God’s hidden presence in the midst of His beloved people. It is, to use the theology-laden category of last Palm-Passion Sunday, all about the hyphenated reality of God’s absence-presence, His sacrificing-saving act, the reality of His dying-rising in Christ, so that we might have life to the full.
Liturgy – the sort that we do and remember at one and the same time, is not a grand Oberammergau Passion Play that comes around once every ten years. Whilst there is drama in liturgy, liturgy itself is not just a mere dramatic presentation. Liturgy is an event – a saving event – that remembers, that re-enacts, that memorializes, that makes present and actual what was past, a past that makes our present and future worth celebrating for.
Liturgy is a celebration and a memorial in the Hebrew Biblical sense of the great mystery of God’s ongoing saving act on behalf of a sinful humanity in a sinful world!
Celebrating and memorializing in this Hebrew Biblical sense is something that postmoderns like us find it hard to do in our times. Immersed as we are in selective memory mode, we remember only that which we want to remember. The average person on the street (including not a few religious men and women) find it easier to remember the vicissitudes of life as lived by their favorite soap opera characters (Days of Our Lives and Passions in the US and canned Korean or Chinese “chinovelas” or Mexican “telenovelas,” or Filipino “teleseryes” in Philippine setting). What is remembered, if at all, is nothing more than what the Bible refers to as “grass that withers and flowers that fade.” In a world of impermanence and transitoriness, once famous names and faces easily fade away; heroes and matinee idols of just a few years are soon buried like all other massive data, in the fast-fading oblivion of digital tombs never to rise again, unless retrieved and recalled for remembrance’s sake. But such remembrance does not bloom into doing. Remembering does not spill over into genuine celebration, for what is past has not much bearing on the present, no matter how much we all try to relive the past.
In the context of Good Friday, even as we take part in the role of the crowds crying out for the blood of the innocent Christ, we do more than just remember and reenact. We do more than just relive a past event. We are not here to join a funeral cortege for a fallen hero. We do not even “pretend” we are in mourning because “God is dead.” Such shallow, superficial “play-acting” is not what the Liturgy is all about, for liturgy is not make-believe. Liturgy is plain and simple a celebration of an ongoing reality. We celebrate not because God is dead, but precisely because God offered Himself in Christ who really suffered, and died, and ROSE FROM THE DEAD, our personal and collective stories are no longer threatened by death and sin, but uplifted by grace and new life wrought in and through the same Christ.
We are then back to our topic of last Palm-Passion Sunday: remembering and doing. In the Philippines, every year since 1986, we have always paused and remembered the four fateful days of the so-called February Revolution that toppled a dictatorship of more than two decades. Whilst we still go through the motions year in and year out, it has really gone the way of the Independence Day “celebrations” – “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The dwindling crowds each year tell the whole story. Hardly anybody from among the young remembers anymore. And those who do remember from among the not-so-young, are fixated on the remembering. What is sorely missing is the doing part. What one does not do after the remembering… what one does not invest in and work for … what one does not take part in “actively, consciously, and devoutly” as are expected of us in our liturgical participation, goes the way of the proverbial dodo, foreclosed, forgotten, and forsaken in our collective digital dustbins.
People who merely remember but who don’t do, and are unwilling to go the way of mystery – the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, are condemned to merely repeat history.
We are a people still suffering on the Calvary of our graft-ridden and corrupt sense of nationhood. Calling ourselves the only Christian nation in the Far East, we are hard-pressed to shamefully acknowledge the fact that we are the second most corrupt nation in the same region, next only to Indonesia. We were crucified repeatedly under a series of regimes that all promised reprieve and hope. We even crucified ourselves unnecessarily by pinning all our hopes on charlatans and demagogues who rode on the misguided hopes and dreams of the poorest of the poor. We even crucified ourselves a number of times in what we took pride in as peaceful people power revolutions that stunned the whole world. Some adventurists in our midst, for good measure, also tried to wrest power from legitimate rulers plunging the whole country all over again into crisis after repeated crisis. But it was all a passion-play of Oberammergau proportions, a morality play that ended as all play and no morality left to bootstrap and propel ourselves to new life.
In our misguided devotion to the Sto. Sepulcro (the dead Christ), the bloodied and bruised Nazareno (of Quiapo fame), in our playful and piously naïve attachment to the Sto.Nino (the Holy Child portrayed in a variety of poses, guises, and emotional states galore!), and in our nerve-wracking and long-winded Good Friday processions, we all have missed the rest of what we all ought to celebrate in the doing that goes beyond remembering – the glorious resurrection of Christ! Our faith, the fiduciary kind, that ignored the performative socially conscious aspect, did not propel us to sound social responsibility, but to more of the same – private and individualistic morality that never went beyond Sunday attendance at Mass and private devotions.
Oportet gloriari in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi. It behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, as you go through the veneration of the Cross, as you go home from a liturgy that, like last evening, does not end formally with a blessing, do remember that life, like the liturgy we celebrate, does not end with the cross alone. We need to glory in it, and the only way to glory in the cross is to be a witness and participant to the ongoing story of Christ’s passion, death, and RESURRECTION.
Only then, can we truly and fully take part in this R2M2 mode that is meant to characterize our life with Christ, dead and risen.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
March 20, 2008
The holy triduum that focuses on the Paschal Mystery of Christ begins in earnest in today’s liturgy. The pole of seeming gloom that capped last Palm Sunday’s liturgy with the reading of the Passion bounces back in this evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and takes on the spirit of joy and rejoicing as befit a celebration that gives way to sublime ideas of remembering, on the one hand, and doing, on the other. This evening’s Mass, the only other celebration allowed for today after this morning’s Chrism Mass at Cathedral churches presided over by local Bishops, ends not with a formal blessing, with nary a formal sign of closure, for this celebration only begins what is really a three-day long celebration that ends with all the pomp, funfare, and exultation possible, on Easter Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.
What do we remember? The entrance antiphon offers us a summation … “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection.” What more do we remember? … the glaring fact that “through him we are saved and made free!” Beginning this evening, we would do well to really remember. This is what we shall be doing all these three days … remembering and savoring the so-called “magnalia Dei,” the great deeds of God who wrought out our salvation. Good Friday, as the name suggests in English, is a good day for remembering the past of the Lord’s total self-giving – a past that made our present and future really worth celebrating about! Holy Saturday is a day of expectant remembering, a reliving of the disciples’ waiting in hope, as they awaited the full flowering of God’s dream, God’s marvelous design in Christ, temporarily sleeping the sleep of death only to rise once more in the full splendor of His salvific and loving power. “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will build it up again!”
Remembering … the real, no-nonsense remembering of yore does not come easy to modern women and men of today. We moderns find it hard to remember. We find it hard to imagine and conjure up images of things and events past. We hardly speak now of remembering. In its place we speak more now of retrieval of data. We speak no more of events, but more of bytes in giga(ntic) proportions. In this digitally-crazed world populated by sound bytes and gigabytes, of digital images and “firewire” based fast transfer of data of whatever type, we find it hard to really remember. Our data bank, our “remembrances of things past,” more often than not, go the way of the unlamented dodo, an extinct bird one still speaks of but which one does not really remember anymore. We even forget persons just as easily as we can erase their names from our digital address books, as fast as we can reformat our hard disks and bury massive data in their digital tombs.
As an educator over the past 30 years, I am sometimes aghast at how poorly students and young people now remember things. Wary of, and allergic now to, meta-narratives, to long-winded stories that speak of on-going and protracted journeys and pilgrimages, young people and many from the ranks of the not-so-young postmoderns in our midst, now prefer to get by with the minimum – pithy text messages and short-cutted email missives that say things, but not quite; messages that communicate, but not fully.
In this world of instant messagings (IM), in this world marked with hedonism, materialism, and minimalism, three-day celebrations that focus on remembering may be a little too much to ask from people.
That is, if what we ask people to do beginning tonight, is to simply remember!
I would like to suggest that the liturgy does not simply ask us to retrieve data from our common memory bank. That is not what the entrance antiphon tells us. Instead, we are told to do. We are asked to do something in concrete. We are enjoined to “glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi). It behooves us to “glory” in Christ’s cross!
It is all too easy to “see” Christ’s suffering like one watches a movie. It is all too easy to be a mere “admirer” of Christ, but not to be a “follower.” It is easier to be a distant observer from afar, than it is to be a close-in disciple. An admirer just watches like one watches a movie. He is never fully and truly involved, but oftentimes “dissociated,” (to use a psychological term), always detached, cool, distant, and non-committal. An admirer and a distant watcher does not invest, does not offer, does not give of oneself. As a detached observer, he cannot do so much as react either positively, or negatively to what he or she sees. For him or her, the cross means nothing, the death of Christ implies nothing, and has no bearing on his or her life. The most one can do in this case is merely remember.
Bishop Fulton Sheen of old, once said in one of his talks that there are far too many people who do not get anything out of the
Today, as we recall to mind the institution of two Sacraments that cannot do one without the other, the priesthood and the Eucharist, we do more than just remember. “This shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.” Like in all Masses, we go beyond mere commemoration. We are told to love one another, for one. In this Mass of Masses, furthermore, the celebration of the Lord’s supper, we enact, we make present, we make real, here and now, what God did – His “magnalia,” (great and marvelous deeds), the Passover that God made possible for us, by his own passing from suffering to death, to life once again. More than just retelling a story, we become God’s story, His story – history, a history of a beloved and redeemed people! And that story unfolded because of his self-offering, his self-immolation, his self-sacrifice, his showing himself in Christ as the great servant-leader-pastor who “lays down his life for his sheep.” Notice how Paul makes that story come alive in his account: “On the night he was handed over, he took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Remembering and doing … this is the only way we can make what we recall to mind real and concrete for us. There is no other way. We are either part of it or not at all. We are either admirers or followers, as Kirkegaard rightly puts it. We either love and serve others, or we don’t. We either simply call to mind, or we do it in memory of him who really suffered, died, and rose back to life.
Fulton Sheen was right on target. The Mass is something we do and offer together, not a stale and stiff lesson on history. You either have something to offer or you don’t do Eucharist at all. Soren Kirkegaard, too, was right. Christ, he says, “never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.”
In this holy evening marked with effusive joy at the great gift of priesthood and Eucharist to God’s Church and people, we begin the three-day journey of memorial and action. Christ’s celebration spilled over into life. Passion bloomed into action. What he did to his disciples, he bids us do: “Love one another as I have loved you.” People who remember, are people who act upon their precious memories. They give thanks. They do Eucharist. They strive to live as Christ did. They strive to love as Christ loved. Christian life is as much about remembering as doing. Like Christ did. Like Christ asked of us: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Passion Sunday - Year A
March 16, 2008
Today is the last Sunday of Lent. In a few days, we will enter into the holy triduum, the holiest of days that will culminate in the glorious celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. In the meantime, as we long for the “joys of Easter,” we are confronted with a deep experience of contrasts and an unmistakable situation of lights and shadows.
We begin the liturgy today with a tinge of triumph, in an unmistakable tone of joy. Two disciples are sent on ahead to be an advanced party of sorts. They were told to prepare for what the “master” needed. Misreading the poetic parallelism of Zechariah’s language (9:9), the Matthean author speaks of two beasts of burden used by the Master: an ass and a colt. Whether he rode only on one or both is immaterial to the focus of the story: Jesus made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem as befits the people’s expectations of what he was perceived to be, the “Son of David,” the awaited Messiah, from the house of David.
When Mass proper begins, the tone of triumph immediately is transformed into a tone of gloom, as the account of the passion of Jesus Christ is read in its entirety. The image of two disciples getting two beasts of burden ready, is matched by two gospel readings today – the only time in the liturgical year where we have two gospel readings in one celebration, two readings that smack of contrasts, two readings that speak of a deep situation marked by light and shadow.
Lights and shadows … this is the situation of our faith as Christian believers. Our lives as followers of Christ are wrapped in a multiplicity of contrasts. Like that of Christ’s, our Master and Lord, our existence is immersed in a world of temptation, and a world of grace that makes triumph possible (1st Sunday). To say that we are surrounded by ungodly desires is to belabor the obvious, but equally obvious is the fact that holiness of life is something that can be lived, as, in fact, it is, by countless holy women and men of our times. Like Christ, we need to go up the mountain literally and figuratively, to exert magnanimous efforts to reach our own “transformation,” as Christ was transfigured. But like him, too, we know experientially all about the favor that comes daily from God, the “look of love” from Him who considers us His own beloved sons and daughters, on whom He is well pleased (2nd Sunday). Like the Samaritan woman, we must profess our thirst and accept our neediness, if we are to be given the water of eternal life (3rd Sunday). In a world that seems to specialize on blurred ethical norms and muddled values, in a situation that makes people blind to God’s love being poured out, a man born blind teaches us to “live as children of light” (4th Sunday). In a world that prizes a culture of death, a “commodified” culture of consumerism, materialism, hedonism, minimalism, and individualism, we are confronted with the final victory of the resurrection. This “death-dealing” world, in the words of Karl Barth, in which death is a very real and frightful experience, “is threatened by resurrection” (5th Sunday).
This is the world of contrasts that the liturgy shows us in its typical candor and sincerity. This is the reality of a hyphenated world characterized by an epic, bipolar tension between the forces of evil and the forces of grace and redemption from Christ, who himself comes as the ultimate hyphenated character: God-Man, Son-Savior, Victim-Victor. Coming in today in triumph, hailed with resounding hosannas one time, he is pelted with scorn at another. Greeted with palms and fronds as he entered Jerusalem at one time, he was led out to slaughter outside the gates of Jerusalem, at another, pummeled with thorns and thistles.
Two Gospel readings with different foci, both referring to the same hyphenated guy with a hyphenated mission … “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will” (Jn 10:17).
In this hyphenated day called “Palm-Passion Sunday,” we would do well to allow the richness of the liturgy enlighten our hyphenated lives marked by lights and shadows, sin and grace, fall and redemption, death and resurrection.
The salvific drama of holy week begins in triumph and ends in torture and pain. The glorious hosannas are replaced by grim condemnations leading the very same one they welcomed to an undeserved death just days after the welcome party. What irony! What contrast! What candor on the part of God who claims as he did in the person of this Christ-Savior, victim-victor, who passes over from life-to-death-and-once-more-to-life-eternal: “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”
Palm-Passion Sunday is a study in candor and contrast. It leads us to the core essence of the person and mission of the one sent “to die so that others might live.” Palm-Passion Sunday shows us the full import of what it means to live ambivalently and mysteriously – if, prophetically – in a world deeply mired in conflicting situations, caught up in a multiplicity of conditions that remind us that blessedness can only happen for the poor, the suffering, the peacemakers, for those who thirst for righteousness. Palm-Passion Sunday leads us to understand that this hyphenated Servant-Lord, the suffering servant of Yahweh, the beloved Lord betrayed by a kiss from one who loved him (at least externally), but whose real Master had more to do with coins than with what money could not buy, the treasure beyond price, the pearl of great price, has sealed his and our ultimate victory, by subjecting himself to suffering – and, yes – death … death on a cross. Palm-Passion Sunday is a day in which God speaks to us in His characteristic candor: “The Lord God is my help, therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame” (1st reading).
Palm-Passion Sunday is the ultimate hyphenated reality of a God who claims victory by suffering seeming defeat. As the ultimate and original AI proponent the Appreciative Inquiry approach to development that we spoke of some Sundays back, Christ has come to put not a period to the trials and tribulations of the meek, the humble, and the peacemakers of this earth who work for Christian righteousness and justice, but a mere comma – if you will – a mere hyphen, a bend, not the end through which we all pass on our way to our own glorious transformation and victory in Christ.
Yes, Palm-Passion Sunday needs another hyphen. In all candor, with all the possible contrasts and conflicting situations we all could possibly imagine and experience, despite all the possible trials and tribulations that life in this hyphenated, conflicting, war-torn, sinful, but graced world can offer us, there is no period to the gloom and doom of passion Sunday. The glory of the palm fronds accompanied by sweet, soulful hosannas, transformed into sour and dour condemnations on a Good Friday, give way eventually to lusty and glorious alleluias another Sunday hence. The story, then, can only come full circle if we speak of Palm-Passion-Resurrection Sunday.
Christ’s candor in his shedding off his divinity and taking up the humility of his human condition, subjecting himself to the ultimate ignominy of a shameful death on a cross, is behind our ability to withstand the contrasts in our lives, the situations of lights and shadows, the various thirsts and blindnesses that we all experience, the multiple pains that we undergo, all “the sweat, care and cumber; sorrows passing number” that we all are subjected to at some time or other in our lives in this valley of tears and fears.
Palm-Passion –Resurrection Sunday is a day to cheer up. There is no period for us to see in this ongoing story of salvation, told and retold in a language that smacks of candor and contrast. That ongoing story, that additional hyphen is one that ends in victory. It ends in ultimate splendor, when the old order would have been replaced by the new, the “new heavens and the new earth,” that Christian faith and tradition hold so dear.
Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead. Rise up in splendor, for once you were darkness, but now are light in the Lord!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
5th Sunday of Lent - Year A
March 9, 2008
Today, 5th Sunday of Lent, we are seemingly confronted with courage gone flat, hopes dashed, and dreams for a threesome family’s future togetherness gone forever, lost to the inevitability of physical death. The opening scene of our running movie feature today is one of death and decay – with no less than a graveyard as centerpiece, and with Ezekiel’s feeble-sounding oracles trying to rise above a very real and existential condition of humanity’s apparent common destiny of desolation.
An unmistakable tinge of desolation is what we hear in Martha’s plaintive, faintly mocking and blaming tone, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We see traces of the complaint we heard Israelites of old in the desert wilderness tell Moses three Sundays back, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
The world is threatened with death all over. Prognostications of doom and destruction surround us from all sides – from ecological, man-made disasters to wayward asteroids possibly hitting too close to home at some not-too-distant time in future. In these recent years, we saw more than just buildings collapsing, courtesy of so much anger and hatred, spurred on as much by politics as by religious fanaticism. We stand witness almost to the day to bombs, cars, and trucks exploding tearing apart not only otherwise close-knit and young families and their future, but also the brightest hopes and dreams for a peaceful world of entire generations and civilizations all over the shrinking planet.
We are a people still threatened by death. We are a family of nations still bothered by the inevitable – the ineluctable consequence of sin, which is death, that has plagued humanity ever since Adam and Eve first ran counter to God’s loving plan.
Today, as we go deeper and farther into our Lenten journey, we would like to face this threat squarely in the face, and see this powerful threat of death and destruction go through the same process of reversals that we have had the opportunity of reflecting on from last Christmas onwards, all the way up to last week’s reflection.
For what is the Christian good news essentially but a story of reversals? In this unfolding story of salvation, we saw an Adam whose one transgression brought us perdition. But we were also introduced to a new Adam, that one man through whom restoration via reconciliation took place. We saw a woman named Eva, partner to Adam and partner to sin, supplanted by a new Eve, now worthy of being hailed with profuse Aves because, by her cooperation with God’s plan, she made it possible for us to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix, rise from darkness and misery, and assume our rightful places as sharers in the glorious liberty of the children of God. We hear today another important reversal in the story of a long dead and buried Lazarus, being coaxed back to life by the one who showed humanity the ultimate reversal and supreme paradox of life through death. We saw incipient reversals in the story of God becoming man, in the ongoing story of this divine-human intimacy made possible precisely because Christ the new Adam, “though divine, did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.”
Our Christian good news that comes to us who are now deeply immersed in this culture of death, in this world threatened by death and decay, revolves around this faith-phenomenon of reversals and contrasts. St. Paul capitalizes on this concept of contrasts, by juxtaposing two types of Christian believers – those who live in the flesh, and those who live by the Spirit. Jesus further affirms and deepens on this contrast by alluding to two types of people – those who walk during the day and those who walk during the night. In either case, it is those who have that “inner light” that do not stumble in the dark.
I would like to suggest that in the context of all the death and decay in our midst today, we would do well to allow ourselves to be uplifted by what today’s liturgy reminds us of, among other things. Ever so subtly and gently, we are being led to make a choice. We are asked to choose between a “life in the flesh,” or a “life in the spirit,” on the one hand, and between having or not having that “inner light” that will help us not to stumble in the dark, on the other.
There is no mistaking the choice of Ezekiel. He has obviously made God’s choice his own. And God’s choice comes with a resolute and decisive declaration: “I have promised, and I will do it.” What sort of promise is this all about? Read between the lines … read Ezekiel’s lips … read God’s solicitous love in every promise. It all boils down to bringing new life out of death. “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” Who else but one who has chosen to possess and nourish that “inner light” like Paul, who could confidently declare, “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Who else but one who doggedly refuses to be threatened by death, who refuses to allow himself to cower in fear of death and decay, can say along with Thomas called Didymus, “let us also go to die with him?” Who else but those, who like Martha and Mary, who both face death squarely in the face, and refuse to be threatened by the finality of physical death, can utter words that glow with that “inner light” of faith in the Lord: “But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
It is people who have chosen that inner light of faith that thrive where everything around them smacks of death. It is people who choose to look pain, suffering, and death in the eye, and who willingly join the Master in the journey to Calvary, who ‘also go to die with him,” who see the flip side of the death coin, and see life. It is people who have seen pain and suffering first hand, or who have suffered vicariously and empathically, who can be sensitive to the suffering of the earth, and who, therefore can tread on mother earth and her riches lightly and responsibly. It is people who have learned, like Christ, to die to themselves, who can appreciate the value of innocent lives, and who can therefore, afford to be compassionate to fellow human beings who have as much right to live as they have, regardless of their age, sex, health status, productivity, or usefulness in society. It is those who feel threatened by others’ lives (the lives of the innocent unborn, the sick, the aged, and those whom they consider as “burdens” to society), who are also thereby threatened by the idea of death and decay. In their furious attempts at denying death, they end up feverishly fostering the opposite of the evangelical value of life in all its fullness. Unwilling to acknowledge death, they become unable to face their own death-dealing actions and patterns of behavior. Reluctant to be guided by that “inner light” that keeps them from “stumbling in the dark,” they end up discouraged by all the death and decay that stalk the land and threaten people’s peace of mind and serenity of heart.
The inner light that Martha and Mary held onto, the Israelites’ holding fast to the Lord’s promises and resolute declarations, ultimately did not undo, nor prevent, the ineluctable pain of separation, and the pain of losing people in death, including that of Martha’s and Mary’s brother Lazarus. But it was that inner light that brought them perspective. It was that inner light of faith that helped them stand, instead of stumble in moments of darkness. It was that inner light of faith that led them to see the meaning behind the ambivalence, the paradox, the mystery of “God” who “gives life while killing,” as one writer puts it.
For people who have this inner light of faith, it is not anymore death that threatens us. “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” No, it is the other way around. Karl Barth, in his characteristic depth of perception says this much. Echoing St. Paul, who wrote, “Death, where is thy sting? Where is thy victory,?” he declares that it is rather death that is “threatened by Resurrection.”
I quote more:
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, can one do who is fated to this life of sin and death, with its thousandfold festering needs; nothing can one do to amend it; nothing fills up this vacuum. Admit it; there is no way out! Unless it is the possibility of a miracle happening – no, not a miracle, but the miracle, the miracle of God – God’s incomprehensible, saving intervention and mercy, the all-inclusive renewal that leads from death to life that comes from him, God’s life-word, resurrection from the dead! Resurrection – not progress, not evolution, not enlightenment, but a call from heaven to us: ‘Rise up! You are dead, but I will give you life.’”
Let us then pray, as we do, at this Mass, “for the courage to embrace the world in the name of Christ.” (Alternative Opening Prayer Introduction). This world of death and decay is now, happily, “threatened by Resurrection.”