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Monday, October 27, 2008

WE REMEMBER, WE CELEBRATE, WE BELIEVE!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
All Souls' Day
November 2, 2008

As we approached All Souls’ Day five years ago, we were bombarded by a whole lot of news coverage on the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman who, then, had been living a semi-vegetable existence over the past so many years. Once more, the debate on euthanasia has come to the fore, although perhaps not as emotionally laden as the first time it was brought to international scrutiny back in the 70s – in the much-talked about case of Karen Quinlan. (For those of you who are not old enough to remember, well … ask your by now middle-aged parents!).

As we approached All Souls’ Day, too, the news reports five years ago, constantly reminded us about the phenomenon most of us would rather not talk about, but which we simply cannot avoid. The case of the trial of the infamous sniper-duo, an adult man and a boy so young yet already so corrupted by the older partner, the steady trickle of deaths taking place in ambushes and terrorist-inspired attacks in Iraq, - why, the case of Terri Schiavo herself – all these put us face to face with something we ordinarily would not want to be talking about – death and dying. In the Philippine context, even as I write, a number of what we might call senseless deaths of even prominent individuals, caused by the recklessness and insensitive imprudence of abusive, murderous drivers of public buses, has been hogging the headlines, exactly like the news of about 800 people who perished in a sunken boat just last June 2008 gripped the whole nation for weeks and months on end.

And yet, the liturgical celebration we are having in Church today puts us all right into the heart of what our faith ought to consider not as something to be denied or ignored, not as something to be talked of in hushed tones, but as something to be integrated in the totality of our faith and life as Christians.

After all, we are all followers of Christ who himself went the way of all flesh. He, too, suffered and died, that is, he “was like unto us in everything except sin.”

The world, deeply steeped in a culture that emphasizes the here and now, the present, the quantifiable and the measurable, that which makes all of us value what we can do and produce and achieve, is loathe to be talking with any appreciable degree of ease about dying, and leaving, and letting go of whatever we hold dear – most of the time material goods and worldly success. In the words of Bishop Anthony Bloom, most of us “live in only two dimensions,” the here and now. We forget the third, which is the “hereafter.”

Nowhere is this tendency more visible as in the pagan-inspired celebration of “Halloween.” Since death and dying is something we do not accept readily and welcome with alacrity, we transform what is basically unacceptable into something that comes closer to familiar territory. We transform it into a carnival! How else neutralize the potentially harmful sting of death and the mysterious process of crossing over into the realm from which no one has ever come back to tell us what we all long to know? Make the event into something memorable, something worth spending time and money for … why, transform the fear into something more manageable by changing it into a cabal, a masquerade party, a worldly celebration!

Ironically, this is also what we do today in the liturgy. We celebrate the passing over into new life of all those who have gone ahead of us, those who sleep the sleep of death, but for a different reason, and definitely in a far different style and manner.

For when the Church celebrates, when Christian believers celebrate, it is never because of fear. When the faithful celebrate, it is never because of the desperate desire to hide even from our very selves the reality of death and dying, but to embrace this very event that the Church sees, not as something that ends life, but one that transforms life. We pray in the Preface of Masses for the dead: “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.” When we as believers and members of Christ’s body the Church celebrate, we do so not because we want to forget and anesthetize ourselves albeit temporarily from the possibility of one day having to let go of this worldly life, but because we precisely want to remember. We celebrate, not to forget, but to remember!

We remember the oft-repeated theme of death through life that shines out in almost every book of the Old and the New Testaments. We remember the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites, who, as they escaped, were already given up for dead by the pursuing Egyptians. We remember the Israelites as they languished in a state of what appeared to be partial death, or the process of a slow death of people wandering aimlessly in the desert, far from their homes, far from the food they loved, far from the pots of meat they got so used to in Egypt. We remember the “death” of a people brought to shameful exile in Babylon. We remember the so many times, powerful men and powerful nations sought to crush to death a determined people so committed to bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth, despite the pain, despite the persecution, despite all the odds stacked against them. We remember the saints and martyrs who, while dying bodily, actually brought new life of hope to millions who looked up to them during their own earthly Passovers of suffering, death and new life. We remember Christ, the Good Shepherd, the suffering servant, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness … he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)

Yes, our celebration in Church is an anamnesis, a memorial, a special remembering! It is a memorial that, whilst based on the past and grounded on the present, is focused a whole lot more on the future, on what lies ahead. It is a remembrance that does not produce regret, but a forward-looking and forward-moving active memorial that makes what is past, a present unfolding reality that at the same time, speaks so glowingly of what is to come.

In a word, it is a celebration of hope.

Today, we remember all our deceased relatives, friends, fellow believers and all those who have died and gone ahead of us – all the faithful departed. And we do the remembering most especially in the context of a sacrificial memorial that has become an efficacious sign and reality of the gradual transformation taking place in our personal and communal lives that is salvation. Memory and reality jell and mould together as we gather to worship and praise Him who commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

I am sure each one of you here has in his personal memory bank a list of names of people you love dearly, people who have touched your lives deeply in some way, people who have brought a little piece and a small reminder of heaven, who offered somehow to others a glimmer of hope, a ray of joy and a whole of happiness to other peoples’ lives. Perhaps they were individuals who suffered silently whilst on earth, perhaps they also made you suffer a little in some way, or who may even have convinced you in a negative way to strive to live better Christian lives, by their good examples, or even the lack of it. In many different ways, they have lived their lives in a way that made us remember what life is all about, why God has created us, and what this earthly life is headed for ultimately.

Today is a swell time for us to remember … our beloved dead, the martyrs of the Church, all the named and unnamed saints who constitute what our Christian tradition calls the “Church triumphant” for whose honor the Church on earth has dedicated yesterday, November 1. We remember all those who have died but who still may need our prayers, those whom Christian tradition calls members of the “Church suffering.” And we remember one another, members of the “Church militant,” who are still struggling, trying to make sense of so many things we go through in this world that is so full of questions and uncertainties. We pray for each other that we may be as strong in the faith as those whose memories we keep and treasure today, that when our day comes, we may pass the supreme test and be able to claim along with St. Paul: “I have run the race, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.”

This song by Marty Haugen, a favorite of mine, seems to encapsulize these thoughts and would, therefore, best conclude this reflection:

We remember how you loved us to your death,
And still we celebrate, for you are with us here;
And we believe that we will see you
When you come in your glory, Lord
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

1. Here a million wounded souls are yearning to touch you and be healed
Gather all your people and hold them to your heart.

2. Now we recreate your love, we bring the bread and wine to share a meal.
Sign of grace and mercy, the presence of the Lord.

3. Christ, the Father’s great “Amen” to all the hopes and dreams of every heart,
Peace beyond all telling, and freedom from all fear.

4. See the face of Christ revealed in every person standing by your side,
Gift to one another, and temples of your love.

Monday, October 20, 2008

SEEK ALWAYS THE FACE OF THE LORD!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 26, 2008

Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / 1 Thess 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40


Our TV screens, which are getting bigger. brighter, and clearer all the time, are full of faces. Familiar faces, beautiful and handsome faces of our favorite anchorwomen and men, newscasters, actors and actresses, politicians, why even religious leaders and televangelists, they come straight out of the TV screens and invade the privacy of our living rooms (and bedrooms) every day of our lives. They become one with us. They form part of our daily regimen. We not only see them (even in the increasing number of glossy, expensive magazines that have, of late, made inroads to our national psyche). We also hear them talking above the normal din of everyday household noise. Who among us is not familiar with the faces of movie stars endorsing a favorite fast-food product, whether local or foreign? Who among us would not recognize politicians-turned-product endorsers whose faces are found in all our major thoroughfares?

We do not have to be searching far and wide to see the faces of those whom we love or admire. The society we live in is awash in all types of faces, of all shapes and sizes, all features and all traits. The faces we long to see are just a flip of a page or a click of that ubiquitous remote control away (or, increasingly, a click away in this social networking age via digital technology)!

There was a time when faces (and images of faces) were not too easy to find. Photography is less than 150 years old! Movie cameras just came into the scene less than a hundred years ago. Only churches and oratories had faces – images of God, the saints, and Biblical characters enshrined in awesome paintings, statues, murals and huge stained glass windows that not only portrayed pious faces of yore. They also told narratives of greatness, Christian heroism, sanctity and martyrdom. They told stories about a God who was in the famous words of a theologian, Otto, I think, it was – tremendum et fascinosum, (a tremendous and fascinating God), Rex tremendae majestatis (King of tremendous majesty)!

It was not difficult to look for the “face” of God. It was not difficult to see God everywhere. The world, to use the words of Hopkins, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” To be prayerful, to come to recollection, to fathom the depth of the mystery of this God all seemed simple and easy enough. Churches, and even little family altars, all spoke of a God whose face was near, whose presence was felt – albeit in the hushed, subdued tones of reverence inside dark, smoke-filled and candlelit chapels and naves. God’s face shone above all others. The face of holiness, the smells and sights of sanctity, were unmistakably present in the innumerable holy places of a not-too-distant past.

Today, the liturgy opens with a quote from Psalm 105:3-4 (the entrance antiphon). “Let hearts rejoice who search the Lord. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek always the face of the Lord.” This, we are counseled, amidst a time and culture awash in thousands of faces other than, apart from, and different from, the holy face of God.

Nowadays, the face of God, is buried under an avalanche of so many other faces. The countenance of God has long been blurred by the glitter and glamour of famous celluloid faces that invade our homes each day. The hushed and silent presence of a deeply felt divinity hiding behind a veil of mystery in chapels and churches and incense-filled altars all over has, for long, been replaced by the irreverence of noise, color, and action-filled images courtesy of the mass media of communication. Teresa Tomeo hits the nail right on the head. Speaking of the media, she wrote a book entitled appropriately and truly as “Noise.” The face of an attentive, listening and caring personal God has all but disappeared now in a culture that prizes a God somehow present in a kind of generic way through simple and short stories that somehow make the reader feel good about himself. Have you noticed how our bookstores are crammed with “inspirational” books that are nothing but anthologies of such stories that inspire, above all, and do no more than make us think pious thoughts that are then mistaken for deep religious sentiments? Spirituality thus is taken over by shallow religious feelings. Pious thoughts and feelings take the place of a deep religious personal commitment. It is no wonder that contemporary culture, according to many spiritual authors, stands witness to the eclipse of God in the lives of modern women and men of our times. God has been progressively overshadowed by the clutter of so much consumerism and materialism, on the one hand, and the self-centered pursuit of pleasure, on the other. The face of God is thus trivialized, if not taken for granted, or downright ignored.

Today, as we join the whole Church in giving fitting worship to the God who showed His face to Moses and the prophets of old, the God who showed His human face in Jesus Christ our Lord, His only Son, we are brought once more face to face with the reality of His ongoing presence in the Church, and in the world, and in the person of each and every believer.

Where is the face of God, according the first reading from the Book of Exodus? How are we to see His countenance? Exodus shows us where to find His face – in those of widows and orphans and aliens. These are the anawim – the poor of Yahweh, those who enjoy God’s predilection. These are those who, being poor, can only call on God who is their strength, their rock, their fortress, their deliverer. And God did not fail them. He showed His compassionate face to the needy, the weak and the powerless.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, gives thanks on behalf of the Thessalonians who “turned away from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven.” (1 Thess 1:9) In effect, he tells his spiritual sons and daughters that they did well turning their backs to false images, false faces of the true God. The Thessalonians did not fall for the call of idolatry and the worship of false gods.

The Gospel sheds further light on how to behold the true countenance of God. The way, Jesus says, is not through learning alone. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees of Jesus’ times prided themselves in being learned. They knew everything there was to know. The Pharisees were walking experts in the minutest details of the Law – all 613 provisions in all! The Sadducees loved philosophical and academic discussions. In today’s passage, one scholar, a Pharisee, was sent to trap Jesus and asked: Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” Jesus’ answer is the clincher for us today. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Herein lies the answer to our deepest inquiry today! Where are we to find the true countenance, the genuine face of God? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms! It is in LOVE. It is through LOVE. And it is only because of LOVE that we can see His face everywhere. St. John tells us: “God is love.” The best commandment is therefore to become what He is, to do as He did, “for love is of God.” “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4)

That love, however, ought not to rest solely in God. It ought to spill over to others. And as a sure-fire guarantee that it becomes a fruitful search for God’s countenance, we are commanded to give that love to God, others and oneself. We are told to love Him in the faces of the poor, the downtrodden, the needy, the widows and orphans who have no power whatsoever.

This is then, the only way we can see the true face of God. Those who are too preoccupied with their own selves, with their own concerns, their own selfish interests – in other words – those who do not know and have love other than for themselves, will miss God altogether. Too focused on their own countenance, they are bound to fail to see God in the faces of others. Again, to quote Hopkins, “Christ acts in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

GIVE THE LORD, GLORY AND HONOR; HE ALONE, FOR THERE IS NO OTHER!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 19, 2008


People get worried sick and frightened each time they think of battle alarms, war mongerings and posturings of people who seemed to have been born with an armalite rifle beside them. If we look at this last century just ended, with all the battles waged all over, with two world wars indelibly etched in the annals of human history in a matter of a hundred years, with the on-going threat of total annihilation, whether from nuclear, chemical or biological means, we would most likely ask ourselves – and even God Himself: IS THERE SOMEONE IN-CHARGE? IS THERE A GOD IN CONTROL OF HUMAN AND WORLD EVENTS? DOES GOD CARE AT ALL FOR THE OUTCOME OF HISTORY? IS HISTORY ON THE SIDE OF GOD?

These are legitimate questions. They speak about worries and fears that grip the human heart – today, as in the times of Isaiah, the prophet.

Let us go back a bit in time. You would remember that sometime in the history of ancient Israel, the great Kingdom of Babylon put all of Israel to rout, destroyed the glorious temple at Jerusalem, and banished all the Israelites to bitter exile in Babylon. This is known as the great Babylonian exile – a time of great sadness, a time filled with deep anguish and longing for the Jerusalem of old, for the temple – a time of profound zeal for the God who revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites – a God besides whom there was no other. We get a glimpse of this sadness and longing in the words of the psalmist “By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:11).

The Jews were pining for peace in their own land; they were longing to be reinstated in the land promised to them by Yahweh. Our questions now were also their questions; our worries now, their worries then. The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah answered them. The same Lord of history now answers us, too.

It is all too easy for us to lose our bearings when our expected salvation from God seems to be derailed by events that seem to be irreconcilable with God and His abiding presence in our lives. Why is there so much graft and corruption in our government? Why does God not do anything about it? Why is there so much hunger in the world? Why do evil men’s ways prosper and all that I endeavor end in disappointment (to quote Hopkins again!)?

Today’s liturgy are a big blow to our utter lack of appreciation for what God does, for what He is, in relation to human history. Isaiah gives us a powerful reminder about how God anointed Cyrus, the Persian, who in the year 538 B.C. issued an edict liberating the Jews from Babylon and allowing them to go back to Israel in order to rebuild the city and the temple. Isaiah takes care to point out that even Cyrus belonged to God (anointed him) and used him to write straight with crooked lines. Through Isaiah, Yahweh declares both to Cyrus and us: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

The Good News today is, indeed, good news to us who have a tendency to lose verve, focus, and courage at the thought of so many problems there are in the world (not excluding the big worry that now fills our minds and hearts – the big economic meltdown that governments are still in denial about). Who among us did not feel a certain discouragement at the seven-year old tragedy of September 11, 2001? Who among us did not experience some form of helplessness and hopelessness at the thought that things may be happening and no one up there seems to mind? Who among us now can claim he or she is not worried one bit about the undeniable recession that is beginning to take the whole world in its grip? It is now time for us to reclaim that lost trust, that loosening grip of faith in our hearts as the Lord reminds us in the person of Cyrus: that He uses all, including people, to ultimately further His plans; that things will ultimately fall into place; that the events of the world are happening not without guidance, not without anyone’s knowing. The Lord is firmly in-charge, and He even makes use of someone like Cyrus, who did not even believe in Him to start with. Cyrus, it must be remembered, called on a different God, for he was not a Jew. But no matter what name he used to call on his God, Isaiah and the Israelites knew that ultimately he was calling on the God of Israel, for there was no one else beside Him; He alone was the Lord! There was no question here of making choices for one or the other. There was only one God – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, of Jacob – and that included the God of Cyrus!

This Good News is corroborated and confirmed by the Gospel. Wanting to entrap Jesus, the Pharisees sent people to question him about duties to the emperor, whose image is stamped on coins. It thus belonged to Caesar, and what belonged to him must be given to him. The implication of his answer, however, is what Isaiah already said long before. God is the only God, besides whom there is no other. Everything belonged to Him, including Caesar, including Cyrus. Therefore only to God is due all honor and glory. There was no question of making choices here for either one or the other. The choice is clear – for God alone. It is therefore a mistake to read into this Gospel passage the issue of Church and State relations. It has nothing to do with the legal doctrine of separation between Church and State. It only has to do with the right relationship between humanity and God. And that right relationship meant all human activity, including economics and politics all fall within the sway of God and His Divine Will.

Throughout human history, we have had tyrants, we have had benevolent dictators, despots, and even criminals, (even very bad Popes and bishops – and of, course, priests!). We have seen so many wars, so much strife, so much disunity between and among peoples and nations. There was, and is, enough to keep us worried and fearful.

But the Good News maintains that the world is being directed purposefully, by God, who uses people to unfold His plan. There is a definite finality to everything. And that finality is written by God Himself.

In the meantime, however, there is a role for each of us to do. We all have to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. We have to do our roles as citizens of this world and of our country. We cannot live as if we were already in heaven. We do have to worry about everyday earthly things, like trash management, the traffic, paying taxes, doing our civic duties, etc. And we definitely will have to do something about the inevitable global warming, which has caused havoc in terms of the erratic and violent climate patterns we have been experiencing in recent years! Whilst we should give glory to God alone, we ought to remember that the “glory of God is man fully human, fully alive” (St. Irenaeus). It means that while we look up to God and long for Him in prayer, our feet and hands are fully occupied in work that also redounds to His glory. Our feet must be firmly planted on the ground. And our hands must be busy doing His work, and being in solidarity with others. Gone are the days of individualistic, privatistic spirituality that revolves only around “personal sanctification” that has nothing to do with social responsibility, social concern, and a commitment to social transformation. This, St. Paul also confirms as he thanks God for the Thessalonians as he called to mind their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.” They, too, like Cyrus, like Caesar, like all of us, belong to God. They were, like us, “loved by God” and “chosen” by Him.

All this boils down to one simple thing. Praising God, giving glory to Him, and loving Him ought not to translate into mere lip service. It is hard work. It is hard work precisely because God needs us to further His plan in the world. That means we ought to take seriously our duty to “give to God what belongs to God” even as “we give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” This calls for responsibility and fidelity to the calling He has given us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next time you feel afraid and worried, try thinking about what you could do about it in your own little world. No matter how little, if that is the best you could, that is good enough for God. In the final analysis, it is not your ability that counts, but your availability.

Monday, October 6, 2008

FOREVER LIVING IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD!

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!