20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B
August 16, 2009
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

People watch a whole lot of things. They watch their weight, for one. They watch their step, as they amble about in places that have not been designed for semi-invalids that many people are fast becoming in our times, owing to obesity. In the Philippines, people with expensive and not-so-expensive cell phones alike watch out for thugs who are ready at any given time, to run away with their coveted communication-pieces-cum-camera-and-MP3 player all rolled into one. Pedestrians, long since deprived of their rightful turf – the sidewalks – watch traffic both before and behind them, fully aware that in the Philippines, the right of pedestrians seems to have been relegated to oblivion. Although the infamous “Filipino time” still wreaks havoc on our societal lives, people keep on watching the time in an age when timepieces need not be worn, but are seen everywhere: in the cell phones, in buses, jeepneys, cars, radios, desktop computers, laptops, PDAs, netbooks, etc.

Why, people even watch their favorite movie and telenovela stars live and grow on a day-to-day basis! How else explain the popularity of “showbiz” talk shows both on radio and TV, where even the lurid details of their private lives are fair game to the prying eyes and ears of the talk show hosts and the general public? People are ever on the lookout for the latest scoop, the most recent snippets, a close look at the goings on in the lives of others, especially celebrities.

Despite so much money put into physical self-care as evidenced by the amount of commerce created by cosmetic companies and body care specialists, there is little self-introspection, little attention to one’s inner self in the prevailing culture of our times. Inner work, that capacity to make that “journey inwards,” to use the term of Dag Hammarskjold, is not the most popular pastime in this fast-paced and superficially inspired world.

There is something in today’s readings that beckons us to do just this: watching carefully how we live, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians (2nd reading). Proverbs 9 (2nd reading) confirms and supports this as it talks about the need for wisdom linked with the idea of “understanding.” Wisdom is represented as “food” and “drink” and those called to share in it are also enjoined to “forsake foolishness … [and] advance in the way of understanding.”

Now this constitutes a very good platform to base a reflection on vis-à-vis the need for us to be on the “watch.”

We are on the watch for so many things, so many concerns most of which are earthly in character. Today we are reminded to be on the look-out for wisdom that transcends earthly interests, “because the days are evil.” We are on the watch for the latest information, the latest “scoop,” but we are reminded to look for wisdom instead of “ignorance.” This wisdom is equated with trying to “understand what is the will of the Lord.” We watch what we eat and we value pleasure and comfort all the way, but today are enjoined not to “get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”

Watching carefully how we live … There is need for us to do some serious stock-taking in terms of how we live. Decades of continual bombardment by the media, years of exposure to a mentality that, for all intents and purposes, borders on the post-modern and the post-christian, have dulled our sensitivity of heart and soul, muddled our sense of values and subverted our priorities. I love to use the word that epitomizes the current concern of moralists in our times: co-optation. For the great majority, years of exposure to what is prevalent at the moment has resulted in co-optation. People have long been co-opted into thinking that whatever is current must be correct; that what is prevalent must be perfect; and that what is socially acceptable must be morally irreprehensible! War is OK, for that is the current commonly held doctrine of the capitalist world! Swinging in and out of relationships must be OK, too, for that is the commonly lived practice among celebrities. Abortion and birth control must be alright, for that is what is dictated by “sound” economic concerns and financial planning. For many people, the rule seems to be so simplistic: less is more! Less people would mean more comfort and a higher and better quality of life for all.

We do watch carefully how we live. Unfortunately, we keep watch only on the first “half” of our lives, not the totality of it. We keep watch only on the earthly aspect of this life, not the fullness of it. We remain on the superficial, earthly level, not on the wholistic reality of human life that embraces also the spiritual, the supernatural, the divine component of our being created “in God’s image and likeness.”

Here is one activity we are all engaged in right at this moment, as we all join hands and hearts to praise God together and worship Him in this Eucharistic celebration. Here is one sure-fire way of gaining that wisdom that the first two readings are speaking about – the “food and drink” that is given “for the life of the world.” This is as much a sign of things to come as an actual sign of an unfolding reality. This is food that offers “life within [us].” Nay more, it offers “eternal life.” This is, as St. Thomas puts it, a PIGNUS (pledge) of present and future glory, for “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

There was a time in the history of Catholic spirituality when people were so enamored and so influenced by the Eucharistic, real presence of the Lord, that they spent long hours giving a “pious stare” at the Eucharistic Lord. They used to call this Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. People stayed in church for long hours enjoying the earthly – if, limping – vision of the Risen Lord’s real presence in and through the sign of bread. Nowadays, material time for this in a culture dominated by work and entertainment, seems no longer possible. But the inner attitude of one who lives in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord all day still is, and will never become, irrelevant and anachronistic. Whilst we cannot sit and watch anymore as we used to; whilst we cannot anymore stare at the Eucharistic Lord as people used to do decades back; whilst it is no longer possible to be absorbed in vocal prayer all day long, we still can – and, in fact, are called - to watch carefully how we live, in the spirit of prayerful union with the God we claim to believe in. Now is a good time to re-appropriate this faith in Jesus, made flesh, made bread for us.

Let us watch what we receive today. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever!”