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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
1st Sunday of Advent (C)

November 29, 2009

There is something rousing in today’s readings. For those uninitiated to the literary genre employed called apocalyptic writing, there is a “clear and present danger” of being led to fear, not peace of mind. After all, Jeremiah’s words were set historically amidst the context of a city – Jerusalem – under siege.

Jeremiah was talking to a people who needed a little moral upliftment, given the “world-ending” scenario they were experiencing! Jesus in the Gospel passage from Luke talks as if to reinforce whatever feelings the Israelite audience of Jeremiah had. He spoke of cataclysmic signs, the likes of which one does not ordinarily even dream of. Such surrounding circumstances are made as backdrop to the coming of the awaited one – “the Son of Man, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

We need to sift the chaff from the grain. We need to see the message as distinct from the medium. We need to be a little literary sleuth in order to get the all important content and discard the non-essential context that acts as wrapping or prop for that one important message.

And that message for today, the first day of Advent, is simply this: the Lord is coming!

That was the basic message of Jeremiah. But in order to get the attention of his listeners, he had to frame his message in the very real, existential context of their “sitz im leben,” their life situation, their current phenomenological experience! They were a people under siege. And a people under siege needed to hear words of promise and comfort, not fear. They needed to reminded that behind all those sufferings and trials they were facing, there is one undeniable certainty that is bound to take place according to the will of the God they believed and hoped in. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days I will raise up for David a shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” Number 1 message for today, therefore, has to do with the promises of the Lord. They are soon to be fulfilled!

Promises… coming… waiting… these are important concepts to “sit sazen” with today (read: contemplate on in solitude). Advent has to do with all three – and more! Advent has to do with waiting, not in fear, but in hope, for the promises of the Lord will soon be fulfilled.

Our basic catechism has taught us at least these two things: one … historically speaking, the Lord has come. He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man like us (Christmas). Second, he still comes to us now in grace through the ministry of the Church and the sacraments (liturgy). These constitute the “already” of our faith – reality that has unfolded and still unfolds. But there is a third reality that we all still await – the “not yet” of our faith – his definitive coming to bring the fullness of salvation, the “reality” behind the symbolic cataclysmic, world-ending events we have grown accustomed to hearing yet not fully understanding!

What, then, do we make now of all this? What impact do these promises of his definitive coming have in our personal and societal lives as Christians, as catholics?

To be very honest, we also live in the context of so many little versions of these “world-ending” events. Our world seems about to end when we lose hope, when we lose our composure and our sense of equanimity and interior peace when things do not go according to our expectations. Our little world seems to collapse when we get sorely disappointed when dreams do not come true, when plans fall flat on their faces, and our best intentions are even misread, misconstrued, and even rash judged by others. Our world collapses when we do not get that much-coveted position, job, or esteem from others. People fight little wars inside themselves, apart and beyond the wars being fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and everywhere there is the modern-day scourge of threats of terrorism. People fight fruitless wars of mutual envy, hatred, and broken relationships in and out of family systems, in politics, in businesses and in so-called civil society. Millions are currently fighting terminal and painful illnesses that are totally unexpected and definitely unwanted. In other words, there are all the reasons available to be less than optimistic and downright hopeless about the future. Cynicism can pervade our hearts and minds as we see ourselves powerless and helpless before so many problems in the world, particularly in the arena of politics and government.

This is where Advent liturgy can help us. Perhaps we can get a clue from St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Today, he offers us two things: a prayer/wish for all of us, that the Lord may make us “increase and abound in love for one another,” and, an exhortation that we may “conduct ourselves to please God.” The original word used for “conduct” really was peripateo, which means to walk according to the ethical and moral standards of Christ.

Here, then, we have an invitation to walk in the way of Christ, to follow, in particular what we may call an Advent way of life. Promises, coming, waiting are all words that beckon us to be hopeful. But all this hoping is not a type of waiting done by people who cannot do anything more than being passively resigned. It is a type of waiting that has been roused by a certain very real urgency. That type of active waiting is what the Lord’s words today ought to lead us to: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” Advent way of life is a waiting that is not like the waiting of someone who somehow hopes to strike it rich by winning the lotto. Advent waiting is not like the waiting of someone who somehow hopes terrorism and wars will end someday. Advent waiting is not just passive anticipation at best, or cynical resignation, at worst. Advent waiting, the advent way of life is to walk, to move, to work so that what we hope for becomes a reality in our lives. That means concretely, peace and justice becoming real and palpable in our families, in our parishes, and in our communities.

I add two big words for all of us to reflect on today: anticipation and incarnation. Advent waiting simply put, is not just anticipating something, like children anticipate passively and longingly Santa Claus’ gifts from the list they are now making or have made already. No, advent waiting has to do with incarnating the reasons for our hope. It has to do with acting, behaving and doing in accordance with the hopes that we have in our hearts. It means not only being forward-looking, but also, being forward-moving.

We all long for peace, justice and love. We all wait for that definitive coming of the Son of Man, for the real end-times, for the time, when “there will be no more tears, no more crying, no more pain.” But as we live in this “in-between” time that is the here and now, as we wait actively in hope, we just have to contribute and work to make all that happen in the here and now. It means being a little more focused, being a little more kind and gentle and understanding, being a little more aware of the gentle, unassuming presence of God in our daily lives.

The saints have shown us the way. Sanctity is not in the unusual, the other-worldly, the unreal. Sanctity is in the daily realities of life. Sanctity, Wicks writes, is found in ordinariness. “Ordinariness is palpable holiness.” St. John Bosco said the same thing long ago. Talking to St. Dominic Savio, he said that sanctity consisted in doing one’s ordinary duties, extraordinarily well. Simple yet profound.

In daily ordinariness, we wait for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises. But as we wait, we walk with the Lord along the way of his commands, along the paths that lead to peace.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Sunday Reflection/Catholic Homily

Solemnity of Christ the King(B)

November 22, 2009

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14 / Rev 1:5-8 / Jn 18:33b-37

A spate of movies that focus on end-time mega disasters seems to hog the world’s attention – and morbid curiosity – in our days and times! I am sure my readers all await the release of the much-ballyhooed movie 2012 since its trailers started keeping the world in rapt attention these past months.

I am not about to dissuade you from seeing what is basically designed to entertain, even as I did not tell people not to watch the “Da Vinci Code” and its sequel (I actually would want to see it!). In fact, it is just as well for me, for as a preacher and teacher, it is always good to have something that juts out concretely from daily human experience that could be used as jump-off point to discuss something that goes beyond merely human experience. The philosopher Gadamer has a 64 dollar word for it – “fusion of horizons!” Preaching is partly doing a fusion of horizons, sort of … It has to do with bridging the gap between the arena of daily human experience with the meaning of that experience from God’s point of view.

Too bad, however, people are keen to see the pole of human experience, but often fail to see what lies beyond the pale of human experience. Engrossed as we often all are in the nitty gritty of our everyday lives, we fail to see the wider horizon of meaning – the area where experience becomes a starting point for wisdom, for life-changing wisdom, that leads us to see more, not less, from whatever it is we live on a day-to-day basis.

We have seen so many disasters in our short or long lives – whether natural or man-made. For my generation, we have seen and witnessed quite a few major temblors that wrought palpable havoc and destruction to human life and property. We have seen enough typhoons in our lives to know that when tragedy strikes, humans are powerless to go against forces that are bigger than the world, bigger than him, and even bigger than life itself. Again, for my generation, we have seen enough of man-made tragedies that those of us who are a little more sensitive do know that the forces of evil can unleash enough energy to make millions and millions of peoples’ lives miserable, unsafe, and uncertain!

I personally have seen enough of the tragedy called Philippine politics that has wrought havoc to our people’s future since we started running this country “like hell as Filipinos,” instead of having it “run like heaven by foreigners”.

Tragedy is definitely part and parcel of our lives. It basically springs from the original tragedy called sin by Sacred Scriptures. We know what that means. We know that terrorism happened as early as Abel and Cain’s times. We know that cheating took place even among brothers named Jacob and Esau, and we do know that between you and I, there remains the possibility spoken of so well in the New Testament: “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

But endings do have a way to remind us of something that goes beyond endings. When something ends, in whatever way – cataclysmic, dramatic, or in a way more akin to just sort of “fading away” like the waning sunset does on a clear, quiet, summer eve, we are led to reflect on what it all could possibly mean for us. We are invited to become a little more philosophical, a little more theological, if you will.

Endings do make us grapple with a world that transcends the here and now. We are invited to move to a different realm- the realm of meaning.

We started to pore through this world of meanings these past few Sundays. In fact, the previous Sunday, we heard something from Daniel, who spoke of the end-times: “those who sleep shall awake.” Today, the Solemnity of Christ the King, we hear more from Daniel. But this time around, it is more direct and straightforward … He speaks about the coming of the Son of Man with details that approximate the images of 2012, the movie. This language is called apocalyptic language, couched in symbolisms that mean more than what it says literally.

But whilst 2012 and other disaster films lead us to fear, such is not the aim of apocalyptic literature. Daniel and other books of Scripture that speak of the coming end-times aim, not at instilling fear, but at fostering wisdom – the sort of wisdom that makes us see the final goal of our existence, and not the means that are available for us to reach that goal. It is meant to lead us to a higher realm of theological and spiritual meaning – the realm of wisdom!

What is this wisdom all about? Let’s get it straight from the “horse’s mouth!” At the opening prayer, we begged the Lord thus: “Almight God, you break the power of evil and make all things new …” Similarly, in the alternate prayer, we asked: “free all the world to rejoice in his peace, to glory in his justice, to live in his love.”

As you all see, this is not the language of fear, not the language of terror, but the language of salvation!

And this is the height of meaning that today’s feast brings us. Our Lord is King … yes … but King only for our sake, and not so much for his sake. He is proclaimed King not because he needs it, but because we need to have one Lord, one King, one Master and not a plurality of masters and false lords that we humans serve at one and the same time.

We need to have a King to rally behind. In a world that is beset, besotted by, and beholden to so many false gods, we need to have one common rallying point and one common Lord to bring us back to the paths that lead to peace.

This is the spiritual wisdom that matters. This is the meaning that makes wonders. Fear makes us servile and servitude makes for so many unfreedoms. Tragedies make us paralyzed on account of uncertainty. The tragedies of our sinful political structure keep us poor, dependent, and utterly hopeless from the human point of view. Sin has engulfed most of our human structures of governance, leadership, and much everything else.

But endings are beginnings. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, for one. When one see more, and not less, we see beyond. We see above. We see more that just what the movie 2012 tells us and shows us.

Let’s go beyond 2012 then. Let’s listen to what Scriptures and today’s liturgy tell us. For everyone who “belongs to the truth, listens to Christ’s voice.” May all in heaven and earth acclaim his glory and never cease to praise him. (Opening Prayer).

Chicago, IL 60605

November 15, 2009

10:30 AM

Monday, November 9, 2009


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

33rd Sunday of the Year(B)

November 15, 2009

We are at the second to the last Sunday of this liturgical year. We are bordering on the ending of a year of the Church. Endings connote many things, including the idea of wrapping up events in the course of a journey, a process, a life trajectory. Endings entail at times having to rush things, so as to put a final note to a course of events, giving final touches to a paper due in school, wrapping up a lifetime project, perhaps, to top off a list of glowing achievements in the course of one’s life. Endings are represented by a period, a full stop.

The liturgy today does speak, too, of endings, but not in the senses enumerated above. Endings are really beginnings, if we go by what the readings today tell us. In the Bible, the end-times are really not so much the end of an era, as the beginning of a new one, one that is represented by a language that follows a style all its own, known as apocalyptic language, which portrays, pictures and symbolizes, more than it foretells.

The Book of Daniel belongs to such a category of writings. In symbolic, but not abstruse terms, Daniel portrays the beginning of new life – thus alluding to the resurrection of the dead: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”

Today’s reflection is a logical follow-up and enrichment of last two week’s commemoration of all souls. Death, we said, for the Christian is not sad, but a happy ending-beginning of life as it was originally planned for and willed by God – immortal and unending, like His own, created as we are in His image and likeness. Death, we were reminded, does not end life but changes it, because Jesus went ahead of us and showed us the way: “In him, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality” (Preface of Christian Death I).

There is need for us to look at things from a different perspective. We are generally caught up in the rush and in the drive to complete things, and to top off everything we do with a sense of finality. We look at time as limited and as something that has to end at some point that we feel compelled always to do all we can to leave a mark in society, to achieve something, to make our lives meaningful, and to make a dent in the world of finite men and women.

We often forget to look at the bigger picture. We often miss the reality that life is one single continuum, and that, whilst it has a beginning, we are really called by God to live forever. We often miss the forest for a few trees. We focus so much on what is concrete here and now, and forget that there is a bigger world out there, a bigger reality that is awaiting us in the “next” life. Christ in today’s gospel passage, using the same apocalyptic style of speaking, reminds us to focus a little more on what awaits us. And what indeed awaits us, is portrayed through an image of a solicitous and caring God who gathers together His “elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” This is not the language of fear, but the language of solicitous love from a God who continually reminds us to work more for what really matters and not for what simply glitters. On that great and glorious day, those who sleep shall awake.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

November 8, 2009

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16 / Heb 9:24-28 / Mk 12:38-44

Widows and orphans, traditionally, represent the poorest, the neediest, the most forgotten, and the least noticed in society. Widows don’t make people’s heads turn. They merit no “respect” (literally in Latin, respect means “a second look”) from people of the world. They never attract the attention of people of means.

Today, however, we see two widows taking center stage. The first won the attention of a prophet in need. Elijah, on seeing her gathering sticks, asked her a favor: “Bring me a cupful of water to drink.” Emboldened by her enthusiastic response, Elijah asked further: “Please bring along a bit of bread.” With all her remaining strength, she dished out nourishment for Elijah, and tossed out her earthly security.

The second widow won the attention of no less than Jesus himself. Teaching about being fully and truly oneself, Jesus makes use of an apparently negligible act of that widow, to illustrate live what he spoke of with love. “Amen, Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” For this widow dropped in more than just her last two coins. She put in all she had … and more … She tossed in two coins, and tossed out herself selflessly and entirely in the process.

The bit players and supporting cast in this drama of reversals – the scribes, who “like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces” – wind up being up-ended by the totally unexpected, as if to prove the Lord’s words: “the first will be last; and the last will be first.” This, for one simple and basic reason …

No, I am not referring to giving per se. Today’s good news cannot be reduced to a “mission fund drive” in which givers vie with each other and compete for who ends up giving more, proportionately or otherwise. I am referring to being, not having. I am referring to quality, not quantity. And I am referring to what the Gospel of Mark today paints so clearly with a dose of evangelical irony. I refer to the candor and simplicity of a poor woman who feels no need to behave differently from what she really is.

We all love to be noticed. We all desire to be looked up to and extolled due to some real – or mostly imaginary – greatness! We have a deep need for entitlement. And we claim it from others, by hook or by crook. We feel crossed when we don’t get what we expect. We make tantrums. We make people pay for what they don’t give us in a variety of ways, not excluding the so-called “cold shoulder” treatment, ignoring others, or simply not talking to them for some lengths of time.

Today, I would like this reflection to go beyond the theme of the widow’s mite. I would like us to reflect more on the many ways we behave like those scribes, endlessly focused on cutting a good figure before the world and other people. I would like us to realize how the scribe in each and every one of us prevents us from becoming the giving persons we all are meant to be.

In our individualistic, materialistic, and consumeristic world culture, narcissism – that overweening love for self that poses as the single biggest block to what Rolheiser calls the “holy longing” – the innately spiritual bent in each and every person born in this world – stands behind many people’s inability to truly love, and to give of themselves fully. In many people’s disordered love for self, they are unable and unwilling to dish out help to others, for they believe that by doing so, they toss out themselves in the process.

We know this in classical Christian spirituality as the sin of selfishness. Overly focused on themselves, narcissists cannot love anybody but themselves. Concerned only with their image, their needs, and their own gain, they are unable to give anything beyond what they have no need for. Along with what Rolheiser also calls “unbridled restlessness,” and “pragmatism,” “narcissism” prevents otherwise good people from being the holy persons they are called to be.

Narcissists, like the scribes, are paralyzed in their self-aggrandizing vision of who they are. They care not much for anyone else, outside of themselves.

The SIN of selfishness, however, like every other sin, has a big “I” in the middle. That is the bad news. “All men have fallen short of the glory of God.” The Gospel passage of today, however, offers us great news. But this great news strikes home and hits hard. It puts us all face to face with our real selves, and with the very real tendency of this “I” – the Ego, if you will – to act and behave exactly like the scribes whom the Lord spoke against thus: “Beware of the scribes …”

Yes, we do have to be wary of ourselves, our unredeemed selves. We have to “get real.” We have to claim fully who we are before we can give anything that we have or own. Selfish people who have no adequate self-possession have not much else to give to others. For selfish people are always needy. They are always in want. And there is precious little that can satisfy the one who thinks the world owes him everything.

The Markan passage of today does not put together two apparently unconnected parts for nothing. The widow and her generous gift could not have taken place if she, like the Scribes, was too full of herself to be able to care at all for anyone else. She was generous and self-giving. But that self-giving ability really boils down to the reality of a person who was inwardly rich, albeit outwardly poor. Having nothing, she possessed all. She didn’t have anything that mattered much, but she definitely had much that ultimately mattered.

What ultimately mattered was herself. She was a self-possessed person … self-possessed enough to give even the last morsel she needed to live on. Fully herself, she was able to give truly of her self.

“Give us freedom of spirit, O Lord, … to do your work on earth” (Opening Prayer).