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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AS ONE WHO GROWS AND MAKES GROW, NOT ONE WHO MERELY CROWS AND GLOWS


Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

February 1, 2009

Readings: Dt 18:15-20 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mk 1:21-28

Authority under any form or guise all over the world is not the most esteemed fact everywhere in our postmodern times. At best, authority is merely tolerated. At worst, it is looked down on and smirked upon. Royalties, or those trying hard to pass off as royalty are seen as anachronistic features in a world characterized by what some authors call the “compression of time” and the “contraction of space.”

So, what are we doing here today, given the fact that the 1st and the 3rd readings both speak of authority?

We can find a clue to this riddle if only we go right back to the testimony of God’s word. Human authority per se, is hardly acceptable in many cases during our times. But authority, in the mind of God, is something that is not man-made. It is not something self-imposed. It is a gift given, shared, entrusted, and allotted to whomever God so desires. This seems clear from what Moses tells the Israelites: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him shall you listen.”

Authority comes from God, ultimately, not something we heap on ourselves. God is the supreme authority. He is the “author” of everything that is good, the author of life, the one who has ultimate responsibility over everything that exists. This, we are reminded by words that we used as response to the first reading: “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Since human authority, more often than not, crosses the bounds established by God’s will, we fall into all sorts of anxiety and worries. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” Shakespeare of old warns us. Just look at what so many around us get themselves into. The Philippine political landscape is littered with the skeletons of those who died in exchange for their unquenchable thirst for authority and more! People have died and are still dying trying to protect their turf, trying to extend their clutches on power, prestige, and privilege. Every time elections come around, certain individuals simply are silenced and made to disappear from the scene, through murder, mayhem, and malicious intrigues.

The second reading would have us look at the need for all of us to banish anxiety and worry. And it has to do with shunning every form of attachment to anything worldly and earthly – relationships, material possessions, position – and a whole lot more, all in favor of Him who is the Author of everything that exists. Peace and serenity come only from acknowledging Him alone who is the only valid, licit, and ultimate authority in our lives. “Brothers and sisters, I should like you to be free of anxieties.”

The Gospel, for its part, points to Him whom the Father designates as “one who speaks with authority” - the anointed and chosen One, sent “for the life of the world.” When he entered the synagogue, people got surprised. They were in awe at the sight of one who “taught them as one with authority and not as the scribes.” The Scribes had superficial, shallow, and sallow authority. Coming as it does from human foundations, their authority was no more than skin deep. The way they spoke might sound schooled, but not solidly founded on stable moorings. Their authority was external, not coming from interior and higher level origins and sources. Their authority was human, not divine and the people who heard them knew it. They heard them, but they did not listen to them.

And here is where the important criterion bolts away and sprints away from flimsy foundations. And that criterion is that such authority can only come from outside the person. It can come only from Him who is above all women and men, on Him who is the foundation of the world and all that is in it – on God who speaks with ultimate authority and power that emanates from within Him: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

It might do us good to check up on what is the real meaning of the word authority. It comes from the Latin root word “augere” which is the root word of the English word “to augment,” “to add,” which is, therefore, related to the word “grow.” Authority is one who augments your stature, who makes you grow beyond your ken, beyond your ability, beyond your capacity. Authority is something shared, given, entrusted, and allotted by Someone to somebody else. Authority comes from Him who alone has the power to make us grow. He alone has the power to add years to our lives, to add stature to our basically wounded and sinful nature, who “have fallen short of the glory of God.”

Human authorities fall much shorter than all this. We get disappointed with them. We pinned our hopes in the past on so-called “saviors” only to find out they were just as corrupt or as inept like everybody else. We pinned our hopes for years on someone who put down a dictatorship, only to feel our jaws sag when she recently asked for apologies from someone else whom she helped topple down from his power base. Human authorities, after tasting how good a life it apparently is to hold so much power, prestige, and privilege, hem and haw when asked to step down. They plot and scheme their way through just to add years to their “public service.”

Jesus spoke with authority, and not like the way scribes did. He had an interior, deeper, and more stable power base. And that power base is no less than God, the Father, who is the ultimate source of all authority. We may be able to add years to our life, but it is God and God alone who can add life to our years.

It might be us humans who plant and sow the seeds, but it is only God who makes them grow. Only God can augment our stature. Only God can credibly stand behind our claims and pretensions to whatever titles and abilities we have. Monikers like “honorable” and “distinguished senators” and “distinguished congressmen” which all those in power love to lavish on themselves, are ultimately only skin deep. “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do their builders labor.”

We are surrounded by usurpers and pretenders to the throne many days of our lives. Authority comes cheap. All you need is a few billions of pesos to clinch it (if one speaks of being President in the Philippines). But there are pretenders, and there are real authorities that need to be listened to. They are like Christ, who speaks as one with authority. They GROW and makes others grow. They are not just noisy people “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” who only do nothing more than crow and glow … and bark orders that everybody hears, but nobody listens to.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

NEEDED: A SENSE OF URGENCY!





Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B
January 25, 2008

Readings: Jon 3:1-5,10 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mk 1:14-20

There is a sense of urgency in today’s readings that simply cannot be ignored. It is like a rousing call, an alarm, an emergency signal that needs to be paid attention to. St. Paul is even very straighforward about it: the time is running out! And the call has to be answered, not in the future, but NOW!

There is something curiously paradoxical in the way young people (and the not-so-young) look at the future. On the one hand, the future is the reason for all of one’s efforts, one’s endeavors, one’s plans. One studies for the future. One saves up for the future. On the other hand, for the young, the future lies so far out of immediate reach. It is way beyond one’s daily experience. And such a belief and attitude leads one to be kind of lackadaisical about it. There is time…we say. We’ll think of that when the time comes. Why worry? Tomorrow is still a long way off…Or so we think…

There was a time in my life, I must confess, when I thought there was a whole lifetime up ahead. When you are in the morning of your life, to borrow Jung’s famous phrase, all one thinks of is the future that seems interminable. When one is just starting out in life as a budding, hopeful young adult, one thinks he has a whole future up ahead that would take a mighty long time to unfold. One does not feel the need to hurry. One is not subject to any form of time pressure and there seems to be no real need to rush and get settled in one’s niche. Youth and relative good health may tend to make anyone oblivious of the fact that there is an inevitable end to everything, including all good things associated with youth.

Funny but it has been deeply ingrained in our psyche for so long…one always has to prepare for the future. One has to think about one’s security in the future. The future seems to be everything. The future dictates all our plans, all our worries, all our strivings. And for the young, the future is still so far off, so distant and therefore something one should not feel pressured about. Not yet anyway… until reality kicks in at some point or other in our adult lives.

All of a sudden, at some point… a sudden experience of life-threatening illness, a major negative twist in one’s career – a demotion, perhaps – or a missed opportunity that one has been avidly waiting for, only to turn to ashes, the dawning realization that one’s physical powers are no longer what they used to be, a snapped tendon after a strenuous game, a torn ligament perhaps, or a death of a contemporary or the death of someone dearer or closer to one, and then one realizes that the future has come tumbling down upon him or her without anyone noticing it.

There is something salutary about the sense of urgency that the liturgy today rouses in us. For in this globalized and product-oriented, consumeristic world, the search for a better future understood as amassing more and more material sources of security, money, possessions, power and fame, there is a very real danger in centering our focus solely to an elusive empty future that ultimately makes us all miss the reality of the now, the present, which is nothing else but the future gradually unfolding right before our very eyes. The mad rush for success, for fame, for power and for money that is believed capable of procuring all of them can indeed, blind us to the present and its power to save. I have heard so many sob and sad stories of people who work themselves to death, and amass so much money until their last breath, but they die unhappy, even bitter, sad and surly – for they failed to enjoy what they worked so hard for. They were so busy working for the future, they missed the present.

Years ago, Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago, touched me very deeply. I think it was in that novel that Pasternak, speaking through one of the characters said something memorable and directly connected with what I am reflecting on: Man is born to live, not to prepare for life!

Man (and woman) is born to live! We are all called to fullness of life, not to living more or less. And to be constantly focused on some uncertain future, to be constantly worried on something that in essence is not within our control is simply to miss living in the here and now. It means to be enslaved by it, controlled and motivated solely by it.

There is something salutary in this wake-up call that today’s readings give us. There definitely is something good when the readings ask us to change our paradigms, renew our perspectives and see things in the light of the values espoused by the Gospel proclamation of repentance and salvation. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mt 1:15) There is something salutary in our casting a fresh look at things that we think are absolute values, things that we believe we simply cannot live without. “From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using fully.”

For we modern women and men have been doing it all along…we have been treating material goods and earthly values as absolutes. Let us face it squarely. We have made demigods out of what we hold most dear in our lives. We have considered as absolutes things which are essentially, by their very nature as mortal creatures merely relative values. “For the world in its present form is passing away.”

This sense of urgency is something Simon and Andrew and James and John, must have understood from their Master. They were busy mending nets. Now that was their bread and butter. They lived on fishing. And nets are their basic tools. But Simon and Andrew, James and John considered them only for what they were – mere tools; the means, not the end in themselves. Fishers cannot be stalled forever mending nets. They are meant to fish! And when the master called them to become fishers, no longer of fish but of people, they left their tools and did what they were asked to do. They were no different from the people of Nineveh, who probably saw the anguish and the urgency in the eyes of Jonah that they repented right on the first day of Jonah’s preaching!

There is a whole lot we need to change in our paradigms, in our perspectives. There is a whole lot more we need to discard once we see things in the right perspective. What sort of things tie us down and keep us enslaved. What attitudes fetter us down to a narrow understanding of salvation? What are the things we really consider as absolutes in our lives? Fame? Fortune? Power? Like the world, they all are fast drifting away!

The call to a sense of urgency is a call directed to all of us. Perhaps this is what we as a nation has forgotten all along. We are too busy politicking, we are too busy bickering and wrangling in the name of our political loyalties and parties and selfish agendas. We have absolutized politics to a great extent in this country, even as we are fast absolutizing money and possessions if we judge by the rate of growth in graft and corruption all over the country. We have absolutized comfort and personal gain, if we judge by the percentage points of people who favor divorce, abortion, and irregular unnatural unions. We have gotten too much intertwined with the nets of comfort and personal gain and we forgot to be fishers! For many who absolutized what they do, we have focused too much on work for God (more or less) and forgot the God of the work. Time is running out, dear friends! Now is the hour. Now is the time of salvation. “And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (ROM 13:11).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

INVITATION, REFLECTION, TRANSFORMATION



N.B. I AM POSTING TWO REFLECTIONS FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009. IN THE PHILIPPINES, INSTEAD OF THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, WE CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE SANTO NINO, THE HOLY CHILD, AS THE NEXT REFLECTION AFTER THE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING REFLECTION SHOWS.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
January 18, 2009


Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10.19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15.17-20; John 1:35-42

The liturgy today opens with a rousing call. The young Samuel, probably being groomed to do something that is bigger than his young years, is roused from restful sleep not once, not twice, but thrice. Paul issues a rousing challenge to the Corinthians to behave responsibly as members of the body of Christ. Two bystanders watching attentively are also roused by an excited announcement from John: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

The call addressed to the young Samuel fell not on deaf ears. Although being roused from one’s bed is no welcome thing for young people, the fact that he was sleeping in the temple precincts meant that there was, to start with, a certain openness, a certain readiness, a predisposition, an open ear, as it were, to something important, something great, something bigger than his young stature. The bold announcement from John was reciprocated with an equally bold response from the two who stood alongside him, who watched together with him whose life mission was to prepare the way for someone else. The two disciples who stood by and watched not only had an open ear. They also had a willing hand, an adventurous foot, and an inquisitive mind. They heard … They beheld him who was coming after their master … and they followed.

I see three movements in today’s liturgy. First, there is a call. I would call it an INVITATION. Samuel was invited, first, to sleep in the temple area where the ark of the covenant was kept. His “yes” to the invitation to keep watch along with the older Eli was followed by another invitation, this time, from someone greater than Eli. That eventful night, another invitation came his way. More than being roused from sleep, he was being raised to do something great, something beautiful for God.

INVITATION, however, is followed not by delving straight into action, but by careful and prudent reflection. Invitation did not give way to mere activism. It paved the way for REFLECTION. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Invitation did not translate into immediate action. It bloomed, instead, into humble petition ... “Speak Lord!” The same may be said of the two disciples of John who stood by and watched. When they followed the invitation of John to “behold,” Jesus made them reflect: “What are you looking for?” Again, reflection became petition: “Where are you staying?” This time, petition was answered by a deeper invitation: “Come and you will see.”

Come and see …This was the motif of the World Youth Day in France in 2001 … Venez et voyez …Come and see … Perhaps as we put a close to the long Christmas season, and as we go full swing into living an entirely new year, we need to do a Samuel act that is made up of three essential and integral movements: invitation, reflection, and transformation.

Our world is a noisy place. Noises, both material and spiritual, characterize and clutter our daily existence. Spiritual noises drown out interior silence. Material noises crowd out our ability to reflect. And a lot of psychological noises make it impossible for many to live in peace and harmony with one another. In the Philippine context, there is so much political noise that drowns out hope for a better tomorrow for many poor and suffering people. In such a situation, the invitation that comes like a gentle whispering wind from above is all but smothered, unheard, and therefore, unheeded.

Today, I would like to reframe the readings in terms of these three watchwords: invitation, reflection, and transformation.

Invitation … Come and see … We need as a people, a faith family, first to listen like Samuel did. It is so easy for anyone to jump into so-called solutions to problems. But as any organizational guru amongst us would readily realize, many of the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. Mere knee-jerk reactions to so many pressing problems will not clinch it. Nor will the poorly digested and poorly reflected on palliative measures do. I would like to think that, among others, this is what stands out in today’s readings. “Come and you will see.” Invitation from the Lord ought to open itself to watching, to reflecting, to praying more than to doing. Come first, and see. Come first, and reflect. Come first and observe. He does not tell us today to jump into the fray.

Is it any wonder that the psalm chosen reiterates the same point about watching and waiting? “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.” Is it any wonder that the same psalmist plays down the need for action, the need for “sacrifice or offering,” but rather refers to “ears open to obedience?” Is it any wonder that only then, only after speaking of ears open to obedience, he speaks about his resolve: “Behold I come?”

We always take mistaken pride in being the only Christian nation in Asia. The truth of the matter is more like we were strongly sacramentalized and ritualized for centuries, but not necessarily evangelized. About half a million every year risk life and limb by fanatically going through the motions of a noisy following of the tortuous and torturous processional route of the Nazareno in Quiapo. Even more throngs go in full regalia to honor the Santo Nino in various places in the country at about this time of year – in Cebu, in Aklan, in Tondo, Marinduque, etc. Noise and fanfare characterize these celebrations. But amidst all this noise and celebration, the basic invitation to personal and communal holiness remains unheard and unheeded by the mainstream dysfunctional political system and a societal system that favors and fosters division and distinction of many kinds, along with so much social injustice. Whilst I submit that many among those who join the celebrations are motivated by no less than deep devotion, by far the greater majority seem to be attracted by the superficial pull of pomp and circumstance. There is little reflection, little prayer, and little attention to the invitation to depth and holiness of life.

I would like now to translate this last concept into a word that fits the topic developed by today’s readings – TRANSFORMATION.

The invitation that was given to Samuel and the two disciples of John, and the reflection that followed the invitation, both spilled over into transformative action. Reflection preceded transformation and not the other way around. Transformation was the logical and necessary output of reflection. Having come and seen, they followed. Having reflected, they stayed. Andrew, who first saw and reflected, went into transformative action mode. He called his brother Simon and told him great news: “We have found the Messiah.” That report made him resort to something concretely life transforming. He brought his brother to Jesus.

All stories reported above can be reduced into a single line. For Samuel, for Eli, for Paul and the Corinthians, for John and his two disciples, for Andrew and Simon, first there was the INVITATION. Then came REFLECTION and petition. And last, there came the difficult but necessary part. They all worked for TRANSFORMATION.

WITH OPEN HANDS AND GENTLE HEART


FEAST OF THE SANTO NINO
January 18, 2009

Readings: Is 9:1-6 / Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 / Mk 10:13-16

Christmas really does not end in the Philippines until after today’s feast. While the rest of the Christian Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Philippines makes one last pitch to celebrate Christmas style … with all the pageantry, revelry, and religiosity that are part and parcel of every “fiesta” celebration all over the country.

Today, thousands of statues of the Santo Nino, big or small, red or green, in various shapes, poses, and sizes, will be blessed or brought to the street celebrations, the height of which is seen either in Cebu or in Tondo, in Manila, and many other towns and cities in the country.

The Filipino celebrates the feast of the Christ-child with both passion and panache, with tenderness and trust, and with awe-filled abandon, and utter attachment to the figure of Christ, albeit presented in the lowliness of a helpless child.

It is easy to lose oneself in wanton abandon and the spirit of helplessness. It is easy to wax helpless and hopeless, in the face of such a pervading spirit of dependence that the image of a helpless little child can lead people to.

But make no mistake about it. Today’s feast does not talk about helplessness and hopelessness. Today’s feast does not wax romantic over pious sentimentalisms attached to the image of a child who is coddled by overzealous and overenthusiastic supporters, like hordes of fans who root blindly for their favorite actor or actress, or showbiz personality.

It would do us all good to take a look at the original context in which the devotion was born. It had to do, not with helplessness, but with a firm resolve, and a resolute drive. This image of the Christ-child, first and foremost, was a survivor. It came out, unscathed, from a fire that gutted the place where it was first placed. Legend and popular belief have it, that, after repeated attempts to transfer the image some place else, specifically Manila, the image somewhat unexplainably, would always be found exactly in the same place where it originally was, or something turned up as to prevent its eventual transfer.

But the Word of God that we just heard earlier does not have to do with legends. But legend or not, today’s readings do have something for us to learn. And the lesson has to do with precisely this utter resolve on God’s part to bring light to “a people who walked in darkness.” The first reading, that we heard in the just ended Christmas season, speaks of the reason and grounding for this celebration connected with the miraculous image of the Christ-child … “for a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”

Legends are stuff of mortals like us. The legends attached to the image of the Christ-child, whether credible or not, all really have to do, not with God, but with us. Legends that we hold on to are all about us, not God. Legends are stories that our collective unconscious and collective consciousness weave, not for God’s sake, but for our own sake.

And whilst legends are precious and valuable to keep our commitment and devotion to the Santo Nino going, ultimately, it is not legends that we use to ground our faith and loving attachment to the Santo Nino, but the Good News that all this is all about.

The Good News is not a legend. It is historical … that God’s Son became man like us, one with us, like unto us in all things but sin. And there was a time the Son of God was a little boy, who “grew in age and wisdom.” This child, of whom Isaiah speaks so glowingly, is not one who is utterly helpless, but one who is called “wonder counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

Legends are the stuff out of which myths are made. Good News is the stuff out of which devotion and commitments are made of.

It is unfortunate that a great deal of the revelry and fun associated with the Santo Nino, has to do, more with legend, rather than good news.

But this is precisely the reason that gathers us together at Mass today. We have come to revel in the good news, to be reminded of what, ultimately, will make our celebration grounded in reality, and not just shallow revelry and questionable religiosity. We have come with a task to do, and not just a story to tell one another. We have come, not just to dance in step with others, but to deal with “the hope that belongs to his call” (2nd reading).

All this, the Opening Prayer of today’s liturgy, makes clear. The language it uses, the petitions it raises, and the dreams it expresses, all have to do with tasks that we need to do. They are all adult tasks that even so called weak and helpless children are all called to do: learn from Christ the Child’s example … (he grew in age and in wisdom); embrace God’s will in all things … (he went about doing his Father’s business); hold fast to the dignity of all … (let the children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these); and serve others with open hands and gentle heart.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

BEING IN GOD’S CIRCLE OF LOVE























Catholic Homily/
Sunday Liturgical Reflection
Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord
January 11, 2009



Belongingness is one of the innate needs of each and every single human person. We all need to feel part of a group. Such is our nature as humans that God willed that we should be born as members of families, nurtured, cared for and nourished by a natural institution that gradually forms us, and then “presents” us to the bigger society in the world. In this gradual “introduction” to society, there are certain important milestones common to all cultures and civilizations – and faith affiliations! Let us look at some of those we do as Filipinos… baptismal day, the first birthday, the first haircut, the first picture, the first day in school, the first…everything. Just about everything seems to be made into an important milestone in the trajectory of life, especially of the firstborn son or daughter.

What seems to be behind such important events is the cultural need for parents and the whole clan to “present” and “introduce” their child to the bigger world of relatives, office, community, acquaintances and friends – the Church! How else does one explain the Filipino penchant for so many sponsors (ninongs and ninangs galore!) on the child’s baptismal day? I would like to suggest that, more than just offer the child some form of real and virtual security for the future (the dozens of sponsors already assure the child of some potentially important connections for some future need!), caught as the Filipino family is in a very real and deep culture of insecurity in all aspects, there is also that equally real desire to insert, introduce and present the child to an ever widening set of various concentric circles of connectedness and social influence in the context of the Filipino society.

One of those concentric circles is the circle of love and affection within which the family as a whole, moves, or would like to keep itself in at all times. This is the child’s intimate circle of those he or she can call his or her very own. This is the circle of the extended family, close relatives, intimate friends and friendly neighbors – the immediate circle of those who can fulfill to a great extent that universal need for belongingness and affiliation. This is the circle that claims the child as their very own, the circle of love and acceptance, affirmation and affection. That circle seems to say in all those milestones and events: This is my beloved. I am well pleased with him or her!

Today, solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, we see and hear and experience something similar to what we as Filipinos are very much at home with. We have in today’s celebration someone who “names and claims” as His own, and then presents Him to all as His beloved! We have here a case of one whose circle, not only of belongingness, but also of concern is shown in a clear and all encompassing manner. In a very personal, intimate way, we stand witness to a Father who proudly declares before all present: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father corroborates positively and clinches what earlier John the Baptist has said negatively: “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

I would like to suggest that all of us, individually today, ought to imagine ourselves present right then and there as the Father introduced His Son, Jesus, to the world of real people, real individuals like us all with names, coming from real families and communities, with real concerns, real problems and real dreams. Include real disappointments and problems in the list, if you will. The world that Jesus came to see and save, remember, was a world inhabited by envious Herods, ambitious Pilates, and scheming High Priests and Pharisees! The world that stood witness to Jesus’ baptism was a world that “walked in darkness” before “it has seen a great light.” The world that welcomed Jesus, the world that produced a John the Baptist, who was willing to “decrease” so that “he might increase,” also produced Salome and Herodias with their shadowy and questionable dreams! In the very waters of the Jordan which Jesus sanctified, there bathed saints and sinners alike, clean and unclean people alike; people with bright and brilliant dreams for tomorrow, and people who couldn’t care less about most anything!

This is our world! This is the type of world that welcomes Jesus’ baptism today. Name it, we’ve got it! Corrupt and selfish politicians? We have them aplenty. Citizens who skirt around laws? It is you and I! People who throw trash like as if there were no tomorrow? That’s you and me! Drivers who drive around like they owned the few roads available all over? That’s Juan de la Cruz… you and I!

What, then, is today’s Good News, you say? A whole lot! The Good News essentially resides in the fact that you and I, and all the budding Herods and Judases of our society, along with the potential John the Baptists and Mary Magdalenes in our midst, are all part of this growing concentric circle of God’s love and concern. We are God’s family! We are, by virtue of our own baptism incorporated into Christ and we became by His grace, adopted sons and daughters of the same God, who takes pride in us, as He takes pride in Jesus His Son!

We are family! We are “members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19), and it is to us, as much as to Jesus, that God today says: “You are my beloved son and daughter; with you I am well pleased.” Yes, we all belong. We all are part of and party to all the great things God has wrought in the world, and can still do, with us as collaborators! God’s recognition of His Son, has spilled over into us. God considers us His own, too, on account of Jesus, His Son. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).

There is power in this affirmation from the Lord. There is power and a lot of potentialities in the conviction that we all are part of this family to whom Jesus was presented. We are singular recipients of grace by the mere fact that God has considered us worthy to be part of this set of concentric circles of God’s influence, God’s concern and God’s immense love.

This grace entails responsibility, however. This is the same responsibility faced by the leper, one in ten, who was the only one who came back to thank the Lord. This is the same responsibility faced by Mary Magdalene who proved to be a loyal follower of the Master. This is the very same responsibility assumed by Peter, who, despite his failings, repented, claimed his power, and accomplished a lot of good for God and humanity.

And this, too, is the responsibility faced by all of us in these difficult moments of our nationhood. The trends, as we are told by experts, are frightening. At the rate we are going, in a few decades, we shall only be competing with Bangladesh. As we are going right now, there is no way we can reach what Thailand has attained. There is simply too much corruption, too much self-serving politics, too much selfishness and greed in our nation. People beloved of God, sons and daughters of God now need more than ever to claim that same power that emanates from our baptism. We all need to work together and pray together for God to heal our land, to banish with our human cooperation, all the social cancers that we have allowed ourselves to be inflicted with. We need to get up, walk with heads high up and let loose all the powers of our baptismal consecration to make up for all that the spirit of iniquity, the traces of the Herod and the Judases in our sinful nature have led us to, for decades now!

Today, let us not just be curious bystanders standing as mute and ineffectual witnesses to a momentous event that really has gotten us all involved. The Lord has declared us with His Son, His own beloved sons and daughters! We are beloved of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 Jn 3:2). Ours now is the privilege and the task to live as such, to deserve the affirmation from the Father, to follow the paths that being part of the circle of God’s love entails.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

RISE UP IN SPLENDOR!





Catholic Homily/Sunday Liturgical Reflections
SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD
January 4, 2008


In life, we do have experiences that more or less change the tone, or the direction of our lives. Certain events planned or unplanned that take place in the course of our growth and development either make us or break us…an experience of serious sickness, a life-threatening situation, an unexpected turn of events whether positive or negative, like an unexpected promotion, or a demotion for that matter… the birth of a first son or daughter for young or older couples…the coming of brilliant luminaries and leaders in the church and in society…The list is endless. The one point of commonality is the fact that such events, known to sociologists as “marker events” steer the course of our lives inextricably, irreversibly…for ever!

One such event that changed the course of human history forever is the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today’s liturgy is a celebration, not primarily of that event, but what that event stood for and meant for “a people that walked in darkness” and “who have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (MT 4:16). Today’s solemnity of the Epiphany, which, as we all know, meant “manifestation” counts among these “marker events” that cannot simply be glossed over in human history.

The event was so important and significant that the inspired writers speak about a star that led the wise men from the east to go and do him homage and bring meaningful and prophetic gifts to the newborn child. The coming of the wise men, we have always been told, represented the “unveiling” or the “revelation” of who that child was to the gentile world. In short, Jesus, the Son of God was manifested for who he really and fully was, to the gentiles.

This much, we all know by now. It has been rehashed and repeated for us to hear, year in and year out. But surely something that changes the course and tenor of history is much too meaningful and significant to be fossilized in just this particular understanding that I outlined above. What else could this origin of gift-giving have as meaning for us here and now?

I would like to start with something that seems so obvious it has been glossed over so often and so long… the meaning of gift-giving, its origin, its purpose. I mean here not the symbolism of the gifts brought by the magi. That too, has been talked about so often. I mean here the basic significance of gift-giving in relation to the birth of Christ, whom the Magi spent time and money for just to do him homage. A gift is something one gives freely, unilaterally. That is why it is called a gift. It is not forced, not bought, not insisted on. It is just given…period. Or it is given in return for something given in its turn, something so valued, so appreciated that it is returned in kind, it is reciprocated. When such is given, it stands for deep appreciation, a deep recognition of something considered so important and so valued as to merit a reciprocal act. Epiphany is precisely this, too… a recognition of a gift so precious, that it merits a return gift…grace upon grace…no less. This is the pearl of great price that a man who chances upon it and finds it is willing to let go of all he has just to get back to that treasure and have it in return! This is the gift of a grateful heart, the appreciation of one who dwelt in a land overshadowed by death, but for whom light has arisen (cf. Mt 4:16 supra). This is a gift of recognition, a gift of acknowledgement that indeed “salvation has dawned upon us” (cf. Lk 1:71). This gift of the birth of the savior so changed the tenor of the lives, not only of the Magi, but also of generation upon generation that they went out of their way, and journeyed in search, just to do him homage. Their lives were changed for the better.

But alas, as Simeon so prophetically stated, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34), the manifestation of the Son of God, disrupted the life of a very powerful man at that time – Herod. The news of the birth of the Messiah forever changed the tenor of life of one who felt insecure, fearful and unhappy at the turn of events. Who should be coming to do him homage but foreigners – gentiles who had nothing to do with the Jewish faith? The event made Herod so fearful that he plotted the death of so many innocent children.

There is a streak of the Magi and of Herod in all of us. The question perhaps that we need to ask ourselves is: what events are powerful enough to make us lose composure and lose sleep over? What sort of surprises in our lives make us feel insecure and fearful? Who are the people that threaten us, and why? On the other hand, what events make us better people. What turns our own “stars” to light up and goad us on to do the good we ought to do? What sort of guiding stars do we follow? What type of people lead us on to try better and do better for ourselves and for others? What is it in our history and current events that make us strive to become luminaries and good examples to others in our own right?

Or is there anything that turns us off completely? Is there anything that makes us lose luster, light and altogether give up hope for? What makes us feel defeated and worn out?

The choices are clear for us: either be one of the excited and hopeful Magi, or be a bitter, sullen, and fearful Herod.

The first makes us people of hope. This makes us “rise up in splendor.” For “our light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines upon us.” This is the type of people for whom the event of epiphany was not lost on them. They are people of acknowledgement and recognition, not a people of denial. They find joy in others’ joy, in others’ successes. They are a people with the abundance mentality, not the scarcity mentality, that would lead to sadness just because others may have done some good. This is the type of people who would not feel uneasy about giving to others what is due to them – the recognition and acceptance that they have done well. The second type belongs to the ranks of a man eaten by worms of envy, sad and sullen, and unable to give due recognition to what others have accomplished. This is the narrow mindedness of people with a scarcity mentality who see no room for the ability of others to contribute to the good of all. This is the type of people who are forlorn in their inability to give credit where credit is due. They miss the coming of the Messiah, because they are too busy trying to be what they are not meant to be. They are a people devoid of hope because they think they already have what it takes to become whatever they want. This is the type of people who would dampen all enthusiasm because they always douse cold water to well-meaning intents of people who only want to work for the common good. This is the sad state of Philippine politics so caught up in selfish concerns, that everyone feels the need to shoot down each other’s initiatives because each one feels left out of the scene, left out of the picture, as it were.

What does it take us to proclaim along with the psalmist in joy…”Lord, every nation on earth will adore you?” Not much. All it takes is a little recognition. All it takes is for us to see and really see the light that has shone. All it takes is for us to acknowledge that marker event, that momentous happening in our lives as sons and daughters of God. All we need is to see the manifestation of the Son of God. All we need is to say along with the Magi: “We saw his star at its rising, and have come to do him homage.”

Rise up in splendor, you sad sacks! Rise up in splendor all of us who are in any form of fear and insecurity! Rise up in splendor all of us who may have given in to a little pessimism and doubt and worry for the new year just began! Rise up in hope! Rise up in joy! Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!”