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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A MOTHER’S LOVE, A SHEPHERD’S CARE



Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

4th Sunday of Easter (B)

May 3, 2009


Tenderness and caring seem to be the hallmarks of today’s liturgy. Selflessness and unconditional love appear to ooze out of every line in today’s gospel. “I am the Good Shepherd…I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
An apt matter for reflection on Mother’s Day…

In the Philippines, most mothers are the real unsung heroes. Whilst it is true that most fathers are the material providers for the family, it is mothers who really come closest to the provident nature of a personal and loving God. Biblically, God’s providence is portrayed in the sacred book as a solicitous, caring type of love, frequently compared to the love of a mother. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isa 49:15) God’s providence is pictured as a perpetual loving presence to His beloved people. Psalm 136 extols this God, who for a multiplicity of reasons, is worthy of being acclaimed as one “whose love endures forever!” This love of solicitude shone out most clearly in the shepherding role He assumed on behalf of His people, the Israelites of old: "The LORD, the God of Israel, says: I led you up from Egypt; I brought you out of the place of slavery.” (Judges 6:8)

Biblical evidence is never wanting when it comes to the “motherly” love of the God of Jesus Christ our Lord. No less than Jesus re-echoes the tenderness of this love which he himself showed to his disciples and fellow Israelites, to the point of comparing himself to a mother hen lovingly addressing her brood: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (MT 23:37)

Mothers… good mothers… they must have been sent direct from heaven to show us a glimpse of who and what God is for us! They are the epitome, as close as earthly creatures can be, of the compassionate and loving God as revealed in Scripture and in salvation history. Let us look at a few examples from our own lives…

Fathers work eight hours a day. Most mothers do not have official work that lasts eight hours daily, but they do “full-time” work as primary caregivers and nurturers twenty four hours a day. Fathers can get out of their offices, go home and forget about work for 16 hours daily. Mothers can never get “time-out” from their mothering work at home. When the baby cries in the middle of the night, who gets up to change the baby’s diapers? Who gets up to prepare the bottled infant formula? Mothers – at least most of them -- become experts at multi-tasking. They take care of their husbands. They take care of their children. They do a daily balancing act, trying to give full attention to everyone, including their husbands – all at the same time. When money is in short supply, it is mothers who do creative and proactive budgeting. It is mothers who, more often than not, make up for what is lacking. It is mothers who tend to give up things and who would scrimp and scrounge just to give the best for their children. And more often than not, no one would even know what she has given up so that “others may live,” - often not even their husbands, who often think they have done what they should. When families go out for an outing, notice who thinks of the minutest details of what to bring. Why they even think of what possibly their husbands would need!

Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, I have no qualms about thinking of the good Lord, who talks of himself as the good shepherd, ready and willing to lay down his life for his sheep, in terms of the best mothers there are in this world. In the Philippine context, where misguided and selfish machismo seems to be the run of the day, the picture of the ideal mother, for me, comes closest to what the Lord is saying about himself in relation to us. He is the best of what a shepherd can be or ought to be – and more! “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

This is why I have nothing but respect and awe for the thoughts of Rosemary Radford Ruether, who prefers to think of her God as mother. In place of “God as paternal superego,” she speaks of “God as the empowering matrix.” The Good Shepherd image encompasses our own liberating experience of God’s tenderness, goodness and loving support for us His children. When we think of this God as matrix, images of a seedbed come rushing through our minds. We are the seeds, and we are embedded – grounded, if you will – and rooted in God. God, in and through Jesus Christ, His Son, is the empowering source of our growth and development.

St. John must not only have understood this conceptually. He must have felt it and seen it and touched it fully. Only this can explain the tenderness and the conviction in which he couches his convincing language in today’s second reading: “Beloved: see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” For that is what and who we are… children… confident and serene… who, like gamboling sheep, are never far from the watchful and caring eyes of the supreme shepherd-caregiver-servant who says: “I will lay down my life for my sheep.”

Mothers of the world, stand up and be acknowledged! Fathers of the world, stand up and claim that which you all are called to become, shepherds after God’s – and Christ’s own – hearts!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LET YOUR FACE SHINE ON US, O LORD!




Catholic Homily /Sunday Reflection /Sunday Worship Guide
3rd Sunday of Easter(B)
April 26, 2009


There are just things and events that we can’t seem to have enough of. We talk about them endlessly. We tell and retell such stories. We rehash them in our minds and hearts. And the mouth just cannot keep itself shut. From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks!

The opening line of today’s Gospel passage seems no different… “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” The event was simply too much to contain, too powerful to simply sweep under the rug of one’s daily forgetfulness. No… that singular manifestation of the Risen Lord was simply something worth recounting, retelling and reliving.

Discoveries and insight come with “heartsight.” A heart that loves is never far from serendipity and intimate understanding. Visions are not very far either from reflective and loving discourse. When one reminisces, recounts, retells and relives, the Lord, who is the object of one’s reflective discourse and discursive meditation does come to reveal himself. It was in such a moment of animated and passionate discussion of disciples who recount “what they have seen and heard,” that Jesus answered the equally passionate plea of the same disciples echoed in today’s responsorial psalm: “Lord, let your face shine on us!”

We are these same disciples who now plead with him, as they did of old: “Lord, let your face shine on us!”

The Lord, indeed, answers our prayers. But he does so when we do our part, when we pitch in our little share in this wonderful exchange of love called salvation history. The Lord lets his presence “shine” on us when we are busy “recounting,” when we ourselves are involved in telling other people “what we have seen and what we have heard.” The Lord lets his face shine on us, when we, indeed, are busy making him known to others, when we are actively engaged in this personal search for him, as did his disciples. These disciples, who gathered together in the upper room, as much out of fear, as of a burning desire to reflect together on all the events that happened. It was in such a reflective mood that the Risen Lord showed himself to them.

Surely, this speaks to us all and the half-hearted prayer we make to the Risen Lord: “Let your face shine on us, O Lord.”

Do we really mean what we say? Let your face shine on us, O Lord! But please do not take away the noise of our everyday life. Do not take away our TV time, and the so many hours we spend watching telenovelas. Let your face shine on us, Lord, but not during the times we are busy gossiping, complaining, and tearing at one another. Let your face shine on us, O Lord, but not during my leisure time, not during the time I spend catching up with the “latest developments” and all that “breaking news” stuff from cable TV. Let your face shine on us, O Lord, but please do not make me teach religion, do not make me sound so pious for fear of offending my friends who do not want to hear about God and talk of moral rules at any time outside of Church. Business is business, after all… and no one should be preaching to us outside of that one-hour weekly appointment with the Lord in church. Let your face shine on me, O Lord, but please, not when I am busy at work, when I am just about ready to strike a deal with people who are just as ungodly as I have become – that is, if I were to be honest with myself!

Honesty… it basically means meaning what I say. Today, I prayed with all the rest in Church: “Lord, let your face shine on us!” Let me see you, Lord… let me feel you, and touch you … let me be filled with the glory of your presence in our midst.

At Mass today, we cannot but see him, feel him and touch him… that is, if we mean what we do and say in the liturgical assembly. In this assembly, we “recount,” we hear, and we proclaim “what we all have seen and heard,” and we do the breaking of the bread “in memory of him” risen once and for all for our sins and our salvation.

No longer is it a prayer of request that we now dwell on primarily, but a declaration of our firm belief and conviction: “Lord, we touch you today.” “We have seen the Lord!”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

BELIEVING, BELONGING, & BEHAVING!




Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections / Sunday Worship Guide

2nd Sunday of Easter(B)

April 19, 2009


Today is called Easter octave, the “eighth day” after Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection. When the Church celebrates, she does so with passion and panache. And so the two greatest solemnities of the Church calendar, Easter and Christmas, both have “octaves,” which means both Easter and Christmas really last for a whole week and a day. Let’s put it thus simply … every day from Easter Sunday to today, was and is, Easter day!


We have come full circle today. But even then, we have not completed the cycle. We do not put a “finis” to what we do in Church, for what we remember, is what we also celebrate, and what we remember and celebrate is what we believe in. And what we believe in, is still the object of our strivings, the focus of our longings, and the eventual fulfillment of our hope.


But there are two interlocking aspects of the hope that is in us – the “already,” that is, what has taken place, what has happened, what has become history. This is what we remember. So we remember Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. But the other aspect is the “not yet” – the ongoing promise, the ongoing call, the glorious future that awaits us. The conviction of this glorious future that awaits us, the possession of the already of this glorious destiny unfolding in our lives, is what we gather together for to celebrate. But the two aspects – the already and the not yet - are glued together by our abiding faith that transcends the past, the present, and the future. What we remember and celebrate is what we believe!


But let us allow the readings of the day to sink in …


Two words stand out in the first reading (Acts 4:32-35): believing and belonging. We are told that “the community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” The witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord, those who “saw and believed,” or “heard and believed” for “faith comes from hearing,” (Rom 10:14), were people who believed – and belonged!


In what way did they show believing and belonging, you might ask? First, they gathered to celebrate and reflect on the WORD – the word of truth that they heard from the Risen One. Second, they went forth to bring WELFARE to the needy … “there was no needy person among them.” Third, they all became WITNESSES … “with great power the apostles bore witness.” Fourth, presumably, they all worked to provide WELCOME to everyone, for they were “of one heart and mind.”


But there was more … Our response (Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24) to the first reading gives us a clue to that more. For belongingness was not the end-all and be-all of the Christian dispensation. Christianity is not a mere call to a shallow and superficial egalite et fraternite. It was a call to the more, a call to the ultimate transcendence of more than just earthly liberte. It was, and is, and remains, a call to absolute union with Him who has “called us from darkness into His own marvelous light.” It is a call to WORSHIP – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love is everlasting!”


WORD, WELCOME, WELFARE, WITNESS, WORSHIP … these are aspects of our belonging and believing. These are what we, as Christians, are called to live day-in and day-out, whether we “hard pressed and falling,” whether or not we are “stones that builders reject.” Through thick and thin, we “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his love is everlasting.”


But there is yet more … The second reading (1 Jn 5:1-6) calls believers to task. Believing is not a mere acquiescence to a material truth. It calls us to do more. It beckons all believers to a life-changing mode, for “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God.” And check it out … the passage connects believing with behaving in a particular manner: “for the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”


Believing and behaving … This is what the Risen Lord told his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”


Merely believing is definitely not enough. It calls to a special mode of behaving – a life-changing mode of behaving. Thomas the doubter, was on the whole, a believer. But for a temporary while, he did not “belong.” He was absent when the Risen Lord showed himself the first time. He missed out for a while. And missing out meant he was an erstwhile doubter. He doubted, but he did not disbelieve! He doubted, but he kept on the belonging mode. He came back to rejoin the rest of the disciples. And when the Lord indeed showed himself once again, he didn’t care anymore for proofs. He went right on to believing and belonging: “My Lord and my God,” was all he could utter … five words that showed the depth of his original believing and belonging, and corresponding behaving.


Our daily life poses so many reasons for us to doubt so many things. We doubt the sincerity of politicians and so-called public servants – and rightly so, more often than not. We doubt our own capacity at times, to pull ourselves from our own bootstraps and chart a better destiny for our nation and people. In the midst of so much undeserved suffering, even righteous and just people can crumble under pressure and question God, as Jesus himself did on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


This is my 27th year as a priest. No spring chicken anymore, gone are the days when idealistic dreams pervaded my days. I have become more sedate, at times a little more cynical, and less gung-ho about certain things I used to rant and rave about with passion and panache. But this does not mean I have given up in my believing and belonging. At some point, given the so many trials and challenges, one either does a Thomas, or one crumbles and does a Judas. Peter and Thomas and Judas had one thing in common. They all crumbled under pressure. But one fell in a heap and got out in the dark of night, never to belong anymore, never to be heard of and heard from anymore. But both Peter and Thomas went on belonging. Peter, in his old age, even did a marathon race to and from the empty tomb. No match for the young and sprightly John, Peter, nevertheless, ran, not for dear life, but for dear faith. He believed – and shored up his brothers’ faith and reined them in and exhorted them to keep on belonging.


Peter and Thomas – along with so many others – were tried and tested to the core. And they were found true, for they did not crumble into a heap of stale and static unbelief. They kept on their life-changing trajectory, ever-willing and ever-ready to change when challenged; to believe when confronted; and to answer when called. Wolfhart Pannenberg could not have put it better: "The evidence for Jesus' resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live."


Believing, belonging – and CHANGING
. This is what being, and continuing to be a Christian, is all about.


National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians

Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines

April 17, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TOGETHER, TO GATHER STRENGTH!




Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
2nd Sunday of Easter (B)
April 19, 2009


This second Sunday finds togetherness in community an important illustration of some important truth with regards to our life of faith. The first reading begins thus: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” (Acts 4:32) St. John heightens this concept of togetherness and community and ties it up with faith: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God…In this way, we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.” (1 Jn 5:1) The Gospel speaks of the gathered disciples within a locked upper room, all huddled together in community, when Jesus appeared. Thomas, who was absent previously, we are told, was now with them. He was with the incipient community of believers.

The first reading does not refer to individual believers but to a community. Faith in St. John’s description starts from a person confessing his belief, but graduates to a community professing faith and love: “In this way we know, that we love the children of God…” And Thomas was an unbeliever for as long as he was alone…absent…and detached from the rest of the community!

These details have far-reaching and important consequences about our faith. Faith is not a turning inward, and a selfish appropriation of an objective truth. It is not just a mental assent to some concept or idea, no matter how convincing, no matter how incontrovertible. Faith is not a selfish activity done without connection to a community outside of our person. Thomas the grieving and lonely searcher, perhaps disappointed about the unfortunate turn of events, could not believe, despite the enthusiastic reports of his fellow disciples… “Unless I see the mark of the nails…and put my finger into the nailmarks…I will not believe” … until he went back to the fold, until he joined once again and allowed himself to be an integral part once more of the incipient community of believers. And that was when faith bursted forth! That was when Thomas, doubting no more, dispensed fortwith with clear and certain evidences and cried out: “My Lord and my God!” The Gospel does not tell us that he needed indeed to touch the nailmarks. It was a spontaneous profession of faith, not on the material facticity of the wounds and nailmarks, but on the person of Christ, risen from the dead.

We modern people seem unable to dispense with clear and certain “evidences.” We always look for shallow signs. We look for them in bleeding statues. We run around searching for places where spectacular “pseudo-miracles” happen. We put a lot of importance on tangible proofs. In the process, we forget that the first and most important fact is that the Risen Jesus chose to show that he is ALIVE in the community, in the Church, in us all. This is to show us that faith is born, grows, and is perfected only in the context of community, not in selfish and unconnected mental rumination.

This Sunday, the day of the Lord, is also the day of the community of believers. And this gathering, this convocation, this assembly – the Church – is more than just a meaningless coming together but an opportunity to be confirmed and enriched in faith, together, to gather strength from him who says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

EASTER CHANGES EVERYTHING!



Catholic Homily/ Sunday Reflections/ Sunday Worship Guide
EASTER SUNDAY (B) April 12, 2009


There is no skirting around it. There is a big jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday – a big divide, a giant traverse, a monumental leap. And I don’t refer to the utter silence and dignified sorrow of Black Saturday in contrast to the subdued joys of Easter that, for many people, have been reduced to anemic “happy Easter” greetings and not-very-exciting Easter egg hunts, for whatever they are worth. Neither do I refer only to the fact that the resurrection has to do essentially with life flowing from death; victory from defeat, laughter and joy from the depths of ignominy and shame, and light issuing forth from darkness. Easter Sunday is all this … and a whole lot more!

In popular religiosity-prone Filipino culture, Easter Sunday does not seem to be the high-point of the Paschal Triduum. The popular “pabasa” is (a two-day long reading or singing of the popular version of the Passion account – a literary work introduced two centuries before). The long-winded procession is, too, especially on Good Friday, replete with life-size statues and representations of scenes and personages in the Passion accounts of the gospels. So, too, in recent years, is the popular Holy Week “get-away” – the beaches, the boondocks up north or down south – just about any place far from the madding crowd, far from the stifling heat, far from the enervating noise of city and commercial places.


But no matter the big jump from Friday to Sunday, Easter as the holiest time of the year, simply falls flat on its face in many a place all over the world. The drama, the color, and the pathos attached to Holy Thursday and Good Friday, have all but eaten up what little energy there is left for us to figuratively “roll out the tombstone” of our culturally bland Easter Sunday celebrations.


We need to allow the Scriptural readings to speak to us of how big a jump there really is from Friday to Sunday.
First of all, Easter Sunday is a story of dramatic changes. For one, the first reading (Acts 10:34a,37-43) would have us see a dramatically changed Peter. From a coward who betrayed the Lord three times, we see and hear a courageous and highly spirited preacher of good news. “He commissioned us to preach to all people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” I can see no better example of a total turn-around than what Peter shows us today.

Secondly, the readings today are overflowing not just with joy, but with enthusiasm. The psalmist is quoted to give an idea of this outburst of joy: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” All this, is in marked contrast to the plaintive cry just two days ago: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”


Thirdly, something more than just leaven rises in the hearts of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:6b-8). “Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Fourth, and most importantly, we see dramatic excitement in the gospel account. We see dutiful early-risers like Mary of Magdala, who, despite their grief, lost no time in doing what they could not do all through the Sabbath day of rest. It was still dark, John takes pains to tell us. The stone was rolled away. From the moment she saw it, life became an instant marathon for the excited disciples and followers of the Lord. Runners and sprinters, not excluding the old Peter who was not meant to be making mad dashes for any finish line, could not allow himself to be outrun by anybody else – definitely not by Mary of Magdala, although she must have run a good, perspiration soaked mile – no, not even, by the much younger disciple John, but who, though he arrived ahead, knew better than to go in ahead of Peter whose words of denial had run much faster than his feet were able to bring him to where the emerging source of excitement was – the empty tomb! More excitement was in the offing.

The burial cloths were there, though the body was not there. Excitement turned to realization. They realized the body could not have been transferred, for if they did, the cloths would have been taken along with the body. The body could not have been stolen, for if it were, they would have disposed of the cloths in some way. Realization paved the way to conviction. What they saw was not just an empty tomb. What they saw was dramatic fulfillment of what he had always been saying – sayings that for their obscurity then “they did not understand as of yet.” But John was definite about it: “he saw and believed.” Conviction was transformed to proclamation. The Easter Sunday marathon was on! They ran some more and the news spread far and wide. And the disciples’ running hither and thither, was not exactly like Forrest Gump’s aimless running just for the sake of running. It was the first “run for a cause” in recorded history. And the cause was simply this: “He is risen! … The Lord has indeed risen, alleluia. Glory and kingship be his forever and ever” (Entrance Antiphon).


Michael Ball, of Broadway fame, popularized the song “love changes everything.” When love enters into one’s life, “life will never, never be the same again.” I certainly would not want to take away from him what I am also myself convinced of. But there is something else that is worthy of such a generalization and such a glorious proclamation. And that something else has to do with what sent disciples scampering and running around, not for dear life, but for great news that means life for all – life in all its fullness. It is that which sent Mary of Magdala on a sprint run. It is that which made the aging Peter much younger for his years, and what sent him on a roll. It is the same thing that keeps the Church ever young, ever hopeful, ever dynamic and ever on the move. It is the great news that brings us to Church today, that keeps us on our toes not for fear, but for joy and gladness. It is the same joy and gladness that led John Chrysostom to write:


Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen, and life reigns.

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.


Repetitive? …. Not exactly … for joy and great news thrive best on repetition. People who have seen life., people who have been dealt hard blows by life which sometimes is not fair, people who have suffered, people like us who have seen first hand, and felt first hand what it means to struggle through difficulties and trials, through thick and thin, through “sorrows passing number,” people who have walked in the valleys and shadows of death, could use some great news to buoy themselves up when Calvary and the Cross is all they seem to see. And Easter Sunday of the Lord’s resurrection is the ultimate guarantee that heroism is what we are called to, that champions is what we all can become, in this great marathon called life.
Last thing I heard, from the runners and participants in the race, from people like Mary, Peter, John, Andrew, James, Philip, Paul, Lorenzo Ruiz and thousands and thousands of others, is simply this. Christ has reached the finish line. Christ is risen, and he holds the torch of victory for us, waiting for our chance to reach the finish line. All because of Easter … all because of that dramatic morning of excited runners … all because they found immense meaning in the empty tomb and bore witness to it. Frederica Matthewes-Green, whom I am reading these days, could not have put it better: “Easter didn’t change anything. Easter changes everything.” And if I may borrow Michael Ball’s final line in his beautiful song, Easter means “life will never, never be the same again.” Happy Easter to all!

Friday, April 10, 2009

From Passion to PASSION!



GOOD FRIDAY (B)
April 10, 2009

Celebration of the Lord's Passion / Paschal Triduum / Holy Week Reflections

There is always a high price to pay for whatever one stands up for. One pays dearly for taking up a cause, a position, an advocacy of any sort. One can believe, more or less, something. One can take up an issue and choose to either be anemic about it, or totally taken up by it. The former, it may be said, pays mere lip service to a cause. The latter pays with so much more than cheap and canned words for it.

The one who does more than give perfunctory and superficial support may be said to lack passion. And one who lacks passion lacks drive. And one who lacks drive can run away from anything when the going gets tough, and when one feels the heat of opposition from within and without.

Back in my younger mountaineering days (it’s really more like glorified backpacking and trekking more than anything!), it was sort of easy to tell the difference between a committed applicant and one who is a mere dabbler. The superficial dabbler would come and go to trial and diagnostic runs and other training events. The committed one who was gung-ho about the whole thing would not only come to those events. He would comply to whatever minimum was required – but would actually do more!

Many years ago, when we started a mountaineering group in Don Bosco in Mandaluyong, a group that was initially meant to be open only to tertiary-level students, there were two persistent high school kids who would hang around wherever the group went, and who would join the group in all training events. At the same time, they kept on badgering the leaders to be admitted to the group. Their passion, more than persistence, paid off. They were admitted well ahead of time. The leaders simply knew they had more than just passing interest. They had it in themselves to ask – and make good what they were asking for. They had passion. Gerry and Jude became official members in no time. And they taught their older counterparts then, a few precious lessons on what it means to be passionate about something that one loves. Jude became one of the mainstays of the group – even up till now. Gerry became a track-and-field star athlete, and paid his way through university doing the very same thing his passion led him to. Jude now continues to contribute to raising the level of ecological consciousness in the firm he works for. And Gerry has scaled figuratively new heights as a lawyer, as an educator, and mentor.

Good Friday is a day filled with so much passion. The lengthy reading of the passion will once more turn off quite a number of people who, unfortunately, would prefer to stay away from Church and official liturgy, and get caught up in the mode of popular religiosity that is far easier to follow, appreciate, and understand. Many Filipinos today, would much rather be tuned in to the TV to see televised and canned “seven last words, “ or mistakenly continue the misunderstood “visita iglesia,” a tradition that ought to have been limited to the hours immediately following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper last evening. A great many who have money to burn, and little love for the liturgy have made their annual exodus to the beaches and mountain hide-aways, far from the madding crowd, to pause and reflect on the holiest of seasons, not so much with passion, as panache.

This reflection will have to take the less beaten track. Much of what people will see, hear, and reflect on today will be about the meaning and significance of the “passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today, I choose to take the road less traveled by … And this, I would like to do, by starting out with a quote from a lovely poem by G.A. Studdert:


WHEN Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

Studdert speaks as much about the passion of the Lord as he carried the cross, as the lack of passion in the hearts and minds of the people of Birmingham. Indifference is what he refers to – that “couldn’t care less” attitude of people who may see the suffering of the Lord, but who are not affected by any of it.

The people of Birmingham, Studdert says, were really very kind. They “never hurt a hair of him … they would not give him pain … they simply passed him by; they only let him die.”

Indifference … this is what is a sore issue in our times. We Filipinos take pride in having the best and most comprehensive laws on ecology, I was told. Our new constitutions of 1987 made sure of that. In the aftermath of the now lamented, unfinished, and incomplete “People Power” revolution of 1986, we made a knee-jerk reaction to set many things aright. We got rid of Ali Baba alright (although the 40 thieves are back with impunity in all branches of government, national and local!); we made sure that human rights are brought back to national consciousness, along with so many other things.

But indifference, as far as I can tell, has taken the better of us in many ways. Even as our laws make sure we got our priorities right, all our waterways, lakes and rivers, including Asia’s biggest fresh-water lake, are fast becoming marsh lands and our forests fast being turned into politicians’ logging concessions and the playgrounds of the rich and the famous.

Indifference … this is what is the run of the day in our times. And I don’t speak only about the moneyed and the well-connected … I speak, too, of the hoi polloi who are not bothered anymore that all sidewalks all over the country are fast becoming extensions of private homes’ garages, perpetual dumping ground of old vehicles, “officially-sanctioned” market stalls which block the sidewalks and push the people out in the streets to compete with motor vehicles; or an unofficially accepted free-for-all billboard world, where tarpaulins galore of faces of politicians and politicians-to-be dot the already chaotic landscape of our crowded cities and thoroughfares.

Indifference … this is what we see in all sectors of our society. Just about everywhere, we see trikes and bikes whose drivers seem not to have heard of the rule called “keep right,” and who keep on blocking the already narrow roads, going against the traffic flow within sight of the police and traffic enforcers in their crisp uniforms!

Indifference …. This is what seems to be in force everywhere we go. Government leaders and “public servant” looking the other way … people waxing indignant over big-time corrupt officials but tolerating the small-time corruption taking place right at the tip of their noses, with most Filipinos really guilty of encouraging the culture of corruption in their own little way.

Indifference … this is just another word for what Americans refer to as the “devil being in the details.” We would love to make people power all over again against big time corrupt national officials, but we make no such grandiose plans to eradicate the many little infractions that we, as a people, are all guilty of … the throwing of trash everywhere, the non-compliance with simple traffic rules, the toleration of the culture of giving grease money to a multiplicity of fixers and go-betweens in the chaotic bureaucracy of Philippine politics and public service.

What does all this, however, got to do with Good Friday, you may ask?

Indifference is the exact antithesis of passion. Indifference is all about not caring at all about things. It is all about letting little things go; allowing an inch here and an inch there; an infraction here and an infraction there; a winking of an eye today, and a closing of both eyes tomorrow; a license given to a drug-pusher here today, and a blanket authority to a drug lord tomorrow … The list is endless …

Indifference is nothing else but a culture of sin, with sin reframed as anything but sin!

The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ that Good Friday focuses on, is really all about passion and panache – the opposite of indifference – for the Kingdom! It is all about being committed to “doing the will of the Father.” It is all about climbing up towards the mountain of Calvary, with the full weight of the world’s sins atop his shoulders. It is all about Christ dying for me, for you, and for all the world. And it has nothing to do with indifference!

The world – this country … you and me … we all have grown callous about many things. We don’t cry foul anymore at noon-time shows making fools out of the poor, ignorant people who are led by the nose to make a shot for instant money and stardom, at all costs. We don’t worry anymore about jampacked classrooms to accommodate the teeming masses of poor children who have to make three shifts in the course of a day, in order for them to get a shot at what passes itself off as public education, otherwise known as wasting time together in our public schoools.

We don’t care anymore about the precarious supply of fresh water for as long as investors continue pouring in whilst they destroy our natural resources and level all our forests and mountains in search of the proverbial goldmine!

We are a people grown indifferent and callous. We have become an uncaring lot … a people so caught up in short-terms concerns and we have lost the art of looking out for the bigger picture, the concern, not only of ourselves, but also of future generations yet to come. An old song of The Fifth Dimension says that “tomorrow belongs to the children.” And yet, by the way we do things, by the way our indifference takes the better of us, there really might not be neither “tomorrow” nor “children” to be happily crooning about!

The passion (read: commitment, dedication, deep concern) of our Lord Jesus Christ is beyond doubt. He entered Jerusalem even as he knew he was getting into the Lion’s den. He made his way to the city knowing full well he was entering into an elaborate and determined trap procured by people who preferred to live in the dark. He was a man of passion and dedication.

And the good news is this … His passion brought about his Passion. And his Passion, Death, and Resurrection were all we needed to give us a headstart towards our own journey to our own Calvary … onwards to the seemingly insurmountable stone that blocks our own rising to new life … onwards to our own mountain of ascension to new possibilities and new visions. Christ’s story that unfold today is simply this … If we were to cap this unfolding drama with a title, I suggest it to be : From passion to Passion!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

LAST BECOME FIRST!


MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday / Last Supper of the Lord April 9, 2009

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14 / 1 Cor 11:23-26 / Jn 13:1-15

One beautiful thing about the Christian Catholic liturgy is its interlocking web of meanings. There is more than meets the eye in what we do together in the Church’s official worship. We read Scripture. We pray using the same Scripture. We remember the story as told in Scripture. But we do more than remember …. We remember… we celebrate … But we also do more than just celebrate … We believe!

There is also an interlocking web of meanings in the story that unfolds before our eyes as we read it in Church. Today, Maundy Thursday, is no exception. The drama of Holy Week began with a positive note last Sunday. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem could best be described as no less than royal – the closest thing to getting a red carpet welcome. But is it really? The details show us a lot of “circumstance” minus the “pomp.” In place of the red carpet, they had branches and palm leaves, cloaks, and most likely dirty, smelling street clothes that they laid out on the road. There was no royal, white stallion to pull a gilded chariot and gallop around town for all to see. No … just a raggedy bunch of unknowns and a representation of the hoi polloi to sing hosannas of praise to the King who was to come! And mind you, we have not yet spoken of the lowly ass which became the mobile throne on which the much awaited King of Kings sat on his way to his destination.

An interlocking web of meanings … at times not just interlocking but downright contradictory… this is the unfolding drama of holy week … It started in triumph last Sunday, which immediately was replaced by a sedate and solemn reality check … After the triumph came the test … the passion was read. The King who comes in the name of the Lord eventually became the servant who suffered, died, and won his battles by becoming obedient “usque ad mortem,” – all the way up to death, death on a cross!

Today, contrary to popular reckoning, the Church once more waxes joyful and glorious. Maundy Thursday has nothing to do with maudlin sentimentalism, nor syrupy sadness and artificial gloom. No … on the contrary, the Church blares out in the color of gladness and glorious celebration – white. Trumpets blast out the great news of a God who now will offer Last Supper to his disciples, but which eventually becomes the First Supper of Christendom for all time, for all places, and peoples! The Church booms with the brilliant tones of the Gloria … The bells will be rung lustily, only to become silent and replaced by the sober clicks of a wooden clapper only to be picked up once again on the glorious night of Easter!

And why revel and glory in the brilliant hues of white and the vibrant tones of trumpets on this day?

Again, it has to do with the web of interlocking meanings!

First and foremost, Maundy Thursday became Maundy precisely for the reason that today, we remember, we celebrate, and we believe that Christ gave his Maundy, his “mandatum,” his new command to his disciples and the incipient Church – the mandate to “love one another.” I don’t know about you, but it seems to me such a new mandate is cause for celebration. The old command was pretty much based on a God who punishes and who redresses wrongs – a God who lives and moves by the rule, so to speak. But the same rule now is packaged in something that would merit celebration. It is now couched on the foundations of love. Even the commandments now become nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but a path that leads to love … una via che conduce all’amore! Whilst before the law was premised by fear, the new command now is premised on something positive, and there is nothing more positive than love, for as the Song of Songs puts it, “love is stronger than death, stronger even than hell.”

Second, maundy Thursday became Maundy because another mandate took center stage in our lives as a people who both believe and belong: “Do this in memory of me.” What do we need to do in memory of Him who so loved us “usque ad mortem” … all the way up to death? And here is where we need to dig up a whole new slew of interlocking meanings. It was Passover meal for Jesus and his disciples. It was the Last Supper of the Lord. But that meal had a lot to do with the Passover of the Jews that was to take place the day after, the day when all observant Jews would sacrifice and offer a one-year old unblemished male lamb and be consumed in ritual, prayer, and song. That was the night the mandatum of the Father took center stage. Jesus was to be the sacrificial lamb. In anticipation of what was to happen the day after, Jesus immolated himself, offered himself and his body and blood to become “food and drink” - for the remission of sins. Jesus’ mandate in return was “Do this in memory of me.”

Third, and still connected with this self offering of the Lord as food and drink, the Lord instituted for posterity and reality the “pignus futurae gloriae” – the pledge of future glory – the promise and path to the glory that He has called us to share in. But not only for posterity and reality, but with a definitive stamp of finality! Do this in memory of me. Do Eucharist and remember, celebrate, and believe! The Lord instituted the sacrament of Love, the sacrament of the Eucharist. And everytime we now celebrate, we not only rejoice. We immortalize His glorious and salvific presence. And we celebrate what we believe.

Fourth, and by no means the last, (though last in our reflection for today) … the Lord’s mandatum got down to brass tacks … It gets down in the knees or the nitty gritty of our earthly reality. It touches base with our finiteness as human beings. It answers for the fact of our earthly existence. The Lord gave the mandatum to his disciples to “wash one another’s feet,” even as he washed his disciples’ feet. He commissioned his disciples to ride not on royal white stallions, to walk not on red carpets, and to be welcomed with blaring trumpets of triumphalistic earthly glory and power, but to be a “servant” like he was …. “there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him …” (Is 52)

He just told us to be servants like he was, who was humble enough to do what only servants and lowly people would be required to do – wash other people’s smelly and dirty feet. He instituted the office of the priesthood, of ordained ministry, which was ministry for service, ministry to continue on his mandatum for all men and women of good will who claim to believe and who also rightly belong to the ranks of his followers and disciples – to bring His good news of God’s love, concretely, truly, and palpably!

Elsewhere in the gospels the Lord spoke of the last being the first in the kingdom. We have a concrete example of this right now. The last supper of the Lord is the first supper of our times. It is the supper par excellence! The Eucharist … where the pignus futurae gloriae, the pledge of future glory is given us. It was Last then. It is first now. First in our dreams. First in our expectations, and topmost in our line of priorities – as the sacrament of love, par excellence!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CLEARLY, THIS MAN IS THE SON OF GOD!




Catholic Homily / Sunday Worship Guide / Sunday Reflection

Passion / Palm Sunday
April 5, 2009


Passion Sunday opens the holiest week of the liturgical calendar. It opens with some kind of a “bang” in the sense that it begins with a triumphant procession, with Jesus’ entry being acclaimed as the coming in glory of the promised and much-awaited Messiah. In many places such triumphant entry is re-enacted in some way through a procession with blessing of palms and the singing, where possible of “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

This first part that is sedately triumphant and joyful, however, stands in stark contrast to the second part that is highlighted by the reading of the Passion. The mood changes. The second part is some kind of a reality check. This Messiah who has been acclaimed is saviour and king alright, but not exactly the way and manner expected by people. He was to be no military leader, no deliverer by way of arms and force and might, but a humble suffering servant figure who would go the way of suffering and death – indeed, a shameful, ignominious death, by any standard.

The Gospel of Mark even makes clear the path by which Jesus was to show himself to be the expected saviour – by way of his humanity, by way of his unassuming simplicity and apparent ordinariness.

It takes a sensitive eye to see beyond the ordinary. It takes a discerning mind and heart to see beyond mere appearances, it takes a whole lot of sensitivity of soul to perceive extraordinary greatness that go under the guise of ordinariness. Sensitivity of soul … this is sorely missing today as before, for peoples of all times and places. Sensitivity of soul … this represents the richness of a person who sees with a sacramental stance. The sensitive of soul sees things, events and people and for him all point to something else. The sensitive of soul considers everything a sacrament that points to something beyond its raw materiality. The sensitive of soul, like the poet, sees a flower and sees something more than just colors and petals and sweetness. He or she sees a smile of God, a ray of grace from above, a sign of the divinity.

I see His blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see His face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but His voice – and carven by His power
Rocks are His written words.

All pathways by His feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Joseph M. Plunkett


Two traits stand out in today’s very sedate liturgy: the sensitivity of soul of the centurion who saw beyond the suffering and the pain and the ignominy undergone by Jesus, as shown by his properly discerning him to be indeed the Son of God. “Clearly, this man is the Son of God!” But apart from this is a second trait: the extraordinariness behind the ordinariness of Jesus’ suffering, and death.

I am referring to the parodoxical power of witnessing of an apparently ordinary man who went through everything imaginable, everything in the books of torture and shame-dealing during those times, a most shameful way to die – the old times’ way of giving capital punishment. But beyond the ordinary method of killing common criminals stood a powerful extraordinary witness of extraordinary patience, humility, dignity, forbearance, strength of will, inner resilience, humble forgiveness for the erring, inner serenity and total giving of oneself.

The sensitive of soul saw through all this and declared ahead of everyone else: “Clearly this man is the Son of God!” The divinity of Jesus shone brightly through his humanity enveloped in weakness … freely chosen, accepted, complied with perfect resignation of will. This utter “weakness” exuded interior strength that cannot come from any other source but God. Only God can sustain such an extraordinary feat of self-abnegation. “Clearly this man is the Son of God.”

This Holy Week, I would like to think we all will resolve to be a bit less taken up by the mad rush for Tagaytay, Baguio and the overcrowded beaches. I would like to think that, for many of us, holy week is to be set aside to heighten and nurture the seeds of sensitivity in our hearts. It is increased by our efforts at giving a second look at everything, giving a second thought to the services of the Paschal Triduum. Sensitivity of soul can only take place for those who come into quiet, and assume a contemplative stance, a sacramental stance, if you will. For the sensitive of soul, the paschal triduum can not but lead him or her to accept, acknowledge and eventually proclaim, that indeed, this Jesus, this man is indeed the Son of God.