Monday, July 27, 2009
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B
August 2, 2009
Surely two thousand years of history is long enough a time for the Church to learn quite a few lasting lessons. One of these is the need for us to lay aside the “sinful self” with all its unbridled desires and to allow grace to make of us all become what we originally all are by the express wish of God – images and likenesses of Him from whom we owe our existence.
But alas, this same self, owing to the pull of sin called “concupiscence,” is all too prone to go the way of “selfish cravings” and even illicit desires.
Our country is a pretty clear picture of selfish and conflicting desires on all fronts. Whilst I am not exactly a big fan of President GMA, I am aghast at the many times undeserved flak she is getting all in the name of a brand of politics that, really at bottom, is nothing short of structural evil. The rightists see her as not strong enough. The leftists see her are catering only to the needs of the rich, the powerful, the “owners of production.” Militant organizations, as usual, have recently given her a failing grade before the State of the Nation Address (SONA). (Have they ever passed anybody yet, you might ask?) Narco politicians are striking back now that they are feeling the pinch of a no-nonsense approach to the drug problem. The so-called opposition are ever at the ready to denounce every little sign of weakness and indecisiveness, on the one hand, and assertiveness and aggressiveness on the other. (Damn if she does; damn if she doesn’t). On the other hand, the almost institutionally built-in culture of corruption, like a virulent virus, is present and active in almost all branches and echelons of government, from top to bottom.
We see some hurtful and convicting words in today’s second reading from St. Paul: “You must no longer live as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; […] you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Renewed in mind … Such is the pressing need of our times. Our minds, now battered by so much stimulation from mass media, from a seeping culture characterized by entertainment from early morning to midnight – and beyond - are called to renewal. This is a very difficult thing to do given the constant bombardment of a culture that is patently non Christian inspired, ever swayed by values that come from post-christian societies deeply steeped in a culture of consumerism, individualism and genericism.
For one, the Filipino has become a non-reading culture. The habit of reading has gone out the window a long time ago, replaced by rap music, by dance (exemplified by the sex-bomb dance craze), and by sitcoms, reality TV, koreanovelas, teleseryes, and chinovelas. Slowly but surely, the hierarchy of moral values has been subverted and replaced by an all pervasive culture that does not give pride of place to cultural and moral values.
For all practical purposes, the Filipino soul has been deeply co-opted by a culture that is slowly becoming non-Christian inspired. The average attitude of texters who, for the most part, approved of what putschists did at Oakwood five years ago is a disturbing case in point. Any means, no matter how violent, can be resorted to, in order to meet a good end. Never mind, if their motivations, which are distinct from their avowed intentions, do not square with the principles of sound morals!
Too much exposure to violence and aggression has not only desensitized us to violence. It has also warped our value systems. It has slowly become regular, normal and routine to engage in violent activities – all for an avowed good intention!
Deceitful desires are two words not often found together. But the two strike at the core of what sinful desires are actually. They are deceiving. They appear to be good to us all. A national recovery program appears to be so good, and seems to be the only answer to our society’s ills … until you get to the authorship part of said program – personalities themselves deeply mired in unresolved violent acts of the past, which killed scores of people, whose deaths nobody has ever paid for, let alone, say sorry for! The so- called National Recovery Program appears to be the most brilliant solution to our country’s myriad problems, until you go to the level of “motivations” of these people with so convincing sounding avowed intentions “for God and country,” but who are really “wolves who go around in sheeps’ clothing.”
I have to confess to you that I was, and still am, very sympathetic to the cause of these young idealistic, but misguided (co-opted?) soldiers and young officers. There are days when, like the prophet Jeremiah, all I do is lament deeply about the sad plight our society is in. When I was younger, I also entertained thoughts about resorting to violence, secretly clapping whenever the enemies of the then dictator would score a small victory of sorts. The secret desire for harm to befall all those who are in the forefront of corruption in the country – the politicians, the men in uniform, even – sadly – the men of the cloth – the power wielders and brokers in all areas of society – still fills my heart in my lowest moments.
But alas, I am old enough to know such desires are classically “deceitful.” They lead nowhere. They produce no good, but reverberating harm. They only increase and heighten the level of mistrust, rancor, and downright hatred for one another. We only stand to becoming less human, and, a fortiori, less Christian in outlook and mentality.
But we do become, at best, practical and self-serving, like the Jews of old who followed Jesus because they have been fed, people who “work for food that perishes.”
The Lord today invites us to work for food that lasts, for a mentality that comes from a “new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
The road is long and narrow up ahead. The alternative is wide and smooth. The overwhelming majority, judging from what the mass media and popular culture espouse, seem to have been co-opted by the prevailing mentality and practice. Thus the call to renewal in our minds is getting relevant and timely more than ever before. Today, Sunday – a full week after the country was plunged once more into uncertainty, let us put aside, for a change, all out selfish cravings.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
July 26, 2009
Food definitely brings temporary oneness to people in need. Five thousand men (not counting the women and children), saw common cause for a while, united by the common need to be assuaged in their hunger and thirst. In clusters and in groups, they sat down in the cool grass. Soon enough, they sat witness to the unfolding miracle of Jesus’ provident solicitude for the needy crowd.
The scene is not an unfamiliar one in the history of God’s people. Like the much talked about, though little understood, feeling of déjà vu, we see today in the account of St. John almost like a repeat of several instances in the Old Testament where God is presented as one who Himself takes charge of feeding his hungry people. “The hand of the Lord feeds us …” as the first part of today’s response after the first reading goes. Indeed, the Old Testament is never wanting of stories and vignettes about God showing His provident care for His people, about a loving and compassionate God who keeps the needs of His people ever in mind. Today’s first reading is a case in point. Through the prophet Elisha, twenty barley loaves became food for a hundred people, with left-overs to boot.
Elisha “prefigures” Jesus Christ, who also multiplies and offers food to thousands of people. The miracle wrought by Elisha “foreshadows” (as Biblical commentators say) the multiplication of the loaves wrought by Christ. Indeed, as St. Augustine says so succinctly, “the new (testament) lies hidden in the old; the old lies open in the new.” Salvation history is one single loop, beginning with God who loved enough to create and who revealed himself through the creation of life. This same God sustains his creation in life and love. The hand of the Lord, to use the words of the psalmist, continues to feed us. What happened in the Old Testament, what we read in the New Testament, continues to happen in our times, in and through the Church, which is essentially Christ’s abiding and saving presence in the world.
There is more to salvation, however, that just having our needs met. There is more to salvation that just being secure, safe and well-provided for. Indeed, for the vast majority of people in the world, the need for salvation may need to be, at least initially, identified with having their basic needs met. In a world where almost three-fourths of the world’s population make do with one-fourth of the world’s resources, (while one fourth of the world’s population – the inhabitants of the first world – enjoy three fourths of the world’s resources), salvation has to begin concretely where most people are at – in a dire situation of poverty! Evangelization thus cannot and should never be truncated, separated and distinguished from human advancement and promotion. Offering a purely “other-worldly” type of salvation does not attract hungry stomachs. Salvation of this type is nothing more, nothing less than the proverbial “opium” that Marx was talking about. At the same time, merely offering bread to eat does not guarantee faithful disciples. Those who partook of the bread that Jesus multiplied eventually left him when “the going got a bit rough.” They could not withstand the hard teachings of the Lord. Ephemeral, too earthly salvation does not sustain healthy attachment and fidelity to a cause that goes beyond mere sharing of bread and victuals.
The hand of the Lord not only feeds us … the hand of the Lord not only satisfies our temporary – if, physical – needs. No! … He also answers all our needs!
Our needs go beyond bread. Our needs go beyond fellowship. Our needs definitely go far, far beyond mere earthly satisfaction. Paul, by any standard, was not one who enjoyed earthly satisfaction and freedom, at least, during the time when he wrote the passage of the second reading. He was in prison. He was confined to a dark and dank cell. But Paul was inwardly free. Paul was a saved man. Fettered physically, he really soared freely in spirit, and reached out to people who, though unfettered, needed immediate salvation in their concrete lives. He told them: “I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one spirit …”
Our society needs salvation. It needs material, earthly salvation. As things go now, with 24 billion pesos annually going down the drain of corruption, with more than 50% per cent suffering from poverty in various degrees and forms, with so wide a gap between the rich and the poor, with the pronounced difference between the educated and those who can never even hope to be educated within their short life times, the Filipino society stands in deep need of salvation-justice. We still hanker for the day when education, for example, would gradually become the powerful leveller of a society deeply steeped in various forms of class distinctions. It is to be wondered at when this could reasonably be expected to happen, given the rapid commercialization of education, run as most schools are now along the lines of a business, corporate model!
The Lord answers all our needs! We need unity. We need the strength and the power of togetherness. The Lord fills up this need. He does so by our membership in a community of one faith, one baptism, armed with one hope due to our common call. We belong to a community which shows allegiance to one and the same Lord. We love the one and the same “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The Lord does answer all our needs. But He answers those needs through us who now make salvation happen. He answers all those needs through people who, having appropriated subjectively that objective act of redemption wrought by Christ, now are ready to lift up our hands to cooperate with Him and make that same salvation a concrete reality. Salvation takes place through people who, having been redeemed by Christ, now cooperates with the same Lord to make salvation happen to the world, to others, to society and to individuals.
The hand of the Lord feeds us, it is true. But those who have been nourished by the food he offers ought then to nourish others in turn. “Manus manum lavat,” the Latins used to say. This refers to the need for cooperation. One hand washes the other, literally understood. Salvation is as much God’s work as ours now. An old Russian proverb alludes to this rather pointedly: “If you are caught in a storm in the middle of the lake, keep on praying, but also keep on rowing to the shore!” In the call to salvation that is unfolding, happening even now, there is no simply no substitute to being truly united with the author of salvation. We who have shared in his food, we who have shared in the riches of his love, shared in the outpouring of his grace of redemption in and through Christ, are called to be fully and truly one in God, our provident Father. His hand truly feeds us, and he answers all our needs.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B July 19, 2009
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
There is no denying the fact that we live in a deeply fragmented world. We see a lot of suspicion, bias, and prejudice in the world. In the Philippines, Christians mistrust Muslims and Muslims are wary of Christians. With the proliferation of terroristic acts perpetrated by a few misguided zealots, the whole world tends to lump people, civilizations, and religious groups along clearly defined lines and categories. Owing to that old childish penchant for “universalization” even highly educated people fall into the trap of making sweeping generalizations, doing away with the finer – and, assuredly more difficult – nuances of moral discernment.
In many ways, people are uncritically led by certain prevailing views, especially those proffered and exposed – many times even magnified – by the Mass Media! Bombarded by endless reports and repeated subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to certain issues, in a manner that almost borders on propaganda, people are led, co-opted, and controlled by the prevailing commonly-held position. Very gradually but surely, the value systems, the mentality, and the attitudes of the masses are tailored to fit a common mold – that of modern-day purveyors of “culture.”
We modern women and men, all over the world, not excluding the Philippines, constitute the sort of crowd for which the Lord’s heart would be moved with pity. We are the shepherdless flock of sheep that catches the attention of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We are part of a clueless collectivity that actually feels lost in the welter of so many conflicting ideologies, caught in the mire of so much confusion that even goes so far as to become downright confrontation even – sadly – between religious groups.
The Catholic Church has learned her lessons so many centuries ago. There is no way she will go back to a mentality and attitude that says differences ought to be resolved by violence, by going to war, by killing, or the like! Sadly though, we are face to face with the undeniable reality that amongst us Christians, there are those who buy the commonly held doctrine that war still solves many problems, that there is such a thing as a JUST WAR, and that certain peoples need to be taught a lesson – of course, by the force of superior and high-tech military might! How many of us priests (and laity) secretly clapped our hands when Iraq was forcibly conquered? How many of us continue to defend the U.S. policy despite the fact that the so-called WMD (weapons of mass destruction) were nowhere to be found?
Prejudices, biases, commonly held positions … these are all values that are caught, not taught – values that we see, hear and discern in the myriad little things that we say, do or think anent certain issues. A comment here; an innuendo there. A smirk in the face now; a scowl later. How else explain the fact that for so many people, what is morally good is anything that leads to a good effect? How else explain the fact that for so many young people in the Philippines, certain behaviors that were traditionally frowned upon are now considered commonplace? There is a wide avenue for research as to what sort of moral values are being proffered by the current fad of imported and local telenovelas and chinovelas that hog our prime time TV networks by the day.
There is a reason for us to reflect a little more on the warning of Jeremiah the prophet: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” But there, too, is sufficient reason for us to be hopeful and at relative peace at the realization that this Sunday’s liturgy leads us to. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
But there ought to be some kind of an investment on our part. The Gospel of Mark tells us that after the Lord was moved at the sight of the crowd, “he began to teach them many things.” No teacher ever gets the appellation “teacher” without students willing to be taught. No shepherd is worth his salt without a flock to follow him. I would like to think that the Church grew from that little “band of brothers” (the twelve) because they listened to their Master and were willing to be taught. They were not only taught. They caught all the Master’s values, attitudes and mentality, thus becoming in their turn, “shepherds after the heart of Christ,” their Master and Lord. They behaved like sheep who heard his voice, who were known by the Shepherd and who followed their Shepherd.
I know for a fact that you are here at Mass today because deep inside, you still hold on to that truth that we all need guidance; we all need shepherding. We feel lost. We feel misguided. And we feel many times confused in this highly pluralistic world. So many voices, each one espousing a particular position, confront our capacity for moral choices. The glitter of money, power and pleasure all but blinds us and renders our capacity for moral discernment a little clouded over and muddled. The siren song of a specie “autonomous morality” taken away from their moorings based on an objective moral order continues to beckon us to go on the side of utilitarianism, individualism, and merely personal good. The culture makes it so easy for us to agree with war-mongers who claim “common good” as the reason for them to invade, destroy and kill. The same culture makes it so easy for us to “hate” all those who think differently from us, who are plain “different” and “abnormal” from our point of view. Racism, regionalism, ethnocentrism … they all go under many guises, but they all point to prejudice and simple lack of that all-inclusive charity that the Lord teaches us.
I would like to believe that the basic reason why you are here today is that you would like to be guided. This, the Good Shepherd indeed does! He teaches us! He leads us! And he does so first of all, by reminding us to come to conscious awareness of the prejudices and the biases – all sorts of values – that we have caught, ever so subtly, unwitttingly, all these so many years.
There is a little need for reflection and “spiritual respite” for us to come to this form of what Paolo Freire calls conscientizacao – the coming into conscious and deep awareness of ourselves, of the world, and of the ways that society has made itself to be. The Lord told his disciples: “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”
This coming away by ourselves and resting awhile is partly what you have come here for. All this reflection then ought to lead to conscientizacao. And the process happens because we have allowed the Good Shepherd himself to teach us, and lead us. It is time we gave him a hearing. Better yet… it is time we followed him, who is the Way, all the way, and for always!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B) July 12, 2009
Usually, rejection comes with scorn, with disdain, with a whole lot of sarcasm and biting humor, and – to top it all off – perhaps a subtle accusation to boot. All this appears to be what is behind the experience of Amos, the prophet. The envious Amaziah, probably acting at the behest of the King, told Amos in effect to shut up or ship out. Lumping Amos with the band of rowdy and noisy charlatans – the paid “visionaries” of the time – Amaziah tells him to scram and get lost. He tells Amos to go and get cheaply paid some place else, not anywhere near the King’s “sanctuary and royal temple.”
It is bad enough to be rejected. But it is even worse to be accused, subtly or not so subtly, that he was nothing more than a paid hack, a cheapjack who earned his keeps by prophesying. It was an accusation that merited a straightforward answer from the not-so-easily-discouraged Amos: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to the company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
I would like to think that there is more to Amos than just his being a feisty prophet with a ready answer to real or imagined opposition, just as there was more to Paul the apostle than just his sturdiness and determination in the face of all sorts of trials and difficulties. That something more has little to do with will power. Nor has it to do merely with holding fast and firm to a decision made earlier.
I suggest it has to do with a sense of purpose, a sense of mission that comes, not from oneself, but from above.
This is the sense of purpose and mission that comes out clearly in the Gospel passage of today. We see this in action as Jesus sends his band of twelve two by two. We see this actualized by the disciples who were willing to do as bidden by the Lord not for what they could get in return by way of reward, not for whatever affirmation and adulation they could get from enthusiastic throngs, but simply for the reason that they were sent on a mission by the Lord.
Despite the dour predictions of the three recent surveys on the youth to the effect that the famed religiosity of Filipinos is fast disappearing in these postmodern times, we still do find solace in the incontrovertible fact that, by and large, there are still a lot of Filipinos who consider their Christian faith a valuable treasure, and who still cultivate, in their own simple ways, a lively attachment to God, Jesus Christ our Lord, and His Church on earth. Churches are still filled to capacity each Sunday, and long lines still go to communion (although much is left to be desired in terms of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, both on the part of the faithful and that of the priests who seldom make themselves available for confessions).
Still, there is no room for jubilation and for an attitude of complacency. So many of those who style themselves “good Catholics” really do not go beyond the minimum in terms of religious observance, a type of faith that is much too private and individualistic, an attachment to the Church that does not translate to taking active part in the missionary, apostolic work of the Church. For most Filipino Catholics, a privatized faith is still the closest they can get to being full-pledged members of their respective parishes and dioceses. And the situation is not any better when it comes to covenanted communities and members of so many religious, public or private associations in the Church. A whole lot of self-care and small-group-oriented activities (no doubt laudable in the sense that members get regular formation and shepherding) characterizes these communities and groupings. But the well-meaning concern of these basically very good people does not approximate the level of “mission” awareness and orientation that Amos and the disciples of the Lord, including Paul, seem to be leading us to today.
Far too many of us still remain too centered on our own personal growth. Far too many groups still remain too self-centered. Programs do not go beyond the good of our small “chapter,” or “household,” or “action group,” as the case may be. Such communities and groups may tend to be satisfied with their own gatherings, periodic conventions, formation sessions, and a whole lot and far-too-often “feel-good” retreats and spiritual encounters on a regular basis.
There is, however, precious little awareness of a sense of purpose and a sense of mission in the context of a missionary Church, which ought to be and to remain a “community of disciples.” There, too, is very little sense of urgency to face the daunting task up ahead of trying one’s best to at least slow down the rapid decline of the Philippine society towards a Godless, “post-Christian” mentality abetted by a mass media induced culture of consumerism, materialism and other evils brought about by the forces of soul-less and morally rudderless globalization.
We hear the stirrings today of a renewed call to discipleship in our midst. We hear the echoes of what the late Holy Father, John Paul II, ever since he first assumed the office as Pope, has always been crying for – the need for a New Evangelization in answer to the new challenges posed by these postmodern times.
Let us not make any mistake about it. The call is for everyone … every baptized Christian … every man and woman of faith …clergy and laity alike. That means, in concrete you who read this (or listen to me) right now. Yes you!
Church history is not without a long list of examples of people who obeyed the divine summons to go and teach. Although it sounds a little trite and worn, let me say it all the same … the list of holy women and men who have been raised to the glories of the altar – the saints! But we do not have to go too far. Right here in the Philippines, we have many Christian couples and individuals who have gone abroad to do their share of new evangelization. Literally thousands do quiet work being leavens in their own respective little worlds, in schools, offices, factories, parishes and communities.
A poem I love comes in handy today to remind us of the continuing challenge and call posed to us believers by no less than the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Francis Thompson calls “the hound of heaven.” Thompson compares Jesus to a hound, a hunting dog, out in patient search for us, his “prey,” despite our repeated attempts at eluding “capture,” despite the so many times we have been running away from Him. Perhaps it is time we allowed the Lord to snare us and catch up with us … Perhaps it is time we gave Him the needed space for Him to make of us “disciples-in-mission.” For in the final analysis, as Thompson says, he who betrays the Lord will be betrayed by all; he who contents not the Lord can not expect to be contented by anything; and that, at bottom, it is the Lord really whom we all seek! Here goes the whole lovely poem:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under the running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And host, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
I knew all the swift importings
On the willful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumed of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And in its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! We know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak –
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts of her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet –
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet –
“Lo! Naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten to my knee;
I am defenseless utterly.
I sleep methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rush lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years –
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! Is Thy love indeed
A weed albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! Must –
Designer infinite! –
Ah! Must Thou char the wooed ere Thou canst limn with
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
The harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!”
“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How has thou merited –
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of nay love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All of which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp my hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly!
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Who thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
Thursday, July 2, 2009
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 5, 2009
Sunday Reflection / Catholic Homily
Ezekiel was not one who would mince words. He was not the type who would soft-pedal an important message, or one who would hesitate, or even doubt prophesying at all, when face to face with people who, he knew all too well, could either relent or resist. Heedful or rejecting, rebellious or ultimately accepting, … whatever it was that characterized Ezekiel’s hearers was the least of his concerns. Ezekiel prophesied “in season and out of season.” “And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez 2:5).
On the other hand, we see Paul today in a moment of sincere and utter self-acceptance, a time when he recognizes that even God-sent apostles and prophets like him do have their difficult moments, a portion in life when, like the Master Himself, who begged the Father in his most agonizing moments at the Garden of Gethsemani: “If it is possible, take this cup away from me … but not my will, but yours be done.” Paul refers to his famous “thorn in the flesh,” about which, “three times [he] begged the Lord […] that it might leave [him].” We see Paul humbly accepting his weakness. We see him, too, humbly claiming the power behind that weakness – Christ. On account of him, and for his sake, he could humbly declare: “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
That type of rejection that blunts, as it were, the power of the prophet to do good on behalf of those he is sent to, was also part of the experience of Christ, who saw first hand a sore lack of acceptance on the part of his very own townmates and acquaintances. They saw in him no more than a lowly carpenter, the son of a carpenter too, a very ordinary guy from the neighborhood. Surely, they thought, this man, a local guy like all of them “average” inhabitants of Nazareth, could not have been capable of making great waves, let alone do wonders! Ordinary folks are only capable of ordinary strokes, they must have thought.
The picture conjured up by these three distinct but at the same time, similar vignettes of three prophets is nothing short of timely and relevant, given the situation the Church finds herself in these days. If we go by what commentators, cartoonists, journalists and anchor persons both on radio and TV, and the print media endlessly love to harp on and talk about ad nauseam, the Church’s (and her modern-day prophets’) experience is not exactly one of enthusiastic and welcome acceptance.
We see rejection left and right. We see the erosion of trust in not a few quarters. We feel people second-guessing their priest-pastors all the time, not any different from the way Jesus’ townmates murmured among themselves: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters with us?”
There are those who obviously “take offense” at us! And there are those who consciously and deliberately conspire in order to make even more and more people to take offense at us. Without in any way intending to condone the possible and actual indiscretions that some of us have done, I perceive a strong current of rejection of the Church and what she stands for, which now finds justification in the unfortunate events that happened involving some men of the cloth both in high and low places. People with axes to grind against the Church now find a perfect vehicle on which to hitch their personal issues. The sin of Peter is ascribed to Paul. The mistake of a few is made out to be a mistake of the whole.
The Church, as a whole, has been getting a great deal of bashing from the media and the forum of public opinion. The Church’s and, her pastors’ weakness has been exposed!
All three readings today offer us a salutary perspective given the atmosphere of rejection and mistrust that prevails, at least on the part of those who are in a position to manipulate the flow and direction of public opinion. With many of them claiming to be catholics and active members of the Church, today is a good day for them and for all of us to be reminded that prophets and pastors like Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus Christ Himself, cannot be cowered into silence by rejection and non-acceptance. Truth and the proclamation of the truth never was, never is, and never will be dependent on people’s enthusiastic acceptance. Ezekiel told them like it is, and unmindful of the people’s rejection, found solace in the thought that people would know “that a prophet [was] among them.” Despite the “thorn in the flesh,” Paul found out that it was in his weakness, that he really was strong.
The Church is definitely humbled by the sins of the fathers. We, your pastors, are humbled and mortified by our own personal sins, some of which indeed, caused, and still cause, anguish to many of you and even cause you to take offense at us, at the Church, - at times even - at the Lord Himself! We do not deny the weaknesses that there are within our ranks, among our leaders, within our persons, and within the Church. Media practitioners just love to expose and rehash every lurid detail they could get their hands on.
I call on everyone, especially those who have taken offense at the Church and her pastors, all those who are hurting in some way, all those who continue to inflict wounds on mother Church, all those who continue to suffer the rapid erosion of respect from people, all those who are struggling with their faith and sense of lively attachment to the Church – all of us who owe so much to the Church that has tried her best to be Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher) to us all, since we were baptized … please pray together with the whole Church as we declare: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” We fix our eyes on the Lord, who alone is the strength of those who falter and have faltered. We fix our gaze on the Lord, whose grace alone is “sufficient for [us], for power is made perfect in weakness.” We plead for his mercy on behalf of all those who, on account of their sins, have caused so much anguish to so many in the Church. We plead for God’s mercy so that the sins of a few would not be imputed to the whole. We plead for his mercy so that the weaknesses of a few that keep on hogging the headlines, may ultimately spell strength for the overwhelming majority who, by and large, ever so quietly, go faithfully through their daily duties albeit unreported, unheralded, unsung – nay more, - even unrewarded materially speaking.
In the final analysis, it is not those who succumbed to human weakness and who unfortunately caught the eye – and the ire – of a culture that looks for convenient scapegoats to our collective guilt and sinfulness, that will bring the boat that is the Church back to the safety of the shores of acceptance. But it is the prophets in our midst, the unsung and quiet heroes who live silent, faithful and persevering apostolic lives who, despite non-acceptance, despite rejection and loss of respect and esteem, who preach in season and out of season, who tell things “like it is,” who humbly accept that in their weakness, Christ is their strength … these are the men and women who are worth being talked and written about, but whose stories – at least for now – would not sell and would not get enthusiastic applause, and which therefore, get no media mileage to speak of.
Ezekiel did not get it. Neither did St. Paul, with his “warts and all” (thorn in the flesh). And most of all, neither did Jesus get mobbed and followed by enthusiastic crowds as he told them “like it is.” And in case you forget what we heard last Sunday, solemnity of Peter and Paul, “Not even the gates of hell will prevail against [the Church].”
My fellow priests and pastors, cower not in shameful silence! Preach and prophesus with conviction and commitment. My fellow Christian believers, go on listening to the prophets in your midst!