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Monday, September 28, 2009

YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE PART OF THE KINGDOM




Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)

October 4, 2009


There is something disarmingly real, authentic and genuine in children that one is hard pressed to find among adults. Children are naturally loyal, dedicated and committed to their caregivers. Watch a toddler and his unalloyed attachment to his mother or his primary caregiver. Children value relationships. They prize their belongingness to a family. And they make no secret about such healthy attachment to a family system. Ordinarily, for the normal child, the family is a matter of pride for him or her.


Adults on the other hand, may be far less spontaneous and straightforward about where their real sympathies and concerns lie. Having learned with the passage of time to dissimulate, to manipulate, and to capitulate to some internal or external pressures, adults may value themselves more than they value the collectivity, the family, the community, the nation, or the world community at large.


Adults can become selfish, self-centered and manipulative. The growing and not waning popularity of chinovelas, koreanovelas, and telenovelas, whether imported or home-grown, is clear proof of this. Broken relationships, infidelity, broken promises and scheming plans that individuals resort to in order outdo one another, constitute as an inexhaustible source of grist for the soap-opera mill that keeps the two major rival TV networks in the Philippines in lucrative business – and in cutthroat competition. Try looking for just one soap opera that does not capitalize on such basic themes as family relationships, interpersonal intimacy, the characters’ capacity (or its opposite) for fidelity, commitment and dedication to persons and sublime causes, and I am pretty sure one will find it difficult to find one. All stories revolve around issues of human relationality and the search for authenticity and meaningfulness in relationships in all aspects and levels of our personal and societal lives.


Today’s liturgy and the readings it offers ought not to be reduced to the usual narrow issue of divorce, as most preachers would most likely delve on today. I would rather approach this Sunday’s reflection from the point of view of something broader, something more foundational, something which adults can very well pick from children’s examples. A child, after all, was used by Jesus himself to illustrate something very important for adults like us to learn. To such children as these, Jesus reminds us, the Kingdom of God belongs.


Let us unpack this a little bit more. Children teach us unalloyed attachment and fidelity, as we said above. Relationship, for them, is not something they walk in and out of. They are born in the context of a family relationship, and that solid family relationship can only come from parents who have modeled for them what a lifetime relationship ought to be – a bond so strong and intimate … “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” … “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” But it is adults who walk in and deliberately walk out of each other’s lives. It is adults who can decide to close one’s self in, and fence others out. It is adults who can have enough guts to cut others off from one’s life path.


It is time we reversed the pattern, as Jesus did. In the context of a thorny discussion on the matter of divorce, Jesus quotes the same Genesis passage quoted in the first reading and adds: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Interestingly enough, the evangelist Mark follows this up with a passage about children being brought up to him to be blessed. Some adults in his midst including his disciples rebuked the children. But Jesus “became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”


When it comes to human relationships, the passage seems to be telling us, we cannot delve on it deeply enough without touching on what children and their innate attitudes and basic openness to others can teach us adults. The question for now is not whether we are adult enough to remain faithful and committed to each other in whatever relationships or lifetime commitments we are involved in. The question is whether we have what it takes to remain in such commitment.


Jesus shows us an example of who or what type of persons have what it takes – children. It is children who are openly accepting of the kingdom, who are open fully to the demands of a committed relationship, who are loyal and who genuinely prize the value of dedicated and committed relationships, who ought to model for adults the beauty and the full meaning of a lifetime relationship such as marriage and relationship in the context of family life.


Contrast this to what is represented by the prevailing culture, particularly of the mass media. People enter into loose partnerships, and not necessarily deep and lasting relationships. Partnerships have to do primarily with security and material well-being; relationships have to do more with interpersonal growth and mutual enrichment. Partnerships, at bottom, cater to the one’s personal needs; relationships foster mutual transcendence that goes far beyond personal needs. Relationships foster the other’s growth and fulfillment. And since the focus is more on the other and the growth of the mutual relationship, a deep and lasting commitment such as married life calls for traits and characteristics that are modeled by children whose dedication, commitment and healthy attachment to their families are non pareil!


Today’s liturgy, therefore, is a telling lesson not only on marital fidelity, dedication and commitment, but also on family cohesion, unity and family intimacy and relationships. Families, not merely couples, are called to unity and lasting intimacy. At a time when a multiplicity of challenges beset family integrity and unity all over the world, when the prevailing popular culture speaks of facility in terms of moving in and out of temporary “family clusters,” when distinct and disparate families can easily “blend” together and create new “fusions” and “alliances” based more on material well-being and security rather than committed love, today’s liturgy and readings would have us cast a long look at children and what they can teach us sophisticated adults. It is time couples became a lot less focused on themselves and their mutual relationships. It is high time they looked a little more on children, not so much in terms of these children’s needs, but in terms of what they can teach the very same couples and adults in general. Children, who are basically and fundamentally open to lasting relationships, who are naturally and innately receptive to issues of fidelity, unity, trust, commitment, attachment and dedication, are those indeed, to whom the Kingdom belongs. For the Kingdom of God is basically togetherness of disparate and distinct persons into one community, which God in Jesus His Son and our Savior, has come to gather all of us into. In a very real sense, children are those who are deeply open to belongingness, to family togetherness, to community. They are thus, young enough to be part of the kingdom of God! And adults like us had better be like them and accept them if we want to be part of the kingdom.

Monday, September 21, 2009

TOGETHER, TO GATHER WITH THE LORD!


Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)

Sept. 27, 2009


Last week, St. James reminded us that “jealousy and selfish ambition” stand side by side with “disorder and every foul practice.” He coaxes us to seek for its antidote, which is “wisdom from above,” or holiness of life.


Today’s first reading shows us a concrete example of what earthly, worldly wisdom, not the kind that comes “from above,” can lead all of us to – selfishness, and the unwillingness to share with others whatever good thing we may have in us. Eldad and Medad, two individuals who, in some way, could very well be considered “outsiders,” who “had not gone out to the tent,” but on whom “the spirit came to rest” all the same, and who “prophesied in the camp,” incurred the envy and selfishness of a young man. This young fellow even had the temerity to tell Moses: “Moses my Lord, stop them.”


Under the guise of being protective of Moses’ prerogative as the chosen prophet and leader, the young man had become too guarded, too jealous, and too restrictive of something that the “spirit of the Lord” has come to give out so generously to people, to “seventy elders,” we are told, who then began to prophesy. Perhaps unwittingly, the selfish young man had in a very real sense resorted to building a protective fence around what he thought ought to have been restricted and guarded so jealously.


The problem, of course, with building fences lies in this: one fences “out,” as much as one fences something “in.” When one selfishly restricts others, one actually ends up constricting oneself, too, in the process. Closing the gates on others can really mean also closing the gates on oneself, cooping oneself up in a sealed, but sterile environment that smothers individuals, not gathers persons. When one shuts the doors to others, one may simply wither, devoid of the riches of what being together with others may bring.


The expansive and perceptive Moses lost no time in addressing the issue forthrightly: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”


Moses was zeroing in on what he and the 70 elders were sent to do in the first place: work together, in order to gather people under the sway of the only true God. Inclusivity is the good news that Moses preached. Inclusivity – or universality, if you will, is the great news the prophets were sent for. And shutting people out, picking on two erstwhile absentees (outsiders), discriminating and singling out individuals who did not seem to “fulfill all the requirements” does not form part of this good news.


We could do a lot less of such selfishness in our society today!


There seems to be a whole lot of selfishness in what appears, on the surface, to be groups that cater to people’s and groups’ spirit of unity, belongingness, and camaraderie. Fraternities and sororities all profess the spirit of fraternal camaraderie, sharing and caring between members, for one. Assuredly not bad in itself, one only wonders whether that same spirit of concern could also be extended to others, who, for one reason or another, may be marginalized. People who come from the same schools could cultivate some kind of esprit d’corps. They may swap the same stories, and recount familiar old tales. They can have long hours recounting and repeating the same jokes and anecdotes. But again, one wonders if the warm feelings associated with alumni homecomings can translate to genuine concern and caring for those outside the privileged circle, those who need a little more than a recounting of stories “for good old times’ sake.” Graduates of the Philippines’ premier military institution, who actually were paid for handsomely by Juan de la Cruz’ hard-earned money, could go into a culture equivalent to the Italian concept of omerta’ and can be jealously protective of each other’s skin that even crimes against the state may be covered for in the name of this code of silence and loyalty to fellow “mistahs.” The supercilious and exclusive moneyed class in our midst, could be so jealously protective of their turf, and their quality of life, as to be so unconcerned, if not downright contemptuous of those who may not be in the same league as they are.


There is a whole lot of fencing in and fencing out in our society …sadly, including our Christian communities.


The call to Christian inclusivity rings loud in today’s liturgy. The call is addressed to all of us who all have the tendency to exclude others out. There is a bit of the jealous young man in all of us; a bit of the rich in every one of us; a bit even of the young John who told the Lord in his misguided zeal: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” There is in each and everyone of us that tendency to look over our shoulders as we follow the Lord, and see all the mistakes that other would-be followers do. Envy and jealousy, and a lot, too, of what we condescendingly call “politics” takes place in every grouping, every community, including catholic covenanted communities – why, including the Church herself! Has it not occurred to anyone of you, that, while parish priests and religious superiors are constantly being changed, the so-called lay “elders” in so many covenanted communities stay up there in their ivory tower offices all their lives? Is it then any wonder that after so much time being kowtowed to by people down the line, some of them eventually begin to think they have a direct line to heaven and that they can read the leadings of the Spirit, like they read horoscopes? Is it any wonder then that some individuals who begin to “rock the boat” get banished from the circle of the ruling elite, and are then “fenced out” as much as is possible?


The good news is good for me, for us men of the cloth, for us priests and religious – and superiors – as it is good for the ordinary woman or man of the street. This is the good news that pricks our sense of self-complacency. This is the good news that the Lord would like to tell all of us – whether we are in or out of a privileged circle right at this moment. That good news is the good news of inclusivity, the good news that welcomes all. This is the good news of salvation, which is a call for everyone, without exception. What does being Church really mean for us today then? It means being together in the Lord, to gather everyone in His name. “For whoever is not against us, is for us!”

Monday, September 14, 2009

THAT “DAMNED SPOT” IN OUR LIVES



Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

September 20, 2009


Scheming and plotting – along with the guilt that they bring to the more sensitive souls among us, are not a monopoly of modern women and men like us. Among others, envy, jealousy, selfish ambition and other forms of “foul practice” are among the regular themes that help keep the teleserye crazed entertainment industry financially rewarding. Such emotions and baser drives that are considered part and parcel of our being human, constitute the foundation of so many plots of novels, movies, and soap operas so much awaited and appreciated all over the world.


“Out, damned spot!” This futile, though feverish – if, compulsive – cry of Lady Macbeth, gnawed by guilt after having taken part in a murderous conspiracy, is a very clear illustration of what all this scheming can lead to – misery for both the perpetrator and the victim.


But lest we fall into an unredeemable state of hopelessness and pessimism, I would hasten to add that this is just one side of the equation in terms of our being human, steeped as we are, by the will of God the Creator, in a world of possibilities to becoming holy… human, yes … but not only so … humans called to holiness!


We must situate ourselves in proper perspective at this point. The first reading refers to the nefarious plottings of wicked men: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings.” But the same plottings are directed, mind you, towards the “just one.” Now, this is an eloquent declaration that good men, and the possibility for goodness to thrive in the midst of evil, do exist in the real world. James the Apostle is definitely cognizant of this twin sided truth. Goodness, which he calls “wisdom from above,” stands out in stark contrast to “jealousy and selfish ambition.” Wisdom, he says, “is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.”


Today’s liturgy places us right in the heart of the classical battle between good and evil.


Let us do a reality check for a short while … The world is still mired in so much violence. Terrorism seems to hog the headlines almost everyday. All over the world, people continue to get paranoid over terroristic threats that hang menacingly like Damocles’ sword. In the local scene, politicians always seem to get the better of us all. It seems so easy to slide to the rock bottom of pessimism and hopelessness, seeing that, for so long, all the people on whom we have pinned so much of our hopes, leave us all disappointed in the end, left holding an empty bag all the time. The whole system in the country always seems to corrupt even the most idealistic person who makes the mistake of going to the fray and entering the lions’ den called Philippine politics.


But let us say more. Let us not stop at this one-sided view of things. In the midst of all this, we see thousands of couples and individuals, along with thousands of ecclesial groups and clusters, not only in the Philippines, but also all over the world, who have taken upon themselves and generously responded to the Holy Father’s call to new evangelization. Literally millions of Filipinos have awakened from the half-stupor of their inherited ritualistic faith and made of it a more personal and dedicated commitment to a personal and living God, via the Catholic Renewal movement. Even as I write, I make a mental recall of names of concrete and living lay men and women who, in their own way, are shining examples of mature faith.


Still, the tendency towards sin, selfishness and “every foul practice” remains in all of us. The Gospel passage of today tells us that not even the small band of the twelve close-in followers of Jesus during his public ministry was an exception. The Lord was all enthused telling them about his imminent death and eventual rising from the dead. But the disciples apparently had other more important concerns in mind. They were locked in a little contest, in a race for whoever it was who would be the first and the greatest. Jesus’ words of utmost importance were obliterated by the disciples’ impertinence! The disciples, in a few words, just seemed to have lost perspective! Discipleship at that moment, was figuratively reduced to a discus-throwing contest. Following the Lord obviously became secondary to “pulling one’s own strings” and aiming for number one!


The disciples’ loss of perspective and their sliding down to utter impertinence occasioned not only a rebuke from the Lord, but also a living presentation of what it means to be first in the Kingdom: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And he proceeded to present the most telling and living lesson that was never to be forgotten: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”


We all lose our bearings at times. When we are down and out, it is far easier to be focused on our goals, on the direction our life takes. But it is when the going is smooth and serene that we often lose focus and our life begins to veer off course. Too much attention now on money; too much worry later about one’s good name, one’s status. A little too exaggerated concern for comfort now; a lot of undue attention given to the distant future later … The list is endless. Wealth, power, prestige … either the undue desire for them or the perceived utter lack of them in our lives … they can make us all lose our perspective. And when we do, we lose enthusiasm; we lose optimism; we lose faith and trust in the Lord and we gradually get locked in a permanent struggle to be “the first and the greatest.”


Two extreme situations can both make us lose that needed perspective in life: too much, on the one hand, or too little, on the other. Success, fame, fortune … too much of a good thing; sadness, darkness, disappointment, death … too little of what is considered good … Both can send us right down to the basement of despair and personal darkness. Either way, we lose the meaning of life and we get the feeling that we simply have lost hold of everything in life.


It is good for us to be reminded – as the Lord does today – that a simple child in all its simplicity and freedom from care, a child that is the best epitome of one who goes through life focused on just being a child, oblivious of what worries may come, undistracted by the adult games of “who’s the greatest of them all?” can indeed shame us and lead us back to our bearings in life. And what seems to be the child’s message? “THE LORD UPHOLDS MY LIFE!” It is when we recognize that we are deep down in the basement of personal spiritual darkness that we can say with the psalmist and really mean it for what it is worth: “O God, by your name, save me, and by your might defend my cause… For the haughty men have risen up against me, the ruthless seek my life; they set not God before their eyes.”


That loss of perspective … that “damned spot” in our lives … must be nothing more, nothing less and nothing else than this: we “have not set God before our eyes.” And all it takes is a simple child to rouse us from this blind stupor of a bland, faith-less existence.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

GRATITUDE, NOT GRUMBLINGS




Catholic Homily / Reflection on the Liturgy of the Day

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Sept. 14, 2009


It is easy enough to sound pious and serene during the good days. It costs nothing much to talk about braving the storm when the sun is up and shining, and it is no problem to talk about living life fully when one is healthy, when one is in the prime of life, and when everybody around you seems to be bubbling with the energy of relative health and youth.


But it is when we find ourselves wandering apparently aimlessly in the hot and sultry desert of uncertainty and monotony that all niceties and superficial piety evaporate faster than the manna of old could be desiccated by the merciless desert sun. In times such as these, when the reality of a difficult, nomadic life in the desert, far from one’s real home, far from the relative comforts of a life one has gotten used to, albeit in slavery in a foreign land, far from the much awaited “promised land,” one understands why the Israelites gave in to grumblings and complaints: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”


When one looks at pain, suffering and death in the eye … when one sees mortal pain and the very real possibility of yourself or someone you love dying soon … when anguish, mortal anguish stares you in the face and you know it won’t go away anytime soon, gratitude grovels and shrivels at the root. Grumblings take the better of us, and our eyes are cast downward in desperation, if not anger or frustration, at a God who does not seem to care.


So why does the Church celebrate the ultimate symbol of pain, suffering and death – the cross? Why is it that Church liturgy since early times, extols the cross, which, after all, was the most shameful, most painful, most inhumane, and most humiliating form of capital punishment humankind has ever invented? The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross that we CELEBRATE today, indeed, defies logic and what so many people call common sense.


There is simply no logic, no rhyme and reason to it all! That is, from the purely human, earthly, worldly way of reckoning and reasoning.


But it is this very same lack of logic and explanation that stands behind the reason for our celebration today. Celebration, the kind we do in our times, is really cheap. The kind of celebration we often do may not go beyond commemoration – an act of remembering an event that happened in the past. Thus we celebrate birthdays. We gather to remember the event of our birth or of a loved one or a friend. We also celebrate anniversaries. And we keep count of the years and each one has a particular appellation attached: paper anniversary, silver anniversary, pearl anniversary, golden, diamond, etc. The celebration that we often do is a look backward in time, a counting of years gone by, mostly, assuredly, not a bad motivation to pop a bottle of champagne for, or make a sumptuous spread of food to be shared with friends and loved ones.


Today, however, the Church celebrates the exaltation of the cross. Here we speak primarily not of a material event that happened at some point in the past. Here, we are face to face with a MEANING of an event, a meaning attached to a salvific event that, indeed, took place in the past but which has repercussions that persist up until the present, and the future. Historical though it definitely is, what we celebrate really goes beyond history, for the meaning of it all embraces the realm of mystery.

We celebrate the exaltation of the cross, based on a historical event of the discovery of the wood of the cross by St. Helena, but which goes beyond that undoubtedly historically significant event. We celebrate the meaning attached to a bigger event – the salvific event that the cross stands for – the mystery of our salvation!


But all this serves nothing to assuage my pain and suffering, you say? What for is all this deep theologizing if this cannot at all remove the pain I am undergoing at the moment? Where does all this conceptualizing lead one who is deep in the throes of real, personal pain to? Just what advantage does Christian faith have over others who are in similar predicaments? Just what sort of bearing does my faith have on this existential pain that just would not go away?


I would like to think that the same first reading gives us a clue to the answer. “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”


The implication seems to be clear enough. No, there is no direct and cut-and-dried answer to pain and suffering. No, the cross will not take away the pain, for that is what the cross is all about. It is all about facing pain headlong. It is all about meeting death squarely. It is all about embracing suffering and dying in answer to a summons and a call from above. It is all about doing the will of Him who sent him, so that others might live!


Faith therefore does not have a ready answer to our existential questions. Faith offers no solutions to concrete problems that are part and parcel of our being human – fallen, but redeemed. Faith ought to lead us to a spirituality and spirituality, among others, means a way of making concepts and the contents of our faith come to fruition and application in our lives. Spirituality is not mere knowing what to believe. Spirituality is being caught up in a world of meaning, a world of mystery. Rainier Maria Rilke speaks of this in terms of not anymore trying to find answers to difficult questions, but in terms of loving the very questions themselves.


There is a whole lot of tension in my personal life of faith right now, I must confess. It is tension that springs from a difficulty I find myself in right now – that of integrating my faith with the current situation of personal pain associated with the work I am expected to do. In moments such as these, I am called, as much as each one of you is, or will be, at some time or other in your lives, to love the very questions themselves, and to embrace the mystery of the cross which, for the nth time, has become more than just an image, an icon, or a feast to preach on. The cross has once more become real to me, so real as to cause sleepless nights and veritable “wrestling” bouts with the Lord of life, the God of the living and of the dead – and of the dying!


There is need for me, and for all of us, to “look up to the Lord” as much as the Israelites, bitten by the serpent that stood for everything vile and unacceptable in our lives, had to look up to the bronze serpent on the pole. I need to look and really see beyond the event that gives so much anguish and pain. I need to have perspective!


This, my friends, is what faith-become-a-spirituality offers us – perspective! This is what we all need to keep in mind and treasure in our hearts – perspective … a way of looking at reality, at events, at everything that happens, or does not happen, or could happen, come what may; happen what might!

Although it may sound trite and worn to some of you, let me remind you of an old, old song that comes in handy as I face life ahead, hopefully with an unflinching, unflappable perspective … “Day by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray: to know Thee more clearly; love Thee more dearly; follow Thee more nearly, day by day!”


Day by day! It is my hope and prayer that all of us get to have that needed perspective that would give us the needed strength and courage to face what needs to be faced. Today is a good day to begin. In this perspectival view of life, the cross looms large in the horizon. And blessed are those who have seen and believed, because by His cross, Christ has redeemed the world!

Monday, September 7, 2009

WALKING BEFORE THE LORD IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING!



Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

September 13, 2009


The first reading taken from Isaiah almost sounds strange during ordinary time. The last time we heard it was Good Friday, when every word and every line seems to fit the focus of our liturgical memorial.


But liturgy being what it is, a memorial indeed that makes present and alive what we hold as true in mind, at heart, and in our common history and destiny, this reading is never out of time, out of place, and out of kilter.


The confidence with which Isaiah recounts the suffering servant’s woes and throes, ending as he does with an avowed statement: “See, the Lord God is my help,” is confirmed by our own conviction as we now state: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living!”


It does not say “walking with,” but “walking before” the Lord. It denotes nothing of what we might call a paternalistic, patronizing presence, but a gentle, loving presence of one who lets us be, and lets us go the way of personal freedom, whilst keeping us ever in His sight. It is a walking, despite finding oneself in the valley of death, “in the land of the living.”


I am sure we all could think of times and occasions in our life when walking our various responsibilities might be described more as what the psalmist in Psalm 23 refers to as the “valley of death.” I am sure we all could identify ourselves with one who, in his or her desire to “walk the talk” in God’s name, feels like one is going into the uncharted territory of indifference, rejection, if not downright hatred for what he or she does, with good intentions and all. I am certain that despite our resolve to do good, that very resolved might at times, be taken for a twisted desire to push one’s personal agenda forward.


I speak about being misunderstood, being second-guessed by people who know nothing better than to think ill of others and impute on them the vilest of motives for whatever they set out to do.


Isaiah knows whereof he speaks. Isaiah, speaking on behalf of the “suffering servant” figure, pours out as much his sorrow as his joyful conviction: “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”


Isaiah knows whereof he speaks … as one who walked barefoot three years (Is 20), as one who uttered oracles to a “people walking in darkness,” as one who “walked” for God and His cause, all through his prophetic mission, Isaiah is one credible “hiker” who walked the walk and walked the talk.


Walking before, and not simply walking with, might just mean a number of things for us now. God lets us be. God leaves us free. He created us with two irrevocable gifts attached to our personhood: intelligence and freedom. He does not take our hand to tell us what to do. He does not force Himself in on us although He calls us to the ways that lead to greater freedom, the ways that lead to peace and everlasting life, but He leaves us to decide and choose – to choose life instead of death.


He reminds us today to walk before Him … to use our freedom for Him and His cause. St. James’ reminder comes in handy here: “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Walking before the Lord then would mean taking up responsibility for ourselves and on behalf of God. It means walking the walk and walking the talk in God’s name.


But all this has to begin somewhere. According to Isaiah, it begins with a confession … “See, the Lord God is my help!” But that “talk” has to be turned into a “walk” – a walking before, a walking FOR God! “Faith without works is dead!”


Times there are, as exactly like the present moment, when I feel I am walking in the valley of darkness. The new assignment I have is not exactly rosy. I feel I have walked into a lion’s den, trying to run a school with its own tradition of more than 5 decades, in a world where there is a whole lot of “hidden players” who have each their own little petty agenda that stands in the way of a common platform. We have the responsibility without the corresponding authority, and on top of all this, we cannot disregard the high expectations of all the major stakeholders, hidden or out in plain view.


But I do have to walk the walk and walk the talk. I am still being asked the question asked of Peter and the rest of the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” This is a question I cannot dodge, deflect, and desist. “Who do I say Jesus is … for me … for now … for posterity … and forever?


We started this walk many decades ago. We were more than a hundred thirty at some point in the minor seminary then. We were wide-eyed with idealism and carefree youthfulness. Decades hence, a big number has fallen in the way … Some at some point, just refused to walk on, despite the many times we sang that beautiful stirring Broadway song “Walk with faith in your heart!” A few others have fallen in the battle, steadfast and strong, like good old friend, Fr. Gerardo Macapinlac, SDB, (Fr Macky to many of us). A number of them, my former students (who should bury me instead of me burying them!), have been plucked as best flowers early on by God who knows better.


This Sunday is very existential and real for me. Isaiah, who knew well what it meant to walk for God, now reminds us to go on walking “with faith in our heart.” For basically what reason? Walking before the Lord, for one, really means, that whilst it is true He does not take us by the hand and forcibly leads us to go where He wants us to go, it is also true, as the old song goes, that “you’ll never walk alone.” You’ll never walk alone! And we have no less than the words of Christ to hang on to: “He who loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”


For at bottom, what else matters in the end? When one cannot have the strength to tread, trod, and trudge with one’s brute strength … when one sees nothing but darkness in the way, when one does not seem to see the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, despite the fine poetry and prose of our plebeian, earthly, and finite existence in this valley of tears, we have this promise to hold on, from Him whose privilege is for us to walk before Him: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living!”


Chalan Pago, Guam

September 7, 2009

10:10 AM

Thursday, September 3, 2009

OPENING TO GOD AND OTHERS


nda



Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Sept. 6, 2009


We live in a world and in times which tend to be exclusivistic. Groups and communities tend to exclude each other out. Different forms of boundaries, whether physical, psychological, economic, racial, religious and so many others, differentiate and exclude people for a variety of reasons, real or imagined. In many cultures, poverty is an almost automatic door closer to so many opportunities: a good education, for one, which leads to better opportunities, which lead to greater chances of creating wealth, finding the right connections, and getting the best that society can offer.

For so many people in the world, through no fault of their own, it is simply a closed world, a world characterized by a multiplicity of closed doors and barred opportunities.

There is good news today for all on both sides of such closed doors – those who shut them tight to others, and those who feel left out in the lurch. It is good news to those who can’t seem to understand that nothing, and no one, in this whole created world courtesy of a good and loving God, had been preprogrammed to be evil and to do evil, and therefore, to be avoided, left out, and driven away. It is good news to those who still need to get the full impact of what the book of Genesis speaks about: “God looked at His handiwork, and saw that it was good.” It is good news to those who still hesitate to accept the glaring fact that God, in Jesus, indeed, “has done all things well.” Said good news is precisely what it is for those who still languish in hopelessness and cynicism about most everything that takes place in the world, steeped in so much violence and terrorism from just about anyone and everyone in the whole broad spectrum of humanity. There is evil in the world, alright. That is the bad news. But it is more than off-set by the more powerful news that says, “He has done all things well!”

Indeed, if one goes by the evidence of Scripture for today, God has done all things well … well enough, in fact, for us to rightly utter in response to the first reading: “Praise the Lord, my soul!” And why not? There is a whole lot of good news to the “frightened of heart,” For the Lord “comes with vindication; with divine recompense; he comes to save [us].” The first reading speaks of symbolic visions: “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf [will] be cleared.” All prophecies of the Old Testament point to a totally renewed time of recompense from the Lord who “keeps faith forever.”

This is good news for everyone, but most especially for those on the other side of the closed door: the blind, the deaf, those who are bowed down, the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the helpless. “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”

But I would like to suggest that there is an even better news for all, no matter which side of the door we are in. That good news is what is suggested by all three readings. That good salvific news is what our Lord Jesus Christ tells us now – that life and its meaning is no longer about being on either side, but all about living and working and behaving like as if there were no doors that divide and separate people among themselves and from one another.

This better news for people on both sides has to do with opening up. The rich could be snobbish with their high education and the fineries of social graces. But the poor could also be pretentious, grabbing, and downright obnoxious in many ways. Closing doors to other people is not a monopoly of either camps. We all – rich or poor alike – are caught up in this web of so much mistrust, biases, prejudices, and dislike for each other. It does not really matter which side of the door we are in. Both sides are guilty of closing themselves off to each other. When one builds a fence, in fact, it is either we are fencing oneself in or fencing others out. Either way, the result is the same: closedness, being rapt up in one’s own cocoon, being closed in on one’s private world marked by indifference and characterized by a lot of uncaring ways.

The Lord today shows us concretely the way. He went to the district of the Decapolis, assuredly not a very sympathetic place to him and his teachings (read: closed). But it was in that very place that he brought and gave the gift of openness. It was there that he cured the deaf-man and opened his ears and primed his speech. Ephphata (Be opened) was his booming command. And his command became reality right then and there.

We have to find out the so many manifestations of closedness in our personal and communal lives. We all are that deaf and dumb man who needs to be opened and primed to hear and speak. To use Biblical terms, we all need to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” and allow ourselves to be primed to “proclaim” His goodness. There is in each of us a bit (or a whole lot) of that deafness and dumbness deep within, as when we hesitate to be seen praying in public, for one, or when we become tongue-tied when the topic of discussion is about the presence and activity of God in our own personal lives. There is that deafness in all of us as shown particularly in our hesitation to give full credence and belief to the teachings of the Church as presented by the Holy Father in matters of faith and morals. There is that deafness in us when we think priests and bishops ought to keep their activity within the confines of the sacristy, and not be heard about politics as a moral issue, even if, for all practical purposes, politics in many countries (and elections in the Philippines) are patently a case of structural evil in concrete. And there is that dumbness in us every time we just keep our mouths shut even if evil is happening right before the tips of our noses.

Ephphatha is not an empty command from the Lord. It is as much a wish as a command from Him who has done all things well. We do have to allow Him to complete the good He has begun in us and through us. He can continue to do well now only if we allow Him to work in us and through us. Needless to say, it means only one simple thing: we also have to do well, not only to do good, but to do well. A whole lot of do-gooders who do good to meet their own needs can spoil and blur this whisper of a command from the Lord. When we do good, we need to do it for the right reasons, the right motives, the right intentions. Only then can we say, we do well, together with Christ, for the sake of Christ, in the name of Christ, who “did all things well.”

Ephphatha! Open up to the Lord, and open up to others … and be part of the Good News to a closed world!