Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
5th Sunday of Easter(C)
May 2, 2010

Desire for novelty seems to be the basic engine that drives commerce all over the world. Business thrives on this relentless thirst for newness. Every year, car makers churn out new models, with ever increasingly sophisticated new features. House builders come out with ever bigger, ever more comfortable, and ever more luxurious homes, built farther and farther away “from the madding crowd” of congested – if, polluted – inner cities, towards what is euphemistically called “new developments,” otherwise known as “urban sprawl.” People tire of old stuff, and traditional brands of cosmetics and grooming products give way to an endless array of concoctions and creams and facials and lotions galore – all at the service of that search for the ultimate sign of newness which is youth and everything associated with it.

People ought to listen to today’s good news with extra attention, speaking as it does about ultimate newness. Once again, we hear from no less than John, who speaks glowingly of a vision like no other: “a new heaven and a new earth.”

It is all too easy for us to find a shallow parallelism between “what happened then” and “what is happening now.” It is tempting for preachers like me to “accommodate” the rich, symbolic imageries of the book of Revelation, and appropriate said symbolisms, in order to make them fit snugly to the contours of current events and contemporary historical conditions. After all, we are a people getting tired of “old realities.” We all are longing for all things new: a new way of doing politics, a new way of doing public governance, a new way of being Church, of being Christians, a new way of living our lives of faith in the context of an ever-changing and complex society in a world that continues to see more and newer challenges.

People want change. People want things to be done differently. People clamor for new paradigms and new approaches to solving problems that have plagued humankind since time immemorial.

The only tragedy is the blaring fact that people do not quite know what this newness exactly is all about, and how to bring about this powerful and universal drive for newness.

Today’s good news gives us an important clue as to what this newness consists in. It does not consist in shallow and merely material novelty. Such superficial reliance on new stuff only cures boredom temporarily. Neither does it refer to being dreamy and detached from the realities of this world and of daily life, preferring to hide behind a too spiritualized waiting and hoping for “a new heaven and new earth,” while wallowing in self-pity as one just waits helplessly for God to “wipe every tear from their eyes,” and “for the old order” to pass away. Both attitudes have to do more with magic than with faith. Both have nothing to do with what today’s set of readings tell us.

The central node of this newness is not a thing, not a dream, and definitely not a pie in the sky. The focus and locus of this newness is a person and a presence, as seems clear in the passage from Revelation. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God Himself will always be with them as their God.”

God’s person and presence is the only valid springboard for the newness that all men and women are dreaming of. Not only that … God’s presence and person alone can ultimately satisfy that dream for everything new. Take if from your own experience. When did we ever get completely satisfied with anything we have acquired and possessed? A new car? Just as soon as you go out of the dealer, it begins to depreciate. (In the Philippines, I was told, just as soon as that new car gets out of the dealer’s, it automatically depreciates by at least 10%). An extreme make-over via plastic surgery or cosmetic regeneration? Sooner or later, reality will set in. Permanence was never meant to be a property of everything finite. Take it then from Paul and Barnabas: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

There is, then, something more to the newness that Scripture speaks of than just mere material novelty. Newness in time is temporal and therefore, temporary newness (neos in Greek). This is not what is suggested in today’s readings. What we are presented with is a newness that is not based on the passing of time, but based on the presence of a God who has chosen to dwell with his people, and who call us to a transformed newness (kainos in Greek) that goes beyond mere superficial changes.

This is the transformed newness represented by a Saul who used to persecute the Church, but who was transformed by God’s grace and by his human cooperation to become the great apostle to the gentiles. This is the transformed newness of a Peter who, after denying his Lord three times, found new life and new fervor in the forgiving love of the same Lord who commanded him “Feed my sheep … Tend my lambs.” This is the transformed newness of thousands of saints in the roster of the Church who moved figurative mountains to proclaim the mercy and graciousness of God. “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.” That transformed newness was based on the nature and indwelling presence in their lives of God, the Father, in and through Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the transformed newness that as baptized Christians, we are now exhorted to make real and concrete in our lives. “I give you a new commandment, says the Lord: love one another as I have loved you.” This, too, is the transformed newness that as followers of Christ and as members of the Church, we are called to work for. In a fractious and divided world, marred by violence and terrorism, by unforgiveness and gross social injustice, Christians are called to do the ministry of social transformation, that is, to work in such a way that God’s Kingdom of love, peace, holiness, and justice might reign on all peoples.

From a purely personal viewpoint, I must share with my readers that, having been a priest over the past 27 years, and having undergone deep introspection and personal processing myself, I know that I can belong to the ranks of the so-called “gloomy pessimists” at times. But I must tell you, too, that as a teacher, preacher and pastor, who has worked with a variety of groups and individuals both above and below the equator, in both hemispheres, and in both the old and new worlds, hope is something that remains strong in my heart. Hope is something that juts out of every page of the Bible, and is a message that comes out loud and clear in the lives and witnessing of so many holy people both canonized and unheralded, living and dead, whether in the past or in the present. At times, I am rendered speechless and deeply moved by the refreshing transformed newness of prayerful individuals who continue to put faith in a God who slowly but surely works to make all things new.

I am awed by the conversion of former fallen-away catholics who come back to the fold in God’s own good time. I am refreshed by the tenacity and strength in faith and hope of people who, despite a painful and lingering illness, die a most holy and peaceful death, confident that a loving God awaits them with the certainty of what John prophesied: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” I am encouraged and convicted by countless individuals who, despite the prevailing Godless culture that is the hallmark of wealthy and so-called “developed societies,” they live their lives renewed, transformed, and revitalized by their personal experience of the resurrection of the Lord.