WHEN BOASTING IS APPROPRIATE


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 4, 2010


The readings today are a study in contrasts. We hear a call to rejoice to those who previously were mourning. We hear St. Paul’s readiness to boast, but this boast is associated with the “marks of Jesus on [his] body.” We hear the Lord exhorting us to ask the harvest master to send more laborers to his fields, but we also are made aware of the danger attached to the work of reaping, a danger not unlike that of lambs sent in the midst of wolves.

We have today a very sobering reality check for all followers of Christ!

Reality … that which so many people in our times try their best either to ignore, gloss over, or deny altogether. When reality gets too painful, when it strikes too close to home base, the common tendency for people is to pretend “everything will be alright.” But no amount of denial can reverse the hard facts of life. People suffer. People die. There are gross imbalances in the world, and whilst one fourth of the world’s population make use of three-fourths of the world’s resources, three-fourths of the world’s population make do with the remaining one-fourth of the world’s resources. Terrorists are a tough reality to deal with. So is the fact that “bad things happen to good people.”

I am sure you all can add a lot more to my short list.

But even in the fields of the Lord’s harvest, a bit of a reality check is in order. 25% of the current members of more than 5,000 cults in the United States are former catholics. So-called “cradle catholics,” they were born into the institutional community of faith but never really grew in their affective faith and personal relationship with the Lord. A lot more do not officially denounce the faith, but who engage in a variety of forms of syncretistic beliefs that mix elements of Christianity with esoteric teachings from Eastern gurus, thus effectively making a new brand of universal religion that are really nothing more than modern versions of Gnosticism, an early heresy in the incipient Church. Whilst keeping a nominal attachment to Christ by holding on to a smattering of Christian terminologies and basic theological concepts, the fundamental integration of the so-called three C’s (creed, code, and cult) is compromised by effectively doing away with the principles of the incarnation, mediation, and sacramentality. Saving truth is now mediated by gurus, who may or may not even mention Christ at all. The totality of the message of salvation, and the path towards definitive salvation, gets reduced to a unilateral effort of man, principally through self-deprivation, a distorted understanding of meditation, and a na├»ve – if, Pollyanish – drive to banish suffering entirely from the face of the earth. The concept of grace is effectively thrown out the window, and in its place, is plain, human effort at total self-emptying.

The list is by no means complete. One can add to that a lot more, not excluding the shameful issue of priests’ scandals, the “skeletons” in the Church’s closets that effectively muffled the teaching authority of Bishops in many places all over the world. It is not far-fetched to say that, indeed, those who intend to follow the Lord will end up being thrown very much like lambs in the midst of wolves, with their work of evangelization almost getting cancelled out by mainstream mass media that is patently anticlerical.

Christian faith, though, would have us transcend mere acknowledgment of reality. Accepting what is real is not the same as wallowing in the negative, and giving in to discouragement. Here is where today’s readings come in. Here is where our faith has to weigh in, and here is where today’s good news speaks to all of us powerfully.

They all speak, not of a weapon against irreligion, not some kind of a tool-box that one can draw from to counteract such unpleasant realities. They speak, rather, of a spirituality, an attitude of mind and heart that is born of faith, and a sense of personal conviction that the God of history who irrupted into our earthly history, is basically in control, that the God we love and believe in, will never leave his flock untended. Using the human language of maternal warmth, Isaiah reminds us: “as nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

Such solid conviction of God’s “maternal” love ought to be enough for us to shout out with the psalmist: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!” Such adherence to the truth of God’s saving love in Christ was what led St. Paul to boast not of his achievements, but “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is no wishful thinking involved here, no Pollyanna attitude that ultimately is a fruit of denial. Jesus himself gives solid grounding on reality to his disciples, not shielding their eyes from the reality of what they would find as they go out into the fields of harvest: “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”“the seventy-two returned rejoicing.” Jesus gave them power, enough power for those who were ready and willing to do as he commanded them: “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” But it was not to be pure suffering all the way, all the time either. We are told that

The world might well be in a real mess in many ways. The Church, too, may not be in the shape it was in back in 1958, when 78 % of American catholics attended Mass regularly on Sundays (as against the 25% now). (In Philippine setting, it is equally disheartening to note that only about 20% of Catholics actually attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis!) There may be a deep sadness in many of us as the Church’s voice appears to remain unheeded, and, at times, even ridiculed by popular opinion. In Philippine context, I might add, the wonderful landmark teachings and decrees of PCP-II (Second Plenary Council) of 1991 are still far from being implemented. Massive corruption, a progressively deteriorating educational system, grinding poverty, and the structural evil that is the political system continue to cancel out what little efforts are done by well-meaning NGOs and philanthropists. Reality is far too obvious to deny, far too deeply entrenched to simply gloss over.

Nor is there need for us to engage in denial. For something that does not exist cannot be given any solution. Acknowledging the problem is, therefore, necessary as a starting point.

Today’s liturgy shows us in concrete where to go from here. It shows us that in the face of such challenges, we need to have a spirituality that knows how to embrace the cross, a spirituality that ought to lead us to reorder our priorities, and separate what is important from what is merely convenient, a spirituality that is willing to confront the prevailing standards of the world, one that does not boast of “money bags, sacks, or sandals,” but one that values mercy, peace, and the possibility of one’s name not being honored here on earth, but on being “written in heaven.”

            The country, under new leadership, is once more taking some “baby steps” towards change. For the nth time, we are starting with something as basic and immediately doable as clamping down on public and private personalities who happen to well connected who can afford to have – and, to use! – blaring sirens and flashers that ought to be reserved to a very select few … “wang-wangs,” they are called in Tagalog slang!

There is this undeniable reality of a sinful world to confront. But there is this equally undeniable reality of the power from above to “tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy.”In the cross is salvation. In the cross is hope. In the cross is victory. This is the power of the cross. And this is a time when boasting in its name, is more than just appropriate.

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