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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GOD’S GRACIOUS GENEROSITY
























2nd Sunday of Lent (C)

February 28, 2010


Profligate generosity is more like it … the utter generosity of one who makes and fulfills promises to Abraham and His people – land in plenty and offspring in abundance: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” Generosity upon gracious generosity … this is what the texts these first two Sundays of Lent seem to give us for reflection. Last Sunday, we saw the generosity of Christ, whose “fidelity on three counts” equal to the threefold temptations, was shown in his remaining steadfast. True to the spirit of Deuteronomy, his fidelity was equivalent to his being offered like the required “first fruits of the harvest” – understood as the best, and the most precious and valued.


In return, God, very clearly, will settle for nothing but the best – the best in return for our best, our “first fruits,” our utmost self-offering. Abraham definitely got more than he ever dreamed of. From being a wanderer, he was called from Ur, to be the “father of many nations” and to be the head of God’s chosen people. His generosity was met with even greater generosity: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”


And we thought that by giving up carbs or carved meat, as the case may be, on Lenten Fridays, was already such a big deal!


Today, God calls us to “higher grounds” and invites us to elevate our thoughts just as Peter, James and John were called to be with Jesus up the mountain of transfiguration. The three, who were willing to give up restful sleep at night and trek up the mountain to pray along with their Master and Lord, were greatly rewarded. In God’s “business enterprise,” no one gets short changed; no one is left holding the shorter end of the stick; no one goes away holding an empty bag. In God’s relational world, no one who loves is spurned; no one who offers self is ignored; and no one who “gives up brothers and sisters, mother and father” will be denied his “hundredfold.”


Abraham’s readiness and obedience of faith was rewarded handsomely: “Abram put his faith in the Lord who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” By his obedience, Abraham entered into the divine realm of “right relationships.” Relationships, even from the human plane, always have to do with mutuality, with reciprocity, with an attitude of give-and-take. Peter’s and the disciples’ readiness and openness to an intimate experience with their Master communing in prayer up the mountain, was similarly rewarded with a vision – “what no eye has seen nor ear heard.” Right relationship with God is definitely one of gracious and generous mutuality, in the context of a deeply intimate and personal experience of the Divine Giver’s awesome presence offering His own “first fruit,” His own only-begotten Son to us and the whole world: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”


Generosity is hard to come by these days. Just look at us … We find it hard to part with stuff. What else is behind the booming business of public storages? What fuels the demand for bigger and bigger houses? Food servings are getting bigger and bigger and calories per serving are getting more and more. The cumulative increase in everything we want to have is matched only by our greatly increased appetites and desires for the more and the better all the time. Ever wondered why “used car” sales abound everywhere? What passes at times for generosity, may well be nothing more than a desire to make more room for whatever better, newer, and more fashionable is coming our way via those appealing glossy catalogues! Generosity is hard to come by as we jostle and elbow our way figuratively in a perpetual rush to get to our goals and destinations. The (rat) race is on just as soon as we start munching on our “breakfast on the go.”


Years ago, we were told that Lent is some kind of a protracted retreat, a time for reflection, which hopefully will graduate into prayer. That old traditional ascetical and spiritual practice, we were further told, was designed to make us more open, and more available to God and others, whether through prayer, or through almsgiving or doing some other corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Lent was a time to take stock of our lives and see whether it is leading us towards that which every baptized Christian is called to – a life of holiness and union with God.


That was what Lent meant and what Lent still ought to mean for us.


Let us digress a bit at this juncture and see what St. Paul has to add to these thoughts. Very practical and very concrete, Paul speaks of “two roads that diverge in the yellow woods” of life, to quote Robert Frost rather freely: the path “according to the model you have in us,” that is, the path of righteousness, and its opposite, the path of “destruction.” Take your pick … The path of destruction is associated with phrases like, “enemies of the cross of Christ;” “their end is destruction;” “their god is their stomach;” their glory is their shame;” and “occupied with earthly matters.” The path of righteousness has to do with such phrases like “faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ;” “awaiting the coming of the Savior;” “their lowly body is transformed;” “share in Christ’s glory;” and “citizenship in heaven.”


In God’s scheme of things, what you give is not what you get. No, when you give, you get much more. In God’s righteousness and relational nature, the supreme law is “grace upon grace,” life in place of death, glory in the place of suffering. In the old and trite language we often heard before, it all boils down to this: God can never be outdone in generosity.


Robert Frost’s lovely poem could stand a bit of reflection and revisiting in connection with our lives as “pilgrims” in this “valley of tears.” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …” While the choice between one or the other may not be exactly like what Frost envisioned as a choice between two equally good, or at least, indifferent things, all the same, our choice between the path of righteousness and the path of wickedness makes a whole lot of difference for ourselves and others. To paraphrase Frost freely, “too bad we cannot take both.” We simply have to make a choice between one and the other.


To go back to where we started, it would help us to remember that someone made a choice that spelled a whole lot of difference for countless generations. Abraham generously offered himself when he answered the call of God. Paul also, albeit belatedly, assumed his role as evangelizer and committed disciple, becoming “all things to all men, in the hope of saving some of them.” Peter and the other disciples who saw the Lord in glory up the mountain eventually went down their mountain of meeting and did what was told them in the plains. God gave them a vision no man could ever dream of, nor imagine. His Son was transfigured in their presence.


The Lenten discipline is not unlike Abraham’s leaving familiar and comfortable Ur; not unlike Paul’s going down from his high horse and being subjected to further education in Damascus; not unlike Peter, James and John’s making a difficult trek up the mountain – all for the sake of God, all in search for intimacy with God, all with the goal in mind of seeing the face of God. By following the road of righteousness, they were given much more than they ever searched for. They saw a lot more than they ever expected.


They were all rewarded by God and His profligate generosity!


There is no denying that the path of righteousness and the journey up our own “mountains” are fraught with a lot of trials and difficulties. The consolations of God may often be miles apart from the God of consolation. In moments when we feel His justice does not seem to be forthcoming, it is good for us to take to heart the words of the psalmist in today’s response: “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FIDELITY ON THREE COUNTS

























Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections
1st Sunday of Lent (C)
February 21, 2010


We are back in the season of Lent, that time in the liturgical year when traditionally, we are expected to cut back on a whole lot of things, to make a “retreat,” as it were, so as to foster the threefold attitude and practice of “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” All three are not supposed to be engaged in for their own sakes, but for God’s. They are not, on that score, “negative” acts, but on the contrary “affirmative” ones that ought to lead us closer to God. In the long tradition of the Church, such “ascetic practices,” at bottom, really answer our deep need for God (prayer), for a healthy and balanced love of self (fasting), and our duty as Christians to love others (almsgiving).

Nowadays, the idea of giving up certain things is not a very hard concept to understand. Owing to the ongoing diet craze that go by various appellations (Atkins, South Beach, Diamonds, etc.), the idea of having to give up one’s cravings either for carbs or carved meat oozing with fat is not such a strange prospect at all. In an entertainment and information glutted world of 24/7 news and fashion channels, thrash and reality TV, and violent cartoon and animé characters, the idea of giving up one channel in favor of another is a daily dilemma for the boob tube addict.

Giving up certain things is a lot more a reality in our lives than we ever thought! For a great many of us, it is not the giving up of little things that counts as difficult. That which really poses as a big obstacle for many of us is the bigger issue of having to give up a lifestyle that precisely fuels that never-ending process of having to give up an infinite variety of little things in our cluttered daily lives. People give up stuff everyday. What they have no more place for in their bulging closets, they give away to charity. What they have grown tired of, they toss to the clothes collection bins all over the place. What they feel is no longer fashionable, they give up. In the same vein, people give up pasta and bread (the sale of bread in America has drastically dropped by 40% since the revival of the Atkins revolution!) as easily as they gave up red meat a decade ago. The bigger question, though, remains unanswered, or simply glossed over … For what? For whom? Why so?

Let us take a close look at today’s Scriptural data in the hope of finding some meaning to help us understand the whys and the wherefores of having to do “prayer, penance and almsgiving.” If you look at the three closely, they all have to do with giving up. Prayer asks us to give up some time from our daily rounds and routines. Penance asks us either to “do with less,” or to “do more” – give up stuff, or do more positive good to others. And almsgiving definitely has to do with having to part with something usable, something valuable, something that causes some pain or hurt to say good-bye to.

What for? This is what all three readings today speak about. All three readings really speak about fidelity. In the first reading, being reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people, Deuteronomy describes the people’s acknowledgement of that faithfulness by the offering of the first fruits of the harvest. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans confirms the same idea of a faithful God who deserves a confession of faith on our part, convinced as we are that “no one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The Gospel glowingly presents the fidelity of Jesus who was tempted thrice over in the wilderness.

Fidelity on three counts… This, along with the other two readings, is what leads us to the bigger picture that makes giving up anything worth all the effort; that gives meaning to the call for “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” This fidelity, both on the part of God, and on the part of God’s people, stands behind meaningful renunciation. Without this, all forms of giving up are nothing but vanity. “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” Without this context of fidelity, giving up carbs or carved game just does not measure up. Without this framework of faithfulness, giving from one’s superfluities just does not make for heroism and philanthropy. Without basing itself on Christian asceticism, fasting is just dieting plain and simple.

Fidelity is the language of relationships. Faithfulness is the life-giving atmosphere of love and mutual commitment – the very same love and commitment that Jesus showed in his threefold temptation to turn stone into gold (bread or material goods); to turn simplicity and ordinariness to power and prestige (by worshiping the devil); and to force God’s hand to do what He basically had the power to do by himself – that is to throw self-responsibility to the winds (by throwing self from the parapet of the temple)!

Fidelity on three counts! This is what Jesus showed us. This is what renunciation is all about … fidelity to His Father; fidelity to His people; fidelity to a relationship; fidelity for a purpose, and therefore, fidelity with a meaning.

Fidelity on three counts is what we all are called to ourselves. And our fidelity is sorely tested, too, in lesser, though not any less real, ways. The whole world is driven by the obsessive search for more … more money, bigger and bigger homes “far from the madding crowd” … We are tempted everyday to turn everything, including stones, into bread. The whole problem of corruption in and out of government is based on this … turn every single transaction into a means for making easy money. Everybody does it anyway, so there’s no harm joining in. The whole corporate world beckons us to do everything we can to rise to the top of the ladder, to wield authority and power, to be known and admired, to be in control. No one wants to remain forever an “average Joe,” and everyone aims at becoming the next “American idol” (or “star in a million” as the case may be). In the Philippines, presidential wannabes, who have been drooling for the much coveted office for decades, who now realize they can never be president in the context of an entertainment crazed, MTV (and MTB and Eat-Bulaga and Wowowwee) culture, resort to producing puppets of a president whom they can manipulate from behind the scenes, with assurances of lucrative rewards and an infinite number of concessions. Similarly, we give up and surrender to the rampaging culture of death, the culture of violence, the culture of indifference as we get co-opted by the prevailing trends to do as the rest of the world does, not to rock the boat, and “see and hear no evil.” Evangelization gets reduced to an invitation to a mushy “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type of “feel-good” spirituality that accommodates to what is chic, current, and popular.

Fidelity on three counts… This is what we are called to reflect on today. Perhaps we are not to expect ourselves to be at par with the faithfulness of Christ whose commitment to His Father was more powerful than anything the devil and the world had to offer Him. Our version of this threefold fidelity may be a lot more modest, but no less genuine. In a world and cultural climate that increasingly beckon us to conform, to “live like the Joneses,” to outdo one another in some way, to be as the rest of the world is trying so hard to become, today’s liturgy is a gentle prodding for us to “go deeper,” (“Man does not live on bread alone”); to “do better” (“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve”); and to “draw closer” to the God of Jesus Christ (“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

TO CARE AND NOT TO CARE












ASH WEDNESDAY

February 17, 2010


The moon waxes and wanes; the tides ebb and flow. The sun rises from the east and sets on the western horizon; the winds blow in and blow out and carries with it freshness and fecundity, even as it brings sand, surf, soil, and sultriness to all and sundry. There are always two sides to every coin, two aspects to every question, and two apparently (at least initially) contradictory positions to every thing under the heavens.

Qoheleth of old sang of this with poetic precision and searing insight … popularized by Pete Seeger many moons and suns ago … “to everything turn, turn, turn; there is a season turn, turn, turn … and a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to be born, a time to die …”


I have it on the authority of developmental psychologists that maturity is basically the capacity to blend two seemingly opposing poles of one and the same continuum. One is either too generous or too pusillanimous; too hardworking or too lazy … Moralists consistently spoke of virtue being in the middle – not exactly in the mathematical mean of things, but in the ability to discern when to wax and when to wane; when to exact and when to relax; when to talk and when to hold back. Virtus stat in medio!


The perfect model of such “temperance” is seen in the Church’s liturgical calendar. There is a time for everything under the heavens. We Catholics sure know how to celebrate. We roll out the equivalent of the red carpet on days called “solemnities” and “feasts.” We belt out in lusty singing of the Gloria and Alleluia during Easter, Christmas, and solemnities and feasts. But we also know how to be low keyed, to take a figurative back seat on certain days.


We start today, Ash Wednesday, such a holding back, definitely not in a sado-masochistic, self-flagellating way, but for a very positive set of reasons. We hold back on Ash Wednesday. We go low keyed. We take a deliberate step back to take stock of where we are going, to see and plan ahead, and discern whether we are on the right track or not. We retreat, sort of, take two steps back in order to think about all that ultimately matters.


And all that matters has to do with integrating and keeping in healthy tension, two sides of the reality of our being human – now prone to greatness and grandiosity; now given in to grouchiness and Grinch-like pusillanimity and selfishness. Experience teaches us more than convincingly … We are a sinful people, and we all have “fallen short of the glory of God.” We have gone to excesses … We either eat too much or too little. We either splurge and party like never before, or we deprive ourselves in an obsessive-compulsive way.


Today, Ash Wednesday, it is all too easy for people to think of Lent as a kill-joy phase of the Church’s year. People speak of deprivation, of giving up, of belt-tightening. I have heard one too many Catholics speak of Lent as a time to give up their favorite hamburger, or eat less, or spend less, or otherwise, go on suffering mode.


Yes … Lent is that, but not only that. Lent that Ash Wednesday opens is positive, not negative. It is all about going and doing, and not about pulling back and saying no to life in general.

It is all about appreciating both poles in the totality of human experience. It is all about finding one’s place in the continuum of life and appreciating the totality of what life offers. It is all about finding one’s sense of balance amidst the complexity of life that cannot be reduced simply to either being good or bad; to being one or the other in a world that does not tolerate grey areas.


Ash Wednesday does not tell us to suddenly hate what the world offers. It tells us, in fact, to love them enough to let them go, in a way. It means to appreciate everything in the world enough as to put them all in perspective.


Ash Wednesday opens this forty-day period of weighing things over, discerning everything so as to be able to prioritize, because one has put things in proper perspective.


Life is a big big cause for celebration. We celebrate life because it is a gift. We did not will ourselves to life …. No … we were called to life by Someone who has the power over life and death. We did celebrate it with panache last Christmas – the birth of the author of life, who suffered and died so that we might live … to the full, that is, life in its fullness. But even the author of life Himself shows us the way to this fullness of life … by way of a grain of wheat that must die so as to bear fruit in plenty. He shows us what it means to go to greater heights, by falling on the ground, by being humble like he was, “who took the form of a slave and became one like us” … yes … “for the life of the world!”


Lent is all about gaining this perspective. It does not mean loving life less, but loving what God values more, and consequently loving the world enough to be able “to care and not to care.”


I don’t mean to spoil the genius of T.S. Eliot with my ramblings, but I think this is, at least partly, what he could mean in these lines (and dozens of other lines):


Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks


To care and not to care. To love passionately means to care for everything that smacks of life. But to love truly and fully would also mean to care enough as to care for better things, for things that transcend even the very things that we love dearly. It means to be able “set our sights on things above” rather than merely on things below. It means to love God fully and the world truly, but in proper perspective.


I join T.S. Eliot in prayer … Teach us O Lord, to care … to care for everything you have created, others, the world, the fruit of your handiwork. Teach us, too, however, not to care for them too much as to forget all about You and the values that go beyond the very things we care for. Teach us to “sit still” and contemplate the beauty of all that points to the greatest beauty that is You. Teach us to be still, even if, at times, we sit “among these rocks” that are known all too familiarly as the “hard knocks of life” – the “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number!” May we so love You and everything that is in You, as to have PEACE …. Peace in Your will …


That Your will be done, not mine!”


Bosco Hall, FDMS Campus

119-A Route 10

Tai, Mangilao 96910

GUAM

Monday, February 8, 2010

KEEPING OUR SENSE OF BALANCE
























Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

February 14, 2010



One of Maslow’s so-called “self-actualizing characteristics” that separate the men from the boys, the mature from the immature, has to do with a sense of interior stability that makes a person stand his ground, as it were, and resist the sway of external influences.

Said mature character trait enables a person to retain his “sense of inner truth,” his personal conviction, despite the powerful suggestions that come from the environment around him or her.
Such a person, to use the famous Biblical phrase, at the risk of reducing its meaning somewhat, is one comparable to a “house built, not on sand, but on rock.” Without in any way being rigidly fanatic, the mature, flexible person knows his or her boundaries, or limits. Said limits are not like a cut and dried “demarcation line” like the Berlin wall of old, but a permeable area of flexibility and balance between two extreme poles, without rigidly staying in one or the other. The struggling Christian could use a little more reflection in this regard and could learn a lesson or two from this important self-actualizing trait of a mature person.


The psychologically mature person lives in a “frontier” world. He or she knows that sometimes, there is need to veer more towards the left, and times when the situation calls for one to veer more towards the right, depending on the prevailing situation and the call of the greater individual or common good.

Classical Christian philosophy and theology refer to this trait as the virtue of prudence. The prudent man or woman, like the self-actualizing person of Maslow, knows when to stand one’s ground and when to allow oneself to be sort of carried away by the prevailing culture, up to a certain extent. The prudent person, owing to a lot of practice and interior personal discipline, that includes prayer, reflection and the seeking of counsel, lives a life marked by a delicate, though difficult, act of balancing. Such a sense of balance is the essence of what it means to live a life of paradox.

The Scriptures describe this capacity for paradoxical living, this ability to combine apparently contradictory elements and, the sagacity to put together two polar realities and integrate them in one’s life, as WISDOM.
Today’s scriptural readings refer to the blessedness attached to this ability to transcend seemingly extreme situations placed alongside one another: trust in human beings versus trust in the Lord; counsel from sinners versus delight in the law of the Lord; the way of the just, versus the way of the wicked; being poor versus being rich; being hungry versus being satisfied; being hated by society versus being rewarded greatly in heaven … The big wonder and “scandal” to most people is the fact that the Lord unmistakably and definitely declares those who are on one side of the equation as blessed: the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, the scorned and hated on account of Him.

At first blush, there seems to be something wrong here. There seems to be something not quite logical … something that taxes our ability to understand the “wisdom” behind it all.
Or so we think. Or so does society think… What does the rest of the world think? Just look at what Hollywood films portray; what all infomercials sell; what every would-be car-buyer is led to believe. Just look at all that mainstream mass media of communications tell us … Happiness is having a big house preferably by the sea (or up on all our diminishing mountains!). Success is partly driving the latest SUV replete with GPS technology and built-in entertainment systems (read: IPod ready). Just listen to what every car insurance representative tells us: the first rule is, do not admit fault under any circumstances! Just think about what the current craze in all continents – Reality TV – portrays: the obsession to be number one, to win at all costs, to be this year’s “American idol” (or “star in a million” or “starstruck” in the Philippine setting), never mind the demeaning humiliation one stands to face before the cameras (and the less-than-politically-correct jurors!).

Let’s face it. The world does not value poverty, suffering, hatred from other people, insult, denunciation, and exclusion. No, not even for the sake of God!
The culture of the present world keeps a steady onslaught on the value-systems of everyone, including those who claim to follow Christ.


Even the Church is not spared this seeping political culture marked by the oppositional spirit of “conflictuality.” Liberals rant and rave against conservatives, and conservatives keep on picking on the liberals. Meanwhile, the so-called “soft-liberals” in our midst, who happen to be holding important pastoral responsibilities, do not help any by being wishy-washy about any official pronouncement that comes from the Vatican or the diocesan authorities, looking at such documents many a time with quiet disdain and downright ridicule. (I know of at least two theological faculties who seem to specialize in “disturbing” the simple faith of common folk by treating the papal encyclicals as a laughing matter!)


A seeping and disturbing New Age culture, under the guise of openness and being up-to-date or contemporary, continues to make in-roads to the Catholic liturgy thus effectively reducing the sacraments to a mere set of symbols and rituals, colorful and chic, to be sure, but devoid of mystery and depth.
Maslow’s “resistance to enculturation” referred to above, that represents one’s psychological and human sense of stability and balance, might as well refer also, and be applied to both clergy and laity’s theological maturity and sound pastoral responsibility. In this complex and increasingly complicated world marked by pluralism and individual freedom, the looming challenge for all of us is how to maintain our sense of balance in a church that is rapidly being co-opted by the culture of extreme polarization.

I am personally saddened to see so many people being misled by overzealous preachers who frighten and dissuade pious and simple catholics from receiving communion from “communion ministers” (known before as Eucharistic ministers) and who dutifully kneel on the pavement while receiving communion, on the one hand, and by pastors who reduce their preaching to a pious reading of “chicken soup for the soul,” reducing the liturgy to a very horizontal celebration not unlike the communion service of Lutherans and other denominations, on the other.


I am personally saddened to see the Blessed Virgin Mary effectively being “kicked out” of the Church in many subtle ways, for fear of offending some parishioners.


The first reading from Jeremiah puts before us an important choice: to trust in human beings or to trust in the Lord. His choice is clear: the latter choice is life-giving … “He is like a tree planted beside the waters.” The response further confirms the idea: the man who delights in the law of the Lord is “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade.”


All this seems to support the idea that wisdom, that ability to transcend the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts we face in the world, that sense of stability and balance can only come from an intimate union with a living God.
The Gospel beatitudes gives us the ultimate in this search for a sense of balance and wisdom. It tells us to take a second look at what the world considers as a list of woes: poverty, sorrow, hunger, hatred and rejection from others.

Given the pull of the world’s culture and sense of values, it is easy for anyone to declare them as absolute woes, indeed. In actuality and in all honesty, they are. But the Lord declared them to be beatitudes, and they become so, only and only on account of the Lord, because when looked at from a different vantage point, that is, from the vantage point of a God who loves the poor and the downtrodden, these beatitudes lead us closer to Him who is the source of wisdom and perfect happiness. Only then would we be like him planted close to running waters.


To appreciate the Beatitudes, we literally need to stand on our head and see the world and events happening in it through the eyes of the world’s greatest lover!

Monday, February 1, 2010

CASTING A DIFFERENT NET
























Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time(C)

February 7, 2010


People are attracted by uniqueness, not uniformity. Whilst an infinite variety of products galore are stacked up on supermarket shelves, each and every one of them tries its best to capture the attention of buyers and consumers with the promise of that one, single most crucial product distinction that seals its uniqueness, that makes it a stand-out in a sea of bland ordinariness and colorless genericism.


Uniqueness, not necessarily genuine usefulness, may well separate the most coveted from the mediocre and the ignored; the highly valued from what is ordinarily eschewed by discriminating users and consumers.


Uniqueness, that which clinches the most important “specific difference” between apparently similar items, may well serve as a good watchword to guide our reflection for today.


The world is awash in individuals who claim to speak for God, who style themselves followers of the Gospel. In fact, since the good Lord founded his Church on the rock that was Peter, hundreds of millions of people now claim to be his followers, who profess adherence to some denomination, some small community, or as in our case, the holy, Roman, catholic, apostolic Church, which alone can claim an unbroken historical connection to the original Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Since Luther “protested” and effectively broke away from this Church in the 16th century, thousands of splinter groups have sprouted all over the world, and have themselves broken away from that original splinter group – an incontrovertible fact of history.


This reflection is not designed to say who’s wrong and who’s right. Although the historical facts can speak for themselves and give us rich clues to certain issues related to the question of the true Church, I do not intend to go into the polemics of this matter. No, my aim is a lot more modest than this. I only would wish to allow the three readings to speak to us all, in the hope that we can be helped to identify for ourselves that which can give our Christian discipleship that crucial “specific difference” I was referring to. Surely, there are some insights to be gained from the personally moving stories of Isaiah, St. Paul, St. Peter, and the original disciples of the Lord.


What makes them and their experience a stand-out in a sea of characterless followers? What makes them distinguishable like “salt that has not lost its taste” in the midst of so much blandness and insipidness?


First, let us start with points of commonalities. All three speak of an important personal experience of God. Isaiah’s passage is framed in the context of a theophany – a Divine manifestation, that for Isaiah, sealed his mission as a prophet: “Here I am; send me.” Paul, for his part, refers to the appearances of the Risen Lord to his disciples, himself included, for whom “grace has not been ineffective.” In the Gospel, the Lord shows a different side to the experience of Peter and the group of discouraged, tired, and cynical disciples who labored all night to no avail. The gospel passage’s ending is rather telling: “they left everything and followed him.”


Last week, though, we heard a different side of the fickle crowds. Some wanted to hurl him down the brow of the hill. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see people who give him excellent reviews, especially after getting free sandwiches and being fed material bread. Later, we see the same crowds walking away one by one, for they his teaching too hard.


There are hearers and there are hearers. There are those of us who merely hear, and nothing more. But there are those of us who are also doers. There are those of us who are mere admirers. But there are those of us who try to be followers. Mere hearers abound among Christians who profess undyingly that they have claimed Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Indeed… so personal and “privatistic” is their faith that issues like war, famine and the gradual but sure ecological degradation all over the world which they abet, take part in, or actually support, do not bother them in the least. All they care for is their “fiduciary faith,” that brand of faith that puts a heavy premium on the affective aspect and not much else besides. For as long as I have my personal time of prayer and Bible reading, for as long as I have my “personal relationship” in place, not much else bothers my waking thoughts.


There are “doers” who jump right into the arena of action. They are the perpetual “do-gooders” who claim that the only way to show one’s belief is to be constantly on an adrenaline surge. They spend all their time either “doing penance” and endless reparation for the “sins of the world,” or they move from one soup kitchen to another, drowning their minds and hearts with a feverish desire to be constantly on the go, caught up in a web of urgent upon urgent task that are all top priority – all… except, of course, prayer and reflection. Their brand of faith is performative faith reduced to its bare essentials, understood as shallow and endless social action and activism of any kind.


And then, of course, there are the thinkers. These are hearers who hear with their mind, even before sound bytes actually fall on their ears. Their knowledge of the faith is flawless. They are the catechism kings and queens of yore, who can rattle off the tenets of the faith as fast as they can enumerate the names of all the cardinals of the Roman congregations, as quickly as they can give all the trivia and pertinent stats related to their favorite superbowl hero. These are the people whose faith is reduced to the intellective aspect, for whom faith-content is the end-all and be-all of Christian life, without due regard to its accompanying equally necessary faith-context. Religion is a mind-game, nothing more. Celebration and affective investment in it play no role. Their favorite prayer is a cold and dry “I believe.”


We ought not to forget the ritualists who reduce faith to a call to duty. That duty, of course, has to do with “hearing Mass” at least on Christmas and Easter, and, occasionally, on Sundays. These are those who cannot stand hour-long masses. They go around shopping for quickie Masses celebrated by equally ritualist-oriented priests whose greatest penance is to deliver a homily. Liturgy, for them, is not a celebration. A celebration is something one does willingly, happily, lustily, if you will. A duty is something one gets over and done with, with dispatch, preferably with clockwork efficiency. And, should the choir toss in that “extra song” called the recessional, why, what else is there to do but to make a quick dash for the exit doors right after the final blessing?


I would like to suggest that the readings today, among other things, show us a different side to being what we claim to be. I suggest that all three readings, speaking as they all do about a particular experience of God, are a call to a unique response that is both collective and eminently personal. All three readings speak about making a difference as a Christian, being of a different mould, being unique. Isaiah models this unique faith-discipleship for us: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Here, we are face to face with a common call addressed as much to Isaiah as to God’s people responded to by him in a distinctly personal way. That uniqueness is due to his response of becoming a disciple-in-mission. This same uniqueness juts out of St. Paul’s testimony. “Cephas and the twelve” saw the risen Lord, along with “five hundred brothers at once,” as did James. But his personal testimony counts as most important, over and beyond what “others say.” His faith, like that of Isaiah, was deeply personal and real. And that deeply personal faith made him leave everything in order to begin casting a different net.


Here is where the Gospel now challenges us. The Lord tells us as he told his discouraged disciples: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” It occasioned a mild complaint from Peter, but the better of him eventually shone out – his obedience, his personal response to a summons from his master, teacher, and Lord. The “logical” thing to do, prior to that, probably would be to “believe more in experience,” and disregard the gentle command of Jesus. The safer thing, too, perhaps for us now, is to just follow the bandwagon, be nominal Christians, or choose any of the abovementioned paths in response to God, as most people do. The normal thing to do is to cast one’s net the way everybody else does, and behave in a way that does not “rock the boat.”


But as Isaiah, Paul and Peter show us, being a follower of the Lord is not to be equated with such conventional – if, convenient – stock-in-trade responses. Being a follower of the Lord really means casting a different net. It means being a disciple through and through – being hearers and doers of the Word; working as much for faith-content as faith-context; enriching our intellective faith, deepening our fiduciary attachment to a personal Lord and Savior, and engaging our performative faith in the human society and in the world, so full of injustice and gross inequality of all kinds.


We are called to cast a different net … to be faithful disciples-in-mission, in ministry, in service. In other words, it is all about making a difference in our own little way… for Jesus’ sake … for his Church … for His mission. “Here I am Lord. Send me.”