Thursday, April 29, 2010
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.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
As is true for everything in this world, there is merit in diversity. There is beauty in a healthy mélange of different attributes, traits, and textures. This is also where the beauty of what we believers refer to as the Church lies. This is the foundation of the glorious splendor of the multi-faceted mosaic that is the Church made up of different peoples, races, colors, and nations.
This is the beauty of the “miraculous catch of 153 fishes” of last week’s gospel – the miracle done by the Master Fisherman who called his fellow fishermen to the ministry of catching more than just fishes in a relatively small lake that was the “sea of Galilee.” 153 fishes were just about as many species as one could get from that small body of water. But the meaning was not to be found in the absolute number, but in what that small number stood for – the diversity and the relative abundance of the catch compared to the all-night futile effort the men put into their fish-catching expedition.
The Risen Lord was doing a “show-and-tell” about what sort of mission lay in the offing for these erstwhile fishermen who would soon graduate to a much higher level of ministry for the sake of a society represented by those 153 fishes. Christ was not only showing them what it would take to advance the mission of catching people from then on. He was building them into a unified body of believers. He was forming unity despite the diversity of characters that made up the original band of 12 close-in followers.
Although not part of the original twelve, and definitely different both in personality and style of evangelization from the twelve, Paul and Barnabas carried the torch of unity in diversity forward. Preaching in Antioch, as “the whole city gathered to hear the world of the Lord,” certain people “contradicted what Paul said.” No, diversity was not the culprit here, but jealousy. The jealous contradiction that came from Jewish leaders became a motivation for the dynamic tandem to “turn to the gentiles,” who “were delighted when they heard this, and glorified the word of the Lord.”
The incipient Church was growing in diversity. “All who were destined to eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.” In our time, although we pay lip service to diversity, there is still a whole lot of prejudice and bias against those who are different in any way. The whole pop culture makes a virtue of conformity, and frowns on those who stick out like sore thumbs in a society that has to act and behave in exactly the same socially prescribed, though unwritten way. Those who behave differently are ostracized and removed from the scene, much like people would automatically kill dandelions in what should at all cost appear as a perfect, all-green lawn. It is funny how young people, in their attempt to be different from the adult world, end up dressing alike in many ways!
Not funny, but no less true, is the sad situation of religious intolerance in many places in the world, even to the point of fanatics giving a religious justification to committing heinous and horrific crimes against innocent people, with a growing number finding virtue in killing in the name of God! The Christianity that the Risen Christ has come back from the dead for to establish and strengthen cannot, and ought never be aligned with such intolerant attitudes.
All three readings today speak, not of exclusivity, but of inclusivity. All three remind us of the call to universality, to unity, despite the gross diversity between and amongst all peoples. The second reading speaks of a “great multitude … from every nation, race, people and tongue … wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” He who was the ultimate victim of an unjust and violent death, caused by the ultimate intolerance which is mankind’s sin, has paid the ultimate price for the realization of God’s dream for all of humankind – universal salvation!
The passage from Revelation paints this dream in glowing and hopeful terms: “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The one, big, and great human family still has a long way to go towards the realization of that vision. In God’s own good time, sooner or later, our Christian faith tells us, this “temporary exile” in this fragmented and fractious world; in this “valley of tears,” where there is so much killing even in the very holy name of God; in our little various groupings where so much jealousy and intrigue cause untold harm to the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and to the whole of the human race; in our own little world where unforgiveness reigns – all this will disappear, and “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
But between the reality of the now and the vision of God, there remains the on-going task of us all to help make this dream come true. In the so-called “in-between time” of the earthly Church, all of us are expected to work assiduously and hopefully so that God’s Kingdom may come here on earth. Christ leads us to where the fish are, but we need to cast the net ourselves. Christ gives us the means, but we need to haul the fish ashore ourselves. Remember that in last week’s gospel, the Lord has lit up the fire by the seashore for his hungry disciples. But the disciples had to be the ones to bring the catch in for them to cook and eat.
Surely everyone reading this is aware of the great urgency there is in the world to change paradigms and go by God’s vision, God’s dream and go by His ways and not our ways. Surely, by now, most of us understand that the way of violence and war does not belong to what the Risen Lord told us and still tells us. One of the clear ways He shows is the great lesson of unity in diversity that is the Trinitarian God as revealed definitively by Jesus Christ. Distinct and different as three Persons, they are nevertheless united in the Godhead, in the Trinitarian mystery of love and interpersonal relations.
The Trinitarian God is the ultimate way towards Christ’s vision and dream of perfect oneness between and amongst all women and men all over the world, of whatever race, culture or color. And the love between the three Persons of the Trinity is the most compelling reason for us to go and do as Jesus did, as Jesus lived, as Jesus loved: “The Father and I are one.” This living and loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, now tells us as Jesus told Peter: “Feed my sheep … Tend my sheep … Feed my lambs.”
Monday, April 12, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Easter Sunday (C)
April 4, 2010
In many parts of the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, everything smacks of “new life” budding forth at this time of year. Spring has gone full swing, just starting, or just about to burst forth in total splendor. The dreary cold and dark winter slowly gives way to the vibrancy and sprightliness of spring, promising changes galore. Those places below the equator, while not having to wake up from a cold spell at this time of year, have their own version of “newness” and welcome changes. In places where summer is just taking hold, schools and classes are winding down, beaches and resorts begin to blossom with frolickers, and tropical trees become laden with luscious, juicy and cool refreshing fruits to quench a dry, parched populace, in stark contrast to what nature seems to be doing – lying naturally fallow for a time, only to wake up with fresh energies as the first rains come to break the hot spell and open the womb of the earth.
The same enthusiastic and energetic tones mark the readings today and throughout the easter season. Peter’s courageous and emphatic (known as kerygmatic) proclamation, along with Paul’s profuse use of images to encapsulize this whole idea of new life (old yeast vs. new dough, what is below vs. what is above) are both matched only by a hopeful, though tearful Mary of Magdala rising early “on the first day of the week,” springing forward “while it was still dark,” to witness the majestic opening of the womb of the tomb that has just given birth to the ultimate newness – the resurrection of the Lord!
“While it was still dark,” Mary of Magdala came. It was dark when Judas went out and did the dastardly deed, thus epitomizing the darkness of depravity, betrayal and sin. It was still dark when Mary, hardly able to see her way, clearly beheld the open tomb. The same darkness framed the glorious light of Jesus’ rising, a darkness that did not remain long, for Mary sought to enlighten and at the same time be enlightened by those who, like her, were still trying to make sense of all that happened in so short a time –from the triumphal entry to Jerusalem, to the ignominious death on the cross of their Lord and Master.
People who love do not remain in the dark for long. People who have hope do not stay paralyzed by the darkness of apparent defeat and desolation. She ran forthwith to spread the beginnings of great news to Peter and John, who both also lost no time going to the tomb, running as fast as they could, the younger one outrunning the older, but deferring later to the latter.
People who have faith lose no time in dwelling on losses, but keep focused on the object of their search. The two “saw and believed.”
In our lifetime, there are enough reasons for us to remain in the dark. There are more than sufficient excuses for many of us to do as the apostles did, at least initially, that is, hide in the upper room, “for fear of the Jews.” There is enough terrorism scare along with all sorts of financial and relational insecurities for a great many of us to just sulk in the recesses of our fearful hearts and not to venture out “while it is dark,” to confront a world that is constantly in flux.
Not only is there darkness around us. There, too, is a lot of fear, unbelief, uncertainty, insecurity, cynicism, and moral doubt and ambivalence. And with all this, comes the concomitant erosion of our courage, hope, love and faith.
Today, a fearful world is given a shot in the arm. A world enveloped in unproductive lack of belief and cynicism; a society characterized by paralyzing fear and lack of vision for a future that lies in God’s hands; a world cooped up in the sterility of self-centered materialism and consumerism, now opens its womb through the opening of the tomb of one who has declared: “Behold, I make all things new. I am the Alpha and the Omega.” In death, Christ’s body acted as seed that implanted new life. “A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, for it to bear fruit in plenty.” In His resurrection the earth’s womb was opened and new life burst forth in utter splendor and glory.
The resurrection of the Lord is what gave courage and enthusiasm to the erstwhile fearful disciples. The conditions were not favorable to the cause of the dead Galilean. Rome was paranoid of messiah-like demagogues that abounded during those times. The elders of the temple, the priests and the scribes – everybody who was somebody in Jerusalem at that time, were all wary of anyone who showed potential threats to their power and prestige.
But a risen Christ was no dead Galilean rebel. A risen Christ was not one to make them remain cowering in the dark, definitely not so for women like Mary, and for men with a character like Peter, James and John and the rest of the group left by Judas, who found temporary strength in the glow and glitter of a few pieces of silver. The risen Christ was behind all that newfound strength, courage, boldness and conviction.
The resurrection, therefore, among so many other things, is a shot in the arm of everyone of us, now limping and lame with discouragement, despair, despondency and all forms of partial deaths. The resurrection is the definitive answer of God to a world mired in what the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II calls the “culture of death.”
It should help that, by God’s design, the world at this time of year, as I said above, shows so much signs of newness, freshness and life. Cherry blossoms were at their best last week in D.C. and probably in Tokyo. Farmers and people with green thumbs find immense joy and hope in the land that lay fallow for months after the last harvest in fall. Though many remain as tepid and unenlightened about their Christian faith, still many more find new meaning in their loving and lively attachment to the Church, and to their faith via membership in so many communities of faith all over the world.
Yes, Virginia … there is hope abroad in the land made holy by him who embraced it willingly in his death and burial. This much, Peter, Paul and John and Mary today all tell us with so much courage and enthusiasm. “No more of the old,” they seem to tell us … no, no more of the “old yeast” of discouragement and despair, for Christ “our paschal lamb has been sacrificed.” No more breaking bitter bread made from “old yeast,” no more dining on sour wine of “malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
No more “grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection,” (G. Manley Hopkins), but onwards now to newness and fullness of life.
Easter Vigil Mass (C)
April 3, 2010
The world has been in a protracted bad Friday for so long now… a tad too long. Since 9/11/2001, March 11, 2004, and so many other dates we’d rather forget but cannot, we have gone from fear to terror, from sadness to one disappointment after tragic disappointment, from lukewarmness to fervent prayer like Jesus did yesterday: Eli, eli, lema sabachtani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The Holy Father, too, in a particular way, and along with him, the church has been in a protracted bad Friday in the recent weeks and months – on account of the crucifixion done by a few rotten eggs in the Church that have catapulted the Church once again, to the Calvary of biased media attention.
Tonight, armed with centuries old rich symbolisms and Biblical images, we have gathered here because, in the words of one issue of National Catholic Reporter, “something happened this Easter memorial night that makes all our bad Fridays good” and our lives worth living … good enough for us to ring bells and belt out our best song as an Easter people – Alleluia! Tonight, everything we do smacks of life and new beginnings … water, light, baptism, Passover, deliverance, promised land, empty tomb!
Empty tomb! Thank God it is empty! If it were not, we wouldn’t have any reason to be here tonight. But since we are here, it might do us good to ask ourselves: “Is it really empty for us?” We might want to give a look at who is there and what’s in there, or isn’t there. It isn’t empty when our lives are based on fear, when we are ruled by so much sadness and anger, when we live our day to day lives as one continuous bad Friday of indifference to God and his workings in our lives, and perhaps, a constant desire to get even with our enemies.
Today, Jesus who left the tomb tells us: be not afraid to go into the tomb. It should shame us men who are here tonight to take note, that it was women who went to the tomb “while it was still dark.” Be not afraid to go into the tomb. Be not afraid to die to yourself. For unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit a hundredfold.
But tonight, we rejoice at the great news that the tomb is empty. The witnesses of that empty tomb, it would interest us to note further, went in running and went out sprinting. Not out of fear, I tell you, but out of glee, out of love overwhelming for Him whom they have come to anoint. Who was it who said that love is a trembling happiness? (Kahlil Gibran) We are thus reminded tonight, “Be not afraid to leave the tomb with Christ!”
In our times, our young people don’t feel the need to go to church. They don’t exactly come running to church. One possible reason: we have sanitized death too much. We have shielded them so much from pain, from suffering, and even from death itself. But material goods, and comfort, and freedom alone can’t guarantee a meaningful existence. Into everyone’s life some rain must fall, as we hear in the musical Les Miserables. We all must see some bad Friday and face the reality of dying to self and to the world, for us to feel the exhilaration of leaving the tomb together with Christ.
Some of us, indeed, are still in the tomb. The hopeless, the discouraged, the vengeful, along with terrorists who are enslaved, entombed with their death wishes and deeds, thoughts and desires that cannot come from a God who has left the tomb forever. Some of us, preferring to live with God at a comfortable distance, far enough for Him not to bother us in our merry and selfish ways, so that we could give free vent to what Rolheiser calls modern society’s “unbridled restlessness,” are nowhere near leaving that tomb of indifference, irreligiosity, and moral laxity.
Our liturgy tonight can boast of a brother and four sisters who today have chosen the path to the tomb of Christ. I must remind them that they have chosen the better part – to go and die with Christ so as to live with Him forever! I lay claim to no answer to our legitimate fears and worries. I find no words to comfort those families who continue to lose 18 year old kids to a war that was never, and will never be to their liking, even as I can find no sure answers to individuals who are still caught in the throes of grief after losing a very dearly loved person to sicknesses that seem to play favorites.
I won’t have the words to erase the unfairness and the injustice of innocent lives being snuffed into permanent oblivion from this sometimes cruel world, populated by ungodly people who prefer to take others to the entombment of their brightest hopes and dreams for themselves, for others and for the world.
I only have great news to share with you tonight. No … death does not have the final word. God does. And He sealed it forever by leaving that tomb and leaving it forever empty! On this easter night, my humble counsel to everyone who suffers, to everyone who is bothered by uncertainty and fear, to everyone yet undecided to commit himself or herself to the Lord via active membership and participation in your Christian community, my counsel to Barbara, Anthony, Elizabeth, Julie and Maria is simply this: Be not afraid to go into the tomb with Christ! Be not afraid to leave the tomb together with Christ! Be not afraid of death. It has no more sting.
Be not afraid of the tomb. It is not our final destiny. For, to quote my favorite poet, “In a flash, at a trumpet crash, we shall be what Christ was and is… immortal diamond, immortal diamond.” Be not afraid of life, for that is what He has come. suffered, died and risen for, that we may have it more abundantly. Happy Easter to you all.