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Thursday, April 29, 2010

A VISION AND A REALITY OF TRANSFORMED NEWNESS

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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UNITED DESPITE DIVERSITY


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
4th Sunday of Easter(C)
April 25, 2010


Diversity is a fact of earthly life. The whole ecological system around which life on planet earth revolves, is based on healthy diversity. Without diversity and natural differences, the world would be a drab, dreary, uninteresting, and monotonous place. Why, a symphony would never merit being called as such if there were only one musical instrument playing one single melodic line in perfect unison and colorless uniformity!

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

WHAT MATTERS TO THE ONE WHO LOVES

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
3rd Sunday of Easter (C)
April 18, 2010

The Risen Lord was not one who would do the rounds of the conference circuit giving talks and rousing testimonies about what had befallen him and the ultimate reward that had been given him from above. Surely, after a harrowing and ignominious death on the cross, after all the humiliation and the degradation, after all the denials and the disarray among the ranks of his followers that ensued after his death, after the one time Judas sold him for 30 miserable pieces of silver, after the three times that even Peter himself denied that he knew him … surely there would be reason to bask in the glory of the resurrection and give everybody that “I-told-you-so” attitude.

No, the risen Christ was busy doing service to the very same people, some of whom did him a whole lot of disservice.

Today, the evangelist John once more reminds us of what his dying on the cross is ultimately all about – an all out life of service and self-offering to others. He coached and coaxed a discouraged and sleepy fishing crew who has labored all night in vain. He led them to where fish was available and abundant. Knowing them to be not only discouraged and tired, but also hungry, Jesus lit up a fire and prepared some food – bread and fish for those whom he would be sending out to catch more than just fish.

Jesus’ attention was apparently focused on the head fisherman, the next one in line after him as the master and teacher. The fire around which the Risen Lord brought them to share what he had prepared and warm themselves up with, was reminiscent of the fire around which the shaking and insecure Simon warmed his cold and clammy hands, as he coldly denied the Lord three times before harmless servants. The fire that exuded warmth and love close to which, the Lord, on the way to his death, looked on ever so warmly and lovingly at Peter, is now represented by another fire. Around that fire, the Risen Lord casts his loving glance at Simon whom he prods with gentle questionings: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

For as many times as Simon denied his Lord and Master, he was asked to profess his love for the same Lord: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

But Christ was looking for more than just love. The Risen Lord was expecting more than just lip service. He was looking for a sense of mission more than just a shallow profession. “Feed my lambs.” The risen Lord was looking for living proof of that love, as real as his own suffering, death and resurrection, and as real now as his act of loving service to them, leading them to a bountiful catch, and preparing for them a well-deserved meal after an otherwise futile night of toil.
The Lord was asking his followers, most especially Peter, to “walk the talk,” to do as one says, to live as one believes. “Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep.”

Our society all over the world nowadays is never wanting in examples that point to the opposite of what the Lord tells us today. The culture of rugged individualism, what Twenge (2009) calls the “narcissism epidemic,” that makes people go out and be number one, and try to outdo everybody else comes out very clearly in the Mass Media, most especially in the current craze that keeps tens of millions glued to their TV screens on any given night – reality TV! Survivor … Fear Factor … Who Wants to be a Millionaire? … The Apprentice … etc… I would not want to venture on what it is each one of them fosters, but whatever it is, it has absolutely nothing to do with being modest, coy, self-effacing, humble, and putting others’ needs and concerns before one’s own. Most of the 27 millions who watched the final episodes of the first season of “The Apprentice” years ago, loved to hate one female character who, ironically, does nothing more than represent what seems to be an acceptable practice in the real world – lie, manipulate, cheat, and bluff your way towards that coveted place on top, and do all this without batting an eyelash!

Let’s face it. The world does not exactly value self-effacing service to others. Doing one’s work quietly, being relatively unknown while working for others’ welfare no longer count among the most popular dreams of people in societies all over the planet. If it means anything at all, the fact that the first series of “The Apprentice” attracted 200,000 applicants and the second, about 500,000 just shows how much leadership and success are equated with that much coveted 15 minutes of fame.(In Philippine setting “Pinoy Big Brother” attracted 50,000 hopefuls during audition recently!) The statement of that famous face on TV with that unique, flamboyant hairstyle who is emulated by many yuppies all over is reflective of the current values upheld by people nowadays. When asked by a phone-in televiewer how he manages stress, he answered: “Even if there is an earthquake, say in India which kills 400,000 people, I just say to myself … it doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter.”

Today, the example of the Lord shows us that there are things that matter in this world, and that the Christian believer also needs to undergo some form of good stress (eustress as distinct from distress). We are further reminded that leadership is not to be equated with what it is identified with by most people. Leadership is not primarily equated with honor, prestige and glory. Leadership has to do with service, and in that sense, is the duty of all followers of the risen Lord.

Recent social teachings of the Church, particularly that of the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, have concretized exactly how this leadership by service could be done by all. One need not have an office or position to do service. One need not be powerful or extremely rich. Even the poor are called to ministerial service. Service is never a monopoly of the moneyed and the powerful. All the baptized are called to service in imitation of Christ who lived and died and rose “so that others might live” and to have life in abundance.

The way to this life of service is through the virtue of solidarity. As a virtue, it is tied up with the concept of the common good. Love for the common good, among other things, really means that what happens elsewhere in the world really matters to the rest of humanity. Attention to the common good really means that it ought to matter to the rest of the human society if entire populations live in sub-human poverty, or go through the most abject lack of social justice imaginable. For one who truly lives in solidarity with all men and women, with everyone created in God’s image and likeness, it ought to matter that 25 % of the world’s population use up 75 % of the world’s resources, while 75 % of the world’s population make do with the remaining 25 % of the world’s resources.

As I always share with the various groups of Fil-Ams in the U.S., the call to solidarity and a life of selfless service, among other things, means living out what our national hero popularized as a motto: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” (He who does not know how to look back where he comes from, does not have much to look forward to either.)

Everything matters for the Christian believer. It just matters for the one who truly loves and cares for the Lord.




Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MANY OTHER SIGNS NOT WRITTEN


Christ the source of resurrection and life.(From an Easter homily by an ancient author): An article from: Catholic Insight
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Octave of Easter / 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 11, 2010


Hiding, fear, wounds in the hands and side, locked doors, absence, doubt … these negative sounding words simply seem to stand out of today’s readings like sore thumbs. Not much of a good material for good news, you say?

Indeed … so it seems, for modern people like us always want things clearly laid out on the table for certainty and security. We want things written down all the time in black and white. We want agreements and contracts written in a way that obliterates even a scintilla of doubt. We want clear proofs. We want to be sure of what we are getting ourselves into each time. Everything must be spelled out clearly and unequivocally. Ever wondered why people who intend to pull a fast one on you put certain stipulations in fine print?  Ever wondered why it is precisely the fine print one ought to read if you don’t want people to pull a wool over your eyes so they could get away with things easily?

Let us face it. There is a whole lot of hiding in the world today. Some people (most people in Christian Philippines) hide their real incomes from government to avoid paying taxes. Many people are petrified by fear now that terrorists seem poised to strike anytime at innocent people with all the force and destructive fury that their demonic hatred could muster. Many people are left wounded, bruised and battered by so much suffering most of them caused by conditions and situations they have no control over. Homeowners (including pastors of churches) now feel unsafe if they leave their doors open during the day. The uncertainty of the times has caused us to be locked in and thus, absent, that is, not fully present to the world and to one another. The doubting disease has worsened dramatically ever since doubting Thomas uttered his famous words: “Unless I see the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I do not know, nor want to speculate here the reason for Thomas’ absence (some people say he was too frightened himself to surface and venture out of his hiding place). But we do know that he eventually surfaced. And as a pastoral counselor, I know of one more sure thing. Thomas acknowledged his doubt. Thomas did not hide his unbelief. Thomas was honest enough to tell his fellow disciples that his faith meant more than just a facetious and shallow acquiescence or thoughtless agreement to what others tell him.

Thomas wanted to see the “fine print.” Thomas was an avid and passionate searcher for the truth. He was not to be one of those who claim instant overnight conversions that, like the flowers of the field, are here today and gone tomorrow. His doubt was not the doubt of a perpetual skeptic, who believes in nothing else and no one else but himself. His doubt was not like the doubt of the despairing man who sees no hope, nor meaning in the world and to life, in general. His doubt was more like that of a searcher who would not leave a stone unturned to verify his belief in a mature sense.

The world that we live in is mired in so much uncertainty and doubt, even as it reels under the ever darkening clouds of fear and insecurity all over. Mainstream liberal media are all out to pin down the Holy Father and crucify him on the cross of popular – albeit misguided – opinion! Cynics and critics of the teaching authority of the Church and Her magisterium abound, even among those who are supposed to defend her – from both extreme sides of the spectrum – the ultra conservatives who think that Vatican II was the work of the devil, and the ultra progressives who think that the Holy Father and his teachings still date back to the Middle Ages! In the middle are a handful of “soft-liberals” who always have a thing or two to say against whatever pronouncement comes from the Vatican, ranting and raving because GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal), for example, has changed the term lay “Eucharistic Ministers” to “Communion ministers.”

In this second Sunday, so called Octave day of Easter, among many other things, we are reminded of a great lesson that comes from one who has been receiving a bad rap for so long – Thomas the doubter. Thomas shows us that there is only one valid way of resolving that doubt. That way is not through hiding behind a thin veneer of religiosity that is heavily “made up” by mere rituals and “religious acts.” That way is not by hiding completely, keeping oneself cooped up in one’s private, personal religiosity that goes direct to God, whatever that means, unmindful of others. That way is not through locking oneself up in one’s selfish and materialistic concerns. That way is not through narcissistically turning inward to nurse one’s wounds, whether pretended or real.

Thomas did the one important and right thing. Acknowledging his doubt, he turned right back to the faith community – the community of disciples. Thomas turned right back to the “Church.” True enough, based on the promise of Christ, his “Lord and God” was there. It was in the context of a believing community that Thomas found the object of his search. Once found, there was no need for superficial proofs. Once seen, there was no need for “peripheral” and non-essential visions. He did not need to touch the hands nor the side of him whom he called “My Lord and my God.”

The Risen Lord revealed and showed Himself to him who searched sincerely and honestly.

I am on my twenty eighth year as a priest. Over the past two decades plus eight, I have seen the sad reality of people leaving the Church not because they hate the Church per se, but really because they hate what they (mistakenly) think the Church (and their faith) is. A whole lot of ignorance coupled with prejudice, and helped by the teaching of false prophets, lead people away. But I have also witnessed people returning to the fold, people wanting to be admitted to the Church once again, because they did the right thing. They investigated their doubt and resolved their doubt, not with anger, not with resentment, but with a whole lot of sincerity and honesty, and I hasten to add, a lot of hard work. And they did that one important thing. They sought for the truth in the context of the guardian and safekeeper and proclaimer par excellence of that truth – the Church of Jesus Christ, one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Thomas represents all of us who, for one reason or another, have been “absent” in some way, and therefore lagging behind in our knowledge and practice of the faith. Thomas represents all of us who are called to believe, not so much on the basis of what we personally see and experience, as on the basis of the testimony of others. As “second-generation” Christian believers, we believe because we “have heard,” for “faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:14).

In the final analysis, faith is not a question of whether we were “absent” or that we “doubted” at some point, but that we believe on the basis of the Church’s – and others’ word. For indeed, the Lord did many other signs that are not written. But on the basis of her preaching and teaching and witnessing, people believed.

St. Thomas, help us in our unbelief.

Friday, April 2, 2010

ONWARDS TO NEWNESS AND FULLNESS OF LIFE























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.

BE NOT AFRAID!











Catholic Homily/Reflection
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.