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Monday, May 31, 2010

UNTIL HE COMES IN GLORY!


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord Year C
June 6, 2010

 
            There is no understanding fully the feast of today without framing it in the context of what “sacramentality” is all about. Being the “sacrament of sacraments,” as St. Thomas puts it, and being both “the source and the summit of Christian life” (Vatican II), the Eucharist is eminently a “visible sign of invisible grace” (St. Augustine). In the very visible, and very ordinary reality of bread and wine, we see, and feel, and experience, in an extraordinary way, something that God meant to be so ordinary in our lives as believers – His living, loving, and gracious presence in the midst of His beloved people!

             Eucharist is all about presence. Eucharist is all about the here and now, the “already” of our Christian lives, though it is focused eminently on the “not yet” of our definitive salvation in Christ. Eucharist is all about basking in God’s love, and grace now, even as it leads us to look forward in hope. Eucharist is “seeing and tasting how good the Lord is” in our daily lives, even as it fills our hearts and minds with “what no eye has seen nor ear heard – what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him!”

            Indeed, the Lord has set the table for us today, and everyday, as we do Eucharist. As we celebrate and partake of His meal, we receive a sign par excellence of that which our human hearts passionately long for, as “the deer longs for running water,” so does our heart pine for fulfillment. In the Eucharist, again to quote St. Thomas, “a pledge of future glory is given to us” (nobis pignus datur futurae gloriae!). A pledge – something that straddles the arena of what is, at one and the same time, already a reality and an unfulfilled finality … the reality of people like us who straddle heaven and earth, a sacramental people, who see God, heaven, and eternal bliss in the ordinary signs of everyday life in this world. This is the reality of what the Church is – living the “in-between times” of Christ’s coming as man, and of His coming back in glory, to lead us into what prophets of old referred to as the “messianic banquet.”

            Being a people such as we believers are, with one foot on earth, and one foot in heaven, living in these “in-between times” of the earthly existence of the Church, we could use a little reminder time and again, a “taste and foretaste” of what ultimately is ours by virtue of what Christ has done for us. This is what Eucharist is, and what Eucharist does, for us. As the sacrament par excellence, it gives us this foretaste of what is to come in what the prophets foretold, in what St. Paul preached and taught, in what Jesus himself spoke about – “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

            We are a people with such short memories. Distracted as we are by so much information, fed by a glut of sensual and psychological stimulations imaginable, emptied of the depth of noble dreams and visions by a culture of instant gratification and 24/7 entertainment monopolized by what passes for “reality-based,” but actually “voyeuristic” forms of infotainment, people nowadays, all over the world, have lost the ability to see beyond what meets the eye, to look and see far more than what their eyes can ever feast on – that is, we have lost that needed “sacramental stance” or that “sacramental view of reality” that brings us to a world of reality far deeper, far broader, far more significant than what appears to many. In the words of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes – the rest sit round and pluck blackberries” (Aurora Leigh).

            Only he who sees … Only she who “stops, looks, and listens” … to what? To what John the Baptist went out for, and cried out for: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!” Only s/he who sees, knows, and only the one who knows, appreciates the real presence of Christ in his divinity and humanity in, and through the Eucharist!

            There is a whole lot we are missing, ever since postmodernism has thrown “mystery” and our appreciation for it out the window. Soon after the Boyszone band members crooned “No matter what they tell us … what I believe is true;” soon after hordes of both young and old have “declared independence” from any semblance of guidance from any “authority” figure like Holy Mother Church; soon after they have replaced the “sacrifice of the Mass” with what simply appears like the Protestant “communion service,” many of us consequently lost taste for the Eucharistic celebration, even as we have grown increasingly uninspired by insipid, and lack-luster, “feel-good” pep talks that the homily has degenerated into. When we ceased giving the “real presence” that “pious stare” that was due it, and the fitting humble adoration of it in the spirit of the Tantum Ergo, the Mass has become, in many places, just a celebration that offers people a superficial “fellow feeling,” in which the high point is the giving of the sign of peace.

            Once more this year, the liturgical calendar offers us an opportunity to re-appropriate what may have been missing, ignored, or glossed over in our common faith tradition as a people. Last week, we gave a serious look at the “story” of the Trinitarian God. We said that before it became a “mystery,” it was, first of all, “history” and reality. Today, we cast our glance at the ongoing and unfolding story of Jesus, gifted by the Father, who now “gifts” his body and blood to us in the form of bread and wine. Recipients of this sacrifice and self-offering, we now, in turn, led by no less than Christ the Victim himself, offer to the Father this same sacrificial offering. As victim, he shares his body and blood. As victim, he is the very lamb offered in a bloodless sacrifice, “for us men and for our salvation.” As priest, he himself leads us in the act of offering of this “sacrifice, which is now truly ours.” (Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be truly acceptable to God our almighty Father).

            But the Eucharist is not only about “here and now,” as we have seen above. If Eucharist is a pledge and a promise (pignus); if Eucharist is a “foretaste” of what is to come, no Eucharistic celebration can be complete if it does not go beyond mere horizontal fellowship and “fellow-feeling.” If it is fully Eucharistic, it necessarily has to be “forward-looking.” If it is to be Eucharist as Christ meant it to be, it has to be a sacrament of faith and love, and a sacrament of hope. If the celebration is genuinely Eucharistic, it is meant to “lift up our minds and our hearts,” even as “we give thanks to the Lord our God.” If it is truly Eucharistic, it ought to point to something deeper, something nobler, and something infinitely better than what our earthly eyes can set our sights on.

            This, the Lord himself alludes to in today’s gospel reading from Luke. The day was coming to an end. It was getting dark. The disciples and the enthusiastic crowds were “feeding on his every word,” as they listened avidly, unmindful of the fact that they brought no food or supplies with them. Nor were there Golden Arches anywhere near them to save the day for the same hungry crowds who definitely could use a “supersize” serving right then and there. But Jesus did not send them away running on empty. Jesus welcomed them. Jesus saw to it that they did not go away empty handed.

            What then, is this pledge and promise that Eucharist is all about? What then, is this foretaste that communion brings to us? Jesus shows us by his work and deeds. By feeding the crowds, he really showed “in concrete sign and sacrament” what the prophets of old have been talking about – the glorious messianic banquet (an image of heaven), the definitive salvation that He, as lamb of God, has come to lead us to, that vision of the “heavenly Jerusalem” where hordes “follow the lamb wherever he goes.”

            In the meantime, while we live in the “not-yet” of our earthly, pilgrim status as believers, we continue to celebrate the Eucharist and “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

BOASTING IN THE HOPE OF GOD’S GLORY



Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)
May 30, 2010


Experience, it has often been said, is a good teacher. Personal experience separates the rookie from the veteran; the wise from the merely intelligent and school smart; the prophet from the charlatan; the genuine leader from the merely titled executive. Personal experience constitutes the “abundance of the heart whereof the mouth speaks,” and a deeply felt and personal intimacy and familiarity with someone or something is the only real passport to credibility.


The intellectual expert delivers facts and figures. One listens to him or her with respect. The personal witness delivers truth and doles out trust. One listens to him or her with awe. The former speaks from the point of view of learned facts; the latter from the point of view of lived experience. The former will most likely be accepted at face value, for whatever merit there is in what he or she says; the latter will definitely go beyond being merely accepted. He or she will most likely be believed, emulated, and admired. For in the final analysis, the preacher or teacher only delivers a message; the prophet delivers a whole lot more than just a message. He or she delivers life … life in its fullness … life as he or she has lived or experienced it first hand.


Today’s solemnity and the lessons it gives us, has to do with this lived experience, more than it has to do with a static – if, mysterious – doctrine. Doctrines come to us by way of propositions, theorems and treatises. Lived experience comes down to us by way of stories … stories that recount … stories that tell and retell feelings more than facts; convictions more than scientific data; and dynamic relationships more than static and stale statistical reports.


The Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity is one such story. It is a story of God Giving. It is a story of God Gifted. And it is an on-going story of God Gifting. It is a story so profound yet so real that the Book of Wisdom (8:22-31) can only gush poetically about Him who “was poured forth from of old;” “the forerunner of prodigies;” “first before the earth;” “who fixed fast the foundations of the earth.” The whole Old Testament is a testimony to this primordial story of God giving, God creating, God pouring Himself forth, God proffering life, God uttering everything to existence. “Let there be … and there was!” It was a story of God in action … a story filled with wonders and prodigies, marked by the magnalia Dei, the great and wondrous deeds of a God, who revealed Himself as Giver of everything that is good. “And God saw that it was good.” Rightly so, do we proclaim in today’s response: “O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.”


The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is also the story of God Given … It is the story of “peace with God,” “access to grace by faith,” and “hope of glory” given to us “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the story, now recounted by Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:1-5), himself a recipient of that Gift, a story of the “love of God [which] has been poured out into our hearts.” It is the greatest story ever told … “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son …” It is a story first told by angels to poor shepherds … a story that has changed the world forever.


But the story goes on. Today’s solemnity is also the story of God gifting, of God guiding, of God leading. It is a story of “hope that does not disappoint,” “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It is a story of everyman’s ongoing journey towards the fullness of truth. It is a story of everyman’s ongoing search for dreams and hopes yet unfulfilled. It is a story of everyman’s longing for fullness and definitive fulfillment … a story of hope that “when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide [us] to all truth.”


Biblical revelation simply recounts to us the story of this triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was first of all a story of God relating to humankind before it became a static report about “three Persons in one nature.” It was historical before it became philosophical and rational. It turned philosophical and rational precisely to make what was basically real and historical understandable to people who were far removed from the original story. But the Trinitarian mystery was, and is, all about the lived experience of relationality before it became doctrinal and dogmatic.


We need to re-appropriate this divine story of God giving, of God gifted, and of God gifting. We need to re-root ourselves to the lived experience of Christ, of Sts. Peter and Paul, of the apostles and of the saints. This is the only way we can make sense of our modern day history. This is the only way we can hew meaning, and carve out a meaningful finality to our earthly and human history – both personal and societal. This is the only way we can find direction amidst the confusion of today’s world.


I certainly do not intend to bore my readers to death, but let me introduce a phrase from long-standing tradition of Christian spirituality, a tradition that grows out of this marvelous story of God revealing Himself ad extra, that is, by relating concretely to us, His people, by His saving us in Christ, and in the Church … down through history … we need to cultivate and steep ourselves in a Trinitarian spirituality. We need to live and believe as we pray … as the Church prays. (Lex orandi, lex credendi … The way of prayer is the way of belief). Just look at how the Church prays … in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Both unity and distinction are preserved. The Church safeguards the unity, the oneness in nature, but also respects the distinction of Persons in God, who revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The whole Church does not feel the urge to crack open the code of the Trinitarian mystery. Quite plainly and simply, the Church just revels in, and celebrates this mystery. The Church simply allows herself to be drawn further and deeper into this glorious mystery of God’s love for all humankind. God, then, is not a mysterious code to be cracked (like the Da Vinci code), but a truth to be lived and experienced.
There, surely, is a long list of woes we can wallow in nowadays. No, I am not referring to the rising price of gas all over the world. Neither do I refer to what bothers most of us in the so-called free world – the ominous and ever-present threats of terrorism and large-scale violence. While they are part of our list that possibly grows by the day, what really stands behind all those worries and distresses of people all over the world can be reduced to one simple fact – the eclipse of God in the world today. The world is not only busy going about its daily affairs. In many cases, it is also busy doing away with everything that “smacks” of God, everything that has to do with religion. I know of one group whose overriding concern is to do away with any sign of religiosity in public places, which basically means, removing the cross in emblems and monuments, in halls and public open spaces.


On the personal side, as a priest, (trying hard to become a more credible prophet), I still grapple with cynicism and a whole lot of discouragement when I see all the goings-on all over the world, most especially in my country of birth. But on a day such as this, in my more quiet moments, when I think and reflect on a living and loving God, and His story of salvation, that still goes on, even now – a story whose ending can never be other than what He had planned, and paid for in His Son, through the Spirit, my heart digs deep and finds therein “reasons that reason itself does not know of,” (Pascal) and am led to boast, like Paul, “in hope of the glory of God.”


Is it any wonder that the ancient Greek Christians, hearing the story of the Trinitarian God, prayed in a manner that eloquently, though very simply, portrayed their faith in the one triune God: Hagios, hagios, hagios ho Theos! Hagios, hagios, hagios, ho Theos ho Athanatos! Hagios, hagios, hagios ho Theos, ho Ischyros! (Holy, holy, holy is God! Holy, holy, holy is God the Immortal One! Holy, holy, holy is God the mighty One!) Indeed, lex orandi, lex credendi!

Monday, May 17, 2010

HOLDING ALL THINGS TOGETHER

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

Solemnity of the Pentecost
May 23, 2010

I take my cue for today’s reflection from the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass during the Day: “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man, alleluia” (Wisdom 1:7). Holding all things together … a beautiful thought, a heartwarming concept, an energizing pledge and promise for a world “waiting with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God” (Romans 8:19) … a world ripped and torn apart by so many conflicting allegiances and loyalties on all imaginable fronts, be they political, economic, social, ecclesial, religious and spiritual.

The Solemnity of Pentecost, the memorial celebration of diversity, of pluralism, of a mosaic-like reality of a human family originally intended by God, the Creator, to be a rich quilt-like tapestry of freedom and individuality, on the one hand, yet balanced by social solidarity, unity, and brotherly and sisterly love, on the other, touches the very core of society’s current day pressing need everywhere …

The world of politics, on both sides of the Pacific (in the U.S and in the Philippines), is mired in rough and rackety plurality instead of healthy pluralism. All issues are now subjected to the paralyzing scrutiny of contending and conflicting parties. Even moral issues, which ought to remain precisely that – moral issues – have all been hijacked by partisan politics and used endlessly as stepping stones for more political mileage. The capacity for objective moral reflection has become all but impossible, in a society that has reduced the discussion on morality to a simple discussion on whether one belongs to the political right or the political left, where an individual Bishop’s pronouncement is readily pounced upon and immediately denounced as meddling with politics. In the religious scene, the mystical Body of Christ seems farther than ever from the Risen Lord’s dream and fervent prayer: “That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one.”

Today, that vision and prayer of one who gave all of himself and all that was in his power to give and do during his earthly life is a reality for the whole world and the whole church to celebrate and extol. Today, Solemnity of Pentecost, the whole believing world is invited to “see and believe.” Today, too, all of us followers of him who offered his life that we might all be one, are invited to feel the gentle whispers of the indwelling presence of the Triune God, made real and complete by the sending of the Advocate, “who will teach [us] everything and remind [us] of all that [Jesus] told [us].”

The Pentecost is God’s way of telling us today as Jesus, His Son, told his disciples: “Be not afraid. It is I.” The Pentecost is God telling a people caught up in so much moral and social confusion, in a world battered and tattered by complicated and unhealthy plurality and conflictuality: “Peace be with you.” The Pentecost is God’s way of healing a possibly broken people, killed in spirit by so much terrorism and murderous wars, wounded all over by so much inhumanity and cruelty of people to one another: “Look at my hands; look at my side; touch my wounds and be healed.” The Pentecost is God’s way of encouraging a possibly discouraged body of believers, despondent over the reality of so much divisiveness and bitter enmity between political candidates, political parties, and between civilizations separated by religious beliefs and creedal persuasions: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

My heart bleeds for many reasons. Although the recent elections in the Philippines, fully automated for the first time, was in many counts successful, the acrimonious exchange from all sides of the political spectrum continues unabated, even before anyone has taken office. My sadness at the realization that the voice of Catholic bishops and that of the Catholic Church in general, has been effectively muffled by so many factors, not excluding political correctness and fear of reprisals after the priests’ scandals, only grows by the day. I am saddened at the growing realization that preaching in most places, has been reduced mostly to “feel-good” pep talks with little or doubtful theology, which avoid by all means the difficult teachings that are bound to offend people, and cause the “law of diminishing returns” at the collection plate.

I am saddened that the Holy Father, in his old age, almost has to act like John the Baptist, “a voice of one shouting out in the wilderness,” navigating a delicate balance between preaching the reality of sin that has engulfed some members of the hierarchical Church, on the one hand, and the equally reprehensible and irresponsible use of the media by certain elements who have an axe to grind against the institutional Church.

But no! Today’s solemnity holds me in check, and lifts me up from this despondency. The heart may have its reasons to feel this way, but Christian faith has its powerful convictions that cannot be defeated by such “grief’s gasping, joyless days, [and] dejection” (Hopkins). Today’s celebration is much too powerful to be ignored; much too clear to be glossed over.

The celebration of the reality and fulfillment of the indwelling presence of the Advocate, the Spirit, in the Church and in the world and in every one of us believers, ought to be the grounding of this courageous thrust towards a future that Christ has assured us of so glowingly: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Yes, the Spirit has come to dwell with us, as Jesus has come to “pitch his tent in our midst.” In the midst of so many cogent reasons for despondency, in a Church that seems to be characterized all over by a pervading culture of dissent both from the vociferous ultra liberals, and the low-key but all the same harmful conspiracy of silence of the “soft liberals” who never teach the fullness of moral truth as the Holy Father teaches, and the unbalanced and equally harmful confusion sown by the ultra conservatives who think that Vatican II was the work of the devil, we see and feel “a fresh, fresh wind that blows the new direction of time” – the silent work of the Spirit who raised up a John Paul II, of happy memory, or a Benedict XVI, the same Spirit who still raises up women and men of moral conviction and faith who are willing to stand up for the truths of God. There is enough in the list for one to drool with exultation … Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid …(Bo Sanchez and company in the Philippines) … all those lay people and converts to catholicism who were “surprised by the Spirit” and who listened to the Advocate, who led them to the truth and were captivated by that truth. And don’t forget the hundreds of thousands who belong in the Philippines and elsewhere, to so many charismatic renewal communities who find meaning and solace in their faith and obedience to the Church’s magisterium!

As I go through my daily routines at the school where I work, where the young show little concern and appreciation for the holy things, in a school where young people seem to be attending a perpetual superbowl game some place, I sometimes feel sad. But that sadness never lasts. That sadness becomes overwhelming hope when my thoughts go right back to these and so many other people, whose fidelity, to use the words of George Weigel, “unapologetic, unambiguous, enthusiastic fidelity to the fullness of Catholic truth,” gives me and so many others in the Church that we all love, the “courage to be catholic.”

The Spirit fills them and the whole world. The Spirit holds them close and, indeed, “holds all things together.” ALLELUIA!

Monday, May 10, 2010

SETTING ONE’S SIGHTS ON WHAT IS ABOVE


Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
7th Sunday of Easter / Ascension of the Lord - Year C
May 16, 2010

N.B. I offer a conflated reflection for both the 7th Sunday of Easter and the Ascension Sunday for the simple reason that in the US, what is celebrated on May 16 is the 7th Sunday, while in many other places, the Ascension Sunday is celebrated.

The liturgies of the Ascension of the Lord and the 7th Sunday of Easter both have to do with going beyond, with transcending the reality of the here and now, and with moving onto a realm qualitatively and patently different from current mundane experience.


They both speak of the ultimate reasons and foundations of our earthly hope – the glorification of the Risen Lord, a promise and foretaste of what God, in His love and wisdom, also has assured us in His Son, Jesus Christ.


Yes, the fact that “God mounts His throne to shouts of joy,” and that “the Lord is king, the most high over all the earth,” ought to make us pause in hope and in avid expectation of the Lord’s promises to all who love Him.


The Lord’s rising … His ascending into heaven … his sending of the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate … all these, and more … ought to lift not only our minds, but our whole being to what “all of creation waits in eager longing for …”


All of creation … all of God’s creatures … never forget what we heard over the past three weeks … the vision of a new heavens and a new earth. Never forget what the Lord has assured us over and over again: “Behold, I make all things new.”


No matter where we find ourselves in, in whatever hemisphere we happen to live in, whether in the affluent and wasteful first world, or in depressed and developing third world, all of us long for this newness, for this “freshness deep down things,” for total renewal that goes beyond mere cosmetic and shallow changes in all aspects of our personal and societal lives. We long for newness that extends beyond a change of leadership, or one that makes economic and financial affluence or security alone sound so shallow, if not hollow.


We know deep inside our hearts, that there is more to life than just getting what most people all over the world spend so much of their time and energy for. We want more than just a big beautiful house, a fleet of nice cars, mere popularity, or the trimmings and trappings of earthly power and fame.


Surely, on both sides of the Pacific, in the Philippines and in the U.S. in this election year 2010, the electorate shows or has shown and still shows, the changing value systems that seem to point happily toward this evangelical and biblical newness that stands out of the liturgy in these recent weeks. Where I am right now, the media frenzy about all sorts of scandals (on all fronts and sectors of society, not excluding the churches) has caused such a falling out in terms of the perceived high moral ground that both Church and civil society are supposed to champion. In the Philippines, the bitter pre-election battles fought less by honorable statesmen and more by seasoned traditional politicians who hide behind their puppets of a candidate have shown all too clearly the need for a massive change of heart, a massive renewal of mind and heart with regard to the way we as a people envision and live democracy concretely. Sadly, the electorate from both the enlightened and the less enlightened camps, have seen once more, how selfishness and greed, and naked ambition can make people throw all semblance of morality out the window of opportunism and raw manipulation, capitalizing on poverty and ignorance as the only sure-fire stepping stones toward power, wealth, and unlimited influence over others that go along with them. In my country of birth, the irony about a very rich man spending billions to tell the electorate how “poor” he is, is lost on the many poor people he claims to be fighting for.


On both sides of the Pacific, people are realizing that strong rhetoric alone, and histrionic denunciations of massive cheating alone, and even undying promises of a better life for teeming masses of the poor, don’t make for a credible high moral grounding on which to base one’s bet to being catapulted into power.


People are looking for a new politics of sincerity, for a new form of governance based on concrete acts that uplift society, especially those who are the part of what Blessed Mother Teresa calls the “the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost.” In the Philippine context, people have grown tired of the now “old tactics” of so-called “people power,” prostituted once too often by shallow and hollow men of doubtful moral bearings, who would do anything just to put and maintain themselves in power. Where I am, the growing realization of the futility of war seems to be taking hold. In a land where everything seems to be politicized, where even moral principles become a matter for both parties to take sides in, where the voice of moral reasoning and moral reflection gets drowned out by partisan politics, people are waking up to the reality that elections are not a simple matter of just rooting for a candidate or for a party, but something that ought to be elevated beyond the level of shallow partisanship.


People begin to realize that listening to the voice of objective morality does not necessarily have to follow the lines of either of two (or more!) parties locked in an epic struggle for supremacy. In other words, people are realizing that the choice between life and abortion, between war and peace, is not something that ought to be tied to the rhetorics of a particular candidate, running in the name of a particular party. The reason is simple: moral issues are just that – moral issues, not political issues that ought to be made cannon fodder for any party’s political arsenal.


There is enough food for thought for everyone here. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ascension, 2nd reading) puts it nicely: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might.” As if to clinch the call to newness, the 2nd reading from Revelation of the 7th Sunday liturgy tells us: “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates.” Referring to the new Jerusalem we spoke of last week, the believer is exhorted by John to follow the lamb wherever he goes, to renew themselves like the “144,000 washed in the blood of the lamb.”


I am an avid follower of the elections both in the Philippines and in the United States. I see the ebb and flow of the tides of support for this or that candidate. I see the disappointment and disapproval as the case may be, for one or the other, or for the whole lot of supporters and “king makers” who work behind the scenes – those who have hidden ulterior and selfish motives behind such sycophantic show of undying political support, no doubt to their later advantage.


I see changes. I see hope like the distant rays of a rising sun, breaking out of the shadowy peaks yet enveloped in darkness, but which contains a certain promise that cannot be thwarted even by the lowering clouds of turbulence and thunderstorms of any magnitude.


For as sure as the sun will eventually shine, so will the dawning of God’s salvation, the coming of His kingdom amidst His chosen and beloved people. Today, Jesus prays for us His people, a prayer that is at one and the same time a promise: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”


Is there ever a more compelling reason than this for us to keep on hoping and setting our sights on things that are above?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TOWARDS RADICAL NEWNESS




Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
6th Sunday of Easter (C)
May 9, 2010

            Last week’s readings led us to reflect on transformed newness. We saw Paul and Barnabas storming Gentile territories, and how the dynamic duo transformed the lives of the people they met. We heard God’s uplifting prophetic message delivered through John: “Behold, I make all things new!”“Love one another.” The Risen Lord, for his part, imparted a new commandment that was the sure-fire way towards transformation:

This week, our sights and hopes are trained once again toward the future. It was a “future” that was really already taking place before their very eyes, as the first reading from Acts very clearly shows. Divisions and distinctions between Jew and Gentile were crumbling. Gradually taking their places were unity, harmony, and fellowship between and among peoples of different origins, traditions and initial beliefs and customs. The Gospel of the Lord was transforming the world that can now cry in unison: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” (Responsorial Psalm)

Fullness, universality, inclusivity, and oneness … characteristic traits of this vision of the future that had begun to unravel before their very eyes, are all sealed by the symbolic language of John: twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, three gates on each of the four corners (making a total of 12), twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. A glorious vision of the heavenly city coming down from heaven … a city that no more needed the sun or the moon to shine on it, for its lamp was the lamb … all this rang true for a people whose minds and hearts had been renewed by their faith in the Risen Lord!

Is there any language and description of our destiny that can be more compelling than what we have today? Need we search for images of our deepest hopes and dreams other than what the Lord Himself offers us today?

A society that has no time, nor desire to dream could use a bit more of this type of language. Our jaded and cynical generation, replete with so much, yet bereft of depth and appreciation for what really matters, could do better than wallow in the shallow reality of everyday affairs and be led to envision their future – God’s future – that is unfolding in our lives.

Who says God is dead? God could not be more alive in the world today! He is busy as He had always been, transforming the world, working so that the fabled holy city of Jerusalem would come down from heaven. Who would ever expect a rebirth of the tiny Christian groups in war-torn Iraq, a group of hardy people who find meaning and resolve in their faith despite abject poverty, and so many other unfavorable conditions brought about by decades of tyranny and military occupation? Who could ever imagine that in an ocean of materialism and a culture of physical comfort, small clusters and groups arise who quietly and heroically live their Christian convictions though they are unheralded, unnoticed, and unrewarded by mass media and mainstream society?  Can anyone convince me that God is never present and alive in the oncology wards of countless hospitals all over the world where terminally ill patients under extreme physical suffering find mysterious strength and peace as they go through the process of dying? And can anyone give a convincing argument to so many conversions that happen every day after whole lifetimes of profligacy and sinfulness? What gives strength and courage to so many poor migrant workers who brave new cultures and strange lands just to be able to give their families decent lives back home? What explains the so many endless sacrifices parents make all over the world just to give their children a bright future?

Indeed, what gave the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II so much energy to go on preaching, even if he sounded very much like a John the Baptist speaking in the wilderness? What gave Damien the leper the dedication of a lifetime to care for those shunned by the rest of the world? What prodded Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to care for what she called the “least, the last, the lowest and the lost?” What is the energy behind the now advanced-in-age Pope Benedict XVI who continues to preach and teach indefatigably? How does one explain the fact that thousands of lay and religious missionaries continue to labor in many parts of the world, doing thankless jobs, working directly to help bring about that radical newness that can only come from God?

God is active in the world bringing about newness. What He does, though, does not translate to news delivered by major media outfits and networks. The past years since 2001 have shown us what makes for news: scandals, reports of torture, killings (the more gory, the more newsworthy), pitiful situations across the globe, revolutions, and terroristic activities. What passes off as news is really old stuff that dates back to Cain and Abel – the story of sin.

The Gospel of today recounts a different story. The story revolves around the unity of three persons, and around what each of them does for a people whose life stories are destined for radical newness.

Jesus tells us the story of His Father. God’s name, like our own names, are embedded in a story. Jesus tells us this fundamental story that He was sent “by the Father.” He further tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is He “whom the Father will send in my name.” The Holy Spirit has a task to fulfill, a duty that spells newness for us all: “He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  The Emmanuel, the awaited and storied One, who later became known as Yeshua (Jesus) the Savior, is now the Christos, the anointed One, who fulfills all the stories that the prophets of old recounted about Him!

The story of God goes on … Yes, you guessed it right … Terrorism and wars and scandals, typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, and the so many sob and sad stories we hear by the day from all over the world, do not have the final word. The final chapter of God’s story is not for men and women like us to write. Such earthly stories could temporarily set us back at times. Indeed, they can discourage us, and make us lose faith in a God who seems to take His own sweet time, who seems to be watching passively as “evil men’s ways prosper and in disappointment is all that I endeavor end.” (Hopkins)

There is work, though, for us to do. The story of God cannot unfold without our cooperation. “God who created us without us, will not save us without us!” (St. Augustine). We are called to love as Jesus did, to do as He did, to live as He lived: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Aye … there’s the rub! Here is where most stories falter. Here’s where many of us fail. Today, the Risen Lord gives us a shot in the arm: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid! I am going away and I will come back to you!”