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Thursday, June 24, 2010

PASSING ON THE TORCH OF FREEDOM


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
June 27, 2010


Excitement is in the air as the World Cup continues to keep the whole world glued to their seats and to their digital TV screens. It is significant that, even as the world reels under the specter of terror and ongoing violence perpetrated by both sides who belong to the wide spectrum of political, economic, cultural, and religious ideologies, the vast majority of the freedom-loving world, focuses its attention, not on battling one another with weapons of mass death and destruction, but on slugging it out peacefully in friendly and healthy football matches.

It is unfortunate that there are those among us peoples of all nations, races, and creeds, whose attitude and behavior seem to mar and tar the nobility of such a wholesome dream for camaraderie and competition. It is, indeed, unfortunate, that in our days, there are those of us in the human family, who continue to derail the vision of worldwide fraternity, unity, and solidarity which the God of all creeds, the God of whatever appellation, from whatever faith tradition, so clearly wants His people to work for.

The Roman Catholic liturgy today, draws from the rich Scriptural tradition of both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), and sheds light on this on-going dream of God, on this on-going salvific work that Christ, the Son of God, prayed so fervently for, just before he suffered and died, “that they might be one, even as you and I, Father, are one.”

Four important and significant Biblical personalities are presented for our reflection today: Elijah, Elisha, Paul, and Jesus Christ. All four personages figure prominently in accounts that all speak of a “giving,” “passing on,” a “handing over,” a “tra-dition” in the Latin sense, that is, to bequeath, to give, to deliver. Elijah does more than speak to Elisha. He “throws his cloak over him,” a “sacramental” act of passing on a task and responsibility. Elisha obeys, and goes forthwith to settle his personal and familial affairs. He leaves entirely what appears to be his rather copious means of livelihood, “and gave it to his people to eat.” Paul, for his part, basks in the glory and responsibility of received “freedom,” exhorting his readers at Galatia to “stand firm and not to submit to the yoke of slavery.” In the Gospel, the gift and task of discipleship were couched in no wishy-washy terms: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

There is a very clear trend in the totality of Scriptures that points to the elements that make up the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” In the same Scriptures, and in the tradition passed on by the Church founded by Jesus Christ, salvation, among other things, is very clearly associated with this concept of freedom – freedom from material goods, freedom from stifling relationships, freedom from the “slavery” of sin, freedom from both internal and external bonds that shackle women and men, to superficial cares and concerns that have nothing to do with eternal salvation. There is this unmistakable understanding that, whilst the fullness of salvation is yet to come, the sure way to this salvation already is available for God’s beloved children. In other words, salvation happens, here and now, for all those who love and follow the Lord. Salvation is a reality that takes place right now, right here, and a sure-fire sign it does take place is our sharing in, and our living concretely the manifestations of that gift of freedom.

That gift, however, does not come hermetically sealed, never to be opened. No … it is something one does, something one lives … something one not only professes, but also confesses in one’s deeds. Handsome is as handsome does… The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Freedom is both a gift and a glorious task. It is a privilege and at the same time a power for action, a promise of appropriate behavior commensurate with the nobility of that singular gift from God. It is a gift that is meant to grow, a favor from above that must flourish in our personal and social lives.

And since it is a gift to free persons, it can be abused. It can be misused. And it can plainly atrophy for sheer disuse.

Our own personal lives are a living testimony to the reality of that freedom. It is enough to look back at the choices we have made all our lives. My past 28 years of priesthood alone are an example of that freedom. I have made decisions. I have made choices. And some of those choices have caused grief both in myself and in others, even as some of those choices have led to personal good and that of others. In retrospect, I am sure you will agree with me, that if one could do it all over again, there would be choices and decisions you would have wanted to do a little differently. But choices lead to consequences. And consequences are what we all ought to be responsible for, being offshoots of the very freedom we all invoke.

The world is fast hurtling down the road of extreme polarities. The ideological spectrum now captures the undivided attention of people all over. In many places all over the world, people are neatly divided between two opposing political parties, with equally opposing ideologies. Nations are enmeshed in various forms of cultural, and economic “divides,” like the north-south, east-west problems. People from poor, developing countries like the Philippines are clearly aligned into the “haves” and “have-nots,” “educated” and “uneducated,” the “well-heeled” and the “great unwashed.” Alas, even the Church that we so love, can be scandalously divided between the “liberals,” and the “conservatives,” the “progressives” and the “ultra-traditionalists.” Even an innocent and legitimate dream of “caring for the earth” has been hijacked by ideologues who, claim “global warming” on the one hand, and “global cooling,” on the other, depending on what extremist ideology one is proposing. Polarization in everything and anything seems to be the run of the day. Polarization, I would like to suggest, is the new name for the so many “unfreedoms” in people’s lives today. Extreme polarization is the manifestation of a much deeper and subtler form of slavery that St. Paul speaks about.

In this welter of conflicting and contrasting ideological allegiances, I suggest that we return to the Biblical tradition that today’s liturgy shows us. I suggest that we return to the basic foundation of this freedom. And that foundation lies on the giver of that freedom, the source of that “glorious liberty of the children of God.” That source is no less, and no other than God. “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.” That freedom, ironically, is founded on “obedience” to the same God. (The Latin ob-audire from where obedience comes, has to do with “listening.”) Jesus Christ now tells us without mincing words: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We are avidly awaiting the final results of the competition at South Africa. We Christians do not merely wait for such material results that are fleeting. We live and work – and die, if need be – in order to pass on, not just a torch of victory, but the torch of freedom to one another, and to the rest of the world.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

WHO ARE WE IN JESUS’ EYES?


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time(C)
June 20, 2010


The past two Sundays have been a reminder of how God revealed Himself to be. He revealed Himself via a story, an unfolding history that came to us both through the written and oral tradition of the so-called mirabilia Dei (the wonders of God). In the Solemnity of the Trinity of three Sundays back, we saw God in action as Giver (the Creator Father), as Gifted (the Son given for us and for our salvation), and as Gifting (the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son), who still dwells in our midst and continues to lead us in our journey towards the fullness of salvific truth.


Last, last Sunday, we were reminded of God’s real presence to His Church and people, in and through the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we come to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” both the fullness of the Parousia (Christ’s coming at the end of time, with a capital P), and His parousia, that is, his current, contemporary “presence,” though veiled under the appearance of bread and wine. Past, present, and future converge, and are comprised, made real, and rendered intimately personal, by one and the same sacrament of the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord.


Today, the Lord takes the level of intimacy and the closeness of God with his people one notch higher. He asks his disciples a personal question. Jesus was then making waves all over. Having fed thousands not only with material bread, but also with a lot of spiritual fare through his teachings, crowds were following him wherever he went. People talked around and each one saw in him the figure of king (Son of David), priest, and the much-awaited promised one (Son of Man). All three “messianic traditions” had their own adherents. At the same time, the religious and political leaders were getting very wary of this “upstart” from Galilee, where nothing good was expected to come, but who nevertheless, was becoming very popular and known all over Judea.


In the midst of such a growing public identity and persona, Jesus, whilst in solitude and prayer, takes his disciples into a huddle and asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples’ answers reflected all three trends mentioned with regards to how people perceived him to be. People saw him mainly as a prophet, if we go by the answers of the disciples. But he was not interested in what people thought of him. In this moment of intimacy and closeness with his disciples, Jesus wanted to know how his disciples perceive him to be. Jesus wanted to see the corresponding depth of intimacy, knowledge, and closeness his disciples had for their master. “But who do you say that I am?” It was Peter, the recognized and de facto leader, who spoke on others’ behalf: “You are the Christ of God.”


Christ’s question led to a deep reflection on the part of the disciples. The fruit of that reflection led to a confession – a proclamation, a profession, a solemn declaration of Peter’s and the close-in disciples’ faith in him whom crowds, along with the political and religious leaders, mistakenly understood to be an earthly and military savior.


Jesus was revealing who he really was. He showed himself more than just a prophet, for “he spoke with authority.” He agreed somewhat enigmatically, that he was the awaited Messiah, but at the same time spoke about his suffering, death, and eventual resurrection. Though he accepted being the Son of Man, he nevertheless referred to himself in images that reminded people about Isaiah’s suffering servant, contrary to popular expectations.


But the real focus was not on who he was. Neither was it on who people thought he was. And Jesus went far beyond knowing what his disciples thought of him.


For Jesus’ disciples as it is now for us, what is now important is who we are as his disciples. The focus shifts to us now who are his followers. Who are we in Jesus’ eyes?


Our reflection, and the consequent proclamation-profession of faith as the disciples did, ought to lead to a deeper realization. Nay more, it ought to lead to action. Faith as acceptance of truths, as acknowledgment of who God is for us, necessarily has to spill over into life. Acceptance of God has to lead to performance. “Faith without works is dead,” St. James tells us. Intellective and fiduciary faith ought to become performative faith.


The discussion now shifts from how we see the Lord, to how the Lord sees us who claims to be his disciples. Our reflection now veers towards the direction of faith-context and away from mere faith-content. The faith that we profess (fides quae creditur) ought now to become the faith by which we live (fides qua creditur). “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and come follow me.”


In these highly politically charged times, when opposing camps continue to sling mud against each other, and when each one hijacks even moral issues, and turns them into political issues for more political mileage, when Church leaders and pastors speak in the name of moral truth and are accused of engaging in partisan politics, we stand at the heart of what Christian faith is meant to be. It is not meant to be mere declaration and profession of static – if pietistic – truths that have nothing to do with concrete personal, social, and political life. Faith-content must cross over into the realm of faith-context – the concrete context of our lives in society which includes business, politics, and every other arena of human activity precisely because, being human, they all fall within the ambit of God’s moral law.


In America, there are more than 63 million Catholics, as in the Philippines, there are more than 70 millions. In 1958, I am told, 78 % attended Mass regularly in America on Sundays. Now they are down to 25 %. In the Philippines, ironically the only predominantly Christian country in the Far East, the regular attendees never go beyond 20%. In this so-called Christian country, to our national shame, elections have always been an “immoral and expensive process” (PCP-II), fraught with rampant cheating and killings, this last one not excluded. On top of this, the country belongs to the 12 most corrupt countries all over the world. In both countries, faith as declaration and profession of what one believes has been mostly relegated to the inner sanctums of churches and houses of worship. Faith as lived “performance” has been reduced to pious and “churchy” activities like putting up or helping out at “soup kitchens” and/or attending escapist and equally privatistic prayer rallies, listening to shallow teachings that capitalize on false hopes of material blessings and earthly prosperity, courtesy of bombastic, evangelistic preachers who now go by the faddish, and very popular title “servant-leaders.” Faith as personal is deeply embedded in the collective psyche. But faith’s social component, faith as expressed in social responsibility, faith shown in a willingness and readiness to work for the common good, even to the point of personal sacrifice, is totally out of the picture. Faith as having something to say to politics does not register to hard-core politicians who think that God ought to remain only in Church, to be talked of only on Sundays, only in Church. As a people, we Filipinos have missed the “Church’s best-kept secret” – the social teachings that put emphasis on the social dimension of faith. No wonder the most corrupt, the most publicly known crooks, the most famous tax evaders, and even coup plotters, and the kings and queens of showbiz – and alas, even those of us from the ranks of the men of the cloth – can go their merry ways practically undisturbed by so much abject poverty, corruption, and rampant moral decay in Philippine society.


Who are we, then, in Jesus’ eyes? St. Paul knew it all along: “through faith, you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (2nd Reading) Who are we meant to be in Jesus’ eyes? Call it what you will … images, projections, transparencies, even PPS presentations … they all boil down to one and the same thing … “No longer I, no, not I, but Christ who lives in me!” Like Christ …. that is how he looks at us. Like Christ … that is who we ought to be.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

FORGIVE THE WRONG I HAVE DONE!

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
June 13, 2010


This Sunday’s readings have a little something for all of us. Let’s face it! We all have sinned. We still do. And we stand to sin some more. The Lord Himself said it: “The just man sins seven times a day.” But whilst David had a Nathan to convict him, we only have our own consciences to guide us, aided by the objective teachings of the Gospel and the living Church to remind us.


Nathan, according to the Holy Book, succeeded in his reminders. David, convicted by his enlightened conscience, capitulated and confessed: “I have sinned against the Lord.”


This is I guess a good lesson for us to learn – or be reminded of – today. We all have sinned. “All men have fallen short of the glory of God,” as St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans. We all have veered off the righteous path. We all have gone astray, like lost sheep, needy of help from a forgiving and loving someone, who has the power to put us right back to the fold.


This, too, is a good reminder for us as we start out anew, as we look forward to something better, given the new set of leaders that have received an unquestionable mandate from the electorate. Now is not the time to discuss how educated or how misguided, or how intelligent and prudent the electorate is … Now is the time to accept one and only one basic and simple fact … We all have sinned. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. And we all deserve the government we get.


If this is the case, then, there is something that the readings can teach us – if only because we need to do a David … We need to do like the psalmist who declared in no uncertain terms, “Forgive the wrong I have done.”


One thing about us as a people, as a sinful people, is to attribute everything to the one who sits on the pinnacle of power. We mistakenly think that he who holds the highest office of the land can solve all our problems, and cure all social evils, which, as the name implies, is something that all of us socially commit. We mistakenly think that the structures of society that are in place, whether right or wrong, dysfunctional or useful and practical, are all due to personal choice, personal decisions, and personal foibles. Thus, we tend to over focus on the supreme leader … on the President, on the residents of Malacanan (or the White House, for that matter), everyone of whom, we all likely hated at some point.


One thing about us sinful people, is that we tend to see evil as the handiwork of the other person, as the fruit of sin of other people, outside our own persons, outside our home boundaries, and definitely outside our areas of responsibility.


But if we are to believe St. Paul, “we all have fallen short of the glory of God.” If so, then corruption, sinfulness, divisiveness, and disunity cannot be the handiwork of only a privileged few who love to address themselves as “honorable.”


David was, for all intents and purposes, and by any standard, an honorable king, a wise king, a courageous king – a true leader in every sense. But he was, like all of us, human. He was weak. He was sinful. And he was, like all of us, initially, in denial. Nathan had to walk him through his crime, with a simple little story, a vignette that exposed and revealed his soft underbelly. It did not take long for him to realize his sin. ‘That man is you!,” declared Nathan.


And David capitulated and confessed!


Initially though, David was incensed by the dastardly, cowardly, but cruel deed of the protagonist of the short story. He was angry. We demanded justice. He wanted to punish the miscreant. “That man is you,” said Nathan.


And David capitulated and confessed!


One thing about people in denial and rejection of who they are, are people who deflect and project to others what they cannot accept in themselves. One who cannot name, one who cannot claim one’s sin is one who cannot tame the very same sin, the very same fault. And one who cannot tame, is one who resorts to blame.


This, the men did, on seeing the sinful woman who lay at the feet of the Lord, and who poured her most treasured possession on his feet, and wiped the same feet with her precious hair.


But the men saw her sin, not her repentance. They saw her fault, not her remorse. They focused on her mistake, not on her resolve.


But we who reject and deny our fault and our contribution to the state of sinfulness, the state of corruption in the world, and the state of dysfunction in society at large, are those who see the “beam in the other person’s eye, yet miss the log in our own.”


In the setting most familiar to me, in the Philippines, we are in the threshold of a new government, with new leaders. Prior to the elections, there was a whole lot of muck raking, and mudslinging. Even before the new set of leaders have taken office, doomsayers and prophets of doom are busy wagging their tongues, projecting all their negativities on those who still need to prove themselves.


Let us start with something new for a change. You and I … The word SIN, after all, has that single most important letter in the middle of it all … and that is “I.” It is you and I who can make it or break it.


A good way to start is what David did. He capitulated and confessed. His conviction led him to profession and resolution ….”Forgive the wrong I have done!”