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Monday, July 26, 2010

SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI!


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
August 1, 2010
  

        All of us mortals long for the more, the better, the greater, and the ultimate! The history of the world, and our own personal histories reflect this timeless and ageless truth – we look for fulfillment, for what satisfies, for everything that gives lasting meaning to our existence. We even pine for immortality, for the proverbial fountain of youth, physical prowess, and beauty. We hanker for everything that lasts, and all things that lend perfection and lasting dignity to our person.

        All that we long for, and all that we look for are not bad in themselves. They are legitimate ends for men and women created by God with the natural tendency towards “self-transcendence.” This includes our legitimate desire for material wealth and prosperity.

        Today’s liturgy, though, offers some kind of a “caveat” (a warning). Today’s readings would have us pause awhile and see beyond what we consider as the “ultimate.” The Lord, today, would have us reflect a little bit deeper on the values we hold dearly, on the priorities we have set for ourselves, on the targets we have focused on, and on the bases of the happiness and meaningfulness we have pegged ourselves and our lives on.

         For, truth to tell, there is so much blindness in the world today, so much lack of clarity, so much lack of perspective.

         The view from Hollywood, for one, is an absolutist one. Entertainment and fun is the ultimate gauge of one’s happiness and well-being. Everyday, we are bombarded by pictures of svelte, upbeat, and perpetually smiling actors and actresses, whose lives appear to revolve around party upon glitzy party, their seemingly happy and ever smiling faces paying tribute to the mantra of youthful life based for the most part on the culture of fun.

       So is the view from Wall Street. Wealth and fortune, and the examples of those who made it, constantly hog the infotainment headlines. They act as the modern-day prophets of the capitalist gospel of prosperity and financial well-being.

       This absolutist culture is nowhere more visible as in the marriage of capitalism and entertainment in the many shows that dot the prime time landscape: reality TV and shows that consistently gravitate towards Hollywood, New York, Chicago, and, of late, Las Vegas – all centers of commerce, entertainment, and fun. (Have you made a recent count of shows that have focused their sights on Las Vegas?) In many other places all over the world, entertainment and shows mostly revolve around the so-called “primate cities” which function as hubs of development, wealth generation, and the place where to get the “proverbial pot of gold.”

       Today, the Church goes counter-cultural, as usual. Today, I am afraid, many people, especially the young, would find the Lord’s good news as one that rather goes against the grain. However, I would like to suggest that, more than being a put-down, today’s biblical readings are an invitation for all of us to gain back perspective, to put back the horse before the cart, and to regain our sense of clarity.

        In a culture that has co-opted our minds, our attitudes, and our hearts, and which has gradually led us to absolutize and prioritize our “labor,” “toil and anxiety,” and all “the part of [us] that are earthly,” the Lord reminds us today through Qoheleth that “all things are vanity.” In essence, what we are told is not that all the above is bad, but that they are simply not the ultimate, for they are nothing but “vanity,” that is, mere “vapor,” “breath,”  something that is merely transitory. They are useful and important, true, but transitory, not permanent. Being transitory, they are not to be considered the “end all and be all” of human existence.

         I had the fortune of meeting and being a friend to a Filipino couple and their children over the past 20 years. When I got to know them, I was doing pastoral work as a substitute pastor in a big parish in Manila, while I was preparing myself to go to Rome for further studies. At that time, they had a booming and lucrative business that placed them among the more well-to-do members of the parish community. The relative wealth they enjoyed, however, did not get to their heads. They kept a low profile, while at the same time, gave generously to the church, while anonymously helping a number of poorer members of the parish. As I got to know them better over the subsequent years, I realized that their lives had been some kind of a roller-coaster ride, with the proverbial ups and downs, failures and successes, joys and disappointments. Their wealth and financial status shot up and shot down, in an unpredictable cycle that would have daunted people with lesser faith. But through all this, the family remained steadfast. They were happy when they lived in prosperity, but they were happy all the same when there was precious little to spare.

        They were a clear example of persons who understood the relative importance of wealth.

        Unfortunately, in my experience as a priest and an educator/teacher for so many years, I have also encountered people who showed exactly the opposite attitude. Already having more than they could reasonably use to live decent lives, they still want more and more. I have seen people whose drive for more seemed to be the all important rule in their lives, with their families taking a back seat, and values taking a still farther slot in their order of priorities. For some of them, the unbridled drive for wealth and/or power have gradually hardened their hearts, making them callous to the needs of others, and the welfare of their competitors or opponents, as the case may be.

         And neither are Church personnel and religious priests immune to such a pervasive culture that can also lead some of us to resort to manipulation and machination in order to safeguard coveted, lucrative posts or hold on to power. To our shame, there are posh parishes all over the country that have become untouchable turfs of some well-connected clerics.

         But what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce, too, for the gander. All of us Christians, whether cleric or lay, would do well to reflect on the prayer that we blurted out after the first reading: “If today, you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We would do well to remember the relative nature of everything that we have on loan from the gracious generosity of God. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

        Indeed, all the parts of us that are earthly, all that we consider important in this world, all that in our lack of clarity of mind and heart, we believe to be the ultimate values; indeed everything that in our shortsightedness, clouds our minds, and makes us lose perspective and miss the forest for a tree, will all one day disappear, for “the world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away.” Sic transit gloria mundi! That is simply the way of all earthly glory … like grass, they wither and die; they are here today, and gone tomorrow.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A FEW GOOD MEN!

Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
July 25, 2010

The little, the seemingly insignificant, the few, and the powerless … those who don’t seem to count; the perpetual underdogs; those whose lives don’t make waves: the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the lowly … these are those who can make a difference, those whose presence – and persistence – can mean life, fullness of life both for themselves and others, or the utter lack of it for everyone.


I refer to the “power of one.” I speak of the riches behind the widow’s mite, the force of puny David’s stone that spelled defeat of the mighty Goliath. I point to the authority of the twelve – the Lord’s “few, good men” whose conviction and faith, despite the onrush and crushing weight of the worldly power of kings, emperors, and tyrants over the past two thousand years.


The faith that we celebrate this morning in this church and all over the world is a testimony of the power of these “few good men” – and women – whose lives (and deaths) spelled life for all of us women and men of good will, life in all its fullness, as the good Lord would have us inherit.


Our faith, which we share with all brothers and sisters in the whole Christian world, deserves this weekly (daily for some) gathering of prayer, praise, worship, and thanksgiving. As we do Eucharist, though, we are all aware that the world we live in, is in a situation that, to be honest, leads us to ask this burning question: “Should not the judge of the world act justly?”


When we see what we are capable of doing; when we behold what we all are guilty of; when we are face to face with the reality of human depravity and sinfulness; when we acknowledge the fact that two thousand years after the coming of the promised One, the world is nowhere near being fully and definitively redeemed; when we cannot but stand as helpless witnesses to the ravages of war, terrorism, corruption, and the all-pervading signs of a “culture of death” in our midst, we are led to ask: “Should not the judge of the world act justly?” Should God not finally intervene in this messy world that everywhere seems to reek of personal, social, and structural evil?


Today stands out as a day of persistence. On the one hand, we see Abraham’s consistent and constant pleadings before the Lord for the sake of “a few good people” in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. On the other hand, we see also God’s own brand of persistence in His answer that was as firm as it was gentle: “I will spare the whole place for their sake.” “I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.” “I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty.” “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”
Abraham’s perseverance in prayer is matched by God’s infinite justice. In a society and culture that prizes a kind of “corporate personality” and where “social responsibility” is highly valued, the presence of a “few good people” – along with the persistent and faith-filled intercessory prayer of one on behalf of the whole, occasions God’s justice that then overflows in mercy. “I will not destroy it,” says the Lord of mercy and justice.


This is definitely good news for us all. At a time when “hope grows grey hairs” and patience wears thin, when more bad than good news fills our TV screens and daily papers, when all we see seems to be the triumph of not a “few good people,” but a whole lot of evildoers, when “all I endeavor in disappointment end,” and faith almost becomes mere wishful thinking, the Church invites us to pray along with Abraham and the psalmist, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”


You answer us, O Lord God. You definitely do. But we know all too well, that your answer has to be matched by a call on our part. We do know that reciprocity is part and parcel of the dialogue of salvation that you have come to grant us in Christ, Your Son. We do realize that this gift of salvation is both a gift and a task – Your work and ours; Your grace and our cooperation. You have done justice to us, O Lord God. Even where we were dead in transgressions, you brought us to life along with Christ, Your Son. You forgave us all our transgressions; you obliterated the bonds against us, with its legal claims, and Christ, Your Son removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.


Today is a day of persistent prayer. Today is a day when the light of faith ought to overcome the darkness of hopelessness and cynicism. And the good news is … the Lord Himself gives us THE model of persistence prayer – the Our Father. Persistence is the character of this prayer. Perseverance is etched in the very language of this prayer that asks, not for food for tomorrow and for the distant future, but only for “today,” and only for what is strictly necessary to maintain oneself in “being” (epiousion).


Today’s good news includes a blanket authority for us to “pray without ceasing.” Today’s good news gives us the right to pelt God with prayers, for “we have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father.” Today’s good news offers us the privilege of drawing near to God, for “[we] were buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which [we] were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Today’s celebration seals our right to “give thanks with all [our] heart,” “because of His kindness and His truth,” for “on the day [we] called for help, God answered us.”


There are reasons galore for us to approach this loving, merciful, and just God. There are enough reasons to continue on believing, to go on hoping, even against hope – even if, alas, there are so “few good people” left on this earth.


A few good people … These are the men and women who continue to show that God is alive and well, and working in our midst. These are the men and women who live unheralded lives of indomitable heroism and quiet faith. These are the men and women who pray fervently and faithfully behind closed doors, before flickering candles in dark and dingy churches. These are the men and women whose earthly lives may be surrounded by every imaginable type of darkness – the darkness of personal suffering, of poverty, powerlessness, and pain – but whose hearts are aglow with the resplendent assurance that can only come from a God who declares: “I will not destroy it.”


A few good people … a few good men and women … a few persistent souls before a God of permanent love, justice and overflowing mercy. A few good people is all we need. For their sake, for the sake of those who seek, for the sake of those who knock, and for the sake of those who ask, God and His love will remain steadfast forever!


Can we be counted along with these “few good people?”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DOING JUSTICE AND LIVING IN GOD’S PRESENCE


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
July 18, 2010
 
            I take my cue for today’s reflection from our response after the first reading: “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Traditional scholastic philosophy that reached its apex in the writings of St. Thomas speaks of justice as based on what is “due,” from the Latin word “debitum,” that is, what is “owed” to someone else.

Biblical tradition as a whole, and the readings today, in particular, going far beyond what the scholastic treatise on justice demands, show us what this “due” is all about, and to whom it is owed – to widows, to the poor, to strangers, and to orphans … everyone who has no one else to rely on. God’s justice shines best in His compassion, His mercy, His loving-kindness.

Today’s liturgy offers us a whole lot more on this issue of the “debitum.” It refers to a state of healthy tension between two seemingly irreconcilable polar realities. It refers to a delicate balance between giving too much attention on one, to the detriment of the other; between being present to oneself and one’s concerns, and being present to others, including, and, most of all, God Himself.

Thus, in the first reading, Abraham’s “attention” – his being meaningfully and actively present to three strangers who happened to pass by his dwelling; his hospitality and his giving “due” concern to weary and hungry travelers, was ultimately looked at kindly by God, who rewarded him and Sarah  with a son.

Abraham’s generous and selfless act of “attending,” that is, his being fully present to his guests, occasioned more than just a visitation from above. He literally “lived in the presence of the Lord,” after giving what was “due” to his guest-messengers from God.

Good old Henri Nouwen years back, had already written about the need for us followers of Christ to cultivate this virtue of hospitality. He contrasts hospitality with hostility, and says that spirituality, among other things, ought to be a movement from hostility to hospitality. At the risk of misrepresenting his ideas, I would like to suggest that this virtue is basically what this “delicate balance” is all about. Hostility is to be so focused on oneself, and one’s concerns, on one’s needs and wants, as to be effectively against the same needs and concerns of others. Hostility, which comes from the Latin word for “enemy,” is to be turned against others, while hospitality, which comes from the Latin word for “guest,” connotes being turned towards others.

Our world is deeply mired in a culture of hostility, in what the late Holy Father John Paul II calls, the “culture of death.” Why, people cannot even be magnanimous enough to welcome new life into their busy, cluttered, and self-centered lives. People polarize themselves and align themselves with either the Pro-Life or Pro-Choice banners, reducing morality to a superficial choice between two political ideologies. Nations are preoccupied defining and safeguarding “borders” to prevent outsiders and strangers from coming in. Civilizations are at figurative loggerheads, trying to outdo each other, trying to be two steps ahead of one another, in a mad race to eradicate each other in a violence and hate-ridden world of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The so-called G-8 (industrialized) nations are aeons ahead of what I call the P-8 (most impoverished) nations of the world. In a very real sense, “east is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” A great social, economic, cultural, developmental, moral, and spiritual divide separates the so-called “lender” from the perpetually enslaved “debtor” countries. Within individual nations, divisions and distinctions abound between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Hostility, not hospitality, seems to be the name of the game.

The good Lord, today, offers us not a set of new rules for this vicious cycle of a political, economic, and ideological game. He offers us a different paradigm, a vision, a distinct way of looking at things. Instead of rules and prohibitions that many people mistakenly identify Christian morality with, He offers us a virtue, an interior attitude of heart and mind. He offers us a path that does not give quick and instant solutions, but which slowly leads to a gradual personal and social transformation.

The Lord offers us a path away from hostility to hospitality. He offers us a spirituality.

What, then, are the hallmarks and elements of this Christian spirituality? Abraham acts as the driving wedge that opens the way for us. He shows us how “doing justice,” that is, giving more to those who have less, indeed, can lead to “living in the Lord’s presence.” He shows us how being attentive to others’ needs, instead of being cooped up in one’s own, can give our lives that needed state of balance and spiritual equanimity. Indeed, as the old song goes, whilst there is enough for everyone’s need, there is never enough for everyone’s greed. Hospitality, in Abraham’s example, came into full bloom in charity.

This same spirituality that moulds us all into one body, the Church, also makes it possible for us, like St. Paul, to “rejoice in [our] sufferings,” in order to “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” Hospitality becomes transformed to hopefulness. Hostility becomes replaced by gentility and gracious charity.

This is the same charity and love that led Martha and Mary to learn from each other  as each showed their own version of sincere and effusive love for the Master. Mary “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” Martha was “burdened with much serving.” Both did what they did for they both sincerely loved the Lord. Different strokes for different folks, as they say, but motivated by the same love and devotion.

I would like to caution my readers to go easy on condemning Martha and facetiously favoring Mary. No. The Lord does not intend to make us choose to either “do a Martha,” or “do a Mary” act. He wants us to do both. The Lord leads us to a healthy balance between two extreme poles. Nay more, the Lord does not want us to get fixated at some point in an imaginary continuum, but wants us to be perpetually on the move, ever on the go, again, to quote Nouwen, from hostility to hospitality. Spirituality is not something we attain once and for all, but something we grow into. If this spirituality is genuine, there ought not to be tension between tasks and people. Both are important. Both need our attention. We need to serve, that is, engage in diakonia. But we also need to sit still and listen, and take care lest we forget the very people we serve. We need to be busy for the Lord, but never too busy as to be ultimately away from His presence, even as parents need to toil for their children, but never too much as to miss the very children they are toiling for.

Doing justice … giving others their due; giving God, too, His due … in a spirituality that integrates faith and life … all this will assure that biblical promise we have proclaimed: “He who does justice, will live in the presence of the Lord.”


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

HOC FAC ET VIVES!



Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
July 11, 2010


Last Sunday’s gospel confronted us with the true meaning of discipleship. Without resorting to sugar-coating, Jesus made us aware of the inherent difficulties attached to following the Lord: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” But we were exposed also to the bigger reality promised to those who are called to work for the Lord’s harvest. “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

This Sunday’s readings are a further deepening on the meaning of discipleship. They give us the absolute ideal, the heights to which every serious and solid believer ought to aspire after. Hoc fac et vives, the Lord tells us. Do this and you will live.

What exactly ought we to do? What in concrete does this close link between doing and living consist in, in our times, in our days, in our world?

Our generation is steeped in the desire for more in every conceivable way. We want bigger and more comfortable homes, more flashy cars, longer and longer leisure time, higher incomes, and longer lives. Ultimately we long for life and all the best it could offer. Even when we satiate ourselves a lot more than is necessary for us to go on living physically, deep down what we want is not really more calories, more sugar, more mortgages to pay, and more health problems. We want quality life. We long for the best for ourselves and our loved ones.

Even when we decide to do evil, it is not the evil we really are after, but the superficial good behind which evil hides. Philosophers have told us from many centuries back that people are motivated to act by what they mistakenly think is the good object. Even the devil with his wily enticements, appears to us, at least initially, as an “angel of light,” whose apparent intention is to cater to what will be beneficial to us on the surface.

We live fully… completely and totally. Or so we believe. But our living lacks an important component. It has lost its essential tandem … We have lost that which makes living truly worth all the striving after and the longing for. We lost the aspect of the “doing.” “Do this, and you will live,” the Lord tells us. Living fully, according to him, requires the grounding of “doing.” Living truly and completely has to entail willfulness. It has to have the inseparable component of “responsibility.”

There are many of us who live the good life by worldly standards. For still many more, having denied God, they see no reason for his laws. They live “la dolce vita,” unmindful of the will of someone greater than them who has left His word as a path that leads to fullness of life, a life in abundance as He envisioned it, as He created it. Having thrown this foundational truth outside the window, moral laws and principles simply have no voice in their lives anymore. They prefer to wallow in what the late Pope John Paul II prophetically called the “culture of death.” With no God to “mind the store,” at it were, there is a wide avenue for people to engage in acts that cater to “death” instead of life: procured abortions left and right, wars, terrorism, violence, corruption in and out of government, capital punishment, and various forms of infidelities, and break-ups of relationships.

We enjoy the “living,” minus the “doing.” We enjoy the right, without the corresponding responsibility. We want the gift, but not the giver; the dowry, but not the duty it entails. It is to such ilk that we all are, that the words of Moses ring timely and true: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.”

With all our heart, with all our soul … this ought to mark our attention and obedience to God’s will, with all of one’s being. This speaks of totality, of fullness, of completeness. This has nothing to do with half-measures. Rightly, then, does Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” says that “when Christ calls us, he bids us come, and die.” He calls us to life, but he also calls us to “doing” or “dying” so that we might truly live.

The concept of “God’s law” is not very popular in our days. People think of God’s law more like prohibitions, restrictions, and a general curtailment of personal freedom. But these very same people who find it hard to accept “God’s law” do not see any problem with “punishing evil-doers.” People who do not accept the concept of God’s law have no problem using the law of the land in doing away with signs of religion in emblems and public places. They use human law that emanates from God ultimately to “outlaw” God himself, and declare him “persona non grata” in their personal and family lives. God simply has no role to play in people’s decision to kill unborn children. The Church, who speaks in God’s name, has no business whatsoever in the bedroom, nothing to do with people’s choices, and should not meddle with other people’s bodies. A decision to do good or bad is simply a choice, devoid of any moral quality.

The funny thing is when people choose to do good, the whole world rewards them with citations, and extols them to the skies. But when people do wrong, they are seen as simply making choices. People can do good. But people cannot sin. With God and His will out of the picture, people just commit crimes that are illegal, or out of bounds with man-made laws. This paves the way for us to simply live, without the doing part.

Denial, however, does not do away with what is real. No amount of denial can change reality. This much, today’s readings tell us clearly: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life.” The law of the Lord may appear so lofty and so far from human reach, so impossible to do, and hard to live. But it is really very close to us. “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

Indeed, when we look closely at God’s law, not as restrictions and prohibitions, but as a gift, which it really is, things take on a far different meaning. Instead of a road that says “no entry,” we find a “path that leads to love.” Instead of indifference, we see compassion, like that of the good Samaritan. That Samaritan must have been busy eking out a living, but he was never too busy to do that which makes living really worth all the striving. He lived. He took time to love. And he did as love bade him do. At the end of the day, he made all the difference between those who merely lived, and those who behaved in accordance with their deep desire to live and love fully, “with all one’s heart, with all one’s being, with all one’s strength, and with all one’s mind.” Doing and living… Living and believing… Hearing and obeying… This is what Moses, Paul, the good Samaritan, and Jesus bid us do. “Do this and you will live.” “Go, then, and do the same.”


Friday, July 2, 2010

WHEN BOASTING IS APPROPRIATE


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 4, 2010


The readings today are a study in contrasts. We hear a call to rejoice to those who previously were mourning. We hear St. Paul’s readiness to boast, but this boast is associated with the “marks of Jesus on [his] body.” We hear the Lord exhorting us to ask the harvest master to send more laborers to his fields, but we also are made aware of the danger attached to the work of reaping, a danger not unlike that of lambs sent in the midst of wolves.

We have today a very sobering reality check for all followers of Christ!

Reality … that which so many people in our times try their best either to ignore, gloss over, or deny altogether. When reality gets too painful, when it strikes too close to home base, the common tendency for people is to pretend “everything will be alright.” But no amount of denial can reverse the hard facts of life. People suffer. People die. There are gross imbalances in the world, and whilst one fourth of the world’s population make use of three-fourths of the world’s resources, three-fourths of the world’s population make do with the remaining one-fourth of the world’s resources. Terrorists are a tough reality to deal with. So is the fact that “bad things happen to good people.”

I am sure you all can add a lot more to my short list.

But even in the fields of the Lord’s harvest, a bit of a reality check is in order. 25% of the current members of more than 5,000 cults in the United States are former catholics. So-called “cradle catholics,” they were born into the institutional community of faith but never really grew in their affective faith and personal relationship with the Lord. A lot more do not officially denounce the faith, but who engage in a variety of forms of syncretistic beliefs that mix elements of Christianity with esoteric teachings from Eastern gurus, thus effectively making a new brand of universal religion that are really nothing more than modern versions of Gnosticism, an early heresy in the incipient Church. Whilst keeping a nominal attachment to Christ by holding on to a smattering of Christian terminologies and basic theological concepts, the fundamental integration of the so-called three C’s (creed, code, and cult) is compromised by effectively doing away with the principles of the incarnation, mediation, and sacramentality. Saving truth is now mediated by gurus, who may or may not even mention Christ at all. The totality of the message of salvation, and the path towards definitive salvation, gets reduced to a unilateral effort of man, principally through self-deprivation, a distorted understanding of meditation, and a na├»ve – if, Pollyanish – drive to banish suffering entirely from the face of the earth. The concept of grace is effectively thrown out the window, and in its place, is plain, human effort at total self-emptying.

The list is by no means complete. One can add to that a lot more, not excluding the shameful issue of priests’ scandals, the “skeletons” in the Church’s closets that effectively muffled the teaching authority of Bishops in many places all over the world. It is not far-fetched to say that, indeed, those who intend to follow the Lord will end up being thrown very much like lambs in the midst of wolves, with their work of evangelization almost getting cancelled out by mainstream mass media that is patently anticlerical.

Christian faith, though, would have us transcend mere acknowledgment of reality. Accepting what is real is not the same as wallowing in the negative, and giving in to discouragement. Here is where today’s readings come in. Here is where our faith has to weigh in, and here is where today’s good news speaks to all of us powerfully.

They all speak, not of a weapon against irreligion, not some kind of a tool-box that one can draw from to counteract such unpleasant realities. They speak, rather, of a spirituality, an attitude of mind and heart that is born of faith, and a sense of personal conviction that the God of history who irrupted into our earthly history, is basically in control, that the God we love and believe in, will never leave his flock untended. Using the human language of maternal warmth, Isaiah reminds us: “as nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

Such solid conviction of God’s “maternal” love ought to be enough for us to shout out with the psalmist: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!” Such adherence to the truth of God’s saving love in Christ was what led St. Paul to boast not of his achievements, but “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is no wishful thinking involved here, no Pollyanna attitude that ultimately is a fruit of denial. Jesus himself gives solid grounding on reality to his disciples, not shielding their eyes from the reality of what they would find as they go out into the fields of harvest: “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”“the seventy-two returned rejoicing.” Jesus gave them power, enough power for those who were ready and willing to do as he commanded them: “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” But it was not to be pure suffering all the way, all the time either. We are told that

The world might well be in a real mess in many ways. The Church, too, may not be in the shape it was in back in 1958, when 78 % of American catholics attended Mass regularly on Sundays (as against the 25% now). (In Philippine setting, it is equally disheartening to note that only about 20% of Catholics actually attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis!) There may be a deep sadness in many of us as the Church’s voice appears to remain unheeded, and, at times, even ridiculed by popular opinion. In Philippine context, I might add, the wonderful landmark teachings and decrees of PCP-II (Second Plenary Council) of 1991 are still far from being implemented. Massive corruption, a progressively deteriorating educational system, grinding poverty, and the structural evil that is the political system continue to cancel out what little efforts are done by well-meaning NGOs and philanthropists. Reality is far too obvious to deny, far too deeply entrenched to simply gloss over.

Nor is there need for us to engage in denial. For something that does not exist cannot be given any solution. Acknowledging the problem is, therefore, necessary as a starting point.

Today’s liturgy shows us in concrete where to go from here. It shows us that in the face of such challenges, we need to have a spirituality that knows how to embrace the cross, a spirituality that ought to lead us to reorder our priorities, and separate what is important from what is merely convenient, a spirituality that is willing to confront the prevailing standards of the world, one that does not boast of “money bags, sacks, or sandals,” but one that values mercy, peace, and the possibility of one’s name not being honored here on earth, but on being “written in heaven.”

            The country, under new leadership, is once more taking some “baby steps” towards change. For the nth time, we are starting with something as basic and immediately doable as clamping down on public and private personalities who happen to well connected who can afford to have – and, to use! – blaring sirens and flashers that ought to be reserved to a very select few … “wang-wangs,” they are called in Tagalog slang!

There is this undeniable reality of a sinful world to confront. But there is this equally undeniable reality of the power from above to “tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy.”In the cross is salvation. In the cross is hope. In the cross is victory. This is the power of the cross. And this is a time when boasting in its name, is more than just appropriate.