WITH THE STRENGTH THAT COMES FROM GOD
2nd Sunday of Lent(A)
March 20, 2011
Today's first reading waxes very hopeful. From a difficult command for Abram to "go forth" - thus, becoming the world's first migrant ever mentioned in any recorded account, a word of promise ensues from the mouth of God ... "I will bless you." On top of this was another promise ... "you will be a blessing."
Moving from one's land of birth, having to go far from familiar territory, and exchanging it for some uncertain place, sans all the familiar sights and smells, and sounds of home can never be less than traumatic for anyone. We feel it in the thousands of songs written, as much by those who were left behind longing for loved ones gone far, like the haunting and pleading "Ritorna a Sorrento," as those who have chosen to go some far and forlorn place, as in the longing and plaintive lines of "Arrivederci Roma!"
Leaving one's home is always a heart-breaking experience for anyone.
As I write, my heart quivers, jolted by a little vicarious pain, at the thought of so many hundreds of thousands displaced by the twin disasters that befell northeastern Japan just barely a week ago. Images of old men and women who lost everything and perhaps everyone they loved in a matter of a few minutes of surging gigantic waves continue to tug at my heart. And as the tragedy wears on, revealing a third emerging and bigger one posed by the crippled nuclear facilities in Fukushima, even more and more people are poised to becoming forced migrants within their own country, for fear of deadly radiation.
So where is the blessing here, you might ask? Where is the grace to be found in the case of hundreds of thousands of grieving and suffering people, forcibly ejected out of what they called home for decades? Where can one hope to find solace in the midst of so much misery, for a people grown accustomed to comfort and plenty after they rose from the ashes of the second world war?
The tears that occasionally and secretly fall down my cheeks as I see such images are begging for answers, even as the anger I experienced along with my grief at the sight of so many who died within hours of massive flooding that the twin typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng caused in the Philippines in late 2009, raised so many issues that not even a thousand "Ritorna a Sorrento-like" hymns could convincingly address.
But more than the gnawing grief, the human heart of people everywhere, is now barraged and besieged by a creeping fear, fed on by charlatans and self-declared spiritual gurus, who keep on talking about Maya predictions and the so-called "third secret of Fatima" that sow nothing else but panic and fear. Through subtle innuendoes and brilliantly juxtaposed images, cut-and-paste quotes from legitimate ecclesiastical writings, a lot of New Age internet postings produce paralyzing fear out of such pseudo-spiritual and pseudo-theological articles that keep on giving a mishmash of fear-mongering and false prophesies that eventually lessen faith and hope in a loving God who is in control of the universe.
My job as priest and preacher is to make sense of what appears to be senseless and utterly meaningless events that dot the landscape of our lives. My job as preacher and teacher is to echo down (catecheo, that is, to catechize) others who, like me, are in the throes of so much questioning and worrying - and, in many cases, frightening events that leave us all dumbfounded.
Abram was led by the Lord out of his homeland, Ur. The Lord promised to bless him. The Lord promised even more that he was going to be a blessing to others. This is the horizon of God, leading us to a higher level of awareness. This is God's point of view as told and retold by Scripture and Tradition. And what is the point? Simply this ... not all suffering and pain lead to death. Not all grief ends up in nothingness. And not all that appears meaningless and senseless is really utterly futile and pointless in the eyes of God.
I am blessed by the Japanese people, for one. In the midst of so much misery, they keep calm, composed, and disciplined. Forcibly taken away from their homes by earthquare, tsunami, and an impending nuclear disaster, they stoically face the inevitable and go about the business of living, even if there is very little now to live - and - even die with.
But the account of Genesis does not end with God blessing people in pain, and those very same people becoming blessings to others. No ... God makes another promise, and this time it is directed to those blessed by them ... "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."
We who are "blessed" and feel blessed in our comfortable circumstances right now, are then called to "pay it forward." We need to become blessings to others too. We need to give, too, rather than merely receiving. We need to do our part.
Let me tell you how St. Paul puts it today: "Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God."
St. Paul does not tell us to pity the suffering. He does not tell us to simply empathize with those in searing grief and pain. He does not tell us to merely shed tears like I often do while watching it all on TV or via the internet. He tells us to "bear our share of the hardship." He takes us to task. He calls us to action. He calls us to also, in our turn, become blessings to others, like Abraham eventually became ... like Christ, who did not just empathize, but who suffered and died for us, not on a virtual, but a real Calvary of pain and eventual excruciating death on the cross.
The two disciples, who initially probably thought they were up there on the mountain for an outing, at least for a while, seemed to have acted silly and irrelevant. They asked to be allowed to build three tents. They just saw a vision, and all they could think of was a housing project, even if it were presumably for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah!
But then reality hit them hard. This was no ordinary vision. This was not a mere fun climb atop Tabor. This was hard revelation, with real stark and startling truth ... "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
And they, like us, fell prostrate ... in fear! For us, it is not so much falling prostrate, as feeling paralyzed by fear.
We feel paralyzed by fear for so many reasons ... earthquakes everywhere, tsunamis, faults running all over Luzon, from Marikina to Tagaytay, and everywhere ... revolts and unrest everywhere ... Mayan predictions ... apocalyptic movies of every genre from everywhere ... legislators who continue to pass immoral laws for the sake of narrow-minded and short-sighted visions, as suffered by the initially clueless disciples, in some cases for the sake of mere sordid gain.
We feel hemmed in on all sides, frozen gelid by fear, brought down to our knees by a lack of hope and faith in the Lord.
Today, he shows Himself for what He truly is ... transfigured before our doubting and fright-filled eyes. And what do we hear Him say? Take heed ... Listen ... and do accordingly ... "Rise, and be not afraid..." "with the strength that comes from God!"