Fifth Sunday of Easter(A)

May 22, 2011

For one who comes from a culture that is at home with the idea of “stones” that are referred to in our language as “living,” I find it curious, interesting, and insightful that Peter, called the Rock by no less than his Master and Lord, now speaks to us of the “Living Stone.” I feel competent to write about the matter at hand. I know. My native language being Tagalog (not the “Taglish” that Manilenos and all current day media babies blabber!), I know whereof I speak – “batong buhay!” – or literally translated, “living stone.”

In my culture, a stone is “living” for many reasons. For one, the most obvious, it is living because it is solid, sturdy, and strong. “Batong buhay” is distinct from “buga” which is soft, brittle, and can easily be shaped to one’s specifications. A living stone is solid rock that stands steadfast with the passing of time, with the passing of the seasons – and there are only two equally powerful seasons back home: hot and dry and sweltering, and wet and cold and sundering. The heat can destroy anything under its sway. The wet and dampness make everything crumble to muddy shingles, slowly, but surely! Its most powerful icon, the adobe, ultimately shows wear and tear with the passing of the centuries, and even once proud and mighty fortresses constructed on adobe, are ultimately rubbed dull of their sharpness and stolidness, by the mightier wind and rain and floods, followed in endless succession by heat, and sun, and its searing rays.

But there is one more reason, more important than the former, why living stones are considered as such in my culture. Living stones (batong buhay) are chunks of life-giving and life-enabling gifts of Mother Nature and God the all-loving creator. Cool, life-giving springs of water ooze out or flow prodigally in places where living stones abound. Water emanates from the tiny crevices of piles of such “living stones” in shady, hidden recesses of the earth, under endless clusters of living forests and giant ferns and trees and thick mosses.

I know. I have climbed 13 tropical mountains, and one of those 13 I have trekked for more than 12 times! I have drunk cool refreshing waters from such springs wedged in between humongous slabs of living stones seemingly neatly piled by the Creator for the good of humanity. I know… As a child in the boonies of Cavite, I knew first hand what it meant to take delight at seeing fresh, sweet, and cold water from springs that were carefully guarded and cared for by townsmates in a place that had no supply of running water for decades.

Peter knows whereof he speaks. He calls his Lord and Master, the “living stone rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” Peter knows about whom he witnesses … a hero who stood fast in his mission from the Father, even if the only one he ever called the “rock” on whom he would built His Church, crumbled to a hopeless mess after denying Him three times in a row. Peter knows all about Him who stood stolid and sturdy and steadfast in His resolve to do “not his will, but the will of the Father.” Peter knows his risen Lord and beloved Master … for compared to him who changed his tune at the importuning of a servant girl, the “rock” that he was expected to have been, became, no less and none other but a piece of “buga” – flimsy adobe that did not even take one change of season to be pummeled into denial and dense betrayal.

I know whereof I speak … for I, too, am more like this “buga” that seems to crumble with discouragement  and disappointment. I have been teaching for more than 30 years! I have been very passionate and responsible in my task. I have been very effective, and many years of evaluation have always shown me to be very efficient, by and large, in my job as an educator. I have been very loyal to what Holy Mother Church teaches, and have defended her teachings as best I could. But I am discouraged and broken at times. And these days seem to stand out from the rest.

We Salesians have always been known as staunch defenders of the Holy Father. We got it from our Father and Founder, St. John Bosco. But alas! We cannot say the same about many of our products. Many of our former students can’t even tell the difference between acting in conscience, so called, and acting freely. They mistake conscience as believing steadfastly on what they feel is right, not on what IS right, formed and informed by moral science under the guidance of a LIVING Magisterium! They mistake their perceived VALUES as the only basis of their static conscience, without bothering to cross check the objective guidance of a God who teaches and calls us to higher level values that run counter to those peddled by materialism, hedonism, narcissism that are all hallmarks of what the media moment glorifies! Acting freely for them, is acting according to the dictates of such a static conscience primarily based on their deficient value systems that act, in many cases, as if freedom meant freedom from truth, especially moral truth.

Peter knows all about the object of his testimony. I know all about my discouragement and despondency. But I do know of one more thing. Peter the Rock rebounded and left behind the crumbled mess that he became after three times denying his Master. Peter got up and lost no time in appropriating what the Lord had given him. Rock … Petros … that is what he was called to be … and do! He chose freedom, but not freedom from the truth. He chose freedom in the Truth. He chose to allow his conscience to be formed and informed by an objective, and real, and living PERSON – Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE!

There is hope for this crumbling heap of a shoddy deluded self that is me. There is hope for you and me. I know that there are those of you who are facing terrific challenges in life right now. I know. I see it daily in my life – the teeming masses of poor, ignorant people who simply don’t know any better … the tangled heap of corruption in all levels of society, in and out of government, the unabated and well-funded and well organized demolition job to discredit the Church and her leaders, the massive and precipitous fall of the level of education in my country … The list is legion.

But we choose to follow Peter’s wise counsel. And he knows whereof he speaks … “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”