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Saturday, April 30, 2011

A NEW BIRTH TO A LIVING HOPE!



2nd Sunday of Easter(A)
May 1, 2011

Let us face it ... Only those deep in denial can claim there is no crisis of hope in our times. Tens of thousands died in Northeastern Japan not too long ago, brought about by a triple disaster, two of which were natural and one man-made: the cataclysmic earthquake, the catastrophic tsunami, and the unfortunate nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Just days ago, a no less catastrophic tornado cut a broad swath of destruction and death in southern USA.

The world today, writes Timothy Radcliffe, is crucified by suffering, violence, and poverty. In our local context back home, more than just material poverty characterizes the "contours of hopelessness" that dot the landscape of our societal lives as Filipinos: a dysfunctional government focused more on revenge than on instituting real reforms that made the massive corruption actually go unabated, if not, become worse; a precipitous ongoing slide on the level of education that keeps its young citizens effectively semi-literate in many aspects; a secessionist rebellion that simply won't go away ... The list is endless. And it goes beyond merely booting out high profile figures that are, rightly or wrongly, associated with past administrations!

But Easter is all about a springtime of hope! It is so because the resurrection of the Lord debunked even the most convincing sign of utter hopelessness - death and its source, according to the Bible, SIN!

Everywhere we go, everywhere we look, there seems to be a shallow attempt to put hopelessness on its head. Fundamentalists, both Christians and Muslims, in some quarters even the so-called "Catholic Talibans" who put all their eggs of hope, as it were, on a shallow return to the splendor of the past, and the ultra progressives who put all their hope on progress and the contemporary culture, simply end up increasing and confiming our creeping sense of hopelessness!

We are a divided nation; a polarized Church; a fragmented people! Hope is tangled in a mess of conflicting ideologies and contrasting loyalties. Hope, indeed, grows grey hairs, as we await the dawn of a new promise, a new beginning, a fresh way of doing politics, a much awaited springtime of a balanced and sound theological engagement with a world so torn and tattered in every way imaginable. We need a new evangelization, as Blessed Pope John Paul II said many years ago. And we need to do it urgently and expertly, given the challenges of a lack of education and a seeping culture of postmodernity where truth has fallen victime to subjectivity and indifference.

Fundamentalists, on the extreme right and extreme left, are actually pushing what the Oakland Chapter of the Dominicans refers to as "the false hope of a faith without ambiguity."

This is the faith of those who claim that the Bible has an answer to every problem there is in the world, including the great ecological disasters that we continue to create. This is the faith that is not  at home with paradox, with ambiguity and a bit of uncertainty born of the natural limitations of humanity and the created world. This is faith that shoots straight from the hip, as it were, and one that is capable of shooting down all that runs counter to its sure tenets.

But alas, even the path of Calvary is dotted with ambiguity and paradox. The Incarnation itself, is one characterized by ambiguity and paradox, a God become man, a God who suffers and bites dust, but a God who reveals the true nature of the One and Triune God, who suffers with suffering humanity, who journeys with us even in our pain, and who took on all the limitations of our humanity, that He might bring us to full participation in the life of God forever!

Robert Bolt's famous play "A Man for All Seasons," shows us what this ambiguity of hope and faith is all about. A story within a story, primarily about St. Thomas More, it also tells the story of Richard Rich, young, ambitious, covetous, duplicitous, and rotten to the core. He attached himself to the rising star Thomas More, and one day asked the latter to give him a place in the court of the King. More said he could not offer him a job as courtier, but only as teacher. But the ambitious Rich would hear none of it. He did not want to be a lowly teacher. Thomas More told him: "But you will make for a good teacher!" To this, the crestfallen Rich quipped: "And even if I were a good teacher, who would know it?" He wanted fame, honor, power, prestige and position, along with its perks!

Sounds familiar? Yes ... for it is the story of all of us. But the story ended up with seeming defeat, but which really stands for utter and total victory. One day, the manipulative Richard Rich, at the possible instigation of people in high places, found a perfect opportunity to get to the same high places. In exchange for a false testimony against Thomas More, he was given the plum post as tax collector in Wales. He got what he wanted most, at the cost of someone else's life. By testifying against More, he effectively sent him to the gallows. More died, but not in vain! He died as he lived - a man of honesty and unsullied integrity.

He lost from a human point of view, but he won from God's viewpoint. The resurrection sure means all the world to a great man of that stature. For he died like Christ, wrongly accused, unjustly, undeservedly.

But this is what the resurrection is all about. It has to do with victory in the midst of seeming defeat. It has to do with triumph that may not be forthcoming here and now. It has to do with ambiguity, but not with impossibility. It has to do with seeing through clouded glasses darkly, as St. Paul puts it, but then seeing God face to face one day!

It has to do with hope despite the hopelessness! It has do with believing even if we feel we don't have a sense of belonging in a world that thinks and behaves differently. And it is all about dying, so that one day, we could join the rising, on account of the fact that Christ our Lord, has died, but is risen. In the words of St. Peter, "in his great mercy, [He] has given us a new birth to a living hope."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

BELIEVING AND INVESTIGATING



Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection (A)
April 24, 2011


This is the day that clinched it ... the day that made the story of Jesus worth telling and retelling ... the day that God has made, and the day that made God worth all our while, worth the trouble spending time for, spending time with, and spending all we have and are for.

There are people who have been spending mighty lots of time now in beaches in tropical Philippines, or in cooler climes up on mountain retreats in Tagaytay and Baguio, and elsewhere. There have been countless "devotees" of sorts who, since Wednesday or Thursday, have been flagellating themselves sore to a bloodied pulp, trying to make amends for a year's worth of revelry and sin, and the usual day-to-day existence, for the most part, godless and irreverently indifferent at the most. There have also been thousands who flocked to churches all over the country, including the thousands who did their easter duties of  going to confession and communion, and went to Churches where they know a team of dedicated priests still held the fort, and bravely and tirelessly heard confessions, in some cases, for the entire day and a great part of the night Holy Thursday and Good Friday! Countless others kept to the their age-old traditions of  holding the traditional "pabasa" in innumerable "kalbaryos" all over the country.

People go on, steadfast in their believing, without worrying as much about investigating.

On the other hand, we have legislators who claim to be Catholics, who are armed with the "research" they need, spending mighty lots of time, too, preparing for their brand of "battle" up ahead, to get their "responsible parenthood" bill approved.

Many Catholics in the Philippines, claim to remain steadfast in their believing, without doing so much as investigating on matters that are intricately entwined with the contents of what they claim to be their belief system!

Last night, at the Easter vigil, we renewed our baptismal promises. We not only professed faith in the one, true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We also professed faith in the Church that is His mystical Body. We also professed faith in the Holy Spirit that continues to inspire the Church and her leaders, that continues to breathe in newness and freshness and vigor to our faith.

But we did something more. We denounced the devil and his wiles. We denounced sin, and its many subtle, even imperceptible, guises. We denounced evil and renounced its many ramifications. We claimed to believe, and we promised to belong!


Alas! On this day that the Lord has made, there are those of us who make out something else, something different, something strange, something that does not sit well with what we claim. We claim to believe, but some of us refuse to belong. There are those of us who claim to be staunch Catholics, but who lose no time going against the official teachings of the Church, thus effectively declaring themselves as belonging, to someone or something else other than the Church that Jesus Christ has founded!

And what do they base their belonging on? ... on their incomplete believing, and faulty investigating!

Today, the day of the Lord's resurrection, we have two great examples of total believing coupled with true and inspired investigating. The two examples of today's story knew better than to confound and confuse the two, or reverse the order of priorities. Mary Magdalene knew better than to play the scientist, pretend to be a forensic expert, and do her own brand of investigating. No ... she made an about face, without question, and RAN to TELL  the good news! Her faith was secure ... secure enough to get lost in futile investigations. The young, and fleet-footed John, too, knew his order of battle, and his order of priorities. He reached the tomb ahead, but waited. He reflected. He thought deeply about it. And only when the head of the apostles, Peter, came, sinful though he had been, with all his denials and bitter tears after the deed, did John "see and believe." He had faith, not a hypothesis!

As Fr. Gillhooley writes quoting an anonymous writer, to build exquisite cathedrals, one needs faith, not theories!

The proponents of the now somewhat superficially sanitized "responsible parenthood" bill have obviously lost their priorities. Their faith has been subjected to their own "theories" that have after all, been debunked so many times before by serious investigation. Whilst they claim to have "faith," they actually believe more in faulty investigation and flimsy theories than anything else. For the short-term benefits of "reducing population," they are willing to let go of the bigger picture that has to do with the grander designs of God, who has come to give LIFE, in its fullness, not just quality life for a few, for the here and the now!

Let us face it. Easter is all about faith. Easter is all about an event that shook the world and changed the course of human existence forever. Easter is all about a radical change of mind patterns and paradigms. It is all about putting everything and the logic of this world on its head. It is all about God defining Himself for who He is to us, forever, for always, and for all people of good will. If it did not happen, everything would be futile ... theories, investigations, research, and debates about everything under the sun, ad nauseam!

But since the Lord rose, our faith's claim to incontrovertible investigation has taken a back seat. It did not invalidate investigation .... no, ... but it did define and take up the need for investigation to a whole new level.

And, yes, before we do an investigation, we need to do Mary Magdalene first, make an "about-face" and "run" and "tell" the good news!

He is risen! And the logic of my faith tells me that investigations will have to take the back seat, for the very act of rising from the dead, defies all earthly logic. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

A WORD TO ROUSE THE WEARY





Palm Sunday (A)

April 17, 2011




Back in the day when I was a very young priest and formator at the College-Seminary, when seminarians used to do a lot of “manualia” (manual jobs), when they were not in class, we had a water buffalo, a beast of burden known as carabao in the Philippines.


That carabao was a little unwieldy and hard-headed. He refused to be tethered. He kept on tugging at the leash that was connected to his nose, until it tore his nose muscles. He wriggled himself free one day, but in exchange, he had a torn and, I imagined, a sore and ugly swollen nose!


That carabao was the exact opposite of what Isaiah in today’s first reading extols. Isaiah speaks of docility, obedience, and humility. He seems to extol powerlessness and apparent inutility and downright weakness. But his last line turns the table on what the world considers as futility and seeming irrelevance. “The Lord God,” he says, “is my help. Therefore, I am not disgraced!”


Everything in today’s liturgy speaks of the same troubling and seemingly disturbing paradox. We have images of a man entering the city in triumph and enjoying the loud and lusty acclamations of people. Profuse hosannas accompany his triumphal march. But no sooner had we joined in with our palms hoisted and voices raised in praise of “he who comes in the name of the Lord,” do we drastically change gears and fall back to a somber, sad, silent mood, deep in realization that the triumph and glory that he deserves, are not the values that he embeds in our collective memory as a people.


Palm Sunday opens a big slice of what Hans Urs von Balthazar refers to as “theo-drama.” The beginning action opens with pomp and pageantry and palms galore. The rising action segues into a picture of seeming defeat – the lengthy reading of the Passion account! This is followed up till Wednesday with other stories of defeat, betrayal, disloyalty, and scheming manipulative wiles of the powers-that-be in Jesus’ times.


Palm Sunday, whilst it is focused on the passion of he who comes in the name of the Lord, is as much a story about the passion that we as believers need to undergo, too, in humble obedience to the path that he traversed, the way he showed us, as the way, ironically, to glory and victory.


We can give it to the hapless and clueless carabao to be so disobedient and recalcitrant. We can give it to ourselves, too, as we actually do, so often in our lives, when we prefer to live out the drama of Eden, than to live out the drama of Calvary. The drama of Eden is the exact anti-thesis of the “theo-drama” that unfolds before us today. The drama of Eden is worse than the dramatic antics of the carabao who would simply not be tethered to his place. Unthinking, unreflecting, devoid of moral intelligence that the carabao really is, we can give it to that carabao to be so rebellious and disobedient.


I don’t know about you, but I do get to become protagonist in this drama of Eden so often in my life. I am a sinner, like Adam and Eve. Like Eve, I deny and deflect, and what I deny and deflect, I project to others. Like Adam, I am a pushover. I get easily carried away by so many forces … the forces of lower passions, the forces of the surrounding culture of postmodernity, the forces of individualism and hedonism. Name it, I have it, including perhaps, the forces of discouragement and despondency, about a nation so broken, so rotten, and so misled by so many conflicting and contrasting ideologies, brought about by the irresponsibility of the so-called “media moment” that has no respect for human dignity, for truth, and justice.


We are all protagonists in this drama of Eden. We are all pushovers in this non-level playing field of life where the name of the game is money from pharmaceutical companies, and so-called philanthropists, who, ironically, want to “do good” by snuffing out new and innocent life, in the name of their love for humanity! We are all major players in the drama of deceit, manipulation, and shallow and false charity by ostensibly helping the poor while at the same time debasing their dignity.


We are all sons and daughters of sinful Adam and Eve. We are all producers in this ongoing drama of Eden where the real protagonist is not us, but the serpent!


When I was a child, I used to be fascinated by the “Cenaculo” or passion play shown in old town Makati. Every year, the opening scene was all about the drama of Eden. Every year, I was fascinated by the cameo appearance of the devil, with tail and all, black suit and horns, bloodshot eyes and cope, for a very brief, but meaningful role. By Good Friday night, the high point of the “theo-drama” in popular culture back then was the lengthy procession of barefoot, hooded penitents, along with what seemed to be endless rows of statues depicting the significant events of the “theo-drama” of Holy Week.


Today, we begin all this, minus the fanfare and the somber, but much awaited representations of the same mystery in popular culture. In our times, people don’t flock anymore to Churches and “cenaculo” shows. No … they go to beaches and “country clubs” either up the mountain or down by the seashores all over the country. The “theo” in the “drama” is gone and leaves nothing but the dreary and dreadful drama of a country dehumanized by a powerful mainstream media focused on showbiz and inane entertainment. Why, even news has become entertainment, now known as “infotainment!” What is left is a debilitating world of politics that goes through the motions of governing, whilst led by the superseding motivation that is less than honest, less than honorable, and less than respectable.


I invite my readers to join the “theo-drama” that picks up today and goes on all through the week. The beginning action takes place in triumph. The rising action takes place in a somber mood of quiet reflection on the passion. The several high points take place when the triduum begins on Thursday, with the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. The peak is both actually and symbolically reached when he who came in the name of the Lord is lifted up on the cross, up on Calvary. The drama of Calvary upsets and overturns the drama of Eden. In seeming defeat, the Lord, in utter humility and total obedience to the Father, offers his all, that we might have ALL!


And this ALL begins with a word, nay, with the Word become flesh! This Word now rouses weary men like me … like you all … He is the Word that rouses us all to victory!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

THAT WE MIGHT HAVE LIFE!


5th Sunday of Lent (A)           
April 10, 2011


Life that is more than just life ... new life, to be exact; life that will never end; life that can accrue even from death, whether material or spiritual ... This is the good news of today ... good news that cannot be ignored or made light of!

The whole world smacks of all that is not life nowadays ... even now strife and rebellion, legitimate in many cases, are taking place in many countries all at one and the same time.  Leaders who have been enjoying worldly life and all its perks for decades, simply refuse to give up power, position, perks, and perch.

Reluctant migrants scamper out of Libya, Yemen, Ivory Coast and other countries precisely in search of a life that is unhampered, untrammeled by personal agendas of leaders who, in the first place, are not life enabling, but life disabling.

People are entombed for many reasons, under many forms, and countless guises. Ignorance buries so many of our countrymen, blinded by the propaganda of powerful governments and rich pharmaceutical companies,  convinced in their mistaken and misguided belief that the only and exclusive reason for massive poverty in the Philippines is overpopulation.

People lie half dead not caring anymore for a country awash in corruption that really is among the primary reasons why the Philippines and many third world countries remain poor. But so many are buried under the avalanche of the propaganda of mainstream media paid for, no doubt, by the very pharmaceutical companies that will sure earn huge sums for decades to come, with a little help from politicians who stand to receive sizeable emoluments for their support, sitting in a form of blindness that is worse than that of the man born blind of last week's gospel passage.

We are awash in a culture that is life disabling, in the long run, although proponents always claim they are the real pro-life, by twisting the teachings of the Church, and calling themselves "pro-quality life." What quality are we talking of here, when innocent lives are going to be snuffed out in the first place? Whose quality? Whose life? Whose benefit?

Pope John Paul II, of happy and blessed memory, who will soon be beatified, was right. So many decades ago, he already knew what was coming - a culture of death, that is at the bottom of so many mistaken ideas like this perverse, twisted and selfish idea of "pro quality life."

Today, the good news is unmistakably both good and fresh and life-giving.  The first reading from Ezekiel oozes with hope - hope that can only come from a God who desires life, not death, for His people. This life that Ezekiel speaks about is not just a restoration of something that was lost. It is also a vision and a promise that He will bring us back to "the land of Israel," a figure of the land from which salvation comes. This is the good news that God has the desire and the power to make life even out of death, to make us "rise" from our tombs, and make us "settle" in our land.

But God's vision and promise ought to be our desire, too. God needs a little help from us, and it starts by our own desire for life, not death. It starts with our own efforts at doing what St. Paul counsels us, who live in the shadow of death - to leave behind life "in the flesh" and pursue one "in the Spirit."

Life in the flesh is to be focused on sordid gain, and not much else. Why would organized and well-funded so-called "philanthropists" work and pay their way through to rid the world of unwanted people especially from the ranks of the great unwashed? Why would foreign governments strive to impose their idea of what prosperous and quality life is on people in other sovereign countries and usurp the dignity of couples to decide and plan their family lives for themselves? Why would local governments blindly follow such grand designs for "quality of life" for those who live now, and allow themselves to deny the "life" plain and simple, of all those who have not seen the light of day? Why would people so selfishly focus on their quality of life, and deny basic life to those who, in their twisted logic, do not deserve it?

This is darkness. This is blindness. This is plain and simple SIN. This is the drama of Eden coming to the fore again, the drama of denial, the drama of escape, and hiding, the drama of finger pointing, and the drama of denial of self-responsibility. Where politicians earn unjustly more than their salaries can warrant, where AFP generals can, in a few short years, quietly stash away hundreds of millions, and still feel clean and go away scot free with endless denials and stonewalling, with a little help from their equally mendacious wives and other relatives and friends, why would we be so concerned about rivals coming from the unborn and those who should not be born, who would stand to rob us of our own "quality of life?"

Today, part of the good news is the realization that Jesus weeps for us, and cries with us, and is one with us who suffer, who feel lost in the welter of so many contrasting and conflicting value systems that all speak about life, but not the life that the gospel speaks of.

We need to look closely at what life this is all about. And Martha, for all her busy-body attitude, might have understood it a little better than we do. She knew, that, first, "had he been there, her brother would not have died." Second, she knew that '"whatever He would ask of God, He would grant it." She knew too, that her brother "would rise , in the resurrection on the last day." But what she did not know was the big surprise that God was and is, a God of life, there and then ... here and now.

After the Lord has walked her through, - through her ignorance, tears, sorrow, and grief, Martha knew much more, much, much more. But by then, it was not just a matter of knowing ... It became a matter of faith: ""Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

With so many voices nowadays claiming to be "pro-quality life," with so many more claiming to be at the service of life by snuffing out innocent life, or preventing their ever coming to see the light, we are in for a big surprise ... No one does it better than God, who is the author of life. No one ... not the big pharmaceutical companies ... not this government given in to and enslaved almost by surveys (to the point of contesting what does not suit their fancies and expectations, but accepting whatever is favorable to them), not the so-called big philanthropists who feel threatened by more people, not their governments who follow extreme capitalist ideologies and espouse materialist and hedonist philosophies. No one does it better than He who died and gave Himself "that we might have life ... life in its fullness."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

NIGHT IS COMING WHEN NO ONE CAN WORK



4th Sunday of Lent (A)
April 3, 2011


This Sunday is a reality check for all of us. "Night is coming when no one can work." The Lord Himself recognizes it ... the reality of what Christian authors now call the "eclipse of God" in our times and days. I write at a time when the growing realization that the country I was born and grew up in and spent most of life in is fast experiencing the onslaught of the night that the Lord speaks of - the growing specter of the eclipse of God in culture, in politics, in the world of entertainment, and in all aspects of our societal lives.

Nowhere is this clearer as in the heated debacle that repeatedly ensues with regard to the reproductive health bill. Both sides condemn one another of disinformation. Both sides accuse one another of misleading the people. But without reducing this reflection to an apologia of sorts for the Church that I love, I would like to suggest to my readers that the whole issue does not have to do with who is misleading whom, but on the issue of who should be obeyed when it comes to something that does not just touch on mere economic matters.

Human nature being what it is, complex, and where one aspect of human existence overlaps and intertwines with other aspects, and where there is a hierarchy of values that is appropriate to the composite nature of man, body and soul, earthly and heavenly, with two feet planted on the ground, but called to a spiritual life, the reproductive health bill cannot be taken simply as a clear-cut solution to the massive problem of poverty and what proponents always love to quote as overpopulation.

Night is falling in the value systems of people. The eclipse of God happens when the forces of the good cannot anymore work unhampered and untrammeled because the traditional foundations on which to base legislation has been eroded by materialism, hedonism, and the spirit of unbridled restlessness among postmodern people. The moral theologian Elaine Robinson speaks of this creeping "nightfall" as the landscape of our lives now fast being characterized by the sweeping and pervading "contours of hopelessness."

Night is falling ... Many years ago, a movie called "Wait Until Dark" thrilled audiences and kept them at the edge of their seats all over the world. A murderer on the loose was about to do a blind woman in who was "witness" to some crime, inside her apartment. Sensing that danger was just around the corner, she did what she thought would give her advantage over the predator - break and disable all the lights in her apartment and plunge it to total darkness. As a woman born blind, she knew she would have all the advantage over the killer who had the use of both eyes, rendered useless, of course, in total darkness. Without the need to inform my readers how it all unfolded, suffice it to say, that the story does resonate with the story of the man born blind that the gospel of today speaks of.

When night falls, ironically, it is those who have been blind all their lives who have an edge over those who always had the use of their eyes. The blind are in their best element in total darkness. They can rely on other senses to guide them despite the total blackout.

This, the gospel also portrays. And beyond merely being more capable of sensing and feeling in the dark, the gospel passage tells us that, what the wise men and the pharisees could not see, the blind actually saw clearly and stated clearly. "He is a prophet," says the blind man.

But as the old song goes, "there is none so blind as he who would not see." The Pharisees kept on asking the blind man the same question, "What did he do to you?" But they were not paying attention to his answers. His answer was as consistent as the repetitive questions of people who really did not want the answer.

Night has fallen all over the land in many ways. Mainstream media has effectively silenced the voice of the teaching Church. During last week's rally for life, the same media practically ignored the many rallies that took place all over the country, including the big one at the Luneta. But they have given maximum coverage to the rallies organized by the opposing camp, even if only a few hundreds staged them at any given time.

Night has fallen all over the land ... Church workers and ministers are effectively limited in their teaching because a few loudmouths have hijacked the official teaching with their hemming and hawing and compromising. And when night comes, we cannot work unhampered.

The Gospel story speaks of just one man born blind and a horde of Pharisees and leaders who swooped down on him and bore down on him with the full force of their untrammeled powers to see. But as night fell, that one blind man turned the tables on those who would not see. In his sightless sensing and simple reasoning, he had stood his ground and proclaimed his growing realization that the man who cured him was a "prophet."

I speak directly now to ministers like me who may feel unable to do their work unhampered on account of the night that has fallen all over the land. I speak to those who, like me, may perhaps experience some discouragement ... ministers like me who may feel overwhelmed by the need to enlighten and teach people who have lost the ability to listen with prudence, see with the clarity of faith, and attach themselves to a teaching Church with hope, and to the Lord with love.

I speak directly to those who like me, may feel so down and out that our interlocutors in the arena of performative faith no longer see or are unwilling to see the bigger picture, the greater good of humanity in general, and the spiritual values that stand behind the Church's stiff opposition to the proposed legislation.

Night is falling, and we are reduced to being considered blind and useless. But it is precisely at this time, when we are most disempowered, when we are most disenfranchised by mainstream media, that the power and poise of the man born blind becomes an outstanding example for us who still have the gift of sight.

We should learn a lesson or two from him. Surrounded by the darkness of disbelief and flat refusal to even give the Lord the benefit of the doubt, the blind man was at his best element. He thrived in darkness. He went beyond darkness, and declared what he saw with the eyes of his faith ... He is a prophet!