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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

THE HOPE THAT BELONGS TO HIS CALL





Ascension Sunday(A)
June 5, 2011


I vividly remember a nightmare I had as a child. No, it did not have anything to do with monsters and goblins and ghouls, and ghosts. It had to do with the terror of being hopelessly alone, in the dark, with no one within arm’s length, no one to hear my silent screams.

Being alone is not a very bright prospect. It could be unnerving, if not, terrifying. In this postmodern world of internet and media connectivity, via social networking sites and all, being alone is a curse.

It is very reassuring to hear the Lord once more remind us: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

This is what ascension Sunday is all about. It is about taking leave, but promising abiding presence. Almost sounding contradictory, it is about the Lord saying “good-bye” but assuring us that he will, in the end, be always with us.

But more than leaving and being present, the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord, is really a huge reminder of something truly important for us. And what is important for us is that we are by no means, orphans, left aside to fend for ourselves. Ascension reminds us that call for all those who believe – a call to a life above and beyond what we know, a call to rise above what we think is normal, a life that sometimes makes us feel condemned to accept as hopelessly unavoidable.

Let me tell you some of what I feel are situations and conditions that make me feel condemned to simply accept …

First in my list is the situation of corruption in and out of government. I see it everywhere, from the highest offices of the land down to the lowliest branch of government … from the most prestigious schools down to the most forlorn and forgotten state schools. It all seems everyone is on the take … everyone is poised to take advantage.

Second in my list is the situation of the Church that I love. I sometimes feel hemmed in by what appears to be a growing polarization in our ranks … those who act more like Catholic Talibans, on the one hand, and those who are extremely liberal who ridicule Papal teachings and official pronouncements – breeding generations of “cafeteria catholics” who choose what to believe, and discard what they don’t feel like accepting!

Third in my list is the appalling incidence of absolute poverty all over, especially in the Philippines. But I don’t refer to material poverty alone, but more especially to moral poverty – the sort that leads governments to ride rough shod on human dignity and freedom in the name of solving poverty, principally by getting rid of the poor simply put, by means fair or foul.

I have a lot more, but this homily (reflection) is not meant to be a tale of woes.

In fact, it is meant to follow the path of the Ascension of the Lord! It is meant to remind us that the call of the Lord for us is precisely what is behind the celebration that we are doing today.

The Lord is not just risen. He also ascended up to heaven. And when the Lord rose and ascended, it was not just to do an air show. It was not just something for us to behold, look at, and admire. It was meant for us. We are called to the same glory. And that call is what gives us undying hope!

This is the core message I would like to leave to you today – the need for us to reappropriate the hope that belongs to His call, as St. Paul tells the Ephesians.

When we are beset by so many oppressive and depressing realities, such as I enumerated above, we tend to forget … we end up getting more than just distressed. We lose verve and enthusiasm, and like the famous experiment of some famous psychologist who worked with dogs, we acquire what he called “learned helplessness.” We learn to live with the pain. We learn to grow callous to them, and we end being uncaring and downright indifferent!

There is no room for indifference today. First, he tells us in no uncertain terms: “I will be with you always, until the end of the age.” Second, his rising and ascending shows us, we are called to the same destiny. And third, this sure destiny is what is behind our hope.

Let us go on hoping, even as we go on struggling. We know how it will all end up. And it will all end up, not on a hill, (what Matthew calls a ‘mountain’).  That end is life forever with God in the next! What else in this world can beat that?

Friday, May 27, 2011

READY WITH A REASON FOR OUR HOPE


Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 29, 2011
 
I am amazed at how people focused and bent on doing something, find every reason under the sun to justify whatever it is they want. We all know that. We always find what we are looking for. The New Agers call it the Law of Attraction, using pseudo science and pseudo spirituality to talk about attracting positive ions to oneself, by sheer force of focus and mind control.  They speak about the Age of Aquarius, replete with planets aligning and forces gathering to bring about a new age of splendor, a new age of peace, and everything nice, fine, and dandy.

Wishful thinking, no less …

But one has to give it to them that they do have a ready answer at hand to non-believers. The conviction with which adherents of the “flower power” movement of yore stood for what they believed, is, indeed, remarkable.

So is the rabid enthusiasm of those who are for or against the RH bill in Philippine setting. Both sides are ready with reasons galore to back up their position for or against. The pros do it with their own set of so-called scientific studies. The antis have a no less reliable set of scientific data to prop up their cause. The pros have demographic reasons to support what they claim. The antis have their own studies that support the declining birth rate and the coming demographic winter. The pros liberally quote poverty as the single most powerful cause that drives them. The antis proffer the blatant fact that lessening the population would not necessarily solve poverty.

Each one has a ready reason! Some are cogent. Some are facetious. A great many are trivial. And a significant percentage of it is personally demeaning and vicious – such as all sorts of name-calling and subtle and not-so-subtle attacks and innuendoes.

Nobody, of course, talks about what motivates both camps. That is an internal matter that no one can judge.

But this internal invisible matter is precisely the point. For at bottom, the real issue about the whole brouhaha is really an invisible, spiritual one. It has to do with values that go beyond the here and the now … values that are eminently more important than having a lower population growth, and getting less poor people, like as if, poor people were the problem.

Yes, it is a matter of faith and morality. And being a matter of faith and morality does not mean it is limited to catholics only. Spirituality and salvation is not limited to catholics. The good life, understood as a life of virtue is not limited to catholics. The good life or the virtuous life, a life of sincerity and honesty and union with God, no matter His name for members of varied religions, a life of morality and a life in pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful and eternal is never limited to catholics, but to all men and women of good will regardless of what affiliation they belong to.

Both sides have ready reasons, alright. But ready reasons alone do not make for integrity and holiness and respectability. One can have all the ready reasons up one’s sleeve, but not be right. The amount of arguments for or against anything does not dictate what is to be followed as right and honorable. Statistics and the number of legislators who vote for or against something is not the standard for what is right.

Yes, Virginia … right does not come from might in terms of numbers. And definitely not from a biased mass media who shoot down anything from the Church, and play down everything that supports the Church’s position!

Yes, reasons alone do not make for righteousness. But it is reasons that are ready and at hand, and whose readiness is connected with a spiritual value – hope! And yes, hope’s object is not just about material things today and tomorrow. Hope’s object is not just about a better life for a leaner number of people, and yes … hope is not about doing away with seemingly hopeless teeming masses of the poor. Hope is all about having a spirituality that is focused on the other worldly and the eternal.

St. Peter speaks about the meaning of this hope. And this is precisely what it is all about … it’s ultimate object is not here and now and this world and a more easy life for a leaner few. It has to do with life that is greater, life that goes beyond earthly life, a life that has to do with having “Christ the Lord in [our] hearts.” It has to do with eternal, spiritual values. It has to do with looking for ways and means to do good, but also doing them rightly. And doing things rightly does not follow the rule of the majority, but on the living teaching of a living Church that is the living voice of a living God.

Ultimately, the ready reasons we ought to have has to do with love for God. But love for God and His values is not just all about fine, nice, dandy, and warm feelings that one has during retreats and the occasional visit of the Holy Father to our shores. It has to do with love, and love means “keeping the Lord’s commandments.” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Yes … by all means, have your reasons ready, but do it for the right reason … Do it in the name of heavenly, not just earthly, hope!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

CALLED TO BE LIVING STONES!






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.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

SAVE YOURSELVES FROM THIS CORRUPT GENERATION! (Acts 2:40)


4th Sunday of Easter (A)
May 15, 2011


I am old enough to look backward to more years than I can look forward to … I remember the old people of my youth who used to lament the fact that “young people ( that was us!) behaved differently than they used to.” They were complaining then, that  “times have changed.”

Back in the day, we were introduced to Cicero’s famous oration against Catiline, way before Christ was born (63 BC) … Cicero railed against the times and customs of the day: O tempora! O Mores! He was beside himself with ill concealed disappointment as he thundered his rhetorical question: “ubinam gentium sumus!” “Where in the world are we?”

Where in the world are we? Today’s readings essay a response … a reminder for who we really are, and where we really are … We are a sinful people, moving about in a world filled with the “contours of hopelessness,” brought about by sin and its effects on the soul otherwise created by God in His image and likeness!

To say over and over again that we live in the midst of corruption is to belabor the obvious. And the best example is not the politicians atop their high horses of power, prestige, and position, but each and everyone of us! Yes … you and I! Let me enumerate the ways we contribute to a world of corruption, the very same corruption we denounce with might and main …

You and I are co-opted by the relentless “media moment,” by the never-ending “noise” that masquerades as news. You and I are held captive by everything that is purveyed by the world of entertainment. You and I can no longer sift what is false and what is true. We just take what mainstream media doles out to us … relentlessly … manipulatively …

You and I are the ones who take everything that mainstream media says, “hook, line, and sinker.” You and I are the ones who fall for the propaganda machine of the powers-that-be and uncritically accept as dogma what is tyrannically passed off against a supposed “tyrannical” Roman Catholic Church, that imposes its rules and dogmas on people.

It is you and I who are blinded by the glitz and glamour of crass materialism, and by the dizzying pull of a digital based world of social networking 24/7 that occupies most of our waking (and even sleeping) thoughts. It is you and I that elect spineless leaders whose only passport to leadership is popularity and pedigree.

It is you and I who continue to patronize dehumanizing TV shows and programs that pretend to help the poor by taking advantage of their very poverty and crass ignorance. It is you and I who prop up the ratings of tyrannical media outfits who control public opinion, through carefully designed and well-timed press releases and relentless attacks against anyone and any position that runs counter to their editorial line and political agenda.

Yes, you … and yes, I, too, am a part of this “massa damnata,” children of sinful Adam and Eve, who are deeply steeped in the culture of Eden, more than being attuned to the culture of Calvary.

But there is hope for you and me. The drama of Eden might still be holding us in its grip, but the drama of Calvary, and the even greater and definitive drama of the Resurrection have broken the chains that bind us to darkness and sin forever. Let Peter be our guide. He wrote: “Let the house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The chains that seem to bind us are legion … Everywhere, there is prejudice and hardness of heart. People who claim loudly to be Catholics continue on espousing ideological lines that run patently counter to official catholic teachings. People who claim to be religious continue to hatch out plans to kill as many people as possible all in the name of God. People who openly claim to call on Jesus as Lord really follow the voice of foreign governments and pharmaceutical companies who have the wherewithal to lobby and pay for lavish parties at five star hotels, while claiming to fight for the rights of the poor. You and I continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated by media whose only real concern is not the welfare of the poor but their ratings.

Yes, we live in a world tainted and weakened by sin. Yes, you and I are part of that sinful culture.

And this, by the way, is the reason why we are gathered here today. We acknowledge our sinfulness. We confess our sins and failings. But doing so does not mean we now have the license to go on our merry and sinful ways. Doing so simply means we are going to try our level best, to struggle with God’s help, towards becoming holy, which in Matthew Kelly’s definition simply means becoming a better version of ourselves.

And this is the good news … in our journey towards becoming what God expects us to be, the Lord Himself acts as good shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.”

But there is one thing you and I ought to do. We need to follow the right shepherd, he for whom the gatekeeper opens the door of the sheep. Many false prophets vie for our attention now … prosperity, wealth, popularity, ratings, surveys, and so-called “scientific studies.” They try to lead through means other than the real door and make us climb over elsewhere.

At no other time in our history as humans, do we need to be discerning … At no other time do we need to really choose whom to follow. At no other time in our progressively complex world do we need the voice of the shepherd, who acts in and through His Church on earth, to guide us in ways that lead to life, life in its fullness. At no other time do we need the guidance of the Church … when so many false prophets continue to sway public opinion.

I ask my readers … be aware that you and I can both matter. You and I can make a big difference. And you and I will be well advised to listen to the voice of the shepherd who tells us: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture … I came so that they might have life and have it to the full.”

We need the guidance of the Shepherd, in our struggle to "save ourselves from this corrupt generation."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

THE TIME OF OUR SOJOURNING



3rd Sunday of Easter (A)
May 8, 2011
 
“Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning.” (1 Pt 1:17)

I have lived for considerable lengths of time in different places all over the world. The first part of my childhood was spent in two places – in the boonies of Cavite in Mendez, just a skip, a hop, and a jump away from its better known neighbor, Tagaytay City, and in the burgeoning place called part of “Greater Manila” then, Makati, Rizal!

But then as God had obviously planned it, I lived for three solid years in Bacolor, Pampanga, followed by 7 straight years in Canlubang, Laguna. From then on, it was a case of sojourning in many other different places, although I had to stay in Canlubang an additional 13 years to those earlier seven years. The most memorable, of course, in retrospect and in relation to my topic at hand, was my – take note – “soggiorno” in Rome, Italy, for further studies.

As I write, my current “soggiorno” is on the island of Guam, doing what I was doing when I was but 31 years old – being Principal of a High School on island.

Sojourn, as the word implies, has to do, not with permanence, but with transitoriness. It connotes an erstwhile arrangement as one goes through a more permanent reality – the fact that one goes through an ongoing journey that could take him or her to other different places. Sojourn means that one is not here or there to stay, but here or there for the meantime, for one is ever on the move, one is always on the way towards something more, something better, something different, and something definitive!

Sojourn, in this way, connotes more than transitoriness then, but, actually may point to hope for some defined and definite future.

This is the good news for today that for me merits a little more reflection.

But before we can even talk of the good news, we need to frame it in the context of reality. We need to do a reality check. Good news was never meant to be a “pie in the sky,” a palliative for what is unacceptable, what is deplorable, and what is impossible to do anything about!

Good news is good news despite what seems to be an ineluctable reality of the here and now.

And as one, who has “been there; done that,” I can assure my readers that we are not without any signs of what Elaine Robinson calls the “contours of hopelessness” that “dot the landscape of our lives.”

I remember many moons ago. We went for a “national trek” to one famous Philippine mountain down south. We were led by what we thought was a group of reliable guides … all three hundred of us. But apparently, we were duped. It was a well-set up trap. By the time we got to about 3,000 feet above sea level, we were met by a big surprise that became a disappointment in no time. We were stopped in our tracks. We could not continue on. The armed group lost no time in collecting our VHF radios, cameras, and everything valuable. Our guides actually led us to disappointment.

I go back many more years … when Pasig river teemed with fish and when fishermen with real nets and dingy boats still plied their trade in Makati, Rizal! A neighbor enticed us kids (I was no more than 6 or 7 then!) to go with him for a swim at the river. Unbeknownst to me, an alert neighbor who owned the corner “sari-sari” store (convenience store) saw me with the group and proceeded to report on me. When I got home, I got a beating from my grandmother that I never forgot all my life! But I learned my lesson.

And one core lesson among several was this … There are guides who lead to the light, and guides that lead to the dark. There are those who really help us see the way and the destination, and those who mislead … those who lead us to short-term goals and those who really lead us to goals that go beyond the here and the now, goals that really lead to life as God wanted us to have. Such eternal goals that God ordained for us are the sort that go beyond mere material concerns, but which really cater to the total good of our humanity, called as we are, to be images and likenesses of God Himself.

Leaders would like us now to embrace the RH bill and turn it into law. Assuredly, there are lots of good things from the bill. But is it good enough, on the long haul? It may do good on the short term, and do good for people here and now, but does it serve the best interests of humanity as a whole? Or does it serve the interests of the people only here and now? Guides and shepherds ought to lead us to the total good. They ought to show us the bigger picture and cater to that which really helps humanity become a better version of itself, not just a richer, more comfortable life on the short haul.

This is the sort of leadership and shepherding that Mother Church does for us, the same shepherding that the Risen Lord shows us today. But there is more … In today’s gospel passage, we are told about two discouraged and despondent disciples. They felt beaten. They were down and out. And like me, on occasion, they probably thought that all is lost, and there won’t be anything anymore worth looking forward to. They saw, not just “contours” but “mountains” of hopelessness!

But the Risen Lord came and journeyed with them … in their loss, in their pain, in their discouragement and even despair.

I have been through a number of jarring incidences in my own journey called life. I have been through pain and discouragement myself, and the worst of them, ironically came from the very Church (or congregation) that I served and loved. The Church may be a Mother and Teacher, but superiors and other members of the Church are definitely not! Politics, too, the kind that is dirty, propelled by that engine called envy, is not a monopoly of the disappointing men and women that make up so-called civil society.

But in those moments of pain, when I wanted to curse everyone and everything, I just knew that the only real and convincing solace I did find, was the one that the Lord provided. He knew pain. He knew suffering. He knew rejection. He stared hatred from others in the face, even from those who had no reason whatsoever to be so spiteful of him. And He was the only one who could have done that journey to Emmaus. Convincingly. Really. Definitely!

And He came armed with the best gift ever! The gift of brokenness and the gift of the breaking of the bread! Only He who was broken could convincingly break bread for those who, like Him, were broken!

I know that my Savior lives! For I can see it in the eyes of those who suffer and yet believe. I can see it in those who question so many things, but still believe, like those who have so many questions about the pro-life position of the Church, but still believe! They are broken. They are bruised by members of the Church – even leaders – who could be so uncaring and so brusque and insensitive, but these are one who now prove to the world that the Lord lives … that Jesus Risen is Lord … and that in the meantime, in this earthly, temporary sojourn, we will yet see the marvels that await those who believe. They know better as to “conduct themselves with reverence during the time of their sojourning.”