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Saturday, June 25, 2011

MORE THAN JUST FELT!






Solemnity of the Body & Blood of the Lord (A)

June 26, 2011

There was a time the Solemnity of Corpus Christi was celebrated with solemn processions, Benedictions, and many benedictions at select stations all over the main thoroughfares of every parish everywhere.  Those were the days before clogged traffic blocked our streets … before sidewalks disappeared to Disneyland like, multi-colored lamp posts that would change with the change of administration … before religious pluralism and downright indifference took over our culture, and relegated purely “religious” matters, so called, to private chapels and oratories.

The disappearance or waning of the practice, however, is not to say the faith in the Real Presence of the Eucharistic Lord is also gone. It is here. It is alive. It is real. And it is here to stay … more in our hearts, if not in our streets… more in our thoughts and minds, if not in practice.

Come to think of it, the Real Presence of the Lord  under the appearance of bread is what sacramentality is all about. It is about being felt. It is about being touched. It is about being seen, tasted, and shared. And today, minus the solemn, and well-attended procession of yore, we pause awhile. We reflect. And we bend our knees and humble ourselves in silent adoration and worship.
The Real Presence that we adore means exactly what it says. It does not mean it is just symbolic. It does not mean that the bread merely represents the Lord. It does not mean that what we see and feel and touch – and taste! – is just a stand-in for the real Person – Christ the Lord!

No! Real presence of the Eucharistic Lord means He is all here, exactly as He was present to Joseph and Mary in Nazareth. The Real Presence means that he is truly and really here with us, just as He was present in the manger in Bethlehem … just as He was present in the Upper Room, just right after He rose from the dead and showed himself to the fearful disciples gathered together for fear of the Jews!
This, I submit, is a little hard to understand nowadays. Everything we see is representation and make-believe. The big stars we see on TV appear perfect, flawless, with hardly a trace of blemish in their skins, with hardly any extra unwanted and unsightly pound on their bodies. They are dressed perfectly, made-up flawlessly, and presented as the epitome of physical perfection.
But all this is farce. All this is a chimera. All this is a false front. For, let us face it … no one has flawless skin. No one has perfect beauty in mould or mind! No one has the ultimate body to die for with nothing else to desire. No one has everything. No one is perfectly satisfied. Everything we  see courtesy of mass media is less than real … less than fully objective … less than fully real. Lights, camera angles, heavy make-up, and other high –tech trickeries present not what is real and true, but what is ideal – and – fake!

Today, the Church speaks of real presence. There is a familiar, though strange, ring to it. For only God can claim what is perfectly and truly REAL! Only God can truly claim to show the real, not the fake and the false. Only God can claim to have chosen to become less than His actual stature. Only He could choose to become man like us, like unto us in everything except sin! Only God can truly present Himself, warts and all, wounds and scars, and a broken Body bruised and derided, and shared for the life of the world!
He did not have to resort to a make-believe world of theatrics. No .. He truly suffered. He was truly born. He lived a life of simplicity and hard work as a carpenter. He brushed shoulders with fisherfolk, with learned and simple people, by the Lake of Galilee. He was God incarnate!
God incarnate! This is the whole point about the Real Presence!

Under the specie of Bread and Wine, we see God become flesh, God become Bread – the Bread of Life!
We hear Him today speak about Himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He is what He claims to be. We receive Him at Mass. We adore Him after Mass and during Mass. We extend, as much as is possible, his presence in our midst at Benediction. We cast our adoring and worshipful stare during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For He fulfills His promise to us. “Behold, I am with you all days, until the end of the world!”

Our times are no different from Jesus’ times. There are those, who, like then, refuse to believe. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” For they were looking at what they were used to – a world of fakes and a world filled with theatrics and make-believe. They saw a world “cared for” and “benevolently ruled” by Romans who simply wanted to take advantage of them and gain more power. They saw a world of false prophets who were out only for themselves. They saw a world populated by Pharisees and Sadducees whose only apparent interest was to protect their own turfs against one another, and safeguard their empty traditions that touched the mind and the body, but not the heart and the soul.

We are in today for a taste of the Real Thing, not a fake and a false claimant to prestige and glory. We have the real Lord of Lords who saved the world by becoming a suffering servant. We are in today for a treat of the only Real – the ultimate in truth who claimed to be the “way, the truth, and the life.”
He is Jesus Christ. Lord. Savior. Son of God. Man. God. God become man, become bread, become like us. To save us. To make us become like Him. Like God.

He is true. True to His word. True to His Father. True to us. Truly man, truly God. Truly present now in our midst in the Eucharist. Come, let us adore Him!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

GRACE, LOVE, & FELLOWSHIP



Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity (Year A) 
June 19, 2011

Context and framing mean a whole lot towards getting a holistic, balanced understanding of anything of importance. Today’s readings, chosen to highlight the truth about the Most Blessed Trinity, are no exception.

God’s revealing and manifesting Himself through Moses as reported by the Book of Exodus (34:4b-6;8-9 First Reading), is a case in point. In anthropomorphic language (weak analogies based on human categories, mentality, and standards), God’s self-revelation is preceded by near abandonment of what even Moses himself acknowledges as “a stiff-necked people.” After doing away with the true God, and fashioning for themselves a golden calf for a false god, the Lord went on to prove that, unlike wicked and fickle people, He was, indeed, “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” These same sterling and startling qualities of God are further echoed by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:11-13). In exchange for betrayal, disobedience, and idolatrous conduct, this God-in-action, this God-in-unfolding-self-revelation offers “grace” from the Lord Jesus Christ, “love” from God the Father, and “fellowship” in and through the Holy Spirit. For his part, the evangelist John (Jn 3:16-18) offers us a glimpse as to the ultimate motivation for this divine solicitude from above: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Like as if to drive home a lapidary point, John further clarifies the monumental truth about the Trinitarian God: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

God’s self-revelation is couched in the powerful and incontrovertible language that speaks about, and shows, a “God-in-action,” a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture does not offer a theological treatise on the Trinity. Presenting the Trinitarian God as “matter-of-fact,” Scripture merely shows a record of this same Trinitarian God in loving and saving action on behalf of His beloved people. Divine “action” points to what theologians down through the centuries call the “mystery” of divine “passion,” the gradually unfolding mystery of God’s love in saving action through history.

The Liturgy is a celebration in prayer and song, in concrete and palpable signs, of what Scriptural revelation of the so-called “Trinitarian mystery” shows us. God’s “words and deeds” are matched by the believing community’s own “words and deeds.” What is believed in the mind, what is treasured in the heart, comes out and blooms into bodily action in the liturgy. The body takes full part in what the heart and the mind extol. What is interiorly held is also exteriorly upheld. Lex orandi, lex credendi! The Church’s official prayer is nothing but the living out, and the external manifestation, of what is basically internal – the faith of all Christian believers.

But what is interiorly held and exteriorly upheld in faith and action has to spill over into concrete life. Life as we know it. Life here and now. Life forevermore.

Before this mystery of a God who refused to abandon us, a God whose relationship with, and love for us are so deep and magnanimous as to spare nothing, no one, not even His own Son, we are confronted with the issue of all our human relationships in our daily experience. God’s nature as Trinity confronts our fractious and fragmented reality as a human community all over the world. God’s intervention and salvific action in the world convicts us in our inaction and inability to become what He is, what He does, how He does.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” … God the Son comes to us as “grace.” He is gifted to a “world walking in darkness” as “light for all nations.” As Gifted, Christ is given magnanimously and freely – if, undeservedly – to all of sinful humanity. No one of us deserves this gift given “gratis,” given freely.

“The love of God” … The gift of the ultimate Giver is His Son, sent “so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The gifted one’s core message is the message of God’s unconditional love, the message that God is not a distant unapproachable God, but a God who is “Abba,” “Daddy,” a God whose “human face” became that of Jesus, God Incarnate. This Jesus was one who would not give in to false timidity as he declared: “Don’t you know that I should be about doing my Father’s business? … I and the Father are one … He who sees me, sees the Father also … Before Abraham was, I am!”

“The fellowship of the Holy Spirit” … The Trinitarian God is still in action. Till here. Till now. The Giver did not just offer the Gifted One. He still works in and through the Gifting One, the promised Paraclete, “who would lead us into all the truth.” Sent by the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit continues to gift us with the grace of unity and fellowship, standing by us, with us – even “praying in us and for us in sighs and groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:26). “The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). The Gifting One continues to lead us towards the fulfillment of that High Priestly prayer of the Gifted One: “that they may be one, even as you and I, Father, are one” (Jn 17:22).

This Mass, like all Masses everyday, opened with this powerful Pauline greeting and wish: grace from the Lord, love from God, and fellowship in and through the Holy Spirit. Lex orandi, lex credendi, as we said earlier on. The law of prayer is the same law of belief. But there is something else that is missing in the equation. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi!

Far too many of us cradle catholics, for far too long, have remained on the level of theoretical belief. Considerably less, but still quite many, are those who simply go through the motions of their belief in mechanical prayer and lifeless liturgical participation. But for an even greater number, faith and prayer are effectively divorced from life. Faith has nothing to do with politics. Faith has nothing to say about how one behaves in the sexual realm, what one does with unwanted innocent lives, what powerful nations want to do with recalcitrant nations who do not shape up and conform with such powerful nations’ idiosyncratic vision of world political and economic order and international relations. For many, the Pope, bishops, and priests ought to limit their sphere of influence only in the sacristy.

The law of belief and the law of prayer are both made to stop dead in their tracks, short of what counts as something just important as the first two – the law of moral living, the concrete living out of one’s faith and prayer.

Today’s celebration of the Trinity tells us otherwise. We are face to face with a God-in-action, a Trinitarian God whose obvious passion is to love His own – a love so deep and magnanimous, a love so present and active in the Son, a love so alive and continually indwelling in our midst in and through the Holy Spirit.

GLORY BE TO GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE, WORLD WITHOUT END. AMEN.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FROM SURPRISE, TO SERENDIPITY, TO BEING SENT


Pentecost Sunday

June 12, 2011

N.B. I am posting for the first time two reflections for Pentecost which I wrote some 5 years ago.

My past two weeks have been a journey filled with surprises and serendipity. First in the list is my first time ever in the “land of surprises,” Papua New Guinea, at the capital city of Port Moresby, where I spent some time to do some “formative” work with our congregation’s pre-novices (seminarians).  Topping the list of “surprises” was the sight of what the Salesians have done in a period of 26 years, despite massive challenges posed by so many aspects of PNG life, not excluding the culture, characterized for the most part by what sociologists and cultural anthropologists refer to as “cargo cult mentality,” a sort of dependent attitude that looks more at what they can get that what they can give in return. Despite this huge obstacle, Salesians and so many other brave missionaries continue on toiling for the Kingdom, despite seemingly little success, from the purely human point of view.

Surprise gave way to serendipity as superficial impressions paved the way towards faith-filled reflection which led me to see the extent of the good being done despite all those seemingly impossible obstacles in the difficult path of evangelization encountered by those patient missionaries who plod on, despite so little human consolation.

Surprise and serendipity turned to wonder and hope when I saw PNG’s exact opposite, at least in terms of material development – Singapore, that fabled city-state built, reportedly, on what other neighboring countries were all perceived to lack. Singapore, at least according to one of its founders, Lee Kwan Yew, was built on discipline, that important ingredient that was blatantly missing in countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others.

Discipline was the “good news” that the founders of Singapore inculcated in the hearts and minds of all those hopeful people who, in a post World War II context, saw and dreamed of endless possibilities, and eventually worked for them together.

They all came from various places … from China, India, Malaysia, Britain, etc. A multi racial society, they spoke, and still speak, different languages.

Writing as I do from Tagaytay City, the Philippines, a day after I got back from the twin-city whirlwind tour, in between preaching to, and processing retreatants, my thoughts anent Pentecost Sunday revolve around the same issues of surprise and serendipity.

Pentecost Sunday is a day of surprises. A community of believers coming from different and far-flung places saw sudden unity at the coming down of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire, accompanied by wind and resting on the heads of each one. The big surprise is twofold … they spoke different languages, and they were heard each in their own respective languages.

Surprise graduates to serendipity as St. Paul fleshes out what the coming of the Holy Spirit means in concrete … different works, different ministries, many parts, many members, all attaining that elusive unity on account of the one Spirit.

There is more … Surprise and serendipity turn to wonder and hope as John recounts a group of frightened disciples holed in together in a room “for fear of the Jews.” The Risen Lord appears to them gathered in the context of discouragement and disappointment. His greeting hits the nail right on the head. To the anxious and internally troubled disciples, Jesus says, “peace be with you.”  But the gift of peace does not come alone. It comes with a greater gift – a gift of presence, a gift of power, and a gift of person – the third Person of the Trinity. Peace comes with a promise of perpetual presence of the Paraclete: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But then again, there is more … the gift of peace comes with a challenge. Surprise and serendipity, wonder and hope are gifts that require gifts in return. They require responsibility… “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Being filled meant being formed: “all were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.”

At PNG, the land of surprises, I saw, indeed, some pleasant surprises. There is discouragement, to be sure, on the part of those who have been toiling for years in what appears to be an unproductive vineyard. But the greater surprise is the gift of dedication, the gift of commitment, the gift of ongoing presence of the very same discouraged people that can only come from a power that is beyond them all, the power of the Spirit, who has come with an earth-shaking and life-altering force on Pentecost day, to rouse a frightened band of believers into becoming a  forceful bonding of believing and belonging people, who, like St. Paul and thousands of saints in the roster of the Catholic Church, “dared and hoped,” hoped even against hope itself, and went on doing what they were sent to do.

There are lessons to learn from all these surprises, including those of Papua New Guinea. They are lessons on hope and on allowing the force of the Spirit to lead individuals even in the throes of discouragement. There, too, are lessons to learn from the serendipities I saw in that  tiny city-state that is Singapore, who, despite its famous material development, can still boast of churches filled to the last seat on Sundays, and even on ordinary days. There are lessons on what hoping and daring can lead people to, on what visions and dreams can make committed people achieve. There are lessons on what we as a Filipino people, richly endowed by God with so many gifts of nature and grace, can do with that precious capital, so much wasted, so much untapped, and so much ignored, because of a culture of sin and death, and what sociologists call the “Filipino culture of insecurity” that leads to our notorious “social individualism” that makes moral considerations secondary to family or small-group concerns, needs, and considerations.

Pentecost Sunday, like this recent trip of mine, is a journey filled with surprises, serendipity, wonder, and hope. But it is an ongoing journey fraught with a challenge – the challenge to go on growing, go on marching towards that gift and responsibility of total peace. But lest anyone forget, that gift and responsibility of peace comes with a trailer-tractor, a burden to carry, a task to pursue. That task is made clear by the Risen Lord for us today: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

GIFT, GIFTED, & GIVEN


Pentecost Sunday liturgy revolves around the idea of gift. We are told about an entire house “being filled with a driving wind,” “tongues of fire” “parting and resting on each one,” and each one “being filled with the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul speaks of “different kinds of spiritual gifts,”  and some “manifestation of the Spirit given for some benefit.” The alternative second reading says more. It enumerates the “fruits of the Spirit,” namely: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Gospel, for its part, confronts us with a double gift from the Risen Christ – two gifts that are intimately linked to each other: peace from the Lord, and the Spirit who is to be behind a bigger gift - the power to forgive sins.

Gifts galore, these all are! Gifts to acknowledge, cherish, and nurture by a people deemed worthy enough to be gifted by this world’s tremendous lover! This, at least partly, is what Pentecost is all about – a day of giftedness, a day of filled-ness, a time and season “to rejoice at seeing the [Risen] Lord” in our midst once again.

The world could use a little more genuine and honest-to-goodness appreciation for the gifts that it receives on a continual, daily basis. This consumerist world that is now awash in material goods, now so plentiful that most people do not even know how to appreciate them, can tend to be biased in favor of what is quantifiable, palpable, usable – everything that caters to our innate desire to possess and fulfill our longing for the more! Many of us, ever hungry for the greater, the better, the ultimate in everything, may be compared to that little boy, who after opening all the beautifully wrapped gifts given to him on his birthday, could only mutter to the utter disappointment of his parents and relatives: “Is this all I’m getting?”

That boy who stands for most of us could not fully appreciate what he got. Like him, we cannot appreciate what we are getting for one simple reason: we remain and get bogged down only on the level of the gifts received. We fail to transcend the gifts and lose sight of an important truth – the truth of our giftedness. Merely counting gifts can make one satiated, but not satisfied. Merely having gifts can make one feel filled for a while, but never fulfilled. The former has to do with having more; the latter has to do with being more. This comes from the deep realization that one is gifted, enriched,  blessed, and  loved by history’s greatest lover of all. This means being “filled with grace,” because one is filled, not just with “presents” from the Lord, but with His “presence” in our lives.

But there is still a third level of transcendence that Pentecost reminds us of. We have not only received gifts from above. We are not merely gifted beings who are loved by God with a love of predilection that has no parallel on earth. We are meant also to be “given” like Jesus and the Spirit were. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” After breathing on them, the Risen Lord said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The Spirit’s gift of truth, his guidance to all the truth given to the Church, is meant to be, in turn, a gift to others, a mission, even as Christ and the Spirit are in a “joint mission” from the Father. As we prayed at the start of this Mass, “let the Spirit you sent…continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.” For we all have received gifts. We are gifted. And we are meant to be given in mission to the world.