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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

THE WORD AT WORK IN ALL WHO BELIEVE!


31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 30, 2011


“We too, give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.” (2nd Reading, 1Thess 2:7-9.13)

We all have heard about so-called “self-fulfilling prophecies,” or the Rosenthal effect. Basically, it shows just how powerful even human utterance is. A seemingly innocuous word, when uttered irresponsibly, goes a long way and affects the hearer, along with the bearer. Gentle and kind words uplift both utterer and listener. Harsh words hurt the person inside out. Curse words, as we all know, can more than just dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. They can be very real put-downs that affect body and soul, and tear as much at the flesh, as at the heart, of anyone against whom they are directed.

I am, by this world’s class-conscious standards, basically what you might call a “hillbilly.” I was born in the boonies of Cavite. As a 6 year old, when we moved to the city, people would ask me where we came from, and when I answered I was from Cavite, invariably, some people would quip: “Oh, the place where many criminals are from!” I might have been young then, but I did know what criminals were like, and I don’t remember ever growing up seeing any of them in my hometown. The irresponsible comment stung me all the time. It hurt like anything, for I grew up in a very peaceful small town, where everybody knew one another, where sharing between neighbors was the rule rather than the exception.

Words are innately powerful beyond our imagination. They can make or break the spirit even of young innocent kids, out in search for their dream of a lifetime.

Elena J. Fox reports about a Grade 5 girl named Trisha who was dyslexic. She could not make out the meanings of letters, let alone words. They appeared to her as a mere jumbled mess and a blob of confusion. By the time she got to Grade 5, she had lost all self-confidence … until she met Mr. Falker, who acted differently from all her other previous teachers. He praised Trisha’s talents and would not tolerate other children making fun of her. He uttered the magic, healing, uplifting words she needed to hear.

Trisha happens to be Patricia Polacco, the author of the famous children’s book Thank you, Mr. Falker, the 26th book she had written! Take that from someone who couldn’t even make out letters and words and make any sense of them, declared as such by so-called teachers who put her into a box.

Words are powerful and effective beyond belief!

Today, all three readings tell us as much. They all show us how important and precious our own words are, but they also tell us, what it takes to make those words not just stand out, but also carve out of us all an ethos, a way of life, exuding a power that makes those words effect what they signify, and, not only say what they mean, but more so, mean what they say!

Malachi, in the first reading, tells us of people who only had empty words to show the Lord … promises unfulfilled … commandments not taken seriously and put to heart … a covenant unobserved … utterances that remained dead letters and empty words! Did they utter anything? Sure! Did words issue from their mouths? Certainly!

But there was one missing ingredient … Their hearts and hands did not keep abreast of what issued from their mouths. They went so far as talk the talk, but they did not walk their talk. Words were bandied about irresponsibly, thus “making void the covenant of Levi.”

An unknown author puts it so succinctly. Words are never enough. Glib teachers who may have tons of words to utter everyday don’t necessarily make it to the hall of fame. The mouth alone, and all it utters, does not a passport make to greatness and heroism. S/he wrote: “The wisest and best teachers TEACH FROM THE HEART, not from the book.”

I have been teaching since I was 16 years old. I started out teaching religion to Grade school kids, all of whom are now full blown adults and professionals and family men all over the world. As a professional teacher, all told, it has been 34 years I have been an educator. I have said and written pretty useless and irresponsible things over this period of time, as I have uttered and written worthwhile things. I may have broken the backs of some students during my lowest, most stress-filled moments, but I know I also have done quite a bit of energizing to so many, helping them get their wings with which to soar and fly on their own.

After 34 years, I do know one simple thing … that it is not so much what I taught from the book, but what I shared from the heart that either stuck or stung. And I would like to add some more … It is not just what we utter from the heart, but also what our hands set out to do that clinches the lessons worth learning for life.

The Scribes and Pharisees were, by all standards, great men in Jesus’ times. They were learned. They were definitely not dyslexics. They most likely minded their P’s and Q’s. They probably never missed a single iota in their writings. They knew the law by heart.

But that was the big problem. Knowing it by heart is not the same as keeping it to heart. “For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”


Today, I feel convicted by the Word. As priest, preacher, prophet, teacher, writer, educator, and counselor, I find myself constantly in a sea of words – my own, and those of countless others. My readers, who have the wherewithal and the luxury of time to read this, may not be too far from where I stand. We are all bombarded by a barrage of words each and every single day.

Now is the time to be discriminating. Now is the time to sift the chaff from the grain, see through the empty words and get to the core of what really helps and produces results. And we have it on the authority of St. Paul that what is behind words that effect what they signify is one and only one thing – faith!

We thank God for this. Despite our failings and our weakness, despite the words that may have stung others, and on account of the words that stuck for the better, we thank the Lord for “receiving the word of God, not as human word, but as it truly is, the Word God, now at work in us who believe!”



Monday, October 17, 2011

DOING WITH LOVING HEARTS; SHARING IN THE LIFE HE PROMISED!


30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 23, 2011



If there is anyone who lived to the letter what we prayed for at the beginning of this Mass, it is St. Paul. He, among so many others, “received the word in great affliction” (2nd reading). But he was not alone. He writes today to the Thessalonians, whom he commends for “becoming imitators of him and of the Lord.”

St. Paul and the Thessalonians are not alone either. Even from among my readers, I do know, as I know deep in my heart, that a number of you suffered, and still suffer, for standing strong in defense of what Holy Mother Church, in obedience to the Lord, teaches! I refer specially to your ardent opposition to the RH bill.

I know that you know. Please know that I know, too, and that, with St. Paul, with all the members of the “cloud of witnesses,” I care, as God cares, as God loves, as God would have you do.

Today, our opening prayer should not fail to touch everyone’s heart: “Strengthen our faith, hope, and love. May we do with loving hearts what you ask of us and come to share the life you promise.”

The life God promises … this, at bottom, is what we all hold onto. This, at the end of the day, is what gives us the power to go on “doing with loving hearts” what is basically difficult to do.

Let us face it. It is difficult to move away and shy away from our own version of “idols.” It is hard to give up our comfort zones, everything that gives us the impression we are securely on solid ground … everything that we enjoy, all things pleasant, all kinds of goods that make life easier and more livable. It is hard to give up the “idol” of a higher quality of life for all: like less traffic, less trash in the streets, less squatters by the waterways … less people to divide up what is left on earth … less poor people to ruin our national reputation, less GDP … less exports … less everything!

It is hard to give up what we think is going to make life materially better for all … Did I say “all?” What about the unborn? What about those who would never stand the chance of seeing the light of day at all? What about the old who are no longer productive? What about those who have any form of disability and therefore, do not fit the mould of the “normal” person in some way?

But let us not make any mistake about it. God, according to Scriptures, is on the side of the oppressed, the alien, the widow, the orphan. God is on the side of the powerless and the helpless!


But secular society and culture, apparently, are not. They are on the side of those who already are alive, and alive to the full, materially, physically speaking. Secular, materialist, hedonist culture sides with those who are rich enough and powerful enough to decide against those who have no full possession yet of their full human faculties simply because their level of HUMAN development, is still in its initial (read: helpless) stages.

It is easy to love those who already enjoy what earthly life can offer. But it is easy to ignore the rights of those one does not yet see, or one who cannot speak up for him or herself … But a human being is no less human just because he or she cannot yet do what the rest of us take for granted, and wrongly equate, with the fullness of humanity.

It is hard to give up one’s sense of entitlement. It is hard to part with goods that seem to be threatened by the influx of more mouths to feed, and more people to take care of. It is hard to love others, especially if we look at others as threats to our own well-being.

Let us call a spade a spade. Self-love can push us to love others less, including those who are still potentially “others like us” – the unborn. But loving oneself legitimately does not mean we ought to love others less. It just means we need to love others as we love ourselves.

Let us not mince words here. There is something selfish in our wanting to limit the population. This has been said over and over again. The mere fact that this is being funded, if not pushed, by certain extremely capitalist countries should make us all beware. There is more to it than meets the eye. And it has nothing to do with love for you, but more about love for their threatened comfort and threatened “quality of life.”

The Good News today is totally clear on the issue. It has to do with love in its totality, not selective love, but love that is all encompassing. And it starts out where it begins and flows from ultimately – with God, whom we are commanded to love “with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.” But it does not begin, and end with God. We are told, too, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that includes, mind you, even our potential neighbors, our potential Einsteins, Steve Jobs, and yes – even potential problems, like some of us are, in fact, to present society. God loves them all. God makes His sun to shine on the bad and the good alike, for His love is, was, and never will be, selective.

In the meantime, I would like to encourage those who, like me, like some of my readers, and many who defend the Church’s teachings, continue to “receive the word in great affliction.”

The Church prays for you, with you, and cries out on your behalf … “May we do with loving hearts what you ask of us!”

And yes! There is more than just this. We look forward to this in the hope that only Christian believers can fully understand … “May we come to share the life you promise” … maybe not here … not now … but it will come, as surely as God loves us, and as God loves the helpless and the powerless.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NONE BESIDES HIM; THERE IS NO OTHER!


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 16, 2011


Many have expressed their grief over the recent loss of Steve Jobs – for good reasons, for personal reasons, for reasons that may sound to some as right, and to some others as wrong, or at least, inappropriate, as simply a fruit of media hype. But whether we grieve personally or not, or whether or not we simply join the media bandwagon, there is no denying the fact that the man has more than just a few contributions to current, contemporary culture, and its love affair with technology.

Like I said in last week’s reflection, whilst I admire him for this and many reasons more, not excluding his visionary approach to running his business empire, I am not about to canonize him and put him on the level of the men, and the leaders, and visionaries that I truly admire more than I admire Steve Jobs.

The man has brought us gadgets that are objectively useful to millions all over the world. Quite apart from his obviously narcissistic and brutal ways, bullheaded and cocky as he definitely was in his being the top leader of Apple, in his capacity to dress people down even in public, and appear haughty and almost ruthless to many others who happened not to fit in his mold at the moment, the man definitely merits the appellation “great” for reasons that go beyond his possibly being the object of an orchestrated media hype.

If anything, Steve Jobs has become the poster-boy of what actually, from my perspective, is the core big problem that besets humanity as a whole, including those who are patently against him, and who dislike – or even, hate – him to the bone. I could not agree more with Twenge and Campbell (2010) who wrote about the contemporary culture’s being immersed in a “narcissism epidemic.” The “me generation” has taken deep roots in our times that the world now readily condones, if not approves, people’s capacity to place self before and above others, unmindful of their needs, their feelings, and their deep sensibilities. Whatever makes one get ahead, whatever leads to self-fulfillment no matter what it entails, is held as the utmost value to be sought after, never mind the collateral damage to countless others.

Secularism is what ultimately, this is all about. And related to this is genericism – the belief that ALL religions are the same, that FAITH is reducible to mere pious feelings, vague good desires, and an impersonal love for a nameless deity that is domesticized and made available through new age music, aromatherapy, incense and smoke, and crystals and nameless angels with wings fluttering in a permanent pious pose, and with HOPE reduced to a fuzzy conviction that somehow “all things will be alright” and that one only needs to “follow his heart” and go for the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow.


It is nothing else but religion from the bottom up, not from the top down – religion that starts out with man’s search, and not from a God in search for us, who revealed Himself; a God who came down to save humanity, and a God who became one like us to save us, and enable us to work so as to become more like Him, and live with Him forever in the next.

It is secularized religion that is earthly, and not much else, a religion that extols humanity, but ignores the divinity; a religion that sets out to create a god from man’s own image, so to speak.

The Good News of today flies in the face of all this. The readings speak of a God who reveals Himself to us thus: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”

“There is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

We need to re-appropriate this truth in our lives. We need to reset, reboot, and update our inner postmodern attitudes that have been co-opted ever so slowly, gradually, but surely, by the secularistic onslaught brought about by technologism, materialism, and that pervasive hedonism behind this “me generation” that explains the narcissism epidemic of our times.

Yes, I admire Steve Jobs for many reasons. But I do need to clarify my sense of admiration on the human plane. But as a priest and educator, I need to draw a boundary line between my human admiration and the supernatural FAITH, HOPE, & LOVE that all go beyond the secularistic, earthly, vague, and fuzzy conviction of a better future that all depends on what a humanistic technology can offer.

Yes, there is a whole world of a difference between human admiration and adoration of the one, true God. We admire people for what they do. But we adore God, for what He is … In Himself … In relation to us …

In Jesus’ times, no doubt Herod had his own retinue of admirers and sycophants. He probably did his own version of good and great things in his days. Given this, the Lord was placed on the spot. He was asked a question that was more than a trap than anything else.

The Lord’s answer gives a clue as to how we ought to behave vis-à-vis such earthly realities – give everyone what is due to him. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s!”

Admiration? Such may be due certain individuals, including Jobs. Adoration? This belongs to God and God alone. For He is Lord. There is no other!


Friday, October 7, 2011

DOING ALL THINGS IN HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME!


28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
October 9, 2011

I write at a time when the whole world, so used to Apple products, (including me), is mourning the loss of more than just an icon of leadership, management, and technological wizardry and artistry all rolled into one. Steve Jobs has died, after leaving an irreplaceable legacy and impact to hundreds of millions of people all over the world … for generations to come!

It has been said that Steve Jobs knew what people needed before they even wanted it. He had a keen eye for human nature, capable as he was to strike a marriage between humanity and technology, coming out with products that both pleased the gizmo addicted postmodern world, and the same world hungry and bereft of a technology with a soul!

Hopeless technologically-challenged baby boomers like me (Jobs was exactly my age!), who were not quite at home with the digital 1’s and 0’s of “threatening” machines churned out by IBM and their contemporaries, suddenly regained their digital self-esteem, sort of, and came out just as confident as their more tech-savvy counterparts of the Microsoft kind.

I write, as much to pay tribute to an admirable man, my contemporary, and my fellow sojourner in this pilgrimage called life, as to give fitting worship and honor to God who is the author of everything that is good.

I would like to see a parallelism between him and St. Paul, who, today, writes a very passionate letter, filled, as much with hope, as with resignation and acceptance of reality. Steve Jobs started out life as a reject, given up for adoption by his biological parents. He was rejected even by the company he co-founded – the very same company he saved later, and catapulted,  to the dizzying heights it now occupies in the business world. St. Paul, too, knew what it meant to be in want. “I know how to live in humble circumstances. I know also how to live with abundance.” When Jobs took the helm once more of the company that booted him out years earlier, he entitled himself to a salary of only one dollar a year! He made more than enough money for himself and his family, but he definitely did not want to make of his company a piggy bank of sorts like most CEOs all over the world do (including military top brass and politicians in the Philippines!).

Today’s readings are a reality check for all of us. In the famous speech he delivered at Stanford in 2005, he acknowledged the utterly human reality of death and said, “no one of us wants to die.” But the acceptance of that fact is what propelled him to a great work, and by that he meant, loving what one does, whatever it is.

We all have desires and dreams. We all could legitimately enjoy “rich food and choice wines,” as Isaiah writes. We all long for ultimate happiness and fulfillment. In moral theological parlance, we speak of our innate human desire for the “fullness of human flourishing.” And by this, we speak about the whole gamut of human endeavor that makes us ultimately more human, more akin to what God the creator has dreamed for us. And this includes, but is not limited to,  even legitimate earthly and material joys, that Isaiah’s rich symbolism stands for.

But there is more! And this is where the good news of the Lord kicks in!

This is the closest that Steve Jobs has gotten to as far as the Christian good news is concerned – the sense of detachment, the sense of resignation and acceptance of the unacceptable, though, inevitable. This is the same message of Christian hope and Christian resignation that St. Paul embodies in his letter – the faith in a God who “will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

This basic stuff of humanity that has to do with a deep longing, an ardent desire, not just for more, but the for the MORE, is what we all need to reflect on today, with a little help from icons and models like Jobs, like St. Paul, like the saints in roster of the Church.

Don’t get me wrong … I am not canonizing Steve Jobs. But having said this, I also am not just about ready to jettison him out of my personal list of models to emulate. God speaks through time and history, events and people, both past and present. He still speaks to me personally now. And like Oliver Plunkett wrote many centuries ago, “I see His blood upon the rose, and in the stars the glory of His eyes!” Everything, everyone, every reality and every event can speak volumes about the God, who is behind my every longing, my every desire, my every little or big dream, even my want and need for the next big Apple product!

This is what Ronald Rolheiser calls the “holy longing.”

Yes… like Jobs, I don’t like to die. No one likes to die, at least, not so soon. Yes … like he knew, all of us want more, if not the ultimate MORE! But my Christian faith and hope now tell me, and of this, I am morally certain … “I shall live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life!”

This is the MORE whereof I speak … whereof the whole of Scripture and Tradition speak! This is the MORE for which one who believes in and belongs to Christ’s fold, more than he believes in and belongs to Apple or Microsoft, ultimately wants.

But what one wants and desires, one has to pay for. Apple products don’t come cheap. But the ultimate product that Christ the Lord is pushing doesn’t come cheap. We have to pay the pearl of great price. We have to be worthy of it. We cannot want our cake and eat it, too. We need to shape up for it, and work for it, and deserve it. As great and noble our desire and holy longing is, so is the effort and the commitment that we ought to put into acquiring it. We are all invited to the wedding feast, but we cannot go there while killing the messenger sent to us.

Let St. Paul show us the way, if you are tired of me talking about Jobs. He was an educated man, a Roman citizen, somebody who could eke out his own living and live relatively comfortably for his stature. As valid and legitimate as his dreams were, they were no match for the big dream that he eventually spent all his life force for – the surpassing greatness of Him who enabled him to do all the things he did.

I am still afraid to die. I am still afraid to grow old and useless and eventually set aside. I know that younger generations are poised now to take over. I still dream about legitimate good stuff the world offers that can be put to good use in my evangelization work. I definitely would want to always have a reliable computer to help me with all this.

But I have been there, done that. I have been in want and I have seen plenty. I know this life is not what I have been created for, but life with God forever in the next. But behind all my earthly dreams is that HOLY LONGING. And I can only do that, achieve that, and claim it eventually, and “do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

Thank you and good-bye Steve Jobs! Praise God for St. Paul and a whole multitude of saints to remind us of what we all ultimately long for: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life!”