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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, NOT FOR BLOOD!

2nd Sunday of Advent(B)
December 4, 2011

Words of comfort open today’s liturgy: “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem!” – so says Isaiah. Addressing the seat of thought and wisdom, which is the “heart,” rather than the head, Isaiah reassures them of two things: one, all their debts have been paid for fully, and second, their suffering has come to an end!


I am sure everyone can see and “feel” the impact of such a great news, if one places himself/herself in the shoes of a people thrown into bitter exile, not just once in their history. I am sure, too, how relieved one can be when, after undeservedly suffering so much in silence, one is finally vindicated and declared free from the burden of guilt or accusation. We all experience this every time we get reconciled to the Lord so many times. We all feel relieved after a well-spent time on retreat, and done reparation for our own personal sins. We feel we are granted a fresh lease on life and everything good associated with it. We feel energized to do good. We feel hopeful and eager to start over and do better.


Starting over … This is partly what Advent is all about. We did this spiritual, mental, and attitudinal turn-over beginning last week, after the ominous-sounding images of the end-times that reached its highest point with the celebration of Christ, the King.


Today, the second out of a short period of four Sundays, we are presented with the real reason for our emerging hopefulness and joyfulness.  “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”


Of course, we know that this prophetic message from Isaiah was fulfilled with the coming of Christ, the very coming in history that we now celebrate in mystery … the very reality that the mystery of the Liturgy reminds us of, makes once again present, and makes us celebrate in ritual, sign, song, and symbol! This is the same mystery that we all look forward to celebrating in glory at his second coming!


But we live in the so-called “in-between-times” – in between his coming in history and his coming in glory. This is a big reality check. We want to go to heaven, assuredly, but the fullness promised by heaven is only something we can experience partly and inchoately, for as long as we live on mortal earth!


Let us name some of the earthly reality that, at times, bogs us down … Let us take a quick glance at what makes this place, here and now, a “valley of tears,” a place where the militant Church, so called, is still fully immersed in, even as it sets its sights on the joys now being experienced by the triumphant Church – the Church of the angels and saints, and all those who have gone ahead of us to the house of the Father.


Let us face it … no matter Isaiah’s brave and certain proclamation of things to come, not every valley is filled in, last thing I heard … hills posing as obstacles to peace and goodwill are all over the place … the terrorists who have hijacked religion and made God an excuse for mayhem and violence, are still as active as ever. A lot of hate still fills the hearts of otherwise Godly people who, in the name of the very same God they claim to believe, and serve, give tit for tat, “an eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth.”  In a very real sense, the vicious cycle of hatred and violence, is kept rolling and whirring by precisely Godly people, who base their positions and actions on the very same foundation they hate other Godly and religious people for – their claim to worship the “true god.” And any one who does not, is deserving of my hatred and all the opprobrium I am capable of working out from within me!


Have you had enough? There is more! I live in a predominantly Christian country … or so we think! But guess what! The most heinous massacre two years ago, happened in a place contested by two warring religious groups (who are, maybe, primarily political). 57 people all died in cold blood, a good number of them journalists who really had nothing to do with what they were fighting tooth and nail for. Want to hear more? Most of those who actually did the gruesome deed were Christian employees of the warlords who both claimed to worship the “true God.”


We are worse off than the Israelite people of old, cooped up in lonely and bitter exile, far from home, far from the temple, far from the familiar sights and sounds of home. My country and people are now cooped up in its own brand of exile … Reason and compassion and unsullied desire for justice plain and simple, have now taken a back seat, and given way to the overfocused, vindictive, and systematic persecution of those who have fallen from power. Instead of an impartial process of seeking redress, we are caught up in the national frenzy of what appears to be a veritable mob lynching and irrational thirst, not so much for righteousness, but for blood, for vengeance, for retribution.


And we are not guided by the prophetic words of Isaiah, neither by the wisdom of a Solomon, and the gut-wrenching guilt and penitence of a David, upon learning that the hated man that he spoke so bitterly against, was really him, as Nathan told him: “That man is you!” We are not guided by the Word of God, and definitely not by the prudence that the Holy Book extols for those in authority and leadership. The heavily biased Mass Media has now replaced the Holy Book. Every one now who talks and acts like lawyers and political analysts, courtesy of a relentless media blitz against the perceived witch and author of all corruption in the Philippines, is fed, nourished, and egged on by media commentators and columnists who act out of an official tag-line and policy statement of media moguls who are also business tycoons and political kingmakers and public opinion swayers.


Prudence, common sense, judiciousness and compassion have all taken a vacation, or an indefinite self-exile! Even friends who I would consider Godly and religious, have taken to the bandwagon, bought the media’s stories hook, line, and sinker, and described the media’s favorite enemy as patently “evil,” sans trial, sans proofs, sans due process! Mob lynching has once more reared its ugly head in the name of democracy!


It is hard for me to preach on hope these days. The fast pace of the cyberspace world and the digital revolution has rendered waiting and hoping obsolete. News can be had in real time, and rumors generated by anyone in this borderless world, can pass off as facts faster than you can finish reading this sentence. In an “over connected” world, money markets can crash and fall in a matter of seconds, and reputations of leaders can be destroyed literally at a push of a button. Wikileaks and Wikigate can make or undo administrations in a twinkling of an eye. And hatred and unbridled anger can be worked up against anyone with just the right amount of media exposure which the media crazed public will gobble up like sharks gobble up harmless and helpless plankton.


It is hard to preach about hope, for in this media saturated internet world of the here and the now, hope sounds more like an opium for the people. Hope is not popular for a blood-thirsty world and people now schooled in instant results and instant gratification, also clamors now for instant retribution.


But as a priest and preacher … as educator and teacher … as pastor and prophet, I deal with matters of the “heart” in the Biblical sense. The product I push has nothing to do primarily with the here and the now, the instantaneous and the sensationalistic. The product I push is one that lets us set our sights to things above, rather than on things below.

As such, forgive me if I sound a little too otherworldly for comfort … for this is what salvation is about. It’s about awaiting a new heavens and a new earth … It is about building this beginning here, beginning now. And, in case you missed it, Peter spoke about it in today’s second reading. The new heavens and the new earth that he sets our sights on, is filled, not with thirst for blood and vengeance, and vindictiveness and hatred, but with righteousness. It is a place where “righteousness dwells.” (2nd reading)


Last thing I heard, not every valley has been filled in yet, and not every rough road has been made straight and level. There is work to do. There is much to do. And there is enough in the world to do it … You and I … beginning here, beginning now. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MOUND OF MUD; HEAP OF HOPE!


1st Sunday of Advent (B)
November 27, 2011


A brand-new year is starting today in Church! A wisp of new wind blows towards a new direction, a fresh start, a renewed effort, at becoming what we are already on the way to being.

We Christians know how to wait. We have been waiting, like the Israelites of old did. We are still actively waiting. In words borrowed from T.S. Eliot, we may sit still, but we are in point of fact, still moving … moving towards the fulfillment of what we have already started, though not yet fully and totally achieved.

We are a people in waiting. We, too, are a people in motion. We are a people in exile, like the Israelites once, or twice, were, living in a foreign land, subjected to foreign powers, humbled beyond imagination, by potentates bigger than us, bigger than the world, bigger than life itself! But we are also a people on the move. Like the Biblical people of old, though crushed, we are not defeated.

I have survived 13 Philippine mountains. Once I was on my way up the second highest peak of the Philippines (the highest in Luzon island) with signal number 3 typhoon watch hoisted! We were down and out as we approached the summit, tired, beaten and weary, not only physically, but more so, emotionally, for we thought we were not going to make it up there with winds howling, trees swaying wildly, and freezing cold rain battering flesh and bone like we never experienced before. But almost miraculously, the typhoon went away just as we bundled up and trudged the final assault to the peak!

The grass, which actually was all miniature bamboos, was the first one that captured my attention. When the sun was up long enough, and we could finally take off our heavy sodden boots, the reality of the miniature bamboos, sturdy and stolid even in the typhoon, blew us all away for sheer wonder! In the wind-battered landscape, where trees all bowed to the mighty wind in surrender, all pointing towards where the wind kept on blowing, the lowly grass, stood proud and small (not tall)! In their diminutiveness, they stood erect, un-swayed and unaffected by the raging storm above and around them.

This, for me, is an image of hope, a picture of what it means to wait, and wait actively in hope. The grass from under our feet, for all the beating they get from the wind, the sun, the rain, and the tramplings from the feet of people like us, are an image of what the new year in the Church opens with – Advent!

Advent, for all its newness, really opens with the reality of pain and brokenness. The first reading calls to mind the painful experience of exile for the people of God in Babylon. But for all its pathos and pain, the experience, from Isaiah’s point of view, is fraught, not with despair, but with oozing hopefulness. It acknowledges the pain that the clay has to go through, being kneaded and pummeled and moulded by the hands of an expert potter, who makes works of art out of the lowliness and humility of the seemingly worthless clay!

My opening salvo for this new year of the Church, in attunement to what the Church wants us to reflect on, is simply this … Advent is all about seeing differently. Advent is all about seeing stars, not scars! Advent is all about seeing beautiful pots, not just mounds of useless clay. Advent is all about God forming us into what He wants us to become.

Advent is all about us standing, and perhaps trampling, on the miniature grass atop Mt. Pulag. They may be small, but they stood proud and small! Hope is that which one has in the heart knowing that the desired reality is already growing from under one’s feet. Hope is that attitude that knows that, despite everything, typhoons will continue on coming, winds will go on blowing, rains will keep on falling, but the grass will go on growing, for the seeds of what we are waiting for have already been planted, by no less than God!

Hope is that attitude of the clay that refuses to remain just a mound of worthless mud, for the simple reason that there is an expert and wise potter to make art out of trash!

We live in many places all over the world really surrounded by trash. A lot of trash talk invades our ears by the day. Politicians in many places even make the situation worse off than before, for power and wealth are almost like they were made for each other. Corruption is just about the only word that seemingly can be paired with political power and unlimited wealth. From where I stand, the powers-that-be, in the name of doing good, are doing a lot of evil, by acting vengefully on former power-brokers, and riding rough shod on them, for they are no longer in power. Ostensibly, they claim to clean up the system, by ironically using the same system of abuse that they denounce.

Trash and trash talk, accusations and counter accusations, mar the serenity of our times. At times like these, it is hard to see the promise behind a mound of mud, and behind the lowly grass that people simply trample on.

But Advent, we are told, is also about waiting. Adventus means coming, and it doesn’t make much sense for someone to be coming while no one is waiting! We are a people in waiting. But we are not just a people who twiddle our thumbs or wringing our hands waiting for something that won’t come.

No! We are waiting… yes, but waiting actively in hope, for the potter has already set his hands on the clay. “We are the clay, and you are the potter, O Lord!”

My country is in a big mess right now. It has always been. Every past administration is hated for at least a few things. No one seemed to have done everything right. And no one is doing the right things and doing them rightly even as I write. Europe is in a big financial heap of troubles. America’s financial self-esteem and self-confidence have both taken a beating in the recent years, and the end of all its woes is by no means in sight. Neither is it forthcoming, by any stretch of the imagination.

At times like these, I go back to my Advent experience of being in the midst of the worst situation one can find himself in – a typhoon signal number three whilst nearing the peak of Luzon’s highest peak. And if Oliver Plunkett could state that “I see His blood upon the rose, and in the stars the glory of His eyes,” I saw hope in the lowly grass. I see hope in the humble mound of mud. I see hope in Him who is the heavenly potter… “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” We are more then, than just a mound of mud, but a heap of HOPE!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

KING & KINGDOM; CHRIST & HIS CROSS; LEADERS & FOLLOWERS






SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST, THE KING (A)

November 20, 2011


Politics all over the world seems to be a jumbled mess. With high profile officials literally being forced to resign, or dictators being, booted out of power, if not murdered in cold blood, potential candidates whose dirty past is slowly but surely being ferreted out for the whole world to see, and reigning presidents and national leaders being taken to task for promises unkept, and the whole economic scenario spiraling down beyond control, there is only conclusion we all can reasonably come up with …

The world is in dire straits as far as leadership is concerned. Everywhere, there seems to be a crisis in leadership. Presidents and Prime Ministers; dictators and despots all running the risk of being toppled down from their ivory towers and thrones, in palaces and principalities that they have occupied far too long; Kings and Queens who are all aging and frantically looking for worthy successors; with former presidents being charged for graft and dizzying levels of corruption; former generals now the object of public scrutiny for unexplained wealth (at least in my home country) … the list is legion …

The whole world is now mired in a big crisis in leadership!

No one believes in leaders, apparently. And no one believes especially in leaders whose only preoccupation seems to be walking in-step with big businesses, whose leaders get huge emoluments that are beyond the dream of the average worker who receives a pittance compared to what they get. “Occupy Wall Street” is one sign among many of such a rising level of disappointment and anger all over the world!

This is the backdrop of today’s solemnity – the Feast of Christ the King!

But hold your fire! … This feast does not glorify the type of leadership now currently being hated and looked askance at by people everywhere. This feast does not intend to glorify leaders who bring us nothing but grief, and who make us associate politics with everything disappointing and dirty.

Truth be told, this was exactly the same disappointment of ancient Israel. Their leaders often failed to take care of their own people. But enough is enough! Today, the Lord Himself shows us, not just tells us. “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.”

Right now, I act as leader myself. And in today’s postmodern, globalized settings, to be a leader is mostly seen as being a manager, an administrator, a CEO and COO and CFO all rolled into one. I get blamed for things I did not do. I get some flak for things I do, for things that some parents expect me to do; and for the same things that some parents don’t want me to do. Last week, one parent wanted me to put some sense into the mad traffic scramble during rush hour in the morning. The same day I instituted some changes in the traffic scheme, some parents were mad at the very scheme that some of them wanted instituted.

Searching for the common good is not a guarantee that common sense will automatically prevail, especially when one’s convenience and comfort zone are affected.

There is some Biblical, Christian value in what Greenleaf advocates as far as leadership is concerned – and that is, leadership as service – being a servant-leader.

This is the Kingship of Christ that we now extol. This is the Kingship of Christ that we now exult. This, for many reasons …

First, the Father Himself exalted Him as Lord: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He is God. He is Lord. He is King, no less. But there is no problem about Him being King. He is Shepherd. He is care-giver. He is one “who seeks out the lost” and “brings back the strayed.”

But let us not just hold our fire. Let us check our guns. Let us look within us and check, not what kind of King He is, but what kind of followers we are!

I have it on the authority of Ronald Rolheiser … The problem is not that we have a King. The problem is we all want to be a king, but care not for the kingdom. We all want to claim we believe, but yet not belong. We want to enjoy all the perks of leadership, but not the responsibilities of being a servant-leader. We want Christ, but not His cross. We want the news about His rising, but not the equally good news of His suffering. We want a cross-less Christ and settle for an empty symbol of a Christ-less cross!

Yes, we want to be alive ourselves, and still claim the right to kill innocent lives, or at least, prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. We want the glory, but we got no guts nor gumption to pay the price for what we look for. We want quality life, but not the life that enjoys the qualities we have decided they should have. We want a designer world, and we forget about He who designed and created the world.

Yes … we claim and sing in unison that ours now is a problem of leadership!

But it takes two to tango. It takes three to tangle. Leadership is not only about having leaders up there. It also means having followers down below. Leadership is not just having people to browbeat us, and forcing us to do according to their bidding. It is also about having people who are willing to surrender, to offer themselves and their commitment.


The world faces not just a crisis of leadership. The world also has to deal with – and perhaps, more so – the bigger crisis of the led!

The world might indeed, be in need of worthy leaders, but leaders, no matter how good, won’t be able to do much if they did not have followers who were willing to collaborate, to contribute, to commit their time, talent, and treasure!

And here is where the good news comes in for all of us. There are goats and sheep from amongst us. And we ought to know just which is which for each one of us. Whilst it is true that the image of the Son of Man coming to separate the sheep from the goats is clear in the gospel, it also seems clear to me that, the implication ought to be clear, too, in our minds.

Leaders do the separating, the managing, and the administering. But followers who know their place, and who recognize the Shepherd for what he is, and who he is, knows better than to play like goats forever, but to act like sheep who need a Shepherd, and obey the Shepherd.

Christ does not need to be King in Himself and for Himself. But it is us who need Him to be King for us, to be shepherd on our behalf, and leader for our sake. But for our own sakes, for God’s sake, let us be good followers. Let us believe and belong. Let us seek, not just his Kingship, but more so His kingdom!

And yes, let us exult His Kingship, by extolling our followership. For it is not so much a crisis of leadership, as a crisis of people who only want to be King, but care nothing of His kingdom.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OF DAY AND LIGHT, NOT OF DARKNESS AND NIGHT!





33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
November 13, 2011


Today’s liturgy speaks as much of simple things as of seemingly insignificant matters. The first reading talks about the simplicity of a worthy wife, described as a “value beyond pearls.” The second reading talks about the deep, yet humble significance of the “times and seasons,” events in our everyday experience that we tend to take for granted. It also speaks about such mundane matters as day and night, darkness and light … again, realities that we hardly take notice of.

The Gospel makes much too, of what people in Jesus’ times most likely took for granted – the reality of servants who often would be left alone to fend for themselves, while their masters went away on long journeys. But more than just that, it speaks about something so simple and commonplace as the value of accountability, the good practice of stewardship, along with the virtue of responsibility.

But there are values and there are values … For their seeming simplicity and commonality, there simply are values that spell the difference between day and night, between light and darkness. I live in a place where a relatively big number of people live on dole-outs from government. Groceries tend to get crowded by shoppers on the first and the second days of the month, for that is the time the government dole-outs are given. In a land of supposed plenty, there is a lot of wastage going on, and a lot of what you might call, creative and imaginative uses of what the government gives away. I was told of people who actually “bought” only a handful of cheap items and the rest of the welfare money being converted to cash, or of people who actually bought bagfuls of expensive cuts of meat, and other groceries, only to sell them to eager second-hand shoppers for a much reduced price.

That is a value – the value of being enterprising!

Recently, we needed to procure a portable power generator. We found a relatively cheaper one, slightly used, bought from a store and returned for the simple reason that they were not satisfied with it. The customer is always right, mind you. Nothing illegal … nothing sinful … nothing out of the ordinary … except that it is unethical … exactly like people buying toys, enjoying them for a day or two, and then “returning” them and asking for a refund, for the simple reason that the wheel or something else did not seem to work right. Or think about people who shop around for expensive apparels to use once in a party, and then asking for a refund the morning after, for the simple reason that one “does not like it at all.”

That, too, is a value – the value of finding ways and means to use the capitalist system and put it to one’s best advantage!

Our consumerist world is full of values … We value convenience. We value speed and so many other things. We so prize quick service that in this throw-away world, hardly anyone uses real forks and knives, plates and bowls anymore, for they take up so much time to wash and dry and pile in cupboards. The most convenient thing would be to use styropor “paper products,” so called, and throw them away … which really means hiding them under the earth, out of sight and therefore out of mind … buried under the earth in increasing dumpsites all over the world.

That too, is a value – the value of convenience and speed and everything that saves precious time, while piling junk all over that takes thousands of years to process naturally.

Values, obviously they all are! But values, for the most part, that are associated, not with light and day, but with night and darkness!

From where I stand, the political culture, ostensibly born of the desire to “do public service,” is utterly dysfunctional. Decades of dysfunction have reduced the political machinery to nothing more than chicanery and deceit and tomfoolery. The values of decency and the search for the common good have long been prostituted at the service of self-serving and narrow political ends, which means money and naked ambition of all sorts. No more. No less.

That too, comes from a value – the value of leadership and so-called public service.

But all of it, as everyone knows, is more akin to night and darkness, rather than to light and day!

I work in a small school with big dreams and giant egos! I don’t know but when we were growing up, when I was just a greenhorn school administrator, before my age retired from the calendar, when children got bad grades, the parents turned their ire on them, taking them to task for not studying hard enough. From where I stand, times and values must have changed. When kids get bad grades, parents turn their ire on teachers and the school at large!

That, too, is a value – the value of asking for accountability, which in these litigious times, really translates to looking for someone to blame all the time. And yes, dear readers, you guessed it right … schools and administrators never get things right! Recently, we caught one student smoking weed. When we called for the parents, they had the gall to condemn the school for allowing such things to happen! Instead of accepting the blatant fact that their son was guilty of infraction of an important rule, they turned the tables against us, and took us to task for “allowing such things to happen.”

That, too, is a value – the value of protective and solicitous love for their children!

But was it Evangelii Nuntiandi, that, back in 1974, already taught the need to “evangelize cultures?” Yes … culture does need a whole lot of evangelization. Culture, no doubt, replete with values, need a great dose of purification. With so much narcissism and unbridled restlessness all around us, abetted by a media culture that glorifies the sordid and absurd, cultural practices like what the late Blessed Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death,” reign supreme and cause the “eclipse of God” in the lives of whole generations and entire nations in the fast shrinking globe. Night and darkness reigns, not light and day.

The clarion call to accountability and responsibility is clear from today’s readings. For all of us, it is not just a matter of giving back five talents or burying for safekeeping a single talent received in trust. We need to come out of the shadows of night and darkness, and come out to the light of responsibility and Christian stewardship. And more often than not, it means being counter-cultural, acting against the grain, being different from what contemporary culture expects of us, for “we are not of the night or of darkness.” “We are children of the light and children of the day.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FIND WISDOM … LIVE FROM THE HEART, NOT FROM THE MIND!





32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
November 6, 2011


I am still reeling from the startling impression given me by the words of St. Judith Zoebelein to Dr. Moynihan: “Find wisdom … Live from your heart, not just from your mind.”

It was, to say the least, a jolting reminder for one who, as teacher and educator, may have a reputation of living a little more from the “mind” side.

Wisdom … this is something we all hanker for and desire above everything else. In the morning of everyone’s life, we all look for learning, information, credentials, titles, and everything that enriches our resume. I am sure those who are younger than me will find this true. But I am sure those of you who are my contemporaries (or older) will find this more wise than true.

Many years ago, as a young freshman in college, I was touched by a line from Boris Pasternak’s novel “Dr. Zhivago.” “Man is born to live, not to prepare for life,” he wrote. Too bad so many of us forget about getting a life, and focus all our efforts at making a living, or getting a name for ourselves, or making it big in what we call “life,” oftentimes seen as a rat race.

All this makes for a lot of utility or usefulness. It certainly comes in handy when one needs to write his or her curriculum vitae, in view of landing a great job, or a posh position up the corporate ladder. It can bring one places. It can potentially help us reap honors and get on ahead of others. But it can also leave us, at a certain point in time, empty and bereft of that satisfaction that comes from knowing that one has done a whole lot more than “merely live” and at having “faced the essential facts of life.”

Let me remind you today, based on God’s Word, what are some of these “essential facts of life” that make for wisdom …

First and foremost, it would do us good to recall that mere material physical life is not what we are ultimately created for. There is more to life than merely surviving, and the core wisdom that stands at the base of our search for ultimate meaning is an acceptance of the basic truth that “my soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God!” (Response after the First Reading).

Wisdom starts here … in accepting that we all basically long and thirst for God. He is at the bottom of all our earthly desire, no matter how hidden, no matter how unbidden. Behind our every little dream, is our fundamental desire for God, again, what Ronald Rolheiser refers to as “holy longing.”

Second, there is meaning in death, casually seen by many as a mere cessation of earthly life, as the end to everything that we narrowly call earthly life. Here, St. Paul comes to our aid and offers us a vision of death, not as mere stoppage of what we do here on earth, but as a continuation of what we have begun here on earth – life as life with God, and life as willed and wanted by the same God who granted us that life.  Earthly, material, physical life may, indeed, cease with death, but life as God envisioned it, continues on, and even if the material body dies, we are called to eternal life. “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Mere material learning and intelligence may help us lead the pack in this rat-race world. But it is only Wisdom from above, wisdom that comes along with faith in the ultimate meaning of our life in and with God, that will lead us to live a life that is, in the words of J.G. Blumberg, “good to the core.”

Today’s five virgins, though called “foolish” in the gospel passage according to Matthew, are good in their own way. They were sure to meet the bridegroom, and they were so cocky as not to think about certain contingencies. They had too much “faith” in technology, for one. They probably thought their store of oil in their lamps would never run out, and that they had more than enough to spare. They were too focused on the here and the now. They did not cast one eye on the potential scenario of the bridegroom running late, or the transport system breaking down unforeseeably.

But the other five were not called “wise” for nothing. They were wise for they were good to the core, as it were. There were simply some core values and beliefs deep within them that made them stand out in the crowd. There were seeds inside them that told them that things are not exactly always what they seem to be; that life goes beyond merely holding on to what it offers here and now; that life is all about working  for and aiming for something greater that comes further up ahead, beyond the bend, beyond the proverbial earthly end of the rainbow.

Blumberg’s image of an apple with seeds at the core can help us understand what this is all about. Wise women and men, ought to be “good to the core.” Basically, it means that wise men and women act out of certain core beliefs and core values from within. It is like being an apple with seeds at the core, and while we all can count the seeds in the core, only God, as Robert Schuller puts it, can count apples in the seeds! And it is those seeds that would stand to become more apples in future. It is those seeds that can potentially become great apple trees that would, in turn, bear good fruits in future.

This is the reason why Sr. Zoebelein’s words to Dr. Moynihan struck me immensely. Merely living from the mind is just like accumulating apples. By merely earning titles, one accumulates apples – good apples, no doubt  - but life as God intends it to be, goes beyond gathering good apples, but bearing good fruits for others. This means one has to work for those seeds, those core values and core beliefs that will govern everything we do, everything we are.

The five foolish virgins were good apples, no more, no less, and not much else.

We Christian believers are called to be much more … not just mere do gooders … not just mere experts and title-holders. We are called not just to be intelligent people who know, but people who understand. We are called to possess not just knowledge, but wisdom. We are expected by God, not just to cognitively know, but genuinely understand.

And according to today’s readings, this genuine understanding begins with accepting the core belief and the core value that we all need God to the core! “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God!”