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Saturday, December 31, 2011

TALL TALES; SAVING TALES!


Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
January 1, 2012

Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21


I write painstakingly using a Chinese keyboard, where I make tons of errors as I type. My new toy doesn’t have MS Office for MAC, so I have to make do with an ancient machine, with Chinese characters to boot!

It is New Year, and many people mistakenly think it is a Church feast. It is not. Whilst it starts a new civil year, it just coincides with the octave of Christmas, which is the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

Last week, Christmas Day, the focus was on the Son, God who took on flesh for our salvation. Today, the focus is on the mother of the Son of God, through whose cooperation, the miracle of the Incarnation took place. This is both the historical and theological truth, the kind for which an entire people of faith pauses, stops, reflects, and celebrates with then full capabilities a community of faith can muster.

It is just like Christmas today, which really means everyday this past week, was exactly like Christmas Day.

It is a story of gargantuan proportions, a mega story whose repercussions have reached all times, places, seasons, and cultures. But like in any big story, there are big role players and bit players, but every character has a role to advance the story and make it bear fruit for everyone. Whilst Christmas Day focused on the main characters in this drama of salvation, today, by choice, I focus on the seemingly bit role players who did not seem to matter much in our worldly scheme of things.

I refer to the shepherds, who were among the secondary messengers, apart from the angels who gave the good news and sang lusty hosannas, proclaiming glory to God and goodwill to all men and women of good will.

There are two things I would like us all to pause and reflect on …
First in my list is the fact that the shepherds “went in haste.” I don’t know about you, but last thing we would ever hear of shepherds is being in any state of rush. They are not exactly people who would be in a hurry to do anything. They have no need to rush as their schedule depends on the pace of the animals they lead to pasture. Flocks cannot be rushed, and their grazing and browsing cannot be put on a strict timetable, like we do now. Shepherds who take care of their flock are not in the business of meeting deadlines, and coming up with timely reports of any kind.

But the shepherds went in haste … They did something that was not part of their vocation to do … No … they were on a mission. They were sent, jut like angels were sent. And they had an urgent message, not a favor to do, but a message to get across.

What sort of message was it? It was a message that had no time to wait, because the “fullness of time” had come. It was a message that was ripe for the picking and mature for the delivering. It was a message that was not theirs, but God’s to give. And God, who is not subject to worldly, earthly time, is not going to tarry, not going to fall victim to people’s shortsightedness and selfishness.

And God does not fall victim either to the messenger. Any messenger is good enough for the message, but it only required exactly what was required of the angels – obedience and openness to the will of God.

It is well worth repeating here. The angels were not schooled in any way. They were not qualified. They had no degrees, no titles, no pedigree, no nothing. Like Mary and Joseph, they did not have everything going for them. Like the disciples of the Lord, they did not have any credentials that would propel them to greatness from the human plane.

But the fullness of time has come. Jesus was born of a woman, the woman promised yet from Genesis at the so-called “protoevangelion.”

But there was something else that mattered more and meant more … Shepherds are not tale-bearers. They were not story-tellers, primarily. They were too close to the soil and to their flock to be running around giving scoops of stories that make it to the headlines. They were not trained to be giving away hints of what unfolding events there would be. They were not newscasters. Neither were they meant to be anchor persons on TV and radio.

But they bore the tale that shook the world. A child has been born! The promised baby awaited for so long has come. But the story they told did not go smoothly down the throats of hearers. Luke says they were all “amazed” at what they heard. That was probably an understatement. It was probably more like they were initially incredulous.

We too, are an incredulous, doubting lot. We refuse to believe, at times. Like me, we become cynical. We lose hope and get discouraged at so many things. And we always find reasons not to believe, not to listen, not to obey God’s will. This, we do, despite so many messengers sent to us … so many reminders given to us. We are indifferent to the Church’s teachings. We even go against the teachings of the Church. We think we are more intelligent than the shepherds. We know more than the Pope, than our bishops and pastors. We definitely think we could have less pontificating from them and more surveys, and pseudo-science to follow towards the attainment of an earthly, everlasting, and prosperous paradise, this New Year, every day and everywhere.

But let us get just one thing straight. Shepherds tell no tall tales, I submit. But they told no tales that were just meant to shock us. They told tales, yes … but salvific tales! And they are stories that made the shepherds go in haste … stories whose time has come, for the fullness of time that is the Lord’s has come, is with us, and is here to stay. This is the time of our salvation. And it was ushered in, not by some well-known personality, but anchored for us by dirty, smelly, and ordinary people who had with them the beginnings of the greatest story ever told!

Happy New Year to all of you!
Salesian House of Studies
Chaiwan Road, Shaekeiwan, Hongkong

Friday, December 23, 2011

HAPPY ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS!

Christmas Day (B)
December 25, 2011

Readings: Is 52:7-10 / Heb 1:1-6 / Jn 1:1-5.9-14



One original Pinoy product is the brand of therapeutic and casual footwear called "Happy Feet." It had humble beginnings that all started with a visit to a foot doctor in Germany, to alleviate a foot malady of a family member. It became a by-word in no time, and actually attained a level of popularity for some time. Although I never got to own even one, I was quietly admiring the growing product line, along with the fact that it had gone mainstream for a great many years by now.

I couldn't help but think of feet today, the second holiest day of the Christian calendar. I couldn't help but think of feet, for that matter, for a number of reasons: First, I am aware that fellow "kababayan" Romy Garduce (of Everest fame!) is still aiming at completing the world's mythical seven mountains, with just one more mountain to go. Not bad for one who hails from the tropics, and who actually "hated" his first climb at Nagcarlan, Laguna years ago! Second, I dream of "feet" on the march because I have canceled a would-be climb to Mt Pulag after Christmas for two reasons, the first being the fact that it has been raining up there in the north for days, and second, the twin tragedy at Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, has sort of put this expensive trek in the back burner to give way to more much needed help to those who are still reeling from the painful shock that left thousands dazed and despondent, just a few days before Christmas.

But I think of feet for another reason. The nerve wracking images and videos of people in the tragedy-hit areas, all walking bare footed, and many with wrinkled feet soaked in water for days now, have left me in tears so many days in a row, including this morning just when I was thinking about what to share with you on this day. I think of feet rendered less "happy" because tragedy struck just when no one suspected it would in the dead of night. I think of feet who will never walk again. I think of feet who continue to plod on, strive and struggle in the midst of so much pain, so much discomfort, and so much uncertainty. I think of people whose feet no longer show alacrity for they have not much choice as to where to go, paralyzed not just by instant absolute poverty, but also by the lack of energy and resolve to pick up the pieces of lives that have been shattered by pain of unimaginable proportions.

But I also think of feet who rise to the occasion, and who get into action mode, bringing a lot that can help those who walk bare foot and directionless to gradually rise again like the Phoenix from the ashes - or the muddy, soggy, and water-laden thoroughfares rendered almost impassable by murk and mire. I think of a group of psychologists and counselors, who are as fleet-footed as those who lost no time collecting whatever they could to run to the aid of the needy, who, were just like us just a few days before, dreaming of distant "white Christmases" even in tropical Paradise-no-more, that is Mindanao!

My thoughts race to people who, either by duty or by choice, are there to help salvage what could be salvaged, to help turn around a life that has been so drastically redirected to destinations unwanted, undreamed of, and definitely, unsought for. My heart goes out to those whose feet are as active as marathon runners, now trying to race with might and main to help put back normalcy in the lives of those whose normal routines were just like ours, until disaster struck.

Yes, I think about happy feet, but not the kind that one would like to have and wear ... I think of people whose lives attain a fresh shot of happiness and fulfillment because of one simple reason ... they are busy giving evangelical good news to those who live in the shadow of death, and who are, like all the rest of us, waiting for the light to shine upon all those who dwell in darkness. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation and saying to Zion, ' Your God is King!'"

Yes, Santa Claus ... you are not the focus of this talk, neither of this day, and neither of everyone now whose feet are busy, not riding sleighs and rough-housing reindeer, but bringing the good news of hope to those who more than just live in the shadow of death and despair.

Happy are the feet of those who now try to live simply so that others may simply live. Happy are the feet of those who lift more than just a finger, but their both feet, to do what one ought, one must, and one needs to, given the harrowing context that surround the people who don't ever deserve to suffer.

Yes, and this is the good news that should take the upper hand today ... "The Lord comforts His people, he redeems Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations" ...

I have one request to my readers, both near and far. I don't ask you to get of your butts and do something. I don't ask you to lift a finger and help make today and everyday like Christmas. I ask to lift your feet, and move, following the footsteps of him who was born, for us, for the world, for here, for now, and for a world without end. I ask you to put on "happy feet" - and when I say this, I don't mean to say, wear something fancy and something nice, like sugar and spice and everything nice, but go, take the necessary steps, and do something .... anything, any little or big thing, but something that would make Christmas a reality for you and me and everyone who needs a fresh shot of a reminder even in the midst of so much pain and suffering ... "All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God!"

It is Christmas Day ... the day the Word took on flesh, was born, and became helpless like so many now are, in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro and elsewhere. The Word became real and came in our midst ... up close and personal. Truly. Really. He is not just one of those distant and remote possibilities, but He is truly, Emmanuel ... God with us.  "Let all the angels of God worship Him!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MAN PROPOSES, BUT GOD DISPOSES!


Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)
December 18, 2011


David sure had brilliant ideas! He simply was convinced he had to do it, and no one else, he thought, was worthy enough to do what he planned to do – build God a house, and move the Ark of the Covenant from a tent to some place more worthy of it. Or so, he thought!

Hubris … pride and sinful vanity, no less! Far from what he was many years before, a nameless, faceless, powerless lad who did nothing more than shepherd his lowly flock of sheep, his position of power and prestige got the better of him, and thought he should do something that was really ultimately, God’s to do.

Something good, something noble, something laudable, no doubt ... nothing sinful, nothing remiss, nothing amiss … but something that can make one of holier, more humble stock feel ill at ease …

But God, in His wisdom, had other plans. No … it was not for David to build God a house, but it was God’s prerogative to make use of David’s very own plans to build His own house, founded on the very same David who thought he had the most brilliant plan for God’s glory!

This is the story of God who saves. This is the saga of a God who loves humanity, and who calls the shots ultimately when it comes to doing His will for the sake of the same human family.

I have made so many plans both for myself and for others all my life. At my age, I can count on more years past, than years future. I have led so many planning and envisioning sessions. I have conjured up dreams bigger than myself. A great many of them saw the light of day, as an equally big number of them were dashed to the ground, ignored, rejected, or supplanted by other people’s dreams and plans.

All of them, just like David’s dream for the Ark of the Covenant, were good, noble and laudable … nothing sinful, nothing remiss, nothing amiss. But let us face it … some of it was mixed with other motives, perhaps hidden to David’s – and my own – awareness!

We all were young once upon a time (although some of my readers are still part of the really young ones!). We all know we did foolish things in our youth. And let us admit it, some of those most foolish acts have been those we thought were things only we could do, and nobody else could even do so much as think of!

In retrospect, older and wiser now, some of those things I planned for and paid for dearly with a lot of worry, tension, and anxiety, but which did not see the light of day, or were shot down by others, were really not meant to be in the first place. They were not mine to do and execute, and not mine, to start with, for me to reap glories for.

Hubris is the mildest word to describe all this … a specie of pride, the kind that makes one think he is higher than he really is, better than he actually is, and brighter than he most likely is … the kind that leads eventually, not only to embarrassment, but grief.

The Italians have a famous homespun saying about the need to allow a great degree of latitude for God to do what He wills: L’UOMO PROPONE, MA DIO DISPONE … Man proposes, but God disposes!

David proposed to build a worthy dwelling place for God. But today, we are told it is God Himself who would build him a house! This is the promise of a God who is savior. God was going to build more than just a “house” but a dynasty that will stem down from David, a series of generations from which will be born an “heir” whose “kingdom shall endure forever.”

I still do planning in the small school I am working in as CEO. We just got the ball of strategic planning rolling a few weeks back. I still propose certain avenues for growth. I still conjure up big dreams, with others, for others, together with those who, like me, will no longer benefit from what we do. But older and wiser now – and, hopefully – holier, I know better than to think that it all depended on me and my brilliant (real or imagined) ideas!

Man may propose, but it is God who will ultimately dispose.

But there is more here than just being humble and keeping things low key. What is more here is what is at stake for all humankind, for generations and generations. And it has to do, not with you and me, but with God’s vision for humanity and the world.

That vision is the vision of God for the salvation of the world. It is bigger than David, bigger than anyone of us, bigger than the world, and bigger than life itself! It has nothing to do with a puny little house, no matter how grandiose in our human reckoning. When God works, He does so in big, broad strokes that cut across generations, countries, epochs, and cultures. In place of David’s house, God disposes of a dynasty. In place of a short-sighted and selfish plan, God offers a plan of salvation for all peoples.

Today, fourth Sunday of Advent, a few days before Christmas, we are reminded of how that big, broad stroke of a promise became real and historical, through the cooperation of a woman – a person who did not have the power, prestige, and hubris of a young David, a woman who demurely asked “how could things be,” and who was overtaken by fear and trepidation in her humility and lowliness.

And this, among so many others, is one more telling lesson for us who think the world cannot survive without us and our brilliant ideas … That lesson is clear! The great and grandiose plans of a God-Savior take place and are realized, through the workings and cooperation of the meek, the lowly, the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost by worldly standards!

Mary is top in my list today. But so, too, is John the Baptist. So too, was David, at least initially, until hubris took the better of him. Their lessons are worth remembering and living … Man proposes, but God disposes!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

OF SQUEALERS, WHISTLEBLOWERS, AND WITNESSES!


3rd Sunday of Advent (B)

December 11, 2011



Whistleblowers, in our time, are a dime a dozen. They have sort of become a fad, a trend. They blow the whistle on anything imaginable – from huge corporations guilty of not just penny pinching at the expense of their workers, but  evading big social responsibilities, to presidents, prime ministers, and other political bigwigs caught with their proverbial sticky fingers in the cookie jar of massive corruption and all …



Hordes of people adore them. Many idolize them and put them atop pedestals of semi heroism. They become instant celebrities and guests of endless talk shows and their faces hog the TV screens on a daily basis.



We just love people who spill the beans and squeal about the shenanigans of people in power. Whilst not all of those who claim to be whistleblowers actually tell the truth, we give them credit for at least being avowedly, and supposedly, at the service of liberating truth.



But there is a world of a difference between those who merely squeal and rat on others, and those who sincerely stand for liberating truth. There is a big difference between one who suddenly experiences a “change of heart” because he had been given a raw deal, and left out in the cold, holding an empty bag, double-crossed by the bigger personalities who divide the booty amongst themselves, and one who speaks the truth even if he has nothing to gain by it.



The first is simply nothing more than a squealer. The latter is a witness in the full sense of the word. The former “outs” others. The latter goes out on a limb to speak the truth, nothing but the truth, and nothing but the whole truth, cost what might, many times, not excluding “outing” himself in the process, and sticking his own neck out.



The former has to do with bad news. They tend to rock the boat and stun audiences. They make a mess of the situation. They expose scandals that leave everybody as losers, not necessarily winners.



The latter has to do with good news, bitter truth, but liberating bitter truth, nonetheless.



I would like to think that John the Baptist is one of the latter … “a man sent from God.” He came, not of his own bidding, but of God’s bidding. Squealers may come from other politicians’ bidding, but John “came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”





We are in a big mess in many places all over the world. Squealers abound. People who rat on others are legion. Governments are ruined in many countries, and potentates fall from high places on account of what they report. Emerging presidential candidates fall from grace as fast as they rise to prominence after “victims” come to the fore and “tell all” to the powerful media networks, thus putting victimizers on sensational trial by publicity. Careers are ruined, and reputations are besmirched irreversibly. Whilst I don’t deny many of what they say, the end results are not a pleasant prospect. Justice is ostensibly served, many times, through acts of injustice. Someone’s wall is built, at the cost of someone else’s fence being destroyed beyond repair.



We need a whiff of fresh air. We need a breath of good news. We need to get right back to the groove of what “truth-telling” is for – to liberate, to educate, to bring us all to the “light” – not to destroy, not to harm others, and push anyone to the gutters of shame and ignominy.



The Italian language makes a distinction between “veracita” and “veridicita.” The former has to do with “telling the truth” understood as objective truth. The latter has to do with the process of “truth-telling.” The former is cold and factual and is focused on the fact; the latter focuses on the person telling the truth, a person who does not simply dole out facts, but tells the truth in charity, with a noble purpose in mind. Squealers may tell the cold truth, but they may tell it with some other motive. But witnesses are those who tell the truth in love, and they do so because they want to be at the service, not only of objective truth, but more so of Him, who claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life.”



Whistleblowers may be many people’s heroes nowadays. I admire them. I salute them. I support them, especially, when it comes to serving the common good and ridding our country of massive corruption that goes unabated, despite so many attempts.



But my hero is not anyone of them. My genuine hero is, and remains to be, John the Baptist. For what reasons, you might ask?



The top in my list of reasons is obvious from the gospel passage … he had no ulterior motives. He did not dole out his “truth” to gain anything for himself. A good name? He was quick to state, “I am not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not the prophet.” How’s that, for a starter? The plain truth … no frills … no claims to fame and glory …

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”



The desert is by no means gone in our lives. We continue to grovel in a desert-like world of sin, selfishness, and greed. Corruption still mars our societies despite so many whistleblowers. Selfishness continues to characterize the business world, and sin continues to grip even the Church, known as a community of saints and sinners.





But John the Baptist’s examples convict us. His words criticize us. His same words energize us to faith, that in turn, rouses us to prayer and action. In the spirit of liberating truth that we ought to hear again and again, in the midst of a world so divided between opposing claims to each one’s brand of truth, we are led to pray thus:



Be my rock in a world built on sand;

Be my oasis of grace and peace in a world of tension and turmoil;

Help me to carry my cross gracefully, as you did in your Passion;

Help me to follow your beam of light in the midst of this darkness;

Help me to see you in all things

And show others Your comfort and strength.

Keep me calm when tempers flare up;

Keep me sane in a crazy world;

Keep me focused on the houses in Heaven

Rather than the houses of cards collapsing around me;

Keep my eyes focused on the prize of Heaven

And not lose hope in You in this world or in the world to come;

Make me compassionate in dealing with others;

Let me see my travails as carrying my cross and sharing in your passion, for the love of you and for the salvation of souls, including mine.



And yes … make me a servant of the truth, like John the Baptist, and help me always speak the truth in love. Amen.