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Friday, January 13, 2012

INVITATION, REFLECTION, TRANSFORMATION


Second Sunday of the Year (B)
January 15, 2012
N.B. I post two different reflections today. One is for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the second is for the Feast of the Sto. Nino in the Philippines.


INVITATION, REFLECTION, TRANSFORMATION


The liturgy today opens with a rousing call. The young Samuel, probably being groomed to do something that is bigger than his young years, is roused from restful sleep not once, not twice, but thrice. Paul, for his part, issues a rousing challenge to the Corinthians to behave responsibly as members of the body of Christ. Two bystanders watching attentively are also roused by an excited announcement from John: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

The call addressed to the young Samuel fell not on deaf ears. Although being roused from one’s bed is no welcome thing for young people, the fact that he was sleeping in the temple precincts meant that there was, to start with, a certain openness, a certain readiness, a predisposition, an open ear, as it were, to something important, something great, something bigger than his young stature. The bold announcement from John was reciprocated with an equally bold response from the two who stood alongside him, who watched together with him whose life mission was to prepare the way for someone else. The two disciples who stood by and watched not only had an open ear. They also had a willing hand, an adventurous foot, and an inquisitive mind. They heard … They beheld him who was coming after their master … and they followed.

I see three movements in today’s liturgy. First, there is a call. I would call it an INVITATION. Samuel was invited, first, to sleep in the temple area where the ark of the covenant was kept. His “yes” to the invitation to keep watch along with the older Eli was followed by another invitation, this time, from someone greater than Eli. That eventful night, another invitation came his way. More than being roused from sleep, he was being raised to do something great, something beautiful for God.

INVITATION, however, is followed not by delving straight into action, but by careful and prudent reflection. Invitation did not give way to mere activism. It paved the way for REFLECTION. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Invitation did not translate into immediate action. It bloomed, instead, into humble petition ... “Speak Lord!” The same may be said of the two disciples of John who stood by and watched. When they followed the invitation of John to “behold,” Jesus made them reflect: “What are you looking for?” Again, reflection became petition: “Where are you staying?” This time, petition was answered by a deeper invitation: “Come and you will see.”

Come and see …This was the motif of the World Youth Day in France in 2001 … Venez et voyez …Come and see … Perhaps as we put a close to the long Christmas season (in the Philippines, that is!), and as we go full swing into living an entirely new year, we need to do a Samuel act that is made up of three essential and integral movements: invitation, reflection, and transformation.

Our world is a noisy place. Noises, both material and spiritual, characterize and clutter our daily existence. Spiritual noises drown out interior silence. Material noises crowd out our ability to reflect. And a lot of psychological noises make it impossible for many to live in peace and harmony with one another. In the Philippine context, there is so much political noise that drowns out hope for a better tomorrow for many poor and suffering people. In such a situation, the invitation that comes like a gentle whispering wind from above is all but smothered, unheard, and therefore, unheeded.

Today, I would like to reframe the readings in terms of these three watchwords: invitation, reflection, and transformation.

Invitation … Come and see … We need as a people, a faith family, first to listen like Samuel did. It is so easy for anyone to jump into so-called solutions to problems. But as any organizational guru amongst us would readily realize, many of the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. Mere knee-jerk reactions to so many pressing problems will not clinch it. Nor will the poorly digested and poorly reflected on palliative measures do. I would like to think that, among others, this is what stands out in today’s readings. “Come and you will see.” Invitation from the Lord ought to open itself to watching, to reflecting, to praying more than to doing. Come first, and see. Come first, and reflect. Come first and observe. He does not tell us today to jump into the fray.

Is it any wonder that the psalm chosen reiterates the same point about watching and waiting? “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.” Is it any wonder that the same psalmist plays down the need for action, the need for “sacrifice or offering,” but rather refers to “ears open to obedience?” Is it any wonder that only then, only after speaking of ears open to obedience, he speaks about his resolve: “Behold I come?”

We always take mistaken pride in being the only Christian nation in Asia. The truth of the matter is more like we were strongly sacramentalized and ritualized for centuries, but not necessarily evangelized. About half a million every year risk life and limb by fanatically going through the motions of a noisy following of the tortuous and torturous processional route of the Nazareno in Quiapo. Even more throngs go in full regalia to honor the Santo Nino in various places in the country at about this time of year – in Cebu, in Aklan, in Tondo, Marinduque, etc. Noise and fanfare characterize these celebrations. But amidst all this noise and celebration, the basic invitation to personal and communal holiness remains unheard and unheeded by the mainstream dysfunctional political system and a societal system that favors and fosters division and distinction of many kinds, along with so much social injustice. Whilst I submit that many among those who join the celebrations are motivated by no less than deep devotion, by far the greater majority seem to be attracted by the superficial pull of pomp and circumstance. There is little reflection, little prayer, and little attention to the invitation to depth and holiness of life.

I would like now to translate this last concept into a word that fits the topic developed by today’s readings – TRANSFORMATION.

The invitation that was given to Samuel and the two disciples of John, and the reflection that followed the invitation, both spilled over into transformative action. Reflection preceded transformation and not the other way around. Transformation was the logical and necessary output of reflection. Having come and seen, they followed. Having reflected, they stayed. Andrew, who first saw and reflected, went into transformative action mode. He called his brother Simon and told him great news: “We have found the Messiah.” That report made him resort to something concretely life transforming. He brought his brother to Jesus.

All stories reported above can be reduced into a single line. For Samuel, for Eli, for Paul and the Corinthians, for John and his two disciples, for Andrew and Simon, first there was the INVITATION. Then came REFLECTION and petition. And last, there came the difficult but necessary part. They all worked for TRANSFORMATION.


Feast of the Holy Child (Sto. Nino) (B)
January 15, 2012

Readings: Is 9:1-6 / Eph 1>3-6.15-18 / Mk 10:13-16

THE KINGDOM OF GOD BELONGS TO THEM

Many years ago, the Fifth Dimension singers crooned  that “tomorrow belongs to the children.” In many senses, this is true. We adults are either in the noontime, afternoon, or evening of our lives. But “tomorrow” is something that children can still claim for  themselves, with a whole lifetime yet ahead of them.

It is no wonder that many of them live like as if time, and everything in this world of time, would never end. Children live carefree lives. They know nothing of worry about tomorrow. They are oblivious of what tomorrow and the uncertain future would bring.

Today, the Lord goes light years ahead of us all, and speaks, not about tomorrow, but something bigger and greater than tomorrow. He speaks about the Kingdom … His reign … His hegemony in a world still caught up in the paradigms of material time, and thus, really enslaved by the present, by what the here and the now can offer, by what the so-called “media moment” can lead us to, mostly, sadly, catering to short-lived joys and myopic achievements.

Truth to tell, it is not children alone who live only for the moment. It is not children alone who lose sight of the time – and the world to come. We are, for the most part, enslaved by the concerns that don’t go beyond today, and the literal tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.

Very literally, tomorrow begins another sad chapter in our history. Ostensibly designed to ferret out justice and to right perceived wrongs, legislators-turned-judges will discuss with formality, solemnity, and all, something that will stand to have serious and far-ranging repercussions on the future of the Filipino people. Whilst this reflection does not, and ought never be interpreted, nor intended, to take sides, I, as an active observer of the many things that happen to us as a people, cannot help but think about honorable judges, potentially catering, not to objective truth and justice, but to their own re-electionist agenda. It has happened before. The monster of run-away politics of opportunism and individualistic concerns continues to rear its ugly head, despite the protestations of those who claim to steer it towards a more glorious future.

Let us face it. We are not only enslaved by the present. We are also bound to a status quo of politics-as-usual, where moral principles are not the rules of the game, but partisan ideology, convenience, and political expediency, sugar-coated with so-called “principles” of justice and the common good.

The present belongs to adults like us, who are adept at double-talk, moral prevarications, and double-faced – and – thick-faced brazenness and selfishness, all made to pass off as concern for so-called “constituents” and the will of the people, often manipulated and controlled by a hopelessly biased mass media.

Yes, the present may belong to grown-ups like us, but I have it on the authority of the Fifth Dimension, that tomorrow belongs to the children.

Today is almost like a day reserved for such kids, represented by the Holy Child, whose innocence and sincerity adults like us need to emulate. Today, we honor every child on account of the Holy Child, the Santo Nino, who can teach us adults and oldies, bent and twisted in our hierarchy of values gone awry, who have mastered the devilish art of double-talk and dishonest dealings made to look like doing battle on the side of the good, but more often than not, on the side of goods, and our own personal good.

In the Philippines, we could use an extra day to remind us of Christmas – by far, the longest Christmas season in the world. And for good measure, the Church in the Philippines once more takes an extra day to reflect on what this Holy Child can teach us, what the Santo Nino can lead us to. We give honor to all children on account of the Holy Child who, already at that tender age, showed the world and us that it pays to work towards a future … that it is worth our while working for a tomorrow that goes beyond the here and the now … that life is all about being bogged down in the concerns that end in our persons, in worries that do not take us beyond comfort and personal needs.

Yes, the Santo Nino feast day can indeed remind us adults that, first and foremost, tomorrow does not belong to us, but to the children; and, second, the Kingdom of God also belongs to children like them, and not duplicitous and scheming, sinful adults like us.

O Most glorious Santo Nino, in your simplicity and seeming weakness, you showed the greatness and power of a God who transforms a world caught up in narrow and selfish concerns. Show us what it means to be childlike, to rely more on You than on what we can do here and now. Help us to focus more on the future, on the Kingdom that you have come to bring, rather than on what makes our present more comfortable, more secure, and more inward focused.

Bring us back to simplicity and utter sincerity that seeks the honest good of all, rather than our own selfish agenda. Help our country really work for the common good, and truly work for a justice that does not only serve to punish wrong-doers, rightly or wrongly perceived as such, but one that really contributes to all of us getting closer to the Kingdom that you have promised to those who are like the children that you blessed … like you who were once a child yourself.

Whatever may be your will, let me accept it. Whatever you may allow to happen after all this, may we learn adult lessons that only children like them can teach us, for the Kingdom belongs to children such as them. You who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

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