DOWN AND OUT, BUT LIFTED UP!
4th Sunday of Lent (B)
March 18, 2012
This Sunday, in true Biblical fashion, is a day of reversals, a day of seeming contradictions, and a day of apparently clashing images and realities. Like our lives here in mortal earth, the readings talk about seeming defeat, about being dead, yet being made alive. They talk about being thrown into exile, but also about a glorious homecoming. They speak about justice, but also about the triumph of mercy over judgment.
The Gospel passage clinches it for good measure … It speaks of being smitten and being dashed to the ground, and yet in the same vein, it talks about looking up at the very symbol of seeming defeat, and finding new life!
I am in absolute and dire need of this powerful reminder. I am dry in the mouth and longing for the regenerating and refreshing waters of newfound hope, at a time when I feel there is no other way but down, and deeper, into the labyrinth of hopelessness as far as our nation and people are concerned. I feel that Christian faith has been so far powerless at changing the dysfunctional political culture of revenge, partisanship, personalities, and patronage.
We are no doubt smitten dead by the serpentine and wily ways of the world, so immuned now to objective good and objective moral standards. We are not just smitten; we have thrown ourselves into a veritable exile – far from moral and ethical reasoning, far from God, far from the ways that lead to peace, despite the protestations from very comfortable leaders, who talk about the “good” and “welfare” of their constituents.
How true the words of the Second Book of Chronicles are for us. Priests, princes, and people alike are guilty of “infidelity upon infidelity.” Hidden dollar deposits to run away from the law, manipulative lawmakers who are really the first lawbreakers, judges in robes but who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, and leaders who lead by bombastic speeches, belied by the same evil ways and machinations, sicut erat in principium, while brandishing the weapons of righteousness!
This is the sad backdrop of my reflection on this fourth Sunday of Lent … the reality of death, both personal and social. Personal … for we are all guilty of personal sin, like those who are on trial in the latest telenovela that we have in our society. But we also experience social death, for our social institutions, including the machinery called government is really caught up in a culture of death, and backroom deals and briberies, that are so commonplace, the Senators, and the so-called honorable men and women of Congress, are no longer scandalized about. Social, also because the personal sins that we all commit individually and secretly, are the same sins that become social, the same sins that all have a social dimension, that translate into sinful structures, that lead to the reality of politics of a sinful kind – the sinful structure of Philippine politics!
I am sad. But today’s readings are clear. They don’t call me to be sad. They call me to be sorry. And being sorry is not something that institutions can do. The Senate and Congress as bodies cannot be expected to be sorry and sad and repentant. But individuals like you and me are … Individuals are called to life, new life, that can only come from an experience of death – dying to sin, and rising to new life of holiness!
The great scandal of Christianity, one writer said, is that it has proven powerless to obliterate social sin, structural sin, sins that we all do as a collective body and as a people, but tragically sins that no one of us feels responsible for.
Christian faith, to which most of our politicians subscribe to, has proven itself powerless and helpless to change the culture that leads to death and more selfishness and greed. Yes, Christian faith has failed you and I, when you see the flagrant and shameless indifference of honorable people to the equally shameless double-dealing and bullying and bribery being done in the “hallowed” halls of the legislative, judicial, and executive departments! “All men have fallen short of the glory of God!” and we all are in it together! We all are sinful. We all create those structures of sin that we all complain about.
But I am a priest … one of those the first reading harps against, thrown in together with the bunch of princes and people guilty of infidelity upon infidelity.
Yes, I am a priest, and let me proclaim today, as good a day as any other … “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!”
And this is a humble supplication addressed to the Lord, “the God who is rich in mercy,” “who brought us to life with Christ, even when we were dead in our transgressions.”
“We are his handiwork,” St. Paul says. We are loved such that “he sent his only Son, so everyone who believes in might have eternal life.”
There is hope. But that hope has to begin with you and me. Bodies and institutions find it hard to repent and say sorry, even as big ships like the Titanic hardly are able to change course drastically. But individuals like you and me can do that.
Today, all of us, individually can do precisely that. Bitten and smitten by sin, we can look up to the Lord, up on the cross … He did not die in vain. He died for you and me.
And let me add this… A big man, equivalent to a Senator, Nicodemus, came by night … He wanted to ask a question or two, curious and inquisitive … The night, an old song says, “has a thousand eyes.” But it also has thousand ears, a thousand dreams, and a thousand possibilities. For one, it is the best backdrop to speak about light. And Jesus did precisely that … “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.”
The backdrop I began with was dark. I talked of evil. I talked of sin, personal and social. I am part of this backdrop. I am part of this world for which the Lord has come!
And this is the light … God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget this!
Don Bosco Seminary
March 12, 2012
Written while administering personality tests to a group of young seminarians who are the hope of the future for me and for us!