11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
June 17, 2012
IN HIS TIME – THE WORST OF TIMES; THE BEST OF TIMES!
I do my reflection, for the first time, at a place that was, at one and the same time, so close, yet so far – till now. It is my first time to be in Jakarta, Indonesia, a place no more than three and a half hours away from a city I have called home, for a great deal of my life. It is a city from which came a number of my former students in theology, one of whom is getting ordained this very day I am writing this – not without a little difficulty, given the so many things I need to reflect on, as I drink in every thing new and old; everything strange and similar; everything foreign and familiar, with the sights and sounds I see back home, and in just about every place the grace of God has allowed me to call home at various lengths of time in these past 30 years I have been a priest.
It is just as well that I am here these days, and particularly in this 11th Sunday of the liturgical year. Much of what I love to see and look at, is a reminder to me of much of what the readings of today allude to and refer to, if at least, circumstantially, at best; and sparingly, at worst.
From where I sit, looking out the window of my room, I see lush vegetation – a trait that one can hardly see now in Metro Manila.
This is not altogether foreign to what I would like to reflect on today, given the fact that the first and third readings, both refer to shoots, to seeds, to sowing, and growing!
This, let me put it bluntly at this first instance, is an image of the Church of God … starting small and insignificant, yet on the way to growing as God would have it – in His time, in His ways, in His manner and in His methods!
Dryness and desolation are both images associated with Israel’s sad and desperate exile in Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel, who seemed to specialize in dryness getting back suppleness and life, as in the famous vision of the dry bones, getting back sinews and flesh, and coming back to freshness and youth, once more regales us with a vision of a “tender shoot” to be plucked by no less than God out of the “crest of the cedar,” to be transplanted on a “high and lofty mountain.” Ezekiel speaks of stuff I personally need – the very same stuff that makes old men turn into explorers, and discouraged peoples get back in shape and deliver, not death, but life once more.
For a number of times in this blog, I have alluded to myself as being stricken by the “dry bones” of hopelessness and discouragement, hemmed in as I am over the past 34 years as an educator, by Robinson’s “contours of hopelessness” that characterize the landscape of our postmodern lives everywhere around the shrinking globe!
I have, to repeat that trite expression, “been there; done that.” 30 years as a priest and 34 as an educator have been enough to make me realize, at times, that life and my ministry as a priest, could very well be exactly like Sysiphus pushing the proverbial rock up a mountain.
But that is to look at things from a purely human perspective, from a point of view of all that my raw humanity is really so capable of – discouragement, despair, despondency – all things associated with envy, pride, selfishness, and greed; in a word – sin that is still part and parcel of my humanity, redeemed, no doubt, by the Lord, but still prone to concupiscence and downright SIN.
Today, like all Sundays of the Lord, I take up His cause. Today, like all other Sundays, I take up the cudgels of God, who does His wonders under the cloak of mystery and wonders that He is ever famous and known for – from biblical times!
Today, like everyday created by the same Lord of wonders, I claim His right and do my duty, to remind ourselves and the world, that that fresh, young shoot from the crest of the cedar, is still alive, growing, and doing wonders as the Lord has designed it to be – in His time, in His wondrous and mysterious ways!
I see it here from where I stand … The Salesian presence here in Indonesia was nothing until someone took up the same cudgels for God, and transplanted a shoot plucked from Manila, and planted it firmly where it now stands, and grows, and bears fruit, hopefully in plenty, again, in His time. Fr. Jose Carbonnell, and companions, who saw life where dry bones ought to have been, did not give in to my usual despondency, but struggled and implanted the Church, and today, a mute but surprised witness that is me, is here to see its gradual growth, and its products, in the persons of my former students who, though remaining students and disciples, have become disciples-in-community, who continue to help water the lush garden of faith in what seems to be an initially arid place for the Christian faith to ever grow.
I thank God for the gift of today. One former student of not too long ago is getting ordained a priest. I see vibrantly green trees and plants abounding here in the city – with the very same lushness and greenness that I saw growing up in Mendez, Cavite, and the very same lushness and greenness that I still see in many forests and mountains I have climbed in rural Philippines.
I thank God for the gift of this reminder that is what essentially the liturgy does to everyone Sunday in and Sunday out – remind us of the wonders wrought by God in our times, in our days, in our places and in our lives.
This Sunday, we not only get reminded. We not only remember. We not only recall to mind. No … the logical offshoot of all memory is desire, and desire gives way to celebration, to exaltation, to giving praise to Him who is the author of everything that we see as life-giving, life enabling, and life-producing! For one, we extol that lowly mustard seed, small and insignificant, a tiny speck of possibilities galore! Easily blown by whiff of wind, easily ignored, and just as easily disposed of, once cared for, and nurtured, can become a big tree where birds could make their home.
We exalt in the Lord for His Church, which is what that mustard seed represents. We exult His name, for He is behind its existence and its growth. We revel in gladness and thanksgiving, for He has done wondrous things, for the Kingdom that has come to us, and works ever silently for us, and in our midst.
I exult the Lord today, for once again, I see signs unmistakable of His presence and love. Once again, for the nth time, I get convicted in my discouragement, and grow despite my despondency, that God continues to work wonders in His Church, in our days, and in His times!
Though we might live in the worst of times, we actually live in the best of times!
Wisma Salesian Don Bosco
Jl. Mandor Iren No.5 Sunter Jaya
Jakarta Utara 14350
June 15, 2012
Ordination Day of Rev. Peter Ryan Vergouw, SDB, & et al.