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Saturday, January 28, 2012

A NEW TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
January 29, 2012

The internet explosion has seen a rise in the number of “authors” who write continuously in blogsites, personal web sites, chat rooms and a plethora of networking sites. Digital publishing has gone literally to new heights, and millions and millions of self-styled writers (authors) dish out daily almost like a diarrhea of words that somehow are designed to connect, to communicate, and to help change the culture that is already in rapid and constant flux.

I, too, have joined the bandwagon (sort of, with my limited digital skills) since 2007. I love to write. I love to put down my thoughts and reflections in digital ink (given the fact that I hardly now ever put anything down literally in “black and white” as my handwriting is getting worse faster than my age!)

Many of us, including me, can be called “authors” in our own right. But only the most conceited among us can claim what that word etymologically, and actually stands for fully. Whilst it is true that all can write anything and thus, merit the name “author,” it is not true that all so-called “authors” do so with “authority.”

The word “author” comes from the Latin “auctor” which, in turn, comes from the verb “augeo” which means to grow, to increase – the same root word of the English “augment” – to add. But I ought not bore you with a side lesson in Latin.

I speak of authority in the sense of making others grow because the liturgical readings today, would have us reflect on the prophethood of Moses, and the fulfillment of that prefiguration seen in Moses, in the person of Jesus Christ, who, the gospel says, speaks with authority.

I have a personal collection of about 5,000 books, mostly in my lines of specialization, Moral Theology and Counseling/Therapy. My collection has been whittled down to a minimum. A great deal of them have been given away to libraries or to others, for one simple reason. There are authors and there are authors. And like Francis Bacon once said, some authors are meant only to be tasted, but some are meant to be digested. Some write simply as authors. But some authors write not just with passion, but with authority.

Let us hear from Moses. He prophesied – that is, he spoke in God’s name … on God’s authority … that “a prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up from among your own kin; to him shall you listen.”
The promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Today’s gospel passage (Mk 1:21-28) shows us as much … and more! Let us get it straight from the horse’s mouth … “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

Never in  my life as now have I seen so much words in print, in broadcast, in cyberspace, in my Kindle, in my iPad, laptop, and desktop. In our times, we see much more, including the bombastic perorations of lawyers and lawmakers acting as judges and prosecutors all rolled into one in the ongoing impeachment trials in the Philippine senate. The wonder of the television has brought the almost farcical official and legal event to the farthest corners of the Philippines – and the world – in more than 120 countries where Filipinos are in diaspora for economic reasons!

Today, 4th Sunday in ordinary time, we are well advised to pause and think about who the real authority is. And it has nothing to do with brilliant and ponderous argumentation. It has nothing to do with credentials and titles galore, that not even formal gowns and robes can even hope to equal. For authority, at bottom, does not rest on one’s credentials, but on who has sent the prophet in the first place, along with what the prophet has been sent to do in the final analysis.

Moses was sent from God. He fulfilled the task marvelously well. His words were not just simply prophetic. They were words designed to make the people of Israel grow, increase, and become what God has called them to be. They were words, designed, not to hit home, but to hit the core of who we are as willed by God. They were words not meant to impress, but words meant to express the best of God’s dream for His people, for the world, and for humanity as a whole.

Jesus, the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy of old, spoke with authority. And authority here, like I said, begins with the idea of making others grow, increase, and march towards the fullness of what and who they are called to be. Jesus, spoke and did marvelous deeds. He healed the sick. He drove out demons. He called people to fullness of life. He made them grow. He taught and acted with the goal in mind of empowering people, and take responsibility for themselves.

In Jesus’ case, no word was wasted … no whisper was blurred … no expression was spoiled. He spoke with authority, if sparingly! He spoke the truth that set people free. He talked about the good news that led to the glorious liberty of the children of God!
I write even as I often speak. Like I said, I did join the bandwagon to a certain extent. But there is one thing I do as priest and preacher that does not come solely from my own initiative, and solely from my own selfish desire to express – and even, at times perhaps – merely impress. I come as ordained minister, as one with the right and duty to preach the gospel in season and out of season. I have no authority of my own. I claim no basis to any authority at my own bidding. I can only claim to speak (or write), in His name, in Christ’s name, on the Church’ s behalf, with credentials solely from Him who spoke with authority, for the life of the world!

I am a poor messenger. I am a weak intermediary and bringer of the good news that is not my own, but Christ’s. I beg for indulgence from my readers and hearers. God is not done with me yet.  And like St. Paul, I would like to remind you all: “I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord.”

At the end of the day, this is all I ask of you … listen to the Lord and the Lord who sends preachers and apostles to the world. Only He has a new teaching with authority! Listen to Him!

Friday, January 20, 2012

THE WORLD IN ITS PRESENT FORM

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
January 22, 2012


Today’s readings are a story of reversals. The events reported are counter-intuitive and, at least for the people of Jonah’s days, probably run counter to logic and common sense expectations. First, the Lord calls a nation other than Israel to repentance – Nineveh – a hated nemesis of Israel, being the capital of the empire of Assyria at some point. Second, Jonah, the reluctant bearer of bad or good news, depending on what is one’s perspective and stance, did not just do his job partially, but actually hemmed and hawed, and dragged his feet, unwilling and unready to do the unpopular job for anyone who had reason to believe his words would fall on deaf ears, if not followed by anger and hatred against him.

In other words, Jonah probably thought it was an exercise in futility. More than that, he probably opined that it was a hopeless case – something that his feeble and reluctant warnings in the first place would not even create a dent in. The world then that he knew, in its form and fashion then, was, at least for him, not worth saving, not worth spending time for, and wasting energy and passion for.

Jonah is representative of me … of many of my readers … of many of my countrymen. The world that I know, the world in its current, present form is awash in what Robinson (2004) has called the “contours of hopelessness.” The landscape of our lives now, she says, is dotted with hopelessness, and one of the features or contours of this hopelessness is precisely what I have been lamenting since 1987, right after we thought we had replaced the dirty, corrupt-laden, and unjust tyranny of the much hated (then) President of more than 20 years!

And I refer to the culture of mass manipulation that accrues from this contemporary society’s love affair with the so-called “media moment” that keeps us all glued to an information glut, an information overdose, along with an ideologically- and - often, politically biased, reporting or ‘creating’ of events that are all designed towards establishing our own brand of truth. Postmodernity’s most famous victim, as we all know, is the murder of objective, lasting, truth.

Truth now is prostituted to convenience, to political parties, to who offers the highest bid, as even surveys now can be manipulated, depending on who carries the pocket book right behind people who hide behind the thin veneer of objectivity.

But I am digressing … My reflection was focused on Jonah, who was as focused on his misfortune, as he was bent on disobeying the strict orders of the Lord.

And what was this order all about?

It was about God who wills the salvation even of people who hate His very own people. It was about the compassion of God that extends beyond the borders of fellow-feeling, and narrow party affiliations. It was about the Good News that our God is famous for – His will and overriding desire to save even those whom we think are beyond salvation.

I confess I am a Jonah, not once, not twice, not thrice, but so many times over. I lost verve. I lost courage. I lost hope for this seemingly – pardon the term – God-forsaken country of crooks, and vindictive leaders, and people who support this or that personality when the pickings are ripe, but who abandon the very same hands that fed them while that person was in power. I confess I am tempted so many times to give up fighting for a cause that so many interpret as mere partisanship and bias – for this is what people breathe in and out – from a hopelessly biased mainstream media, one of which networks stand to gain if the present dispensation is propped up, and the charade of the fight for justice for their declared Knight in shining armor is sustained – until the next elections.

I am, have been, and probably will be a Jonah, for the many days to come. Like Jonah, I have been cynical … I have doubted that things would ever get better before they got worse. Like Jonah, I refuse to go … I refuse to believe … I refuse to hold fast to hope, to faith, and to love …

Today, I feel convicted. Today, I feel shamed … not by Jonah, but by those of us who continue to plod on, hope on, and believe … in what?

In miracles, for one. Like I said in the first paragraph, today is a day of reversals. Nineveh was roused to repentance, even if Jonah went only a third of the way and hied off to his comfort zone, going the opposite way, openly defying the command of the Lord. Nineveh believed him. They fasted. They prayed, and put on sackcloth.

I call on my fellow believers. Believe what Jonah says, if not me. Believe what St. Paul reminds us. There is a sense of urgency. There is something we all need to be doing, right here, right now, “for the world, in its present form, is fast drifting away!” “I tell you brothers and sisters, the time is running out!”

The world, in its present form, is fast drifting away. What an inspired message! I never thought of it in this light before. Yes, the world now, in its present form, filled with the contours of hopelessness, is fast drifting away! This is not God’s will that we should remain cooped up in our lack of courage and hope, and get defeated by a world that seems to take the upper hand all the time, populated by sinners like you and me, who go patently against the will of the Lord, who tells us to go this way, and we all go the opposite way!

Even Jesus came from a world, then, filled with its own contours of hopelessness. The good man, John the Baptist, who finally had a message to tell the corrupt world of Herod and cohorts, was put in jail … sans benefit of trial, sans impeachment process, but summary declaration of guilt by the information machinery of his times.

But that was the time when God became more active. That was the time when “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God: This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

He did not have the time to sulk. He did not do a Jonah, like I do, and refuse to do His Father’s will. He went right to work. He had an urgent message to give to a world that went beyond Israel and Nineveh, and the far corners of the earth.

He now has the same message for me – a forlorn and forsaken Jonah copy-cat, who has lost steam and lost more than courage, but all hope for a country that God so loves, a people that God so blesses, and keeps close to His heart, no matter what, for after all, the world, in its present form, is fast drifting away!

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.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

LORD OF EVERY NATION ON EARTH


Solemnity of the Epiphany (B)
January 8, 2012

Readings: Is 60:1-6 / Eph 3:2-3.5-6 / Mt 2:1-12

The Gospel passage of today taken from Matthew tells of Herod being “greatly troubled.” Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, indeed. Someone high up there, with supposedly all the resources at his disposal to assure him of continuing power, has suddenly become so preoccupied about holding on to it, threatened by the news of one who passes off as the “newborn King.”

But if misery loves company, worry seeks for it and looks for sympathizers. Anxiety, like water, seeks its own level, and it seeks for every susceptible nook and cranny, holes and depressions, and the worry-wart tries his level best to spread, not the good news, but the bad news of his lack of serenity and peace of mind. King Herod was “greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him.”

Like Jerusalem under the hegemony of the worry-wart Herod, many people of our times, perhaps including ourselves, are worried sick. Many cannot seem to have enough of the so-called Mayan calendar prediction that pegs the end of the world in the year 2012. Fueled as much by hype as by imagination gone wild, many of us are left wondering whether the spate of floodings, typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters that have recently taken place all over the world, are forebodings of a worse, impending catastrophe.

We worry. We fear. We ask questions that fuel further questionings. We behave exactly like Herod who “assembled all the chief priests and scribes” in order to ask them what they actually had little answers to, themselves.

Today, the liturgy gives answers, but not the answers that we may be raring to have. Our questions are too myopic, too limited to impending events, too focused on narrow concerns of people like us who may be holding on to matters that really do not matter much when seen against the backdrop of eternity.

But real good news, the sort of good news that this feared newborn King has come to bring, is one that transcends the here and now, the there and then, and the thence and thereafter, understood as material, historical, finite time of our human reckoning.

The good news that Herod could not see, courtesy of his myopic and selfish eyes, heart, and mind, is that of one who is Lord of history, Lord of time, and master of our destiny as individuals and as a people.

He is a King, whose reign will last forever and ever.

This is the reason why the readings today wax optimistic and hopeful, not worried and frightful. From Isaiah, the prophet who saw it all, exile and all, the very same prophet who spoke of the “suffering servant,” who prophesied about the meek “lamb” that will be led to the slaughter, who knew first hand what the chosen people of God had to go through in bitter exile in Babylon, we hear rousing words that speak of splendor, of light, and of glory that shines upon all. “Upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance!”

We are talking here of a reality that goes beyond Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and other recent tragedies. We are referring here to a vision of galactic proportions that the very word galactic cannot fully express. We are talking about a vision of God for us, for the world, for his people, for those whom he has considered his very own, and for whose sake this newborn King has been born.

We are talking about things and events and utter realities that go beyond the dreaded Mayan end-times of 2012. We are talking about a “mystery” revealed and “made known to people in other generations.” We are speaking about the unending faith and hope of a people, who, despite the fact that we might still be “walking in darkness” have actually seen a “great light” in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

And boy! Do we need Him! Do we need light in a world that is filled with all types of darkness! We are not just a sinful people. We, too, are still a suffering people, living in this valley of tears. We are still waiting for the heavenly Jerusalem to come down from above, to shelter us, cover us, and take care of us, lost in our own Babylonian exile of various forms.

We need a Savior. We need a King to rule over us and lead us to the paths that lead to peace. We need wisdom from above, especially now that we are tossed hither and thither by the waves of so much uncertainty and the tides of conflict, war, and lack of unity.

Herod had to dispatch his crew to “go and search diligently for the child …” for his own selfish and fishy reasons.

Today, right where we are, right in the midst of so much darkness and pain and uncertainty, we need not do that. God has come in search for us. He has shown us and revealed Him to us, Himself. We need not do a Herod and pretend to be in search.

Epiphany is what this is all about. He has shown His Son and revealed Him to be what the likes of Herod would not, could not, and will never see – the Son of God, the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world.

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you!”

Salesian Retreat House
Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
January 5, 2012