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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

PROMISE, PACT, POWER!


First Sunday of Lent (B)
February 26, 2012

As is my wont, I summarize today’s three readings in three succinct words. The first goes by the one word, PROMISE. We hear a heartwarming story of a God who is willing to start on a clean slate, no matter what happened before, no matter what men have fallen into – grievously, I might add. The Lord makes a promise … no more flood, no more waters to bring chaos on the earth. Mercy triumphs over judgment, and God makes a NEW Covenant with no less than a rainbow for sign and witness to this new covenant.

I choose the alliterative PACT to represent the second reading. Whilst a reference to the flood is also alluded to in Peter’s first letter, the focus is really on the fulfillment of what that pact between God and His people meant: “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” The PROMISE was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior, the personification of the whole NEW COVENANT, prefigured in the Old Testament.

The Gospel, for its part, speaks of POWER. The desert, being the symbol of everything bad and despicable in Jewish culture, the repository of all sorts of refuse, the hiding place of all bad elements in society, the habitation of wild animals … there is nothing glamorous about being in the desert!

But this is precisely what Jesus did! … He went right into the heart of the wilderness … right into the lair of the mythical dragon of evil that haunted mankind since time immemorial. Power is what the Lord exudes. Power is what he wields. And Power is what he possesses as he holds fort for forty days “tempted by Satan,” and being “among the wild beasts.”

I have, therefore, three good reasons to hold you captive for today: God’s Promise, the undenidable Pact that that same promise contained, and the Power that is in us as followers of Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by telling you an equally undeniable fact … We live in our own brand of wilderness in our times. We move in a situation rife with conflicts and all sorts of trials. We seem overpowered, in fact, by a multiplicity of “wild beasts” and “demons” that make life like pushing the mythical rock of Sysiphus! Let us face it … life is not exactly like a bowl of cherries. Life is not even close to being a “walk in the park.” I have it on the authority of Scott Peck in his first two bestseller books of more than 40 years ago, that “life is difficult,” and 
that “life is complex.”

Dianne Bergant suggests that one theme that the readings tend to point out to, is that “we live in the midst of conflict.” It does not take too much for us to identify with such a theme. Floods seem to wreak havoc everywhere in the world. The typhoon “Sendong” just before last Christmas left a wide swath of destruction and indescribable grief to tens of thousands of Filipinos in the southern island of Mindanao. Our political lives are once more being tested to the core with our fractiousness, divisiveness, and disunity as a people. Political allegiances and alliances seem to occupy a whole lot of our waking and sleeping, and resting hours. Last thing I heard is, sin, is still very much entrenched in our hearts, my own, first of all, and in the hearts, minds, and hands of everyone honest enough to admit it. We live and move in the midst of conflictuality and confusion.

But my three words are meant to be good news. My three succinct words are supposed to be a summary of what we need to reflect on, and live in our own life contexts. And the reason why we are here, once again, Sunday in and Sunday out, is because we find it in our hearts, filled with faith and trust in a merciful God, whose mercy triumphs over judgment, that He stands to fulfill His Promise of old, that He is a God of promises and a God of fulfillment, that we as a family of nations and peoples, were not meant for chaos, but called to order, to grace, to unity and peace. Biblically and culturally speaking, water, inundation, and  floods all stood for the original chaos that Genesis originally spoke of, where God breathed life and meaning into!

But that promise bore fruition in a pact that led to the coming of the Messiah and Savior – Jesus Christ. Peter tells us: “Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” The ultimate experience of conflictuality, the epitome of conflict, sin and its product, death, was defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ. The rainbow that filled the firmament as symbol of the Promise, became the crucified body of the Lord that hung against the firmament of Calvary, and, by His stripes, by the crimson colors of his wounds, we were all healed!

I got more good news for you … no, not mine, but the Lord’s!

He goes into the heart of our conflictuality, the symbol of everything that is wrong in our society and in the world at large. He goes right into the chaotic world of the wilderness that seems to always overpower us and always seems to keep us at bay. The Lord meets sin and its effects headlong, and goes right into the desert. No … he did not just “dwelt among us.” He lived in our midst, even in the midst of evil, suffering, sin, and all allied negativities flowing from it.

He came to the desert – and to the world – with power and might! He came to a world filled with conflicts wielding the rainbow and sword of power and victory! For forty days, he was “tempted by Satan.” He was “with the wild beasts” in that not-so-secret world of evil and darkness.

He came. He saw. He triumphed!

I would like us now to claim this PROMISE. No more chaos, no more floods, no more of the same old dirty tricks department in our midst!

I would like us now, too, to claim this PACT. Jesus came to make it real. Jesus lived to make it concrete reality. Jesus our Lord dwelt in our midst to fulfill everything that that pact stood for. He does no less in our times. He will do no less in future. He is Lord of history and Lord of glory.

But above everything else, I would like us to claim this POWER! Enough of all this dysfunctionalities, I say! Enough of all discouragement, dejection, and despair! Enough of all this disunity, disappointments, and moral debilities!

We have the Lord with us on our side. We have him beside us, and even as He tells us to “repent and believe in the Gospel,” He also tells us the whole object of this promise, pact, and power: “THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PROTECT US IN OUR STRUGGLE AGAINST EVIL!


Ash Wednesday
February 22, 2012

Lent is once more here. Once again, the Church, through the liturgical year, is educating us, reminding us, helping us move on to “higher ground,” sort of, and seek for higher things. Ash Wednesday ushers us into the holy season, a forty-day period of preparation for the Paschal Triduum, that leads to the “highest point” of our moral and spiritual striving – the Resurrection of the Lord!

But before we can reach for the stars, we need to look at where we are. We need to do a reality check, and realize where our feet are planted. And in case you have forgotten it, they are planted solidly on terra firma – on earth, that tradition calls the “valley of tears.”

But there is more than just tears to deal with as we enter into the holy season of Lent. Let today’s readings tell us … The prophet Joel reminds us of the need to “do penance,” on account of our sins. But he takes pains to define that penance … It is not just for show, not just for compliance. He tells us to “rend our hearts, not our garments.” And what is the spirit behind such an act of penance? Our response after the first reading clinches it … No other reason but our sins, our own, and that of others: “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

We are in terra firma alright. Just look at us now … so broken and divided by so many issues. We are once again a fractious people, torn by so many conflicting interests, so many contradictory allegiances, and loyalties. Like the Corinthians of old, we take sides. We form cliques. We form alliances.

But though there is nothing inherently wrong in taking sides, the problem that we see as we journey through this valley of tears, is simply this: sin enters the picture. Selfishness comes into play. Self-centeredness and all sorts of personal agenda get factored in. Just look at our dysfunctional politics of patronage and personalities!

We are a sinful people. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!

But today, Ash Wednesday, as shown by the symbol of the ashes, we are reminded: “Be reconciled to God!” “We beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain … Now is the day of salvation.”

Today! … Here and now … Here below, in this valley of tears. We cannot think of going to higher ground unless we deal  with the reality here below. And what do we see here below? Let the Lord Himself remind us …
He talks about the need to be “on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.” He reminds us about not “blowing a horn when giving alms.” He tells us about not “behaving like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues or on street corners in order to be noticed.”

Guess what He speaks about … He talks to you and me, all prone to merely scratch the surface, and just go for the externals just for show. He reminds us of our tendency to be superficial. In such a state of affairs, there seems to be no point in reaching for the stars, when we are really down here in the dumps and caught up in the mud of sinfulness and selfishness.

The ashes are there to remind us … that we are dust, that we are nothing more than lowly humus – soil, and that to this same dust, we shall all return one day. And when we do … when we acknowledge the state we all are in, and when we do our best to reach out and cry out for help and forgiveness, that is the time, God’s mercy and compassion in Christ Jesus, our Lord, comes to lift us up, onwards to the stars, onward to the higher things, onward to heaven that is our true home.

And so we pray the Lord, “protect us in our struggle against evil.” (Opening Prayer)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

GOD WILL MAKE A WAY!


7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
19 February 2012


Today’s liturgical readings remind me of the popular saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” The Lord, through Isaiah, declares something so heartwarming, so encouraging … something we all need so much in these times … a pat on the back, a gentle push from behind, a loving nudge from above … “In the desert, I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers!”



God be praised! For this is something I, and I dare say, all of you, very sorely need now. At a time when one typhoon after another, one earthquake after another, and trials upon trials mar and tar the social fabric of our lives everywhere, we are all sorely tried … we are tested in every way.



I will be the first to confess … I am!



There was a time in my younger life when things seemed simpler, life less complicated, and the future appeared rosier. But as I get older, I realize that things also get more difficult … The air is more tainted, the water more impure, and most situations surrounding our lives more embroiled in all types of confusion … moral, political, or otherwise.



I write even as I watch portions of the raging impeachment case going on in my country, with sadness, utter frustration, disappointment, and even, at times, anger, peppered once in a blue moon with laughter. But beyond the shallow and fleeting feelings associated with the current “telenovela” going on for the whole world to see, I confess that I get despondent over a slew of bigger issues … climate change, for one … the cycle of violence and looming persecution against Christians, for another. But the list is growing longer, as far as I am concerned. The “contours of hopelessness” that Robinson (2004) wrote about, “dotting the landscape of our lives,” make me cry out in pain, as does the psalmist: “Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.”



But my plaint already gives a clue to my existential pain. And it is simply this …  the root of all this pain is nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but SIN.



Sin is ultimately behind all the malaise we are talking about, including the world’s tendency to prevaricate, to vacillate between truth and untruth, the uncanny capacity of us all to say “yes” while me mean “no” and say “no” when we mean “yes.” We are a sinful people, no more, no less. And we all are children of Adam, who denied responsibility but projected everything to the Eve, and Eve, who, herself, projected responsibility on the serpent.



I am sad … sad and sorry at what is going on everywhere … the abuse of power of those in authority … the arrogance of those who wield positions of authority in and out of government … the graft and corruption that people in high (and low!) places do with impunity.



But today’s good news leads me to be more sorry than sad. For the sorry state that we all find ourselves in, according to Scripture, really all boils down to, and is reducible to, sin … one’s own, and the sin we all take part in, by commission or omission, directly or indirectly, personal or social, for “all have fallen short of the glory of God!”



Because of sin, we live in a desert place. Because of sin, all we see is wastelands. Because of sin, we vacillate from “yes” to “no” and vice versa. Because of sin, we are not faithful … not to God, not to others, not to ourselves!



Today, in the midst of so much uncertainty and sadness, I praise God for the timely reminder that comes to us by way of the same readings. There is hope. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel of disappointment. There is a little opening that allows entry from the high ceiling of our frustrations.



The Gospel clinches it for us. If there is anyone who should be discouraged, it should have been the paralytic and those who cared for him. He was helpless to start with. But that helplessness bloomed into full blown hopelessness when they saw the house chock-full of people who all were probably equally helpless, equally needy of the Lord’s mercy and healing ministry.



But at this point, I will not repeat what I said at the start of this reflection, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” No… that is not good news, but a mere statement of human self-reliance. The Good News I am referring to, and holding onto for dear life is what Isaiah established first hand: “God will make a way!”



I say more … He tells us to open more than just the roof. He tells us to open the way to hope, forgetfulness, and to write off past records of our disappointments. He tells me, personally, today, to not allow myself to be imprisoned by past hurts, bygone events, and former frustrations and disappointments. “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.”



But there is more … The Lord opens more than just the roof! The Lord opens the floodgates of hope from above, but He does so through the human efforts of those who brought the paralytic to him. He did not discount human effort. He allowed them to use their God-given strengths and capacities. He cured the paralytic. But He did so, only once his handlers brought him right in front of the Lord.



But I am not done yet! Early on, I laid down the basis of our despondency. I said it all boils down to SIN.



And this is the ultimate good news that today’s readings tell us. The bottom line … the ultimate foundation, the real basis of our malaise is sinfulness in all guises and forms and manifestations.



The Lord is healer. In answer to our plaint, “Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you,” he takes the bull by the horns and, at the risk of resorting to mixed metaphors, he goes for jugular, sort of, and tells the paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, pick up your mat and walk.”



God, thus, indeed, makes a way. But the more important question might simply be this … Are we following the way he shows for us to follow?








Thursday, February 9, 2012

TURNING TO THE LORD IN TIME OF TROUBLE


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
12 February 2012


Turning to, or drawing near seems to be a good image to start with in today’s reflection. We turn to anyone who can help us when we are in dire straits. We draw near to someone who can take away whatever pain it is we are bearing. We turn to creditors who can save the day for us when our coffers are empty. We turn our gaze to those who have the power to lift us out of any unpleasant or painful predicament.

I used to sort of “enjoy” being sick when I was a kid … for one simple reason. My paternal grandmother would go out of her way to nurse me back to health. She did nothing much. She gave me nothing extraordinary. But I turned to her when sick with fever for she always had an extra dose of tender loving care for anyone of us kids who was sick, complete with a gentle back rub and a caring massage, way, way before spas became the craze all over.

The first reading from the book of Exodus lays the basis for the good news that will unfold in the Gospel passage. But that basis has to do with drawing near, and turning to the priest Aaron, who at that time, could do nothing more than offer some kind of an “early warning device” to inform everyone that one was sick, or, in the words of the Old Testament, “unclean.”

The Gospel passage goes beyond the issue of giving advanced warning to others. It offers a solution. It gives a cure. And it advances a cure that goes beyond the initial, shallow, diagnosis. But more than just the cure, the Gospel shows us that that cure comes from no less than the Divine Healer Himself, who now shows Himself to be the fulfillment of what was hinted to, or prefigured, by Aaron, the priest.

As a therapist, I deal with a steady stream of persons, young and old, who come to me asking for help, telling me of their so-called “presenting problems.” Whether or not what they initially present is the real, “identified problem,” the bottom line for all is the same. They all come with hurts, with issues, with concerns that are actually akin to those who come with warts, wounds, and welts on the physical plane.

They turn to someone for help, in this case, me. Like the “lepers” of old, they seek resolution of whatever “uncleanness” they suffer from. Like the leper in today’s gospel passage, they draw near to someone who could offer some light on how, and where to find solace from all their “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number.”

But the analogy between me and the Divine Healer ends right here. I cannot cure. Psychologically speaking, it is not us therapists who do the healing, but our clients. We can only guide them. We can only give them signposts, but they are really the ones who are in control, all the time. And they really are the ones who need to find deep in their storehouse of resources whatever they need to get better and find wholeness once again, in their own good time, at their own pace.

But the Divine Healer does infinitely more. He prescribes the cure. He is the cure. He is the method and the means. He is both the source and the intermediary of the gift of healing, wholeness, health, and total well-being of the person, sick not only in body, but more so in soul. He is the channel and the cure at one and the same time.

I have it on the authority of Neo-Freudians, particularly Object Relations psychologists, that the root of our psychological discomfort has to do with deficiencies and defects in our “relationships” early on in our childhood. It is not so much being stuck, as Freud taught, or an overfocus on one of three erogenous zones, as the lack of meaningful persons to relate to, to turn to, to draw near to, and feel ourselves “mirrored” by them, validated, and affirmed for who, and what we are.

I would like to think that the good news in today’s readings precisely shows “healing” to be not primarily coming from a material cure, but coming from the Healer Himself. It comes from a relationship. It comes from being attuned and attached to the Lord. And this is the wisdom behind our response to the first reading: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”

When I was sick as a boy, it was not so much what my grandma gave me. They were really nothing but crackers and orange drinks, and tasteless congee. But what mattered most was the healing touch, the gentle back rubs, the soothing massages, that told me I had someone to “turn to” … to “draw near” to, and to feel at home with.

What “cured” me was the relationship, the love, the meaningful attachment and attunement to someone who loved me unconditionally.

It was not the medicine, but the medium. Neither was it the means, but the method, not so much the cure, as the channel. And everything had to do with having one to turn to, to draw near to, and to come home to.

The good news that shines out for us all is this. We do have “object permanence,” to use a technical term, in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. He is ever here for us. He is not just Lord, but Savior … personal, relational, real, lasting, and perduring.

To Him we turn now … whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do … To Him we turn, for our country is now in far worse shape than the leper of both the first and third readings. We are once again, the object of interest of the whole world. We seem unable to get our act together. We seem to be always starting from square one all the time. And like unclean lepers of old, we tell the whole world, figuratively, to steer clear of us, and not take us very seriously, as we go on dealing with a myriad of tragedies, many of which are man-made, self-inflicted, and self-generated.

I ask my readers to turn to the Lord once again. I ask you all to help me draw near  to Him in trust once more, and go on believing that He, the Divine Healer, is ultimately our salvation.

As a nation, as we grapple with myriad problems that are politically generated, we turn you, O Lord, in time of trouble, and you will fill us with the joy of salvation! Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2012

ALL THIS FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL!


5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
February 5, 2012


I write even as I am in the midst of helping others make sense of their inner pains and hurts. During a lull in the processing that I conduct for a group of sisters and nurses engaged in helping those who are most excluded from mainstream society, I go to a different mode – the mode of the spiritual (as against the purely human, psychological mould) and reflect on the liturgy of the 5th Sunday in Ordinary time, come February 5, 2012.



But alas, there seems to be more of the same thing … at least at first blush. We hear Job with a long list of complaints and frustrations that sound very familiar to our very own experience. He does much more than just whine … he actually waxes desperate to a fault, as he declares in exasperation: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” (first reading).



The seeming hopelessness and helplessness of Job who was unable to understand the cause of all his trials and problems, however, was replaced by a hope-inducing and hope-raising testimony of Paul, who, “became all things to all, to save at least some.”



This is the same Paul who suffered through so many even life-threatening events like shipwrecks, being flogged as a common criminal, being imprisoned, and being afflicted with an unknown sickness, which he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Paul was no stranger to pain and hurts and intense suffering. But Paul also comes across to us as one who was heads and shoulders above the rest of us in his capacity to make sense out of even seemingly senseless things, places, persons, and events in his life.



He came out a winner. He came out a healer, if a wounded one. He came out of it all a victor. But not just that … He made himself all things to all … “all for the sake of the gospel!”



All for the sake of the gospel! …



We are all faced with serious issues left and right of us, behind and before us. We are barraged by a plethora of problems, both personal and communal. I, for one, have my own version of “thorn in the flesh.” I have been suffering from autoimmune skin allergies for some years now, sometimes to the point of having unbearable itchy rashes all over my body, for many times, unknown reasons. I react to all sorts of strong scents, including the strong perfumes worn by women and men, who get too close for comfort. Even an innocent scented bath soap can send me scratching and scratching till my skin turns reddish and raw. And the fabric softeners that people use too generously on just about anything can give me itchy problems that don’t seem to go away.



On the collective side, I have lived through so many coup d’etats, so many “people power” revolts, some of which are artificial and only one of which is spontaneous and real, but we are faced with massive societal problems of graft and corruption that simply won’t go away.



We are reeling under the social cancer of a dysfunctional politics based on personalities, and the so-called three G’s – guns, goons, and gold, like as if we did not revolt against them, not once, but many times over. And don’t get me started on the ecological disasters still waiting to happen, apart from those that have already repeatedly happened in the recent years.



At times, I feel like doing a Job and simply take resort to complaining: “I shall not see happiness again.”



This is one of those days when I long for answers. This is one of those occasions when I am tempted to do a Job, and just pour out my frustrations and my feelings of helplessness and hopelessness on account of so many reasons.



But I would like to assure my readers that today, there is also at least a reason, if not reasons, to refuse to follow joyless Job in his dejection, but follow the footsteps of Paul and his master Jesus, who became all things to all, in the hope of saving people like me who continue to lose hope and lose enthusiasm to do much of anything.



The institution, whose staff I am leading right now in a collective self-introspection has a beautiful document that speaks of “la esperanza de la luz en tierra de sombras,” the light of hope in a world filled with shadows. They set out to give “hospitality” to the most excluded, most rejected of society,” those who see things much worse than what Job saw in his life. They speak about their founder’s motto, which is “rogar, trabajar, sufrir, padecer, amar a Dios y al projimo, y callar” (to pray, to work, suffer, endure, love God and neighbor, and keep silent).



Their founder, one of three (St. Benedict Menni), was one who knew first hand whereof he speaks. He was exiled. He was forbidden to have anything to do with the congregation he helped found. He died in exile, misunderstood, and a victim of false reports from people who envied him.



But like Paul, like Job, like many of the saints who suffered immensely and unjustly, they ultimately became victors. They became winners. And they rose head and shoulders above all those who made life more miserable for them, at least for a while. They became beacons of hope and messengers of Christian resignation and Christian suffering.



Today, I address myself to all those who are suffering, all those who are losing hope, all those who seem to be losing it, and losing big in the pilgrimage called life. There is a meaning behind the pain. There is a reason behind all that we are undergoing. Despite all, we have the right to repeat with conviction what Job eventually said, what the psalmist so passionately declares, and what St. Paul so humbly professes: “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” “Praise the Lord, who heals the broken-hearted.” And with St. Paul, we now can grin and bear it, for we can go through them, for, at bottom, we do it all for the sake of the Gospel!


Talamban, Cebu City
February 3, 2012