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Saturday, April 28, 2012

POWER TO LAY IT DOWN; POWER TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN!


4th Sunday of Easter (B)
April 29, 2012

All three readings take up the common thread of power. The first reading from the Acts shows us the power of “faith in the name of Jesus.” The second reading from the first letter of John, for its part, shows us that love is power, too … It is generative. It makes those who believe, more than just believers, but children of God. The Gospel from John shows the ultimate sign and fruit of this power from above. Christ Jesus, has power to lay his life down, and power to take it up again!

I feel very down these days. For one, the heat is terribly stifling. With such record highs, one loses a lot of energy to do much of anything, except try one’s best not to sweat, by doing as little as possible. But there are other reasons for me to feel down and out, and even powerless. I know I am powerless before the tide of public opinion, swayed hither and thither by mainstream media. I feel for the powerless majority who really have not much power to choose, most especially in the political realm, where a politics of patronage literally shoves candidates down the throats of people who don’t know any better. And I feel sad, that, whether we accept it or not, the campaign season for 2016 has really begun in earnest, with senatorial line-ups being announced formally and informally, and political turncoats shamelessly changing camps, like they change shoes.

I feel powerless, for I agree with a writer who said that the great scandal of Christianity these days is its seeming powerlessness to curb the culture of sin and death, the culture of corruption, and the overwhelming force of darkness and evil in all aspects of our personal and societal lives.

I am sure you will agree with me if I say that the disciples, right after the death of the Lord, must have felt exactly, if not, worse than what I feel right now. They felt down and out. They felt defeated. Disappointed would be to put it mildly. And feeling powerless and deeply fearful, all they could do was huddle together up in a secluded room.

You have come to Church today, not because you are not afraid. You have come to Mass not because you feel on top of the world and are in perfect shape. No … you confessed your sinfulness, like I did, at the start of this Mass. You confessed, too, your apparent helplessness and powerlessness before the power of evil, especially organized evil everywhere. I have come here with fear and even hatred against that powerful bully northwest of us, who continue to stake out their claims to something that does not belong to them. But I also confess my lack of power.

But precisely because we have come together, our task right now is not to feed our anger, our fear, and our hopelessness. That would be to disregard the roaring good news that Christ has come to give us.
And what does He give us today?

Power … Yes … precisely what we think we do not have! And what does He tell us? For one, this power is not ours to shape and to ascertain by our unaided powers! Peter tells it clearly. The once fearful and shaking apostle who could not even face the servant girl and her curious questions, that led him to deny the Lord three times, comes out today in the open and declares unequivocally: “know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, and whom God raised from the dead. It is in his name that this man stands before you healed!”

One thing about being a long time formator and counselor is I can look back and make confident generalizations about human behavior. Young people always think themselves invincible. They have a sense of power. Once they learn to drive a car, they never think they stand a chance to meet an accident. They tend to be reckless. Being young, they have very little sense of mortality. Sickness happens to other people, but not them. I know … I was young, too, once. I relied a whole lot on myself, my own powers, or brilliance, oftentimes more imagined than real.

Today, we all hear a word or two about where power really comes. It is not generated from within. It comes from above. It comes from God, who alone is all-powerful and Almighty.

But the 2nd and 3rd readings tell us what sort of power this is about. No … this is not about the power of the mighty and the strong; the wealthy and the influential … That power has to do with gentle love, saving love, redeeming love. This is the love that makes of us more than just followers, but children of God. This is the love that makes us ONE with Him, not just one of His flock.

This power, furthermore, is one shown in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge, as C.S. Lewis teaches. This is the love shown by a Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for his sheep,” who “knows” his flock and who is known by them in turn. He is responsible even for those who do not belong to his flock, and respects them enough to lead them too pasture,too.

When all of us were younger, we thought of power and influence in terms of being mighty and strong. We all played war games when we were kids, Allied forces against enemy forces, and every time, victory was with the more powerful, and the better equipped. Even as adults, most of us at times tend to think we need more money, higher positions, and greater power for us to do good. We get drunk by the idea of wielding more and more … money, position, prestige.

Today, the Good News convicts us as much as it shames us. The power that the Lord shows and gives resides more in love. It has nothing to do with weapons, and definitely not with wealth. He who saves in love was shamed, humiliated, even hunted down and put to death. No greater suffering was ever meted out to any man before and after. And no greater love than this was ever shown by any man alive or dead. This man is Lord. He is Master. Teacher. Rabbi. Savior and Christ! He has power to lay it down, and power to take it up again!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

FOOD TO FAILURES; FRIENDSHIP TOWARDS THE UNFRIENDLY; SALVATION TO SINNERS


3rd Sunday Easter (B)
April 22, 2012


I don’t know whether being sort of failures in this rat-race world, as the Philippines, apparently is, has to do with believing. I don’t know whether being low on the economic ladder necessarily translates to being high on the belief scale. But as every student of research knows, correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and poverty, or being collective failures in the political and economic scene, ought not be taken as the cause of our very high belief index.

A recent US write-up puts the United States and the Philippines as among the countries who believe most in God, with the former at 81 per cent, and the latter at 94 per cent. The US have had a long history of prosperity. The Philippines have had a long story of collective poverty and political pain. The overwhelming majority of both countries claim to believe in God.

Why do I write about this on this third Sunday of Easter? Simple … the Gospel passage from Luke, whilst sounding eerily like the Gospel passage last week, adds a further detail … The Risen Lord asks for food (some fish), and eats with his disciples. He breaks bread with frightened seeming failures all, who followed him and his teachings until He was put to death via summary execution.

I don’t know how much longer the US and the Philippines and other countries who top the list of believers in the world can hold up to the various “hungers” that the world now presents. For one, there is hunger for supremacy. The North Koreans are offended that the rest of the world did not look too kindly at their incursions into space, firing off a rocket that disintegrated two minutes into the flight, threatening “war” against what they call “traitors.” China is bullying the Philippines and the rest of those who hold stakes at uninhabited shoals more than a thousand miles away from them, and just less than two hundred miles away from the Philippines.

There, too, is the hunger of unrest in mid-eastern countries, heretofore, bastions of stability under dictators, but now teetering on edge on account of a new wave of enlightened, digitally managed “revolutions.” Consequentially, for poorer nations like the Philippines who are heavily dependent on oil, the unrest of insecurity and instability owing to unmanageable inflation and the rising prices of basic commodities, begins to rear its ugly head, threatening other forms of instability in a people who, for the most part, are living a hand-to-mouth existence for more than half a century.

Like the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, we are more than just frightened. We are also hungry … uncertain … full of questions and all.

But wait … We also believe eminently that there is a God. We are a people blessed with a strong faith, even if, at times like these, faith in Him seems all we have, when everything else, including faith in a dysfunctional political system, and in a corrupt-laden system of leadership and governance, all seems to follow the way of the fearful disciples huddled together in the Upper Room.

We are hungry. We are suffering. We are uncertain, and we, definitely, are also frightened.

This is the backdrop of today’s good news. The Risen Lord appears to the same fearful and uncertain bunch of believers. But I take it you noticed, that being fearful does not necessarily mean being unfaithful. I take it you noticed, too, that being frightened and uncertain does not necessarily translate to being unbelievers, even as, in the case of the United States, being prosperous does not necessarily mean people no longer should believe in God, that they can do most everything without God, and that a prosperous life is an automatic block to believing.

I got this piece of good news for you … The Risen Lord comes precisely to the aid of those who are frightened and fearful. And what is his response to this? He asks. He begs. He requests the help of those who seemed helpless, the seeming failures, the frightened disciples who were deep in confusion. He asks for food. And wait … he does more … He eats with them … reminiscent of the breaking of bread at the Last Supper … reminiscent, too, of the breaking of bread with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus.

I am frightened. I am fearful. Uncertainty still hangs heavy in the air … everywhere in the world. A politics of vengeance fills the daily news where I am. A politics of parties with the horns of opposition and rebellion locked neatly in a perpetual struggle characterizes the life of people in many countries. Bullying and political terrorism seem to be the run of the day.

But lest we forget ... We are not just fearful. We are, also, sinful. We are sinners. And sinners are not very friendly to God. We make unjust laws, and if we had just laws, we skirt around them. We are corrupt , and corruption happens in our country from top to bottom, even if we lay blame only on certain big fish, and are vociferous against them, partly to cover up for our own sinfulness.

We believe in a Risen Lord, but we are not necessarily risen in our failures. We are not necessarily fed in our hungers. Many of us, claim to believe, and yet not strive to belong. Many of us believe in a personal God, but not in a God who chose to act in and through a Church, a community of believers, where believing ought, first and foremost, show itself in total belonging.

The Risen Lord reminds us once again. “Peace be with you.” He asks us, then, and now: “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” From the hungry, He asks for food. To the failures, he offers food and camaraderie. To the unfriendly, He proffers the intimacy of friendship that can only come from the Eucharist – the fractio panis, the ritual and sign of the breaking of the bread. To sinners, He continues to offer salvation.

That is who we are … hostile and unfriendly … fearful and sinful … The Good News to people like us? … food to failures; friendship to the unfriendly, and salvation to sinners!

“Lord, let your face shine on us!”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

BELONGING, BEGOTTEN, BELIEVING


2nd Sunday of Easter (B)
April 15, 2012


I write from Seoul, South Korea, while awaiting the ordination rites of a fellow Salesian, a former student at our theologate in Paranaque, and who worked for a few years in various settings in Manila and Guam. Being here, and having the possibility to break bread and do Eucharist, together with Korean confreres and others from various nationalities, all belonging to the same family of Don Bosco – the Salesians – is a very good starting point for a reflection for this second Sunday or the Octave of Easter.

The resurrection of the Lord, whilst it is one of the foundations of our Christian faith, goes beyond remembrance of an event. It is THE  event, on which a train of other events and realities are intertwined.

Let the three readings speak for themselves, as ought to be, definitely, the case, each Sunday.

The first reading would have us understand what it means to be a follower of the Risen Lord. In plain and simple language, it has to do with belonging. It has to do with being in community. It all has to do with being supported by, and finding recourse to, and definitely also contributing to, the life of people who live their lives, now as one, as a people whose lives are intertwined with one another. “They lived of one heart, and of one mind … and they had everything in common.”

The second reading, for its part, lays the basis for such a deep unity and commonality of life. And that has to do with being united to, and associated with, the one begotten from above, the one born of the Father – Jesus Christ, our Lord. We, too, the reading says, can be born from above if we believe in Jesus as the Christ, if we love God, and keep His commandments. It is then, and only then, that we begin to belong. Only then can we speak of ourselves as also begotten from above.

The Gospel, as usual, is the clincher to the rich tapestry of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Whilst the first two readings remind us of the call for us to belong through being begotten from above, the Gospel tells us what this process of becoming begotten and thus  - belonging, to the community of believers means.

It means doing one’s fair share of the work. It means not just waiting, but willing to be initiated to the community of believers. It means not just passive waiting, but active engagement in the process of becoming what we are called to be.

Let me illustrate what this means …

It means, first of all, going through locked doors and asking to be let in a gathering of fearful disciples. It means taking that first bold step to erase one’s doubts and being open to the acceptance of a truth that stares you in the face. It means being open to growing in the truth, and being humble enough to accept that one does not have all the answers all the time. It means that one is strong enough to accept that even runners sometimes stumble, and that one’s strong attachment to the Lord also needs to be tested and tried.

I love Thomas. He has had a bad rap in the biased press of his times and ours. They call him all sorts of names. The one that stuck for all time is “Thomas the Doubter.” But he also has been called, partly, Thomas the unbeliever.

Today, I would like us all to focus on what he eventually became after taking that bold step towards finding the truth, and once, found, accepting it. I would like us to think and speak of him as “Thomas the Believer.”

Why am I sympathetic to Thomas? Simple … He stands for me. He stands, as well, for you and everyone else I know, and everybody else you know. He stands for us all, for who among us did not doubt? Who among us, at some point, did not believer? Who among us did not look for proofs for any little thing we hear and encounter on a daily basis? Who among us did not, at some point or other in our lives, did not succumb to skepticism and disbelief?

I know I do. Very often. Truly. Undeniably.

I doubt that things will get better before they get worse. I doubt about so many politicians who can promise you anything, including raising people from the dead, and end up not doing anything, even far less than that impossible feat. I have lost faith and trust in a dysfunctional political system in my country and perhaps all over the world. But you can say, this is nothing but human doubt and human disbelief.

Yes … but I do worse. Living as I do in a postmodern context, I live and act and behave, at times, like God never existed. Worse, I live and move, and behave, like I never belonged, bitten black and blue by disappointment upon disappointment at the institutional Church that has made me suffer so much in life. At times, I know, I have mistrusted leaders and pastors and superiors, who, in my rash judgment, probably sacrificed my personal welfare on the altar of expediency and that ever-present, subtle, but very real, politics in religious life, in the Congregation, and in the Church.

Having been begotten from above … having belonged to a community of believers for long, I may have acted in so many ways against the good and welfare of this same body or community of believers.

In these occasions, Christ may have risen from the dead, but I personally have remained dead in my skepticism and utter disbelief, and therefore – very much dead and unrisen!

I speak for every Tom, Dick, and Harry (and every Juan de la Cruz of my country), who have been born, belonged for a while, but is dead in his unbelief and disappointment.

Today is a day when we are confronted in our shallow beliefs and even shallower spirit of belongingness. Christ is Risen! Christ, begotten from above, now calls us to perfect begottenness, too, by belonging, and truly believing.

We have one more chance to set things right. And we have today an example that is so brilliant, so becoming, so uplifting. Thomas … He belonged. He was begotten. And he believed, despite all.

“My Lord and my God!” I believe in you. Help my unbelief!

Salesio
Salesian Provincial House
Seoul, Korea April 14, 2012
9:30 AM

Saturday, April 7, 2012

NEITHER ON LIES, NOR ON LUNACY, BUT ON LIGHT!


EASTER SUNDAY
APRIL 8, 2012


Churches everywhere around the country and the world, were mostly filled last Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The washing of the disciples’ feet, which led to watching with the Lord in vigil, produced snaking lines of people, and more hordes of people for the watchful waiting before the altar of repose. And although liturgically speaking, the period called the Paschal Triduum that began during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and which closes with the  Easter Vigil, ought not be dedicated to confessions, snaking lines were seen in every Church where the unsung heroes of Holy Week in the Philippines, the priests, held their fort, heroically, steadfastly, for many long hours of Thursday and Friday.

Lent should have ended on Holy Thursday morning. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper began the paschal triduum, and the three-day period was meant no longer to be penitential days, but a three-day celebration of the Paschal Mystery, that is, the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. This explains why the liturgy on Maundy Thursday began with the sign of the cross, but did not end with a final blessing. The same is true with Good Friday’s veneration of the cross … no sign of the cross in the beginning, and no blessing at the end. The whole three days was meant to be one continuum of a celebration, that reaches its high point with the Easter vigil.

My reflection last Good Friday had to do with the issue of Christ’s Lordship, as against mere lies or lunacy.

Let me unpack this a little bit more. In our times, anything that is not acceptable to the hearer or readers is branded as lies. Just look at our mainstream media. Everything that does not jibe with one’s preconceived notion of truth, or does not square with one’s brand of facts is passed off as a canard, a blatant lie, or as propaganda.

The soldiers who guarded the Lord’s tomb and “lost it,” as it were, were told to seal the event with a big lie … “His disciples came at night and stole the body.” That, by the way, settled the issue of the “empty tomb.” But it did not answer for the many apparitions and visions of the Risen Lord after the body was reportedly stolen. Take note, dear reader, that the disciples who told and retold the story of the Risen Lord, reported their story not based on the empty tomb, per se, but based on what they saw … “We have seen the Lord!” In other words, the sight of the empty tomb might have given them the initial impetus, the initial drive, but it did not explain what they proclaimed later as a fact … “The Lord is risen just as He has said!”

In our times, too, everything that is mysterious and not easily explainable in scientific terms is made to pass off as something that only lunatics can conjure up. The resurrection, some of these so-called wise men say, is a fruit of the exuberance of sick minds, or of a lunatic mind-set.

But whilst it can contradict for a while, what one or two of these witnesses say, that point to the experience, as against mere fact, of the resurrection, the same argument cannot hold water over a cloud of witnesses that stand up for their own experience of the same fact, the same event, the same promise and fulfillment. Lunacy may be ascribed to one or two of them, but lunacy cannot forever explain the Christ event, in general, and most especially the resurrection event. For one thing, whose lunacy ought we ascribe this to? To Jesus? No lunatic ever goes through such lengths just to tell the world he is insane. To Peter and the college of apostles? To the Church at large, now in existence for more than 2,000 years?

One of the twelve might have gone overboard, as, indeed, Judas the Betrayer did, but are we to posit that all the rest of the twelve, along with Jesus’ own mother, Mary, and the rest of the small band of brothers and sisters who followed him wherever he went, were all under the influence of the waxing and waning of the moon? What about the millions and millions from generation to generation, who have witnessed, not primarily to the fact, but to their own experience of the Resurrection for over two thousand years, up until our times?

Yes, it was based neither on lunacy, nor lies.

It was all based on the light that He came to bring … the light that shone upon all men. It was based on the light that He was … “I am the light of the world.” And no lamp is lit, only to be placed under a bushel basket, but lit to shed light for everyone in the room.

This is why the Easter Vigil started with the blessing of the new fire. This is why we entered a darkened Church, with only the light of the Paschal Candle leading us, for Christ is, indeed, our Light.

This in essence is what we celebrate today – the coming of Jesus the Light, to lighten our darkness. And boy! What darkness surrounds us now.

Now is not the occasion for me to list down what darknesses envelope us. Now is the time for me to glory in the light. For this light has negated the ultimate darkness that is behind all other darkness of the mysterious human endeavor and enterprise. Where there are human beings like you and me, there is sinfulness, there is unfaithfulness, there is lack of integrity, and moral weakness. Most of all, there is death, the ultimate fruit of sin, and the ultimate darkness.

Jesus, by rising, has broken that spell. He has brought new life. He has smashed the shackles that bind our human spirit to helplessness and hopelessness. He is Risen. Alleluia! Just as He had promised, Alleluia!

Nasugbu, Batangas
Pico de Loro – 3:55 PM

Friday, April 6, 2012

LIAR, LUNATIC, OR LORD?


Good Friday
April 6, 2012


Yesterday, we reflected on the act of ritual washing that then paved the way to watching. Jesus, anticipating the end of his earthly sojourn, and aware of the rising tension between the forces of darkness against the forces of light, became the ever provident Lord and Savior that God always is for us His people. He instituted the Priesthood. And by instituting thereby, too, the Eucharist, the first Holy Mass ever celebrated on earth, the first unbloody yet fully meritorious sacrifice offered in this world, Jesus saw to it that the act of redemption He was just about to do – a bloody and ignominious death on the cross, would be perpetuated and repeated in an unbloody manner for all times and for all peoples. The one and unique Redeemer, who redeemed all of humanity in one fell swoop, sort of, in one bloody and perfect Sacrifice on the Cross, thus assured that salvation goes on up till now, for all days, and for always.

The washing of the feet – the granting and institutionalization of the office of ordained ministers held by priests patterned after His own heart, assured the presence of those who would keep watch over the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar, and do that saving memorial from then on, till the end of time.

We did our own little part in the watching. We kept vigil, before the altar of repose. For today, Good Friday, in deference to that one, unique and humanly unrepeatable ACT of redemption on the Cross, the Church does not celebrate Eucharist. The Church stands still and venerates the wood of the Cross, on whom our redemption was wrought.

Good Friday, for all its richness and complexity, for all its dour seeming silence and lack of pomposity, is a day of contrasts, a day of reversals, a day unlike all other days. Today, we are face to face with a big choice, a solemn personal decision, quite unlike the decision of the crowds when they shouted “hosannas” at first, and then hollered “crucify him” the next. No … the crowds don’t matter anymore when the Lord would be led alone almost, followed by no more than his closest followers, a tiny band of brothers and sisters who kept watch till the end. The washing that ought to have led to watching with the Lord, unfortunately, through sin and human weakness, hardly took place last night. The three choicest disciples slept through the vigil, as he shed blood, sweat, and tears at Gethsemani.

Today, together with Mary and a handful of women and men who would stand at the foot of the cross, we need to decide. We need to choose. We need to proclaim where we stand, and declare Jesus of Nazareth either as LIAR, LUNATIC, OR LORD!

It is hard to decide. It is even harder to choose. And it is most difficult to acclaim what even Scripture seems to present in an ambiguous manner. The first reading from Isaiah leads the pack, sort of. It speaks of ignominy and utter humiliation. But it also speaks of glorious exaltation.  It refers to a marred countenance. Yet in the same vein it talks about many being amazed at him; startled at him would be more like it. Isaiah speaks of a sapling with “no stately bearing.” But take note, there is a sudden shift of focus in Isaiah’s words. The very nondescript appearance of the Son of Man, the very sufferings – “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins,” – took on an altogether different meaning. “By his stripes we were healed!” Isaiah becomes even more prophetic and declares his choice which was clearer than Sprite … “Because of his affliction, he shall see the light in fullness of days … And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”

No one goes through all that if Jesus were a liar! No one submits himself to such pains and sorrows unless one is a lunatic! A liar, like Judas, who even had the temerity to declare, “surely, it is not I, Lord!” would not have the strength, courage, integrity and resiliency to stand for one’s convictions till the very end. A liar would simply slip away, like a frightened snake, out into the labyrinthine darkness, far out in the lairs of more lies.

A liar would not stand up for anything. A liar would not guarantee anything. But Jesus did … “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without committing sin” (2nd reading).

So was Jesus a lunatic then? Was he a nut who simply went through a charade of pain and suffering, after making preposterous claims, after taking his band of erstwhile followers for a ride?

Let us put Pilate on the therapist’s couch and see … He did a thorough clinical assessment of the supposed lunatic, the Christ. He did an equally thorough criminal background check of the Nazarene. He asked the right questions. He pried the correct data. He rephrased his questions and did the equivalent of “cross examination” and “redirect” examination. No lunatic ever stands with integrity and consistency and courage for what he declares. “My kingdom is not of this world … You say I am a king … You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

Jesus said it all, with courage and consistency. Jesus did it all. Like a lamb, he was led to the slaughter. He did the unthinkable. He went through the unimaginable. But what he did, drove the nail of truth that cannot be denied or downplayed for all times and seasons … that the power of God was revealed in weakness and humiliation!

This is not something for liars! Neither is this something for idiotic lunatics! Ironically, the soldier who pierced his side, declared what should be our choice, what should be our own decision, and our own declaration … “Truly, this man is the Son of God.” He is no liar. He is no lunatic. Jesus Christ is Lord!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

WASHING & WATCHING

Holy Thursday
April 5, 2012


The best of Pinoy popular religiosity, along with its worst, shines out beginning today, first day of the Paschal Triduum. Even as I sit down to write these reflections, hordes are now making their way up Mount Banahaw, or trekking in the concrete jungles of Metro Manila to go to Antipolo, or “carrying their little or big crosses” everywhere in Central Luzon, particularly in Pampanga, to do their own version of “washing and watching.”

Elsewhere, throughout the Tagalog region, particularly in Batangas and Cavite, the singing of the Pasiong Mahal of the unsung poet Mariano Pilapil, could be heard or espied taking place in just about every prominent family’s house, or in humble abodes everywhere else. In Poblacion, Makati, the old Sampiro, dozens of what is called “kalbaryos” house the family-owned statues depicting the various events related to the passion of the Lord, where endless singing of the same pasiong mahal is done, replete with food and drinks for everyone to share.

But there is more than just poetry in the Paschal Triduum. There, too, is pageantry – a whole lot of it, along with a lot of passion and emotional intensity, coming to a climax on Good Friday, when quiet, solemn, and dour processions of the Santo Entierro will take place. In Sampiro, Makati, hundreds of veiled and barefoot devotees will silently wend their way through Poblacion’s now car-ridden roads, to register their sharing in the passion of the Lord.

A common feature in the poetry and pageantry of it all is the idea of getting a “washing.” In Banahaw, the ritual of bathing in the portion of the river where the famous “yapak ni Jesus” is found will take place. Those who do the treks up Banahaw or to Antipolo will be bathed in sweat, whilst those who do the “penitencia” of getting flagellated and flogged as they traverse the thoroughfares of Pampanga and the rest of Northern Luzon, will be bathed in their own blood, sweat, and tears.

As a priest, even as I try to lead the flock towards a more theologically, pastorally, and liturgically sound devotional practice, I voice no condemnation to the many times ignorant and unschooled popular religiosity that abounds all over the country. Presumably, my readers would know better than to think that such popular religious acts encapsulate the fullness and the richness of the Catholic liturgy during the Paschal Triduum.

I write, primarily, for them – for you who get to read this now.

But truth to tell, there, too, is some kind of washing in today’s liturgy – the washing of the feet. But while the idea of getting washed in the Pinoy popular mind has to do with personal washing, the type that has to do with getting cleansed from one’s sins, and being worthy of trudging along with the Lord towards the glory of Easter, in the Catholic Maundy Thursday liturgy, that ritual washing of the feet does not primarily have to do with personal cleansing. The washing of the feet has to do, not with the person washed, but with the one who does the washing!

That washing is done by no less than the Lord Himself – the very same one who in a few short hours will show to the hilt what it means to embody what Isaiah prophesied about the suffering servant of Yahweh, the gentle lamb led to the slaughter with nary a whimper and a complaint.

Today is my day, as it is a day of all my brother priests, ordained for ministry of service. Today, we are in the limelight and the foreground, not because of us as persons, but because of Him who called us and sent us, to do as He did – to serve and not to be served.

Though most times, it is hard for Pinoys right now to see the service behind the garb we wear … although, priesthood, at least in the Philippines is associated with being in power, being esteemed, and being pampered even by the very people we claim to serve, I would like to impress upon my readers that it was never meant to be that way. I beg apologies to the lay people if I, or we all, have given the impression that we are more to be served, than to be treated as servants.

I have sinned. I am a sinner. We all share in humanity’s sinful nature. And it is here where the idea of washing comes in. The Lord washed his disciples’ feet. That includes me and my fellow ordained ministers. He died for me, for you, for each and everyone of us. His blood washed away our sins, and rendered us worthy to do so much as follow Him, albeit so feebly, most times.

The Church, in her ministers, still does this washing. Now, it is not water that touches our feet. Now that washing takes the form of bashing. The Church and her ministers at times, are hated, derided, looked down on. Some of them even died and shed their blood on account of this hatred. Not that some of us are not worthy of such. Indeed, some of us have done dastardly acts as not to merit being trusted anymore to wash other people’s feet.

But this washing that we do is precisely the same washing that we all need. We all, lay and clergy alike, need to go through our own Red Sea, our own Passover. But that journey through the sea, of passing over from slavery to freedom, that “washing” sort of, has to translate at some point, to watching.

In the first reading, households were told to offer an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. They were asked to eat it in haste, as if preparing to go for a long journey, with loins girt and sandals on their feet, and staff in hand. They were told to be watchful and ready.

In the New Testament, that Passover meal was what took place in the Upper Room, where Jesus led his disciples to the ritual of washing, followed by watching. After eating the Passover meal, and showing the example that the disciples were to follow … after instituting the twin Sacraments of the Priesthood and the Eucharist, he retired to Gethsemani, where he told his disciples to “watch and pray with Him.”

This is a night that is full, not just of poetry and pageantry. It is full of theology and mystery. The Master reversed roles and became servant. He washed his disciples’ feet. But the same Lord offered Himself as sacrifice, so that that act of washing can become a feature not just for that night, but for all time.

We have been washed and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. Now, reconciled to the Father and to one another, we do what is most logical … watch with Him at Gethsemani. Worship Him who is the Eucharistic Lord, the bread come down from heaven, blessed, broken, and shared that we might live. Forever. Washing and watching … this is what we all essentially do, in Church tonight, in all Kalbaryos in Sampiro, Makati … in all pabasas everywhere else in the country! Let us rise and walk with Him, and die and rise with Him!