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Thursday, May 31, 2012

IN HIM ALONE – GOD, ONE IN THREE


MOST BLESSED TRINITY
June 3, 2012


Mental gymnastics will most likely be the run of the day, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity. Many preachers like me will try, once again in vain, to explain away neatly what is essentially a mystery to be accepted, and not a problem to be dissected.

It might interest everyone to note that not even Scriptures attempted to explain it away, and remove all veils that cover the essentially unfathomable truth about God. One thing clear in Scriptures is this. God, simply chose to reveal Himself gradually in history, in vivo,  I might add, in the events that transpired right from the day Abraham was called to leave Ur and go to the promised land.

One more thing is clear from Scripture. There is no other God besides Him. He alone is God.  He alone is Creator.  He alone is Savior. He alone is Redeemer, and He alone is life-giver and sustainer of the very same life that He gave.

Moses would have his people remember this with finality: “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” (1st reading).

But Scriptures refer to Him as creator of all things. This much is clear from Genesis. Much later, Jesus, sent from God and Son of God, would talk about Him as Father, His Father and ours. From a liberator and Patron, deliverer and savior, His image became that of Father and Lover, who loved the world so much as to send someone for the world’s salvation.

Scriptures thus talk not only about this tremendous Lover. It speaks about the Beloved, whom He sent that the world might have life in its fullness. “God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son ...”
But the ongoing saga does not stop there. This same God is referred to repeatedly in Scriptures as both Lover and Beloved, distinct, but not disjointed. Father and Son are declared One by no less than the Beloved One whom the Father owned up to when Jesus was baptized: “This is my only begotten Son. Listen to him.” The Lover and the Beloved, in their effusive and diffusive mutual love, produced its most natural and logical fruit – Love that we all now come to share and take part in.

This Love is the Spirit that issues forth from the love between Father and Son. This same Love is He who resides in our bodies as His temples. This same Love lives and reigns with the Father and the Son, and who is behind our right to be called Sons and daughters of God ... for “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (2nd reading)

But Scriptures also do not just offer us truths to masticate forever in our grey matters. Scriptures do not offer us abstractions to digest eternally. Scriptures simply offer us a way of life, a codification of the basic tenets of faith that have to do with concrete life, and not empty abstractions that have nothing to do with life.

Let me put it as simply as possible. An old, old line clinches it for me. A poem is a poem even if it is not recited. A song is still a song even if it is not sung. But love is not love until it is given away and shared.
This, in simple words, is what Trinity is all about. The Trinity is about a God in action. The Trinity is about a God who loves, whose first object of His love is His Beloved – Christ Jesus His Son, Savior, Redeemer. But that love that is shared is none other than the Spirit poured out, shared and given, for the life of the world!

And this being given, being shared, and being poured out is what Christian life is all about. This is the call and the command for you and me, who now bask under the warmth of this Trinitarian life and love: “Go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

It is all about Him. In Him alone is our joy, strength, and hope, for grace and peace comes from God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 25, 2012

FILL ONCE MORE THE HEARTS OF BELIEVERS!


Pentecost Sunday
May 27, 2012

My father was a diabetic in his sunset years. Being highly disciplined personally, he was admirable in terms of his self-control when it comes to food intake. Nevertheless, there were moments when, owing to unavoidable circumstances, his blood sugar would go down and he would be a little disoriented, confused, irritable, and physically weak. On such occasions, he would need an instant “shot in the arm” sort of, and that means a quick sugar fix that would almost instantly raise his blood sugar level. That would put him back to his old, usual self in a short while.

The events that happened more than fifty days before today’s solemn event were both enervating, and energizing at the same time. The triumphant entry to Jerusalem opened it with a lot of positive energy, with people lustily welcoming the perceived leader who would deliver an enslaved people from subjugation under the Romans. That was definitely energizing. A few days after, however, their glorious hosannas were turned into rueful condemnations to crucifixion. That was more than just a put-down. But three days after, sorrow turned into joy and exultation, when he rose from the dead.

Things and events could be enervating or energizing in the end. When things happen in a way we don’t expect and plan for, we get despondent. We get discouraged. We become weak in our resolve. But the same is true when we don’t see the whys and the wherefores of those same events ... when we do not see where it begins and how it will end. We become discouraged when something we expect to be what we believe it is, happens for an entirely different reason, for a totally different purpose.

When the Lord entered Jerusalem in triumph, there was reason for exultation. After all, who would not extol when the promised redeemer and polical leader had finally come to liberate them from the clutches of foreign domination? But then it all turned into is exact opposite when the pall of pain and gloom fell on them one Friday afternoon. Their upbeat energy was immediately turned into disappointment and despondency.

In many ways, on many occasions, our joy seems to be upturned and upset by sorrow – for a motley of reasons. One does not need to study history to realize this. One only needs to look at one’s own experience. One only needs to read Scripture and see how “evil happens to good people,” and how evil often triumphs and steals not only our inner peace but our resolve to stand fast in the good.

I have it on the authority of today’s readings that the final chapter to life in general and our finite existence here on earth is not about pain and suffering and despondency. No ... we are called to life, and when Scripture talks about life, it talks about the only life that really matters in the end. And what matters is not really life as we know it in this world, but life with God in heaven.

Today’s solemnity reminds me precisely of this “shot in the arm” that I referred to above. Our collective energy is down. Our collective “blood sugar level” has fallen. Our country has seen so much divisiveness and distrust all under the guise of good governance. We have fallen victim to our national propensity to hatred and cynicism. We don’t trust each other anymore. And we all suffer on account of all this.

We need more than a shot in the arm.

This, to me, is what Pentecost is all about. The resurrection and ascension was all about God glorifying and exalting His Son and defining who He is for us, for the world, and for humanity at large. But Pentecost goes beyond this. Pentecost is all about God outpouring, God profusely giving, God generously granting us the powers from within that gives us, in turn, the power to face a world so marred by division and disunity.

We have families estranged from each other after decades of bickering and wrangling in court. We have political parties taking up battle lines with both sides unsheathing their swords and taking up battle positions, destroying one another in the process, and destroying the peace in our commonweal.

We have so much hatred for so-called crooks and corrupt people around us, and are so quick to condemn other s even if all we can hold on to are “truths” peddled by mainstream media. We condemn one another like as if we have seen for ourselves the evidences but which are really interpretations that come from interested parties, no matter how seemingly honourable.

I am personally enervated by all this ... nay ... I am discouraged. I am saddened by so much negativity and hatred and condemnation. The level of societal regression in terms of anger at injustice has, in many cases, turned into anger as injustice.

I need a shot in the arm. My sugar level is way down low. I need to be energized. And that is precisely what takes place today. The Holy Spirit comes down to empower me and all of us once again. He comes to bring us together, in such a way that even if we speak so many languages of love and hatred, we can still be once gain made one, made whole, and made sane by the life-giving Spirit of love, joy, peace, unity, and strength.

Come, Holy Spirit! Bind this nation by your power. Heal our land ... Heal our souls. Purge us of hatred and disunity and division. Make us whole once again ... one body with many parts, one Church with many members, one family of nations and peoples all struggling together to reach our common life and our only true home – heaven! At times like these when our cups seem empty, our hearts seem bereft of energy, fill once more the hearts of believers!

May 25, 2012
Tai, Mangilao, Guam

Thursday, May 17, 2012

WITH HEARTS ENLIGHTENED, GO INTO THE WHOLE WORLD!


Solemnity of the Ascension (B)
May 20, 2012


The first entry of the Lord to the city of Jerusalem during Palm Sunday was no less than triumphant, no doubt. They did all they could, and used whatever was handy, and within arms’ length to give him a welcome fit for a king … cloaks, branches, palm fronds, whatever!

The people were enlightened, sort of! Or were they?

History teaches us a whole lot of lessons. One of them is the need for us to be prudent and suspend judgment at least until the dust has settled and the bigger picture has come out in bold relief. Hitler started out as salvation in progress, a charismatic leader who was expected to lead Germany out of obscurity and relative powerlessness, by any standard … economic, political, etc. But so was Mussolini! Hordes of young Italians rallied behind him! I am sure Alexander the Great had his moment of jubilation for a time, as he marched home bringing the spoils of war, to shouts of victory and adulation of the ecstatic crowds!

Those people sure were enlightened in some way? Or were they?

Generalissimo Franco of Spain was no different. He came in as savior. He was enthroned as reformer. And whilst a great part of Spain hated him, a great part, too, adored him. Who are we now to say who among those two groups, divided right smack at the middle, was enlightened?

Both groups, I should say, were enlightened … sort of!

Today, the celebration in the Liturgy, I would like to believe, has to do with getting the bigger picture. Let me explain why …

The people of Jerusalem did well in welcoming the Lord with the spirit of triumph and exaltation. Their perceived military leader has come, after all. Their expected savior has come in, someone who would be expected to give it to the Roman conquerors and dictators!

Were they enlightened? Sure, but enlightened not in the way the readings would eventually have us understand. Did they see hope in Jesus? Sure! Did they see in him someone who would do as they thought he had promised? As they thought Scripture in general had promised? Yes …

We mortals are all in the same boat all the time. We were suffering more than two decades ago. We thought we needed a change. We asked for it, and we got it. And we placed all our eggs in one basket. We changed our constitutions and replaced our leaders. We rallied behind a war-cry that says “di na ko papayag mawala ka muli; di na ko papayag na muling mabawi …” Never again, we said. Never again, we promised. Were we enlightened? Sort of? Maybe! Yes, truly. Yes, but partially? Yes, but …

So what is our answer? Cautious? Tentative? Definitive?

The people in Jerusalem were very definite when Jesus came in triumph. In fact, they cried, “hosanna to the Son of David!” But they did have a big problem a few days later. Their hosannas were replaced by condemnation, by the cry for crucifixion!

They saw worse, not better. They heard the promises alright, but not the right kind of promises that the Lord uttered. They saw only one side of the picture, not the total picture. They understood the Scriptures, or at least the part they wanted to understand, and missed the others they did not want to hear.

Today, among many other things, is a reality check. For us. For the world. For everybody. In the first reading from the Acts, after the Risen Lord had shown himself repeatedly, sadly, there were still those who misread his cues and asked the 64 dollar question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They probably were learned, but not necessarily enlightened. They probably knew Scripture, but they did not understand prophecy. They held on to a promise, but stopped short of believing in its fulfillment.

Today, we recall the triumphant entry to Jerusalem and the enlightenment it brings us. They were honest in their rejoicing, and they were equally sincere in their condemnation. We would like to believe we are on the way to genuine enlightenment. We hold on to the prayer of Paul as he wrote the Ephesians: “May God give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call; what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”

We now see the bigger picture. Today the Lord makes his entry to the new and heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, he has come and gone physically from our sight to restore the kingdom. He has come to make this kingdom come real and come true for us who believe.

But I am not about to stop here. What does this enlightenment lead us to?

It leads to a duty. It leads to a mission. It leads to a movement. It leads to a task … “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

We still have a long way to go. Just look at how divided we are as a people Just look at how each side of two warring camps quote truth and justice, with both sides seeing only a portion of the bigger picture. Just see how fanatical we all could be defending our positions. And just look at how we can (to borrow Kahlil Gibran’s words), build a wall by destroying a fence on the other side.

The Lord is risen! True that! The Lord ascended into heaven. True, too. But what may need a little more enlightenment is us who may still be staring up into space, piously looking at what Jesus did, instead of asking ourselves, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Go. Teach. Preach. Proclaim. Not here. Not there. To the whole world!

Friday, May 11, 2012

STAY! REMAIN! IN PLACE! IN GOD!


6th Sunday of Easter (B)
13 May 2012


Someone has written years ago that love is primarily shown in presence, not presents. In our culture nowadays, which encourages labor migration, unable as the country is, to give employment to hordes of college graduates, love is done and executed long-distance. More than a decade ago, long distance telephone was the favorite means and method to convey love. In our times, it is “Facetime,” or, more probably “Skype” for a good number of our countrymen.

Many of us cannot afford to stay home and be jobless. Many of us who prefer to, do claim to stay put, and reap all the benefits of being present to one’s family and loved ones, but unless he or she was born with a silver spoon in the mouth, staying home and staying put does not necessarily put food on the table.

I speak of presence today, for that is what the Lord emphasizes in today’s gospel passage from John the Evangelist. He talks of love, of course, and that is something that seems so obvious from the English version of Scripture. But what is not so obvious is the deeper underlying meaning behind the word used to convey what, unfortunately, can only be translated into English in one word – love, for agape, not love, to stand for eros and philia, which are two other words in Greek for the same English “love.”

So what difference do they make?

To answer this, we need to go right back to the readings … to Scripture.

In the first reading, we hear of the pagan Cornelius submitting himself and his entire household to Baptism. God’s love, we are told indirectly, has no bounds. Let us face it … human love, that both eros and philia are, has its boundaries. It has its limits, beyond which it cannot go. As they say, “out of sight; out of mind.” When we love long-distance, sooner or later, we will lose touch. Sooner than we imagine, we lose warmth. No amount of daily Skype conversations can make up for one’s absence. As a counselor, I have heard so many stories of love lost, love grown cold, love crossed and forgotten, for one simple reason … people are absent to each other! Just as recently as three years ago, one of the parish volunteer drivers, a young man with a young wife and toddler kid, who went to Saudi Arabia, found someone else in less than a year. Love grew indifferent on account of distance.

Twenty years ago, I had a counselee seminarian, who, every time he talked about his mother, would burst out in tears, for she had been absent from his life ever since he was an elementary kid. Though she tried to make up for it, as invariably, all OFWs tried to do, by giving presents in exchange of presence, the same gnawing gap, and emotional vacuum, remained!

But again, in the first reading, God Himself broke through boundaries. He loved the pagan enough, as He loved everyone enough, to break through the human boundaries, and call Cornelius to conversion and new life. Peter puts it nicely: “God shows no partiality … whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

The human love called “eros,” we all know all too well, has got bounds. Our love is bound by beauty in mould and physical youthfulness. When youth and beauty are gone, then both eros and philia can disappear with the passing of time. Philial love can wane, as time moves on. Even brothers and sisters who used to be so close to one another can get estranged in adulthood, when sibling bonds grow cold, and when each one has taken each their own separate paths. Almost to the day, we hear of sad and sob stories of actresses who used to share the limelight as showbiz celebrities, but who at some point become bitter enemies.

But what does the second reading tell us? More on this, assuredly, but love of the divine kind not of the human kind. John exhorts his readers: “Beloved, let us love one another” … but he takes pains to show us what sort of love that is, and for what reason … “for love is of God.”

If this is the love that is of God, then it penetrates through walls and boundaries. It sees no barriers, nor deterrents. It suffers no breaks and bolts to bar its being shared around to all!

I need to hear this good news for myself, too. We all need to be reminded of this in our times. Repeatedly. Assuredly. Definitely. No ifs and buts, here allowed! God Himself says so … “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

Human and frail as I am, I need this reminder. I need this good news. At a time when I feel so unappreciated and unloved by the very people I worked for over the last three years, only to be accused of things that never even crossed my mind, I need this piece of good news. I need to be reconnected. I need to be put back on the groove of God’s boundless love, no matter what; come what may; happen what might!

And what is this love all about for a clincher?

I would like you all to notice the words Christ uses … Remain in my love! In the original Greek, the word has more to do with stay … “Stay in place.” Stay in the right place. Put your heart in the right place! When one’s heart is in place, in the right place, then neither time nor distance, nor material things, is the primary consideration. All we need is presence. All we need to do is remain. All we are asked to do is stay.


And I’ve got one more piece of good news for you … no, not mine really, but still His! Guess what brought us here? Guess what led us close to the bosom of God? Not us, not them, not anyone who can give us money and presents, and offer us dowries and dreams of a lifetime, enough to make us filled, though not necessarily fulfilled!

And it is simply this … Let us hear it straight from the Lord: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

Remain in Him. Stay. Stay in place, and put your right where it belongs – in God’s bosom!

Friday, May 4, 2012

REMAINING IN HIM AND BEARING MUCH FRUIT


Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)
May 6, 2012



The world of business in this globalized world knows this for a fact – that one cannot go it alone, and that one stands to gain more if one is connected, if one belongs to a chain, and if one draws its inspiration from a successful conglomerate that spans many cities and nations all over the world.

In my lifetime, with the proliferation of huge malls and shopping centers, that gave a totally new twist to the idea of one-stop shopping cum entertainment, I have witnessed the demise of so many little businesses, Mom-and-Pop stores, small eateries and boutiques that used to exist independently of one another, that somehow survived and even thrived with a minimum of staff and manpower. I remember the hole-in-the-wall small restaurants in Quiapo, Manila and elsewhere, which were stand-alone enterprises that each offered their own specialties, without the support of any big-sounding names of chains that can afford expensive ads on TV and radio and print media.

Nowadays, a great many of them are gone … forever. The few that survived probably did so because they re-engineered themselves, and transformed themselves in accordance with the new rules of the game brought about by globalization!

They needed to belong … they needed to attach themselves to a chain or start by becoming one such chain, and streamline operations by centralizing management, supply, and adapting a fast-food style, partially automated production line, all designed to give people what they want in as little time as possible, with as few hands involved as possible, in sanitary conditions that follow strict international standards.

Those who did not join the bandwagon and did not re-engineer themselves, did not last very long.

It is in this light that I would like to speak about today’s gospel.  To me at least, this seems to get closest to my understanding of what being branches of the one vine is all about.

It means two things for me: attachment and attunement. One has to be attached to the source, the spirit, the life-giving principle of who and what we all are meant to be.

In my readings, I have learned that one has to define oneself if one is to thrive in the business world. One has to define his core values and core vision and core mission. We all cannot be experts in everything. We all cannot be specialized in everything. And management-wise, we all cannot be managers and CEOs. But neither can we be all Lone Rangers. Somebody has to act as head, as source, as inspirer and leader. And such leaders ought to have followers ready and willing to do as bidden by the recognized leader.

I see the words of the Lord today in this light. I see and hear Him defining Himself for who he is, as Risen Lord and SAVIOR. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” But in so doing, He also defines who we are in relation to Him … as branches, attached and attuned to Him. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

I am a little sad about this particular once famous restaurant  that used to be popular among expats and balikbayans. About ten or fifteen years ago, when it was still popular, I predicted that time would come when people would no longer patronize it. I was proven right. Now, it is obviously trying to survive, holding with might and main to an outdated business model, trying hard to present itself as a unique fine-dining experience, but which has been supplanted by a lot of new players that offered more value for money, and still offer good food along with a spirit of fun and camaraderie.

It obviously failed to re-engineer itself. It was obviously not attuned to the times, even as it remained attached to its old image and former glory of times past. Not even its immaculate white table covers and stiffly starched table napkins, and its appropriately attired waiters and waitresses could get back its lost clientele, taken over by the new fad in town – resto grills and themed eating places that were regular features everywhere, around the country and all over the world in some cases.

The good news for us today, among others, seems very clear. And it all revolves around the issue of staying connected if one is to stay alive. It has to do with attachment, if one is to expect to remain thriving, relevant to the times and significant to the seasons that keep on changing. It has to do, too, with attunement which means being in line, not off-line, when it comes to sporting the same spirit, the same inspiration, and the same dynamics that consequently spell well-being and continuing existence.

I have seen a number of sad stories in my life, about companies splitting from their mother companies for many reasons. I have seen how such spin-offs ended in grief, after some time. When the reasons for such spin-offs are solely for selfish reasons, just to spin away and be independent from the controls of the mother company, for reasons of pride and selfishness, for many of them, the endings are predictably sad and disastrous.


Without attunement and attachment, many of them eventually wither and die. This is the repeated stories of little churches that broke away from Holy Mother Church. They ended up splitting again and again into little splinter groups. They begin with a band and end up with a whimper.

The lessons are clear for each one of us. We need to remain attached and attuned to Him alone who clearly defined Himself legitimately as the vine. We need to act more like branches and not as stand-alone entities apart from and disengaged from the vine.

Let us hear it direct from Him: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”