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Saturday, June 30, 2012

FORMED TO BE IMPERISHABLE


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 1, 2012


A busy week up till today had me running late for this reflection, writing it just after I celebrated the anticipated Mass for the 13th Sunday.

The readings today offer, at one and the same time, an air of resignation, and a whiff of hope – hope that is tied up with faith in a God of compassion, a God who is close to the broken-hearted, the suffering, and those in any form of pain. Take it from the lengthy Gospel account from Mark … First, there is the panicky Jairus, who mustered enough humility and trust to go begging from the Lord, asking him with earnestness: “Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

But as if that were not enough to touch us all, here comes another heart-rending story of the woman who obviously had suffered enough, by any standard – bleeding continuously for all of 12 years! She did, not the unthinkable, but the expected – hope, even against hope – and believed with all her heart that all she needed to do was sneak from behind the Lord, and touch his cloak!

Touch the cloak, she did … and she was immediately cured!

The Lord was touched, too, in a very different way. He knew right off that “power had gone out of him.” He wanted to know who did it, and the woman, in fear and trembling, thought of the worst, and confessing, fell down before the Lord.

Who among us did not think of doing a “Jairus” during our bitterest and direst moments? Who among us did not think about risking all and doing what we thought or knew, was totally beyond our reach, beyond our ken, beyond our just desserts, and far beyond even our wildest dreams to even think we deserved?

But Jairus probably thought he was at the end of his rope. So did the woman, who had tried everything and spent everything she had, with no success. They were, to say the least, kind of  hopeless!

But faith takes the better of both personages in the Gospel … Faith takes the upper hand. For both of them, their belief and faith extended whatever little hope remained in their hearts. They believed … and hoped for the best!

My thoughts go to all of my readers who are in any type of pain. Even as I write, I think about friends and people close to me at some point in my life, who have just gone through a painful experience of losing someone dear to them. My thoughts go to everyone in physical pain, or emotional torture, or psychological distress that they never expected, nor planned for, nor merited or deserved in any way. My thoughts go to all little girls and boys who can no longer enjoy what the rest of their peers continue to enjoy, all because of mysterious sicknesses that tell us about the great mystery of suffering that is, whether we like it or not, part and parcel of human existence.

But facing the issue of the mystery of suffering that the Gospel account tells us, allows us to take a second look, too, at the mystery of God’s compassion, the mystery of God’s grace, and the good news of life through death, gain after pain, and the even greater glory that comes from the cross!

Let me now address you all in pain. Let me reiterate or re-echo what the readings today tell us, and remind us of. First in my list of quotable quotes? It is this … “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” Yes … God does not want pain and suffering, and He does not directly will it for anyone. God and evil are two contradictory terms that can never co-adhere in God.

But quotable quotes, notwithstanding, we do have to face bitter truth … There is suffering and pain in our lives, in our world, even in the Church we all love. The same first reading would have us remember its source – not God, but the evil one … “By envy of the devil, death entered the world.”

But there is good news for those who believe, for those who know … for those who see … “that for [our] sake, Christ Jesus became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich.” (2nd reading).

Yes … we are told that there is a meaning to pain and suffering, even if we cannot see it fully at the moment of our direst need. But the psalmist, inspired and strengthened by his faith and hope reminds us, too: “I praise you Lord, for you raised me up and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.”

There is more good news awaiting us. There is more good news that we all need to unwrap or unravel … And the clue is in what Jairus and the sick woman did. They did the expected, it is true. But what was not obvious is the reason why they did what was predictable. They did so, out of faith and hope and trust in Him who is the embodiment of the God of compassion – Jesus Christ! Both went running after the Lord – despite all … despite the pressing crowds … despite the unbelief of others who perhaps were cynical right from the start. Jairus fell down before the Lord’s feet and begged in earnest. The woman ran after the Lord in the midst of throngs and showed her faith and hope, by touching the tassel of his cloak.

They did their part. They showed their faith and hope. And the Lord, proved once and for all, then and now, for all days and for always – that our God is a God of compassion. He “formed us to be imperishable.” Do we have reason to be afraid?

Friday, June 22, 2012

SIMPLY GREAT; SIMPLY HOLY!


The Birth of John the Baptist
June 24, 2012


No other saint, save St. Paul, can “boast” of two feast days in the Roman Catholic calendar … The Church celebrates the birth and death of John, “greater than whom no other man born of woman” exists! Today, we revel in his glorious birth. Later this year, in August 29, we will commemorate his tragic beheading … tragic in man’s eyes, but glorious in God’s – and for many generations since!

Greatness is what we associate with John, no doubt about it. But the road to greatness was never sweet nor easy, notwithstanding the glorious and hopeful prophecies of old that foreshadowed the coming of someone who was referred to in the first reading “as concealed in the shadow of [God’s] arm” or “a polished arrow,” “through whom [God] shows His glory.” (Is 49:1-6)

When I look at the mystery of human pain and suffering, it is hard to wax lyrical and hopeful. When I see endless tragedies brought about by human sinfulness and greed, by “man’s inhumanity to man,” I see, not glory, but often, misery. My heart goes out to all those who suffer at the hands of criminals, of sociopaths, of heartless leaders whose only goal is to advance their own personal agenda. My thoughts turn to hapless Christians who are steadily and surely, not slowly, but rapidly being persecuted in intolerant areas of the world, where religion does not liberate, but enslaves – or at least, the fundamentalist, intolerant interpretation of such in many places all over the world!

Let us face it! … John the Baptist, too, was a victim of intolerance … He was a martyr of truth – truth that made someone powerful ever so uncomfortable as to hatch out a plan to silence him forever!

But martyrs and great men and women are made of stern stuff such as a passionate and committed dedication to truth, cost what might. And cost him dearly, that dedication, indeed, it did!

Today, as we honor him who paid so dearly so that we might come to know Him who he offered his life dearly for, we look deeply at ourselves, and like the psalmist, what do we see?

We see a weak person. I see a weak man in me, maybe half-decided to go that extra mile, half willing to do as John did, and I, along with the rest of us weak humanity, now confess together with the psalmist: “O Lord, you have probed me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar … Truly you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”

But what then does all this tell us? What stuff are we made of? What destiny awaits us all as sons and daughters of God? The second reading gives us a clue… Like David, beloved of God, we are all made and created “after God’s own heart.” We are all supposed to have been put on earth “to carry out [God’s] every wish.” We are all supposed to do a John by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” In short, we are all called for greatness.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “nothing is more simple than greatness.” “Indeed,” she wrote, “to be simple is to be great.”

Maybe we can learn a lesson or two from John today. In birth, he is an epitome of simplicity. In death, he, too, was the personification of simple greatness. He simply lived and lived simply – simply for God’s glory, and for the fulfillment of His will.

In our days and times, we have become too complicated. We have put so many barriers to greatness. We have gotten used to doing things in half-measures. We have refused to go with the flow of things and we have become too calculating, too shrewd to even say “yes” to a simple call from the Lord. Our lives have become too “iffy” with a lot of conditions and prerequisites. We will follow the Lord, if the conditions are right … if those who work with me are the right persons … if I have all that it takes to do what I need to do … when and if all conditions are just right.

John the Baptist, on the contrary, had no “ifs and buts.” He just went with the flow … with the will of God, as to merit the wonder of his neighbors: “What will this child be?” Yes, what shall we all be?

Don’t you think it would do us all good to be described very simply as individuals who simply went along with the guidance of the “hand of the Lord?” No ifs, no buts … no barriers and conditions or prerequisites …

His greatness lies in this … allowing himself to be guided as the Lord willed. No wonder the best one-line chapter that describes his great life was simply this: “The child grew and became strong in the spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Indeed, to be simple, - and obedient and humble, for that matter – is to be great!

Friday, June 15, 2012

IN HIS TIME – THE WORST OF TIMES; THE BEST OF TIMES!


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
June 17, 2012


IN HIS TIME – THE WORST OF TIMES; THE BEST OF TIMES!

I do my reflection, for the first time, at a place that was, at one and the same time, so close, yet so far – till now. It is my first time to be in Jakarta, Indonesia, a place no more than three and a half hours away from a city I have called home, for a great deal of my life. It is a city from which came a number of my former students in theology, one of whom is getting ordained this very day I am writing this – not without a little difficulty, given the so many things I need to reflect on, as I drink in every thing new and old; everything strange and similar; everything foreign and familiar, with the sights and sounds I see back home, and in just about every place the grace of God has allowed me to call home at various lengths of time in these past 30 years I have been a priest.

It is just as well that I am here these days, and particularly in this 11th Sunday of the liturgical year. Much of what I love to see and look at, is a reminder to me of much of what the readings of today allude to and refer to, if at least, circumstantially, at best; and sparingly, at worst.

From where I sit, looking out the window of my room, I see lush vegetation – a trait that one can hardly see now in Metro Manila.

This is not altogether foreign to what I would like to reflect on today, given the fact that the first and third readings, both refer to shoots, to seeds, to sowing, and growing!

This, let me put it bluntly at this first instance, is an image of the Church of God … starting small and insignificant, yet on the way to growing as God would have it – in His time, in His ways, in His manner and in His methods!

Dryness and desolation are both images associated with Israel’s sad and desperate exile in Babylon.  The prophet Ezekiel, who seemed to specialize in dryness getting back suppleness and life, as in the famous vision of the dry bones, getting back sinews and flesh, and coming back to freshness and youth, once more regales us with a vision of a “tender shoot” to be plucked by no less than God out of the “crest of the cedar,” to be transplanted on a “high and lofty mountain.” Ezekiel speaks of stuff I personally need – the very same stuff that makes old men turn into explorers, and discouraged peoples get back in shape and deliver, not death, but life once more.

For a number of times in this blog, I have alluded to myself as being stricken by the “dry bones” of hopelessness and discouragement, hemmed in as I am over the past 34 years as an educator, by Robinson’s “contours of hopelessness” that characterize the landscape of our postmodern lives everywhere around the shrinking globe!

I have, to repeat that trite expression, “been there; done that.” 30 years as a priest and 34 as an educator have been enough to make me realize, at times, that life and my ministry as a priest, could very well be exactly like Sysiphus pushing the proverbial rock up a mountain.

But that is to look at things from a purely human perspective, from a point of view of all that my raw humanity is really so capable of – discouragement, despair, despondency – all things associated with envy, pride, selfishness, and greed; in a word – sin that is still part and parcel of my humanity, redeemed, no doubt, by the Lord, but still prone to concupiscence and downright SIN.

Today, like all Sundays of the Lord, I take up His cause. Today, like all other Sundays, I take up the cudgels of God, who does His wonders under the cloak of mystery and wonders that He is ever famous and known for – from biblical times!

Today, like everyday created by the same Lord of wonders, I claim His right and do my duty, to remind ourselves and the world, that that fresh, young shoot from the crest of the cedar, is still alive, growing, and doing wonders as the Lord has designed it to be – in His time, in His wondrous and mysterious ways!

I see it here from where I stand … The Salesian presence here in Indonesia was nothing until someone took up the same cudgels for God, and transplanted a shoot plucked from Manila, and planted it firmly where it now stands, and grows, and bears fruit, hopefully in plenty, again, in His time. Fr. Jose Carbonnell, and companions, who saw life where dry bones ought to have been, did not give in to my usual despondency, but struggled and implanted the Church, and today, a mute but surprised witness that is me, is here to see its gradual growth, and its products, in the persons of my former students who, though remaining students and disciples, have become disciples-in-community, who continue to help water the lush garden of faith in what seems to be an initially arid place for the Christian faith to ever grow.

I thank God for the gift of today. One former student of not too long ago is getting ordained a priest. I see vibrantly green trees and plants abounding here in the city – with the very same lushness and greenness that I saw growing up in Mendez, Cavite, and the very same lushness and greenness that I still see in many forests and mountains I have climbed in rural Philippines.

I thank God for the gift of this reminder that is what essentially the liturgy does to everyone Sunday in and Sunday out – remind us of the wonders wrought by God in our times, in our days, in our places and in our lives.

This Sunday, we not only get reminded. We not only remember. We not only recall to mind. No … the logical offshoot of all memory is desire, and desire gives way to celebration, to exaltation, to giving praise to Him who is the author of everything that we see as life-giving, life enabling, and life-producing! For one, we extol that lowly mustard seed, small and insignificant, a tiny speck of possibilities galore! Easily blown by whiff of wind, easily ignored, and just as easily disposed of, once cared for, and nurtured, can become a big tree where birds could make their home.

We exalt in the Lord for His Church, which is what that mustard seed represents. We exult His name, for He is behind its existence and its growth. We revel in gladness and thanksgiving, for He has done wondrous things, for the Kingdom that has come to us, and works ever silently for us, and in our midst.

I exult the Lord today, for once again, I see signs unmistakable of His presence and love. Once again, for the nth time, I get convicted in my discouragement, and grow despite my despondency, that God continues to work wonders in His Church, in our days, and in His times!

Though we might live in the worst of times, we actually live in the best of times!

Wisma Salesian Don Bosco
Jl. Mandor Iren No.5 Sunter Jaya
Jakarta Utara 14350
Indonesia

June 15, 2012
Ordination Day of Rev. Peter Ryan Vergouw, SDB, & et al.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

ACCEPTING AND DOING!


June 10, 2012
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (B)

ACCEPTING AND DOING!

The focus of today’s readings, understandably, is on the blood of sacrifice. That blood is connected with the seal or proof, or witness – if you will – of the covenant between God and His people. The blood is poured. The blood is consumed in some way, and the blood is offered, first, for expiation, and second, as sign of consummation of the supreme agreement between two parties – God, on the one hand, and his people, on the other.

The response is as much a promise as an assurance: “Everything the Lord says, we will do!”

The pledge pronounced by the people actually stands for two things: acceptance, first and foremost … as if, indeed, to say, “we accept everything the Lord says …” But that is not all … the second part is a promise: “we will do as He says!”

Accepting and doing … this, among so many other things, is what we can reflect on today, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Accepting has to do with acknowledging … It is professing that what the Lord demands is a non-negotiable, not optional, not discretionary. It means exactly that … taking God for His word … It means believing Him who said: “I will be your God, you will be my people.” It means choosing life, not death. It means making a decision to go on the side of those who have been given a promise, and who are waiting for the fulfillment of that promise. It means accepting the sprinking and the pouring of the blood offered in sacrifice, and received as pledge of that commitment between two parties: them and God Himself. It means accepting God totally as He is, not as one thinks He is. It means accepting the reality of a God who enters into our human history, so that He could rewrite our history of sin and shame, and lead us cleansed, purified, and washed, to a glorious destiny of those “washed in the blood of the Lamb.”

We don’t have to wax overly spiritual to understand what this acceptance entails. It means accepting His hard teaching in Christ, who claimed to be the bread of life, and who taught that “whoever eats his body and drinks his blood will have life everlasting.”

It means accepting even the unacceptable – the hard teachings related to the Gospel of life, that human life, in whatever form, in whatever stage, in whatever quality, be it in its incipient stage as a zygote, and in its coming to term in childbirth, from womb to tomb, is sacred and inviolable, and that the Lord, died for each and everyone of us, born, unborn, fruit of God’s loving handiwork, and therefore, worthy of dignity and utmost respect.

It means accepting even the uncomfortable and the seemingly unpopular. It means receiving the Lord worthily, not shabbily. It means taking part in the Eucharist properly dressed, not like as if one comes from the beach or the party circuit. It means accepting the Body of the Lord in communion with the right disposition, right intention, and the right body language and proper decorum. It means accepting Christ, whole and entire, not only the teachings that sound good to us, or teachings that don’t offend or hurt any group, political or otherwise.

Accepting … It has to do with professing as true what one receives as authentic teaching, in season and out of season; convenient on inconvenient, politically correct or otherwise. It has to do with professing and proclaiming with one’s deeds. It means walking the talk, and not just paying lip service to an anemic-sounding God, who more or less wants us to be generically good, while disobeying Church teachings!

A manipulative group, that calls itself Catholics for RH, mislead so many people. They claim to be catholics. Good for them! But that is all they are – simply in name, for their ultimate goal is to mislead the real, struggling Catholics, who, although they find it difficult to obey the moral teachings of the Church, strive hard to follow, to obey, with both religious assent, and the assent of faith. But that cannot be said of the Catholics for RH, who are nothing but cafeteria catholics, who choose what to believe in, and decide what to follow.

We stand to learn a telling lesson from the Jews of old. They accepted and they did according to what they accepted. “All that the Lord says, we will do!”

There is something here for all of us who have decided to come to Mass today. You did not come here just to hear pious words. You did not come here simply because you are afraid to “commit mortal sin” by not attending Mass. No … you have come here to do as the Jews of old did, when confronted with the blood offered in sacrifice. That was not just an empty symbol. That was not just a ritual thrown in for good measure, and for posterity. No … It was a symbol and a reality of what we are all called to be and do.

When you approach communion today, remember. What you receive is not just the Body and Blood of the Lord. What you receive is a pledge and a promise of eternal life. But this pledge and promise of future glory is not one-sided. It is not just about God who makes promises, but also about a God who makes rightful demands, for our sakes, for our salvation, for our present and future well-being.

And when you say “Amen,” you just don’t say “I believe.” You actually mean, as the Jews then meant … no more, no less … “All that the Lord says, we will do.”

Lopez Farm, Barangay Sabang
Naic, Cavite