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Friday, July 27, 2012

FOOD TO EAT, AND SOMETHING MORE BESIDES!


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 29, 2012

FOOD TO EAT, AND SOMETHING MORE BESIDES!

It’s been decades the alarum bells of an utter lack of food to feed the hungry multitudes have been sounded over and over again. Years ago,  a movie entitled “Soylent Green” took the form of a horror movie – depicting the absolute horrors of a time in future when people would be literally forced to ingest tablets of food made from other human beings.

In our insecurity, in our fears, in our anxieties, the human family has, on occasion, acted in a way that is exactly the opposite of the attitudes being raised by the readings – an attitude of trust, an attitude of confidence and faith that the psalmist reminds us of: “ The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” (Response)

Those alarm bells have taken various forms throughout recent history. And many of those forms are self-canceling and self-contradictory. We have scientists and self-styled “saviors” of the human race, who work their heads off trying to find ways and means, fair or foul, to reduce the population, or at least prevent more births. But at the same time, we have the same scientists trying their best to prolong life, look for ways and means to “clone” the right people, or to produce “test-tube babies” or “designer babies” at will, or on request, or on demand, for the right fee, of course!

Our human insecurity knows no limits, no bounds, no safeguards, and, for many, no ethically binding rules! The very same people who are worried sick of too many new mouths to feed, are frantically trying to stay young and alive, for as long as they want, for as long as they could, in every way and manner imaginable. In the Philippines and Indonesia, where skin whitening products are making a killing, much more than any other Asian country, this insecurity means doing one’s level best to change one’s color and complexion, and being the eternally young person one is never meant to be at least from the physical and natural viewpoint.

We are insecure beyond measure! We are uncertain beyond belief! And this search for certainty and surety … this search for the coveted “holy grail” of endless youth, renders everyone of us more prone to self-centeredness and selfishness, and makes us think that we owe it to ourselves to live happy and contented, wanting in nothing, and wallowing in comfort and joy all the days of our lives.

Ironically, this is the very reason why we cannot bring ourselves to think of others … why we cannot seem to live with the idea that the world is limited, and that we ought to be sharing what it offers to more people, born or unborn … the very same reason why insecure people that we are, we think of ways and means to just sort of keep everything to ourselves, and refuse to see even the possibilities of so many “Johnny-come-latelies” sharing what appears to us as a shrinking pie.

We are not only insecure. We are also selfish and self-centered. We are a sinful people, tainted by the lure and empty promise of original sin.

I am also selfish. I am also self-centered. Like everyone else, I want to have more and better things. And when I get them, I want to turn them into things that never die, things that have no end, and things that multiply of their own accord, preferably, and things that I won’t ever have to share with others who have even more needs and wants and desires!

This is who we all are. No wonder then, that leaders are tempted to follow the siren songs of personal prosperity and personal luxury and comfort. The flight from the inner city districts towards the urban sprawl and the suburbs are an indication of all this – to go far, far, far and away from the madding crowds! No wonder big pharmaceutical companies that serve the needs of a multi-national conglomerate had been very busy concocting drugs that assure a hassle-free (read: legal or legit) way of preventing more conceptions and more births, even if statistics upon statistics all over show what a misguided principle it is right from the start!

Goods, possessions, riches, comfort, luxury, and everything that can be touched, felt, and counted have all taken the uppermost level in our hierarchy of desires. But today, our Opening Prayer puts us right into the context of something higher, something better, something infinitely more valuable than merely having and holding … We prayed, “God our Father  … without you nothing is holy, nothing has value. Guide us to everlasting life by helping us to use wisely the blessings you have given to the world.”

And we have the assurance of the Lord through the prophet Elisha. Nothing can be held on to, forever, he says. Nothing can last forever. We can’t multiply those gifts without giving them away and sharing them. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We need to have a proper attitude towards earthly goods and possessions. Like unto Elisha who told his court just as soon as he received those gifts: “Give it to the people to eat.” Despite the protestations of a servant, he insisted: “Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”

But we’ve got a whole lot more in the offing. The miracle in the gospel far outshines that mini miracle of Elisha, but which offers the exact same message of the Lord. And this message is simply this … He is in-charge. He is in control. And He knows what it is we need.

Like us, though, we have people like Philip who sounded the alarm. “There is just too many of them,” he protested. “We can’t have enough,” he, in effect, said.

But there was more than just grass in the field. And there surely was more than just mouths to feed and stomachs to satisfy. There was great care and love and solicitude from the Lord – the Lord of promise and fulfillment. There was overflowing love and mercy and compassion from a provident God. Are we to be surprised that there were left-overs in the end? For I can tell you one thing …

“The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” He gives us what we need … food to eat, and more things besides!

Don Bosco Formation Center
Lawa-an, Talisay City
Cebu
10:00 AM






Friday, July 20, 2012

NOTHING MORE SHALL I WANT!


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 22, 2012


We all know what this means …  what St. Paul refers to as “the dividing wall of enmity” is so real, so true, so rampant, even in our times. We see it in the media network wars. We see it in the battle of the giant retailers, and shopping malls. The one which “got it all for us,” obviously wins hands down, with a 44th poised to be built in a province that already boasts of two. We see it in the warring artificial “parties” in both houses of congress, and the equally artificial unity blocks born of convenience, rather than principle, of compromise, rather than moral conviction.

We are a divided nation and people. We are a great lesson on how not to run a country, and a telling icon of perpetual divisiveness and disunity.

But if the story that unfolds in the prophet Jeremiah’s book is an indication, then we ought to know that God is never happy with such a state of affairs. According to Jeremiah in today’s first reading, the Lord apparently has had enough of the leaders who misled, and shepherds who pastured themselves more than they did others.

More bad news, you say? You bet they are! More negative snapshots of our country and people for this week, you might contend? Yes … and this, not without reason … We live in the worst of times; but we also live in the best of times!

St. Paul, who suffered all sorts of pain and rejection knew it. Jeremiah, too, for all his bad news, also knew it. And this is what both today remind us so passionately, maybe even so definitely, and so confidently: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow!”

Today, we are told to hold on to our brightest hopes. Today, too, we are reminded to hold on to the mega-story of our lives as God’s people … how once we “were far off” from God, but now “have become near by the blood of Christ.”

We are all “saints” with a past and “sinners” with a future. We are more than just a developing nation, on the way to earning our rightful place in the league of developed and prosperous nations. We are a people of promise. We are a nation that is called to actualize what, right now, we can only pray for with fervent and undying hope: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Today, too, we are given a glimpse about how we need to deal with our successes and failures. The Gospel passage from Mark 6:30-34 tells us how the apostles “reported” to the Lord “all they had done and taught.” The key word is “all.” And “all,” here, presumably referred to both good and bad experiences; successes and failures; peaks and pitfalls; and events that were either memorable, or preferably, forgettable …

Having been a priest for almost 30 years now, I know whereof I speak. My experiences in the vineyard of the Lord, all I have done and taught were a merry mixture or tears and joy, happiness and sorrow; events that were both enabling and disabling; disarming and debilitating … Name it, we older priests, got it, most likely. We have been up there and down there in the doldrums. We have been praised to the skies, brought up to the dizzying heights of adulation, but we also have been downgraded to even humiliating depths of indifference on the part of others, and ineptitude, on our end.

I guess, if we are to be truthful to ourselves, there surely were times when we acted well our roles as shepherds, and times when we pastured ourselves more than we did others supposedly under our care. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future!

Today, as we hear the apostles telling the Lord everything – good and bad; exciting and debilitating; enabling and disabling; all things honorable and all things dishonorable, we hear something about the future that we now are called to claim together, for, truth to tell too, we are all sinners trying to forge a future with God, with others, in a Church that is a community of saints and sinners!

The Lord apparently did not get either too excited, or too anxious about the disciples’ stories. The Lord did not miss a heartbeat as he heard them pour out their hearts. The Lord merely listened. Emphatically. Dutifully. Solicitously. For that is what the Good Shepherd is like.

He leads the disciples. He tells them what to do. He did not react to their sob and sad stories, and stories that they could not contain for sheer joy and excitement. He told them one simple thing, true to his form as one who “broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh” … “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Right now, even in my 3oth year, there’s lots of things to do for me. My hands are full teaching and preaching, writing and leading; evangelizing and shepherding. People literally and figuratively still “come in large numbers” expecting to be led to the right and true way.

And like unto my brother priests all over the country, I am convicted. I stand accused and guilty many a time in these past 30 years of not being a shepherd like unto him the true and Good Shepherd, worthy thereby of getting the tongue-lashing from Jeremiah, when he berated the “shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of [God’s] pasture.”

I beg apologies from you my flock. I ask pardon for the many times I did not play up to the expectations of both the Lord and you. And if, in the process, dividing walls of enmities sprung up between you and us, your shepherds, we both do as the Lord told his disciples … We both come away by ourselves at Mass here today, to rest a while, to reflect a little, and pray together in fervent hope. For at bottom, we were both, at one and the same time, and on occasion, counted among those who were far off, or among those who were near!

Pray with me. Pray for me. Pray together with us priests an intense prayer of hope for both you and me, and for all shepherds sent to pasture others … Let us claim what is already ours as promised by the Supreme Shepherd, who declared through Jeremiah that he will himself shepherd us: “The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.” Indeed, nothing more shall I want!

Friday, July 13, 2012

FLIMSY REASONS; PHONY RATIONALIZATIONS!


15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 15, 2012


The two words that came to mind after reading today’s first reading – the sending away of Amos from Bethel and his banishment to Judah – are simply “so what?”
 So what if Bethel were the “king’s sanctuary and a royal temple?” Amos, who was ruffling not just a few feathers and rattling the nerves of those who were being hard hit, just could not be tolerated any more. Amaziah himself, supposedly a “man of the cloth” sort of, acted as spokesman and told him what was almost like a death sentence for the outspoken and truthful prophet: “Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!”

Flimsy reasons; phony rationalizations! The words of Amaziah were nothing but plain baloney!

Last week, we spoke partly about rejection. I reminded you about my own experience of being unwanted and downright rejected. I also reminded everyone how we share a lot of things in common, for each and everyone of us had that not-too-easy-to-forget experiences that kept us anxious, if not, sleepless, or even angry, many a time.

Well, today, we have more of such bad news! Again, Amos figures in prominently. Again, Amos rises to the occasion and came out more than just a winner, but one worthy of emulation by touchy people like you and me. Amos, brought down by rejection and banishment, only had more truthful words to answer the cruel Amaziah: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets. I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”

Flimsy reasons and phony rationalizations could not put a good man down. Lies and deceit and manipulative tactics could not make the good prophet veer off course. He stood his ground. He stayed the course. And he rocked the boat as he stood proud and tall!

Last week, too, we spoke about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” We surmised, tentatively, that that thorn could have been either literal or figurative. If it were literal, we sure know nothing about it, for he wasn’t telling or giving us clues. If it were figurative, then there is no compelling reason for us not to imagine it could also have been about rebellious people who not only refused to listen to him, but downright rejected him. Paul, too, like Amos – like all prophets who stood their grounds and stood up for the truth – were all rejected and unwanted!

Again, like Amos, Paul triumphed even in weakness … even in rejection … even in seeming defeat. He even finds time to “bless God” and declare his overflowing sense of thanksgiving to the Lord, not with flimsy reasons and phony rationalizations, but objective and authentic reasons: first, “he has blessed us in Christ.” Second, “he chose us in Him.” Third, “in love, he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” Fourth, “in him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions.” Fifth, “he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” And sixth, “in him we were chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.”

Don’t you just see the big irony in the cases of Amos and Paul? Two unwanted people. Two rejected characters. Two who both made so many uncomfortable. Sent out and banished each in their own way, both came out swinging and proclaiming the praises and blessedness of God! No amount of flimsy reasons and phony rationalizations could make them throw in the towel.

My thoughts go to all those who have been called and sent … like prophets of old. My heart extends to fellow priests who toil and labor in the Lord’s vineyard, and who, at this particular time, may be facing their own version of banishment and rejection. Some of that rejection may come from deep within themselves. They could be hurting emotionally and psychologically, on account of deep wounds inflicted by others in the past. Some of that may come from their perceived superiors and those who in some way supervise them. Take it from me who has “been there; done that” … Whilst it is true that the Church is a mother, it is also true that superiors are not, and they, too, could also be hurting for one reason or another. Some of that can come from fellow ministers, or brother priests. It is no secret that when the machinery called clerical envy begins to churn, what comes out in the end is a lot of wounded egos, hurt feelings, and broken friendships.

But a great deal of it can come actually from the very recipients of the mission of the apostle or the prophet. A lot of it can come from certain interesting characters in the parish community or school community who simply “do not welcome” nor “listen.”

I got good news for you and me … We who have “been there; done that,” who have passed that way of suffering once – or many – times before know everything there is to know about pain. One, it does not come from God. Just take it from Paul who went right on blessing and thanking God despite the pains. Second, it does not have the final word on us. It does not have the last laugh at our expense. Third, we are re-engineered and re-programmed for greatness, for we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.”

As a priest over the past 30 years (almost), I have been through the way of blame. When things went wrong, I was not beyond blaming God and getting angry at Him. I have heard so many vent their anger at God, for allowing them to suffer so much. Some of them choose to stay away, and stay angry, for many reasons, all flimsy and phony rationalizations.


I choose now to go on believing. I choose to follow the gentle nudge of the Spirit who prays in us, with us and for us: “Lord, let me see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” These are my reasons, weighty and meaty, and certain: “I will hear what God proclaims.” “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” “Truth shall spring out from the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” “The Lord himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase.”

Reasons galore! Reasons … not just flimsy reasons and phony rationalizations … but reasons of faith, reasons of hope, and reasons for love!

Friday, July 6, 2012

HEEDING OR RESISTING A PROPHET!


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 8, 2012


We all know what it means … to be ignored, to not even be considered, to be rejected. Scriptures is full of such stories of rejection, with no less than the Lord Jesus Christ as the centerpiece. At times, you and I can feel – rightly or wrongly – that we are the poster boy or poster girl of such painful experiences.

I had my own brush with such a “forgettable” chapter in my life … yes – forgettable in theory at least, but not quite in reality! One does not easily give up on such debilitating memories. Human nature tends to hold on to such things, and our fallen nature makes it even more difficult indeed, to “let by-gones be by-gones” – easier said than done, despite what they say about Christian forgiveness.

Today, the day of the Lord, the 14th in ordinary time, I would like to think I am one with everyone – and, I mean everyone – who ever felt the uncomfortable feeling of being resisted, being refused, being unwanted. Welcome to the club of humanity in general!

Welcome, too, to the story of our lives, a story that we share deeply with that of the people of God. Ezekiel knew exactly what he was getting into. He tells us so himself. God called him thus: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me.”

Rebels twice over! Rebels who have rebelled against God! Rebels whose favorite phrase was not any different from the original, quintessential rebel, Satan, who said that most notorious line: “non serviam!” – “I will not serve!”

Yes … for all our personal sad and sob stories of rejection from others, stories that we all can rehash and recount with passion and panache at the slightest provocation, there is one part of the story we would rather not tell and retell – that part in us that said, “No, I will not serve” … No, I will not follow … I refuse … I reject … I won’t do as told!”

St. Paul, for all his personal sanctity, also had his share of that “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, since he gives no details, it would be safe to assume, that it was some kind of situation that kept him in pain for long stretches of time, something that, in American parlance, was simply something “that won’t go away.”

I had my own share of this “thorn  in the flesh” via my “auto immunity” reactions that manifest themselves in chronic skin rashes and itchy patches, that just sprang out of nowhere 8 years ago. I did worse than Paul, who begged the Lord only three times. I do not just beg. I complain … I rant.

Today, my heart goes out to all my readers and hearers who are currently the object of such rejection on the part of others. I am one with you all, who currently are doing so much good and yet receive so much flak, so much uncalled for criticism, so much resistance. My thoughts go to fellow priests who can’t seem to jell with certain powerful blocks from among the laity who act as self-appointed “gate-keepers” and preservers of even some unholy “traditions” in the parish. My thoughts go, too, to lay people who are ignored and even at times, humiliated by their pastors, who feel threatened with their presence and good ideas. My heart also goes out to those who, on account of the machinations and influential manipulative tactics of those who are very well connected with those in power, suffer innocently, and are condemned unjustly, like Padre Pio of Pietrelcina suffered, like St. Benedict Menni suffered – like I suffered at just about the same time, my physical version of “thorn in the flesh” began to afflict my skin.

I have a personal message to give them – no, not mine, but God’s! I have the strength of character and dedication and commitment of Ezekiel to firm up their sagging spirits. I have the honesty and sincerity of St. Paul, who confessed, despite his continued pain, in his faith in the Lord who told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

A priest over the past almost 30 years, I have been there; done that. Name it, and I can most likely tell you I have undergone something at least similar.

I have the power of Christ’s love to share with everyone of you – the same Christ who was suspected, mistrusted, and resisted: “Where did this man get all this?” That was the best line his town mates could utter. What could a son of a lowly carpenter do?

But he had the last word. When he died and everybody who was somebody then thought they had gotten rid of him forever. But He rose from the dead. As he promised! As he said!

He talks to you personally today, as He talks to me personally even as I talk to you. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”  My thorn in the flesh is still in place. It still makes me suffer. Some people still do not believe in me, even as by far the great majority of those I deal with do. But it is no longer the most important question. The most important question now for you and me is simply this: Will you now continue to resist the Lord, or will you now heed Him and His word?

Know this for certain, “whether you heed or resist,” “they will [eventually] know that a prophet has been in [our] midst.”