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Friday, October 26, 2012

SO THAT NONE SHALL STUMBLE!


30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
October 28, 2012

SO THAT NONE SHALL STUMBLE

Trekking up a mountain in pitch darkness is an experience I won’t want to have again – ever, in my life. One feels literally blind and almost utterly helpless. One is scared, worried, even terrified, at the very real possibility of a potentially tragic misstep – every step along the way! This, I had twice or thrice, many years ago, at a time when LED lights were still on the drawing board, and most climbing equipment were imported, and – therefore – rare and prohibitively expensive!

This is the image that immediately came to mind as I read today’s readings. Jeremiah, as we know, was a prophet during and after that sad chapter of Israelite history – the great Babylonian exile! He was most likely devastated by the bitter experience. He was also most likely disheartened, discouraged, and, given his obvious emotional reactivity, might also have been somewhat depressed. But today, no matter those strong feelings, Jeremiah, at least for me, comes across as a beacon of hope, of positive thinking, as much of humbler resignation as a firm faith in the Lord who is both healer and deliverer.

Jeremiah’s cry today is for his people to “shout with joy.” And he definitely has more than enough reasons for this exuberance: first, “the Lord delivered his people;” second, he “will bring them back from the land of the north;” third, he “will gather them from the ends of the world;” and fourth, he “will console them and guide them.” But I say more … True to form as a true-blooded Israelite, he speaks in terms of concrete symbols and images … “I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

Hiking up a mountain trail at night is bad enough. But being effectively blind, on top of all this, is even worse.  The trail is by no means “level.” Uncertainty envelops your whole body; and your mind is enwrapped by thoughts of looming disaster just around every invisible bend, unexpected obstacles, and gnarled giant roots and jutting branches of drift wood that at any time can hit you, pierce you, or hurt you in some way.

All the images conjured up by Jeremiah’s words, and those that the blind Bartimaeus reminds us of, speak to me of life as we all have it here and now and everywhere! For at least, two reasons!

First, we all are captive, like the Israelites of old, in some way. We are all on veritable exiles. We are enslaved by our own sinfulness, for one. Our journey through life traverses uneven roads, difficult trails, and tumultuous paths. Most families I know, in this country and beyond, have members in semi-exile in any of the more than 120 countries all over the world where Filipinos are working. You and I know full well, that no matter how even the road might be, no matter how seemingly straight the path looks, “sometimes the runner stumbles.” I know whereof I speak, for up till now, I am not San Pedro Calungsod, nor Lorenzo Ruiz – at least, not yet.

But there is a second reason … we, too, are blind in many and varied ways. We all have blind spots. Often, we do not even see our own motives, and the real reasons why we do what we do. We cannot even predict the future. We face so much uncertainty in our lives. For many of our people, their lives are a daily effort to stretch out what little they get from their meager work, from paycheck to paycheck, with very little, or no real savings whatsoever. For many of us, too, life is pretty much like having to hike an invisible and uncertain trail in pitch darkness, hungry, cold, and unable to see one’s way, and definitely unable to see the summit of our strivings!

But the Gospel is not called “good news” for nothing! It is, indeed, good news worth shouting out for joy. It is good news that would merit literally what, we, indeed, uttered after the first reading: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

If there is anyone who should be disheartened and discouraged, it ought to have been Jeremiah. But no … he spoke of good news. He spoke of a big and noble dream. Of God. For man. For you and me. For the world. “I will lead them […] on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

The “High Priest” of the second reading got us all covered. He has made it, not only possible, but already a reality. This, he did, by “offering gifts and sacrifices for [our] sins.”

But there was someone else who should have been despondent. Many “rebuked him” according to the gospel. They “told him to be silent.” No one goaded him on. But he persisted and called on the Lord, with hope and faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” It was a prayer of one who was sure that the Lord was his only deliverer and healer. And knowing this, there was nothing, absolutely nothing that could dissuade him from asking that great favor of a lifetime.

Everyone who was with my team in those two occasions up on a dark and dreadful mountain trail knew how much I prayed at a time of need. I know how much I have fallen and failed, not necessarily only during those hikes. I am a sinner. I am, as of last count, still a son of Adam and Eve, in need of light, in need of guidance, in need of a level ground on which to walk steady and sure towards the goal.

But the Lord has done great things for me. I am sure, you, too, can tell your own stories of the little miracles He has done for you. Even now, I walk through valleys and gullies of darkness. Even now, we walk through roads and pathways of uncertainty.

But He calls us. He comes to our rescue. He listens to the plaintive cry of the blind man in you and me. ‘Master, I want to see.” And what do we hear him say? “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

The Lord as deliverer and healer is with us … He continues to lead us through level roads … so that none shall stumble.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

DRINKING THE SAME CUP; DOING THE SAME MISSION


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
October 21, 2012

DRINKING THE SAME CUP; DOING THE SAME MISSION!

Political dynasty is a big issue from where I come. We never see the end of families and clans being on the same road of what they love to call “public service.” They drink of the same cups that run over with poise, position, and power. If we go on in this strain, soon we might see fathers and sons, first cousins and half-brothers with the same surnames occupying the highest offices of the land, all in the name of “service.”

It is so easy for us in this forlorn part of the world to identify with the two sons of Zebedee asking the Lord for a little favor, a seemingly insignificant request. Come on! What harm can two brothers occupying more or less equal places in the kingdom do? Haven’t they served the Lord? Haven’t they given up family, home, and an entrepreneurial job with Zebedee as chairman of the board, and the two as board members in the little fish trading company in the lucrative shores of Galilee? Give me a break! We are just asking for a little favor, for everyone knows we love to serve. Doesn’t everyone see how great we are, and how much greater are the things we intend to do?

We Filipinos just love to literally and figuratively “drink from the same cup.” Even now as I write, I am sure, in some little corner of our poverty-ridden country, there is a group of men, young and old, who are literally drinking from the same cup, sharing the same gin, or beer, or lambanog (coconut wine), or some other strong spirit, like basi (rice wine). We show our oneness in literally drinking from the same cup that we call “tagay” (taking drinks by turns, in carefully graduated measures!)

We Filipinos love to go through things together … all for one; one for all. We love to congregate during baptisms, weddings, fiestas, and other invented occasions. And for many of us, including our armed forces, there is nothing better than celebrating by drinking from the same cup, or, as the case maybe, eating from the same banana leaves, in a celebration that is graphically referred to, as a “boodle fight.”

James and John were doing the equivalent of such an ill-concealed desire to stay on together, through thick and thin. Presumably, since they were asking for right and left-hand positions in the “Kingdom,” what they really had in mind, was more “thick” than “thin.” To push the analogy further, it could safely be surmised that what they really had in mind, was not more pain and suffering, but more glory and honor, as they were, indeed, looking forward to the “kingdom.”

But yes, the Lord was intently observing, closely monitoring the polls and the pulse of his close-in followers. But no, the Lord was not impressed, and was not getting worked up either by the two brothers whose egos were getting far bigger than their ability to understand the full implications of what they were asking for.
The Lord was not one to fall for the shallowness of their desires. He was not one to give in to the youthful excesses of two impulsive young men, who were counting on being at the steeple, without counting the steps to the steeple.

The Lord has bad news for them. No, the Lord had good news for them. But that good news didn’t sound anything remotely related to being “good.”

We all had our youthful excesses. We all know what it means to dream far bigger than our real capabilities. We all understand what it means to be taken up by ambition and greed. And yes! We all feel sad that our politics is nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but that which relates to naked and selfish ambition. But to be honest, not even us holy clerics are exempt from such manipulative positioning and ambitious plotting and scheming.

The Gospel tells us as much! And we get it straight from the horses’ mouths – from James and John, no less.

But thanks be to God, today, we don’t have to be captive audiences of the two. Thanks be to God, we, too, don’t have to be captive audiences of our tri-media, biased, prejudiced, slanted and as manipulative as manipulative can be. Thanks be to God, we have alternatives. And even if what they say don’t approximate our definition of a “good life” in style, in power, in position, and as members of an elite club who alone think they can “serve” the people, we need to hear what they say. We need to see the alternative culture. We need to be reminded that, one: there is indeed such a thing as honest-to-goodness service; and second, that that service does not have to be equated with power, wealth, position and control, backed up by hordes of adoring and adulating fans that follow you only when they can get something from you (with a little help from a lot of theatrics and gimmicks from mass media, of course!)

Let us hear it from Isaiah, to start with. The servant he speaks of, that of course, referred to Christ, was one who justified many through his suffering. Clear enough?

Let us hear it, too, from the letter writer to the Hebrews. The High Priest, again referring to Christ, was one who not only “sympathizes with our weaknesses,” but also one who “has similarly been tested in every way.”

But let us hear it direct from the horse’s mouth – the real one – from the Lord Himself. He speaks and he knows whereof he speaks, of the servant who does not lord it over others, but one who is great, but one whose greatness is based on his being a real, authentic, genuine servant, not one that is good only for tarpaulins and TV plug-ins, and star-studded campaign gigs and all.

Now, this is tough. This is unacceptable. This is service devoid of the title “honorable” and “distinguished” (even if one has not even finished elementary education!) This is the real mccoy. And it is not fun, to begin with. It does not pay. It does not lead to higher places. It does not reward here and now. For what reason, we ask? “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”

Last thing I heard, there are two vacancies in the Lord’s cabinet. Those who were called, sent, and placed there without applying are now gone, after much suffering … Lorenzo de Manila, Pedro de Cebu (named Calungsod), Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed John Paul II … They all served and suffered, and died!

Anybody interested? (oh, by the way, James and John changed their minds. They don’t want the position anymore. They got something better, by following the great servant leader of them all – their Lord and Master!) They drank the same cup, eventually, and did the same mission. And they are great, even without being part of the Lord’s cabinet.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

PRAYING FOR PRUDENCE & GETTING A WHOLE LOT MORE!


28th Sunday Year B
October 14, 2012

PRAYING FOR PRUDENCE & GETTING  A WHOLE LOT MORE!

Just about every six months, some new gadget is introduced into the volatile and highly competitive market. No sooner have many people saved up (or begged or borrowed from others) and bought the prized gizmo, than another one comes out to replace it. The compulsion to shop till you drop is all pervading, all encompassing. One feels compelled, not necessarily to have more, but to have something else, as W. Cavanaugh (2007) wisely writes. It is about having something that no one else has for the meantime, until they find enough courage to charge it once again to their piling debt, and buy the prized object with plastic money, charging it, for all intents and purposes, to one’s uncertain future.

Before the ubiquitous pull of that “something else,” that “something unique” and “something different” that “few” individuals have, prudence, understood as practical wisdom, goes out the window of pragmatism, convenience, and an artificial – if, temporary – boost for one’s situational self-esteem.

Prudence, and, along with it, a train of other virtues, including the capacity to hold oneself back, to restrain oneself and the ever present and ever increasing drive to consume, to have, to possess, to hold and to cherish (until the next new thing comes by!), is sacrificed on the altar of the new demigod called “shopping” or “malling” as the case may be.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us a different story … The persona would not part with prudence in exchange for  “scepter and throne,” “riches,” “priceless gems,” “gold,” “silver,” “health” and “comeliness.”

Ouch! That hurts quite a wee bit! Health is not my best asset right now. I feel a little sick, nursing a strange cold for two days now, that racks my whole body with pain and discomfort and my throat with some lump that takes away what little “comeliness” I might think I have. More like a low-grade flu, it takes away enthusiasm and delight at the ordinary things of daily life. One almost feels the pull of “something new,” “something different,” and “something unique.” When one is in some form of discomfort, one wants the best for oneself … the best food, the best drink, the best care from others who are just as equally needy of the same (if not more) items that life is presumed capable of giving anyone!

The psalmist reinforces what the first reading speaks about. He prays so that “he might number the days aright,” and that he “might gain wisdom of heart.” He prays and pleads for the right stuff, and the right stuff has nothing to do with what we all long for on an average day.

But like as if on cue, the letter writer to the Hebrews throws in for good measure what this wisdom is based on, or consists of, or is a function of – the word of God, that “is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.”

We now hang on the lips of marketers and commercial gurus. Last year, when Steve Jobs died, the whole consumeristic world grieved at the passing of someone whose every word we believed, for dear life, for dear comfort, and dear convenience, and dear lifestyle that all make us think we are better than others, just because we have a lower case “i” before three other letters that makes the product definitely a “cut above the rest.!

Today, 28th Sunday, we are once more reminded. Today, we are also convicted … you and I … and we face the call to transcend the culture that keeps us enslaved to the pull of the more, the better, the different. And the readings make no mistake about it. They do not mince words by saying that that elusive wisdom does not come from having more, and being different, but by being like Him who was born poor and died poor, and hobnobbed mostly with the poor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Alleluia verse).

Disappointment was written all over the face of the initially enthusiastic young man who approached the Lord in the gospel. He wanted to cut a dent. He wanted to make waves in society, sort of, asking the Lord that question that was as much a made-up decision to do good, as a tentative attempt at making a shot for “eternal life.”

But the young man’s wisdom fell far short of his too lofty-sounding dream. He got the right noble goal, but missed the earthy, simple, and lowly human means that are necessary if one is to even start a journey towards greatness and holiness. He had the brilliance to aim for eternal life, but lacked the wisdom to part with what ultimately bogged him down. “At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

Being sick and uncomfortable right now, my own short-sighted and earthy “wisdom” leads me to pine for many things. But I cannot deny that the readings convict me and cajole me to aim for higher things. I am sure my readers and hearers would also have their own stories of desire for all sorts of creature comfort, along with the temptation to remain on that level.

The first reading suggests something … We are asked to plead. We are told to pray. And yes … it has nothing to do with the latest iPod now making many people’s mouths water. It has to do with asking for heavenly wisdom. And this strain of wisdom does not make much of what commercial gurus tell us, but what the Word of God leads us to. It comes, though, with a promise that is literally out of this world: “No one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life the age to come.”
And last thing I heard is, eternal life does not last only six months, to be replaced with something new, something different, something unique. It lasts. And though it has no warranty for a year, it guarantees what, in our undiluted wisdom from above, we all can see with the eyes of faith – eternal life. And this means, forever, with no more need for updates, for codecs, and for periodic registrations, for it has to do with the “age to come.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

ALL THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
October 7, 2012

ALL THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES!

Back in my Baltimore days, I got sort of hooked to the daytime soap opera DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I did not make much of whatever was going on in the lives of the Horton and Brady families in a town called Salem, but I remember enjoying the portrayal of the complex characters of the evolving story, that began yet in 1965, and is poised to air its 12,000th episode come January 2013.

It is a story filled with twists and turns, unpredictable ends and unexpected bends along the circuitous – if, tumultuous – route that is called life as lived by the average Tom, Dick, and Harry, and for our local culture where I am at, every Juan de la Cruz of our times.

I start with something positive – a blessing, in fact … “May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives!” (Responsorial Psalm).

How does one deserve and earn such a blessing? Let me count the ways, as suggested by the very same psalm and the other readings for today …

First, said blessing comes to those who “fear the Lord and walk in His ways.”
Second, from the first reading, we gather that the blessing is associated with claiming one’s role as “partner” and “leaving father and mother and home – kith and kin – in order to precisely fulfill that role in the context of a relationship made in heaven! Third, the same blessing comes to those who have sufficient wisdom from above to think of himself less and think of others more, that is, being humble as humble can be – like unto Christ, “who was made lower than the angels that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2nd reading). But there is fourth, and a more important one … it comes to those who stand by their promises, who fulfill their vows, and who take on a childlike attitude of trust and dependence as a life of humble submission would dictate.

Now, this is a far cry from what the complex cast of characters of the Days of our Lives shows. This has nothing to do with individuals giving in to the pull of whatever emotion one has at the moment, and submitting to scheming and planning and plotting so that one might outdo or outrace the other, cost what might, happen what might.

I am sure all of us would love to be the recipient of the said blessings from above. I am sure we all would do whatever it takes to earn them, deserve them,  and revel in them.

Today’s readings definitely got good news for us, as always, just like in every other Sunday. Yes, we can! Yes, we can have those blessings.

But blessings don’t just come unbidden. Blessings just don’t come by like lightning bolts from the blue. Blessings are ours to ask for, work for, and even die for! Couples who “live happily ever after” are a matter for fairy tales and feel-good stories for hopeless romantics. Blessings are there for the picking, but for those who are willing to “leave father and mother” in order to cling to his wife and husband, and together, work in order to become “one flesh.”

Yes, Virginia, it is possible. And yes, it is possible only for those who work for it. And, in this case, it definitely takes two to tango. It takes two loving hearts to do, not only a partnership of love, but also a partnership of life, and when we speak of life, the idea of WORK follows closely behind. Even good, old Freud, got it right … No mental health, no maturity, no emotional and psychological well-being for anyone, unless one has both LOVE and WORK! This much, we see from the first reading. God Himself was in search for a “suitable partner” for Adam. And from the Genesis account, that partnership has to do with being “master” of all of creation, that is, by working together to make the earth and everything that is in it, bear fruit in plenty, “for the life of the world.”

Every blessing we have enumerated speaks of more or less the same important value. If it is a value, then it carries with it a certain moral impetus, a responsibility, a duty, if you will! That value calls one to fidelity, to consistency, to constancy in being and becoming that “suitable partner” to one another in the context of a lifetime partnership of life and love – and – work, that is what marriage essentially is all about.

Today, I ask my Catholic readers who are also married couples to begin disabusing the purely romantic notion that your union is only a partnership of love. Take it from Genesis. Take it from Freud, if you will. Take it from the letter writer to the Hebrews. Take it from Christ. You want blessings? Sure!

But get out and work for it. Together. Be partners in life. For life. Out of love. But be partners, too, in work, in a concerted effort to build not just a family, but a kingdom, patterned after the Kingdom of God, a domestic Church, if you will … a little Church, where there is mutual submission, humility, dedication, commitment, constancy and consistency in the good.

You sure you want them blessings? They are there for the taking and the picking, to those who are willing to act like little children, in humility and utter trust in the Lord … to those who help each other subdue the earth and work together to make this world a better and more prosperous place for all.

It goes without saying, though, that you know what it takes to get them blessings … fear the Lord, for one. Walk in His ways, for a second. Difficult? Yes, but the returns are simply out of this world!

May the Good Lord bless us then, all the days of our lives! And I mean this for those of you who are married, and who remain thus through thick and thin, for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer … But I mean this, too, for those who like me, are also called, though single and unattached to anyone, in particular, to the same mission and work, to share in the building of God’s Kingdom on earth.

May the Good Lord, bless us all the days of our lives! Now, that’s not just a blessing, but a claim to the glorious liberty of the children of God!