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Friday, November 30, 2012

SAFE AND SECURE IN THE LORD WHO IS JUSTICE!

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1st Sunday Advent (C)
December 2, 2012

SAFE AND SECURE IN THE LORD WHO IS JUSTICE!

Don’t we all love to hear good news! Fresh graduates who have recently taken the board or government licensure examinations wait interminably for good news to come their way. Sick people who undergo so many varied tests and lab works long to hear from their doctor how their health prognosis would be in the next few months or years. I know … been there; done that. The Lord knows how many examinations I have taken all my life, and waiting for good news is not something I am unfamiliar with.

But we all know that, no matter the good news, the events prior to, or surrounding the coming of good news, are not necessarily pleasant. Take it from Jeremiah, a prophet who has seen the best and the worst,  as one who saw first hand the bitterness of exile in his prophetic career. He had, in many respects, literally hit rock-bottom. He knew what it meant to be down there in the dumps of despair, of discouragement, of depression, and despondency. Lamentations, in fact, and Jeremiah are not mutually exclusive terms.

But this is exactly what makes Jeremiah credible. He has seen life. He has gone through the best and the worst. And anybody in the depths of despair, who had been through the worst, knows whereof he speaks.

I personally, would be prone to listen and listen attentively to what such people have to say about future expectations that they know would eventually come. I would certainly listen more to one who has seen it all, than to an upstart preacher or teacher whose only passport to being one is a piece of parchment paper showing his or her academic credentials.

But where exactly does Jeremiah want to lead us to? What precisely is the core message that he wants us to understand?

I suggest one word that seems to sum up everything he says – PROMISE. The days are coming, he says, when the promise will come to fulfillment. And what could that promise be all about? Jeremiah himself gives details – the raising up of a just shoot for David and his descendants.

How about that for a moment of reflection?

People don’t feel safe anywhere nowadays. Just look at the tickets we buy to get from one place to another. It’s almost normal everywhere now to buy a plane ticket and buy an insurance for that seat you bought. And we are not speaking here of travel insurance, or personal accident insurance. We don’t feel secure. Any news of rockets about to be blasted into space, even in Southeast Asia, sends people scampering for safety nets, figuratively, so as not to become a statistic, should debris fall on you as you sail the seas in the flight path of the rocket, as happened recently during the North Korean rocket launch. Where I am, posh villages spend mighty sums of money just to secure their entire village (or, in many cases, a street) or themselves. People don’t feel safe. People don’t feel secure.

But it is, ironically, when we feel most insecure, when we become more hopeful and trusting. Today, as we begin a new year, we pray in earnest: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”

To say that the world in our times is full of insecurity and turmoil is to speak of a certain level of certainty – the shallow certainty of facts. But what the readings  inspire us today does not have anything to do with this superficial level of certainty, but all to do with the surety of faith, not mere facts.

What, according to history, are the facts that have troubled the Church since history began? Plenty. Potentates and kings and dictators have always sought to destroy her. They are all gone, but the Church of God is still very much around. So many have sought and tried with might and main to discredit her, including some of her very own ministers, priests, bishops and even bad Popes, but the Church is here to stay.

I write even as I watch the live feed of the National Thanksgiving Mass being held in Cebu City in honor of St. Pedro Calungsod. I cannot help myself but be touched by the simple faith of so many in Cebu and all over the country and the world, who now thank God for the gift of a saint so old and yet so young, so far removed from our chronological time, but so relevant to God’s own cyclical time (kairos).

This, I would like to think, is the kairos that all three readings point to … the coming days, the unfolding fulfillment of the promise, the coming to fruition of centuries of fervent dreaming and hoping of a people who, despite all the challenges, still maintain to hold on, not to the certainty of facts, but to the surety of faith.

And what does their faith show?

Behind all the pain, beyond all the challenges, fears, difficulties, despondency and all, lies the unbending promise that the Lord will come with all his holy ones. (2nd reading).

In a few words, this is what we hold on to and believe with all our hearts: in the Lord, our justice, our hope, and our peace, we are safe and secure even here, even now … today, for all days, in all ways, and for always!


Friday, November 23, 2012

THE TIME HAS COME!


SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
November 25, 2012

THE TIME HAS COME!

Good old Lewis Carroll wrote these beautiful verses about the walrus and the carpenter out for a walk and a bite: "The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things: of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax-- of cabbages--and kings-- and why the sea is boiling hot-- and whether pigs have wings."

The time has come indeed! We’ve been through another year, another cycle … another round of reflections throughout what we call the liturgical year that is about to end. We’ve come full circle, and what we began a year ago is what we are wrapping up today.

The time has come … yes! But the time, too, has come to speak of many things: of shoes and ships, maybe? Of rockets and the ruckus they cause in that tiny piece of territory in the Middle East, perhaps? … Of cabbages and camotes, and genetically modified foods to feed an unsatisfied world?

Why not? Why yes! Even of Kings and despots whose only passport to power is popularity and poise, or servant-leaders who do good unheralded, unannounced, unsung and unappreciated?

I prefer today to speak of the latter – the real leader if ever there was one – the authentic servant who needs to be recognized for who and what he is.

I refer to Christ, the King on whom all three readings today converge!

His Kingship, according to Scriptures, is beyond discussion, beyond compare, beyond doubt. His dominion is an everlasting dominion. Still doubt it? Go, read your history books. Countless leaders have tried to erase him from human memory. Many of them have declared their avowed destiny of removing all traces of the man from Galilee. Go and check once again. Last thing I heard is, to use the words of Billy Gillman, “God’s alive and well.”

“His kingship shall not be destroyed,” so says Daniel the prophet. God is alive and well. “The Lord is King; he is robed in majesty!” (Response).

But we do need to talk about the walrus and the carpenter, too, as recounted by Lewis Carroll. We need to speak about subjects of the King, like us, who are manipulative, abusive, and deceptive. We need to speak about people like us, who behave like despots, not heavenly Kings; people who need to be reminded that they are not the Kings and Queens of the country they serve, or live in … of people who behave like the world is simply their oyster and that they can make use of anyone and anything simply to meet their selfish, earthly and material ends! (Need I remind you that the walrus and the carpenter ate the oysters in cold blood, after leading them to a walk by the beach? Manipulative monsters, they were!)

Yes! We need to speak about the way we treat the King of Kings! We do need to speak about ambitious kings in our midst who disregard the law, who disregard even the divine moral law and behave like the walrus and the carpenter who have no qualms about making lowly critters like oysters suffer and die in their own juices, just to satisfy themselves.

These days, we are worried sick. We are saddened by so many things … the current low-intensity conflict between a nation and a tiny rebel group in that forlorn part of the world so torn by conflict even during biblical times. I am personally saddened that our legislators even act like they are biological experts and moral experts who define human life as not starting during fertilization!

I am saddened by so many equivalents of the walrus and the carpenter who have no qualms at all making use of people and hapless innocents just to advance their political agenda.

I am saddened even by me, who, in all honesty, can also act like the walrus and the carpenter in so many ways. Like all the rest of us. Human. Selfish. Sinful and greedy and ambitious!

Let’s settle the score then! Even the lowly walrus and the humble carpenter can do cruel things. We all can trample on the rights of the oysters below and beneath us.

Today’s feast offers us an antidote. It would do us good to remember that there is someone higher than us, who is above us in every sense of the word. He is King. He is Lord. He is ruler. He is Savior. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice.

The King is alive and well. But it is us oysters, along with the walrus and the carpenter who may have died in our sins and dead set on doing more and more sinful things.

The time has come! Let us give glory and praise to Him forever and ever. God is alive and well!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

ENDINGS ARE BEGINNINGS


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
November 18, 2012

Readings: Dn 12:1-3 / Heb 10:11-14,18 / Mk 11: 24-32


ENDINGS ARE BEGINNINGS


I would like to sum up my reflection for today with a paraphrase from the great English poet, T.S. Eliot … "in my end is my beginning." Yes … endings are indeed, beginnings. As November marches on, as the weather changes in some way all over the world, and as the warm expectations of Christmas fill our hearts and minds, thoughts of an old year receding, and a new one in the offing, also capture our imagination.


If we are to make the big mistake of interpreting today's apocalyptic gospel passages literally (as the Fundamentalists invariably do), the warm feelings of Christmas could easily be replaced by fear, trepidation, and listlessness. But any student of introductory Biblical hermeneutics would know that sowing fear and hopelessness is not the meaning, scope, intent, and purpose of such an "apocalyptic" – if, at first blush, frightful – language. On the contrary, the whole apocalyptic style refers to a coming fulfillment of God's promises of old given through the prophets, and the centerpiece, the object, the focus of such fulfillment is to happen in and through the so-called "Christ event" – the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.


We hear this Jesus today, come in time, come in flesh, come in history, tell us: "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky."


There is certainty in this type of language … certainty not in terms of the 'how' but in terms of the what. The 'how' of it all is not the point, but the 'what.' But what is this all about? It all has to do with the fulfillment of what was promised of old. The Lord is coming. The Lord is coming at the "end of time" to bring to fruition the saving work and mercy of God "who has come to save His people" in and through Christ. That fulfillment has begun in the Jesus of history, the very same one who speaks to his bewildered disciples who could not, and did not fully understand all at once what was unfolding before their very eyes.


We are no different now from the uncomprehending disciples then. We still do not understand and see fully. We are beset then and now with so much uncertainty, so many doubts, and so many questions. Will there be another terrorist attack anywhere in this big wide world, made small by so much hatred and strife? Will there be a new wave of nuclear terrorism, played out by new players in the geopolitical scene? Will the changing political landscape in the world powers all over spell doom and gloom for the rest of the developing world? Will the forces of globalization truly solve the gross inequalities that beset and besot the world filled with so much injustice and all forms of imbalances and inequities?


But no … let me take back my word. On the basis of what we hear today, on the basis of what we celebrate in the liturgy today, yes, we are very different now from the disciples then. We are better off now than then. For we see a little more clearly. We see now, "through a glass darkly," as St. Paul puts it, but we do see more … much more.


What then do we see, and how do we see what we see?


To be sure, we see the same threats that Daniel and the other prophets saw. We see the same destruction, the same inequality and injustice. We see the same sinfulness of the world … of people … of ourselves. We see exactly the same SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) in this finite world hankering for fulfillment and perfection.


But we do see much more. We see much more on account of what we, as Christians, have been gifted a lot more with. Like Daniel the prophet, we have better eyes with which to look at things, at events, at people, and everything else in this imperfect world. And together with Daniel, we are able to say today: "At that time, there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time." But here comes the clincher … are you ready for it? Daniel sees much more than distress. "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, other shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace."


This, much like the words of Jesus in the Gospel passage, is not the language of terror, trials, and tribulations. It has nothing to do with suns being darkened, moons not giving its customary light, and stars falling down from the firmament. No … on the contrary it has to do with a vision, a way of looking at things, a manner of seeing now through a glass darkly, but seeing all the same.


This, my dear friends, has to do with seeing. This has to do with looking through the eyes of hope. Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus … they all looked at things and events through the eyes of hope.


The world, assuredly, is no different now, from then. We are beset with the same worries, the same challenges, the same threats, and the same blockages that come from our human sinful nature now, as then.


But the very reason why we are gathered here together today to celebrate is because we see much more than just this. We see much more than cataclysmic events befalling sinful humanity. We see signs of the savior at work in this sinful world. We see vestiges of God's future and present glory beyond what takes place, beyond what happens. Looking through the eyes of hope, we see visions; we dream dreams; and we conjure up a world of possibilities far beyond what our sinful nature can ever do. For we now have one high priest who "took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool." (2nd Reading)


This, in simple terms, is what today's good news is all about. It has to do with hope. At a time when everything seems to smack of cataclysmic endings, when we are threatened more than ever by gross, massive, and catastrophic destruction on all fronts, whether military, ecological, psychological, geographical, or geological (what with so many threats of natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons, or volcanic eruptions), today's liturgy puts us right back on track, right back to the paths of hope. We are led right back to the beginning – a beginning that ought to convince everyone that beyond all the bad news, stands the font of all good news. God is alive. God is in charge. And He directs the course of history. The Jesus of history is the same as the Christ of faith. In and through this same Christ, we now see more clearly than ever: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."


Still afraid of cataclysmic endings? … of things happening beyond our control? …. Take heart … Today's good news remind us … endings are beginnings … for those who see … for those who have vision … of Him to whom we cry out together in faith and hope: "You are my inheritance, O Lord!" (Responsorial Psalm).


"Father in heaven, from the beginning of time you promised man salvation through the future coming of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to drink of his truth and expand our hearts with the joy of his promises, so that we may serve you in faith and love and know forever the joy of your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord" (Alternative Opening Prayer from the old English Roman Missal).



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NONE SO POOR AS TO HAVE NOTHING TO SHARE

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32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
November 11, 2012


NONE SO POOR AS TO HAVE NOTHING TO SHARE!

Jose Feliciano of old crooned that “love comes from the most unexpected places.” True. But so does generosity. It comes, lived, shown, and practiced even by persons least expected to do so.

Years ago, during the Ormoc tragedy in the Philippines, something beautiful for God and humanity happened. A long line of hungry and weary people were snaking through, waiting to receive relief goods. Foreign press people were present, with flash lights popping and cameras whirring. At a certain point everyone including the relief distributors was sure … there was not going to be enough for everyone in the long line.

At the end of the line was a little girl of about five. She was patient and hopeful, and even if she saw the supplies dwindling, she, together with all the rest, stayed on, trudged on, slowly towards where the supplies were. When it was her turn, there was absolutely nothing to give … not a bag, not a packet, not a forlorn tin can, or a mashed bag of instant noodles. There was nothing but an overripe and mushy banana.

Sadly and reluctantly, the women distributing food had to give her the soggy half-rotten banana. Her face fell as she was handed the banana, but still managed to flash a smile, obviously grateful that she got at least that. The cameras were panning towards her direction. Everyone’s eyes were focused on her. She ran as fast as she could towards a certain direction. The cameraman and press people felt their hearts pounding, not knowing where she was going and how this emerging story was going to end.

The little girl surprised the watching world. The cameraman could not see clearly anymore, as he witnessed and made the world witness the generosity of one who hardly had anything to give. The little girl scooped her little brother slumped on the ground, as hungry and dirty as she was, and gave him half the almost rotten banana she had.

Selflessness, generosity, and greatness do come from the most unexpected places!

The widow was one such proof. She was at the end of her rope. But she was by no means at the end of her wits, and oozing generosity. Her greatness shone through insignificant worthless things: sticks, a handful of flour, and a little oil. That was it! And confronted with a demanding prophet, asking her for food to eat, the widow gave the last she had … her last guarantee of a few additional hours of existence, with no more to spare!

Praise the Lord, my soul for the widow! Praise the Lord, my soul, for that little girl. Praise the Lord, my soul, for Thou giveth – and taketh away … for Thou giveth life while literally killing!

Yes, it is right and just to praise the Lord. The letter to the Hebrews rightly speaks of Him as one who sacrificed and offered Himself generously, once and for all, for that little girl and boy, for you, for everyone who laughs now, and everyone who mourns now.

Scribes are long in robes, but short in generosity. They love to accept greetings and seek out the best seats in the house, but they “devour the houses of widows.”
Praise the Lord even for them! Praise the Lord for all irresponsible and greedy loggers who directly caused the tragedy at Ormoc, and other tragedies in the Philippines! In pain, they, too, can teach us the opposite of what they show us – the opposite of greed, which is generosity and magnanimity!

Praise the Lord, my soul for this Sunday! Today is a day of widows, and widows’ mites, and children bereft of childhood on account of indifferent humanity and because of adults’ irresponsibility!

Today, we learn a telling lesson – that generosity can shine even in the most unexpected places, and be shown even by the most unexpected people. Yes, scribes can potentially shine, too. Poor widows can give more than people who have thicker wallets and stuffed pocketbooks. But widow or not, rich or poor, scribe or plebeian alike … lay or ordained … we all can shine … we all can rise to the occasion and prove once again, that generosity, greatness – and yes – love, too, can come from the most unexpected places!

May this place be here! May this time be now!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

ONLY WITH GOD'S HELP; SOLELY FOR GOD'S LOVE


31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


One thing I like about the Catholic liturgy is that, contrary to popular perceptions, it is not about purely pious talk. It has to do with real life issues of real people in real time … with people who struggle with a myriad of challenges … here and now. Our Opening Prayer opens with a reality check: “God of power and mercy, only with your help can we offer you fitting service and praise.”

Only with God’s help … wonders like serving and praising God are there for the doing, but only with His help. Wonders like what the famous Shema, O Israel demands from everyone – loving God with all one’s heart, mind, strength, and soul, are possible only on account of God’s help.

So … what business have we today to talk about this? Shouldn’t we just raise up our arms in surrender and tell ourselves … “Nah … this is not for me … It takes too much effort … way too much for my puny capacities?” Who among us here can really mean what he or she says, and say what he or she means, as we all respond after the 1st reading: “I love you, Lord, my strength?”

Loving God and only Him … is this possible at all? Today, the Good News leaves no doubt as to its feasibility, possibility, and advisability. It’s all found in our short response. We can, indeed, love God … for He it is who makes it possible, for God is our strength! “I love you, Lord, my strength!”

This much, the readings themselves tell us. The first reading assures us that the command of the Lord is attached to His merciful and compassionate promises … “to give [us] a land flowing with milk and honey.” Answering to this command is, furthermore, made possible “because he remains forever, and he has a priesthood that does not pass away.” Hebrews tells us that “he lives forever to make intercession for [us].” But the same letter-writer to the Hebrews makes sure we realize that everyone, including those appointed high priests, are “men subject to weakness.”

Subject to weaknesses … this is the story of all of us. This, too, is story of what Weigel calls a certain “grittiness” in the Church. Peter and the original company of Jesus, not excluding Judas, were men full of grit. They were not born perfect. They loved the Lord, but they also denied him. Two of them shed tears after the deed. One raised up his arms in surrender and faded away in utter shame. The other looked up to Christ’s outstretched arms on the cross and drew strength from the very same Lord he betrayed. He loved the Lord, his strength, and eventually gained enough strength and courage to be crucified upside down.

The Church is full of grit – then and now. The great American writer Flannery O’Connors once wrote that we can suffer as much because of the Church, as for the Church. We are a community of saints and sinners. In my 29 years of priesthood, I can vouch for the fact that fellow religious and fellow priests in and out of the congregation, have made my life a little harder in small and big ways, and a little less rosy than it was painted during the idyllic novitiate months. (For the record, I need to mention that I, too, have caused others pain and distress, knowingly and otherwise).

In the Gospels, we are told of well-intentioned and otherwise good people, like the young man, who came to the Lord, asking “what else to do beyond what the commandments asked.” He had the makings of a good disciple. He had what, in our times, we refer to as “good materiality” for a possible vocation to the priesthood. But, weak as he was, he turned away sad, when accosted with the truth. Peter, the weak man, at some point, did an unexpected marvel. He walked on water. He was on the way to becoming a wonder-worker like his Master and Lord. But he, too, turned away from the gaze of the Master. And he sank.

Sometimes, we may think that weighed down with so much weakness and sinfulness, we may really be unworthy to serve the Lord. All too often, we give up and get lost, or we are inundated by the flood of weaknesses and sinfulness. We feel not only gritty, but all covered with muck. We turn away sad from the Lord.

I’d like you to hold on and hold fast, as we reflected on two weeks back. Hold on to your love and hold fast to His love! This is what we really mean today as we bellowed: “I love you Lord, my strength.” Yes, we love God … only God, no one else but Him. But in our weakness, we need to allow the other side of our prayer to take hold of us fully and truly. He is our strength. He is our salvation. He loves us more than we can ever love Him. If he could love a weak and unfaithful Peter, he can love even if we grovel in the grit, grain, and gravel of our sinfulness.

But there is one thing we need to do … beyond the letter of the law … beyond the commandments that are really, in the words of Keenan, “commandments of compassion,” windows that open to the reality of a loving and living God, who demands love, not sacrifices. Those who do so, merit hearing what the Lord tells us today: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

In our life of struggle against so many odds, in this Church and world that is full of all sorts of “grittiness,” there are two sides to the coin of God’s command that we hear again today. Difficult as it is, we can do it only with God’s help. Important and life-giving as it is, we need to define our whole lives in terms of its demands. Gritty as we are, we can succeed only with God’s help. Gritty and graced as we are, at one and the same time, we are called to do everything exclusively for Him who loves us with an everlasting love. Only with God’s help; solely for God’s love!

Only with your help, O Lord, can we offer you fitting service and praise. May we live the faith we profess and trust your promise of eternal life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Opening Prayer).