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Thursday, January 31, 2013

KNOWN, DEDICATED, APPOINTED, SENT!


4th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year C)
February 3, 2013

KNOWN, DEDICATED, APPOINTED, SENT!

Whoever thinks Jesus had a nice time preaching in his own hometown Nazareth probably never heard what he said about it … “No prophet is accepted in his own country.” There was rejection. There was cynicism and skepticism. Who was he anyway? … the son of the carpenter? … one who grew up alongside us … What has he got more than we all have?

Jeremiah fared no better. He always had a mouthful to tell his friends, who soon became his foes after he told them what didn’t sound like music to their ears. But today, I have bitter, but good news to would-be prophets among you: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Last week, I shared with you how difficult now it is to be a prophet like Jeremiah. For speaking the truth and going against the tide of public opinion (read: rigged surveys!), a modern prophet is crucified in the same arena of public opinion (read: social networking sites, and a servile mainstream media). Oppositionists call us all sorts of names, heaping upon us what indeed, and in truth, some of the rotten apples in the Church (a minuscule few, by the way) did – dastardly and shameful admittedly, but by no means the norm of a Church made up of saints and yes – sinners, too!

Jeremiah, the young and fledgling prophet knew what he was getting into … exactly the same rejection, exactly the same phenomenon shown nowadays – that is, shooting the messenger instead of dealing squarely with the message.

I write this reflection as much as an encouragement for me as for others who now play the role of prophet in our times. I refer to evangelizers who preach and teach. I refer to those who stand up for the rights of mother nature and defend the integrity of creation. I refer, too, to those who stand up for the moral teachings of the Church and speak bravely even with the threat of being criminalized. I refer to so many of us who refuse to follow the mainstream and avoid being co-opted by the prevailing culture of metaphysical and moral materialism.

But I write also to remind myself and others that to be a prophet has certain requirements. St. Paul gives us the most important one: LOVE. Yes … it is not enough to speak nicely and eloquently. It is not enough to be a do-gooder, and an activist. One can be an activist without being a prophet. One can have an advocacy without being a prophet patterned after the heart of Christ. And that most important element of prophecy is what St. Paul tells us: “If I have not love, I am nothing.”

I must confess to you that at times, I feel disheartened. And this despondency does not come from people not known to me who reject me, but from those I knew, those I taught, those we educated in Don Bosco schools, who seem to bite the hand that fed them, and who think and behave in ways that Don Bosco himself would not agree with … those who run counter to Church official teachings, those who espouse belief systems that are strong on the pole of “believing” but not on the pole of “belonging.”

But then even Jesus fared no better. Haters abounded then as now. And haters just gonna hate, gotta hate sicut erat in principium, nunc et semper! “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” But that was not all. At the end of Jesus’ discourse, they were really incensed. The passage we heard says it all: “they were filled with fury, “ “rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

Haters just gotta hate, gonna hate …

We’ve seen so many in the recent past who fell in the darkness of hate, in the dark of night … todos aquellos que se han caido en la noche! Son todos prophetas! They are genuine prophets, armed not with knives and guns and scimitars and scythes, but with the force of love, the force of truth, the force of forgiveness.

Take it from me. It is hard to be a prophet. But more than anything, take it from the Lord. He tells you and me today. I am known. I am dedicated. I am appointed. And I am sent.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” … “I am with you to deliver you!”

What more can a hapless prophet ask for? With God on our side, you and me are hapless and helpless or hopeless no more!

I will sing, O Lord, of your salvation!

Friday, January 25, 2013

FULFILLED IN OUR HEARING


3rd Sunday Year C
January 27, 2013

FULFILLED IN OUR HEARING!

The people during Nehemiah’s time had a compelling reason to be emotional. The first reading says they were weeping as they listened to Nehemiah’s reading with attention and deep interest. Nehemiah, of course, was reading for hours on end the completed Book of the Law, known to Jews as the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.

When was the last time, you and I wept over an attentive and rapt reading of Scripture? Was there ever a time when the words we read or heard so convicted us or so convinced us, and by their power, moved us in the same way as Nehemiah’s listeners were moved?

Today, I stand before you and I start with a little confession. I confess that preaching has become of late an even harder task to do. It never was, in the first place. While Nehemiah read for hours, and people were moved by what he read, people now are moved by something else – by entertainment brought by a mass media crazed culture of entertainment and showbiz. People cry “Amen, Alleluia” after every line from a media savvy preacher who, more often than not, end up merely entertaining, and not preaching the Word!

It is hard now to reach out to young people who come to Church armed to the teeth with their powerful smartphones. It is hard now to preach on the Word of God to a “hooked-up” generation who are always connected, but never seemingly attached; perpetually wired, but never attuned.

But this is precisely why I need to preach. This is precisely why we priests need to do a Nehemiah and “preach in season and out of season.” This is precisely the reason why we need to become what God has called us to – evangelizers who bring to people, not just pleasant and saccharine news, but the Good News of salvation.

But I would like you to know that I pine for the hearers and listeners of Nehemiah. They were humble … “they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord.” They were attentive … “all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” They were malleable and formable … “all the people were weeping as they heard the words.”

They had, in a few words, what we call “audience sympathy” – that welcoming attitude of openness that is essential for the two-way dialogue of faith communication to happen.

Maybe we all need to be reminded of this. Faith is a two-way traffic. Salvation is a give-and-take. For salvation to happen, there ought to be two parties: God who redeems, and man (or woman, or child) who works out his or her own salvation “in fear and trembling.” This, among others, is what we hear Paul say in the second reading .. that the Church is one body with many parts, and every part has to feel and show that it belongs to the body. Rejection does not make for salvation. Refusal is not the language of openness and openness is what acceptance of the Word is all about. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again, the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

We all have experienced being rejected. We all have suffered due to some level of non-acceptance and rejection. But we all know how good it feels to be welcomed, to be received with open arms,  and to be accepted as we are.

Even the Lord Jesus knew what it was to rejected, right in his own hometown …  “What good can come from Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?”

But rejected or not, the Lord came with a message and a gift. He came as light, even when men preferred to live in the darkness. The gospel passage we just heard tells us he went even to Nazareth. And there, he entered a synagogue and, there, too, he stood up to read … proclaim is more like it …

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Even here. Even now. Also here, also now. And I am a humble unworthy instrument of this proclamation. But I beg you, dear brothers and sisters … you need to help me here. I find it harder and harder to preach, for the reasons (and more besides!) that I said above. You’ve got to help us help you. You’ve got to have the right attitude, even as we need to preach better and more intelligibly. It takes two to tango. Redemption is a task and a gift given to us by God, in and through Christ. But salvation is a task and a responsibility that is incumbent upon us all to do.

You and I. We all. Together. We need to journey together to get there … and we need to help each other “bring the good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.”

But we need to “let the oppressed go free.” And among the oppressed is us … oppressed by a culture that is hooked up, and always connected without being attached, aware of everything, but never really attuned – to God, to others, to the One Body that is His Church!

Let the oppressed, beginning with us go free! And today, our faith tells us, this is being fulfilled in your hearing!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BLEST WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL GIFT!


Feast of the Holy Child (Santo Nino)
January 20, 2013

Readings: Is 9:1-6 / Eph 1:3-6.15-18 / Luke 2:41-52

BLEST WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL GIFT!

It’s more fun in the Philippines! That, at least, is what our tourism people would like the world to believe. Why not? Where else do you find Christmas beginning in earnest in September and ending some time in mid January, with a little of Passion week sandwiched in between with the feast of the Black Nazarene?

But I am being flippant here. It’s not just about fun. It’s all about being “blest with every spiritual gift!” And I am dead serious about it!

Family psychologists in the Philippines have always been puzzled by this. Most mothers and fathers of fledgling families in the country are working and living elsewhere, far from their young, growing children, far from home that is more than just home, far from all that they grew familiar with. Darkness, you might say? Indeed! The darkness and the growing social costs of migrant workers, who look elsewhere for gainful employment, is an undeniable fact.

But know what? The Filipino family, known to be resilient, has, over the recent decades, remained as healthy as ever, relatively speaking. Where in other cultures, there would have been untold miseries brought about by such long-distance nurturing, in the Philippines, the Filipino family has relatively remained unscathed and unhurt by the so many situations of gloom that are seen elsewhere around the world.

It’s more blessed in the Philippines!

Our Christmas is the longest in the world. We even take a pause just after New Year to take a peek at what is coming yet two months hence – Passiontide! We take a breather just as we got tired of the trimmings and trappings of Christmas, and celebrate the Feast of the suffering servant, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Manila, and more than 8 million people, mostly men and young people, sacrifice what little comfort they might have, and brave through endless hours of procession snaking or more properly snailing its way towards its home, the Church of St. John the Baptist in Quiapo.

But there are lowering black clouds in the immediate horizon … darkness looming over the pearl of the orient seas no more. Darkness of corruption … black clouds of summary executions, rub-outs of elements they call criminal, perpetrated by law and order personnel, for whom law seems only to be siding with the one who belongs to the ruling dispensation … the list is long … including typhoons that seem to rise out of nowhere when the whole country is agog preparing for the joys of Christmas.

I can go on and on … But today, with one final push to remind us of the joys and hopes of Christmas, the readings tell us otherwise … They weave an ongoing story of hope and optimism: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

We simply seem unable to get enough of all this joy and optimism. They ooze out of every event associated with the “little boy child” – from well-attended and well-celebrated novena Masses to processions and competitions full as much of spirituality as pageantry! Behind it all is one simple, clear and undeniable conviction: “The Lord has made his salvation known!” “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

Grateful and joyful, we thus proclaim today: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens!”

But this joy ought not remain in meaningless and empty revelry, one devoid of meaning and significance for the rest of our mortal existence, down the road of life, in this valley of tears.

Let the same little boy child teach us this important lesson. His was not exactly a plaster-like idyllic existence in a world that made no demands, in a situation that brought only pious and nice feelings, in a life that was perfect and seamless.

No … there, too, were black lowering clouds of anxiety, tension, doubt and personal suffering. The boy at some point went missing. Mary and Joseph, we are told, looked for him “with great anxiety.” And at the moment of meeting, there came that heart-breaking answer to a question that every mother and father had the right to ask: “Son, why did you do this to us?”

The answer came like a heavy blow to already overburdened hearts: “Don’t you see I must be about my Father’s business?”

And this, my friend, is the good news hiding behind all this joy, optimism and revelry. Pit Senor … Call on the Lord would then mean something else other than just dancing with abandon in the streets. It means taking a grip of oneself and acting like the Son or daughter of the Father in heaven that we all are meant to be – obedient, loyal, faithful, and true!

Make no mistake about it! This feast is not just a feast of the heart. Neither is it just a feast for the mind. It is all this, and more. It is a feast of the hands and feet, too. Dance with abandon, yes! Process with devotion, too! But get up and do something. Stand up for God, your Father! Life is not just about praying and worshipping, dancing and flailing your arms in the air! It’s all about being about doing the Father’s will, and living humbly and rightly for God’s sake and in His name! Pit Senor! Call on the Lord’s name! Thank Him and praise Him, for we all are blest with every spiritual gift!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED!


BAPTISM OF THE LORD
January 13, 2013

FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED!

Today’s feast definitively closes the Christmas season. Gone ought to be all the tinsel and the foil, the trimmings and trappings of a romanticized Christmas, that is, for the most part, meant to be for kids, to perk up their sense of wonder at the miraculous “Christ-event” that has changed the course of world history.

But the child not only grows in age and wisdom. We, too, ought to rise above the childish level of tinsel and foil, and claim for ourselves the responsibility that the Christmas and Christ-event has imposed on us.

Let us look for some clues straight from today’s readings!

First, the reading from Isaiah, it must be admitted, sounds like soothing balm to aching hearts and like much needed prop-up support to our sagging spirits. “Comfort, give comfort to my people … her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” Is this a repeat, then, of the spirit of Advent – when we were told to lift up our eyes and see the glorious coming of the Lord?

A repetition, it definitely, is not, but a confirmation, rather, of what we, in the rich heritage of Christian faith, hold on to in faith, in trust, in the conviction that something else, something more, something glorious awaits those who believe and remain steadfast till the end.

I would like, personally, to hold onto this – and more!

What is this that we all need to hold onto in faith? Let the second reading from Titus remind us … “The grace of God has appeared!” The promised comfort of Isaiah in his Book of Consolation so called, has come. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject Godless ways and wordly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”

The grace of God has appeared! We all have heard many stories of people who pray for the visitation of God on them, but then when God comes, they miss him altogether. In the Second Book of Kings, we are told how God was expected to be in the earthquake, in the thunder, in the lightning, but when He came in “a gentle wisp of wind,” nobody noticed.

In the Gospel passage, we are presented with something so real, so true-to-life. Like us, the people then were “filled with expectation” and everyone was asking whether John was the Christ. It is easy to mistake one for the other. It is easy to get lost in the face of so many wonders being wrought by both John and Jesus. But only one was the Christ. Only was Lord! Only one was God!

And it took a humble man who knew his place and who knew where his role began and where it ended to know and tell. He minced no words and lost no time in telling people: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

We all could learn a lesson or two from John – a lesson on discernment. Among other things, discernment stands for the ability to sift the chaff from the grain, to see the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials; the capacity to know when one has to enthusiastically take to his role and go to center stage, and when one needs to humbly start taking the back seat, like the faithful servant who, at some point utters: “He must increase, and I must decrease!”

John baptized in water. He did his role mighty well, and with utter fidelity. But he was in the limelight not too long. Soon, the one whose way he prepared for came to the scene, and taught a greater Baptism, not just of water, but of the Spirit from above.

Our times are no different from John’s. We see so many things around us. We experience so many different events, many of which dampen our hopes, and inundate what is left of our enthusiasm. We see death and defeat everywhere. We see discouragement and despondency all around us. I, for one, at times, feel that all we do has just come to naught, defeated by the greater pull of the convenient, the fake, the popular, and all that glimmers and glitters, at least, for a time. The world of higher spiritual values, no longer attract the attention of so many, and, to be honest, some of us may rightly or wrongly, feel we are not appreciated.

John’s role was about to diminish and recede altogether. In the Lord’s Baptism, no less than God visited His people, and John was the first to see, the first to acknowledge, and the first to accept no matter how unacceptable. His job was done. It was time for him to go and fade into the sunset.

For God’s grace has appeared in Christ: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’”

God’s grace, has, indeed, appeared! Tell me, what do you see?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

LESS IS MORE!


Epiphany Sunday
January 6, 2013

LESS IS MORE!

Today, we celebrate what used to be known as the “little Christmas.” In many European countries, the real gift-giving day is today, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.

During the day of the “bigger” Christmas, I actually talked about what’s right with the gift-giving culture associated with Christmas. I shared with you something eminently personal, a deep experience that has touched me immensely, as I go on doing my ministry as priest, over the past 30 years!

Epiphany now calls me to reflect a little more on this topic, but this time, I focus on the essential – on the “little”, that is, on the lesser, which ultimately redounds to what is more, what is greater, what is higher.

The bigger Christmas, whether we like it or not, had to do with the more. We had more lights, more fun, more food, more celebrations, more parties, more everything. Prior to the big day, we even had more traffic-clogged roads, more people at malls, in the streets, and for us in the Philippines, a lot more people during Simbang Gabi (Misa da Gallo, both at dawn and at night), with more and more younger folks going to Church primarily to link up with friends, more than to attend Mass. (We had more people doing the “simbang tabi” rather than the real “simbang gabi.”)

Today, Epiphany Sunday teaches us so many things. But one of those teachings has to do precisely with its nature as the little Christmas. Gone now is the excitement and focus on the grand celebrations, the great expectations that Christmas Day is associated with all over the world. We now focus on the lesser aspects, on the less popular truths, on the less celebrated tenets that the whole Christmas mystery brings to humanity.

But less is more …

Let me tell you what this means … First, the romantic images of Christmas are no longer the central focus: angels singing, shepherds running in haste, the stable being emptied and then filled with the central object of our attention – the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Second, the focus in more on a truth rather than images that can be easily represented in cute tinsel and foil: animals in a stable, poor shepherds giving homage to the newborn baby, and Mary and Joseph doting on a cute, little, and helpless baby about whom everyone seems to be excited, except of course, a King by the name of Herod.

But less is, indeed, more! That truth, it turns out, has many facets – the truth about the baby, the truth about the search for him that the Magi from the east set out for, including the truth about Jerusalem, for whom “light has come,” and upon whom “the glory of the Lord shines;” the truth, too, about that light symbolized by the rising star that led the wise men towards where he was; the truth about Christ the Light of all nations; the truth, too, about us and the new relationships among Jews and Gentiles, that his coming has brought to the world!

Less is indeed, more!

This is what happens when we simplify. This is what takes place when we focus on the essentials, when we take away the trimmings and trappings that have arisen owing to the progressive commercialization of Christmas.  This is Christmas in its bare essentials … the story of God coming to be born as man, like us, in Jesus, the Christ … the story of the mystery of the Incarnation, so simple and yet so rich; so basic and yet so eminently so foundational as to have so many repercussions for each and everyone of us.

Less, indeed, is more!

So what does Christmas do to us? What does the lesser Christmas lead us to realize? … A lot, I would like to think!

For one, we, like Jerusalem, are enveloped in darkness … “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” We are a broken people; a sinful race. For all the things that we know, there’s more that we do not know. We are broken by divisiveness, by all forms of factionalism. Even Christians don’t see eye to eye on many issues; even Catholics are not united in what to believe, whom to follow, and which teachings to accept and which to reject. Many choose the path of least resistance – just follow the mainstream, which means what mainstream media would have us follow, thus becoming cherry pickers, or what is known as cafeteria catholics.

But this lesser Christmas is precisely for us who live in darkness, who cower in fear, and who wallow in sin. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” It has to do with a resounding message of hope.

What can be more simple than that? What can be lesser than this, that in its bare simplicity can teach us all we really need to know, and have?

Indeed, less is more! When we see the light shining, the star rising, and wise men coming from far away, we see hope … we see light … even in a dark tunnel … we see new life … we see endless possibilities … we see what we all are called to be … “co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6).

I saw that glimmer of hope two days before Christmas, when I anointed a young man whose death brought untold suffering to his family who almost solely depended on him. I saw it in suffering. I saw it in darkness, and apparent hopelessness. But I also saw a whole lot more. I saw the promise of new life and new hope even in the midst of seeming defeat. I saw the great and deep faith of his bereaved family who accepted their loss with Christian resignation and faith.

Indeed, less is more! Take heart my dear readers, the lesser Christmas is a promise of more … “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”


P.S. I would like to inform my readers that I am leaving for Borongan, Eastern Samar tomorrow to attend the funeral of Renan Luteria, about whom I dedicated my Christmas Day homily. I go there to bring good news to his family, that so many had come forward to help Renan’s brother possibly regain his eyesight, and also to bring personally the little financial help that some friends who don’t even know Renan extended to the family. Thank you to all those who pledged help and support. Thank you, too, to all those who still go out of their way to help typhoon victims through me and the SDBs in Mati, Davao Oriental.

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.!