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Thursday, February 28, 2013

PRODUCE OR BE CUT DOWN!


3rd SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C
March 3, 2013

PRODUCE OR BE CUT DOWN!

There is an element of fear and a deep sense of reality in the Gospel of today. Fear, for we are told about consequences, and the examples the Lord uses, are rather gory: the Galileans killed by Pilate, and the 18 people who perished in a disaster at Siloam. Unless we repent, we are told, we will all suffer a similar fate.

Consequences are not easy to understand in our times. We live in a time when there seems to be an infinite number of choices and alternatives to forestall or prevent unwanted consequences. I have two dogs right now, for example. Both are infested with ticks, big and voracious ones (garrapata, in Spanish). One can always pay for an injection that makes dogs’ blood poison for ticks. Nowadays, we can easily procures vaccines … one prevents polio; others prevent other diseases that used to be common in times past.

We have pills to control obesity; tablets to control blood sugar; and CCTV cameras to reign in burglars and tame criminals … Or so, we think! Why, we also have pills and tablets and injectables to prevent human conception and, while we are at it, why not? … abort fetuses (a word which people are careful to use, instead of babies)!

The concept of consequences that can be controlled  or done away with, or prevent is something that every digital native knows first hand – through the concept of anti-virus!

Today, the good Lord uses fear to remind us, too. Unless we repent, we run the risk of suffering from tragedies – similar or related to those suffered by the Galileans and the 18 unnamed individuals at Siloam.

But lest we get enslaved by fear, the Lord, it must be said, too, uses more than just fear, and not primarily fear. He uses common sense. He capitalizes on reason. He makes a springboard of faith, when He reminds us that there are consequences we just cannot run away from … and results or products we cannot excuse ourselves from.

It is simply a fact of life that we expect fruits from figs we plant, isn’t it? It stands to reason and common sense that we ought to expect results from all we do, doesn’t it?

But the underpinning lesson that the Gospel and the two other readings show us today has nothing to do with fear, nothing to do with ineluctable consequences, but everything to do with a patient, forgiving, long-suffering and compassionate God, who shows Himself not unlike all farmers in the world – then – and now! “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.”

I would like to think that God is represented by that responsible, patient, and forebearing farmer. He is willing to wait. He is ready to give chances. He is capable of extending deadlines … all because He loves us, who form part of His vineyard!

But at the same time, the clock is ticking. There is a deadline. Time is limited. We grow old and wax impatient, too. And even rivers run dry, and planes have to retire somewhere in the Mojave desert in Nevada and California. We all have had reports to finish and papers to turn in. The world cannot wait forever for spoiled brats like us to grow mature and grow responsible.

We need to learn to bear fruit. We need to grow in showing results. We need to show what we are capable of doing, after receiving everything as capital from the Lord. And the rule is … very simply … Produce or be cut down!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

BELIEVE, STAND FIRM, LISTEN!


2nd Sunday of Lent Year C
February 24, 2013

BELIEVE, STAND FIRM, LISTEN!

There is no mistaking it. Abram was called, not just once. He was called to leave Ur. But it entailed further callings. It entailed much more than just dragging one’s feet away from home. Today, Abram is told to look up to the stars and believe in a promise – that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and that God would make a covenant with his descendants.

Abram shone out in his faith. He believed. And he also obeyed. “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

But believing in God’s promise is no walk in the park. We all know that. We all know that Abram was eventually put to a big test. He would be asked later in his life to offer up his only son Isaac, just one of a series of seeming downturns or source of despondency in his life.

Doesn’t this remind you of Paul? Wasn’t he the one who was flogged, imprisoned, and suffered shipwrecks? But look at what he does. He calls on us to stand firm. Like he did … Like he showed… “Stand firm in the Lord!”

In our times, it is getting hard to be both a believer and one who belongs truly and fully. In this pluralist world, there is hardly anything you can feel strongly about without anyone hating you, contradicting you, or berating you. Cyber space is reeking with haters and naysayers, who are out there to cancel out what you stand for. And if I may sound like I am raining on our own parade, the Catholic Church seems to be the favorite whipping boy of these haters.

Today, I would like us all to close ranks and see what we all need to see with the eyes of faith. Abram’s greatness was based on his faith. Paul’s greatness was based on the same strength of faith that is worth emulating: “Be imitators of me,” he counseled.

The Transfiguration of the Lord is one such strength-giving experience. But it happened under particular and specific set of circumstances. And the most important of them all is that it happened while they were in the context of prayer up on the mountain, far from the madding crowd, and far from the plains of intrigue, noise, and confusion.

We Catholics are now immersed in so much intrigue, noise and confusion. Some of us are afraid to talk about our faith, for fear of being attacked or berated. Some of us who do make a stand are treated as pariahs.

Where now do we get our strength from? Where do we base our courage on? The Lord shows us how, and shows us what is in the offing for those who remain … He was transfigured in the presence of his disciples. This, too, is what awaits us. But there is one thing we need to do, apart from prayer. We need to be attentive. We need to listen. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

What or who is it we listen to most of the time?

Friday, February 15, 2013

ADMIT. ACCLAIM. ACKNOWLEDGE


First Sunday of Lent Year C
February 17, 2013

ADMIT, ACCLAIM, ACKNOWLEDGE!

No less than the Lord Himself was tempted … not once, not twice, but thrice! This is a story we hear each year, always on the first Sunday of Lent, such as today. If you went to Mass last Ash Wednesday, you would remember the reminder: “Remember man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return!” That reminder, of course, is but one of several, including: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Reminders! … This is what and who we are as believers. We are a people of the reminder, a people of the memorial! This Eucharistic celebration, as you know, is an anamnesis – a memorial that, at one and the same time, looks back and looks towards the future.

What do we look back to? Let the first reading remind us … Like the Jews of old, we were once aliens living in a foreign land. We were (and still are!) sinners, who were once enslaved by sin, exiled … far from home. Don’t we all remember a time when we are under the clutches of selfishness, of greed, of pride and of envy? Don’t we all remember the many occasions we felt enslaved by our passions, by our lust, and by our self-seeking desires? The first reading calls us to remembrance and admission: Having set the gifts before the Lord, “you shall bow down in his presence.”

What do we look forward to? What do we acclaim? What do we proclaim? St. Paul, too, offers us a clue: “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I am old enough to realize that there is a connection between admitting and acclaiming. It is hard to acclaim or proclaim something that one has not fully admitted, let alone, accepted. We saw it in our recent history. Otherwise good clergymen and respectable lay people, who are capable preachers and teachers, remained conspicuously silent on certain raging issues. They were nowhere to be found when the going went tough. Their voices were not heard. They were absent from the arena of battle. Could it be that they have not fully admitted and accepted the unalloyed and full teaching of the Church? Could they be because they have really been cherry picking what they wanted to subscribe to, and believe? Or could it be that they have compromised themselves with those who espouse contrary views, for whatever reason, best known to themselves?

But there is something more that we are now called to admit and acclaim … We are all sinners. We are all prone to temptation. And we are all surrounded now by a multiplicity of temptations that we may not even consider as such.

The Good News that now awaits acknowledgment needs to be proclaimed by us, as the liturgy actually does, today. Even Jesus was tempted. And he was tempted in exactly the same ways we are tempted right now.

We are tempted to put material goods first before everything else … to turn stones into bread … to ignore or reject totally the world of the intangibles, the world of spiritual values, the world of virtues, and other spiritual goods, and replace them with all that is measurable, countable, and stockable. People buy votes and people allow their votes to be bought. People pay bribes and people allow themselves to be enslaved by bribes. Pera-pera lang yan, (It’s all about money!) as we say in this sinful country and people, the Philippines!

We are tempted, too, by power and prestige. Who does not want to be promoted, we often think to ourselves! Nothing wrong in it, per se, but just look at all the jockeying and the positioning, and all the wheeling and dealing in backroom corridors – discrete or out in the open … Everybody wants to “serve the people.” But I wonder … if there is no pork barrel, would people be falling all over themselves rushing to “serve the people?” Or it power and prestige and position that we really want?

But we are tempted, too, in a different way. We are tempted to shun personal responsibility. We are pulled by the desire to “let others do the worrying,” and not be bothered by things that have nothing to do with me. We throw all caution to the winds, eat what is not healthy, engage in risky behavior and somehow believe – or fool ourselves into believing, that “God will not allow bad things to happen to me.”

Yes, my dear friends. This is the hurting “good news” that we are faced with today. We live in a world full of temptations. That we should admit. That we should accept.

But we also live in a world of promises. We live in a world redeemed by God’s mercy. We are called to salvation. That we should acclaim. That we should proclaim. But before there can be any acclamation and proclamation, there first, ought to be an acknowledgment … 1). Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord; 2) Bow down in his presence; 3) Man does not live by bread alone; 4) You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve; and 5) You shall not put the Lord your God, to the test.

Fair enough? Yes, “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart!” Admit. Acclaim. Acknowledge!

Friday, February 8, 2013

DO NOT BE AFRAID!

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5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

February 10, 2013



DO NOT BE AFRAID!



It was definitely a religious experience of an extreme kind … awesome enough as to make Isaiah cry out: “Woe is me, I am doomed!” Jews of old then believed that no one sees God and still live! But Isaiah saw more than just God. He saw himself too, warts and all … “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King the Lord of hosts!”



Isaiah was honest about what he saw in himself. No use pulling the wool over everybody’s eyes. No use denying it. But once he got to admit and accept what he was, something beautiful happened … For himself. For the people. For us all.



Isaiah himself without much fanfare tells us how: “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am, send me!’”



In the last two reflections over the past two Sundays, I have ranted about how difficult it is now to be a preacher of the Word. The world is saturated with words. Ideologies swamp us. Political doctrines overwhelm us. Political parties and politicians keep on making promises and making claims to unprecedented greatness. So many narcissists around us appear to think and behave like they are the best thing that ever happened to the world, to the Church, to our nation!



I have one confession to make. I, too, on top of everyone else, feel unworthy, undeserving, unprepared. Many of my colleagues feel the same way … at a loss about what else to do and how to do what little we can do, to reach out to the world of the young, the so-called “hooked-up” generation, who are always connected 24/7 but never attached; always informed, but never attuned; always on-line, but never toeing the line of doctrine and praxis.



Discouraging, you might say? You bet! But today, the Lord has one big reminder for you and me, via a question that begs for an answer from you and me: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”



Isaiah, the unprepared prophet … Isaiah, the unworthy man with unclean lips … Isaiah, the man who felt himself doomed … he stepped up to the plate and swang his bat to the best of his ability!



And did God do the rest? Yes … and this is the good news for you and me, who may still be doubting the power of God to do wonders in us, through us, and for us.



I say more … wasn’t it Paul the Apostle who also admitted to being some kind of a klatz? “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”



So here comes another clumsy, weak, and inept guy! Welcome to the club!



Wait! There’s more bad news/good news for you and me …



Nowadays, people have microphones and loudspeakers, digital platforms and cyber pulpits; tarpaulins and huge banners all around, the whole year round. Well, talk about being poor and not having enough resources … The Lord had only two boats of lowly fishermen. He borrowed one of them and boarded it – by all standards, a cute and creative way to avoid the pressing crowds! He begged the owner, Simon, to put out a little away from the shore. The tired and despondent fishermen had toiled all night catching nothing. And then, here comes this upstart preacher who, not only borrowed his boat, but also now teaches him fishing for dummies: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Fishing for Dummies? Not a very funny lesson for people who have worked all night and got nothing! What was this man trying to tell us?



But I see in all this precisely what Isaiah also saw … that being a prophet has nothing to do primarily with being powerful and prepared. Instead it has to do with God calling us and equipping us with what it takes … that it all has to do with God doing for us what we in our mortal, limited power can never even hope to do on the human plane.



Take heart, fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard! Times are difficult. Preaching and teaching are not exactly a boat ride at Disneyland. Truth is hard enough to accept, and it is even harder to accept what those who deny the truth about themselves heap on all of us, bearers of saving truth – rejection, condemnation, unsavory labels, curses and all!



But four words are all that matter for you and me today … “Do not be afraid.”