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Friday, March 29, 2013

WHEN EMPTY MEANS FULL!


EASTER SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S RESURRECTION
March 31, 2013

WHEN EMPTY MEANS FULL!

I make no secrets about it. I am emotive. I cry easily when touched by something I hear, I see and experience. The last time I saw Les Miserables the movie (the fourth including three other live musical presentations in various places) I was touched by a number of particular scenes. The rendition of “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” was among those scenes, when Marius, recovering from his wounds, imagines he is back in the ABC Café.

He is obviously portrayed to be in mourning, and one cannot help but be carried away by someone else’s pain.

Today, we too, are carried away but in a different plane, in a very different way. There is no question today about mourning, but everything to do about unalloyed joy. Last night, those of us who took part in the vigil would have noticed the quiet rejoicing, the ebullient praising and the profuse thanksgiving of the Church at what took place, immortalized in the act of memorializing that only we believers can fully understand. There was first, a focus on the light, the new light that dispelled the darkness of death and despair. Then, there was a generous dose of God’s Word in seven readings, all told, capped by the usual Gospel account, and topped off by the homily. Light, illumination, salvation, victory, rejoicing, worship and thanksgiving, all fall into place. We even renewed our photismos (baptism), and in case you did not notice, photismos takes its root from photon which precisely means light.

But what, you might ask, is our basis? An empty tomb? That was a fact – cold fact, a piece of detail that does not prove anything. What does one think about an empty tomb? If it’s empty, there’s nothing in it, and if there’s nothing in it, then somebody must have taken it away … That was exactly the thought that came to the mind of the woman who came very early in the morning to do unfinished tasks.

But the empty tomb was empty, thanks be to God! For if it were not, then in vain is our faith; in vain is all we do here and now, and for centuries since the news broke out. But there was not just an empty tomb. There were rolled away stones that closed the tomb. There were the linens used as burial clothes.

But wait! Could there have been something more than just an empty tomb? Yes … and this is what made the empty tomb no longer vacuous, no longer deflated as a cold, inconsequential fact, but actually filled with, and pregnant … make that laden with meaning. And that was what the Word contained. Peter and the younger disciple who ran, and who began telling everyone else, did not say, “Hey man, the tomb is empty, yo!”

Good news does not come from vacuous, empty topics and conversation pieces! Good news comes from a lived experience of the Word becoming true, becoming real, becoming truly lived, by people who heard, people who believed, people who held on to God’s Word!

What did the Word say? What did the Word made flesh say? What did the Christ say? Get back a few days, a few weeks, a few months. Didn’t he say something like “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up?” Didn’t he say that the Son of Man must suffer and die and rise again on the third day?”

Now, now … this is why the empty tomb makes sense! For it was backed up by no less than Him who claimed to be the Word become flesh, the Word incarnate.

Yes, the tomb was empty, Deo gratias! Yes, the tomb was empty and now we know why. He said it himself. He predicted it himself. And He did it! He rose just as He had said. The empty tomb really contained nothing … nothing more and it was not any less meaningful just because it was empty. It had nothing, but it was not vacuous. It was full … full of the truth that He had indeed, risen! It was a vacant tomb, but one filled with all the meaning the world ever needed.

The whole world needed hope. The whole world needed answers to the ultimate questions – the age-old questions of pain, of suffering, of sin, of death, and of hopelessness. He answered it in one fell swoop, by leaving a tomb empty, and rising to new life, so that we might have the same future and the same destiny.

In life, then and now, we have lots of questions, lots of worries, lots of fears and lots of stress. I know. Been there; done that. Not getting any younger, I am afraid of death, of sickness, of pain. I am afraid of “man’s inhumanity to man,” like the strange saber-rattling of North Korea, angry at something undefined, making mountains out of molehills, etc. I am worried that younger people are becoming less and less engaged with the Church. I worry that the new evangelization is not happening as quickly as I would have wanted to.

But like Peter and the other disciple, like Mary of Magdala, like everyone who went and saw for themselves the empty tomb, and the witness of the disciples who suddenly remembered what he said, they were taken aback by the rolled away stones, and their lives were carried away since then!

The tomb was empty. Grazie a Dio! And the tomb was empty because “He is no longer there; He is risen, just as he said, Alleluia!

THE CONUNDRUM OF THE CROSS


N.B. I DUG UP MY FILES AND NOTICED A REFLECTION I WROTE YET IN 2007 WHICH I HAD NOT ACTUALLY POSTED IN THIS BLOG. HERE, THEN, IS AN ALTERNATIVE REFLECTION FOR TODAY


 

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
April 6, 2007

Readings: Is 52:13 – 53:12 / Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / Jn 18:1 – 19:42

THE CONUNDRUM OF THE CROSS

The serene and joyful silence that ended our celebration last night after the Lord’s Supper extends to today, broken only by the sedate and simple recitation of the Morning Prayers. Our afternoon liturgy timed more or less on the hour of the passion and death of the Lord on the cross begins with utter silence with the celebrant prostrating before the bare altar, stripped of all the usual paraphernalia attached to it. The bells are silent. The majestic music of the liturgy gives way to unaccompanied somber songs that smack of simple joy, and silent rejoicing.

Silent joy and rejoicing on Good Friday? Are we in our right frames of mind? Do we get the readings right? If Good Friday liturgy were a passion or a morality play (called a Cenaculo in Philippine popular culture of yore), wherein the focus is on historical reconstruction, then joy and rejoicing have no place in the liturgy of this afternoon. But as I have made clear in yesterday’s reflection, our task in the Catholic liturgy is not to stage a shallow historical reconstruction. Our task is to re-actualize, to make present, make active, and make alive once more an event that transcends our common past, present, and future in God. Liturgy is a celebration of faith as a people, not a gathering around a historical monument that is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

This afternoon, we gather around the cross. The central focus of our celebration, not a gathering in grief, but a grateful convocation of believers, is none other than the cross. But this cross around which our celebration revolves is not one to be likened unto the monument built in honor of our national hero. Nor is this cross to be reduced to an artifact of history that merits a symposium of sorts to keep the same alive in people’s memories.

Quiet glory, not glaring grief, is what gathers us together in this celebration. We have not come here to attend a funeral wake of the Lord. Our focus in not on the corpse of the Lord, but on the cross of the Lord … Yes … the cross with all its contradictions … the cross with all its initial confusion … the cross with all its questions and conundrums.

If there is anything in our human history and faith history that disturbs and confuses, I must say it is the idea of the cross that looms large in the tapestry of our faith. Our biological and natural selves are automatically programmed against pain and suffering. We cringe and twinge when the slightest sign of pain attacks us. We naturally run away from people and things that make us miserable. We simply do not want to suffer. The Cross is not, was never, and will never be associated with anything pleasant. In fact, it was associated with one of the world’s most cruel and most painful mode of capital punishment ever invented by sinful man.

The cross is a conundrum. But it is so and will remain so, if and only if, this liturgy were just a shallow historical reconstruction … if this were an Obberammergau play, or a “Cenaculo” passion play of Philippine folk culture of yore.

But we people of faith, we people of the memorial, are a people with a story. We have a big narrative – in fact, a meta-narrative – that looms large in our story that is linked right from the start with God’s own story. His story has become our own history. And this history is what we now re-actualize, re-live, and make present and alive in our official act of recounting of that same story in liturgical celebration.

Allow me to recount to you the story that unfolds for us from the readings. First, Isaiah recounts to us the afflictions of a just and righteous man (Is 53:1-11b). This account flies in the face of the commonly held belief then that suffering is brought about by one’s personal sin. Isaiah takes pains to tell us that from this just man’s humiliation arose his own exaltation, and that it was precisely in his humiliation that he is exalted.

The Letter writer to the Hebrews develops the idea of Jesus as High Priest who intercedes for us. But such a lofty and noble state was reached only because Jesus took on human flesh and so took on our human limitations and weaknesses as well (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9).

The Passion narrative of St. John tells us three things: first, Jesus’ arrest; second, the examination made by the high priest; and third, his trial before Pilate. But what surfaces in the account is that throughout the ordeal, Jesus is shown to be in total control of the events that eventually culminate in his death. His sovereignty triumphed even in the heights of adversity. The lower they went in bringing a good man down, the higher Jesus rose in the estimation and glory of God and man.

The cross with all its initial confusions and questionings, strikes me very personally at this time of my life. Pain, particularly the inflicted and undeserved kind, makes one come face-to-face with one’s own understanding and appropriation of the Cross of the Lord. Good Friday is more than just a story for me this year. It is real … as real as the prayer of the Lord in Gethsemani who begged his Father: “If possible take this cup away from me … but not my will but yours be done.”

I am blessed by the good Lord to be preaching a retreat at this time of year to a sisters’ congregation (Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart) co-founded by a very human saint, human in his pain, human in the undeserved pain inflicted by others who ought to have been the last persons to be causing him such untold suffering in life – St. Benedict Menni, who died in 1914 and canonized only in 1999. His story, like the very story of Christ Himself, speaks to me in a very special way. As his Italian biographer nicely puts it, he was “K.O in terra; O.K in cielo” (Knocked out while on earth, but OK in heaven). Like the suffering servant in Isaiah, he went through so much suffering, most of it undeserved.

But I am forgetting the real focus of our story today – the Cross – with all its conundrum and contradictions. Yes … this is the only time in the whole liturgical year when we venerate the cross. And why not? For it has become not a sign of death, but of good news – of life, of hope, and the guarantee of eternal life. This is the reason why the veneration of the cross is the summit of today’s liturgy. It expresses the Church’s faith in Christ who, by embracing it, turned what once was a symbol of and tool for a torturous and shameful death into an instrument that wrought redemption and stood for God’s boundless love. Indeed, as we acclaim today, “in the cross is salvation; in the cross is hope; in the cross is victory.”

St. Benedict Menni Formation Center
Pasig City, April 2, 2007
7:00 PM

SOMBER, NOT SAD


Good Friday
Celebration of the Lord’s Passion/Veneration of the Cross

SOMBER, NOT SAD

It is easy to fall into excesses this day. The thought that “God is dead” can wreak havoc on the faith of those whose faith in a living God, Good Friday or not, is already on tenuous grounds. But Good Friday’s focus is not a dead God, not a dead Christ, but a Christ who gives away everything freely, including his life by dying on the Cross, so that we might live!

Good Friday is not about him being dead and remaining very dead. Good Friday is about us getting back to life because He freely gave up His life that we might live. It is about Him being in control, being free and powerful enough even to subject himself to the black and dark forces of sin and misguided humanity, so that humanity might get back to the ways that lead to peace and authentic freedom.

Yes, Virginia … you ought not to be sad. The Liturgical celebration done in three parts, nowhere asks us to be sad, and to sulk in hopelessness and despair.

The First Reading, in fact, speaks of the servant of Yahweh, who “shall be raised high and greatly exalted.” He “shall startle many nations.” Take note that everything the servant suffers, was “for our offenses, for our sins.” This servant, Isaiah says, “gives his life as an offering for sin,” and one who will “win pardon for [our] offenses.”

He takes it up freely, and gives up his life freely … Herein lies his greatness.

Our response, fittingly, is not one of sorrow, too, but of confidence: “My trust is in you, O Lord; I say, ‘you are my God.’” The Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews sums up this utter and total freedom of the Servant of Yahweh to take up the cross: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Good Friday has nothing to do with not taking a bath, with not being confident and happy, with being sour and dour and surly. It has to do with reverential silence and faith-induced awe that someone so great from above as He, could lay down his life, of his own free will, so that we might be raised up like him to glory!

In our times, there is no need and reason for us to fall into two extremes: to live like as if Holy Week is a time solely for sand, shore, sun, and sea, on the one had, like most disengaged Catholics do these days. But neither is it a time to grouse, grumble, and grunt for “God is dead.”

Let us learn a little lesson from real farmers. After doing their level best to prepare the ground, plow and harrow and water the soil and plant the seedlings, there is not much else to do but wait – wait actively, that is. There is not much one can do. One only needs to wait filled with hope, and with hopeful expectation. There is fallow time, when one does not get carried away by empty activism, but when one simply allows God to gently lead us in peace and serenity and trust, to some state of renewal, to become a better version of ourselves, and wait actively for the promise to become reality, for what was prophesied to unfold and irrupt in history, and for salvation to become real, for me, for here, for now – and thereafter!

Good Friday is a day to be somber and reflective, but by no means a day to be sad!

How about praying along with Jesus as he walks the way of the cross? … “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

NOT JUST BYSTANDERS, BUT PARTICIPANTS!

 
Maundy Thursday 2013
Mass of the Lord’s Supper


NOT JUST BYSTANDERS, BUT PARTICIPANTS!



What I like about the Paschal Triduum that we begin in earnest at this Mass is that you all are very well motivated and, therefore, very participative and attentive. For the most part, when all the rest of the seasonal Catholics have all hied off to some more seasonable area of rest and relaxation, those of you who are here with us now, with the priests who serve you and work with you, have obviously decided to stay, and even more obviously chose to journey with us though our own version of the passover – the Church’s version, I must add. You have chosen this and not some fanatic and misguided trip to San Pedro Cutud, to witness the gory and bloody, and shallow dramatization of what now we re-enact and make present here and now, but in a totally different way.



Even as I speak, feverish preparations are being done in Cutud in Pampanga. There will be the same protagonists in the much-awaited drama, replete with horses and costumes that would shame Bollywood or Hollywood, in color and pageantry. There will be hordes of bystanders and oglers – and an increasing number of curious incredulous tourists, who will tell the same deriding stories about something that is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The best story-line they possibly could come up with is the same, old, by now stale watchword: “It’s fun in the Philippines.”



Thank God, you are here with us. This is our day, first as priests and ministers who journey with you. Thank God you are here. For with your presence, you show us that our day does not mean anything without you sharing the day for all its worth. For without you, there can be no service worthy of the name. Without you, there can be no meaning to the washing of the feet. And without you, the mandatum where we get the name Maundy, will have no finality, no goal, no recipient, and thus, no significance. Without you, wihout the mandatum of service and love in service, all this would just be, well … exactly like the empty crucifixions at Cutud in Pampanga … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!



Thank God, you are here and you are not simply bystanders … the usual crowds that just stand as inconspicuously outside the Church as is possible, ready to bolt out of the Church perimeter, just as soon as they hear the words “Go forth, the Mass is ended!”



Thank God, you are here and you are here to join us all through these three days of the Triduum, in this one, seamless, single, and continuing celebration. We open this celebration in joy.



Why so? For one simple reason. We acknowledge receiving a gift, a package, that we are now slowly unwrapping. And what does this package contain?



Several things … First, we received a mandatum – to love and serve each other. But wait … that mandatum was first given by the giver through a concrete and personal example – the Lord Himself showed us the way, like Pope Francis shows us the way. And it is through service, as symbolized by the Lord washing the feet of the disciples. But there is a second layer to that gift. That mandate presupposes a front-liner, an officium, a munus, a task, a ministry. With that mandatum comes the other gift of priesthood, the very reason why today is a day of priests, a day for priests, and a day when priest and people gather together once each year to offer together the best that the office of priesthood can offer.



And this leads me to reflect on the third layer of that package – the third gift that can only take place with the prior gift of priesthood – the Eucharist!



But let me clarify some important points. First, whilst it is true that we priests alone can preside over the Eucharist, and that Eucharist, Church and the priesthood are intimately united, the Eucharist is not solely for us, but for God’s people. This is eminently leitourgia, the ergon laou, the work of the people, you and I. You are not bystanders, but participants.



And this is why we rejoice at your presence and participation.



Second, and this is most important. People in Cutud will do a dramatization. No doubt some will find the event moving, as they find telenovelas moving and Sir Chief’s character appealing. But unlike the Last Supper of the Lord, and the memorial of the Last Supper of the Lord that we do here and now, that of Cutud has no point of reference, either in the past or in the future. There is no lasting effect. There is no dynamism involved. There is no growth expected. After the drama, the protagonists will go back to being who and what they were, looking forward to the next adrenaline shot during the next Good Friday. The Philippines will simply be less fun until that day comes again, and there will be the same traffic clogged streets by Monday next week, and Sir Chief will once again hog our facebook walls, unless ABS-CBN comes up with another gimmick that is more than three months old, waiting in the wings to become the next blockbuster event.



But the gift of the priesthood and its ministry of service to God’s people, the gift of Eucharist that, at one and the same time points back to an event of the past, and points forward to an ongoing event of salvation, is something that we sincerely can do again and again, without us getting tired, for we are not just not bystanders. We are participants and stakeholders and continual recipients of all the train of goodness that comes with the Eucharist.



And this leads me to the third and last point. The Eucharist is the hub and center, the hub and center, the node and apex, the source and summit of everything else we do in Church. All else revolves around the Eucharist – the social ministry that our parish does very well, the ministry to the sick that a number of you do so laudably and so selflessly, the youth ministry that still others are trying to revive and put back into the mainstream, the catechetical ministry that a bigger number of you so heroically do with so little support and appreciation even from us … The list is long.

Thank you for being here with us this evening.  We celebrate the promise and pledge of our glorious future, even as we look back and point back to the sacrifice that took place on Calvary. The Church, this Church, this community is at its best when doing Eucharist.



And your presence speaks best of this deep theological fact. For you are not just bystanders, but participants!


Friday, March 22, 2013

DISCIPLES, NOT JUST FOLLOWERS!


PASSION (PALM) SUNDAY
March 24, 2013

DISCIPLES NOT JUST FOLLOWERS

Today marks another milestone in our liturgical and popular religiosity as Filipinos. Palm Sunday ushers in for us Holy Week, the most colorful week in our collective consciousness. If the Christmas novena is the most awaited, most joyful and most filled with happy and hopeful expectations, Holy Week fills us with thoughts and feelings associated with penitence, repentance, conversion, and both the need and the possibility for anyone to turn a new leaf, start afresh, and begin again on a clean slate.

The Lord goes up to Jerusalem – up, not down, for Jerusalem was a city built on a mountain. But the Lord does not go there alone. And neither does he enter alone, unnoticed, incognito, ignored. No … he entered with a bang, not a whimper. He got in in triumph, not in silence. For people welcomed him with everything they could lay their hands on … pieces of clothing, branches of trees, and presumably, a lot of palm fronds, for that was most common then in those times.

They welcomed him and proclaimed: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

You might say, indeed, that Jesus got in to the city with many followers, many more welcomers, and a lot of well-wishers. His coming was not exactly glossed over by both the hoi polloi and the authorities, for nothing that attracts a crowd like that ever escapes the notice of the ruling class and the snobbish elite, and especially those whose job it was to maintain the pax Romana, the Roman brand of peace and order that came with fear and/or force.

But sic transit gloria mundi … so goes the way of glory in this world … Hardly had they welcomed him who came in the name of the Lord, than they turned their backs against him a few days after. Soon, the hosannas were transformed into hate, and the joy turned to condemnation. The celebration soon became excruciating crucifixion for him who came in God’s name!

This is the story of us. This is the way of all flesh. This is how we were, we are, and will be – sinful mass of humanity – the massa damnata that St. Augustine pessimistically referred to. We are all in it together. We are all part of it. For we all fell short of the glory of God!

Now, given the fact that on two occasions in the year, we Filipinos wax very pious, suggestible, and impressionable (not that it is bad!), and “holy” (whatever it is you understand by it), I guess today, like on Christmas Day, we are ready and willing to hear a thing or two about us that we’d rather not think about when we are in the midst of all the worldly frivolities during the rest of the 365 days.

Yes … and I mean it. And I dare say this for we are all open and welcoming enough to hear it this one time in the year … We’ve heard it before. We sort of agree with it on a good day, when we are not hard pressed by all the stresses that come with modernity and globalization … It is no secret. It is no rocket science. It is no earth-shattering novel truth, but as ageless and timeless as the world itself … And it is this …

We are all sinners. We are all like those multitudes who came – and went away as fast as they could gather up their cloaks and fronds and branches from the “crime scene.” Now, we are all excited to see Him and touch Him … Now, we are indifferent and couldn’t care less about Him. We sin … and sin gravely … and sin bravely a la Luther!

We make for very good welcomers and guest relation officers. We make for great welcoming committees … and we do it with panache … in style … in fashion. We even know the right words to put on our tarpaulins. We know, what words to post on our facebook walls. We claim to be Catholics. We swear we are welcomers and lovers of Him who comes in the name of the Lord. We profess our being followers of the Lord!

But so did the Jerusalem crowds! So did so many of them who parted with their cloaks and made of them instant carpets for the Lord to walk on. So did so many legislators and pundits in our midst who swear they believe in God, but do not belong to the Church. So do those who write and craft laws … they claim to be Catholics, but also in the same breath state they are pro-choice, pro-abortion, pro this and pro that – and in the process be anti God, anti-Church, anti everyone else who tells them otherwise.

There were many ertswhile followers when the Lord entered the famed city. We were probably one of them. But those same followers turned coat and changed political parties midstream, when the elections mattered most, when popularity swayed the other way – away from God, away from the truth, away from Him who was “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Let us face it… The Lord does not need followers per se. What He needs is disciples. And only the few, the brave, the decided – the disciples – stayed on with him, come hell or high water.

What about you? Will you also go away? Or have you come to stay?

Friday, March 15, 2013

GREAT AND NEW THINGS!


5th Sunday of Lent Year C
March 17, 2013

GREAT AND NEW THINGS!

All three readings today may be said to speak about newness. The first talks about new realities for the chosen people of God: a way in the desert and rivers in the wasteland, to name two. The second reading speaks about the need “to forget what lies behind but strain forward to what lies ahead.” The third refers to a new approach the Lord used to tame the old problem of people taking advantage of others to push their own agenda.

As a counselor, I am familiar with the tendency to wallow and dwell in the past. When one is hurting, one always remembers selectively, I must add, all the unfortunate and unhappy incidents in the past. One finds it hard to look ahead. One loses, not just serenity and peace, but also, and more importantly, the capacity to hope for better things in future. According to the research of Philip Zimbardo, there are people who are focused on the past: either the past positive or the past negative.

That focus spells all the difference between one who fossilized in the past and focused on what lies ahead, as Paul was.

I am sure we all had our own experiences with this tendency to pine for things past, and to long for things that will never come back anymore. Maybe it is a defense of some kind – that helps some of us to deal with the basically unacceptable present, or the uncertain future.

I know. I have “been there; done that.” Is it any surprise that my thirst for music is, as they call, retro? Should it surprise anyone that most people that we work with and for, often compare us with the so-called “good old days” during the time of so and so … and we are left with the bitter feeling that we are not as good, not as capable, and not as avant-garde as the former pastor or former principal?

Counselors are familiar with the defense strategy called “idealization,” and it always works when it comes to glorifying the past – or so people think.

The Lord was caught in a veritable trap. They dragged a specimen with them – a woman caught in adultery. That was a real trap if ever there was one, for the law was very clear on what to do with such women. But they were not so much interested in bringing the woman to justice, as catching the Lord in flagrante delictu, as it were – with his fingers in the cookie jar!

But salvation has to do with new and great things! Salvation is all about God doing great things for us. And the Lord, who knew and read their minds and hearts, saw through the ruse and answered them in a way that could not have been predicted by the people of the lie!

Great things and new things have been done by the Lord in our recent history. The Pope emeritus Benedict XVI surprised the world with something new, something novel and unexpected. He announced his renunciation of the Petrine office last February 11, 2013. The world, that is deeply steeped in the old ways of sin, selfishness, and power, position, privilege and wealth could not understand it. The world cannot understand humility, self-denial, and self-abnegation, especially in our context where politicians rule the roost for decades, forever, through their wives, sons, daughters and clan members!

We need to try new tacks. We need to open up to newness and new approaches. And the election of a new Pope that also surprised the world and the many pundits who thought they had all the goods on the new Holy Father, was a big case in point. Newness means being open to surprise, to serendipity, to hope, and the promise of change, but not the change expected by pundits and mainstream media, who always seem to know what the Church needs!

I don’t know what the Lord wrote down on the ground when he bent down.  It could be anything. It could be that he was biding time and reflecting on what to do. But what he said was the totally shocking new thing that made the accusers walk away one by one, tails between their legs.

It is an old reality, but something that we need to renew and reflect on with eternal newness and validity: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

An old condition? Yes, definitely. For we all fell short of God’s glory and were all born with original sin? New reality? Yes, for the Church is ever young and ever new when we walk away from the old in order to strain forward to what lies ahead.

And what is our prize? Let St. Paul speak for himself … “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

This is the same prize that Augustine spoke of – the beauty ever ancient; ever new!
Lord, bless and guide the new Holy Father, Francis! May he lead us toward that great prize of newness and salvation!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

TASTE AND SEE THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!


4th Sunday of Lent Year C
March 10, 2013

TASTE AND SEE THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!

The first reading and the responsorial psalm both have to do with the image of eating, celebrating, or partaking of food together with others. The second reading, though not even remotely related to eating and sharing of food, does give us the reason to eat together and celebrate – the fact that we have become new creatures in Christ, that is, reconciled to God in Him. The Gospel, for its part, although focused on the idea of forgiveness, does refer, too, indirectly to a banquet given by the forgiving father upon return of the younger lost son, who chose to follow a different path, until he got back to his senses and returned.

This is a rich Sunday, readings wise, and we preachers are hard pressed to make of all three separate readings a meaningful totality. But quite apart from all this, today is Laetare Sunday, meaning “rejoice,” for laetare is the first word in today’s entrance antiphon.

Well, who does not enjoy eating? And who does not eat or share a meal with others when one is rejoicing? We Filipinos know this very well. Now that graduations are just around the corner, and many people will be teary-eyed receiving their hard-earned diplomas, and as they sing their Alma Mater songs, celebrations are not far from everybody’s mind. When we rejoice, we eat. And we eat with others when we want to share that joy.

I can empathize somewhat with the father in today’s parable of the prodigal son, or the prodigal father, or the resentful elder brother. The father had a valid reason to put up a feast. His son was gone, and was now suddenly back home. The feasting may have been overblown, but the elder brother who resented it all acted very much like … well, a party pooper. He didn’t like it one bit. And one who nurses a heart ache, does not want an additional tummy ache, I guess. He who could not ingest a good deed done to someone “unworthy” of it, probably cannot digest rich food either. When one is eaten up by resentment, I guess, one cannot really eat to his heart’s delight!

The Israelites under Joshua had every reason to rejoice and “eat of the produce of the land,” no … not manna anymore, but real food! We heard it from the mouth of the Lord Himself: “Today, I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” St. Paul was more theological rather than graphic and earthy … We rejoice because “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Joshua, the Jews of old, Paul, the younger son, the forgiving father, why, even the elder son for all his resentment and initial unhappiness … they all had reasons to be rejoicing. They all had valid reasons to share the food of thanksiving and joy.

The question now has nothing to do with them. The big question now is on our shoulders. Do we have reasons to rejoice? Do we find enough motivation to eat together in joy and fellowship, and share this Eucharistic sacrifice and meal? What brought you here to Mass today? Do you really have reason to rejoice, as the entrance antiphon tells us: “Rejoice Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her.”

Let me tell you what can be blocks to rejoicing and even possible causes of indigestion or lack of appetite to share food with others …

Well, the first in the list is what the younger son did … he sinned and detached himself from the family, from his father, from his elder brother. But wait … don’t you think there is a second? Yes … and it has to do with a heart unwilling, unready to soften up and loosen up a little. The elder brother was too focused on the brother’s wrongdoings, and even saw malice in the father’s compassion and abounding forgiveness.

And yes … there is a third … our unwillingness and incapacity to see the good unfolding, the good emerging even from someone whom we have judged and condemned to be a prodigal brother or sister – the refusal to see what good possibly could be done even by a sinful person.

So may I suggest that we quit being such miserable party poopers?

Maybe we need to change the lenses of our camera. We are too fond of using macro lenses that make us see only from up close. We need a wide-angle lens to help us see the bigger panorama, the bigger canvas, the bigger picture.

And since I love to eat myself, that bigger picture I see, is a banquet where the best dish, the best entrée, if you will, is that which God Himself provides – no other than Himself. Like in this Mass, His own body and blood, for us to share in peace, fellowship, and joy.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!